Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky


Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky was born on September 17, 1857, in the Russian village of Izhevskoye in the rural province of Ryazan, one-hundred twenty miles (195 km) southeast of Moscow. As a young boy, he was full of energy and displayed an eager quest for knowledge. But at age ten he was stricken with scarlet fever, which left him with a severe deafness problem for the rest of his life. Konstantin called his mother the spark of the family, and the one who guided him in coping with his disability. Her early death in 1870, when he was only thirteen, was a most unfortunate hindrance to his developing years.

Shortly thereafter, Konstantin dropped out of school. So the years from 1868 to 1871 marked an understandably frustrating period in the young adolescent’s life. With first the handicap and then the loss of his mother, he cut himself off from the surrounding world. Nevertheless, at age fourteen, he awakened and his appetite for self-education took sudden acceleration.

Tsiolkovsky’s father Eduard must be given credit for holding the family together, and doing what he could on limited means. A forester by trade, he lost his job in 1867, then becoming a clerk. While not particularly successful in his professions, he was a man of strong integrity, devoted to his children, and a believer in hard work. Young Tsiolkovsky took his parents’ positive traits and applied his own brilliant mind, especially to a craving for mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, and mechanical creations.

In 1874, when Konstantin was age sixteen, Eduard sent him to Moscow for self-study in the hope that this would lead to entrance to a technical school. He was on starvation wages, but his needs were few and desire for learning high. He continued overcoming his handicap, spending his days at the renowned Rumyantsev National Library and delving into books on mathematics and the sciences. He was also befriended by an influential, eccentric philosopher of the day by the name of Nikolai Fyodorov.

Fyodorov was known for mentoring young men in libraries who were poor – students like Tsiolkovsky. Fyodorov was a believer in a philosophy known as Russian “cosmism,” which espoused that a type of human immortality and salvation could be found through travel to the cosmos: outer space and its moons, planets, and stars. Humans were not to permanently die, but be reconstituted into another kind of life form and settle throughout the universe. Spaceflight and advanced technology were key tenants of the philosophy. So it was during this period that Konstantin was first exposed to visions of space exploration. He would say in later years that the writings of Jules Verne were also an inspiration.

After three years in Moscow, Konstantin returned to his hometown as a tutor. In 1879, he passed the examination required to become a teacher, and the next year took a math and science teaching position in provincial Borovsk. There he continued his readings, began some experiments in a home laboratory, and started recording his findings in a methodical manner. But his ruminations, calculations, and sketches at this time were on a wide variety of scientific problems. He was not yet mentioning rocketry and spaceflight.

Tsiolkovsky would always prove to be a superb teacher; he was one who could present material to his students with enthusiasm. He incorporated the latest teaching methods, and believed in practical experimentation to go along with theory and bookwork.

During his time in Borovsk, he married Varvara Sokolova, who he’d met during his Moscow years. She would prove to be a stalwart supporter of his work during their lifetime together. They would have seven children, although tragically four of these offspring would die during adolescence.

In 1881, at age twenty-four, Konstantin sent a report on the kinetic theory of gases to the Society of Physics and Chemistry in St. Petersburg. While his findings were not earth-shattering, and indeed had already been formulated by others, the esteemed scientists there saw that he had potential.

Then in 1883 he wrote a short work – more a long diary entry and unpublished at the time – titled “Free Space.” In it, he demonstrated a true understanding of the principle of obtaining motion in the vacuum of space by the reaction method. He also described concepts of life in space and zero gravity, drew a primitive design of a spacecraft, and proposed a gyroscope for stabilizing a flying vehicle.

Tsiolkovsky spent the next fifteen years testing the physics and mathematics of his various theories, all the time becoming somewhat more known in Russia through publication of articles in newspapers and his contacts with the Society. But he had many scientific interests at this stage of life. He constructed a wind tunnel – thought to be Russia’s first – and explored topics like air resistance and dirigibles (blimps or zeppelins).

In 1892, Konstantin gained a higher teaching position in the provincial town of Kaluga, to which he moved, living there the rest of his life. The home he eventually resided in with his family had an upstairs workshop. During his free time and among his handmade lathes, wind tunnel, tools, and assorted machines, he theorized and experimented on his inventions.

In 1898, he published research on air resistance in a scientific journal. Due to the interest generated, Konstantin submitted a request for funding in 1899 to the Imperial Academy of Sciences to support further efforts in this field. The Academy granted him some minor funds to continue studies. It was during these very last few years of the 19th century that Tsiolkovsky decided to also turn more of his attention toward solving the problems of the rocket, the reaction process, and flight in space.

Konstantin’s notes show that, from 1898 to 1903, he developed his famous mathematical equation (or formula) the “rocket equation” –which describes rocket acceleration in terms of (1) the velocity of gas exiting from the engine nozzle, and, (2) the decreasing mass a rocket has after liftoff due to consumption of propellants. While others in the 19th century had derived the basic equation, and used it in analysis of flight paths of various objects including rockets, Tsiolkovsky was the first to thoroughly describe and analyze all aspects of this fundamental formula of rocketry. His notes also reveal that he became convinced only liquid propellants – and not any of the known powder combinations – could provide the thrust necessary to launch a rocket-type vehicle out of the atmosphere.

He summed up his findings and sent them to the Russian journal Naootchnoe Obozreniye (Scientific Review). In 1903, Konstantin’s work would be published under an article titled “Investigation of World Spaces by Reactive Vehicles.”

This article was truly significant, as Tsiolkovsky described his rocket equation and the reaction rocket as the necessary vehicle for traveling to and in space. The vehicle he proposed for the mission was elongated to produce little aerodynamic drag, mixed and fired its propellants together in a combustion chamber, and had a compartment for passengers. He addressed multiple-stages as necessary to reach space, and also the propellants liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as the most powerful combination. He continued on to provide detailed mathematical calculations on the required escape velocity that his liquid-propellant rocket would have to achieve to break free from Earth’s gravitational force. This was all trailblazing material for the time. Sergei Korolev, in later years, would also give Tsiolkovsky credit for these ideas: a flared cone for the rocket nozzle, a combustion chamber to which propellants were supplied by pumps, and foreseeing the need for regenerative cooling.

After the article, Tsiolkovsky’s findings were not given much recognition of note. Konstantin would later blame this lack of early publicity on his being a self-taught scientist, laboring in the provincial town of Kaluga This was at a time when science was controlled by what he called the Tsarist cliques in the main Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. There was truth to his charges. Discouraged at trying to publish rocket theory, he would actually focus, over the first decade of the 20th century, on improving his dirigible designs and solving problems in the growing science of aeronautics.

However, he and his rocket work were not going totally unnoticed. In 1912, a Russian aeronautics journal republished the 1903 paper, having Tsiolkovsky expand on functions such as air resistance and atmospheric pressures on the rocket. Two years later, he self-published a supplement in which he detailed types of propellants to use with rocket engines, as well as further exploring space travel. These publications fit in nicely with a noteworthy pre-revolutionary surge of interest in all types of flight among the Russian populace. Works of popular science and space fiction were particularly sought after by enthusiasts.

The First World War erupted in August 1914, overwhelming all other events. At age fifty-six, Tsiolkovsky was too old to be considered for active duty with the military. Through the war years, Konstantin the genius would soldier on in Kaluga, teaching his pupils during the day, and after school doing research and theorizing on his various interests. In regards to rocketry and space exploration, he wrote science-fiction novels, technical papers, and short pamphlets, not only attempting to popularize these subjects, but to supplement his meager income.

But his lack of success in getting more widespread scientific recognition actually led to states of depression and withdrawal around 1916. Contributing factors were also his low teacher’s salary and failure to get any consistent financing for his experiments.

The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and the ensuing turmoil that lasted up to the formation of the Soviet Union in late 1922, produced chaos that did not enhance most scientific work. The battle to the death between the remnants of the Tsarist regime (White Armies) and the Bolsheviks (Reds) would bring both positives and negatives to Tsiolkovsky’s fortunes.

On the upside, Konstantin benefitted from several initiatives. In 1918, the new regime’s revamped school system resulted in a better teaching opportunity. He also began receiving a small local education pension.

The revolutionary era had produced a thirsting among the masses for new ideas, science, and technology – all a reaction to discarding the primitive system of the tsars. There was hope for leading better lives. Tsiolkovsky’s ideas on space and aeronautics paralleled the new themes and dreams nicely. Demand for his talents would lead to Konstantin giving lectures on rockets and air flight at local universities, with this boosting his name recognition.

In July 1918, the Bolsheviks established a Socialist Academy of Social Studies as a center to promote Marxist ideas. One of the Academy’s policies was to be more egalitarian in the nature of who could enter its ranks. This standard immediately appealed to Tsiolkovsky, who with no formal education, had always felt shunned by the Imperial Academy elites.

In August 1918, Konstantin sent a letter to the new Socialist Academy promoting his ideas. The initiative was mainly a bid to get monetary support for his work. There has never been any evidence that Tsiolkovsky was politically active; he was first and foremost a pure scientist and theorist simply looking for a funding source. Shortly thereafter, he would be elected as a junior member to the organization for recognition of his achievements. He even started receiving a monthly stipend for this honor.

But in 1919, the revolution demonstrated the turmoil it could bring to individual lives. Konstantin’s initiative to the Academy took a disastrous turn when the money started drying up and he vocally complained; he thus fell into disfavor. He would next find himself ejected from the organization in July 1919, most likely for not being political enough in his views.

