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6th Bn. Royal Marines Light Infantry in North Russia

1919 Russian Intervention:


The Royal Marine Field Force was withdrawn from Northern Russia in July 1919 & replaced by the 6th Battalion Royal Marines Light Infantry (RMLI), which had been formed from a company of the Royal Marine Artillery and companies from each of the three naval port depots.


Men from the Royal Marine Light Infantry drink water from a spring near the British outpost line at Unitsa 1919, Russian Intervention IWM Q 73520

Very few of their officers had seen any land fighting. Their original purpose had been only to deploy to Flensburg to supervise a vote to decide whether Schleswig-Holstein should be German or Danish.


Capt. Reginald Hanhart Watts RMLI - 2i/c. of the Chatham “B” Company

Many of the Marines were under 19 years old or pensioners, others were ex-prisoners of war, who had only recently returned from Germany and had had no leave.


So, there was outrage when on short notice, the 6th Battalion was shipped to Murmansk on the 8 August 1919, to assist in the withdrawal of British forces. Still not expecting to do any fighting, the battalion was ordered forward under army command to hold certain outposts.


In fact 16 were killed in action. [1]


The Battalion were tasked to the area of Lake Onega which was a key area as the only route from St Petersburg (Petrograd) through dense forest to the Allied/White base at Murmansk was the Murmansk Railway, and the only population in this area was in the villages around the lake.


Control of the lake, the villages and in turn the railway was vital. [2]


The final two months on the Dvina front, August and September 1919, would see some of the fiercest fighting between British and Red Army troops of the Civil War. In August, a major offensive was launched along the Dvina to try and strike a blow at Bolshevik morale and to increase the morale of the White forces before a withdrawal.


As part of this, an attack was made on the village of Gorodok. Before the attack began, 6 RAF DH.9s, 5 DH.9As and two Sopwith Snipes dropped three tonnes of bombs on the village in two successful raids, and on 10 August British planes also dropped bombs on other Bolshevik held villages.


During the attack, 750 Bolshevik prisoners were taken, and one battery was found to have been manned by German troops. The village of Seltso was also attacked, but a strong Bolshevik defence halted any British progress. However, the villages of Kochamika, Jinta, Lipovets and Zaniskaya were captured with little resistance. In total the offensive led to the deaths of around 700 Reds and was considered a success.


There was also action on the railway front south of Archangel at this time, and a raid on the settlement of Alenxandrova took place on 19 August. On 24 August, there was an aerial dogfight between a British RE8 aircraft and two Bolshevik Nieuport fighters over the Pinega River, with the British plane only returning safely when the observer flew 100 miles back to base whilst his pilot lay unconscious.


On 10 September, the city of Onega was retaken. The American River Force monitors made a final successful engagement with the Bolshevik gunboats in September 1919. However two monitors, HMS M25 and HMS M27, unable to sail downstream when the river's levels dropped, were scuttled on 16 September 1919 to prevent their capture by Bolshevik forces.


A final offensive on the Murmansk front was launched by the Allied forces in September, aimed at destroying the Bolshevik forces to leave the White forces in a good position after the planned withdrawal.


On 28 August 1918 the British 6th Royal Marine Light Infantry Battalion was ordered to seize the village of Koikori (Койкары) from the Bolsheviks as part of a wide offensive into East Karelia to secure the British withdrawal to Murmansk. Serbian forces supported the British as they attempted to push on to the Bolshevik village. The attack on the village was disorganized and resulted in three Marines killed and 18 wounded, including the battalion commander who had ineffectually led the attack himself.


A week later, B and C companies, led this time by an army major, made a second attempt to take Koikori, while D company was involved in an attack on the village of Ussuna. The British were again repulsed at Koikori; the army major was killed and both Marine company commanders wounded. D company was also beaten off by Bolshevik forces around Ussuna, with the death of the battalion adjutant, killed by sniper fire.


The next morning, faced with the prospect of another attack on the village, one Marine company refused to obey orders and withdrew themselves to a nearby friendly village. [3]


The story of 6th Battalion RMLI has been blighted by the infamous mutiny, which under scrutiny and in context with the circumstances and state of moral it is hardly a suprise that there had been a backlash from the men many of whom had already seen service on the Western Front and unlike other deployed units were not volunteers for Russian service.


The Battalion were in action during this period and their sacrifices under extremely difficult circumstances should not be forgotten.


If you have any 'dits' from the 6th Bn. images or other useful information please do e mail me (sibiggs539@hotmail.com).


Related Royal Marines 'Dits'

References


[1] “Soldier an' Sailor too” - E. J.Sparrow (download via RM History)

[2] Various

[3] Wikipedia - North Russia intervention


Further interesting reading


Capt. Reginald Hanhart Watts RMLI - 2i/c. of the Chatham “B” Company during the Mutiny later charged [The Axillaries.com]

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