When Spies invaded Russia p.5

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.

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."

In comparison with the intervention in North Russia, which was based primarily on commercial and military imperatives and secondarily on Imperial great power politics, the objectives finally determined to underpin the force which arrived in South Russia in early 1918 were firmly grounded within a specific Imperial tradition, the final innings in the Great Game itself. The ancillary military objectives which the mission undertook existed only because at that time and in that place the previously existent political objectives could not be advanced without military support. If London argued about its purpose, or even tried to re-define that purpose, it was never reasonable to suppose that the odd collaboration between MIO, MI1, White Russians, Armenians, financial representatives, commercial travelers, Dominion soldiers, and diplomatic officers which resulted in Dunsterforce had as its real purpose a dispassionate love of responsible government for the oppressed popula­tions of the Caucasus. Paramountcy was the key. Paramountcy, in turn, provided specific advantages in the acquisition of trade and industrial hegemony and the suppression of disruptive political unrest. Dunster­force was the intelligence attempt to extend intelligence lines—molding those oppressed populations into an Imperial surrogate. Ensuring Imperial paramountcy in the North Persia/South Russian region was a dividend.

As an MIO group, Dunsterforce was constructed for deniability, a concept new in the description though not in the invention. The leisurely manner in which the group made its way to its objective at Baku indicated the ongoing struggle among those who had sent them; the erratic way in which the members of the force were transported confirms that logistics were second to other obligations. 400 hand-picked Imperial troops and a company of signals specialists in the Caucasus were there for other than purely military reasons.

Although overt political disagreements over the handling of the Arabian and Mesopotamian (now roughly corresponding to most of Iraq, Kuwait, the eastern parts of Syria, Southeastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish–Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders)theatres were temporarily held in abeyance by the Foreign and India offices, the surface unity of London's governmental agencies broke down when they  were forced to deal with North Persia (now Iran)during late 1917. Some of these internal disagreements had to do with how men in charge of those offices regarded the threat posed by the proximity of Bolshevik Russia to Persia. Another element which caused confusion was the fact that the Foreign and India India offices were receiving very different kinds of information from their representatives in the region.

It set the pattern for extended intelligence-operations, even down to the habit of using coded designations for each discrete unit, something which ordinary military actions seldom had employed but which after the war became surprisingly common. Although the confusion of responsibility which was rampant at the War Office cannot be explained easily even now, it is clear that the movement by British and Imperial forces into North Persia was motivated by political as well as military obligations; obligations which were ill-understood and poorly defined, but they were at least addressed to some degree by the Eastern Committee and the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force.

Although overt political disagreements over the handling of the Arabian and Mesopotamian theatres was temporarily held in abeyance by the Foreign and India Offices, the surface unity of London’s governmental agencies broke down when they were forced to deal with North Persia during late 1917. Some of this internal disagreement had to do with how the men in charge of those offices regarded the threat posed by the proximity of Bolshevik Russia to Persia. Another element which caused confusion was the fact that the Foreign and India Offices were receiving very different kinds of information from their representa­tives in the region. The Foreign Office was relying particularly heavily on the advice of military attaches in Persia and the Middle East who had in some instances assumed an intermediary role between the diplomats and the local political infrastructure. These attache's reported directly to London and to one or another of the intelligence networks and were only secondarily responsible to their local diplomatic superiors. The consensus of these officers in 1917 was that the growing level of internal Persian political fragmentation posed a hazard to the security of the British overseas empire. Because of the increasing technological difficulties of co-ordination from London (or Baghdad or Cairo or India), these attaches and other Imperial representatives came to support an on-site British mission meant to tip the Persian political situation in Britain’s favor.

While Middle Eastern negotiations were taking place, the political ramifications of the Russian collapse within Europe were also taking their toll on what was pre-eminently an Imperial sphere—as it had been since the decade-old Anglo-Russian accords. The "Convention entre la France et L’Angleterre au sujet de Faction dans la Russie méridionale," (a convention almost as controversial as that other secret accord, the Sykes-Picot agreement), dived between two countries Russia's previous imperial zones.

The clash between an India Office preference for military solutions and a Foreign Office preference for more subtle manipulations emerged full-blown in North Persia, where none of the previously extant groups could gain control-the internal wrangling was MIO’s opportunity to prove its merits. If the energy expended ultimately worked to the detriment of the Dunsterforce by fouling command lines, direction, and objectives, there was probably no way of knowing it at the outset.

