Mutiny in Murmansk - The Hidden Shame, by V.M. Bentinck

Mutiny in Murmansk - The Hidden Shame, by V.M. Bentinck
Published by the Royal Marines Historical Society in 1999. 104 pages. A5 size paperback (N5561)

From the introduction: 'Their Lordships direct that, in consequence of Lt Col Kitcat's responsibility for the failure of the 6th Bn on active service in North Russia, he be placed on halfpay'. So ended the career of Lt Col Kitcat, the unfortunate Commanding Officer of 6th Battalion RMLI. So, too, ended one of the most unfortunate episodes in the illustrious history of the Royal Marines, and one about which little has been known or written.

In 1995, 75 years after the events took place, the files dealing with the incidents concerning "indiscipline" amongst Royal Marines in North Russia in 1919 were opened to the Public. The findings of the Boards of Inquiry, the Courts Martial records, witnesses accounts, and all the associated papers had until now been closed. There has been speculation over the years as to what exactly happened - most recently a TV film went over the story, and some of the survivors were interviewed, though the film makers were denied access to the files. Blumberg gives a straightforward account of the campaign in some detail, and mentions nothing untoward, despite the fact that it was public knowledge at the time that a large number of Royal Marines had been court martialled and imprisoned for their conduct in North Russia.

Moulton admits that 'the greater part of the 2 companies refused duty: 90 men were subsequently found guilty by court martial, 13 sentenced to death, and others awarded up to 5 years' penal servitude.... the disgrace was deeply felt in the Corps for many years'. Yet he, writing in 1972, and James Ladd in 1980 were probably unaware of events amongst Royal Marines serving in the North Russian Expeditionary Force that had occurred earlier in the year, prior to this major incident. Most people never knew the details of what happened: those who did kept quiet. The fact that, in the event, the death sentences were never carried out, and all were released within 2 years, raises more questions. Older retired members of the Corps recall that this was a subject that was never to be discussed, and the memory of it is still alive (see Annex A).

As Corps Historical Records officer I had an opportunity to study the files before they were released to the public, and this account is based upon them. The files are a fascinating read: they contain an unusually diverse collection of papers - witness statements, personal letters, examples of communist propaganda and officers' confidential reports. To handle these original documents, for example the minute penned by AGRM following a very difficult interview with the King, is to feel a degree of closeness to the events. The files are not an easy read: the folios are often incomplete, and have been bound together in a haphazard manner, with pages concerning different incidents filed alongside each other. There is no overall account of what happened, and no resume or summing up of the whole affair. I likened the task of attempting to piece together what happened to trying to discover the overall picture carried by fragments of a jigsaw, without being able to move the pieces from their position on the table. Inevitably there are gaps and inexplicable inconsistencies. The main file is approximately 4" thick, consisting of some 800 pages. Historians with more time and more background knowledge may well interpret the files differently: this is what I saw and deduced.

Finally, before starting the narrative, one might well ask why this unfortunate episode needs to be aired. The answer is - it happened, and the files relating to it are dpen to the public. It seems as well for the Royal Marines family to produce an account of what took place, rather than leave it to someone else. In addition, it is possible that, on this the 80th anniversary of the events, there are lessons that can be learned.

The condition of the book is generally good. The cover has one or two minor scuffs, and some light wear along the edges, but the spine is intact, and all pages are clean, intact, unblemished and tightly bound.
Condition New