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Operation Elope: The Allies Invade Russia, 1918
The plan to enter Archangel (a city of 50,000) went under the name, OPERATION ELOPE. To insure success, British intelligence had contacted many former Imperial Russian Officers working underground to overthrow the Bolshevik regime. Much of the military present was still in Imperialist control since the Red garrison (800 men and one machine gun company) did not have sufficient men to control the entire city. Commander George Chaplin, a 35 yr. old man and a local attorney, Nicholas Startsev, created a planned uprising (with 500 men). The attorney ran an arms distribution ring to certain opposition groups in the area. Chaplin went under the disguise as “Commander Thomson, RN” and spoke perfect English. He had been in the employ of the British Mission since May planning the uprising. The plan comprised of illusions: rumors were started days before the Allies landed indicating a large scale invasion (not true) and it was hoped that the 800 man Red force with poor morale would run. To heighten the impact, Poole flew two Short 184 seaplanes from the Seaplane CV Nairana circling Archangel for 30 minutes, as though preparing an attack. To draw this large Red force away from the city, Chaplin also created a diversion in Shenkursk, a city of 10,000 , some 150 miles south of Archangel in late July.
The Bolo (slang for Bolshevik) took the bait and sent several hundred men to squelch the uprising in Shenkursk. This left only a few hundred men under Commissar Kedrov to defend Archangel and its anti-Bolshevik populace (more concerned with food instead of the Allied invasion). Of course, the coming Allied invasion was not a surprise to Kedrov who had declared martial law and began to build defenses on Mudyug Island (despite large swarms of mosquitoes plaguing the Reds). This defense consisted of a battery of four six-inch guns on the north and south ends of the island. The Allied ships had to pass this island (the narrows being 500 yards wide).
Fleeing from Vologda on July 24th to Archangel were Allied Ambassadors and other diplomats fearing imprisonment or reprisals (they had been told to leave Moscow). Since the Archangel to Vologda railroad could only support one train in either direction, the fleeing Ambassadors and Kedrov ran into each other midway! Kedrov was on his way to Moscow to report to Lenin about the coup led by Chaplin. The two trains met and halted. Kedrov and the allied ambassadors chatted, after which, one of the trains moved to the side rail, allowing the other to pass. When the fleeing Ambassadors reached Archangel they contacted General Poole who was with the invasion forces out at sea. The ambassadors told Poole what had happened. Poole then landed immediately not waiting for the original date of August 3rd.
General Poole did not wait to invade until the 3rd and ordered the invasion fleet near Murmansk to begin sailing on the evening of July 30th. This invasion fleet consisted of the following:
CL Attentive (carried 100 French troops), CA Amiral Aube (carried 300 troops) Seaplane CV Nairana (with 8 Short 184 planes and 200 troops), Merchant ships Tay and Tyne, six armed trawlers and two gunboats, Advokat and Oypt. General Poole was aboard the Salvator Yacht. Following were four transports, the Stephans, Asurian, Westbourough and Kassala filled with troops escorted by four armed trawlers and the expropriated Russian DD Sergeyev.Several hours before the main invasion force landed, the first British contingent was already ashore. This was a company of men some fifty miles from Archangel at Onega. The small force had crossed the White Sea from the port of Kem aboard the steamer Archangel Michael. There was little problem seizing Onega defended by only 13 Bolos, but as Colonel Thornhill and his men moved east towards Oberskaya to cut off Kedrov’s men , the British met with stiff resistance from the Red 159th regiment (700 men, 24 MG, 2 guns) and fell back to Onega.
The unplanned result did have the effect of drawing more of Kedrov’s men away from Archangel.Four transports carried 849 French soldiers of the 21st Colonial Battalion (trained in the tropics), 100 Royal Marines, 64 U.S. Soldiers from the 339 regiment/85th Division, and 50 Poles ( another 200 British soldiers would arrive on August 2nd ). As this convoy drew closer to Archangel, the captured Russian DD Sergueyev acted as an escort. In Archangel, the small-armed militia began their coup resulting in most of the Reds fleeing.
However, not all of the Reds had fled Archangel, some 180 remained in the city led by Alexandrov. A total of over 15,000 US troops would eventually land in North Russia and advance along the Dvina River with the intent of maybe meeting the White forces advancing from Siberia.
The public in America and UK were unaware of this secret war until a year later when soldiers and news leaks revealed its purpose.