The Allies in South Russia

In December 1917, Britain and France had agreed to divide spheres of interest and potential economic gain in southern Russia: France taking the grain-rich Ukraine, including the Crimea and Donets industrial basin, and Britain the eastern ports of the Black Sea including the oil-rich Caucasus and Caspian. The collapse of the Central Powers on the Balkan Front in November 1918 encouraged the French to intervene by shifting forces from that theatre to South Russia. France's grand design for the post-war world was to create a cordon sanitaire from Riga to Odessa, a security belt of states as a hedge against Bolshevism on the one hand, and against a German national resurgence on the other. Further, France decided to encourage local armies to fight the Bolsheviks.

To these ends, the French landed troops at Odessa on 18 December 1918 and Sevastopol on 25 December. General Philippe d'Anselme arrived to assume overall command on 11 January 1919, The Greeks also decided to intervene with France, having been one of the Allies In World War Cine. Greece sought to protect a considerable ethnic Greek population in the southern Ukraine as well as gain a larger voice in the post-war political arena. Consequently, the Greeks began landing their troops at Odessa on 20 January.

Originally, French plans had encompassed a sizeable force of 20 Allied divisions, but quickly whittled this number down to 12, then to six, and, in the end, only five arrived. The French expedition included the 30th and 156th Infantry Divisions and the 16th Colonial Infantry Division while the Greek force consisted of the 2nd and 13th Infantry Divisions. Both nations additionally sent supporting troops and several ships.

These units numbered approximately 40,000, or 50,000 if local Ukrainian and Russian forces that occasionally fought alongside the Allies arc Included. More impressive on paper than reality, the Allies were seriously under-strength. Many of the French had been stricken with the deadly Spanish influenza virus in the Balkans, while the Greeks found it difficult to transport, supply and finance their expeditionary troops in the field. Above all, most of the Allied soldiers simply wanted to demobilize, and several mutinies aboard ship and in the field ensued as a consequence.

Over the next weeks the French and Greeks expanded their bridgeheads at Odessa and Sevastopol. The French occupied Tiraspol on 7 February, the Greeks and French fought their way into Kherson on 29 February and the Greeks entered Nikolaev on 2 March.

The advance to Tiraspol had brought the French and Creeks into contact with another of the Allied powers, Romania. The Romanians had occupied the Russian province of Bessarabia after the Bolshevik Revolution and had established their own bridgehead across the Dniester River. Most Romanian attention, however, was focused on extending their territory to the west in Transylvania and defending Bessarabia against sundry bands of Ukrainian guerrillas. Thus Romania could only anchor the left flank of the Allies.

From the start, the Allies failed to achieve unity or a political consensus. Russian troops loyal to General Denikin's AFSR refused to go directly under French command. Ukrainian forces under General Petlyura desired freedom from both Allied control and domination by the Whites. Moreover,

Bolshevik agitators subjected the inhabitants of the occupied zones to an intense campaign of propaganda. Consequently, the quality and quantity of forces raised locally by the Allies were not impressive.

Having overstretched their positions and having failed to rally significant numbers of the population, the Allies were then attacked by elements of the Red Army. The largest resistance came from Anatoli Skachko's 'Forces Group Kharkov', which numbered about 40,000 by March, a number that docs not include the thousands of irregular forces loosely allied with the Reds. Skachko's troops were a collection of proletarian volunteers, hastily conscripted peasants and former soldiers, and bands of partisans commanded by colourful chieftains such as Ataman Grigoriev.

This horde reorganized several times, two main groups hiving off to capture separate objectives - the 'Forces Group Odessa' striking southwest towards Kherson, Nilolaev, Berezovka and finally Odessa, while the 'Forces Group Crimea' headed south towards Sevastopol. Mobile and living off the land, the Reds held the initiative and were able to attack Allied fixed points in turn. Kherson fell on 10 March and Nikolaev four days later. On 18 March, French, Greek and Russian forces were defeated at the battle of Berezovka, which effectively opened the door for the siege of Odessa. The Allies evacuated the city along with any civilians able to obtain a berth from 3 to 6 April and the rape of Odessa ensued.