Tsiolkovsky’s fortunes continued to plummet. He would be arrested in November 1919 by the Soviet secret police and shockingly jailed in the notorious Lubianka prison in Moscow, charged with being a spy for the White Russians. He received a one-year sentence to a labor camp. Thankfully, a high-level official intervened and ordered him freed while he was still in Moscow, ruling that a former associate of Tsiolkovsky’s was unstable and had made false charges. But Konstantin barely survived the whole ordeal, staggering around the huge city after his release in a daze. He finally found his way to a train station and made his way back to Kaluga.

The year 1921 marked the beginning of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in Russia; this a term used by the Bolsheviks for policies attempted from 1921 to 1927 to rejuvenate the generally pathetic state of affairs. One of the tenants of the NEP was to try to improve the lives of scientists. With his constant promotion of rockets and spaceflight, and dirigibles and aeronautics in general, Konstantin would find assistance under this policy.

The Council of People’s Commissars voted him a small government pension for his lifelong works. Added to his local education pension, this new state-level pension meant he could retire from teaching and truly devote himself to research and writing creativity He would receive these benefits the rest of his life, albeit irregularly. Another problem was that the two pensions really didn’t amount to much. Money troubles always plagued Konstantin, right up to his last years.

But Tsiolkovsky’s life had commenced an upward path by the early 1920s. With his retirement from the schoolhouse, he could focus on the cosmos – and his timing was perfect, as during the 1920s significant numbers of people were embracing rocketry and space travel.

Two main promoters of the subjects, in the Soviet Union, were a physics professor and editor of popular journals, Iakov I. Perel’man, and, another professor and space historian by the name of Nikolai Alexsevitch Rynin. Both men were inspired by the ideas of Tsiolkovsky, were in contact with him, and as part of their publications turned the genius’s theories and technical minutia into popular works for the masses.

Out of this popularization of space would come an informal network of believers, who then provided funding for Tsiolkovsky’s writing efforts. These money sources allowed the publication and dissemination of his prolific works during the decade.

In October 1923, attention came Konstantin’s way when the central government newspaper Investiia published a short article by an anonymous author that lauded the just released book Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (The Rocket into Interplanetary Space) by Hermann Oberth. Praise was heaped upon the German for his superb writing in regards to rocketry and spaceflight theory. Tsiolkovsky was given no mention or credit whatsoever in the piece.

This indignity spurred popular writers like Perel’man to rush to Tsiolkovsky’s defense, noting in a spate of articles the priority of the 1903 “Investigation.” Konstantin then found himself, in the last phase of his life, with recognition he never imagined. He personally got caught up in the wave; he was motivated to ensure his rightful place in rocket and space history.

He started by convincing some associates to assist in republishing an updated version of his 1903 work under the new title “A Rocket into Cosmic Space.” In 1924, the thirty-two page brochure was distributed mainly in Moscow, and proved highly popular among space enthusiasts.

Significant Russian interest in rockets and space travel in the 1920s was made apparent by a series of exhibitions that were sponsored by the Interplanetary Section of the Moscow Society of Inventors in 1927. Exhibits featured displays on Jules Verne, Robert Goddard, Oberth, and of course the homegrown hero Tsiolkovsky.

A model of the Tsiolkovky-inspired spaceship that would take humans to the Moon in the 1936 Soviet movie, Cosmic Voyage.

During the last eight years of his life, Konstantin was cast in the role of the wise and respected old “rocket sage” residing at his Kaluga outpost, in contact with and a hero to a new generation of Russian rocketeers. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he was sought out for advice by enthusiasts of the newly formed Gas Dynamics Laboratory of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and Group for the Study of Reaction Motors in Moscow – the two historic groups which formed the basic organizational pillars of Russian modern rocketry.

Tsiolkovsky was a “living legend” and still publishing voluminously, but reaching the physical end. His works in later years included The Reaction Engine (1927–28), A New Aeroplane (1928), Jet-propelled Aeroplane (1929), The Theory of the Jet-Engine (1930–34), The Maximum Speed of a Rocket (1931–33), and a massive volume on multi-stage rockets titled Space Rocket Trains (1924–1934).

In the early 1930s, Konstantin was bestowed with an even higher level of recognition when the Stalinist state embraced him as a national hero and founding father of cosmonautics. He was honored as an example of a scientist who had struggled against adversity and could excel in the socialist system. The state also decided to finally start sponsoring his work.

Inserted here is a most interesting story concerning the origins of the term cosmonautique (“cosmonautics” equates to “astronautics”). In November 1933, the term itself was first introduced by Ary Sternfeld in his manuscript “Initiation à la Cosmonautique” (Introduction of Cosmonautics). Sternfeld was originally from Poland, studied and lived in France in the 1920s and early 1930s, then immigrated to the Soviet Union – attracted by the country’s socialist ideals – in 1935. While still living in Paris in 1934, he had been awarded the REP-Hirsch Prize for his manuscript. In the Soviet Union, he would find himself mostly relegated to working in his cosmonautics field of expertise in solitude, with his achievements receiving close to nil recognition the remainder of his life.

In 1932, the Communist Party awarded Tsiolkovsky the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, and his meager pension was doubled in size. He would show his appreciation by bequeathing all his personal papers and works to the state and party. In 1935, Konstantin was invited to give the feature speech at the May Day Parade in Moscow. Too frail and sick to attend, he taped a message that was broadcast over Red Square as planes and dirigibles flew overhead in formation – all a most dramatic presentation.

The late acclaim for Tsiolkovsky came despite a decline in interest among the populace toward space in the mid-1930s. Soviet leadership had directed a turn toward more practical rocketry, all due to the very real concerns associated with Hitler and the Nazis coming to power in Germany.

The visionary Tsiolkovsky died at age seventy-eight on September 19, 1935, and has been given the following credits:

––The first individual who thoroughly analyzed the reaction function in relation to rockets launched to outer space, and use of the rocket within space/vacuum.

––Advanced the rocket equation for use with spaceflight.

––Produced groundbreaking mathematical calculations, such as proving a very high escape velocity was required for a vehicle to exit Earth’s atmosphere.

––Earned the title “Father of Cosmonautics” in Russia.

The Soviet Union mythologized Tsiolkovsky late in his life, then let his legacy slip upon his death for two decades. But with satellite launches in 1957 coinciding with the centennial of the distinguished scientist’s birth year, his life and achievements were once again celebrated.

Russian missile system spirited out of Libya by US

The US secretly flew a Russian-made Pantsir missile launching system to Germany.

A captured Pantsir S1 paraded in Tripoli by government forces, May 2020. This may be the system the U.S. Air Force flew out a month later but it is likely impossible to know for sure.

A truck-mounted Russian air defence missile system captured on a Libyan battlefield was flown intact to a US air base in Germany in a covert mission.

The operation was ordered amid concerns that the Pantsir S-1 missile battery, which can easily bring down civilian aircraft, could fall into the hands of militias or arms smugglers in the war-torn north African country.

The acquisition of a Pantsir, designed to defend against U.S. and NATO aircraft, is a windfall to the U.S. intelligence community.

A Pantsir-S1 short range air defense system abandoned by its operators in Libya was covertly transported to Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany by the United States.

According to The Times, the secretive mission was carried out in June 2020, due to concerns that the Pantsir-S1, provided for the Libyan National Army by the United Arab Emirates, could fall into the hands of militias or arms smugglers, following its abandonment by LNA militias during the fall of al-Watiya Airbase. The mission was carried out in June, after the Pantsir had been seized by Mohamed Bahroun, a notorious militia commander also known as ‘the Rat’, following its transportation to the town of Zawiya.

However, forces loyal to interior minister Fathi Bashagha forced Bahroun’s militia to hand over the Pantsir, and then transported it to a base hosting Turkish forces. It was then delivered to Zuwara airport, where a US team had arrived aboard a C-17 Globemaster III. With the precious cargo secured, the C-17 then departed for Rammstein, where the trail went cold.

Furthermore, US technical analysis could help develop a response to newer Pantsir variants like the S1M or SM. While KBP Tula, manufacturer of the Pantsir, claims that the newer models are significantly more effective due to incorporating lessons learned from similar poor showings in Syria, they ultimately reuse the base Pantsir system design, and possibly retain the same exploitable weaknesses.

The Pantsir S-1 is one of Russia’s first post-Cold War, low-level air-defense systems. The system consists of 12 57E6 short-range, radar- and electro-optically-guided surface-to-air missiles with a maximum range of 11 miles. The weapons load is rounded out with a pair of 30-millimeter, radar-directed autocannons. The entire system sits on the bed of a 8×8 truck chassis.

While Pantsir has been widely exported, Russian military forces still use it, making it a system U.S. and NATO forces could face in wartime. U.S. forces have reportedly gained access to Pantsirs in UAE military service during joint exercises, but the Libyan system is the first one the U.S. military and intelligence community get to keep.

The weapon may likely end up at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, the home of the U.S. Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center, which maintains a Foreign Material Exploitation center for the express purpose of studying captured, stolen, or otherwise-acquired foreign weapon systems.

The system will likely be dismantled and rebuilt, and the knowledge of how Pantsir engages enemy aircraft will help protect U.S. and allied airplanes in the future.

The Pantsir is meant to provide air defense to headquarters, supply units, air bases, and other important sites from threats including low-level fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, drones, and even cruise missiles.

The timing of The Times’ scoop is also rather interesting, coming on the same day as the announcement that the Biden administration would be reviewing the sale of F-35s to the UAE. Some opponents of the deal had pointed to the UAE support of the LNA as a reason for opposing the deal, with none other than the Defense Intelligence Agency stating in a report that the UAE “may” have been funding Wagner’s operations in Libya.

