F.F. Raskolnikov

Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin

The Taking of Enzeli


Sergo Ordjonikidze[1] lived in Baku on Freedom Square, not far from the tomb of those who died for the revolution.

The entrance to his flat was from a small but quite elegant yard. The spacious, well-lit rooms, with a glass-fronted veranda, were meagrely furnished and seemed empty. Evidently, the previous owner of the flat, who lived there in the Musavatist[2] period, had managed to make off somewhere with his furniture. The strong wooden floorboards shone with fresh, bright-yellow wax, but this renovation of the floor did not make the flat cosy: it was like a soldiers’ bivouac. Sergo’s rooms served as headquarters for the Party workers and those engaged in Soviet and military work in Baku. Morning and evening alike, the place was crowded with people, and the piercing sound of the telephone-bell rang out unceasingly.

A large group assembled every evening round the tea-table, covered with flower-patterned oilcloth. Tea was dispensed by Ordjonikidze’s cordial, welcoming wife, a simple, kindly woman who looked after Sergo with maternal care.

That warm spring evening of May 16, 1920, when we sat at Sergo’s tea-table, he was visited by Nariman Narimanovich Narimanov—swarthy-faced, with a big bald patch and eyes dark as prunes. He was the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Azerbaidjan Soviet Republic, and he had just returned from Moscow. I looked at the clock: it would soon be the time appointed for us to weigh anchor. I got up from the table and said my goodbyes.

‘Well, comrade, I wish you success,’ said N.N. Narimanov, with an affectionate glance from his deep-set dark eyes. Flushed with emotion, Sergo Ordjonikidze uttered, loudly, warmly and cheerfully, some kind words of farewell. We embraced and kissed each pther.

From Sergo and Narimanov I received my final instructions from the Party and Government of Soviet Azerbaidjan.[3] After taking leave of them I emerged from the house, got into the long, open motor-car which was waiting for me at the gate—a vehicle which had withstood much battering in the sandy wastes of Astrakhan during the civil war—and set off towards the naval harbour. My skilful driver, Astafyev, a big-built, broad-shouldered sailor who seemed to be knitted together from nothing but muscles, conveyed me quickly in this rickety machine through the dark, dimly-lit streets of Baku. After passing the maritime boulevard, which was lit by high, suspended lamps, the car, now in third gear, tore along Baku’s endless quayside in the direction of Cape Bailov, surrounded by hills that showed dark in the distance. Somewhere to the right the sharp silhouette of a slender minaret was glirpsed for a moment.

On arriving at the naval harbour I went aboard the destroyer Karl Liebknecht, which was lying by the sea-wall, and ordered that the anchor be weighed. It was dark, the inhabitants of the port were already asleep, and the departure of our squadron could pass unnoticed, at least till dawn came.

The steam-winches hissed, the bell of the engine telegraph rang, the heavy iron links of the anchor-chain crashed down, and the destroyer began, smoothly and slowly, to move off from the stone sea-wall. We sailed slowly past the flickering beacon light on Nargen Island, and out into the pitch-black darkness of the Caspian night.


The hot southern sun flooded with its light the boundless blue expanse of the Caspian Sea. The steel hull of the destroyer Karl Liebknecht shuddered rhythmically. Thick clouds of black smoke poured out of the ship's wide funnels and were carried away by the wind.

Coal-dust crunched like sand under one's feet on the slippery iron deck. On the forecastle and the quarterdeck the four-inch guns drowsed beneath their covers of unbleached canvas. Amidships, along the hull, stretched out the long snouts of the torpedo-tubes, charged with Whitehead torpedoes, that gleamed in the sunshine like gigantic silver cigars. The other destroyers followed Liebknecht in orderly line-ahead formation. On the flanks of this joint flotilla of the RSFSR and the Azerbaidjan navies the single-funnel gunboats Kars and Ardahan, which possessed only slight stability, tossed rhythmically in the swell.

In the midst of our squadron, covered on all sides by warships, was the high-boarded oil-tanker which carried Kozhanov's landing-party.

A few days before the expedition set out we had held a council of war. Along with the chief of staff, Vladimir Andreyvich Kukel,[4] quick, lively and slim as a boy, all the flag officers and ships’ commanders were present. The task before us was a raid on Enzeli, in order to seize the White-Guard fleet which Denikin’s henchmen had taken thither and to recover the military equipment they had carried off from Petrovsk and Baku. We knew that there were British troops at Enzeli but, nevertheless, we were determined to get back the property with which the Denikinites had made off to Persia, under British protection.

