Murmansk

The Battleship the HMS Glory in Murmansk
The Battleship the HMS Glory in Murmansk

I still have a half dozen blog posts to make on airpower and insurgencies, but I am going to shift directions for a little bit to discuss affairs in Eastern Europe.

In 1919 a young man from Liverpool ended up in Murmansk, Russia on board the British merchant ship the S.S. Nigeria. This British and allied intervention, which started towards the end of World War I, was now in the middle of the Russian Civil War. We know little of his actions at that time. Family legend is that he was with the British Marines fighting the Bolsheviks. His own memory was of constantly cleaning the fireplace irons. His record states that he was a ship assistant steward and was credited with a very good rating, as were 21 others on the ship. But there were also 11 men whose conduct was “decline to report.” This was clearly not a happy ship.

The ships log stated on 3 January 1919 that three of the firemen (listed by name) “…when ordered by Chief Engineer to work bunker coal from shelter deck into bunkers, refused to do so. When brought before me (the master) when I asked them to perform this duty they refused.” It continues: “They do not consider it their work, but will perform this work if paid one shilling per ton.”

On 4 February 1919, 10.12 AM it stated: “Sailors and firemen, combined not to allow the [S.S.] Competitor’s crew to bunker S.S. Nigeria, thereby endangering the frozen meat supply for the whole of the Northern Russian Forces at Murmansk. An armed guard from H.M.S. Glory arrived on board and arrested mutinous crew and took them away.”

Then on 4 March it states in the ships log: “The deck hands when ordered by chief office to discharge fifty empty coal barges to S.S. Competitor, also two men for coaling platform, they flatly refused, using threatening language. [name redacted] said we are on deck but it is damned little we intend doing.”

Finally, on 14 March 1919, 4 PM the log states: The following members of the crew [9 names redacted] has this day been convicted and sentenced to various periods of imprisonment for refusing [unreadable word] to duty, and [name redacted] to be discharged from the ship and pay a share of the expense of the court; and [three names redacted] pay a share of the expense of the court and return to ship. These men were tried before a Naval Court and His Britannic Majesty’s Consul and [10 names redacted] has been payed off articles. Wages deposited with H.B.M. Consul.”

On 10 April, one other crewman was found drunk and sent back to the UK at his own expense. Wages in full were handed to him.

There was also another curious problem, with an entry on 4 February 1919 at 4 PM stating: “On going into sailors and firemen forcastles, we found a quantity of stores which were apparently pilfered from the British and American Storerooms in the [S.S.] Nigeria. Also a sum of Russian money (3728 rubles).

At the time, a ruble was worth a whole lot more than it is now.

It was a curious piece of family history, with 10 out of 32 crew members of the S.S. Nigeria effectively revolting against the assigned work. My grandfather, William E. Catherall, the assistant stewart, was not among them. He never mentioned this incident to us, although we asked him about this trip.

William E. Catherall first went to sea on 22 September 1916, during World War I. He was 15 years old and lied about his age to join the merchant marine, as he claimed that many of the Liverpool kids did at that time. His father “died at sea” in 1905. On 7 June 1922, he left his ship in New York Harbor and did not return. There he made his living in New York owning and operating restaurants and bars. But this little trip to Murmansk, where he may have never even left the dock area, regardless of family legend, created a life-long interest in all things Russian in his descendants. This has resulted in a very large book on a tank battle there (Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka) and many other Russian influences in my life. A hundred year-old event in my family history leads us to the next series of threads.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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