MI5 provided the intelligence which finally forced the India Office to conclude that, far from being a sideshow, Persia was the positive focus of outright German aggression. MIS’s director, Captain Vernon Kell, had retrieved from India Office files the Wassmuss diaries (which had been captured in Persia, but which, when finally in London, had been ignored for months), and the accompanying German secret ciphers. Once Kell drew the diaries to the attention of the India Office, the India Office was alarmed; it seemed there was active German espionage being conducted in Persia against the Empire. The India Office agreed that a fleet of armoured motor-cars under the charge of British officers and non-commis­sioned officers of General Dunsterville’s party, should be established at the southern end of the Kasr-i-Shirin-Kermansha-Hamadanroad, and should gradually extend its operations northwards in the direction of the Caspian as circumstances permit. The British officers in charge would have authority to organise local levies, &e., as opportunity offered, or to take over existing organisations (e.g., the Cossack Brigade) to assist them in their work. It is believed that, given the right quality of officer and the necessary financial support, the objects in view could be achieved without further assistance from regular troops. The General Officer Commanding, Mesopotamia, would not be required to do more than extend his right flank up to the eastern end of the passes leading from Irak into Persia. These passes, it may be observed, will be clear of snow and open to traffic in about a month’s time.1

The India Office was the last major governmental group to support the MIO/Dunsterforce mission. Its endorsement was written at least two months after the Dunsterforce was actually despatched. When it did finally sanction the mission, it sanctioned as well the separation between intelligence and the military. The India Office went so far as to ensure that GOC Marshall’s participation would be at arm’s length—Dunster­force was to operate apart and be responsible in the end, only to itself and to its London sponsors.

What the Eastern Committee and Steel in London did not take into account was the degree of dissension Dunsterforce would provoke in more regular organizations and among its purely military members. The Regular Army offered little support to Dunsterforce, as much because of a reflexive distrust toward the new intelligence agencies as because of other military demands. The Army resisted Dunsterforce for the very reasons that MIO and the Eastern Committee supported it. Its bidder agenda was to carry out the obligations of intelligence-operations-: acquire information and to act on it, by encouraging Imperially favour­able circumstances in North Persia as a countermeasure against the insinuation of Bolshevist and German espionage. It could offer no help at all to a military campaign conducted along traditional lines.

Had Dunsterforce been the military mission sent to safeguard the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force’s flank which postwar memoirs asserted, its commander, Major-General Lionel C. Dunsterville, would have been a perfect choice. But since Dunsterforce was not a military mission but an intelligence-operations group showing a military aspect, Dunsterville’s qualifications as a frontier soldier were less than useful. Dunsterville became a focus of Regular Army opposition most vividly expressed by General William Marshall, the GOC of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force. Dunsterville’s exploits, recounted in Kipling’s Stalky & Co., served as inspiration for at least one leading player in the espionage networks of Russia and the Middle East, George Hill. When Hill and a colleague were trapped in Salonica, he felt "there was a great similarity in our own position" to that of "Stalky'" on the North-West frontier.2

General Marshall maintained his antagonism to the force and to its leader more or less consistently from the time the idea of Dunsterforce was suggested until its withdrawal from Baku in September 1918. After the war the Eastern Committee was prepared to place almost too much blame on this hostility, although at the time the members were unwilling to credit this "fine fighting soldier"3 with a sufficient understanding of how the military situation affected the political circumstances in the Middle East. Even General Smuts, who insisted that policy had been to "block the new Eastern route," blamed Marshall. He had, said Smuts, "persisted in regarding Dunsterville’s move to the Caspian as an unsound diversion of force, which indicated that, although he might be a good fighting General, the present the strategical situation was one which he and his Staff were unable to grasp."4

When General Poole’s own telegrams were not being received in London- combined with the hazard of unauthorized interception anywhere along the courier routes or along the transmittal process continued to hamper the implementation of operational policy.

As we have seen, there were two phases to the Imperial and subsequent Allied military presence in North Russia. The first stemmed from the events which took place between late 1917 and 3 March 1918 and the signing of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. One of the many official explanations which has survived was that

With their commitments in the east thus materially reduced, the Germans could now transfer large bodies of troops to the Western Front. ...a German Army of 55,000 men...was in Finland ostensibly to counteract Bolshevik troops. ...This German force seemed to be in a position to seize the ice-free port of Murmansk, out of which during 1917 a small British squadron had been operating against enemy submarines. ...Primarily in order to forestall this possibility Great Britain, at the invitation of the Soviet Government, landed a force of 150 marines at Murmansk in April 1918, and 370 more in May. ...large dumps of military equipment supplied by the Allies for Russia’s use when she was still in the war were reported to be at the White Sea port of Archangel, in imminent danger of falling into German hands. Accordingly, on 3 June the Supreme War Council sanctioned the dispatch under British command of expeditions to Murmansk and Archangel, 370 miles to the south-east. The Murmansk force, bearing the code-name "Syren"...consisted of 600 British infantry, a machine-gun company, and a half-company of Royal Engineers. The intended role at Archangel was to muster anti-Bolshevik forces into trained formations, and to this task was assigned a British Mission ("Elope") not to exceed 500 all ranks, under Major-General FC Poole. Both forces reached Murmansk on 23 June escorted by an Allied naval squadron; and since Archangel was then in Bolshevik hands, the "Elope" Mission landed with "Syren."5

Between the acknowledged troop landings at Murmansk on 23 June and their final evacuation on 12 October 1919, the North Russian area became the focus for the military manoeuvering of some 30,000 troops, covering a line of over a thousand miles, through two winters, producing extremely limited military results and extremely bitter memories. Operating after the Armistice, the men involved (consisting in addition to the Imperials) of Canadians, Australians, Russian and "locally-raised troops," Americans, French, Italians, Serbians, Koreans, and Czechs, worked under circumstances of increasingly difficult political unrest, which was reflected by the troops" own conduct.