The commander of the expeditionary force, Ivan Kuzmich Kozhanov, a tense young man, lean, with high cheekbones and slanting eyes narrow as slits, urged strongly that our troops advance by land, along the Caspian coast from Astara to Enzeli, with the flotilla providing a flank-guard to their advance. I disagreed with this plan. The purpose of our operation dictated speed and surprise. An advance by our troops along the Caspian shore would allow the White Guards to withdraw their booty into the interior of the country, and their British allies to bring up reinforcements from Mesopotamia and the South of Persia.[5]

I put forward my plan for a maritime expedition to Enzeli and the landing of a task-force very close to the town. This plan was supported by the majority of the flag-officers and commanders.


At dawn on May 18, when the Persians and the British were still asleep, our squadron suddenly appeared before the flat-roofed clay-and-gravel houses of Enzeli. Through binoculars one could make out the Governor’s palace standing by the shore, surrounded by banana-trees and the umbrellalike tops of slender palms. To the left of Enzeli stretched the military town of Kazian, with its barracks, depots and long, one-storey buildings. The two narrow masts of a wireless station stood out sharply against the clear, turquoise-blue sky. Drawing near to Enzeli, my destroyer passed along the shore.

To the east of Enzeli and Kazian some heavy six-inch guns came into the field of view of my Zeiss binoculars. They were standing on the open sandy shore, without any artificial covering. No men were to be seen.

After choosing a suitable spot for our landing, I ordered that the signal be hoisted for the operation to begin.

A south wind was blowing, and the multi-coloured flags[6] fluttered and strove to fly away northward. The swell rocea our vessels rhythmically and rolled them from side to side.

Soon the first launches set forth from the black oil-tanker, which rose high above the water-line. The Red sailors, in blue jumpers with white collars, their long cap-ribbons streaming in the wind, rowed vigorously, straining their powerful musdes.’ But the launches were slow to reach the shore. The ebb-tide was pulling them out to sea. At last some of the sailors, in high-topped leather boots and gripping their brown rifles, leapt briskly on to the sands. A large red flag with the crossedhammer-and-sickle emblem fluttered in their grasp like a huge bird. These men who had got ashore climbed the telegraph poles with their usual deftness and agility and cut the parallel copper wires that stretched between them. Enzeli’s telegraphic communication with the outside world had been severed.

The sailors next occupied the causeway running from Enzeli to Resht and Teheran. Enzeli was cutoff. Past the grim-looking but strangely silent guns I sailed towards Kazian and loosed off a few shots, so as to awaken the British from their placid slumbers. As we did not wish to destroy the houses, fragile and inflammable as straw, of the peaceful population of Enzeli, we concentrated our gunfire entirely on the military town of Kazian.

Out of the town a line of soldiers emerged, and quickly drew close to our landing party. These were brave and warlike Gurkhas from the independent Indian state of Nepal. Their heads were enclosed in snow-white turbans [sic][7] as though bandaged with cheesecloth. From Karl Liebknecht’s two guns we began to fire on the advancing line. After a few overs which fell we knew not where, far off in the jungle, our shells began to fall short of the target, raising tremendous splashes in the water. At last we achieved a hit: our shells now fell close to the line of soldiers, sending black columns of earth and smoke into the sky.

By all the rules of higher mathematics, the soldiers had been caught, without realising it, in a bracket, and were being subjected to annihilating gunfire. ‘On the line of soldiers, rapid fire. Range 28, deflection 2,’ I ordered, and my order, quickly transmitted by the red flags of the signallers, ran through the ships of our squadron like an electric current. All the ships, as though celebrating, opened a rapid and deafening cannonade.

Hell broke loose on land. Our shells threw upall the earth around the Indian soldiers. But the swarthy Gurkhas in their snow-white turbans continued to press on along the narrow spit of sand, enclosed on one side by the sea and on the other by marshes and ponds. There was no cover for them there and nowhere for them to manoeuvre. The generals who had sent them into battle looked on them as cannon-fodder and cruelly urged them on to certain, inevitable death.

Despite the destructive fire from all our vessels, the British officers did not order their men to retreat. And this was not courage but foolishness.

Eventually, when the frequent shell-bursts physically barred their path, the Nepalese riflemen faltered and fled. After this initial defeat of the British troops, the telegraphist on duty brought me from the wireless cabin a despatch he had just received and hastily written out in pencil. The British general, frightened by the retreat of the brave Indian soldiers in white turbans, was asking me, with delightful belatedness, what the purpose was of this visit by the Red Navy. The radiogram, in English, was signed by Brigadier-General Champain.[8]

I replied that the Red Navy had no aggressive intentions either towards the British troops or towards the Persian Government. Our purpose was to recover the ships and military equipment stolen by Denikin’s men from Soviet Azerbaidjan and Soviet Russia. So as to avoid any misunderstandings I proposed to the British commander that he immediately withdraw his troops from Enzeli.