The Russo-Turkish War (1811)

Ottoman Army Early 19th Century.

Portrait of Mikhail I. Kutuzov. G. Dawe, 1829. After Count Kamensky died in April 1811, Kutuzov was appointed commander-in-chief of the Danube army. Several months were dedicated to preparation, and on June 22 (July 4), 1811, the Russian army thoroughly defeated the outnumbered Turkish army (15 to 20,000 against 60,000) near Ruse (Turkish: Rusçuk). Soon, another part of the Turkish army was blocked and then captured near Slobozia.

Hostilities had opened between Russia and Turkey soon after Russia and Austria had been humiliated at Austerlitz in 1805. The following year Sultan Selim III had deposed the pro-Russian Hospodars of Wallachia and Moldavia (parts of modern-day Romania), whilst France occupied Austrian Dalmatia. This seriously threatened what was known as the ‘Danubian Principalities’, consisting of modern-day Romania and Serbia. Russia looked upon these areas as a safeguard against any possible attack on Russian territory from the Balkans. Fearing such an attack, Russia promptly advanced a force of some 40,000 men into the principalities to deny them to any others, particularly France. The sultan’s reaction was decisive, declaring war and blocking off the use of the Dardanelles to Russian ships. The subsequent actions of Admiral Seniavin and his victory over the Turkish fleet at Athos, and the deposing of Selim III have already been covered.

The Turkish armies had not performed any better than their fleet. Count Gudovich with 7,000 men had destroyed a Turkish force numbering no fewer than 20,000 men at Arpachai on 18 June. A vast Turkish army advancing into Wallachia was also defeated at Obilesti three days later, on 21 June 1807, by General Mikhail Miloradovich, with just over 4,000 troops.

The war might well have petered out at this point had not the Treaty of Tilsit enabled the Russians to transfer large numbers of their troops from central Europe to Bessarabia, bringing the size of their army up to 80,000 men. However, this sizeable force, under the ageing Field Marshal Prozorovsky, achieved virtually nothing, losing great numbers of troops in a vain attempt to storm the fortress of Brailov. Eventually, in August 1809, Prozorovsky was superseded by Prince Bagration, who immediately crossed the Danube with the army and laid siege to Silistra, but abandoned the attempt on the advance of a Turkish relieving army.

Hostilities were renewed in 1810 with Count Nikolay Kamensky (who had superseded Bagration) defeating these Turkish reinforcements and again attacking Silistra, which finally surrendered on 30 May. Kamensky tried to take a number of other fortresses without success, which cost him a great deal of time and huge numbers of casualties, but he did succeed in defeating a 40,000-strong Turkish army at Vidin on 26 October. In February 1811 Kamensky fell ill and died, leaving his forces under the command of General Louis Andraut de Langeron. But for all of this fighting, and despite numerous successes, Russia was no closer to a final victory.

Relations were also beginning to sour between Napoleon and Alexander over Russia’s clear disregard for the Continental System,1 and therefore Alexander appointed his favourite, General Mikhail Kutuzov, to command his forces in the south with clear orders to force Turkey to the peace table as quickly as possible. Kutuzov astounded everyone, promptly evacuating Silistra and beginning a retreat northward. The Turks took confidence from this manoeuvre and an army of 60,000 men was amassed at the fortress of Shumla. Kutuzov’s army, numbering some 46,000, finally stood against the Turks at Rousse on 22 June 1811 and defeated the Turkish hordes. Kutuzov, however, did not take advantage of his victory, but rather ordered his army to retire once again into Bessarabia. Alexander was livid at this retreat and demanded an explanation, but Kutuzov simply said nothing.

In late October 1811 the Turkish army under Lal Aziz Ahmet Pasha, of around 70,000 men, began to cross the Danube. Some 50,000 men crossed the river, whilst the remaining reserve of 20,000 remained on the eastern bank guarding the stores and food supplies. On the night of 2 November 1811 a large Russian cavalry force crossed the Danube and launched a terrible attack on the Turkish reserve, destroying it completely and slaying around 9,000 men. The main Turkish army was now stranded on the western bank and virtually surrounded; even more seriously, all their supplies had also been captured. At this point Kutuzov launched an all-out attack. He surreptitiously allowed the Pasha to escape, knowing that the Grand Vizier was forbidden from ever taking part in any peace negotiations. With him gone, Kutuzov sought negotiations and after some procrastination peace was signed with Turkey on 28 May 1812, Russia gaining Bessarabia by the treaty.

Peace with Turkey was urgently needed as Napoleon had spent the spring of 1812 in drawing troops from every corner of Europe to congregate in Poland, to form the largest army the world had ever seen. Napoleon was about to invade Russia; nobody knew how it would end at that moment, but that decision was going to change everything. As the campaign season arrived in 1812, few realised how momentous the following six months would be in world history and how rapidly the balance of power in Europe would change. This was as true in the Mediterranean as anywhere else.

But we cannot ignore another war that broke out that summer; it had been brewing for some time and had the potential to seriously hamper British efforts against Napoleon. For years the rapidly expanding American merchant fleet had been complaining loudly against the British insistence on their right to board American ships and to remove any British men found on board. This high-handed approach had caused serious resentment, particularly when American sailors were wrongly accused of being British and were taken off to serve in the Royal Navy. In reality, there was wrong on both sides. Whilst the Americans claimed that some 5,000 American sailors were taken into the British navy, it also has to be admitted that America’s merchant fleet had grown so rapidly, acting as a neutral carrier, that they had enticed some 10,000 British merchant seamen to join their ships for higher wages. It is also true that numerous American ships had been detained by the British for breaking the rules on supplying materials to Napoleon’s Europe, but again it was true that French frigates and privateers had been equally guilty of capturing hundreds of American merchant ships. Indeed, the American government became so upset with Britain and France over these issues that it contemplated going to war with both at the same time! However, sanity prevailed and on 12 June 1812 President Maddison declared war on Britain.

This involved a number of embarrassing single-ship defeats for the British navy and an unsuccessful American invasion of Canada. But even during the height of this war, American merchant ships continued to be granted licences to ship badly needed grain to Spain to feed Wellington’s army. However, this war had virtually no effect on the war in the Mediterranean, except for the capture of an odd American merchant vessel to boost prize money.

The research paper examines the attempts by the Ottoman and Persian Empires to destabilize the situation in the North-Western Caucasus and Transcaucasia on the eve and during the Patriotic War of 1812. It focuses on countermeasures against the Turkish plans, taken by peaceful Circassian princes and Russian regional administration. With the use of new archival documents, we were able to reconstruct the picture of Circassian raids on the Russian territory in 1812—1814. The paper also retrace the picture of the Kakheti uprising and its orchestrating process considering Napoleon’s invasion of the Russian Empire. The sources used to prepare the work include archival documents stored at the State Archives of the Krasnodar Krai, Krasnodar, Russia, and the Central State Historical Archives of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia. A considerable part of the archival material has never been published before. In conclusion, the authors note that both Persia and Turkey strove to widely leverage the war between Russia and France to their own advantage. The consolidated efforts of the Russian administration thwarted the attempt by Turkish intelligence agents in Circassia to use the anti-Russian Circassian militia in combat operations against Russia. At the same time, Persia achieved impressive progress in destabilizing the situation in Transcaucasia. The uprising was led by Georgian Tsarevich (An heir apparent of a tsar) Alexander, and the region of the uprising comprised Kakheti. In the area, Russian troops had small garrisons that were to protect Kakheti and central Georgia from Lezgin attacks. It was them who fell victim to insurgents. In terms of the number of casualties among the Russian army soldiers, the uprising in Kakheti in 1812 can be described as the deadliest incident in Transcaucasia in the 19th century. At the same time, the Treaty of Bucharest and Treaty of Gulistan, which ended the Russo-Turkish (1806—1812) and Russo-Persian (1804—1813) wars, were the first diplomatic acts that legally formalized a fait accompli — the annexation of a large part of Transcaucasia to Russia.

Source: Aleksandr A. Cherkasov, Larisa A. Koroleva, Sergei Bratanovskii, Nugzar Ter-Oganov (2019). The Russian-Turkish and Russian-Persian Front Line on the Eve of and During the Patriotic War of 1812. Bylye Gody. Vol. 52. Is. 2: 585-595

The Red Army of the Russian Civil War

The supreme achievement of the Soviet government in the civil-wars years: the creation of the Red Army. Much of the credit for this has, rightly, been apportioned to war commissar L. D. Trotsky.

The foregoing account of the 1919 campaigns concentrated on the White advances because the Reds tended not to make grand strategic decisions in that year. Rather, they reacted to the probings of their opponents and took advantage when the latter collapsed. That, however, is not to downplay the supreme achievement of the Soviet government in the civil-wars years: the creation of the Red Army. Much of the credit for this has, rightly, been apportioned to war commissar L. D. Trotsky.

The Red Army was born out of the disintegration of the Imperial Russian Army, which the Bolsheviks had done so much to foster (regarding the army as a nest of real and potential counterrevolutionaries). Prior to October 1917, the party’s propagandizing among troops fostered disorder and desertion; after October, Sovnarkom issued an avalanche of decrees canceling all ranks and titles, permitting the election of officers, expanding the competences of soldiers’ committees, and ordering the demobilization of successive classes of conscripts. All this culminated in the order for a general demobilization of the old army on 29 January 1918. However, the disintegration of the old army did not necessarily imply the creation of a new one.

