Battle in the Baltic – The Royal Navy and the Fight to Save Estonia and Latvia 1918-20, Steve R Dunn

Battle in the Baltic – The Royal Navy and the Fight to Save Estonia and Latvia 1918-20, Steve R Dunn

This book looks at one of the less well known British campaigns, the Naval intervention in the Baltic in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, carried out in an attempt to support the newly independent Baltic States, oppose the Bolsheviks and keep an eye on the Germans. The entire campaign had very little political support in Britain, although Churchill was an avid support of any action against the Soviets, and was eventually wound up with remarkably little fuss. Even so, during the brief period the Navy was present, it still managed to play a significant role in protecting the newly independent states.

The Navy faced a very complex situation in the Baltic. The Germans who had occupied the area late in the war hadn’t left, and still hoped to turn the area into a German colony. The Estonia, Latvians, Lithuanians and Finns had all declared independence. The Bolsheviks had originally promised to respect the right of self determination for the provinces of Tsarist Russia, but had soon gone back on their word. The various White Russian armies wanted to overthrow the Bolsheviks, and reunite the entire Tsarist Empire, so had no intention of recognising the independence of the new states.

The author doesn’t hide his dislike of the Bolshevik regime, or his general belief that Russia would have been much better off if they had been overthrown. Unfortunately, on at least one occasion that means he skips over an atrocity committed by one of the Baltic States – the murder of at least fifty Soviet POWs some time after they had been captured with their warship. He also doesn’t really answer the question of who might have replaced them, and doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of the Whites.

One minor quibble is that the author often comments that the Navy was powerless to intervene on land (especially against the remaining German forces in the area), while at the same time giving plenty of examples of occasions when that simply wasn’t true – the guns of the fleet played a major part in defeating a series of attacks on the Baltic states. This was at least in part because of the size of their guns – even the 4in guns of the destroyers were more powerful than most field guns, firing shells almost twice the weight of the standard 77mm shells of German field guns at twice the range, while the heavy 15in battleship guns mounted by the monitor HMS Erebus were on a par with the heaviest artillery used on the Western Front.

At sea the Navy also performed well, with its most daring exploit a motor boat attack on the Soviet fleet at Kronstadt in which a number of ships were sunk (although not one of the ones claimed here – the battleship Petropavlovsk, which may not even have been damaged, and survived into the 1950s!). However most of the campaign was dangerous, dreary and unpopular, and there were also a number of small scale mutinies (although nearer to strikes than full scale mutinies), at least in part caused by the character of the British commander.

This is a interesting account of this little known campaign (even by the standards of the British intervention in Russia!), and gives a good idea of just how complex the situation was this area in the aftermath of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

Chapters
1 – The Decline of the Russian Empire, 1904-1917
2 – The Treat of Brest-Litovsk and its Consequences, 1917-1918
3 – Baltic Bound, November-December 1918
4 – To the Rescue, December 1918
5 – ‘Destroy at All Costs’, December 1918
6 – In Search of a Policy, December 1918-February 1919
7 – Possible Saviours, January 1919-February 1919
8 – Germany Turns the Screw, March-April 1919
9 – On the offensive, Gulf of Finland, May 1919
10 – Single Combat, May-June 1919
11 – Dangerous Shores, Latvia and Estonia, June-July 1919
12 – Operation ‘RK’, Kronstadt, August 1919
13 – Attrition, August-October 1919
14 – A New Enemy in Old Clothes, Latvia, August-October 1919
15 – The Saving of Riga and Libau, October-November 1919
16 – Life in the Baltic
17 – Mutiny!
18 – End Game, November-December 1919
19 – Withdrawal, November-December 1919
20 – In Memoriam
21 – Conclusions
22 - Envoi

Author: Steve R Dunn
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Publisher: Seaforth
Year: 2020


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