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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis

How WW1 didn't end until February 1920

As we prepare to celebrate the Armistice of November 1918, it is worth remembering that the war didn’t end on that day for all. Indeed, HMS Cassandra, a light cruiser, was sunk by a German mine in December 1918 with the loss of 11 men and, in October 1919, nine men of HMS Dragon were killed by German shell fire off Riga. These ships were part of a force engaged in Operation Red Trek. Although the Germans were signatories to the Armistice, they regarded their obligations to the ceasefire as applying only to the Western Front. In their view, having beaten the Russians, they were free to continue operations in the newly-acquired Baltic States.

At the same time, the new Bolshevik regime in Russia, also, threatened the independence of the Baltic States. Britain, anxious to halt the spread of Bolshevism and to maintain its freedom of the seas in the Baltic, sent a squadron of cruisers and destroyers to the Baltic. The command of the squadron was taken over in January 1919 by Admiral Cowan of whom I have written earlier. Unfortunately, after four years already of war, several sailors wanted nothing more than to be home again and Cowan’s command was marred by minor mutinies in 1919. Under Cowan, the Germans were eventually persuaded to withdraw from the Baltic States and the Bolsheviks were not only denied the use of the sea, but the ships ferried supplies to the Estonian and Latvian armies and supported them with bombardments from sea of the Bolshevik positions. The Royal Navy finally withdrew from the Baltic in February 1920 after the Russians agreed a ceasefire with Latvia and signed the Treaty of Tartu to recognise the independence of Estonia. In all, 107 RN personnel (and 5 from the RAF embarked in the carrier Vindictive) were killed in Operation Red Trek.

The war in the Baltic up to 1918 is the topic of my current book, The Baltic Ice is thin, and that of 1919 will feature in my fifth novel next year (I hope). To that end, I am looking forward to the publication in January 2020 of Steve Dunn’s book, Battle in the Baltic, to aid my research.

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