The sole remaining continuity between the maneuvers of mid-1916 and the RSG/Poole Mission, and the movement of troops into North Russia to form the intervention was the oversight being exercised through Colonel Richard Alexander Steel, the various components of the Board of Trade, and the Cabinet committees which were sequentially responsible.

Steel, the various components of the Board of Trade, and the Cabinet committees which were sequentially responsible. The Milner Committee, under its formal designation as the Committee on Russian Supplies, (which had been doing such useful work in London through its members Sir Leverton Harris, George Clerk, William Clark, Eyre Crowe, Mitchell Thomson, Colonels Byrne and Skene and Dudley Ward), was dissolved in early 1918, and its concerns were addressed through the Russia Committee, formed of members from "(a) the Foreign Office, War Office and Treasury, (b) Contraband Committee of the Foreign Office (c) Restriction of Enemy Supplies Department [and] (d) Commercial Intelligence Department."6 The on-site direction of the North Russian group was left to Poole, "who had made it his duty’ to see that supplies were put to "proper use."7 It was agreed that Poole was "in a position with the staff he has to undertake all commercial questions."8

Military action in the north was often discussed but had not yet begun, under the supervision of the Russia Committee. Its members-Cecil, Graham, General Macdonogh, Dudley Ward, Colonel Peel, with T.H. Lyons and Kisch as secretaries and Colonel Byrne, Mitchell Thomson and Colonel Skene. Skene was Deputy Assistant Director, War Office (temporary) 20 April 1917-15 April 1918, Employed under Ministry of Munitions 16 May 1918, GSO 1.9 as liaison from the CRS10 -resisted sending troops into the Russian interior, even when the proposition was mooted by its own experts. For example, in response to a proposal made by Lyons in February 1918, committee member DMI General Macdonogh, expressed his "opinion that the [Lyons] memorandum went much too far from a military point of view. ...The proposal to occupy not only Archangelsk but also the railway line up to and including Vologda could not therefore be regarded as a practical military proposition."11 The northern site was considerably more vulnerable to the influence and interference of the regular military than was that in the south, primarily because of its geographic location and access; these were the same reasons which had made control of the area so tempting in the first place. The personnel already in place, drawn from the Poole Mission with support from intelligence operatives also already in place, drew further intelligence support from commercial and private Imperial representatives who, like Armitstead of the HBC, were prepared to advance Imperial commercial objectives, always with the endorsement of their employers. The pressure on the central government by intelligence agencies and politicians, and the fluctuation in and paucity of reliable information about what Bolshevism intended, also was exacerbated by the increasing supply problems to Russia and by legitimate fears that materiel previous­ly purchased by the Russian government was being misused-a nice point. It is curious to note that only within the internal documents of the time was there acknowledgment that that material was the property of the Russians, whatever their current political affiliation-that it had been properly sold and was not simply on loan to be removed at Allied whim. It was a question of the kind in which commercial interests delighted; implying that there was such a pre-emptive right to determine, after the sale, how the material was to be used allowed the Imperials to employ their propagandists to their best capacity.

The original goals of the Syren and Elope parties in North Russia, at the ports and entry sectors of European Russia of Murmansk and Archangel, were divided into three broad categories. "Political" dealt with the exigencies caused by the generalized instability of that area of Russia, This included any disruptions by German interests which were contrary to Allied priorities, including military action. "Commercial" included all growth, as well as oversight of internal Imperial and Dominion current and potential interests. "Intelligence" covered the realization of the other objectives and protection through countering actions and pre-emptive behavior to avoid their disruption. To support these three objectives the assigned personnel of Syren/Elope were heavily loaded with intelligence and intelligence-affiliated officers, some reporting through two and occasionally three lines of communication to War Office groups which were themselves linked, but whose particular areas of concern were divided. These include,  for example, George Hill of MI1 (c), who was assigned as part of Elope’s RAF contingent,12 and Lieutenant-Colonel Thornhill, GSO 1, Intelligence, Elope, function­ing as the primary intelligence liaison between Elope and Mil (c) through M05 (a) and MI2 (d).13 Elope had connexions to the Locker- Lampson armored cars group and Poole thought highly enough of Commander Oliver Stillingfleet Locker-Lampson’s performance to send Lord Milner’s Committee a unit commendation. Locker-Lampson got his copy from Colonel Steel.14

When work at MIO was wrapped up or transferred in June 1918, there were still hundreds of troops out in the field, their actions stalled and their positions shaky. The contributions of men and material which the Dominions had made were almost exhausted. The politicians were hard pressed to explain to Borden, among others, why the men he had allowed to be sent in for a quick, surgical, and quiet intercession were locked up tight in Russia and could not get home.

