Sunday, 24 June 2012

Interdiction off the Brazilian coast in the 1840s

If active service for the Army of the 1840s meant India, for the Navy it meant the Slave Trade, patroling West Africa, the Caribbean and the Brazilian coast and attempting to apprehend slave traders. This was a job for fast small ships, not the battle fleet.

Of course, cruising the open ocean looking for slavers was a waste of time, the patrols were off the African and Brazilian coasts. Technically Brazil had banned the trade in slaves, but as this article by Commader Foote R.N. in the United Services Journal of 1845 shows, that wasn't quite the case.

 A slave market in Rio


When we see slave-vessels fitting out in every port of the empire of Brazils, from Para to St. Catherine's, openly protected by the authorities; when we see slaves landed and sold within a few miles of the Emperor's palace at Rio de Janeiro, and the vessel, after discharging her cargo, fearlessly enters the harbour, triumphing in her success; whilst the authorities refuse, and British cruisers are unable to interfere, being once within three miles of their coast, it will be perceived how utterly useless it is to trust to the good faith or co-operation of the Brazilians in such a matter.

Not more than two or three years ago, a boat belonging to H.M.S. Clio ( a brig sloop carrying 71 men and 18 guns).was attacked on the coast of the province of Esperito Santo, when in possession of a slave-vessel, having more than three hundred Africans on board, by a great number of large boats and canoes full of men, who re-captured and burnt the vessel, having landed all the Negroes.

This attack was made in the presence, if not by the direction, of the Juiz de Paz of the district. The boat, obliged to retreat, in want of water, and unable to reach the Clio, put into the port of Campos (about forty miles distant); she went in with her ensign and pendant flying, and the officer (a Lieutenant) proceeded on shore, with his side arms, to purchase refreshments, when, to his surprise, he and the whole of his crew, consisting of a Midshipman and thirteen men, were seized, and thrust into one common prison, where they could with great difficulty procure the common necessaries of life. The authorities then caused the English colours to be hauled down on board the boat, and took possession of her. The officers and crew remained several days in prison, until the Clio arrived off the port, where, being unable to enter, from the shallowness of the water, she threatened a blockade; and they were released.

A boat, belonging to H.M.S. Rose (18-gun sloop), having captured a vessel with 280 Africans on board, and sent her to Rio Janeiro, again resumed her cruising ground. The officer and crew landed one morning to cook their breakfast on the rocks, when they found themselves suddenly surrounded by a great number of men on horseback, all armed, who made them prisoners (the boat's crew having, by order, left their arms in their boat), and conducted them on foot to the town of Campos, a distance of about fifteen miles, where they were, in a similar manner to the Clio's boat's crew, lodged in prison. The cause for this sudden and unwarrantable behaviour was the appearance of a slaver in the offing, and the Rose's boat was actually employed by the slave-dealers in embarking the Negroes from this newly-arrived vessel, which being accomplished, she ran into Campos, whither also the boat was conducted. The Commander of the Rose having become acquainted with the fate of his boat and crew, detained several coasting vessels at the mouth of the Campos river, and sent an officer to demand the immediate restoration of his men; they were in consequence given up. No satisfaction whatever has been offered for this outrage. The Juiz de Paz still retains his office, still continues to receive the usual bribes for the disembarkation of Negroes, and still continues to animate the ignorant country people by whom he is surrounded against the English pirates!

The slave-dealers, secretly applauded by the Government, and encouraged by these successful attempts to insult the British flag, now armed themselves at the different slave stations, and came to the determination of firing into any boat which took refuge in their ports or creeks, or even approached the coast within musket-shot. An opportunity soon presented itself. A boat, belonging to H.M.'s sloop Fantome (16-gun Acorn-class brig-sloop) anchored one evening in a little creek at the Ilha Grande, for protection from the wind and sea; a few men came down to the rocks, and asked if they were English. The officer in charge of the boat answered in the affirmative, and pointed to the colours which were flying. At peep of day on the following morning they were awakened by a volley of small arms, and several balls passed through the hull of the boat; but as the men were fortunately lying down at the time, two only were wounded, one receiving a shot through his hand, and the side of another being grazed. One of the same men who came down to the rocks on the previous evening was distinctly recognised, with about twenty or thirty others (mulattoes and blacks), all armed with muskets. The officer s first impulse was to slip the cable and dash at them, and the men in the boat were most eager to do so, as the people on shore were concealed behind the rocks, and were firing whenever they could get their old broken-down muskets to go off; but he (the officer) had received positive orders not to land on any account whatever; and he consequently retired, trusting that a proper representation of the case would be sufficient to procure instant redress; but the only satisfaction the British Minister ever received was the empty assurance of the Brazilian Government that they had caused an inquiry to be instituted, and that the man who had authorised and headed the attack had fled from the island, and could not be found, although he was seen and recognised by the same officer not six weeks after the occurrence.

At Santos, a seaport in the province of St. Paul's, the slave-trade is carried on with greater vigour and less secrecy than in any other part of the Brazils. It was in this port that Captain Willis, of the Frolic, and his officers, were waylaid, and nearly murdered, and slave-vessels are here fitted out with every necessary equipment, which is taken on board in the open day; they sail with no cargo, with the exception of slave-provisions and water, and it is so arranged that they shall not wait more than six hours on the coast of Africa, the slaves having been previously collected and prepared for instant embarkation.

One of the most notorious and iniquitous traffickers in human flesh the world ever produced, is named Jose Bernardino de Sa; this wretch has carried on the slave-trade for a number of years, and has risen from a bankrupt petty coffee-merchant to immense wealth, and is decorated with orders. Vessels of every size and rig are employed in his service, on either side of the coast of Africa, in prosecution of this revolting traffic; and it is calculated that within the three years ending in 1843, he has imported no less than sixteen thousand Africans into the Brazils; yet this "Knight of the Order of Christ" promenades the salons of St. Christovao, mingles with the Ministers of the Sovereigns of civilized Europe, and possesses such influence over the Ministers of his own country, that none dare oppose him in his loathsome undertakings.

Jose Bernardino de Sa as well as owning a fleet of ships also owned a slave trading post at Cape Lopes in Africa. He died in 1855, with the title of Visconde da Vila Nova do Minho.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Cavalry & Camels - Scinde, 1845

When Robert Henderson lamented the standard of training at the Cavalry Depot in Maidstone (covered in a previous post), he was mainly concerned about the preparation of soldiers for active service. For Britain in the 1840s, active service meant India, and increasingly, the North West frontier. There had been the debacle in Afghanistan, where 4,500 troops and up to 12,000 civilians had been massacred, and at the end of 1845, just after the events narrated here, there was to be the extremely hard fought Sikh Wars.

 Hydrabad 1844

Of course, many of the "British" troops were Indian, essential because of the huge size of the task involved. These had British officers and were often very good. The Scinde Irregular Horse mentioned here had been raised in Hydrabad in 1839, whilst the 6th and 9th Irregular Cavalry were on the army list of the East India Company, based in Sukkur and Loodiana respectively. The nature of the terrain made irregular forces very useful, as was a rather unusual unit. The Camel Corps had been raised in Karachi in 1843, and proved very practical. Charles Napier describes how they could march up to 80 miles in a day, and appear unexpectedly on enemies in the desert or hills. The only problem was that, conversely, they could not operate in heavy rain. They tended to slip and dislocate their hips, so that on one operation 90 were lost in one day when the unit moved in bad weather, against standing orders.

As well as the major wars against Afghans, Sikhs etc, there were inumerable smaller operations. And example of the sort of thing is given here.

 Scinde landscape

Major-General Sir C. Napier, G.C.B., to the Governor-General of India.
Head-Quarters, Camp, Shahpoor, Jan. 17, 1845.

In the course of the latter part of last summer I reported to you how this frontier had been vexed by the unprovoked attacks made upon Scinde by the Domkee, Jakraine, and Boogtie tribes. These plunderers had of late become more harassing to the frontier posts. They are, as you are aware, subjects to the Khan of Kelat, but are in open rebellion against him. A few weeks ago His Highness attempted to reduce them to obedience. His Highness's wishes are completely with us, and his personal conduct has been honourable. However, he was unable to effect his purpose; he had advanced as far as Poolajee, but retired discomfited, followed up by the rebel Beejar Khan to Bhag, which has been plundered. Where the Khan has retired to I do not at present know; I suppose to Dadur.

On the 13th inst. I left Sukkur with the head-quarters; on the same day Capt. Jacob marched with the Scinde Horse and Camel Corps from Larkhana. Wallee Mahomed, the Chandian chief, with several other chiefs of Belooch tribes, marched, on the 15th, from their various villages; and on the 16th Wallee Mahomed, according to the orders which he had received from me, took possession of Poolajee, which was abandoned by the enemy. On the same day Capt. Jacob attacked and took Shahpoor; and at the same day and hour Capt. Salter attacked Ooch, a post ten miles to the east of Shahpoor. Both of these places are in the midst of the desert, and the enemy was surprised at both. At both resistance was made, and at Ooch about 3,500 head of cattle were taken, the produce of their late plundering expeditions. Among the rest are the tattoos of the grass-cutters belonging to the 6th Irregular Cavalry, and taken when those unfortunate men were cut to pieces last summer.

