3rd February 1919 Monday

Tragedy at Shenkursk

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“On February 3rd we heard that Shenkhurst had been evacuated by our troops in the dead of night for military reasons. Our troops were withdrawn without the knowledge of the villagers, many of whom had been very friendly to us. When the unfortunate villagers got up next day they found the village to be full of Bolsheviks. Terrible scenes followed. Many people were shot, including the Mother-Superior of the convent in Shenkhurst. All the nuns, and many women and children of the village were raped, and dreadfully mutilated. Such is Bolshevism and British strategy!”

On the 24th and 25th January, Shenkursk over 400 kilometres from Archangel on the Vega River, fell to the Bolsheviks in one of the campaign’s most significant battles. It had been held by a joint force of a couple of hundred Americans of the 339th Infantry with support from another nine hundred or so of both British and the unreliable White Russian army.

Thousands of Bolsheviks flooded into Shenkursk and some villages in the surrounding areas, overwhelming the allied positions inflicting many casualties.

General Ironside had ordered immediate withdrawal fearing annihilation which was carried out by using the one trail out unseen by the Bolsheviks. Unaware of the timely escape by those that made it, the Reds continued to bombard Shenkursk before entering the town to find it abandoned by the Allies.

Douglas Page reported that the news had filtered through to Archangel about nine days later with an account of the terrible atrocities. Although he was clearly critical of the High Command the outcome was the inevitable result of the allied force being severely understrength to carry out such a campaign and highlighted the folly of trying to recruit a Russian army to fight other Russians. When it came to serious fighting the White Russians often refused or tried to abscond or defect to the Bolsheviks.

More peaceful Shenkursk in 1917

More peaceful Shenkursk in 1917

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2 Responses to 3rd February 1919 Monday

  • Just catching up on some of these wonderful updates. Regarding the reports of the rape and murder of the nuns at Shenkursk, the story was apocryphal, one American wrote of the claim:

    “The men of this expedition were told many stories of Bolshevik atrocities. No care or effort was spared in printing these stories in both English and Russian and getting them into the hands of the soldiers. It was important to inspire fear and hatred of the Bolsheviki in the hearts of our men, more important than the verification of the stories. After the evacuation of Shenkursk we were told, with complete details, of the murder of the nuns and the Abbess, and of the members of several families who were well known to us … We were told of rape and of tortures, all in convincing circumstantial setting … In July, however we learned the truth. Three Russians whom I had known all winter and in whom I have the utmost
    confidence, went to Shenkursk, stayed there incognito a week, and came back. They told me that they had seen the nuns, and talked with the people who were supposed to have been murdered.”

    I am looking forward to further installments.

  • Damien,
    Thank you for your comments re the Shenkursk incident. I have no doubt at all that a lot of propaganda was fed to the allied troops. Of course many of the men were wondering why indeed were they there at all? Such encouragement would have gone a long way towards stoking up reasons to hate their often unseen enemy. Always useful when the need to get angry arises.

    I’ve always suspected that some of the comments made in some of the diary entries were a result of some hearsay. I have on a few occasions cross referenced the stories with other people’s versions from diaries, memoirs etc., much easier on the Western Front than with the Russian campaign because there is so much more available.

    We very much welcome your comments on anything you feel is worthy of such and of course are happy to share such with our readers.

    Ray Coggin.