Little Missions

SOON after the Armistice, Central and Eastern Europe were flooded with Interallied missions. There was the Food Mission (of which Mr. Hoover was the honored chief), and the Railway Mission, and a number of separate military missions, French, English, and Italian; and there were a couple of very mysterious semiofficial American missions, traveling about to collect information for President Wilson.

All these missions found their work greatly hampered by lack of information. In the new states that had been carved out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the statistical machinery had come to an abrupt standstill at the time of the collapse: the change of government carried with it, in most cases, a marked deterioration in the efficiency of the local administrations; and there was also a certain amount of sabotage of archives.

The Food Mission was unable to obtain any reliable estimates of the 1919 harvest in either Jugoslavia, Poland, or Rumania. In Paris, also, in the early part of 1919, when the Peace Conference was beginning its sittings, extremely little was known as to what was happening in Central and Eastern Europe. And a great deal was happening. Each of the new states was trying to Establish faits accomplis, before the Conference came to fix the new frontiers. Almost everybody was in a state of war with someone else; republics rose and fell; waves of occupation advanced and receded; and some thought that the Russian Revolution was about to overwhelm all Europe as far as the Alps.

Under these circumstances, many of the Interallied missions took to sending small detachments, or individual officers, to report on the situation in critical districts. It is to these expeditions that the name of Little Missions has been given. Peace to the ashes of the Little Missions! They cost a great deal of money, and have long since been stopped. But they amassed much information which no one else would have got. Their reports are buried among the papers of the Supreme Economic Council and similar bodies. The writer served on no less than fifteen such missions in the years 1919 and 1920, and all of them were interesting, and some of them exciting. It is the story of one of these that is told below.

In March, 1919, the Government of Austria, which was then threatened by famine, concluded what is called in that part of the world a ‘Compensation Treaty’ with the Government of the West Ukranian Republic. West Ukraine undertook to sell to Austria certain fixed quantities of foodstuffs, oil, and other raw materials. Austria undertook to sell to West Ukraine agricultural machinery, tools, clothing, paper, electro-technical apparatus, and other manufactured articles. At this time, and well on into 1920, the only possible way to execute such an agreement was to send the goods under an Allied flag, and, if possible, with an Allied escort. If Austria sent its goods under the Austrian flag, they were confiscated by the first state through which they passed, and held in settlement of some Austrian debt. Each of the Danubian states claimed that the others had stolen rolling-stock and shipping belonging to it; and not a truck or a barge was allowed across a frontier except in direct and simultaneous exchange for a similar truck or barge of equal value.

Under these Central African conditions the chief of the American delegation of the Interallied Food Mission in Vienna suggested to his British colleague, who cordially agreed, that an Anglo-American mission should be sent to the West Ukraine, to organize foodtrains and oil-trains to Vienna, under British or American escort. A mission was accordingly made up, LieutenantColonel Jones as Chef-de-Mission representing the United States, and the writer (with humility) Great Britain. Two American railway experts, Captain Mitchell and Lieutenant Baird, with two men, were attached to Colonel Jones, and a corporal and three British soldiers to myself. These last were to act as couriers, any kind of postal communication at this period and in this region being out of the question. We had with us, also, two representatives of the Austrian Government, a Czechoslovak railway official, to smooth difficulties with Czech station-masters on our transit through Czechoslovak territory, and, last but not least, Councilor of Legation Dr. Zalozieckyj (of whom more later), representing the West Ukranian Government. We traveled in a private car, — it was, as a matter of fact, the car in which Count Czernin had traveled to Brest-Litovsk at the time of the famous peace negotiations,— and one ordinary car plastered profusely with posters showing the American and British flags, which, in the early days of 1919, inspired, like the Pentateuch, ‘reverence not unmingled with awe.’

