Unfortunately the plan of campaign was better on paper than in practice. To begin with, the Estonian forces took no part in the attack. Against Estonian protests the Allies had allowed Yudenich to form a "North-west Russian Government", which, if it had no territorial possessions outside its sector of the Front, was nevertheless able to issue its own paper money, and did so lavishly. Yudenich had two million pounds sterling, part of the old Imperial gold reserve, in a Stockholm bank, and a small group of insiders, including some foreigners, made a handsome profit by speculating in Exchange. The watermark on the larger bills of this currency was the Imperial double eagle, which displeased the Estonians, and many of the "White" officers had said openly that after they took Petrograd they would come back and clean up Estonia. So the Estonians refused to co-operate. Nevertheless Yudenich's vanguard, headed by four British whippet tanks, broke through the flimsy Red defence and occupied Gatchina twenty-five miles from Petrograd. At this point the story may be continued by a young British officer commanding the "White" tank corps, whom I met a few days later in Reval.
"We were supposed to be no more than instructors, my subaltern and I and a sergeant and ten men, for the picked group of Russian officers, about a hundred of them, who formed the Yudenich tank corps. We drilled them and trained them as best we could, but when the show came I thought we had better make certain of a good start, so we took the four whippets into action ourselves with a Russian or two in each tank, and the rest of them accompanied us on foot. There was some resistance the first day, but we soon broke that. The Reds had never seen tanks before, and we smashed right through them, and the second evening we occupied Gatchina, practically without resistance. There had been good progress all along the Front and it seemed plain sailing, so I turned the tanks over to the Russians for their attack early next morning and went to bed in the palace. We were sure that they would take Petrograd next day because the Reds were demoralized. About five they woke me and said that the Reds were advancing and the tanks were out of action. I couldn't believe it, but rushed out to the field about a mile beyond Gatchina where the tanks were. There was no firing on the Red side and that was lucky, because of the four tanks one had the engine smashed with a sledge-hammer and couldn't possibly run. From another they'd taken the magneto and hidden it in the snow; we found it and put it back. A third had the carburetor stuffed with cotton wadding; we soon fixed that. There was nothing wrong with the fourth except that all its fuel had been drained out. And mind you, this Russian tank unit was supposed to be all ex-officers and picked men as well. By the time we had got the three tanks in order the Reds were beginning to attack, cautiously, and all our Russians had disappeared. We made a demonstration against the Reds and they ran away. Then we cruised along the Front and found the Reds were advancing everywhere with no sign of our people. So we turned round and caught up with the retreat about five miles west of Gatchina."
"How do you explain it?" I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. "They're just rotten, for one thing. Sooner drink and talk than fight. But I did hear that the general commanding the attack had stolen the best girl of the general commanding the transport, and the latter had said publicly, "If that son-of-a-bitch thinks he's going to get the credit for taking Petrograd, I'll have a word to say about it. At least this I do know," the Englishman concluded, "that in the forty-eight hours of the advance not a single cartridge or ounce of food reached the front line from behind, so perhaps the transport commander made good his threat."
Be that as it may, the main body of Yudenich's force retired more or less unmolested to its lines near Narva, where a few weeks later it was destroyed by a typhus epidemic which killed 12,000 out of 15,000, in circumstances of despair, filth, starvation, misery and lack of medical aid so frightful that The New York Times would not print my account of it, which was taken from the report of the American Red Cross to Commissioner Gade.
I need hardly say that General Yudenich and his staff did not share their army's shocking fate. They lived comfortably for some months in Reval, then withdrew to Stockholm, where their money was, and doubtless spent it cheerfully. The general died in his bed some years ago, but before leaving Reval he had one narrow shave, about six weeks after his attack on Petrograd had collapsed.
He and his staff were living at the Golden Eagle, Reval's best hotel. The old man had grown very heavy, and he and his personal aide had a small suite in the garden on the ground floor away from the rest of the staff. This, it seems, became known to a citizen named Balakhovich, an ex-officer of Cossacks, who was then commanding what he was pleased to call a "Green Band" in the No-Man's-Land between the Estonians and the Reds. He had about 400 men and operated mostly in Red territory, dashing forth from the forests to raid in all directions. Later he moved down to the Polish Front, and took part in the Russo-Polish War in 1920. He lived to get away with his loot to Paris, where I think he was assassinated. Anyway he deserved it. I met him once, an elegant young man in his close-cut Cossack uniform with its silver cartridge belt, and a blood-thirsty bandit he was.