The luckless British commander now entered into wireless correspondence with me. ‘By whose authority have you come here?’ he asked: a ticklish and somewhat indelicate question.

‘The Soviet Government bears no responsibility for me. I have come here on my own initiative, on my own responsibility and at my own risk,’ I answered proudly.

The British general said that, as he had no power to surrender Enzeli, he was seeking instructions from Sir Percy Cox, the High Commissioner in Mesopotamia.[9] Until a reply had been received from Baghdad, General Champain proposed that hostilities be called off and a truce concluded.

The slight wind and the swell slowed down the disembarkation of our men. There were no waves, but the light launches bobbed up and down like nutshells on the water and could be rowed only slowly and with difficulty to the low, sloping beach.

It was to our advantage to gain time, and so I agreed to a truce, adding that I gave the British two hours for their talks with Baghdad.

Struggling desperately against the swell and the wind, the expeditionary force continued to disembark. The sloping sandy spit was black with sailors. The continuous increase in the strength of our forces on the shore seriously alarmed the British commander. We received another wireless message. Referring to the truce which had been concluded, General Champain requested that there be no further landings by our men.

Recalling with difficulty the words of English I had acquired in my time behind the bars of Brixton Prison, I somehow composed a reply in the alien language. I brought it to the notice of General Champain that a truce meant cessation of direct military operations, but did not in the least exclude preparing for such operations. The British general evidently realised that further argument was useless and gave no reply.


Soon we made out through our binoculars a torpedo-boat approaching us very rapidly from the direction of Enzeli Bay. The vessel’s hull shuddered and shook like a man suffering from St Vitus’s dance. Her bow was high in the air,and her stern low down in the water. Behind her a great heap of snow-white foam was raised by her powerful screw. A square white flag flew from her mast, and was being blown in every direction by the wind. The torpedo-boat drew alongside Karl Lieblcnecht and a tall young officer in a greenish British servicejacket with silver aiguillettes on his chest and narrow, khaki shoulder-straps, made his way cautiously, clutching the handrail, from the British vessel up on to the higher deck of our destroyer. This was the parlementaire sent by the general.[10]

‘Lieutenant Crutchley,’ he said, introducing himself with a polite salute. I gave him my hand. The young lieutenant’s lips were quivering. He was obviously concerned at finding himself on a ship belonging to the dreaded Bolsheviks. I invited him into my cabin. He cautiously descended the shaky ladder and removed his cap, which was broad and round, like a pancake. His fair hair was smooth, with a side parting. His youthful, un-whiskered face was covered with a sickly pallor and looked like parchment.

I asked him to sit down. For lack of a chair he sat on the bunk, which was covered with a thick grey blanket.

‘General Champain has told me to ask what it is you want,’ the lieutenant asked me in broken Russian, adjusting his neat, spick-and-span jacket.

‘Only one thing—withdrawal by the British troops, so that we may, without hindrance, evacuate to Baku our military property which was seized and carried off by the White Guards,’ I replied.

The British officer undid two massive gold buttons embossed with eagles and produced from a side pocket of his elegant jacket a slim notebook, in which, with a small yellow pencil he extracted from a black casing, he wrote down my words verbatim.

‘Will you let me send a telegram to my general?’ he asked.

‘Please do.’

We both returned to the top deck. The torpedo-boat on which the British lieutenant had arrived had already disappeared. I summoned the wireless operator and gave him the message that the lieutenant had composed.

Our destroyer rocked monotonously.

‘I don’t feel well.! feel sick,’ confessed Lieutenant Crutchley, embarrassed and pale as a starched shirt. I invited him to go below and lie down on my bunk. He readily followed my advice.

‘I’m surprised that you suffer from seasickness,’ I remarked ironically, when we were down in the cabin. ‘After all, the British are a seagoing nation, and usually feel at home on the sea.’

Lieutenant Grutchley was nonplussed and made no reply. After resting a while on the hard Bolshevist bunk, he pulled himself together somewhat.

‘Tell me, please,’ I said to him, when I saw that he was feeling better: ‘did our visit today come as a surprise?’

‘A complete surprise,’ the young man frankly acknowledged. ‘In the first few days after you took Baku we did indeed expect to see the Red Navy, and even got ready for that event, but now, after three weeks of peace and quiet, we had calmed down and decided that you were not going to come.’ He smiled bitterly.

‘General Champain, our brigade commander, normally lives at Kazvin, where he has his headquarters,’ he added after a brief meditation. ‘The general came to Enzeli to carry out an inspection, and suddenly got caught up in this affair.’

