Saturday, 27 October 2012

Sir L'Estrange Mordaunt

The wonderfully named L'Estrange Mordaunt illustrates in some ways the late Elizabethan Age. He took part in the main military campaigns of the period, emerging with more credit than most, and seized the opportunities becoming available to move up the social scale.

He was born in 1572, the 2nd son of Henry Mordaunt and Anne Poley. No "Sir" then, that came later, but his family were reasonably wealthy and well connected. His name incidentally came from his grandmother, Barbara L'Estrange, an heiress who bought the manors of Massingham Parva (now Little Massingham) in Norfolk and Walton D'Evile (!), near Wellesbourne in Warwickshire, to the family. Henry and Anne lived in Kings Lynn, but Massingham Parva was destined to be L'Estange's family home.

In Lynn young L'Estrange learnt the customary lessons of the day, writing, French and Latin, but also how to use weapons. Lynn, being an international port, bought frequent news of the outside world. France split between Catholics and Protestants, Holland fighting for it's independence against Spain (based in what we now call Belgium), and further afield stories of the New World, and English raids on the Spanish treasure fleet.

 Kings Lynn Guildhall


L'Estrange decided on a military career and for active service joined the English army in Flanders. This was more or less a continuation of the Armada campaign, with English, Dutch and French Portestant troops at one time or another fighting the Spanish or French Catholics.

Late 16th century Guildhouses in Antwerp

L'Estrange had other adventures beyond the war however. Whilst quartered in Antwerp he courted Margaret de Charles, daughter of a "Flemish Gentleman" and exile from the Dutch Republic, Peter de Charles, and he married her and took her back to live in Massingham.


The Mordaunt family had quite an interest in events in Ireland, with a distant cousin, Nicholas Mordaunt, holding a post there. With Ireland being by far the biggest English military commitment, it was natural that L`Estrange would end up there sooner or later.

Since 1595 much of Ireland had been in revolt against English rule, led by the Earl of Tyrone and equipped by the Spanish. The Irish mainly fought with javelin, and increasingly, with musket, and it helped that Tyrone was a much more effective general than most of those he faced, drawing the English troops through boggy ground and into his fire. The English fought with pike and shot, but their strength was their cavalry, semi-armoured and with lances, although Tyrone rarely gave them a chance to charge over open ground. The Irish won battle after battle, culminating in the Battle of Yellow Ford, where 2,000 English troops were killed.

Elizabeth`s response was to raise an army of 16,000 men to crush the rebellion, the largest army England had yet formed, and including young L`Estrange. Unfortunately it was placed under the command of Elizabeth`s favourite, the Earl of Essex. Essex`s strategy of pacifying the south before taking on Tyrone`s forces in the north was not necessarily bad, but was poorly carried out. English troops were split amongst many small garrisons, where many simply died of dysentery, whilst Essex showed no great urgency. When he did attack it was on terrain suited to the Irish forces, such as at the disastrous Battle of Curlew Ridge. Essex was always looking back to court, and in 1599 he deserted Ireland without permission to return to London, and a sticky end.

 Lord Mountjoy in 1594

Fortunately for L`Estrange and the other English troops, Essex was succeeded by Lord Mountjoy, experienced of wars on the continent as well as an expedition to the Azores. Mountjoy in turn appointed two men experienced of Irish warfare, George Carew and Arthur Chichester, as his leutenants. Carew had pacified Munster by 1601, whilst with amphibious landings at Londonderry and Carrickfergus Chichester invaded Ulster. A Spanish force of 4,000 soldiers landed at Cork with the aim of sandwiching the English between them and Tyrone's forces marching south, but in January 1602 Mountjoy managed to catch the Irish forces on open ground. For once fighting on their own terms, the English cavalry destroyed the Irish foot, and the rebellion was effectively over.

L`Estrange returned to England, doubtless with considerable relief. Thousands of English troops had died from hunger or disease, many more than enemy action, and it had not been a glorious war. None the less he had emerged with credit, and enhanced his reputation in high circles.