Like most socialists, the Bolsheviks generally despised militarism and regarded the standing army as the chief instrument of state oppression of the working class. For them, especially those consolidating around N. I. Bukharin, A. S. Bubnov, and V. M. Smirnov as the nucleus of the Left Bolsheviks within the party, one of the essential purposes of the revolution was to destroy the army and to replace it with a democratic militia system. As advocates of the untapped potential for revolutionary creativity of the proletariat, the Left further considered that any subsequent conflict, either domestic or international, would be conducted according to quite different principles of organization and strategy—a concept they dubbed “revolutionary war”—in which what would count would not be military training or experience but the unstoppable and incorruptible élan of the workers-in-arms. However, the militia system failed at the first hurdle, during the German invasion of Soviet territory in February 1918 that was occasioned by Sovnarkom’s initial reluctance to accept the peace terms on offer at Brest-Litovsk. It had been expected that at least 300,000 recruits would come forward for this partisan army, but only around 20,000 were mustered (a third of them from Petrograd). Consequently, the German advance was virtually unopposed during the “Eleven-Days War,” and the Soviet government had to accept the harsh Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

All this had an immediate impact on Trotsky, who resigned as foreign commissar and became People’s Commissar for Military Affairs on 14 March 1918. A dedication to order, routine, hierarchy, and discipline was central to his character and style as a revolutionary, and he soon began to impose those characteristics on the Red military. Within a week of becoming war commissar, he was telling the Moscow Soviet, “Comrades! Our Soviet Socialist Republic needs a well-organized army,” and went on to assert:

While we were fighting with the Kaledinites we could successfully remain content with units which had been put together in haste. Now, however, in order to cope with the creative work of reviving the country . . . , in order to ensure the security of the Soviet Republic under conditions of international counter-revolutionary encirclement, such units are already inadequate. We need a properly and freshly organized army!

But how was such an army to be organized and led? Certainly Trotsky knew such a task would be beyond his own capabilities and those of the other journalists and activists who led the Bolshevik party. So, in a leap of faith that must be regarded as one of the key moments in the civil wars, Trotsky grasped the nettle and, in address of 28 March 1918 to a Moscow city conference of the party, he focused on what he termed the “sore point” in party discussions, which for him had to be at the heart of the new army:

the question of drawing military specialists, that is, to speak plainly, former officers and generals, into the work of creating and administering the Army. All the fundamental, leading institutions of the Army are now so constructed that they consist of one military specialist and two political commissars. This is the basic pattern of the Army’s leading organs. . . . Given the present regime in the Army—I say this here quite openly—the principle of election is politically purposeless and technically inexpedient, and it has been, in practice, abolished by decree.

Within a few weeks, more than 8,000 former officers were serving in the Red ranks, and by the end of 1918, 30,000 of them were employed—not as “officers,” but to spare Bolshevik blushes, as “military specialists” (voenspetsy)—a disproportionate number of them being graduates of the imperial Academy of the General Staff.95 There were, of course, cases of treachery and desertion by voenspetsy (notably when virtually the entire faculty of the Academy of the General Staff itself went over to the enemy on the Volga during the summer of 1918), which fed the fires of opprobrium that leftist party radicals felt for this “treachery” to proletarian principles. Also, Trotsky’s wish—expressed in an article of 31 December 1918 eulogizing “The Military Specialists and the Red Army”—that he was returning to the topic “for the last time, I hope,” was not realized: residual Left Bolshevik resentment at such confounding of revolutionary purity remained widespread (and was voiced with great bitterness at a conference of Bolshevik army delegates in late March 1919). Critics of the employment of voenspetsy could point out that it had, after all, been stated, in the Sovnarkom decree of 3 January 1918, which first mentioned the creation of such a force, that “the Red Army of Workers and Peasants will be formed from the most conscious and organized elements of the working masses”—a definition that hardly encompassed the employment of the military elite of tsarist Russia. Debates on this issue would become particularly vitriolic and divisive at the Eighth Congress of the Bolshevik Party in March 1919, where concessions had to be made to Trotsky’s opponents in order to defuse a sizable “military opposition” within the RKP(b). This loosely organized group was demanding that military commissars be afforded a greater role in decision making within the army and that party institutions should assume a larger role in directing a Red Army that was increasingly manned by conscripted peasants. Although it was claimed at the time, by Trotsky, that only 5 out of 82 voenspetsy army commanders ever deserted, a more recent investigation of materials in the Russian archives has established that some 549 highly valued genshtabisty deserted from the Red Army in the period 1918–1921, and that in total, almost one in three voenspetsy managed to flee to the enemy. Yet despite this debilitating and dangerous hemorrhage, and despite the lingering qualms of the Leftists, at least the principle of utilizing officers and experts had been firmly established, and the majority of officers employed in the Red Army (including 613 genshtabisty) remained at their posts.

Left Bolshevik (and Left-SR) irritations were at least partly salved by a second, truly revolutionary aspect of the new army: the appointment of so-called military commissars to all units. Although this office was based on the far-distant precedent of a similarly named institution at the time of the French revolutionary wars, and while the Provisional Government of 1917 had also named its special plenipotentiaries at the front and in the regions “commissars,” the military (or political) commissar of the Red forces was an original phenomenon. It was, in fact, one of the key martial innovations of the Reds during the civil war. According to an order signed by Trotsky on 6 April 1918:

The military commissar is the direct political organ of Soviet power in the army. . . . Commissars are appointed from among irreproachable revolutionaries, capable of remaining under the most difficult circumstances, the embodiment of revolutionary duty. . . . [They] must see to it that the army does not become disassociated from the Soviet system as a whole and that particular military institutions do not become centers of conspiracy or instruments to be used against the workers and peasants. The commissar takes part in all the work of the military leaders, receives reports and dispatches along with them, and counter-signs orders. War Councils will give effect only to such orders as have been signed not only by military leaders but also by at least one military commissar.

He was equally insistent, though, that “the commissar is not responsible for the expediency of purely military, operational, combat orders.”

In terms of army administration, the aforementioned Supreme Military Council was at the apex of a still nebulous command hierarchy of what was becoming, in the first half of 1918, the “Worker-Peasant Red Army.” This new, revolutionary armed force had been first mentioned by (a similar) name in a Sovnarkom decree of 3 January 1918 (“On the Formation of Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army”), but did not begin to become a living reality until its founding units were mustered from 23 February of that year (a date subsequently celebrated as “Red Army Day” in Soviet Russia). The Supreme Military Council itself replaced the improvised Revolutionary Field Staff and was given the tasks of providing strategic leadership to the armed forces of the Soviet Republic and overseeing the building of the Red Army. Following the setbacks on the Volga during the summer of 1918, however, it was abolished on 6 September 1918 and was replaced by the Revvoensovet (Revolutionary Military Soviet, or Council) of the Republic (RVSR), which restored some of the influence of senior commissars. In the midst of these events, on 2 September 1918, Vācietis was promoted to main commander in chief (Glavkom) of the Red Army (his predecessor, M. D. Bonch-Bruevich, who had failed to recognize the crucial importance of the Eastern Front, was quietly shunted aside). On 11 September 1918, the RVSR then devised a formal structure for the entire Red Army, which was divided (initially) into five armies, each with 11 divisions of between six and nine regiments (plus reserve units), grouped around three fronts (the Northern Front, the Eastern Front, and the Southern Front) and the Western Fortified Area. Revvoensovets were then established for each army (from 12 December 1918), military commissars were assigned to shadow commanders and to offer ideological guidance and motivation to Red forces, and regular units finally displaced almost all irregular (“partisan”) formations. The structure of the Red Army that would eventually emerge victorious from the wars was thus essentially in place before the end of the first year of serious struggle. Moreover, with control of the heartland of the old empire firmly established, the Soviet regime was able to draw upon the stocks of supplies meant for the old army—supplies that had had to be stretched to breaking point in 1916–1917 to maintain the Imperial Russian Army of some 10,000,000 men, but which would provide rich pickings for a Red Army that would never put in the field more than 5 percent of such a figure.

Thus, the new Red Army (unlike the Whites) had some central, strategic direction (greatly aided by the fact that the Soviet government had inherited, wholesale, the central administrative apparatus and personnel of the old army—from telegraphists to typewriters).105 The Whites were far less fortunate in this respect, having to rely on the meager resources of the outlying military districts of tsarist times to which they had been confined. The coordinating organs of the Red Army were then topped off, following a VTsIK decree of 30 November 1918, with the formation of the Council of Workers’ and Peasants’ Defense (from April 1920, the Council of Labor and Defense, the STO). This body, which was chaired (ex officio) by Lenin and included Trotsky (as chair of the RVSR, although he was rarely available to attend its meetings), Stalin (as the representative of VTsIK), and several people’s commissars of the most interested commissariats, was created by Sovnarkom but was coequal to it, as STO directives were considered to be the equivalent of state laws. It played no part in the formation of military strategy, but STO sought instead to direct and coordinate the work of all economic commissariats with all institutions having a stake in the defense of Soviet Russia. In the circumstances of a confusion of civil wars, it managed that task with relative success. Again, the Whites had nothing to compare with it.

