Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War

Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War
Part of the Russian Civil War

Allied troops parading in Vladivostok, 1918.
LocationFormer Russian Empire, Mongolia
Result Allied withdrawal from Russia
Bolshevik victory over the White Army

Russia White movement
 United Kingdom

 United States
France France
Republic of China (1912–49) China
 Russian SFSR
 Far Eastern Republic
Latvian SSR
Ukrainian SSR
Commune of Estonia
Mongolian communists
Commanders and leaders

Russia Alexander Kolchak
Russia Evgeny Miller
Czechoslovakia Radola Gajda
Czechoslovakia Jan Syrový
United States William S. Graves

United States George Evans Stewart
United Kingdom Edmund Ironside
Empire of Japan Yui Mitsue
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Vladimir Lenin
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Leon Trotsky
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Mikhail Tukhachevsky
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Fedor Raskolnikov
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Joseph Stalin
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Dmitry Zhloba
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Pavel Dybenko
 Czechoslovakia 50,000 troops
France France 600 troops
 Greece 23,000 troops
 United States 11,000 troops
Estonia Estonia 11,300 troops
 Japan 70,000 troops
 Italy 2,500 troops
Republic of China (1912–49) Republic of China 2,300 troops
 Australia 150 troops
 United Kingdom Unknown
Casualties and losses
 Czechoslovakia 4,112 killed
 United States 167 killed
 United Kingdom 526 killed
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic 2,000 killed
1 landing craft captured by Romanians

The Allied intervention was a multi-national military expedition launched during the Russian Civil War in 1918. The initial goals were to help the Czechoslovak Legion, secure supplies of munitions and armaments in Russian ports, and re-establish the Eastern Front. After winning World War I, the Allies militarily backed the anti-Bolshevik White forces in Russia. Allied efforts were hampered by divided objectives, war-weariness after they just finished greater conflict, and a lack of domestic support. These factors, together with the evacuation of the Czechoslovak Legion, compelled the Allies to withdraw from North Russia and Siberia in 1920, though Japanese forces occupied parts of Siberia until 1922 and the northern half of Sakhalin until 1925.[1]

Prologue to the Allied intervention


Main article: Russian Revolution

In 1917, Russia was in a state of political strife, public support for war and the Tsar was dwindling. The country was on the brink of revolution. The February Revolution changed the course of the war; under intense political pressure, the Tsar abdicated and the Russian Provisional Government was formed, led initially by Georgy Lvov and later by Alexander Kerensky. The Provisional Government pledged to continue fighting the Germans on the Eastern Front.[1]

The Allies had been shipping supplies to Russia since the beginning of the war in 1914 through the ports of Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, and Vladivostok. In 1917, the United States entered the war on the Allied side. US President Woodrow Wilson dropped his reservations about joining the war with a monarch as an ally, and the United States began providing economic and technical support to Kerensky's government.[1]

The war became unpopular with the Russian populace. Political and social unrest increased, with the revolutionary Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin gaining widespread support. Large numbers of common soldiers either mutinied or deserted the Imperial Russian Army. During the June 18 offensive, the Russian Army was defeated by the German and Austro-Hungarian forces as a result of a counter-attack. This led to the collapse of the Eastern Front. The demoralised Russian Army was on the verge of mutiny and most soldiers had deserted the front lines. Kerensky replaced Aleksei Brusilov with Lavr Kornilov as Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

Kornilov attempted to set up a military dictatorship by staging a coup in late August 1917. He had the support of the British military attaché, Brigadier-General Alfred Knox, and Kerensky accused Knox of producing pro-Kornilov propaganda. Kerensky also claimed Lord Milner wrote him a letter expressing support for Kornilov. A British armoured car squadron commanded by Oliver Locker-Lampson and dressed in Russian uniforms participated in the failed coup.[2] In 1917, the October Revolution led to the overthrow of Kerensky's provisional government, and the Bolsheviks assuming power.

