Captain Arthur Bond
THE ALLIED MISSION IN SOUTHERN RUSSIA
Herewith is a
short version of the notes written by Captain Arthur Bond – commander of
the HMAS “Swan” about the stay of the Allied mission in
…The keel of a dreadnought battleship was lying bottom up at her old moorings, while a destroyer behind her was apparently half way up a small cliff with only her stern in the water. I was told by a Russian officer that, on the Bolshevik revolution in the fleet, the captain had got under way and run his ship at full speed onto the shore to save her falling into Bolshevik hands.
A recently completed dreadnought “Wolya” was lying in harbour apparently undamaged, but as far as could be seen there was little else in a seaworthy condition.
One of my duties was to inspect and report on a number of gunboats, destroyers and other small craft, and the first one I inspected was a destroyer. She was afloat with her hull not badly damaged, but on going on board I found a scene of utter destruction. Her captain, who was living on board with two or three men, took me round, and she appeared to have had bombs exploded over every foot of her, so appalling was the wreckage. This same officer gave mo a graphic description of the Bolshevik mutiny in the fleet, and took me on board a large drill and depot hulk, where he showed me the bloodstained covered deck where he and a large number of other officers had been taken by a drunken and savage mob of mutinous sailors.
He told me that the most brutal slaughter started at once, officers being shot and cut down in a writhing mass. He, and I think only one other officer escaped, and no put-his escape down to the fact that who his senior petty officer who was among the ringleaders of the murderers, caused him to be spared as he had been a very popular captain with his men. He was left lying wounded, with the bodies of his comrades, until he crawled into a small boat and escaped ashore in the darkness.
On the morning of the 4th December, I was sent for by the Commander-in-Chief and instructed to prepare to proceed into the Sea of Azov, taking with me the French destroyer BISSON, commanded by Capitaine de Corvette Jean Cochin, who had often been in my patrol in the Adriatic, and was a most charming and capable officer.
My orders were
to go to Mariupol, with the object of finding
out and reporting on the military, civil, and economic position in the Region
of the Don. I was given a free hand as to how this was to be done, and was
instructed to take with me Admiral Kononoff of
the Russian Navy, one of the most courteous and charming gentlemen it has
ever been my good fortune to meet. I also obtained the services of Mr. de
Hahn, an ox-officer of the Russian Army, who had been at
SWAN and BISSON
At Kertch we found a convenient wall, and went alongside.
As soon as we were secured we were visited by representatives of the Local
Government, the Volunteer Army, and Societies of various descriptions, who
welcomed us as representatives of the saviours
We sailed from Kertch in a heavy snowstorm on the morning of the 6th.,taking with us two pilots from the port, and shaped course for the position of a buoy which should mark the turn into the Gulf of Taganrog…We entered harbour and went alongside the mole the following morning, when we were greeted by General de Svitchen, representing H.E. General Peter Krasnoff, Ataman of the Don, who handed me an invitation to visit the city of Novotscherkassk and then to make a tour of the country in company with the Ataman including a visit to the Don Cossack front opposing the Bolshevik armies.
As this seemed an excellent way of getting the information we wanted, I gratefully accepted, but was obliged to limit the proposed tour to a visit to the principal towns and the actual fighting front.
The civil and military gave a banquet at noon, after which we inspected the resources of the port, and, at midnight, Capitane Cochin and I left Mariupol by train, taking with us the following officers and men, who, by special invitation of the Ataman, remained as guests of the Government at Novtscherkassk:
Lt. Commander G.W.Bloomfield R.A.N.(To report on machinery)
Lieut. J.G. Boyd. R.A.N.R. Pay.SubLt. D.Munro. R.A.N. (To act as my secretary.)
A. White. Chief Stoker
E.A. Robinson. E.R.A.
A.L. Swinden.P.O.(To remain at Novotscherkassk W/T Station and keep me in touch with the ship.)
W.Rostron. Officer's Steward. (To attend on officers.)
E.L. Bouchier. Officer's Steward. (As my personal servant.)
ranks and ratings were sent from BISSON. Two or three stops were made on
the journey to receive addresses of welcome at various stations, and on arrival
at Novotscherkassk the
We then drove
to the cathedral in open carriages through apparently the whole population
who kept up a continuous roar of cheering, and threw flowers into our carriages.
A mounted guard rode ahead of and behind the procession. On arrival at the
Cathedral we were presented to H.E. the Ataman, and a most impressive Mass
was celebrated by the Archbishop with the full ceremony of the
At a large official
banquet was given by the Ataman, at which more than two hundred guests were
present. General Krasnoff made a long speech
explaining the position in
On the many occasions on which I had to speak, my words were always followed by an equally carefully considered speech by Capitaine Cochin, and, in spite of the noncommittal attitude we were obliged to maintain, our words were, as a rule, received with great enthusiasm: fortunately both of us had endeavoured to follow the course of events and study the position carefully while at Sevastopol, and the knowledge we acquired there proved to be invaluable to us.
