When Spies invaded Russia p.4
As we have seen the three 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.
Rather, 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." Thus at the center the above 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.
I also described the alleged protecting of supplies propaganda whereas as pointed out in part one and part three 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.
Rather General Poole saw the need to get various goods out of Russia which 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.
As we have seen in part three, not of little importance here was that on 1 March 1918, the Murmansk government informed Petrograd that they wanted to accept the Allied offer to assist in the defense of the city. The Soviets acting on a positive reply by Trotsky placed regional military authority into the hands of a council controlled by Allied officers. Defense of the port passed to the Allied forces with Russian cooperation. On 6 March, marines from HMS Glory landed in Murmansk. On 10 March that same year Georgy Chicherin who served as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs told the British representative in Moskau that the Bolsheviks were not concerned with Allied actions in North Russia and would try to expel the Allies from Murmansk. This attitude changed when on 7 June news of a German-backed enemy force approaching the railway junction at Kem reached Murmansk. The Murmansk government then acted on its own and authorized the Allies to proceed against the enemy. On 23 June over a thousand British troops commanded by General Maynard, arrived at the port, but as agreed at a War Cabinet meeting, the men remained aboard ship, for the moment. But when Chicherin protested, on 28 June the Murmansk Presidium voted to ignore Moscow's orders, and two days later officially broke with Moscow. And thus by now the intelligence-operations which were meant to guarantee and safeguard communications capability became a military incursion. This act heralded the start of the Allied military build-up in North Russia.
How North Russia evolved into its military phase
Initially when the new Russia Committee was formed to serve as a point for the various interest groups, it consisted of members of the Foreign Office, War Office and Treasury "under charge of" (b) Contraband Committee of the Foreign Office (c) Restriction of Enemy Supplies Department (d) Commercial Intelligence Department. It included Robert Cecil; Ronald Graham; former members of the CRS; and most interestingly, as Secretary, Colonel Steel’s associate Major Frederick Kisch; and as a member, the DMI General Macdonogh.1 Balfour, who looked on from the Foreign Office, wrote to Milner on 19 January that he was:
circulating today a Memorandum prepared in this office and representing the considered opinion of those War Office and Foreign Office officials who take part day to day in the labors of the "Russian Committee”. Their suggestion is startling: they not only desire that Japan should land a large force in Siberia, but they desire her to occupy the whole length of the Siberian Railway from Vladivostock to the borders of European Russia…. The object of this scheme is to enable us not merely to protect our stores, etc., in Vladivostock, but to get in touch with the Cossacks, and to furnish supplies to Southern Russia.
If the military authorities are right in thinking that this scheme is a practicable one, it is very well worth the consideration of the Cabinet, and it fits in sufficiently well with the general line on which your thoughts are travelling. I own I am doubtful. How can the Japs or any one else protect three thousand miles of railway in a foreign & perhaps hostile country?2
The Committee reported that the DMI believed the memorandum "went much too far from a military point of view...The proposal to occupy not only Archangel, but also the railway line up to and including Vologda could not therefore be regarded as a practical military proposition."3
The DMI was perfectly correct regarding occupation beyond Archangel, and in that, he was supported by MIO; they had no intention of going beyond Archangel because there was no need to do so. Everything they wished to do could be done from a secure base. If any forward movement was necessary, it would be accomplished by Imperial surrogates, and certainly not by Imperial troops occupying Vologda.
Imperial Britain was naturally alert to changes which would affect other aspects of her national position. Certainly, the commercial possibilities and intelligence possibilities were concerns. But it was also becoming glaringly evident that the Admiralty, chief user of petroleum, also wanted to have a hand in the division of the Russian spoils. On the latter subject see the well-researched book by Martin Gibson Britain's Quest For Oil: The First World War and the Peace Conferences (2017).
The need for the Allies to get various goods out of Russia (plus keep them out of the hands of Germany) drove Pool 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 the objectives of all the interested Imperial parties had finally coalesced.
Meanwhile, the Canadians, whose interest first had been piqued by the activities of the HBC, and who through MI1 (c) had joined in the financial and commercial missions, kept a close watch for lucrative investments in the north and at Vladivostok. Vladivostok, though the site of the largest military concentration, was demonstrably less an intelligence operation than a purely commercial one. Dana Wilgress, a member of the Canadian financial mission at Vladivostok, recalled that the situation in Vladivostok was becoming very confused. Throughout the winter of 1917-18 it was argued that a small disciplined military force was all that was required to restore order in Russia, now that the huge Russian armies were being disbanded. Allied assistance was being accorded to the anti-Bolshevik forces operating in Northern Russia and in Southern Russia. The situation in Siberia at first was less clear-cut.4
In the midst of it all, Canada decided the time was right to initiate an independent effort to bring order out of chaos in Siberia. A telegram from Ottawa announced that a body to be known as the Canadian Economic Commission to Siberia was to be formed and established at Vladivostok. The Chairman was to be Colonel Dennis, head of the Colonization Department of the Canadian Pacific Railway and A.D. Braithwaite, Assistant General Manager of the Bank of Montreal, was to be the Vice-Chairman. As Wilgress recalled, the other members were to be "Mr. Owen, the Vladivostok representative of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Mr. C.F. Just and myself."5
Subsequent Canadian commercial interests in Siberia also were to be confirmed: their links to Steel-Maitland at Overseas Trade were strengthened when the Governor-General, along with the Privy Council, finally certified the deal to which Canada and Great Britain had agreed.
