Russian Army of Ivan the Terrible

A policy change introduced at this time was of major importance in the evolution of the relationship between the Tsar, the landowning class and the armed forces. For most of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries the main fighting force had been composed of cavalry, largely based on the princely appanages with little centralized organization. By the mid-sixteenth century these princely private armies were to be found only, if at all, in the appanages of Lithuanian origin, such as those of the Bel’skys and Mstislavskys, and in the retinues of the Russian ‘service’ princes of the Upper Oka, such as the Odoevskys and the Vorotynskys.

The development of a Russian army dependent on the grand prince alone began in the reign of Ivan III, who had already extended the grand prince’s control over the armed forces where he had been successful in absorbing a principality and destroying its separate identity. Princes and boyars, when not acting as governors and local commandants, were usually absorbed as commanders and senior officers in grand princely regiments, in accordance with the ranking laid down by the code of precedence, or mestnichestvo. The general run of service gentry, originally of mixed social origins, was gradually sorted out into those who served the grand prince directly, as members of his dvor, received estates in service tenure (pomest’ia), and were merged into the dvoriane or future service gentry, and those who had served local princes and boyars and who continued to carry out their service as pomeshchiki on a provincial basis. Lower-ranking cavalry officers were thus attached to provincial towns, resided on their estates and were summoned when required by the grand prince, bringing their servants with them. Both these groups received lands on a service tenure which in the early days of the system could not be sold or pledged, but could be passed on the death of the holder to a son or son-in-law fit to perform service. The service to be given was strictly calculated in terms of the amount and quality of land.

The system of pomest’ia was devised to enable cavalrymen to serve when called upon, and was to remain the basic way of paying for the cavalry army until the reign of Peter the Great. The Pomestnyi Prikaz, or Estates Office which administered the recruitment and the provision of land to the mounted cavalry, was founded in 1475. Further distribution of lands as pomest’ia took place under Vasily III and Ivan IV from a variety of sources. The estate was not regarded as the private property of the pomeshchik; it provided a fixed income for his maintenance and his equipment, and he was not expected to concern himself with its exploitation. He was not therefore a landowner in the Western sense of the word, but a land user entitled to a certain income from the land. It was thus quite distinct from the votchina or the patrimonial estate which formed the basis of the wealth of the aristocracy and the service gentry, which many pomeshchiki owned in addition to the land granted by the government.

The first major initiative in the remodelling of the armed forces taken in Ivan IV’s reign occurred in 1550. The Tsar’s dvor numbered some three thousand all told, and a specific group of one thousand cavalrymen, divided into three categories, was now provided with pomest’ia in the central provinces to enable them to lodge in Moscow and provide all their supplies from lands relatively near to the capital. They were to be available for immediate service as required, serving on a rota. The estates they were allotted were provided mainly from the Tsar’s own lands or from lands of free peasants around Moscow.46 Aleksei Adashev was one of these cavalrymen.

A corps of infantry equipped with firearms was also formed by Ivan, pishchal’niki, or ‘harquebuzzers’, as Jerome Horsey, a later English visitor, called them, who had already been used in 1480 in the nonexistent battle of the Ugra and who were replaced in 1550 by musketeers or strel’tsy, also on foot. These, together with Ivan’s chosen one thousand cavalry corps, formed his personal guard, ‘the forerunners of Peter I’ s guards regiments’, presumably to protect him against the sort of rioting which had so frightened him in 1547. The strel’tsy were to be part of the military scene until the reign of Peter the Great. Their function was not to fight with cold steel or pikes in hand-to-hand combat, but to use firepower. Their numbers fluctuated and probably reached some twenty thousand by the end of the sixteenth century. They were, unlike the cavalry levy, a permanent uniformed corps. Unlike the Ottoman janissaries they were free men; they received salaries in money and goods according to rank, but also maintained themselves and their families partly by artisan production and small-scale trading activities. Their officers belonged to the gentry and were allotted pomest’ia as well as salaries. The whole corps came under the authority of a new Streletskii Prikaz.

Artillery was also extensively and effectively used in Russia, and Ivan may have taken a personal interest in the manufacture of guns – from Russian-produced iron ore – and their utilization by his army. Each regiment was allocated a certain number of guns in the 1550s. Ivan took 150 heavy and medium pieces of artillery to Kazan’ with him in 1552, and in this respect Russia was not inferior to her Western enemies, though supplies of gunpowder and lead had to be imported and could therefore be subject to enemy blockade on land.

The origin of the idea of this corps of strel’tsy has been much debated in Russia. Clearly Russia needed more modern weaponry, namely firearms and heavy artillery, for her wars against Poland, Sweden and in Livonia, rather than cavalry armed with bows and arrows. Contemporaries and many military specialists have speculated on whether the new formations were borrowed from the Ottomans through the writings of a certain Ivan Semonovich Peresvetov, which may perhaps have been known to Ivan IV. For a long time Peresvetov’s very existence was in doubt and he was thought to be an assumed name or a collective personality. Not until the beginning of the twentieth century was his existence actually established. In the 1950s he was unfortunately treated as one of the powerful humanist thinkers of sixteenth-century Europe, comparable to Machiavelli or Bodin. A revision of his human and intellectual qualities has not yet been undertaken, nor is it certain that all his alleged writings can be attributed to him; thus his influence still needs to be questioned.

Born and bred in Lithuania, conditioned by life in this borderland, divided between Polish Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy, offering his sword as a Polish cavalryman now to the Hungarian Jan Zapolya, a vassal of the Ottomans, now to the Habsburg King of Bohemia, now to the voevoda Peter IV Raresh of Moldavia, Peresvetov was a fairly senior officer serving with six or seven horses and the corresponding number of grooms and servants. Evidently resentful at his failure to make good in service, and distrusting boyars and their ilk, he attempted to enter Russian service in 1538, during the regency of Elena. He may have been attracted to Russian service by his connexion with Peter of Moldavia, whose wife was Elena’s cousin by marriage. He tried to interest the Russian court in a model shield ‘in the Macedonian manner’ which he had invented, and was taken up by the boyar M. Iu’rev Zakhar’in, the uncle of the future Tsaritsa Anastasia, and provided with a workshop and a pomest’ie. Unfortunately for Peresvetov, Zakhar’in died, he lost his patron, and all interest in his patent shield evaporated.

Peresvetov continued in increasingly impoverished circumstances for some ten years, after which all traces of him vanish. This was not surprising since he had no connexions in Russia with any of the boyar clans, or even with the gentry, who tended also to be united by fairly close local associations. Reduced in his own eyes to poverty, in 1549, at the time of the gathering of the so-called ‘assembly of reconciliation’, he personally submitted a petition, together with a number of other written works, to Tsar Ivan, accusing the ‘great’ of having despoiled him of his land, leaving him naked and destitute, without even a horse. Peresvetov’s not unjustified hope of achieving more in Russia, where a simple horseman could now count on some support as a pomeshchik, was not to be fulfilled, and as a man he disappears from sight. But the various writings attributed to him survived in a number of manuscript copies of the early seventeenth century and have led to a belated acceptance of his existence as a man and his importance as a ‘spokesman’ of the gentry or the holders of pomest’ia, as against the rich and powerful, in the sixteenth century.

It is this interpretation of the ‘class’ role of Peresvetov, considered to have been insufficiently appreciated by pre-revolutionary historians, which has contributed to his great importance in Soviet historiography. The relevant texts attributed to Peresvetov are ‘On the conquest of Tsar’grad by the godless Tsar Magmet Amuratov, son of the Turkish Tsar’, ‘The Tale of Magmet Saltan’, and ‘The Great Petition’, which contains Peresvetov’s account of the five months he spent in the service of Peter IV Raresh, his only Orthodox patron. Mehmet II’s victory over the last Paleologus emperor, Constantine, was in great part attributed by Peresvetov to the selfishness, cowardice and incapacity of the ‘great’ men surrounding the Emperor and his failure to support the more lowly men-at-arms. (‘The rich never think of fighting, they think of peacefulness and gentleness and rest.’) He argued in favour of a centrally recruited, controlled and paid army, like the Turkish janissaries, but he also argued that free men fight better than slaves, and the Russian cavalry was free, while the janissaries were slaves as were all the civil employees of the Ottoman court. In Russia the kholopy or bondsmen of various kinds in the armed forces were at this time mainly employed either in the transport of food, fodder and munitions, or in labouring on engineering projects.

Another great virtue of the Ottoman system in Peresvetov’s eyes was its concentration on pravda rather than vera – truth or justice, rather than faith. This makes one wonder whether the long years in foreign parts, before he came to Russia, had somewhat dented the purity of Peresvetov’s Orthodox faith. The sense of the Russian word ‘pravda’ is impossible to convey in English, where in dictionaries the emphasis is almost always on the notion of truth, whereas in Russian the notion of justice or righteousness is fundamental. The most articulate expression of Peresvetov’s ideas (if they were his ideas) comes in his version of the tale of Prince Peter IV of Moldavia, where the Prince praises Mehmet the Conqueror for having restored justice to Constantinople, and explains that ‘God does not love faith, but pravda or justice’. Through his Son he left us the gospel of truth (pravda), loving the Christian faith above all other faiths, and showed us the path to heaven. But the Greeks, though they honoured the gospel, listened to others and did not carry out the will of the Lord and fell into heresy (i.e. the decision to unite with Rome, taken at the Council of Ferrara/Florence).

