The Finnish Civil War and intervention in North Russia

All of the reasons supporting Allied intervention in general were valid for the landings in northern Russia at Murmansk and Archangel. In addition, the Allies were concerned that the Germans might seize the ports of Murmansk and nearby Petchenga and use them as bases for the U-boats that were wreaking havoc on Allied shipping in 1918. Moreover, the ports of Murmansk and Archangel were possible points of evacuation for the embattled Czech Legion. These concerns were not unfounded, thanks to recent events in Finland.

For much of their history, the Finns had been dominated by either Sweden or Russia. Finland had been a part of the Russian Empire since the end of the Russo-Swedish War of 1808-09. The February and October Revolutions in 1917 revived Finnish hopes for a nation free of either Swedish or Russian Influence, Two politico-military factions arose during the course of 1917, the 'Civil Guards' or 'Whites', and the 'Workers' Security Guards' or 'Reds'. The collapse of Kerensky's Provisional Government in November emboldened the Finns, under their future head of state, Pehr Swinhufvud, to declare independence on 6 December 1917,

This new country lacked established military and security forces; consequently, real power lay in the hands of the paramilitary groups, whether Red Guard or White Guard. Each of these factions, however, projected a different and irreconcilable socio-economic vision for Finland. Recognizing the need for a more regular army, the fledgling Senate backed the White Guards, creating the 'Finnish White Army'on 15 January 1918 and naming General Baron Carl Mannerheim commander.

The first serious clashes between White and Red occurrcd from 17 to 20 January in Karelia. Then, on the 26th, the Finnish Red Guards declared revolution and appealed to Lenin for support. The Russian Bolsheviks, however, were never able to maintain more than 10,(XX) men in the field in support of the Red Finns, The Whites, on the other hand, requested support from imperial Germany.

Over the next months, the number of troops on each side fluctuated between 50,000 and 90,000. The Whites possessed three formidable units which were instrumental in their eventual victory: the elite, German-trained Finnish Jaegers, numbering 2,000; the 10,000-strong German Baltic Sea Division under General Baron Rudiger von der Goltz that intervened in March; and the German Brandenstein Detachment of 3,000 that landed in April. The VVhites celebrated victory in Helsinki on 16 May 1918, and, as a matter of course, Finland remained under German influence until the Armistice in November.

Finland's disposition affected the Allied contingents allotted to Murmansk and Archangel because a hostile force could drive east through Russian Karelia, cutting the Murmansk-Petrograd Railway. This would prevent any Allied move south and bottle the Allies up at Murmansk. Further, an enemy positioned on the railway at Kem or Kandalaksha (240 kilometres) would sever the one overland road - in reality more of a reindeer track - that haphazardly connected Murmansk to Archangel.

Climate also played a part in every Allied plan. While Murmansk remained relatively ice-free throughout the year, the port of Archangel froze solid between November and April. This affected the timing of Allied intervention, the reinforcement and supply schedules and even the moment of final evacuation.

Intervention proceeded at Murmansk in stages, 500 British Royal Marines landing in March and May. 'Syren Force', a body of 600 troops under British Major-General C. M. Maynard, arrived on 23 June. These groups linked up with a hattalion of Serbs that had marched north from Odessa. Then, an Italian contingent landed on 3 September. By the end of 1918, 6,832 British and Canadians, 1,251 Italians, 1,220 Serbs, 731 French and 4,441 locally raised troops (including Russians of the Karelian Regiment and Finns of the

Intervention Murmansk

Major-General Sir C. M. Maynard commanded the 'Murmansk Force' dispatched from England to Murmansk. North Russia, in June 1918. Enlisted members wore a white star on a midnight blue patch (symbolizing the North Star) on the right shoulder Maynard himself wore the same insignia, but as an armband on the right arm (Provenance unknown, damaged photo, c. 1918)

end of June, in July, he took up defensive positions to the south at Soroka.

The Allies bound for Archangel, the 'Elope Force' under British Major-General F. Poole, initially landed at Murmansk in late June 1918, Poole's original 500 men were reinforced by French, Polish and additional marines on 30 July. Poole himself had arrived at Murmansk in May and had acted as overall coordinator of both Syren and Elope forces prior to a future landing at Archangel.

