The Ukraine

The February Revolution of 1917 had unleashed Ukrainian aspirations for a nationalist state free of Russian control, while the Bolshevik October Revolution provided an immediate context for a complete break. On 20 November, the representative council known as the Central Rada, headed by Mykhailo Hrushevsky, declared independence and the formation of the Ukrainian National Republic, an entity socialist in nature but non-Bolshevik.

After eliminating forces loyal to the Russian Provisional Government, the Rada next faced a Bolshevik rebellion at the Kiev arsenal and a subsequent invasion by Red Guards based at Kharkov. At this time, just prior to the Treaty of Brest-I.itovsk, the Central Powers were continuing to advance across the Ukraine. Seeking assistance against the Reds, the Rada

Cavalry and armoured car of the Central Rada attack Bolshevik positrons in Kiev during the Arsenal uprising, February 1918,The Ukrainian cavalry is wearing light blue and yellow armbands. (Bullock photo, sectional from painting. Arsenal Museum, Kiev)

concluded an alliance with the Germans on 9 February. Nevertheless, after the Germans established control at Kiev and key centres in the Ukraine, they overturned the Rada on 29 April, installing a more malleable regime under Pavel Skoropadsky.

Skoropadsky adopted the title 'Hetman', or 'leader', his government becoming known as the 'Ukrainian State', or more popularly as the 'Hetmanate'. Despite the many colourfully uniformed Ukrainian units raised, from the start the Hetmanate was dependent on German arms and military assistance.

In exchange, Skoropadsky had to deliver large quantities of food. This led the I letman to favour the landowners who could supply shipments of victuals for the German war machine over the interests of the peasantry, thereby making him unpopular in the countryside. This policy, in fact, led to large-scale agrarian unrest. Additionally,

1918 Unrest Germany

Hetman Pavel Skoropadsky, 29 May 1918. (Photo card issued 1918, Kiev. Bullock collection)

tliis tit of pique, the 'Chelyabinsk Incident', changed the world.

Troops of what would become known as the Czech l egion (or more property the Czechoslovak Legion) had been serving in the imperial Russian Army since the

On 14 May 1918 a Russian train loaded with Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war pulled alongside a troop train of the Czech Legion in Chelyabinsk. Insults were traded and a Hungarian hurled a piece of metal across the tracks, wounding a Czech. In response, a unit of legionnaires mobbed the train and lynched the Hungarian. In a matter of weeks,

Hetman Pavel Skoropadsky, 29 May 1918. (Photo card issued 1918, Kiev. Bullock collection)

Skoropadsky antagonized Ukrainian nationalists because he favoured an eventual union with a non-Bolshevik Russia.

Skoropadsky's fortunes waned when the Central Powers began withdrawing after the Armistice of November 1918. An uprising led by Simon I'etlyura overthrew the Hetmanate that November, re-establishing, at least in name, the Urkrainian National Republic. Real power, however, resided in a five-man body known as the Directory, a body dedicated to moderate socialism and Ukrainian independence.

Eastern Front

Austro Hungarian Army

Czech soldiers atop an armoured train. (© Corbis)

outbreak of World War One in 1914. Most were deserters from the Austro-Hungarian Army, which was at war with Russia. During the course of the war the Allied powers had promised the Czechs a new homeland in Europe, Czechoslovakia, to be carved

Czech soldiers atop an armoured train. (© Corbis)

out of the Austro-Hungarian domain. Understandably, the Austro-Hungarians considered those in the Legion to be traitors, hanging them when caught.

Czech Legion Uniform
The Czech Legion in Samara, capital of the KOMUCH government, in June 19 18. The author stayed in Samara in 1999 and found the waterfront and old city remarkably unchanged. (Photo card. Bullock collection)

Since the fall of the Russian Provisional Government in 1917, the Legion had been trying to get out of Russia in order to reinforce the French on the Western Front and thereby make a contribution to the Allied war effort. At first, the Bolsheviks facilitated the evacuation so that they could get this 50,000-strong, armed body out of the way and get on with consolidating their revolution. Then, bowing to German pressure that the Czechs should be disarmed and not be allowed to reach the West, they began to impede that evacuation. Exacerbating the situation were the hundreds of thousands of German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish prisoners of war still inside Russia whom I he Czechs considered enemies. From March to May tension increased as the Legion began to distrust the real intentions of the Bolsheviks and especially their connections with the Germans, real and imagined. Rather than completely disarm, the Legion revolted on 25 May.