‘Yes, it’s a disagreeable business.,’ I said, sympathetically. I was happy that the presence in Enzeli of this general, who had accidentally fallen into a trap, was hastening the British surrender. If he had been sitting in the deep rear, without danger to his own life, the general would have issued warlike orders and made his men go to their deaths, but, as things were, he was obliged to save his own skin. That would make him tractable, I thought. Lieutenant Crutchley told me he had twice landed at Baku, with General Dunsterville, and fought against the Reds.[11]

‘By the way, I should like to ask you a great favour,’ he said, suddenly turning to me after a short pause. ‘You see, I got married when I was in Baku—to a Russian girl, of course. She is charming. We set ourselves up in a comfortable flat in Enzeli, bought some expensive furniture, a grand piano and a bath. The piano cost me a terrible lot of money—and in this barbarous country they don’t make decent musical instruments: but I couldn’t refuse it to my wife, she plays so divinely. Now I’m afraid that, if we quit Enzeli, the piano will be left behind, and go to rack and ruin. Could you help me get my piano and my bath out of Enzeli?’

I found it hard not to laugh. At such a decisive moment as this the lieutenant was worried most of all about his pettybourgeois comforts.

I promised that the piano and the bath would be evacuated next day, on a lorry going to Resht. Crutchley could not thank me too much for my courtesy: he calmed down and cheered up quite remarkably. Even his seasickness seemed to trouble him less.

Confused, stammering and trying hard to find words, he started to tell me, in a vague and contradictory way, but with great animation, about his origins in a very ancient and noble Scottish family. "Crutch" means a cross, and "Icy" is an old Scots word meaning a place where two roads intersect.’

‘So, then, Crutchley means a cross at a crossroads,’ I translated in a rough-and ready way. ‘Yes, that’s right!’ said the British officer, nodding his head happily.

I yawned and looked at my watch. The truce-period was nearing its end. I climbed up the sooty iron ladder to the top deck. After the stuffy cabin the strong salty wind off the sea refreshed me pleasantly. I ordered the landing-party to take the offensive and had the guns loaded. The black silhouettes of our sailors, like shadows on a Chinese screen, began to stir and move about on the shore. The grey steel guns fired a deafening salvo, softly slid back, and then resumed their former position. An oblong shell, with a conical point, cut through the air over Kazian with a piercing whistle and splashed down, without exploding, in some malarial swamp.

The British artillery remained silent. Encouraged by its inaction, we shot off a few more three-inch shells, ranging over Kazian, where General Champain and his staff were sitting, as though caught in a mousetrap. Our line of men moved quickly along the sandy shore. The Gurkhas in white turbans were nowhere to be seen. All of a sudden there rushed headlong up out of my cabin on to the top deck the scion of an ancient Scottish family, carrying in his hand his broad, pancake-like cap.

‘For pity’s sake, you can’t do this,’ the red-faced Crutchley protested, breathless with emotion. ‘Here I am, a guest on your ship, and at the same time you are firing on the British. Let me go at once, and then do whatever you like, but while I’m here, stop firing.’

I soothed the distressed lieutenant and explained to him that, until his torpedo-boat arrived,! possessed, unfortunately, no means of getting him ashore. I declined to stop firing, Pointing out that the truce had expired.

At that moment the wireless operator on duty gave me a message received from the shore station. General Champain Complained that our units had destroyed all the telegraph lines, and so had made it difficult for him to communicate with the outside world. Consequently he had not yet obtained an answer from Sir Percy Cox in Baghdad. In conclusion, Champain proposed that the truce be extended for another hour.

We had not yet managed to put ashore the whole of our expeditionary force, so that Champain’s proposal was acceptable. When Lieutenant Crutchley learnt that the truce was to be extended, he sighed with relief, adjusted the silver aiguillettes on his chest, assumed a dignified air, and cheered up.

General Champain did not make use of the whole period allowed him. Before the time laid down for the truce had elapsed, he sent another wireless message saying that, although no answer had been received from the High Commissioner for Mesopotamia, he agreed to hand over Enzeli to the Red Navy, on condition that the troops of His Britannic Majesty would be allowed to leave the town with their weapons. He asked that I send a representative to discuss the technical aspects of the surrender of the town, of the White-Guard fleet and of all the military equipment we were after. Our task did not include making war on the British. In so far as they had agreed to quit Enzeli, our task was done.


I summoned Comrade Kozhanov to my destroyer. He was wearing a service-jacket and on the side of his head a cap of curly brown lamb’s wool. His lean, high-cheekboned face smiled broadly and his narrow, slanting eyes gleamed with excitement; he was delighted with our victory. I asked him to go ashore and negotiate with the British general about the conditions for the surrender of Enzeli.

