Why the Allies Intervened

What should be kept in mind is that when the Allies “intervened” and sent forces to Russia in 1917, following the Bolshevik revolution, they did so at a time when it was not certain whether the Soviets would enter into an armistice with Germany. The Allies aimed to: (1) Ensure that the large stocks of war materials that had been given to Russia by the Allies to fight Germany would not be captured by the German, and (2) to provide safe conduct to the Czech prisoners-of-war who had been released by the Bolsheviks and aimed to reach France to fight the Germans and secure a place for Czech nationhood in the post-war world. Overthrowing the Bolsheviks was not part of the plan, and there was a likelihood that the Bolsheviks would join the Allies against Germany rather than signing an armistice. Robert Service states, “Most Bolshevik leaders… thought that a separate peace with the Central Powers was an insufferable concession to capitalist imperialism.”[19] Despite Lenin’s directions, Trotsky, as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, had, instead of signing a peace treaty at Brest-Litovsk, called for a revolution against Germany; and with Trotsky’s intransigence, the armistice broke, with the Germans launching another offensive on the Eastern Front, where they now fought the unprepared Red Army. This caused a sense of “solidarity” between the Soviets and the Allied representatives.[20] The British, via War Cabinet special agent R H Bruce Lockhart, sought out Trotsky on the instructions of Lloyd George. So close were Lockhart and Trotsky to become that Lockhart’s wife commented that he was getting the reputation as a “Red” among his colleagues in Britain.[21]

Kennan states that when the Americans sent their first representative to Archangel in 1917, “At the time of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Petrograd the allies were interested in Archangel not only for its importance as a channel of entrance and egress for European Russia but that also for the fact that here too, as at Vladivostok, war supplies shipped to former Russian governments had accumulated in large quantities.”[22] General William S Graves, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia, explained:

It should be remembered that the main reason advanced by those interested in military intervention in Siberia, was the immediate and urgent need for protection of the Czechs who were supposed to be trying to get through Siberia to Vladivostok and then to the Western front where they could join the Allies.[23]

With the fear of a German attack, Allied forces landed in Murmansk to support the Soviets. Kennan notes that this was probably the first Allied landing of forces on Russian territory, and it was undertaken at the invitation of the local Soviet authorities.[24]

Contact with the Whites

While the Allies pursued a policy of negotiation with the Bolsheviks in regard to war aims, they also left their options open in regard to the anti-Bolshevik White movement, led by Admiral Kolchak, who had established his authority over Eastern Siberia. There was a good chance that the White movement would defeat the Soviets, and if they could not get support from the Allies they would be obliged to turn to Germany. Although Admiral Kolchak was staunchly pro-British, some, such as Cossack Ataman Semenoff, were heavily backed by the Japanese, one of the Allies, but nonetheless even then suspect; and other White commanders had a pro-German orientation.

In April 1918 British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, on the basis of encouraging reports from Lockhart, suggested joint Allied intervention in co-operation with the Soviets.[25] Colonel William Wiseman of the British Secret Service, who had played a role in facilitating Trotsky’s return from New York to Russia and possibly had even recruited Trotsky as a British agent,[26] was of the same opinion, cabling President Wilson’s confidante Edward House from London on May 1 1918 that the Allies should intervene at the invitation of the Bolsheviks and help organize the Red Army[27]. However, the Allies remained unsure of the reliability of the Soviets.

Outbreak of the “Civil War”

The catalyst for the outbreak of hostilities involved a dispute between the freed Czech POWs and the Soviets. En route along the Trans-Siberian railway an order came from Trotsky for the Czechs to disarm. The Czechs believed this to be of treacherous intent and a revolt broke out, the Czechs turning back into Russia and on reaching Samara on the River Volga offered their services to the Socialist-Revolutionary “Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly.” The battle-hardened Czechs defeated the Red Army and the entire Volga region came under the anti-Bolshevik Socialist-Revolutionaries. Russia was in disarray with industrial strikes, peasant resistance, and opposition to the Bolsheviks ranging from anarchists to Czarists. Additionally fighting soon broke out between the Bolsheviks and their partners, the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries.[28]

