Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War

The Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War consisted of a series of multi-national military expeditions which began in 1918. They had the stated goals of helping the Czechoslovak Legion, of securing supplies of munitions and armaments in Russian ports, and of re-establishing the Eastern Front. At times between 1918 and 1920 the Czechoslovak Legion controlled the entire Trans-Siberian Railway and several major cities in Siberia. Overthrow of the new Bolshevik regime (established in November 1917) and stopping the perceived threat of communism world-wide were long-term goals.[9][10][need quotation to verify]

Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War
Part of the Russian Civil War
Result Allied withdrawal
Defeat and collapse of the Russian White Movement
Allied Powers:
Commanders and leaders
  • 50,000-70,000 troops
  • 50,000 troops
  • 15,600 troops
  • 30,000 troops[2]
  • 11,000 troops
  • 11,300 troops
  • 70,000 troops
  • 58,586 troops[3]
  • 4,700+ troops
  • 2,500 troops
  • 2,300 troops
  • 2,000 troops
  • 150 troops
Casualties and losses
1 landing craft captured by Romanians[8]
  1. ^ 1918–1919
  2. ^ 1918–1920
  3. ^ 1918–1919
  4. ^ 1918–1919
  5. ^ 1918–1920
  6. ^ 1918–1920

After the Bolshevik government signed away much of Eastern Europe to the sphere of influence of the Central Powers and officially withdrew from World War I (March 1918) the Allied Powers openly backed the anti-communist White forces in the Russian Civil War.[citation needed] Allied efforts were hampered by divided objectives, war-weariness from the overall global conflict, and a lack of domestic support. These factors, together with the evacuation of the Czechoslovak Legion in September 1920, compelled the Allied powers to end the North Russia and Siberian interventions in 1920, though the Japanese intervention in Siberia continued until 1922 and the Empire of Japan continued to occupy the northern half of Sakhalin until 1925.[11]



In early 1917 the Russian Empire found itself wracked by political strife - public support for World War I and Emperor Nicholas II had started to dwindle, leaving the country on the brink of revolution. The February Revolution of March 1917 affected the course of the war; under intense political and personal pressure, the Emperor abdicated ( 16 March  [O.S. 3 March]  1917) and a Russian Provisional Government formed, led initially by Georgy Lvov (March to July 1917) and later by Alexander Kerensky (July to November 1917). The Provisional Government pledged to continue fighting the Germans on the Eastern Front.[11]

The Allied Powers had been shipping supplies to Russia since the beginning of the war in 1914 through the ports of Arkhangelsk, Murmansk (established in 1915), and Vladivostok. In April 1917 the United States entered the war on the Allied side. US President Woodrow Wilson dropped his reservations about joining the war with the despotic tsar as an ally, and the United States began providing economic and technical support to Kerensky's government.[11]

The war became increasingly unpopular with the Russian populace. Political and social unrest grew, with the Marxist antiwar Bolshevik Party, under Vladimir Lenin, increasing its support. Large numbers of common soldiers either mutinied or deserted from the Imperial Russian Army. The Kerensky Offensive started on 1 July  [O.S. 18 June]  1917, but German and Austro-Hungarian counterattacked and defeated the Russian forces. This led to the collapse of the Eastern Front. The demoralised Russian Army stood on the verge of mutiny and most soldiers had deserted the front lines. Kerensky replaced Aleksei Brusilov with Lavr Kornilov as Commander-in-Chief of the Army (19 July 1917).

Kornilov attempted to set up a military dictatorship by staging a coup ( 10 September  [O.S. 27 August]  1917). He had the support of the British military attaché in Petrograd, Brigadier-General Alfred Knox, and Kerensky accused Knox of producing pro-Kornilov propaganda. Kerensky also claimed that Lord Milner, member of the British War Cabinet, wrote him a letter expressing support for Kornilov. A British armoured-car squadron commanded by Oliver Locker-Lampson and dressed in Russian uniforms participated in the failed coup.[12][13][14] The October Revolution of 25 October  [O.S. 7 November]  1917 led to the overthrow of Kerensky's provisional government and to the Bolsheviks assuming power.

Russia exits the warEdit

In early 1918 forces of the Central Powers invaded Russia, occupying extensive territory[15] and threatening to capture Moscow and to impose pliant regimes. Lenin wanted to cut a deal with Germany but failed to get approval from his council until late February. In desperate attempt to end the war, as they promised in their slogan ‘Peace, Bread, Land’, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (3 March 1918), ending the bloodshed. The Allied Powers felt betrayed and turned against the new regime, aiding its "White" enemies and landing troops to prevent Russian supplies from reaching Germany.[16][verification needed]

The betrayal removed whatever reservations the Allied Powers had about overthrowing the Bolsheviks. According to William Henry Chamberlin, even before Brest-Litovsk, "Downing Street contemplated a protectorate over the Caucasus and the Quai d'Orsay over Crimea, Bessarabia and Ukraine" and began negotiating deals for funding White generals to bring them into being. R. H. Bruce Lockhart and another British agent and a French official in Moscow tried to organize a coup that would overthrow the Bolshevik regime. They were dealing with double agents and were exposed and arrested.[17] French and British support for the Whites was also motivated by a desire to protect the assets they had acquired through extensive investment in Tsarist Russia.[18]

Czechoslovak LegionsEdit

Czechoslovak troops in Vladivostok (1918)

The Czechoslovak Legion was at times in control of most of the Trans-Siberian railway and all major cities in Siberia. Austro-Hungarian prisoners were of a number of various nationalities; some Czechoslovak POWs deserted to the Russian Army. Czechoslovaks had long desired to create their own independent state, and the Russians aided in establishing special Czechoslovak units (the Czechoslovak Legions) to fight the Central Powers.

The signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ensured that prisoners-of-war (POW) would be repatriated. In 1917, the Bolsheviks stated that if the Czechoslovak Legions remained neutral and agreed to leave Russia, they would be granted safe passage through Siberia en route to France via Vladivostok to fight with the Allied forces on the Western Front. The Czechoslovak Legions travelled via the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok. However, fighting between the Legions and the Bolsheviks erupted in May 1918.

Allied concernsEdit

Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force, 1919

The Allied Powers became concerned at the collapse of the Eastern Front and the loss of their Tsarist ally to communism, and there was also the question of the large quantities of supplies and equipment in Russian ports, which the Allied Powers feared might be seized by the Germans. Also worrisome to the Allied Powers was the April 1918 landing of a division of German troops in Finland, increasing speculation they might attempt to capture the Murmansk-Petrograd railway, and subsequently the strategic port of Murmansk and possibly Arkhangelsk. Other concerns regarded the potential destruction of the Czechoslovak Legions and the threat of Bolshevism, the nature of which worried many Allied governments. Meanwhile, Allied materiel in transit quickly accumulated in the warehouses in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. Estonia had established a national army with the support of Finnish volunteers and were defending against the 7th Red Army's attack.[19]

Faced with these events, the British and French governments decided upon an Allied military intervention in Russia. Ironically, however, the first British landing in Russia came at the request of a local (Bolshevik) Soviet council. Fearing a German attack on the town, the Murmansk Soviet requested that the Allies landed troops for protection. British troops arrived on 4 March 1918, the day after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Germany and the Bolshevik government.[20]

American troops parading in Vladivostok, August 1918

Severely short of troops to spare, the British and French requested that President Wilson provide American soldiers for the campaign. In July 1918, against the advice of the United States Department of War, Wilson agreed to the limited participation of 5,000 United States Army troops in the campaign. This force, which became known as the "American North Russia Expeditionary Force"[21] (a.k.a. the Polar Bear Expedition) were sent to Arkhangelsk while another 8,000 soldiers, organised as the American Expeditionary Force Siberia,[22] were shipped to Vladivostok from the Philippines and from Camp Fremont in California.

That same month, the Canadian government agreed to the British government's request to command and provide most of the soldiers for a combined British Empire force, which also included Australian and Indian troops. Some of this force was the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force; another part was the North Russia Intervention. A Royal Navy squadron was sent to the Baltic under Rear-Admiral Edwyn Alexander-Sinclair. This force consisted of modern C-class cruisers and V and W-class destroyers. In December 1918, Sinclair sailed into Estonian and Latvian ports, sending in troops and supplies, and promising to attack the Bolsheviks "as far as my guns can reach". In January 1919, he was succeeded in command by Rear-Admiral Walter Cowan.

The Japanese, concerned about their northern border, sent the largest military force, numbering about 70,000. They desired the establishment of a buffer state in Siberia,[23] and the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff viewed the situation in Russia as an opportunity for settling Japan's "northern problem". The Japanese government was also intensely hostile to communism.

Allied troops parading in Vladivostok, 1918

The Italians created the special "Corpo di Spedizione" with Alpini troops sent from Italy and ex-POWs of Italian ethnicity from the former Austro-Hungarian army who were recruited to the Italian Legione Redenta. They were initially based in the Italian Concession in Tientsin and numbered about 2,500.

Romania, Greece, Poland, and Serbia also sent contingents in support of the intervention.

However, while Soviet propaganda often portrayed Allied intervention as an alliance dedicated to crushing a nascent, worldwide communist revolution in the cradle, in reality the Allies were not particularly interested in intervention. While there were some loud voices in favour, such as Winston Churchill, these were very much in the minority. The main concern for the Allies was to defeat the German Empire on the Western Front. While the Bolshevik's repudiation of Russia's national debt and seizure of foreign-owned industries did cause tension, the main concern for the Allies was the Bolshevik's desire to get Russia out of the First World War. The Allies disliked the Whites, who were seen as nothing more than a small group of conservative nationalists who showed no signs of planning reform. Government ministers were also influenced by anti-White public opinion, which was being mobilised by trade unions. The low casualties suffered by the Allies is indicative of the low-level of their combat involvement. However, the Soviets were able to exploit the Allied intervention for propaganda purposes.[24][25][26][27]