Encouraged that Allied intervention was imminent at Archangel, local White Russians revolted and seized the port, facilitating Allied entry on 2 August. The American contingent, comprising the 339th Infantry Regiment, the 310th Engineers and smaller supporting units under the command of Colonel George Stewart, arrived on 5 September, By the end of 1918, the Allies at Archangel consisted of 6,293 British and Canadians, 5,302 Americans, 1,686 French, 2,715 Russians (including 500 of the 'Slavo-British Legion') and 300 men of the Polish Legion,

Major-General Sir C. M. Maynard commanded the 'Murmansk Force' dispatched from England to Murmansk. North Russia, in June 1918. Enlisted members wore a white star on a midnight blue patch (symbolizing the North Star) on the right shoulder Maynard himself wore the same insignia, but as an armband on the right arm (Provenance unknown, damaged photo, c. 1918)

Finnish Legion) were on the Murmansk Front. The Finnish Legion consisted of pro-Bolshevik elements that had been pushed out of Finland during their civil war.

Through to the end of October, Maynard engaged in several battles in central Karelia that pitted his British-led 'Red' Finns against German-led 'White' Finns. Ironically, Maynard had to fight these low-intensity engagements in the forested marshes while being unsure if his Finnish Legion might turn on him. The local soviet administration at Murmansk eventually decided to declare for the Allies but the question of a Bolshevik invasion into the north from Petrograd made Allied security problematical, indeed, Maynard had already turned back one such incursion at Kem at the

North Russia 1918-20

Bolshevik Invasion

Nicholas Chaikovsky, a Socialist Revolutionary, headed the Russian Northern Government at Archangel in August, a post he would hold until January 1919, when P. J. Zubov succeeded him. Originally, Colonel B. A. Durov served as governor-general of the northern region. General Marushevsky succeeded him in November and was replaced in turn in

January 1919 by General E. K. Miller, who held the additional title of commander-in-chief of White forces at Archangel and Murmansk,

Poole's challenge from August through to September had been to create a defensive perimeter around Archangel before the onset of winter. Poole determined to extend Allied positions to the south, while securing both flanks, and holding open the possibility of linking up with loyal Russian forces to the east in Siberia. Additionally, within this new enclave, local Russians could be recruited as part of a new northern White army.

To these ends, Poole advanced five columns. The first and most important, the 'Railway Column', extended southwards along the rail line past Emptsa to just north of the strategic railway station of Plesetskaya. I hls thrust aimed at the city of Vologda. Two ancillary columns protected this advance, a garrison at the town of Onega and a covering force at Emptsa.

1'he second most important column, the 'Dvina Column', secured positions at the confluence of the Vaga and Dvina [(¡vers near Bereznik. This column then captured Tulgas on the Dvina and Shenkursk on the Vaga (340 kilometres from Archangel), and after extending defensive perimeters outwards, proceeded to dig in. The Dvina Column held open the possibility of reaching the city of Kotlas (640 kilometres from Archangel) in spring 1919, which was connected by .120 kilometres of rail to Viatka, which itself connected to Siberia. The final column garrisoned the town of 1'inega, 160 kilometres east of Archangel.

Major-General Edmund Ironside replaced Poole as commander of Elope Force in October. From November, the Bolsheviks directed counter-attacks, delivered by the 6th Army, against the Allied columns. Initially, the Reds had a superior advantage in heavy artillery as well as in gunboats, a flotilla of riverine craft operating out of Kotlas. British intelligence estimated the 6th Army at 20,500 men in January 1919, up from 9,000 the previous September.

The Armistice removed the primary reasons for Allied intervention in the north. Yet evacuation could now not occur until late spring or summer 1919 because of the onset of winter. Already, the White Sea had begun freezing, preventing the evacuation of Archangel, and the Allies on the Murmansk Front could not exit and leave the forces at Archangel unsupported.