An Oil War in Central Europe

Our first objective was Drohobycz, the centre of the Galician oil industry. It was not too easy to get there. Drohobycz was at this time held by the West Ukranian Government, which, indeed, was living on the proceeds of the oil. The West Ukranian Government had the support of the local oil capitalists, of whom it was largely composed. The Poles, on the other hand, who were supported by the foreign oil shareholders (mostly French: the Standard Oil Company has very small interests in this field), also wanted the oil, and were accordingly at war with the West Ukranians. The line of trenches was only a few miles to the west of Drohobycz. But, as this Polish-Ukranian war had been proceeding without much change in the fighting line for some months, we did not think, when we started, that it would prove one of the more formidable obstacles to the execution of our task. It did, however, make it impossible for us to take the natural route through Cracow and Galicia to Drohobycz, as it was certain that even our British and American flags would not take us across the Polish lines. The only other way was to go through North Hungary, that is to say, south instead of north of the Carpathians; to cross the Carpathians by whichever pass we found open, — there was absolutely no information on such points in Vienna when we started, — and to come down upon Drohobycz on the other side.

At this time Hungary was under the Bolshevist régime of Bela Kun, and everybody had Bolshevism on the nerves. It is possible that Bela Kun, who always behaved well to the relief missions, would have let our train pass through Budapest; but we did not want to ask him. At this moment, however, as it happened, North Hungary had been invaded by two armies, one Czechoslovak, with French and Italian generals attached, and one Rumanian. Later, these invaders were driven back — rather ignominiously in the case of the Czechs, who were in superior force —by Bela Kun’s troops. But at the moment they had penetrated well into Hungary; and if they could maintain their then front line, we should be able to travel comfortably over the territory in their occupation. At any rate, we could get through on the outward journey. The return must be left to chance.

I apologize for the names that I shall have to use in this story. Let me say briefly, for the benefit of any reader who pays it the compliment of following it on the map, that the route we eventually took was as follows: Zsolna (Sillein), Kassa (Kaschau), Miskolcz, Szerencs, Nyiregyháza, Szatmár-Németi, Kiralyháza, Csap. We were forced to take the circuitous route indicated from Kassa on, because we found two railroad bridges blown up by the combatants, one between Sátoraljaújhely and Bodrogszerdahely, and the other between Záhony and Csap.

Szerencs was the point of contact, when we passed it, between the Czech and Rumanian troops. Soon after leaving it we came to Tokay, home of the famous wine which in the mediæval fairy stories only princes and princesses drink. We found Tokay what Baedeker calls ‘repaying.’ When we drew into the station, a detachment of the 84th Rumanian Infantry Regiment was drawn up to receive us. Carriages were waiting; and after inspecting the guard with great affability, we drove to the regimental headquarters, where lunch, with a very pretty selection of the Tokay vintages of the last half-century, was laid for about thirty people. This attention on the part of brothers-in-arms went straight to our hearts, the more so as it was quite unexpected.

After lunch, having stocked the cellars of the car as full as they would hold, we steamed out of Tokay station to the strains of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ ‘God Save the King,’ and the Rumanian National Anthem. It was not till Szatmár-Némcti, some hours farther down the line, that we met the American Military Attaché in Bucharest, also on a Little Mission, and learned that the lunch had been intended for him. It is incidents like this which diversify and, if one may say so, lend distinction to Little Missions. It is certain they never happen to the Supreme Council or the League of Nations, when those high organisms go traveling.

The author’s sketch-map of the scence of his adventures

Csap is the junction for the Uszok Pass: but, the Poles being in possession of the Galician side of the Uszok, we were obliged to take the next pass to the east, the Beskid. At Ławoczne, we found a derelict locomotive, which wo took along with us. We were to be very glad of it later. Early in the morning of 19 May 1919, we arrived at Stryj, a junction on one of the two main lines that run from end to end of Galicia, and moving westward along this line, we soon afterward reached Drohobycz.

The Fall of Drohobycz

Dr. Semen Wityk, President of the Naphtha Commissariat, — the official organization for the control of the oil production, — was waiting on the platform to meet us. We invited him into the car and held a conference, at which Colonel Jones was able immediately to come to a provisional agreement for the shipment of a certain number of tankcars. We then drove to the Engineers’ Hostel attached to the State Refinery, where we bathed and lunched. All this while, the noise of artillery firing in the distance was clearly audible: but we were told that there was no change in the military situation.

