Diary in Russia - 1914
FIRST YEAR OF THE WAR
August 1914. HEADQUARTERS, RUSSIAN ARMIES IN THE FIELD.
Soon after my arrival news came of the East Prussia operations which had such a fatal ending in the battle of 'Tannenberg,' but encouragement was given before long by the Russian successes against the Austrians - a very different job to tackle than the Germans.
The two leading events during my time with the Grand Duke Nicholas in the later months of the year were the 'Munitions and Guns' questions, and the events in the Caucasus, leading ultimately to the Dardanelles expedition.
The failure of the East Prussia offensive was very bad luck for the Grand Duke, but he looked at it from a point of view of service to the Allies, inasmuch as it eased the position for the Allied armies in France.
As on joining I had no cipher it was of course pretty useless for me to wire even the scanty information I received, but the munitions business and the Caucasus trouble brought me into closer touch with the Grand Duke, though I was obliged to go to Petrograd and send telegrams through the Embassy on these matters.
Badly supplied as he was, however, the Grand Duke carried out successful operations against the Austrians, and would have held his ground and more, in all probability, if the administrative side of the work had been as good as the fighting side.
Lack of these absolute necessities, guns, munitions, flying service, proved too much for any commander, and 1915 was a year of depression and temporary defeat, saved by the gallantry of an army which might with luck to the enemy have been driven back to Moscow. Only the dogged fighting qualities of the Russians and the strenuous efforts of the Allies on the Western Front saved the situation.
The headquarters of the Russian armies at the commencement of the war were at Baranovitchi, and were located in various trains drawn up on the sandy soil of some pine forests amid scenery not unlike that of Aldershot.
A few adjacent huts served as workshops for the staff, but we of the Allied military missions were located in the same train as the Commander-in-Chief the Grand Duke Nicholas. We 'messed' in his dining-car. When the Emperor came down his train was drawn up on a special siding a little farther from ours, and in the pine forest, but near enough to be reached in two minutes' walk.
We remained at this place (going off individually at times to see the armies) till the late summer of 1915, when the retreat before the advancing enemy made us shift our quarters to Mohileff.
There was plenty of good going round this neighbourhood and one could ride for miles without touching much hard road, though the scenery was generally dull and uninteresting, the whole country being flat, and in winter looking very bleak and sombre.
18th September 1914.
I received the following telegram, which caused much amusement to the Russians:
'The British Admiralty announce that the Germans have already sunk H.M.S. Warrior three times since the beginning of the war. It is suggested that another vessel should be selected for the next lie.'
6th October 1914.
At 2-30 1 was summoned to see the Emperor. On arrival I found two huge Cossacks on guard at the door of his Imperial Majesty's train. It was drawn up in the pine forest opposite our own, was comfortably but very simply furnished, and an A.D.C. took me off to the little study at the end of the car, where the Emperor received me alone. He was dressed in perfectly plain khaki uniform, the coat being more of a blouse than ours, with blue breeches and long black riding-boots, and was standing at a high writing - desk. As I saluted he came forward at once and shook me warmly by the hand. I was at once struck by his extraordinary likeness to our own King, and the way he smiled, his face lighting up, as if it were a real pleasure to him to receive one. His first question was one of inquiry after our King and Queen and the Royal family, after which lie asked about my wife and children.
He welcomed me as representing the British army in Russia, and asked a great many questions about the troops in France and about the Indian contingents, in which he was much interested.
We talked freely and pleasantly for some twenty minutes, after which he invited me to dinner, telling me to be sure to dispense with my sword, in which I was of course arrayed for this formal presentation.
The first impression left upon my mind was absolutely different from any that I had expected. I had always pictured him to myself as a somewhat sad and anxiouslooking monarch, with cares of state and other things hanging heavily over him. Instead of that I found a bright, keen, happy face, plenty of humour and a 'fresh-air man.'
In the evening off in my newest suit of khaki to dinner. About sixteen of us in all-the two Grand Dukes, Nicholas and Peter, C.G.S., Q.M.G., the chaplain (Father George), La, Guiche, the French Military Attaché, etc., and myself.
