The 1917-18 Envoys' Plot and its consequences in Russia Part Four

Description of persons involved.


We investigated this subject for some years when we initially published two articles and next were contacted by retired Colonel and a highly regarded foreign intelligence officer Yuri Totrov (having access to all the Russian archives we Westerners did not) did extensive about British Intelligence in Russia, 1914-1920. He also forwarded to us the question by the editor of his manuscript (soon to be intended for publication) whether we knew of any assessments by the head of MI6 about its 1917. secret operations in Russia. The problem as became apparent is that some of these documents were (and also today) still are classified however as we have shown in part one and part two of our current overview, we got around this by finding some very relevant documents in the US and what the 1918 military operations concerned also Canadian archives.

As pointed out the Anti-Bolshevik Underground in Revolutionary Russia to a large part indeed hinged on the extensive involvement of Allied interventionist forces, to form an anti-Bolshevik and anti-German front in the wake of the signature of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Thus during the late winter of 1917, the Allies’ ambitious, improbable plan matured some of it partly based on luck or as Ian C. D. Moffat typified it in his 2015 book 'Chaos'.

Thus afraid by a German encroachment, 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.

Firstly, Japanese and Allied soldiers would seize Vladivostok (which in fact they did on April 5, against Bolshevik wishes) and then head west along the Siberian Railway. Secondly, British and Allied troops would occupy Murmansk and then travel south to take Archangel.

Thus when the Bolsheviks changed their minds about scuttling Russia’s Baltic fleet, and the Allies changed their minds about waiting for an invitation to occupy Murmansk and Vladivostok, not yet in Archangel), it split those that had opposed uninvited Allied intervention, and those that wanted it to be in co-operation with the Bolsheviks. In his heart, Lockhart believed the latter arguments too, but he had begun to waver. Denis Garstin (who knew Russia from before the war)  had written the previous year that “England needs Russia just as much as Russia needs England”; who in February 1918 had found the Soviet diplomat Alexandra Kollontai (Коллонтай) “charming . . . she bowled me over”; and who still judged Lenin to be “the biggest force I’ve ever felt in my life,” nevertheless, had begun to waver too: “If you look at what the Bolsheviks want to do you feel sympathetic,” he wrote, “but if you look at what they’ve done, you’re dead against them.”1

The not-quite like-but similarly-minded Journalist Arthur Ransome summarized their argument in a pamphlet which he wrote at white-hot speed for the Red Cross colonel to bring with him: On Behalf of Russia: An Open Letter to America.2

On May 14, Raymond Robins set out from Moscow via the Siberian Railway, with the pamphlet, Lenin’s blessing, and the Bolshevik leader’s signed laissez-passer to speed his train.3 He carried, too, Lenin’s invitation to the American government to dispatch an Economic Commission to his country to explore trade possibilities. He reached Vladivostok in good time and in good spirits, although noting the Allied occupation of the port with disapproval, and sailed for home on June 2. “The headlands of Asia fade from view,” he wrote in his diary that night; “the only sound is the sweep of the surging sea, the stars shine out, the way ahead is blue-black, and the Russian tale is told and I have had my day!!!”

When the Red Cross colonel arrived in America he met with senators, cabinet ministers, labor leaders, and other leading figures, and experienced a rude shock. Almost everyone in the US disapproved of his message. The president, upon whom he pinned his hopes, remained inaccessible and silent while advocates of intervention in Russia worked on him. Finally, on August 4, Wilson let it be known that Japanese forces could march east after all, so long as US troops accompanied them. He made no mention of Lenin’s invitation concerning Russo-American trade. “The long trail is ended,” a bitter Robins finally admitted to himself in his diary. “So finishes the great adventure.”4

