The 1917-18 Envoys' Plot and its
consequences in Russia Part Seven
As we have seen, the British
government formulated its Russian policy in the Cabinet’s discussions in early
December 1917. It was decided to support ‘any responsible body in Russia
willing to oppose the Maximalist movement (i.e. the Bolsheviks)’, and ‘within
reason to give money freely to such bodies as were prepared to help the Allied
In the meantime, the
French government had started its own operations in Russia mainly to support
the Romanian Army that was being pushed towards Ukraine by the German and
Austrian armies. To coordinate the present Allied policy a secret Anglo-French
conference was called in Paris. The Conference was concluded with the
‘Anglo-French Convention’(Convention entre la France et l’Angleterre
au sujet de Faction dans la Russie
méridionale) on 23 December 1917, in which southern Russia was divided into ‘spheres of
activity’ between the British and the French. London and the French really
operated on their zone according to this ‘international’ agreement and British
intelligence officers, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes, began to execute the
War Cabinet’s instructions in Petrograd. They worked out, in co-operation with
the Russian banker Karol Yaroshinsky, an elaborate
scheme to finance the anti-Bolshevik forces
within the British ‘sphere of activity’. It was designed to counteract the
influence of German finance within Russia by bringing Russian banks under
British control. Under the scheme, the British government was to give Yaroshinsky a loan of six million pounds (200 million roubles) to purchase a majority of securities in five
Russian banks. Yaroshinsky was also supposed to set
up ‘a Cossack Bank’ in South Russia, which could issue banknotes, and thus
provides funding to the Don Cossacks and the Volunteer Army. The wild plan
proceeded, after the approval of the Cabinet’s Russian Committee, and
initially, 185,000 pounds were credited to the bank account of British agent
Hugh Leech, from where the sum was drafted by Yaroshinsky’s
Keyes was certainly
thinking on a grand scale when he wrote:
We have the right to
nominate our own directors and these banks with their 300 odd branches and
their interests in numerous commercial and industrial! concerns offer us an unrivaled commercial intelligence system for
investigating old and new undertakings. They offer us the means of setting on
their feet such as our concerns as having suffered during the disorders, and of
handing out loans and other financial interests.
When Wilson, on
December 26, agreed to secretly advance the French and British whatever funds
might be “necessary” to finance the Cossack coup against Lenin. The Allied PMs
in Paris then sent French and British military scouts to the Don to see what
the Cossack program looked like.
In this context,
Paris had approved a credit of 100 million rubles to restore order in Russia
and get the country back in the war against the Central Powers, that is, to
mount a coup against the Bolsheviks.
DeWitt Clinton Poole, as was reported to the Secretary of State, wrote that
“clandestine preparations” were being made for “counter-Bolshevik outbreaks” in
Moscow and other cities, confirming that a Plot was afoot in December 1917. And
on 18 January 1918 wrote to the Department of State on18 January 1918, that
there was an “urgent” need for cash “at once,”
200 million rubles.
Described in part one, two,
three, and four, five,
and six, it remains the most audacious
spy plot in British and American history, a bold and extremely dangerous
operation to invade Russia, defeat the Red Army, and mount a coup in Moscow
against Soviet dictator Vladimir Ilich Lenin. After
that, leaders in Washington, Paris, and London aimed to install their own
Allied-friendly dictator in Moscow as a means to get Russia back into the war
effort against Germany. Along with the British and the French, the plot we now
know had the “entire approval” of President Woodrow Wilson. As he ordered a
military invasion of Russia, he gave the American ambassador, the U.S. Consul
General in Moscow, and other State Department operatives a free hand to pursue
their covert action against Lenin. The result was thousands of deaths, both
military and civilian, on both sides.