With the effective end of the war in early 1602 L`Estrange returned home, and in May the death of his uncle Robert left him a wealthy man at 30 years old. Sadly in 1606 his Flemish wife Margaret died and was laid to rest in Little Massingham church. L`Estrange married Frances Sotherton, a widow from Norwich, in 1608.

Little Massingham church

The transition from Elizabeth to James I seems to have made little difference to L`Estrange's fortunes, but the Gunpowder Plot did draw in members of his family. Lord Mordaunt, a relative, was suspected of involvement and fined 10,000 pounds. However,  to balance this Sir Gilbert Pickering was one of those most active investigators of the plot, and Sir Gilbert's son later married L`Estrange's grand daughter, so maybe there was some useful connection at the time.

 L'Estrange propsered and in 1606-7 he was Sheriff of Norfolk. Certainly in 1611 L`Estrange was in favour at court, or rather his money was.

James I needed cash and he came up with the bright idea of selling "Baronetcies", a new form of nobleman. The plan was "offered" to 200 men of good breeding, all they had to do was stump up money equivalent for 3 years pay for 30 soldiers, which came out at £1,095 - a days pay was reckoned to be 8 pence. How much of that money actually went to the army, who were notoriously badly paid, is unknown, but any way on 29th of June 1611, L'Estrange Mordaunt became Baron Mordaunt of Massingham Parva.

Baron Mordaunt lived to see his son Robert knighted by James 1 in 1620, but he died aged 55 in 1627, and was buried next to his first wife in Little Massingham Church.

Further Reading

Much of the above comes from Massingham Parva Past and Present, (1882), by Robert Fisher McLeod available online at

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Onega & Back Part 4 - the War in the Air

By May 1919 the small British expeditionary force operating out of Murmansk had advanced 500 miles down the Murmansk-Petrograd railway to the shores of Lake Onega. After endless dense forest this meant that airplanes could finally be used, not just to see where the Bolsheviks were, but to attack them.

There does not seem to be much available on the operations around the lake in English, but a very thorough study is available online in Russian - The Great River War, 1918-1920 by Alexander B. Shirokorad (2006) at, and most of what follows comes from there. With luck someone might translate the whole book properly in the future.


The Allied base was at the town of Medveja Gora, at the head of the lake. The Allies didn't need an airfield, all they needed was open water - seaplanes had been shipped up to Murmansk on the carriers HMS Nairana and HMS Pegasus and it was easy to fly then down to Onega, which as the 2nd largest lake in Europe made a perfect operating area. Facilities were built rapidly and the first planes arrived on June 6th 1919.
 A Fairey IIIC being unloaded from a seaplane carrier

Two types of seaplane were used. The first to arrive were Fairey IIICs. These were 2 seaters, with a pilot and observer, and could carry up to 500lbs of bombs under their wings. In many cases this meant 2x 230lb bombs, specially developed by the British for destroying fortifications, bridges or railways. They also had a forward facing Vickers machine gun, and a Lewis gun on a flexible mount for the observer.

The Short type 184 was another 2 seater, which as well as carrying 520 lb of bombs could also carry a torpedo. What it didn't have was a forward facing machine gun, just a Lewis gun for the observer.

Apparently the Bolsheviks also had an airforce, at least in Febuary 1919 they are listed as having two Grigorovich M9 seaplanes at their lakeside base at Petrozavodsk. In many ways the M9 was equivalent to the British machines, it could even be modified to carry a 37mm cannon, but they seem to have made no impression in the campaign. Perhaps because the armament wasn't available, the itinerary lists only 5 and 10 lb bombs. In any event the Allies had complete air superiority.

A Grigorovich M9


On June 7th, the day after they arrived, two Fairey IIIcs on patrol found and attacked three gunboats, no.s 4, 6 and 8 with 112 and 20 lb bombs. The gunboats, actually converted paddle steamers, were each armed with two machine guns but failed to hit their attackers. On the other hand, although four bombs were dropped on both gunboats 4 and 8, none hit.

On June 9th the Bolsheviks reported bombing raids over a period of 4 hours on gunboats 2 and 7, with apparently 21 bombs dropped on number 2, and 7 on number 7. The British view of this can be seen from the commendation of Observer Officer Frederick Eades, published in the London Gazette.