The other links between Milner’s Imperialists promoting economic intervention signified by the HBC representative already engaged in financial negotiations at Vologda or the CRS team looking after commercial questions were what the Imperials were hoping would deflect Borden from enquiring too closely. Vincent Massey, who had been appointed by Rowell as "military secretary to the War Committee of the Cabinet...at the end of January 1918, and Vice Chairman Rowell, who had replaced Loring Christie15 became the chief Canadian propo­nents of intervention generally, and particular supporters of intervention at Vladivostok. Massey thought that Canadian participation...would be a symbol of the political development of Canada" since it would be "the first independent military expedition Canada has undertaken..."16 The importance attached to Canadian political development by forward-looking Canadians could not be underestimated. Massey had long sustained the activities of the Imperialists in Canada to combat that 'very large minority in Canada which is distinctly apathetic with regard to the Empire, and is so provincial in its outlook as to become hostile to any definite action, not only to strengthen the bonds of Empire but even to preserve them."17

Massey was supported in his objectives by DMO General Radcliffe, who had already told Rowell that it was "essential that the joint expedition should be as fully representative of all the Allies as possible ....although, for obvious reasons, the bulk of the force [will] have to be Japanese..."18 Radcliffe’s letter to Rowell was echoed in that which he had sent to Major-General S.C. Mewburn, the Canadian Minister of Munitions and Defence, who in turn forwarded it to Borden at the Savoy in London on 12 July 1918.19 Still, Mewburn felt com­pelled to point out that "the trade conditions in this territory, will be a vital factor" and that, looking to the future,"...it might be advisable to have some Canadian representative accompany this force, as far as Trade and Commerce goes."

Using every available method to appeal to burgeoning Canadian nationalism, the plan as reported to Borden by the Assistant Secretary of the War Office acting at the instruction of the Army Council said:

in connection with the defence of the Northern Ports of Russia, General Poole...intends to form a special mobile force from Allied contingents and local levies for service in the Murman area. A scheme for this has been drawn up by Captain Barboteau, of the French Army, who was serving at Murmansk and who has been sent to England by General Poole, and has been accepted in principle as a basis of organization.

The proposed force is to consist of 8 companies with 8 machine gun sections, and 4 sections of light guns, with a total strength of about 2,100 all ranks [sic]. All ranks to be provided with snowshoes, transport to be by sleigh and toboggan. Arrangements are being made for the purchase of dogs and reindeer for transport purposes, of other special equipment, and Captain Barboteau has proceeded to Canada for this purpose. ...

The numbers which the Council hope can be made available are 18 Officers, of whom 5 should be Machine Gunners and 3 Artillery, and 70 N.C.O’s and privates of whom 18 should if possible be Machine Gunners and 10 Artillery. ...A knowledge of French, Italian, Russian or Servian would be useful, but by no means an essential qualification, as steps to provide interpreters will be taken in this country.

The British Government undertakes the provision of special clothing and equipment on the lines decided upon by Sir E. Shackleton and Capt. Barboteau (who has 10 years’ experience of N.E. Canada) for both officers and men and is providing a special ration suited to the climate. Arms and machine guns will be of Russian pattern, but the nature of the light gun to be provided is not yet settled.20

On 1 August 1918, Sir Edward Kemp, Overseas Minister of Military Forces for Canada wrote to Borden with the details about the expedition to Northern European Russia. The War Office, having already been refused the services of a Canadian battalion, was now looking for eighteen officers and sixty-eight other ranks distributed among infantry, machine gunners and artillery specialists, "for the purpose of command­ing a force of native levies." He was "in favour of granting this request, providing these Officers will volunteer from our Forces for this service."21 Borden concurred in the proposal, agreeing to it on 2 August.22 On 9 August, Kemp forwarded another request from the War Office for "two 6-gun 18-pounder batteries, the personnel of which would amount to about 375."23 This again was authorized with no hesitation; Borden informed Kemp that he saw "no objection to complying with the request of the War Office. ..."24

Even as it was being debated what was to be done in Siberia, there was still the nagging matter of North Russia. In the briefing paper prepared on 13 October 1918, "Allied policy in Russia consequent on the German collapse with Special reference to the disposition of the Allied Forces in the North it was finally admitted that with the anticipated disappearance of the German menace, our original pretext for intervention in Russia, i.e. the encouragement of continued military resistance to the Central Powers vanishes. From the purely military point of view there is no longer any immediate objective to be gained by the retention of forces in Russia."25 The author was Colonel Steel, who was now, as the senior GSO and right-hand man to Radcliffe, turning his attention to Siberia.

In the effort to reassure an increasingly nervous Canadian govern­ment, Milner himself was brought out on 20 November 1918, along with the DMO, to try and explain why it was now necessary, for the common Imperial good, to become involved in Siberia. "General Radclilfe says it is not the intention or expectation that British or Canadian Forces should be employed in an offensive campaign but he believes their presence in Siberia would have a very important influence in stabalising [sic] the situation and in assisting newly formed Government in training newly organised forces which are now being formed."26 Borden finally agreed that "under the circumstances...Canadian Forces now in Siberia should remain until Spring and in absence of strong reasons to contrary that the additional forces originally arranged for should proceed to Siberia for the purposes indicated as well as for economic consider­ations which are manifest."27 Besides, "Radcliffe assures us that the Bolshevik force if any in Siberia is negligible."28

On 22 November 1918, in the interests of keeping Borden fully informed about his investment in Siberia, Radcliffe sent what he called a "short Note on the Situation, and two maps" which he hoped would help to make the matter clear. According to Steel’s secret paper,"The Present Military and Political Situation in Siberia"

The main object of all the Allies is to prevent Siberia from lapsing into anarchy. Their conflicting interests render the attainment of this object difficult. The British and French are united in desiring to see a strong, independent Russian administration and army at the earliest possible moment. The Americans probably desire the same thing. The Japanese, on the other hand, scarcely make any efforts to conceal their intention to prevent Russian unity and independence.