Having made forced marches of 120 miles in three days to surprise the enemy (the last march made by head-quarters and by Capt. Mowat, with one 6-pounder and one howitzer, being fifty-six miles within twenty-four hours, through a desert of sand), I shall halt here for a day or two to rest the troops, and allow our supplies to overtake us.

In forwarding the reports of Captains Salter and Jacob, I beg to draw your attention to the decisive courage, activity, and success with which these two officers have executed the orders they received, and to the good humour with which the troops have made these harassing marches in the desert. Wallee Mahomed, the Chandia chief, has also shown the greatest zeal and activity, arriving at the point he was ordered, and with the greatest accuracy as to time; it was at that point, too, at which most resistance was contemplated.

The 2nd Europeans are on their march from Sukkur to this place, under Major General Hunter, together with some of the 64th and 4th Regts. of Native Infantry, whose ardent wish to take the field I thought it fair to these regiments to comply with under existing circumstances.

The Bundlecund Legion crossed the Indus on the 16th, under Major-General Simpson, and is following the route of Major-General Hunter.

Tomorrow every outlet from the hills will be blocked up by the cavalry; and I hope to inflict another lesson upon the plundering tribes.

P.S. Since writing the above some men have been captured who were in the fight at Ooch; from these we have learned that about forty-five were wounded, and forty killed; among the former is Deria Khan, the Chief the Jakrainees. He received a grape-shot in his breast, and was dying. There were 700 men; they thought they had to deal with Wallee Mahomed Chandia, and were not aware we were there till the artillery opened. They had drawn up in battle array to fight when Capt. Salter charged.

Captain G. Salter to Major Green, C.B., Assistant Adjutant-General, Scinde.
Head-Quarters, Camp, Ooch, Jan. 16, 1845.

Sir,—I have the honour to report, for the information of Major-General Sir C. Napier, G.C.B., that I had, last night, the good fortune to execute, successfully, his orders for surprising the encampment of the Belooch marauders, at Ooch, with the detachment, (300 6th Irregular Cavalry; 90 9th Irregular Cavalry; guns of the mountain train), under my command.

After a march of forty miles from Changhur, we reached Ooch at eleven pm.; the cavalry charged down upon the encampment, and did some execution, but from the hilly nature of the country they could not repeat the charge with effect after the first surprise, as the enemy immediately took to the surrounding low, but very steep, hills, and commenced firing with their matchlocks. In the darkness of the night no just estimate could be formed of the number of the enemy, but they are reported to have been about 500 men, chiefly Jakrainees and Boordees.

Of these there were killed Sowla, Jakrainee, the brother of Toochally, a principal chief of the marauders, and his two sons; and Deldar Khan, the son of Khyra Khan, a Boordee chief; some other noted marauders were killed or wounded, in all about sixty men. Three thousand five hundred head of camels, cattle, sheep, and goats, the accumulated plunder of the robbers, were taken, and a quantity of grain; and the deserted encampment was burnt the next morning.

Baggage camels in Scind 1839

I beg to report that Lieut. Holmes commanding the 6th Irregular Cavalry, set his men a most gallant example,- his own horse was wounded, and his orderly's killed; and Lieut. Pulman, commanding the two guns, served them with quickness, precision, and effect.

Mahomed Buksh, Naib Ressaldar, commanding the troop 9th Irregular Cavalry, an excellent officer, killed the Boordee chief in my presence, who had just cut down and killed my orderly's horse.

I have the honour to inclose a return of the killed and wounded of the detachment, and regret that, in Azim Beg. Ressaldar, 6th Irregular Cavalry, the corps has lost a brave and valuable officer, and the Government an old and faithful servant, who had lately the honour to be favourably noticed in General Orders. I have, &c., 

G. Salter, Capt. 4th N.I., Commanding the Detachment.
Grand total of killed and wounded—8 men, 13 horses.
Remarks.—Azim Beg, Ressaldar, 6th Irregular Cavalry, wounded, and has since died.

 Scinde Irregular Horse 1849

Capt. J. Jacob to Major Green, C.B. Assist. Adjutant-General.
Shahpoor, Jan. 18, 1845. 

Sir, I have the honour to report that, on the morning of 13th inst. I marched from Larkhana with the Camel Corps, European Volunteers, two 3-pounder guns on camels, and the Scinde Irregular Horse. We reached Khyra-ke-Gurree, distant forty miles, the same evening; found the supply of water at that place insufficient, even for the whole of the men of my detachment; the horses and camels got none. On the morning of the 14th we marched to Rojan, twenty-four miles, and arrived there at noon; the supply of water at that place was altogether insufficient for the detachment, and men and horses were much distressed in consequence. According to orders, I sent the Camel Corps and Volunteers to Khanghur, and at noon, on the 15th, I marched with the Scinde Horse and two 3-pounder guns towards Shahpoor, leaving nine of our horses behind, in a dying state, from thirst.

I reached Lunda (distant thirty-five miles from Rojan, and about two from Shahpoor) at half-past eleven at night, and there received information that Wuzzeer Khan (son of Beejar Khan Doomkee) was at Shahpoor with a large party of Jakrainees, Doomkees, and Boordees. I pushed on at a trot, and completely surrounded the village of Shahpoor before the alarm was given, or before any one could escape; and, knowing the place well, I at once galloped into a sort of inclosure on one side of the village where the Jakrainee horsemen usually resided; there was, however, no one there but a number of juts and herdsmen; the enemy had that night occupied the houses inside the village, and now opened a heavy fire of matchlocks on us from a high tower and from the houses.

I immediately picketed a troop, and took the men into the village on foot, when all opposition ceased, and the robbers were only anxious to hide their arms. I seized six prisoners (well armed, and whose matchlocks had nearly all been used that night), Jakrainees, Doomkees, and Boordees, among whom are several Sirdars; but Wuzzeer Khan, hearing the report of guns fired at Ooch, about half an hour before we reached Shahpoor, had instantly mounted his horse and escaped. I believe not a man left the village after our arrival, although a tremendous dust storm, which arose just as we reached the place, rendered it very difficult to watch the place properly.

The fire from the village killed a duffedar, two sowars, and three horses, and wounded three sowars and five horses. All my men behaved well in this affair; and I request that you will particularly bring to notice the excellent conduct of my second in command, Lieut. G. Malcolm, from whom I received the most able support and assistance; of Resseldar Maj. SezFeraz Khan, and Resseldar Meer Furzund Ali; the last-named officer commanded the troop which I led into the village on foot.

The Police Resseldar Alif Khan accompanied me from Larkanah, and his were most valuable to me on this occasion, as well as during the whole march.

I must not omit to mention Assistant-Surgeon Pelly, who accompanied while I was surrounding the village, and attended the wounded men the they fell.

J. Jacob, Capt. Artillery, Commanding Scinde Irregular Horse. 

Total of killed and wounded—1 havildar and 5 men, 8 horses.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The British view of the Baltic, 1919. Part 2.

June 1919 found Admiral Cowan´s First Light Cruiser Squadron of the Royal Navy based at Bjorko harbour in Finland, monitoring the Bolshevik fleet bottled up in Kronstadt. The aim was to stop it intervening in the newly independent Baltic states, or even in the German Revolution raging at the time. However, there was something of a stalemate, as Kronstadt harbour was well protected by minefields and forts covering the entrance. There was also a danger from German units to the south, supposedly there to oppose the Bolsheviks, but suspected of having an agenda of their own.

 Some of the crew of HMS Caledon

Admiral Cowan´s report, as printed in the London Gazette continues as follows.....

30. It was evident by then that the Bolshevik Active Squadron consisted of:  ...
2 Battleships. (1 Dreadnought " Petropavlovsk"), 1 Cruiser, "Oleg" and 6 Large Destroyers.
31. Up to about the end of June there were constant attempts by Enemy Light Craft to break out on the Northern side at night, and both to sweep and lay mines - and a good deal of shooting, though little hitting, went on between the Patrols - also, there is no doubt more mines were laid by the Bolsheviks, to the Southward of Stirs Point, and to the Eastward of the existing Mine Barrier.

32. On the 13th June very heavy firing broke out between Fort Krasnaya Gorka and the fort and ships at Kronstadt - Fort Krasnaya Gorka having suddenly turned over to the "Whites", who, however, were not strong enough to hold it - the forces immediately available being only a hundred or so of badly-armed and much-exhausted Ingermanlanders, who, owing to the fire from the Bolshevik Heavy Ships, were unable to occupy the Fort long enough either to effectively man the guns, or destroy them - and so, after changing hands twice, Krasnaya Gorka remained in Bolshevik hands.
33. These Ingermanlanders were fighting under the direction of the Estonian Command, and were armed and equipped by them, chiefly from supplies captured from Bolsheviks, and had done very well ever since these operations started, and were fighting with the more enthusiasm as it was their own country they were freeing.
Apparently, however, their successes aroused the suspicion and jealousy of the Russians of the Northern Corps, who, equipped and supported in every way by the Esthonians, had by then begun to become a considerable fighting force, and were holding the line on the right of the Estonian-Ingermanland Force - whose left flank rested on the sea, and had pushed forward as far as Krasnaya Gorka.

