The secret mission of the three interventions against Russia was to establish a signals intelligence support group, which was meant not only to guarantee British 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.
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."
This is why, in the beginning, there were so few troops sent to either of the two areas: there was no need for them. Their purpose was to extend intelligence; that was a technological matter, which required a small supporting military group.
When Spies invaded Russia p.2
To mold irregular warfare into a method which honored the Imperial myth
In part one I referred to the intelligence stage of what morphed into a military intervention then led by the War Office. Because the initial Persia (Iran) plus North and South and Eastern Russia interventions 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 was part of an overall Allied policy of hostility toward Bolshevik Russia. The tendency in the literature about the subject to date has been to dislocate these actions 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. Very important was also signals intelligence access into specific geographic areas of an otherwise inaccessible region for reasons which had only partially to do with Russia. Hence early in the war, a provision had been made for a "Government cable (owned by the British and Russian Governments) from Peterhead to Alexandrovsk on the Murmansk coast." The new cable would be the substitute for the previously customary route which sent traffic with Russia via the Danish-controlled Great Northern Company’s cables connecting the United Kingdom and France with the Scandinavian countries and thence to Petrograd via Sweden and Finland. The Great Northern Company’s staff in Sweden were subject to the control of the Swedish Government, and, although no concrete case of "leakage" in Sweden was ever established, there was reason to fear that the Germans might take advantage of their friendly relations with Sweden to tap Allied messages passing through that country en route to or from Russia.
As Heather Alison Campbell explained in her 2014 Doctoral dissertation that is currently being worked into a book, before his elevation to the Foreign Office, Curzon initially flexed his muscles over the Mesopotamia Administration Committee, of which he became chair in March 1917. By 1918, the organization had developed into the Eastern Committee and included members from the War, India, and Foreign Offices. Ostensibly, it was the Eastern Committee that was the coordinating body for Britain’s overall strategy in places such as Persia and Mesopotamia (in modern days roughly corresponds to most of Iraq, Kuwait, parts of Northern Saudi Arabia, the eastern parts of Syria, Southeastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish–Syrian and the borders Iran). Permanent members of the committee included General Smuts, Arthur Balfour, Edwin Montagu and Sir Henry Wilson (CIGS) and frequent attendants included General MacDonough (the Director of Military Intelligence).
Heather Campbell also accurately points out that Russia was a very real nemesis to Britain in the period prior to the First World War she also rejects the idea that the central feature of Britain’s attitude towards Russia after 1917 was a hatred of Communism. And while this has been constructed as an explanation for Britain’s participation in the intervention it does not work to explain the whole of British policy towards Russia after 1917, for as soon as one shifts 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 decades 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?
The new class of intelligence professional that developed early on during the First World War was part of the rapidly growing and increasingly complex division of labor developing throughout all Europeanised societies at the turn of the last century. It was as much a part of this general societal re-ordering as any other workgroup. Thus the influence of military professionalism (as also was the case in Germany) had extended to the amorphous field of systemized intelligence work.1
In this context, the Directorates of Military and of Naval Intelligence emerged as super-agencies, not only because of the natural tendency of bureaucracies to expand but for many of the same reasons for which Lloyd George created and imposed his streamlined War Cabinet: to regularise the conflicting information which was crippling the management of the war.2 The re-organization of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (D.M.I telegraphic address 'Dir-milint') brought together interests which had been scattered throughout the government into one or two broad, topical groups holding centralized geographic responsibilities.
On 23 December 1915 “a Military Intelligence Directorate, in addition to the Military Operations Directorate was formed under the Chief of the Imperial General Staff” as part of the General Staff re-organization of the same month.3 Initially supervised by MajorGeneral C.E. Call well, the DM1 inherited eight “sections” which were· primarily concerned with intelligence functions from the Directorate of Military Operations (DMO). The directorship of General Caldwell, the eminent military operations analyst, was interim, for on 3 January 1916, Major-General G.M.W. Macdonogh was appointed DMI, a position in which he remained until his appointment as Adjutant-General in September 1918.