Poole, still engaged in the minutiae of commercial expediting, was becoming increasingly disturbed by the absence of a competent financial advisor. He insisted that Sir George R. Clerk at the Foreign Office take action--but the FO remained reluctant to involve itself in Russia. 6
If the Foreign Office would not support the Russian effort, the British Imperialists and their intelligence specialists were not so timid. The interventions-neither political nor entirely military, nor certainly diplomatic, were the considered response of those Imperial proponents newly vested with domestic power by the Lloyd George government, wielding in the central government the same kinds of specific power they had exercised for years within the Empire. They had begun planning for the South Russian Expedition (known as Dunsterforce or, more lightly, the Hush-Hush Army) at the end of 1917; there was an intelligence officer on detached service operating under central Directorate of Military Intelligence (MIO) instructions and sending in his reports from the region from as early as September,7 and orders were cut for its commander in December of that year. The design of the North Russian Expeditionary Force, whose components were designated as Syren and Elope, took place at the same time. The action against Vladivostok was initiated by MI shortly thereafter, as they worked with the War Office, the Overseas Military Forces of Canada (OMFC), the United States, and Japan, where there were to be an assortment of economic missions vying in authority with the military under General Elmsley and General Otani.
Thus in January 1918 Milner’s Imperialists were prepared to throw all their weight behind any plan which promised results—and particularly one which made use of resources already in place, which had an at least apparently successful record, and which used a tactical methodology with which they were familiar and of which they generally approved. It is unclear whether anyone imagined the consequences of giving intelligence its chance in the new strategy, but once the intelligence planners had the opportunity, and the authority to execute their plans, a new political reality has emerged. Intelligence gains control of policy when intelligence is all there is. Those who have control of intelligence gain control of policy. The Interventions were an illustration of the uses of that reality, with its willingness and its ability to substitute other means of persuasion when overt military compulsion was impossible.
In the end, despite rhetoric to the contrary, it made no Imperial difference whether Russia was governed by a monarch, a Democrat, or an ideologue. Imperial paramountcy required stability and planning for stability- required dependable information. It was within this context that MIO devised its methods of dealing with the Russian problem. As General Poole reported, the "policy to be adopted as regards British influence in Northern Russia through ports of Murmansk and Archangel, should, I consider, be ample control as to whether or not German capital dominates Russian Companies formed to organise dockyards at Murmansk..."8 In 1918, the temptation to acquire de facto control, the cheap MIO way, was "not unreasonable"9-it was irresistible.
Co-optation in its various forms was the Imperial norm; it required no public explanation. Only when the duties of the North Russian mission were extended to include a form of regular military action (largely as the result of political, not Imperial, agitation) in late spring of 1918, did it then become necessary to supply some publicly acceptable reason for the proposed action. MIO’s preference was to continue the internal sleight-of-hand in combination with external subterfuge. Under political pressure, Steel and Milner did at least shield the initial intelligence presence from public scrutiny. 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—but that was synchronicity only. It appeared that Russian withdrawal had subsequently made Allied military substitution the primary objective. Financial and intelligence considerations aside, the military scheme employed to accomplish what was in fact perfectly justifiable and publicly announced military objectives also offered an opportunity to assimilate a kind of organized guerrilla warfare into the regular army system.
Yet the kinds of action which intelligence-operations had taken in North Persia, and which were being duplicated in the north, anticipated a form of "small war"-guerrilla war-not a full-blown third front.10 Again, a "small war" of the kind envisaged was one in which Steel was experienced and at which the Empire excelled. It was, if less desirable than clean co-optation, at least practicable, and their experience in handling and acquiring information from the economic and political sectors had made the Imperials accustomed to the likely consequences of combining military action with political objectives. This kind of war was finding good, active use in Arabia, under the direction of a former London employee of MI4 who had been seconded to the Egyptian branch of MI1 (c).
