By Eric Vandenbroeck 20 June 2018
Coming July 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Emperor Nicholas II and his family anticipating more than 100,000 from across Russia and around the world to descend on Ekaterinburg. Following the book by Robert Service, The Last of the Tsars, five days ago another book “To Free the Romanovs: Royal Kinship and Betrayal in Europe 1917-1919” was released. In the latter book Coryne Hall analyses the question why exactly did their European royal relatives and the Allied governments with whom the Russians were fighting a war all fail to get the Romanovs out to safety.
But as Robert Service initially indicated the latter subject should best be seen in the context of the looming Russian Civil war and the Allied intervention that made part of it. And although the rescue of the Czechs was the agreed Allied aim for the Siberian intervention, the other collateral target for some was financial gain.(1) This is evidenced by among others the Canadian venture which focused on gains made by the Hudson Bay Company, and more particularly by the British Banking scheme described in part two of this article. An intriguing aspect not covered by either the book of Robert Service or that by Coryne Hall, is that of the considerable involvement of particularly British spies and a development that led straight to the Allied intervention. Even with the best Intentions, the Allies could not achieve their final strategic aim of helping the Czechs escape Russia without fighting the Bolsheviks, and this could not be interpreted in any other was interfering in internal Russian politics.
Many documents related to the imperial spies that invaded Russia and the Allied intervention are still not made public in spite of Nick Clegg the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom already in 2011 asking for the release of some of them, which to date still has not been granted. Nick Clegg at the time was particularly interested to see the to date not released documents surrounding the "Lockhart Plot." Following is a letter by the son of Bruce Lockhart to the British Secret Service.
Ever since his trial in absentia in 1918, Lockhart had been a demonic figure in Soviet history textbooks - and the popular Soviet movie Hostile Whirlwinds, which was released in 1953, reinforced this image. At the turn of the millennium, the General Procuracy in Moscow was still busy reviewing historic cases of possible miscarriages of justice over the seven decades of Soviet communist dictatorship. Its verdict on Lockhart was flinty but fair: the British agent was found to have engaged in active subversion. He had therefore been guilty as charged at the time and did not qualify for posthumous rehabilitation.
British Intelligence Unveiled
At the beginning of the first world war, the British had developed a complex spy system. Of course, there was MI1, but even today the little-known fact is that there also was an MI2, MI3, MI4, MI5, MI6, and MI7 to MI10. Even MI1 or British Military Intelligence, Section 1 a department of the British Directorate of Military Intelligence and thus part of the War Office, in itself, had (as explained below) many sections. Not to mention that there was a separate Directorate of Naval intelligence.
The Directorates of Military and of Naval Intelligence emerged as super-agencies, not only because of the natural tendency of bureaucracies to expand but for many of the same reasons for which Lloyd George created and imposed his streamlined War Cabinet: to regularise the conflicting information which was crippling the management of the war.3 The re-organization of the DMI brought together interests which had been scattered throughout the government into one or two broad, topical groups holding centralized geographic responsibilities.
On 23 December 1915 “a Military Intelligence Directorate, in addition to the Military Operations Directorate was formed under the Chief of the Imperial General Staff” as part of the General Staff re-organization of the same month.' Initially supervised by MajorGeneral C.E. Call well, the DM1 inherited eight “sections” which were· primarily concerned with intelligence functions from the Directorate of Military Operations (DMO). The directorship of General Caldwell, the eminent military operations analyst, was interim, for on 3 January 1916, Major-General G.M.W. Macdonogh was appointed DMI, a position in which he remained until his appointment as Adjutant-General in September 1918.