On Wednesday, 28
August, Eduard Berzin
(captain in the Latvian Rifle Brigade) took the train to Petrograd, as we have
seen. Sidney Reilly followed the next night. On Friday, the 30th, Reilly had the meetings (in the street and
his flat) with Berzin, whom perhaps he no longer
trusted. According to his best biographer, he met sometime that day with
Captain Cromie as well. So may have Berzin, separately.1
What we know is that
head of the Cheka Felix Dzerzhinsky had chosen Alexander Engel’gardt
(descended from a prominent Latvian family)
to lead the three-man team of Chekists sent to penetrate Cromie’s organization in Petrograd. Engel’gardt
took the alias “Shtegel’man.” The latter together
with Jan Sprogis posing as “Shmidken,”
along with Buikis (“Bredis”)
took part in the Cheka operation directed by Dzerzhinsky and Dzerzhinsky’s
second-in-command Jacov Peters the latter who took
over briefly when Dzerzhinsky stepped back in the summer of 1918 and hence
Peters took a primary role in designing the counter-plot to defeat Lockhart and
some of the co-conspirators.
(“Bredis”) and Engel’gardt
(“Shtegel’man”) penetrated Captain Cromie’s counter-revolutionary organization in Petrograd.
He and Captain Eduard Berzin then approached Lockhart
in Moscow and encouraged him to believe they could deliver the Latvians to his
plot. Buikis (“Bredis”) and
and a fellow Cheka agent, Lieutenant Sabir, were present at the British embassy
building in Petrograd when Cromie met his death
It was, in fact, Cromie who had triggered the Plot about three weeks earlier
when he sent Engel’gardt/Shtegel’man
and Sprogis/Shmidkhen with
a note for the British agent in Moscow. Dzerzhinsky and Peters, however, needed
Engel’gardt and Alexander Shtegel’man
in the former capital, where he could take advantage of his connection with Cromie to further penetrate the counter-revolutionary
movement there. They sent him back and chose A century later, it is impossible
to say what were the details of the Petrograd conspiracy whose principals meant
to keep it secret, except that Cromie’s “plans may
have included the destruction of certain bridges,”2 that he was “interested in
several [Petrograd counter-revolutionary] organizations,” “that considerable
sums of money were being spent,”3 and that some of the money probably supported
counter-revolutionary agitation in the First Division of the Red Army stationed
in the former capital.4 Cromie, who had been
funneling Whites to Archangel to assist General
Poole’s march south, also promised to supply him with armored craft for
rivers and lakes.
From now on, the
plotters would find themselves in increasingly dire straits. Much of that came
from their own faulty security measures:
—Captain Cromie did not properly vet Jan Shmidkhen
before sending him on to recruit Latvian Colonel Berzin
for the Allied coup. Berzin reported the approach to
—Reilly wrote the
address of his Moscow safe house on that card that Berzin
found in Sidney’s Petrograd safe house. Berzin gave
the address to the Cheka.
—Lockhart wrote and
signed a pass for a Latvian courier who was going to meet with Allied forces at
Archangel. The message didn’t go north. It ended up with the Cheka.
—Reilly gave cash to Berzin, not knowing he was an agent provocateur sent by the
Cheka. Berzin turned the money into the Cheka.
—The Allies failed to
check Marchand’s bona fides, allowing him to witness the secret meeting in
Poole’s office and write an account for Dzerzhinsky and Lenin. With all that
evidence in hand, Dzerzhinsky and Jacob Peters soon would ensue with Western
agents' roll-up in Russia.
considered the Americans the “worst compromised” in the Lenin Plot, and if
DeWitt Poole could be captured, that would cement the Cheka’s case against the
Poole knew he had to
get out fast. He sent a message to Chicherin’s
assistant, Karakhan, asking for a pass to leave
Russia. He promised to return the favor someday.
Karakhan responded quickly with travel papers. Evidently, the
Soviet foreign commissariat didn’t want complications like American diplomats
getting shot by the Cheka. Better to help Poole get out of the country as
quietly as possible.
Sidney Reilly got out
of Russia using a passport in the name of Georg Bergmann, a fictitious merchant
in Riga. One of the boots (forgeries) the British embassy kept on hand for
smuggling people out. George Hill gave it to him. Hill got out, too, but lost
fourteen of his agents in the process.
Peters told Lockhart
when he was in jail that the Americans were the worst compromised in the Allied
plot against Lenin. It was a reference, of course, to Kalamatiano
and Poole. But Peters said that for “political reasons,” the Soviets were not
implicating the Americans as much as the French and British.6 Those “political
reasons” apparently were the Soviets’ desperate need for U.S. foreign aid.