Steel was running with the foxes, superimposing an inherently conservative Imperial small war fought with limited means on a situation being driven by Clauswitzian theorists. To do so he was relying on the kinds of support-economic, moral and political which had always kept the Empire stable. His was the traditional Imperial form moved into the European theatre, while the concept of European alliance and immense armies-the offensiveà outrance—was altogether foreign to Imperial tradition. Within that European structure, where it was reasonable for "two nations professing incompatible philosophies" to put them to the test of force, the adherents of Imperial paramountcy held that such a rationale was, for Britain, philosophically "idiotic. ... It might do for France and Germany, but would not represent the British attitude. Our Army was not intelligently maintaining a philosophic conception in Flanders or on the Canal. . . . Foch had knocked out his own argument by saying that such war depended on levy in mass, and was impossible with professional armies; while the old army was still the British ideal, and its manner the ambition of our ranks and our files."11
Steel’s initial use of intelligence-operations was the antithesis of the offensive à outrance. As the true conservative position, stemming from tried-and-true methods of Imperial warfare, it was applied in opposition to the foreign and radical circumstances destroying the Western Front by stalemate. It was the most Imperial of military methods. When the interventions were desperately trying to hold and defend their center positions-Archangel/Murmansk, Vladivostok and Baku-MIO command had no interest in moving much forward of those centers. Each point represented what one guerrilla fighter called "an unassailable base, something guarded not merely from attack, but from the fear of it."12 But what all three intervention groups knew they lacked and were finally unable to create despite their best efforts were the other vital components. They did not have friendly populations, but ones where the majority saw them to be hostile invaders. The requisite speed of movement for all three sites was hindered more often than not by the weather.13 Their communications system, although under Imperial control, was nevertheless vulnerable through its sheer size. Finally, the enemy itself was too diffuse; in the unlikely eventuality that the other problems could be rectified, the enemy itself could not be defined but only particularised.
Raw intelligence remained the single most difficult commodity for the London groups to obtain, and for a reason peculiar to the increase of that technological innovation which had been facilitated by the war itself. Here also MIO intervened, following an Imperial pattern of communications control which had, only a few years earlier, been typified by the drive toward establishment of "all-red" cable routes-a "system of telegraphic communication completely under British control."14 The ambition of the military and the Empire was, according to the Inter Departmental Committee on Cable Communications that, "every important colony or naval base should possess one cable to this country which touches on British territory or on the territory of some friendly neutral. We think that, after this, there should be as many alternative cables as possible, but that these should be allowed to follow the normal routes suggested by commercial considerations."15
Under prevailing circumstances, which involved an absence of secure access and an absence of secure control over the single remaining telegraphic/wireless nexus for the northern European region, it was determined that a small group, heavily laden with signals experts and supported with a minimal number of what were essentially garrison troops, could secure the area and have an intelligence effect far in excess of their numbers and far superior in result to military intervention. 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,"16 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."17
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.18
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.19 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 specially important private messages, especially those relating to shipping.20 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.21
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 programme 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.22
A number of intelligence courier routes were devised, converging at Moscow to provide supply routes. The couriers way out led through Petrograd to Petrozvotsk, through Vologda to Archangel cablehead, or through Vyatka and Kotlas to Archangel (for information moving either around or through the Scandinavian countries to England). In the south the couriers left through Kiev to Jasi, through Aratov, and thence either through Rostov-on-Don or Baku.23 These routes, initially established by Captain George Hill, were re-organised and re-applied in August 1918 after the failure of the July "Yaroslavl affair."24 They were the source of intelligence being transferred out of the communications centres at Archangel/Murmansk and Baku. By expanding his available messengers to sixty, Hill provided the other half of the MIO base intelligence network—the raw information which the northern signals groups (and those in the south) relayed back to the War Office for analysis and strategic action.
MI8 meanwhile was keeping its bureaucratic eye on another telegraphic route which was vulnerable to enemy pre-emption. The "outlet through Russia and Siberia to the Far East, which was naturally of great importance, was subject to censorship from the start," MI8 said, and while internal Russian censorship was imposed along the lines carrying traffic to the Far East and was "nominally stringent," it was not efficient. In the attempt to stop the "leakage’"of information, both the Imperial and French governments successfully pressured the Russians into allowing them to take charge; in November 1915 Britain and France were asked "to send censorship liaison officers to Petrograd." The primary Imperial officer assigned to the duty, Colonel HVF Benet, working with his French opposite number, achieved a considerable measure of success in assisting the Russians to reorganize and improve their system of censorship, and in arranging for the exchange of information with regard to enemy agents or sympathisers and their transactions. Colonel Benet induced the Russians to suspend entirely the service through Siberia between Scandinavia or Holland and America, and to treat with special care, and indeed suspicion, telegrams between Scandinavia or Holland and Eastern Siberia, China or other countries in the Far East whence such telegrams could be forwarded by the uncensored route via Honolulu and San Francisco.25
If this cooperation before 1917 weren’t enough to guarantee that the Imperials retained control of the communications network linking military and commercial Russia to its partners, what happened next was stunning: "Colonel Benet’s influence with the Russian censors continued after the Revolution, and even for a short time under the rule of the Bolshevists, and by the time he left Petrograd there was virtually no longer any question of leakage through Siberia, as the lines for the purposes of any through communication were practically non-existent."26 Colonel Beliefs "influence" lends considerable support to the explanation of why the interventionary activity at Vladivostok was, almost from the first, the exception to other so-called interventionary action-indeed, it may even be more realistic to characterise Vladivostok as the only predominantly military intervention, since unlike the actions at Baku and in the North, it was primarily a military operations concern and was only secondarily operated through the intelligence nexus. Under Colonel Benet’s influence the intelligence routes through Siberia were already in Allied hands, while in the south, where the "Central Powers seized the British land lines to India via Russia and the Ottoman Empire"27 the Dunsterforce group would depend on its Australian/New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) signallers.28
MIO/MI8’s activities in the north restricted all U.K.-Russian cable traffic to the cable "from Peterhead to Alexandrovsk." The main intelligence outposts were secured, and Hill was operating an extremely satisfactory internal system of Allied communications; MIO as overall co-ordinator intended to protect its resources. But somehow, it is not surprising to find that Colonel Benet formed part of the Archangel contingent and, according to the internal table of organisation of "Intelligence Organization Archangel Force," reported directly to Colonel Thornhill.29
However useful the intelligence operation was (and it was extraordinarily so, combining technological and human control of information with direct policy influence), at field headquarters, the cumbersome interplay of cable, postal and field, censorship and field intelligence periodically impaired the smooth movement of information. At various times the cable and the censors broke down.30 Captain Edwards, who was nominally in charge of the Field Section censorship, and who reported through Benet to Thornhill,31 dealt directly with Intelligence, "North Russia," and with London but did allow the "Chief Censor," Benet, to take a look at the reports.32 Unlike the mythical supplies rotting on the docks, it was information which was backed up in Archangel. The problem though stemmed from the imperfection of available technology, not from initiative, organisation or will.
