The First world War is perhaps best renowned for the trench warfare
of the western front. However this article tells the
remarkable story of the Russian Armoured Car Division
and its Ulstermen who fought in the alien landscape
of Asia Minor among the political quagmire of the Bolshevik
No.3 Squadron Russian Armoured Car Division
Peter Stevenson from Carrickfergus
began research into the Ulster connection to this amazing
story due to his Great Uncle's inclusion in the armoured
car division. Peter's Great Uncle, John Armstrong is
standing in the back row, far left in the photo above.
Click on the picture for more details about him.
Words and photographs courtesy
of Peter Stevenson
The exploits of Irishmen in the First World War have
been widely documented and not least the sacrifice on
the Somme when on a single day the 36th (Ulster) Division
sustained 5.500 casualties. The sacrifices of the 36th
Division represent only a portion of the losses sustained
by the Irish people throughout the War but I highlight
these because of the particular background of the 36th
This unit was drawn from the Ulster Volunteer Force
which since January 1913 had been organising and preparing
itself for a task which few Irishmen are not already
aware – an Irish civil war. Many, however, will
not have heard of the amazing exploits of a cadre of
voluteers whose particular talents were identified and
directed towards a specific arm of the British military
effort to defeat the Axis Powers.
not suffering the specific losses endured by their
on the Somme, these men were witness to a period of
carnage unrivalled on any other front of The Great
The nation to which they contracted their skills, recorded
military and civilian deaths of 3.7 million. These
losses were instrumental in fuelling the downfall of
the State and a Revolution whose consequences have
to influence world events to this day.
The State was of course imperial Russia and I would
suggest that there can be no unit in British military
history which could parallel the experiences shared
by the Irishmen who served in the Russian Armoured Car
Division, Royal Naval Air Service, from December 1915
to February 1918.
The story of this Unit has already been comprehensively
told in a book titled "The Czar's British Squadron"
by Bryan Perrett and Anthony Lord, so it is not my intention
to attempt to duplicate this work.
However, in the interests of the Irish involvement
which was only briefly addressed in the aforementioned
book, I have compiled a listing
of the Officers and Ratings of Irish extraction
who served with the RACD, together with the decorations
awarded to them in the 2 year campaign.
Drawn solely from the official Service Histories of
the ratings (these records regrettably have since proved
to be incomplete but at least no "new" Irish
personnel have as yet been uncovered) it is recorded
that of 555 Ratings serving with the Unit, 111 were
Commander Oliver Locker Lampson
Being an Armoured Car Unit, the primary skills which
the authorities sought were those of drivers and mechanics
and of the 111 Irishmen involved, some 72 offered this
particular background. The rest were drawn from diverse
occupations and one can now only guess at how these
men found their way into this venture.
Prior to its Russian campaign, what became the RACD
was, a unit of the Royal Naval Air Service serving in
Belgium in support of aircraft reconnaissance. Its nucleus
was No 15 Squadron RNAS formed and commanded by Commander
Oliver Locker Lampson, Unionist Member of Parliament
for Huntingdonshire (East Anglia).
In seeking support to raise the equipment
and men necessary to create the Squadron, Locker Lampson
had turned to his political roots. So it was that the
Ulster Volunteer Force came to his aid to make up the
shortfall in men and money. The UVF connection cannot
be doubted with the appearance of a body of Ulstermen
in a unit whose base clearly was rooted in the east
Not only this, there followed the strange occurrence
of an immediate issue of Canadian rifles (whose first
sight of Britain may well have occurred at the Co. Antrim
harbour of Larne) and the fact that three of the Squadron's
armoured cars were christened 'Ulster, 'Londonderry',
The new Squadron with its Irishmen in place initially
served a period of home defence duties. It was then
posted to Flanders, but in July 1915 it was decided
to disband as the cars could not function adequately
with the pervasive trench systems now establishing themselves
on the Western Front.
The news cutting opposite, taken form the Belfast Newsletter,
in May 1945, shows Locker Lampson's gung-ho attitute
to the enemy.
The outcome of this development, due in no small part
to the coaxing and manipulations of Locker Lampson was
that a decision was then made to send the Squadron (plus
two others to make up a complete Division) to the Eastern
Front in support of Britain's Russian ally.
Ford Armoured Car In Russia
The RACD were sailors on dry land, fighting from armoured
cars and trenches. They faced conditions ranging from
the acutely freezing temperatures within the Arctic
Circle, the extreme heat and dust of the desert terrain
of Armenia, to the Flanders like mud of the Danube delta.
They fought in Asia Minor, Rumania, Russia, and Austria,
against Kurds, Turks, Bulgarians, Germans and Austrians.