Meanwhile, the 'Forces Group Crimea' assaulted two seriously depleted White Russian regiments holding the entrances to the Crimean peninsula at i'erekop, Chongar and Sivash on 29 March. After several days of fighting, the Reds broke into the Crimea itself on 3 April. Sevastopol, only lightly held by French and Greek forces, came under siege on 15 April. The city fell to the Reds after Allied evacuation on the 28th.

Castigated by critics as a fiasco and largely ignored by historians, Allied intervention in the south arguably achieved one success. The French and Greeks distracted the Reds

Imperial War Museum Baku

The British and Colonel Sicherkov's Cossacks prepare to advance on Baku in the Caucasus. (Imperial War Museum, Q15925)

and gave Romania time to expand its national forces and stabilize defences on the Dniester River. In tbe meantime, in neighbouring Hungary a communist revolution had taken place under the revolutionary leader, Bela Kun. In response, the Romanians moved decisively against the communists in summer 1919. The fall of Budapest to Romanian troops on 6 August may have prevented the spread of Bolshevism into Central Europe.

The British first intervened in South Russia for another play of what has been called the 'Great Game', namely, protecting the Central Asian approaches to India, their 'jewel in the Crown'. The terms of the Treaty of Brest-Eitovsk had ceded three Russian provinces to the Ottoman Empire: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. These nations had declared independence, however, forming the Trans-Caucasian Commissariat, a defensive league meant to uphold their status as emergent nations. Notwithstanding, the Ottoman Turks overran Armenia and Azerbaijan in spring 1918. In response, the Georgians invited the Germans to enter in May in order to offset Turkish influence.

Britain, meanwhile, had been seeking to frustrate a takeover of the entire Caucasus region by the Central Powers. British Major-General Eionel Dunsterville was ordered to establish a military mission in the Caucasus and from there rally a new pro-Allied front. Setting out from Baghdad with a small colonial expedition in January 1918, Dunsterville marched northwards through Persia where he allied with a group of Cossacks led by Colonel Bicherakov.

By May, the oil-rich Caspian Sea port of Baku seemed to be the best location for a military mission. Here, a motley collection of Red Guards, Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Russians of every political persuasion had decided to put up resistance to a further Turkish advance. Bicherakov's Cossacks proceeded to Baku in June, Dunsterville's British following in August.

The Turks put Baku under siege from 26 August to 14 September. Determined

Turkish attacks and superior numbers overcame the local contingents and the British themselves were forced to evacuate by sea on the 14th. Fortunes turned, however, when on 30 October 1918, the Ottoman Empire signed an armistice ending Turkish participation in World War One. One of the clauses freed Baku from Ottoman control and allowed the establishment of the British 14th Division in that city.

From there, the British were able to provide assistance to the emergent Caucasian states and to General Denikin's Whites in 1919. In particular, British vessels sporting 4-inch guns were able to fight a Red naval flotilla based at Astrakhan for possession of the Caspian Sea.

Further east, Major-General Wilfred Malleson made another play in the Great Game. The collapse of the Russian Provisional Government and the Bolshevik Revolution had also rocked Central Asia in 1917, New Islamic states and emirates emerged from the broken Russian Empire. These felt threatened by Red propaganda that had entered their cities and by the numbers of newly freed German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners in their midst who seemed to be colluding.

The government of Ashkabad, which had been embroiled in a reign of terror and counter-terror, Red Guards versus Muslims, therefore asked for British assistance in summer 1918. Malleson responded with a battalion of Punjabis based in Persia, moving northeast into the Trans-Caspian region of Turkestan in August. A new anti-Bolshevik force took shape and grew to several thousands, the 'Trans-Caspian Army', which heavily defeated the Reds in October.

Unfortunately, one incident soured relations between the British and the government of Ashkabad that autumn - the execution of the '26 Commissars', an event later made famous in Soviet paintings and propaganda. These Red commissars had escaped from the Turks at Baku and crossed the Caspian to Krasnovodsk on 15 September. Here they were apprehended by local troops and shot. Far from directing the proceedings, the British had protested vehemently.

By January 1919 the British decided that any German-Turkish threat to Central Asia had evaporated; therefore, Malleson was recalled and the last of the British left Trans-Caspia in April. The Trans-Caspian Army, however, fought on until its destruction by the Red Army in summer 1919.