The acronyms DMI and DMO were not obscure at all: “Intelligence” and “Operations” precisely differentiate the distinct missions handled by those two bodies. The terms remain in use. The groups drawn together under DM1 at the start of 1916 consisted of MI1 through MI10, each with a specific area of concern, each staffed with a variety of officers drawn from every conceivable theatre and Imperial army. Each was directed by a General Staff Officer most often of the first rank, but occasionally of second, who in some circumstances reported directly to the DMI. The DMI continued to report to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Within some of the groups, there were tiers of increasingly specialized intelligence groups, some of which changed their responsibilities as the immediate importance of the data which they were following either shifted or evaporated.4 Thus, within a single sub-group, MI1, were originally found groups designated from (a) through 0). These covered not only the secretarial work of the entire Directorate but also the policy regarding cables and wireless; martial' law; international law; municipal law and draft bills touching the General Staff; and traffic in arms.' Section (j) originally handled the Secret Service. The consolidation of 1916 saw MI1 divided into four subsections: MI1 (a)-distribution and registration of intelligence; MI1 (b)-co-ordination of secret intelligence, investigation of enemy ciphers and policy regarding Wireless Telegraphy; MI1 (c)-Secret Service; and MI1 (d)-Summaries of Intelligence.5 MI1 (c) was responsible for Special Duties' according to the official record- this was the customarily used description, inherited from military nomenclature, for espionage.6
In 1917 it was determined that a Section (1) was required, to produce special monographs required by the MI1 on historical, military, political and strategical matters. MI1 (I), in early 1918 was transferred to MI2, becoming MI2 (e), " as its work had come to deal entirely with the countries dealt with by that section . . . ." The MI1 section remained throughout the war primarily concerned with intelligence outside the British Empire.7
The section known as MI2 went through a similar dizzying array of responses to altered circumstances, but by January 1917, MI2 was responsible for Russia, China, Tibet, Japan and Siam, the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire, the Far East, the United States, South America and Africa, while MI3 dealt with the war in Europe except for the order of battle of the Russian Army, the resources of Russia, and the order of battle and resources of Italy, a curious mixture of traditional intelligence interests applied to the Allied nations.
MI4 throughout the war dealt with the supply of maps and map distribution in the field. MI5continued its focus on contre-espionage; MI6 focussed on questions of military policy connected with the economic and financial resources of the enemy,' MI7 dealt with press censorship, publicity, and propaganda; MI8 handled cable censorship; MI9, postal censorship, and MI10 had responsibility for foreign military attaches and missions. Sections MI1-4 and MI10 reported directly to the DMI, constituting powerful links; the others, operating more traditionally within the norms of military support intelligence, reported through the Deputy DMI.
Knowing all this, it is simple enough to recognize that the shifts in the formation and deformation of the various intelligence units directly responded to the catalysts produced by wartime demand. Then, an extraordinary event took place in the DMI in January 1918. After all the meticulous dis-entangling of operations from intelligence, the two were-for the only time-re-combined. The new group was designated Military Intelligence-Operations and was composed of assets gathered from MI2 (c) and M02. Its director was Colonel Richard Alexander Steel.
MIO dealt "with all matters concerning Russia, Rumania, Siberia, Central Asia, Caucasus, Persia, and Afghanistan." When it was dissolved on 1 June 1918, its operations work "was handed back to DMO. who formed a new section, M05,' which remained under Steel's control. The intelligence work was given to Steel's deputy, Major F.H. Kisch, and became a new section, MI2 (d). In November 1918; "the development of the Russian situation" caused such an increase in the volume of work within MI2 (d) that a new section, Military Intelligence Russia (MIR), "was created to deal with Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Persia, Far East and to perform liaison duties with the General Staff at Army Headquarters in India." Major Kisch received a temporary promotion to lieutenant colonel, (GSO 1). MIR remained in operation at least until January 1920, and probably continued its work after that date.8
Its acknowledged duties concerned the analysis of military information corning from all parts of the former Russian Empire, correspondence with the General Staff, India," and . "secretarial duties for the Interdepartmental Russia Committee." These were combined with strictly political duties: "information in regard to the political and military situation in European Russia and Western Siberia, and the political situation in Eastern Siberia," which covered the Syren/Elope operations. MIR (b) section, monitoring the South Russia/North Persia Dunsterforce, was devoted to "the political and military situation in Central Asia, Persia, Afghanistan, the North Caucasus, and information emanating from India" but "intelligence regarding the zone of operations of Turkish troops" 9 was excluded specifically.
MIO's concerns during the brief period of its existence were the planning and implementation of the intelligence-operations phase of the interventions. In its position as an intelligence-planning organization, MIO was the initiator of strategic intelligence plans and their operational vehicles which moved intervention policy, were endorsed by the War. Office, and were authorized by the Cabinet. Colonel Steel, whose previous intelligence experience was distinctly modern in its perceptions of the new uses of intelligence, exercised his particular influence over Russian affairs as interpreted by the Imperial war government and operations section; he recommended and orchestrated the policy underlying all three of the seemingly unconnected interventions.