Siberia is in the throes of giving birth to a stable Government. It is impossible to say whether it will prove that this Government will be representative of all Russia, or whether such Government will not eventually find its birthplace under Denikin on the Don. The original Government at Omsk gave place to an "All Russia Directorate". The latter, we have just heard, has in its turn been followed by a virtual dictatorship under Admiral Kolchak, who is one of the ablest Russians who have emerged since the Bolshevist revolution...

We are sending to General Knox in addition to his present Mission, which comprises officers of all branches, including Intelligence and Ordance, 120 good regimental officers for training purposes. The expenditure of the necessary funds for the immediate establishment of schools has been sanctioned. These schools will provide for the training of 3,000 Russian officers and N.C.Os. as a cadre for the new armies,

Complete equipment for 100,000 men, together with 142 field guns and 52 field howitzers is being despatched. The bulk of the material is already en route and about one-half should arrive at Vladivostock by the end of the year.29

We may say with some certainty that although public and private reasons for the northern and southern interventions were at variance with each other, and that as the situation in Russia developed, new justifica­tions and new objectives were presented, the motivation for the actions was genuinely unitary—and genuinely Imperial. It is clear that urgent Imperial economic concerns (at least as they were interpreted by Milner, Steel-Maitland, and their adherents) encouraged senior War Office theorists, most notably Colonel Steel, to begin planning a response which would prop up Imperial interests without necessarily provoking any additional expansion of the military fronts. The response was inherently conservative in its combination of time-honored small wars methodolo­gy with technological control, depending for its execution on the support of the Imperial Dominions. The involvement of Imperial Britain in post-­Revolutionary Russia rested on this combination of goals—goals which differed very little from those which had impelled Imperial expansion from the first. The key ingredient which facilitated the interventions, and made them something other than another petty aggression for Imperial acquisition, was the appearance of a "third option."

The dissolution of MIO and the transference of Steel to M05 mirrored the growing recalcitrance within the Dominion governments. Those governments, particularly Borden in London and his government in Ottawa, had in good faith and with a legitimate expectation of fair recompense borne with fair grace the increasing demands of the central government. They had even endorsed the rather different mission being put into place at Vladivostok, perceiving it as beneficial to everyone concerned—even the Russians. But with the end of the war, all bets were off. On 22 November Borden was told in no uncertain terms by leading members of his Cabinet that it was, "absolutely opposed to sending any additional Forces to Siberia, and that,...the Forces at present there, or on the way there, should, as soon as convenience will permit, be brought home...The matter of how Russia shall settle her internal affairs is her concern—not ours. If France or Great Britain may desire, for what appears to them good and sufficient reasons, to maintain armed Forces in Russia for a time, this is their affair."30

It was not quite that fast, of course. The Imperials resisted with all their might withdrawing from the north or abdicating their tentative hold on Vladivostok-and, within two months, yet another mission had been sent into the same area from which Dunsterforce had retreated in August. The "Norperforce" was more successful there than Dunsterforce had been, although its actions were to have even more far-reaching political consequences within the East-West relationship. In the north the establishment of global armistice meant simply that the surface unanimity under which Canadian troops had been lent for the military excursion was shattered by reality-the senior Dominion would devise its own methods of accomplishing its economic goals, and Borden’s government, under strain from memories of imposed conscription, would not easily support the presence of Canadians at such unlikely locations as Archan­gel and Murmansk. The Military Service Act had served its purpose in the emergency, and there was no way, even with exceptionally persua­sive propaganda, to reconcile the presence in the north with its "avowed purpose of the defence and security of Canada, the preservation of the Empire, and of human liberty."31

Finally, no amount of persuasion would keep Canada involved in any part of Russia; not pressure from intelligence agencies, nor from the Imperial government, or from appeals to amour propre specifically tailored to the Senior Dominion. By early spring 1919 Borden, expressing a consensus of virtually everyone except the Imperials had taken up his "very decided attitude...regarding the withdrawal of her troops from Vladivostock" and the War Office "have no option but to acquiesce." Not even they could "continue to urge the Dominion Government to share, against its will, in a task of much difficulty and anxiety."32 The whole matter was now properly a matter for the Peace Conference in Paris.33

Meanwhile, General Poole, long removed from command in the north, had become usefully employed by M05 and M05 (a). He superintended the Volunteer Army in South Russia,34 regularly sending back reports which were circulated to at least nineteen other concerned policy­makers.35 The troops from north, south, and east would be withdrawn; the assortment of resisting Russians, Armenians, Kurds, and Czechs would be left to their own devices; but the intelligence lines were intact, and the new knowledge of terrain, access and weakness was carefully hoarded. It hadn’t entirely ended; the Imperials would be astonishingly slow in withdrawing from the north, blaming the weather and other problems until it was necessary for the Canadians to insist, sharply, that their troops be removed. "Beyond question" they said, "it is imperative that the Canadian Forces now at Archangel should be withdrawn without delay. The demobilization of the Canadian Corps and the withdrawal of Canadian Troops from Siberia render any further continuance of our forces at Archangel absolutely impracticable."36