Far to the west, the British intervened in February 1919 at the port of Novorossisk on the Black Sea. Lieutenant-GeneraI Briggs originally headed the 500 members of the British Military Mission to South Russia, relinquishing this command to the redoubtable Major-General Sir H. C. Hoi man that spring. This mission included technicians, logisticians and weapons experts of every kind, sent to train Denikin's Whites in the arts of flying, driving tanks and how to use British artillery and machine guns.

The mission headquartered at Ekaterinodar, 96 kilometres northeast of Novorossisk, in the Kuban. Royal Air Force instructors, having brought 130 RES aircraft with them, trained many of the future pilots and observers of Denikin's Air Force at Chernomorskt Aerodrome three kilometres outside Ekaterinodar. Royal Lank Corps instructors were also based in Ekaterinodar from April to June before moving up to the port of Taganrog on the Sea of Azov in summer 1919. Over 200 Whites received driver/gunner training for the mission's 74 tanks (for further information about British-White tank operations see Osprey New Vanguard 83: Armoured Units of the Russian Civil War: White aiul Allied). Many of the Royal Tank Corps personnel seized every opportunity to test their battle skills against the Reds under mobile conditions far different from what they had experienced on the Western Front.

One part of the mission included No. 47 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The squadron, mostly composed of volunteers from Britain and the former Balkan Front, set out from Salonika, Greece, bound for Novorossisk on 16 April 1919. Major (later Air Marshal) Raymond Collishaw commanded. The unit contained several notable personnel including Western Front ace Captain Sam Kinkead, Captain (later

Flt Sam Kinkead

The Bolsheviks believed their world revolution would occur only after industrial Germany with its large proletariat positioned in the heart of Europe, fell to the Reds. In this photo, members of the Prussian Schutzpolizei pose beside a German Communist Party (KPD) armoured train captured during the Leuna Industrial Complex revolt in Saxony. 23-29 March 1921. The rebels, led by Max Hoe I? and numbering 3,000-4,000, had fortilied the complex and created this armoured train. Colonel Bemhard Graf von Poninski with 4,000 Schutzpolizei put down the rebellion. Typical of class conflicts everywhere, the event was marred by the torture and execution of prisoners on both sides. (Photo card, Bullock collection)

The Bolsheviks believed their world revolution would occur only after industrial Germany with its large proletariat positioned in the heart of Europe, fell to the Reds. In this photo, members of the Prussian Schutzpolizei pose beside a German Communist Party (KPD) armoured train captured during the Leuna Industrial Complex revolt in Saxony. 23-29 March 1921. The rebels, led by Max Hoe I? and numbering 3,000-4,000, had fortilied the complex and created this armoured train. Colonel Bemhard Graf von Poninski with 4,000 Schutzpolizei put down the rebellion. Typical of class conflicts everywhere, the event was marred by the torture and execution of prisoners on both sides. (Photo card, Bullock collection)

Air Chief Marshal) William Elliot and Captain Marion Aten, an American volunteer who purportedly attained 'ace' status while in theatre (ranks may appear differently in books because the Royal Air Force changed its rank structure in August 1919).

No. 47 flew DH9, DH9a and Sopwlth Camel aircraft and achieved legendary fame while flying from Beketovka Aerodrome, 20 kilometres south of Tsaritsyn, in support of General Baron Wrangel's Caucasian Army. From August to October, No. 47 bombed and strafed two Red naval flotillas threatening the city from the Volga River. 'R' Flight, with the four Sopwith Camels, was especially popular with the Cossacks. In October, the Red Army broke through Wrangel's front, the 5,000-strong cavalry of Dumenko leading the way. Kinkead, Aten and the pilots of 'B' Flight released their bombs on the Red horsemen and followed up with repeated strafing runs. The Cossacks then counter-attacked with their sabres, counting 1,600 enemy bodies at the end of the day

When ordered to disband in October and become merely instructors, the personnel of

No. 47 volunteered to serve in Denikin's AFSR. Collishaw took a particular Interest in attacking Red armoured trains north of the Crimea in February 1920 before the unit handed over its aircraft to the Whites and evacuated on 30 March.

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