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Baltic Naval War
Part of Russian Civil War, Estonian War of Independence, Latvian War of Independence
Battleship Marat 12-inch bow triple turret.jpg
Fore turret of the battleship Petropavlovsk
Date 1918–1919
Location Baltic Sea
Result Bolshevik forces secure Petrograd
Independence of Baltic States
United Kingdom United Kingdom Flag RSFSR 1918.svg Russian SFSR
United Kingdom Edwyn Alexander-Sinclair
United Kingdom Walter Cowan
United Kingdom Augustus Agar
Flag RSFSR 1918.svg Nikolai Kuzmin
Flag RSFSR 1918.svg Fedor Raskolnikov
Flag RSFSR 1918.svg Lev Galler
Casualties and losses
About 120 servicemen unknown

The British Campaign in the Baltic 1918-19 was a part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. The intervention played a key role in enabling the establishment of the independent states of Estonia and Latvia[1] but failed to secure the control of Petrograd by Russian White forces, one of the main goals of the campaign.[2]



The purposes of Operation Red Trek in the wake of the Russian collapse and revolution of 1917 were to stop the rise of Bolshevism, protect Britain’s interests, to extend the freedom of the seas and support the independence of the new Baltic nations of Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from both German and Russian influence.

The situation in the Baltic states in the aftermath of World War I was chaotic. The Russian empire had collapsed and Bolshevik Red Army and White Russian forces were fighting across the region. Riga had been occupied by the German army in 1917 and German Freikorps and Baltic-German Landeswehr units were active in the area.

Naval Forces Involved


Russian Forces

The Russian Baltic Fleet was the key naval force available to the Bolsheviks and essential to the protection of Petrograd. The fleet was severely depleted after the First World War and Russian revolution but still formed a significant force. At least 1 Gangut class battleship, pre-Dreadnoughts, cruisers, destroyers and submarines were available. Many of the officer corps were on the White Russian side in the Civil War or had been murdered but some competent leaders remained.

British Forces

A Royal Navy squadron was sent under Rear-Admiral Edwyn Alexander-Sinclair. This force consisted of modern C class cruisers and V and W class destroyers. In December 1918, Sinclair sallied into Estonian and Latvian ports, sending in troops and supplies, and promising to attack the Bolsheviks "as far as my guns can reach". In January 1919 he was succeeded in command by Rear-Admiral Walter Cowan.

Main Actions

British forces denied the Bolsheviks the ability to move by sea, RN guns bombarded the Bolsheviks on land in support of Estonian and Latvian troops and provided supplies.

On 4 December at night, the cruiser HMS Cassandra struck a mine while on patrol duties north of Liepaja, and sank with the loss of 11 men of her crew.

On 26 December British warships captured the Bolshevik destroyers Avtroil and Spartak[3] which at the time were shelling the port of Tallinn. Both units were presented to the Estonian Provisional Government (EPG) and, as Lennuk and Vambola, formed the nucleus of the Estonian Navy. Forty Bolshevik prisoners of war were executed by the EPG on Naissaar in February 1919 despite British protests.[4] The new Commissar of the Baltic Fleet, Fedor Raskolnikov, was captured on board the Spartak. He was exchanged on 27 May 1919 for 17 British officers captured by the Soviets and later appointed Commissar of the Caspian Flotilla by Trotsky.[5] In the Baltic, Raskolnikov was replaced by Nikolai Kuzmin.

In April 1919 Latvian President Kārlis Ulmanis was forced to seek refuge on board the Saratov under the protection of British ships.

In the summer of 1919 the Royal Navy bottled up the Red fleet in Kronstadt. Several sharp skirmishes were fought near Kotlin Island. In the course of one of this clashes, on 31 May, during a Bolshevik probing action to the west, the battleship Petropavlovsk scored a hit on the destroyer HMS Walker.[6]

A flotilla of British Coastal Motor Boats under the command of Lt Augustus Agar raided Kronstadt Harbour twice, sinking the Cruiser Oleg and the depot ship Pamiat Azova in June as well as damaging the battleships Petropavlovsk and Andrei Pervozvanny in August, at the cost of three CMBs.[7][8][9][10] The first raid was intended to support a significant mutiny at the Krasnaya Gorka fort which was eventually suppressed by the 12in guns of the Bolshevik battleships.[11]

In the Autumn of 1919 British forces including the monitor HMS Erebus provided gunfire support to General Yudenich's White Russian army in its offensive against Petrograd. The Russians tried to disrupt these bombardments by laying mines using the Orfey class destroyers, Azard, Gavril, Konstantin and Svoboda. The later 3 ships were sunk in a British minefield on 21 October 1919, during an attempt to defect to Estonia. The White army's offensive failed to capture Petrograd and on 21 February 1920, the Republic of Estonia and Bolshevist Russia signed the Peace Treaty of Tartu which recognised Estonian independence. This resulted in British Naval withdrawal from the Baltic.

Significant unrest took place among British sailors in the Baltic.[1] This included small-scale mutinies amongst the crews of Vindictive, HMS Delhi (the latter due in part to the behaviour of Admiral Cowan) and other ships stationed in Björkö Sound. The causes were a general war weariness (many of the crews had fought in World War I), poor food and accommodation, a lack of leave and the effects of Bolshevik propaganda.[1]

Ships Sunk


RN ships lost in the Baltic include:

HMS Verulam - mined.
HMS Vittoria - torpedoed by Bolshevik submarine Pantera.
HMS Gentian and HMS Myrtle - mined.
  • Coastal Motor Boats:
CMB-24, CMB-62 and CMB-79 - surface action against Bolshevik Fleet.
CMB-67 - stranded.

The 112 deaths of British servicemen (107 RN personnel and 5 RAF personnel) are commemorated on a memorial plaque, which was unveiled in 2005 at Portsmouth Cathedral in England,[12] with similar memorials in churches in Tallinn and Riga.


  • Cruiser Oleg - torpedoed by CMBs.
  • Depot ship Pamiat Azova - torpedoed by CMBs.
  • Destroyers Spartak and Avtroil - captured.
  • Destroyers Gavril, Konstantin and Svaboda - mined while attempting to defect.

No figures for Russian casualties were available

See also


  1. ^ a b c Kinvig, Churchill's Crusade
  2. ^ Kinvig, Churchill's Crusade, pp. 271-290
  3. ^ Raskolnikov, Fedor. "Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin". 
  4. ^ Jackson, Battle of the Baltic, page 9
  5. ^ "Raskolnikov biography" (in Russian). "В конце 1918 назначен зам. командующего 7-й армией по морской части и член РВС Балтийского флота. Поставлен во главе крупного отряда (линкор, крейсер, 2 миноносца), который должен был противодействовать английскому флоту. Проявил себя бездарным командиром и в начале 1919 был бзят в плен на миноносце "Спартак". 27.5.1919 был обменян на 17 пленных английских офицеров. В 1919-20 командовал Астраханско-Каспийской (затем Волжско-Каспийской) военной." 
  6. ^ Kettle, Churchill and the Archangel Fiasco, p. 461
  7. ^ British-Bolshevik Navy actions
  8. ^ Winkleigh - Her Sons and Heroes
  9. ^ Dreadnought Petropavlovsk
  10. ^ Pre-Dreadnought Andrei Pervozvanny
  11. ^ Kronstadt 1919
  12. ^ "Baltic Memorial in Portsmouth with names of the Fallen". 



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