It must have seemed
like a good idea at the time: Overthrow Lenin and the Soviet government on
humanitarian, military, and economic grounds and install a benevolent dictator
in Moscow until a democratic government could be elected. But it failed. It
failed because it was a tragedy in the classical sense—flawed from the very
beginning. And those tragic flaws brought on the Lenin Plot’s own destruction.
After it was over, not much had changed in Russia except that many people were
dead and a lot of money had been wasted. Lenin was still in power, and Soviet
methods would only get more extreme in the decades to come.
The main flaw on the
political side of the Lenin Plot appears to have been slipshod security on the
conspirators' part. Agents were not properly vetted. Some seemed to have been
accepted solely because they were fast talkers. That laid the plot open to infiltration
by the Cheka.
But even if the
Allied coup in Moscow had succeeded, how long could the Western powers have
held Russia? The country might have risen in a new revolution against the
Western occupiers. Russia is a big place. Nailing down power, there would have
required an Allied force as big as the one on the western front in France.
Whereby given the many players that by now became involved in the allied
intervention (including nations that did not know the secretive (because it
involved individual agents), American and British plot can be said to have
become rather complex.
The Triple Entente, which,
with the United States, won the First World War, did not act as an ideal
coalition. As a result, the Allies never developed a single concerted policy on
Russia. This led to no common goal or ‘mission’ for Russia that was accepted by
all participants, which left individual commanders to develop strategies to fit
local conditions. In some regions, this led to an unintended expansion of the
operation and, in others, no set goal to work towards. No one member of the
alliance had such overwhelming power in 1919 that it could dominate the
relationship. Nor was it the norm to have an alliance of such strong equals
that no single nation could control the War's policies and overall operation.
events in highly fluid situations plagued all players. Even if all the leading
actors in the intervention had been equally prescient, they were all cursed by
poor, wrong, or non-existent information, often filtered through particular
personalities, individual self-interests, and transmitted by feeble and slow
communication systems. Unified strategic decisions were nearly impossible.
Political and military leaders of all the Great Powers were forced to deal with
constant turmoil. Most dealt with it reactively, scrambling to find answers and
take actions to slow or stem its effects. All tried to use it or to shape
matters to their own ends. In turn, such political leaders' decisions shaped
their nations' strategic perceptions and aims.
together have their own national interests. Each has its own strategic goals
and, when there is resistance from allies, each goes its own way, usually
secretly. Equally, each country may endeavor to change or pressure other allies
to go along with them. Moreover, when individual national interests clash with
the collective alliance goals, some will promote what they consider to be the
only correct solution. Self-perceptions of power also play a role. Senior and
junior allies may operate differently and for different reasons. In trying to
re-establish the Eastern Front in Russia in 1918, the Great Powers illustrated
many of these things. A case-in-point was the United States, which first tried
to prevent any Allied military intervention. When that became inevitable, it
refused to cooperate with its Allies in Siberia and attempted to restrict US
troop employment in North Russia. At a more strategic level, the US
administration agreed to have Japan in overall command in Siberia but then
neglected to direct its commander to submit to Japanese leadership.
Other Allies fared no
better. Japan looked at intervention as a means to control Siberia for its own
national purposes. It agreed to intervention originally and ostensibly to
assist the Czech Legion to escape Siberia. Still, it refused to send troops
west of Lake Baikal to fight the Bolsheviks, trying to prevent the Legion's
exit. The Japanese also actively supported rebels against the established
anti-Bolshevik government of Admiral Kolchak, rendering impossible the avowed
purpose of the operation. Japan consented to limit its troop strength to that
of the US contingent but immediately sent double that number to dominate the
Russian Maritime Provinces. This action alone spawned a heightened US distrust
of its Asian Ally's intentions. Japan wished to control Siberia to counter the
historical and ongoing US economic incursions into China. America's support of
the ‘open door’ trade policy in China directly conflicted with Japan's wish to
monopolize trade in its sphere of influence. This rivalry prevented the two
nations from working together to establish a stable anti-Bolshevik government
in Siberia, something Japan could not permit if it were to obtain the dominance
it desired. But Japan was not the unified nation it appeared to be. The
governing elite was divided over its approach to both Russia and the United
States. Although the Army appeared to be in charge of Siberian operations,
Prime Minister Terauchi and others were at odds with the General Staff. They
were able to resist enlarging Japanese military forces in Siberia late in 1919.