From May 1918, the nascent Red Army could also begin to draw on a steadier stream of recruits, as a general mobilization was instituted and the volunteer principle was abandoned, although the registration of those eligible was rudimentary and the nonappearance and desertion of mobilized men remained a problem. By late 1918, the Red Army was still a long way from resolving this issue, but it was much closer to doing so than were its rivals, and signs were apparent that a solution acceptable to both sides of this bargaining process—the citizens and the state—was achievable. Back in June 1918, the Bolsheviks had attempted to mobilize all workers and all “nonexploiting” peasants aged 21–25 years in 51 districts of the Volga and the Urals, but in the absence of a functioning central draft organization, impromptu and usually unsuccessful local levées had had to be attempted. Hardly more was achieved by a countrywide draft on 11 September 1918, while even by early 1919 drafts were widely evaded; for example, in May 1919, a month after a draft was initiated, Tambov had produced precisely 24 recruits of the 5,165 anticipated, and by the time this round of mobilizations was called off (in June 1919) just 24,364 of 140,000 expected recruits had been mustered.108 In his examination of this phenomenon, Erik Landis describes “hundreds of thousands” of deserters taking up arms in the Red rear and this “green army” severely compromising the stability of Red fronts from around April to September 1919 (just as Denikin was preparing his advance). According to one pioneering Western study of the phenomenon of desertion, the rate of flight was so great throughout the civil wars that ultimately the Reds were only able to triumph over their enemies by dint of the larger pool of men they could draw upon.

This may well have been the case, but a more recent investigation concludes that retention rates were gradually improving in the Red Army. In the most insightful examination of this process to date, Joshua Sanborn dates the beginning of it to a decree passed at the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets on 10 July 1918 that linked citizenship to military service and obliged all healthy men aged 18–40 years to come forward. Improvements thereafter he attributes to the Soviet state building an apparatus that could be seen to apportion the burden of mobilization at least reasonably fairly among its citizens—the crucial factor being that the system was one that was central, not local, and therefore perceived to be less open to abuses. In sum, Sanborn concluded, the Bolsheviks “created a state-sponsored discourse that finally incorporated the idea that soldiers acquired rights when they performed their national duty.” In particular, they were assured that their families would be cared for and that they, as soldiers, would be respected by the state and would acquire privileges above those granted to other citizens. Tied to this, though, was a degree of flexibility in the approach of the state. The Red Army could, of course, unleash terror against those who deserted, and by April 1919 the Anti-Desertion Commission had established numerous branches at local levels, which organized armed patrols to comb the countryside and snare runaways and had the power to confiscate property from the families of known deserters and those suspected of assisting or harboring them. But, as Sanborn notes, commanders actually used a “two-pronged” approach to desertion. This was reflected in an order by Lenin of December 1918 in which, while describing deserters as “heinous and shameful” and representative of “the depraved and ignorant,” he nevertheless offered a two-week amnesty for those absentees who returned to their units. This was accompanied by a nationwide propaganda campaign to convince shirkers and deserters that they could not hide and would be punished, while the Red Army Central Desertion Commission urged that repression be mixed with “proof of concern for the families of Red Army soldiers.” Finally, an intensive and extensive “verification” campaign seems to have been particularly effective throughout 1919, during which all those men of draft age in the Soviet zone were required to attend meetings at which their eligibility for military service would be checked. Of course, given the ongoing chaos, this was never applied universally, but in the second half of 1919, 2,239,604 men attended such meetings and 272,211 of them were then enrolled in the armed forces. By August 1920, a further 470,106 men were recruited by this means. Thus, noted Sanborn, “a military service consensus had been reached and conscription normalized.” Certainly the White forces never came close to emulating this—although their failure to do so had as much to do with a lack of administrative resources in the peripheral areas in which they operated as with ignorance of the importance of such systems of social control. On the Red side, the results were clear: a Red Army of 800,000 men in January 1919 would become one of 3,000,000 by January 1920.

White Defeat in the Russian Civil War

The Red versus White struggle was decided on the battlefield, but the outcome of civil wars also depends on the contenders’ ability, through politics and propaganda, to convince people to fight for them (or at least not to raise arms against them). In this field, governance, the Whites were a spectacular failure. Consequently, no matter how successful their main military thrusts were, when the tide turned and advances morphed into retreats, the Whites had nothing to fall back on. Hence the precipitous collapse of the AFSR, the North-West Army, and Kolchak’s Russian Army.

This is not to say that the Whites did not try to compete with the Bolsheviks on the political plane—however much their background in the Russian military tended to incline them to regard “politics” as a dirty word (a feeling amplified by the disasters of 1917). Both Kolchak and Denikin actually elaborated political programs in 1919 that might—despite the generally held perceptions of the Whites as “reactionaries”—broadly be described as “liberal.” They repeatedly committed themselves to resuscitating local governments, to respecting the right of the non-Russian peoples to self-determination, to respecting the rights of trade unions, and to radical land reform, and vowed that, upon victory in the civil war, they would summon a new national assembly to determine the future constitution of the Russian state. Kolchak, whose Omsk government was more stable, rooted, and fully developed than the rather nebulous and peripatetic Special Council that advised Denikin, tended to take the lead in such matters, but both the main White military camps had phalanxes of Kadet auxiliaries to add flesh to the bones of their declarations on politics and to staff their press agencies, advisory councils, and bureaus of propaganda. Moreover, there is little doubt that both Denikin and Kolchak held genuinely progressive views on a range of issues, including the necessity of radical land reform in Russia—the key issue of the previous century—and that both were entirely sincere in their protestations that they had no personal desire to hang on to political power for a moment longer than it would take to drive Lenin from the Kremlin. Also, although the document that established the Kolchak dictatorship (“The Statute on the Provisional Structure of State Power in Russia”) made no provision for its termination, the admiral put on public record, in a speech at Ekaterinburg in February 1919, for example, a solemn pledge that he would not retain power “for a single day longer than the interests of the country demand,” and asserted that “in the future the only admissible form of government in Russia will be a democratic one.” And these declarations reaped some rewards: in May 1919, for example, the Big Four at Paris were sufficiently impressed with Kolchak’s democratic credentials that they would consider recognizing his regime as the government of all Russia.

However well-drafted or well-intentioned, though, there was always something flimsy, half-baked, and unconvincing about White politics; and a lingering sense prevailed that neither Denikin nor Kolchak was much interested in the details of the political concerns that had been agitating Russia since—and, indeed, long before—February 1917. Moreover, however egalitarian were the personal beliefs and intentions of the major White leaders, who were far from the clichéd caricatures of prince-nez-adorned, sadistic fops of Bolshevik propaganda, this could not disperse the stench of restorationism that suffused their camps, which were heavily populated with the former elite of the Russian Empire. British officers with the mission in South Russia, for example, who had been invited to a banquet held by the local branch of the Union of Landowners at Novocherkassk, soon sensed that they were among “a hot-bed of monarchists” and were deeply embarrassed when one of the guests (a cousin of Nicholas Romanov) ordered the orchestra to play “God Save the Tsar,” the old imperial anthem (which had been banned since the February Revolution).

Consequently, although Denikin’s land laws and labor legislation might have promised fair treatment to peasants and workers, the populace of territory occupied by the AFSR invariably felt the whip and wrath of returning landlords and factory bosses, who had been driven out by the wide-scale seizures of private property that had accompanied the spread of Soviet power in 1917–1918 and now sought revenge and recompense. The same rule applied in the east, as Kolchak’s forces advanced from Siberia (where large, landed estates were almost unknown) across the Urals to the Volga region (beyond which they became general)—despite the fact that Kolchak himself was clearly committed to a progressive land reform resembling that assayed in Russia in the aftermath of the 1905 Revolution and that Omsk’s Ministry of Agriculture was teeming with former associates of the reforming prime minister of those days, P. A. Stolypin. Most telling of all was that Kolchak’s “Decree on Land” was not issued until April 1919, when his army’s move toward European Russia necessitated such action. Similarly, on the second great issue of the day—national self-determination—Kolchak also remained silent until the spring of 1919, when the focus of Paris on the Whites’ intentions prompted action—or at least more promises.

A variety of explanations might be adduced for such prevarication. A generous reading of White policy would emphasize that the movement was genuinely committed to a stance of non-predetermination—one that, disinterestedly, inhibited (even forbade) the introduction of significant reforms during the armed struggle; such acts, according to the doctrine, which was routinely espoused by the Whites, would have to await the decisions of a new constituent assembly, once the Bolsheviks had been defeated. A less generous exposition of the “White idea” could cite cynical distortions and maskings of their true aims by the Whites, in order to secure peasant recruits to man their armies and Allied weapons to equip them, while attempting to hoodwink any too-trusting members of the national minorities into accepting that promises of self-determination emanating from Omsk and Ekaterinodar were real.

The Whites’ evasive and contradictory stance on the nationalities question was particularly damaging to their cause (given that, especially in South Russia and the northwest, they tended to be operating from bases in lands where Russians were in a minority and non-Russians were using the postimperial and post–world war hiatus to fashion their independence. Thus, Denikin would occasionally sing the praises of self-determination, yet more often espouse the cause of a “Russia, One and Indivisible,” while engaging in a prolonged border war (the “Sochi conflict”) with the Democratic Republic of Georgia, and also directly insulting the Ukrainians by referring to that land by the condescending tsarist-era term “Little Russia.” He would also offer up such alarming suggestions regarding the proper delineation of a new Polish–Russian border, in the wake of the establishment of the Second Polish Republic at the world war’s end, that Warsaw would call a halt to his army’s operations in the spring of 1919 and then enter into secret peace talks with Moscow that would facilitate the redeployment of 40,000 men from the Red Army’s Western Front to its “Southern Front, Against Denikin” in the autumn of that year. Another instructive example was the case of Daghestan and its neighbors in the Caucasus, who had united in an autonomous Mountain Republic. This regime had initially been dissolved by the Bolshevik-dominated Terek Soviet Republic at Vladikavkaz in the spring of 1918, but had reestablished itself as Soviet power crumbled in the North Caucasus later that year. It then had repulsed a new Soviet offensive in April 1919, only to find that, when Denikin’s forces subsequently occupied the North Caucasus and then Daghestan, it had to flee again—this time from the Whites.