In one of the most remarkable feats in military history, the Legion began overpowering one Bolshevik garrison after another: Chelyabinsk on the 26th, Penza on the 28th and Simbirsk on 30 May; Samara on the 8th and Ufa on 23 June. This consolidated their positions on the Volga lliver. Other units pressed east along the Trans-Siberian Railway, taking Omsk and Irkutsk, and finally reaching Vladivostok and the Pacific Ocean by the end of August. Within three months, the Czechs had Conquered more territory than any other power in World War One (for more detail on these adventures, see Osprey's Men-at-Arms 447, The Czech Legion).

The unseating of Bolshevik power on the Volga and across Siberia heralded the genesis of the White movement in the east. Although some 19 governments arose in these regions, the most important were the establishment of the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly (KOMUCH) on 1 June and the Provisional Government of Siberia (PSG) at Omsk on the 30th,

The KOMUCH government was Socialist Revolutionary (SR) in temperament and flew a red flag; however, the government was staunchly anti-Bolshevik. More than any other political entity, this government most represented the will of the people as expressed in the elections of 1917. Many had fled from Petrograd after Lenin dissolved the Constituent Assembly in January 1918.

Determined to capture and hold the Volga region, KOMUCH ordered a general mobilization of troops into what would be known as the 'People's Army'. A few volunteer formations of officers and partisans had already come forward at the beginning, including the 1st Samara Volunteer Detachment led by the heroic and talented Colonel (later General) Vladimir Oskarovlch Kappel. However, only 30,000 local recruits responded to military conscription. Most of these arrived with no military training and half could not be supplied with arms.

Despite these handicaps, the next weeks were filled with optimism. Overall command of the KOMUCH forces fell on Colonel Galkin while Kappel built up a force of 2,000, styled the Special Independent Rifle Brigade, replete with component cavalry, mortars and artillery. Kappel took Syzran and Stavropol (modern Togliatti) in early July and Simbirsk on the 22nd. Colonel

Ekaterinburg Ukraine

Fall of KOMUCH



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(later General) Voitsekhovsky followed litis with the seizure of Ekaterinburg on 25 July Voitsekhovksy, who would become another of the Whites' heroes in Siberia, unfortunately arrived too late to save the tsar and his family. Agents of the Cheka had slaughtered them in the basement of the Ipatiev House on the 16th to prevent their rescue.

Other forces toppled the weak Bolshevik administrations throughout the region. In the south, General A. I. Dutov, ataman of the Orenburg Cossacks, took Orenburg in July. In the north, Coionel V, M. Molchanov raised 7,500 volunteers in Viatka province.

Meanwhile, on 7 July, at the behest of KOMUCH and the Allies, the Czechs had agreed to consolidate the majority of their troops on the Volga to constitute an eastern front against the Central Powers and the Bolsheviks. General S. K. Cecek, commander of the Legion's 1st Division at Ufa, headed the newly constituted 'Volga Front'. The Legion co-located their own units with those of KOMUCH and drilled the Russian conscripts. That month, liaison officers signalled to the Legion that major landings of Allied troops at Archangel and Vladivostok were imminent.

Moving north towards the Allies, a joint expedition of the 1st Czechoslovak Regiment, Kappel's Russians and a KOMUCH aviation detachment proceeded up the Volga by steamer and captured Kazan on 6 August. The Russians disembarked and attacked on the west, the Legion coming in from the cast. The Red Guards panicked and left behind the tsar's imperial gold reserve, a fabulous fortune in gold assets (two-thirds of a billion gold roubles, or approximately 25 billion current US dollars) that the Bolsheviks had moved to Kazan in May for 'safekeeping'.

Encouraged by the fall of nearby Kazan, thousands of middle-class workers at the factories of Izhevsk and Votkinsk in the Kama River Valley revolted against Bolshevik domination. In time, these w:orkcrs would become one of the White Army's most hard-hitting military forces. These summer days of August, filled with celebrations and hope, were the halcyon days of KOMUCH.

KOMUCH's good fortune was largely due to the weakness of the Red Army on the western bank of the Volga and their surprise at the rapid collapse of their authority in Siberia. The People's Army needed more officers, but these were offered better pay and conditions of service by the Provisional Government of Siberia at Omsk. Politically, the PSG was right of centre and better suited the inclinations of the officer corps. This prejudice carried over into political affairs, causing the PSG to withhold its military forces from the People's Army. Although the Allies were pressing the two governments to combine in a united front, negotiations stalled.

