The end in the Far East

After much deliberation, the Whites decided not to defend their capital at Omsk in November 1919. A sharp downturn in the weather froze the River Irtysh solid, negating its natural defensive value. Instead, a new capital would be established at Irkutsk where the army could rest and replenish. Admiral Kolchak was one of the last to leave on 14 November, just hours ahead of the enemy. Seven trains accompanied him, carrying the imperial gold and his special convoy of Supreme Ruler bodyguards.

All Siberia seemed to be moving with him. Over 300 trains crowded with soldiers, families, Allied officials and military personnel, White sympathizers, businessmen, and members of the administration headed east, ostensibly for Irkutsk and safety. Thousands, unable to find a place, rode sledges along the ancient highway known as the Sibirsky Trakt. Though exact numbers will never be known, over 150,000 refugees, civilian and military, moved east into the endless forest taiga on a nightmare odyssey that would span four months. Only 70 of the trains would reach Irkutsk.

Immediately behind marched the armed forces: the 1st Army under General Anatoly

Pepelyaev in the vanguard, the 2nd and 3rd Armies under Kappel and Voitsekhovsky acting as rearguard on each side of the Trans-Siberian, The Red 5th Army maintained steady pressure on the rear and occasionally company or battalion-sized actions broke out. More dangerous, however, were the 80,000-100,000 partisans that had become increasingly active since the late summer of 1919.

Conditions worsened In December as temperatures plunged deep below zero. Typhus stnick and infected thousands. Trains lurched forward, stopped for hours or days, lurched again, then stopped again. Only trains designated 'first priority' by the Czech Legion could continue down the line immediately, 'second priority' having to await unfolding events, '['rains needing fuel or repairs were shunted to a sideline, indefinitely.

finally, an immense bottleneck of trains stacked up at Krasnoyarsk. Only a few would ever transit beyond this city, which had become a virtual graveyard of rolling stock. So too had it become a cemetery for the refugees. Forty thousand victims of typhus lay stranded in the rail yards of the ice-bound city. Entire trains rested immobile with their

Retreat in winter (Czech Legion painting, 1926.)

Retreat in winter (Czech Legion painting, 1926.)

Ataman Semenov Siberia

frozen dead. For those yet to die, supplies dwindled until a loaf of bread became priceless - or the supreme gift of love.

By January the situation had become desperate. On the 8th, advance parties of the 5th Army overran the Allied Polish and Romanian garrison troops at Krasnoyarsk who had not been able to escape. Emboldened by the plight of the retreating columns, partisan chieftains closed like hungry wolves upon a wounded quarry. Trains and sledges were attacked as the 'Forest Brethren' rode in among the flanks.

White units, if poorly led, disintegrated. Other units, in platoons or companies, fought heroically to the last man. Kappel remained, holding the rearguard with the best of the troops, but by mid-January his legs were so frostbitten that he could no longer ride his horse. Refusing a place in the trains in order to command the troops by sledge, he died of exposure and pneumonia on the 26th. Voitsekhovsky assumed command.

Meanwhile, on 23 December, a revolt of Socialist Revolutionaries formed the 'Political Centre' in Irkutsk and brought Kolchak's administration to an end. No longer possessing a base, the Supreme Ruler abdicated on 4 January 1920, appointing Ataman Semenov commander-in-chief of White forces in Siberia and the Par East. Understanding the dangers ahead, he discharged his bodyguards and those closest to him. His long-time love, Madame Temireva, however, refused to leave his side. New guards from the Legion's 6th Regiment came on board and Allied flags were hoisted as symbols of protection.

Finally, on 7 January, his train reached the suburbs of Irkutsk. Under orders from the Legion commander, General Syrovy, his escort handed him over to agents of the Political Centre. General Janin, commander-in-chief of the Legion and the officer directed by the Allies to protect Kolchak, already had moved east towards Vladivostok, making himself unavailable for comment. The deal had been simple and pragmatic: Kolchak and the imperial gold in exchange for the free transit of the Legion and peace. Kolchak and

Temireva assumed their places in separate cells in the local prison.

Then, bowing to the inevitable, the Political Centre surrendered its authority to a Bolshevik Revolutionary Committee (REVKOM) on 20 January. Kolchak's trial began the next day and lasted until 6 February. According to the testimony of one of his interrogators and the transcripts of the proceedings, he behaved with 'dignity'.

Voitsekhovsky, meanwhile, had brought the main army through, overpowering Bolshevik-controlled towns, rail stations and nests of partisans where possible, or bypassing them when not. Arriving at Irkutsk on 3 February, he demanded Kolchak's release. Preliminary skirmishing began in the suburbs two days later.

Lenin had desired a spectacular show trial of the Supreme Ruler in Moscow, complete with select members of the press. The Whites' arrival at Irkutsk, however, upped the stakes. Facing the imminence of Kolchak's rescue, the Bolsheviks determined on a more expedient action. In the early hours before dawn on 7 February, special agents of REVKOM removed Kolchak to the banks of the Angara River where a hole had been prepared in the ice. Refusing their blindfold, Kolchak died as he had lived, bravely and without compromise.