Russia exits the war

Five months later, on March 3, the newly formed Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, formally ending the war on the Eastern Front. This still however did not permit the redeployment of German soldiers to the Western Front, where the British and French armies were awaiting American reinforcements.

Czechoslovak Legions

Czechoslovak troops in Vladivostok (1918)
Main article: Czechoslovak Legion

The Czechoslovak Legion was at times in control of most of the Trans-Siberian railway, all major cities in Siberia. The signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ensured that prisoners-of-war (POW) would be transferred to and from each country. Austro-Hungarian prisoners were of a number of various nationalities; some Czechoslovak POWs deserted to the Russian Army. Czechoslovaks had long desired to create their own independent state, and the Russians aided in establishing special Czechoslovak units (the Czechoslovak Legions) to fight the Central Powers.

In 1917, the Bolsheviks stated that if the Czechoslovak Legions remained neutral and agreed to leave Russia, they would be granted safe passage through Siberia en route to France via Vladivostok to fight with the Allied forces on the Western Front. The Czechoslovak Legions travelled via the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok. However, fighting between the Legions and the Bolsheviks erupted in May 1918.

Allied concerns

Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force, 1919

The Allies became concerned at the collapse of the Eastern front and the loss of their Tsarist ally to communism and there was also the question of the large quantities of supplies and equipment in Russian ports, which the Allies feared might be commandeered by the Germans. Also worrisome to the Allies was the April 1918 landing of a division of German troops in Finland, increasing speculation they might attempt to capture the Murmansk-Petrograd railway, and subsequently the strategic port of Murmansk and possibly Arkhangelsk. Other concerns regarded the potential destruction of the Czechoslovak Legions and the threat of Bolshevism, the nature of which worried many Allied governments. Meanwhile, Allied matériel in transit quickly accumulated in the warehouses in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. Estonia had established a national army with the support of Finnish volunteers and were defending against the 7th Red Army's attack.[3]

Faced with these events, the British and French governments decided upon an Allied military intervention in Russia. They had three objectives:[4]

U.S. troops in Vladivostok, August 1918

Severely short of troops to spare, the British and French requested that President Wilson provide American soldiers for the campaign. In July 1918, against the advice of the United States Department of War, Wilson agreed to the limited participation of 5,000 United States Army troops in the campaign. This force, which became known as the "American North Russia Expeditionary Force" [5] (a.k.a. the Polar Bear Expedition) were sent to Arkhangelsk while another 8,000 soldiers, organised as the American Expeditionary Force Siberia,[6] were shipped to Vladivostok from the Philippines and from Camp Fremont in California. That same month, the Canadian government agreed to the British government's request to command and provide most of the soldiers for a combined British Empire force, which also included Australian and Indian troops. Some of this force was the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force; another part was the North Russia Intervention. A Royal Navy squadron was sent to the Baltic under Rear-Admiral Edwyn Alexander-Sinclair. This force consisted of modern C-class cruisers and V- and W-class destroyers. In December 1918, Sinclair sailed into Estonian and Latvian ports, sending in troops and supplies, and promising to attack the Bolsheviks "as far as my guns can reach". In January 1919, he was succeeded in command by Rear-Admiral Walter Cowan.

The Japanese, concerned about their northern border, sent the largest military force, numbering about 70,000. They desired the establishment of a buffer state in Siberia,[7] and the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff viewed the situation in Russia as an opportunity for settling Japan's "northern problem". The Japanese government was also intensely hostile to communism.

The Italians created the special "Corpo di Spedizione" with Alpini troops sent from Italy and ex-POWs of Italian ethnicity from the former Austro-Hungarian army who were recruited to the Italian Legione Redenta. They were initially based in the Italian Concession in Tientsin and numbered about 2,500.

Romania, Greece, Poland, China, and Serbia also sent contingents in support of the intervention.