But Peresvetov was primarily concerned with the practical problems of governing a warlike society. He favoured the institution of a professional army (like the Ottoman janissaries), but free, government by state employees, and the bridling of the high nobility. It is difficult to see in him the spokesman of the gentry, he seems rather to place his faith in a state ruling by ‘groza’, terror or awe. Mehmed was again quoted as an example, for when he discovered that his judges were being dishonest he had them flayed alive, saying:

if their flesh grows back again their crime will be forgiven. And he ordered their skins to be stretched out and ordered them to be stuffed with cotton and ordered them to be affixed with an iron nail in places of judgment and ordered it to be written on the skins: without such terrors, justice and sovereignty cannot be introduced.

Mehmed was also praised for being dread, or terrible, in fact ‘grozen’: ‘If a tsar is mild and peace-loving in his realm, his realm will become impoverished and his glory will diminish. If a tsar is dread and wise, his realm will expand and his name will be famous in all lands.’ ‘A kingdom without terror [groza] is like a horse without a bridle.’ Peresvetov’s admiration for the efficiency of Ottoman rule is by no means unique at that time, when it was very much a lieu commun in that part of Europe which had had dealings with the Porte.

To be ‘dread’ Ivan did not need any advice from Peresvetov, and there is not in fact any evidence that Ivan IV ever read anything written by Peresvetov; and if the idea of creating the corps of musketeers came from outside Russia, a more convincing source is in fact Moldavia, where voevoda Peter Raresh had introduced a corps of musketeers who were not slaves like the janissaries, but free like the strel’tsy, and with which of course Peresvetov would have been familiar. It seems, therefore, unlikely that Peresvetov exercised any influence on Ivan’s policy in the 1550s as a spokesman for the gentry.

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Su-25SM Today

The Su-25SM (Stroyevoy Modernizirovannyi) is an “affordable” upgrade programme for the Su-25, conceived by the Russian Air Force (RuAF) in 2000. The programme stems from the attempted Su-25T and Su-25TM upgrades, which were evaluated and labeled as over-sophisticated and expensive. The SM upgrade incorporates avionics enhancements and airframe refurbishment to extend the Frogfoot’s service life by up to 500 flight hours or 5 years.

The Su-25SM’s all-new PRnK-25SM “Bars” navigation/attack suite is built around the BTsVM-90 digital computer system, originally planned for the Su-25TM upgrade programme. Navigation and attack precision provided by the new suite is three times better of the baseline Su-25 and is reported to be within 15 m (49 ft) using satellite correction and 200 m (660 ft) without it.

A new KA1-1-01 Head-Up Display (HUD) was added providing, among other things, double the field of view of the original ASP-17BTs-8 electro-optical sight. Other systems and components incorporated during the upgrade include a Multi-Function Display (MFD), RSBN-85 Short Range Aid to Navigation (SHORAN), ARK-35-1 Automatic Direction Finder (ADF), A-737-01 GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Karat-B-25 Flight Data Recorder (FDR), Berkut-1 Video Recording System (VRS), Banker-2 UHF/VHF communication radio, SO-96 Transponder and a L150 “Pastel” Radar Warning Receiver (RWR).

The R-95Sh engines have been overhauled and modified with an anti-surge system installed. The system is designed to improve the resistance of the engine to ingested powders and gases during gun and rocket salvo firing.

The combination of reconditioned and new equipment, with increased automation and self-test capability has allowed for a reduction of pre- and post-flight maintenance by some 25 to 30%. Overall weight savings are around 300 kg (660 lb).

Su-25SM weapon suite has been expanded with the addition of the Vympel R-73 highly agile air-to-air missile (albeit without helmet mounted cuing and only the traditional longitudinal seeker mode) and the S-13T 130 mm rockets (carried in five-round B-13 pods) with blast-fragmentation and armour-piercing warheads. Further, the Kh-25ML and Kh-29L Weapon Employment Profiles have been significantly improved, permitting some complex missile launch scenarios to be executed, such as: firing two consecutive missiles on two different targets in a single attack pass. The GSh-30-2 cannon (250 round magazine) has received three new reduced rate-of-fire modes: 750, 375 and 188 Rounds per Minute. The Su-25SM was also given new BD3-25 under-wing pylons.

The eventual procurement programme is expected to include between 100 and 130 kits, covering 60 to 70 percent of the RuAF active single-seat fleet, as operated in the early 2000s. By 2020, 80 aircraft are to be modernised to SM version. By March 2013, over 60 aircraft are to be upgraded. In February 2013, ten new Su-25SMs were delivered to the Air Force southern base, where operational training is was conducted.

Report early 2016

While some believe that the Russian Air Force (RuAF) has used its assets deployed to war-torn Syria in a decisive manner to demonstrate an effective use of air power to achieve political results, there has been no noticeable influence on the ground situation during the first two months of operations. Given the strength of the main militant groups under Russian attack (including Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, known as the official al-Qaeda affliate in Syria) and the huge swathes of territory under their control, the nation’s air campaign could take many months to degrade the anti-Assad forces. Moreover, the somewhat limited offensive capabilities of Assad’s land forces will not achieve significant territorial gains in the foreseeable future.

As of December 4 2015, the RuAF composite air brigade stationed at Latakia Basel alAssad airport, dubbed Hmeimim Air Base by the Russians, had flown 3,389 combat sorties; 128 more were flown from bases in Russia. Between September 18 and 20, 12 Su-24M Fencer and four Su-34 Fullback bombers, 12 Su-25SM/Su-25UB Frogfoot attack aircraft and four Su-30SM Flanker Mass raids flown between November 17 and 20 also involved eight Su-34s based at Krymsk in Russia flying 16 combat sorties. The majority of Russian fixed-wing operations during the first two months of the campaign were pre-planned, against fixed targets with a known position. Only a small proportion of the sorties were of search-and-destroy type, necessitating loitering in a pre-assigned zone while waiting to receive updated targeting information from the combat control centre.

Bombers tasked with pre-planned missions generally operated at an altitude above 16,000ft to avoid the engagement zones of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and manportable air defence (MANPAD) systems.

The most common types of unguided weapons being employed are the 250kg and 500kg general-purpose free-fall bombs (OFAB-250-270 and FAB-500M-62 respectively), deployed by the Su-24M, Su-34M and Su-25SM. Other unguided weapons include the 500kg BetAB-500 penetrator bombs used against underground bunkers or shelters and the 500kg OFZAB-500 high-explosive fragmentation incendiary bombs.

Russian reports suggest the use of unguided weapons in the prevalent good weather found in Syria during October and November, combined with the accurate targeting systems of the Su-24M (upgraded with the SVP-24 targeting system) and the Su-34, resulted in a reasonable hit accuracy. However, the definition of reasonable is subjective.

Only 15% of the total munitions used by the Russian Air Force so far are precision-guided. Types used by the Su- 34 include the KAB-500S GPS-guided and KAB-500Kr EO-guided bombs, while the Su-24M has been seen carrying Kh-25ML laser-guided missiles.

Other guided weapons deployed by the Russian brigade are the 1,500kg KAB- 1500LG laser-guided bomb and the 500kg RBK-500SPBE-D cluster bomb. The latter contains 15 infrared-guided sub-munitions used against armoured targets.

During the first two peaks of Russian air activity in mid and late October, the Latakia-based aircraft conducted between 48 and 96 sorties per day. This statistic might not seem particularly impressive until you consider that there are 32 combat jets assigned to Latakia, about 28 of which are in combat-ready configuration at any moment, meaning that every serviceable aircraft few no less than three combat sorties per day.

Combat air operations intensified after the Sinai-based affiliate of IS publicly claimed responsibility for downing the Russian MetroJet Airbus A321 airliner over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board. Between November 17 and 20 the Russian brigade few 100 sorties each day.

Soldiers of the Tsar [Czar] I

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Battle of Kulikovo

The armies of north-eastern Russia from the Mongol conquest until the accession of Ivan the Terrible. Dvor were the paid troops of the prince and the more important boyars. This period saw the rise of Moscow to preeminence under the protection of Mongol overlordship. Muscovite rulers were said to be skilled in both ingratiating themselves with the Mongols and in discreetly leaving Mongol armies on the eve of battle. Open war in 1380 saw the defeat of the Mongols at the epic battle of Kulikovo. Russian armies of this period were predominantly of cavalry, and their tactics were similar to those of the Mongols. The usual formation consisted of an advance guard, a strong centre, the “bolshoi polk”, left arm, right arm and rearguard, the right arm having seniority over the other divisions. Infantry were first used for offensive campaigning by Ivan III in 1469 and provided almost exclusively by town militia in separate bodies of spearmen and bowmen and by Cossacks. Muscovite grand prince Ivan III began using the term TSAR to introduce an added level power and majesty to his rule. Cossacks (“adventurers”) were originally renegade Tartars and Russian peasants not on the tax rolls or who refused to work another’s land and were free associations who settled along distant borders in areas of uncertain control. Although we think of them today as light horse, they at this time provided many infantry and specialised in boat work, taking quickly to handguns when these became available.

STRELTSY

The musketeers, or streltsy (literally “shooters”), were organized as part of Ivan IV’s effort to reform Russia’s military during the sixteenth century. In 1550 he recruited six companies of foot soldiers armed with firearms, organized into tactical units of five hundred, commanded and trained by officers from the nobility. These units were based from the beginning in towns, and eventually took on the character of garrison forces. Over time their numbers grew from three thousand in 1550 to fifty thousand in 1680.

