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Intervention and iconoclasts

FOR three weeks in July 1919, the British Empire was offi cially at war with

‘intervention’ which had begun the previous year in an attempt to shore up resistance by the new regime to the enemy and protect the vast quantities of war supplies sent to Russia by sea but which was still stockpiled in the far north and Vladivostok because of the inadequacies of the Russian transport and distribution system. After the Bolsheviks made peace with Germany and its allies,

Bolshevik Russia.

This was the height of an

The Grove Review

the intervention moved into a campaign against both the Bolsheviks and, in the Baltic, Germans who were trying to use the revolutionary chaos to create Baltic states which would be German puppets,

writes Prof Eric Grove of the University of Salford.

Counsels were divided in London. Some – notably Winston Churchill – were anxious to destroy the new Russian regime while others, including Prime Minister Lloyd George, recognised the lack of national enthusiasm for a renewed confl ict and the signifi cant sympathy from the political left for the cause of a ‘socialist’ government.

The fundamental barbarity of the Bolsheviks was still not clear – to outsiders at least, if not the masses murdered by the Red Army and the Communist secret police.

This uncertain and confused

situation was almost made for the fl exible use of British sea power to sustain British interests as the latter themselves were reinterpreted in London.

In July 1919 the four monitors,

four river gunboats and a dozen coastal motor boats (CMBs) were on the River Dvina and Lake Onega in northern Russia supporting a mixed force of Britons, Australians and White Russians. A tug and a barge provided with

armament and crews from the Vladivostok-based cruisers Kent and Suffolk (whose names the gunboats took) had been in action as part of White Russian force 6,000 miles from the sea on the Kama River in central Russia and were just being withdrawn. A fl otilla of armed merchantmen (one converted into a seaplane carrier) and CMBs (four carried in a pair of larger vessels) grappled with Bolshevik destroyers in the Caspian Sea. Powerful forces including

battleships were in the Black Sea having supported the most successful ‘Whites’ under General Denikin (whose forces, supported by RAF aircraft in Russian markings were within bombing range of Moscow by October).

And a force of CMBs was being sent to reinforce Admiral Cowan’s cruiser, destroyer, submarine and seaplane carrier force in the Baltic in preparation for the successful attack on the Bolshevik fl eet at Kronstadt the following month. The above snapshot is taken from an excellent new history of the Royal Navy’s part in these

operations, For Them The War

Was Not Over by Michael Wilson

(The History Press, £16.99 ISBN


quite aptly as many of the RAF personnel and machines used were former RNAS and RN aircraft carriers were used to give them both mobility and support. There is also coverage of British ground forces,

21st Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment,

disembarkation from Vladivostok is included and which is also reproduced on the back cover. These ‘C2’ personnel – never intended for action – included one Pte Edward Grove, the reviewer’s grandfather. I wonder if he is one of the troops, dressed in their solar topees, coming down the gangway of SS Ping Suey in the photograph. Michael Wilson’s book must be

a picture whose notably

The author expresses his debt to his former colleagues at the Naval Historic Branch, Jock Gardner and the late David Brown, reference to the latter revealing the work must have been under way for some time. The bibliography is a little on the sparse side and one wonders if other sources have been used as the account is remarkably complete and comprehensive. It covers air operations also,

demanded early return to France. Red fl ags were raised on some ships, including the battleship France which was sent back to Toulon for its mutineers to face trial. The other ships returned to duty but only on condition they went back home soon and were not used, like the British battleships, to support the Whites. Thus were France’s ambitions in the Crimea, allocated to its sphere of infl uence by Allied agreement, nipped in the bud by the left-wing sympathies of her personnel, the ground forces also being not much more keen to fi ght the Bolsheviks. The Greeks were much more keen to fi ght and there were clashes ashore with the French, culminating in a near battle between the French ships and the Greek battleship Lemnos that had hanged a French seaman in effi gy.