The acronyms DMI and DMO were not obscure at all: “Intelligence” and “Operations” precisely differentiate the distinct missions handled by those two bodies. The terms remain in use. The groups drawn together under DM1 at the start of 1916 consisted of MI1 through MI10, each with a specific area of concern, each staffed with a variety of officers drawn from every conceivable theatre and Imperial army. Each was directed by a General Staff Officer most often of the first rank, but occasionally of second, who in some circumstances reported directly to the DMI. The DMI continued to report to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Within some of the groups, there were tiers of increasingly specialized intelligence groups, some of which changed their responsibilities as the immediate importance of the data which they were following either shifted or evaporated. Thus, within a single sub-group, MI1, there appeared various subgroups. These covered not only the secretarial work of the entire Directorate but also the policy regarding cables and wireless; martial law; international law; municipal law and draft bills touching the General Staff; and traffic in arms. Section (j) originally handled the Secret Service. The consolidation of 1916 saw MI1 divided into four subsections: MI1 (a)-distribution and registration of intelligence; MI1 (b)-co-ordination of secret intelligence, investigation of enemy ciphers and policy regarding Wireless Telegraphy; MI1 (c)-Secret Service; and MI1 (d)-Summaries of Intelligence.4 MI1 (c) was responsible for Special Duties' according to the official record- this was the customarily used description, inherited from military nomenclature, for espionage.5
In 1917 it was determined that a Section (1) was required, to produce special monographs required by the MI1 on historical, military, political and strategical matters. MI1 (I), in early 1918 was transferred to MI2, becoming MI2 (e), " as its work had come to deal entirely with the countries dealt with by that section ..." The MI1 section remained throughout the war primarily concerned with intelligence outside the British Empire.6
The section known as MI2 went through a similar dizzying array of responses to altered circumstances, but by January 1917, MI2 was responsible for Russia, China, Tibet, Japan and Siam, the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire, the Far East, the United States, South America and Africa, while MI3 dealt with the war in Europe except for the order of battle of the Russian Army, the resources of Russia, and the order of battle and resources of Italy, a curious mixture of traditional intelligence interests applied to the Allied nations.
MI4 throughout the war dealt with the supply of maps and map distribution in the field. MI5continued its focus on contra-espionage; MI6 focussed on questions of military policy connected with the economic and financial resources of the enemy, MI7 dealt with press censorship, publicity, and propaganda; MI8 handled cable censorship; MI9, postal censorship, and MI10 had responsibility for foreign military attaches and missions. Sections MI1-4 and MI10 reported directly to the DMI, constituting powerful links; the others, operating more traditionally within the norms of military support intelligence, reported through the Deputy DMI.
Knowing all this, it is simple enough to recognize that the shifts in the formation and deformation of the various intelligence units directly responded to the catalysts produced by wartime demand. Then, an extraordinary event took place in the DMI in January 1918. After all the meticulous dis-entangling of operations from intelligence, the two were-for the only time-re-combined. The new group was designated Military Intelligence-Operations and was composed of assets gathered from MI2 (c) and M02. Its director was Colonel Richard Alexander Steel.
MIO dealt "with all matters concerning Russia, Rumania, Siberia, Central Asia, Caucasus, Persia, and Afghanistan." When it was dissolved on 1 June 1918, its operations work "was handed back to DMO. who formed a new section, M05," which remained under Steel's control. The intelligence work was given to Steel's deputy, Major F.H. Kisch, and became a new section, MI2 (d). In November 1918; "the development of the Russian situation" caused such an increase in the volume of work within MI2 (d) that a new section, Military Intelligence Russia (MIR), "was created to deal with Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Persia, Far East and to perform liaison duties with the General Staff at Army Headquarters in India." Major Kisch received a temporary promotion to lieutenant colonel, (GSO 1). MIR remained in operation at least until January 1920, and probably continued its work after that date.7
Its acknowledged duties concerned the analysis of military information corning from all parts of the former Russian Empire, correspondence with the General Staff, India," and. "secretarial duties for the Interdepartmental Russia Committee." These were combined with strictly political duties: "information in regard to the political and military situation in European Russia and Western Siberia, and the political situation in Eastern Siberia," which covered the Syren/Elope operations. MIR (b) section, monitoring the South Russia/North Persia Dunsterforce, was devoted to "the political and military situation in Central Asia, Persia, Afghanistan, the North Caucasus, and information emanating from India" but "intelligence regarding the zone of operations of Turkish troops" 8 was excluded specifically.
MIO's concerns during the brief period of its existence were the planning and implementation of the intelligence-operations phase of the interventions. In its position as an intelligence-planning organization, MIO was the initiator of strategic intelligence plans and their operational vehicles which moved intervention policy, were endorsed by the War. Office, and were authorized by the Cabinet. Colonel Steel, whose previous intelligence experience was distinctly modern in its perceptions of the new uses of intelligence, exercised his particular influence over Russian affairs as interpreted by the Imperial war government and operations section; he recommended and orchestrated the policy underlying all three of the seemingly unconnected interventions.