34. In order to deal with any attempt by heavy ships to break out - as well as to maintain an effective patrol on the entrance to Petrograd Bay, I considered it advisable to lay mines so as to restrict the movements of the enemy, and this was done by"'Princess Margaret" (Captain Harry H. Smyth, C.M.G.,D.S.O.) and the 20th Destroyer Flotilla (Captain Berwick Curtis, C.B., D.S.O.).
35. On 17th June our lookouts reported a Cruiser ("Oleg") and two Destroyers left anchor West of Kronstadt, and also a Submarine moving Westward.
36. A few minutes after midnight a sudden burst of firing was heard by our outpost Destroyers, which, as suddenly ceased, and next day Lieutenant Augustine W. Agar, .R.N., informed me that he had torpedoed the Cruiser "Oleg" at anchor, the torpedo hitting her about the foremost funnel, and came under heavy fire from the Destroyers on retiring.
37. On the 6th July "Vindictive" on passage from England to join me in the Gulf of Finland, ran aground outside Reyal on the Middle Ground Shoal, and remained there for eight days. It was a time of some anxiety to me, as she was going fifteen knots at the time of striking, and had slid up half her length, and was in two feet six inches to three feet less water there than her draught, and in a tideless sea. " Delhi" and "Cleopatra" made several ineffectual attempts to tow her off before after lightening her by 2,212 tons, and experiencing a rise of water of about four to six inches due to a Westerly wind, "Cleopatra' at last pulled her clear after eight days of effort and, as we discovered shortly afterwards, all the towing operations were carried out in the middle of a minefield.

 Recovering a plane after a bombing raid

38. Early in July strong attacks were made by the Bolsheviks on the Russian front on the Southerly shore, necessitating frequent bombardments by light Cruisers and destroyers of the Bolshevik positions. Bolshevik aircraft were also active; Fort Krasuaya Gorka also occasionally firing at our patrol in Kaporia Bay.
39. Later in the mouth our Flying Operations started, consisting at first of reconnaissance and photographic flights, and then on the morning of the 30th July a bombing operation against the ships in Kronstadt, the main objective being a Destroyer Depot Ship with five or six Destroyers lying alongside her. The whole was under the command of Squadron Leader David G. Donald, A.F.C., R.A.F.
Sixteen bombs in all were dropped, and one hit, at any rate, was registered on the Depot Ship, which disappeared from her accustomed position in the harbour, and was not seen again. All machines returned safely after passing through a heavy anti-aircraft fire from the ships and batteries defending Kronstadt.
40. Thereafter continued a close watch on Petrograd Bay, with frequent bombardments by us of Bolshevik positions on the Southern Shore, and occasional shellings by Fort Krasnaya Gorka and other guns, varied by attacks by enemy submarines on our vessels, and intermittent activity by Bolshevik Destroyers and Minesweepers, with occasional appearances outside the harbour by larger craft.

41. On the morning of 18th August, with the object of removing, as far as possible, the threat which existed to my ships and also to the Left Flank of the Russian advance to Petrograd by the presence of the Bolshevik Active Squadron, an attack on the ships in Krronstadt by Coastal Motor Boats and Aircraft was made.
42. The position of the ships in the harbour had been ascertained by aerial photographs. Frequent bombing raids on the harbour had also been made at varying times in the weeks beforehand.
43. The attack was planned so that all available aircraft co-operated under Squadron Leader D. G. Donald, A.F.C., R.A.F., and that they should arrive and bomb the harbour so as to drown the noise of the approach of the Coastal Motor Boats.
44. The time-table was most accurately carried out; with, the result that the first three Coastal Motor Boats, under Commander Claude C. Dobson, D.S.O., passed the line of Forts and entered the harbour with scarcely a shot being fired.
45. Each boat had a definite objective - six in all. Of these six enterprises four were achieved, the results being gained not only by dauntless disciplined bravery at the moment of attack, but by strict attention to said rehearsal of, every detail beforehand by every member of the personnel, both of the boats and also of the Air Force;
46. Of the latter there is this, to say, that though all their arrangements for bombing were makeshift, and their aerodrome, from which the land machines had to rise in the dark, was a month before a wilderness of trees and rocks, and in size is quite inadequate, not one of the machines (sea and land) failed to keep to its time-table, or to lend the utmost and most effective support during, and after, the attack to the Coastal Motor Boats.
47. After this nothing bigger than a Destroyer ever moved again, but a certain amount of mine-laying and sweeping was observed near the approaches to the harbour.

 The wreck of the Pamiet Azov in Kronstadt harbour

48. During (September) our ships constantly bombarded Bolshevik positions on the Southern Shore in Kaporia, Bay, in support of the Esthomian Left Flank, whilst the aircraft were employed in bombing Kronstadt and attacking their small craft whenever seen.

49. Early in October the long talked of advance against Petrograd by General Yudenifcch began - but as his left flank was not made secure by making the capture of Forts Erasnaya Gorka and Saraia Lochad his first objective - as was repeatedly urged - the attempt failed.
50. The Esthonians, so long as their advance was such that the guns of the light cruisers and destroyers of the Biorko Force could support them, went forward - but thereafter they met with strong and effective resistance and much barbed wire, and were held up within four miles of the land approaches to Fort Krasnaya Gorka and suffered very heavy losses - equal to nearly one-third of their forces, which did not at the beginning exceed two thousand men.
51. It was after this check that "Erebus" (Captain John A. Moreton, D.S.O.) arrived (24th October), which encouraged Admiral Pitka, who was in command of the Esthonian Forces, to try again; but by then the Russians had begun to fall back, thereby uncovering the Esthonian right flank and causing them further distress, and dispersion of their few remaining effectives.
The Russians and Esthonians then fell back with considerable rapidity as far west as the line Narva - Peipus Lake, and I devoted myself to endeavouring to ensure that, from the sea, no further attempt was made to further harass these very war-weary and dispirited troops.
52. Unfortunately the "Erebus" (Captain John A. Moreton, D.S.O.) arrived only after the attempt was doomed to failure, and by that time also the weather had broken, making it very unsuitable for flying in order to direct the firing of "Erebus" ; also our machines and many of the pilots were, from hard service through the summer, rather past their best. The type of machine, too (Short Seaplane), was unable to get sufficient height to avoid the very severe and accurate anti-aircraft fire from these two forts.
53. All that could be done by our ships (light cruisers and destroyers) besides "Erebus" in the way of shelling positions and covering the advance, was done, and always within the range of Fort Krasnaya's Gorka's twelve-inch guns, and under the observation of its kite balloon; although they have constantly shelled us, have never succeeded further than to land a few splinters on board.

54. On the 30th October arrived, out from England General Sir Richard Haking and a small staff of officers, who, after investigating and acquiring what appeared to ine to be a very complete grasp of the whole Baltic situation and its needs, returned to England after two weeks.

55. Towards the beginning of October and concurrently with the attempt on Petrograd by the Russian North-West Army, the German- Russian threat against Riga became acute, and a bombardment of the town commenced. "Abdiel " (Captain Berwick Curtis, C.B., D.S.O.) and " Vanoc " (Commander Edward O. Tudor, R.N.) were there at the time, also a French destroyer ("L'Aisne"), "Dragon" (Captain Francis A. Marten, C.M.G., C.V.O.) was on her way out from England and I therefore diverted her there.

Prince Avaloff Bermont

56. Owing to the situation in the Gulf of Finland and the necessity of supporting the advance of the Esthonians on the left flank of the Russian Army, I was unable to leave those waters myself, and so requested Commodore Brisson, the French Senior Naval Officer, who had by then proceeded to Riga, to take charge of the operations there, and to open fire on all positions within range on the the left bank of the Dvina River, at the expiration of the time given in my ultimatum to Prince Avaloff Bermont, who was ostensibly in command of the troops occupying those positions, and attacking Riga.
57. This Commodore Brisson most faithfully and effectively did at noon on the 15th October, apparently much to the surprise of Bermont, who had, in reply to my ultimatum, stated that he was friendly to the Allies and was only resisting Bolshevism, and disowned all connection with the Germans, and whose forces, were in position and with little shelter, in some places less than one thousand yards from ours, and the French ships, Bermont having evidently assumed that his statements and .arguments were sufficient to hoodwink me and delay our offensive action.
58. This enabled the Lettish troops to cross the river in strength and with great enthusiasm after twenty-six days fighting, to sweep away all these Russo-Germah forces from within striking distance of Riga and out of Mitau - which had been the German main base and headquarters throughout the year - Tukkum and the Windau district.
59. On about the 30th October the threat to.Libau by German troops became serious, and I sent directions to Captain Lawrence L. Dundas, C.M.G., the senior naval officer there, to, with the help of the British Military Mission, get into co-operation with the Lettish Defence Forces, establish communications and observation posts and plot targets, and sent ''Dauntless" (Captain Cecil Horace Pilcher) down from Biorko to reinforce, and shortly afterwards "Erebus" also, as by this time General Yudenitch was falling back from before Petrograd, and therefore the need for bombarding Fort Krasnaya Gorka had ceased.
60. On the 14th October a very heavy attack on Libau commenced and the Germans succeeded in occupying the outer fixed defences of the town, but after eight hours hard fighting by the Lettish troops and incessant bombardment by the British ships they were thrown, back again with very heavy losses.
61. The ammunition question at the end of this day was of some anxiety to me, two vessels having fired the whole of their outfits and other being very short. An ammunition ship was on her way down from Riga at the moment—" Galatea," homeward bound .with General Sir R. Haking. on board, and also two destroyers were in the vicinity, so all were ordered in to replenish the Libau force with their ammunition. No further attack of any weight however was made, and the crisis passed.
62. With regard to these two attacks on Riga, and Libau, it is unquestionable that the German intention was to frustrate by every means in their power any successful attack on Petrograd and Kronstadt, and to gain a footing for the winter in the Baltics Provinces with a view to overwhelming them, and then to drive on to Petrograd.

