By Eric Vandenbroeck
When Spies invaded Russia p.1
Just recently two new books came out that while otherwise well written unfortunately repeat some of the tired old cliches and misinformation that we have seen in other books about the same subject. One book by Rupert Wieloch (2019) focusses on the British intervention in Russia and describes among others how the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George wished to repair relations with Lenin’s government in Moscow and reopen trade with Russia whereby Churchill supported White general Admiral Alexander Kolchak. The other book by James Carl Nelson is written from a US point of view and is titled, The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes of America’s Forgotten Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919 (2019). Nelson similar to Rupert Wieloch (p.22) for example once more emphasize the alleged transformation from (cited as "the original mission") from "protecting supplies" to "next" active engagement.
This whereby there not only is plenty of evidence that instead of a need to protect supplies it has long been admitted that the more valuable stores had already been removed to the interior of Russia before any troops where send. And that the propaganda section of MI1(British Intelligence), principally using friendly newspapermen, gave detailed accounts of the amount and nature of the stores held in supply dumps, whereby senior ministers used their influence to spread the fake story.
One of the issues that have not been understood so far is that the military phase as described by Wieloch and Nelson was not the first but rather the second involvement of Imperials in North Russia both as we shall see encouraged by separate timing of events.
The earlier secret mission was to establish a signals intelligence support group, which was meant not only to guarantee Imperial access but also to serve as a relay for intelligence gathered within Russia and the surrounding areas to London, where it would serve as an informed and reliable basis for further action. Without such signals intelligence presence, the War Office was blind.
Some years ago when I first started to go public with issues related to British Intelligence I mentioned the amusing story of Nick Clegg the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 2011 asking for the release of some of them, which to date still have not been made public. Nick Clegg at the time was particularly interested to see the still not released documents surrounding the "Lockhart Plot." Last year then I next published a revealing letter from Lockhart's son (in a letter directed at the British Secret Service discovered in the Russia related archives at Stanford University's Hoover Institute) that finally spilled the beans on this matter.
Similarly, with the following study another roundabout way to get to the information that (in spite of the recently released British documents in context of 100 Years since World War One) has not been released yet in the UK today is by researching relevant documents in the National Archives of Canada. There one finds information shared at the time by Britain in light of the intervention for which Britain asked Canada for help in exchange for Canada being declared as an equal partner and contrary to in Britain today in Canada these documents are currently accessible.
British Spies from Persia to North and South and Eastern Russia
The scholars or researchers who write a book have the unusual opportunity to re-write history for cause, rather than revise it for lack of anything better to do. But some of this new information has a tendency to echo current events, and in so doing to prompt conclusions based on a less than careful historiography. Synchronicity becomes confused with coincidence. Some research may even result in a method which excludes normally considered circumstances on the grounds that those circumstances are now politically uninformed.
When the intelligence elements of Great Britain, tire Dominions, and the Allies determined that, in the interests of their own survival it was necessary to invade Russia, they did so because it seemed, bad bargain though it clearly was, the best bargain available. The Russians did not entirely appreciate the reasoning. Although for many years after 1917 a Western historical discretion was preserved about the three separate forays and their affiliated actions, the Russians continued to feel strongly that the acts were fundamentally hostile. It colored Russian opinion at the time, and according to many it has continued to do so, although the West is only now having the un-nerving experience of learning about a part of its past which was, to say the least questionable. As a result of this conflict between old grievance and new shock the whole intervention affair has come to be viewed as a little too black and white.
In the effort to mitigate the West’s political chagrin, a fair amount of effort has been expended in trying to locate a smoking gun, fixing blame on one country or another, or on one political clique or another. Individual responsibility, an idea which was perfectly respectable at the time, is seldom now considered, and arguments center more often around whether one economic cartel wielded more power than another and the possibility that individuals may have been persuasive, much less powerful, is frequently neglected.
In 1917 and 1918 the British Empire was the single largest worldwide political and economic entity. No other power and certainly not the newly awakened United States had more to gain or to lose by the way the collapsing Russian Empire was divided. Indeed, while the guns were smoking on the Western Front, the smoke was usually being created in Whitehall.
The untidiness of the Interventions can be instructive. We may learn how at the beginning of the twentieth-century men and women who were fighting for their survival and that of their society invented an entirely new kind of political response which they hoped would benefit them. We may learn that that policy evolved from a genuine hope that the policy would stop at least part of the legalized killing which was going on. We may discover that the men and women involved were not always cynical about their motives, although sometimes they excelled at such behavior. We may learn that the actions initiated in 1917 by the British Empire have had some now identifiable consequences.
That was the point. The year 1917 (1 see also the newly published book below) was a nexus, recognized at the time for what it was. Intervention in Russia was undertaken because it seemed necessary. The decision to use military intelligence in a dramatically different way was taken with the knowledge that creating such a weapon could cause incalculable change. These decisions were not stumbled into because of some amorphous group gullibility or incompetence. In realizing this fact we also realize the human nature of intelligence and of the world in which it was most recently codified. The intelligence actions launched by the British Empire against Bolshevik Russia were as much prompted by people driven to make decisions with uncertain consequences as they were by some neutral, proto-typical juxtapositioning of global and inter-group political dynamics. These were people, who unlike the comforting illusion conveyed by the word "humint" (a category of intelligence derived from information collected and provided by human sources) truly were aware that sometimes they would guess wrong and the consequences would he calamitous; and who took the risk anyway. To comprehend this fact requires a serious discussion of such things as empires without the implication of bad taste or worse, bad history.