There were conflicts in the Japanese government on how to work with the United
States. Still, there was no consensus other than to allow the military to
continue its operations in Russia. This was only one part of the chaotic nature
of the Allied intervention.
Because of their
ignorance of Bolshevik methods and goals, the United States saw the two Russian
factions as equals in the struggle. Still, they viewed the anti-Bolsheviks as
reactionaries ready to return to the tyrannical government of the Tsars. For
this reason, the United States would not support Kolchak against the rebels in
Siberia. National interests submerged the collective Allied goal. In Britain's
case, it not only worked for its own interests, but it also clashed with the
interests of parts of its own Empire.
In its turn, France
undermined the White Russian General Denikin in favor
of the Ukrainian rebels, despite the agreed Allied aim. France assiduously
worked at advancing any scheme that would ensure Russian payment of the enormous
pre-war loans and massive war debts. This blinkered view of pursuing
compensation by any means to the detriment of common goals steadily undermined
collective Allied efforts to assist the Whites. These illustrate how national
self-interest trumped many of the collective goals.
But the Alliance's
strategic aims in Russia were also fluid. The First World War was the driving
force until November 1918. The Allies' intentions in Russia were to
re-establish the Eastern Front to alleviate German pressure on the Western
Front. The United States, however, did not accept this goal as achievable or
necessary. But with the Armistice, even this goal was no longer relevant, and
the war on Bolshevism became one of many other reasons for intervention. Yet
the Allies could not agree on one policy as it applied to Russia. Moreover,
with the end of fighting in Europe, Russia lost strategic importance in
producing a peace treaty in Paris.
was intimately tied to the laborious and often bitter negotiations at the Paris
Peace Conference. Even well after the Armistice, Allied soldiers were part of
the continued fighting and turmoil across Russia. At Paris and in Allied
capitals, there was fear that Russia could fall under Germany's influence,
despite the latter's defeat in Western Europe. Russia could not be separated
from the larger subject of Germany and its place in Europe. Revolution and
tumult were spreading in Middle and Eastern Europe and Germany. So, while the
negotiating Great Powers did not want Russia present at the Paris Conference,
that nation could not be separated from their talks and decisions. Here was a
major weakness of the Allied interventionist effort: without Russia in Paris,
the Allied intervention was likely doomed to be piecemeal and driven by
individual self-interest. And Russia also had an impact on nations far from its
There were smaller
actions and other motives at play in these events, and mistrust often spread.
In Canada, Sir Robert Borden first urged his government to establish economic
missions to accompany the Canadian contingent destined for Siberia, hoping to
reap economic rewards. Based on the way Britain had acted during the Great War
concerning munitions orders, directing them to the United States and ignoring
Canada's factories, he did not trust the British economic delegation to look
after Canadian interests. For some Canadians in 1919, Russia offered an
opportunity to help recoup the financial cost of the First World War and also
keep the newfound Canadian industrial success going well into the 1920s. So
Canada, like other nations, mixed too many expectations on a policy that should
have been kept as simple as possible, given war's natural characteristic to be
chaotic and uncontrollable.
Personalities had a
major influence on the courses that nations followed. Individuals can often
drive action or cause inaction. Politics and personalities cannot be ignored.
Decisions, in turn, determine what will not be done as well as what is done.
And people made these decisions. Strong-willed people are very important in a
functioning alliance. In the Allied intervention in Russia, there were
influential people at every level of decision-making. The strongest examples in
the actual events and historical interpretation were David Lloyd George,
Winston Churchill, and Woodrow Wilson.