 Defemsive positions in Riga, Nov 1919

63. I had constant rumours that the Dreadnought Battleship "Sevastopol" had been prepared for, and was in every way fit for, service - also, there was ever-recurring Submarine activity - and by my reckoning there were still two large Destroyers available as well, though two had been destroyed by our mines during the operations in support of Yudenitch whilst attempting to come out and attack our patrols at night.
64. The work of the Destroyers was, as ever, tireless, dauntless, and never ending, and with never the relaxation of lying in a defended port with fires out and full rations, and all their work in cramped navigational waters (necessitating the almost constant presence on deck of the Captain, and, in the case of the Petrograd Bay '" Biorko " Patrol, always within the range, and often under the fire, of the twelve-inch guns from Fort Krasnaya Gorka.
65. This patrolling of Petrograd Bay, though generally in smooth water, was arduous and anxious always, because there was no room to manoeuvre East or West—there were mines in each direction—much foul ground, unindicated by the charts, and the charting of the Southern, Shore disagreed by a mile of longitude with that of the Northern - also for that small space, (six by twenty miles), bounded on the West by Seskar, and on the East by the minefields, three charts had to be in use.
66. In the whole of that area no shoals (and there are many), were marked by anything better than a spar buoy. When the winter came on, with incessant snow and fog throughout the long sixteen-hour nights, I scarcely hoped that the Destroyers could succeed in maintaining their stations without frequent and serious groundings or collisions, and the fact that they did is sufficient witness of the spirit that was in these two Flotillas—the First, "Captain George W. McO. Campbell, and the Second, 'Captain
Colin K.. MacLean, reinforced by some of the Third Flotilla also, under the command of Commander Aubrey T. Tillard, in "Mackay".
The energy, care and forethought which these two officers constantly displayed in order to maintain the efficiency of their Flotillas, I must always bear in most grateful admiration and remembrance.
The boats were always in "watch and watch" - i.e., as often at sea as in harbour, and very frequently under harder conditions.

67. At the beginning of the campaign the enemy's active Naval Force appeared to be -
2 Battleships (1 Dreadnought "Petfopavlovsk", 1 "Andrei Pervozvanni")
1 Cruiser ("Oleg"),
5 Destroyers ("Novik" class),
2 to 4 Submarines, and perhaps 4 smaller coal-burning Torpedo Boats, besides Minesweepers.
68. Of these -
2 Battleships ("Petropavloysk" and "Andrei Pervozvanni") were torpedoed and disabled in Kronstadt Harbour, and have not moved since - except "Andrei Pervozvanni" into dock.
1 Cruiser ("Oleg") was torpedoed and sunk at her moorings off Kronstadt.
3 Destroyers ("Novik" class), "Azard", "Gavril" and "Constantin" were sunk, two of them by our mines, the other either by mine or torpedo.
1 Patrol Vessel (armed), " Kitoboi", which surrendered on the night of 14th-15th June,
and, I think,
2 Submarines, one by depth charge and the other by mine.
Besides this -
1 Oiler was bombed and badly damaged.
A number of Motor Launches were set on fire and destroyed,
and .
1 Submarine Depot Ship ("Pamiet Azov") was torpedoed and sunk, all in Kronstadt Harbour.
An Oil Fuel Store and a very large quantity of wood and coal fuel was also burnt.
69. Against this our losses have been :
1 Submarine ("L.55") mined and sunk.
1 Destroyer ("Verulam") mined and sunk.
1 Destroyer ("Vittoria") torpedoed and sunk by enemy submarine.
2. Mine-sweeping Sloops ("Gentian" and "Myrtle") mined and sunk.
3 Coastal Motor Boats sunk during the attack 'on Kronstadt.
2 Coastal Motor Boats blown up; unserviceable.
2 Coastal Motor Boats and 2 Motor Launches sunk through stress of weather whilst in tow.
1 Store Carrier ("Volturnous") mined and sunk.
1 Light' Cruiser' ("Curacoa") mined and salved.
1 Paddle Mine-sweeper ("Banbury" mined and salved.
1 Motor Launch (M.L.156) mined and salved.
1 Admiralty Oiler ("War Expert") mined and salved.
1 Mine-layer ("Princess Margaret") damaged 'by mine.
70.—The losses of.personnel have been:
Royal Navy .. ... 16 Officers. 97 Men...
Royal Air Force ... 4 Officers. 1 Man.
Total 20 Officers. 98 Men..

71. My aim was throughout the year to prevent any Bolshevik warships breaking out into.the Gulf of Finland - and the ice has now relieved me of this responsibility - and also to frustrate by every means the most evident design of the Germans to overrun and. dominate the Baltic Provinces and then to advance Petrograd, and their repulse from both Riga and Libau in October and November by the Lettish troops under cover of the bombardment of our ships has, I think, put an end to this also, and all German troops were back into Prussia by 15th December.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant,
Rear-Admiral Commanding First Light
Cruiser Squadron.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The British view of the Baltic, 1919. Part 1

The British intervention in the Russian Civil War was not a great success - after all, the Reds won. However, one place where they did some good was in the Baltic. The Royal Naval commander there during 1919 was Rear Admiral Walter Cowan. This is his official report.

 London Gazette
6th April 1920

"Delhi" at Devonport,
1. I have the honour to forward herewith this my report on my year's Service in Command of His Majesty's Naval Forces in the Baltic, where I relieved Rear-Admiral Sir Edwyn S. Alexander-Sinclair, K.C.B., M.V.O., on .the 6th January, 1919.

2. When I arrived the German situation was as.follows: German troops were nominally in occupation of Latvia, with Headquarters at Libau.
The Bolsheviks were in Riga, and gradually advancing South and West
The German Troops were of low morale, and in a poor state of discipline - and wherever the Bolsheviks advanced the Germans fell back, in many cases handing over arms and munitions to the Bolsheviks on their retirement.
3. The Bolsheviks had by the middle of February advanced so far as Windau, and were also within forty miles from Libau from the Westward.
4. I therefore in "Caledon " (Commander Henry S. M. Harrison-Wallace, R.N.) shelled them out of Windau; and made what preparations I could to evacuate the refugees from Libau, as I did not consider an indiscriminate shelling of the town in the event of its occupation by the Bolsheviks would be advisable if no troops were available to land for its reoccupation.

5. Shortly after this (at the end of February), large German reinforcements began to arrive by sea, and General-Major Graf Von. der Goltz assumed command. at Libau, and very soon afterwards stabilised the situation, and drove the Bolsheviks well East again - and this, so far, was satisfactory.
6. In the meantime the Letts - under the direction of M^. Ulmanis, the Acting President. - were making every endeavour to raise and equip a sufficient military force - aided by a. limited quantity of small arms and machine guns - to enable them to undertake the defence of their own country against the Bolsheviks when the time should come for the Germans to withdraw. It soon became evident, however, that it was not the Germans' intention to permit any Lettish Force being raised, and constant cases of friction, oppression and disarmament of Lettish Troops began to occur
7. The climax was reached on the 16th April, when at the Naval Harbour - where the Headquarters of the Lettish Troops were - German troops raided these Headquarters, arrested and disarmed all the Officers, and looted money and documents, killing and wounding several Lettish soldiers. Simultaneously with this, in the town of Libau itself, Baltic-German troops arrested those members of the Lettish Government who were unable to escape them, whilst the rest took refuge on board His Majesty's ships, and
M. Ulmanis, the Acting President, with the British Mission, which consequently was surrounded by Baltic-German sentries.
8. That night two young Baltic-German Officers came off to my ship and announced that they were the Heads of the Committee of Safety until the formation of a new Government, and asked me if I could guarantee them the support of His Majesty's Government in this movement.
I pointed out to them that until I had some satisfactory explanation for the events of the day I could listen to and recognise no such proposals.
I then sent them on shore again and heard nothing more of them.