The usual zakouska to begin with, followed by a very simple dinner, soup, fish, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, souffle' and fruit, with kvass and light wines.
7th October 1914.
I told the Emperor of our visit to Warsaw, where the G.O.C. invited us to join him at the theatre, the idea being to re-establish the confidence of the public, who were somewhat alarmed by the proximity of the Germans.
After the play was over there was a ballet by ladies both stout and thin to represent the Allies, our lot - 'Great Britain' - being represented as six sailors in white ducks, sky-blue caps and collars, who paraded with four pop-guns, which were let off at intervals to strains of music, to which the British Army, represented by six more ladies of the corps de ballet in red bonnets, red and black kilts (shortest kilts ever seen), pink stockings, white spats, and claymores, danced and waved red ensigns.
La Guiche had been equally amused by the 'French Army,' but in their gallant soldiers there was no display of legs, as they were so smothered in tricolours that they could hardly move. We were each called to stand up to receive the plaudits of the assembly at the compliment to our countries.
A little Cossack officer was attached to us there, very young, his mother an Armenian, and he looked like a Persian girl, with most beautiful sympathetic eyes, but he was a bloodthirsty little fellow, and told me he had killed five Germans yesterday with his own hand.
Some people are very optimistic. One general told me he thought we should be in Berlin in four months.
On the other hand, one of my " Allied colleagues' said that the U.S.A. would shortly make peace proposals, and the war would end. The Russians are certainly not 'taking any peace proposals at present.'
Aviation matters are a very weak point here.
7th November 1914.
When I was at Lodz the other day an officer commanding a Siberian corps told me he was twenty-three days in the train en route to his headquarters, and his men, of course, longer. It gives some idea of the time it takes Russia to put all her forces into the field.
15th November 1914.
The news of Lord Roberts's death came to-day. From nearly every Russian officer I met and from all my Allied colleagues came expressions of sympathy. I think everyone without exception who knew 'Bobs' loved him. The Emperor sent a most kind message to me about him.
19th November 1914.
It was the 'name day' of the Lancers here and as a very special occasion I was given a glass of vodka. It must have been a fine old brand as it went down my throat like a torchlight procession.
2nd December 1914.
The Emperor told me of the death of poor Prince Nicolas Radziwill, who came across from England with me, and as we were walking on deck talking of old S. African days, prophesied to me his own death, and that the next great war would be between us and Russia. God forbid!
General Oba of Japan is a great favourite with us all, and told me that last night he had nightmare because I took him for such a long walk.
I spread the report that he had seen the Kaiser with his moustaches turned up, a yellow mouse sitting on one end and a pink mouse on the other. This amused him much, and he greets me in the morning with 'Bon jour, pas de souris jaunes hier soir, n'est ce pas ?"
All delighted with the news of Admiral Sturdee's victory.
The Emperor, discussing the talking of other languages but one's own, asked me if I was in India when a well-known Governor, having to speak on one occasion in French, referred to the term of service he had passed in the British Government as 'Quand j'e'tais dans le cabinet.'
I knew the Governor to whom he referred.
20th December 1914.
I wrote to Lord Kitchener as follows:
Delay in movements and rumours of Russian losses being very heavy made me feel anxious as to the situation here. My anxieties were confirmed by a talk with General Marquis de La Guiche, French Military Attache', who told me he had heard that there was a great shortness in guns, munitions and rifles, especially guns and munitions. Having no decent cipher, I made up my mind to go to Petrograd, see what I could do and have a talk with the Ambassador. Accordingly I asked for an interview with the C.G.S., General Yanushkevich, told him of my proposed visit, and said I should be glad of any information in regard to the position, as if I could be of any help in cabling to England an opportunity would occur during my visit to the Embassy, where they had good ciphers and I, as explained before, had none.
Yanushkevich then spoke out quite freely and frankly, telling me of the shortness of guns and munitions which delayed the Russian advance - that the G.O.C.'s of armies were bitterly disappointed at not being allowed to advance, but that it was obviously hopeless to do so under the circumstances.