"On June 9, 1919, whilst serving with the " Syren " Force in North Russia,  this officer was on night patrol (observer) in heavy rain, investigating the enemy's position off Schunga, on Lake Onega. Their position was attacked  from a height of 300 ft. by machine gun and bombs, the latter being thrown  from the observer's cockpit. Having expended all ammunition, the machine  returned to base, and after refilling, again attacked and drove one gunboat  ashore. A second gunboat was later seen to be in tow, presumably damaged  in the attack."

The seaplane base at Medveja Gora

On June 11th Eades was again in cation, flying as observer to Flying Officer Issac. Three Fairey IIIcs made an attack on a gunboat patrol, but although they approached to within 50m only minor casualties were caused.

It was becoming clear to the Bolsheviks that their anti-aircraft fire was pretty useless, even when supplemented by rifle fire. To justify this to their superiors the crews started to report "armoured" bombers, even though the British had nothing of the kind!

Bridges and trains also made tempting targets, though very difficult ones, and to increase accuracy the pilots started to come in low, at about 30ft. A bombing run on the railway on June 11th blew a 6 meter crater in the track using a 230 lb bomb. On June 29th a patrol found came across a train and attacked it directly, coming in at 70ft, and zigzagging to avoid anti-aircraft fire. They dropped a 230 lb bomb directly in front of the train, which ripped the engine in half.

 A Short 184 seaplane

Attacks on gunboats were common but generally unsuccessful, although on July 1st the tender "Auguste Blanqui" was hit by a bomb which blew up the bridge, though it still managed to limp back to Petrozavodsk. One innovation was the use of shrapnel bombs, which didn't need a direct hit to work. On June 29th the captain of gunboat 2 was severely wounded by a bomb exploding over 10m away.

By July 10th the Bolsheviks were forced to abandon lake patrols, and the British started to attack Petrozavodsk directly. On August 5th a flight of 4 seaplanes bombed the Bolshevik base there, dropping 20 bombs around the base and the docks. There were further raids on August 7th and then on the 18th, when a 230lb bomb made a crater over 4m deep.

In September the British started to prepare for withdrawal, transferring some of their aircraft to White Russian forces and training up pilots. The last patrol was on September 29th, by Captain Park and a Russian observer, Lt. Motorin.

In total British seaplanes on Onega flew a total of 616 hours and dropped 1,014 bombs as well as 25,000 propaganda leaflets, and shot 47,500 rounds of ammunition. Reconnaissance flights photographed and mapped over ​​250 square miles.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Onega & Back Part 3 - Action on the Lake 1919

When you join the navy you probably don't expect to find yourself in the middle of a lake in Russia, but in early 1919 that's exactly where a small Royal Navy flotilla were. Admittedly Lake Onega is enormous, the 2nd largest in Europe, but they had still had to get there by rail, from Murmansk. In fact even then a path had to be cut through the forest to even reach the lake shore. Fortunately, a party of American railroad engineers was available to do the job, and a naval base of two American (40ft)  and 11 British small (55ft) "coastal motor boats" (CMBs) was set upon the lake. Unfortunately, the Americans were withdrawn by their government, handing over one of their boats to the Royal Navy, who promptly christened it the Jolly Roger!

 To understand why Lake Onega was so important you have to appreciate that the only route from St Petersburg (Petrograd) through dense forest to the Allied/White base at Murmansk was the Murmansk Railway, and the only population in this area was in the villages around the lake. Control the lake, and the railway, and you controlled the whole area.

The Royal Navy on Lake Onega

Initially it was far from clear that the British would control anything on the lake. Their flotilla of small launches was drawfed by the Bolshevik fleet, which in February 1919 stood at 4 medium size lake steamers, 4 floating batteries and 2 minelayers, armed with a mixture of 75,mm, 47mm, and 35mm guns and machine guns. They also had 2 Grigorovich M-9 seaplanes, although as we will see later, the British had plans of their own in this regard.
 A view of Lake Onega in 1915, including a view of one of the lake steamers (Library of Congress)

The British flotilla was commanded by Lt Commander Mather, a former Antarctic exploder, who from the start decided the best form of attack was defence, mounting raids all over the lake, and increasing his fleet at the expense of the Bolsheviks.

