The British Campaign in the Baltic 1918–19 was a part of the Allied
intervention in the Russian Civil War. The codename of the Royal Navy
campaign was "Operation Red Trek". The intervention played a key
role in enabling the establishment of the independent states of
and Latvia but failed to secure the control of
White Russian forces, which was one of the main goals of the
2 Naval forces involved
2.1 Soviet forces
2.2 British forces
2.3 Main actions
3 Casualties and losses
4 See also
Launched in the wake of the Russian collapse and revolution of 1917,
the purposes of Operation Red Trek were to stop the rise of
Bolshevism, to protect Britain's interests, and to extend the freedom
of the seas.
The situation in the Baltic states in the aftermath of World War I was
Russian Empire had collapsed and Bolshevik Red Army,
pro-independence, and pro-German forces were fighting across the
Riga had been occupied by the German army in 1917 and German
Baltic-German Landeswehr units were still active in the
Estonia had established a national army with the support of
Finnish volunteers and were defending against the 7th Red Army's
Naval forces involved
Baltic Fleet was the key naval force available to the
Bolsheviks and essential to the protection of Petrograd. The fleet was
severely depleted after the First World War and Russian revolution but
still formed a significant force. At least one Gangut-class
battleship, as well as several pre-dreadnought battleships, cruisers,
destroyers and submarines were available. Many of the officer corps
were on the White Russian side in the Civil War or had been murdered,
but some competent leaders remained.
Royal Navy squadron was sent under
Alexander-Sinclair. This force consisted of modern C-class cruisers
and V- and W-class destroyers. In December 1918, Sinclair sallied 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
A plane ditched alongside HMS Vindictive after returning from air
raid, Baltic Sea, 1919
British forces denied the Bolsheviks the ability to move by sea, Royal
Navy ships bombarded the Bolsheviks on land in support of Estonian and
Latvian troops, and provided supplies.
On the night of 4 December, the cruiser HMS Cassandra struck a
German-laid mine while on patrol duties north of Liepāja, and sank
with the loss of 11 of her crew.
On 26 December, British warships captured the Bolshevik destroyers
Avtroil and Spartak, which at the time were shelling the port of
Tallinn. Both units were presented to the Estonian Provisional
Government and, as Lennuk and Vambola, formed the nucleus of the
Estonian Navy. Forty Bolshevik prisoners of war were executed by the
Estonian government on
Naissaar in February 1919 despite British
protests. The new
Commissar of the Baltic Fleet—Fedor
Raskolnikov—was captured onboard Spartak. He was exchanged on 27 May
1919 for 17 British officers captured by the Soviets and later
Commissar of the
Caspian Flotilla by Trotsky. In the
Baltic, Raskolnikov was replaced by Nikolai Kuzmin.
British sailors in Liepāja
British ships in Liepāja
British cruisers in Liepāja
British ships on the way to Tallinn
In April 1919, Latvian President
Kārlis Ulmanis was forced to seek
refuge on board the Saratov under the protection of British ships.
In the summer of 1919, the
Royal Navy bottled up the Red fleet in
Kronstadt. Several sharp skirmishes were fought near Kotlin Island. In
the course of one of these clashes, on 31 May, during a Bolshevik
probing action to the west, the battleship Petropavlovsk scored two
hits on the destroyer HMS Walker from a distance of 14,000 yards
(12,802 m), when a flotilla of British destroyers attempted to
catch the outgunned Bolshevik destroyer Azard. Walker, which acted as
a lure, suffered some damage and two of her crew were wounded, while
the other British destroyers eventually disengaged when they came too
close to Bolshevik coastal artillery and minefields. Admiral Cowan
soon realised that
Tallinn was not an ideal base of operations and
sought a base closer to Kronstadt. On 5 June Cowan and his naval units
arrived at the new anchorage at Björkö Sound, which proved ideal for
actions against Kronstadt. However, on 9 June the Red fleet's
destroyers Gavril and Azard raided the location, and the Royal
HMS L55 was sunk with all hands in the aftermath,
apparently after being cornered in a British minefield by the Soviet
warships. The action prompted the British to lay obstacles and
minefields to protect the anchorage. Cowan also requested that
Finland allocate a squadron of ships to provide additional protection
for the anchorage as well as to take part in the security and patrol
duties in the area. The
Finnish Navy complied and sent several gun and
torpedo boats as well as motor minesweepers to Björkö.