They served with Cossacks and Siberian
Army Regiments and rubbed shoulders with Poles, Serbs,
Czecho Slovaks, Tartars, and many other ethnic groups
which at that time were a part of the once vast but
by then sadly depleted armed might of Czarist Russia.
However events at home were to rock the unit as Easter
1916 approached, news of the Sinn Fein uprising in Dublin
reached Alexandrovsk. The effect on some of the Irish
was predictable. The UVF men, no doubt, feared for the
security of Ulster and the safety of their families
at home if the Dublin insurgents were to capitalise
on their absence.
Exactly what subsequently happened in this remote part
of Russia remains shrouded in mystery and has not been
revealed in official records. From what can be ascertained,
some form of mutiny occurred (fuelled by illegally hoarded
It has been suggested that a number of Irishmen demanded
repatriation and were refused. Whatever then occurred
necessitated the summoning of British Marines from warships
lying in the nearby Kola Inlet. There was at least no
bloodshed and the 'rising' ended as quickly as it had
We can only look to diary references from some of
the survivors of the Unit for Comment on the affair.
One English Rating, (PO Martin) referred to their upset
as "the Irish business", while another (CPO
Bromley) many years later dismissed it as the consequences
of a "drunken Irish crowd, fighting and causing
trouble". PO Cameron did not in fact record any
reference to the event when it occurred and his only
diary note on the affair was a subsequent entry on Monday
1 May 1916 which read " 31 men left Alexandrovsk
for England today on the SS Umona".
The frozen port of Alexandrovsk
By this he in fact was referring to the departure of
the ringleaders of the 'mutiny', other malcontents not
necessarily associated with the incident and a few medical
cases .Drawing solely from the Service Histories on
public record, it is surprising and perhaps suggests
of a more minor Irish role in the event that only three
Irishmen can be clearly identified as having been sent
home among the 31 who embarked on 1 May 1916.
The fact that some of the Irish rebelled is not to
be doubted nor is the degree of resentment which non
participants felt concerning the incident. British combatants
of 1916 would have enjoyed a fierce pride in their reputation
and it is a measure of this that verbal reference to
the incident was extracted from survivors only many
years later and with considerable difficulty.
An Irishman holds the unfortunate status of being the
first, member of the RACD, to lose his life in Russia.
This occurred during the journey south in 1916 when,
on 11th June, PO Joseph Donnelly of Alexandra Park Avenue,
Belfast, was drowned during general bathing parade,
taking place at a railway stop on the River Don at Kisetirinta
In all, four Irishmen died in service with the unit
and eight were wounded in action. Out of the unit as
a whole there were 17 deaths and 7 reported `missing
in action', later confirmed as Prisoners of War (of
whom 3 died in captivity).
Apart from the direct results of engagements with the
enemy, the strains created by inhospitable conditions
and the pressure of trying to prop up, a disintegrating
ally clearly told on the health of some of the men.
The War was still of course continuing, even though
Russia was no longer an active participant. Apart from
those who were at that stage for one reason or another
discharged to civilian life, the majority were recalled
and transfered to Army control within the Motor Machine
Gun Corps. There followed postings to North Persia in
The Oil fields of Baku, 1918
Here my records end, as the relevant service histories
are not available. The exploits of the new unit which
came to be known as Dunsterforce (its commander being
Major General Lionel Dunsterville) are recounted by
Dunsterville in his book The Adventures
of Dunster force, published in 1920.
Russia again became a factor as the Force entered
its borders from Persia and played a vital role in the
defence of Baku against the Turks. I can record only
in respect of the Irish connection that 50 of the 107
surviving Irishmen were transferred to the Machine Gun
Acknowledgement finally but not least
to Tony Lord. (co writer of "The Czar's British
Squadron") for his untiring capacity to provide
me with vital information.
Ireland's site celebrating his father's involvement
in the RNAS
Jamie Smith - March '08
My interest in Dunster Force is purely philatelic as
I collect postal history of Persia/Iran. I have a cover
with contents in Persian script which has been censored
by Dunster Force with lable and cachet during the period
12-13/3/1919. As far as I can ascertain this is most
likely one of if not the last date for this lable and
cachet. Can anybody place more light on the censoring
of mail by this force?
James Grey - Mar '07
I vaquely remember my grandmother informing me that
my great grandfather, Alfred Grey fought as an Ulter
soldier in Asia, during the peroid of 1916. Unfortunately
Alfred and 3 other Ultermen died within 5 days of Oppositional
C.M.Cropper - Feb '07
Many thanks to David Mack. I wrote an article in Feb
06 regarding my grandfather M.D. Archer and he came
back straight away with some very interesting information
for me to checkout. I am only sorry I have not looked
at this web site for many months.
