EVENTS & CORPORATE HOSPITALITY > Speciality Events > Naval Academy



THE CAMPAIGNS OF MONITOR M33: the development of British amphibious doctrine 1915- 1925


  •   The Dardanelles/Gallipoli Campaign 1915-1916 - Dr Bob Bushaway, University of Birmingham

  •   The Salonica Campaign 1916 – 1918 - Alan Wakefield, President of the Salonica Association

  •   Dvina River Campaign 1918 – 1919  - Lieutenant Commander Mark Brady RN


The Importance of the Northern Dvina Campaign (NDC) in 20th Century British Military Thought concerning Joint Operations.

The whole ‘War of Intervention’ in Russia 1918-19 was a muddle, but that is only clear in retrospect – at the time most steps taken, especially by Britain, appeared to make good sense.  Amidst that muddle it’s hardly surprising that the NDC itself was poorly conceived and mounted – but it was redeemed by good inter-service co-operation which was itself a product of bitter experience.

What really makes the NDC important, however, is that the Senior Naval Officer of the River Flotilla (Captain Edward Altham RN):

Had an excellent ‘Joint Operations’ background (Army family, 3½ years shore-bombardment service off the Belgian Coast).

Appreciated from the start that he was under the command of an Army C-in-C and that the Navy’s job was to support the land forces.

Subsequently played a key role in the first post-1919 revision of the Combined Operations Manual.

Was from 1924 firstly Editor of the RUSI Journal, and later Secretary and finally Director of the RUSI – a post he held until 1950.

How and Why Britain Intervened

An overview of how Britain planned from mid-1917 to intervene in support of the revolutionary governments of Russia, in order to keep Russia fighting Germany, yet found itself fighting Russians rather than Germans.

After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was forced upon Russia by Germany we landed forces at Murmansk at the invitation of the Bolsheviks – yet within a few months the Anglo-French landing at Archangel in early-August 1918 signalled the beginning of de facto war against the Bolsheviks.

The Northern Dvina Campaign 1918-19

The NDC itself was almost an accident.  The force which seized Archangel in August 1918 was largely for garrison and Lines of Communication duties, intended to secure the port of Archangel and its rail link south to the main Trans-Siberian Railway rather than fight a riverine campaign.  I will concentrate upon four key stages of the campaign:

The initial seizure of Archangel, including the successful assault upon Mudyug Island – whose batteries dominated the Archangel Roadstead.  This was an early example of an amphibious assault with co-ordinated air and naval-bombardment support.

The advance up the Northern Dvina in 1918, culminating in the (largely British) land force digging-in for the winter 1918-19.

Britain’s dispatch, in the spring of 1919, of a much larger and more capable (tri-service) Archangel Relief Force to enable the original force to make an orderly withdrawal.  The ‘Imperial’ sub-text – Britain wished to demonstrate to (inter alia) the Indians and the Irish – that we were not going to be chased from Russia by an armed rabble.  The chronic weakness of White (anti-Bolshevik) Russian groups persuades the British Government that once the Treaty of Versailles is signed we should withdraw from Russia as soon as possible.

Final operations (August 1919) and withdrawal (September 1919).  The culminating attack (to neutralise Bolshevik gunboats which might disrupt the withdrawal) and the withdrawal down-river to Archangel prior to evacuation of the port were exemplary instances of ‘combined operations’.

Captain Edward Altham RN and the ‘Lessons Learned’

Captain Edward Altham commanded the assault on Mudyug Island, and was subsequently Senior Officer of the Archangel River Flotilla in 1918 and again in 1919.  He wrote a number of influential ‘in-house’ accounts of his experiences, and argued that although the NDC itself was a type of campaign not especially likely to be repeated post-1919 it illustrated a number of truths which would have to be embodied in future Combined Operations doctrine and procedures.

I will summarise the lessons from the NDC identified by Captain Altham; and also (while trying to ensure I don’t tread on Professor Harding’s toes) state why I believe he probably had a great deal more influence upon subsequent British thinking on Combined Operations than is recognised even by many scholars in that field.


  •  Lessons Learned– Postwar consolidation of wartime experience into the 1922 Manual of Combined Operations - Professor Richard Harding, University of Westminster