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The Secret War Against Red Russia  (Hardback)

The Daring Exploits of Paul Dukes and Augustus Agar VC During the Russian Civil War

Maritime > Naval > Royal Navy Military > Biographies Military > Frontline Books Military > Victoria Crosses WWII > Espionage & the SOE

By Brian Best
Frontline Books
Pages: 184
Illustrations: 8 pages b&w plates
ISBN: 9781399090650
Published: 12th December 2022



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The Armistice of November 1918 ended four years of slaughter that left armies exhausted and populations weary of war – but the fighting was not over. In Russia, civil war and revolution had divided the nation and the Allies sought to intervene on behalf of the ‘White’ Russians against the Bolsheviks and this conflict continued long after the war had finished elsewhere in Europe.

A vital source of information from inside the Bolshevik-held territory came from British secret agents in Petrograd, the main one being Paul Dukes. Known as the ‘Man of a Hundred Faces’, Dukes had managed to infiltrate both the Communist Party and the political police. The problem which faced the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, Maurice Smith-Cummings, was getting Dukes’ information back to London. Carrying information overland was proving far too problematical, so Smith-Cummings hit upon the idea of using one of the Royal Navy’s new fast Coastal Motor Boat which was revealed just before the end of the war.

He recruited Lieutenant Augustus Agar and through him he found five men, all unmarried, who could handle the two CMBs. Using an inlet on the Finnish coast as a base, Agar slipped past a series of forts, submerged breakwaters and the Russian Baltic Fleet to reach Petrograd and made contact with Dukes. A frequent courier service was soon established, with Agar carrying couriers in and out of Petrograd under the very noses of the Russians.

So confident did Agar become, he even torpedoed the Russian cruiser Oleg. He followed this with support from Admiral Sir Walter Cowan in an all-out raid upon the Russian ships with eight larger CMBs and a bombing raid by the RAF. The raid resulted in the sinking of two battleships and the submarine depot ship Pamiet Azova.

Agar was quietly given the Victoria Cross but told not to publish his memoirs until 1963. As for Paul Dukes, his cover was eventually blown, and he had to escape via Latvia in a number of hair-raising escapades. In 1920 he was knighted by King George V, who called Dukes the ‘greatest of all soldiers’. To this day, Dukes is the only person knighted based entirely on his exploits in espionage.

This is their remarkable story.

"...a remarkable story, especially for those with no previous knowledge Allied involvement in supporting ‘White Russia’ and the newly independent Baltic States."

Martin Willoughby, The Wessex Branch of the Western Front Association

In conclusion, “The Secret War Against Red Russia” is a compelling exploration of espionage, bravery, and the unyielding pursuit of information in the face of adversity. Through the lens of Sir Paul Henry Dukes and Augustus Agar, Brian Best offers a glimpse into a world of intrigue that existed beneath the surface of western-focused historical narratives. While the narrative style may challenge some readers, the book rewards those willing to immerse themselves in a complex web of espionage and unconventional heroism. “The Secret War Against Red Russia’ is a unique addition to the library of anyone intrigued by the intelligence and espionage and who are perhaps less familiar with this period of Russian history.

Read the review here

Australian Naval Institute

"The Secret War Against Red Russia by Brian Best is an excellent telling of those complicated and heroic times and is a good summary of that largely forgotten era."

Coastal Command & Maritime Ass

"The author has produced an interesting account of the activities of the emerging British secret service, particularly in Russia during the turbulent years of war and revolution. A thoroughly good narrative."

Roger Coleman, The Wessex Branch of the Western Front Association

5 out of 5

I highly recommend it to all interested in Military History, Espionage or just want a darned good read. A well researched and well formatted book telling the story of two great heroes almost forgotten about due to the secrecy that surrounded them.

Read the Full Review Here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

As featured in

Stamford Mercury

Article: Book tells spy saga

Rutland Times
 Brian Best

About Brian Best

BRIAN BEST has an honours degree in South African History and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He was the founder of the Victoria Cross Society and edited its Journal for many years. Brian also lectures about the Victoria Cross and War Art. He is married and lives in Rutland.

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