After 20 years of Strategic Defence Reviews, the Government has returned to the era of the Integrated Approach. This was a pre-Millennium term that described the internal Ministry of Defence co-ordination between the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. It was supeceded by the comprehensive approach which merged Defence requirements with those of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development in a meaningful way that put Britain at the heart of Global peacekeeping.
That all changed in 2013 when the UK and US governments failed to act against the attacks on the civilian population in Syria. The 2021 Defence Review, (announced last week) effectively neuters the British Armed Forces and puts all the money into the hands of the centralised spy masters in London and GCHQ.
Some might say that the jailing of Major General (Retired) Nick Welch is a sign that we cannot trust the leaders of the Armed Forces anymore. However, it is not so long ago that the Army offered incentives to soldiers to buy their own houses and still claim for the boarding school allowance, but now it has made this a criminal offence.
The two issues may not seem related, but our Allies and Adversaries will see them both as a sign that Britain’s role in the world has diminished further and the government is not able to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians threatened by genocide, or deploy a meaningful militarily force abroad.
Several of the characters in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners will reappear in my next book, which is due to be published after Lockdown. These include journalists, diplomats, politicians and soldiers such as Brian Horrocks.
After he returned from Russia and picked up the Military Cross he had been awarded in 1920, his career in the following decade was remarkably similar to thousands of British Army officers who served in the 1980s, alternating his postings between the British Army of the Rhine and counter-insurgency operations in Ireland, which he described as “a most unpleasant form of warfare”.
One of his highlights was representing Britain at the 1924 Paris Olympics, where he competed in the Modern Pentathlon, a gruelling multi-discipline sport that involves show-jumping, fencing, running, swimming and shooting. However, this was trumped when he joyfully married Nancy Kitchin four years later.
As a slightly slow starter, he did not attend Staff College until he was 35 years-old, but his progress afterwards didn’t suggest that he would become such a meteoric success in World War II and end up commanding three different corps in North Africa and XXX Corps in North West Europe.
I wonder what he would have thought of the British Army being reduced to less than the size of one of these corps!
Two days before the Treaty of Riga was signed, the British Government finally sealed their trade deal with Lenin’s Soviet Republic.
The deal had been gestating since the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George had agreed with the Allies on 25th April 1920 “to adopt a resolution to restore trade with the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic”.
Negotiations during the eleven months that led to the President of the Board of Trade, Robert Horne, signing the agreement, were fraught with problems. When Lloyd George first met with the Soviet envoy, Leonid Krassin, Winston Churchill was livid and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff accused the Prime minister of treason because the Soviets were still holding British soldiers, sailors and airmen as prisoners-of-war.
The Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon was equally opposed to the deal and voted against it in the November Cabinet meeting, even after the prisoners were released.
The iconic treaty was a watershed moment in the history of Russia because it gave recognition to the communist government and effectively condoned the repression that led to the death of millions of lives during Stalin’s pogroms.
See chapter 15 of Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners for the story how the negotiations progressed while the British soldiers were slowly starved in their Moscow jail.
Two important centenary anniversaries affecting the Anglo-Russian relationship occur this month. This week’s blog commemorates the end of the war between Poland and the Soviet Union.
The Peace of Riga, signed on 18th March took seven months to negotiate and benefited the Polish government more than the Congress of Soviets, which had to pay 30 million roubles compensation and abandon all rights and claims to territory west of the Ukraine.
Even though the Poles came out well, General Pilsudski the hero of the Battle for Warsaw, was highly critical of the loss of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Lenin was equally frustrated that his plans to export the Communist revolution to the West had been blunted.
The Allies were reluctant to recognize the treaty because the frontier was drawn 250 kilometres east of the Curzon Line that had been agreed at the Paris Peace Conference. Winston Churchill was a staunch supporter of the fight against Bolshevism and had tried to persuade the Government to send military support to Poland (see his secret memorandum below). However, Prime Minister David Lloyd George was more interested in a trade deal and said “When I mentioned the possibility of our going to war to support Poland, a shudder passed through the House of Commons…”. As a result, the government procrastinated and did not recognize the border until March 1923.
The peace treaty stabilized Polish-Soviet relations until Stalin invaded his neighbour on 17 September 1939 sixteen days after Hitler invaded from the West. It took another 50 years before Poland freed itself from Soviet shackles.