Militarily, they were ineffectual, mainly because of their economic character. The musketeers were a hereditary class not subject to taxation, but to state service requirements, including battlefield service, escort, and guard duties. During the seventeenth century, the state provided them with grain and cash, but economic privileges, including permission to act as merchants, artisans, or farmers, became their principal support. One particular plum was permission to produce alcoholic beverages for their own consumption. They also bore civic duties (fire fighting and police) in the towns where they lived. Pursuing economic interests reduced their fighting edge.

Throughout the seventeenth century the musketeers proved to be fractious, regularly threatening, even killing, officers who mistreated them or represented modernizing elements within the military. By 1648 it was apparent that they were unreliable, especially when compared with the new-formation regiments appearing prior to the Thirteen Years War (1654–1667) under leadership of European mercenary officers. Rather than disband the musketeers entirely, the state made attempts to westernize them. Many units were placed under the command of foreigners and retrained. Administrative changes were made during and after the war, including placing certain units under the jurisdiction of the Tsar’s Privy Chancery, which appointed officers and collected operations reports. The Privy Chancery, and by extension, the Tsar, was at the center of the attempt to transform the musketeers into more thoroughly trained western-style infantry.

THE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY ARMY

The Imperial Russian Army and Navy owed their origins to Peter I, although less so for the army than the navy. The army’s deeper roots clearly lay with Muscovite precedent, especially with Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich’s European-inspired new regiments of foreign formation. The Great Reformer breathed transforming energy and intensity into these and other precedents to fashion a standing regular army that by 1725 counted 112,000 troops in two guards, two grenadier, forty-two infantry, and thirty-three dragoon regiments, with sup- porting artillery and auxiliaries. To serve this establishment, he also fashioned administrative, financial, and logistical mechanisms, along with a rational rank structure and systematic officer and soldier recruitment. With an admixture of foreign- ers, the officer corps came primarily from the Russian nobility, while soldiers came from recruit levies against the peasant population.

Although Peter’s standing force owed much to European precedent, his military diverged from conventional patterns to incorporate irregular cavalry levies, especially Cossacks, and to evolve a military art that emphasized flexibility and practicality for combating both conventional northern European foes and less conventional steppe adversaries. After mixed success against the Tatars and Turks at Azov in 1695–1696, and after a severe reverse at Narva (1700) against the Swedes at the outset of the Great Northern War, Peter’s army notched important victories at Dorpat (1704), Lesnaya (1708), and Poltava (1709). After an abrupt loss in 1711 to the Turks on the Pruth River, Peter dogged his Swedish adversaries until they came to terms at Nystadt in 1721. Subsequently, Peter took to the Caspian basin, where during the early 1720s his Lower (or Southern) Corps campaigned as far south as Persia.

After Peter’s death, the army’s fortunes waned and waxed, with much of its development characterized by which aspect of the Petrine legacy seemed most politic and appropriate for time and circumstance. Under Empress Anna Ioannovna, the army came to reflect a strong European, especially Prussian, bias in organization and tactics, a bias that during the 1730s contributed to defeat and indecision against the Tatars and Turks. Under Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, the army reverted partially to Petrine precedent, but retained a sufficiently strong European character to give good account for itself in the Seven Years’ War. Although in 1761 the military-organizational pendulum under Peter III again swung briefly and decisively in favor of Prussian- inspired models, a palace coup in favor of his wife, who became Empress Catherine II, ushered in a lengthy period of renewed military development.

During Catherine’s reign, the army fought two major wars against Turkey and its steppe allies to emerge as the largest ground force in Europe. Three commanders were especially responsible for bringing Russian military power to bear against elusive southern adversaries. Two, Peter Alexandrovich Rumyantsev and Alexander Vasilievich Suvorov, were veterans of the Seven Years War, while the third, Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin, was a commander and administrator of great intellect, influence, and organizational talent. During Catherine’s First Turkish War (1768–1774), Rumyantsev successfully employed flexible tactics and simplified Russian military organization to win significant victories at Larga and Kagul (both 1770). Suvorov, meanwhile, defeated the Polish Confederation of Bar, then after 1774 campaigned in the Crimea and the Nogai steppe. At the same time, regular army formations played an important role in suppressing the Pugachev rebellion (1773–1775).

During Catherine’s Second Turkish War (1787–1792), Potemkin emerged as the impresario of final victory over the Porte for hegemony over the northern Black Sea littoral, while Suvorov emerged as perhaps the most talented Russian field commander of all time. Potemkin inherently understood the value of irregular cavalry forces in the south, and he took measures to regularize Cossack service and bring them more fully under Russian military authority, or failing that, to abolish recalcitrant Cossack hosts. Following Rumyantsev’s precedent, he also lightened and multiplied the number of light infantry and light cavalry formations, while emphasizing utility and practicality in drill and items of equipment. In the field, Suvorov further refined Rumyantsev’s tactical innovations to emphasize “speed, assessment, attack.” Suvorov’s battlefield successes, together with the conquest of Ochakov (1788) and Izmail (1790) and important sallies across the Danube, brought Russia favorable terms at Jassy (1792). Even as war raged in the south, the army in the north once again defeated Sweden (1788–1790), then in 1793–1794 overran a rebellious Poland, setting the stage for its third partition.

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Military Parade of Emperor Paul in front of Mikhailovsky Castle painting by Alexandre Benois.

Under Paul I, the army chaffed under the imposition of direct monarchical authority, the more so because it brought another brief dalliance with Prussian military models. Suvorov was temporarily banished, but was later recalled to lead Russian forces in northern Italy as part of the Second Coalition against revolutionary France. In 1799, despite Austrian interference, Suvorov drove the French from the field, then brilliantly extricated his forces from Italy across the Alps. The eighteenth century closed with the army a strongly entrenched feature of Russian imperial might, a force to be reckoned with on both the plains of Europe and the steppes of Eurasia.

 

Soldiers of the Tsar [Czar] II

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THE ARMY IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

At the outset of the century, Alexander I inherited a sizeable and unaffordable army, many of whose commanders were seasoned veterans. After instituting a series of modest administrative reforms for efficiency and economy, including the creation of a true War Ministry, the Tsar in 1805 plunged into the wars of the Third Coalition. For all their experience and flexibility, the Russians with or without the benefit of allies against Napoleon suffered a series of reverses or stalemates, including Austerlitz(1805), Eylau (1807), and Friedland (1807). After the ensuing Tilsit Peace granted five years’ respite, Napoleon’s Grand Armée invaded Russia in 1812. Following a fighting Russian withdrawal into the interior, Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov in September gave indecisive battle at Borodino, followed by another withdrawal to the southeast that uncovered Moscow. When the French quit Moscow in October, Kutuzov pursued, reinforced by swarms of partisans and Cossacks, who, together with starvation and severe cold, harassed the Grand Armée to destruction. In 1813, the Russian army fought in Germany, and in 1814 participated in the coalition victory at Leipzig, followed by a fighting entry into France and the occupation of Paris.

The successful termination of the Napoleonic wars still left Alexander I with an outsized and unaffordable military establishment, but now with the addition of disaffected elements within the officer corps. While some gentry officers formed secret societies to espouse revolutionary causes, the Tsar experimented with the establishment of settled troops, or military colonies, to reduce maintenance costs. Although these colonies were in many ways only an extension of the previous century’s experience with military settlers on the frontier, their widespread application spawned much discontent. After Alexander I’s death, unrest and conspiracy led to an attempted military coup in December 1825. Tsar Nicholas I energetically suppressed the so-called Decembrist rebellion, then imposed parade- ground order. His standing army grew to number one million troops, but its outdated recruitment system and traditional support infrastructure eventually proved incapable of meeting the challenges of military modernization. Superficially, the army was a model of predictable routine and harsh discipline, but its inherent shortcomings, including outmoded weaponry, incapacity for rapid expansion, and lack of strategic mobility, led inexorably to Crimean defeat. The army was able to subdue Polish military insurrectionists (1830–1831) and Hungarian revolutionaries (1848), and successfully fight Persians and Turks (1826–1828, 1828–1829), but in the field it lagged behind its more modern European counterparts. Fighting from 1854 to 1856 against an allied coalition in the Crimea, the Russians suffered defeat at Alma, heavy losses at Balaklava and Inkerman, and the humiliation of surrender at Sevastopol. Only the experience of ex- tended warfare in the Caucasus (1801–1864) afforded unconventional antidote to the conventional “paradomania” of St. Petersburg that had so thoroughly inspired Crimean defeat. Thus, the mountains replaced the steppe as the southern pole in an updated version of the previous century’s north- south dialectic.

THE ARMY DURING THE SECOND HALF OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

Alexander II’s era of the Great Reforms marked an important watershed for both services. In a series of reforms between 1861 and 1874, War Minister Dmitry Alexeyevich Milyutin created the foundations for a genuine cadre- and reserve-based ground force. He facilitated introduction of a universal service obligation, and he rearmed, reequipped, and redeployed the army to contend with the gradually emerging German and Austro-Hungarian threat along the Empire’s western frontier. In 1863–1864 the army once again suppressed a Polish rebellion, while in the 1860s and 1870s small mobile forces figured in extensive military conquests in Central Asia. War also flared with Turkey in 1877–1878, during which the army, despite a ragged beginning, inconsistent field leadership, and inadequacies in logistics and medical support, acquitted itself well, especially in a decisive campaign in the European theater south of the Balkan ridge. Similar circumstances governed in the Transcausus theater, where the army overcame initial setbacks to seize Kars and carry the campaign into Asia Minor.

