File No. 861.00/1058

The British Chargé ( Barclay ) to the Secretary of State

No. 154

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I have to-day received instructions from the Foreign Office to inform you that the Russian Minister at Peking has suggested to his British colleague that funds and munitions should be furnished to assist the operations of Captain Semenov in the Trans-Baikal Province.

Captain Semenov, as you have perhaps already heard, is in command of various troops on the Manchurian Railway at Hailar and at Dastufya [Dauriya], about 30 miles from Manchuria Station. The operations which Captain Semenov proposes to undertake include a local operation designed to secure the control of the Trans-Siberian [Page 39] Railway in the Trans-Baikal Province, involving the occupation of Karymskaya at the junction of the Amur and Siberian Railways, which would enable Captain Semenov to control traffic on the former railway, and to stop the entry of munitions for the revolutionary party in the Primorsk and Amur Provinces. The next step would be the occupation of Chita and, later, of Verkhneudinsk, with the disarmament of the local Bolsheviki. This would, in Captain Semenov’s opinion, secure order in the Trans-Baikal Province. The British Minister at Peking reports that this operation seems to be a practical one and to have good chances of success.

The principal resistance in the Trans-Baikal Province is anticipated from a small force of some nine hundred railway workmen at Chita who have been organised as Red Guards, but a small well-organised force should find little difficulty in dealing with this resistance. Captain Semenov estimates that enemy prisoners on the line between Dastufya and Baikal are about as follows: 10,000 to 15,000 distributed among the peasants; 1,400 at Dastufya; 10,000 to 15,000 unguarded at Chita; and 800 officers and 4,000 men at Verkhneudinsk. Most of these are Austrians and Turks and he thinks it doubtful whether they would be able or willing to escape in the winter.

Captain Semenov’s force is at present only 750 strong, 450 of them being officers, cadets and Cossacks, and 300 Mongols. Of the Cossacks 100 are guarding prisoners at Dastufya. The force is armed mainly with Berdan rifles and Captain Semenov has asked for Allied aid in securing machine guns, rifles, howitzers and other munitions. He believes that he is now strong enough to occupy Karymskaya but fears that he might lose it again and is unwilling to risk starting his undertaking with a failure. If he can be supplied with a proportion of the munitions for which he has asked he is ready to occupy and hold Chita and Karymskaya. He proposes to enlarge his force to a total of 3,000 by the enlistment of officers and Cossacks who are returning from the front, but does not expect that the latter will be ready to fight for approximately a month.

Captain Semenov is a Cossack with some reputation as a practical soldier. He is independent of General Horvat in Manchuria and is in sole charge of operations there. He is anxious to commence his movement as early as possible as he thinks the present situation favourable, and anticipates that it may shortly become more difficult.

Should the scheme sketched above be carried out successfully Captain Semenov proposes, as a second operation, to place himself under some well-known leader and to move westward, capturing Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk, where considerable resistance is likely, and [Page 40] uniting with Dutov’s Cossacks with the object of eventually joining Kaledin.1

The British Minister further reports that the question of the control of the railway is being taken up by General Horvat and other senior officers at Harbin; if aid is supplied it would be necessary to see that it was not diverted to the new railway force under General Samoilov, which it is intended to use to replace the Chinese troops now on the Chinese Eastern Railway: and none of the officers concerned seem to be so suitable as Captain Semenov for the grant of aid from Allied sources. The cost of assisting Captain Semenov is estimated at about 562,000 roubles a month for a force of 3,000 officers and men. This does not include the initial cost of munitions, clothing, etc., but it is thought that the total expenditure necessary would amount, at the present rate of exchange, and after the initial cost has been provided for, to about 10,000 pounds a month. The latest information which has reached this Embassy as to Captain Semenov’s progress, dated the 30th ultimo, was to the effect that his advance along the railway was being successfully continued, that he had occupied Olovyannaya, some 18 hours by rail from Manchuria, and seized the Bolsheviki supplies of rifles there, and that there seemed to be grounds for the belief that the occupation of Chita and Irkutsk would present no very great difficulties.

In reply to his communication mentioned above the British Minister at Peking has been informed that the British Government feel that it is of the greatest importance to support any purely Russian movement in Siberia the leaders of which are ready, as Captain Semenov appears to be, to act with energy. Steps are therefore to be taken through the British Consulate at Harbin, to let Captain Semenov’s followers know that the British Government propose to support him with money, and also with arms and ammunition, as far as these can be made available. The British Minister is to consult with his Russian colleague as to the most practicable way of giving this assistance, possibly through the Russian Legation or possibly through the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank at Harbin. Enquiries are also being made as to what numbers of the Russian officers now at Vladivostok would be prepared to serve with Captain Semenov.

In informing you of the above I am instructed to add that the British Government feel that it is clearly advantageous to the Allied cause to give encouragement to any movement of purely Russian origin which has indications of being successful. In order to be effective it is necessary that any support given to Captain Semenov should be given at once, and the British Minister at Peking has [Page 41] therefore, as already indicated, been authorised to assure Captain Semenov that financial support will be given, and endeavours are being made to procure for him locally supplies of arms and ammunition. His Majesty’s Government earnestly hope that the United States Government will concur in their views as to supporting Captain Semenov, and that they will be ready, if they agree with the course of action proposed, to participate in this action, and in the expenses which will be necessary to carry it out.

It should be added that, while Captain Semenov has hitherto been successful, it is of course not certain that his success will necessarily continue. The British Government would suggest therefore that his movement should not be allowed to defer urgent consideration of the scheme already suggested under which Japanese occupation of the Trans-Siberian Railway would be sought.

I am [etc.]

Colville Barclay
  1. Ataman of the Don Cossacks.