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 Our troops were withdrawn without the knowledge of the villagers, many of whom had been very friendly to us.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.
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