Following the war of 1877–1878, planning and deployment priorities wedded the army more closely to the western military frontier and especially to peacetime deployments in Russian Poland. With considerable difficulty, Alexander III presided over a limited force modernization that witnessed the adoption of smokeless powder weaponry and changes in size and force structure that kept the army on nearly equal terms with its two more significant potential adversaries, Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary. At the same time, the end of the century brought extensive new military commitments to the Far East, both to protect expanding imperial interests and to participate in suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1900).

THE ARMY NICHOLAS II

Under Russia’s last Tsar, the army went from defeat to disaster and despair. Initially over-committed and split by a new dichotomy between the Far East and the European military frontier, the army fared poorly in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. Poor strategic vision and even worse battlefield execution in a Far Eastern littoral war brought defeat because Russia failed to bring its overwhelming re- sources to bear. While the navy early ceded the initiative and command of the sea to the Japanese, Russian ground force buildups across vast distances were slow. General Adjutant Alexei Nikolayevich Kuropatkin and his subordinates lacked the capacity either to fight expert delaying actions or to master the complexities of meeting engagements that evolved into main battles and operations. Tethered to an 8-thousand-kilometer-long line of communications, the army marched through a series of reverses from the banks of the Yalu (May 1904) to the environs of Mukden (February–March 1905). Although the garrison at Port Arthur retained the capacity to resist, premature surrender of the fortress in early 1905 merely added to Russian humiliation.

The years between 1905 and 1914 witnessed renewal and reconstruction, neither of which sufficed to prepare the Tsar’s army and navy for World War I. Far Eastern defeat fueled the fires of the Revolution of 1905, and both services witnessed mutinies within their ranks. Once the dissidents were weeded out, standing army troops were employed liberally until 1907 to suppress popular disorder. By 1910, stability and improved economic conditions permitted General Adjutant Vladimir Alexandrovich Sukhomlinov’s War Ministry to undertake limited reforms in the army’s recruitment, organization, deployment, armament, and supply structure. More could have been done, but the navy siphoned off precious funds for ambitious ship-building programs to restore the second arm’s power and prestige. The overall objective was to prepare Russia for war with the Triple Alliance. Obsession with the threat opposite the western military frontier gradually eliminated earlier dichotomies and subsumed all other strategic priorities.

The outbreak of hostilities in 1914 came too soon for various reform and reconstruction projects to bear full fruit. Again, the Russians suffered from strategic overreach and stretched their military and naval resources too thin. Moreover, military leaders failed to build sound linkages between design and application, between means and objectives, and between troops and their command in- stances. These and other shortcomings, including an inadequate logistics system and the regime’s inability fully to mobilize the home front to support the fighting front, proved disastrous. Thus, the Russians successfully mobilized 3.9 million troops for a short war of military annihilation, but early disasters in East Prussia at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, along with a stalled offensive in Galicia, inexorably led to a protracted war of attrition and exhaustion. In 1915, when German offensive pressure caused the Russian Supreme Command to shorten its front in Russian Poland, withdrawal turned into a costly rout. One of the few positive notes came in 1916, when the Russian Southwest Front under General Alexei Alexeyevich Brusilov launched perhaps the most successful offensive of the entire war on all its fronts.

Ultimately, a combination of seemingly endless bloodletting, war-weariness, governmental inefficiency, and the regime’s political ineptness facilitated the spread of pacifist and revolutionary sentiment in both the army and navy. By the beginning of 1917, sufficient malaise had set in to render both services incapable either of consistent loyalty or of sustained and effective combat operations. In the end, neither the army nor the navy offered proof against the Tsar’s internal and external enemies.

The French Army at Smolensk 1812

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Peter von Hess (1792-1871). Battle of Smolensk (1812).

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At 2 p.m., seeing that the Russians were not going to come out and give battle, Napoleon gave the order for a general assault on the city. Over two hundred guns opened up, and three corps of the Grande Armée went into action. It was an unforgettable sight for those present. The city of Smolensk lies on a slope descending to the river Dnieper, on the side of a great amphitheatre, the other side of which is made up by the slope rising from the other side of the river. This was occupied by Barclay’s army, which could see the whole city across the river and the French attacking it from three sides. As the French attackers went into action, their comrades watched from the top of the slope, cheering them on. The weather was fine, the troops were in full dress uniform, and they went into the attack with their bands playing. It was a magnificent spectacle.

In the centre were Davout’s three divisions, under Generals Morand, Gudin and Friant; on the left Ney with two divisions, one of them of Württembergers; on the right Poniatowski with two divisions, and on his right General Bruyère’s cavalry division; a total of some 50,000 men. The French columns lumbered forward. Bruyère’s horsemen charged a body of Russian dragoons under General Skallon and swept them off the field, killing their commander. The infantry penetrated the suburbs and forced the defenders to retreat. The Russians attempted a counterattack, but this was beaten back in fierce hand-to-hand fighting. ‘On both days at Smolensk, I attacked with the bayonet,’ recalled the Russian General Neverovsky. ‘God preserved me, and I only had three bulletholes in my coat.’ Eventually the French reached the city walls, which they then tried, vainly, to escalade. They had no ladders, so all they could do was attempt to climb them.

Auguste Thirion of the 2nd Cuirassiers went to get a better view from the emplacement of one of the French batteries, which was being shelled by Russian guns from the heights on the other side of the river. ‘I cannot conceive how a single man or a single horse could escape that mass of cannonballs coming from two sides and crossing in the midst of those batteries,’ he wrote, but it did not prevent him enjoying the spectacle. ‘We also saw at our feet infantry laboriously descending into the ditches, or rather the ravines which made up the moat of the fortress. It was a Polish division which was trying to storm those rocks with a courage, a desperation worthy of greater success; these brave men tried to scale them by climbing on each other’s shoulders. But the nature of the terrain would not permit of success, and it was a unique and curious spectacle to see that ant-like mass of men crawling over the rocks in such a picturesque manner while above their heads the cannon which were the object of their efforts thundered against their brothers in arms. Opposite them, the French batteries fired projectiles which occasionally fell short, showering the rocks with a mass of fragments of the walls.’

Charles Faré, a lieutenant in the 1st Grenadiers of the Old Guard, told his mother in a letter home that he had never seen French troops fight with greater dash. Ney himself said that the attack by one battalion of the 16th Regiment of the Line was the bravest feat of arms he had ever seen. But not everyone was cheering. General Eblé and his colleague the cartographer of the Grande Armée, General Armand Guilleminot, could see no point to the grand frontal assault on the city walls. They knew that the twelve-pounder field guns Napoleon had brought up were of no use, as their cannonballs were simply absorbed by the soft brick fortifications, and that they could not make a breach in the massive walls. ‘He always wants to take the bull by the horns!’ exclaimed Eblé, shaking his head. ‘Why doesn’t he send the Poles off to cross the Dnieper two leagues upstream of the city?’

Others who were not enjoying the spectacle were the citizens of Smolensk. In the morning the inhabitants of the suburbs had taken weapons from the bodies of dead soldiers and made up gaps in the ranks of the defenders; priests holding crucifixes aloft placed themselves at the head of the militiamen and died with them. When the troops were beaten back, the civilians tried to follow. ‘The inhabitants fled in horror, dragging their valuables; here I saw a good son, bearing on his shoulders an infirm father, there a mother making her way along a safe path towards our positions clutching her little ones in her arms, having sacrificed everything else to the enemy and to the fire,’ recalled one artillery officer.

Their fate was not much more to be envied when they did manage to get into the old city within the walls, according to a fifteen-year-old officer in the Simbirsk Infantry Regiment. ‘What an awful confusion I witnessed within the walls: the inhabitants, believing that the enemy would be repulsed, had remained in the city, but that day’s strong and violent attack had convinced them that it would not be in our hands by the morrow. Crying out in despair, they rushed to the sanctuary of the Mother of God, where they prayed on their knees, then they hurried home, gathered up their weeping families and left their houses, crossing the bridge in the utmost confusion. How many tears! How much wailing and misery, and, in the end, how many victims and blood!’

The grandiose spectacle of the afternoon turned into a scene from hell as the evening drew in. The mortar shells that the French had been lobbing into the city had set many of the predominantly wooden houses on fire, and this spread rapidly. Baron Uxküll of the Russian Chevaliergardes speaks for many who watched impotently as one of their old cities and its inhabitants were engulfed in the flames. ‘I was standing on the mountain; the carnage was taking place at my very feet. Shadows heightened the brilliant sheen from the fire and the shooting,’ he wrote. ‘The bombs, which displayed their luminous traces, destroyed everything in their path. The cries of the wounded, the Hurrahs! of the men still fighting, the dull confused sound of the rocks that were falling and breaking up – it all made my hair stand on end. I shall never forget this night!’

The French onlookers were equally gripped by the ‘sublime horror’ of the spectacle; thoughts turned to the fall of Troy. ‘Dante himself would have found here inspiration for the hell he set out to depict,’ according to Captain Fantin des Odoards. As the French still tried to storm the walls, much of the city was on fire, and the defenders showed up as black silhouettes against the flames behind them, looking for all the world ‘like devils in hell’, as Colonel Boulart of the artillery put it. Similar thoughts were going through the head of Caulaincourt as he stood in front of Napoleon’s tent, watching. Suddenly he felt a slap on his shoulder. It was the Emperor, who had come out to watch, and who compared the sight to an eruption of Vesuvius. ‘Don’t you think, Monsieur le Grand Écuyer, that this is a fine spectacle?’ he added. ‘Horrible, Sire,’ was Caulaincourt’s only answer.

Grand spectacle or not, Napoleon had nothing to be pleased about. As the fighting died down that night it became apparent that the French had gained nothing and lost at least seven thousand men in dead and wounded. Barclay too had little to rejoice over. Aside from the satisfaction of denying the French an easy victory, he had achieved nothing, beyond the loss of over 11,000 men and two generals.