Russian Civil War

Main article: Russian Civil War

After the end of the war in Europe and the defeat of the Central Powers, the Allies openly supported the anti-Bolshevik White forces.

Foreign forces throughout Russia

The positions of the Allied expeditionary forces and of the White Armies in European Russia, 1919

Numbers of allied soldiers who were present in the indicated regions of Russia:


Northern Russia

Captured British Mark V tank in Arkhangelsk.

Northwestern Russia

Although the Estonian Army had attained control over its country,the opposing 7th and Estonian Red Armies were still active. The Estonian High Command decided to push their defense lines across the border into Russia in support of the White Russian Northern Corps. They went on offensive at Narva, catching the Soviets by surprise and destroying their 6th Division.[14] The attack was supported along the Gulf of Finland's coast by Royal Navy and the Estonian Navy and marines. With the front approaching, the garrison of the Krasnaya Gorka fort mutinied. But the 7th Red Army received reinforcements and counterattacked, pushing the White Russians back, until the front was stabilised with the support from the Estonian 1st Division at the Luga and Saba Rivers.[15]

The Estonian Pskov offensive commenced simultaneously on 13 May 1919. Its Petseri Battle Group destroyed the Estonian Red Army, captured the town on 25 May, and cleared the territory between Estonia and the Velikaya River.[16] A few days later, the Northern Corps forces arrived in Pskov. On 19 June 1919, the Estonian Commander-in-Chief Johan Laidoner rescinded his command over the White Russians, and they were renamed the Northwestern Army. Shortly afterward, General Nikolai N. Yudenich took command of the troops.[14]

The Northwestern Army launched operation White Sword, a major effort to capture Petrograd on 9 October, with arms provided by Britain and France, and the operational support by the Estonian Army, Estonian Navy, and the Royal Navy.[3] The Estonian and British forces made a joint land and naval attack against Krasnaya Gorka, while the Estonian 2nd Division attempted to throw the 10th Red Division across the Velikaya, and the 3rd Division attacked toward Pytalovo and Ostrov. The Northwestern Army approached to within 16 km (10 mi) of Petrograd, but the Red Army repulsed them back to the Narva River.[16] Distrustful of the White Russians, the Estonian High Command disarmed and interned the remains of the Northwestern Army that retreated behind the state border.[17]

Southern Russia and Ukraine

On 18 December 1918, a month after the armistice, the French occupied Odessa. This began the intervention in southern Russia (later Ukraine) which was to aid and supply General Denikin's White Army forces, the Volunteer Army, fighting the Bolsheviks there. The campaign involved French, Polish, and Greek troops. By April 1919, they were withdrawn[18] before the defeat of the White Army's march against Moscow. General Wrangel reorganized his army in the Crimea; however, with the deteriorating situation, he and his soldiers fled Russia aboard Allied ships on 14 November 1920.


After the Bolshevik forces of the Rumcherod attacked the region of Bessarabia, the Romanian government of Ion I. C. Brătianu decided to intervene, and on January 26 [O.S. January 13] 1918, the 9th Romanian Army under Gen. Broșteanu entered Chișinău. The Bolshevik troops retreated to Tighina, and after a battle retreated further beyond the Dniester.[19] Romanian forces also captured the Russian landing craft K-2 in the Danube estuary during February 1918.[20]


Main article: Siberian Intervention
A Japanese lithograph showing troops occupying Blagoveschensk.

The joint Allied intervention began in August 1918.[7] The Japanese entered through Vladivostok and points along the China–Russia border with more than 70,000 troops eventually being deployed. The Japanese were joined by British[21] and later American, Canadian, French, and Italian troops. Elements of the Czechoslovak Legion[22] that had reached Vladivostok, greeted the allied forces. The Americans deployed the 27th Infantry and 31st Infantry regiments out of the Philippines, plus elements of the 12th, 13th and 62nd Infantry Regiments out of Camp Fremont.[23]