American historians point their finger at Wilson for singlehandedly causing the
failure of the Allied Intervention, more honestly, it has to be laid at the
feet of more than him. Many others had various shares in this failure, but
besides Woodrow Wilson, another major contributor was British Prime Minister
David Lloyd, George.
conclusion - blaming Wilson for the outcome - is based more on American
national centrism rather than detailed analysis: that is, Wilson was against
both Russian factions equally because neither lived up to his idealistic
version of the American dream. Initially, Wilson had fought against sending
Allied troops into Russia from a sense of superiority combined with naïveté. He
firmly believed that the Russian Revolution was based on people's desire to rid
themselves of a tyrannical government and establish democracy. Convinced to the
point of unreason, he considered it immoral to interfere in the Russian people's
internal political struggles. The United States had to set an example to other
nations and should not actively interfere on one side or the other of an
internal political fight. Yet as we have seen, Wilson's view was, ironically,
also anti-Bolshevik, although not to the point that he would allow the US
military to assist either faction in Russia. He also deeply abhorred
imperialism. Therefore, he was suspicious and reluctant to act with an entity
he naturally recoiled from, such as the British Empire or a reconstituted
Russian one. He hoped to use the United States' strength to create a new
international order free of war or revolution. It was one in which the United
States would be the pre-eminent political and economic power.
Having the United
States participate in what the president saw as an immoral undertaking would
undermine that nation's image as a ‘shining city on a hill.’ Wilson firmly
believed that the United States was divinely destined to lead the world to an
orderly, liberal, and capitalist international society. Wilson's self-assurance
in his own intellect, coupled with a belief in his own moral superiority, made
him impervious to differing rational argument. Wilson didn't recognize his own
intellectual limits or corrected his mistakes in Siberia. In one author's view,
he had the mind of a country schoolmaster and the soul of an army mule. Wilson
interpreted the First World War as a crusade to make the world safe for
democracy but first viewed that conflict as caused by trade rivalries, which
the United States was supposedly above. Yet the US president was averse to
intervening in Siberia because of trade disagreements with Japan. Moreover, his
antipathy towards the military intervention ensured that US troops involved
would be inadequate for the purpose.
He was not alone.
While Wilson was central to slowing down US participation in the intervention,
Lloyd George almost single-handedly prevented the British from effectively
supporting the Whites. Unlike Wilson, the British prime minister was the
consummate politician who understood the need to keep his electorate happy
while maintaining British prestige and pre-eminence internationally. Like
Wilson, Lloyd George was naive about Bolshevism, seeing it solely as a Russian
problem. He did not understand Lenin's avowed goal of worldwide revolution.
However, he did understand the danger to domestic peace and the desire of Great
Britain's war-weary populace to return quickly to a normal, peaceful regime. In
Lloyd George's mind, British Labour's opposition to
military intervention could have to endanger the whole domestic political
system and Britain's domestic tranquility. Lloyd George knew that Britain could
not afford nor would undertake another major war, especially in Russia, where
the Bolshevik revolution at first seemed to dispose of a dictator and replace
him with a popular government.
But early in the
intervention debate, the British prime minister was supportive of military
involvement when it appeared to be a way of easing pressure on the Western
Front by re-establishing an Eastern Front. His acceptance increased
dramatically in the spring of 1918 when it looked like the Germans' Michael
Offensive would crush the Allies. And so Lloyd George accepted sending Allied
troops to guard military stores at both Archangel and Vladivostok to prevent
their capture by Germany. However, he became skeptical of intervention once the
Armistice was achieved in November 1918. He actively opposed the scheme in both
the British Cabinet and at the Paris Peace Conference. Lloyd George remained
fully sensitive to the manpower limitations of the British Army and the
unaffordable costs any intervention would entail. As the head of a coalition
government dominated by Conservatives, but with strong-willed Liberals as well,
Lloyd George could not afford a single political failure that could be laid at
his feet personally. Fully aware of this, he governed accordingly.
Ever the pragmatist,
Lloyd George's greatest fear was unrest among the British population. In
Russia's view of the Labour Party and articulated by
the Trades Union Congress, military intervention was cause for a General
Strike. For this reason, Lloyd George could not risk openly supporting a
full-scale intervention against the Bolsheviks. He maintained this stance
despite overt pressure from Winston Churchill, the one man who consistently
pushed for a military solution to the Russian problem. To add to the chaotic
nature of British politics was the problem that Lloyd George never quite said
"no" and never quite said "yes" perhaps to cause a delay in
making any decision, thereby gaining time. But whatever the case, such overt
inaction meant that ‘others’ like Churchill took action and were difficult to
control. Nonetheless, it was British Prime Minister Lloyd George's actions and
inactions that prevented adequate British support for the anti-Bolsheviks and,
together with President Wilson, ensured the intervention's failure.