Early in June, the four armed Bolshevik lake steamers were observed steaming on Lake Onega northwest towards Medvyejya. Mather, in command of a flotilla of CMBs, engaged the enemy and for this action he was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). The citation reads:

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, on the 5 June 1919, before Shunski Bor, Lake Onega, when in command of four motor boats he engaged four enemy steamers, carrying many heavy guns, in order to relieve the Russians who were being heavily attacked. Notwithstanding the disparity in armament he caused the enemy vessels to retire south, and so enabled the Russians to counter-attack with success. He showed throughout great courage and devotion to duty and set a fine example to all".

The "Jolly Roger" with it's 3 pdr gun was kept busy bombarding Bolsehvik positions on the shoreline, such as on June 10th when it attacked the village of Fedotova on the Shunga peninsula destroying a bridge and killing 30 Bolsheviks. Unfortunately, on July 8th a fire in the engine room exploded the petrol tank and the ship was lost.
 The "Jolly Roger"

Better news came on August 3rd when three of the four Bolshevik steamers were captured, 'Silny", 'Pajalostny" and "Azod' off Tolvuya, Lake Onega. With a decent troop carrying capacity Mather got even more ambitious.

The Raid on Rimskaya

On August 29th a major raid was launched on Rimskaya, 80 miles from Medveja Gora and the Bolshevik headquarters on the eastern side of Lake Onega. The raiding force would consist of 130 Russians, 25 Serbians, and 60 men of the British naval flotilla, all carried in a small fleet consisting  of the Sileny (a captured Bolshevik steamer), the Axod (a captured Bolshevik tug), the Royal Navy motor boats and various small Russian chasers.
 A view, reportedly, of the jetty at Rimskaya during the action

The Axod was first alongside the landing stage, a British officer leaping of the bows and leading his men to occupy the buildings and wood piles by the jetty. The Bolshevik outpost there was overcome after a short fire fight, and the site secured for the landings. The prisoners taken on the jetty incidentally were found to have been from a White battalion in Archangel that had mutinied and shot their British officers - they were handed over to the White authorities.

One of the first ashore was Boson C.H. Mitchell, who won the Military Cross. His, and other, reports in the London Gazette are given below.....

"This Chief Petty Officer showed great gallantry and devotion to duty during the attack on the village of Rimskaya on 29th August, 1919. He was one of the first to enter the village, personally took twelve of the enemy prisoners and captured one machine gun, which had been delaying the advance. He set a magnificent example of gallantry and coolness."

Eighteen enemy tried to make a stand in woodland around the pier, but were broken up by Able Seaman Logan, an American from New York serving in the Mercantile Marine Reserve.

"On 29th August, 1919, at Rimskaya on Lake Onega, this rating, showed great resource, courage and initiative on the occasion of landing. Together with another man he captured eighteen prisoners who were taking cover in the woods round the pier and who would have held up the advance of the Allied landing party."
 A site on the lake,  probably not Rimskaya, showing the typical buildings and log piles (Library of Congress)

Troops fanned out into the village - one house, unusually, has a horse tied up outside. As the British approached a Red Commissar broke cover and tried to escape, but was captured.

Fire fights broke out all over the village as the Bolsheviks tried to set up machine gun posts. Motorman H. Barker, from Penge, won a Military Cross for overcoming one of these..

"On 29th August, 1919, at Rimskaya, this rating displayed conspicuous zeal and gallantry on the occasion of the storming of the village. Coming under a heavy machinegun cross fire he persevered and then became mainly responsible for the capture of thirty-one prisoners."

The raiders had machine guns of their own, more skilfully handled. Able Seaman J. Buss, from Camberwell, won a bar to the Distinguished Conduct Medal he already possessed, for his part in the battle...

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Rimskaya, on 29th August, 1919, when he advanced with his machine gain under (heavy fine, and' by skillful handling of the same was largely responsible for the capture of 30 prisoners by his section.".