In Siberia, Kolchak had less immediate concerns with the non-Russian nationalities, who were not present in sufficient numbers within his realm to cause harm (although the desertion from his front line around Ufa, in February 1919, of 6,500 Bashkir forces, who had despaired of their treatment by the Whites, left a big hole in the front line). However, as supreme ruler his pronouncements on the issue had national and international consequences, and here it was revealing that Kolchak should choose the case of Finland, which was already independent and certainly unrecoverable, to dig in his heels: when General Mannerheim, in July 1919, offered a deal whereby his 100,000-strong army would capture Petrograd for the Whites in return for some not inconsiderable but hardly outrageous conditions (recognition of Finnish independence, the secession to Finland of Pechenga, self-determination for Karelia, free navigation through Lake Ladoga for Finnish merchant vessels, etc.), Kolchak refused to agree. His advisor, George Guins, would plead with him that “the prime aim must be the defeat of the Bolsheviks and only second the putting back together of Russia,” but the admiral would not recognize the logic of such an approach. For Kolchak, Russia could not be saved from the Bolsheviks if it was in pieces, because Russia in pieces was not Russia.

So, both generous and cynical approaches to White politics have elements of truth to them. Over and above such considerations, however, it has to be conceded that—for what they regarded as the purest of motives—the White leaders distained all politics; their contempt for what they, as officers, regarded as an unwholesome and ungentlemanly pursuit was at least honest, if misguided, and was certainly reinforced by the depressing experience of 1917, when all Russia seemed to have turned into a vast, endless, clamorous, and pointless political meeting.

The Whites’ distaste for politics, and especially class-based politics, knitted perfectly with the claim of their Kadet allies to be, as a party, “above class” and “above politics” (although, again, a cynic might point out that the Kadets were calculating here that there was no strong bourgeois class in Russia that might support their liberal platform) and with that party’s historical tendency to place nation above all else. Moreover, the particular circumstances of post–world war Europe at the moment, over the winter of 1918–1919, that the White movement reached maturity, strongly reinforced this predilection. The White leaders were all too well aware that although there were ranks of irreconcilable anti-Bolsheviks in and around the governments in London, Paris, and Washington, there were many Allied politicians who did not fear the Soviet government, or who hoped to use Russia’s discomfort to their own countries’ advantage, or who were genuinely overwhelmed by war-weariness. In these circumstances, the end of the world war might not prove advantageous: consequently, a Kolchak supporter in the Russian Far East, for example, recorded his impressions of the sight of British Tommies celebrating the armistice as “not particularly joyous,” as civil wars waged on in Russia; the admiral’s secretary, the aforementioned Guins, would reflect that the collapse of Germany had been “fatal to the anti-Bolshevik struggle”; and one of his generals would bluntly assert that, from 11 November 1918 onward, “Kolchak had no Allies.” Consequently, if Kolchak and his supporters were to win what they desired above all else—the admittance of Russia to the family of Allied “victor nations,” a seat at the forthcoming peace conference, and the opportunity to ensure that their country was properly rewarded for the very considerable part it had played in the world war—the lesson was clear. A few days after having assumed the mantle of “supreme ruler” in November 1918, Kolchak spelled out that lesson:

The day is dawning when the inexorable course of events will demand victory of us; upon this victory or defeat will depend our life or death, our success or failure, our freedom or ignoble slavery. The hour of the great international peace conference is now near and if, by that hour, we are not victorious then we will lose our right to a vote at the conference of victor nations and our freedom will be decided upon without us.

Kolchak’s calculations were correct. In November–December 1918, nothing was done by the Allies to dissuade Romania from snatching formerly Russian Bessarabia from its German occupiers. Then, at meetings on 12–19 January 1919 in Paris, the Council of Ten decided that no Russian representatives would be afforded a seat among them. Days later, in accordance with a scheme devised by Lloyd George and Robert Borden, the prime minister of Canada, an invitation was sent out by radio (from a transmitter atop the Eiffel Tower) suggesting that all warring parties in “Russia” should meet at a separate peace conference at Prinkipo, off Constantinople, in the Sea of Marmara. When informed of the latter, Kolchak was aghast and spluttered, “Good God! Can you believe it? An invitation to peace with the Bolsheviks!” Had he been told some weeks later, in early March 1919, that a senior American diplomat, William C. Bullitt, was at that moment being entertained in Moscow, was parlaying in a semi-official manner with Lenin, and was offering very generous terms to end the intervention, Kolchak’s language might have been less temperate. Then, in April, news broke of a scheme approved in Paris for supplying food relief and medicine to the peoples of Russia, including those in the Soviet zone. Kolchak’s precise response to news of this initiative of Fridtjof Nansen is unrecorded, but he probably found himself in unusual accord with Trotsky, who, surveying the scene on 13 April 1919, commented, “We have before us a case of betrayal of the minor brigands by the major ones.”

In the light of all this, it seems sensible to conclude that analyses of the Whites’ defeat in the civil wars that focus on their tardy, half-hearted, and haphazard attempts to win political support are—however accurate such a portrayal—ultimately misguided. “All for the Army,” as the mantra went at Omsk, was probably a reasonable response to the circumstances of the time. The price to be paid, however, in terms of popular support and the concomitant ability to absorb and bounce back from military defeats, was revealed in the manner in which all four of the major White fronts disintegrated once their advances had been turned.

The Sad Eagle: Oryol

Oryol: Eagle in Russian. Assigned to Second Pacific Squadron in 1904. Surrendered at Tsushima. Refitted by Japan. Commissioned in Japanese Navy as Iwami in 1907. Rated as a coastal defense ship in 1912. Served in Pacific during World War I and Russian Revolution, participating in siege of Tsingtao and Japanese Russian Intervention. Training ship in 1921. Stricken 1922. Sunk as a target or scrapped in 1924.

Oryol (Russian: Орёл, “Eagle”; also Orel, Orël) was a Borodino-class battleship built for the Imperial Russian Navy in the first decade of the 20th century. The ship was completed after the start of the Russo-Japanese War in February 1904 and was assigned to the Second Pacific Squadron sent to the Far East six months later to break the Japanese blockade of Port Arthur. The Japanese captured the port while the squadron was in transit and their destination was changed to Vladivostok. Oryol was badly damaged during the Battle of Tsushima in May 1905 and surrendered to the Japanese, who put her into service under the name of Iwami.

Reconstructed by the Japanese in 1905–1907, Iwami was reclassified by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a coastal defense ship in 1912. She participated in the Battle of Tsingtao at the beginning of World War I and supported the Japanese troops that landed in Siberia in 1918 during the Russian Civil War. Iwami was used as a training ship beginning in September 1921. The ship was disarmed in 1922 to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty and sunk as a target ship two years later.


Construction began on Oryol (Eagle) on 7 November 1899 at the Baltic Works in Saint Petersburg. The ship was laid down on 1 June 1900 and launched on 19 July 1902, in the presence of the Emperor.[6] While fitting out in Kronstadt in May 1904 in preparation for the installation of her armor, some temporary sheathing was removed that allowed water to enter and sank the ship five days later. The water was pumped out and the ship refloated without incident. She was completed in October 1904 at the cost of 13,404,000 rubles.

On 15 October 1904, Oryol set sail for Port Arthur from Libau along with the other vessels of the Second Pacific Squadron, under the overall command of Vice Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky.[10] Rozhestvensky led his squadron down the Atlantic coast of Africa, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, and reached the island of Nosy Be off the north-west coast of Madagascar on 9 January 1905 where they remained for two months while Rozhestvensky finalized his coaling arrangements. The squadron sailed for Camranh Bay, French Indochina, on 16 March and reached it almost a month later to await the obsolete ships of the 3rd Pacific Squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral Nikolai Nebogatov. The latter ships reached Camranh Bay on 9 May and the combined force sailed for Vladivostok on 14 May. With all of the additional coal and other supplies loaded for the lengthy voyage, the ship was 1,785 long tons (1,814 t) overweight; most of which was stored high in the ship and reduced her stability. The most important aspect of this, however, was that the additional weight completely submerged the ship’s main armor belt.

Tsushima Strait

Rozhestvensky decided to take the most direct route to Vladivostok using the Tsushima Strait and was intercepted by the Japanese battlefleet under the command of Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō on 27 May 1905. At the beginning of the battle, Oryol was the last ship in line of the 1st Division, which consisted of all four Borodino-class battleships under Rozhestvensky’s direct command. The ship fired the first shots of the Battle of Tsushima when the ship’s captain, Nikolay Yung, ordered her to open fire at a Japanese cruiser that was shadowing the Russian formation at a range of 9,000 meters (9,800 yd). Rozhestvensky had not given any pre-battle instructions to the fleet covering this situation, but he ordered Yung to cease fire after 30 rounds had been fired without effect.

Oryol was not heavily engaged during the early part of the battle, but she was set on fire by Japanese shells during this time. About an hour after the battle began, the Japanese cruiser Chihaya fired two torpedoes at a ship that may have been Oryol, although both torpedoes missed. The Russian formation had become disordered during the early part of the battle and Oryol was second in line after her sister Borodino by 16:00. The Japanese battleships generally concentrated their fire on Borodino during this time and sank her around 19:30. Oryol was hit a number of times as well, but was not seriously damaged.