Churchill, the loudest voice in favour of action, was a vehement anti-socialist and saw Bolshevism as socialism's worst form. As a result, he attempted to gain Allied support for intervention on ideological grounds.[28] The bulk of the British press were instinctively hostile to the Bolshevik regime, and so were largely supportive of the intervention. Many newspapers actively encouraged Allied intervention during the war.[29]

Foreign forces throughout RussiaEdit

The positions of the Allied expeditionary forces and of the White Armies in European Russia, 1919

Numbers of Allied soldiers who were present in the indicated regions of Russia:


North RussiaEdit

The first British involvement in the war was the landing in Murmansk on 6 March 1918. On 2 May, British troops took part in their first military engagement. A party of White Finns who had crossed the border during the Finnish Civil War had captured the Russian town of Pechenga, and it was feared that the Whites would hand over the town to the Germans for use as a submarine base. The Germans were the Allies of the White Finns as they had been assisting them militarily during their Civil War.[42] British marines fought alongside Red Guards to capture the area by 10 May with several casualties. In this first engagement, British troops had fought against a White force in support of the Red Army.[43] However, on 30 July, a British offensive against the Bolsheviks was launched on the port city of Arkhangelsk.[43] 1,500 British and French troops took the city on 2 August 1918 after a small amount of fighting.[44]

In September, the British forces in the Murmansk sector were reinforced by the arrival of a force of 1,200 Italians as well as small Canadian and French battalions. On 4 September 1918 the promised American forces arrived at Archangel. Three battalions of troops landed, supported by engineers and under the command of Colonel George Stewart. This force numbered 4,500 troops.[45] However, on 11 November, the armistice between Germany and the Allies was signed, ending the First World War, meaning that the primary objective of re-establishing the Eastern Front was now irrelevant. However, the Allied forces did not leave. From this point onwards, the sole objectives of the Allies were to restore a White government and to remove the Bolsheviks from power.[46]

In the Archangel sector, an offensive was launched along the Northern Dvina river. The 2/10th Royal Scots cleared the triangle between the Dvina and Vaga and took a number of villages and prisoners. The strongly fortified village of Pless could not be attacked frontally, so 'A' Company, less one platoon, attempted a flanking movement through the marshes. The following morning the company reached Kargonin, behind Pless, and the defenders – thinking themselves cut off by a large force – evacuated both villages. The regimental historian describes this as 'a quite remarkable march by predominantly B1 troops'.[47] In mid-September, Allied troops were driven out of Seletskoe, and it took three days for the settlement to be retaken.[48] By late September, US Marines and 2/10th Royal Scots had reached Nijne-Toimski, which proved too strong for the lightly-equipped Allied force. Heavy shelling then drove the Allies out of Seltso and Borok.[49] The monitors having withdrawn before the Dvina froze, the force was also shelled by Bolshevik gunboats on the river. The Bolsheviks launched on offensive on Armistice Day 1918 along the Northern Divina front,[50] and there was heavy fighting at the Battle of Tulgas (Toulgas) on the KurgominTulgas line: the final defensive line in 1919.

The furthest advance south on the northern front in early 1919 was a US Mission in Shenkursk on the Vaga River and Nizhnyaya Toyma on the Northern Dvina where the strongest Bolshevik positions were encountered. American troops were expelled from Shenkursk after an intense battle on 19 January 1919, losing seventeen men in the process.[51]

The British decided that the only way to eject the Bolsheviks from power was by raising a large White Russian Army. However, recruitment attempts failed to provide a sizable enough force. When recruitment was opened at Archangel on 5 August, only a single man came forward.[52] During February 1919, an offensive was launched which aimed to capture extra territory from which locals could be conscripted. This would be the first significant action on the Murmansk front between the Allies and the Bolsheviks. Met with stiff opposition, the town of Segeja was captured and half the Red Army garrison was killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Despite an attempted Bolshevik counter-attack, by 20 February 3,000 square miles of territory had been taken.[53]

Many of the British and foreign troops often refused to fight, and Bolshevik attacks were launched with the belief that some British troops may even defect to their side once their commanders had been killed. In April, a pre-emptive strike against the Bolsheviks was launched against Urosozero.[54] A major offensive was then launched in May. During the advance on Medvyeja-Gora on 15 May, the stubborn Bolshevik defence was only ended with a bayonet charge. British and Bolshevik armoured trains then traded blows as the British attempted to seize control of more of the local railway. The town was finally seized on 21 May, as Italian and French troops pushed forward with the British.[55]

In April, public recruiting had begun at home in Britain for the newly created 'North Russian Relief Force', a voluntary force which had the claimed sole purpose of defending the existing British positions in Russia.[56] By the end of April 3,500 men had enlisted, and they were then sent to North Russia.[57]