Barclay realised that he could not stay where he was much longer, as it was only a matter of time before Napoleon crossed the Dnieper upstream and cut him off. He had made a symbolic gesture in defending Smolensk for two days, and it was now time to think of saving the army. He therefore ordered Dokhturov to evacuate the city after setting fire to all remaining stores and anything else that could be of use to the enemy, and to destroy the bridges after him. The holy icon of the Virgin of Smolensk had already been removed from its shrine, placed on a gun carriage and escorted over the bridge to the northern bank of the river.

Barclay’s orders for the city to be abandoned provoked a general outcry. ‘I cannot express the indignation that prevailed,’ wrote General Sir Robert Wilson, who had just arrived to take up his post as British ‘commissioner’ at Russian headquarters. A succession of senior officers came to beg Barclay to reconsider his decision, or, if he were determined to retreat, to allow them to fight on to the last drop of blood. Bagration wrote him a note demanding that Smolensk be defended regardless of cost. Bennigsen, in stark contradiction to his earlier assertion that there was no point in a battle at this point in the retreat, came out in favour of a last-ditch stand. He stormed into headquarters, accompanied by Grand Duke Constantine and a bevy of generals, demanding that Barclay change his plans. The Grand Duke virtually commanded him to rescind his ‘cowardly’ order and launch a general attack on the French. ‘You German, you sausage-maker, you traitor, you scoundrel; you are selling Russia,’ he shouted at Barclay for all to hear. ‘I refuse to remain under your orders,’ he added, saying he would move the Guards corps under Bagration’s command. He continued to heap invective on Barclay, who eyed him in silence. ‘Let everyone do their duty, and let me do mine,’ he finally interjected, cutting short the argument. That evening Constantine received an order from Barclay to take an important letter to the Tsar and hand over command of the Guards to General Lavrov.

Two hours before dawn the last of Dokhturov’s men trudged back across the bridges and set fire to them. A short while earlier, a voltigeur company of the 2nd Polish Infantry managed to make a breach in the walls and entered the blazing city. In the morning, once one of the gates had been opened and its approaches cleared of the dead and dying bodies heaped around it, the French made their entry into the city.

It was a veritable charnelhouse, its streets strewn with corpses, mostly blackened by fire. In the ruins of houses that had been engulfed by fire lay the remains of inhabitants or wounded soldiers who had taken refuge inside. ‘One had to walk over debris, dead bodies and skeletons which had been burned and charred by fire,’ recalled one French officer. ‘Everywhere unfortunate inhabitants, on their knees, weeping over the ruins of their homes, cats and dogs wandering about and howling in the most heart-rending way, everywhere only death and destruction!’ The Russian wounded had been laid out in makeshift hospitals, which had then been swept by fire as their comrades evacuated the city. ‘These unfortunates, abandoned in this way to a hideous death, lay in heaps, calcinated, shrunken, conserving only just a human form, amidst the smoking ruins and burning beams,’ in the words of Lieutenant Julien Combe of the 8th Chasseurs à Cheval. He was not the only one to notice that the bodies of the burnt soldiers had shrunk; some thought they were those of children. ‘Soldiers who had wanted to flee had fallen in the streets, asphyxiated by the fire, and had been burned there,’ observed Dr Raymond Faure. ‘Many no longer resembled human beings; they were formless masses of grilled and carbonised matter, which the metal of a musket, a sabre, or some shreds of accoutrement lying beside them made recognisable as corpses.’

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Barclay had remained on the north bank of the Dnieper throughout the day of 18 August, holding the suburb on that side of the river and preventing the French attempts at rebuilding the burnt bridges. But that night he withdrew. As the road to Moscow ran for several miles along the north bank within range of French guns, he set a course that started in a northerly direction, gradually swinging round to rejoin the Moscow road at Lubino. So as to avoid encumbrance along the small country roads they would have to use, he divided his force in two. But this only complicated matters, as during the first stage of the withdrawal, on the night of 18 August, several units lost their way. Progress was slower than expected, with guns and supply wagons getting stuck at the crossing of the many streams dissecting the roads. The inclines were so steep that in several places guns and heavy wagons rolled down, dragging their teams of horses and men to a nasty death at the bottom of a ravine, and in turn obstructing progress further.

In the meantime, Ney had repaired the bridge at Smolensk, crossed the river and started to advance down the Moscow road, while Junot had begun to cross further upstream, at Prudichevo. Fearing that they might reach it before his retreating men did, Barclay had sent General Pavel Alekseievich Tuchkov with a small force to Lubino to cover the point at which the wheeling Russian columns were to rejoin the Moscow road.

Ney, who began to move along the Moscow road in the morning, was checked by what he thought was a counterattack developing on his left flank. In fact it was Ostermann-Tolstoy’s division, which had got lost in the night, and after marching in a circle for ten hours reappeared outside Smolensk. Ney deployed against it, which gave Tuchkov some time, but soon the French were pushing the Russians back along the Moscow road.

On hearing of the fighting, Napoleon rode out to the scene. Assuming that this was no more than a rearguard action, he ordered Davout to back up Ney with one of his divisions. Together they pushed Tuchkov back, but he too was reinforced by other units and the timely arrival of Barclay himself, who rallied the troops and steadied the situation. Wilson was impressed by Barclay, who ‘seeing the extent of the danger to his column, galloped forward, sword in hand, at the head of his staff, orderlies, and rallying fugitives, and crying out, “Victory or death! we must preserve this post or perish!” by his energy and example reanimating all, recovered possession of the height, and thus under God’s favour the army was preserved!’

The Russians took up strong positions at Valutina Gora. Junot with his Westphalians was actually behind their left wing, and could have taken them in the back, which indeed Napoleon ordered him to do. But the usually fearless Junot, who had been acting strangely and complaining of heat stroke, made a number of incoherent replies and would not move, even when Murat galloped up in person to tell him to attack.

‘If we had attacked, the Russians would have been routed, so all of us, soldiers and officers, were eagerly awaiting the order to attack,’ wrote Lieutenant Colonel von Conrady, a Hessian in Junot’s corps. ‘Our ardour to go into battle was expressed vociferously, with whole battalions shouting that they wanted to advance, but Junot would not listen, and threatened those who were shouting with the firing squad … Grinding our teeth, we were reduced to the role of spectators, while honour and duty beckoned. Never was an opportunity to distinguish oneself more shamefully lost! Several officers and soldiers in my battalion wept with despair and shame.’

There were by now some 20 to 30,000 Russians facing, and outflanked by, as many as 50,000 French. According to Barclay’s aide-de-camp Woldemar von Löwenstern, Tuchkov rode up and asked for permission to fall back, to which Barclay allegedly replied: ‘Return to your post and get yourself killed if you must, for if you fall back I shall have you shot!’ Aware that the fate of the Russian army was in his hands, he held on, but it was touch and go. At one point Yermolov, who was watching, seized his aide-de-camp by the elbow. ‘Austerlitz!’ he whispered in horror.

If the French had been able to defeat Tuchkov, they could have sliced through the middle of the Russian forces on the march, and these would have stood no chance. ‘Never had our army been in greater danger,’ Löwenstern later wrote. ‘The fate of the campaign and of the army should have been sealed on that day.’

It was unlike Napoleon not to sense the reason behind the Russian stand, but at about five o’clock in the afternoon he left Ney to get on with it and rode back to Smolensk. ‘He seemed to be very annoyed, and broke into a gallop when he came up with us, whose acclamations appeared to importune him,’ noted an officer of the Legion of the Vistula who watched him ride by.

Tuchkov stood his ground, and his men fought like lions. Ney’s divisions, supported by Davout’s Gudin division, also fought with dash and determination, and the battle developed into a massacre which only ceased when darkness fell. The field was strewn with seven to nine thousand French and nine thousand Russian dead and wounded, but the living lay down to sleep among them, too exhausted to build a camp.

The following morning, Napoleon rode out to the scene. ‘The sight of the battlefield was one of the bloodiest that the veterans could remember,’ according to one of the Polish Chevau-Légers who escorted him. He took the salute of the troops drawn up on this field of death and proceeded to enact one of the rituals that made him such a brilliant leader of men. He had decreed that he would award the coveted eagle that topped the standards of regiments which had proved their valour to the 127th of the Line, made up largely of Italians, which had distinguished itself on the previous day. ‘This ceremony, imposing in itself, took on a truly epic character in this place,’ in the words of one witness. The whole regiment was drawn up as if on parade, the men’s faces still smeared with blood and blackened by smoke. Napoleon took the eagle from the hands of Berthier and, holding it aloft, told the men that it was to be their rallying point, and that they must swear never to abandon it. When they had sworn the oath, he handed the eagle to the Colonel, who passed it to the Ensign, who in turn took it to the centre of the élite company, while the drummers delivered a deafening roll.

Napoleon then dismounted and walked over to the front rank. In a loud voice, he asked the men to give him the names of those who had particularly distinguished themselves in the fighting. He then promoted those named to the rank of lieutenant, and bestowed the Légion d’Honneur to others, giving the accolade with his sword and giving them the ritual embrace. ‘Like a good father surrounded by his children, he personally bestowed the recompense on those who had been deemed worthy, while their comrades acclaimed them,’ in the words of one officer. ‘Watching this scene,’ wrote another, ‘I understood and experienced that irresistible fascination which Napoleon exerted when he wanted to, and wherever he was.’