The similarities of the interventions in terms of operations, objectives, and personnel were not coincidental. The geographic sites and their attendant political, economic and military situations had been monitored by Steel from his position in DMI for the previous year and a half, and before that had been under continual appraisal by MI1 (c). If "the erroneous estimate of allied observers hinged in large part on ignorance of conditions inside Russia" 9 then it must be believed that the interventions, as planned by MIO, were the designated intelligence attempt within the stated and accepted goals of all intelligence activity to remedy that ignorance. After all, even in 1917 intelligence-operations sought out "those activities that involve the creation of intelligence."10
In the absence of explicit political strategy, MIO section, through its influence over the civilian political advisory groups concerned with Russia, intended to devise its own intelligence strategy to safeguard Imperial relations with Russia. For six months at the most critical time of the war, MIO acted as a policymaker in lieu of any other over-riding civilian policy, using as its inspiration only those already understood Imperial philosophies which had sustained its members, their class, and their society. Except as it impinged on this objective, MIO was not concerned with satisfying demands for justice, freedom or safety for anyone other than Imperial Britain. Neither was it concerned immediately with the post-war philosophy of national self-determination.
Steel and his colleagues were in the unusual position of being able to analyze systematically the totality of information collected in the field, fit it into the known military capabilities of the nations and armies involved, and produce plans based on that information which also met political requirements. By the time he assumed his position as director, first of MI2 and then of MIO, Steel was also benefitted by changes affecting Army doctrine. The official mind of the Regular Army had gradually come to believe-although perhaps not accept-that unlike the other two branches of service (Operations or Training), the Intelligence branch was innately uncontrollable. To unduly restrict the manner or the particular pursuit of information was to restrict its purpose; to dictate interpretive methodology was to destroy the advantages such a group offered its sponsors.
Consequently, the practical arrangements between command and intelligence were infinitely more pliable than those between command and operations. Intelligence operating outside the direct chain of command often had no specific orders, often could not function with them, and would become meaningless if rigid controls were imposed.
Once this shift in recognition took place, as it did during the formation of the MI1, MI2 and MIO sections between 1916 and 1918, predictive intelligence work was free to act as an effectively separate policy agency within an Imperial government which was increasingly dependent on professional experts. The existence of these agencies no longer depended on one on the interpretation of orders through the chain of command; they were not reliant on command cooperation to gain access to operations or training. Intelligence agencies were licensed, within the limits of their judgment, to initiate policy.11
The activities of Steel and his co-workers depended on their independent strategic assessment that the Russian collapse threatened Imperial security.
If any further justification were necessary, the acquisition of the cryptographers confirmed the strategic value of the new style of intelligence work in relation to Imperial survival. That coup gave Steel an unusual authority to speak about Russian plans in general, where before he might only have spoken directly for the Persian theatre of operations where he had been attached; by extension, he gained authority over the analysis of Russian plans against the Empire generally. The response again was logical—with the resources which were available some kind of intelligence network would be placed in North Persia to enable Britain to guard India against Bolshevik ambitions, and the action in the south was the ideal method of ensuring that a watch would be kept, information gathered, and action taken. If such an operation was encouraged at the southern edge of Empire, how much more necessary was it in the north and the east? At the center of Steel’s effort was the civilian need to extend intelligence lines and to extend them to very particular points. Those locations were determined by civilian, not military, requirements. In North Russia it was a question of protecting the only secure telegraphic installation available—in South Russia, it was a question of establishing an intelligence nexus in the dead space between Cairo and Simla. Both had the advantage of being espionage loci; both required some kind of Imperial base to receive information from agents moving into and out of the contested areas.
The Military Intelligence-Operations (MIO) section of the War Office was formally constituted on 30 January 1918," owing to the collapse of Russia." It was a combined section for Intelligence and Operations work...formed out of the personnel of MI2 (c) and M02 under Colonel RA Steel...It dealt with all matters concerning Russia, Rumania, Siberia, Central Asia, Caucasus, Persia, and Afghanistan. The experiment of combining intelligence and operations work in one section was not a complete success, and on 1st June 1918, MIO was dissolved, the operations work being handed back to DMO who formed a new section, M05 to deal with it, while the intelligence work [went] back to MI2 and became MI2 (d) under Major F.H. Kisch.12
It liaised with general Mikhail Alekseyev, General Denikin and Koltchak at Archangel and Vladivostok, and with Baratoff in the Caucasus.13 When MIO was dissolved, Steel was transferred to head M05. By 1919, Steel’s responsibility was officially listed as the supervision of operational questions relating to Siberia and the Far East, as well as supervision of General Knox’s Mission and the Briggs Mission to the Ukraine and the North Caucasus-the military interventions.14 Steel was the connexion between the two parts of what we have come to know as the interventions, between their initial planning and intelligence operations phase lasting from about December 1917 to June of 1918, through their subsequent military implementation.
MIO and its members were thus singularly responsible for furnishing all forms of intelligence to provide "the information upon which the Cabinet and War Council had to decide the military measures to be adopted." The "relevant situation reports and military studies" had their origin in its office.15
Its subsection, MIO (a), under Major Frederick Kisch, took advantage of both Bruce Lockhart and Sidney Reilly.16 The network of information which ended up in MIO may have overwhelmed its analysis role, but at least the problem was finally, formally, united with the individuals who had been trying to solve it, within an arrangement which was not subsequently repeated. No other intelligence section during the war was granted similar direct operations authority at War Office/DMI level, although within the nets woven by Mil (c), an agency fundamentally less hospitable to straightforward military behavior, such actions were conducted. Some even succeeded.