In early June the French troops were withdrawn and the Royal Marines detachment was also sent home, followed by all Canadian troops. By 3 July, the Italian company was on the verge of mutiny as its men were seriously disaffected with their continued presence in Russia so long after the Armistice. In mid July, the two companies of American railway troops were also withdrawn. The Royal Marines unit had openly demanding to their commanding officers that they be sent home.[58] The French and American troops stationed in the north were similarly reluctant to fight.[59] During June, small naval battles occurred on Lake Onega between Allied and Bolshevik ships. The Bolshevik forces were completely taken by surprise when British seaplanes emerged and attacked. The settlement of Kartashi was captured during the month.[60]

Captured British Mark V tank in Arkhangelsk

As British forces advanced in the Murmansk sector, a key engagement took place during 5–6 July, as the Reds were driven from Kapaselega. A series of Bolshevik attacks were repelled throughout July–August 1919 with heavy British casualties. The Royal Air Force were ordered to attack Bolshevik positions, and they bombed the docks and railway junctions at Petrozavodsk as well as a bridge over the Suna River in a failed attempt to destroy it to slow any Bolshevik advance. On 5 July, a plot to mutiny and murder officers was uncovered in a unit of the North Russian Rifles stationed near Lake Onega. The ringleaders were executed.[61]

The White Russian troops occasionally mutinied and defected to the Red Army. Mutinies were commonplace within the White forces in Archangel.[62] The Whites handed the strategic town of Onega to the Bolsheviks on 20 July 1919. Attempts were made to recapture the city by the British and loyal Whites on 1 August and 30 August, both attempts failing. It was eventually captured on 8 September. During August and September, plans were made for the evacuation of British troops, and for the White administration meant to take over after their departure. It was decided to launch a series of attacks before the withdrawal in the hope of demoralising the enemy. The village of Koikori was attacked on 28–29 August, leading to the deaths of several men. The attack failed and the village remained in Bolshevik hands. Afterwards, a company refused to move forward and attack. Many of the company's troops were under 19 and had not volunteered to serve in Russia. Many of the men would later be sentenced to hard labour, with some being sentenced to death before having their sentences commuted by secret order of King George V. On 3 September another attack was made on Koikori, this time with RAF seaplanes strafing and bombing the village. The final offensive of 14 September was the largest operation during the entire North Russian campaign. Heavy fighting ensued during the advance on the village of Mikheeva Selga. By 16 September, the British had reached the River Numis and had taken 1,000 Red Army prisoners. RAF aircraft then bombed a Bolshevik destroyer on Lake Onega and set it on fire.[63]

With the White forces now having been put in a solid position, the British began their withdrawal. The last British troops left Murmansk on 10 October 1919. After the withdrawal, the White forces managed only to hold onto the area for a few months, before Archangel was captured by the Bolsheviks on 21 February 1920 and Murmansk on 13 March 1920.[64]

Baltics and Northwestern RussiaEdit

Russian Civil War in the west in 1918–19

Although the Estonian Army had attained control over its country, the opposing 7th and Estonian Red Armies were still active. The Estonian High Command decided to push their defense lines across the border into Russia in support of the White Russian Northern Corps. They went on offensive at Narva, catching the Soviets by surprise and destroying their 6th Division.[68] Estonian and White attacks were supported along the Gulf of Finland's coast by the Royal Navy and the Estonian Navy and marines. On the night of 4 December, the cruiser HMS Cassandra struck a German-laid mine while on patrol duties north of Liepāja, and sank with the loss of 11 of her crew. At this time, the new Estonian government was weak and desperate. The Estonian Prime Minister asked Britain to send military forces to defend his capital, and even requested that his state be declared a British protectorate. The British would not meet these pleas.[69]

British cruisers and destroyers soon sailed up the coast close to the Estonian-Russian border and laid down a devastating barrage on the advancing Bolsheviks' supply lines.[69] On 26 December, British warships captured the Bolshevik destroyers Avtroil and Spartak,[70] which at the time were shelling the port of Tallinn. Both units were presented to the Estonian Provisional Government and, as Lennuk and Vambola, formed the nucleus of the Estonian Navy.

The Estonian Pskov offensive commenced simultaneously on 13 May 1919. Its Petseri Battle Group destroyed the Estonian Red Army, captured the town on 25 May, and cleared the territory between Estonia and the Velikaya River.[71] A few days later, the Northern Corps forces arrived in Pskov. On 19 June 1919, the Estonian Commander-in-Chief Johan Laidoner rescinded his command over the White Russians, and they were renamed the Northwestern Army. Shortly afterward, General Nikolai N. Yudenich took command of the troops.[68]

With the front approaching, the garrison of the Krasnaya Gorka fort mutinied.[72] To support the mutiny, a flotilla of British Coastal Motor Boats under the command of Lieutenant Augustus Agar raided Kronstadt Harbour, sinking the cruiser Oleg and the depot ship Pamiat Azova on 17 June 1919.[73][74][75][76] In a second attack in August, the Bolshevik battleships Petropavlovsk and Andrei Pervozvanny were damaged, at the cost of three CMBs.[77][74][76] The attackers also managed to sink the important Russian submarine depot ship.[78] Despite the actions, the mutiny was eventually suppressed by the 12 in (300 mm) guns of the Bolshevik battleships.

