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Stamping Out A Virus in 1918-20

Updated on June 21, 2012

The Allied Military Intervention in the Russian Civil War was an anomaly in history. For it was the best chance to prevent the birth of Communism. What happened in 1919, happened more recently in Vietnam during the 1960’s. Namely, an outside nation intervened militarily in another nation’s internal situation. In Vietnam, the intervening nation was indecisive militarily and politically, the military forces sent were too few for any positive outcome and the war was not popular at home. This was the same scenario confronting the British by 1918-19. The Russian revolution had caused great concern in Britain and France, many of the lucrative markets had vanished and Bolshevism was looked upon as a virus that had befallen upon a war torn Russia. The old saying that, “History often repeats itself” is true. It currently repeats again in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 1918, the virus of Bolshevism had begun and Churchill was determined to crush it. It would later bloom into Communism.

The seeds of the allied intervention into Russia’s Civil War began to germinate in the first quarter of 1918. The original Allied intent was valid, as the British proposed sending a small group of men to Murmansk (where 450,000 tons of war supplies were stockpiled) to defend the vital railroad that was the sole transportation line from the small port on the White Sea (oddly enough, it was at the British instigation that Murmansk was built in 1916). This port had a capacity of 3500 tons daily, however, due to poor upkeep, had a real capacity of only 500 tons daily. By Dec. 1917, the British had a naval squadron stationed there under Rear Adm. Kemp consisting of the BB Glory, CA Iphigenia and 12 trawlers. On Feb.13th, 1918, Kemp requested 6,000 troops to defend the port. By Mid-March, the CA Cochrane and French BB Amiral Aube had also arrived/

Reports had been received and confirmed that German and Finnish troops would be moving toward this port from Finland (this was erroneous at this time). The other fear of the British concerned the large stockpile of allied supplies sent to the Allied Russian army (in 1917) via Archangel. These supplies (amounting to 160-200,000 tons) were substantial and had remained sitting along the dock piers (by some accounts, the actual military items there considered of value were: 50,000 cases of rifle cartridges, three million 3” detonating Shrapnel and HE fuses, eight 12” naval guns, 110 3” artillery guns, and 300,000 3” shells) for up to a year. Their fear was that the Bolsheviks might take them and use them (actually, the Reds had already took what was of value in February!). Of the two reasons, the Murmansk situation “appeared” to be the more critical. Adding to all this was the fact that German submarines were still active in the North Russian waters until Summer and the direct German intervention in Finland (to thwart the Red attacks) appeared real. Thus, on April 3rd, 1918, the Allies adopted a Resolution of Intervention in not only North and South Russia but also Siberia. This resolution was firmly agreed to by Britain and France at the behest of the Russian Ambassador, which opposed Communism. These telegrams arrived to the French Ambassador, Mssr. Noulens, at the French mission in Moscow. In June, Noulens advocated that the Allies should send a sufficient force to halt Bolshevism and that Archangel could be a military base (provided the British provided the money to organize a counter revolution).

.This need increased dramatically when the German’s last offensive of WW1, OPERATION MICHAEL, began in March, 1918, and broke through the British lines. In essence, the German success played upon the allied fears creating a sort of abnormal paranoia regarding to the German military capabilities. During this time, reports filtered in stating that the Germans had moved up to 15,000 men into Finland and that much of the Finnish Army was pro German. The reality was that the Germans had planned to intervene in Finland and the plans were in fact drawn up by mid-February. The troops to be used were from a variety of units on the eastern front. Together, they would form the Baltic Division under Gen.Von Goltz. This division comprised of the:

2nd Gds Cavalry brigade, 1st and 3rd Uhlan regiments, 95th Infantry brigade, 3rd, 4th and 5th Jager battalions, one light and two heavy artillery batteries, five cycle companies, two machine gun detachments, a armor car detachment and one recon company totaling 9,000 men. The staff came from the 12th division and concentrated near Danzig by March 1. Another German group under Captain Karmann consisting of the 225th regiment, 5th Cycle battalion, a cavalry company and two artillery batteries gathered at Tallinn. Unbeknownst to the British, the Germans only interest upon their arrival in April, in Finland was ironically to defeat the Bolshevik! This was accomplished by May. The White Finnish forces along the Karelian were not under German control and it was their attack toward Kem (hence the Murmansk Railroad line) in mid March (it reached the railroad by April 9th) that had caused the British paranoia to elevate. Red Finnish forces under British control repelled this advance. Another White Finn detachment of 550 men was sent to seize Kestenga but this failed. Further to the north, the White Finn “Kuolajarvi Bn” poised the most serious threat near Kandalahti. The Bolshevik considered these attacks serious and this led them to allow the British and French forces to land at Murmansk. For the Reds, that was their only reason to allow capitalist troops on their soil. Then, when the danger was over, repel them. On May 23rd, the British War Cabinet decided on a plan of action that called for a 560 man force to be sent to Archangel and another 600 man force to Murmansk. The German threat did happen, when on June 7th, the German Finnish Army attacked into East Karelia towards Kem. This force was based on the Baltic Division and included two other divisions and a special Arctic Warfare brigade. In total, some 25,000 men . By the 17th, another Russian-German pact was signed stating that the Russians must kick out the Allies; in return, the Germans would withdraw from Russian occupied territory. Nevertheless, the British forces advanced toward Kem on June 9th, as 150 U.S. sailors arrived at Murmansk. Things were spinning out of control, as Messrs. Lenin and Trotsky tried to “walk the wire” between the Germans and Allies. Attempting to obtain what they wanted (not known by the Allies at the time was the fact that Germans did have plans to seize Murmansk and Archangel in late September, 1918, using Finnish troops. This was stated in the secret German-Russian pact of August 27th, 1918). Upon the arrival of General Maynard in mid-June to take command of Allied forces, the following forces had already deployed: 150 Marines in Penchanga , 150 Marines, 400 Serbs, and 150 Poles in Murmansk. At Kandalaksha were a few hundred French artillery men, Red Finns and more Serbs. At Kem, 250 Marines, 250 Serbs and one armor train . Some 2000 men to defend the port and 350 miles of railroad. From the start, the intervention was a pure British show. The Americans, at first, chose the correct course, stay out of Russia. The French, who had lost millions of dollars when the Russian Revolution occurred, sided with the British because of this sole reason. The French hoped to “get something back”. It was during the second quarter of 1918 that the second reason to intervene became increasingly the excuse. By this time, even the British knew that the supplies stockpiled at Archangel had been pilfered by the Reds and what remained along the docks was not of military value. Thus, the British sent 150 Royal Marines to secure Murmansk on March 6th, on April 18th, another 150 Royal Marines of the 1st Co\29th London Regiment, 600 French, one Serbian unit, 253rd Machine Gun Company and two artillery sections from the 584th Field Artillery landed. On May 17th, another 500 men landed and again on June 23rd, another 600 men and a Machine Gun company.


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