Monday, 27 October 2014

The Wheels Are Set In Motion

While the lazy summer of 1878/79 slowly drew to a close for the residents of the city of Adelaide in the Colony of South Australia sinister plans that had been made in the cold metropolis of St Petersburg were coming to fruition:

March 15th 1879 in the ‘Grand Audience’ room of the General Staff Building St Petersburg a large group of senior military staff officers and Foreign Ministry officials made themselves comfortable in the palatial surroundings for a presentation. 
The Russian Foreign Minister, Prince Gorchakov entered the room and brought the meeting to order, he introduced two junior officers who stood beside him and bore the attendees to offer them their full attention for the duration of the meeting.

It was Colonel Ovsiannikov who spoke, he had a noticeable tremble in his voice as he was not used to speaking before such a prestigious audience, “Good afternoon Gentlemen.” he then gestured to the large map of the world behind him and continued, “Yesterday an invasion fleet departed St Petersburg and is en route to Vladivostok from there after a maintenance and loading layup it will continue to its final destination, the continent of Australia where it will commence the invasion of the British Colony of South Australia…” he was interrupted by gasps and many excitedly whispered asides from the audience.

Prince Gorchakov stood and interjected, “Gentlemen please retain your composure and listen. Turning to the speaker he said, “Colonel Ovsiannikov please continue.” 
Ovsiannikov resumed his oration he continued for almost four hours!

His initial topic was the personalities who commanded this mission and the diplomats who accompanied it. The military men were all selected heroes of the recent great victorious war against the Ottoman Turks brave and experienced men who were trusted. No lesser person than the former Deputy Foreign Minister headed the diplomatic corps, they did not believe that the local government would be open to arbitration but as a matter of course an attempt to negotiate a peaceful surrender of the Colony would be carried out while the army landed and organised itself for action. 

The Colonel now gaining in confidence outlined in minuscule detail the makeup of the fleet already at sea and the army units attached to it. It was of note that no artillery was included in the force to allow room for extra men and munitions to be included; the fleet would have the responsibility of supplying heavy gun support to the army if it was required. Also and of grave concern to some of those listening the extra munitions cut into the victuals stowed with the fleet, there was enough food for the army for the journey to the Colony but it was to rely on foraging to feed itself the moment it landed! Ovsiannikov noted here the invasion was timed to be close to the local harvest ensuring the captured crops would be able to supply the conquerors! The ships carried no horses or vehicles either once again it was expected these could be obtained locally. It was stressed bullets for the soldiers Berdan rifles could not be found locally so it had priority in the ships holds. Next there was the listing of the Siberian army forces converging on Vladivostok that would supplement the European units when the fleet stopped there for maintenance and resupply.

The discussion moved onto the follow up fleet, it was assumed that even though British Empire’s main focus at the moment was the Dark Continent with the size of the fleet they fielded the setting up and running a reliable sea supply route from the Russian mainland to Australia could not be guaranteed. Again there was disquiet in the crowded room but Ovsiannikov impressed on all the planning of this whole enterprise had been developed with this in mind. This second fleet which was already in the process of being organised would be a settlement fleet! It would not only ferry a much larger military force to the Colony but include many civil servants and volunteer farmers! South Australia was selected not only for its lack of seaward defences and small military establishment but because it could become a self-sufficient and easily defended bastion for Russia on mainland Australia which could survive in isolation and expand to the east and conquer the lands there using the professional Russian army’s training and experience and bypassing those other Colonies seaward fortresses. The second fleet would not sail before confirmation that the initial forces had been completely successful in their mission.
The expedition’s commanders had been instructed to act conservatively with the lives of each of their soldiers they would be of great value and limited in numbers, the army would be far for from their homeland and reinforcements and replacements could not be expected at regular intervals.

Gorchakov stood and hushed the frenzied conversations that had started at the end of the presentation and announced, “Gentlemen the wheels are now in motion for what is the greatest feat of arms Mother Russia’s armed forces have ever embarked on, the Tsar’s eyes are on us and we must not fail before his glorious gaze!”

The figure in the centre of the below is believed by one researcher to be the only known image of the Russian Colonel Ovsiannikov:

Monday, 20 October 2014

A Matter of a Warm Water Port

Captain Darling’s return to the Colony of South Australia due to the spreading fears of a Russian attack proved to be a serendipitous as unbeknownst to all the Colonies good citizens the wheels for such an invasion were in motion and his experiences would be of great value to the local militia…we travel to St Petersburg Russia, February 1879:

