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Collision of empires: the Russian-British relationship during intervention of allies in the north of Russia, 1918-1919

truda of the Karelian scientific center RAS No. 6.2011. Page 90-96

UDC 37 (2P-6KAP)


Nick Baron

Nottinham's (Great Britain) university

In this article the British intervention in the north of Russia, especially in Karelia and the district of Murmansk, in 1918-1919 is considered. The main attention in article is paid to mutual perception by the British and White Guard military leaders of each other. The unpublished memoirs written by commanders and officers of the British and White Guard armies became the main sources of this article published and also.


This article examines the British intervention in North Russia, especially in the regions of Karelia and Murmansk, in 1918-1919, with a particular focus on the mutual perceptions and inter-relations of the British and White Russian military commanders. The article is based principally on the published and unpublished memoirs of these commanders and other officers of the British and White Russian armies.


Subject to consideration of this article is the British intervention in the north of Russia, especially in regions of Karelia and Murmansk, in 1918-1919. The main attention in article is paid to mutual perception by the British and White Guard military leaders of each other. In particular, I make an assumption that it was created not only under the influence of specific historical and geographical circumstances, but also under the influence of the strong cultural prejudices and stereotypes following from mutual experience of long alny domination of colony and, as a result, finding of feeling of own natural superiority - a so-called "imperial instinct". As it will be shown in article, leaders of the British and Russian forces nevertheless found the soil for mutual understanding when there was third force, political requirements and which actions called into question, loosened or undermined their positions based on imperialist consciousness.

The unpublished memoirs written by commanders and officers of the British and White Guard armies became the main sources of this article published and also.

As historical evidences these materials, certainly, are subjective, selective and often serve as self-justification that calls into question their reliability, however as means for the understanding of the cultural prerequisites and motives which are the cornerstone of mutual perception and forming it they are quite appropriate and effective. Besides, in a research some private papers and also military and diplomatic sources are used.

The historical context of my research is well-known and needs only a small explanation. At the beginning of 1918 the British landed in Murmansk the small contingent consisting of 130 marines, originally by the invitation of the Murmansk council to assist in prevention of the menacing approach of Germans to the Arctic coast, free from ice. After Bolsheviks in March, 1918 made the peace with Germans, allies landed additional forwarding forces with two following purposes: first, to protect stocks of military equipment which were saved up in the north of Russia by this time, and, secondly, to restore east front against Germans, having given support to White Guard forces in the region - quite speckled group consisting of anti-Bolshevist politicians, royal officers, adventurers and benefit. After signing of truce with Germany in November, 1918 the British in the north of Russia got into difficulties. The officers sent here did not test any enthusiasm in relation to a new expected mission which purpose was to head the counterrevolutionary movement, and ordinary soldiers openly expressed the discontent, up to insubordination [Tarasov, 1958; Kennan, 1958; Ullman, 1961-1972; Swettenham, 1967; Jackson, 1972; Dobson, Miller, 1986; Kettle, 1988, 1992; Golden, 1993, 1999; Kinvig, 2006].

It should be noted the special nature of both the Russian, and British officer corps on the Murmansk direction [Maynard, 1928; Ironside, 1953; White North, 1993; Thrown in a non-existence, 1997; Hughes, 1997]. Here among Russians there was no personality who had the same authority and influence as, for example, Kolchak on Siberia or Denikin and Wrangel in the south and among the British officers there were no such passionate Russophiles as Alfred Knox who was in Kolchak's army and agitated the British government openly to support a counterrevolution, promoting the vision of a bolsheva of stsky threat as the Jewish plot financed from the German sources which purpose was not only a capture of Russia, but also world supremacy [Knox, 1921; Kettle, 1992. P. 490]. (In the 1930th Knox became the hot admirer of Hitler [The Times, 3 December 1937. P. 18; Haxey, 1939. P. 194-237; Griffiths, 1983. P. 182-186].)

Very few people from the British officers in Murmansk in 1918 divided an ideological heat of Knox. Lack of information, aimlessness, mutual distrust and confusion reigned both among allies, and among White Guards. All this paved the way for collision of two imperializm.

Collision of empires

The major general F.S. Pul, the professional officer-gunner who served nearly twenty five years in the African colonies was the first commander of allied forces in northern Russia since March, 1918. Being a talented military, he did not possess a political subtlety and a step at all and treated the Russian allies with good-natured condescension of the British imperial officer talking to friendly natives.

