This chronicle of British undercover push back against Bolshevik world conspiracy proves to be an exciting ringside seat at the Russian Revolution.
With so many astonishing world events transpiring at once as World War I still raged and Lenin returned from exile to foment proletarian revolution in Russia in 1917, accomplished British author Milton (Paradise Lost: Smyrna, 1922, 2008, etc.) does a fine job of keeping order without sparing suspense. The British, rightly alarmed by Lenin’s incendiary rhetoric about toppling British imperialism by aiming at her crown jewel, India, could not spare troops from fighting Germany to counter the Bolshevik Revolution. Instead, the British would have to thwart Lenin’s machinations by wilier ways. These included the work of London’s Secret Service Bureau headed by Mansfield Cumming, who shifted from ordering espionage against Germany to directing Samuel Hoare’s team of agents at the Ministry of War of the Russian Empire, which had been established in 1916 when Russia and England were still allies against Germany. Hoare’s team, consisting of highly capable men of bilingual abilities who had established connections in Russia at the highest levels of business and government, would be involved in a number of perilous and influential events as the revolution unfurled: Oswald Rayner was likely one of the conspirators and even gunmen in the murder of Rasputin; Somerset Maugham was sent in to prop up Alexander Kerensky’s government and keep the Russians at war with Germany; journalist Arthur Ransome was able to infiltrate and chronicle the workings of the Comintern; and Sidney Reilly, master of disguise, put in motion plans for a risky coup. Less well known is the Turkestan theater, where British officers for Indian espionage became London’s eyes and ears as the Bolsheviks made their southern thrusts.
A beguiling ride through a riotous time by a historian and able storyteller who knows his facts and his audience.