The similarities of the interventions in terms of operations, objectives, and personnel were not coincidental. The geographic sites and their attendant political, economic and military situations had been monitored by Steel from his position in DMI for the previous year and a half, and before that had been under continual appraisal by MI1 (c). If "the erroneous estimate of allied observers hinged in large part on ignorance of conditions inside Russia" 10 then it must be believed that the interventions, as planned by MIO, were the designated intelligence attempt within the stated and accepted goals of all intelligence activity to remedy that ignorance. After all, even in'1917 intelligence-operations sought out "those activities that involve the creation of intelligence." 11
In the absence of explicit political strategy, MIO section, through its influence over the civilian political advisory groups concerned with Russia, intended to devise its own intelligence strategy to safeguard Imperial relations with Russia. For six months at the most critical time of the war, MIO acted as a policymaker in lieu of any other over-riding civilian policy, using as its inspiration only those already understood Imperial philosophies which had sustained its members, their class, and their society. Except as it impinged on this objective, MIO was not concerned with satisfying demands for justice, freedom or safety for anyone other than Imperial Britain. Neither was it concerned immediately with the post-war philosophy of national self-determination.
Steel and his colleagues were in the unusual position of being able to analyze systematically the totality of information collected in the field, fit it into the known military capabilities of the nations and armies involved, and produce plans based on that information which also met political requirements. By the time he assumed his position as director, first of MI2 and then of MIO, Steel was also benefitted by changes affecting Army doctrine. The official mind of the Regular Army had gradually come to believe-although perhaps not accept-that unlike the other two branches of service (Operations or Training), the Intelligence branch was innately uncontrollable.' To unduly restrict the manner or the particular pursuit of information was to restrict its purpose; to dictate interpretive methodology was to destroy the advantages such a group offered its sponsors.
Consequently, the practical arrangements between command and intelligence were infinitely more pliable than those between command and operations. Intelligence operating outside the direct chain of command often had no specific orders, often could not function with them, and would become meaningless if rigid controls were imposed.
Once this shift in recognition took place, as it did during formation of the MI1, MI2 and MIO sections between 1916 and 1918, predictive intelligence work was free to act as an effectively separate policy agency within an Imperial government which was increasingly dependent on professional experts. The existence of these agencies no longer depended on one on the interpretation of orders through the chain of command; they were not reliant on command cooperation to gain access to operations or training. Intelligence agencies were licensed, within the limits of their judgment, to initiate policy.12
The activities of Steel and his co-workers depended on their independent strategic assessment that the Russian collapse threatened Imperial security.
Imperial involvement in North Russia, initially to create an intelligence base operating with Russian permission, and later by the imposition of a military base operating without that permission, was merely a "way of realizing Imperial ambitions without necessarily provoking predictably infeasible and costly full-scale military intercession." It was the least amount of involvement required to do the job.
According to the post-war internal evaluation of the effectiveness of the intelligence services “the total number of agents employed by the GHQ Services” during the war was roughly 6,000.15 Not all of these agents were either in Russia or concerned with Russian matters; the percentage who were and the information they provided were MIO's chief concern. Their information, along with that gathered by overt military agents could not be lost through clumsy handling. Consequently, until the Poole Mission was reinforced with the ciphers and signals experts brought in with the second wave of Syren/Elope, that group concentrated on physical supervision of the cable networks as well as pre-emptive intelligence operations to ensure that information sent out to London reflected reality. Reports and assessments moving outward, from the diplomatic networks centered at Petrograd and Moscow stood a 'very good chance of arriving in London with some degree of timeliness; if they could first reach this secured intelligence base.
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 1 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, 13 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.
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 Military Intelligence -Operations a 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.14 In 1918, the temptation to acquire de facto control, the cheap MIO way, was not unreasonable -it was irresistible.
And as Ian C. D. Moffat pointed out the other collateral target for some was financial gain.