Libau 1919

9. On my requiring an explanation from Von der Goltz for these happenings, he denied all responsibility or knowledge for them, saying that his troops were out of hand, and that the Baltic-Germans were not under his orders.
10. In consequence of this I called a meeting of the Allied representatives, and with them demanded the following from Von der Gdltz;
First. - That the unit which raided the Lettish Headquarters should be at once removed from the Libau district.
Second. - That the Commanding Officer of the offending Baltic-German Unit be relieved of his command.
We also gave him the time and date by which we required the fulfilment of these demands.
11. Both were complied with within the time, but Von der Goltz stated that as he considered the Lettish Government to be Bolshevik and a danger to the district he was administering by order of the Allies, he could not agree to their release from arrest, or the continuance of their functions.
12. This state of affairs was reported to Paris accordingly, and a very few days afterwards, owing to the melting of the ice, and signs of activity by the Bolshevik Fleet, I had myself to proceed, to the Gulf of Finland, and Commodore Arthur A. M. Duff, C.B., arrived on the 29th May and took charge of affairs in the Western Baltic; and thereafter, by his quick and accurate grasp of the whole German situation there, freed me from a very considerable portion of my preoccupations.
It is hard for me to do justice on paper to the adequacy and effectiveness of his administration until he left for England again on the 28th September. I have now transferred to him the duties of Senior Naval Officer in the Baltic.

13.. On arrival in the Gulf of Finland and reviewing the situation, my hope and intention was - as soon as ice conditions allowed it - to move as far East as possible in order to support the left flank of the Esthonian Front, and to protect it from any attempt at being turned from the sea.
14. After getting into touch with the Esthonian Naval and Military Authorities, I went over to Helsingfors to call on the Regent (General G. Mannerheim), and also to congratulate the Finns on the recognition of the independence, which had been announced the previous day. Circumstances then obliged me to return to Libau for a day on the 12th May.
15. I had previously - on the 7th May - shifted my flag from " Caledon" to "Curacoa," On returning from Libau to Reval on the 13th May " Curacoa " struck a mine, which disabled her from further service and occasioned eleven casualties amongst her personnel.

 HMS Caledon

16. I therefore shifted to " Cleopatra," and left Reval the next morning for the Eastward, and, from the 14th May onwards I lay - first in Narva Bay for a few days reconnoitring as far as Kaporia whilst the Esthonians were landing and operating between there and Louga - and then, as they established themselves further East, I moved forward to Seskar.
from which place, with the very good visibility prevailing day after day, I was able from the mast head to keep an effective watch on Petrograd Bay.

17. The situation then was somewhat of an anxiety to me, as the strength of the Bolshevik. Naval Forces was known to include Armoured Ships - the Esthonians were lying in Kaporia with 1 unarmed Transport (including the Nekmangrund Light Vessel, so hard up were they for ships), an old,  slow ex-Russian Gunboat " Bobr," and one ex-Russian Destroyer, dependent on me for fuel, of which I had then, only a limited supply - and my own Force consisted only of "Cleopatra " and four Destroyers, the Seventh Submarine Flotilla arriving shortly afterwards at Reval.
18. From then onwards I maintained a watch on the Bay, whilst the Esthonians were constantly in contact with the Bolshevik Troops, bombarding and pushing forward here and there, and landing more men, whilst relieving those who needed refit, always under the direction of Admiral John Pitka, who, before the War, was a Shipowner of Reval and Director of a Salvage Company, but who assumed command of the Esthonian Naval Forces last winter, and has always shown a most correct instinct for war, both on land and sea. He has since been decorated by His Majesty.

19. On the 17th May a great deal of smoke was observed over Kromstadt; and on the 18th five Bolshevik craft, led by a large Destroyer of the "Avtroil" type came as far West as Dolgoi Nos, five miles clear of the Petrogriad Minefields, and then while still close under the land turned back. So in "Cleopatra" (Captain Charles James Colebrooke Little, C.B) with " Shakespeare " (Commander, now Captain, Frederick Edward Ketelbey Strong, D.S.O.), " Scout " (Lieutenant-Commander Edmund F. Fitzgerald), and " Walker " (Lieutenant-Commander Ambrose T. N.), I went ahead full speed from Seskar on an Easterly course, closing the range rapidly from 20,000 to 16,000 yards when fire was opened, the Bolshevik Destroyer, flying a very large red flag, firing the first shot. I stood on until within half a mile of the mined area, and came under the fire of the Grey Horse Battery, but by this time the range was opening and spotting very difficult, owing to the vessels being close under the land all the time.
20. The speed of the enemy appeared to be reduced to about ten knots, one good hit on the Destroyer at any rate was observed, but under the circumstances I did not consider it advisable to run in over the minefields and under the guns of the shore batteries in order to obtain a decision, and so these craft made good their escape.
21. To the Eastward, but not taking part in the action, was a three-funnelled Cruiser, the "Oleg," and to the Eastward of her again was smoke - and it was reported that the Bolshevik Dreadnought Battleship "Petropavlovsk" was also out.

22. On the 24th May General Sir Hubert Gough arrived in "Galatea" on a special Mission to Finland and the Baltic States, and I accompanied him over to Helsingfors to assist at his ceremonial landing, and to salute him there, and went with him to interview the Finnish authorities, thereafter leaving again for the Eastward, leaving " Galatea" at Helsingfors.

 HMS Walker

23. On the 31st May, whilst still lying off Seskar in "Cleopatra" with "Dragon" (Captain Francis Arthur Marten, C.M.G., C.V.O.), "Galatea" (Captain Charles Morton Forbes, D.S.O.), " Wallace" (Captain George William McOran Campbell), "Voyager" (Lieutenant-Commander Charles Gage Stuart, D'.S.C.), "Vanessa" (Lieutenant- Commander Edward Osborne Broadley, D.S.O.), "Wryneck" (Commander Ralph Vincent Eyre, E..N.), "Versatile" (Commander Gerald Wynter, O.B.E.), "Vivacious" (Commander Claude L. Bate, R.N.), and with "Walker" and two Submarines on patrol, a Bolshevik Destroyer was sighted coming West with a Dreadnought Battleship, and two other small craft behind the minefields. The Destroyer was engaged by "Walker" and chased Eastwards, the Battleship opening a heavy and well-controlled fire at the same time.
24. On the first report I weighed and steamed East, a Bolshevik aeroplane appearing overhead and dropping bombs among my force as it advanced, but it flew off Eastwards on being fired at.
25. The Destroyer fell back on the battleship, which manoeuvred behind the minefields and kept up a heavy and well-disciplined fire on "Walker" as she fell back to meet me;
Fort Krasnaya Gorka having a kite balloon up and firing also.
26. I stood up and down the edge of the minefield, but the Bolshevik Force showed no intention of coming on, and retired Eastwards after a few salvoes had been fired.
27. "Walker " was hit twice, but no appreciable damage was done, and there was one slight casualty only.
28. It now became apparent to me that with the small forces at my disposal it would be necessary, in order to keep an effective watch on Bolshevik Naval movements, and in particular to, if possible, ensure that no mines were laid to the Westward of the existing fields across the entrance to Petrograd Bay, that I should.have a Base nearer to Kronstadt than Reyal.
29. I therefore moved to Biorko, and required certain assistance from the Finns in the way of patrols and accommodation on shore agreed to by them.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Estonian cavalry

Compared to the large cavalry armies of the East, Estonia seems to have had remarkably few cavalry. For example, at the battle of Cesis in June 1919 they had only 65 with 6,500 infantry, whereas the German Frei Korps had 500-600 for about the same number of infantry. When the 1st Cavalry Regiment had been formed in December 1918 most of the officers had had no cavalry training in the Tsarist forces, and many of the men could not even ride.

Estonian cavalry 1919 (The Estonian War Museum - General Laidoner Museum)

By May 1919 there were two cavalry regiments, the 1st with 4 squadrons, the 2nd with 3, and both with machine gun and signal detachments, about 900 men. There were differences though, the best trained, and motivated, men had joined the 1st Regiment when it was formed, so that throughout the war it performed much better than the 2nd Regiment, and had higher morale. In May, both cavalry regiments were attached to the 3rd Division, so the the 1st and 2nd Divisions had no cavalry formations at all. By October the 1st Regiment had been transferred to the 2nd Division, but the 1st still had none.

Instead, cavalry were attached to other units, so that each infantry regiment had a cavalry detachment of about 20-30 men (a Ratsakomando) for scouting. Gradually the numbers increased, so when the 7th Infantry Regiment was formed in December 1919 it had about 80 cavalry out of 1,714 men, as well as a ski/ cyclist platoon.
An Estonian armoured train in the forest

Companies also operated in conjunction with armoured trains (Soomusrongide divisjoni eskadrons), which were quite a feature of warfare in the area. The Estonians had pioneered the use of attachments of infantry and cavalry in this regard - the infantry, heavily equipped with automatic weapons, could hold areas, whilst the cavalry could scout around a prevent unpleasant surprises.