Again Sir, many thanks.
Michael Kidner - Sep '06
The only momento I inherited from my maternal grandfather
was a drinks coaster inscribed "To Major G T Sholl
DSC from the boys of B Squadron 11.3.1919". Most
probably this would have been presented on disbandment
at Belton Park Grantham following the return from Baku
where he was wounded. The reference to the boys has
always me made me think that there was an Irish connection.
Thanks for solving this small mystery
Guy Sholl joined Locker Lampson in November 19I5 from
the AIF where he was a Cpl having been invalided to
London from Gallipoli. He served throughout except for
a spell in London in the spring of 1917 when he married
Grandfather died in Australia in March 1931. For sure
he had a challenging war.
Rochelle Mortimer Massingham - Jan '07
This article is very interesting, we have an interest
here at Cromer museum as a number of local men went
with Locker Lampson and served in Mesopotamia -you
can find more by typing in Mesopotamia or Bryant for
Herbert Bryant on www.noah.norfolk.gov.uk - this site
likes simple one word enquries - we have a couple of
photographs from this campaign - we would be interested
in hearing from descendants of Cromer men who served
with Locker Lampson
Drasko K - May '06
Hello, Where I can find something about Irish soldiers
at Balcan front in 1916-1918.
Mike Rogers - March '06
I found the feature and associated correspondence very
My Grandfather, PO Richard Rogers 2785 was a member
of the RNAS expedition to Russia and the later 'Dunsterforce'.
I have a small collection of medals, personal records,
notes, diaries and photos relating to his service and
to these units in general.
I commend the National Archive at Kew, RNAS Yeovilton
and the Norfolk Record Office as essential sources of
information on the history of the RNAS units and personnel.
I would be happy to discuss my research in more detail
and would welcome any information in return.
Angus Hay - April '06
I write and lecture about DUNSTERFORCE in Baku and refer
to the involvement of DUNCARS.
I am aways interested in information that relate to
DUNCARS and DUNSTERFORCE.
Peter Monks - March '06
For many years I have searched for an ancestor sent
to Russia, this week I received a breakthrough. He was
Charles William Holmes, service No. F 25217 Rated P.O.
Mech. (G) who sailed 1 Feb 1917 and returned 3 Mar 1918,
his records obtained from National Archives was hard
to read in places (rubber stamps) I noticed that the
adjacent record, same day etc was also designated Russia,
so I bought this copy also it was one Francis John Edward
Walker F 25218 between the two copies the rubber stamps
may now be read. These sources and others have added
greatly to my Family History knowledge.
David Mack - Feb '06
In response to Colin Cropper regarding his grandfather
Petty Officer Mechanic Marcus Davenport Archer -- a
resident of 293 Rye lane Peckham London - Civil occupation
- driver/ mechanic. Awarded Silver Brest Medal for Zeal
with St Stanislas ribbon for hard work. Driver of an
Austin vehicle- served with Special Service Squadron
A in Rumania and transfered from RNAS to Machine Gun
Corps 15 March 1918. The medal is relatively easy to
acquire and can usually be purchased from Spink and
Sons of London for around £50. Hold out for a
good example with a ribbon in nearly new condition as
new ribbon is not available.
David Mack - Feb 06
In response to Gerhard Lang, the name Barron von Skoffyreff
does not appear in Tony Lord's "Nomnal Roll of
The Royal Naval Air Service Russian Armoured Squadrons".
Colin Cropper - Feb '06
I have come across some interesting information regarding
my grandfather, Marcus Davenport Archer. He started
with the St Johns Ambulance Corp as a driver in the
trenches. According to his army record he was then in
the Machine Gun Corp then a probationary Petty Officer
in the RNAS Armoured Car division. He saw action in
Russia with Locker-lampson and was awarded the Russian
Order of St Stanislaus. I have been trying to obtain
a replacement or a copy of this medal for our family
records as none of our family can ever remember seeing
it, I have tried National Archives records and they
suggested I contact the Russian Embassy, they have not
responded. Can anyone offer any help or assistance.
Gerhard Lang - Jan '06
Does someone know if in this units was enroled a (german)
Baron von Skossyreff who served as interpreter, translater
and liaison officer?
David Mack - Nov 05
This account is both interesting and informative. I
am grateful to Peter Stevenson for investing the time
and energy in researching and writing the record of
events of the men who officially landed in Russia on
Christmas Day 1915. For some considerable time, I have
been investigating various aspects of the units history
and have collected a number of useful sources of information.