It is a great pity that he never spoke out so freely before. However, it is no use crying over spilt milk, and all one can do now is to hope that they will keep us more in their confidence, instead of suddenly telling one of trouble after one had believed all was going well.
I left for Petrograd that afternoon (last Sunday), arriving on Monday, when I told the Ambassador what had passed, and he sent a message to the Foreign Office, which I drafted, and which you doubtless saw.
Sir George Buchanan was in touch with the Japanese Ambassador when I left, and I hope something may be done by them to assist, though delay must of course ensue. None of us Allies know exactly what they have lost here actually in personnel or material, but the fighting has eaten up guns, rifles and munitions, and the Russians will have to remain more or less on the defensive till their wants are supplied.
I returned here on Thursday and at once called on the C.G.S., to whom I told what had passed, and suggested that he should cable to the Russian Military Attache' in London, setting forth quite clearly what the actual and pressing requirements were. I am afraid that even if you could help us it would mean some long delay, and there are, of course, the difficulties of communication with this country now the winter has set in. Japan and Canada might help via Vladivostock. Anyhow it looks like a somewhat long delay and a very irritating one.
The Q.M.G. here this morning said they had 800,000 men quite ready to go into the ranks, but all hung up through lack of munitions.
We have been sitting here, my colleagues and I, since our last "trek" in the beginning of November, and not given any further trips, so I cannot say how things are going with the armies personally, but I know that the feeling of officers is one of great disappointment at the idea of a retrograde movement. The annoying part is that I cannot help feeling that someone must have foreseen this difficulty and did not act quickly enough.
All the fresh troops I have seen coming along this line are of good physique and well fitted out. I cannot say what the officers are like. Yours, etc.,
28th December 1914.
Lunched with the Emperor on the Imperial train, and H.I.M. came up to me after lunch and talked about my ancestor, Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams, who was Ambassador to Russia in the time of the Empress Catherine (then Grand Duchess).
He then turned to the all-important question of munitions, the lack of which had become very acute and terribly serious. He told me he was much obliged to me for calling the attention of the Staff to certain points
in regard to U.S.A. and Canadian supplies and questions of transport, winter difficulties, methods of business, and to urgency of giving their orders at once, if they decided to place their orders there. Having been five years in Canada and visited the U.S.A., I naturally knew something of business methods there, etc.
H.I.M. told me he had given orders for the immediate carrying out of all that is necessary.
Note: I fear these orders did not have much effect, as the munition story was one of invariable delays and difficulties.
30th December 1914. DARDANELLES.
To-day I was sent for by the Grand Duke Nicholas, who saw me with the Chief of the General Staff, my friend Prince Galitzin having told me beforehand of the nature of the interview.
I was told by the Commander-in-Chief that the position in the Caucasus was very serious, that the Turks were massing forces against the Caucasus army, and that though he could retain a Caucasian army corps, which was intended for this front, he had not done so, and had told the C.in-C. of the Caucasus front that he must get on as best he could, but he felt sure that it would be for our mutual interests as Allies if we - that is, Great Britain - could render help by a demonstration of some kind which would alarm the Turks, and thus ease the position of the Russians on the Caucasus front. I answered that so far as I knew-and I had a pretty shrewd idea-our armies were not yet strong enough to spare sufficient men for a military expedition, but I asked him, in the event of its being possible, whether he thought a naval demonstration would be of any use.
He jumped at it gladly.
(N.B.: It is of historical interest that this conversation was really the origin of what eventually developed into the Dardanelles operations, though I naturally, at the time, had no idea of the great development in that line which Was to take place later on. These were, so far as I know, undertaken originally with a view to helping our Russian Allies out of a "tight place." It was thus the first chapter of what turned out to be an unfortunate undertaking, but it did anyhow render a considerable service to Russia. I left at once for Petrograd, saw Sir George - Buchanan, and sent off a message, the answer to which eventually announced the proposed action of our Navy and later on Of General Sir Ian Hamilton's expedition, an expedition undertaken with the hope and expectation Of some assistance from Russia. This was not promised, though at a later period troops were actually sent to Odessa with a view to helping, but circumstances prevented this, principally the munitions debacle)
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