An example comes from the reminiscences of Willem Rakfeldt, leader of the cavalry troop on No. 3 armoured train, which took part in the liberation of Tartu in 1919. The line to Tartu was held by Latvian units, and other trains had been repeatedly held up by partisans cutting the track.

"We were ten men at the disposal of the commander of the train. Several of our horses were captured from the enemy. Our horsemen moved ahead on both sides of the train and we saw a lot of Reds but they did not break the rails in front of us.
I sent two young men on horseback to gather intelligence. However they were made prisoner. They were placed in a pig sty and locked in. But the boys managed to break out and escape to the forest. They were shot at, but manged to evade and fortunately came back to us unscathed.

 The attack on Tartu

Armoured trains 1 and 3 went on towards Tartu. A few kilometres from the city we left the train and circled around to enter the city from the left. The Reds were retiring and setting fire to the city. Locals immediately directed us to the Kreditklassa building where prisoners were held in the basement. We reached there at the same time as men from No. 1 train. We opened the basement door and saw terrible images. People were lying on the floor and on top of each other, still warm and bloody. We found one man who was wounded and had multiple leg wounds. He survived."

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Estonian armour, 1919

During 1919 the small republic of Estonia had to fight for it´s existence against vastly superior numbers of Bolshevik Russians coming from the North and East, and then German Frei Korps from the South. With help from the British Royal Navy, and many volunteers from the Scandinavian countries, especially Finland, they somehow survived.

The Estonians didn´t inherit much from Tsarist Russia. The only destroyer in their fleet had been captured by the British from the Bolsheiks, and they had no armoured cars. They did however have a factory in Taliin, the Federal Foundary, and they resolved to make their own.

The first, the "Tasuja", was built on a Renault chassis and rushed into action against the Bolsheviks in the winter of 1918/9. Unfortunately it got stuck on a damaged bridge during a battle in March and was consequently destroyed.

The next two designs were the "Estonia" and the "Wahur", the latter based on a Packhard lorry chassis. They were rapidly send into action in March 1919, but the "Estonia" was found to be two heavy for the winter roads, and was restricted to Tallinn, though in the summer it was sent south, and by the autumn it had managed to get to Narva to take part in the defence against the Red Army.

 The "Estonia"

There was also the "Vanapagan", based on a Delahaye (2-ton) chassis. It was described at the time as looking as though the armour had been added by a village blacksmith, and Vanapagan was a clumsy giant in Estonian folklore, but it was effective enough.

By now the Estonians were experienced enough to develop a standard design of armoured car, though armoured truck would be more appropriate. Based on an AEC 3 ton chassis, each had a 37mm automatic gun in the turret, two rear facing MGs and a Madsen LMG to the front. The armour was 6-10 mm thick and they weighed up to 8 tons! We are not talking mass production here, they were individually made, and each had a name. Apparently the cars were so noisy when driving that it was almost impossible for the crew to shout to each other.

"Toonela" - complted in April 1919 and on active duty April 22nd
"Kalewipoeg"- completed April 1919, on active duty April 25th. The Kalewipoeg was commaned by a         Swedish volunteer, Einar Lundburg, of which more anew.
"Wibuane" - completed April 1919, and on active duty April 23rd
"Kotkasilm" -  completed January 1920.
"Erilane" - completed January 1920, later renamed "Lembit"

In 1919 the Estonians captured two "proper" ex-Russian army cars, which they renamed the "Tasuja 2" and "Suur Tõll". These were Austin-Putilovs, each with two 7.62mm Maxim MGs in two turrets.

 The Tasuja 2

There was also a Peerless anti-aircraft car, captured by the Finnish volunteer regiment Pohjan Pojat on the 14th March 1919 and donated, willingly or not, to the Estonians in April, where it was renamed the "Pisuhänd". These were basically Peerless trucks adapted by the British to carry a machine gun and pom pom gun, and used by the Russian army as anti-aircraft guns. Even by the standards of the day it was considered slow and heavy, with poor off road performance, but reliable

During summer the cars were painted olive-green , in winter grey/white or just grey, to blend into the inevitable snow. Nonetheless, the name was invariably painted on the side in large letters!


Although they had pretty good armour and firepower, the Estonian armoured cars were not well suited to cross country travel, especially in the deep Baltic winter. Mostly, they had to stick to roads and were used for patrols behind the front line. Nonetheless, when they could be used they were often effective.

i) Fighting the Frei Corps

The "Estonia", "Toonela" and "Vanapagan"  were part of the reinforcements sent to the Southern front in June 1919, to resist the pro-German Frei Corps, the "Vanapagan" attached to the 6th Regiment.

On June 20th 1919, near Riga, the Germans launched attacks all along the front. All day these were resisted, but at about 5 pm the Vilandi Cadets were finally forced to retreat from the mansion they had been defending, and the way was open to Stolben. At this moment the commander, Lt. Col Reek, committed his reserve, the “Estonia” and “Toonela” together with an assault detachment on an armoured train. The "Estonia" carried on down the road whilst the "Toonela" peeled off and moved amongst estate outbuildings. This drove back the attack, although even then infantry from the assault company werer needed to fill the line, as the armoured cars could not traverse the terrain. Further attacks were made but the front had been stabilised.
 The "Vanapagan"

The "Vanapagan", and a handful of infantry from the sappers of the 6th Regiment, skirmished with some Red Latvian infantry & cavalry on the 21s,t but it didn't amount to much and they returned to the Murmuiža estate were they were based.

On the 22nd the Estonians counter attacked at the village of Starte. The road into the village emerged from woodland and then through about 500m of open farmland before entering the village. All of this was well covered by machine guns from the defenders and the company attacking made very slow progress down drainage ditches. Suddenly, the "Vanapagan" dashed full tilt down the road into the village, firing as it went, the Estonians lept to their feet and charged the village, and it was taken. Unfortunately the "Vanapagan" could not follow up the pursuit as it was running low in fuel.

By the 25th the “Vanapagan” needed essential maintenance, and the "Estonia" had serious mechanical problems, but the “Toonela” was stationed on the Riga-Pskov highway guarding the bridge at Cesis.

ii) Einar Lundborg
Einar Lundborg and the "Kalevipoeg"

Einar Lundourg was one of those people who are natural adventurers. He had been in the Swedish army before resigning to join a Swedish volunteer brigade, helping the Finns in their fight for independence against the Russians. He did well there, but when the war was won he returned to Sweden and joined the 5th Hussars. This seemed to bore him rather, so when an office opened in Stockhom recruiting for the Estonian war of Independence he volunteered. By March 1919 he was with other Swedish volunteers, the Svenska Karen, at the battle of Narva.

In April a number of armoured cars became available, and Lundborg was chosen to captain the "Kalevipoeg", setting off for the Southern front.

On May 25th, Lundberg was with the Estonians when they took Pskov, the highwater mark of their advance. The "Kalevipoeg" cleared the way for the attack into the town, and Lundborg was later known as the "King of Pskov".

In September the "Kalevipoeg" was part of August Nieländer's armoured car squadron when it temporarily turned away from the main column, leaving them unprotected from Bolshevik attacks. This seems to have given rise to some bitterness in the infantry, so that shortly afterwards Lundborg found himself without infantry support during a five and and half hour battle, losing 5 of his men. He was only rescued when the "Pishund" appeared and drove the enemy off.

Disillusioned, Lundberg resigned and joined the Swedish White Legion with the White Russian forces at Narva, but something there did not suit him either, and by November he was back in Sweden. Lundborg went on to be a pilot, earning fame for the rescue to Umberto Noble when his airship crashed in the Artic, and in the end dying flying as a test pilot in 1931.

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Black Army of Nestor Makhno

The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires left a vacuum which many peoples tried to fill. For the historic kingdom of Ukraine, split between the the Russians and Austrians, this was a heaven sent opportunity. Unfortunately, hundreds of years in different worlds had left little in common between the two parts, who fielded two separate armies, and were defeated and absorbed separately, by the Poles and Russians. But there was, for a while, a third force, the Black Army, or Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine.

The RIAU was led by Nestor Makhno (hence they were sometimes known as Makhnovists) the son of a very poor family who had worked in a iron foundry in Huliaipol, where he had first got involved in Anarchist politics. He eventually rose to command all the Anarchist groups in South Eastern Ukraine, where he tried to impose an Anarchist/ Communist society, abolishing capitalism, "nationalising" all land and setting up workers communes, though, strangely enough, most of the senior leaders seemed to come from Makhnos forces. In true Communist style Makhno adopted a nickname, "Batko", meaning Father.

Mostly though the RIAU fought, against White Russians, Red Russians, anybody really. To distinguish them from the White and Reds, and because they marched under the black Anarchist flag, they were known as the Black Army. In 1918 Makhno swiftly won victories against the much larger forces of the Hetmanate - the client state set up in Ukraine by Germany and Austro-Hungary - capturing vast amounts of supplies, and encouraging many Ukrainian peasants to join his cause.