After lunch, Colonel Jones and I drove out in a two-horse carriage to Boryslaw-Tustanowice, some seven miles from Drohobycz, where the oil wells are. In Drohobycz are only the refineries. Having been shown a number of the wells, we started to drive back. It was about 7.30 P.M., and we were on the outskirts of Drohobycz, when a revolver shot rang out, and one of our two horses plunged and fell dead in the traces. A good, or lucky, shot — just in the fatal place between the eyes.

The carriage gave a great lurch. As it righted itself, a Cossack-looking individual, with an officer’s shoulderstraps, cantered up in a state of great excitement, calling out something in Ukranian. It. appeared that he took us, from our foreign uniforms, for French officers serving with the Polish army. Colonel Jones speaks no language but English; but on occasions like this, shouted Anglo-Saxon in much the best mode of communication. So furious was he, and so plain did he make his meaning to the Ukranian, that the latter, without attempting to speak, turned about and disappeared at a gallop. We were soon to have an explanation of these proceedings. Meanwhile, we disentangled the dead horse, and with the other, drove on into Drohobycz.

Drohobycz consists mostly of one long dirty street straggling over a mile and a half. Along its whole length this street was entirely deserted. The house in which we had been quartered was absolutely empty. At length, in a neighboring house, we found a frightened housemaid, who understood my Polish: and from her Ukranian we gathered that, after we had left for the oil wells, news had arrived of a reverse to the Ukranian forces: the Poles were advancing on the town, and everybody who could had left. Our hosts of the morning had decamped without leaving a word. What was worse, as we soon afterward discovered at the railway station, they had taken our engine. After much search we found a decrepit engine in the yard, with a leaking steampipe which continually extinguished the furnace. On this engine, Colonel Jones and one of the Americans set to work to patch up the leak and get up steam.

Meanwhile, I had to fetch my four couriers who were billeted at the other end of the town. The frightened cabman was unwilling to take his tired horse any farther. But I had a revolver, and he had not: and on very strained terms, we again drove through Drohobycz to the hotel, where the men were staying. The hotel was deserted: but evacuations and occupations affect not the British soldier. Impavidum feriunt minœ. I found them sitting in the café of the hotel, taking a little beer for their health’s sake. With some difficulty they packed themselves and their accoutrement on the cab. There being no room for the cabman, I gave him 600 crowns (a considerable sum at the then rate of exchange) and locked him into an empty room. Then we drove back to the station. The first battalion of the retreating Ukranian army was already entering the town. The sound of firing was not appreciably nearer at this time; but Drohobycz fell, nevertheless, in the course of the night.

We traveled slowly all through the night, driving our own engine, on which the colonel had effected a very cunning repair. When not watching the engine, to see that the furnace was not put out, we kept a lookout from the back of our slowly receding train to see if the oil wells had been fired; but, though we watched till late in the night, there were no signs of burning, and in fact the oil fields changed hands without any material damage.

In the morning we reached Stryj. We had covered the same distance on the previous day in just under two hours. Now, with the line blocked by the retreating troop-trains, it had taken us the whole night. One of the few men we met who kept their heads in this debacle was a certain engineer, Wolodymir Dutka, whom we had first met as one of the Ukranian representatives who negotiated the Compensation Treaty. We now found him at Stryj, where he had taken over the entire management of the retreat. He did nothing else but handle troop-trains for three days and three nights, during which he had no sleep. There is generally one man who rises to the occasion in an emergency.

There were a number of full oil tankcars at Stryj, and one or two on the line over the pass by which we had come. We were able to arrange with Dutka that we might move as many of these across t he pass as we could before the Poles arrived. He gave us one more defective locomotive which his own people had no time to repair. With this and the second locomotive, which we had brought from Ławoczne (but had left outside Stryj, for fear it might be taken from us at the junction), Captain Mitchell and Lieutenant Baird immediately set to work to round up, and shift over the pass, as many oil tankcars as they could. They succeeded in collecting as many as 136.