By September, General Rudolf Gaida's Czechoslovak 2nd Division had reinforced the Volga Front, headquartered at Ekaterinburg. The total forces available to KOMUCH, counting all partisan units and groups on the northern and southern flanks, were 77,000, Against these, the Reds deployed the five armies of their Eastern Group: from north to south, the 3rd, the 2nd, the 5th, the 1st and the 4th, a total of 70,000 in mid-September, rising to 103,000 in early October, including the elite Latvian Division, Moreover, the Red Turkestan group of 12,000 and Vasily Blyukher's South Urals Partisan Army of 10,000 were engaging Dutov in the south near Orenburg, Blyukher's partisans linking up with the Reds on the Volga in September,

Red armoured train on the Ural Front, Spring 1918. (Photo, Bullock collection)

Red armoured train on the Ural Front, Spring 1918. (Photo, Bullock collection)

White Armored Train

End of a dynasty

The Romanov dynasty lasted from 1613 to 1917. Nicholas I! (1868-1918) acceded to the throne of the Russian Empire in 1894. In many ways, Nicholas was like King Louis XVI of France, a devoted family man attuned more to private life than the epic events fate thrust upon him. Both were out of step with their contemporary world, both faced revolutions, and both in the end proved unequal to their historical tasks and suffered the ultimate consequence.

Nicholas' wife, the Tsarina Alexandra l edorovna (her given Russian name), was the German Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt (1872-1918) and granddaughter of Britain's Queen Victoria. Nicholas himself was cousin to both George V of Britain, to whom he bore an uncanny resemblance, and to Kaiser Wilhelm 11 of Germany. Nicholas and Alexandra had four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and one son, Alexei,

The royal family fell into public disrepute through their association with the dissolute and scandalous 'holy man', Grigory Yekfimovich Novikh, more popularly known as 'Rasputin'. Rasputin received royal favour because of his ability to heal the young Tsarevich Alexei, who was a supposed victim of haemophilia or uncontrolled bleeding. At the time, the exact nature of the disease was kept so secret that the actual diagnosis has remained controversial to the present day.

Military reverses at the front in World War One also shook public confidence in the Romanov dynasty, as did food shortages that emerged in the winter of 1916/17. Under mounting revolutionary pressure and with the encouragement of his primary advisors, Nicholas abdicated the throne on IS March 1917.

Initially under house arrest at their residence, the Alexander Palace at Tsarkoe Selo, the Royal Family was moved to the Kornilov House in Tobolsk, Siberia, in August 1917. They were moved again to the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg in the Urals in two groups in April and May 1918. A special squad of Cheka agents under Yakov Yurovsky arrived to superintend the Royal Family in early July.

Although none of the White Armies declared for the Tsar's reinstatement, the rescue of the Royal Family, for the sake of honor and decency, was their concern as well as the concern of the Allied governments, and even Imperial Germany. As White troops and the Czech Legion converged on Ekaterinburg to rescuc the prisoners, the Bolsheviks took hard and decisive action. Eschewing the international show trial they had desired in Moscow, the Moscow Soviet (including the key Bolshevik leadership) ordered the local Ural Soviet to dispose of the Royal prisoners. The royal family, together with the family companions Dr. Eugene Botkin and Anna Demidova, as well as the loyal male retainers Trupp and Khantinov, were all killed. Olga was 22, Tatiana 21, Maria 19, Anastasia 17, and the Tsarevich Alexei 13,

The Royal Family; (top row, left to right) Grand Duchess Olga Tsarina Aleksandra, (bottom row, left to right) Grand Duchess Maria, Tsar Nicholas II, Grand Duchess Anastasia, Tsarevich Alexei, Grand Duchess Tatiana. (Bullock Collection)

Grand Duchess Anastasia And AlexeiTobie Mathew
Admiral Alexander Vasilievich Kolchak, 'Supreme Ruler of All the Russias', November 1918 through to February 1920. (Tobie Mathew collection)

Suitably reinforced, the Reds opened a general offensive on 8 September along a 500-kilometre front from Kazan to Simbirsk. After desultory fighting in Kazan, KOMUCll forces evacuated the city by steamer or overland by cart on the 9th, the city falling the next day. Simbirsk followed on the 12th. The front began to crumble as the conscripts of summer began to desert.

Under pressure politically as well as militarily, KOMUCH agreed to unite with the PSG at the Ufa Conference on 23 September. The new political entity, the 'All Russian Provisional Government', more popularly known as 'The Directory', would be seated at Omsk in western Siberia. T his agreement effectively subordinated KOMUGH under the PSG. The question became academic when Samara, the capital of KOMUCH, fell to the Reds on 8 October.

