Mission to Tashkent Paperback – Feb 18 2003
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From the Publisher
About the Author
Frederick Bailey was a British explorer and secret agent, considered by many to be the last true player in the Great Game. In 1904, as a Tibetan-speaking subaltern, he had ridden into the forbidden city of Lhasa as a member of a team to investigate reports of a Russian presence there. Later, his travels in Tibet and China earned him the highly prized gold explorer's medal of the Royal Geographical Society. Between 1905 and 1909 he served as a British Trade Agent - really a cover for political intelligence work - at Gyantse in southern Tibet. Later he accompanied a British punitive expedition into northern Assam as its intelligence officer, and was awarded the coveted MacGregor Medal for explorations contributing to the defence of India. During the First World War he was posted as an intelligence officer to Shushtar in Persia, and in 1918 returned to India to undertake the secret mission into Central Asia which is the subject of this book.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
What Mission to Tashkent is, is a factual account of the Russian Revolution, as played out in Central Asia, where the Bolshevik Russian minority based mainly in Tashkent (now in the independant sate of Uzbekistan) had to overcome White Russian, Moslem and British forces to establish the revolution on Central Asia (the British eventually withdrew, not wanting to become too involved).
In this book, F.M. Bailey, whose previous adventures had involved accompanying Francis E. Younghusband to Tibet in 1904 (on account of the fact he could speak Tibetan), details his journey from India via Kashgar to Tashkent. Once in Tashkent, the book covers the writer's life there, under constant fear of arrest or execution at the hands of the local Bolshevik Provisional Government. His official purpose was as a diplomatic representative for the British in Central Asia, which created much danger for himself, due to the presence of British forces at Ashgabad in Turkmenistan. He also gathered information for the British as to what exactly was happening there, due to concerns that the large number of German and Austrian prisoners of war held in Central Asia could be used to attack British India, if organised into a fighting force by German agents known to operate in Iran and Afghanistan - it was 1917/1918 and Britian was still fighting Germany. He also acted on the British behalf, believing that the British were about to advance on Tashkent and unseat the Bolsheviks in Central Asia, but in the end, this never happened with the aforementioned British withdrawal. The book finishes with his eventual flight to Iran, ending in his escape after a skirmish with Bolshevik troops on the Iranian border.
I found the book to be a thoroughly engrossing read, bar the aforementioned problems with the book's style and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in Turkestan / Uzbekistan and Central Asian history. With it being a factual account, it also makes for a useful insight into what was happening in outlying Tashkent at a time, when everyone else's eyes were focused on what was happening in revolutionary Moscow and St. Petersburg and how the Germans were going to react after the withdrawal of the Russians from the Great War. Highly recommended.
One of the highest ranking pieces in the Great Game was the British intelligent agent Lieut-Col Frederick M. Bailey, who wrote this fascinating book. So if you're a great intelligence agent, why is it so difficult to write a good book? Simple: A good intelligence agent keeps too much unsaid. Information is his stock in trade, so he is very sparing of all the interesting details.
Picture present-day Uzbekistan in the first year of the Bolshevik takeover (1918). No one in Europe had any idea of what to expect from the Bolsheviks. Would they become more moderate in time? Would the Muslim population accept them? Would the White Russians defeat them in battle and restore the Czar?
In the midst of all these swirling theories strode the skinny and extremely canny Colonel Bailey. He set himself up in Tashkent as the official representative of His Majesty's Government but immediately ran into roadblocks. Without informing Bailey, Britain had in the meantime engaged the Bolsheviks in battle near Murmansk and near the Caucasus. That quickly made Bailey persona non grata (which meant ripe for execution in those times).
But how does one arrest a wizard? Bailey immediately went underground and assumed the identity of a Romanian, Czech, Austrian, Albanian, or other POW, of which Tashkent had many from those WW 1 days. He rarely stayed in one place for more than a day or two, though he did manage to develop some loyal contacts, including the US consul Tredwell. For over a year, Bailey eluded capture. During the whole of that time, there was no effective contact with his government; and during most of that time, he was actively sought by the Cheka, or secret police.
The escape from Tashkent was ingenious and dramatic. Bailey got himself hired as a Bolshevik agent under an assumed identity and assigned to Bokhara, which was not yet under Bolshevik control at that time. There, he reached into his inexhaustible supply of money and bought horses, men and influence to allow him to escape south to Meshed in Persia, where there was a British presence.
I wish I knew at every point how the magician pulled a particular rabbit out of his hat, but I'll just have to take that as a given. Today, Bailey is regarded by the British as one of their greatest spies. In Central Asia, he is regarded as an arch-villain who threatened the development of Communism in Central Asia.