The general Charles Maynard sent to Murmansk in July to adopt command at Pul, remembered in the memoirs Pul's attitude towards two military leaders of regional council later - to the major general Nikolay Ivanovich Zvegintsev, the former officer of Tsarskoye Selo Guards Hussars, and the lieutenant commander Georgy Mikhaylovich Veselago, the naval officer whom it called Sviggens and Vessels, respectively:

[Bullets] treated them as the owner treats couple of servants, constantly letting them know that they have to remember the responsibility and do everything for prosperity of his house, and at the same time without doubting seconds that all their actions have to follow in accuracy to its in advance considered plans [Maynard, 1928. P. 38-39].

The British officers, including Maynard, perceived the Russian brothers in arms at best as vigorous, but capricious fans, and in the worst - as self-satisfied laymans or artful and half-civilized barbarians. On the contrary, they estimated themselves as the tempered, unsurpassed experts behind a mask of goodhearted, but moderate enthusiasts.

As one would expect, Russians not affectional apprehended the similar relation. The general Vladimir Vladimirovich Marushevsky in the past the guardsman of the Russian imperial army and the commander-in-chief of White Guard army in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk from November, 1918 to August, 1919, remembered the indignation about it even ten years later, being in exile in Paris where wrote the memoirs. In them he remembered that "sons of proud Albion" could not "imagine Russians differently, than in the form of the small, wild tribe of Hindus or Malayans perhaps". Further he wrote:

The Russian opinion proceeding from people even high-standing in imperial Russia, met British good-natured indulgence, pat it can do also with that typical English cheerfulness which forces people not to distinguish at all whether they deal with very clever and cunning person or with the perfect gawk. The result of this Russian-English exchange of opinions was always same. British always did everything in own way and always unsuccessfully [Goldin, 1993. C. 188-189].

However, it was not absolutely common story when Russians expressed discontent that they would christen "russophobia" now, but that in fact was expression of feeling of natural superiority of the British top class before all other nations acquired for years of colonial domination. In other words, the British officers did not show any special prejudices concerning Russians; as Marushevsky believed, they considered all other nations the second grade [Soutar, 1940; Ironside, 1953; Ullman, 1961. P. 256; Dobson, Miller, 1986. P. 137-39]. For example, the general Edmund Ayronsayd who later in 1918 accepted command over all troops of allies in the north of Russia throughout all the long and outstanding career did not make any efforts to hide the deep disgust for all nationalities, except the British. It is remarkable that Ayronsayd became a prototype of Richard Henney, the hero of the patriotic adventure novel John Bakan "Thirty nine steps" (1915). Later, in the 1930th, Ayronsayd who at the very beginning of World War II was appointed to the short period the commander-in-chief of Armed forces of the mother country, by hearsay, also sympathized with the British fascists [University of Sheffield Library, Special Collections, British Union Collection, 7/Wise (i) and (ii)]. Ayronsayd was also an outstanding member of "the Anglo-German brotherhood" [The Times, 3 December 1937. P. 18; Haxey, 1939. P. 194-237; Griffiths, 1983. P. 182-186].

I will devote the further narration to one of the British officers whose nonconventional views caused hostility equally both among the British, and among Russians. The colonel Philipp James Woods, the quick-tempered and unaccomodating native of Ulster who was in a condition of constant opposition and the conflict with the colleagues was him, managed at first as the soldier, and then as the politician to construct long, but full of disappointments and eventually the career which led it to crash [a source of information on Woods's biography hereinafter: Baron, 2007].

As well as at a great number of other British officers in the north of Russia, the military career of Woods began with the Boer war (the truth, not in regular forces of the British army, and in the South African police which were headed by the major general Robert Baden Powell). Till 1914 Woods was a member of Voluntary forces of Ulster - the organization created for protection (in case of need and in arms) the union of Ireland with Great Britain (though he probably entered it not so much because of political convictions, how many for the love of adventures and also because his new father-in-law was a prominent activist of the Irish unionizm).