Oryol took the lead after Borodino was sunk; she was joined by Nebogatov’s Second Division after Tōgō ordered the Japanese battleships to disengage in the gathering darkness. Nebogatov assumed command of the remains of the fleet and they continued towards Vladivostok. The ships were discovered by the Japanese early the following morning and attacked by Tōgō’s battleships around 10:00. The faster Japanese ships stayed beyond the range at which Nebogatov’s ships could effectively reply and he decided to surrender his ships at 10:30 as he could neither return fire nor close the range. The ship was formally stricken from the Navy List on 13 September 1905.

During the battle, Oryol was probably hit by five 12-inch, two 10-inch (254 mm), nine 8-inch (203 mm), thirty-nine 6-inch shells, and 21 smaller rounds or fragments. Although the ship had many large holes in the unarmored portions of her side, she was only moderately damaged as all of the four (one 12-inch and three 6-inch) shells that hit her side armor failed to penetrate. The left gun of her forward 12-inch turret had been struck by an 8-inch shell that broke off its muzzle and another 8-inch shell struck the roof of the rear 12-inch turret and forced it down, which limited the maximum elevation of the left gun. Two 6-inch gun turrets had been jammed by hits from 8-inch shells and one of them had been burnt out by an ammunition fire. Another turret had been damaged by a 12-inch shell that struck its supporting tube. Splinters from two 6-inch shells entered the conning tower and wounded Yung badly enough that he later died of his wounds. Casualties totaled 43 crewmen killed and approximately 80 wounded.

Borodino class

In 1904 Moscow dispatched the 2nd Pacific Squadron, commanded by Admiral Zinovi Petrovich Rohdzsvenski, from the Baltic to the Pacific, halfway around the world, to salvage the desperate situation in the Pacific. Rohdzsvenski’s main units numbered eight battleships, three armored cruisers, and three hopelessly obsolete armored coast-defense warships. The core of the Russian fleet was represented by the four new battleships of the Borodino class (Borodino, Alexander III, Orel, and Kniaz Suvarov). The Russians again appeared to have a strong edge in numbers, but they were, in truth, inferior in just about every other way, particularly guns, armor, and speed. And Rohdzsvenski’s fleet was also outclassed in the intangibles that really counted: leadership, morale, and training. By the time it met the Japanese, the Russian fleet was completing a debilitating seven-month epic of endurance. Instead of training, the crews had exhausted themselves in repeated coaling stops and were suffering from low morale and heat exhaustion.

The highly regarded 12,700-ton Retvisan, built by William Cramp of Philadelphia, was the first Russian battleship protected by Krupp armor. The 12,915-ton Tsesarevich, built in La Seyne, was used as a prototype for four warships of the 13,520-ton Borodino class. The Borodinos were built in Russian shipyards, along with a third ship of the Peresviet class and the 12,580-ton Potemkin. The eight battleships of the 1898 program all were in service by the beginning of the war with Japan in 1904. While focusing on capital ships Russia remained a leader in mine warfare, in 1898–99 constructing the world’s first purpose-built minelayers, the 3,010-ton Amur and Yenisei. Russia also purchased the submarine Protector, launched in 1902 by the American Simon Lake, built additional submarines in St Petersburg designed by Lake, and ordered three more from Germania of Kiel.

The Borodino-class battleships were based upon the earlier battleship Tsesarevich, which had been built to a French design at La Seyne and fought as the Russian flagship at the Battle of the Yellow Sea in 1904. The Russian Navy agreed to buy Tsesarevitch under the conditions that they could construct 5 more of them and modify them to meet the standards of the Russian Navy; thus Oryol, Kniaz Suvorov, Borodino, Aleksandr III, and Slava were built in Russian yards. Only Slava was not finished in time to participate in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. As previously mentioned all of the class were of a tumblehome hull design as were many of the French Pre-Dreadnoughts of the period. Dupuy de Lôme, the leading French naval architect, was a proponent of the idea as it increased fields of fire for the main and secondary gun batteries, as well as improve seaworthiness and create greater freeboard. Another advantage of the tumblehome design was that it provided for sloped armour – giving a thicker vertical belt at any given point due to the slope of the armour plate.

Along with the lead-ship of the class, Tsesarevich, the vessels suffered from instability having a high centre of gravity (made worse by overloading). The centre line bulkhead led to a danger of capsizing and a narrow armour belt became submerged due to overloading. As such, some naval architects regard these as some of the worst battleships ever built.

GAZ-2975 “Tiger” or Russian Tigr Part II

The GAZ-2975 Tigr (“Tiger”) is Russia’s new standard light armored utility vehicle, akin to the US HMMWV. It is typically fitted with one or two 7.62mm Pecheneg machine guns on pintle mounts, or, an AGS-17 30mm grenade launcher.

A GAZ Tigr-M in Moscow during rehearsals for the 2019 Victory Day Parade, for which it sports the orange and black St George’s ribbon with tricolour star decal along the side. Note the Arbalet-DM remote weapon station, with a 12.7mm Kord machine gun and four smoke grenade launchers. The turret includes regular and thermal-imaging cameras and a laser range finder.

The armoured Tigr has become one of the workhorses of the Russian Army. It is especially well-geared for cold weather conditions, able to operate in temperatures from +50 to -50 centigrade.

Gaz-2975 Tigr-M 4×4 Multi-purpose Vehicle can be mounted with a number of weapons modules act as escorts in the Military Parade. This one is armed with Kornett ATGMs

In Russia, Arzamas developed the Tigr; a family of vehicles ranging from 7.4 to 8.8 tonnes gross weight offering payloads of between 0.9 and 1.2 tonnes. The version more apt for military purposes is the Armoured Special Purpose Vehicle 232014, which can accommodate two crew members and four more soldiers in the rear, and can be armed with a Pecheneg 7.62-mm, a Kord 12.7-mm machine gun or with an AGS-17 30-mm automatic grenade launcher. Powered by a six-cylinder 205-hp engine it is equipped with independent wishbone and torsion bar suspensions.

The workhorse is the GAZ Tigr (`Tiger’), a domestically produced 4×4 LMV in service since 2006. Rugged and lightly armoured, the Tigr has seen service in Crimea and the Donbas as well as Syria, and in 2013 an improved GAZ-233114 Tigr-M was introduced. This replaced the original diesel with a YaMZ-534 engine, added additional armour and protective systems, and has since become the Russian military standard LMV. Able to carry up to 11 soldiers as well as its crew, the Tigr is 5.7m long, 2.4m wide and high, and masses 7.2t. It can be fitted with a pintle-mounted 7.62mm PKP Pecheneg machine gun, a 12.7mm Kord heavy machine gun or a 30mm AGS-17 grenade launcher, as well as the new Arbalet-DM (`Crossbow-DM’) remote-controlled turret with either the Kord or 7.62mm PKTM machine gun and thermal imaging sights. Widely used by other Russian services, the Tigr is also the platform for a range of specialist vehicles and now also produced in China and Belarus.

The new standard Russian military LMV is the Gaz Tigr (Tiger), in both the GAZ-233014 STS and Tigr-M versions. This version was seen during the initial seizure of Crimea in 2014, and although deployed alongside Naval Infantry, its number plate demonstrated that it came from the Southern Military District. This suggests that it was actually part of the 22nd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade, not least given the Guards badge in the door – signifying a unit that fought with distinction in World War II. It mounts a PKP machine gun and an AGS-17 grenade launcher. The VPK-3927 Volk (Wolf) is a new design, which is being introduced in limited numbers in both short- and long-wheelbase versions. Designed with particular attention to the threat from mines, the Volk comes in a variety of models, with a particular emphasis on reconnaissance and patrol missions. This is the short-wheelbase 4×4 version fitted as a communications vehicle, assigned to the 24th Spetsnaz Brigade operating out of Irkutsk.

Vitus Jonassen Bering I

RCHKG8 Fur Traders of the Russian-American Company. Museum: State Central Navy Museum, St. Petersburg. Author: Pshenichny, Igor Pavlovich.

On November 5, 1724, Peter the Great waded waist-deep into the icy waters of the Gulf of Finland to help rescue some sailors whose boat had capsized. Fever and chills followed, later developing into pneumonia; his friends and advisers gathered round. Yet even as he lay dying, he made one last grand gesture, which – in keeping with a monarch who seemed incapable of any inconsequential act – would lead to discoveries of imperishable renown. Andrei Nartov, an associate, recalled:

I was then almost constantly with the Emperor, and saw with my own eyes how eager this Majesty was to get the expedition under way, being, as it were, conscious that his end was near. When all had been arranged he seemed pleased and content. Calling the general-admiral (Count Apraksin) to him he said: “Recently I have been thinking over a matter which has been on my mind for many years, but other affairs have prevented me from carrying it out. I have reference to the finding of a passage through the Arctic Sea. On the map before me there is indicated such a passage bearing the name of Anian. There must be some reason for that. In my last travels I discussed the subject with learned men, and they were of the opinion that such a passage could be found. Now that the country is in no danger from enemies we should strive to win for her glory along the lines of the arts and sciences.”