The next offensive of the Northwestern Army was planned on 10 July 1919, but the armaments and supplies expected from the Allies did not arrive. Nor did the Estonians desire to proceed with the fruitless war since with the initial peace approach of April 1919 the Russian Bolshevik government already guaranteed the recognition of the independent Estonian state. So when British Gen. Gough requested on 8 August Estonians for the military assistance to Yudenich, Estonians in return asked both Yudenich and the Allies to recognise their state first. Gough's deputy, Brigadier Gen. Frank Marsh required Yudenich to immediately issue a statute that would establish the Government of the North-West Russian Region[79] encompassing Petrograd, Pskov and Novgorod Governorates that would officially guarantee de jure recognition of Estonia. On 16 August Times made the deal public that angered the Foreign Office and the War Cabinet, and caused a decline in further military aid to Yudenich.[80]

However, the Northwestern Army launched operation White Sword, the last major effort to capture Petrograd on 9 October, with arms provided by Britain and France, and the operational support by the Estonian Army, Estonian Navy, and the Royal Navy.[19] Securing Petrograd for the White forces was one of the main goals of the campaign for the British.[81] The Estonian and British forces made a joint land and naval attack against Krasnaya Gorka, while the Estonian 2nd Division attempted to throw the 10th Red Division across the Velikaya, and the 3rd Division attacked toward Pytalovo and Ostrov. The Northwestern Army approached to within 16 km (10 mi) of Petrograd, but the Red Army repulsed them back to the Narva River.[71] Distrustful of the White Russians, the Estonian High Command disarmed and interned the remains of the Northwestern Army that retreated behind the state border.[82] With the failure to capture Petrograd, the British had failed to achieve one of their main goals.

Significant unrest took place among British sailors in the Baltic.[83] This included small-scale mutinies amongst the crews of HMS Vindictive, Delhi—the latter due in part to the behaviour of Admiral Cowan—and other ships stationed in Björkö Sound. The causes were a general war-weariness (many of the crews had fought in World War I), poor food and accommodation, a lack of leave, and the effects of Bolshevik propaganda.[84]

In total, the British lost 128 men in the Baltic campaign, with at least 27 also being wounded and 9 being captured.[85] Britain committed around 90 ships to the campaign, and of this number 17 ships were lost and around 70 were damaged.[85]

Southern Russia and UkraineEdit

On 18 December 1918, a month after the armistice, the French landed in Odessa and Sevastopol. In Odessa, an 7-hour battle ensued between the French and the forces of the Ukrainian People's Republic before they gained full control of the city.[86] The landings began the intervention in southern Russia (later Ukraine) which was to aid and supply General Denikin's White Army forces, the Volunteer Army, fighting the Bolsheviks there. The campaign involved mainly French, Greek and Polish troops. The morale of the French troops and the sailors of their fleet in the Black Sea was always low, and most wanted to be demobilised and sent home. The morale of the Greek and Polish interventionist forces was no better.[87] A local warlord, Ataman Nikifor Grigoriev, aligned himself with the Bolsheviks on 18 February 1919 and advanced his army against the foreign invaders. With his army of 10–12,000 men, he first attacked allied-held Kherson on 2 March which was occupied by just 150 French, 700 Greek and a few hundred Volunteers of questionable reliability. After heavy fighting, the city was taken on 9 March. The French lost 4 killed and 22 wounded, while the Greeks had some 250 casualties. Local Greek residents were also killed in the aftermath. After the conquest of Kherson, Grigorev turned his forces against Nikolaev, where there were even less allied troops present. There were still 12,000 well equipped German troops in the city, but they had no intention to participate in the fighting. The local French commander was allowed to negotiate a truce with Grigoriev, and on 14–16 March all allied and German troops were evacuated by sea without any fighting, leaving considerable quantities of war material behind.

By April 1919, the troops were withdrawn from Odessa after further threats from Nikifor Grigoriev's Army,[88] before the defeat of the White Army's march against Moscow. A major mutiny amongst French sailors on the Black Sea had in part necessitated the withdrawal. Some British sailors dispatched to the Black Sea had also mutinied.[89] The last Allied troops left Crimea on 29 April 1919.

General Wrangel reorganized his army in the Crimea; however, with the deteriorating situation, he and his soldiers fled Russia aboard Allied ships on 14 November 1920.


