WARSHIPS IN THE BALTIC CAMPAIGN 1918-20: THE ROYAL NAVY TAKES ON THE BOLSHEVIKS

Reviewed by: ANDREW LIVSEY

Warships in the Baltic Campaign is a succinct, clear summary of British and allied maritime action in the Baltic between 1918 and 1920 and of the naval forces involved. It is, as with all Osprey books, excellently illustrated with photos and pictures, though the maps could possibly have been slightly improved.

There is plenty to keep the reader’s attention, including the moment when Reval (now Tallinn) came under bombardment from Soviet destroyers while Captain Thesiger RN was being hosted ashore for lunch. Leaving the meal he returned to his ships in the harbour, sailed, chased the Soviets, captured one of their ships, towed it back, gave it to the Estonians and then resumed the banquet, which had presumably been re-scheduled as supper.

The book also fairly draws out the complexity of the situation. As Admiral Cowan wrote, “it seemed to me that there was never such a tangle…An unbeaten German army, two kinds of belligerent Russians, Letts, Finns, Estonians, Lithuanians; ice, mines…submarines…cruisers and battleships.” The result of the campaign, in which the Royal Navy played an important role in the Baltic States achievement of independence, required a mix of diplomatic shrewdness and determined action.

The course of the campaign reminds us that significant effects can be achieved even when sea control remains contested, and despite minefields, but that the cost will be steady attrition of the forces involved. We are seeing something of the same in the Black Sea as I write. The campaign also reminds us of the need for aggressive action, such as achieved in the raids on Kronstadt, and the advantages of a high operational tempo. The British ships repeatedly turned up in the right place just in time. Logistics are correctly brought to the fore, not just for the allied forces but the effect on the Soviet surface ships of their critical lack of fuel oil, and on their submarines of the British sinking of their depot ship.

This book is not intended to be either comprehensive or the final word on the subject. Further reading is suggested in the bibliography. It is, however, a highly readable introduction which tells the story well and deftly highlights many of the important issues. Recommended.