By this extraordinary ceremony, Napoleon managed to turn the bloody battlefield into a field of triumph, sending those who had died to immortality and caressing those who had survived with kind words and glorious rewards. But many asked why he had not been there himself to direct the battle. And his entourage wondered what, if anything, had been achieved by the past four days of bloodletting.

Czar Nicholas and his Navy

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Imperial Russian battleship Borodino at Kronshtadt, Augst 1904. Borodino was the lead ship of her class of pre-dreadnought battleships built for the Imperial Russian Navy although she was the second ship of her class to be completed. Named after the 1812 Battle of Borodino, the ship was completed after the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. Borodino was assigned to the Second Pacific Squadron sent to the Far East a few months after her completion 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. The ship was sunk during the Battle of Tsushima on 27 May 1905 due to explosions set off by a Japanese shell hitting a 6-inch (152 mm) magazine. There was only one survivor from her crew of 855 officers and enlisted men.

The Industrial Revolution and the age of steam heralded a period of comparative decline in the Russian navy which was destined to last more than a century. They were slow to adopt steam-powered ships, this in itself reflecting the innate conservatism of Russian society, their lack of natural resources in coal and iron, and the paucity of labour and skilled craftsmen. In the Crimean War the Russian Navy was hopelessly out-matched both in the Black Sea and the Baltic so that the sailors were used on land as infantry while the warships were laid up in their home ports. Only on rare occasions did the ships venture out and even then scuttled back behind the shelter of their garrison artillery at the first sign of the Royal Navy. In the final quarter of the century there was some revival of interest in the fleets, the Czar Alexander II appointed his brother as Minister of Marine. This resulted in a prototype ironclad being imported from England and the eventual appearance of a small squadron of screw-driven warships in the Baltic, but the standard of maintenance was such that the ships had only an indifferent performance, while their design lagged far behind the more progressive navies.

By the turn of the century the navy had begun to show some improvements under Czar Alexander III and his son Nicholas II: the navy was encouraged to learn from others and new methods were copied from the naval powers, especially the Germans. However all this was dissipated in a ruinous war with Japan; the Russo- Japanese war is probably chiefly remembered for the almost total defeat of the Imperial Navy at the Battle of Tsushima. Czar Nicholas introduced an acquisitive foreign policy in the Far East which meant that the Pacific Fleet should operate out of the secure base of a warm water port. Such a policy was bound to result in a collision with the rapidly emerging naval power of Japan. The Russians found their base in Port Arthur which the Japanese had been forced to return to China in 1895; the Chinese with a little pressure allowed the Russians to garrison this base under the cynical guise of protecting them from the further ravages of Japan. For the first time in their history the Russians possessed two viable bases for their Pacific Fleet, in Vladivostok and Port Arthur, and this represented a direct challenge to Japanese ambitions for the naval hegemony of the North Pacific.

The Japanese war aim was clear and explicit. They needed to bottle up the Russian squadrons in their respective bases and then destroy each in turn with an overwhelming show of force. To this end the Japanese prepared secretly for war and then, in a style reminiscent of a later occasion, struck swiftly and without warning early in 1904. Japanese mine-laying proved almost immediately successful for when the Russians sailed out from Port Arthur in April to meet the Japanese challenge their flagship the Fetropavlousk was enticed onto a minefield and sank, taking almost the full complement and their Admiral, Makharoff to the bottom. By August of that year the Russian naval presence was practically destroyed. While the Imperial Japanese Army laid siege to Port Arthur from the landward side, their naval squadron defeated the Russian fleet twenty miles out, the few vessels that survived struggled back into the harbour. In the meanwhile the squadron at Vladivostok was defeated by the Japanese fleet under Admiral Kamimura as it tried to reach Port Arthur. In five short months the Japanese had thus secured control over the Northern Pacific and had completely destroyed the Russian squadrons as a viable naval force. It is ironic that the architect of this brilliant episode in Japanese history. Admiral Togo, was an officer who had studied the art of naval warfare in England and whose major victory over the Russians, which was still to come, was to earn him the immortal title of the ‘Nelson of the East’.

Czar Nicholas II prided himself on being a European and thus this defeat of his navy by an oriental power represented a double humiliation as well as thwarting his ambitions in the Pacific. He therefore decided to restore the balance and regain his tarnished reputation by transferring his only remaining fleet from the Baltic to the Northern Pacific, and so began what must be regarded as one of the most bizarre episodes in naval history. Nicholas appointed Admiral Rozhestvenski to command this expedition, at fifty-six a relatively young officer who owed his rapid promotion to his dashing exploits as a torpedo boat commander when fighting against the Turks. The spearhead of the Baltic fleet was built around four new battleships, which were not really operational, manned by novice crews. The rest of the fighting ships (together with the fleet support and colliers) were vessels that already belonged to a bygone age, old ships armed with obsolescent guns and poor crews.

Rozhestvenski intended to work up his fleet during the voyage to the Pacific, but even as he sailed from the Baltic alarmist (and totally unfounded) reports warned him that Japanese torpedo boats, which had been shipped to England, were already lying in wait in the North Sea. This jittery Russian fleet fired on a Swedish merchant ship and the occasional German fishing vessel in the Baltic; it was hardly surprising therefore, that when it came upon British trawlers operating in the fishing grounds off the Dogger Bank, in the dead of night, that ‘all hell should break loose’. At point-blank range, as mass hysteria gripped the Russian ships, broadsides poured into the trawlers, although British loss of life would have been much greater if the Russian gunnery had been even half-way efficient. Nevertheless by the time the Russians had realised their mistake the damage had been done; although only one trawler actually sank, a number of lives were lost and the resultant indignation and sense of outrage in England pushed the two countries to the brink of war. Royal Naval units shadowed the Russian fleet through the English Channel and out into the open seas as far as Tangier, with their main armament trained on this hapless Russian Force. At the Mediterranean the Russian fleet divided, the older units proceeded to the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal while Rozhestvenski took his main squadron the additional 10,000 miles around the Cape of Good Hope. In the New Year of 1905 the units rendezvoused at Madagascar where the fleet waited for two months for the reinforcements of the Black Sea fleet and for colliers and auxiliaries to replenish the much depleted bunkers. This period of enforced delay and inactivity in an unhealthy and disease-ridden anchorage played havoc with Russian morale and efficiency.

It was while they were off Madagascar that news was received of the Fall of Port Arthur. Rozhestvenski dared not turn back and so the nearest haven was Vladivostok, a voyage in itself of many thousands of miles through waters unknown to the navigators, and between them and safety was the Japanese fleet under Togo. In March new units joined up with the fleet at Madagascar, including the battleship Nikokai I and the force set out across the Indian Ocean. In early April the Royal Navy shadowed the Russian fleet as it passed within sight of Singapore on the way to Kamranh Bay in Cochin China where Rozhestvenski intended to make his final landfall and complete his preparations before undertaking the last leg of this remarkable voyage to Vladivostok. At Kamranh Bay a reinforcement reached the Russian Admiral in the form of a second squadron of new fast battleships from the Baltic fleet, which had not even been completed when the original force first sailed. On the 14th May 1905 this enormous armada set sail for its rendezvous with destiny and the waiting Japanese. The Russians had already completed an incredible voyage, but the ships were now badly in need of a major refit, the crews were stale and tired and the strain of command was already beginning to exert a fatal influence over Admiral Rozhestvenski. The Japanese, on the other hand, had been able to follow the Russian movement from the telegraph of the press agencies, while the precise details were passed on by the friendly British. The Japanese ships had been refitted and replenished, their crews were well trained, rested and, above all, under the inspired leadership of their dynamic commander.

Rozhestvenski’s force made sedate passage northwards passing through the Bashi Channel between the Philippines and Formosa, his more modern and faster warships fatally inhibited by the pace of the older and slower brethren. Although lacking any precise information of the Japanese deployment, location or strength, Rozhestvenski was sanguine enough to appreciate that he must now fight his way through to Vladivostok. Accordingly he detached his auxiliaries from the main force at Shanghai where they were to await events. From Shanghai northwards there were a number of routes the Russians could take to reach Vladivostok, but Admiral Togo was convinced that the Russians must come through the Tsushima passage, for it represented the most direct course, and he deployed his force accordingly. Rozhestvenski was indeed heading for the passage and was timing his run to clear this stretch of water in daylight for he knew that he could not trust the competence of his ships’ navigators to make the passage at night.

On the 27th May 1905 thirty-seven Russian warships steamed through the Tsushima passage at their best speed of eleven knots; the battle force was deployed in two parallel lines, cruisers scouted ahead while the few essential auxiliaries brought up the rear escorted by the older vessels. The Japanese received word of the Russian movements from their scouting cruisers and Togo deployed his force from its anchorage at Masampo Bay in Korea in good time to contest the Russian passage. The Japanese were, on paper, heavily out-numbered but had the advantage of superior fire-power and speed; this allowed Togo to complete the classic maneuver of naval warfare by crossing the ‘T’ with his battleships while his armoured cruisers harried the Russian flanks.

Battle opened at a range of 9,500 yards in the early afternoon and the Japanese broadsides wrought havoc on the Russian battleships in the van of the line who could offer only poor response with their forward firing guns. Most of the many excellent accounts of this engagement are all based on the report of a British naval officer who with the sang-froid typical of his breed, observed events from a deck chair on the Japanese flagship’s quarterdeck! By the late afternoon the Japanese victory was assured. The Russian battleships were either sunk or disabled, their squadron commanders had lost all control, and indeed the wounded Admiral Rozhestvenski was captured as he tried to run for Vladivostok in a fast destroyer after his own flagship had been sunk. As night fell those Russian vessels that had somehow survived the holocaust of fire were harried and pursued by the lighter units of the Japanese navy while the disabled battleships were finished off by Togo’s cruisers. Only one small cruiser, the Almaz, reached Vladivostok with two attendant destroyers while three other cruisers sought sanctuary in Manila.