Certainly, these diverse considerations, carrying with them goals which were themselves sometimes conflicting, tended to re-enforce MIO’s commitment to operational secrecy. Intelligence strategy needed room to plan without aggressive oversight and to implement without undue interference. In consequence, sectors of the War Office and of the administration which would normally have been kept informed, had the operation been an ordinary one, were not. Certainly DMO knew that there was activity already taking place in the north, but since in the early part of 1918 this activity fell under the aegis of the political RSC and of MIO, (and was thus functionally outside normal military authority) it was unnecessary for the group to be dealt with in the same terms as were required of the subsequent military actions. This chain of reporting effectively compartmentalized and restricted knowledge of MIO action in the north without requiring elaborate security procedures. The Cabinet was told what it needed to know, according to the information being relayed from the north-the military structure was privy to that knowledge which was required under the circumstances but was not involved in supervision. As a result, there was no need to share the secret of Syren/Elope or Dunsterforce with allies outside the Imperial association, any more than there was a need to share the Imperial intelligence plans in effect for Arabia or East Africa.
Even for those who were actively involved within the Imperial purview, the restrictions of '"need to know" prevailed, especially at the North Russia site where, as Sir Edward Kemp, Minister of the London- based OMFC, later explained to Prime Minister Borden, "publicity was the very thing which the Imperial authorities wished to avoid in connection with the Expedition at the time, otherwise its object would have been defeated by acquainting both the Germans and the Bolshevists with our program."33 Consequently, the Dominion Prime Ministers were inadequately briefed, as were their military representatives. The Canadian government, despite individual representation and the personal availability of Prime Minister Borden and the OMFC in London were not formally advised of the military expansion of the actions at North Russia until the plan was very well advanced. It was only when notification that the British intended to "reinforce"34 Syren party was received at Canadian Headquarters on 12 July 1918, and the OMFC were then asked to supply another battalion of infantry, that a senior Canadian officer was given the opportunity to examine the complete intervention plan. General H.F. MacDonald was not impressed: he recommended that the War Office "be advised that the Canadian authorities cannot see their way clear to provide the Battalion asked for but are willing to assist by loaning a limited number of officers of the required type."35 MacDonald’s recommendation was fully endorsed by his superiors, but the recommendation itself only applied to the second-phase action in the north. And by the time Canada was asked to re-enforce the activity in North Russia was already well evolved into its military phase.
Despite the Canadian participation, OMFC were only added to M05’s list of recipients of the weekly updated "situation maps" showing the "general situation of the Bolshevik and Czech troops, etc., in Siberia and Russia" on 23 July 1918, when General MacDonald specifically requested that Colonel Steel do so. The material ultimately included three copies of the weekly "secret summaries of information regarding (a) European Russia (b) Siberia." The secret summaries and situation maps were to be reserved to General MacDonald, to General Mewburn and the General Staff, Ottawa. This was the first time the information which Steel had at M05 was to be shared with the Canadians, and it was only then that OMFC headquarters were permitted to have the "file of all telegrams re the battalion we are sending Vladivostok."36 As Colonel Steel emphasized to General MacDonald, the digests and maps which he (and the Canadians) were to see were to be regarded as "very confidential,"37 nearly the highest level of security classification in use.