Meanwhile, Colonel Jones and myself, in the car, made our way ahead as fast as wo could in order to get Czechoslovak locomotives. From Ławoczne at the head of the pass we got through by telephone to the Czechoslovak authorities at Csap, who promised immediately to send us seven engines which they said were standing there ready, with steam up. We foolishly trusted to this promise, and sent our own engine back to reinforce Captain Mitchell. We should have done better to take it on to Csap and fetch the seven Csap engines ourselves; for none of these ever arrived, the Czech authorities (as we ought to have guessed) being afraid of their falling into the hands of the Poles.

Captain Mitchell was accordingly left with only three highly defective locomotives with which to move 136 heavy tank-cars over a high mountain pass with stiff gradients. So successfully, however, did he accomplish his task that, in the end, he brought just over a hundred across the pass; and just under a hundred eventually reached Vienna. (The difference represents the wayside pilfering and fiscal chicane customary in any shipment of merchandise in this region of Europe under the new conditions.) Captain Mitchell’s last trip was made under rifle-fire from an advanced Polish detachment which did not succeed, however, in stopping his train.

The End of West Ukraine

Colonel Jones and myself had still to interview the West Ukranian Government which was now at Stanislawiw (Stanislau). We accordingly continued our journey, accompanied only by Dr. Zalozieckyj, along the south side of the Carpathians, which we crossed by the last railway pass into Galicia (Máramarossziget - Körösmezö -Delatyn). The last station in Rumanian occupation at this date (21 May 1919) was Terebesfejérpatak. The first in Ukranian occupation was Woroncnko. Between these two stations was for t he moment a political vacuum, across which no train had passed for five months. We were assured by staff officers, with tears in their kind old eyes, that it was held by ‘Bolsheviki.’ The term Bolshevik at this period connoted little more than a nationality other than one’s own. Paris and London were then in terror of the Russian Revolution spreading to Central Europe, and anyone wishing to annex somebody else’s territory accordingly represented his opponents as Bolsheviki. The Poles had been particularly successful, with the aid of the correspondent of an English daily newspaper, in representing their conflicts with the Ukranians in this light.

I had myself, however, as it happened, once attempted to shoot bears in this part of the world before the war, and knew that the story of Bolsheviki must be absurd. The inhabitants are, in fact, Huculs, Ukranian-speaking mountaineers, rather like the crofters in the Scotch Highlands, who eke out with difficulty a sparse subsistence from the barren Alp-land. Anything less like Bolsheviki can hardly be imagined. Almost all their grain and flour has to be imported from Galicia or Hungary; and the five months’ closing of the railroad had caused great suffering from food-shortage. The country is the country of Dracula, though it may be doubted if the author of that alarming romance ever visited it.

There were two tunnels in the ‘Vacuum’; and everybody at Körösmezö assured us that they were blocked by the Bolsheviki. One of us accordingly walked in front of the train through the tunnels. It is eerie work walking through a single-track tunnel with a train coming along close behind one. The train always seems to be quickening speed, particularly in the dark part about the middle of the tunnel!

We arrived in Stanislau in the early hours of 22 May 1919, — the blocks in the tunnels had of course proved to be imaginary, — and were received the same morning by the West Ukranian ministers (Dr. Petrusiewicz, Dr. Holubowicz, and others). It was apparent to us even before the interview that there was no longer any prospect, under present conditions, of finding food for Vienna in Galicia. We could, therefore, regard our mission to the West Ukraine as accomplished. We had, at any rate, thanks to Captain Mitchell, a hundredodd tank-cars of oil to show for it. Can all missions show as much?

We had also received instructions, when leaving Vienna, to report on the prospects of food-supplies being available in the East Ukraine. West Ukraine, with which we had hitherto been concerned, is merely the eastern end of the former Austrian province of Galicia, a small district. East Ukraine is the whole vast plain of South Russia, as far as the Caucasus and the Don. Both are inhabited by people of the same race and language; but whereas the East Ukranians are orthodox in religion, and their culture Russian (with marked characteristics of its own), the West Ukranians are Uniates, — that is, they have the Greek rite and a married clergy, but are in communion with Rome, — and their culture is Austrian.

