HC Deb 18 February 1920 vol 125 cc864-7
19. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he will state what British naval forces are now in the Baltic and Black Seas, respectively; what naval restrictions on the movements of merchant ships in those seas are in force; and whether His Majesty's ships have taken part, or are taking part, in the fighting between the Bolshevists and General Deniken's forces on the Black Sea coasts?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Long)

The answer to the first part of the hon. and gallant Member's question is—

In the Baltic, four light cruisers, and eight destroyers.

In the Black Sea, two battleships, three light cruisers, seven destroyers, and one sloop.

But in either area the number varies constantly.

As regards the blockade, the policy is as already announced by my right hon Friend, the Prime Minister; but owing to local conditions, there may be some delay in carrying it out in the Black Sea.

As to the last part of the question, our forces have been supporting General Deniken. They are at present employed in evacuating women, children, and wounded, from those regions which are being overrun by Bolshevists.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Is it a fact that when the Bolshevist Army entered Odessa they were fired on by our ships, and did not this take place just at the time that the Prime Minister was making a pacifist speech in this House?


In reply to the first part of the hon. and gallant Member's question I have no information; and as to the second part I think his description of the speech of the Prime Minister is singularly inaccurate.


Are we to understand that the blockade still exists or does it not exist?


I think the best advice I can give to my hon. and gallant Friend is to listen to my answers.


In view of the raising of the blockade and the massacres in Cilicia would it not be possible to take some of our fleet from the Black Sea and send it to the Cilician coast to prevent the massacre of Armenians?


The force we have at present in the Black Sea is fully occupied. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that our naval forces, wherever they are at present, have all the work they can do before them and it would be impossible to detach a portion of them in that way for this particular duty. It would be necessary to send out fresh forces if the duty he suggests were undertaken.


In view of the change of policy, is it necessary to keep this fleet in the Black Sea?


Yes. The change of policy has boon effective in the Baltic, but in the Black Sea there must be delay in carrying it out, and until the conditions are altered it would not be possible to detach any part of the force.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Is our fleet in the Black Sea still under the orders of the Russian Admiral and obeying the orders of General Denikin?


The Black Sea Fleet is under the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean.

36. Mr. SWAN

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty what is the strength of the British Fleet in the Black Sea; whether it is engaged in active operations against any enemy and, if so, whom; and, if not, what is the object of its stay in those waters?


The strength of the British Fleet in the Black Sea, is—

  • 2 battleships,
  • 3 light cruisers,
  • stroyers, and I sloop.
These vessels are not (engaged in active operations against any enemy, but are employed in support of the British troops at Batoum, in safeguarding the British Mission with General Deniken, and in affording protection to the women, children, and wounded, in districts which are being overrun by Bolshevists. Moreover, I should add that, inasmuch as a state of war still exists between this country and Turkey and Bulgaria, the necessary precautions during an armistice period cannot be relaxed.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we were told the other day by the Prime Minister that the British troops had been withdrawn from Batoum?


I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong. What the Prime Minister said was that they were intended to be withdrawn, which is very different from saying that they had been withdrawn.


The Prime Minister said they had been withdrawn. I read the Report very carefully.


Surely that would be a misapprehension. It has been decided to withdraw the troops and the withdrawal has begun, but it has not been completed, and so long as any remain at Batoum, it is the duty of the Navy to protect them.

Commander BELLAIRS

Is it not the case that these ships have been instrumental in saving thousands of lives?


Very probably so.

Sir DONALD MACLEAN (by private notice)

In view of the gravity of the information which the Leader of the House has given us in regard to Constantinople, what is the earliest date he can allocate for a discussion of the matter, rather than by the very unsatisfactory method of question and answer?


Docs my right hon. Friend mean a discussion with regard to Constantinople or the Armenian question?


I mean Constantinople, but of course that links up the Armenian question.


As regards the Armenian question, we have taken all possible means to obtain information. The amount of information which we have is very small and very unreliable. The best plan of my right hon. Friend would be to put a motion on the paper, and I will see whether it is possible to give time.