MISSION TO TASHKENT is not an easy read, but it is absolutely vital in understanding the forces, many of which still operate in this pivotal area of the globe.
The exploits of Colonel Bailey show that the kind of military man that we read of in Rider Haggard and John Buchan's novels really did exist. He would not have been out of place joining an Indiana Jones expedition. He really was an Edwardian action man writ large - bold, resourceful, uncomplaining and considerate of those endangered by his presence.
He is almost a caricature of the quintessentially British officer muddling through to triumph. He comes across as a talented amateur jack-of-all-trades - no James Bond he! He was a fair linguist but, as luck would have it, only had a smattering or no knowledge of the languages of the nationals he pretended to be: Serbs, Austrians, Romanians etc.
He certainly comes across as fearless. On one occasion he nonchalently reads a copy of The Times that he has "borrowed" from a Bolshevik officer in the room next door who had been sent to hunt for him. English sang froid is much in evidence as he casually mentions the executions of numerous people with whom he had been in close association. This guy had more lives than a dozen cats.
The book very much brings alive the chaos and casual brutality of the early days of the Bolshevik revolution in Turkestan. Somehow Bailey slips through it all, constantly striving to get intelligence out to Britain. Miraculously he never seems to want for money - we never do learn where it came from or where he kept it.
Bailey was a first class eccentric officer - as evidence of this I offer the fact that, whilst detailing his adventures in a world gone mad, he thinks it sufficiently important and interesting to his readers to catalog the various species of butterfly that he captured and preserved on his travels. He even presents us with a complete list of those taken between the Pamirs, Kashgar and on the road to Russian Turkestan complete with Latin names, and the place, altitude and date they were collected.
Mad dogs and Englishmen indeed!
Bailey's story comes right at the very end of the Great Game. At the end of the first world war he was sent to Tashkent, in what is now Uzbekistan. The Bolsheviks were taking over Russia which had conquered this part of central Asia (called Russian Turkestan), but at that time, as Bailey says, "no one quite knew what a Bolshevik was or what were his aims and objects". The goal of Bailey's mission was to find out more about what was going on, and if possible persuade them into the war on the Allied side.
Bailey travelled to Kashgar (now in China) and then via Andijan (now in Kyrgyzstan) to Tashkent. Much of the book is about his stay in Tashkent and the deteriorating relationship with the Bolsheviks. As more information came in about the British fighting against the Bolsheviks elsewhere, and as Bolshevik central control improved, Bailey's position became more and more dangerous. He had a good local counter espionage network, and was able to get warning of impending arrests and take measures to neutralize the information against him, but ultimately it became clear he would have to leave secretly or be executed very soon.
After some time (and some adventures) hiding in a village nearby, he returned to Tashkent where he lived using a succession of false papers. When he realized from the limited news he had access to that there was no chance of the regime being overthrown by any of the civil wars or Allied offensives, he decided to head back to British territory. It turned out the Soviet counter-espionage group believed Bailey was in Bokhara, and had sent fifteen agents there to find him; all had been killed. Using his false papers, Bailey volunteered to be the sixteenth and in a move straight from a Bond novel was sent to Bokhara to try to locate himself.
In Bokhara the adventure was not over, as there was a long stretch of hostile desert to cross (what is now Turkmenistan). The group was fired on by bandits as they made the last dash to cross into Persia, then a friendly country.
The book is exciting, primarily because the events are completely believable yet often amazing. Bailey's no great prose stylist, but his writing is clear and straightforward. One oddity that will strike modern readers is that he frequently lists the local wildlife (including the Latin names) in terms of what he was able to shoot. However, after a couple of chapters, the true espionage story starts, and the book becomes absolutely gripping. One other note: Bailey refers to several photographs, but these are not in this paperback edition, which is the one I have.
Strongly recommended. If you're interested in the history of this time and place, you may also want to read Peter Hopkirk's "Setting The East Ablaze", which recounts Bailey's story in considerable detail and provides a great deal more background information and historical setting.
Bailey's story is a true account of an incredibly hazardous mission during the heighth of the Russian Civil War to find out what on earth was happening. Probably his ultimate feat was being hired by Cheka to locate and apprehend the notorious Britsh spy, Bailey! Bailey writes in the usual British fashion of understatement.
A good companion piuece to this book would be Peter Flemin g's NEWS FROM TRTARY as well as Ella Maillart's FORBIDDEN JOURNEY.
This is a great book...buy it and enjoy!
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