But in Russia, where the battles were politically based, where the rhetoric and the military actions were recognisable, where intelligence agreed with political assessments that distributing large sums to swashbuckler Russians would get no results, but that the distribution of large sums to leading industrial and financial entrepreneurs might,17 an attempt to organize a countervailing and controlled guerrilla strategy to ensure Imperial goals was at odds with reality. The application of 'civilized' military intelligence as a substitute for 'civilized' military action—and in a very real sense, the abdication by the responsible intelligence service of the option to take control of the politics of the situation, leaving that element to the recognised British and Imperial government crippled the interventions’ objectives. It was this diminution of on-site control which hamstrung MIO plans, and the limitation of control in the interests of professionalization effectively nullified the advantages which guerrilla warfare offered.
Unlike the other foci of intelligence actions, and unlike its civilian counterparts, military intelligence could not withdraw from the military structure and doctrine, even when it was attempting to loosen its requirements. As part of its attempt to prove that the concept of intelligence-operations had specific advantages, particularly within restrictive military environments, MIO relied on two factors external to the missions themselves. They had depended on a kind of overall political disregard for the technical aspects of their strategy, and they had depended on the co-operation and Imperial devotion of the Dominions. The first, shielded MIO activities only until the areas on which they were concentrating became politically active. The second turned out to be less reliable than had been believed. At Dominion senior political levels, where 'the ties of culture and of commerce are more intangible than those of political dominion’ depending "upon the corporate determination of the whole body politic,"18 MIO had been fairly secure when it set out to get political endorsement of its plans, and a supply of men from Canada by using its links with Milner’s allies. It had not, however, fully reckoned on the political activism within the Dominion.
One of the most important reasons for the internal reliance on Dominion troops was not their mere availability. Certainly, Dominion officers and other ranks were placed under General Frederick Poole’s command within the North Russian Syren/Elope parties, and at Baku, the proportions of Dominions to Imperials was fairly high. The Vladivostok campaign, drawing some of its training staff from the failed Dunsterforce group, even saw the Dominion influence so increased as to have a Canadian general in command. In the case of Vladivostok, which was an essentially regular campaign, MI retained its overall authority to manage information, deciding when and with whom to share it.
Another factor which encouraged Military Intelligence to recruit Dominion soldiers was the conclusion by Vernon Kell of a series of alliances between various Dominion security agencies and his agency. He had:
remained in charge of a "chain of Imperial Special Intelligence" in the British Empire. With the support of the Colonial Office, he had established "personal liaison" with colonial administrations in August, 1915. "Special Intelligence liaisons” with the dominions took longer to establish. The Union of South Africa did not authorise its Provost Marshal to cooperate with Kell until June 1917. But by the end of the war Kell reported that all dominions were "eager to cooperate" with MIS in counter-espionage and "the prevention of Bolshevik activities."19
Perhaps the interest in a militant philosophy directly in opposition to Imperialism was understandable; what was more startling was that the Empire did not necessarily choose to inform its Dominions of those concerns. In one of the most glaring examples of this neglect, it was the Americans who finally told the Canadians of the impending British transfer of their "Intelligence and propaganda bureaus to Souther [sic] Russia from Archangel.. "20 In a time when every scrap of information had value, when every decision rested on dozens of differing and conflicting estimates of its consequence, and when every consequence could result in unforeseeable repercussions of the greatest severity, even such a small thing as where to send the intelligence bureaux could not be published lightly. After all, when it became known that the bureaus were moved, the only possible conclusion to be drawn was that the operation in the north was failing. Even as the military, by necessity, became more willing to allow intelligence to function quasi-independently in parallel with civilian policy, Lloyd George was conceiving alternative governmental methods to achieve his objectives by tacitly encouraging the parallel development. One was the restructuring of the ways in which information was handled, exemplified by Maurice Hankey’s role within the re-organized five-member War Cabinet. Hankey’s system made it possible for all manner of actions, information, reports, and suggestions to actually be considered and acted upon by the Cabinet with fair speed. It fostered the "short, business-like discussions between the four or five Cabinet-Ministers or professional experts brought in for the discussion."21 Lloyd George’s new way of handling the Cabinet discussions had distinct advantages.
It had also distinct disadvantages. In bringing into the Cabinet "professional experts," the new system allowed those same experts great latitude in influencing Cabinet policy. The second disadvantage to the Cabinet, although not necessarily to Lloyd George, was that centralisation of information led to control of information dissemination. Thus those who controlled information had control.