A flotilla of British
Coastal Motor Boats
Coastal Motor Boats under the command of
Augustus Agar raided
Kronstadt Harbour twice, sinking the
cruiser Oleg and the depot ship Pamiat Azova on 17 June as well as
damaging the battleships Petropavlovsk and Andrei Pervozvanny in
August, at the cost of three CMBs in the last attack.
The British claim that the motor boats damaged the Petropavlosk is
dismissed by Soviet records. The first raid was intended to
support a significant mutiny at the
Krasnaya Gorka fort
Krasnaya Gorka fort which was
eventually suppressed by the 12 in (300 mm) guns of the
Bolshevik battleships. In early July the British received
reinforcements which included the aircraft carrier HMS Vindictive
whose aircraft carried out bombing and strafing runs against gun and
searchlight installations at Kronstadt.
Fore turret of the battleship Petropavlovsk (1925)
In the autumn of 1919, British forces—including the monitor
HMS Erebus—provided gunfire support to General Nikolai
Yudenich's White Russian Northwestern army in its offensive against
Petrograd. The Russians tried to disrupt these bombardments by laying
mines using the Orfey-class destroyers, Azard, Gavril, Konstantin, and
Svoboda. The latter three ships were sunk in a British minefield on 21
October 1919, during an attempt to defect to Estonia. The White army's
offensive failed to capture
Petrograd and on 2 February 1920, the
Estonia and Bolshevist
Russia signed the Peace Treaty of
Tartu which recognised Estonian independence. This resulted in the
withdrawal of the
Royal Navy from the Baltic.
The prolonged British presence at Björkö Sound and Cowan's demands
to the Finnish government that the small Finnish squadron patrolling
the area stay until the British withdrawal from the sound in December
1919 cost the
Finnish Navy three torpedo boats which sank when ice
crushed their weak hulls. The loss of the three vessels meant that the
newly independent Finland's small navy lost 20% of its heavier ships
in a single stroke.
Significant unrest took place among British sailors in the Baltic.
This included small-scale mutinies amongst the crews of
HMS Vindictive, Delhi—the latter due in part to the behaviour
of Admiral Cowan—and other ships stationed in Björkö Sound. The
causes were a general war-weariness (many of the crews had fought in
World War I), poor food and accommodation, a lack of leave, and the
effects of Bolshevik propaganda.
Casualties and losses
Light cruiser HMS Cassandra – mined, 5 December 1918
HMS Verulam – mined, 4 September 1919
HMS Vittoria – torpedoed by Bolshevik submarine Pantera, 31
Submarine HMS L55 – surface action against Bolshevik
destroyers, 9 June 1919
Arabis-class sloop: HMS Gentian and Myrtle – both mined, 16 Jul
Coastal Motor Boats: CMB-24, CMB-62 and CMB-79 – surface action
against Bolshevik Fleet at anchor
CMB-67 – stranded, all on 18 August 1919.
The 112 deaths of British servicemen—107 RN personnel and five RAF
personnel from HMS Vindictive —are commemorated on a memorial
plaque, which was unveiled in 2005 at
Portsmouth Cathedral  in
England, with similar memorials in the Church of the Holy Ghost,
Tallinn and in St Saviour's Church, Riga.
Icebreaker tug Hector – struck a rock
Coastal patrol boat Gorodenko – beached by storm
Cruiser Oleg – torpedoed by CMBs
Depot ship Pamiat Azova – torpedoed by CMBs
Destroyers Spartak and Avtroil – captured by the Royal Navy
Destroyers Gavril, Konstantin and Svoboda – mined
Trawler Kitoboi – defected to White movement
Ships of the Peipus flotilla – captured by Estonia
No figures for Soviet casualties are available.
