A Collection of Medals for the Russian Intervention 1918-20

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Date of Auction: 27th February 2019

Sold for £950

Estimate: £240 - £280

Three: Flying Officer L. J. Booth, Royal Air Force, late Royal Navy, who as a Short Seaplane Observer was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross, and ultimately received a Mentioned in Despatches, for his gallantry during the combined Coastal Motor Boat and Royal Air Force attack on the Soviet Navy Baltic Fleet base at Kronstadt Harbour, 17-18 August 1919

1914-15 Star (233485 L. J. Booth, Y.S., R.N.); British War and Victory Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaves (Lieut. L. J. Booth.) Star lightly gilded, good very fine (3) £240-£280

Footnote

M.I.D. London Gazette 22 December 1919: Pilot Officer (Observer) Lionel James Booth (Baltic).

The original recommendation, for an Air Force Cross, dated 21 August 1919, states: ‘Observer in a Seaplane in the combined attack on Kronstadt Harbour by Coastal Motor Boats and Aircraft on the morning of 18 August 1919, and took valuable notes during the operation. This machine drew the fire and distracted the attention of the Forts and Searchlights, thus enabling the Coastal Motor Boats to pass the Forts unobserved and covered their retreat afterwards until the Petrol was exhausted when he returned with his Pilot to the Base and went away in another machine.’

Note: The original recommendation, by Rear Admiral Walter Cowan, Senior Naval Officer Baltic, was for an Air Force Cross. Presumably being unfamiliar with the new Royal Air Force gallantry awards only introduced the previous year, Admiral Cowan recommended Booth for the A.F.C. which could only be awarded for ‘an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy’ instead of the Distinguished Flying Cross which was awarded for ‘an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy’.

Booth’s pilot, Flight Lieutenant Colin Boumphrey was recommended by Admiral Cowan for the Distinguished Service Cross, a naval award which since the introduction of the D.F.C. could not be awarded for bravery in the air. Both awards were later changed to recommendations for the D.F.C. although only Boumphrey received the decoration (London Gazette 12 July 1920), Booth having his recommendation downgraded to a Mention in Despatches.

Lionel James Booth was born in Tamar, Devon on 7 October 1889. He entered the Royal Navy as a Signaller Boy on 31 March 1905. He was advanced to Ordinary Signaller when on Suffolk in October 1907 and Signaller on Leviathan in October 1908. Based at Blake from December 1913, he was advanced to Yeoman of Signals in October 1915 when serving on the destroyer Alarm with the 2nd Destroyer Squadron at Scapa. He was posted to the light cruiser Castor in August 1916 and served for a short period on the aircraft carrier Campania, July-August 1917, before being posted to officers’ school. Booth was promoted to Acting Warrant Officer 2nd Grade on 18 August 1917, and then the following year was commissioned Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force.

The Kronstadt Raid, 17-18 August 1919
In November 1918 a Royal Navy Light Cruiser force was dispatched to the Eastern Baltic as part of the British intervention in the Russian Civil War on the side of the White Russian factions fighting to reinstall the deposed Tsar and his government. The British fleet was tasked with keeping the Soviet Navy’s Baltic Fleet embargoed in its naval base at Kronstadton Kotlin island, 20 miles west of St. Petersburg.

Kronstadt was effectively protected by a chain of man made forts dotting the ocean across the Gulf of Finland. Beyond the range of the forts guns lay minefields protecting the eastern approaches. A breakwater and shipping channel further restricted access to the military harbour on the south eastern tip of the island, the access routes being directly in the line of fire of the forts. The only type of vessel capable of crossing the submerged breakwater were tiny 40 foot wooden hulled Coastal Motor Boats which were able to skim across the surface the keel only a few inches below the surface.

In early July the offensive capability of the British Baltic Fleet was greatly increased with the arrival of the converted aircraft carrier H.M.S. Vindictive under Captain H. E. Grace, son of the champion cricketer W. G. Grace. The Hawkins class heavy cruiser had been converted into an aircraft carrier during construction and carried a complement of 12 aircraft, variously Griffins, Short Bombers (essentially the Short 184 Seaplane, floats removed replaced by wheels), Sopwith Camel’s and Strutter’s under Flight Lieutenant David Donald, Royal Air Force.

With the arrival of an air capability, plans were then made for a raid on Kronstadt, which would involve the destruction of Soviet capital ships at berth in the Harbour. It would be a combined operation by sea and air, with the assorted aircraft attacking Kronstadt from the air, distracting the anti-aircraft gunners and shooting out searchlights along the breakwater. Under cover of the bombing and strafing the Coastal Motor Boats would use gun cotton to breach the boom at the harbour entrance, speed into the harbour, fire their torpedoes in order and leave the way they came at full throttle before the Bolshevik’s could react. Just in case the sneak attack provoked a response form the Soviet Navy, Rear Admiral Cowan’s destroyers and cruisers would be waiting just behind Kronstadt’s protective minefield to ward off any pursuers.