It is also worth noting that when Knox was finally notified (in a DMI cipher telegram of 26 August 1918) of his appointment as head of the British Military mission attached to the Allied Expeditionary Force headquarters in Siberia, he was also informed that he would receive "a copy of the instructions issued to General Elmsley." It is less certain that Elmsley, though the commander of the British Imperial contingent, was granted the same favor. Once again, all reports were to be addressed to the Director of Military Intelligence, whence the distribution would presumably follow the pattern which normally routed copies through Mil (a), which in turn went to CIGS, DMI, MI2 & C, MI2 d(b), DMO, M05 & A, MOX, FO, Mil & A, Mil (c) (Col. Dansey), DCIGS, DSD, SD2 & b, FI, F2, F5, Treasury, DDSD and General MacDonald.38
At its start, Elope comprised only administrative and instructional staff for the organization of local forces up to 20,000 men while Syren consisted of a "Company of Infantry, a Machine Gun Company and a half Company Royal Engineers."39 The noticeable bias on the part of MIO, Curzon and Milner in the use of these troops in preference to available Imperials within the Allied, mixed command stemmed from the widely held belief at all levels of Military Intelligence that Bolshevism threatened to compromise the loyalties of the British troops. It was one fear which seemingly turned out to be real: the mutinies on Salisbury Plain in 1919 showed exactly what could happen when ideas took hold.40
The anxiety about the Bolshevists, and what the philosophy could mean to the Empire, permeated the entire military intelligence structure. By the end of November 1918, specific responses to the hypothecated possibilities that Allied soldiers would act on the Bolshevist literature entering the country, part of the "large distribution...made in Germany and Holland" was formulated by the Canadian Corps. These responses included the arrest of British soldiers, and the detention and referral of Allied soldiers, along with confiscation of the suspicious documents by military police, gendarmes and intelligence police, who were told to keep a strict "watch for any literature of a revolutionary character."41 Bolshevik propaganda concerned the Secret Service as well. In April 1919 the Service marked the successful work of two of its agents by the way they had, in only one month, finally been able to unravel the ramifications of an extensive system of German espionage, whose principal object was the promotion of Bolshevism and Separatism amongst the troops of the Allies. They were able to show that, in spite of the professed departure of the new Government in Germany from the old conditions and the old regime, it was the Heeresleitung which was really in power. It was, in any case, in a position to continue its espionage and other anti-Allied activities in spite of its apparent lack of power.42
Those Imperial troops who served in areas of close proximity to Russia, particularly those who participated in the intelligence phases of the interventions, were feared to be particularly vulnerable, not because of pre-disposition but because of proximity to Russia, and because they were targeted by Bolshevik infiltrators. To combat that fear, Whitehall chose to recruit when they could from the pool of available Dominion troops-Imperials and Colonials from non-European theatres and India Army veterans who were accustomed to looking suspiciously at Russia. These troops’ fierce Imperial loyalty would doubly safeguard them from the Bolshevik contagion which they risked by nearing its source. Within Dunsterforce, for example, Dominion forces represented slightly over forty percent, and the majority of the Imperials came from outside the Western Front units. Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders who had volunteered for overseas duty and had proven their loyalty to the Empire by sheer bloody-mindedness were deemed free from any susceptibility to doubts about Imperial ambitions in North Persia.
By the end of spring 1918, the dynamics within the War Office had started to shift back in favor of the Europeanist advocates of headlong military opposition. This is not to say that Steel or his group accepted their apparent professional defeat easily. On the contrary, Steel’s reaction was to ensure at least personally favorable co-operation through his own intelligence operation. He chooses the next phase’s commanding general.
In May 1918, Steel found General Maynard, "invalided home from the Salonika front . . . awaiting anxiously" the time when a medical board would pass him as fit for service in the field. It was, recalled Maynard,
On Empire Day I chanced to be lunching at my club, where I ran across Colonel Richard Steel, an old friend then employed at the War Office.
Steel greeted me by informing me that I was the very man he wanted to meet, and asked me to accompany him to the War Office, as he had been authorized to lay before me a proposition for my employment which he believed would be after my own heart.
Of this I felt some doubt, since I knew that his work was in connexion with the eastern theatres of war, whilst my ambition was a divisional command in France. Naturally therefore I enquired what sort of a job he had in contemplation for me. But Steel declined to give me any details, saying that he could make no further reference to it till he got behind the closed doors of his own room. . . . Thus, a few minutes later, I was seated with him in his office, waiting for him to throw additional light on his somewhat cryptic utterance at the club.
