The Incredible Reason Why 150 Australians Volunteered to Fight in the Russian Civil War

Three Australians as part of the 45th Battalion in Russia. Awm.gov.au

In 1914, World War I broke out across the world. When Britain declared war on Germany, Australia soon followed. Despite being in the midst of an election, both parties fully supported Australia joining the war. Even through there was plenty of enthusiasm for the war at the start, the enthusiasm started wane by the end of the war.

Russia also entered the war on the side of the Allies, which did not help the number of social and economic issues that were already affecting the country. In 1917, the issues affecting the country came to a head and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne during the February revolution. By October of 1917, the provisional government fell and the Bolsheviks came into power. The country was then thrown into turmoil as groups vied to see who would maintain control of Russia. On one side were the Bolsheviks and the Red Army who were fighting for socialism. On the other side was the White Army, loosely allied forces that had a range of interests including capitalism, monarchism, democratic socialism, and antidemocratic socialism.

Tsar Nicholas II. Pravda

With Russia in turmoil during the war, the Allies feared that not only would Russia leave the war, but their war supplies which had been piling up in warehouses in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk would be lost or destroyed. In an attempt to keep Russia in the war, the British Navy created the North Russia Squadron which was under the command of Admiral Kemp. When the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, they confirmed the Allied fears by signing the Treat of Brest-Litovsk just five months later.

Allied fears over their stockpiles in Russian warehouses were compounded by the fact that the Germans had landed in Finland. The Allies worried that the Germans could capture Murmansk and Arkhangelsk where their stockpiles remained. There were also fears over the safety of the Czechoslovak Legion. The Bolsheviks had promised members of the Legion safe passage through Siberia to help on the Western front if they stayed neutral in the revolution and left Russia. The deal fell apart when Bolshevik fighting broke out in May 1918. Only half of the Czech troops made it to the Western front before being stopped by the fighting.

In response to the problems in Russia jeopardizing Allied success in the war, French and British governments decided on a military intervention in Russia. The Allies hoped to not only prevent their supplies from falling to the Germans or the Bolsheviks and rescue the Czechoslovak Legion, but also to defeat the Bolsheviks in order to re-open the Eastern Front. They were lofty goals and as such the British needed help. They requested assistance from President Woodrow Wilson who ,despite some opposition, did send troops to the expedition force. Australian Prime Minister William Hughes on the other hand was not so accommodating. When World War I ended, he was not willing to commit any of his forces to serve in Russia.

So how and why did 150 Australians end up serving in Russia after the end of World War I? Read on to find out.

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