Lloyd George, with his political need to retain access to all information, was willing to create parallel agencies reporting primarily to him. The nature of coalition government made Lloyd George especially dependent on such affiliates. Such personal authorization easily tolerated the autonomous objectives of shadowy groups which more regular administrations would never have endured. The Cabinet, in the same spirit of power consolidation, also streamlined its internal committee system. The new, unified Eastern Committee absorbed the various subcommittees which had once had authority, substituting strategic for tactical planning. One of the first to be gobbled up was the old Russia Committee, and even the Foreign Office was excluded when Curzon declared there was "not likely to be any present need" for their permanent representation.22 If Lloyd George could establish separate information lines, then so could Curzon.
The Russia Committee which had dealt "for the most part, with technical matters,"23 was virtually the only part of the Russia Committee system Curzon retained. Instead, Curzon’s committee consolidation allowed "what were really three aspects of one problem"24 to be dealt with under direct War Cabinet authority 25 and, under that authority, to smooth MIO’s direct access to influence. Operational actions pursued under Eastern Committee aegis were functionally withdrawn from the normal chain of command. The Cabinet acquired its own military arm. That such designated units would also serve as MIO’s operational group, and enactor of its own intelligence policy was a little-remarked side effect.
The environment was favorable for the emergence of intelligence as a tool co-equal with military force, and its growing influence on civilian policy. For a very brief period, and as a consequence of an intersection of Imperial philosophy and wartime necessity, intelligence drove policy. The interventions simultaneously marked the substitution of strategic for tactical intelligence-operations, and the birth of a raison d’etre, frozen in time, which has been available to intelligence agencies ever since.
According to then-Colonel A.W.F. Knox, British Military Attache in Petrograd, in his secret note on the Present Situation in Russia, "On the 24th January 1918, the War Cabinet authorised the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to approach the Allied governments with a view to Japanese intervention" at Vladivostok. The chain of events which would lead to the operational institution of the MI2 idea of cutting Russia into thirds—northwest to southeast; from Archangel to Vladivostok; with the final third proceeding northwards from Baku—was thus formally endorsed.26 No such authorization could ever have originated at War Cabinet-level under the conditions prevailing within the British Government of the day. By convention and bureaucratic common sense, any such approach would have originated at senior General Staff levels within the War Office. Formulation of plans of this kind was the responsibility of the groups specifically charged with creating predictive strategical responses to military events. It was for precisely this eventuality that such groups had been established-not for elaborate political gestures, but to provide the planning capabilities for the operational sections to use. For the approach to have been authorized on 24 January 1918, the plan itself also has been formulated in the days, weeks, or months before presentation, and must have been devised as a consequence of events which made the creation of such an extraordinary plan appear necessary and desirable.
MIO’s original proposals to solve the Russian problem were quite different from those produced later during the interventions’ aggressive military phase. Those original recommendations depended for their implementation on the actions of military intelligence officers and Missions already operating in Russia under a variety of formal instructions. Within those instructions, though there was latitude for tactical military intervention, there was no indication from the pattern of activity discernible at that stage that the interventions would become a wholly military operation. The amount of energy which MIO expended to keep the operations within the boundaries it had defined for them is indicative of its belief that to allow the interventions to become entirely military would be an invitation to defeat of the plan itself. All parties concerned were aware that such a military plan must rely on a massive troop commitment. When the predictable setbacks occurred as a result of the "wholly inadequate troops which the Government decided on,"27 they could not have been unexpected. Implementation of a half-hearted military intervention when such action only could have worked by being full-scale was tantamount to proclaiming the experiment of integrating intelligence with operations a failure. The failure occurring, subsequent overt uses of such intelligence-operations agencies to create and achieve civilian policy were renounced by successor Imperial intelligence groups themselves and by the political principals who inherited them.
This plan as originally formulated was replicated in its essentials at both the North and South Russian interventions. It depended on the careful use of resources, including local and imported troops, money and trade advantage, to persuade rather than to coerce. All three interventions were provided with economic advisors, whose business it was to resist the German/Russian economic threat to Imperial interests while furthering Imperial prospects. Furthermore, the plan depended on a curious but not entirely novel form of suasion in which hostility was carefully directed and turned in the direction of Imperial enemies, seemingly independently.
All three missions initiated by MIO shared the same techniques which were later publicly trumpeted operational objectives: regaining "well-disposed inhabitants" to the Allies; securing a "strong demonstration against the enemy," which was to be achieved in the north by concentrating a large number of Czech-Slavs.., into a fighting formation; preventing the "White Sea and the adjoining ports on the Russian coast being used for hostile submarine bases."28 These were the final manifestation of MIO’s imperially based, hopeful, but operationally flawed ideas on how to continue and enhance Imperial power within Russia.