By early 1919 Makhno had 15,000 men, mainly Ukrainian and Cossack peasants, equipped from the hundreds of thousands of Austrian and German soldiers streaming back through the Ukraine from the Eastern front. From the outside they didn't look too different from other armies of the time, with infantry, cavalry and artillery. The cavalry, both regular and guerrilla, was reportedly very good. Two things set the RIAU apart. Firstly, there were no officers as such, all commanders were elected by the troops, and major decisions taken by mass assemblies. Although ideologically pure in the anarchist sense, it was also responding to necessity. The Austro Hungarian army had had very few Ukrainian officers, and they were unlikely to join an Anarchist militia when there were White forces available. In contrast, the Polish forces for example, could draw on a large cadre of trained ex-Austrian officers, especially in the cavalry.

A tachanka and RIAU cavalry

The second distinctive feature was the tachanka. This was a two horse cart with a driver and one or two soldiers in the back, with a rear facing heavy machine gun. Again this suited well the local conditions, where the warfare was mobile and cavalry important, this gave the cavalry extra fire power, as well as covering the retreat, as the machine gun faced backwards. The RIAU used them en mass and it made a big impression on their enemies. Of course tachankas could also be used to transport infantry, much faster than marching.

Events in deepest Ukraine tended to be ignored in the Western press, one of few mentions of Makho concerns an interview in July 1919 with General Gregoriev, who had set up an independent republic in Odessa on the Black Sea, and who was associated with the "Green" army. Makhno and Gregoriev were, superficially, allies. Anyway, suspecting that he was going to defect to the Whites (highly likely given Gregoriev's numerous changes of side in the past), Makhno drew a pistol, and shot him.

 A tachanka and cavalry

The Black army had a number of successes, especially against the Whites of Admiral Denikin, but it was the Bolsheviks who were their downfall. Makhno's brand of Anarchism was a mixture of brutality and naivety, so that when a unit was captured the officers would be executed, but the troops often released to walk home as "proletarian brothers". Thus, although detesting the Cheka secret police, and the Bolshevik dictation of its subjects lives, Makhno regarded the Reds as natural allies. He was, inevitably, betrayed in June 1920 when Red units suddenly attacked various RIAU outposts, Trotsky ordered the Cheka to murder thousands of Ukrainian peasants sympathetic to the Anarchist cause, and two Cheka agents were sent to assassinate Makhno. Even then, when in the Communists offered another alliance in September 1920 Makhno agreed, and campaigned against the White General Wrangel, preventing the Ukrainian grain harvest from falling into White hands.

"STEADFAST TO 'THE END, WRANGEL'S LAST DAYS IN TIE CRIMEA, The following is the substance of an  Oficial Report, published in the London "Times" of December 10 1920, on the evacuation of the Crimea by Lieutenant-Colonel Count Leon Ostrorog, an eye-witness and competent observer of the incidents he describes:- Having proceeded to the Crinea from Warsaw in the latter part of October on my own initiative with a view to ascertaining what assistance, if any, could be rendered to Wrangel's Army, I was an eye witness of the last scenes of the retreat and evacuation of both the Army and civil population, which commenced on November 11. 

Some days previous to that date an unprecedented cold wave had struck the peninsula, accompanied by a fierce norfherlv gale. The plight of Wrangel's Army, for the greater part in rags, shoeless, on short rations, lacking stores of every kind, with a scanty medical service, beggars imagination; in addition, munitions were scarce and artillery practically nil. This Army, composed of units of every description. though chiefly of Don and Kuba Cossacks, was flanked by Makhno's partisan bands on its' extreme right. The total fighting strength, infantry, cavalry and artillery, numbered originally 100,000 men, officers, rank, and file, on the Mariupol, Alexandrovsk, Aleshki. Kherson front-namely, 500 kilometeres (310 miles). It had fought without a break for over six months against vastly superior forces well armed, equipped, and fed, with a great superiority, not only in artillery and  ordnance, but ammunition as well, the Bolshevists being well supplied with both shell and fuses of the latest pattern. The heavy casualties among officers of high rank testify to the fierceness of the fighting, while, owing to lack of sea transport and the immense difficulty of communications for such as wished to join Wrangel's Army the General's reserves were reduced to nil. Nevertheless, this battered Army stood its ground in spite of the overwhelming forces which poured against it from the opening of the Polish-Soviet peace negotiations, until the effectives were reduced to 45,000 men, forming three divisions, against 28 Red divisions. This took place on October 28, and 10 days' continuous battle was followed by the retreat to the Perekop line. 

 RIAU troops

General Wrangel, besides directing operations, maintainnmg order among the population by his indomitable courage and personality, led in person many of the attacks against the Bolshevists, still hoping against hope that a hitch might occur during the. Polish Soviet peace negotiations, thus causing the withdrawal of some of the Bolshevist forces, and give time for supplies to reach him. His spirit and that of his troops never broke down. The last offensive; which had begun on October 28, ended on November 14, when Sebastopol fell. No words can describe the superb spirit of the inhabitants, as well as that of the few troops in Sebastopol. when it was announced officially that all hope was at an end, and that evacuation must commence at once. There was no panic, no looting, no disorder; absolute calm prevailed. When it is realised that officers' wives, delicate women, and children had been living for days on end in a city practically devoid of fuel, with Arctic cold, scanty food, ill-clothed, ill-lodged, cut off from and apparently abandoned by the outer world, one can but bow to such heroism, and see in its spirit the certain regeneration and ultimate grandeur of the Russian peoples."

 Two weeks after Wrangel's defeat in November 1920 Mahkno's headquarters staff met the Red Army command for a planning meeting, and were murdered. The Black army never really recovered, their best leaders gone and the peasants in the Ukraine cowed by Trotskys campaign of terror. In August 1921 Makhno slipped across the Romanian border to exile, finally in Paris where he worked amongst other things, as a stage hand at the Paris Opera.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Spartacist Prequel - Christmas in Berlin 1918

Daily News. 27th Dec1918

The Amsterdam correspondent of the 'Daily Chronicle' says that the news from Germany shows that the spirit of Christmastide is ^entirely absent" There is a dreary atmosphere of defeat,, which hangs over all. Food is scarcer than ever. It is true that the restaurants, cabarets, music halls and theatres are gay and bright, but these are only scanty tinsel hiding the dirt and depression and dullness of Berlin. Candles for the Christmas trees are unobtainable, and toys are scarce, and expensive. Thousands of demobilised soldiers wander dejectedly through the streets of Berlin, tryiing to earn a living by selling cigarettes, newspapers, and postcards. Beggars in rags abound. The restrictions on drinking  and  dancing have been removed, so hundreds of the. dancing palaces are overcrowded, where drinking continues untill five o'clock in the morning. A small portion of the population is earning fabulous wages.under the revolution, but 99 per cent of the people are hungry and workless.

The Argus. 28th Dec 1918
 The Neuer Marstall "stables" on Schlossplatz - the huge edifice on the right. In 1900.
Details of the riots in Berlin early in the week, in the course of which 100 persons were killed in street fighting when marines and Spartacusites (extreme Socialists) occupied the Royal castle and arrested the commandant of the city are now available

On Tuesday morning, Christmas Eve, 800 sailors who were guarding the Red Palace arrested General Weiss, commander of the Berlin garrison and two assistants, because Weiss proposed to dissolve the Sailors Corps and refused to incorporate it in the Republican Guard The Government at once made preparations  to disperse the sailors and ordered the Republican Guard to place machine guns in the streets The sailors refused to surrender and occupied the ex Kaisers palace which the Guard bombarded with batteries of .77 s firing at point blank range. The castle is considerably damaged the walls being full of holes whilst the balcony from which the ex Kaiser made his famous speech at the beginning of the war when he declared ' I know no parties" was smashed up before the Guard succeeded in occupvmg the castle. Many sailors were killed and others fell in the fighting in the Unter den Linden and elsewhere.

 Volksmarine sailors in Berlin

Amsterdam advices that the rioting commenced at 8 oclock on Tuesday morning when the Marines, who held extreme Socialist views, occupied the Imperial Palace and stables. The Guards assaulted the two buildings under cover of artillery and after three hours of  fighting the Marines retreated having come to terms with the troops supporting the Government. The marines casualties were 68.
Street fighting arising from the revolt continued throughout Tuesday on to Wednsday morning
A large number of the Berlin Guards joined the sailors and also a few of the Republican Guards. A great number of armed civilians continued to join the sailors who occupied the Koenig strasse as far as the town. The Spartacist partv supported the sailors demand that the Ebert Government should resign in favour of one constituted bv Herr Labedour  and Dr. Karl Liebnecht. A long conference with the Ministers was held bv Dr Liebknecht at the Chancellors palace The result was not disclosed. Further fighting was feared as the Spartacists and the the sailors had decided to compel the Guards to return to Potsdam The latter are now stationed in the Unter den Linden and Werderschenplatz.