All of this added to the chaos

faced by the Royal Navy, whose Mediterranean Fleet Commander arrived personally in HMS Iron Duke to ensure the Russian Black Sea Fleet was so disabled that it could be of no use to any successors. As noted above the British Fleet (supported by the Greeks) also went into action to assist the Whites and contain the Reds as well as evacuating 36,000 people from Sevastapol when it had to be abandoned. Evacuation of those who could

be saved from the new regime was the fi nal dimension of a doomed campaign in which the Royal Navy acquitted itself well.

The author is highly critical of the whole exercise in terms of its strategic direction but in the long view it does have its positive benefi ts in the freedom enjoyed by the Baltic states today and the numerous refugees who escaped Red terror and murder. Sadly there was not the political

the starting point for anyone try- ing to understand a series of op- erations whose multi-dimensional complexity is bewildering. There are a few mistakes here and there, for example, the picture of the de- stroyer leader HMS Shakespeare captioned as one of the smaller S class.

Discussion of pay as a factor in the unrest in British naval ranks ought also to have been connected with the generous 1919 rates that were granted that year precisely to prevent such incidents; it was, of course, the attempt to reverse this generosity in 1931 that led to the Invergordon Mutiny. There were a few outbreaks of RN unrest, notably connected with the Baltic operations, but nothing as serious as the major mutiny in the French ships of Sevastapol in April 1919. The mutinous crews

will, either at home or in Russia, to prevent the setting-up of the most murderous regime in Europe’s history – but at least we tried. All potential readers will learn something from this excellent and well-illustrated account. Given the quality and interest of its contents this makes it one of the most cost- effective books to have appeared over the last year. It fully lives up to its publisher’s description of being a “captivating history” and is highly recommended. As for H P Willmott’s The Last

Century of Sea Power, volume one, From Port Arthur to Chanak,

1894-1922 (Indiana University

Press, £22.99 ISBN 978-0-253- 35214-9), it’s a strange book. Its author, ‘Ned’ Willmott, a

former Sandhurst lecturer who has since held visiting academic appointments in the USA but has now returned to England to write, seems to like neither navies nor their historians.

The introduction tells us that the polemical title is a refl ection

of navies now being third in the pecking order after armies and air forces with “obvious question marks against future role and capability”. He likes his fellow historians even less, indeed he dismisses us out of hand. The book asserts that

“overwhelming British victory”. How this overly positive analysis fi ts with the book’s general, and most unfair,

the arrangement of evidence to support a preconceived conclusion, is the necessary hallmark of the historian,” and that other hallmarks are “dishonesty, disingenuousness and selectivity.” I, for one, will ignore the insult. Given this negative approach to his col- leagues it is unsurpris- ing that there is an extraordinary lack of engagement with the remarkably rich mass of work that serious naval historians have been producing over the last few decades, not least in this coun- try.

footnotes have some remarkable gaps in

The extensive

whom and what they cite and the bibliography is ‘select’ indeed.

In his revealing introduction, the author tells us why he began his promised naval trilogy of which this is the fi rst volume. He tilts at three particular windmills: a mistaken approach to the U-boat war that has apparently concentrated on U-boat losses alone; the lack of perception about the exact point of Japan’s defeat; and the apparent subordination of the modern US Navy: “by 2003 the US Marine Corps had its own Navy” (a dismissive phrase he repeats rather too often). He thus wished to produce an account that “deliberately set aside full and proper consideration of those aspects of the wars at sea that have been afforded full, one is tempted to say over-full consideration in most histories”. Happily, the book steers clear of the gunnery obsession that has been perhaps the major weakness of the new naval history but its coverage of this important matter shows little depth of understanding. Despite its claim to explain

events rather than just describe them, the volume is a chronological and detailed narrative of naval activities from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 to the aftermath of WW1 and the Chanak crisis with Turkey in 1921.

There are some crude expressions used here and there that should have no place in a serious work of scholarship from an academic press, useful though they may have been in trying to keep sleepy Sandhurst cadets awake in the lecture theatre. There is also a tendency to confuse analytical originality with sheer perversity. Criticisms and claims are too often made in extreme terms. Few – not even Jellicoe or Beatty – would have agreed that Jutland was an

Ted was quick on the draw

THIS is how the Royal Navy became masters of the North African shores once more... at least in the eyes of one PTI. During a two-decade career spanning WW2 and the early Cold War, Ted Macey – aka Ted of the Med and Clubz of the Cossack – penned upwards of 150 cartoons, depicting the lighter side of life in the Senior Service.

