Saturday, 14 November 2009

British Naval operations at Riga 13th-15th October 1919

Over the years I've tried  to understand the timeline of the British Naval action near Riga during October and especially in the days before HMS Dragon was shelled. 

13th October 1919 

"an ultimatum was forwarded by the British Admiral commanding in the Baltic to the Officer Commanding German Troops, whose Headquarters are at MITAU, ordering him to withdraw his troops from positions in the vicinity of DUNAMUND by noon on 15th October.
At about 2130 thirteen refugees were brought off to "PRINCESS MARGARET" IN "DRAGON"'s motor boat.
The situation was reported to be satisfactory.

14th October 1919

At about 1800 firing was observed to be in progress up the river beyond the Destroyers and flashes of heavy gunfire were observed in a South- Westery direction. Three more refugees were put on board at 2100.
Situation reported satisfactory. Lettish detachments reach Dvina Bridge this morning but were forced to retire. Lettish detachments reach KEKKAU area and are maintaining their position.

15th October 1919

The French Commodore's written orders for the bombardment were received on board at 1100 and, as the British Admiral's ultimatum had not been complied with, the Allied Flotilla, being still at anchor inside the entrance to the river, opened a brisk fire on German positions on the Western bank at 1114.

"PRINCESS MARGARET" shortened in to short stay and remained in positions, with steam on engines , ready to move if necessary.

"DRAGON" having received her orders proceeded to a position to the Westward of the river entrance with a view to enfilading the fortress of BOLDERAJA and commenced firing at 1135...... 1145 "CLEOPATRA" arrived , obtained Commodore's orders from "PRINCESS MARGARET"  and proceeded to bombard positions near "DRAGON"

At 1215 "WINDSOR" arrived , obtained Commodore's orders from "PRINCESS MARGARET" and proceeded into river to join Flotilla.

At 1307 the Allied Flotillas were observed to be moving up the river, firing on the Western bank as thet proceeded; Lettish troops at this time were crossing to the Western bank in tugs.

At 1347 " CLEOPATRA" commenced firing, in conjunction with "DRAGON", on enemy's communications in the direction of the MITAU road.  The enemy was not observed to return the fire of the Flotilla or Light Cruisers.......

At 1337 "ABDIEL" reported that Lettish troops had taken DUNAMUNDE Fortress and soon after they had occupied BOLDERAJA. Several fires were seen to break out on the Western bank and apparently ammunition dumps were exploded. The beacon at the entrance to the river is also observed to be on fire. This beacon is believed  to have been used by the enemy as an observation post. During the night it collapsed."

Reference ADM 137/1667

There are some questions/ comments  I have about this situation....

Who were the "refugees" ?

 How close were the ships to the "Western bank"? and how close to Riga would they have been.....  I get the impression the ships were quite close and would have been quite a target even at night. 

Friday, 13 November 2009

John Stephen Stroud 1881-1919

John Stephen Stroudmy  Greatgrandfather,  was one of 9 seamen killed in action at Riga in Latvia  when their gun position took a direct strike from one of several shells fired by German and White  "Bermontian" forces under the leadership of  Pavel Bermondt-Avalov. 

Although I've been really interested in  this events for many years information was really hard to find at first   and I can well understand why the Naval campaign in the Baltic between 1918 and 1920 is often referred to as a "forgotten War" being overshadowed by the scale of events during World War One.

Gradually, information has became more readily available thanks to the internet and several books that have been published.  I can now  better understand the situation in the Baltic and why the signing of the Armistice did not signal the end of war conditions for the many so called "volunteers" who served in the Baltic during 1918-1920 and those like John and the other  15 Royal Naval Officers , 91 Ratings, 4 Royal Air Force Officers and 1 Airman killed in action. 

 I now have lots of small pieces of information from a variety of sources  and it's too much for 

I've therefore decided to set up this blog to complement the website. 

I'm hoping to post the little snippets of information that I have obtained in the hope that other families of the crew that were killed in action or families and descendants of crew who served during that period whether on Dragon or any of the other ships might want to get in touch and perhaps contribute their own stories.

Today is Remembrance Day and this is my contribution to ensure that the names of these boys and men are not forgotten.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Ship's Log for HMS Dragon 5th Day of August 1919 Conception Bay NF

3.35 Their Majesties the King & Queen & T.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Princess Mary, Prince Albert, Prince Harry & the Duke of Connaught came on board, inspected the Prince of Wales apartments& walked around the upper deck.