As for Lockhart and the remainder of his group back in Russia, it was full speed ahead for intervention now. Garstin first put into words to Whitehall the plan they had begun to contemplate. On May 10, the young captain reported by a cable that he had just “been approached secretly by two large organizations of the old army.” They promised to mobilize near Nizhnii Novgorod, east of Moscow as soon as the Allies took Vologda and secured the railheads of the Archangel and Siberian Railways. Then they would launch the counter-revolution. That  he and Lockhart had weighed and decided they approved of the offer before sending it seems evident, since Garstin recommended that London dispatch the same number of Allied troops from Archangel to Vologda as Lockhart had suggested in earlier telegrams: “at least two divisions.”5

Garstin was dabbling in counter-revolution here.6 So was Captain Francis Cromie, the man once celebrated for his ability to reconcile Bolshevik sailors and their Tsarist officers and now scheming to destroy Russia’s Baltic fleet. And so too was Britain’s previous leading champion of Anglo-Bolshevik cooperation, Robert Bruce Lockhart. No doubt they both shared Garstin’s reservations about the Bolsheviks. But the truth is that, also, all three of them believed that in conspiring against the regime they were doing what the British government wanted them to do. And this was decisive. And instead of the dovish, more sober Robins and Ransome, they consulted with men who had been in the counter-revolutionary camp all along.

This included the French ambassador to Russia, Josef Noulens who dominated the community of foreign diplomats still in Russia.7

Noulens shared the visceral anti-communism of the Quai d’Orsay in Paris (the French Foreign Office). Although in March he once had encouraged Trotsky to resist German invasion by promising French support, in reality, he had always hated the Bolsheviks and never really believed France could find common ground with them, not even against Germany. Bolshevism threatened French business and financial interests in Russia. But, said Noulens, “We shall not be allowing any further socialist experiments in Russia,” said Noulens.8

From April 1918 onward, following directions from Paris with which he completely agreed, he did his best to help nearly every anti-Bolshevik schemer who approached him. In the past, Lockhart had ridiculed him for his reactionary views. Now the British agent followed in the Frenchman’s footsteps. Noulens, he acknowledged, “commenced to finance and support these [counter-revolutionary] organizations before I did.”9               

But Lockhart was primed now to collaborate with Noulens and the others. On May 14, he bade farewell to Raymond Robins at a Moscow railway station. Then, on May 15, the day after seeing off his erstwhile friend and ally, he met “an agent sent to me by Boris Savinkoff [sic].”


Boris Savinkov redux

Boris Viktorovich Savinkov (Russian: Бори́с Ви́кторович Са́винков) that he was the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Russian Revolution, had he not also been a stone-cold killer.

This son of a judge was a poet, a novelist, a chain-smoking morphine addict, and the former head of the prewar Socialist Revolutionary Party’s “Fighting Organization.”10 He had been a terrorist during the Tsarist period. The Tsar’s courts convicted him of complicity in the 1904 assassination of Russia’s Minister of the Interior, Vyacheslav Plehve, but as with so many of their prisoners, failed to hold him after they caught him. Free to follow his ruthless inclinations, Savinkov had planned or taken part in thirty-two additional killings, or at least so rumor had it.

In 1917, he served for a brief period as Kerensky’s Assistant Minister of War, but then supported General Kornilov’s abortive right-wing uprising against him. When the Bolsheviks took power, he fled to the Don region, to contact the counter-revolutionary Volunteer Army of Generals Alexeyev and Kornilov. The latter two despised each other, as noted above, but they despised Savinkov more. Alexeyev wrote to Lockhart that he would rather cooperate with Lenin and Trotsky.11 No sooner had Savinkov arrived in the White Army camp than someone tried to assassinate him. Not surprisingly, he returned to Moscow, dove underground and, independent of Alexeyev, with whom despite everything he nevertheless remained in touch, began to plan an anti-Bolshevik rising.