The following day was St.George's Day and started with another ceremonial Mass in the Cathedral, directly alter which we returned to our hotel and commenced to hold interviews with various people who had valuable information to offer. Throughout the course of our stay in the country, we continued to hold these interviews daily, even conducting them in trains while on journeys, and as they frequently lasted through the night into the early hours of the morning, the process became somewhat exhausting, especially as an early start was always the rule, so that we might get through the day's programme. All types of people were interviewed from distinguished General Officers to Bolshevik prisoners, and we were given a free hand to send for anyone whom we thought could give us the information we wanted.
This night (9th Dec.) a banquet was given by the President and members of the Krug, or Parliament, at which speeches of the same nature as those of the previous night were made. The President of the Krug was suspected by many of the officers to hold ideas not coinciding with those of the Ataman and his supporters, and the atmosphere at the banquet was somewhat strained. My French colleague and I had decided to stir up the situation a little so that we could watch results, and for that reason I took as a text for my return speech the necessity the Allies had found for unity of command before successful results could be arrived at. We did not have to wait long for signs of discord. The Ataman, sitting beside me, gave what I took to be a snort of disgust, which confirmed us in our idea that he was net much in sympathy with a certain officer whose name we had heard a great deal of as a leader of the Volunteer Army favoured by the Allies. Heated arguments started between some Cossacks Officers and their neighbouring members of the Kroug; in one case a military fist was shaken under a civilian nose.
I seized the
first opportunity to pour oil on the troubled waters, and proposed the health
and prosperity of
Fortunately this was received with wild enthusiasm, and the greater part of the company came up to click glasses, after which the representative of the Volunteer Army made a stirring speech and peace reigned, but we were removed rather quickly, the Ataman remarking that the proceedings were likely to become lively.
We then visited the local theatre where we received bouquets from the leading lady, and, after the performance, returned to our never-ending interviews.
The whole of the next day was spent visiting military establishments and closely inspecting the wonderful military organisation which General Krasnoff had built up out of the wreckage of the province after the Bolshevik occupation, using as a foundation the schoolboy Army with which Novotcherkassk had been retaken. The average age of the men of his new army seemed to be about seventeen years and we saw children who could not have been more than ten years old drilling with the Cadet companies.
We dined privately
with the Ataman that evening, and afterwards received a welcome at a reception
given by the members of the Military Club. Some deputations were received
until , when the mission,
accompanied by the Ataman and his Staff, left by train for the town of
The Ataman and I, with the Chief-of-the-Staff, General Denisoff, embarked in one motorcar, while Capitaine Cochin and other Staff Officers got into another, and we started on a bleak and bitter drive across the frozen Steppes, resting for lunch at Bogutschar, where we learnt of the capture of Kerstacak (probably – Korotoyak – VK) by the Cossack forces, with a considerable quantity of munitions which were of priceless value to their army which had to depend largely for ammunition on what they could capture from the Bolsheviks. Pushing on through a blinding snowstorm in which we lost our way more than once in the trackless expanse of snow we fell across an outlying patrol of Cossacks who escorted us on our journey. The scene was intensely desolate as we drove on with many stops to regain the route, the Cossacks, just visible, cantering on each side. It was bitterly cold in the open car, in spite of the heavy and highly odorous goat skin which I wore over my overcoat, and the high felt snow boots. The few dwelling places we passed, as we penetrated further into the country and left the vicinity of railways behind, were almost buried in snow, and, in some cases, had tunnels to reach the doors. It seemed as if we would go on for ever in the circle of light made by our lamps, and the Ataman was sitting erect by my side with bank of snow forming between the collar of his greatcoat and his weather cheek, when we saw far ahead the beam of a searchlight pointed to the sky. It was our destination at last, and just on midnight we picked up the double row of withered sunflower stalks marking the road into Kalatsch, where, on arrival, we were able to study the latest position on the staff map at headquarters, before retiring to a meal and bed in the house of the citizen on whom we were billeted.
A scene very typical of the whole atmosphere of the time comes to my mind. The news at headquarters had not been good, and our host, tail, bearded, and unsmiling sat at the head of the long table. All around were Cossack officers talking in low tones with serious faces.