When Hudson’s Bay Company Agent Henry Armitstead and his associate, Jonas Lied arrived in London on 3 March 1918, Colonel Browning ensured that they were put in touch with a number of high-ranking government officials, including Arthur Balfour, Lord Robert Cecil, and Ernest Shackleton. According to Lied's diary, both he and Armitstead dined on at least one occasion with Admiral Reginald Hall, Director of Naval Intelligence. As a result of these meetings, Armitstead joined the Lindley Special Trade Mission to Vologda," which left England in the early part of May, 1918." In this secondment, Armitstead, with the full endorsement of the Bay, was sponsored by MIl (c). MIl (cl's chief, Mansfield Smith-Cumming took the trouble to clarify the financial arrangements that the temporary work would cause, writing to the HBC that since Armitstead had, with the kind permission ”of HBC temporarily placed his services at my disposal for a journey through Russia' he, as MIl (c) executive, would refund to the HBC all Mr. Armitstead's expenses on the journey from the time of leaving London until his return to this town.” 14
The Secret Mission to save the Tsar and his family.
While Catherine Merridale in "Lenin on the Train", wrote that George V had secretly tried to provide his cousin safe passage to Britain. Coryne Hall is much more critical about this aspect and claims that in the days after Nicholas II abdicated, Britain behaved reprehensibly over ensuring the Romanovs’ safety. The Russian provisional government made several urgent requests to the British about taking the royal family into exile. But the government dragged its feet and even worried about how the tsar would be supported financially in the UK by the new Russian (Leninist) administration.
At the early stage, the King did certainly appear to be broadly behind the idea of the deposed Tsar and his family seeking refuge in Britain. He wrote in his diary, on 10th March: Went over to Marlborough House and had a talk with mother dear [Queen Alexandra, who was also, of course, the Tsar’s aunt] about Russia and Nicky; she is very much upset about it all. The next day he wrote: "Michael [the Russian Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich] came and we discussed the idea of poor Nicky coming to England." The British government issued a formal offer of asylum towards the end of March, and there was a period when the Romanovs could have left Russia and come to Britain. The Tsar’s nephew, Prince Dmitri, certainly believed that the new provisional government would have been happy to let them go, writing in an unpublished memoir: Alexander Kerensky [the provisional government leader] was willing to allow them to leave and in fact keen that they should. A British cruiser was standing ready at Murmansk, but at the last minute, Lloyd George decided against the evacuation. In fact, in the end, it was not Lloyd George but the Tsar’s "true friend" and dear cousin, Georgie, who took the fateful decision. The King had fallen under the influence of his jittery private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, becoming increasingly anxious about a growing republican movement. Als Sir Arthur Bigge, in 1917, he took it upon himself to keep the deposed Tsar at bay, judging him a threat to the stability of the British nation.
After the murder of the Tsar and his family became known, the [British] King took pains to avoid all blame for the deaths of the imperial family. Grand Duke Dmitri who fled to England and was the son a first cousin of Nicholas II later wrote: I twice heard King George refer to Lloyd George as “that murderer” in the presence of my mother. In 1933 Georgie seems to have had no compunction about buying the Tsarina’s Fabergé mosaic egg at half cost, for £250, from Cameo Corner in London. It had been given by the Tsar to his wife in 1914 and contained portraits of all five children. The legendarily acquisitive May was the lucky recipient. It took decades for the full story to emerge about the role played by the palace in refusing sanctuary to the Romanovs. Two key memoirs were written before the King’s death, in January 1936: in both, he escaped any blame. The Ambassador, George Buchanan, insisted, in 1923, that the invitation had never been withdrawn; his daughter’s claim, nine years later, that he had falsified his account to protect the King, as well as his Foreign Office pension, made little impact. In 1934, Lloyd George diplomatically rewrote the relevant chapter of his War Memoirs. The later, published version made no mention of the King or Stamfordham.
