The two heavily armed carriages rattled slowly into the central square of Tiflis (now known as Tbilisi), the state capital of Georgia. Seated resplendent in one of the carriages was the State Bank’s cashier. The other carriage was packed with police and soldiers. There were also numerous outriders on horseback, their pistols cocked and ready.
It was shortly before 11.00 a.m. on 13 June 1907, and there was good reason for the security. The carriages were transporting an enormous sum of money, more than 1 million roubles (£7 million), to the new State Bank.
Unknown to anyone on board the carriages, the transportation of the money had been brought to the attention of Georgia’s criminal underworld. Now, one of its most audacious leaders, Josef Djugashvili – better known as Stalin – was about to pull off a dazzling heist. The money was urgently needed to finance the Bolsheviks’ political movement and Stalin had discussed the planned robbery with Lenin, who had given his approval.
Stalin knew it would require great daring to pull off such a coup. He also knew he would need the help of a dependable gang of fellow criminals. These were easy enough to find in Tiflis: Stalin had already been involved in previous robberies and had a trusty band of individuals whose services could be called upon.
The robbery was meticulously planned. Twenty heavily armed brigands loitered in the city’s central square, awaiting the arrival of the carriages. Lookouts were posted on all the street corners and rooftops.
A further band was hiding inside one of the taverns close to the square. Stalin had also enlisted the services of two girls, trusted accomplices, who took up position nearby. All were watching and waiting.
To hear more, listen to the full episode of our podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook.
This post is roughly excerpted from When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank. You can order a copy of the book, which is now available,on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Books-a-Million, and Apple. Check here for more on other books by Giles Milton.