The maritime powers hastened to digest the lessons of Tsushima and almost all learned the wrong ones. For Russia, humiliation and defeat was even further endorsed as the Japanese revived the old custom of incorporating the spoils into their own fleet. Eastern power had displayed its ability to master Western technology, but few nations seemed to take cognizance of that fact.

Ufa Offensive I

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Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak (16 November [O.S. 4 November] 1874 – 7 February 1920) was a polar explorer and commander in the Imperial Russian Navy, who fought in the Russo-Japanese War and the First World War. During the Russian Civil War, he established an anti-communist government in Siberia—later the Provisional All-Russian Government—and was recognised as the “Supreme Ruler and Commander-in-Chief of All Russian Land and Sea Forces” by the other leaders of the White movement (1918–1920).

His government was based in Omsk, in southwestern Siberia. He tried to defeat Bolshevism by ruling as a dictator but his government proved weak and confused. For example, he lost track of the imperial gold reserves and much of it disappeared. He failed to unite all the disparate elements. He refused to consider autonomy for ethnic minorities, refused to collaborate with non-Bolshevik leftists, and relied too heavily on outside aid. As his White forces fell apart, he was captured by independents who handed him to the Bolsheviks, who executed him.

russian_white_soldiers

A formation of White Russian soldiers outside of Rostov.

Admiral Kolchak’s spring attack, also called the ‘Ufa Offensive,’ was one of the five most dramatic anti-Bolshevik operations of the Civil War (the other four being the 1918 Volga campaign, Denikin’s May–June 1919 advance from south Russia, his September–October 1919 advance, and the Polish 1920 attack). The main blow came in the centre of the front on 4 March 1919; the attacking White force was Western Army under General Khanzhin, a veteran artilleryman; it advanced roughly parallel to the east–west railway from Cheliabinsk (in the Urals) to Simbirsk and Samara (on the Volga). Khanzhin’s troops moved rapidly across the snowy steppe in sledges. Ufa was recaptured on 14 March, and by the end of April the White army had taken points within 75 miles of the Volga, at Chistopol (on the Kama River) and on the Ufa-Samara railway. Some 250 miles had been covered in eight weeks. The Whites had taken 115,000 square miles of territory (an area bigger than Britain) and a population of 5 million. Moscow was badly frightened, and in faraway Paris the Allies saw the White movement finally justifying itself. At the same time the other major White force, Gajda’s Siberian Army, made on Khanzhin’s right flank an advance of about ninety miles, a third of the way from Perm to Viatka.

Unfortunately for the Whites, Khanzhin was soon driven back. Two weeks were lost fighting around Ufa; then, in mid-April, came the spring thaw, the rasputitsa, which turned the roads to mud, and rivers and streams into serious obstacles. Khanzhin had pushed back the Red Fifth Army, but his flanks were threatened by Second and First Armies. Once the ground became firmer, on 28 April, the Reds began their counterattack. During May Western Army had to retreat far from the Volga; by the end of the month it was trying to defend a line 275 miles east of the Volga along the Belaia River. Ufa itself, on the Belaia, was threatened. On the night of 7 June Chapaev’s 25th Rifle Division made a surprise crossing below the city, which fell to the Reds on the 9th with large amounts of supplies and grain. By mid-June the Whites had been pushed fifty miles east of the Belaia. At this time the northern bulge of Kolchak’s front had been crushed in as well: at the beginning of June Gajda’s Siberian Army had actually pushed farther west along the Perm-Viatka railway to the town of Glazov, but then the Reds drove it back to within fifty miles of Perm.

Several factors were behind the events of March–June 1919, a White defeat that would prove to be decisive. One was political failure. Moscow’s propaganda always spoke of the ‘Kolchakovshchina,’ the reign of Kolchak. This was exaggerated, but the Omsk regime was unapologetically that of a military dictator, and any judgment of the Omsk regime must begin with the dictator, the Supreme Ruler, himself. The British and French military advisers had quite different views of the man. General Knox reported (as late as December 1919) that despite Kolchak’s defeat and personal failings ‘he was and is the best man in Siberia.’ General Janin, however, regarded him as an incompetent neurotic and reported to Paris that he was probably addicted to drugs. Kolchak’s associates found him moody and indecisive. The Russian General Budberg, in charge of army supply, assessed Kolchak’s complex personality:

He is a big, sick child, a pure idealist, a faithful slave of duty and ideals and Russia; he is undoubtedly a neurotic, who is quick to lose control, extremely stormy, and unrestrained in showing his dissatisfaction and anger. . . . He is wholly consumed by the idea of serving Russia, of saving her from Red oppression, of restoring her in all her strength and inviolable territory; thanks to this idea he can be made to do anything; he has no personal interests, no personal ambition, and in this respect he is crystal pure. . . . He has no notion of the hard practicalities of life, and he lives by mirages and imposed ideas. He has no plans, system, or will of his own and in this respect he is soft wax from which his advisers and retainers can make what they want, knowing that it is enough to present something as needed for Russia and the cause to get the admiral’s agreement.

Whatever the faults of his personality, Kolchak’s politics did not fit the stereotype of a black reactionary. His father was a military engineer; Kolchak himself was a young specialist from a technically advanced part of the armed forces. He was apparently not a monarchist, and his regime did not call for a restoration of Tsarism. He took the advice of a small ‘Council of the Supreme Ruler,’ staffed by men who were often of Kadet sympathies and remarkable youth. The Kadets – of the party’s right wing – had more influence in Omsk than in any of the other White governments. Gins, one of Kolchak’s main advisers, was thirty-two in 1919; Sukin, running foreign affairs, was twenty-eight; Mikhailov, in charge of finance, was twenty-four. His associates grumbled with some justification against this reliance on Wunderkinder (both in the administration and the army).

But Kolchak had already lost the support of the political Left. The November 1918 coup overthrew a government, the PA-RG, which claimed – through the Constituent Assembly and the Ufa Conference – national legitimacy. At the end of December 1918 there was an uprising in Omsk, inspired mainly by the Bolsheviks; in their fierce suppression of the rising the authorities flailed out against everyone on the left. Prominent SRs, including several Constituent Assembly delegates, were summarily executed; the episode showed again that Kolchak’s officers hated the SRs as much as the Bolsheviks. Even without the December events, however, the SRs would not have cooperated with Kolchak, and so the largest party in Siberia and the Urals worked against the Supreme Ruler from the beginning. After the Omsk coup a number of former Komuch leaders, including Volsky, even crossed over to the Red side, encouraged by Moscow’s gestures towards socialist pluralism. And in January 1920 the Siberian SRs would wreak a terrible personal revenge on the admiral himself.

Whoever its friends and enemies were, the Kolchakovshchina was not an effective dictatorship. At the central level Kolchak was unable to make the government work. Budberg sat through many top-level meetings; ‘The regime,’ he re-marked, ‘was only form without content; the ministries can be compared to huge and imposing windmills, busily turning their sails, but with no millstones inside and with much of their machinery broken or missing.’ This came about partly because Siberia had been an administrative backwater of the Tsarist Empire, with few experienced government personnel. But the nature of the November coup had made things worse by permanently alienating one source of administrative talent, the pro-SR intelligentsia. Kolchak’s civilian subordinates felt also that he concentrated too much on military affairs; one felt ‘the Admiral who was Supreme Commander-in-Chief swallowed up the Admiral who was Supreme Ruler, along with his Council of Ministers.’ To a large extent the government just became an organization for supporting the army.

If Kolchak could not create a proper administration in Omsk, he had no chance of extending effective control over the vast territory of Siberia. Much of western Siberia (the front) had been under military administration even during the period of the PA-RG, and in mid-April 1919 military control was extended to all towns and the railway. And army rule was disastrously inefficient. The lack of administrative personnel, meanwhile, was even more important at the grass-roots level than at the centre. Kolchak was fortunate that most Siberians were Great Russians; he lost much of the organized support of part of the important Bashkir minority (between Orenburg and the Urals) when, in February 1919, the Bashkir Corps changed sides, but this was a small problem compared to General Denikin’s friction with the Ukrainians or General Iudenich’s (in the Baltic) with the Estonians. Kolchak could not control the Orenburg and Ural cossacks, but unlike the southern Whites he was not faced with great cossack claims; Denikin had to make his first headquarters (Ekaterinodar) in the heart of one of the cossack hosts; Kolchak’s problem was that geography cut him off from the main Orenburg and Ural Hosts. Overall, however, Kolchak still had the greatest trouble imposing his will over the vast territory that had been taken from Red control. A notorious area of weakness was the region east of Lake Baikal. There local atamans such as Semenov and Kalmykov were a law unto themselves and enjoyed the support of the Japanese. ‘Stenka Razin under a white sauce’ is how General Budberg described them. They choked the long supply line upon which the Siberian army and economy had to rely.