The Japanese were expected to send only around 7,000 troops for the expedition, but by the end of their involvement in Siberia had deployed 70,000. The deployment of such a large force for a rescue operation made the Allies wary of Japanese intentions.[24] On September 5, the Japanese linked up with the vanguard of the Czech Legion,[24] a few days later the British, Italian and French contingents joined the Czechs in an effort to re-establish the Eastern Front beyond the Urals; as a result the European allies trekked westward.[24] The Canadians largely remained in Vladivostok for the duration. The Japanese, with their own objectives in mind, refused to proceed west of Lake Baikal.[24] The Americans, suspicious of Japanese intentions, also stayed behind to keep an eye on them.[24] By November, the Japanese occupied all ports and major towns in the Russian Maritime Provinces and Siberia east of the city of Chita.[24]

The Allies lent their support to White Russian elements from the summer of 1918.[24] There were tensions between the two anti-Bolshevik factions; the White Russian government led by Admiral Alexander Kolchak and the Cossacks led by Grigory Semyonov and Ivan Kalmykov which also hampered efforts.

All Allied forces were evacuated by 1920, apart from the Japanese who stayed until 1922.


In 1917, Dunsterforce, an Allied military mission of under 1,000 Australian, British, and Canadian troops (drawn from the Mesopotamian and Western Fronts), accompanied by armoured cars, deployed from Hamadan some 350 km (220 mi) across Qajar Persia. It was named after its commander General Lionel Dunsterville. Its mission was to gather information, train and command local forces, and prevent the spread of German propaganda.[25]

Later on, Dunsterville was told to take and protect the Baku oil fields. The force was initially delayed by 3,000 Russian Bolshevik troops at Enzeli but then proceeded by ship to the port of Baku on the Caspian Sea. This was the primary target for the advancing Turkish forces and Dunsterforce endured a short, brutal siege in September 1918 before being forced to withdraw.

However, having been defeated in World War I, Turkey had to withdraw its forces from the borders of Azerbaijan in the middle of November 1918. Headed by General William Thomson, the British troops of 5,000 soldiers arrived in Baku on November 17, and martial law was implemented on the capital of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic until "the civil power would be strong enough to release the forces from the responsibility to maintain the public order".

Trans Caspian Campaign

The first instance of allied mediation occurred on 11 August 1918, when General Malleson intervened in support of the Ashkhabad Executive Committee, who had ousted the Tashkent Soviet Bolsheviks from the western end of the Trans-Caspian Railway in July 1918. Malleson had been authorised to intervene with Empire and British troops, in what would be referred to as the Malleson Mission. He sent the Machine Gun Section of the 19th Punjabi Rifles to Baýramaly located on the Trans-Caspian Railway. After combat at Merv, they were joined by the rest of the regiment. There was further action at Kaka on 28 August, 11 and 18 September. They were reinforced on 25 September by two squadrons of the 28th Light Cavalry. Fighting alongside Trans Caspian troops, they subsequently fought at Arman Sagad (between 9 and 11 October) and Dushak (14 October).

By 1 November, they had re-occupied Merv and on instructions of the British government, halted their advance and took up defensive positions at Bairam Ali. The Trans-Caspian forces continued to attack the Bolsheviks to the north. After the Trans-Caspian forces were routed at Uch Aji, their commander Colonel Knollys sent the 28th Cavalry to their support at Annenkovo. In January 1919, one company of the 19th Punjabi Rifles was sent to reinforce the position at Annenkovo, where a second battle took place on 16 January. The British Government decided on 21 January to withdraw the force, and the last troops left for Persia on 5 April.[26]