On December 23, as the expedition assumed final shape in his mind, Peter drew up brief instructions to the Admiralty College for the selection of its chief personnel. He wanted geodesists with first-hand knowledge of Eastern Siberia, hardy shipwrights, experienced mariners, and, if possible, “a navigator and assistant navigator who have been to North America. If such navigators cannot be found in the [Russian] Navy, then immediately write to Holland via the Admiralty Post and request two men who are familiar with the sea north toward Japan.”

The Admiralty opted for their own and immediately settled on Vitus Bering, a Dane in Russian service, as the expedition’s commander. They assigned him two lieutenants: Martin Spanberg (also a Dane, who ran the packet boat that shuttled regularly between Lübeck and Kronstadt), and Alexei Chirikov, an instructor of cadets at the Naval Academy. None of these men had ever been to America, but Bering had been to the East Indies in his youth, and all three were exceptionally capable and expert seamen.

Bering hastened to the capital from Vyborg, where he had a small estate, and on January 26, 1725, Peter signed his orders and scrawled terse instructions to various officials to give Bering and his staff whatever help they required. The tsar’s instructions to Bering himself, however, though no less imperious and brief (according to his style), were cryptically phrased:

1. In Kamchatka or some other place build one or two boats with decks.

2. On those boats sail near the land which goes to the north which (since no one knows where it ends) it seems is part of America.

3. Discover where it is joined to America, and go as far as some town belonging to a European power; if you encounter some European ship, ascertain from it what is the name of the nearest coast, and write it down and go ashore personally and obtain firsthand information, locate it on a map and return here.

Two days later, Peter died. In his place, the empress Catherine I, his widow and successor, confirmed the orders and had them conveyed to Bering on February 5, 1725, inaugurating one of the most remarkable sagas in the history of exploration.

Born at Horsens, Denmark, in 1681, Vitus Jonassen Bering had joined the Russian Navy as a sublieutenant at the age of twenty-three, and had served in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Baltic with distinction during the Great Northern War. His direction of transport and logistical operations earned him steady advancement, and by the end of the conflict he had made captain of the second rank. Under the patronage of two fellow Danes with considerable standing in the Admiralty, Peter Sievers and Cornelius Cruys (both primary architects of Peter’s new navy), Bering’s future prospects seemed bright. But at the conclusion of the war he was unexpectedly passed over for promotion, a casualty of the developing struggle in the naval high command between a faction led by Sievers and another (momentarily favored by the tsar) headed by Thomas Gordon, a Scot. Gordon’s star subsequently waned, and that of Sievers rose, with the support of Admiral Apraksin. But meanwhile, in disappointment, Bering had retired from the navy and withdrawn to his Vyborg estate.

Eight weeks later he was recalled to active duty, elevated to captain of the first rank, and given the assignment that was to govern the remainder of his days. At the time, he was forty-four years old.

Bering departed St. Petersburg upon receipt of his instructions and hastened to catch up to an advance contingent of the expedition which had left the capital twelve days before. From Vologda, they proceeded together across the Urals to Tobolsk, before embarking down the Irtysh River in May 1725. After pausing at Yeniseysk, where the party grew to ninety-seven with the addition of thirty carpenters and blacksmiths, they worked their way up the shoals and rapids of the Yenisey and Upper Tunguska rivers to Ilimsk. There the party divided, Spanberg going overland with the heavier supplies to Ust-Kut, where he supervised construction that winter of fifteen barges for conveying men and supplies down the Lena River to Yakutsk; and Bering heading south to Irkutsk, to assemble provisions for the next stage of the expedition and to plot the best route from there to Okhotsk.

Thus far, over the course of a year, and in spite of transport difficulties and little or no cooperation from Siberian officials, Bering had managed to move his men and equipment across 4,500 miles of mountain, forest, and steppe. But a still more trying road lay ahead. In the spring of 1726, more carpenters, blacksmiths, and two coopers were added to the force, and the whole party (reunited at Ust-Kut) embarked down the Lena River to Yakutsk. They made good time with sails and sweeps, and when the wind blew against them used an ingenious device called the watersail, made of larch logs lashed together and sunk lengthwise under the boats where the current acted upon it like the wind upon a sail. At Yakutsk, it was agreed that Chirikov remain for the winter to collect additional provisions, while Spanberg conveyed the heaviest and most unmanageable materiel (like rigging, tackle, iron, and tar) by boat to Yudoma Cross (at the headwaters of the Yudoma River). Bering himself, with two thousand leather sacks of flour, among other supplies, was to proceed on horseback directly to Okhotsk at the head of a baggage train.

The Yakutsk-to-Okhotsk Track – a deadly obstacle course of forests, rapids, marshes, icefields, bogs, and crags – was the roughest in Siberia, and after a forced march in which most of his packhorses died and tons of flour had to be cached along the way, Bering barely reached his destination before winter set in. Meanwhile, in early November Spanberg’s boats became ice-bound near the mouth of the Gorbeya River, short of Yudoma Cross and 350 miles from Okhotsk. The men disembarked, built dogsleds to carry the most vital stores (which they had to haul themselves), and to fend off starvation “consumed not only their horses, but their leather harness, clothing and boots.” From the raw horsehide itself they made new coats and shoes, having first “burnt off the Hair from their Skins with Lime.” Even so, they survived only because they found the flour Bering had cached, and because, when Bering learned of their predicament, he immediately dispatched dog teams for their relief. Meanwhile, to make better time, Spanberg had stored his own supplies in four different locations along the uninhabited trail. “And during his whole Passage,” Bering later recalled, “the poor People had no other Relief in the Night-time, or when the cutting icy Winds blew, than to cover themselves as deep as they could in the Snow.” The following spring the stashed provisions were retrieved, but there was no way to salvage the materiel which had been left on the boats, despite all the effort it had taken to bring them 5,000 miles from St. Petersburg.

And there was no way to make up for them either in Okhotsk, which was a refuge only in name. Located on “a current-ridden, empty waste of water,” the settlement consisted of eleven huts housing ten Russian families, a meager stock of powdered fish, and no home-grown foods, for not even rye, it was said, could ripen on its damp and windy shores. The men managed to build their own shelters, but construction of a proper ship was difficult because no stout trees like oak or elm grew in the vicinity, and the whole remote area “lacked all marine and other stores.” As a result, the decked boat they built for themselves (the Fortuna) was tied or “sewn” together with leather strips instead of being hammered together with nails. Such makeshift craft were common enough in Siberia because of the scarcity of technical supplies, but it was not the kind of vessel the naval officers were used to, or in which they had intended to cross the Okhotsk Sea. Nevertheless, in two trips with full cargos in the hold, the Fortuna served to convey them in July 1727 safely across to Bolsheretsk, the “capital” of Kamchatka. Located on the north side of the Bolshaya River, Bolsheretsk itself was still scarcely more than a stockade, garrisoned with about forty-five troops. Outside the fort there was a chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas, a lodging belonging to the church, and about thirty houses on the various islands of the delta, among them a saloon and a distillery. The settlement was no place for a dockyard, so with the help of natives impressed into transport duty with their sleds and dogs, the expeditionary force crossed the rugged mountains to Nizhnekamchatsk, 600 miles away, on the eastern coast. Furious blizzards beleaguered the operation and clouds of sleet “rolled like a dark smoke over the moors.” At night, “or when-ever they had a Mind to rest,” they slept in deep trenches without cover, which they dug in the snow.

At Nizhnekamchatsk, Bering paid off the surviving Kamchadals with a little tobacco and train oil extracted from a whale that had washed up on the beach.

After years of unrest, a period of calm had ensued on the peninsula. Government agents, furnished with comprehensive written instructions, annually came and went; priests arrived to provide spiritual guidance for the unruly Cossacks and to convert the heathen; attempts were made to regularize yasak collection; and a census was taken of the native population and their property. But resentment toward the Russians smoldered underneath, and order would not be completely established until the 1730s, after many of the Kamchadals and Koryaks had been decimated by epidemics and new insurrections crushed.

In 1726, Bering’s overwhelming impression of Kamchatka was of a “strange place, which lies so far out of the Reach of the rest of Mankind, that it could never have been visited, much less planted and possessed by any but the Russians.” He realized its potential strategic importance, but conceded it had little to attract colonists, and in a rather backhanded compliment supposed that “if a sufficient Number of People were sent thither to cut down the vast Forests with which it is incumber’d, and enabled to till, manure, and cultivate the Earth, it might be render’d a Place far enough from being despicable.” At the time, the Russian presence was still pitifully small. There were only seventeen dwellings in Verkhnekamchatsk, and fifty in Nizhnekamchatsk, the two main settlements after Bolsheretsk. During the whole time Bering was there, no more than 150 servitors lived in all three forts, and their primary function was not to colonize but to collect the fur tribute from the Kamchadals. Native and Russian alike lived on fish, roots, berries, and wild birds, and the only agricultural initiative Bering could discover was at a local hermitage, where monastics had managed to coax turnips, barley, radishes, and hemp from the soil. In the spring, after working all winter on a new seaworthy vessel for the voyage, his vitamin-starved workmen frantically scrounged for wild garlic beneath the melting snow.

To provision the expedition and meet its other needs, Bering had to improvise. Hauling lumber for the ship on dogsled, he made a tar substitute from the sap of the local larch, and “instead of Meal or Corn, he furnished himself with Carrots or other Roots. By boiling the Sea-water, he procured as much Salt as he wanted. Fish Oyle served instead of Butter, and dry and wet Salt-fish took the Place of Beef and Pork. Having collected a vast Quantity of Plants and Herbs, he also distilled from them a pretty strong Spirit, upon which he was pleased to bestow the Name of Brandy, and of this he laid in a plentiful Stock.”