As indicated by the title imperial Britain thus launched three interventions against Russia at the end of the First World War. Their planning was uniform and their initial objectives were virtually identical although they were not necessarily the same objectives which were later proclaimed. There were striking similarities within their pattern of execution, even though in one case the action outgrew its original purpose so quickly that it became less a surgical "intervention" than a fairly ordinary military action conducted in a fairly ordinary fashion. Yet, because the three took place at such geographically and politically different areas, each has been treated as though it were a separately determined action or as though it were part of an overall Allied policy of hostility toward Bolshevik Russia, Imagining any of these possibilities dislocates them from their time, misplaces their genesis (a plan which had begun to take shape in November 1917), and overlooks their provenance within the imperial context of global geopolitics.
What has also been overlooked in the general attempt to find a purpose for an apparently purposeless activity is the fact that there was indeed a unitary motive for the actions. There were specific reasons for the interventions to occur where they did and why the missions were so small yet their personnel so curiously assorted. Simply, the personnel of the Interventions, subsequently loaded with a host of other ancillary objectives to accomplish started out as necessarily discreet intelligence-operations units operating within accepted military norms and according to sound imperial military doctrine.
The intervention groups at their start had no orders, intention, or functional mission to intervene militarily in anything at all. They were meant to extend both human intelligence and signals intelligence access into specific geographic areas of an otherwise inaccessible region for reasons which had only partially to do with Russia.2
As we shall see, the reasons which originally led to the despatch of Allied troops to North Russia were "to maintain communications with the patriotic and Anti-German elements in Russia." These access points to intelligence networks were the "Special routes," established because it was "obviously desirable to avoid, as far as possible, routes passing through the territory of neutrals where the connecting lines were worked by a non-British staff and were liable to be interfered with by a neutral Government, or tapped in the interests of the enemy."
As originally composed they were not part of any kind of conspiracy, nor were they part of a renegade or tainted power play, misunderstood by duly constituted authorities. Far from it. Instead, the original interventions were legitimate extensions of the legitimate wartime effort to provide information and to control its flow in a situation which was both potentially destructive to Imperial England and immediately threatening to the military task at hand. It is misleading to judge the interventions outside that legitimate context which, while certainly influenced by external political affairs, devolved from political institutions of considerably longer standing.
In 1917, the British Empire was still a separate political construct from the entity known as England, with separate ambitions and separate policies. It acted both within and without the domestic government; it called on networks which were only loosely linked to the domestic structure but which functioned as an integrated political power which had dominated global considerations for the previous fifty years. Bolshevik political fervor was not, in 1917 or 1918, really much of Imperial concern. Whether the new philosophy could affect what really drove the Empire was a more pressing issue.
Imperial Britain maintained its dominance through a unique combination of individual and economic influence, acting within a largely unified structure. The issues of power and prestige and their preservation through the accumulation of economic suasion served as a constant reinforcement and measurement of the efficacy of the Imperial system; there was little in the way of formalized structure within the Imperial system which had a more solid basis than did those qualities. Their very intangibility provided the flexibility of interpretation which fueled the Empire, for in the debates of the time Imperial fears of the loss of prestige were predicated on the understanding that once general acquiescence to Imperial international paramountcy was compromised, primacy could not be restored.
That paramountcy could be compromised was an ongoing fear. Imperial statesmen grew accustomed to dealing globally, partly as a result of the size of the empire, partly because of the delicacy involved in maintaining such a huge geographical structure with limited manpower and budgets. Historical comprehension of the origins of the actions launched against European Russia, South Russia (North Persia) and Asiatic Russia has been complicated by the seeming unlikelihood of any such geographically distanced areas posing a simultaneous threat to Great Britain. Lacking at the time a coherent political unity, it is difficult to imagine how north, south and eastern Russian territories could affect Britain at all.
Affect it they could. Their unitary nature rested not on a geographical connexion to one another, but because of their geographical connexion to Imperial power centers. Each in its own way had the ability to adversely affect Imperial paramountcy, either through upsetting trade, interrupting vital communications or jeopardizing delicately balanced foreign alliances. Their physical locations were lines drawn on a map-convenient, but otherwise immaterial. If during the war the need for an external imposition of orderliness through the designation of theatres of action made such distinctions arrived at for bureaucratic and operational convenience, emblematic of true distinctions, at no time were those distinctions presumed to reflect political reality. The territories that AJ, Balfour 3 easily considered part of one problem-the south-west corner of Russia in Europe, the territories adjacent to the White Sea and the Arctic Ocean, Siberia, Trans-Caucasia and Trans-Caspian, (and in the last two cases, implicitly the affected Middle East) were treated as one unit and one threat because the various difficulties each was experiencing could result in a single result; their instability could harm Imperial paramountcy.