In particular, for those readers who would like to search
further, the following records in the Public Records
Office -Kew. may provide helpful information.
-ADM1 8477- Cable from Russian Armoured Cars Dec 1916.
-ADM 116/1717 Personnel Records.
-ADM137 039.43B -Angle Russian Armoured cars.
-W095 5044- Duncars War Diary.
-ADM1 8492- 15 Armoured Squadron France.
-AIR 147 1564 RNACD Reports.
-ADM1 8433 Operations in support of Belgium.
-ADM1 8530 Winding -up in Russia.
-AIR 1 622 17/122/667 Repoprts July 1917.
-Air1 622 734 reports janusry and July 1916.
-ADM 1 851876 RNACD Transfer to War Office.
-Air1 664 17/122/702 Reports.
-ADM1 8478 RNAS Policy.
-ADM116 1626 Locker Lampson's last report.
-AIR1 668 RNAS Training at Crystal Place London.
- Air1 668 &667&663 Operations of RNAS in Dunkirk.
-ADM1 8477 312 Decorations /Awards.
-AIR 1 682 21/13/222 History of RNAS.
- AIR1 667 17/122/740 Galician Front
-WO 95 4996 ^ LAMB War Diary.
-Various accounts in the AIRFIX Magzine by Major Charles
Messenger - August 1981. -With the British Armoured
cars in Russia by Chief Petty Officer Checkley and lodged
in the PRONI. -Many photographs in Department of Photographs-
IWM including the Collection by Lt.Turner RNACD - The
British Army 1915-20 from Mrs Shaws Collection Album
1 No042 and many others. -Diary of the late Arthur James
Foster 1/4 Hampshire Regiment Nov 1916 to Sept 1919.on
internet. see Dunsterville search.
Ellen Elder - November '05
Re Robert McCready of Bangor, in the Spectator's Roll
of Honour of December 1915, there were two McCreadys
listed in Springfield Road, one Robert and the other
Bertie. Possibly brothers. They were both listed as
Petty Officers, RNAS Armoured Cars.
Also, both John and Willie Armstrong are listed in
the North Down Spectator's Roll of Honour for December
Hugh Vaugh - November '05
May I congratulate you both on an excellent piece of
research so well presented. I have for some time been
carrying out research into a member of this unit, Johnston,
William Henry, F2878. He was one of the men transferred
to the MGC, and unfortunately no service papers for
his Army service survive. I have photographed ADM 116/1717
(the record of service of the ratings in the unit).
If you do not have a copy of this please let me know.
I need to check my notes to see what else I know about
WH Johnston. As an aside, I found out that two of the
ratings lived in the same road in Bangor, Co Down as
my great grandparents.
John McCreadie - October '05
I have been fascinated to read all about this campaign
especially when I stumbled across it in search of my
ancestry since I believe my paternal grandfather hailed
from Portaferry. Imagine my surprise to read in the
Roll of Honour that one, Robert McCreadie from Bangor
had enlisted ar the age of 18yrs. My father's name was
Robert , I was called after his father, John and I just
wonder whether the young enlisted man MIGHT have been
a relation? Just imagine, matelots in armoured vehicles
Philip Batt - Oct '05
Re Robin McKay's appeal on his Grandfather, Robin Harrison,
April 05. On checking the Medal Index Rolls, no Robin
Harrison appears, but there is a 11766 Pte R. Harrison,
Royal Army Medical Corps (and only one) listed. With
this info it should be possible for a researcher to
check and see if his military record is available from
the Public Records Office in England, although the vast
majority of Great War records were destroyed during
WW2 when the storage facility was hit by and incendery
bomb. His Medal Index Card can be downloaded online
for £3-50 and this should give his theater of
war. Good Luck.
John Galloway - Oct '05
My maternal grandfather, POM Roland Bellian served with
No 1 squadron, in german South west Africa . Should
anyone have details of the operations there I would
be greatful .
Terry Sell - Oct '05
My father Harry Sell served with Locker Lampson.
What was it all about when commander Locker Lamson went
to see the Czar or his close representative? Was it
the UK gov and/or the Royal family or Churchill who
were trying to get the Czar out?