After the Bolshevik forces of the Rumcherod attacked the region of Bessarabia, the Romanian government of Ion I. C. Brătianu decided to intervene, and on January 26 [O.S. January 13] 1918, the 11th Infantry Division under General Ernest Broșteanu entered Chișinău. The Bolshevik troops retreated to Tighina, and after a battle retreated further beyond the Dniester.[90] The battle of Tighina was one of the two significant engagements of the 1918 Bessarabian Campaign. It lasted for five days, between 20 and 25 January, and ended in a Romanian victory, albeit with significant Romanian casualties (141 dead). Romanian troops captured 800 guns.[91]

Russud-class vessel

The second important battle was fought at Vâlcov, between 27 January and 3 February. The actions of Bolshevik warships (including three Donetsk-class gunboats), managed to delay the Romanians for several days, but the ships had to retreat on 3 February due to no longer being able to adjust and correct their aiming, after Romanian artillery destroyed the shore-based Bolshevik artillery observation posts. Later that day, Romanian troops occupied Vâlcov. The Romanians captured the Russud-class landing craft K-2 as well as several more barges armed with a total of eight 152 mm Obuchov guns.[92][93][94]


A Japanese lithograph showing troops occupying Blagoveschensk

The joint Allied intervention began in August 1918.[23] Britain sent a 1,800-strong unit to Siberia commanded by Labour Party MP and trade union leader Lieutenant Colonel John Ward, which was the first Allied force to land in Vladivostok on 3 August.[95] The Japanese entered through Vladivostok and points along the China–Russia border with more than 70,000 troops eventually being deployed. The Japanese were joined by American, Canadian, French, and Italian troops. Elements of the Czechoslovak Legion[96] which had reached Vladivostok greeted the Allied forces. The Americans deployed the 27th Infantry and 31st Infantry regiments out of the Philippines, plus elements of the 12th, 13th and 62nd Infantry Regiments out of Camp Fremont.[97]

China sent forces numbering 2,300 in Siberia and North Russia beginning in 1918, after the Chinese community in the area requested protection from the chaos and violence of the war. Many of these soldiers later defected to the Red Army to fight on the side of the communists.[98] The Chinese army fought against both Bolsheviks and Cossacks.[99]

The Japanese were expected to send only around 7,000 troops for the expedition, but by the end of their involvement in Siberia had deployed 70,000. The deployment of such a large force for a rescue operation made the Allied Powers wary of Japanese intentions.[100] On 5 September, the Japanese linked up with the vanguard of the Czech Legion,[100] a few days later the British, Italian and French contingents joined the Czechs in an effort to re-establish the Eastern Front beyond the Urals; as a result the European Allied Powers trekked westward.[100] The Canadians largely remained in Vladivostok for the duration. The Japanese, with their own objectives in mind, refused to proceed west of Lake Baikal.[100] The Americans, suspicious of Japanese intentions, also stayed behind to keep an eye on them.[100] By November, the Japanese occupied all ports and major towns in the Russian Maritime Provinces and Siberia east of the city of Chita.[100]

The Allied Powers lent their support to White Russian elements from the summer of 1918.[100] There were tensions between the two anti-Bolshevik factions, the White Russian government led by Admiral Alexander Kolchak and the Cossacks led by Grigory Semyonov and Ivan Kalmykov, which also hampered efforts. The Allied forces originally took over from some front-line White forces and helped hold the line against the Bolsheviks in the far-east. The British unit helped defend the line at Kraevesk. Outnumbered and outgunned, the small Allied forces were forced to withdraw. Two British armoured trains with two 12-pounder naval guns and two machine guns each were sent from Vladivostok as reinforcements.[101] Operating under a Japanese commander, the small British unit and other Allied forces played a small but important part in the battle of Dukhovskaya on 23–24 August 1918. Five Bolshevik armed trains were attacked, supported by the British forces' own two armoured trains, and there were 600 Japanese casualties. This limited but decisive action entirely eliminated organised Bolshevik resistance on the Ussuri front.[102]

By the end of October, the British force had finished its journey West from Vladivostok all the way to the front lines at Omsk. The unit stayed in the city for the next six months over the cold Siberian winter.[103] It may have played a role in the coup in the city in November 1918 which brought Admiral Kolchack to power as 'Supreme Leader' of Russia.[104] The force went forward with the advancing Czechs and Russians and continued to provide artillery support along the railway from Omsk to Ufa in October and November.[105] The British would later form an important part of the 'Kama River Flotilla', a boat unit that assisted the Whites by attacking the Bolshevik forces along the course of the river. They bombarded Red troop concentrations, protected bridges and provided direct fire support and attacked Bolshevik boats on the river. In one action, the flotilla sank the Bolshevik flagship on the river and destroyed one other boat. They were later driven back by the Bolshevik advance on Perm.[106]

The small British force was withdrawn in the summer of 1919.[32] All remaining Allied forces were evacuated in 1920, apart from the Japanese who stayed until 1922.