February 14th 1879 sees the grand city of St Petersburg is wrapped in the arms of winter and with the buildings blanketed in snow it resembled a scene from a child's fairy tale.
Far from living in a child's fairy tale Colonel Anton Ovsiannikov and his aide Captain Vadim Apraxim from the army intelligence bureau clad in their heavy greatcoats worked in their dank and small basement office of the General Staff Building. They were engaged in the monumental task of writing assessments concerning 'the company level deployment of skirmishers and their effects on the enemy during combat' in the recent war against the Ottoman Turks.
Colonel Ovsiannikov turned to his aide and enquired as to the sins they must have committed in past lives to be given such a tedious chore. Their haughty discussion on this point was interrupted by the arrival of two men, two men who they would never expect to have seen, especially in their lowly office! Wide eyed and open mouthed they saluted to greet Prince Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov, the Russian Foreign Minister and Vice Admiral Stepan Lesovskiy, the commander of the Imperial Fleet!
Dispensing with formalities Gorchakov cast a sealed folder marked in large red text "for the Tsar's viewing only" on Colonel Ovsiannikov's desk. He gestured with open hands to himself and Vice admiral Lesovskiy announcing, "Gentlemen there's no need for introductions here we know who you are and I believe you know us." The two officers nodded in agreement their eyes fixed on the folder. He continued, "I expect you are aware of the British army’s difficulties on the Dark Continent." Further silent nods from the pair of officers showed they were aware of the recent news of the defeat of the British invasion force at the hands of the Zulu Kingdoms fierce warriors, "Well his Imperial Majesty wishes to take advantage of the British Government’s distraction and follow up their own armies glorious victory against the infidel Turks the previous year with the launching of a grand new adventure of military prowess!"
He beckoned to the documents, "Please take a look the documentation before you, you have one month from today to develop these ideas into action! We must move quickly to take advantage of the British nations, shall we say discomfort!"
Colonel Ovsiannikov broke the seal on the folder and gently opened it. The title page contained only a few words 'Invasion Directive: Objective  Adelaide, the Colony of South Australia’ he glanced toward Apraxim grinned and commanded, "Captain Apraxim order a crate of vodka and the best maps of the globe our cartographers have available we are going to be busy for the next month!"
At this Gorchakov and Lesovskiy looked at each other smiling they had indeed selected the best men available to turn the Tsar's impossible dream of an invasion of the Colony of South Australia into a reality!
With words of encouragement Gorchakov and Lesovskiy let it be known to the army intelligence officers that they wanted daily briefings on their progress they saluted and promptly left the cold room to return to their grand offices...
More Soon...

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Affair of the Shooting Trophy

From Captain Darlings own memiors he described his departure from and return to the Colony of South Australia in these words:

“In March of 1861 I decided to pack up all my belongings resign from my various employments and begin my ‘grand adventure’ overseas. I announced to my friends and relatives I wanted to travel the world and broaden my mind thus ensuring I can furthering myself in Adelaide’s literary and social circles! With great pomp and pageantry and leaving many broken hearts I departed from Port Adelaide and sailed for Southampton from where I toured Europe and travelled back to Australia via Africa and Asia.
I returned in mid 1878 in response to the stories I had read in the newspapers that it was feared the Colony of South Australia would be invaded by the Russians at any moment. On my arrival back I patriotically announced that I had returned to the colony answering its call for every one of its brave young men to join the militia to protect their homeland and heritage. With my military background and experiences from traversing the Dark Continent and the Asian lands  I was able to secure myself a position as an aide on the military staff of the local South Australian military commander Lieutenant Colonel Downes.”

These claims by Captain Darling relating to the reasons for his departure i.e. to garner enlightenment appear dubios at best. What follows is a recollection from a private of the South Australian Free Rifle Corps relating to the good Captains experiences leading up to his departure in 1861 that bears this out:

“Ah you ask me of the circumstances of the depature of Captain Edward Darling from Adelaide in 1861, it was unfortunate but I could see it looming. I first met Darling when he joined the South Australian Free Rifle Corps in late 1860. I believe his motivations for volunteering were no more than to obtain a smart uniform to assist in making him even more irressistable to women than he already was, more a ladies man I had never before had the pleasure to meet! Everyone believed he would be no more than a dandy in military garb but he proved to be a good soldier and an expert marksman, he passed onto me the latter was the product of a misspent youth furnishing several of the local furriers with a great deal of stock. We in the unit were surprised when in January 1861 Darling appeared at drill in the uniform of a captain! Rumour was he earned his rank in a card game though he never disclosed the particulars of his rapid promotion through the ranks. He was very popular amongst the rank and file his generousity was renown and he was a true mans man but the other officers tended to look down their noses at him considering he was an upstart!
In early March 1861 a large shooting competetion was held, amongst the men of the South Australian Free Rifle Corps only Lieutenant Sutherland even came close to Captain Darlings shooting prowess and as was expected Darling walked away from the tornament with a splendid cup and a small prize. Mysteriously he did not appear at the afternoons award presentations or sit for the winners photographs he said he had been busy having ‘afternoon tea’ with one of the Mayors fine daughters. It was only the next day that the Mayor, Edward Bottle Wilbraham Glandfield a brute of a man uncovered Darling’s daliance and not only was his shooting title promptly recinded and the trophy retrieved from his possession but he was drummed out of the South Australian Free Rifle Corps and then literally run out of the Colony with only the clothes on his back!”

The doctored results of the March 1861 shooting Competition appear in the local press, Captain Darling’s name was conspicuously missing!

Coming Soon the Story of the Russian Invasion of the Colony of South Australia!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Birth of a Legend!

Captain Edward Darling’s early life was shrouded in mystery and very few details are known about this period of his life. There are many anecdotes of his youthful adventures but it is suspected they all can be traced back to the good Captain himself!

What can be said is he was born during November 1851 to English parents in the city of Adelaide, the Colony of South Australia . Of his father little is known but his mother Kathryn Louise was a school teacher and raised the young Edward in quite comfortable surroundings.

Captain Darling was a 'Cute Baby' this is the only known picture of him as an infant: 

More on Edward's youth will follow soon!