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Category: Conflicts

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Aussies in the Russian Revolution

including 2 VC awards


No Australian units were engaged in the operations in Northern Russia but a number of men of the AIF who were in England in 1919, awaiting repatriation to Australian, joined a volunteer force raised to relieve British and Allied troops already in Russia. The new force was designated the British North Russian Relief Force. In order to join this body the Australians had first to obtain their discharges from the AIF, and this was done in the UK. They were then enlisted in the British Army, and were allotted to the 45th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers and the 201st Battalion, Machine Gun Corps. Two companies within the 45th Battalion were composed of Australians. Thus, between 200 and 300 Australians were prepared to accept a further period of vigorous active service.

The volunteer brigade of the relief Force was commanded by Brigadier-General LW de V. Sadlier-Jackson, and arrived in Russia on 5th June 1919.The Australians were prominent in several actions, their first of major importance being on 23rd July. On this occasion, 150 of them had gone with General Ironside when he went to investigate a meeting of White Russian forces at Obozerskaya. It was this group who repulsed a Bolshevik attack on a railway in the area. The Australians surprised the enemy during a relief of their forward blockhouses, killed thirty with the bayonet, wounded many others and set fire to the blockhouses before withdrawing. 

Brigadier-General Sadlier-Jackson launched a attack with his brigade, including the Australians, on the Dwina front on 10th August and this also was a complete success. Over 3,000 prisoners were taken and heavy losses inflicted. The objective of enveloping and destroying the enemy was attained, thus opening the way for the peaceful evacuation of British and Allied forces. Nineteen days later, the two Australian companies were again employed in routing the Bolsheviks in a bayonet charge on the railway near Seleskoe.

By this time General Lord Rawlinson had arrived in the country to direct the evacuation of all Allied forces and, on 10th September, the withdrawal to Archangel commenced. This operation was completed by the 23rd, and the troops embarked for home five days later. Of the Australian volunteers, two received the Victoria Cross, Corporal Arthur Percy Sullivan 45th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers and Sergeant Samuel George Pearse, 45th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers.

Taken from 'They Dared Mightily' (1986) by Lionel Wigmore.

Australian VC Winners in the 45th Battalion Royal Fusiliers

Sergeant S.C. Pearse

S G Pearse VC MM
29 August 1919

The Pearse Grave

A P Sullivan VC
10 August 1919

On 24 August 1919, north of Emtsa, North Russia, Sergeant Pearse cut his way through enemy barbed wire under very heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and cleared a way for the troops to enter an enemy battery position. He then charged a blockhouse which was harassing the advance and causing casualties, and killed the occupants with bombs. A minute later he was killed, but it was due to him that the position was carried with so few casualties. Other Decorations; MM

Later achieved rank of Second Lieutenant.

On 10 August 1919, at Sheika River, North Russia, the platoon to which Corporal Sullivan belonged, after fighting a rearguard covering action, had to cross the river by means of a narrow plank, and during the passage an officer and three men fell into a deep swamp. Without hesitation, Corporal Sullivan, under intense fire, jumped into the river and rescued all four, bringing them out singly. But for this gallant action, the men would undoubtedly have drowned, as all ranks were exhausted and the enemy was less than 100 yards away.
At the end of World War 1 Russia was engulfed in a bloody civil war as the Bolshevik regime sought to establish itself. In mid 1918 a small British-French-American expeditionary force seized Murmansk and Archangel to retrieve Allied supplies which had been given to the crumbling White Russian forces of the Czar, but with the fanciful further goal of creating a situation which might lead to the fall of the new Bolshevik regime. 

A number of British and Australian soldiers, particularly those who had enlisted late in the war, volunteered to join the force raised to relieve British and Allied troops already in Russia. The campaign was to last more than a year, a year of hard-fought battles against strong Bolshevik forces.

The Australian volunteers were enlisted in the British Army for the duration of the campaign, and allotted to the 45th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers or to a Machine Gun battalion. Two companies of the 45th  Battalion were entirely Australian. The British brigade mounted a major offensive on 10 August 1919 that enveloped and destroyed a large enemy force, inflicting heavy casualties and taking 3000 prisoners. On 29 August the two Australian companies of the 45th Battalion routed another Bolshevik force in a violent bayonet charge. 

The British actions were instrumental in opening the way for peace negotiations which lead to the evacuation of the Allied forces in September and October 1919.

Photo left is a Russian soldier of the 1914/20 era and the photo right is of a Cossack of the same era. It is unknown which side they were on at the time the Aussies were there.

A Russian soldier 1919

Russian soldiers 1918

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Foreign Units who fought in Russia Some of the Russian troops of the era.

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