At the beginning of World War I Woods was enlisted in the 36th (Ulster) division where the award "For Faultless Service" for the participation in fight on Somme deserved and began fast advance on an office ladder. Nevertheless in August, 1917 Woods was displaced from a post of the commander of battalion as a result of the campaign organized by his colleagues.

the Source of their hostility. This trait of character was shown in its public work in two ways. First, in it in an amicable way the patronizing relation to socially oppressed and unfortunate. Woods himself was born and grew up in the poor working quarter of Belfast (though his parents were from the impoverished noble families which were engaged in agriculture), and only later it rose up a social ladder again, having achieved progress in business (he was the qualified textile designer) and also having successfully married. Secondly, in sympathy to those who suffered oppressions on the basis of religious or race. Even being an unionist, the imperialist and the patriot, Woods was an ardent opponent of religious strife and sympathized with burdens of Catholic Irish, however, certainly, not so to support them

fight for independence. The colleague Woods from officer corps were, generally natives of the famous, closely connected among themselves aristocratic families of Belfast, representatives of its political elite and members of the Orange Order - for them Woods was an upstart, alien to their circle and besides adhering to doubtful political convictions.

Spring of 1918 the Ministry of Defence made the decision to send Woods to the North of Russia, believing it by the best method of use of his undoubted military skills on such distance which would not allow it to become the reason of further scandals. It underestimated Woods's abilities in the organization of troubles.

When Woods appeared in northern Russia, the general Maynard gave him a task to create the Karelian regiment and to head it for opposition to the invasion of White Finns into the western regions of Karelia headed by Germans. During the fast and successful autumn campaign Woods like deep admiration to those whom he ordered. Soon he opened also "the true reason" of the Karelian nationalism (about the Karelian nationalism of this period see: [Jaaskelainen, 1965; Churchill, 1970; Dubrovskaya, 1991; Vituhnovkaia, 2001]).

The arrangement and Woods's sympathies for Karelians, certainly, did not exempt him from prejudices and prejudices of his generation. Woods saw in Karelians the moral purity reflected in their easy sense of humour, hospitality, fidelity and "natural" wildness. Explaining their addiction to tortures of the enemies, Woods wrote in the memoirs that "the educated standards of Europe" are inapplicable "to the people who lagged from us in social development so far behind" [Baron, 2007. P. 176-177]. Karelians reminded him Irish. As well as the Irish soldiers, Woods wrote, they, "it seemed, only became quieter when the situation worsened". Further it continued: "Instantly responding on kindness, they could become absolutely confused and stubborn in response to coercions or intimidations". And, summing up the results: "They could be directed, but not to drive" [Baron, 2007. P. 245].

For Woods the Karelians were "noble savages". And he flew into a rage when he learned that one of officers of his case calls them "Blacks" (word which as subsequently Woods mentioned in the memoirs, Karelians understood) [Baron, 2007. P. 277]. He sent the letter to this officer in whom he wrote that Karelians - "white people" and "if to treat them, as with "white людьми" they will also behave hundreds in a vetstvuyushchy way" [The letter from 2 July 1919, in fund P. J. Woods, Imperial War Museum (IWM) Department of Documents, Box 78/24/1]. In the memoirs Woods so spoke the opponent: "Ten years' experience of its service in the Royal regiment of the African shooters from where it just arrived, served bad service when he had to order these inhabitants of the North" [Baron, 2007. P. 276]. In spite of the fact that the attitude of two officers towards colonial citizens differs, being shown in different vision of racial and cultural hierarchy, is undoubted that both of them, in effect, are carriers of "an imperial instinct".

How Karelians estimated the British intervention? First they hoped that the British will be able to provide them protection both against aggressive ambitions of Finns, and against the Russian imperialism. In the winter of 1919 the small group of educated Karelians held a meeting in the headquarters of a regiment of Woods in Kemi. Later they handed to Woods the petition which at their requests had to be transferred "to his Majesty to the King of Great Britain":

We will never be able to get used to Russia and we do not wish. To Finland which boldly wanted to attach our homeland to itself, having devastated our villages and villages, having carried away our last money pennies, we want. to be solidary never also lt;...> Beggarly we ask to accept our homeland Karelia under protection of Britain which everyone pinches, i.e. Karelia" [The document is in fund P. J. Woods, IWM Department of Documents, Box 78/24/1].

Woods sympathized with their difficult situation and did not wish to dispel their dreams of autonomy under the British protectorate. It even designed for them a regimental flag - a green shamrock on an orange background (i.e. the Irish national symbol and color of unionists) which those used as the national emblem. He gave him advice on the organization of an electoral system for vote for the National Assembly which, in turn, had to represent their interests at the Parisian peace conference and on the basis of formation of savings bank and cooperative trade societies could provide them financial self-sufficiency. Having received short refusal from London in response to a request of Karelians for the British protection, Woods was offended not less those to whom this message was intended, including such decision by the missed opportunity for Britain not only to fulfill the imperial duty, but also to derive benefit from the richest local resources (about the relation of allies and belogvardy tsevets to a question of east Karelia in the international diplomacy see: [Jaaskelainen, 1965. P. 152-168, 205-213]; and about details of outlook and Woods's activity see: [Baron, 2007, especially Chapter 7]).