The next five weeks of the Directory were spent saving the front. The PSG, flying the white-over-green flag of Siberia (white snow over the green taiga), had mustered 30,000-40,000 troops of its own in the months prior to union. The addition of these troops essentially replaced the losses and desertions suffered by the People's Army. General V. G. Boldyrcv, a political moderate and a member of the five-man Directory leadership, commanded the front.

Two actions saved the Whites along the foothills of the Ural Mountains that autumn. In the centre of the line, Voitsekhovsky declared martial law in Ufa on 15 October. Rallying Legion troops, he advanced west against the main Red spearhead moving east from Simbirsk and Samara. Kappel, moving east from the Simbirsk sector, struck the Reds from behind at Belebel. This halted their offensive and freed 15,000 survivors of the People's Army trapped behind enemy lines. In the north, Molchanov's Brigade and the Izhevsk-Votkinsk rebels, a group of 15,000, fought their way through the Red lines just below Perm.

Politically, however, the Directory was in trouble. Right-of-centre elements, disturbed by conditions at the front, decried any socialist influence in the government, however moderate. Political manoeuvring, hardening positions and rumours of an impending coup had cursed the Directory from the beginning. On the night of 17/18 November, key Russian officers in Omsk arrested the members of the Directory and installed Admiral Alexander Vasilievich Kolchak as 'Supreme liuler of All the Russias'.

The details behind this event have remained controversial to the present. According to lioldyrev, General Maurice Janin (head of the French Military Mission) and subsequent Soviet history, Kolchak and the British Military Mission in Omsk engineered the coup. The truth is more subtle. The British had been apprised of proceedings by Russian agents. On the night of the coup, they protected the admiral with teams of machine gunners. Kolchak, when asked if would accept the mantle of 'dictatorship' if the offer arose, had gravely consented for patriotic reasons, in order to save Russia.

Hie devil hid in the details of unfolding events - who, when, where, how much, in the end, a local plurality of Russian officers and politicians, after becoming disenchanted with the inefficiency and military Ineptitude of successive 'socialist' regimes - from Kerensky to KOMUCH to the Directory -took direct action themselves.

The man they chose to elevate as Supreme Ruler was widely respected in Russian and Allied circles. Kolchak had been born in St Petersburg in 1873, the son of a naval engineer. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1894 he won acclaim from the scientific community for his work in oceanography and hydrology. He followed this up in 1900 with a three-year exploration of the Arctic. Immediately after, he participated in the Russo-Japanese War, directing the laying of minefields at Port Arthur.

Kolchak served in World War One, attaining the rank of rear admiral and command of the Black Sea Fleet in July 1916. He won national attention after the February Revolution in 1917 when he defiantly threw his sword overboard rather than submit to the demands of the sailors' councils. The Americans then asked Kolchak to tour naval facilities in the United States and Kerensky approved the tour in July. After meeting President Wilson, Kolchak sailed for home through the Pacific, stopping in Japan. [ here, he learned of the Bolshevik Revolution and promptly offered his services to the British ambassador in Tokyo.

Before the British could effectively utilize him, however, the Russian ambassador in Peking requested he join General

Red cavalry enters Kazan, October 1918. (Photo, Deryabin collection, c. 1920s)

Red cavalry enters Kazan, October 1918. (Photo, Deryabin collection, c. 1920s)

Ukraine 1920 Photos

D. L Horvathat Harbin, Cbina. Horvath was assembling an army of anti-Bolsheviks in northern Manchuria to fight in the Russian l;ar Fast. From April 1918 until September, Kolchak tried and failed to form a credible coalition between White elements in the Far Fast or to establish cooperative relations with Japan.

Frustrated, he left Vladivostok on 21 September and headed for the front in the west. Almost immediately after arriving in Omsk on 13 October, the Directory placed him in charge of the Ministries of the Army and the Navy. On 9 November he began a tour of the front in his new capacity, returning on the evening of the 16th, scarcely a day before the coup.

On 18 November he made his first speech as Supreme Ruler, which made a profound impression on the Russians as well as the Allies from whom he sought diplomatic recognition. As quoted in the work of Serge Petroff: '1 will not go down the path of reaction, nor the ruinous path of party politics ... my main goal is to create a battle-worthy army, attain a victory over Bolshevism, and establish law and order so that the people may without prejudice choose for themselves the manner of government which they prefer.'

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