Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British and Commonwealth Military Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-1920 by Damien Wright is a detailed history of the British involvement in the conflict. Exhaustively researched, it covers the British forces deployed to North Russia, the Baltic, South Russia, the Caspian and Central Asia, and Siberia with discussion of land, sea, and air operations. Additionally, there are separate chapters on the prisoners of war held by the Bolsheviks and British intelligence agents operating inside Russia. The book provides several interesting sketches, including the controversial Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Sherwood-Kelly, the daring Captain Augustus Agar, and the unlucky army officer who was captured and held prisoner in three different wars, by the Boers, Germans, and Bolsheviks. It is extensively illustrated with photographs and has several appendices.
The title of the book is, unfortunately, inaccurate as it is strictly a military history of the British operations down to the company, vessel, or aircraft level. It does not discuss Winston Churchill’s efforts to expand the Allied intervention nor Lenin’s reaction to the British involvement in the Civil War. Neither was the unpopular intervention “secret” to the British public, while the actual Allied operations against Lenin were limited, half-hearted, and quickly abandoned. Wright illustrates the confused rationale for the intervention and the vague and occasionally contradictory orders issued by London to the commanders on the spot. He further recounts the unreliability of the local allies recruited by the British, including Red Finns, and that the effectiveness of the British forces was marred by cases of poor morale that extended to mutinies and disobedience by the Royal Marines in North Russia and sailors in the Baltic. Wright accurately concludes that only the British intervention in the Baltic can be “considered a success” as it secured the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British and Commonwealth Military Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-1920 is a comprehensive study of the intervention that was undertaken with unclear goals and meager resources in exceptionally difficult conditions amidst a bloody civil war.