Robert K. Massie summarised the King’s directive in a way that suggested a measure of cool pragmatism: "Because of the outburst of public opinion, the Russian government should perhaps be informed that Britain was obliged to withdraw its offer." Massie admitted, however, that after the murders: "memories tend to blur." Three years later, in 1971, Earl Mountbatten, the son of the Tsarina’s sister Victoria, continued to blame Lloyd George, rather than the King, breezily telling an interviewer: "Oh yes, in the early days he discussed it with my mother, he was very anxious to offer them asylum over here, but the government, the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, was understandably opposed on political grounds at the time of the war and I think it would have been very difficult therefore to go against him." The matter was finally laid to rest in 1983, with the publication of Kenneth Rose’s biography of George V. Stamfordham and Balfour were quoted in full. There is no ambiguity in Rose’s chilling conclusion: "The King’s volte-face was complete. With the concurrence of his ministers, he had ensured that, whatever else might happen to his Russian cousins, they should not set foot in England. The original offer of asylum, to which both sovereign and Prime Minister had subscribed, was a dead letter." When Rose asked the Queen for permission to print the papers, she had gamely responded: "Let him publish." The Queen Mother had not been so equable, dropping Rose from her lunch party list. Her private secretary told Rose: "Your chances of an MVO [Member of the Victorian Order] have just floated out to 50 to 1." The controversial Tsarina may have played a large part in the King’s decision. The British royal family was worried about her German roots and what they saw as her mental instability.
The historian Hugo Vickers refers mutedly to the "strain in nerves of the Hesse-Darmstadt family line, inherited in full by the Tsarina". The unimaginative King may well have been haunted by the social implications of having his cousins in Britain, worried that his life would be subsumed in awkward social situations.
Not to mention that the truth behind the secret plans to rescue Russia’s imperial family is that most of them were myths, neither were there any survivors, whereby what is surprising that the "Anna Anderson" claim even today still finds believers.
But there is one verified account which includes the above mentioned Hudson Bay Company and Jonas Lied who arrived in London on 3 March 1918 with a plan to take the tsar to safety along thousands of miles of Russia’s waterways.
Enter Jonas Lied. British intelligence was already well aware of his valuable Russian experience; he was “understood to be on good terms with the Bolshevik regime, and would therefore perhaps stand a fair chance of securing good relations with the Soviets” on their behalf. After extensive consultation, Hudson’s Bay Company director Charles Sale (in a 1 March 1918 memorandum in Foreign Office 368/ 1970) advised that such an expedition "would involve many risks and high cost", but that "Mr Lied, who is now in London on a very brief stay [i.e. his March 1918 visit] … has expressed his willingness to carry out such transactions in co-operation with the Hudson’s Bay Company."
With the recent usurpation of power by Lenin and his hardliners, the British had been following their peace negotiations with Germany through intercepted telegrams from Russian military and naval advisers at the talks, forwarded by British attachés in Petrograd. A different concern had taken over: that the Bolsheviks, now gaining a foothold in Siberia, would seize control of the Tsar and his family at Tobolsk and use them as political pawns in a game of power play with the Germans over a separate peace deal.
Thus during early 1918 evidence suggests that there were tentative plans to shelter the family at Murmansk. Under the protection of the Allies already established there, the Romanovs would once liberated from Tobolsk, wait at the port till an opportune time came to get them out by sea to either Britain or Scandinavia. The project to construct a house to accommodate them is confirmed in a telegram from the British consul at Archangel to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) offices at Bishopsgate on 9 October. The house was to be assembled first in Archangel, as the telegram explicitly states, the consul confirming that he had "placed order for immediate construction of the house which we intend shipping to Murmansk with the last steamer for erection in ground allotted to us by Government." But time was against them and the consul explained that he had had "to act promptly as otherwise no possibility of getting the house ready in time and now only under great pressure" (HBCA, RG 22/ 26/ 5/ 10, telegram 520, 9 October 1917).
A sum of 50,000 rubles had been set aside for the purpose. 15 Here the record breaks off. But there is one crucial piece of surviving evidence. On 10 August 1918 –note the date –the house’s original purpose was confirmed, albeit retrospectively, in a Royal Navy telegram found in Admiralty records. Addressed to the senior naval officer at Murmansk and sent by Francis Cromie, the British naval attaché in Petrograd, it states: Following received via Christiania [now Oslo] from Naval Attaché Petrograd for SNO Murmansk begins: I have received from Mr Browd on behalf of the Murmansk Scientific Industrial Co[ mpan] y the offer of the building to be erected on the Dived Company’s land near the British Consulate Murmansk formerly intended for the late Czar and now offered for occupation by General Poole or Admiral Kemp. Buildings complete with heating Light [sic] utensils etc. and now in charge of Kambulin Engineer erecting them (The British National Archive ADM 137/ 1714f 138).