He also wrote quite a few poems/ditties (some of which you wouldn’t repeat to your mum... or maybe you would). While some may have dated,

others do raise a smile – and show a keen, often acerbic eye (such as Jack’s propensity for adding to the ‘baby boom’). Ted, who eventually left the RN in 1958 as a lieutenant, never got around to publishing his humorous take on the Senior Service before he passed away.


intellectual capacities of naval offi cers in general and British ones in particular is unclear.

dismissal of the

though. Other than its general weight of information, particularly strong feature of the volume is its discussion of convoy and merchant shipping in WW1. There are excellent and most useful tables on the structure of British maritime trade;

The lesson is clear. Convoy was not the major preoccupation of the Allied navies in terms of assets used as escorts. But it prevented British defeat and was the foundation of Allied victory. In this I heartily agree with Dr Willmott, as I have done on many things over the years. I hope he will not mind. This remains, nevertheless, a

and shipping losses; and ocean and coastal convoy sailings and losses.

gains and losses in the shipping of the major allied and neutral powers during the war; the limited scale of convoy escorts; convoys and losses from May 1917 to November 1918;

overall U-boat the

There are good points too, a

Top convoy action

most frustrating work. A great deal of research has clearly gone into it and it contains much of value. Yet the effect is spoiled by the sheer self-indulgence of its overall approach. One cannot expect to enhance one’s reputation where it matters by attacking and studiously ignoring one’s fellow practitioners. Also it seems strange to spend so much time studying a subject with which one is so unsympathetic. The dismissal of the future

relevance of navies places far too much weight on the strategic context of the recent past and too little on the likely medium- term future of contending sea powers promised by the rise of the Indian and Chinese navies and the coming struggle to control the Indian Ocean, never mind a likely Chinese-US confrontation over Taiwan in the Pacifi c and the need to use sea power to protect the vulnerable peripheries of NATO from the wounded Russian bear. Questions about the broader future utility of navies only seem obvious to those with axes to grind who ignore basic strategic realities – but that probably makes this reviewer a mere ‘commentator’ if not ‘mendacious’ and ‘dishonest’. Despite its general idiosyncrasies

and weaknesses, this has enough merits to be worth buying volume two – due imminently – should be interesting but, one fears, equally odd and, for us ‘commentators’ at least, infuriating. But, knowing Ned of old, I suspect that is the idea.


The collected drivel, doodles and ditties of a dedicated dabtoe

£10.99 + £1.70 p&p/copy

... OR MORE accurately top combat logistics patrol action, because ‘convoy’ is an inaccurate term in modern military parlance. If you didn’t catch ITV1’s Road Warriors on the telly recently (or perhaps if you did) you can now watch it at leisure at home on DVD. The programme follows the hitherto largely unsung work of logistics teams in Afghanistan, running (or rather driving) the gauntlet of Taleban ambushes to deliver vital supplies to front- line units scattered across Helmand province. TV cameras spent three months in theatre with the loggies during the summer of 2009 (just after 3 Cdo Bde’s deployment ended). All four episodes of the documentary, plus some extra bits, feature on two three-hour discs, available now for £19.99 RRP. £1 from each copy sold goes to Help for Heroes. ■ We have five copies of the DVD to give away courtesy of those nice folk at ITV. Just tell us the name of the principal British base in Helmand, near Lashkar Gah. Send your answer to Navy News, Leviathan Block, HMS Nelson, Portsmouth, PO1 3HH or email it to roadwarriors@

Entries must be received by mid-day on Monday May 10 2010.


But his daughter Merry Swan has, adding a collection of short stories about her father’s Service career in the charming Jack the Lad RN (Troubador, £10.99 ISBN 978-184876-1896). A donation will be made to Help for Heroes for each copy sold. Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56
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