After months of procrastination, American troops landed in Siberia and North Russia in July 1918, without advising the French and British who had been pushing for decisive action. Here Admiral A V Kolchak had formed a White Army. Encouraged by Allied troop landings an anti-Bolshevik coup in Archangel succeeded in driving out the Soviets. A small American force led by a lieutenant chased the Soviets for seventy-five miles south along the Archangel-Vologda railroad. However, it is important to realize that military engagement against the Bolsheviks contravened US policy, and such actions were undertaken by enthusiastic military men at the scene, in disregard for Wilson’s directive of not engaging the Red Army. Gen. William S Graves, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia, wrote of this: “…If I had permitted American troops to be used in fighting ‘Red armies,’ as stated, I would have taken an immense responsibility upon myself, as no one above me, in authority, had given me any such orders….”[29]

Graves’ American Kiss of Death

As much of the world now realizes, when America enters a conflict, it is a “kiss of death” to its supposed friends. Gen. Graves took his place in Kolchak’s Siberia as commander of the American Expeditionary Force, the sole aim being to protect the Trans-Siberian Railway, and definitely not to engage the Red Army. Graves’ insisted on maintaining strict “neutrality” – other than when opportunities arose in which he could confront Kolchak and the White movement, for whom he had an unremitting contempt, writing over a decade later:

At the time of my arrival in Vladivostok, when the Allied representatives spoke of Russians, they meant the old Czarist officials, who felt it was then safe enough for them to appear in their gorgeous uniforms every evening, and parade down Svetlanskaya, the principal thoroughfare.[30]

Despite the advantage of hindsight years afterwards Graves continued to damn the atrocities and repression of the White authorities, but at no time did he acknowledge the so-called “Red Terror” which had been officially operative since December 1917, or the totalitarian nature of the Bolshevik regime, insisting in his reminisces that,

The foreign press was constantly being told that the Bolsheviks were the Russians who were committing these terrible excesses, and propaganda had been used to such an extent that no one ever believed that atrocities were being committed against the Bolsheviks.[31]

Of General Ivanoff-Rinoff, one of Kolchak’s commanders, Graves stated to British High Commissioner Sir Charles Eliot, that: “As far as I’m concerned the people could bring Ivanoff-Rinoff opposite American headquarters and hang him to that telephone pole until he is dead – and not an American would turn his hand!”[32] This was an example of Graves’ supposedly non-partisan involvement. Graves’ characterization of the Kolchak Government was that of “a crowd of reactionaries.”[33]

Other forms of “non-interference” by Graves included:

  • Stopping the American Red Cross from delivering warm underwear to the White forces by threatening to withdraw Americans guarding Red Cross trains.[34]
  • Graves’ demand that the Japanese disarm Ussuri Cossack Ataman Kalmikoff.[35]
  • Attempted interference with the Japanese forces, which executed five suspected Bolsheviks, calling in the Japanese Chief of Staff and the American commander, and stating that the Americans should have used force against their Japanese “allies” rather than allow the executions.[36]
  • Withholding 14,000 desperately needed arms from the already under-equipped White forces in retaliation for the failure of Kolchak to repress press criticism of Americans; arms that had been paid for by the Kolchak administration.[37]
  • Armed intervention to prevent Semenoff’s Cossacks obtaining 15,000 rifles, the US aiming to ensure that Semenoff did not receive any weapons.[38]
  • Prevention of Kolchak from firing on a revolutionary force at Irkutsk, which had staged a coup and taken over the railway station.
  • Persuading the Japanese to withdraw from combating the Red Army at a time when the Kolchak forces were in their final life-struggle.[39]
  • Armed prevention of the Japanese from protecting Russian Governor, General Rozanov at Vladivostok, when revolutionists besieged his home. Fortunately for Rozanov, the Japanese were able to facilitate his escape.[40]