For the British officers and diplomats, as well as for White Guards, views and Woods's actions at best were only romantic delusion and a political mistake, and in the worst - treason. And though in the beginning Maynard admired the level of military skill of Karelians (as he wrote Woods, they were "great bandits"), after it the "ridiculous" political activity which undermined his already intense relations with White Guards infuriated them (Maynard calls Karelians "great bandits" in the letter to Woods dated on September 11: [Woods Papers, IWM 78/24/1]. About Maynard's meeting with the Russian commander Yermolov after which he declared political aspirations of Karelians "ridiculous" see: [Entry for 17 March 1919, War Diary, General Staff, (Appendix), The National Archives (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO) War Office (WO) 95/5424; and Maynard’s telegram to War Office, 30 March 1919, in TNA: PRO WO 33/966, No. 1461]).

Francis Lindli, the attorney of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain in Northern Russia, was sent in March, 1919 on a visit to Woods to his headquarters of the Karelian regiment in Kemi. He reported to lord Kerzon in the government:

Woods, apparently, got a great influence on [Karelians] and made for raising of national spirit much among people who still always considered themselves by an integral part of Russia. & lt;...> The Heat of the colonel Woods caused a certain concern among Russians, but the general Maynard assured me that allowed Woods the strict order to stop the political activity and not to encourage separatist tendencies which are obviously limited to the population of the county, small on number now [The letter from Lindli Kerzon, March 5, 1919, TNA: PRO FO 175/7/885, p. 6].

In the spring and summer of 1919 when retreat of allies was closer and Karelians began to desert massively from Woods's regiment, being afraid of White Guard repressions, Maynard made a public insulting statement in which he called Karelians by "laughing-stock", not worthy the soldier's ranks [Woods Papers, IWM 78/24/1].

White Guards came further away. Yermolov, the deputy governor of northern area, according to Woods's memoirs, declared to Karelians that they "rebellious pigs and mongrels whose brood needs to be exterminated at the roots" [Baron, 2007. P. 271]. The general Marushevsky angrily said:

I cannot understand how you, men, have the nerve to consider that allies will dress you and will give money that they will battle for you in our country, you so far as pants, you hang about here (in addition A in July July War Diary, General Staff, TNA: PRO WO 95/5424. See: also Marushevsky's memoirs, it is reproduced in: [White North, 1993. C. 321]).

"In our country". For these former officers of the Russian Empire the Karelians, certainly, had no rights for own statehood. For some of them the Karelian nationalism was only the German - a to-Bolshevist plot on dissociation and destruction of Russia or the scheme of the Finnish government on expansion of the borders, and Woods was simply misled. As Yermolov wrote the governor general E.K. Miller to Arkhangelsk (this report was also sent to the headquarters in Murmansk and in the government):

[Colonel Woods] - the strong and vigorous man - in care of the subordinates too was fond of the role. There was a new Karelian flag (the orange cloth with a shamrock - is undoubted, Irish); and this shamrock is used in the uniform not only by the Karelian officers and soldiers, but also the British officers heading Karelians. For the first time on the historical stage there was "The Karelian nation", and newly-baked officers among whom there are two or three former teachers, clumsily discuss issues on which for ten last years the gang of the pan-Finnish propagandists skillfully played Karelia. They got support of the British command, and their work is based on considerable food stocks [TNA: PRO Foreign Office (FO) 175/1/889, p. 1-2].

Concerning Woods Yermolov's conclusion said: "There can be no doubts in his sincerity, because its mistakes are even more sad as in them he shows typical British obstinacy" [TNA: PRO FO 175/1/889, p. 3].

Other Russians, nevertheless, believed that intrigues of the British Empire - a metaphor of "artful Albion" are behind newfound Karelian nationalism. Indeed, Marushevsky in the memoirs in Paris claimed that the concept of "the Karelian nationality" was British "invention" [the White North, 1993. C. 188-189]. Vladimir Ignatyev, the left anti-Bolshevik and the Minister of Internal Affairs in the Arkhangelsk government

till August, 1919, wrote the memoirs in the Soviet prison. In such circumstances it is no wonder that its tone was even more convicting:

In Karelia the British organized an adventure - the English colonel ordering there military forces organized a secret congress reproached [orig.] and, playing on their national feeling, carried out the resolution on independence in which this congress referred a matter, on behalf of the Karelian people, on permission of the League of Nations. There is nothing to point that here British found to themselves the first colonial base in our North. We protested and this adventure broke [the White North, 1993. C. 155].

