Book Review: Churchill's Abandoned Prisoners: The British Soldiers Deceived in the Russian Civil War


by Rupert Wieloch

Philadelphia: Casemate, 2019. Pp. xiv, 260. Illus., appends notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1612007538

A Frustrated Dash for Freedom by Forsaken Soldiers in a Forgotten Campaign

In his latest book, Wieloch, a former British soldier and historian, manages to tell the story of Allied intervention during the Russian Civil War (1918-1921) through the experiences of fifteen British soldiers – one from Pennsylvania! – who in November of 1919 found themselves caught up in it, essentially abandoned at Omsk, in the heart of Russia upon the collapse of the “White” forces.

Wieloch naturally gives us a look at the “whys” of the Allied incursion into Russia. These were a mix of a desire to help overthrow of the Soviet regime, provide humanitarian relief, rescue the ‘Czech Legion”, to force Russia to resume war with Germany, and to secure munitions stockpiles the Allied had dispatched to the Tsar’s armies, as well as, in the case of Japan, to acquire new real estate. The relative importance of any particular motives varying among the several interveners, as well as from politician to politician, wrapped up in much political and diplomatic skullduggery.

Wieloch recounts the adventures and misadventures of these men, riding unheated freight cars, coping with hunger, disease, and , trying to evade bandits and “Reds”, and ultimately being betrayed to the Soviets, until eventually after nearly two years of hardship by some complex diplomatic arrangements. As he tells the story of these men, Wieloch also gives us a look the fortunes of the “White” armies in the Russian Civil War, and what life was like in Russia, notably Siberia, during it.

Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners is a grim tale that ranges from the drawing rooms of the powerful to the hovels of the starving, and well worth a read for anyone who wonders why the West’s relations with Russia have generally been testy over the past century.


Note: Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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