Saturday, August 16, 2014

Recent Reads: Russians and Dunsterforce

A couple of primary source accounts that aided me in my understanding of World War I.

Nikolai Golovin, The Russian Army in World War I (1931). Golovin served on the Russian General Staff during the war. He wrote of the many challenges facing the Russian army, but the one that stuck out the most for me is his attitude towards the western allies. According to Golovin, the Russians responded to French pleas for assistance by assaulting the Germans, and suffered enormous losses doing so. Yet, when the Russians begged for assistance in 1915, the French and English ignored the requests. I wonder if Comrade Stalin was familiar with this book, and if it sharpened his sense that Churchill and Roosevelt did not do enough for Mother Russia.

Lionel Charles Dunsterville, The Adventures of Dunsterforce (1920). If there is a forgotten front in
World War I it is the Middle East. Dunsterville led Indian troops in the northwestern frontier against tribes rebelling against British rule during most of the war. In late 1917 he was tasked with a new assignment in the wake of the Russian Revolution. He was to take a special motorized force of 400 men (all officers and NCOs) from Baghdad to the Russian city of Tiflis. The British were concerned that the Turks would drive deeper into Central Asia and that Germany would obtain access to vital oil fields in the region. Dunsterforce was to go to Tiblis, rally disaffected Russian troops (paying them as mercenaries) and anyone else they could find, and build a strong enough defense force to halt the Central Powers' drive east. The trip north from Baghdad through Persia is an odd one in the annals of warfare. They slept both in the field and in hotels and met both friendly and hostile Persians (some of whom took shots at their passing convoy). When they finally arrived in Russian territory, the local Soviet treated them as enemies, not allies. The Germans turned the tables on Dunsterville, by telling the Russians that the British were coming to take their oil. Dunsterforce's mission was abandon in September 1918.

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