As part of the emphasis on secrecy which pervaded all three interventions, the despatch of intervention personnel was meant to be swift. This turned out to be easier to accomplish at Archangel and Murmansk than it was for the more remote bases. The first-despatched group, authorized on 16 January 1918,29 only got to Baku on 4 August. The mission to Vladivostok was not in position until 3 August. Because the Poole Mission was already in place in North Russia it was marginally quicker in adding the requisite training re-enforcements, which arrived at Murmansk on 24 May, They were followed by the Syren and Elope Missions, (now known as the North Russia Expeditionary Force) which landed on 23 June.30
MIO offered its plan to safeguard an over-extended military line by the creation of an intelligence-based army—one flexible enough and loyal enough and responsive enough to re-organize a deteriorating political system by substituting a sturdier political creed. When, on 28 January, Colonel Steel gave Dunsterforce his "most interesting and instructive lecture"31 and "unrolled a map of the Middle East," the uncertainties of the Persian political situation which had brought them all to the Tower was clearly the fault of the Russian withdrawal; given that, it took no great imagination on the part of the volunteers to believe in the plan as it was outlined. It had taken equally little imagination for the politicians to endorse it. Steel had designed a clear solution to the problem, and had obtained an almost perfect freedom to develop, direct, and compose first Dunsterforce, and subsequently Syren/Elope. If the training mission succeeded, it did so on terms Steel and the military intelligence system established; if it failed, there was every likelihood that no one would have to notice. If the intelligence operation succeeded in protecting the telegraph lines, the success would be noted; if they failed, things would be no worse than before. The second most critical element of intelligence-operations had been met. Imperial intelligence activity was, even in failure, deniable.
When Steel told Dunsterforce that he was "addressing the flower of the British Army on the Western Front" and "the flower blushed modestly," another, quite separate part of the Imperial structure was being invoked one in which the military and military intelligence placed great confidence. Steel was taking advantage of cultural rhetoric, resonant with Imperial legend, in order to remind his men of their Imperial obligations and responsibilities. When he told his audience that they had all "been specially selected for this adventurous expedition," and that it was quite possible that they "might be sacrificed on the altar of British prestige in the Caucasus Mountains," Steel pushed that language and its associations almost to its limits of believability. But not quite. The power which that form of expression conveyed was still enough to overcome most objections. Only then did Steel describe the situation they would be facing, and we must believe that what Steel said to Dunsterforce differed only in tone from what he had been saying to Curzon, Milner, and Lloyd George. He said:
The capture of Baghdad by the British in March 1917, had been offset by the Bolshevik Revolution. The Russian front which had extended southward through the Caucasus Mountains, across the southern end of the Caspian Sea, and down into Persia, where it linked up with the British Mesopotamian Force at Khaniquin, had now collapsed. The Russians were crowding back home, totally demoralized, leaving a wide-open door to the eastward advance of the Turks and the Germans. The age-old necessity of protecting India demanded some sort of a barrier to replace the defecting Muscovites. But the British were expecting a German offensive in France; Allenby was completely occupied in Palestine; the Mesopotamian Army had no troops to spare. The situation was menacing. When things were at their blackest, however, a War Office visionary had a brainstorm. Somewhere in tire mountains of Kurdistan, Circassia, Armenia, and Georgia, there were thousands of enthusiastic warriors who would snap at the chance of squaring off their own private grudges against the Turk, if only they could be entered on the British payroll and given good leadership. That was the proposition—to penetrate into the Caucasus Mountains, raise an army, and use that army, against the Turks.
Their destination. Steel told them, would be Tiflis, and their commander was General L.C. Dunsterville.32
This high-flown justification of the expedition was meant to inspire not only the Imperials but, by extension, the men whom they were to recruit. When Steel couched his exhortation in the language of Imperialism-telling combat veterans they had been "specially selected for this adventurous expedition" on which they might "be sacrificed on the altar of British prestige in the Caucasus Mountains," he has not laughed at neither his terms nor his implications were regarded as anything but representative of what a brave Imperial soldier might expect to hear, and in hearing, take heart. This was what the Imperial government wished to convey. The military components of the Imperial interventions were based absolutely on the legends which fueled the British Empire itself: the legends of individual leadership, of honor of stalwart defense of ideals which inspired others to follow. Unlike the horrors taking place on the Western Front where warfare, far from being honorable, had decayed into corruption, these legends still carried weight beyond politics in the creation of the operations which Colonel Steel devised to meet the Russian emergency. Every action in which Steel was involved was characterized by this kind of attempt to mold the imprecise doctrines of irregular warfare into a method which honored the Imperial myth within a modern framework-and which could be taught, could be transferred; could be professionalized. Russia was the testing ground; traditional imperial peripheral warfare there, offering the hope that that front could escape a Western Front kind of hideous stalemate, would decide on what basis the imperial military would proceed. It took the hard and direct experience for the members of the various expeditions to discover that the legends of Empire were a good deal less profound than they once had been.