It is obvious that the Russian-British union in the north of Russia was constructed on mutual lack of information, mistrust and the incoincident purposes - even in spite of the fact that before truce signing on November 11, 1918 there was some coincidence in strategic interests: protection of the region against Germans, and then and the general hostility to Bolsheviks and also sympathy to political moods among local community.

Such union was, undoubtedly, is fragile, and it is no wonder that during 1919 it broke up. In October the allies withdrew all the forces from the North of Russia. Many both among Russians, and among the British (including Winston Churchill) apprehended retreat of allies as treachery in relation to Russians. Woods, of course, considered it perfidious treachery in relation to Karelians.

In effect, the British from the very beginning of the intervention on the North of Russia did not pursue any accurate aim and from beginning to end remained deeply and consciously indifferent to cultural, ethnographic and historical difficulties of territories which they occupied. "I imagined the brilliant entry into the Russian capital, - one major wrote about the east adventure later, - where great princesses will be saved from revolution" [by Poole 1957. P. 42]. Though the British definitely did not pursue any territorial or economic interests in this region (except for protection of the investments which are already made to it), their views and actions were created by the "an imperial instinct" originating in experience of their colonial conquest and board. For them Russians were half Asians: the Russian officers were represented as masters and pashas - artful, false and cruel, only by times attractive in the exoticism and naivety; the Russian and Karelian peasants - as savages whose cultural, racial and social evolyu the tion was at most one step higher, than at the African tribes. Therefore it is no wonder that White Guard officers who got used to a role of colonial masters though desperately needed the help of allies, were deeply revolted with the imperial relation to him and experienced deep suspicions against true motives of the British.

The pig-headed native of Ulster, asserting the rights of the small people which did not have own another story, the activity caused on light prejudices, arrogance, bitterness and hypocrisy from outside of both the British, and Russians who in these ill-fated historical events equally were carriers of imperialistic ideologies. Woods's experience in the north of Russia did not undermine his own belief in the mission of the British Empire. However it strengthened his confidence that the imperial system of Britain is corrupted and cynical and doomed to death if only the historical scene is not left by all representatives of corrupt and self-interested elite. As it was mentioned earlier, this point of view formed the basis its aggressive, but not brought to any concrete results of political career in Northern Ireland in the 1920th. In the 1930th Woods some time was connected with William Joyce (later become known as "Lord Hau-Hau") though there are no proofs that he was involved in the British fascist movement as many of the disappointed, inflexible officers of the British Empire arrived.

it is unconditional, in this article some subtleties and nuances of the Russian-British relationship are lowered during Civil war and intervention. In particular, the British and Russian officers who sincerely respected and understood the culture of each other (though admittedly, their number was small) as well as the special importance in these events of working class are not mentioned here. The feeling of the general unity of working class, solidarity in difficulties, and sometimes and the general political convictions formed the relations between ordinary soldiers of the British and other allied forces and the Russian recruits both in Red, and in White Guard army. Also they were important for formation of prejudices and promotion on both sides [OsIeu, 2003]. In particular, on the Arkhangelsk front the mass fraternization among soldiers of all armies who were perplexed was noted and were revolted that were involved in someone else's war.

Conclusions which need to be made of this story are obvious. First, it should be noted recklessness of the foreign intervention which is poorly thought over and complicated by lack of enthusiasm and dissociation of troops, sneering attitude to the allies which sometimes reached the same degree, as well as hostility to the real opponent. Secondly, it is necessary to point to mutually adverse effects of what it is possible to call "cultural irreconcilability" in the Russian-British relations, ignoring of community of our values and interests and persistent underlining of insignificant distinctions. All this, unfortunately, continues to exist in some areas of our relationship to this day.

Translation from English of N.V. Kuzmina.


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Nick Baron

associate professor Universiteta Nottinham

NG7 2RD, Great Britain, Nottingham, Universiti-Park of an office of A6 Lenton Grove


ph.: (0115 95) 15957

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Nick Baron

Associate Professor University of Nottingham

Room A6 Lenton Grove, University Park, Nottingham, United Kingdom, NG7 2RD e-mail: tel.: (0115 95) 15957

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