Buss in fact was not a sailor at all, but an ex-Sergeant in the London Regiment, who had won his Distinguished Conduct Medal the previous year.

Another 30 prisoners were also captured by Lt. Walter Wood, who won a Military Cross. All in all 150 prisoners were taken and the operation was a huge success. And meanwhile the RAF had also been in action over the lake, but that's another blog.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Onega & Back Part 2 - To War by Rail

 British troops in Russia in 1919. In this case, on the Archangel front

May 1919 found a small British/White Russian force on the northern shores of Lake Onega in Russia. At described in part 1 they had fought their way down from Murmansk in the Arctic, following the line of the Murmansk - St Petersburg railway, and they were now based in Medvyejya Gora on the lake shore. The officer commanding, General Maynard, already knew that the British troops were to be withdrawn before the winter, his task was to train up a decent Russian army to take their place, and damage Bolshevik forces as much as possible in the meantime.

Most of the land around was marsh and forest, very heavy going. So movement was more or less restricted to the railway line, which could transport troops, and even offer artillary support via naval guns mounted on wagons. Advance or retreat was measured by how far down the line you were to St Petersburg.

Maynard's British contingent had originally consisted of just two companies from the Middlesex and Kings Royal Rifle Regiments, but once on the lake he was reinforced by RAF sea planes and a small naval flotilla manned by the Mercantile Marine Reserve. He also had Italian and Serbian contingents, but the bulk of his forces were Russian. Unfortunately their quality and numbers varied wildly, and in the initial stages it was the British who did most of the fighting.

 Allies - Serbian troops defending part of the Murmansk railway, 1919

Some idea of the action that summer can be obtained from the following excerpt.

The Middlesex Special Company

The "Die Hards" arrived in Murmansk in April 1919, just one company, but an elite one. Number 1 "Special" company was formed of volunteers and almost all were long service veterans. It was commanded by Major C. D. Drew.

 A typical view of the Murmansk Railway in 1915

Their first "active" service was when No. 1 platoon acted as escort of a train of "undesirables" being deported to enemy lines, but on 2nd May 1919 they were sent by train down to "n. 19 Siding" near Lake Vigozero - as was described in part 1, everything in this part of the world moved by the Murmansk Railway, or by water, there was no other serious way of getting around. From May 5th to 15th they stayed in camp at number 19 Siding whilst the other British Company from the KRRC steadily forced their way south along the line. By May 14th the KRRC had reached Siding 13, and it was the Middlesex's turn. They continued the advance along the line, reaching Siding 12 on the 16th, but here they had to wait until the line was repaired. On May 19th the KRRC advanced again, but were almost surrounded and cut off until the Middlesex came to their aid.

 Medvyejya Gora

 As the Middlesex company reached Lake Onega they were accompanied by a correspondent of the New York Times, Arthur Copping, whose report was published on June 2nd 1919. His report describes their advance.

As they grew closer to the lake opposition increased, the Die Hards had seen off a Bolshevik train with rifle grenades, and next day, advancing in their own armoured train they had come under rifle fire., which they had driven off with the 3 inch guns of the train. The day after that, a party of American railroad engineers sent ahead to repair a sabotaged bridge were almost captured, but managed to escape under covering fire from one Middlesex patrol whilst another flanked their position.

After three days and nights with very little sleep, progressing down the line through forest and across broken bridges, the Middlesex company, the KRRC and their Serbian and Italian enemies entered Medvyejya Gora on May 21st. Even then they spent the night on outpost duty on the heights above the town.

There was now time for some R&R before the Middlesex were sent off down the line again.On June 12th the Middlesex  launched a night attack against Siding 10, and had taken it by next morning. From July 6th until 26th they the company garrisoned the village of Kapaselga, sending out patrols and digging trenches, before being sent back to Medvyejya Gora, returning to Kapaselga on the 1st of August. On the 13th Bolsheviks attacked Kapaselga,  but were beaten off.