Sensibly refusing to sack Irkutsk in revenge as some of the Whites counselled, Voitsekhovsky instead marched the army into Manchuria. In April 1920 he reorganized those units that had survived into three parts: the 1st Corps, 2nd Corps and 3rd Corps, consisting of, respectively, 11,000, 5,000 and 6,500 men. A further 10,000 non-combatants were in tow. T hese survivors would become known as the Kappelevtsi in honour of their fallen hero. Many of these troops continued resistance in the Maritime province surrounding Vladivostok until autumn 1922 when the Red Army took possession of the Far Eastern seaboard.

Some went on to serve in the armies of the Chinese warlords, one unit commanding an armoured train group in action during

Roman Ungern Von Sternberg

A ease in Soviet propaganda

This photo supposedly portrays atrocities committed by the Asiatic Cavalry Division, commanded by Russia's 'Bloody Baron', General Baron Roman Fedorovich Ungern-Sternberg in 1920. Three versions of this photo exist, the correct, original one and two edited versions with clipped and worn edges and 'period' handwriting superimposed to create a certain 'authenticity'. One of the doctored versions places the alleged event in Manchuria-Mongolia, while a second captions the Urals. One photo, compliments of the Soviet Novosti Press, found its way into Chamberlain's highly acclaimed history of the Russian Revolution and both false variants are now widely available from European photo archives.

The original and true photo, however, dates to 1912, eight years before the alleged 'atrocity'. Two American travellers, Richardson L. Wright and Bassett Digby, collected the photo while reporting on 'Execution Day', an annual event held in the city of Tsitsitcar in Central Manchuria. During this period, the Russians and Chinese jointly administered the railways in Manchuria, The photo in question actually depicts Hung-Huse bandits caught and beheaded by the Chinese for raiding the rails.

Chinese officials traditionally delivered the severed heads of criminals to the Russian consulate as proof that justice had been done, after which the heads were returned. These Russian consulate officers have posed for the photo: five appear stem, two are laughing and one pretends deep, pensive thought - humorous, or tasteless - depending on one's own predilections - but not a White Army atrocity. (Through Siberia: an Empire in the Making, New York; McBride, Nast & Company, 1913)

the 1920s. Many eventually settled into the Russian communities at Harbin or Shanghai.

Even then, their displacement saw no end. At the conclusion of World War Two, the Red Army advanced into Manchuria, causing the Whites to evacuate Harbin. The same fate awaited the community at Shanghai during the Chinese communist takeover in 1948. The author's father, serving in the US Navy during the Chinese Civil War, befriended one White gentleman reduced to playing the piano in a hotel bar.

White resistance continued sporadically in other corners of the Far East from 1920 to 1922. Sickened by his brutality, the Ussuri Cossacks revolted against Ataman I. M. Kalmykov in 1920. Eventually apprehended crossing the border into China, he was shot by Chinese guards while 'trying to escape'. His mentor, Ataman G. M. Semenov of the Trans-Baikal Cossacks, who by all accounts ran an almost equally barbarous regime, went into exile when his supporters, the Japanese,

Anarchist Partisan

Red partisan leader N. A. Kalandarishvili, nicknamed 'Dedushka' or'Grandad".This Georgian Anarchist led partisan bands in the Baikal region against the Czechs and Kolchak's Whites in 1918-19. In 1920 he transferred his depredations to the Japanese, finally being killed in action against the remnants of the Whites in Yakutsk in 1922. (Sovietsky Kudoshnik art card, 1966)

Red partisan leader N. A. Kalandarishvili, nicknamed 'Dedushka' or'Grandad".This Georgian Anarchist led partisan bands in the Baikal region against the Czechs and Kolchak's Whites in 1918-19. In 1920 he transferred his depredations to the Japanese, finally being killed in action against the remnants of the Whites in Yakutsk in 1922. (Sovietsky Kudoshnik art card, 1966)

evacuated the Russian Far Fast on 25 October 1922.

Another protégé of .Semenov, General Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, attempted to resurrect the empire of Genghis Khan in Mongolia in 1920-21. A former cavalry officer turned Bucklhist mystic and sadist, the 'Bloody Baron' or 'Mad Baron', as his admirers and critics knew him, formed the Asiatic Cavalry Division, a collection of several thousand irregulars with whom he Intended to purge Russia of Bolshevism. After several

Baron Ungern Sternberg

battles and an abortive invasion of Manchuria, he was betrayed by one of his Mongol 'princes' into the hands of the Reds on 22 August 1921. After a brief if politically calculated show trial in which he casually pleaded 'guilty' to all crimes, he was executed by firing squad in Novonikolaevsk, Siberia, on 15 September.

The last of the White crusaders, General Anatoly Pepelyaev, undertook an amazingly quixotic gamble from January to June 1923, landing by sea in distant Yakutsk with the 'Siberian Volunteer Corps' which he had created from the more adventurous elements in Vladivostok and Harbin. Pepelyaev was an experienced soldier, having commanded armies under the Provisional Siberian Government in 1918, then Kolchak in 1919. Setting out in the dense, snowy taiga, his forlorn hope of 5,000 former regulars fought several sharp engagements with the Red Army before being broken and finally captured on 17 June.

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