"Ever heard of a place called Murmansk?" he asked..."43
Elope’s other officers were largely derived from those who had been part of the original Poole Mission. The Deputy Commander was Brigadier R.G. Finlayson (Deputy Commander 24 May 1918 GSO 1 Ops/Murmansk33, a veteran, with Skene and Maxwell of the RSC in Petrograd,44 and General Ironside’s former fellow officer in South Africa and now GSO 1 (Operations) to the North Russian group.45 Finlayson, who had been temporarily laid up from his duties at the end of 1917, was still in communication with Colonel Byrne of the Russia Supplies Committee (RSC), whose administrative duties included coordination of London and Poole at Murmansk. During his leave, Finlayson managed to meet with Byrne and then cabled his estimates to Poole in North Russia.46 At the end of one meeting early in December 1917 he offered as his opinion that, "Unless we are quite sure that in all events, the British Colony in Russia is quite safe should we not send food to Murman & Archangel to feed the populations & the Railway Staffs. We would thus ensure, possibly, a safe haven for any Allies who may be forced to flee thither."47 He also offered practical and useful suggestions as to how, and under what circumstances movement into Vladivostok could be made. Perhaps, "America or Japan should be asked to send a few regiments to Vladivos- tock to protect the war stores there & to insure that they are not gradually drawn upon by German sympathisers. ... It seems to me that, in view of the intentions of Lenin-not that I think he’ll get what he pretends to ask for now-sufficient reasonable causes could be quickly found."48 Elope party, centred at Murmansk, held the lion’s share of the intelligence personnel. Of the original appointments, fourteen officers were designated specifically for intelligence or ciphers within Elope; Syren was assigned two cipher officers only.49 The Elope party’s military intelligence contacts in London remained with Colonel Steel who was still functioning as oversight. The nominal rolls, marked as they were by the official stamps of MIO (a), and with the further notation of "’Elope" & "Develop"’ (the latter nomenclature only being changed subsequent to MIO dissolution),50 indicate that personnel decisions were made before June 1918. The combined units were formally launched in June, but as late as 22 July their composition was still being amended as a result of the War Office conference of that date. That conference had decided officially that the groups would be formed out of the previous Poole Mission, and would also use personnel already in Russia. In the latter case, they would, like George Hill, join from within the country. Numbers would be made up from men dispatched from camps in England, where they had been posted from other theatres, and from men assigned to London duty. The problems of secret mobilization within England were addressed-it was "hoped to get the personnel and equipment away by one boat and it is intended to mobilize them at the Tower of London to be ready to sail (provisionally) by 5th August," although that date was judged too late and immediately revised to 2 August.51 By the end of June, the routing of all messages from Poole at Murmansk was, according to order, being handled by DMI, with MOX (Military Operations, Administration) acting as custodian and distributor to subsidiary organizations and otherwise concerned but not authoritative groups, including DMO, GIGS, M05 (a), MI2, MI2 (d), DNI and Sir George Clerk of the Foreign Office. Originals of material from Poole were handled by MOX as an administrator, and by M05 under Steel.
Of the 140 officers Elope initially despatched (including those presumed to be non-effectives and nine hospital staff), twenty-three were to join in Russia-that is about seventeen percent of the group were already engaged in Russia. Of that total, a large proportion was transferred directly from the Poole Mission, including Thornhill, Skene, Notcutt, Proctor, Sturdy, and Serby. As was typical of Dunsterforce, the men making up Syren and Elope were drawn from every imaginable unit and even from the retired list. Syren party carried with it three GSO 1 "Liaison" officers, all Lieutenant-Colonels, all from Indian regiments. Personnel who were joining from Russia were also listed on the nominal rolls of both groups handled by the War Office, with transferring notations about M05, its heritor, replacing the old MIO stamps. The two groups were thus not harmed by the dissolution, nor did their oversight in the War Office change, although the names may have done. Once again, the interests of the central Imperial government, operating in conjunction with Steel-Maitland and with DMI, came into play. Their concerns which had been coalescing in 1916, assumed new specificity before the October Revolution; like their brethren within the War Office, they saw the most effective control path as deriving from unified command of all resources, military and economic, within a single group whose purpose was to stay at least one step ahead of any potential Russian or Bolshevik response. The Elope/Syren group Steel had devised was,..."a force known as ELOPE which comprises administrative and instructional staff for the organization of local forces up to 20,000 men ... a force known as SYREN consisting of Company of Infantry, a Machine Gun Company and a half Company Royal Engineers."52
Two months later the regulars were fully in charge, reporting that "In order to protect our communications with Archangel it was necessary to hold the Murman [sic] Coast and, during the summer, the west shores of the White Sea" and continue to provide protection to the stores. According to London’s situation analysis, "Major General Maynard, who had been appointed to command at Murmansk, stated that with the small effectives at his command he could not guarantee his hold on Pechenga and recommended its evacuation." To this the Admiralty had taken the very strongest objection, "on the grounds that our evacuation inferred enemy occupation with the result that by the Spring we should have to cope with an organized, well-protected submarine base which would be an infinite source of danger not only to our Archangel communications but to our Atlantic shipping. Further it was realized that such evacuation would immensely lower our prestige in Russia and produce deplorable political results." General Maynard was instructed to report the minimum reinforcements he would require to guarantee his hold on the whole northern Murman Coast. Maynard promptly informed the War Office that he needed, "4 battalions of infantry; 2 Machine Gun Companys; 1 Stokes Mortar Battery; 2, 4.5" howitzer batteries; 1, 18 pr. battery."53