As explained the public assumption that the military phase was the first and not the second involvement of Imperials in North Russia was encouraged by the timing of events.
It was a risky game, but the chaos in Russia led to some very uncharacteristic behavior on the part of usually detached British governmental officials. Even such a calm soul as Lord Robert Cecil, faced with the prospects of the withdrawal of all Russian forces from the action, was led to exclaim that "we must be prepared in the desperate position...to take risks."
In the latest 2019 book on related subjects, Rupert Wieloch (p.22) writes that: "Two factors transformed the British position from protecting supplies to active engagement in the civil war. The first was the perceived imperilment of the Czech Legion' as it attempted to extract 70,000 soldiers along the Trans-Siberian Railway The second was the Bolshevik government's unwillingness to re-open the Eastern Front in the wake of their treaty with Germany Austria-Hungary Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, known as the Central Powers."
While it true that the Czech Legion as we shall see indeed played a role, as for the alleged claim of a need to "protecting supplies " however it was in fact admitted that the more valuable stores had already been removed to the interior of Russia. The propaganda section of MI1, principally using friendly newspapermen, on the other hand, gave detailed accounts of the amount and nature of the stores held in supply dumps, and even senior ministers used their influence to spread the story.
As is pointed out little understood is that the original MIO mission in the north was, in fact, 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. When Henry Wilson declared that 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," he meant it literally.
As the secret post-war MI8 explanation had it, 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."
Early in the war, a provision had been made for a "Government cable (owned by the British and Russian Governments) from Peterhead to Alexandrovsk on the Murmansk coast." The new cable would be the substitute for the previously customary route which sent traffic with Russia via the Danish-controlled Great Northern Company’s cables connecting the United Kingdom and France with the Scandinavian countries and thence to Petrograd via Sweden and Finland. The Great Northern Company’s staff in Sweden were subject to the control of the Swedish Government, and, although no concrete case of "leakage" in Sweden was ever established, there was reason to fear that the Germans might take advantage of their friendly relations with Sweden to tap Allied messages passing through that country en route to or from Russia.
The Great Northern route, which ran from Amoy, South China, through Siberia, Russia, and Scandinavia was known to be strategically vulnerable as early as 1902, when the French chose to construct a separate, French-controlled parallel in order to avoid the irritants of both British interception of messages and political and military interruption of traffic. The new Alexandrovsk cable, however, was only able to deal (and that sometimes with difficulty) with the large and important Russia traffic of the Allied Governments. Ordinary traffic had... to be sent via Sweden, although occasionally room was found on the Alexandrovsk cable for certain especially important private messages, especially those relating to shipping. Presumably, those private shipping messages contained some traffic from HBC-controlled vessels, which were the primary "privatized" ships with business in the area. That left the military Russian wire traffic of the Allied governments.
MI8 first settled for censorship and stopping suspicious messages, only imposing its "systematic delay" policy covering all traffic dealing with telegrams 'to or through Russia in November 1917. Information transfer in the theatre became ludicrously slow, albeit considerably less prone to external enemy tampering. Although telegrams for Russia (as well as for France and Italy) were largely exempt from the systematic delay imposed on telegrams for other parts of the continent, Imperial censors were instructed to give special scrutiny to messages to Russia which had to transmit through Sweden, in view of the additional risk which this involved. In November 1917, the systematic delay was also imposed on telegrams to or through Russia, and the fact that such telegrams continued to pass through Sweden was an additional reason for a decision which was based mainly on the disruptions within Russia itself.
Different from the above described intelligence led operations before they coalesced, the British War office in cooperation with the Allied strategic objectives in Russia was to re-establish an Eastern Front in cooperation with Russian groups that opposed the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. On 18 May 1918 some 400 Russian Constituent Assembly deputies met together and condemned the treaty, declaring that the state of war with the Central Powers continued.
The German collapse then made Trotsky’s task as leader of the Red Army, in political terms, a bit easier. In spring and summer 1918, the Allied landings at Murmansk, Vladivostok, and Archangel had been small-scale and, in theory at least, friendly (see the end of the upcoming BritishAgentsRussia3.html). Only after the Czechoslovak rebellion and Boris Savinkov’s uprising at Yaroslavl in July had relations between the Entente powers and Moscow tipped over toward outright hostility, and even then it stopped short of armed combat. The November 1918 armistice, ending the world war, tore off the mask of friendliness. Any continued Allied military presence in Russia would be ipso facto hostile, which the Bolsheviks could plausibly describe to peasant recruits as a foreign invasion.
When Spies invaded Russia p.1: British Spies from Persia to North and South and Eastern Russia.