At this time, almost the whole of East Ukraine was in the hands of the Bolsheviki, as it is to-day. But a small bourgeois government, under the military leader Petljura, was still maintaining itself in Podolia, with the title of the East Ukranian People’s Republic. Petljura’s government afterward combined with the West Ukranian People’s Republic (Petru siewic z-Holubowicz), which we had just been interviewing at Stanislau; but at this moment the two were still distinct. They have now both disappeared, after appealing to the League of Nations, which, in reply, emitted the opinion that the Poles are in West Ukraine only by right of military occupation!

If the political situation was thus a trifle complicated, the military situation was still more so. While the West Ukranian Government was fighting against the Poles on the west, they were also fighting in conjunction with Petljura’s East Ukranian forces against the Bolsheviki at two points (beyond Rovno and beyond Kamienec-Podolski) on the east. The Bolsheviki attacking toward Kamienec-Podolski were commanded by a Polish general! A third theatre of war was in Bessarabia, where the Ukranian peasant-leader, Zelenvj, with some 23,000 men, was engaged with Bolshevist forces near Tiraspol. It seemed a long way sometimes from this shambles to the Crillon and the Majestic in Paris.

It was now our object to proceed, if possible, to Podolia, and to interview Petljura.

The way to Podolia lay through the Bukowina, a former Austrian province which since the beginning of the year had been in Rumanian occupation. The population is mixed Rumanian, Ukranian, German, and Jewish. At the close of 1918, the Ukranian element had proclaimed a Ukranian republic at Czernowitz, of which Dr. Zalozieckyj, who was now attached to us on behalf of the West Ukranian Government, had been the President. Under these circumstances, we thought it as well to put him to bed in the car while passing the frontier, and cover his face with the blankets.

(We subsequently obtained safeconducts for him and for his family, who were living in Czernowitz, and took them back with us to Vienna.)

At Czernowitz we called upon General Zadik, commanding the Rumanian troops in the Bukowina, who had sent his A.D.C. to the station to meet us. From information which General Zadik gave us, it was clear that it was useless to hope for any food exports from Petljura; and we therefore decided, the general agreeing, to return as we had come.

He did not tell us, what we were to learn by somewhat painful experience, that the troops under his command were about to open hostilities against the Ukranians on the following morning, along the line by which we were to travel. He told us afterward that he thought we should get through before they began.

Secret Treaties and Sudden War

The frontier between the Bukowina and Galicia is the river Pruth, across which the railroad is carried on a big steel-girder bridge. There was a Rumanian blockhouse at one end of it, and a Ukranian blockhouse at the other, each with a small detachment of guards. The Rumanian frontier-station, Nepoločauti, is over a mile from the bridge, and the Ukranian frontier-station, Sniatyn, is about the same distance from the bridge on the other side.

When our train reached Nepoločauti in the afternoon of 23 May 1921, the lieutenant in command of the station declined to allow our locomotive, which was a Rumanian one, to cross the bridge. He undertook to telephone to the Ukranian authorities at Sniatyn to send a Ukranian locomotive across to fetch us: and later, we were informed that this had been done, and that Sniatyn had promised to send an engine which would be allowed to pass.

Toward eight o’clock, there being no sign of an engine, Dr. Zalozieckyj, with a pass from the Rumanian authorities, started to walk along the line to Sniatyn, and return with the engine himself. The station, meanwhile, and the surrounding buildings had been filling with Rumanian troops. We guessed what was impending, and were the more anxious to get across before hostilities began. We learned later that Poland and Rumania had concluded a secret convention early in May, with a view to establishing a common boundary between their two states and partitioning the West Ukraine for the purpose. By a subsequent arrangement the Poles received, and they now hold, the whole of West Ukraine, and the Pruth is still the frontier. But under this convention Rumania was entitled to advance to the line Halicz-Stanislau-Körösmezö-Maramarossziget, as soon as the Poles held the line Lemberg-Stryj. The Poles were now in fact well beyond the line Lemberg-Stryj; and the Rumanians were to begin their advance the following morning at dawn. Late that afternoon, the following document, dated the day before, was handed to the Ukranian sentries at the Pruth Bridge: —

22 May 1919.
Compelled by the necessity of establishing a connection between the Bukowina front and the North Transylvanian front, and in view of the fact that this connection can be established only by the possession of the line Kolomya-Máramarossziget, our troops in occupation of the Bukowina have received the order to advance in the morning of the 24th instant, and to occupy the line in question. At the same time the Supreme Command of the Rumanian Army has issued instructions that in the accomplishment of this purely military task, we should avoid encounters with your troops. I have the honor to bring the preceding facts to your notice, and to request you to be good enough to take measures for the immediate withdrawal of the Ukranian troops stationed at the present moment between the former frontier of the Bukowina and the railroad Stanislau—Kolomya behind this line.