Moscow was by then an anti-Bolshevik hothouse, as Lockhart was beginning to appreciate. A “Right Center,” of counter-revolutionary monarchists, right-wing Kadets and other conservatives, had pro-German leanings. A counter-revolutionary “Left Center” of liberal Kadets and various anti-Bolshevik socialists favored the Allies. Savinkov entered neither body but encouraged them to combine in a “National Center,” which eventually they did, although without ever relinquishing their distrust for each other. The great conspirator refused to join but recruited from this body, and promised to cooperate with it. Meantime he was organizing his own Union for Defense of the Motherland and Freedom (UDMF). When he contacted Lockhart, he had between two thousand and five thousand men under his command.12 He had spies shadowing Lenin and Trotsky, preparing to assassinate them. And he had begun to plan a rising in three towns north of Moscow to coincide with the Allied intervention “on a large scale” that Lockhart’s new ally, ambassador Noulens, already had encouraged him to believe would take place in late June or early July.13

Lockhart reported to London on his meeting with Savinkov’s representative, and added: “With your approval I propose to continue to maintain an informal connection with [him] through third parties.” The Foreign Office did approve. Lockhart would be safe enough: he is “so much identified with Bolsheviks that he is hardly likely to be suspect,” noted one mandarin. Sir George Russell Clerk, a more senior and experienced official, added more cagily still: “I believe that the Bolsheviks know pretty well everything that goes on. I am not quite sure of our cyphers, and I am confident that unless Mr. Lockhart gets direct instructions to the contrary he will continue to keep in touch with Savinkoff [sic]. I should therefore leave this unanswered for the present.”14

Cagey, yes; but Clerk had set a precedent that would have significant consequences. At the end of May, Lockhart took note that the Foreign Office remained silent on Savinkov, and understood, quite correctly, that it meant for him to maintain the connection. In the middle of August, at a crossroads again, and with the Foreign Office again incommunicado, he not unreasonably drew a similar conclusion and plunged into even deeper waters, this time with fatal results.

Boris Savinkov might have received money from the United States. In May or June 1918, Xenophon Kalamatiano reportedly met with a Russian agent linked to the SRs. On June 27, Kal reported to DeWitt Poole that this man’s group planned to mount an uprising two weeks later to turn out the Soviet government. That would coincide with the July revolts that Savinkov planned.

Savinkov could have received payments from Washington through an American official in Europe such as Oliver T. Crosby. He was a U.S. Treasury special representative in Paris who had been assigned to pay Kaledin with U.S. funds laundered by Paris and London. Czech intelligence reportedly contacted Crosby on April 27, 1918, to inquire about the “promised funds” that Kal should have raised for them through British agent Sidney Reilly.

If Kalamatiano could get funds for the Czechs, he likely could have obtained cash for Savinkov.

But Boris testified at his 1924 trial in Moscow that his attacks on the Soviets were financed by French Ambassador Joseph Noulens and the Czechs. No available evidence, though, indicates whether that money had originally come from Washington.

The plan called for Savinkov’s army to seize Yaroslavl, Rybinsk, Kostroma, and Murman. French forces would advance the short distance from Archangel to take Vologda themselves. Vologda was important because it was the largest town south of Archangel on the rail line down to Moscow. Vologda was designated the link-up point for American, French, British, and Czech forces that would then join Savinkov’s army and march on the capital.

Savinkov said the French had advance knowledge that left-wing Socialist Revolutionaries were planning their own Moscow uprising, and Savinkov’s attacks in the Upper Volga should coincide with that, though he would not be cooperating with the Left SRs.

Lockhart now, self-confident and determined as ever, although pursuing a program diametrically opposed to his initial one, he embarked upon a series of dangerous, clandestine meetings, often accompanied by the equally fearless Grenard. “I am in touch with practically everyone,” he reported to London on 23 May.15

Through Lieutenant Laurence Webster, an intelligence agent acting as Passport Control Officer in Moscow, he engineered a series of meetings with two leaders of the Moscow Center, Professor Peter Struve, a former Kadet, and Michael Feodoroff, a former Tsarist minister, both now supporters of General Alexeyev.16 He also established links with counter-revolutionary right Socialist-Revolutionaries, to whom he gave money.17 Quickly he realized that the Moscow hothouse was planning something big. Where previously he would have talked things over with Robins and Ransome (who might have acted as restraining influences), now he talked to Reilly, Garstin, and Cromie, and to Noulens, and Grenard and DeWitt Clinton Poole. They all favored the forward policy.