This longstanding political matrix, deriving in large part from the fact that the British Empire was the worldwide entity that it was and that its true competitors were equally widespread, brought with it an unexpected bonus. By 1914 there was a fairly large population of both Imperial and European military professionals with direct experience in multi-objective warfare executed at the periphery but driven by centralized plans. These professionals, with backgrounds in conflicts everywhere from Peking to South Africa to Peru, had the experiential advantage of members of the home armies; peripheral warfare was a more or less constant activity during the twentieth century’s early years. Additionally, since the structure built into all imperial peripheral accommodations was based on the idea that military success was fundamentally flawed if it could not be perpetuated politically, and that political success rested on the least exertion of force, these men were already accustomed to a kind of warfare which was soon to supersede the more theoretically based slaughter endorsed by the 'Westerners’ in Europe.
The experience common among the peripheral warriors should have been incorporated specifically into the British War Office training and decision-making processes. It was not. Instead, fragments were insinuated into doctrine, almost secretly, through circumstance and through individual action. For the peripheral warfare specialists, who were perfectly confident about their objectives, the European conflict was only another, larger manifestation of the political conflicts which they had been facing for years. Their reaction to events in Russia would be based on expertise outside Europe—a purely Imperial stratagem was transferred successfully to the political heart of Europe. In this, they were helped by some of the most powerful Imperial politicians of them all.
The peripheral specialists were able to impose their response patterns on at least one critical aspect of the War Office machine. They were greatly assisted by the domestic political upheaval which had brought Prime Minister David Lloyd George to power. Lloyd George, that inestimably practical man, had moved cautiously in ways which allowed the advocates for Imperial periphery interests to be heard. His fondness for direct action is well-known; those who could advance their opinions and provide positive results of their value were given the opportunity for further success.
One of the most striking evidence of this philosophy was the re-organization of the Directorate of Military Intelligence-DMI-in 1916. The re-organization gave Imperial experts direct access to the political structure. Concentrated within the ranks of the DMI were men and women who had for years been at the forefront of the modernization not only of formalized intelligence work but also of the incorporation of peripheral lessons into modernized warfare. Of the three traditional branches of the military—operations, intelligence, and training—only the intelligence wing was able because it depended on a theory which was mutable, to respond quickly to the changed political circumstances of 1916. Intelligence work gained, in addition to its traditionally understood value as a tactical weapon under control of operations and overall political strategy, a curious and almost independent capability for action.
In part the growth of the intelligence branch was exaggerated by the pressures of warfare, but that growth was only forced, not separately created. Its development as an important asset of Imperial policy had its origins in that peripheral warfare of which so many of its proponents were veterans. The delicate balancing of action against Imperial power and prestige was one which had formed its military proponents’ conclusions; the understanding that those same issues, while critical to the continuation of Imperial hegemony was fundamentally opposed to the nature of other empires and democracies allowed a dual perception of the nature of military success itself. This was not a matter of direct assaults, nor of Clausewitzian tactics, but of more subtle actions whose success could just as easily be measured economically, politically or socially. The threat of 1917 was that the Allies might refuse to endorse activities meant only to assure the survival of Imperial interests.
In order to take advantage of the power vacuum caused by the Russian collapse, internal administrative changes were refined which merged old forms of military action with civil political authority. The effect was the re-definition of British Imperial techniques of control expressed through trade expansion and political influence, within an expedient military framework. The evolving military intelligence organization created in response to political necessity was given its high-level advisory role in order to circumvent "not military Bolshevism which can be conquered by force, but Bolshevism representing the aims of labour agitators and the I.W.W,…"4 It was at this level-a stratum charged with creating the strategic plans for ministers and generals, and in one particular case providing the means for those plans to be carried out—that initial responsibility for the interventions lies. It is wise to realize that the First World War was the culmination of all the Imperial struggles of the nineteenth century, and that empires, if they wish to survive, must first be concerned with their own futures. In 1918 Imperial Britain, in analyzing the position of her empire, could see well enough that the break-up of the Russian Empire directly threatened the survival of her own. This jeopardy was a reason why the interventions took place where they did and involved the personnel they did. That Imperial Britain refused to shelter such risky ventures under a single public policy has subsequently obscured the interventions’ genesis. The sleight of hand which existed from the first was executed for a small price-the benefit was direct, immediate and precise. The interventions were a vehicle to preserve Imperial prestige and to extend Imperial influence and control-and if those concepts are intangible, they nevertheless were the philosophies which ensured the Imperial economic control of half the world.
These rapid institutional changes were not as quickly reflected in the rhetoric of the day. It seemed as though the interventions sprang full-blown out of the ’War Office'-were taken up by the "Army" and were justified by the "Cabinet." But in 1917 there was no one, tidy, chain of command from Cabinet to War Office to Army. In any case, what entity can be comprehended by the term "War Office"? Which element of the Cabinet? Was the General Staff so omniscient as to be able to recognize and respond to political necessity? Was the Cabinet (which members?) sufficiently adept at military assessment that they were able to instruct the squadron commanders at Baku, Vladivostok and Archangel in tactical combat maneuvers? Was there such a consensus at the War Office that its ex-cathedra pronouncements on anything other than the immediate military consequences of action in North Persia and North Russia had compelling weight? The administrative components certainly acted together, but internal disputation remained a major stumbling block for every decision which tended to expand military theatres. While one may maintain that bureaucratization was coming into its own in the First World War, making complete depersonalization of motives theoretically possible, is the alternative to believe that the only personalities involved were the important ones-that Ministers and Generals somehow singlehandedly fight wars? Obviously, such abbreviated means of reference were breaking down and were of significantly less consequence to Imperial thought than were the consequences of Pan-Islamicism or Prussian militarism.