Of course, failure
was also due to purely Russian issues and the Allied leader's ignorance of Bolshevik's
goals. Lenin was a master at chaotic diplomacy. For instance, he kept the
American Red Cross representative Robins and the United States convinced curing
the Brest-Litovsk negotiations to accept Allied help against the Central
Powers. This allowed the Bolsheviks to retain power in Moscow. He employed
similar methods against Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders to bolster his
personal power. He used diplomatic confusion to gain time against German
negotiations to delay or stop them from a resumption of fighting. And he was
willing to cede Russian territory to ensure the Bolsheviks retained power in
Russia, convinced that world revolution would eventually return all that was
Even before Lenin
attained power, other Russians made decisions that ensured the Bolshevik
triumph. Without the lies and machinations of Vladimir N. Lvov, it is possible
that Kerensky and General Kornilov would not have had their violent
falling-out. If Kerensky and Kornilov had not become open rivals, it is
possible that the Bolshevik revolution would have failed. And it was personal
distrust, inflated egos, and lies that caused the Kornilov-Kerensky schism.
Other White leaders
also shared similar failings, given their widely divergent political views and
egocentric personalities. Coupled with their personal ambition and frequent
infighting, it also led to turmoil and the final Red success. Denikin, a believer in a Great Imperial Russia, refused to
ally with the Ukraine Nationalist Petlyura to fight
the Bolsheviks in South Russia. In the Baltic, Yudenitch
was an arrogant reactionary who alienated regional allies vital to his access.
Consequently, they denied him the support necessary for victory. In North
Russia, Chaikovsky feared his own military leaders,
continuously quarreled with Allied military commanders over political power and
failed to persuade North Russia to support him. Finally, Admiral Kolchak could
not control his own forces and lost the Czech Legion's confidence, the one
capable military force on his side in Siberia. He also alienated the local
population whose support he needed. Also, the Japanese-backed his Cossack
opponents ensuring the White forces were divided.
Coupled with the
White Russian leadership's incompetence was the individual actions of Allied
personnel on the spot in Russia. Whether it was L-S General Graves in Siberia
refusing to cooperate with the Japanese Allied Commander-in-Chief Otani or
British diplomatic representative Bruce Lockhart in Moscow striving to prevent
Japanese intervention against his own wishes government, individuals enhanced
the diplomatic uncertainty by their actions. Ironside and Maynard in North
Russia worked from a necessity to maintain a strong force and defeat the Reds.
In the case of Ironside, it links the North Russian army with Kolchak's
Siberian army while being bombarded with contradictory orders from Churchill
and Lloyd George over the Allied withdrawal. Both strove for offensive victory
while trying to plan the evacuation of all Allies from North Russia. In Mesopotamia,
General Sir W. R. Marshall interfered with General Dunsterville's
Caucasus intervention by first trying to divert Dunsterforce
to face the Turks in Mesopotamia and then delaying the necessary support for Dunsterville in Baku until it was too late. General Gough
overstepped his authority by bullying Yudenitch into
creating another White Russian Government for North-Western Russia and
recognizing Estonian independence, which added to London and Paris's diplomatic
chaos. And General Knox wholeheartedly supported Admiral Kolchak up to the
latter's ignominious rout from Omsk despite the blatant incompetence of the
Russian military in the fight against the Reds and the complete inability of
the White administration to govern the Siberian region. These individuals,
while not the cause of the chaos, helped perpetuate and enhance it.
Complicating this was
the vast distance between combat areas in Russia.
This mixture of
internal divisions and space prevented concentrated Allied military aid.
Providing needed material to these diverse and distant areas was exacerbated by
the Allies' chronic logistics and communications problem -lack of sufficient
shipping, a single railway, and the impediments of troops and politicians who
had no desire to fight so far from home.
