Archive for the ‘russia’ Category

The book I read to research this post was To The Edge Of The World by Christian Wolmar which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book is about the Trans-Siberian Railway and its history. Although when we think of the Trans-Siberian Railway we the railway line from Moscow to Vladivostok which is the one that is wholly in Russia & Siberia there are actually several Trans-Siberian Railways including one that was built earlier and linked up with the Chinese Eastern Railway for part of its route. The railway had to be rebuilt wholly within the Soviet Union because there were concerns the Chinese might close the stretch of line they owned stranding Vladivostok. The distance from Moscow to Vladivostok is approximately 5,750 miles although a few miles has been shaved off the original route by installing some straighter curves along with bridges and tunnels in places. When the original line was built it was considered too expensive to build any tunnels and in some cases whole mountains were dynamited and removed to make way for the railway. It’s interesting that the distance from Saint Petersburg to Kamchatka is 9,000 so the railway only stretches for 2/3 of the total stretch of the Soviet Union. Having said that in terms of railway building it’s the biggest achievement ever undertaken and was built in an amazingly short period. The Russians were determined to open up Siberia and try to populate it. Anyway sent to prison in Siberia was allowed to become a resident there after serving their sentence which normally be from 4-20 years. Of course most of these people died in captivity. Before the railway was built there existed a railway from Saint Petersburg to Moscow and then on to Chelyansk. This meant 4,500 miles of track had to be layed to Vladivostok. Vladivostok was little more than a village at that time. 1/7 of the Soviet GDP was spent on building this railway which is a huge amount. In those days Russia had very few universities which meant people like engineers and architects had to be brought in from abroad. These people also had to teach Russian people their skills so they could eventually take over although this didn’t happen until the 1850′s. They used a gauge of 5 feet although not all the railways in Russia shared this gauge which meant when the Japanese invaded in Siberia they couldn’t just travel to Moscow on the train and hampered there attempted invasion no end. A lot of the reason for building this railway was a military one to enable the rapid mobilization of troops and later on there were even train based missile launchers in the Cold War although not that many. The Russian Czar did build a railway to Warsaw before the Crimean War as he thought any war would come from that direction in Britain & France attacked and was caught out a bit when the attack came via Stevatopol in the Crimea. The British built the first military railway to get supplies to the front line. This is a great book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Christian is apparently of Russian descent although he lives in Britain and I have reviewed other books by him all of which were consistently good.

 

The book I read to research this post was The Berlin Wall A Very Brief History by Mark Black which is a very good book which I downloaded from kindle. The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 as part of the response to the exodus of people from Eastern Europe to Western Europe. After World War 2 Germany was initially partitioned between America, Britain & Russia & later on France was given a partition. Russia’s partition became East Germany & Britain & America’s partitions were initially joined & later France’s partition joined them to become West Germany. Berlin similialy was partitioned with Russian controlled part becoming East Berlin & the rest becoming West berlin. One problem that had to be solved before the Wall could be built was that a lot of the local railway lines went through West Berlin and had to be re routed. The wall itself which initially consisted of little more than barbed wire was built in one night. What most people think of as the wall which was a 10 foot concrete wall was built much later. Initially the American president Kennedy objected to the wall and how it hindered movement to such an extant that they almost went to war over it. Britain & France didn’t think it was serious enough to go to war and put pressure on America to resolve it peacefully. The wall had checkpoints and they allowed some West Berliners through although they needed a visa & could be turned back at the checkpoint. Later on when Gorbachev became president of Russia initially the wall between Hungary & Austria was opened leading to many East Germans asconding to the west via this route. Of course the Iron Curtain & the Berlin Wall did come down & Checkpoint Charlie was dismantled and reassembled in a museum in the reunified Berlin. I did enjoy reading this book and it is an interesting topic.

The book I read to research this post was Russian History A Very Short Introduction by Geoffrey Hosking which is a very good book which I bought from kindle. This book is part of a series on academic subjects where they get an expert in that field to write a book of around 150 pages which explains that subject and I must admit they do a decent job. There is apparently 300 titles and I am slowly but surely trying to read all of them. Russian history as defined in this book starts in the 13th century when slavs who were literally savages used to raid Russian cities although Russia as a country didn’t exist. Kiev which is nowadays the capital of the Ukraine was the powerful city in the area. Gradually Moscow grew in importance and this is where the beginnings of Russia start because the ruler of Moscow conquered much land. The teutonic knights tried to cut off their trade routes but were unsuccessful. Later Napoleon Bonaparte tried to invade Russia and he had a superior army & the Russian army wanted to retreat until they found an opportune moment to make but this moment never came. Of course they destroyed their crops and any thing else that might be useful. Napoleon thought once he reached Moscow they would surrender but this never happened. A lot of how the French army starved and were cut off from home wasn’t planned by either side.

 

The book I read to research this post was Operation Kronstadt by Harry Ferguson which is a very good book which I borrowed from the library. This is the true story of how Mi6 rescued one of its spies who was held prisoner at Russia’s most secure naval base in 1919 just after the Russian Revolution. It also tells of how Mi6 tried to start a counter revolution & start a war between Finland & the Russians. The author is an ex Mi6 spy so I think he’s quite equipped to tell this story. The Finn’s let Mi6 use one of their naval bases for the raid. They used a kind of giant motorised canoe which was built for speed hence it was made of plywood. This meant if a bullet even came close to it the plywood would shatter. The spies mostly used side arms as these canoes wouldn’t carry much weight. At the time of this story the spy network had been compromised to such an extent that there wasn’t a single active Mi6 agent in Russia. They were very aware of the fact that Britain wanted to start a coup & some of the Tsars supporters were still fighting. Britain knew there was a narrow window of opportunity in deposing the communists. The head of the Cheka or Soviet Secret Police was assinated & there was an attempt on Lenins life & most people thought he was going to die from his injuries. The 2 main members of the rescue team were Paul Dukes the only member of Mi6 to win a knighthood for work in the field & Gus Agar who won a Victoria Cross for his achievement. They sneaked in & out of the base & opened fire on the Finnish navy in an attempt to get them to attack the Russian Navy but that didn’t work completely. This story is probably nonetheless Mi6′s finest hour.

The book I read to research this post was The Final Dive by Don Hale which is an excellent book which I borrowed from the library. Anyone acquainted with my history posts will know I like controversial history & I am in my element with this book. For anyone not familiar with the Buster Crabb story he was a diver who when Kruschev who later became premier in the soviet government visited Britain via a soviet cruiser & an escort of 2 other ships. He went diving near these ships & disappeared although a badly mutilated body which they were unable to identify turned up a year later. This case resulted in a big shake up of the security services & contributed to Anthony Eden’s governments downfall. A lot of people suspected that Buster Crabb was a spy. Apparently he had loads of experience as a diver in the navy. The ship that Kruschev came on was a new type of cruiser & it has been claimed that Mi6 wanted him to film under the hull of the ship & its propellers. This incident happened in the 1950′s & anglo-soviet sunk to an all time low. Also once the newspapers got hold of the story it became a very big story. This book is like a biography of him although I’m going to concentrate on the disappearance. One thing that has never been fully explained is why it was necessary to film under the ships hull. Apparently had photos of its hull from when it was being built. The theory in the book is that they knew there would be a scandal & that they wanted to get rid of a lot of the bosses several of whom since have been found to have been soviet spies.