Hostile Environment

The British in Russia
1918-1920

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Interview with Fred Neesam

Neesam map

A timeline of events

19 Feb 1861

Feudalism ends. Tsar Alexander II ‘the Liberator’ frees the serfs. Millions of Russian peasants are no longer classed as property under Russian law.

13 Mar 1881

Tsar Alexander II is assassinated. Attempting to curb dissent, his son brings in measures restricting civil rights and freedom of the press.

9 Jan 1905

Bloody Sunday. Soldiers and police open fire on a peaceful demonstration outside the Winter Palace and elsewhere in Petrograd (St Petersburg), killing and injuring around 1000 people. The protesters are trying to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II calling for an end to his autocratic rule.

4 Oct 1905

October Manifesto. Tsar Nicholas grants basic civil rights and a parliament. However, following the election of radical representatives, the Tsar later halts the move towards parliamentary rule.

12 July 1914

Imperial Army mobilises. Russia is the first major power to put troops on a war footing and pledges support to its ally, Serbia. Germany declares war on Russia on 1 August.

5 Sept 1915

Tsar Nicholas takes over as Supreme Commander of the Russian Army. Advisors fear any military setbacks will undermine his power. When the war does not go as planned, loyalty to the Tsar is called into question.

23 Feb to 3 Mar 1917

The Liberal Revolution. The 300-year-old Romanov dynasty is toppled and a new Provisional Government installed. The revolution is chaotic, involving strikes, mutinies and protest marches. It is the result of the pressures of military failure, autocracy, economic collapse, the conditions endured by the workers and peasants and the spread of political radicalism. The former Tsar is not granted asylum by any allies and remains in Russia with his family.

25 and 26 Oct 1917

The Bolshevik Revolution. Under the leadership of Lenin, this revolution promises ‘Peace, Land and Bread’. Since the liberal revolution, Russia has remained in the First World War. Further military failures, coup attempts, mutinies, economic problems and protests result in the Bolsheviks (Communists) seizing control of Petrograd and using the network of Soviets (workers’ and soldiers’ councils) to take effective control of the most populous parts of Russia.

15 Jan 1918

Opponents of the ‘Reds’ are increasingly generally referred to as ‘Whites’.

14 Feb 1918

Soviet Russia adopts the Gregorian calendar, bringing the Soviet state in line with the modern world

3 Mar 1918

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ends Russian involvement in the First World War. Under the terms of the treaty, 25% of Russia’s population and 70% of its industry is now controlled by Germany and Austria-Hungary. A small British force lands in Murmansk with the consent of the local Russian soviet.

June 1918

The Russian Civil War begins. The Red Army faces White forces who include many different groups. Monarchists, landowners, militarists, minority nationalists, reformists and foreign powers make up the bulk of their ranks. More British troops arrive in Russia. American, Canadian, Japanese and Italian troops also deploy.

16 and 17 July 1918

Czech forces, allies of the White Russian army, approach Yekaterinburg, where the royal family are being held. Local Bolsheviks and soldiers kill the Tsar, his wife and children.

15 Oct 1918

Yorkshire Regiment troops mutiny on board the Tras-os-Montes moored in Dundee. Beset with difficulties, what is supposed to be a six day journey to Murmansk takes almost six weeks.

11 Nov 1918

Armistice. Yorkshire Regiment troops bound for north Russia celebrate the ceasefire in Kirkwall in The Orkneys.

4 Mar 1919

Cabinet decide to evacuate all British troops from Russia by June. Despite this, Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill, sends more troops. “...we must watch Mr Churchill carefully. There is too much of the warlord about him” warns the Daily Express.

1 Sept 1919

The Yorkshire Regiment leave Russia.

16 Mar 1921

Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement. Britain is the first country in the world to conclude a trade deal with the new communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Oct 1922

The Bolsheviks win the Russian Civil War.

Facts and stats

The average January temperature in Archangel was minus 13 degrees Celsius

1300 men were sent from the regiment’s 6th and 13th battalions to Russia in 1918

5 Yorkshire Regiment soldiers were court martialed for mutiny

600,000 tonnes of allied munitions in Russia in 1918

An estimated 1.2 million Russian people died in the Civil War

The population of Russia in 1918 was 115 million

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