The revolutions in
Russia caused international turmoil. No one knew where events were leading or
what would occur next. Utter confusion reigned. From the end of 1917, events
often forced governments and leaders to react even though they lacked both the
time and the information to develop a comprehensive strategy. The various
events in Russia stretched the already inadequate Allied resources beyond
effective utility and created the illusion that they were separate and
independent. In reality, they all impacted politically and militarily on each
Not to mention that
the American military phase carried its own fatal flaws. The first of those was
the inadequate size of the invasion army. The Allies might have been able to
take Petrograd and Moscow with a couple of hundred thousand troops, as
Ambassador Francis suggested, but not with the puny forces they landed at
Archangel and Murmansk. The invasion force at Siberia was larger but still
inadequate for a major offensive.
A second flaw was animosity
between French and American troops and their British commanders. The inevitable
result was a compromise in battlefield cooperation. In his analysis of the
Archangel campaign, U.S. Army historian Peter Sittenauer
wrote that the Western invaders lost the “tempo” of the war as early as October
1918. (He defined “tempo” as the “speed and rhythm of military operations.”) Sittenauer said forces should never operate under foreign
command. They should remain “homogeneous,” with their own officers.7 Blackjack
Pershing had found that out on the western front. It’s a mystery why President
Wilson didn’t learn it from Pershing.
A third flaw was underestimating
the Red Army. Too many British officers were convinced that Trotsky’s ragtag
force was hopelessly incompetent, no matter how large it got. However, the most
damaging flaw was undoubtedly the tactic of sending inadequate Allied forces
too far into hostile territory without adequate supplies and reserves. And when
General Ironside ordered the Allied columns to stop advancing and dig in until
a new Russian army could be raised, his orders were ignored by some of his own
field commanders. The result was the defeat at Shenkursk.
The fight at Shenkursk began after local British commanders ordered the
Americans to go out and “stir up the enemy” above Shenkursk.
That violated General Ironside’s orders to cease offensive action.
Nevertheless, two patrols of Americans and SBAL Russians went out “seeking
contact.” They were ambushed, and only one man came back.8
On the night of the Shenkursk disaster DeWitt Poole wired the dire news to
“We are more and more
put on the defensive, subjected to more and more frequent attacks and
bombardment, suffering many casualties. We have no reserves. Our men are often
called upon to remain on duty for long periods without relief.”9
There was also the
folly of trying to defeat Russians in a Russian winter in the first place.
Russians were accustomed to fighting in a deep freeze. They knew how to
acclimate themselves and turn the weather against their enemies. Napoléon had
learned that. Why didn’t America and the Allies profit from the lessons of
After all the bodies
were counted, the Russians saw the Plot as proof that the West was out to
destroy the Soviet state. Russia was a former ally in the war. She had never
invaded America, France, Italy, or Britain. Russia had not plotted to
assassinate Wilson, Clemenceau, Victor Emmanuel, or George V.
prisoners that were taken in the end were freed by future President Herbert
Clark Hoover, who graduated as an engineer and married his Stanford sweetheart,
Lou Henry, whom he had met, over rocks, in the geology club.
For a few years after
graduation, Hoover worked around the world as a mining engineer. He and his
wife achieved a measure of fame after they helped 120,000 U.S. citizens return
to America from Europe when war broke out in 1914. President Wilson named
Hoover head of the U.S. Food Administration during the war. Then after the
peace treaty was signed, Hoover managed the American Relief Administration in
Europe. He was given almost dictatorial powers to run railroads, docks, and
telegraph systems as he delivered millions of tons of relief supplies to war
Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer who was also involved in
relief work for European refugees, had warned Wilson in 1919 that “hundreds of
thousands of Russians were dying monthly from sheer starvation disease” and
that a Western relief operation should be organized on humanitarian, not
political, grounds.9 In Paris, the Big Four agreed that supplies could be
found, but the main problem would be transportation and distribution inside
Russia. Until all fighting in Russia ended, a relief operation would be
“futile” and “impossible to consider.”10
But by summer 1921,
those hundreds of thousands dying had become millions. One estimate put it at
27 million from starvation alone, including some 9 million children.11
Photographs show butchers selling human arms and legs for food. As before,
Lenin and his government seemed incapable of dealing with it. In Moscow,
Patriarch Tikhon of the Russian Orthodox Church and a fervent anti-Soviet sent
an appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury in England and the Archbishop of New
York of the famine. “Great part of her population doomed to hunger death,” he
said. Aid needed immediately. “The people are dying, the future is dying.”