The position of Canada within the Empire was regarded, even by the Imperials, as being the chief vehicle of persuasion for the other white settlement colonies; without Canadian support, there was no hope that the other Dominions would follow. This simple fact explains why so much time and effort was spent to persuade Borden to leave the Canadians in the field; as Churchill, Milner and even Lloyd George knew well, if "Canada takes the lead, Australia will be bound to follow."37 Borden, perhaps wary of the pressure, and disagreeing with its purpose and foreseeing only more domestic uproar should the situation be permitted to continue, finally wrote to Lloyd George. It would be "most unfortunate," he put it to the Prime Minister gently, "if the War Office persists in the apparent determination to extend the period of service for the Canadians at Archangel." But it really was over, even when General Maynard (according to Churchill), was reported as "definitely" stating that the "safety of British and Allied Troops will be jeopardized by the withdrawal of Canadian troops at present, especially in view of further postponement of sailing of French troops." Churchill agreed that "every effort will be made to release these men as soon as possible," but he could not take the responsibility of transmitting an order to General Maynard which would lead to an immediate disaster and to the destruction of British troops.38

Almost too much space has been devoted to establishing the internal and external intrigues which took place between the Allies, the Germans, and the Bolsheviks. Certainly, the plans for the intervention being formed within the War Office were hypothecated sometime before the Bolsheviks treated with the Germans-but is it possible to truly establish why? Assuredly the geographic accesses to the Russian interior were critical to any resistance to hostile action; that had always been the case. If they were in jeopardy from German action or Turkish action, then so were any number of other places. What was there about those access points which specifically concerned Military Intelligence-Operations?

Recalling the fundamental description of military intelligence, there is only one explanation. There was no kind of internal conspiracy against Bolshevism39; no more was there one against the top levels of Imperial government or the duly authorized military authorities, although there were indeed serious disagreements with both of those groups involving MIO and the intelligence authorities. Still, by and large, the intelligence authorities remained fully loyal in spirit and in action to their assigned tasks. MIO’s assigned task was to use what means it could to acquire information and process it into usable intelligence. It did not matter to Intelligence if Baku was held by Russians, Bolsheviks, Persians, Kurds or Turks; so long as it was still available as a location from which information could be retrieved. It did not matter whether Archangelsk/Murmansk was held by Germans, Canadians, Bolsheviks or Czechs, as long as military and civil intelligence had access to its communications facilities; in the case of Archangelsk/Murmansk, the critical point was the telegraph head there. At Baku, it was a question of the high ground-unless the Baku region was controlled by allies of Imperial Britain there were no means other than the crudest to convey, exchange and instill information into the whole of the Middle East. Control of Archangel and Murmansk was the key to the port: well and good. There is still a port, but communications technology is no longer effectively centered around it. In 1917 and 1918, with the entire infrastructure of international communications disrupted, with the diplomatic community virtually in exile in Vologda, information exchange, on which the whole structure depended, had been almost destroyed. The only way to restore it was through manipulation and placement of men in the area to re-establish and secure the communications net from which everything depends to support every other political, commercial and military action.

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. Finally, all intelligence-operations are limited; they must be to have any result. If we find that MIO existed only between January and June 1918 it is very likely that it existed for that brief period because, as the governor of limited action, that was all the time it required. If it as a group failed, it does not imply that its mission failed. What happened subsequently was not really an MIO or MI concern at all.

All countries which depended to a greater or lesser degree on cable technology for the transmittal of messages were liable to face the consequences of its breakdown. The interruption of the services which was noted time and time again, particularly during the early part of 1918 when Poole’s own telegrams were not being received in London- combined with the hazard of unauthorized interception anywhere along the courier routes or along the transmittal process continued to hamper the implementation of operational policy. The policy conceived in London, no matter how definitive, could not be implemented if there were no way to disseminate it to the commander in the field—and vice-versa. Unlike the infinitely more independent (because infinitely more isolated) groups operating in Arabia or (when they chose) North Persia, the commanding officers in North Russia were not in a position to make use of stockpiled information by acting independently. Once they were under military command, which could be monitored almost simultaneously, they were fully subject to the centralization of command which was crippling the Western Front. Even the least restricted participants-the agents were subject to near-simultaneous oversight by their masters, and the masters preferred it that way.40

Remember that the disruption caused by the Revolution was so extensive that external exchange of information was reduced to George Hill’s couriers 41; that Dunsterforce was bogged down, and it too was relying on a courier system. At that point, contrary to protestations that there were no troops available, troops to move the intelligence line forward were found. These may not have been the very best men, and they were not as subject to the rigorous qualifications which had typified the earlier RSC group or even that assigned to Dunsterforce, but they were certainly not the worst. The accommodation to strategic necessity was made, although it forced the Empire into the position of supplicant to the Dominions. The arrival of the troops in the north between June and September 1918 built on the Imperial presence which was already established by RSC/MIO and on the previously demonstrated strategic value of the region. It was that sad phase which required the acquiescence and support of DMO and of members of the government who had before been only dimly aware of the MIO operation. The presence of the troops was not a reactive or haphazard response to suddenly encountered political shifts. Placing Imperial military troops in North Russia during the summer months was the residuum of the MIO plan—the consequence of the failure of a third option.


