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Churchill's Secret War with Lenin

Damien Wright
Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin is a weighty tome. It’s a large hardback with glossy pages, the quality of which is a throwback to when books were built to last for generations. That may be the intention, as this book is an invaluable resource to anyone interested in the conflict.

In 1918, the Russians were hanging on by a thread. Massive war debts to Great Britain and France crippled the country and they wanted to cease hostilities against the Germans. Desperate to avoid this as it would free up extra divisions of troops and allow the Germans to draw on the huge resources the Russians had, the allies intervened in the civil war in 1918. The two factions were the “Red” Bolshevik revolutionaries led by Vladimir Lenin against the “White” Tsarist government.

For the allies, they didn’t much care who was in power, as long as they continued tying up the Germans on the Eastern Front, they feared that the Germans would be able to withdraw their troops and redeploy them against the allies.

That is what happened, with the Germans throwing the extra troops into the Spring Offensive in 1918.

The last allied troops died in North Russia in 1919, months after the Armistice and with the benefit of hindsight, the allied intervention appears to have been spectacularly ill-judged. Yet, if one sticks to the facts that were known at that time, it is hard to imagine the allies doing anything else.

Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin covers the entire conflict from 1918-1920 in exhaustive detail, with almost a day to day account of the war on several fronts, such as Murmansk, Archangel and Siberia.

I have no doubt that this book will act as an invaluable reference tool that chronicles a little known war. It drills down to individual-level decision-making, which is very informative as it shows why the commanders deployed their troops and executed the plans the way that they did.

It is written in a matter-of-fact tone that belies the drama occurring on the ground, which fits with the first-hand accounts, much of which is typical of the restraint and “stiff upper lip” that was prevalent at the time.

For example, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Johnson from the Hampshire Regiment referred to an attempted mutiny as “ anxious moment.”

Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin is thoroughly researched, informative and is obviously a labour of love. Hundreds if not thousands of hours have been poured into it and it shows.

Here’s the thing though: sadly it’s not much fun to read. Of course, there is no law that states that books should be fun, or even easy to read, but it reminded me at times of trying to wade through Shakespeare or arable farming in the 1700s at school.

I love reading and spend far too much time doing it, as my wife will attest, but I confess to have struggled to engage in this book.

It is a dense read, like chewing through German black bread. Whilst there are numerous first-hand accounts of certain incidents, for me, there weren’t enough to leaven the text and put the reader in the shoes of the average soldier.

There are a few mistakes, too, the odd spelling error – “severed” instead of “served” and a mistake in the index, referring to the Royal Scots as the Royal Scots Fusiliers, but these generally aren’t very impactful in the grand scheme of things.

I have no doubt that the book is a valuable resource and Damien Wright is to be commended for all his research, he has created an extremely thorough recounting of this war. I personally would’ve preferred a more humanistic approach of more first hand accounts that would serve to illustrate the rather dry recounting of the events covered.

I therefore award “Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin” three stars, but if you have a particular interest in this civil war, add another star.

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