Topic: BatzO - Emptsa
North Russia, 29 August 1919
The Times, 12 September 1919
The account is transcribed below.
The Times, 12 September 1919, p. 10.
NORTH RUSSIA WITHDRAWAL
STATEMENT BY MR CHURCHILL.
The following statement concerning North Russia was issued last night by the War Office by direction of Mr Churchill:-
During the three weeks that have passed since Parliament rose, many rumours and statements have appeared in the newspapers about the military position in North Russia.
A full account of the policy of the British Government was given to the House of Commons on July 29 by the Secretary of State for War on behalf of the Cabinet. This policy was accepted by the House practically without challenge. It is being steadily and punctually executed, and the decisions on which it was based are irrevocable. General Rawlinson has been placed in supreme command of the British forces both in the Archangel and Murmansk regions, and he has been supplied with everything that he has asked for, and has been accorded the fullest discretionary power as to the time and method of evacuation. There is no reason to suppose that he will not succeed in his task, and succeed at an early date.
At the same time the peculiar difficulty of the operation of withdrawal must be realized. The Russian National forces both at Archangel and Murmansk are much more numerous than the British. The forces of the enemy on these fronts may well be equal to the British and National Russians combined. The attitude of the National Russians, as well as that of the civil population, must inevitably be affected by the impending British withdrawal and by the fact that after we are gone they will be left to continue the struggle alone.
Thus the task of extricating the British troops while doing the least possible injury to the chances of the Russian National forces is one of great complexity. Further, his Majesty's Government have considered that it is their duty to offer means of refuge to all those Russians who, having compromised themselves by helping us since we landed in North Russia, might now otherwise find themselves exposed to Bolshevist vengeance. Considerable numbers of persons, including women and children, in addition to the British troops, have therefore to be evacuated by sea. Yet all the time the front has to be maintained, largely by Russian troops, against an enemy who is well informed of all that is taking place.
A "DISHONOURABLE" COURSE.
The simple process advocated by a certain class of persons of marching the British troops into their transports and sailing away under cover of the guns of the warships would result in a series of episodes which would be dishonourable to the British name. The military authorities have always insisted that the British troops could not be withdrawn except by certain offensive operations of limited scope in order to disengage the front. Ample strength, freedom of action, cool and firm leading, patient and skilful dispositions are required. There is every reason to believe that they will not be lacking.
To add to the difficulties of such an operation in its most critical phase by inspiriting the enemy, or disheartening the National Russian forces, or by spreading reports calculated to cause despondency and alarm among our own troops, is wrong and unpatriotic. In a military officer, such conduct is a grave offence. In this connexion attention must be drawn particularly to the statements which have been published purporting to emanate from Lieutenant-Colonel Sherwood-Kelly. This officer was on August 16 removed from the command of his battalion at Archangel and sent back to England by General Rawlinson for a serious offence under the Army Act. General Rawlinson has reported that he refrained from trying him by Court-martial only on account of his gallant fighting record. He is now alleged to have committed an offence of a different character against the King's Regulations, in regard to which disciplinary action must take its course.
No statement can be made at the present time in regard to impending military events, and none is needed beyond the perfectly clear and definite assurances already even to Parliament and repeated above. But with regard to the past, it may be worth while to emphasize what has already been stated in the House of Commons. The decision to evacuate Archangel and Murmansk was come to by his Majesty's Government in February last upon the advice of the General Staff as laid before the Cabinet by the Secretary of State for War. Ample notice was given to the Russian authorities of this intention, and they were encouraged and aided to take every possible step by raising and equipping troops to make themselves self-supporting. It was also decided that in the event of these Russian efforts failing, means of refuge should be offered to all who had reason to fear being left behind on shore.
The British General Staff have always foreseen the difficulties and anxieties which would attend the actual process of withdrawal. These difficulties and anxieties would necessarily be doubled and redoubled if the local Russian forces could not in the meanwhile be rendered sufficiently strong and self-reliant to maintain themselves after the British had left.
GENERAL IRONSIDE'S PLAN.
Therefore when in May the advance of Admiral Koltchak's armies from Siberia offered the hope, and even the prospect, that he would be
able to effect a junction between his northern most army and the North Russian troops General Ironside was instructed to prepare a plan for facilitating this junction. This plan was approved by the Cabinet. Had it been possible to carry it into effect, the British force could have left North Russia without risk or difficulty and without anxiety as to the fate of the North Russian Government and Army. There would then have been no necessity for the British and French Governments to send the additional reinforcements which are now on the spot.
'That this plan never materialized was certainly not the fault of the British, who stood ready to do their part with adequate forces - viz., to advance along the Dvina to Kotlas, destroying the enemy's flotilla and base there. But Admiral Koltchak's armies, so far from advancing; have retired hundreds of miles eastward, and no hope of effecting a junction with him before the winter remains. The Government were therefore forced to face again the difficult and painful alternative which they had not shrunk from at the beginning of the year but which they later had some hopes might be avoided, at any rate in its most anxious form.
It is not proposed to issue any further statement of policy during the progress of the operations, but at their close and when it is certain that the lives of British soldiers will not be endangered.
(Continued on page 12, column 6.)
Citation: Emptsa, North Russia, The Times, 12 September 1919