In 1917, Dunsterforce, an Allied military mission of under 1,000 Australian, British, and Canadian troops (drawn from the Mesopotamian and Western Fronts), accompanied by armoured cars, deployed from Hamadan some 350 km (220 mi) across Qajar Persia. It was named after its commander General Lionel Dunsterville. Its mission was to gather information, train and command local forces, and prevent the spread of German propaganda.[107]

Later on, Dunsterville was told to take and protect the city of Baku and its oil fields. During the early stages of the Russian Civil War the Caucasus region was governed by three de facto independent states, the Menshevik-dominated Democratic Republic of Georgia, the Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, and the main White Russian forces had no real control.[108] The British feared that Baku could be captured by the Ottoman Empire, since their forces in the area were advancing, and if they gained control of the fleet in the port they could transport troops to the city of Krasnovodsk directly across the Caspian Sea from Baku. This action would open Central Asia to the Turks and give them access to British-controlled India through Afghanistan.[109]

The British landed in Baku on 17 August 1918.[110] The British force was at this time 1,200 men strong.[111] Dunsterforce was initially delayed by 3,000 Russian Bolshevik troops at Enzeli but then proceeded by ship to Baku on the Caspian Sea. This was the primary target for the advancing Ottoman forces and Dunsterforce endured a short, brutal siege in September 1918. The British held out for the first two weeks of September, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. A final Turkish attack on 14 September lasted until sunset, and, facing an overwhelmingly larger force, the British were forced to withdraw. The troops escaped from the port on three waiting ships on the same day.[112] In total, the battle for Baku had resulted in around 200 British casualties, including 95 dead.[113][114]

However, having been defeated in World War I, the Ottoman Empire had to withdraw its forces from the borders of Azerbaijan in the middle of November 1918. Headed by General William Thomson, a British force of 1,600 troops[115] arrived in Baku on 17 November, and martial law was implemented on the capital of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic until "the civil power would be strong enough to release the forces from the responsibility to maintain the public order". There were also British occupations of the Georgian cities of Tiflis and Batum in Georgia, along with the full length of the Baku-Batum railway, since the British wanted to protect this strategic line which connected the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.[116] By January 1919, the British presence was 40,000 strong, the largest of all British intervention contingents in Russia.[117] Again, these British occupations of territory in the Caucasus were in part motivated by a desire to 'protect India's flank' and secure the local oilfields, but they were also motivated by a desire to support the three new independent states and supervise the German and Ottoman withdrawal.[118] The British forces served only a defensive purpose and were withdrawn in the summer of 1919, as regular troops were needed elsewhere and others were long overdue for demobilisation after the Armistice that ended the First World War.[119] The last British forces left Baku on 24 August.[120]

Trans-Caspian CampaignEdit

With the British fearing that German and Ottoman forces may penetrate into Russian central Asia, possibly via a crossing of the Caspian sea to the key port of Krasnovodsk, the Trans-Caspian area became an area of interest.[121] Allied military action began on 11 August 1918, when General Malleson intervened in support of the Ashkhabad Executive Committee, who had ousted the Tashkent Soviet Bolsheviks from the western end of the Trans-Caspian Railway in July 1918 and had taken control of Krasnovodsk.[122] Malleson had been authorised to intervene with Empire and British troops, in what would be referred to as the Malleson Mission. He sent the Machine Gun Section of the 19th Punjabi Rifles to Baýramaly located on the Trans-Caspian railway. On 28 August, the Bolsheviks attacked Kushkh on the Afgan border but were repulsed, with 3 officers and 24 rank and file being killed or wounded. 2 British liaison officers were shot from behind as they advanced, presumably treacherously.[123] There was further action at Kaka on 28 August as well as 11 and 18 September. The British forces were reinforced on 25 September by two squadrons of the 28th Light Cavalry. At this point, Malleson, against the wishes of the Indian Government, decided to push further into Transcaspia and attack the Bolsheviks. Fighting alongside Trans-Caspian troops, they subsequently fought at Arman Sagad (between 9 and 11 October) and Dushak (14 October). At Dushak, the British force suffered 54+ killed and 150+ wounded while inflicting 1,000 casualties on the Bolsheviks.[124] British attacks continued to inflict heavy losses on Bolshevik forces.[125]

By 1 November, the British force had re-occupied Merv and on instructions of the British government, halted their advance and took up defensive positions at Bairam Ali. The Trans-Caspian forces continued to attack the Bolsheviks to the north. After the Trans-Caspian forces were routed at Uch Aji, their commander Colonel Knollys sent the 28th Cavalry to their support at Annenkovo. In January 1919, one company of the 19th Punjabi Rifles was sent to reinforce the position at Annenkovo, where a second battle took place on 16 January that resulted in 48 casualties.[126] During February, the British continued to inflict heavy losses on Bolshevik forces.[127] The British Government had decided on 21 January to withdraw the force, and the last troops left for Persia on 5 April.[128]


Allied withdrawalEdit

The Allied Powers withdrew in 1920. The Japanese military stayed in the Maritime Provinces of the Russian Far East until 1922 and in northern Sakhalin until 1925, following the signing of the Soviet–Japanese Basic Convention in Beijing, in which Japan agreed to withdraw its troops from Russia. In return, the Soviet Union agreed to honor the provisions of the Treaty of Portsmouth.[37][129]

Assessment by historiansEdit

In 1957, Frederick L. Schuman wrote that the consequences of the expedition "were to poison East-West relations forever after, to contribute significantly to the origins of World War II and the later 'Cold War,' and to fix patterns of suspicion and hatred on both sides which even today threaten worse catastrophes in time to come."[130] For Soviet leaders, the operation was proof that Western powers were keen to destroy the Soviet government if they had the opportunity to do so.[131] Modern historian Robert Maddox summarised, "The immediate effect of the intervention was to prolong a bloody civil war, thereby costing thousands of additional lives and wreaking enormous destruction on an already battered society."[132]


Winston Churchill, who had been the most prominent supporter of a campaign to remove the Bolsheviks from power, long lamented the Allies' failure to crush the Bolshevik state in its infancy. This was especially the case during the breakdown of western-Soviet relations in the aftermath of World War 2 and the start of the Cold War. In 1949, Churchill stated to the British parliament:

“I think the day will come when it will be recognized without doubt, not only on one side of the House, but throughout the civilized world, that the strangling of Bolshevism at its birth would have been an untold blessing to the human race.”