When Spies invaded Russia p.3: The alleged protecting of supplies propaganda.
1. John Keegan, The Mask of Command, (New York, Viking, 1987), p. 4.
2. India Office Library and Records (hereafter IOLR), MIL/5/805, H.V. Cox to Steel, India Office, 16 March 1918.
3. Public Record Office, Kew (hereafter PRO), WO 32/10776, p.
5. War Office List, 1918, p. 102. The telephone number (Regent 3765) was listed, but in the interests of secrecy, no room number was offered.
6. Ibid., pp. 8-9.
7. Ibid., p. 7.
8. War Office List, 1918, p. 98.
9. Robert B. Asprey, War in the Shadows, vol. I, (Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1975), p. 337.
10. John I. Alger, Definitions and Doctrine of the Military Art: Past and Present, (Avery Publishing Group, Inc. Wayne, New Jersey, 1985), p.70.
11. Report of the Ministry, Overseas Military Forces of Canada, 1918, p. 211.
12. PRO, WO 32/10776/102105, 'Historical Sketch of the Directorate of Military Intelligence During the Great War, 1914-1919,’ 6 May 1921, p. 7.
13. War Office List, 1917.
15. Norman Bentwich and Michael Kisch, Brigadier Frederick Kisch: Soldier and Zionist, (London, 1966), pps. 42-43.
16. PRO, FO 371/3350/#205769, 14 December 1918, p. 76. The government once suggested that ’Sir A. Steel Maitland might like to make use’ of Bruce Lockhart as Commercial Secretary in South Russia.
17. PRO, FO 175.14 G.T. 3927, 5/3/18, A.W.F. Knox, 'Possibilities of Guerrilla Warfare in Russia,’ to CIGS, p. 1.
18. Arthur D. Steel-Maitland, The Empire and the Future, (London, 1916), p. vii.
19. Andrew, Her Majesty’s Secret Service, p. 242. According to the author of the 1964 Canadian Official War History, the Canadian mutiny was noted in a letter from its commander, Colonel Sharman in April 1919, reporting that a section of the Canadian artillery had temporarily refused to obey orders. NAC, Borden Papers OC516-OC518 (2), MG 26, HI (a), vol. 103, pps. 55896-56582, reel C-4333, Nicholson 516; Col. Sharman to CGS 13 April 1919, 'Precis of Correspondence Relative to North Russian Force’ prepared for Sir Robert Borden 17 May 1919; see also Julian Putkowski, The Kinmel Park Camp Riots, 1919, (Clywd, Flintshire Historical Society, 1989); and Julian Sykes, Shot at Dawn (Barnsley, Wharncliffe Publishing, 1989).
20. National Archives of Canada (hereafter NAC), RG9 III Vol. 357, SEF files, File A3 SEF #25; From American Headquarters to Canadians, Vladivostok, December 5, 1918, 'Secret’.
21. John F. Naylor, A Man and an Institution; Sir Maurice Hankey, the Cabinet Secretariat and the Custody of Cabinet Secrecy , (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 29.
22. PRO, CAB 24/45/65642 GT-3905, 13 March 1918.
23. PRO, CAB 27/23/WC/363, 11 March 1918, p. 137.
26. PRO, FO 175.14, 'Note,’ Colonel AWF Knox, 'Present Situation in Russia,’ p. 247. NAC, 'Secret,' Colonel Richard A. Steel to Brigadier-General H.F. MacDonald, 23 July 1918.
27. Bentwich, pps. 42-43.
28. NAC, Borden papers, #55520, MacDonald to Chief of the General Staff, 'Report,’ 17 July 1918 and NAC, RG9 III, Vol.358, A3 SEF #40, #63606, 'Secret,’ War Office to Colonel Robertson, Vladivostok, repeated General Knox, 3 August 1918. The structure of these actions was most conspicuously modified at Vladivostok, where Allied numbers, (including both U.S. and Japanese), were more favourable to conventional warfare. However, through its strong 'training’ component, that expedition maintained the element of internal political manipulation which characterised all three actions. In that way, although the U.S. contribution at Vladivostok, which was sent in the last week of July 1918, was * 100,000 Russian rifles and 200 Vickers Guns and four and three quarter million rounds S.A.A. . . . 14,000 rifles and one million rounds. . . . Something under one thousand rifles . . . and 75,000 suits of clothing for Czechs, ’and whilst Steel was able to report that Great Britain was sending 'via Shanghai,’ 'one hundred and twelve million rounds,’ the parallel organisations of intelligence and operations were still folly engaged.
29. Military Operations-Subsidiary Theatres, History of the Great War based on Official Documents, Principal Events, 1914-1918, (London, H.M.S.O., 1922), p. 216.
31. W.W. Murray, Canadians in Dunsterforce, Canadian Defence Quarterly, pp. 211-213.