According to an account submitted to the HBC by the Russian contractor P. S. Kuznetsov, it would appear that around mid-November 1917 work had indeed begun on the wooden house, which was cut and prefabricated at Solombala sawmill outside Archangel, after which it was dismantled, shipped in sections across the Dvina estuary to Khabarka Island opposite and stacked in storage there.16 This was done under the supervision of the above mentioned Henry Armitstead, the Hudson’s Bay Company agent based at Archangel, and from there the sections were to be shipped to Murmansk. The location chosen for the house was the best Murmansk had to offer; the British consulate next to it, although wooden and single-story, had been built to look as "imposing" as a construction of squared logs could. The house for the Romanovs would be "in close proximity to branch offices of several Petrograd banks, and close also, to Government buildings and to the Cathedral", according to a description of the town at the time, and would be of even better quality.
Nearly two weeks after his arrival in London, and after he had been vetted carefully by this assortment of key officials and had discussed his idea of the Romanov rescue with them, Lied was invited to a meeting. On 20 March he met Sir Francis Barker, director of the famous engineering and armaments firm Vickers, which had “made millions out of imperial Russia” during the war. Vickers, Lied suggested, could provide the final essential link in the plan –a “fast motor launch” to get the Romanovs out from the Kara Sea and presumably across to the safe house at Murmansk.
According to Summers and Mangold, Jonas Lied did in fact later confide the true story of his rescue plan to an English friend, Ralph Hewins, who for many years had been a specialist Scandinavian newspaper correspondent and is best known for his biography of the Norwegian traitor, Quisling. In private conversation, Lied told Hewins that: he was asked by Metropolitan-Vickers … to berth a British boat at his sawmill depot [this must be Maklakovo] at the mouth of the Yenisey and to transport the Imperial Family from Tobolsk downriver in one of his cargo boats. The plan was feasible. The torpedo boat [i.e. a British RN or a Vickers one sent especially] was to take a course far north into the Arctic, through Novaya Zemlya, so as to avoid wartime minefields and possible Bolshevik pursuit.
But then in the spring of 1918, British officialdom was not anymore preoccupied with a Romanov rescue. It now was far more concerned with the bigger commercial, financial and industrial objectives of opening up the Russian markets after the Bolshevik takeover. And their efforts were intensified when, on 3 March 1918 –the very day that Jonas Lied arrived in London for his series of meetings –after three and a half months of diplomatic wrangling at Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky signed a peace treaty with Germany. In so doing he pulled Russia out of the war and ceded great swathes of Russian territory to Germany.
On 10 March the Bolshevik government moved the capital back to Moscow. Most foreign diplomats decamped soon afterward for the safety of Vologda, leaving the British embassy in Petrograd with only a skeleton staff. With an ailing Sir George Buchanan sent home to England at the beginning of January (and not replaced as ambassador), who was there left in Russia to speak for the Romanovs via official British channels?
Fact is that the British government were not really interested in saving the tsar’s family, and as explained above, the initial plan was to keep the Tsar and his family out of the hands of Germany. In fact ahead of the London meetings, the Hudson’s Bay Company (according to a letter from an HBC accountant, 18 February 1918, TNA RG 22/ 4/ 2) had already expressed doubts about Lied’s abilities to head the economic mission, being of the mind that he was "inclined to minimize the difficulties and exaggerate the possibilities," and concluding that "it will be necessary to regard both Mr Lied and his organization as instruments rather than as the controlling element."
Yet Jonas Lied, was the person best-placed to get the Romanovs out of Tobolsk. But his 1918 plan for a rescue downriver to the Kara Sea was greeted with indifference by the British.
According to Coryne hall, the construction of the house built by the HBC "was kept so secret that when Lloyd George wanted to publish a book about Russian events during the First World War, parts of it were censored by George V. The king also insisted that the chapter about British involvement in northern Russia be removed from the published work and forbade any reference to a house for the tsar at Murmansk."