In a further speech at the National Press Club, Washington D.C. in June 1954, Churchill lamented:

“If I had been properly supported in 1919, I think we might have strangled Bolshevism in its cradle, but everybody turned up their hands and said, ‘How shocking!’”[133]

See alsoEdit


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  4. ^ Bradley, Czechoslovak Legion, 156.
  5. ^ Kinvig, pp. 289, 315; Wright, pp. 490-492, 498-500, 504; Winegard, p. 208; Malleson Mission - Casualties
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Further readingEdit

  • Wright, Damien. "Churchill's Secret War with Lenin: British and Commonwealth Military Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-20", Solihull, UK, 2017
  • Kinvig, Clifford, Churchill's Crusade: The British Invasion of Russia 1918–1920, London 2006, ISBN 1-85285-477-4.
  • Carley, Michael Jabara. "Allied Intervention and the Russian Civil War, 1917–1922," International History Review 11#4 (1989), pp. 689–700 in JSTOR. Historiography
  • Foglesong, David S. "Policies Toward Russia and Intervention in the Russian Revolution." in Ross A. Kennedy ed., A Companion to Woodrow Wilson (2013): 386–405.
  • Flake, Lincoln. "‘Nonsense From the Beginning’—Allied Intervention in Russia's Civil War at 100: Historical Perspectives from Combatant Countries." Journal of Slavic Military Studies 32.4 (2019): 549-552. online
  • Fuller, Howard. "Great Britain and Russia’s Civil War:“The Necessity for a Definite and Coherent Policy”." Journal of Slavic Military Studies 32.4 (2019): 553-559.
  • Guard, John (2001). "Question 38/99: British Operations in the Caspian Sea 1918–1919". Warship International. International Naval Research Organization. XXXVIII (1): 87–88. ISSN 0043-0374.
  • Head, Michael, S. J. (2016). "The Caspian Campaign, Part I: First Phase - 1918". Warship International. LIII (1): 69–81. ISSN 0043-0374.
  • Humphreys, Leonard A. (1996). The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920s. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2375-3.
  • Isitt, Benjamin (2010). From Victoria to Vladivostok: Canada's Siberian Expedition, 1917-19. University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 978-0-7748-1802-5. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011.
  • Isitt, Benjamin (2006). "Mutiny from Victoria to Vladivostok, December 1918". Canadian Historical Review. University of Toronto Press. 87 (2): 223–264. doi:10.3138/CHR/87.2.223. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011.
  • Kurilla, Ivan. "Allied Intervention From Russia’s Perspective: Modern-Day Interpretations." Journal of Slavic Military Studies 32.4 (2019): 570–573.
  • Long, John W. "American Intervention in Russia: The North Russian Expedition, 1918–19." Diplomatic History 6.1 (1982): 45–68.
  • Luckett, Richard. The White Generals: An Account of the White Movement and the Russian Civil War (1971)
  • Moffat, Ian C.D. The Allied Intervention in Russia, 1918–1920: The Diplomacy of Chaos (2015) excerpt
  • Moore, Perry. Stamping Out the Virus: Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War 1918–1920 (2002)
  • Plotke, AJ (1993). Imperial Spies Invade Russia. Westport CT, London: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-28611-6.
  • Richard, Carl J. "'The Shadow of a Plan': The Rationale Behind Wilson's 1918 Siberian Intervention." Historian 49.1 (1986): 64–84. Historiography
  • Silverlight, John. The Victors' Dilemma: Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917–1920 (1970).
  • Swettenham, John. Allied Intervention in Russia 1918-1919: and the part played by Canada (Routledge, 2017).
  • Trani, Eugene P. "Woodrow Wilson and the decision to intervene in Russia: a reconsideration." Journal of Modern History 48.3 (1976): 440–461. in JSTOR
  • Unterberger, Betty Miller. "Woodrow Wilson and the Bolsheviks: The "Acid Test" of Soviet–American Relations." Diplomatic History 11.2 (1987): 71–90.
  • WINEGARD, TIMOTHY C. (2016). The First World Oil War. University of Toronto Press. doi:10.3138/j.ctv1005dpz. ISBN 978-1-4875-2258-2.
  • Willett, Robert L. (2003). Russian Sideshow: America's Undeclared War, 1918–1920. Washington D.C.: Brassey's. ISBN 1-57488-429-8.

External linksEdit