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.4: How North Russia evolved into its military phase.

When Spies invaded Russia p.6: Spycraft in Bolshevist Russia.


1.   India Office Library and Records (IOLR), London, L/MIL/5/803, India Office, 24th February 1918.

2.   George Alexander Hill, Go Spy the Land: Being the Adventures of IK8 of the British Secret Service, p. 53.

3.   Public Record Office, Kew (hereafter PRO), CAB 27/24.

4.   Hill, Go Spy the Land, p. 3.

5.   Harold Nicholson, Curzon: The Last Phase 1919-1925: A Study in Post-War Diplomacy, (London, Constable, 1934), pps. 510-12.

6.   PRO, CAB 27/189/20 #5A, 19 January 1918, 'Committee on Russian and Roumanian Supplies,’ Memorandum. ' 1) Owing to the turn taken by events in Russia the existence of the Committee is no lon­ger necessary and it is therefore dissolved.’

7.   Ibid., #1A, p. 2.

8.   Ibid., "Dissolution of the Committee on Russian Supplies," Re­cord of a Meeting held at the Foreign Office on Wednesday, January 16th at 4 p.m.  Present: Sir Leverton Harris (chairman), George Clerk, William Clark, Eyre Crowe, Mr. Mitchell Thomson, Colonel Byrne, Mr. Ward, Colonel Skene.

9.    War Office List, Part 1, A List, (Army List, 1918 October, parts 1-3.

10.  PRO. CAB 27/189/20, #32b, to His Excellency Genera! Sir E. Hermonius, KCMG, RGC, Canada House, Kingsway WC, 28th Feb­ruary 1918 (CRS/M/29), Russia Committee Meeting 35th Minutes, 28 February 1918. Present at this meeting, according to the minutes, were "Chairman: Lord Robert Cecil, Members: Sir Ronald Graham, Major- General G. Macdonogh, Mr. D. Ward, Lt. Colonel the Hon. S. Peel; Secretaries, Mr. T.H. Lyons, Major F.H. Kisch, Colonel Byrne, Mr. Mitchell Thomson, Colonel Skene..." (It should be noted that in 1919, the premises called Canada House, at 16 the Kingsway, were oc­cupied by Gordon James and Company, Engineers. The Ministry of Shipping and Transport, and the Commission Internationale de Ravitaillement, which had offices in several buildings in the Kingsway, represent­ing the delegations of various countries. (Private correspondence, FCO, C. Edwards, Library and Records, 30 March 1990.)

11.  Ibid., Russia Committee Meeting, 35th Minutes, 28 February 1918, paragraph 2.

12.  PRO, WO 106/1151, Elope Nominal Roils, p. 4.

13.  Ibid.

14.  Ibid., Armoured Car Unit, Oliver Locker-Lampson to Colonel Steel, 5 March 1918.

15.  Robert Craig Brown, Robert Laird Borden; A Biography, 2 vols, (Toronto, Macmillan of Canada, 1980), vol. 2, p. 131.

16.  Raymond Massey, When I Was Young, (Boston, Little, Brown, 1976), pps. 199-200.

17.  Vincent Massey to Reginald Coupland, 30 July 1917, Toronto, in the papers of Sir Alfred Milner, Viscount Milner: Correspondence and Papers, 1917, MS Milner, Dep. 45 Great War, 1914-1918, Box F.2 (196-379) the Round Table papers, #245, p. 2, Bodleian Library.

18.  National Archives of Canada (hereafter NAC), Sir Robert L. Borden papers, microfilm, OC Series Vol. 103 OC518, Reel #C-4334, 56124: P. deB. Radcliffe to The Hon. W. Newton Rowell, MP, "Secret & Personal," War Office, Whitehall, 9 July 1918.

19.  Ibid., 56127.

20.  Ibid., and Reel #4415, 2 May 1918, 134762, 134763, Duke of Devonshire; 29 May 1918, 134764, W.H. Long; 12 July 1918, ibid.; 56129-30, Draft Cable from London, 12 July 1918, from MILITIA, Ot­tawa, for Gwatkin, Secret; ibid., 56135, Borden to Cabinet from Lon­don, 25 July 1918, Secret; ibid., 56141, Doherty to Borden, 28 July 1918. Radcliffe, after discussions with Mewburn, had carefully put on paper just what would be required from Canada in order to invade Vlad­ivostok:

the contingent for Vladivostock, which it is hoped the Dominion will be able to furn­ish, should be composed as follows:

Brigade Headquarters, Signal Section, Field Artillery Battery, (Personnel to be armed with rifles), 2 Battalions, (each with Base Company and 10% reinforce­ments).

1 Machine Gun Company, 1 Brigade Field Ambulance, Army Service Corps detail, Brigade Ammunition Column. The note also said that "1 British Battalion which has been ordered from Hong Kong, will be incorporated with the contingent on its arrival at Vladivostock.

As regards the battery, orders are being issued for the despatch of guns, wagons and complete equipment for a 6 gun, 18 pr. battery to Canada at an early date."