Maynard was certain that "the communications with Archangel will thus be secured." The Home Defence forces it was thought, would furnish these men, and it was "expected that a portion will sail in a fortnight and the remainder in a month from now." General H.H. Wilson was also thinking far ahead; by "next Spring a fighting frontcan be re-constituted in Russia formidable enough to force the enemy to divert troops in considerable strength from the Western front at a time when the maximum Allied effort will be made. This factor may well go far to render that effort decisive..."54 The whole mission had shifted to the military. The intelligence visionaries had lost their role as leaders of the campaign.55
By the time Steel accompanied Sir Eric Geddes on their visit to the Archangel/Murmansk region early in 1918 (where, on another occasion, Geddes chose to arrive under the nom de guerre "General Campbell"),56 the scene was set to support, military intervention if it was decided to go ahead. At Murmansk they met with the senior staff officers, where Steel ensured that Geddes was exposed to the opinions of General Poole, who was now arguing in favour of military intervention, and of Colonel Thornhill, who was "a rabid interventionist."57 As General MacDonald later reported, Geddes did in fact bring back the information used to sway the Imperial War Cabinet in favour of the utility of limited military intervention. As Poole, Thornhill and Steel explained to Geddes, since there was already in place the "force known as Syren" which came "under the general direction of Major General Poole" as appointed British Representative in Northern Russia,58 and there were also in place that group of marines which Admiral Kemp, on Moscow’s invitation, had landed, it would surely take only a very few more men serving as instructors to implement a limited military intervention. The Elope force would become a unit which consisted of 120 officers 80 ORs...representing the HQ of a division, to arm, reequip the 50,000 Czecho-Slovaks we hoped to find at Archangel and every type of instructor— MGs, Signals, Res, etc. Whilst the Murmansk party (Syren, who accompanied us in the "City of Marseilles" were a company B2 of KRRC ... to reinforce the 200 marines (the official reports say 600) ashore at Murmansk, to deny that ice-free port to the Germans (particularly a force under General Mannerheim in Finland)...59
Lacking the capability to impose conventional military doctrine, needing to do something, the imperial elements of the Lloyd George government accepted what was offered by MIO. They would take "Lord Milner’s Russian Supply Committee, housed in the War Cabinet offices at Whitehall Terrace" and expand it.60
Intelligence planning clearly had crossed the line into territory more normally controlled by those who made war policy. Resistance to the new reality being shaped by intelligence was only minimally expressed, although when the backlash came in mid-1918, the political reaction was to distrust both the good intelligence coming out of the Archangel centre and to distrust the planners. The intelligence advocates found themselves suddenly being ignored or overruled at Cabinet level. It was the first indication that after some six months of effort on MIO’s part, that group and Poole (along with his agents in the field) were losing their control to the traditional advocates of the chain of action, which ignored the contributions of intelligence in favor of under-informed Cabinet ministers and Army officers who were eager to take charge. Still, even as command of the activities at Murmansk/Archangel was slipping out of the control of the intelligence planners, and for the first time specific orders were being given to Poole under the military phase of intervention, some rights were retained by Steel’s element.61 The vital connexion devised between Imperial economic concerns and intelligence planners would be preserved, whatever the cost.
The instructions signed by General H.H. Wilson, C.I.G.S., on 18 May 1918 dictated that all intelligence was to be handled through the DMI directly, where it would be supervised by Steel at MIO. Even more interesting, all economic and related questions would also go directly to DMI. In other words, of the various reasons offered for the presence of Poole in Russia, his instructions made it very clear that at the time of his instructions he was not engaged in a military action but an intelligence one. After 25 May 1918 that particular pretext was no longer necessary, and all of Poole’s cables subsequently were sent directly to the DMI.62
According to the nominal rolls compiled for both the Syren and Elope were one or the other groups (which were shown as belonging to "Operations" but heavily stamped over with MIO and MIO (a) notations),63 MIO despatched its combined group to the north in June 1918, while still considering certain of the military arrangements in London. (This was during the transitional period when MIO as an independent DMI group was re-allocating its responsibilities and its operations were being moved under control of M05, while remaining under Steel’s authority.) Among the ongoing considerations Steel was handling were amendments to the strength of Syren, which added two captains and two headquarters officers, six Royal Engineers, and an assortment of other specialists, including seven additional infantry instructors, a complete bakery section, two more- signals officers and forty other ranks, two ordnance officers and other ranks, eight RAMC officers and ten other ranks, and yet another cipher officer-the total additional personnel would be seventy (plus the bakers). After a terrific effort, the group met the departure date of 2 August.64