During the following
four days we visited Boutourlinovka and Tolovaia, both on the Northern front, where General
Goutzelchikoff (the right spelling
is Gouselshikoff – VK) told me that his troops
were terribly hard pressed, but that the first sight of Allied officers would
make them feel that they were not deserted, and would put fresh life into
them. At that moment the front was fairly quiet owing to the intense cold,
but on our attempting to reach Boproff (probably – Bobroff – VK), further
down the line, an attack was made which broke through the Cossack forces
and threatened the military railway line behind us. Immediately on the break
through, a regiment of
On this front, 60 000 Cossacks were holding 720 000 Bolsheviks, using mainly the ammunition captured from the enemy by cavalry charges, and, for the most part, unsupported by artillery fire.
At my special request we visited a hospital a few miles behind the lines. Every foot of floor space was covered by beds and mattresses, and, owing to lack of accommodation, maternity cases had to be mixed with the badly wounded. The Surgeon in charge told me that he had hardly any anaesthetics or disinfectants; the windows could not be opened on account of the cold, and the smell was overpowering. Very shortly after we left, the line was driven back past the hospital, and one shudders to think of the fate of the patients.
While at the front we received a very clear idea of the whole situation and the requirements of the army from the General Officers concerned, and it is sad to think that this gallant little army were left, with their country, to be overwhelmed so soon afterwards by the wave of Bolshevism, from which so few escaped.
After the long
return drive, this time in clear weather, we arrived again at Kalatch, where we picked up the other officers who
had remained there, and left the following morning for
Garrison, who were ardent supporters of the Royalist regime, and showed us the regimental ikons presented by the late Emperor as well as many photographs taken while he and his family were visiting the regiment. Hearing that General Pool of the British Military Mission was at Ekaterinodar with General Deniken (the right spelling is Denikin – VK), I suggested to the Ataman that it seemed desirable to discuss the information that we had gathered with him. General Krasnoff put a special train at my disposal to cover the 250 miles journey, and I left that night, accompanied by General de Svitchen (the right spelling is Svetchin – VK) who intended to make an appeal for help from General Deniken.
At Ekaterinodar I met General Poole and had an interview
with General Deniken during which I endeavoured to stress the necessity for immediate
help for the Don Cossack forces. This interview confirmed the opinion Capitaine
In view of later events, it is interesting to me to read again, as I have just done, my long report which was forwarded to the Foreign Office, and which states that the definite impression was received that if General Deniken was placed at the head of the white forces he would not have the confidence and full support or the Cossacks or the Don who at that time formed the backbone of the anti-Bolshevik resistance.
The report was largely a resume of the opinions gathered from many of the most celebrated Generals of the Russian Army, and reading the later history of the futile struggle to save the country under General Deniken’s leadership, it must strike the reader how halfhearted and unfortunate vas the campaign which lost the Allies so much prestige not only in Russia but in other countries.
Having left our information with the British Military Mission, returned that night to Novotcherkassk, to pick up the officers and men and bid farewell to the Ataman before leaving the country. Before bidding us farewell in the train, the Ataman presented decorations…
I should like
to put one possibly minor fact on record. For the first few days it seemed
to me that the French portion of the visiting officers and men were received
with more enthusiasm than the British section, but, by the time I picked
up the parties which had been entertained at
While travelling, we stopped at any station of importance, to get out and receive deputations of welcome with gifts of bread and salt on illuminated trays. The platforms were always crowded whatever time of the day and night it might be, and, as each stop meant leaving the warm carriage for the bitter cold outside, ready with a suitable reply for each kind of deputation, the procedure became very exhausting. On one occasion, while an English-speaking girl pupil of an educational establishment was in the middle of reciting an address, she collapsed into my arms in a fit of nervous hysteria.
As we got out of the province of the Don into that of Voronish, over which the line of the fighting front swayed backwards and forwards, a great difference in the attitude of the Civil population was most noticeable. The crows we passed through maintained an atmosphere of apathy or of passive antagonism. Great precautions were taken to see that we did not linger among them longer than was necessary, and at intervals shots rang out close at hand. General Krasnoff explained to » me that shooting birds was a pastime of his soldiery, but on one occasion the whistle of a bullet and a spurt of snow a few yards on the far side of our conveyance, followed by the sudden departure of a section of the escort and some more shots, gave an indication of the precarious hold the Cossack forces hart on the district which had just fallen into their hands…
The mission was
intensely interesting, and left us with a feeling of the greatest compassion
for the splendid and loyal officers and men who were, as it turned out, to
be so soon engulfed by the second wave of Bolshevism which swept over the
province of the Don.
for this page were recieved from the Australian War Memorial. Many thanks
to Mr. Gleb Baraev who made some valuable comments during editing of this
The documents for this page were recieved from the Australian War Memorial. Many thanks to Mr. Gleb Baraev who made some valuable comments during editing of this page.