As Radcliffe also reported, after consultation with the Foreign Office, rather than immediately announcing the destination of the contingent, but in view of the "present delicate situation as regards negotiations for intervention in Siberia, Mr. Balfour is of opinion that no immediate an­nouncement can be made. It is hoped however, as events are moving so rapidly, that this will be possible in a very short space of time."

In the midst of negotiations, however, a tremendous error of judgment was committed by the Imperials; Walter Long inexplicably felt compelled to apply pressure on the Duke of Devonshire, then Governor General. Mewburn had already prepared a draft cable to notify General Gwatkin about the troops for Vladivostok, in the same terms as those wished for by Radcliffe, when the fiasco occurred. Borden, cabling on 25 July to the full Cabinet said, "Mewburn and I greatly surprised that British Gov­ernment recently sent a telegram to Governor General respecting expedi­tion to Vladivostok without first consulting us. The subject was at the time under discussion here and Mewburn had already communicated with Gwatkin for information of Cabinet. I desire that no reply shall be sent to British Government’s message except through me." The Cabinet was quick to assure Borden that no answer had been sent to the message which the Governor-General had had the good sense to hand over to them and that they did approve the "principle of sending expedition’ and were leaving Borden to 'arrange cost and other detail." Mean­while, the War Office had sent on the now official plan for military rather than intelligence intervention in the north. See Reel C-4333 OC series, Vol. 102, OC515 to Vol.103 OC518, 55218-56191; July 19 1918, 55310 and 55518, C149/5272 (M.0.5), Rec’d. by Secretary, War Office, London. Canadian Overseas Headquarters, 30 July. Dated July, 1918 (21-6-25 (c) From B.B. Cubitt:

The Council realise the great difficulties which will confront General Maynard, who is in executive command of the forces in the Murman peninsula in the organization of this force and wish to give him every assistance possible by the provision of Of­ficers and men accustomed to the climatic conditions of this region. With this in view they have obtained the services of Major Sir E. Shackleton, and of several of­ficers who accompanied him on his Antarctic expeditions. In view of the fact that Canadian officers are acquainted with conditions similar to those which will confront the force in the Murman Peninsula, they ask if the Canadian Government will fur­ther assist by placing at their disposal officers and men from their forces who can be used first as Instructors, and later as executive company etc., officers. The French and Italian Governments have been asked to include in their contingents a proportion of troops accustomed to Alpine conditions, and it is expected that while the British would supply the nucleus and training staff for one half of the force, the French and Italians would organize the remainder.

21.  Borden papers, Reel C-4333 OC series, Vol. 102, GC515-Vol. 103 OC518, 55218-56191, #55523, To Borden, London from Kemp, 1 August 1918.

22.  Ibid., #55524, Borden to Kemp, London, 2 August 1918.

23.  Ibid., #55525 Kemp to Borden 9 August 1918.

24.  Ibid., #55526 Borden to Kemp 9 August 1918.

25.  PRO, WO 106/1166 (M.O.5), 13/10/18, Colonel R. Steel, G.S.

26.  NAC, Borden papers, OC Series Vol. 103, OC518 Reel C-4334, #56221 Cable sent from Borden to Ottawa after repeated urging about the status of the proposed Siberian force. London, 20 November 1918.

27.  Ibid.

28.  Ibid. #56222

29.  Ibid., OC Series, Vol. 103 OC518, Reel C-4334, #56223-26 'SECRET,’ War Office. Whitehall, 22nd November, 1918.

30.  Ibid., 22nd November, Borden to Sir Thomas White, Acting Pre­mier, Ottawa #56231-56233, pps. 1-3.

31.  Ibid.

32.  Ibid., #56417-18, 17 March 1919, Churchill to Borden.

33.  Ibid., #56421, March 25, 1919, North Russia, 'Confidential,* A.E. Kemp to Borden, London.

34.  PRO, WO 106/1172 'Secret.*

35.  LHC, Poole papers, 'Report of a visit to the Headquarters of the Volunteer Army in South Russia,’ by Major-General F.C. Poole, C.B., C.M.G. D.S.O., December 1918-January, 1919 General Staff (M.0.5) War Office Copy No. 17, (Rec’d copies 17, 18 & 19 of General 14.2.19).

36.  NAC, Borden papers, OC Series Vol. 103 OC518, Reel C-4334, #56421, March 25, 1919, North Russia, 'Confidential,* A.E. Kemp to Borden, London.

37.  Ibid., #56453, 18 May 1919 to Churchill, Secretary of State for War, London and, #56426-56428, from Churchill, 1 May 1919, marked ’Personal & Secret.’

38.  Ibid., #56476, Secretary of State for War, Cablegram, Urgent, London, 21 July 1919. To C.G.S., Ottawa. #79891 Cipher, 21 July from the Secretary of State for War, to Borden, 'Personal re Canadians at M.K.,’ [Murmansk] and, #56452, London, 18 May 1919, Borden to Lloyd George.

39.  As also was explained by Heather Alison Campbell in her 2014 Doctoral dissertation that is currently (end June 2019) being worked into a book.

40.  Nigel West, MI 6-British Secret Intelligence Service Operations, 1909-1945, p. 26, and The Sigint Secrets, p. 101.






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