A motor-launch, snorting and poisoning the air with the heavy, stifling smell of petrol, moved away from the short ladder of my destroyer. Ivan Kuzmich Kozhanov, erect in military fashion, stood by the low side of the vessel, which barely rose above the water, and, smiling cheerfully, with his wide mouth stretched almost up to his ears, saluted, his straight, almost wooden fingers slightly touching his lamb’s-wool cap cocked at

a jaunty angle. He successfully carried out his military-diplomatic mission. During his negotiations it turned out that all the breech-blocks had been removed from the guns on the White-Guard ships: the British had sent them to Resht. Comrade Kozhanov demanded that they be returned. General Champain promised that this would be done. And, to be sure, a few days later, when Enzeli was already decorated all over with red flags, a British lorry brought to the town those heavy steel breech-blocks, polished and gleaming in the sunshine. I have nothing to say against the British General Champain: he honourably carried out all his undertakings.[12]

General Champain left Enzeli in a roomy, six-seater car. His officers went off in small, badly-battered Fords. The swarthy Gurkhas and Sikhs in white turbans departed on foot, morosely driving before them the grey donkeys that pulled the carts laden with their meagre baggage. The Denikinite officers, naval and military, with their golden shoulder straps, fled in boats to the depths of the bay, which went far back into the mainland. Through swamps, rice-fields and jungles densely entwined with lianas they got to Resht that evening.

When lieutenant Crutchley learnt of the British withdrawal, he asked permission to spend the night on our destroyer, so as to be able next day to pack his things and send off his furniture, with the piano and the bath. Early next morning, amid the still unwarming rays of the sun, we entered the inner harbour of Enzeli. The landing-stage and quays were densely covered with a motley crowd. Persians in tall, round caps of black karakul, women in stifling black yashmaks that drooped to the ground like elephants’ trunks, sunburnt and barefoot children, all were crammed between the spreading palm-branches and the broad, light-green leaves of the banana trees. I came down from the bridge. Crutchley stood beside me on the forecastle. The approach to the landing-stage was difficult, but after swinging about slowly and for a long time we managed to heave to at the mooring-line.

‘Just see how base people are,’ said Crutchley, indignantly, turning to me and suddenly flushing: ‘in that crowd gathered on the pier I can see several Persian notables. Only yesterday they were bowing before me and humbly ingratiating themselves, yet now they turn away, or stare at me insolently as though they don’t know me. It’s disgusting.’

The destroyer tied up at the pier almost opposite the elegant palace of the Governor, above which flew an immense Persian flag showing the emblem of lion, sword and sun. The fleet lay in the harbour over the high sides of the black oil-tankers the long barrels of naval guns showed grey. Seaplanes white as albatrosses lay on the shore with their long wings stretched out helplessly.

We secured much booty at Enzeli. Besides the naval ships and aeroplanes our trophies included numberless guns, machine-guns, shells and rifles, with stocks of cartridges. The British left behind for us in Kazian quantities of tinned meat, biscuits and rum.[13]

Soon I made my way into the town. Not far from the quay a colourful and noisy bazaar began. Along both sides of a narrow street stretched enless rows of vegetables, dried fruit, rice, poultry and meat. Further along, the street entered a cool darkness, covered with a roof of black and rotten planks. Here they sold teapots, brightly decorated with flowers, manycoloured cotton prints, striped silk gowns, and skull-caps embroidered with silver and gold. Amid the motley crowd little grey donkeys minced on their thin springy legs: they were laden with huge bundles of chopped-up firewood, tied down with cords on both sides and.dragging heavily to the ground.

Beyond the bazaar the residential quarter began. Grey houses made of clay and gravel were hidden behind monotonous high walls that hemmed in narrow, crooked and filthy streets. Here and there one came upon dark, cramped shops. The majestic building of the bath-house, with wide stone steps and a round dome, resembled an ancient temple. In the street in front of the bath-house a cheery, grinning barber was scraping with a sharp razor the tough, unsoaped bristles from the yellowish-red face of a young Persian. After quickly looking round the town, I lunched in a modest restaurant by the shore, and then returned to my ship.[14]


Next day, having previously made an appointment, I went to call on the local Persian Governor. He received me in his palace, under the flag of the sword-wielding lion and the radiant sun. In the garden a single palm-tree, set in the ground, like a sentry, right before the entrance, softly rustled its leaves, narrow and sharp as daggers.