On 17 August eight Coastal Motor Boats left Biorko at 2200 and rendezvoused off a small island in the Gulf of Finland where they were met by Agar in Coastal Motor Boat No. 7. Agar was to guide the boats through the chain of forts to the harbour entrance where he would wait for the larger Coastal Motor Boats to make their attacks before leading them back through the forts to Terrioki. Shortly after midnight the eight Coastal Motor Boats set course for Kronstadt at high speed.

As the Coastal Motor Boats began their run in to the chain of forts Donald’s squadron of four Short Seaplanes, two Strutter’s, and one Griffin and Camel dived on Kronstadt harbour strafing and bombing up and down the Bolshevik gun positions and searchlights along the breakwater. The eight Coastal Motor Boats were then able to pass through the chain of forts without being fired upon although they were observed, their white wake being visible on the surface, but the forts did not turn on their searchlights nor open fire for fear of attracting the Royal Air Force overhead.

As the first wave of Coastal Motor Boats sped into the harbour the attentions of the garrison were very firmly on taking cover from the strafing and bombing aircraft. The first torpedoes struck home just as the Bolshevik sailors and soldiers responded with a hail of fire. Tracers and shells of every calibre criss-crossed the basin and into the sky from the Bolshevik gun positions on the breakwater. Added to the maelstrom of fire were the machine guns and bombs of the R.A.F. and the twin Lewis guns mounted stern and aft on each of the Coastal Motor Boats

The seven Coastal Motor Boats tasked to attack inside the harbour made their attacks with varying success. The Bolshevik battleships Petropavlovsk and Andrei Pervozanni were hit by one and three torpedoes respectively, the Pervozanni being critically damaged. The submarine depot ship Pamiat Azova was sunk by a single torpedo fired by the raid’s commander, Commander. C. C. Dobson, in Coastal Motor Boat No. 31, and several smaller ships had been sunk or damaged by a torpedo fired from Agar’s Coastal Motor Boat No. 7 waiting outside the harbour. The R.A.F. were credited with the possible destruction of a destroyer depot ship which disappeared after the raid.

In his book Baltic Episode, Agar later wrote of the R.A.F. airmen, ‘The part played by our airmen, without whom it would have been impossible to carry out the operation, was magnificent. Beginning with the diversion created when dropping their small bombs at zero hour, they drove the garrison to cover. Without this, our first three Coastal Motor Boats could never have reached the dockyard basin undetected. Bombing from the air at night was a technique unknown during World War I, and their difficulties can well be imagined. Following this diversion, our airmen in their semi-obsolete machines, Griffins, “one and a half strutters”, and Camels, kept repeatedly diving on the searchlights to attract their attention to they sky and away from the sea. Time and again they dived on to our old enemies, the chain of forts near the entrance, and without doubt accounted for the surprise entry of Dobson’s first three Coastal Motor Boats into the basin.
When they saw the difficulties we had on the return journey they came to our rescue again in the most unselfish and noble way:seeing us a long way behind, and about to make our dash through the passage at high speed, one of the airmen turned back to give the two forts on either side of us a final strafe of tracer bullets in wasp-like dives. It enabled us to get through safely to Terrioki, where we arrived at daylight to refuel before going on to Biorko to report to the Admiral. How they took off in the darkness with a full bomb load on their makeshift runway and landed in the early dawn after their petrol had given out is just proof of the guts and courage of these young airmen. We certainly gave them full marks.’


Of the 55 participants in the Kronstadt Raid in both the sea and air no less than 48 received either a decoration or were Mentioned in Despatches, including Victoria Crosses to Lieutenant Steele and the raid commander, Commander Claude Congreve Dobson. Each of the pilots who took part in the raid received the D.F.C., whilst each of the 6 observers who took part, including Pilot Officer Lionel James Booth, were Mentioned in Despatches.

The raid was hailed as a great success with Admiral Cowan (Commander-in-Chief British Forces in the Baltic) writing in his official report that ‘the result will, I feel sure, be assessed by those best qualified to judge, as brilliant and completely successful a combined enterprise by sea and air forces as the last five years of war can show.’

Advanced Flying Officer, Booth retired on 11 October 1929. A full account of the Krontstadt Raid including a complete list of casualties and awards will be found in Churchill's Secret War with Lenin by Damien Wright in which Booth is mentioned on pages 359, 363 and 549.