Lockhart engaged Captain Cromie in discussions about the destruction of Russia’s fleet in the Baltic Sea. Britain’s naval attaché lived in the Petrograd hothouse rather than the Moscow one and, as soon became apparent, he was doing more than dabble in counter-revolution there. Where first Cromie had wanted to destroy Russia’s Baltic fleet so Germany could not have additional ships, now he wanted to destroy Bolshevism so Germany could not have Russia. Already he was “the moving spirit” among a group of Petrograd anti-Bolshevik activists, including other Allied officials and members of Savinkov’s UDMF. They often met near the docks not far from the British embassy at a Latvian social club (of which more later) that catered to sailors and their officers.17 These Petrograd conspirators had a pipeline funneling White volunteers north to Archangel. They had Russian and British agents already in situ planning to overthrow its Bolshevik-dominated Soviet with the help of those volunteers, just as Poole’s occupying forces (“not less than two divisions,” Cromie also stipulated, no doubt after consultation with Lockhart)18 arrived from Murmansk.19 Then they would establish a White counter-revolutionary Volunteer Army in Archangel to accompany Poole’s troops when these marched upon Vologda, and onward to aid Savinkov when he launched his insurrection. In other words, Cromie and the Petrograd hothouse knew what the Moscow hothouse was planning and intended to help.20 Lockhart decided to help too.

As we will see Latvians and their Rifle Brigade were to determine the shape and then the outcome of most of the conspiracies and internal eruptions that convulsed Russia for the rest of the year. It was troops from the brigade, led by Captain Eduard Berzin, who crushed the revolt of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries in July, after they murdered the German ambassador. Meanwhile, the Allied conspiracy, now managed by an erratic caucus of Lockhart, Cromie, Reilly and the French ambassador, Joseph Noulens, was in chaos. They had assumed that the British force at Archangel, under General Frederick Poole, would advance south to seize the junction town of Vologda. His march was supposed to be timed to support counter-revolutionary risings in towns nearer Moscow, launched by their fanatical fellow plotter Boris Savinkov, who was involved in several attempted risings against the Bolsheviks. Unfortunately, General Poole failed to tell them that he had decided to postpone his offensive (he had previously requested reinforcements in the form of a brass band from Britain – jolly good for recruitment). As a result, Savinkov’s insurrections took place but were suppressed by the Red Army after brutal street-fighting.

Lockhart did not despair, though he now knew that Poole’s force was far too small to defeat the Red Army. ‘Determined, competitive, hard-nosed, capable and supremely confident, he set out to recoup the situation,’ Schneer writes. He began by hurling money around. He gave Savinkov’s clandestine National Centre a million roubles in cash, and planned – with a French colleague – to raise this to 81 million (nearly £60 million in today’s money). Then he began to think about the Latvians. How loyal were the soldiers of the Rifle Brigade to Bolshevism, now that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had allowed the Germans to overrun Latvia? How loyal, indeed, were they to Russia as opposed to their own country? Could they be persuaded at least to move out of Poole’s way? In Petrograd Cromie was recruiting Latvian seamen for his own plot to disable Russia’s Baltic fleet, while Reilly was saying: ‘If I could buy the Letts, my task would be easy.’ Lockhart began to look for disillusioned members of the Rifle Brigade.

Just when the Bolsheviks became aware of the plot isn’t clear from Schneer’s book. But they surely assumed its existence even before it took shape. Nothing was more inevitable than that the envoys of the ‘bourgeois imperialist Entente’ would look for ways to subvert a communist revolution and incite its opponents to rebel. The Cheka kept a close eye on the consulates and embassies in Moscow and Petrograd, noticing that counter-revolutionary leaders were using them as sanctuaries, even as bases.