On Wednesday evening, Christmas Day, the situation was more dangerous for the Government. The Alexander and Franzen regiments openly joined the sailors and it was reported that nearly the whole of the Berlin garrison intended to do likewise Thus the Governnient was likely to be left without troops. It was believed that large forces of sailors from Kiel and Wilhelmshaven  were proceeding to Berlin to assist their comrades. Soldiers and 50 sailors occupied the Royal castle while 1,200 sailors held the Roval stables. Both groups declared that they would not surrender before both buildings were destroyed over their heads.

The latest advices are that the disturbances have somewhat subsided the soldiers and sailors declaring that the trouble is over. The  sailors remain in the city, but have evacuated the badly battered palace.Each regiment in Berlin together with the sailors will select delegates. These will form a committee which will appoint one of their number as supreme commander the troops, the commander to be responsible to the Peoples Councils.

The riots have caused a decision by the military commanders to pay off the members of the Naval Reserve who are on duty at the Revolutionary headquarters.

The Spartacist forces have seized the War Ministry and the office of "Vorwarts", a newspaper.

The Mercury. 30th Dec 1918

Telegraphing, on Christmas Day, the Berlin correspondent of the "Daily Express" states that the German Government has given way to the sailors' demands, and allowed them to remain in Berlin. Berlin is rapidly approaching anarchy. Many of the wives and sweethearts of sailors are now armed . Some took part in yesterday's fighting. Not a few sailors state openly that no peace is possibles for Germany until Allied troops arrive in Berlin.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Spartacists in Berlin 1919

In January 1918 the Kaiser was on the throne of a Germany that looked like winning the war. The Russians were collapsing with a victorious, strong, Germany seizing their territories, and a knockout blow was ready in the West. By January 1919, the dream was shattered. The war lost, the Kaiser had abdicated, Germany's colonies were gone and the allies were discussing how to cut Germany down, and keep her there. In the capital Berlin, short of food and supplies in deep winter, and with thousands of men returning from the front, bitter and disillusioned, power was there for the taking. The Left were inspired by Bolshevik Russia, the Right were horrified by Communism, and longed to make Germany strong again. On the Right the gangs called themselves Frei Korps, and were usually based on the previous unit of the men, so that the Frei Korps Potsdam, for example, was formed from ex- Guards. So groups of both sides, heavily armed and military trained, were roaming the streets of Berlin.

What government there was was led by Friedrich Ebert, and held in power by whatever army was left in Berlin, as well as, until recently, the Volksmarinedivision of mutinied sailors who were based in  the Neuer Marstell (Royal Stables) across from the Imperial City Residence. When they had occupied the Imperial Chancellery Ebert had made the mistake of sending troops against them, only to see these repelled and expelled from the city centre. With Ebert without regular troops and the Volksmarine uninterested in seizing power themselves there was a dangerous vacuum.

Spartacists marching through Berlin

Early in January, Left wing gangs had seized several buildings in the newspaper district around Kochstrasse, including the offices of Vorwarts, which had been highly critical of the Left, especially the Spartacists. These were Marxists, who had named themselves after the slave who rose against Imperial Rome. Although they had changed their name to the Communist Party of Germany, and in fact were only one of several groups, what came next became known as the Spartacist Rising.

Gathering in the former police headquarters on Alexanderplatz the various fraction leaders discussed what to do. Predictably, there was endless discussion, but no agreement. Even amongst the Spartacists, Karl Liebknecht wanted to take over the state whilst Rosa Luxemburg favoured negotiation. The military leader of the Spartakists, Robert Eichhorn naturally favoured the former. Also there was Karl Radek, a close associate of Lenin and Vice-Commisar for Foreign Affairs for the Russian Bolshevik government who was a long term advocate of Revolutionary War. When material was found at Vorwarts urging attacks by the Frei Korps, they all agreed on fighting.They tried to bring over the army regiments to their cause, especially the Volksmarine, but there was little enthusiasm there for a communist state, not least because many in the Army blamed strikes and disturbances back home for Germany´s defeat in the war.

Meanwhile, Ebert was bringing troops back into Berlin, and encouraging the Frei Korps. On Saturday 11 January they made their move.

The battles for Berlin

The bombardment of the Police Headquarters in Alexanderplatz began at 6 in the morning. Artillery (7cm guns) had been placed on the roofs of houses in streets to the south of Alexanderplatz, and together with more on a railway car on the stone railway arches to the east they opened fire. The Spartacists replied with machine gun fire, but they were out gunned and these were silenced in less than 15 mins. Soon after there was a terrific crash as part of the 2nd storey collapsed and soon after they surrendered. 400 prisoners were taken and over 60 dead and wounded recovered. According to some reports many of the machine gun crews were women. 
Alexanderplatz after the battle. A trench mortar can be seen in the foreground

Meanwhile the Potsdam Freikorps under Major von Stephani deployed around the Vorwarts building. Stephani had already been inside, disguised as a Spartakist, and was confident of success. At 8.15am he gave the order to fire and artillery, machine guns and trench mortars slammed into the building. Whenever a Spartakist machine gun opened fire it was swiftly silenced. The building was then stormed, and cleared room by room, according to one account using flame throwers. 300 prisoners were captured.

The Spartakists had fortified the Boetzow brewery, but withdrew, piling into trucks and transferring to the Silesian station by the Spree, where they planned a last stand. All the streets leading in were covered by machine guns, but it was not enough and they were overwhelmed.

Skirmishes continued throughout the night of the 11/12th, with attacks by Spartakists on government patrols, shooting from roof tops or lobbing hand grenades. Reports came from Charlottenstrasse, Mohrenstrasse, Friedrichstrasse, Leipzigerstrasse, Taubenstrasse, and Wilhelmstrasse. At 5am a battle raged in the streets crossing Freidrichstrasse from the station at Belleallianz platz.

The following excerpts, though not the pictures, are newspaper reports from the time. In this case from the Advertiser in Australia on January 16th 1919.

Government artillery firing on the Vorwarts building

Fortified brewery

On Saturday the Government troops atacked all the Spartacist strongholds in Berlin. In the afternoon they surrounded the newspaper district, after a short struggle, and captured the "Vorwaerts" building. There were 125 dead bodies found in the building. The troops on Saturday night were still attacking the "Berline Tageblatt" building. The Spartacist leaders have deserted the police headquaters, and have brought great quantities of weapons and food to the large Boetzow brewery, which is strongly fortified. Eichhorn, the late Police Commissioner, and Radek, the Russian Bolshevik agent, are directing the battle from that place. Radek is keeping up the spirit of the Spartacus Anarchists by continually declaring that the Russian army is on the way to Berlin. Two thousand of the Spartacist sympathisers in Hanover on Saturday commandeered a train which was travelling to Berlin. More from all parts of Germany are making their way to the capital. 

It Doesn't Look Real

    The correspondent of the "Daily Chronicle'' in Rotterdam states:-Thousands of criminals have flocked to Berlin and they are participating in the looting and the raiding of the shops. Many secured arms by joining the Red Guards. They all bave motor lorries, by means of which organised bands of criniinals carry out extensivec pillage. Despite the street fighting there are thousands of sightseers in the thoroughfares, who fly off hurridly when firing is heard. The street hawkers have become so accustomed to the fighting that they do not remove their stalls unless firing comes close to them, when they retire for a few yards up a side street. They return as soon as the firing ceases. The sightseers also return, and the shops resume business. The organ grinders, the players of mouth organs, and other street musicians, continue playing amidst the flames, and the street beggars remain at their posts.

Paper Barricades

Noske, the German War Minister, commanding four regiments, including many Volunteers, has recovered the greater part of Spandau. He also captured and shot the Spartacist leader.
The "Frankfurter Zeitung" states that the Spartakist forces barricaded the "Vorwaerts" office with large reels of paper, and posted machine guns behind them arid also in the windows. The Government artillery demolished part of the front building and buried some of the rioters under the debris. Others then fluttered handkerchiefs and white paper from the windows to proclaim their surrender, and three hundred men were captured.

1,300 Rebels Killed.

The Workers' and Soldiers' Council at Leipzig refused a passage to a troop train to Berlin on the ground that the motives of the force were anti-revolutionary. The revolutionary police attempted to disarm the soldiers, and there was fighting on both sides, which caused several deaths. Eventually the police were victorious. There were similar encounters subsequently on the arrival of other trains, and the troops were disarmed.
A message from Copenhagen states: After a brief armistice on Saturday the fighting was renewed in the newspaper quarter of Berlin, and continued all night long.' A force of 13,000 Government troops reached Berlin on Saturday, making a total of 40,000 soldiers in the city. The Spartacist followers killed since the outbreak of the Revolt are estimated at 1,300, including many deaths around the "Vorwaerts " office. The troops arrested Herr Liebnecht , one of the Spartacus leaders, at his residence.
 Street fighting in Berlin


Liebnecht and Luxembourg were captured, interrogated and shot. They weren't the only ones, as all over Germany revolts were put down. Effectively this destroyed the Communists as a military force in Germany, although they still had some industrial strength. Despite other revolts and threats from both Left and Right the Ebert government, and it's successor the Weimar government, lasted until the 1930s, and the rise of Nazism.