Ellen Elder - February '05
The squadron's exploits were regularly reported in the
North Down Spectator like a Boy's Own adventure serial,
and was distinguished by every officer and man being
presented with a specially designed waistcoat by Her
Highness Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein. The men
were also credited with establishing a record on 12
December 1915 of singing God Save the King further north
than any British Field force on active service had ever
done before. The Archangel Herald was their own official
organ, printed and published on board the transport
twice weekly, weather permitting. Locker-Lampson, a
cousin of Edward Carson, was considered such a thorn
in the Kaiser's side that a reward of 20,000 marks was
offered for his capture. LL cheekily used the wanted
poster to advertise his memoir-cum-journal, condemned
by the Kaiser, said to include the story of how he was
decorated by three monarchs, and his interview with
Stuart John McLaren - February '05
It was great to read about the Ulster side of Locker-Lampson's
Russian Armoured Car Division story. I have been researching
the East Anglian side over here in Norfolk for several
years. You may be interested to learn that a documentary
was indeed made on the subject, by Anglia TV in the
early 1970s, entitled 'Sailors of Fortune'. It has interviews
with some of the East Anglian veterans, all now sadly
Another important Ulster member of this squadron is
Lt-Commander Sir Walter Dorling Smiles DSO, one of Locker-Lampson's
key officers in Russia 1916-18 and 2nd-in-command of
Duncars in Dunsterforce in 1918. He was born in 1883
in Portavo, Donaghadee, Co. Down. His grandafther was
Samuel Smiles, author of 'Self Help'. He was the Ulster
Unionist MP for Co. Down from 1950 until his death.
He died in the sinking of the Princess Victoria during
the Great Storm of 31 January 1953.
Peter Stevenson - Dec 04
Well done YPAM in putting together this excellent web
site article. Difficult to believe its now more than
twenty years since I first started to research my great
uncle's involvement in Locker Lampson's unit. I would
like to take this opportunity to thank a few people
who greatly assisted me with my early research. Without
them I would have had a lot less background to work
on. Firstly Tony Lord, co-author of the definitive book
"The Czar's British Squadron" which kick started
my research in NI.
Tony has regrettably since died but he was a wonderfully
patient mentor. The following were also extremely helpful
in giving me background material re their family involvement
in the RNACD: Mrs Paddy Connolly (Bangor) re Robert
McCreadie, Mr Ivor Cobain (Jordanstown) re Skeffington
Graham, Mrs Metcalfe (Portadown) re Joseph Cameron,
Mr Arthur Armstrong (Belfast) re Arthur Armstrong Snr
Mrs Hackett (Belfast) re W H Johnston, Mr John Deane
(Belfast) re Sam Deane, (the only other participant
I had the privilege to meet apart from my grand uncle).
And not forgetting Keith Beattie in Ballymoney who encouraged
me to keep at it and introduced me to Nigel McAlpine
in the BBC, lets hope Nigel's work stimulates additional
local response and especially can anybody throw any
light on how these Ulstermen were recruited for this
Des Blackadder - November '04
I have some details of the Ballymena men in the story.
I'm compiling a WW1 history.
"Petty Officer E. J. Crawford, son of Mr.
J. A. Crawford, Clough, who was with Commander Locker-Sampson
MP, Armoured Car Division in Russia and Rumania is at
present home on leave. He has made a good recovery from
wounds he received in the Rumanian retreat in November
last. Petty Officer Crawford was in charge of a machine
gun and he received his wound when the car in which
he was working was going to the rescue of a Russian
car which had got stuck. He had just opened the door
to throw out a rope when he was sniped in the arm and
immediately afterwards a shell burst close to the car
and he received severe injuries on the left shoulder
and side. For meritorious work on this front he received
the medal of St. George from the Russian Government."
Ballymena Observer, June 1, 1917.
John W D Pinkerton - November '04
My uncle, John Dick Pinkerton, served in the RNAS and
would, with a great deal of coaxing, tell you about
his part in the ill-fated BEF campaign in Russia. He
was even less inclined to talk about his experiences
as a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II.
He died in 1962. His widow, Sybil, put together a little
book entitled "From Ice to Rice" about his
experiences in both World Wars. This was based largely
upon letters he had written home and diaries he had
kept. He was a very slow and deliberate person who in
the 1920's obtained a Doctorate of Dentistry from North
Western University. He used to say that the only time
he ever ran was when he was running away from the Russians!
Keith Beattie - November '04
This is a wonderful story and I think it would make
a great full length radio/TV documentary, focusing on
the Irishmen and using the wealth of personal letters
& documents that are available.
Here at Ballymoney Museum I have a copy of an account
of the experiences of local man John D. Pinkerton, compiled
by his wife, Sybil Pinkerton, from his letters etc.
I also know of exciting material still held by family
members of other RNACD servicemen.
Hopefully this website will generate enough feedback
and something will be done. In the meantime, well done
Peter Stevenson and YPAM for a tremendous web article.
Robin McKay - April 05
My grand father ( Robin Harrison, British medical corp??)
saw action with the Dunsterville force in Baku.
I would be interested in any information regarding
his involement in this operation