3.50 Their Majesties left ship

National Archives Ref ADM 53/40157


at 3 minutes into the pathe video there are 5-6 seconds of HMS Dragon sailing into New Brunswick with HRH the Prince of Wales ....blink and you will miss it!!! 

More Hansard transcripts: "The grant of a clasp to the War medal for service in the Baltic has been approved"

Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he is aware of the complaints made by the crews of certain of  His Majesty's ships in the Baltic owing to the lack of fresh provisions and of canteen supplies; and whether any steps have been taken to improve matters?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr Long) The answer to both parts of the question is in the affirmative.

Major Hirst asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that many seamen in the Baltic are ill informed as to the objects of the service; whether he will consider the expediency of having the men enlightened as to the vital national interests involved; and whether he can hold out any hope of rewarding their service by the grant of an extra bar to the War medal or of a gratuity?

Mr Long The necessary steps have been taken in regard to this matter. The grant of a clasp to the War medal for service in the Baltic has been approved.

Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy May the House be informed what are the vital national interests involved in this matter, seeing that although the seamen of the Baltic have been given full information the House has been told nothing?

HC Deb 03 December 1919 vol 122 cc373-4

Does anyone know why the clasp was never issued?

also I just thought I'd  like to acknowledge Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy and his fascinating questions on conditions in the Baltic and the fate of the crew of HMS Dragon. I would love to have been a fly on the wall!!  


Monday, 9 November 2009

Harsh conditions experienced by seamen serving in the Baltic 1919

Admiral Cowan (S.N.O Baltic) in a letter of the 10th of November asks for a plain and definite statement to the fleet, as to the conditions of service in the Baltic and the nature of any proposed recognition for it, to be issued without delay. He gives as his reasons the increasing stress of service in the Baltic due to the wintry weather and the few attractions on shore getting less, consequent signs of irritation and incipient insubordination. In investigations he invariably notes the desire to know

"why we are here-why we are fighting the Bolsheviks-
"why it is not definately stated why we are at war and 
"under war conditions-why it has been inferred in parliament that all out here are volunteers for this service" 

Reference National Archives  ADM 1/8570/291

Hansard transcripts: HMS Dragon struck

 Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

"I at once bow to your ruling. May we have some details about the lamentable death of nine sailors on board His Majesty's ship "Dragon"? This vessel was fired upon by Bermondt's artillery, and we know that nine gallant men were killed, blown to pieces, and one officer and four men wounded. She was delayed in getting away from danger, and was deliberately fired upon by the Russians who were supposed to be helping. Is it a fact that His Majesty's ship "Dragon" had both anchors down, and the cables were not even on the slips, when fire was suddenly opened on her? ...."

Hansard HC Deb 10 December 1919 vol 122 cc1368-478  

Pavel Bermondt-Avalov: What happened to him after 1920?

From time to time I ponder what happened to Bermondt-Avalov and whether he was ever questioned and held to account for his actions in the Baltic.

Online transcripts of debates in Parliament (Hansard Feb 20th 1920) available here show that there were questions  about his fate.

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1920s → 1920 → February 1920 → 12 February 1920 → Commons Sitting → ORAL ANSWERS TO QUESTION.
HC Deb 12 February 1920 vol 125 cc199-200 1
15. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can state the present whereabouts and activities of the Russian Colonel Bermondt; and whether it is intended to demand satisfaction from this officer for the killing of nine seamen on board H.M.S. "Dragon"?
The ADDITIONAL UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Lieut.-Colonel Sir Hamar Greenwood) As regards the first part of the hon. and gallant Member's question, according to the latest information, Colonel Bermondt is stated to be in a nursing home in Berlin in a semi-insane condition. As to the second part, no decision has been reached since the reply of the Prime Minister to the hon. and gallant Member on December 18th.
Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy Are the Government taking any steps to obtain satisfaction? Is anything being done, or are these nine men to go unavenged?
Sir H. GREENWOOD Every step has been taken that can be taken in the interest of the dependents of the men who were, unfortunately, killed when on duty. We do not know what steps have been taken against an ex-colonel in a semi-insane condition in a Berlin hospital.

but then there is so little information online (at least) to explain what happened to him between 1920 and his apparent full recovery, a  move to West Europe, the writing and  publishing of his memoirs and his death  in the 1970's in  New York City (according to Wikipedia and trawl though the internet)

I understand the memoir was written in the 1920's in German. I'd love to know what he says about his time in Riga. It all sounds quite murky to me