The "War Office" and the "General Staff" which did coordinate the interventions were not the same military entities which directed the battles on the Western Front. For the interventions it was the intelligence groups within those agencies which held responsibility; these groups were composed of men and women who had accumulated specific and personal experience of conditions which had Imperial aspects and who by reason of their placement within the power structure of the Empire was able to function as a kind of Imperial political auxiliary. The nature of the interventions reflects these individuals’ convictions; if that idea is at odds with strict theoretical historicism it may be because the British Empire for all its success, was always primarily dependent on individuals. In the absence of any other competent group, the authorized government-that is, Lords Milner and Curzon, Prime Minister Lloyd George and Lord Robert Cecil, and those men on whose personal loyalty they relied-used what they had. What they had in the case of the interventions was a new kind of intelligence service parallel with that service previously concerned with military and political intelligence, devised in response to wartime exigencies by singular individuals who were willing to exercise their skills in the interests of achieving strategic control over a situation which was out of control. The men and women involved in those intelligence groups exercised operational control of all three interventions in an experiment at extending Imperial political philosophy which lasted only briefly, between January and June 1918, but which had begun at least two decades earlier. In its first incarnation the group was known as MI2. In its second, between late December 1917 and June 1918, it was called Military Intelligence-Operations-MIO.
The pressure on the central government by intelligence agencies and politicians, and the fluctuation in and paucity of reliable information about what Bolshevism intended, was exacerbated by the increasing supply problems to Russia and by groundless fears that material on hand was being misused. There was no desire for another front; neither the Allies nor the Empire could support one, and even the addition of the U.S. troops (which were expected, but were not expected to be of much immediate use), would not make much immediate difference.
Yet the kinds of action which the new intelligence-operations groups had proposed in North Persia, and which were to be duplicated in North Russia, could make some form of small war (or as it soon came to be called, guerrilla war) likely, and that was geographically difficult at most intersection points between British and Russian imperial zones. By December 1917 the various struggles between action and inaction had become so caught up in the bureaucratic infrastructure of Cabinet, War Office, Foreign Office and sub-ministries that their resolution was virtually impossible. No one group had the authority to determine what course of action to pursue or which tools to use.
From 1916 on, the Directorate of Military Intelligence whose officers had concerned themselves with locating, analyzing and disseminating whatever information was available, was the only group whose analyses covered more than one aspect of the problem. As part of the War Office bureaucracy and as (fairly senior) military men, they were fully aware of the military problems. Their experience in handling and acquiring information from the economic and political sectors accustomed them to factor in those elements. As a group, they were able to share in the successful results of the strategic intelligence operations in Arabia and further, bring an historical appreciation of the uses of tactical intelligence within the Empire. In short, the DMI constituted the single body of experts combining political acuity with the close knowledge of the entire Russian strategic situation within an Imperial framework.
These considerations propelled the development of predictive strategic intelligence as a weapon which promised the war-strained British government success in its struggle to obviate both the tangible and intangible threats to Imperial paramountcy which were posed by Russian voluntary withdrawal as well as by the involuntary collapse of their role as a balance between the Ottomans and the objectives of the German and French empires. Intelligence offered a third option where the Europeanists’ military and political formulas were patently ineffectual. If it is a truism that no new weapon goes long unused then the truism is validated by the swift employment of intelligence in its strategic form by Imperial statesmen at the end of the First World War.
The interventions were not, until their very end, monitored by traditional military or political chains of command. Their planners were primarily intelligence-operations specialists whose objectives were to preserve and expand the Empire by reconstituting Russia "to withstand German economic penetration after the war."5 These men, working out of Whitehall was to take whatever steps would contribute to that objective’s success, integrating within military considerations the fact that Russia, whatever form its government would assume "will be one of the most important markets in the world."6 In December 1917, the intelligence planners, acting with both military and political authorities took the first steps to independently identify a threat and initiate action against it.
The re-definition of intelligence (as opposed to information) took place at the end of the First World War, but the changes were not formally acknowledged at Cabinet level until the internal intelligence agreements of the 1920s. Those agreements recognized that intelligence could actually, impel or create political action. Between the creation of this new use for an old tool and its formal incorporation into political affairs lay a series of societal upheavals as significant as the war itself. Prime Minister Lloyd George’s willingness to support his own intelligence service, his implicit disaffection with Foreign Office expertise, and his tacit encouragement of the performance of those centralized agencies operating out of and parallel with the War Office served as transitional political indemnification for strategic intelligence’s initiation of policy. Implicit encouragement at the prime ministerial level has continued ever since.