 The Enemy - a modern re-enactment of a Bolshevik attack

 Siding 8

The last action of the Die Hards took place on August 17th, as recorded in their Regimental Diary (

 "Company entrained (at Kapaselga) and left School House at 8 a.m. Detrained at railhead two bridges north of Siding 8. Major Lang, Marines, and one battalion were attached to Company. We attacked along railway line, two platoons on each side. No. 1 Platoon with No. 3 in support on the right, No. 2 with No. 4 in support on the left. Four enemy were seen and fired at in No. 8 Siding and retired on to their main position, where the enemy replied with heavy rifle and machine-gun fire. Firing was more accurate than usual for the ' Bols,' and a good ~ many bullets struck the ground between front and support positions. His position was shelled and Company attacked. His position had been hastily evacuated, and dixies of hot water and burnt pancakes were found; also a large amount of ammunition, several rifles and barbed wire. 

Company advanced again; progress had to coincide with attack of Karelian Company on post road. Patrols were sent to post road to keep touch. Company advanced to Siding 7A, approximately 5 versts south of No. 8 Siding. The enemy blew up bridges as we advanced. On reaching Siding 7A an outpost position was taken up. No. 4 Platoon on right (responsible for railway), No. 3 Platoon on left. No. 2 Platoon returned to No. 8 Siding as escort to guns. No enemy were seen during night. A large fire was observed well in rear of enemy line, which may have been a forest fire. Heavy firing was heard from Vakshozero direction. A patrol was sent to Karelians at junction of post road and track from Siding 7A. Our casualties were nil."

The Company returned to Kapaselga on the 18th, but three hours later left for Medvyejya Gora. On the 20th the Middlesex entrained for Kern where they stayed, away from the front line, before leaving Murmansk for home on the 11th of October.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Onega and Back Pt. 1 - 1919

Why Murmansk?

Why were British troops in Murmansk in the first place? Well, they were partly overtaken by events, partly wildly optimistic.
The British had been supplying their ally, Tsarist Russia, with vast quantities of material aid, much of it via the Artic Ports of Murmansk and Archangel, to avoid the German fleet in the Baltic. Murmansk was basically just a small port, with a railway down to St Petersburg. However, the collapse of Russia in 1917 meant that the advancing Germans could well get all this material for themselves. Even worse, the Bolsheviks could get it!  Another consideration was that Murmansk and Archangel could act as supply bases for White Russian armies, and with Allied help even topple the Reds completely.
Consequently in August 1918 Allied forces took Archangel and Murmansk from the communist forces there, and linking up with White Russians fanned out South West and South East until the Russian winter halted operations in November.

 Murmansk harbour in 1918

By 1919 the situation had changed. Germany had been defeated and there simply wasn't the will to continue another war after the brutal four years of WW1. In 1919 the British commander in Murmansk, General Maynard, was informed unofficially that Allied troops would be withdrawn by the winter of 1919, which was confirmed in July. Murmansk was very much the junior partner to Archangel, which had more fighting, even to the use of British tanks!, and really requires a book in itself. Murmansk though had problems of it´s own, specifically Bolshevik advances up the railway line from St Petersburg (now Petrograd).

Why Lake Onega?

General Maynard, from the front cover of his memoirs, The Murmansk Venture

General Maynard found himself tasked with organising an evacuation in the face of the enemy, never an easy thing to do, as well as training a Russian army to take his place. Rather than patiently waiting for the Bolsheviks to arrive he resolved on a "limited offensive" "to the line Medvyejya Gora- Povyenets at the northern extremity of Lake Onega".
His reasons were as follows;
a) This would block the main route north to Murmansk.
b) It would actually shorten his front line as it would bring him close to the Finnish border, the Finns being anti-Bolshevik
c) (the primary reason given by Maynard) it would open up new areas of recruitment. The Murmansk area was not well populated, and anyway , the people there were "for the most part of a turbulent class, and greatly under the influence of Bolshevik propaganda". In contrast areas to the south were more populous, and "strongly anti- Bolshevik in sentiment".


Many of Maynards British troops had been diverted to Archangel, which left him with;

 Two companies of British Regulars, the 1st Special Company of the Middlesex Regiment formed almost entirely of NCOs and long service veterans, and a company of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps.
An Italian battalion
A Serbian battalion
A Finnish legion - these were Finnish communists who had originally been recruited to fight the Germans. They were not so keen fighting the Bolsheviks
Various Russian units including the Olonetz Regiment.