On 15 June 1918 the paperwork now being supervised by M05 (a) for Syren indicated that that group would retain the majority of cipher and signals experts. The staff included as commander, General C.C.M. Maynard; as Brigade Major, Captain J.R.W. Grove; Staff Captain G. Steele; and a captain as aide-de-camp. This small staff Maynard took out with him was "considered ample for the force" expected to come under his command. Maynard pointed out that in "ordinary circumstances this should have proved the case; but events were to show that, from the outset, the number was wholly inadequate to cope with the administrative difficulties, and the mass of political and military problems" which were to confront him.65 The group was also provided with four interpreters, and two cipher officers, a "liaison cipher officer GSO 1," and assorted special appointments, including railway engineers and a company cashier.66
Elope’s rolls, being kept by M05 (a), (although MI2 (d) also held two copies), was under the command of Poole; his deputy, Brigadier Finlayson served as GSO 1 (Operations). Within Elope was found the heavier concentration of intelligence officers: GSO 1 (Intelligence) Lieutenant-Colonel C.J.M. Thornhill; GSO 3 (Intelligence) Major Van Someren; and a GSO 3 (Intelligence) officer, who was to be appointed in Russia. This group had a number of its slots waiting for personnel to report from other duties within Russia; below command level there were assigned five intelligence captains or lieutenants expected "to join in Russia," six cipher officers and up "to 20" interpreters similarly attached, including Captain Proctor, and Captain G.A. Hill, nominally a part of the minute Royal Air Force contingent, along with his colleague Lieutenant C.G. Tomling and an additional three signals officers.67 The establishment at Archangel finally consisted of Thornhill, Major Pepler of the South Ontario Regiment as GSO 2, and twelve other officers, whose normal duties included weekly newspaper and propaganda, photographic section, mapping, censorship, and interpretation, with separate sections "A" and "B" handling forward intelligence (nine officers) and military control (funneled through Captain Bryson) with five officers. The "B" group also handled intelligence coming from the Vologda and Dvina forces. Mr, Lattimore as the civil assistant to GSO 1 reported directly to Thornhill, as did military control and forward intelligence, the daily communique and censorship officers.68
The military group supplementing the Poole Mission was assembled on 26 August 1918 but did not leave until 17 September, arriving at Murmansk on 26 September.69 Consul Lindley described this group as the one which would prevent the extermination of those "anti-Bolshevik organizations" which "our agents and the French fostered and financed." The fear now was that if the Bolsheviks were "given sufficient time they may succeed as the French terrorists succeeded in creating ... a really serious fighting force, which it would be about impossible to overthrow with forces operating from such unsuitable bases as Vladivostock and the Arctic Coast and exposed to the menace of a sudden attack by German troops."70
The "limited numbers of officers and Non-Commissioned Officers to proceed on a Special Mission" had as their chief qualifications those once specified by the War Office-"a knowledge of winter conditions and familiarity with snow-shoes, and sleigh transport and, if possible driving of dog teams."71 As was the custom, prior to the "Party leaving all Lieutenants in the Party were granted the acting rank of Captain, and all Non-Commissioned Officers below the rank of Sergeant were promoted to the rank of Sergeant."72 Some members joined a little more informally than others, as had been the case with Dunsterforce, One, Russell Tubman, joined at Witley Camp by falling "in with the line up of troops going to Russia instead of the ordinary parade."73
By the time this soldierly group left for North Russia the original limited intention of the mission had been completely subsumed within its military incarnation. They were now engaged in the attempt to put the once only lightly regarded contingency planning into effect. While Dunsterforce as a training group had had some legitimate hope of contacting indigenous alienated nationalities which might be used in an imperially sponsored guerrilla action, and while Vladivostok thought they might still connect with the Czechs, the one possibility of successful recruitment was completely absent at Murmansk/Archangel. North Russia was the ideal spot for an intelligence operation; it was far less than ideal as a recruiting centre. The local inhabitants regarded the Imperials as "substantially an alien force invading enemy territory’ and the potential trainees were local people, 'passively neutral or sullenly against them."74 Without local support, North Russia intervention had no hope.
Military intervention, unlike intelligence intervention depended on persuading a British government composed of Imperialists, Western Fronters, and bureaucrats to agree that active involvement was now necessary beyond the persuasive and commercial re-enforcement which had served as long as there were Russian internal controls. This was the "strategic measure demanded by the military situation"7579—which required troops to be made available to secure the area, and to carry out all the other objectives which later served as the public rationale for intervention -linking with the Czechs, interdicting munitions, and re-constituting the Eastern Front.
The pressure on the Imperial government by intelligence agencies and politicians, and the fluctuation in and paucity of reliable information about what Bolshevism in the north and south intended, were exacerbated by escalating internal Russian supply and transport problems. The fear was the misuse of supplies, not their adequacy-and the men on the scene were finding as little success in correcting that problem as those in Whitehall were finding in confining the intervention to its original intelligence purpose.
The moment that the intervention in the north was augmented by troops who were neither committed to nor knowledgeable of those intelligence objectives-mid-year, 1918-the northern intervention lost its original purpose without gaining a satisfactory substitute. The intelligence-operations which were meant to guarantee and safeguard communications capability became merely another military incursion.
When Spies invaded Russia p.1: British Spies from Persia to North and South and Eastern Russia.
When Spies invaded Russia p.2: To mold irregular warfare into a method which honored the Imperial myth.
When Spies invaded Russia p.3: The alleged protecting of supplies propaganda.
When Spies invaded Russia p.5: What must develop into a civil war.
Footnotes upon request you can write me at email@example.com