Wartime Imperial intelligence agencies used prerogatives granted during an emergency to add a strategic political dimension to their traditionally understood terms, actions and behaviors. The newly granted right to function outside the chain of command informed subsequent military intelligence operations during the war, and they began to supersede other less effective elements at command level directly after it. Strategic intelligence—or that analyzed information which proves useful in "forming policy and planning at international, national and theater levels, oriented on national objectives"7—gained its foothold as an operational implementer at this transitional point. Uncontrollable circumstances involving the Russian Imperial collapse made it a plausible substitute for direct action. There was a strong governmental reluctance to reveal this new use for intelligence—indeed the term itself was evolving beyond contemporary usage. The word’s definition at one level of policy was changing, to take into account its strategic and civil responsibilities, yet the old military meaning had not changed much over the centuries. Standard British Army theory explained "intelligence" narrowly, marking it as but one of several instruments available to a commander carrying out his orders. Its role was subsidiary, and what predictive influence it carried above command was displaced in authority by diplomatic assessments. This confusion in the term’s meaning provided an ideal opportunity for intelligence- operations to expand without too much-unwonted oversight.
Essentially, intelligence existed only in the sense of analyzed information moving in one direction, supplementing command’s ability to make effective tactical choices based on centralized strategy formed by the political structure. By the time analyzed intelligence from the centre reached a field officer, it had been routed through the entire command structure and its specific contribution to the strategy were blurred. It supported the implementation of governmental policy, which created military strategy, which was executed in the field. The Director of Military Intelligence, General C.E. Callwell, had defined it as merely the effort to avoid "working ... in the dark"—the collection of information about the 'nature of the enemy, his strength, his weapons, and his fighting qualities. . . Military theory in 1915 held that 'what is known technically as "intelligence" was defective, and unavoidably so’ especially in determining the course of "small wars"-guerrilla or irregular wars which were fought well away from the metropolis.8 Intelligence officers in the field had little reason to expand their mission beyond the acquisition of tactical and order of battle information. According to the secret post-war internal assessment of the Secret Service, "the bulk of the work of Secret Service in occupied territory was devoted to train watching, with a view to tracing the movements of enemy constituted units. This information was of vital importance in drawing up the enemy’s order of battle. It had a direct effect on the operation and movements of our own forces, and became therefore the first objective of our Secret Service system."9 This was the traditionally understood meaning of intelligence; it did not disappear in the interventions, but its modifications and additions were incalculable.
Strategic intelligence in the field remained rare, and the suggestion that there might be a separate intelligence-operations chain of command within a theatre of action was bitterly resented, even by officers familiar with the possible effects of indigenous political behaviors, and by senior politicians whose judgment was overruled.10 Efforts to use intelligence officers in a separate role outside the localised chain of command were discouraged by the outraged reaction to the very possibility by field officers.11 But at Archangel, during the North Russia intervention, the Intelligence Staff included twenty-six members, in addition to tire General Staff Officer, grade 1 (GSO 1) Colonel C.J.M. Thornhill, Indian Army and his GSO 2, Major Pepler, South Ontario Regiment; and of those twenty-six, probably ninety percent were engaged in precisely this sort of work.12
The presence of the intelligence agencies as War Office chief planners for the intelligence-operations phase of the interventions is traceable along several specific and noticeably bureaucratic paths. The most revealing is the paper trail which all modern bureaucracies create. Virtually all the telegrams, cables, digests and reports generated during the last year of the war involving the Intervention sites were directed to one or another DMI agency. Most often they were routed to those sections supervised by Indian Army Colonel Richard A. Steel or by his deputies.13
Steel’s involvement with the intelligence analysis included the East African campaign,14 which was, of all First World War campaigns, the one most characterized by organized guerrilla actions successfully carried out in the face of superior technological advantage. There, the German commander, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck at the head of his irregulars, was never defeated—rather, after four years he ceased hostilities only on the Armistice.15 Steel himself was involved directly in the analysis and counter-action of a series of combat situations which were precursors of the plan subsequently evolved to retrieve Russia. He was involved in demonstrating that certain principles of irregular war were effective enough to defeat technological advantage, but which suggested that such principles might be externally imposed; indigenous guerrillas could in fact be organized and led by sufficiently sympathetic European professional soldiers. The imposition of a quasi-regular army organization on guerrilla actions undertaken by indigenous warriors and led by sophisticated commanders could retrieve a military situation which was otherwise unwinnable if the objective was precise and limited.
The Poole Mission to North Russia, concentrated at Archangel/ Murmansk, was under particularly close intelligence oversight. Information from the mission was routed through MI1 (c)’s Lieutenant-Colonel C.J.M. Thornhill, who had been recently re-assigned as Chief Intelligence Officer to the General Officer Commanding Frederick Poole after being transferred from his previous responsibilities as General Knox’s assistant, (although he had actually been representing Mansfield Smith- Cumming’s group in Petrograd).16 Thornhill was responsible "for the co-ordination of all military intelligence organisation in Russia" and had instructions to report directly to the DMI. Poole was to consider himself responsible to and only, ". . . communicate with War Office alone. At some time will be under the general authority of co-ordinating diplomatic officer in Russia." Further, ". . . all communications other than intelligence go to War Office. As regards intelligence, restriction of enemy supplies and economic questions you will address the Director of Military Intelligence direction (telegraphic address-DIRMILINT). The DMI will be responsible for the circulation of all such reports to the Government Departments concerned."17
Poole’s organization was specifically directed to use only that reporting channel. In itself, the mere acquisition and distribution of such a channel were not necessarily significant, but combined with the fact that flowing outward from DMI and MIO were recommendations, analyses, and plans dealing with the Russian problem on which the Cabinet based its strategic policy decisions, certainly suggests MIO’s prominent position within governmental councils. Indeed, given the objective of military intelligence—to acquire information which will enhance its sponsors’ military positions and to suggest ways of using that information—it would be far-fetched to imagine that MIO was not exercising a political planning function. When circumstances altered to make their plans relevant, MIO was well-positioned to offer an innovative solution. Thus, prior to the November Revolution, there is no indication that any sort of functional plan to meet the possibility of Russian collapse existed, and yet as early as mid-December such a plan was sufficiently complete for its first elements to be put into place. The North Persian commander received his orders on 1 January 1918, and in January and February, there was a re-direction of the Poole Mission operating from Archangel/ Murmansk.
