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Remembered Today:

"Mutiny"? - 13th Yorkshires - Archangel


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I have come across some references, in "The Soldiers Strikes of 1919" by Andrew Rothstein, that suggest that some of the British troops in north Russia in 1919 were "unsteady"

According to this source General Ironside cabled the War Office from Archangel on 23 February 1919 saying that the "mobile company of the 13th Yorkshires reached Seletskoye [in the advanced position of the Allied forces, about 100 miles south of Archangel], and on being ordered to move up to Srednemechenga [a few miles further on] in relief and support of Russian and other British troops, they refused to go", and so on.

The book claims that two sergeants from this unit were bought before a court-martial and sentenced to be shot, this was commuted to life imprisonment

In the notes to this chapter it is claimed that the commanding officer of the White forces at Archangel, General Marcushevsky, stated in his memoirs that "the British authorities had arranged to turn the machine-guns of the White Russians against the British battalion 'in the event of an open mutiny'".

Given Andrew Rothstein's known left-wing bias, some of the above seems a bit far fetched to me, but how much, if any, truth is there in it? Are there any experts in either the "Intervention Forces" or the "Green Howards" out there?

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Both 6th & 13th battalions of the Green Howards took part in this campaign.

Reading through their relevant chapters in Green Howards in the Great War mention is made of the appaling conditions on the march and the state of the billets and weather they had to put up with, it sounds really grim.

No mention is made however of any failure to obey orders or "mutiny".

This is not to say that it didn't happen however and the description of the conditions suggest something may have occured.

Bob.

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There is a mention of the Yorkshire Regiment mutiny in 'The Day We Nearly Bombed Moscow' by Christopher Dobson and John Miller [iSBN 0 340 33723 0]. It is emphasised that the troops had a miserable voyage to Murmansk and were then employed as labourers before being ordered to the Front. The two Sergeants who led the mutiny were described as having "spent the war in the Pay Corps".

It wasn't the only mutiny by British Forcres in North Russia: the 6th Battalion of the Royal Marine Light Infantry also mutinied. As some of the men were ex-POWS repatriated from German Prison Camps, and given no home leave before being sent to fight the Bolsheviks, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.

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There is a mention of the Yorkshire Regiment mutiny in 'The Day We Nearly Bombed Moscow' by Christopher Dobson and John Miller [iSBN 0 340 33723 0]. It is emphasised that the troops had a miserable voyage to Murmansk and were then employed as labourers before being ordered to the Front. The two Sergeants who led the mutiny were described as having "spent the war in the Pay Corps".

It wasn't the only mutiny by British Forcres in North Russia: the 6th Battalion of the Royal Marine Light Infantry also mutinied. As some of the men were ex-POWS repatriated from German Prison Camps, and given no home leave before being sent to fight the Bolsheviks, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.

The basic thrust of Rothstein's book is that much of the British Army of 1918/1919 were war weary. Demonstrations were held all over the country by soldiers tired of waiting for demob. They simply wanted to go home. Certainly, they wanted nothing to do with Russia.

Rothstein himself, as a young man of 20, was asked to volunteer for the 'North Russian Expeditionary Force' in November 1918. His unit a newly formed "Meteorological Section of the Royal Engineers" was stationed on Salisbury Plain. Rothstein was against any involvement and said so to his mates

"There was a moments silence. then the only NCO senior to me - a corporal with two wound stripes - said without rising: 'Well, Corporal Rothstein, I think you needn't worry about any of us volunteering. We've all had enough of this bloody war and this bloody army'".

Despite being offered 24s a day, instead of 15s a week, only one volunteer stepped forward.

Rothstein confirms that the two court martialled Green Howard sergeants had served in the Pay Corps until March 1918, when they were transferred to the Yorkshires. It seems as if there had been trouble with this unit in Scotland even before the 13th Yorkshires sailed. On 27 February 1918 Ironside reported the situation to the War Office

I have just got back from Seletskoye where for a short time I found a quite serious situation. A soldiers' meeting was held, which was joined only by some ASC and RAMC, besides one company of the 13th Yorkshires and a few men from another company: and although the men were orderly they were very obstinate and persistent. I have [group omitted] some 3[?] non-commissioned officers and 30 men for court-martial. This battalion has a new colonel who dealt with the situation well. He has just come from a senior officer's school, the trouble being long-standing, and before sailing for Russia a slight trouble occurred at Dundee.

Elsewhere in this book is mention of Bruce Lockhart. On 3 September 1931 he wrote in his diary:

"Had a long talk with Thornhill about Russia. He also told me that at Archangel the 13th battalion of the Yorkshire Light Infantry revolted and set up a Soviet. Two sergeants were given fifteen years. they should be coming out now"

Of course, the unit is wrong. Even so.....

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Guest stevebec

I believe many of the British soldiers sent to Russia were not of the best quality.

There is a quote from the Middlesex commander Col J.Ward who said that "men of the lowest category' were used to fill his unit.

I may add that parts of two RF Bn's were made up from young/inexpirenced soldiers from the AIF many of whom had never been in battle.

I have a book called "The Diggers who Signed on for More" by Bruce Muirden gives a look at the forces involved.

S.B

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I can't comment on the overall quality of British troops sent to Russia, but Lt Colonel John Ward's comments should not be taken in isolation as he knew the state of his unit , the 25th Middlesex, from the time it was raised as a garrison Battalion in 1916. These were men who were medically downgraded, many of them in their 40's and 50's. The battalion did not go overseas until April 1917, being split between Singapore and Hong Kong on garrison duties. They served in Siberia from August 1918 until September 1919, but according to Ward's own account, saw very little action.