Maxim Gorky, a
Russian writer and independent Marxist who had been exiled by Lenin for
opposing the Soviet dictatorship, sent his own appeal: “Gloomy days have come
for the country of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Mendeleyev, Pavlov, Mussorgsky,
Glinka, and other world-prized men,” he wrote. Russia’s misfortune offered a
“splendid opportunity to demonstrate vitality for humanitarianism,” he added.12
Ten days later,
Hoover replied to Gorky, saying certain conditions would have to be met before
U.S. aid could be sent: All Americans had to be freed. American relief workers
had to have complete freedom to do their jobs. Distribution would be on a
non-political basis. The relief workers would need free transportation,
storage, and offices.
Lenin stalled. He was
convinced the aid workers, would-be spies.
Hoover then ignored
Lenin and sent Walter L. Brown to represent the ARA in talks with MaximLitvinov, who
was appointed Soviet plenipotentiary (a diplomat who could act with the full
authority government behind him).
They met at the
Latvian Foreign Department in Riga, and after tedious negotiations, struck a
deal on August 20, 1921. The agreement had twenty-seven sections, all dictated
by Brown. Litvinov signed it, and a hundred American prisoners were on their
way home. “The number was a surprise, as our government knew the names of less
than twenty,” Hoover wrote later. “We served the first meals from imported food
in Kazan on September 21—just one month later.”13
workers issued fifty pounds of corn per month to each person in Russia, along
with bread (real bread) and cans of milk and stew. The children got extra
meals. The cost was one dollar per person per month. The ARA also issued wheat
seeds to farmers. That helped end the famine since many starving Russian
farmers had eaten their seeds. But the 200 American relief officers in Russia
stayed into 1923 to be sure the Soviets didn’t steal food from the children.
Lev Kamenev, chairman of the Moscow Soviet, sent Hoover an elaborate scroll of
thanks, saying the USSR would “never forget the aid rendered to them by the
American people…”14 Hoover’s successful management of post-war American aid to
Europe, including Russia, made his reputation as a major U.S. political and
But Lenin was
determined to have the last word. After the ARA completed its mission and the
Americans went home, many Russians who had worked in the relief operation were
arrested and thrown in prison. Hoover said they were never heard from again.
As for the Plot, this was forgotten or covered up in
America for many years; it was studied and analyzed in the Russian spy school.
And by many seen as the origin of the cold war, succeeding generations of
Soviet bosses have used it to justify stealing thousands of Western military
1. Petrogradskaia Pravda, September 5, 1918.
2. The National Archives,
London (TNA), FO 371/3326, Lindley to Foreign Office, September 6, 1918.
3. TNA, FO 371/3348,
Bruce Lockhart, “Secret and Confidential Memorandum on the Alleged ‘Allied
Conspiracy’ in Russia,” November 5, 1918.
4. TNA, ADM 137/1731,
Cromie to Admiralty, August 5, 1918.
5. Lockhart, Diaries,
6. Lockhart, Diaries,
7. Sittenauer, “Lessons in Operational Art,” 43–48.
8. The Chargé in
Russia (Poole) to the Acting Secretary of State, January 23, 1919, 861.00/3713,
FRUS, 1919, Russia.
9. Dr. Fridtjof Nansen to President Wilson, April 3, 1919,
861.5018/9, FRUS, 1919, Russia. Nansen was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in
1922 for his relief work.
10. Messrs. Wilson,
Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Orlando to Dr. Fridtjof
Nansen, April 17, 1919, 861.48/15, FRUS, 1919, Russia.
11. Paxton Hibben, “Propaganda Against Relief,” Soviet Russia, vols.
5–6 (1921): 112.
12. The Minister in
Norway (Schmedeman) to the Secretary of State, July
15, 1921, 861.48/1501, Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic
Papers, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, 711.61/287a (FRUS), 1921, Russia, Volume
13. Herbert Hoover,
The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover (London: Hollis and Carter, 1952–1953), 23.
14. Hoover, 25–26.