Meanwhile in Moscow, Lenin’s government had been discussing what to do with Nicholas, and indeed the whole family. It had become increasingly apparent that the civil war now spreading to Siberia would make it impossible to bring the former Tsar back to Moscow for the long-mooted trial, but Lenin had prevaricated on making a decision until counter-revolutionary forces were on the verge of taking Ekaterinburg. In early July, knowing that sooner or later the city, an important strategic point on the Trans-Siberian Railway, would fall to the Whites and Czechs approaching from the east, a decision was taken that when the time came, the Ural Regional Soviet should “liquidate” the Imperial Family rather than have them fall into monarchist's hands. And they must all perish, in order to ensure, as Lenin insisted, that no “living banner” (that is, the children) survive as a possible rallying point for the monarchists. But the murder of the children, which the Bolsheviks knew would provoke international outrage, must be kept secret for as long as possible. At midday on 17 July, the detailed log of Lenin’s official life recorded that he received a telegraph message from Ekaterinburg and wrote on the envelope: “Received, Lenin.” The contents confirmed that the Ekaterinburg Bolsheviks had carried out the liquidation, acting on Lenin’s and the Central Executive Committee’s preordained decision.
It was a report in the “German Wireless” that first pointed the finger of blame, at Britain, for having failed the Tsar: If England now fulfills the kindred duty of her Court by wearing mourning … she ought to have fulfilled her duty of granting at least personal protection to the fallen Czar, who was too weak to maintain his position and too weak to take a hand again in the fate of Russia … Even in the last few weeks, she could have. protected the Czar if she had so desired. The Czar has been sacrificed to British policy, just like everything else that comes in its way … Now that Nicholas can no longer do any harm, mourning is worn for him. The English Court makes use of his death, which was welcome to them and for which England herself is partly responsible, in order to make of it before the world a melodramatic spectacle.
Finally on the 31th of August a Foreign Office memorandum confirmed the long-awaited news from Archangel: We have just received a very distressing telegram from the Intelligence Officer serving under General Poole at Murmansk to the effect that there is every probability that the Empress of Russia, her four daughters, and the Czarevitch were all murdered at the same time as the late Czar. The information reached the Intelligence Officer from a source which he has no reason to doubt. I am much afraid, therefore, that the news is only too likely to prove true (Director of Military Intelligence to Lord Stamfordham, War Office, Whitehall, 31 August 1918).
But the depiction of the Romanovs’ murder as somehow uniquely ghastly, a category different from other crimes by the communists, seems out of proportion. On the whole, historians have been too kind to the tsar, mainly because of the grisly manner of his and his family’s deaths. A sort of royal mystique has protected the last of the Romanovs from objective assessment. The truth is, though, that the tsar was partly responsible to bring about the destruction of his dynasty. The thousands of murders after the failed revolution of 1905, his encouragement of pogroms, his violent anti-semitism and his stubborn refusal to initiate any serious political reforms.
Some perspective, too, is worthwhile here. The butchering of the Romanovs was certainly a terrible crime. But more than 10m people died in the Russian civil war. The Bolsheviks then slaughtered millions more in purges and created one of history’s bloodiest tyrannies. The killing of the Romanovs was just one in a long list of atrocities.
Bv making "class enemies" of many Russian specialists, the Bolsheviks lost any loyalty they might have won from them. Equally, the Allies and Whites sometimes found themselves having to trust people who had something to gain from the Bolsheviks or were ideologically committed to them. Questions of time and scale inhibited either party from thoroughly vetting all who presented themselves, which meant both were frequently obliged to build upon foundations of sand. The Bolsheviks were almost defeated by the officers and specialists who turned to the Allies, while the Letts who presented themselves as erstwhile allies and kingmakers crippled the Allied Intelligence Services.
And as suggested above the clandestine war reveals significant changes in the role of the Intelligence Services of all the Great Powers. From being accessories to military operations in 1914, they had become major players in the survival, and destruction of states. While this had always been true to some extent in the case of secret services, the whole Intelligence apparatus of every major state was now involved and on a much greater scale than ever before. What is also apparent is the paradox of deeply Imperialist states turning to the spread of revolution and subversion to achieve their aims. It became the task of the Intelligence Services to foment and nourish this in hostile states.
The Whites were impotent without the support of the Allies. Had the Allies refrained from taking counsel of their fears and interfering in Russia, the suspicion is that local opposition, much of it inspired by the Bolsheviks, would have kept many German troops in the east as would Germany's dreams of imperial expansion in south Russia and Central Asia. The Allies were frightened to the point of desperation through viewing the situation in narrowly military terms.
But as we will see in p. 2 the politics of Empire were economic and persuasive, not governmental-if everyone played their cards right.
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