British submarine flotilla in the Baltic
Latvian War of Independence
Estonian War of Independence
West Russian Volunteer Army
Defence Forces Cemetery of Tallinn
Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis
Claude Congreve Dobson
John Alfred Moreton
Gordon Charles Steele
^ a b Kinvig, Churchill's Crusade, pp. 271–90
^ a b c Jaan Maide (1933) Ülevaade Eesti vabadussõjast. Estonian
Defence League, Tallinn
^ a b "Baltic Memorial in Portsmouth with names of the Fallen".
^ a b Mati Õun; Hannes Walter; Peedu Sammalsoo. Võitlused
Läänemerel 1918–1919) (Fighting in the
Baltic Sea 1918–1919) (in
^ Churchill and the Baltic, Part I: 1918-1931 Archived 2010-07-03 at
the Wayback Machine., by Richard M. Langworth
^ a b c Kinvig, Churchill's Crusade
^ Raskolnikov, Fedor. "Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin".
^ Jackson, Battle of the Baltic, page 9
^ "Raskolnikov biography" (in Russian). Archived from the original on
26 June 2007. В конце 1918 назначен зам.
командующего 7-й армией по морской
части и член РВС Балтийского флота.
Поставлен во главе крупного отряда
(линкор, крейсер, 2 миноносца), который
должен был противодействовать
английскому флоту. Проявил себя
бездарным командиром и в начале 1919 был
бзят в плен на миноносце "Спартак".
27.5.1919 был обменян на 17 пленных
английских офицеров. В 1919–20
(затем Волжско-Каспийской) военной.
^ Kettle, Churchill and the Archangel Fiasco, p. 461
^ Head, Michael (2009). "The Baltic Campaign, 1918–1920, Pts. I,
II". Warship International. Toledo, OH: International Naval Research
Organization. XLVI (2–3): 149. ISSN 0043-0374.
^ a b c Kijanen, Kalervo (1968). Suomen Laivasto 1918–1968 I.
Helsinki: Meriupseeriyhdistys/Otava. pp. 101–102.
^ Kettle, Michael (1992).
Russia and the Allies, 1917–1920.
Routledge, p. 469. ISBN 0-415-08286-2
^ a b Kijanen, Kalervo (1968). Suomen Laivasto 1918–1968 I.
Helsinki: Meriupseeriyhdistys/Otava. pp. 106–108.
^ "Baltic and North
Russia 1919". Retrieved 4 December 2014.
^ "Winkleigh Devon its Sons & Heroes - History of the Village part
5 - Medals of honour, the Victoria Cross, Captain Gordon Steele,
Lieutenant Henry Hartnol- Photographs, stories". Retrieved 4 December
^ Dreadnought Petropavlovsk Archived 1 October 2007 at the Wayback
^ Pre-Dreadnought Andrei Pervozvanny
^ Erikson, Rolf (1974). "Letter to the Editor". Warship International.
Toledo, OH: International Naval Research Organization. XI (1): 16.
^ "warandgame". Retrieved 4 December 2014.
^ Auvinen, Visa (1983). Leijonalippu merellä. Pori: Satakunnan
Kirjateollisuus Oy. pp. 23–24. ISBN 951-95781-1-0.
Bennett, Geoffrey (1964). Cowan's war: the story of British naval
operations in the Baltic, 1918–1920. London: Collins.
Republished (2001) as: Freeing the Baltic. Edinburgh: Birlinn.
Jackson, Robert (2007). Battle of the Baltic. Barnsley: Pen &
Sword Maritime. ISBN 978-1-84415-422-7.
Kinvig, Clifford (2006). Churchill's Crusade: The British Invasion of
Russia 1918–1920. Hambledon Continuum.
Kettle, Michael (1992). Churchill and the Archangel Fiasco.
Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-415-08286-2.
"British-Bolshevik Navy Actions". Naval History.net. External
link in publisher= (help)
Ben Nimmo. "The forgotten fleet: the British navy and Baltic
independence". The Baltic Times. Retrieved 2009-05-16.
Walter Cowan. "Report by
Walter Cowan (link to the 1st page)".
Supplement to the London Gazette.
Fletcher, William A. (Summer 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.