It was the War Office, under Lloyd George’s influence, which approved the intelligence re-organization of 1916, enabling the emerging intelligence community to acquire both a recognizable structure and the concomitant possibility of creating and executing actions in the field.18 His distrust of "the Foreign Office establishment and of the accepted methods of naval and military intelligence"19 served as the political background for the development of intelligence-operations, which in turn produced the ‘third option’ in modern political affairs. Neither military nor political, it was intelligence-operations which quickly became the tool of choice in international affairs.20
The guerrilla campaigns of the First World War were the immediate beneficiaries of the new intelligence-operations system. Special sections of the Military Intelligence apparatus were created, including MI2, dealing with the "Eastern Campaign." MI2 was given control over intelligence throughout Middle East. During the Great War, guerrilla actions first developed in the eastern campaigns, although that theatre initially was as regularized as that in Europe. What few points of contact existed between Allied regulars and guerrillas were generally confined to limited areas and were relatively manageable because of their small sizes. Thus, when the Russian regular forces collapsed, only to re-constitute themselves into what amounted to large guerrilla forces, the size and scope of the situation could not be managed effectively by the regular organization which was in place. The required field experts in guerrilla actions were still predominantly out east somewhere, making their expertise inaccessible. The chief concentration of knowledge available to the War Office was found in the planning and analysis section MI2, while its sister agency Mil (c) had its share of operational specialists.
The field test for intelligence-operations came when the Russians withdrew from the war, leaving the Allies to somehow fill the gap. Conventional doctrine still could only offer hope of the early arrival of American re-enforcements, and even that hope was less comforting to the Imperials then it might have been. Apart from the certainty that an American presence would bring with it political interference in what the Imperial government regarded as its own sphere, Imperial military ignorance of (or contempt for) the American the military structure was sufficiently profound that senior Imperial staff required briefings to have the organisation explained to them.19 Even Dominion support was imposing its political debts, which the Imperialists within the government were reluctant to increase. The facts of the matter were horrifying: there were not enough men and there were not enough guns, and time was running out.
Intelligence as it is now defined finally gained its influence over civilian political policy in 1918 because at that moment, other, more regular doctrine was fragmented. Conventional strategy had no ready doctrine to meet the exigencies of Russian withdrawal and the conversion of that nation into an irregular battleground. The limitations on military policy imposed by the abnormal situation had to be dealt with somehow, and the most likely model for action, the offensive campaign fought on irregular lines within the Arabian theatre, was the obvious answer.
The stratagem which Imperial Britain developed to deal with the problem of Russian withdrawal from the war after the Revolution of 1917 was founded on the same Imperial philosophy which had propelled its actions in every other similarly defined anti-imperial conflict; its objective was to restore the "prestige due to Governments that act boldly and decisively."20 It depended on methodologies dictated by the critical Allied military manpower shortage encountered at the end of 1917 and by the Imperial General Staff predictions that Germany not only could continue to fight well into 1919, but that there would be a major "offensive campaign" in 1918.21 The manpower shortage was the critical problem; of the 8.4 million men potentially available to the British just before the war, about fifteen percent had already been killed or injured; for the French, who could muster about 7.3 million, the figure was some forty-seven percent; of the 12 million available to Germany, the figure was somewhere between twenty and twenty-five percent. All these losses, as a direct result of the fighting on the Western Front, were either exceeding or quickly approaching the military "rule of thumb" which held a "25 percent casualty rate to be the turning point in a combat unit’s effectiveness. "22 At the beginning of 1917, the Allies had 3.9 million soldiers in the trenches, opposing about 2.5 million Germans-169 divisions versus 129, with the belief that the Germans would increase their numbers by some thirty divisions, and the Allies by another fifteen.23 These numbers represented the absolute European maximum, even including those casualties being returned to the field and newly come-of-age men. At the same time, the Russians were facing "ninety-nine German, forty Austrian, twenty Turkish, and perhaps six Bulgarian divisions" against their lines, which by the end of 1916 had a total of two million casualties, and about a million desertions.24 The figures were not calculated mysteriously; neither were they concealed from the generals or the politicians. Combined with the decimation of the professional cadre of the Allied military, it was a situation which demanded at least the thought of, if not the implementation of new methods. It underlay all political moves as well, and within that sphere the new methods which were contemplated drew their justification from the deeply ingrained political conviction that boldness and decisiveness were "the essentials in dealing with all Asiatic and semi-Asiatic people."25
Steel invoked this belief in his briefing for the departing Dunsterforce on 28 January 1918.26 Military gains in the theatre to which that volunteer force were headed he said, had been "offset by the Bolshevik Revolution" and their section of front had collapsed. In the absence of available troops, Steel told them, "a War Office visionary had a brainstorm." He modestly omitted mentioning the visionary’s name.