This declaration of war reached the Ukranian headquarters at Sniatyn about the same time with Dr. Zalozieckyj. It was completely unexpected, and caused something like consternation. Dr. Zalozieckyj loyally considered that his first duty was to our mission and pressed for the immediate sending of a locomotive, which he himself, with great courage, proposed to accompany. About 9 P.M., accordingly, he arrived with a locomotive at the bridge: but the Rumanian guard fired at it, and compelled it to withdraw to Sniatyn.

Of all this Colonel Jones and myself, in Nepolo&3269;auti, were told nothing. Toward midnight, taking two of the British soldiers attached to the Mission, without their rifles, and an American flag (by kind permission of my colleague) with which to adorn the locomotive, I started to walk to the bridge. It was a blind moon, and we went for a long way along a branch line, before I discovered my mistake. It was nearly 3 A.M. when we eventually reached the Rumanian blockhouse. There being no one on guard, we walked through the open door, and I said pleasantly in German: ‘Anybody here speak German?'

There were about ten men there, with a corporal, who was issuing handgrenades. They jumped as if they had been shot. The corporal spoke German, and after looking at my pass and telephoning to Nepoločauti, they let us, dubiously, across the bridge. Here we found a Ukranian guard who understood Polish, which I speak, and I was able to telephone to Sniatyn, and eventually to speak to Zalozieckyj himself. I then learned for the first time that a locomotive had already once been as far as the bridge. Hearing that I was over on the Ukranian side, he at once proposed to make another attempt.

It was now just before dawn. As it became light, a shot was fired at the Ukranian blockhouse. The Ukranian guards, who appeared to be waiting for it, immediately decamped, leaving a machine gun in the middle of the railroad track pointing toward the bridge. I went to the telephone, and had just got through to Sniatyn and heard that our locomotive had already started, when the receiver Mas knocked out of my hand, and a Rumanian soldier caught me a blow on the shoulder with the butt of his rifle, which sent me to the ground. My two soldiers rushed at him, shouting ‘ Amerikanskyj! Amerikanskyj!' upon which he staggered back, gasping. Such majesty had the land of President Wilson in the early days of 1919.

I was furious with the pain and with the long night’s watching; and, a young officer coming up at this moment, I sought and found relief in telling him in French just what I was thinking. He apologized profusely and told off a guard to escort us back to Nepoločauti. His battalion then moved on across the fields toward Sniatyn, in open order.

Just at this moment our engine appeared round a curve of the line, 200 yards away. I rushed on to the track with the two soldiers displaying the American flag. But it was too late. The Rumanians opened fire on it, killing the machinist, who had just begun to back. Zalozieckyj jumped, and was lost to sight.

The rest of this story is sadly ignominious. Either the guard who had been told off to escort us misunderstood his instructions, or the young officer played us false. At any rate, it became painfully apparent that the man now considered us his prisoners; and this time the position of myself and the cabman at Drohobycz was reversed: for the Rumanian had a rifle, and none of us had any weapon at all. He picked up the machine gun, and made us march in front of him to his own battalion headquarters. Here we found an officer who understood French, and who gave us a real escort to Nepolo&3269;auti, where we arrived exhausted and indignant, and very anxious about Zalozieckyj.

To our delight, he turned up almost at the same time, having hidden by the river till the troops were over the bridge, and then taken a circuitous route back, wearing his shirt, outside his trousers to look like a peasant.

We made no further attempt to cross the Pruth, but returned to Czernowitz, and from there made our way back to Vienna by Bucharest.