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Thursday, 30 April 2009
The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, North Russian Intervention
Topic: BatzO - Emptsa

Australian Army

North Russian Intervention

 

The following is an extract is an excellent summary detailing the history of the Australian light horse movement. It comes from Dennis, P., et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, 2nd Ed, OUP 2008, pp. 397 - 398.

 

Following the collapse of the Russian war effort and the February and October revolutions in 1917, the British dispatched a 560-strong military mission to the North Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel. Its purpose was to train a White Russian force in that area preparatory to the creation of a new Eastern Front against the Central Powers, and to ensure that the large quantities of military supplies shipped there from 1916 onwards to equip the Tsar's armies did not fall into German hands. There were several other military missions in Russia at this time, and more were sent once the civil war began in 1918. The North Russian Expeditionary Force (NREF) included nine Australians (three officers and six sergeants) selected by AIF Headquarters in April 1918.

All were experienced soldiers, with three having served on Gallipoli as well as in France. The NREF was divided into two forces, Syren and Elope, and these reached their destinations in late June. The men were split up into small groups engaged on a variety of administrative, instructional and advisory tasks, and were sometimes in as much danger from the men they led as from the enemy, who by late 1918 was no longer the Germans but the Bolshevik forces engaged in the civil war which was to last until 1920. One Australian, Captain Allan Brown, was killed on 20 July 1919 when the White Russian battalion to which he was attached mutinied and murdered its officers, and there were a number of other cases of White units killing their officers and going over to the Reds. In March 1919 the decision was made to withdraw the mission, but this could only be done safely by the, provision of a covering force, no faith now being had in any locally raised units. Recruiting for the North Russian Relief Force (NRRF) began at once on a voluntary basis, and drew officers and men from every regiment of the British Army and from all the dominion forces. About 100-120 Australians enlisted, and served in the 45th and 46th (Service) Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers and the 201st Machine Gun Company.

The NRRF arrived in Archangel in early June 1919 and began training for an offensive up the rail and river systems which was designed to push the Bolshevik forces back while the Allies withdrew without interference. A secondary and optimistic aim was to leave the White forces in a better military position, in the hope that they might then hold their own against the Reds. In early August the commander of the force, Major-General Edmund Ironside, launched his offensive against the 6th Red Army in the area, inflicting large numbers of casualties and taking many prisoners for negligible losses to his own force. It was during this offensive that Corporal A. P. Sullivan won the VC for saving a group of men from drowning while under enemy fire. A second VC was awarded to an Australian, Sergeant S. G. Pearse, at the beginning of September when he was killed attacking a Bolshevik blockhouse with a Lewis gun, and these were the only two VCs awarded for the campaign. Minor patrol activity continued while forward positions were evacuated and stores either removed or destroyed, and by the night of 26-27 September the Allies had withdrawn from Archangel. Murmansk was evacuated on 12 October.

The RAN was also involved in anti-Bolshevik operations in southern Russia in the Black Sea, the destroyers Yarra, Torrens, Swan and Parramatta, being part of the naval forces used to secure Russian ships for the White cause and carry, out other missions. Swan, accompanied by a French destroyer, visited the Cossack port of Marioupol on the Sea of Azov in December 1918, for example, so as to report on the military and political situation there for the British Foreign Office.

The involvement in Russia was a relatively minor if unusual episode, one which had almost no impact back in Australia, and which made no difference to the outcome of the Russian civil war, other than to confirm Bolshevik mistrust of the Western powers.

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Emptsa

 


Citation: The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, North Russian Intervention

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 31 October 2009 7:29 AM EADT

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