The spacious room, its floor covered throughout with a green carpet with intricate arabesque patterns, was as desolate as an empty barn. At the far end stood some chairs. One of these barely managed to accommodate a stout, swarthy, blackhaired man with a puffy face and fat, shiny cheeks. I introduced myself and explained the purpose of the Red Navy’s visit to Enzeli.

The Governor’s interpreter, who wore white trousers like dirty drawers, translated my words immediately. The Governor said nothing, but absent-mindedly passed his beads between his short, fleshy fingers and gloomily nodded his head.

An old servant, treading lightly and noiselessly on the carpet with his soft slippers, brought us some thick coffee steaming in miniature porcelain cups on a silver tray.

‘The weather is lovely today,’ said the Governor, changing the subject.

I drank my coffee, rose and took my leave. As I shook the Governor’s stiff, thick hand, I assured him that we had no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of the Persian state. A cunning expression flashed in his round, sad eyes. The interpreter showed me to the entrance of the palace.

I did not receive a return visit from the governor. That same night he fled to Teheran. Next morning the whole town was gaily decorated with newly-made, bright red flags. Enzeli was expecting Kuchik Khan, who had been hiding in the jungle. He was in those days a terror to the British. Semi-brigand, semirevolutionary, a supporter of national liberation for Persia, he filled the British merchants and officers with fear, as he boldly swept down on their cars from the rocks of the mountain-pass between Kazvin and Teheran. Not a few Fords and other vehicles had he hurled down the slope into the deep chasm. Like the Robin Hood of legend, Kuchik Khan took property from the rich and distributed it among the poor peasants. Like the hero of English folklore he was fantastically elusive, and disappeared after his raids into the mountains and forests. The peasants provided him with food, drink and shelter.[15]

A motley crowd was densely arrayed along the whole shore and packed the narrow quadrangle of the landing stage, which rested on piles. The town was in an excited state of agonising expectation and anticipation of the triumphal entry of its distinguished guest. Kuchik Khan had not been to Enzeli for several years.

First there appeared a troop of sunburnt, black-haired Kurds, armed to the teeth with rifles, revolvers and daggers. These were his personal bodyguard. Then, following soon after, Kuchik Khan himself arrived, accompanied by his henchmen, to be noisily greeted by the Persian crowd. Tall, wellbuilt, handsome, with regular features, he advanced with his head uncovered. Long, dark, curly hair fell in luxuriant locks to his shoulders. His chest was closely faced with criss-crossing machine-gun belts. Wide trousers were tucked into pale-green puttees, fastened with white tapes: on his feet gleamed silverembroidered slippers of untanned leather, with sharply turned-up toes. Slowly and gravely he moved up the street, exchanging greetings with the crowd in a manner that combined joy with dignity.

A few days later I received a telegram from Teheran. The chairman of Persia’s council of ministers, Vossugh ed- Dowleh, an Anglophil and a creature of the British, asked me to pass on to the Soviet Government a message which was appended. This lengthy telegram contained the Persian Government’s official protest against the Soviet landing at Enzeli. It was in this way that direct diplomatic relations began between the Soviet Government and Persia. Until then the Anglophil Government of Vossugh ed-Dowleh had not wished to know us. Soon, normal diplomatic relations were established between Soviet Russia and Persia, and Vossugh ed-Dowleh fled to Baghdad, under the warm wing of his British protectors.[Vossugh ed-Dowleh resigned and left Teheran for Baghdad on June 24.]

At the beginning of June General Champain’s troops evacuated Resht, Kuchik Khan occupied the town with his men, transferred his headquarters thither, proclaimed a republic and set up a Council of People’s Commissars and a Revolutionary War Council, and began to prepare for a march on Teheran.

I soon left the stormy Caspian Sea and went north, to join the Baltic Fleet. Kuchik Khan subsequently betrayed the revolution, while at the same time continuing to resist the forces of the Shah. One winter’s night when there was a cruel frost, during a severe blizzard, he froze to death at the top of a high mountain pass. The Government forces who were pursuing Kuchik Khan stumbled upon his frozen body. They -cut off his handsome curly head and presented it as a trophy to the Shah.[16]


[1] Ordjonikidze was at this time head of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party.

[2] The Musavatists were the Azerbaidjani Moslem nationalists who came to power after the Turkish occupation of Baku in September 1918, remained in power under the British occupation, and survived until overthrown by the Bolsheviks in April 1920.