Allied withdrawal

The Allies withdrew in 1920. The Japanese stayed in the Maritime Provinces of the Russian Far East until 1922 and in northern Sakhalin until 1925,[10] when the Red Army's military success forced Japan's withdrawal from Russia.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Beyer, pp. 152–53.
  2. Intervention and the War by Richard Ullman, Princeton University Press, 1961, pp. 11–13
  3. 1 2 3 Jaan Maide (1933). Ülevaade Eesti vabadussõjast 1918—1920 (Estonian War of Independence 1918—1920: Overview) (in Estonian). Tallinn: Estonian Defence League.
  4. Moore, Joel R.; Mead, Harry H.; Jahns, Lewis E. (2003). The History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki. Nashville, Tenn.: The Battery Press. pp. 47–50. ISBN 089839323X.
  5. 1 2 E.M. Halliday, When Hell Froze Over (New York City, NY, ibooks, inc., 2000), p. 44
  6. 1 2 Robert L. Willett, Russian Sideshow, pp. 166–167, 170
  7. 1 2 Humphreys, The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920s, p. 25
  8. Evan Mawdsley, "Russian Civil War", Pegasus
  9. Olson, John Stuart; Pappas, Lee Brigance; Pappas, Nicholas Charles (1994). An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires. Greenwood Publishing. p. 273.
  10. 1 2 A History of Russia, 7th Edition, Nichlas V. Riasanovsky & Mark D. Steinberg, Oxford University Press, 2005.
  11. Joana Breidenbach (2005). Pál Nyíri, Joana Breidenbach, ed. China inside out: contemporary Chinese nationalism and transnationalism (illustrated ed.). Central European University Press. p. 90. ISBN 963-7326-14-6. Retrieved 18 March 2012. "At the end of the year 1918, after the Russian Revolution, the Chinese merchants in the Russian Far East demanded the Chinese government to send troops for their protection, and Chinese troops were sent to Vladivostok to protect the Chinese community: about 1600 soldiers and 700 support personnel." As well, there were reports of Canadian soldiers fighting Kettites, Chinese Communists (perhaps left-wing adventurers), in the Murmansk area (as recorded in war diary of E.H. Cope, North Russia Expeditionary Force, Provincial Archives of Alberta, 68.101/3).
  12. Grey, Jeffrey (October 1985). "A 'Pathetic Sideshow': Australians and the Russian Intervention, 1918–19". Journal of the Australian War Memorial. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. 7. ISSN 0729-6274
  13. British Military Aviation in 1918 - Part 2 Royal Air Force Museum
  14. 1 2 Traksmaa, August: Lühike vabadussõja ajalugu, page 141. Olion, 1992, ISBN 5-450-01325-6
  15. Traksmaa, August: Lühike vabadussõja ajalugu, page 142. Olion, 1992, ISBN 5-450-01325-6
  16. 1 2 Estonian War of Independence 1918–1920. Jyri Kork (Ed.). Esto, Baltimore, 1988 (Reprint from Estonian War of Independence 1918–1920. Historical Committee for the War of Independence, Tallinn, 1938)
  17. Fletcher, William A. (1976). "The British navy in the Baltic, 1918-1920: Its contribution to the independence of the Baltic nations". Journal of Baltic Studies. 7 (2): 134–144. doi:10.1080/01629777600000141.
  18. (Greek) The Campaign in the Ukraine Archived March 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine., at
  19. Ion Nistor, Istoria Basarabiei, page 284. Humanitas, 1991. ISBN 973-28-0283-9
  20. Siegfried Breyer, Soviet Warship Development: 1917-1937, p. 98
  21. British Military Operations 1919-1939 Graham Watson, April 28, 2002
  22. Paper Heritage - 1919 Railway-related issues of the Czech Army in Siberia
  23. Willett, Robert L. (2003). Russian Sideshow. Washington: Brassey's. pp. 166–167. ISBN 1574884298.
  24. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Humphreys, Leonard A. (1995). The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920s. Stanford University Press. p. 26. ISBN 0804723753.
  25. Audrey L. Altstadt The Azerbaijani Turks: power and identity under Russian rule Hoover Press, 1992, ISBN 978-0-8179-9182-1
  26. Operations in Trans-Caspia, Behind the Lines, accessed 23 September 2009

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