Ward was certainly an interesting character. An MP and Trade Union leader, he also raised the 18th and 19th (Service) Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment. He was also something of a self-publicist, wearing a Mexican sombrero whilst sitting in the House of Commons. Some of his personal exploits in Siberia caused the Foriegn Office some difficulties.

Terry Reeves

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Hedley Malloch
Given Andrew Rothstein's known left-wing bias, some of the above seems a bit far fetched to me,

Unlike the views of right-wingers like Hughes-Wilson, Edmonds, Haig and Farrar-Hockley who, of course, can always be relied upon for reasonable, dispassionate, balanced view of motivation and discipline in the British Army during WW1.

It would be interesting to know when Col. Ward made his judgement. Before or after the 'mutiny'?

Perhaps the blokes who said 'no' to fighting on the White Russian side had just had enough? They may have taken the view that they had signed up to fight the Kaiser and his Allies, but not the fledgling Soviet Government. Perhaps more than a few of them had some sympathy for political creed which appeared to put the needs of soldiers, sailors and workers over officers, nobility and factory owners.

15 years? The two sergeants should have got a CBE apiece.

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Given Andrew Rothstein's known left-wing bias, some of the above seems a bit far fetched to me,

Unlike the views of right-wingers like Hughes-Wilson, Edmonds, Haig and Farrar-Hockley who, of course, can always be relied upon for reasonable, dispassionate, balanced view of motivation and discipline in the British Army during WW1.

It would be interesting to know when Col. Ward made his judgement. Before or after the 'mutiny'?

Perhaps the blokes who said 'no' to fighting on the White Russian side had just had enough? They may have taken the view that they had signed up to fight the Kaiser and his Allies, but not the fledgling Soviet Government. Perhaps more than a few of them had some sympathy for political creed which appeared to put the needs of soldiers, sailors and workers over officers, nobility and factory owners.

15 years? The two sergeants should have got a CBE apiece.

Hedley

I have much more sympathy for your position, and for the position of war weary ordinary soldiers than you suppose.

I think that the fact that I own books by Andrew Rothstein, Ken Weller, Dave Lamb or Julian Putkowski et al speaks for itself. As does the fact that I have studied Conscientious Objectors.

However, I take all that I read in both left wing and right wing books "with a grain of salt". I try to read both sides of an argument and reach my own conclusion.

If it is any comfort to you, had "Farrar the Para" and co. written on north Russia, and I had read the book, I would be on here trying to find the "lefty" counter argument.

Do you know of any "left leaning" books on the Allied involvement in Siberia? I had a great uncle there, in the Italian Army, and it is murder trying to find out anything about the 1,400 Italans involved once they left Tien Tsin, China.

I am wondering what the hell he was doing there, but think that as a wounded, and down graded, soldier he just went where he was posted.

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Guest stevebec

You have also read the actions of Col Kelly VC of the Hampshires during Dvina fighting.

His return and GCM because of his outspoken coments of this whole adventure.

S.B

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It's worth remembering that British troops wren't the only ones who weren't exactly content with their lot in North Russia. The experiences of the US 339th Infantry are dealt with in two books:

'The Ignorant Armies' by E M Halliday [iSBN 0 553 28456 8] and 'Fighting the Bolsheviks' by Donald Carey [iSBN 0 89141 531 5].

However, in contrast to those who didn't want to be in Russia, often on the understandable grounds that they had joined up to fight Germans, and not Russians, there was a significant number of volunteers. These included the Australians and others in the 45th Royal Fusiliers, and quite a number of RAF air crews (in both the North and South Russian campaigns). For the professional soldiers it might have been a chance to keep up the trade, while others might have missed most of the Great War and saw this as their last chance for 'action'.

If anyone is really keen to learn more about the sad story of intervention, there's a new book: 'Stamping Out the Virus' by Perry Moore [iSBN 0 7643 1625 7]. It's very comprehensive, but not an easy read.

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Hedley Malloch

It comes as a surprise to most Americans to learn that US soldiers actually invaded the Soviet Union.

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It's worth remembering that British troops wren't the only ones who weren't exactly content with their lot in North Russia. The experiences of the US 339th Infantry are dealt with in two books:

'The Ignorant Armies' by E M Halliday [iSBN 0 553 28456 8] and 'Fighting the Bolsheviks' by Donald Carey [iSBN 0 89141 531 5].

However, in contrast to those who didn't want to be in Russia, often on the understandable grounds that they had joined up to fight Germans, and not Russians, there was a significant number of volunteers. These included the Australians and others in the 45th Royal Fusiliers, and quite a number of RAF air crews (in both the North and South Russian campaigns). For the professional soldiers it might have been a chance to keep up the trade, while others might have missed most of the Great War and saw this as their last chance for 'action'.

If anyone is really keen to learn more about the sad story of intervention, there's a new book: 'Stamping Out the Virus' by Perry Moore [iSBN 0 7643 1625 7]. It's very comprehensive, but not an easy read.

Dolphin

Do either of these books cover American, and other Allied involvement in Siberia?

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Sorry to take so long to respond, but my earlier reply disappeared into the ether.

No, both of the books on the US 339th Infantry are exclusively about the Americans in North Russia.

However, there are some books around that include an account of the Allied Interventionist forces in Siberia and their efforts to assist Admiral Kolchak:

'Red Victory' by Bruce Lincoln; Cardinal Books, London 1991 ISBN 0 7474 0808 4

'The White Generals' by Richard Luckett, Viking Press, New York 1971 ISBN 670 76265 2

'At War with the Bolsheviks' by Robert Jackson, Universal Tandem 1974 ISBN ?

'Allied Intervention in Russia 1918-1919 and the part played by Canada' by John Swettenham, Ryerson 1967 ISBN ?

I hope this helps.

Dolphin

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