From the American side, David R. Francis the American ambassador to Russia was a key coordinator of the Plot. He asked Washington for 100,000 troops to take Petrograd and Moscow in support of the coup against Lenin:


The 1917-18 Envoys' Plot and its consequences in Russia Part One

The 1917-18 Envoys' Plot and its consequences in Russia Part Two

The 1917-18 Envoys' Plot and its consequences in Russia Part Three

The 1917-18 Envoys' Plot and its consequences in Russia Part Five

The 1917-18 Envoys' Plot and its consequences in Russia Part Six

The 1917-18 Envoys' Plot and its consequences in Russia Part Seven


1. Walpole, “Denis Garstin and the Russian Revolution,” p. 598: Garstin to ?, January 18, 1918.

2. Arthur Ransome, On Behalf of Russia: An Open Letter to America, New York, 1918, p. 27.

3. Wisconsin State Historical Society, Robins’ Diary Entry, May 14, 1918.

4. William Hard, Raymond Robins’ Own Story, New York, 1920, online version, Chapter V, “The Bolshevik ‘Bomb,’”

5. Oxford University, New Bodleian Library (OUNBL), Milner Collection, Dep. 109, Box B, Lockhart to Foreign Office, May 10, 1918.

6. Walpole, quoting letters dated May 15, 1917, February 14, 1918, and July 17, 1918.

7. Michael Jabara Carley, “The Origins of the French Intervention in the Russian Civil War,” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 48, No. 3 (September 1976), pp. 413–39

8. Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution, 2015, p. 231.

9. John W. Long, "Plot and counter-plot in revolutionary Russia: Chronicling the Bruce Lockhart conspiracy, 1918, Intelligence and National Security, Volume 10, 1995 - Issue 1

10. Winston Churchill, Great Contemporaries, London, 1937, p. 103.

11. R H Bruce Lockhart, British Agent,1933,p. 288.

12. Winston Churchill, Great Contemporaries.

13. The National Archives, London (TNA), WO 106/1186, Summary of telegrams on Russia; for Savinkov more generally, see, especially, Richard Spence, Boris Savinkov, Boulder, CO, 1991. For the promise to Savinkov made by Noulens, see University of Indiana, Lilly Library, UILL, Lockhart Collection, Bruce Lockhart, “The Counter-Revolutionary Forces,” p. 4. For just how complicated this counter-revolutionary world really was, see Jonathan Smele, The ‘Russian’ Civil Wars, 1916–26, London, 2015.

14. TNA, FO 371/3332, Lockhart to Foreign Office, and notes on file, May 15, 1918.

16. TNA, FO 371/3313, Lockhart to Foreign Office, May 23, 1918.

17. TNA, FO 371/3348, Bruce Lockhart, “Secret and Confidential Memorandum on the alleged ‘Allied Conspiracy’ in Russia,” November 5, 1918, p. 1.

18. They alleged it at the 1922 trial of right SRs. See N. V. Krylenko, Sudebnye rechi. Izbrannoe, Moscow, Iuridicheskaia literature, 1964, pp. 157–8.

19. G. E. Chaplin, “Dva perevorota na Severe (1918),” Beloe delo: letoopisBeloi bor’by, vol. 4 (Berlin: Mednyi vsadnik, 1928), p. 14. This is an extract of the autobiography in Russian of G. E. Chaplin, who took part in the events discussed above (translation provided by Andrey Shylakhter). See also Benjamin Wells, “The Union of Regeneration: The Anti-Bolshevik Underground in Revolutionary Russia, 1917–19,” DPhil thesis, Queen Mary College, University of London, 2004, p. 62.

20. TNA, ADM 137/1731, Cromie to Admiralty, June 14, 1918.


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