The key was enlisting the "thousands of enthusiastic warriors" who would take the place of the absent Russians if they "could be entered on the British pay-roll and given good leadership."27 This in substance, was the over-all military plan for each of the interventions: find the "enthusiastic warriors," supply them with Imperial money and leadership, and set them back on Imperial opponents-it was just the carrot which intelligence-operations needed to justify its own forward push to guarantee the communications networks, a push which was meant to be as small, deniable and inconspicuous as possible. Military objectives which accompanied the political arguments existed only because at that time and in that place political objectives could not be advanced without military support—and vice versa. From the point that the three intervention forces discovered their missions could only be defensive, even within the limitations expected by MIO, they ceased to be intelligence operations.
But, the interventions could not avoid becoming part of other Imperial strategies. The first to be affected was the South Russian group—Dunsterforce. Within three months of the secret despatch of Dunsterforce, on 15 March 1918, the Supreme War Council took the time to consider the political justifications presented by the Intelligence Bureau of the Department of Information; its Memorandum On the Caucasus
Russian internal stability, had previously forced consideration of the Caucasus and Trans-Caucasus into the background, and the Cabinet had nearly forgotten about its authorization of the South Russian intelligence group, the political situation in North Persia had begun to re-assume elements of interest, and the impending presence of the Dunsterforce offered unexpected opportunities.
The Commander-in-Chief India had sent a telegram to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) on 15 March 1918 pointing out the tremendous stroke of luck, noting that the Turkish objective was to, "draw us on in Palestine and Mesopotamia while at the same time tempting us to a detachment in Persia, his object being to bring about a dangerous extension of our Palestine and Mesopotamian forces, concentrating his own in the meantime at Aleppo in readiness to strike…. It may be all that is required in Persia will be accomplished by a small force…"31
Dunsterforce, which was originally meant to be a seedbed for the production of organized irregular troops which would be responsible for military action, was suddenly to assume operationally responsibilities of its own simply because it was available. The Government of India was ready to withdraw its previous objections and fall into line with the other administrative bodies concerned with the politics of the Middle East, although its reasoning was initially independent of the political anxieties of the Eastern Committee and MI. In finally convincing them that the immediate danger of the Turkish threat could be countered, the Intelligence Bureau used as its vehicle of persuasion the one group which had never been intended for anything remotely like a military operations unit. The intelligence hand was overplayed. In its dramatic prediction that unless immediate action was taken "the centre of gravity will shift from Mesopotamia up to the Caucasus."32 the proponents of intelligence- operations hoped to encourage political support for intelligence actions outside the Western Front. Instead, the policy makers decided that since a small group was all that was necessary, and since a small group was available, the problem was solved. The group of individuals on whom MIO was relying to generate an army was going to be the army itself. All four hundred of them.
When the southern group was withdrawn on 15 September 1918, its military failure was overshadowed by the engagements which had culminated, after more than a month of contention, in the textbook success of Megiddo. The utility of Dunsterforce as a military operation was proven indisputably worthless, but its original purpose had been so altered by circumstance as to have not ever been tested. The usefulness of creating an organized irregular army under the aegis of intelligence objectives had been destroyed by purely political expediency. MIO could not prevent the change in objectives for its South Russian group; by June 1918 when it was itself dissolved, the issue still had not been proved or disproved.
Thus, predictive and strategic intelligence, which had been singularly effective within another theatre similarly juxtaposed to British Imperial interests and possessions, was brought into play within Russia. Its use within Europe united two political traditions which before 1918 had been very thoroughly separated.
As Lord Milner himself finally acknowledged, the interventions into Russia were fundamentally Imperial, part of the obligation that philosophy imposed. It was not Imperial "intention to initiate any general offensive against the Bolsheviks with our North Russian forces, but we are pledged to remain until such time as these local forces are sufficiently trained and organized to take over their own defenc...British honour does not permit of our abandoning the peoples of whole provinces…"33 Perpetuation of honor was imperative. The preservation of that honor in the face of a rapidly decaying political situation demanded shifts and measures which only a very few were willing or able to attempt. Of the three interventions, two, in particular, demonstrate the problem and the ways in which it was addressed. When Lloyd George and the "War Cabinet… decided on Intervention on January 24,"34 they were endorsing a plan which had begun to take shape in November 1917, when elements of the Directorate of Military Intelligence suggested some most untraditional ways of addressing that most traditional Imperial problem.
I also will refer to the 2014 Doctoral dissertation of Heather Alison Campbell that is currently being worked into a book where she points out that Russia was a very real nemesis to Britain in the period prior to the First World War whereby she next rejects the idea that the central feature of Britain’s attitude towards Russia after 1917 was a hatred of Communism. Constructed as an explanation for Britain’s participation in the intervention , she writes, it does not work to explain the whole of British policy towards Russia after 1917, for as soon as one shift focus to the south of that country, one sees that the Malleson mission to Meshed and the Dunsterforce initiative in Baku, for example, were not conceived as part of an "anti-Bolshevik crusade". Instead, Malleson and Dunsterville were First World War manifestations of a decade's long British obsession with the security of India’s borders. "Which leads to another point: was Perfidious Albion really so concerned with what was occurring some 1600 miles away from its mainland that it would send money and troops into Russia and Central Asia simply to counter an ideology it did not like?"