[3] When the entire ‘Russian’ coast of the Caspian Sea had been occupied by the Bolsheviks, the White-Guard fleet withdrew to the Persian port of Enzeli, where it was interned. The Soviet Government was concerned to take over these ships, so as to ensure unimpeded movement of oil from Baku to Astrakhan and from there up the Volga to Moscow and Petrograd. With the Donets Basin coalfield still in ruins as a result of the civil war, supplies of oil were of vital importance for fuel and heating. On April 20, 1920, Trotsky wrote to Lenin and Chicherin: ‘With reference to Raskolnikov’s enquiry as to how to deal with the White fleet at Enzeli, I propose sending the following instruction: "The Caspian must be cleared of the White fleet at all costs. If a landing on Persian territory is required, it must be carried out . . .’ (The Trotsky Papers, Vol.11, 1971, p.147). On May 1 the Volga-Caspian Flotilla, commanded by Raskolnikov, arrived at Baku, and was renamed the Caspian Fleet. On May 9 Raskolnikov was appointed commander of the fleet of Soviet Azerbaidjan, which was at this stage formally a separate state from Soviet Russia. On May 14 the commander-in-chief of Soviet Russia’s naval forces, A.V. Nemitz, ordered Raskolnikov to seize the White ships.

[4] This is the same Kukel with whom Raskolnikov had worked at Novorossiisk when the Black Sea Fleet was scuttled.

[5] However, the landing from the sea was, in fact, accompanied by a military invasion of Persian territory from Astara, and occupation of Ardebil. This was intended to divert the attention of the British commander from the naval operation.

[6] By ‘the multi-coloured’ flags Raskolnikov presumably means the red, white and blue British flags.

[7] The Soviet landing was indeed opposed by a company of the lst/2nd Gurkha Rifles, but one is surprised to read of Gurkha troops going into battle wearing turbans. (Later, Raskolnikov writes of ‘Gurkhas and Sikhs’, but neither of the other two Indian infantry units of36 Brigade stationed in this area—the I st/42nd Deoli Regiment and the 122nd Rajputana Infantry—appears to have included any Sikhs.)

The Soviet attack began at 515a.m. and the bombardment lasted for an hour and a half. Two of the Gurkha soldiers were killed and six wounded. The total number of British-commanded troops at Enzeli was about 500, while the Soviet forces amounted to more than 1,500 men.

[8] Brigadier-General H. F. Bateman-Champain was relieved of his command as a result of the Enzeli affair. In 1922 he became Secretary-General of the British Red Cross Society, a position he held until his death in 1933. Field-Marshal Lord Ironside, who took over from Champain in October 1920, writes rather sarcastically about his predecessor’s regime, mentioning that the commander ‘had been allowed ... to have his wife and family of two children and a European nurse up with him in Kazvin. The Indian troops had a good deal of their heavy kit with them, including band instruments. All seemed to be a happy party.’ (High Road to Command, 1972, pp.128-i29.) Champain happened to be at Enzeli on May 18 because he had come to witness the test-firing of the newly-installed shore batteries.

[9] Cox was at this time Britain’s Minister in Teheran. He was not transferred to Baghdad until June 1920. Even so, Champain had difficulty in contacting him, as Raskolnikov had cut the telegraph wires. He appears to have tried to get through, with much delay, first by motoring to Resht and telegraphing Teheran from there, and then by sending an aeroplane to Teheran. (He had a radio transmitter, but it broke down.)

[10] In his articles in the Vladikavkaz Kommunist of May 30 1920 and the Petrogradskaya Pravd of July 15 1920 Raskolnikov says that Crutchley was accompanied by the Governor of Enzeli, which contradicts his statement later in this narrative that he was not visited by the Governor. Larissa Reissner, who accompanied Raskolnikov on this expedition, also tells how the Governor came aboard and had a discussion with her husband.

[11] Presumably Crutchley had gone to Baku with Dunsterforce’ in August 1918 and fought against the Turks who were attacking the city, and then had returned to Baku in November 1918 with General Thomson’s ‘Norperforce’, after the Turkish surrender.

[12] Raskolnikov required that a British officer (Captain Storey) be left with him as a hostage until the breech-blocks arrived, and this was done.

[13] The Soviet booty amounted to ten auxiliary cruisers, seven transports and smaller vessels, over 50 guns, with 20,000 shells, six seaplanes, more than 20 ships and field wireless stations and much other equipment, together with large quantities of oil, cotton and other stores, abandoned by the British.

[14] On May 19 Raskolnikov sent a telegram to Moscow in which he said: The Red Navy, having conquered the Caspian Sea for the Soviet Republic, sends greetings from its Red shores to the beloved leaders and Red knights of the international proletariat, Lenin and Trotsky. The population of Persia [sic], without distinction of classes, is acclaiming, in our person, Soviet Russia as the liberator of the Moslem East from the world bourgeoisie.’

[15] On Kuchik (or Kuchuk) Khan, see Trotsky, How The Revolution Armed, Vol. 3 (1981), pp.377-378. He arrived in Enzeli on May 23 and met Raskolnikov.