The winter of 1918-19 caused incredible hardships: supplies had to be brought up by

Meeting of the Allies atVerst 455, Vologda Front. North Russia, 5 May 1919 American Colonel George E Stewart (left) salute; American General Wilds B. Richardson (right). Stewart commanded the 339th Infantry Regiment nicknamed The Polar Bears'. White Russian soldiers attend the rail gun (centre) whilst British personnel stand atop the troop train (far right). (US Signal Corps)

Finland Rail Gun

sledges pulled by reindeer or sleds pulled by dogs, weapons froze, as did exposed flesh, and in the skies a seemingly endless 20 hours a day of darkness reigned. Troops sheltered in villages or in log blockhouses ringed by barbed wire. In January 1919, the Reds forced the Americans, Canadians and White Russians out of Shenkursk, the most exposed salient, but the Tulgas positions held.

Meanwhile, the Allies and General Miller concentrated on building a reliable White army that could stand against an anticipated Bolshevik invasion of the north. This army grew steadily. In January 1919 Miller possessed 6,000 men, by February 12,000, by April 16,000 and by autumn he attained a ration strength of 50,000.

This expansion was not without danger, due to the intense Bolshevik propaganda directed against the White recruits. In April a battalion of the 3rd Northern Rifle Regiment mutinied, while in July Dyer's Battalion of the Slavo-Britlsh Legion rebelled and the 5th Russian Infantry Regiment garrisoning Onega handed over that town and the immediate sector to the Reds. Other revolts took place that month in the 6th and 7th Russian Infantry Regiments. These disturbances underscored the basic unreliability of many of Miller's soldiers. In fairness to the Whites, almost every one of the Allies at one point had to deal with instances of insubordination and mutiny.

One hopeful event occurred on 21 March 1919 when a Russian patrol under Captain Alashev made contact with General R. Gaida's White Siberian forces at the village of Ustkozhva. But a meaningful union of armies was not to be. By the end of summer, when sufficient Allied forces were on hand, Admiral Kolchak's Siberians had already begun their long retreat.

Having decided to withdraw from intervention in North Russia before the winter of 1919-20, the Allies began final operations that could give the Whites a chance to survive.

On the Murmansk Front, General Maynard took Sumsky Posad in February, which opened up at least a precarious land route to Archangel. In April, he disbanded the now-unreliable 'Red' Finnish Legion. Also that month, the Allies and White units, including the Russian Rifle Regiment and the Olonetz Regiment, moved south along the railway to Lakes Undozero and Urosozero and from there 80 kilometres further south to Medvyejya Gora. Here, situated on Lake Onega, the Allies constructed a seaplane and armed motor-boat base and began training the Whites in their use.

This additional territory produced more recruits, so that by August, White strength reached 7,000. Already, however, the Allies had started evacuation: the French in June, the American railway troops in July and the Italians and Canadians in August. In August, Maynard and Russian troops under General Skobelitsin attacked Red positions on the Shunga peninsula. The Whites were left in positions along the northern shore of Lake Onega as the last of the Allies withdrew from the Murmansk theatre on 12 October.

At Archangel, two brigades of British volunteers arrived in May and June as a covering force for the eventual Allied withdrawal. The first, under BrigadierGeneral G. Grogan, struck the Red Army on the Dvina Front in June. The second, under Brigadier-General L. Sadlcir-Jackson, hit the 6th Army on the Dvina River in August, putting six Red battalions out of action and taking 3,000 prisoners. General Miller's Russians then took over the front lines.

Germans inspect a Russian Renault armoured car captured from the Bolsheviks in Latvia, 1918. (Photo, Bullock collection)

Polish Captured Armored Cars

The Americans and Canadians had already evacuated the Archangel Front in June and the last of the Allies left on 27 September. General Miller's Whites fought on that autumn, but after the retreat of Yudenich and Kolchak, the Reds were free to reinforce the north. Many of the White regiments in the Murmansk theatre were surrounded and annihilated, Murmansk itself falling on 21 February 1920. Archangel had fallen two days earlier, the last of the Whites who were able to, including Miller, escaping by icebreaker into exile. White officers and politicians who bad not escaped were shot en masse by the Bolsheviks.

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