Kolchak’s economic policy was ineffective. Galloping inflation was made worse by the disastrous abolition of ‘Kerenki’ banknotes in April 1919. Kolchak, seeing himself only as a trustee, would not use the captured Imperial gold reserve. The few Siberian capitalists gave little help; donations came, one minister recalled, ‘like milk from a billy-goat.’ The military gave little thought to the long-term condition of the economy, and as a result Kolchak’s only industrial region, the Urals, was in a bad way; as early as April 1919 the official in charge resigned in protest at chaotic military rule, lack of food supplies, and an absence of coherent support from Omsk. The Allies provided no economic aid. Siberia’s economic problems were beyond the ability of any regime to solve quickly. The World War had upset the whole Russian economy, and Civil War cut Siberia and the Urals off from their natural supplies and markets in central Russia. Consumer goods had to be brought in along the one rail link with the Pacific. And the war against the Bolsheviks, fought on a limited base of manpower and natural resources, demanded great economic sacrifices.

In his base area, Kolchak faced no conflict between dispossessed landlords and revolutionized land-hungry peasants; prerevolutionary Siberia had had no large gentry estates. (There was, however, some tension between the starozhili the ‘old’ settlers, and the poorer immigrants of the past few decades, the novoseli.) Nevertheless, there was no effective land law, no confirmation of the Bolshevik decree on land. This was a greater weakness once the Kolchak forces reached the fringes of European Russia, where the land question was more important. In newly occupied regions such as Ufa Province the peasants had little reason to welcome Kolchak, especially when some of his commanders enforced the return of seized lands to their owners. Meanwhile, there was no reason for the peasants in the Soviet-controlled Volga provinces to rise in support of the White armies advancing toward them.

The lack of ‘propaganda by deed’ was matched by the lack of any effective mobilization of support. As one of Kolchak’s generals later lamented, ‘we not only did not give the muzhik [peasant] the bird in the hand, we were even afraid to promise him the bird in the bush.’ Kolchak’s propaganda organization, Osved, was organized too late; funds were eventually pumped into it, but it was ineffective and it was unpopular among the army high command.

The weaknesses, political and administrative, of the Kolchakovshchina had two major effects on the spring campaign. First, it made the Whites less attractive to the peasants of the Volga-Kama basin who were the first objects of ‘liberation.’ And second, it made it more difficult for Kolchak to raise enthusiastic popular forces to serve in his army. Kolchak seized power in November 1918 and called the population ‘to union and to struggle with Bolshevism, to labor and to sacrifices.’ One of his basic problems was that the response to that call was so weak, and the weak response came partly from the nature of the Kolchakovshchina. Active internal resistance to Kolchak’s rule was not, however, a major cause of the failure of the Ufa offensive. The rear of Kolchak’s armies was more stable than it would be later, and it was not necessary to pull troops out of the front line for battle with anti-White partisans. And it is not clear that the alternatives to military dictatorship would have been any more effective. Would the pre-Kolchak ‘liberal’ Omsk PA-RG have been able either to attract military leaders or to enforce conscription? It would in any event have been challenged by the Chernov-led SRs. Would such a government really have created more enthusiastic forces, or brought about risings behind the Bolshevik lines? This had not been the case for Komuch in 1918, and the Bolshevik hold was stronger by the late spring of 1919.

Kolchak’s armies were stopped and then pursued back toward the Urals. This was largely due to the growing size and quality of the Soviet forces. But the initial Red defeats were a sign of problems in the Red Army, and these were only gradually overcome in the course of the campaign. The Soviet high command had had little knowledge of what was going on in Siberia, and it was surprised by Khanzhin’s Ufa attack on 4 March 1919. Ten days before, Vatsetis had reported to Lenin that the local situation was improving and that the Urals were nearly within reach; given the danger of Allied intervention, he urged that the main stress of Soviet grand strategy still be put on the Ukrainian and Western Army Groups. On 24 February Trotsky made a most optimistic speech in Moscow to a meeting of Red Army cadets; ‘Summing up the position on our fronts it can be said that the situation is completely favorable.’ The commander of Eastern Army Group misread White intentions; Colonel Kamenev assumed a concentration in the north around Perm, rather than in the centre before Ufa, and the poor initial deployment of the Red armies was one reason for Khanzhin’s successes.

The confusion in the Red eastern command continued during the battles with Kolchak. Kamenev did work out a counterattack plan, which was approved at a high-level meeting with Trotsky and Vatsetis in Simbirsk on 10 April; he began a counterattack with his two southern armies, now under the command of Mikhail Frunze. (Frunze was a veteran Bolshevik who had become involved in the army in the previous summer, and in 1925 he would replace Trotsky as Red Army chief; his 1919 ‘Southern Group’ had originally been formed for the advance into Turkestan.) In the end, however, the planned sweep from the south was threatened by rapid White progress. Troops had to be thrown in front of the Whites, and Frunze’s counterattack was launched earlier than planned and with more limited goals. But the White drive was stopped, and clearly Kamenev deserved much of the credit. On 3 July, after his armies had pushed Kolchak back to the Urals (and with disaster threatening on other fronts), he replaced Vatsetis as Red Army Main Commander-in-Chief. But this was only after he himself had been sacked, on 5 May, just as the shape of his victory was becoming clear. (According to Kamenev’s memoirs, Vatsetis dismissed him for ‘non-execution of his orders and, in general, for lack of discipline’.) He was, however, brought back by Lenin (presumably over Trotsky’s objections) three weeks later, at the demand of the Eastern Army Group commissars.

The various Red armies had begun the spring campaign in a disorganized state. The shortcomings had been brought out at the time of the ‘Perm Catastrophe.’ Dzerzhinsky and Stalin reported that Third Army’s move in December 1918 from the Urals to beyond Perm was not even a proper retreat, but ‘an absolutely disorderly flight of an utterly routed and completely demoralized army.’ It was in a deplorable state. Commanders were unreliable; commissars inexperienced; soldiers confused, hungry and cold. Of 30,000 men, only a third remained; some had begun fighting on the White side. Fifth Army – shattered at Ufa in March 1919 – was a centre of the Military Opposition to Trotsky’s centralizing policies with, as Vatsetis complained in mid-April, continuing splits between officers and commissars. Trotsky himself blamed the defeat of Fifth Army on the local commissars’ ‘system of slackness, grumbling and criticism implanted from above.’ These shortcomings in the Red Army were gradually dealt with, partly as a result of Trotsky’s victory at the Eighth Party Congress.

On the other side of the battlefield, the lines of advance and timing of the White Siberian armies have been much criticized. Kolchak on 6 January 1919 did order a halt at Perm and a shift of the main axis of advance from the north to the centre of his front. This was, however, sound strategy. To have tried to develop the December victory and chase the Red Third Army west along the Perm–Viatka railway line would have been senseless. If Arkhangelsk was the objective, then the nearest rail route meant an advance of 600 miles to Vologda, and another 250 north from Vologda to the Allied-White lines; even the rail-river route via Viatka, Kotlas, and the Northern Dvina was a distance of 600 miles. Any deep thrust on the Perm-Viatka line alone would have been threatened on its southern flank from the Soviet heartland. The northern region, moreover, was thin in people and supplies, and it was the middle of winter; the frozen port at Arkhangelsk would not open until May 1919, and it would be some time later that (unpredictable) supporting operations by the Allies could develop from there.

More important, in January 1919 Kolchak’s front was most seriously threatened in the centre – from the Ufa direction – where the Reds were approaching the Urals passes. The situation demanded as a first step a counterattack in this central area. Khanzhin was originally only given limited goals, but Kolchak’s Stavka (GHQ) was right to develop his initial success and urge him early in April, as a second step, on to the Volga. It was necessary to take control of the region between the Urals and the Volga–Kama river system, whether Kolchak moved on Arkhangelsk, Saratov, or directly to Moscow; only with the centre of the White front covered by the great rivers, with rail links from the Urals to the crossings at Samara, Simbirsk, Sarapul, and Perm, could a further advance be considered. And an advance to the Volga line would give the Whites manpower and food, take those things from the Reds, and cut the most important Soviet river communications line.

A more telling criticism of the White line of advance is that a weak area was allowed to appear on the southern flank. The Bashkir Corps changed sides in February 1919, and the Orenburg and Ural Cossack forces were badly organized after the fall of Uralsk and Orenburg in January – which made it possible for Frunze to burst the White bubble from the south in late April. And poor overall coordination made it difficult to shift troops from Siberian Army (around Perm) to Western Army. But the general conception of the attack was sound enough.

The timing of the offensive was more debatable; it came before the White army had been properly organized. Knox summed up the faults of Stepanov, Kolchak’s Minister of War – in charge of the rear – and Lebedev, Kolchak’s Chief of Staff, in charge of the front-line armies. ‘Stepanov thought he had ten years to beat the Bolsheviks. Lebedev wanted to do the job in ten minutes. Both were excellent fellows in their own way . . . but together they were enough to ruin any Empire.’ Knox was annoyed at Stepanov’s plodding approach to the formation of new units in the rear, and in March bluntly told Kolchak as much: ‘People are so occupied by talk and paper schemes that decisions are indefinitely postponed. The plain truth is that we will have to fight this year for our lives and every hour is of value.’ Stepanov concentrated his resources on raising five new infantry divisions in central Siberia, and these were still only skeleton formations when the Ufa offensive began. Lebedev, however, attacked before the army was formed and trained, and he soon found himself without reserves. Kolchak’s most experienced formation, Kappel’s Volga Corps, was still refitting in early March and trying to incorporate Red POWs; it was thrown into battle piecemeal at the beginning of May and defeated. But what else could the Whites have done? In theory they moved too late, rather than too early. Two full months passed between Kolchak’s January directive and Khanzhin’s offensive, and an earlier start might have brought Khanzhin to the Volga before the rasputitsa. But it was winter, and his troops had had to be redeployed and refitted after a long campaign.