We later will see how when General Poole saw the need to get various goods out of Russia and drove Poole and Captain Proctor (Intelligence Archangel) to suggest that a few troops be moved into Archangel-troops which could provide logistical security for the transport effort. It is uncertain whether they knew about MIO’s operational intentions for that area, or for the similar plans and problems in the south. Given the circumstances and priorities of immediate supply and subsequent commercial advantage, it was reasonable that what Poole suggested, what the Cabinet considered, and what MIO provided, made up an acceptable strategic response. Thus hence the objectives of all the interested Imperial parties started to coalesce.
1. For an overview that describes the importance of 1917 see Circles of the Russian Revolution Internal and International Consequences of the Year 1917 in Russia, Edited by Łukasz Adamski, Bartłomiej (2019).
2. Unfortunately even a recent book like Peter Matthews SIGINT: The Secret History of Signals Intelligence in the World Wars (2018) apart from the fact that he acknowledges that the development of British signals intelligence started in the very early days of the first world war had nothing to say about the issue I refer to.
3. National Archives of Canada (hereafter NAC), RG9 III, Vol. 363, #118, Cable: From Foreign Office, To High Commissioner, Vladivostock. Appendix VII, #99. Despatched December 7, 1918, received, December 9, 1918, No. 199.
4. NAC, RG9 III, Vol. 362, File A3 Siberian Expeditionary Force (hereafter SEF), #114, General Elmsley to "Troopers" (War Office), Private to General P. deB. Radcliffe, 19 January 1919, p. 1.
6. Ibid., p. 4.
7. J.B. Runyon, Notes on Military Intelligence and the Intelligence Cycle, private briefing paper, 1989 p. 4.
8. Colonel Sir Charles Edward Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, (General Staff/War Office, H.M. Stationery Office, 1906 (reprinted 1914), republished 1976, East Ardsley, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England, E.P. Publishing), p. 43.
9. Public Record Office, Kew (hereafter PRO), War Office (hereafter WO) 106/45, History of Intelligence (B), British Expeditionary Force France, January 1917-April/19 Part I—The Secret Service, paragraph #16, p. 6.
10. H.V.F. Winstone, The Illicit Adventure, (London, Jonathan Cape. 1982), p. 241.
11. Callwell, Small Wars, p. 43.
12. Imperial War Museum (hereafter IWM), Colonel A.E. Sturdy papers, 73/9/2, Appendix I, "Intelligence Organization, Archangel Force,"
13. For a listing of the areas Steel supervised, see the relevant Army Lists of the period.
14. The Times, 14 July 1928, p. 16.
15. R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopaedia of Military History; from 3500 BC to the present, (New York, Harper & Row, 1977), p. 989.
16. Christopher Andrew, Her Majesty’s Secret Service, (New York, Viking, 1985), p. 204.
17. PRO, WO 106/1161, 1918 May-August, General Poole Conference and Mission; Secret-Instructions for General Poole.
18. Victor Winstone, The Illicit Adventure, 1982, p. 322. For a more detailed "official" discussion of pre-1916 intelligence use, see Major-General Sir Kenneth Strong, pp. 1-36 and 142-170, especially that the product of secret Intelligence is "uncertain information from questionable people" (p. 142).
19. Winstone, The Illicit Adventure p. 322, and Richard H. Ullman, The Anglo-Soviet Accord, (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1972), p. 457.
20. Winstone, The Illicit Adventure, p. 322.
21. Department of National Defence/Directorate of History, War Office (hereafter DND/DHist), Confidential, American Expeditionary Force Divisional Organization, January 14, 1918/ briefing paper.
22. NAC, RG9 III, Vol. 362, File A3, SEF #115, Notes on the Present Military Situation; Siberia, 27 November 1918, Secret, General Knox to Elmsley, p. 2.
23. NAC, RG9 III, Vol. 363, File A3, SEF #115, p. 2.
24. Rod Paschall, The Defeat of Imperial Germany, 1917-1918 (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1989), p. 10.
25. Ibid., p. 11.
26. Ibid., p. 200.
27. PRO, WO 158/20/040878, pp. 675-676/File #4, Imperial General Staff, "Notes on Operations," opened January 1917, closed 22 October 1918.
28. W.W. Murray, Canadians in Dunsterforce. Canadian Defence Quarterly, (1935), pp. 211-223.
30. PRO, CAB/24/45/65647/GT 3957, pps. 214-219, 15 March 1918
31. India Office Library and Records (IOLR), L/MIL/5/794, Secret, 15 March 1918.
33. PRO 30/30/15, Milner papers, Memoranda and Telegrams Concerning the Interventions, 1919 August-October #1: Updated, unsigned, three pages, memorandum, p. 3.
34. Michael Kettle, The Road to Intervention, (London, Routledge, 1988), p. 156.