[16] In his reply to the Persian note of protest, Chicherin said, on May 23, that Raskolnikov had taken action without orders ‘from the central Soviet Government’. On June 5 he informed Persia that Soviet Russian forces had been ordered to evacuate Persian territory and territorial waters, and on June 20 he claimed that there were no more Soviet Russian forces there: any Soviet forces still in Persia were in the service of Soviet Azerbaidjan. (In fact, Soviet forces, fanning out from Enzeli, remained in occupation of large parts of Ghilan and Mazanderan provinces until September 1921.) An appeal by Persia to the League of Nations produced no response, and so the Teheran Government set about coming to terms on a friendly basis with the Soviet power. Bonar Law, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons, had stated on May 20 1920, in reply to a question about the events in Enzeli: ‘His Majesty’s Government are under no obligation under the Anglo-Persian Treaty.’

The consequences of the Enzeli incident were a great deal of recrimination within the British Establishment and a sharp decline in Britain’s prestige in the Middle East. The Times wrote on May 20: ‘The truth is that ministers still approach Middle Eastern matters with the habit of mind induced by the War. They practise Gallipoli methods. They incur enormous responsibilities with light-hearted eagerness, without counting the cost, without reckoning up their resources, and without considering where they will be if something unexpected happens.’ On May 21 the paper published under the headline ‘British Prestige Involved’, a piece that began: ‘A correspondent familiar with the Middle East writes: The seizure of the Persian port of Enzeli by Bolshevist troops is a very menacing occurrence. It may have consequences which will set alight the inflammable material strewn throughout the Middle East, from Anatolia to the North-West Frontier of India.’ And on May 22 The Times continued its attack thus: ‘When His Majesty’s Government think fit to enlighten the public about the Persian situation, perhaps they will also explain how it comes to pass that a British force, reported to be nearly 500 strong, has been garrisoning a Persian port for the past two years. Had the War Office forgotten its existence?’

The reproach to the War Office was misdirected. Already on February 11 1920 the War Minister, Churchill, had urged the Cabinet to withdraw the garrison from Enzcli ‘in order to escape the loss of prestige involved in a retirement in contact with the enemy’, and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Henry Wilson, noted in his diary on May 19, regarding the events at Enzeli: ‘A nice state of affairs, which will have a bad effect in the East. For months I have been begging the Cabinet to allow me to withdraw from Persia and from the Caucasus. [There was still a British garrison in Batum at this time—B.P.] Now perhaps they will.’ The minister mainly responsible for resisting the War Office proposals was the Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon. Churchill wrote to him on May 20 to protest against a policy of’leaving weak British forces tethered in dangerous places where they can be easily and suddenly overwhelmed. I do not see that anything we can do now, within the present limits of our policy, can possibly avert the complete loss of British influence throughout the Caucasus, Transcaspia and Persia. If we are not able to resist the Bolsheviks in these areas, it is much better by timely withdrawals to keep out of harm’s way and avoid disaster and the shameful incidents such as that which has just occurred.’ (Quotations from R. H. UlIman, Anglo-Soviet Relations, 1917-1921, Vol.3, ‘The Anglo-Soviet Accord’, 1972, pp.300,363, and Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Vol.IV, Companion Part 2 [Documents] 1977, pp.1101-1102.)

At the beginning of 1920 Britain had seemed to be about to reduce Persia to the status of a protectorate, with British control of the country’s finances and armed forces, by means of a treaty which was before the Persian Parliament. The Bolshevik landing at Enzeli ‘shook Persian confidence in the ability of the British to defend Iran’ (N.S. Fatemi, Diplomatic History of Persia, 1917-1923, 1952, p.78) and encouraged all the elements that were opposed to the Anglo-Persian treaty. The United States and France were both eager to weaken Britain’s position in the Middle East, and the influence of their representatives, together with Persian national feeling, resulted, in the postEnzeli circumstances, in repudiation of the treaty. British advisers and soldiers left Persia during 1921, and a treaty between Soviet Russia and Persia authorised Soviet forces to enter Persian territory in the event of the reappearance there of any forces hostile to the Soviet power. In the context of the time, that meant British forces. In 1941, however, it was by mutual consent that Soviet and British forces entered Persia, in order to facilitate communication between them and to frustrate pro-German activities inside the country.

For the background to the events in Persia in 1920-1921, see the article ‘Persia I’ in the Central Asian Review, Vol.IV, No.3 (1956); the proceedings of the Congress of the Peoples of the East, Baku, September 1920(New Park Publications, 1977); and J . M. Balfour, Recent Happenings in Persia (1922).