So in March advance forces were sent out and several villages along the railway line were secured. What held them up was agitation in Murmansk, mainly stirred up by the Red Finns with the aim of staging a revolution and combining with Bolshevik forces to the south. Fortunately this was detected in time, stamped on, and the Bolsheviks to the south driven off after a battle at Urosozero.

The Advance to Lake Onega

The Murmansk Railway bridge over the River Suma 1915 (from an amazing collection at the US Library of Congress)

On May 1st the Allies moved south towards Lake Onega, in three columns - "The right column, consisting of locally enlisted troops under British officers, was directed to clear the western and southern shores of Lake Segozero and protect the right flank of the force. The centre column, composed mainly of British, troops, was ordered to advance rapidly down the railway; whilst the left column, which consisted almost entirely of Russian troops, protected the left flank." (From General Maynard's report in the London Gazette).

The railway was absolutely crucial to the whole campaign. Maynard describes the terrain that spring and summer....
"The Murmansk-Petrograd railway, consisting of a single line, is the main channel of communication through the area. It is extremely vulnerable owing to the large number of wooden bridges which carry it over the waterways, and the wholesale destruction of these by the enemy during his retreat impeded the pursuit of the centre column and added greatly to the difficulties of supplying its advanced posts.The maintenance of the flank columns presented even greater difficulties, however, since all supplies and ammunition had to be conveyed for over 100 miles by tracks wholly unsuited to wheeled transport, and along which every bridge and culvert had been destroyed.

Operations were necessarily confined almost entirely to the attack and defence of localities covering such roads and tracks as were in existence, the enemy usually occupying entrenched positions, the flanks of which rested on a lake or marsh. The difficulty of carrying positions of this nature without undue sacrifice was increased by the impossibility of employing any considerable force of artillery. With the centre column, however, field guns were employed on railway mountings constructed in the local workshops and proved of great assistance.
The absence of aircraft during this advance was felt severely

A typical stretch of the Murmansk Railway, 1915 (Library of Congress)

The first objective was Meselskaya, occupied by the centre column on May 3rd after 48 hours of fighting, the Red forces being driven south, and the left column establishing itself 20 miles to the east, again after heavy fighting. After a few days rest the columns moved off once more, reaching within 5 miles of Medvyejya Gora on May 15th, though only entering the town 6 days later after an attack by all the allies and an outflanking move by the right column to the west. Meanwhile the left column occupied Povyenets on May 18th after several days of fighting.

Lake Onega

The capture of Medvyejya Gora opened up many more options for Maynards forces, not least the establishment of an RAF seaplane (Fairey F III C) base and a small naval flotilla on the lake. The recommence range suddenly increased massively, as did the strike power. Additionally, recruitment to the new Russian forces improved and schools of instruction were formed to train the new troops, as well as the raising of partisans along the eastern shore. Some Russian troops were sent by boat with rifles and ammunition to arm the population of the Sunga peninsula to the west. The allies even made contact, briefly, with Finnish troops on their western flank.

Maynard´s main preoccupation was still with the quality of his Russian troops, especially when they failed to break through to the Shunga peninsula and the job had to be taken by the British. To counter this he determined to move further south, into a more anti-Bolshevik area -this and the small victories required to get there, apparently "had a most salutary effect on the Russian forces, which from now onwards showed a steady improvement in discipline and fighting capacity." By July 5th the Allies held a line Svartnavolotski—Tivdiya—Kyapeselga— Shunga.

July saw worrying events with a revolt of the Russian troops at Archangel and Red reinforcements driving the Finns back, but for the Murmansk forces things were looking good. The Russian forces to the east of the lake and on the Shunga peninsula were doing well, and the small lake flotilla was dominating their much larger Bolshevik opponents, not least by capturing several of their ships. Maynard decided his best policy was to stay where he was, but raid aggressively around Lake Onega to keep the enemy off balance, and that's what he did.