Report on the Memoir of Lt. Gen. Rozanoff
"First, let me make clear that this is a valuable document, not so much for what it has to say (much of which has already been known for some time), as for who is saying it. As one of the highest ranking White Russian army survivors of the Civil War and a former official in the White Russian government in Siberia, Gen. Rozanoff’s memories of that tragic episode in recent Russian history are of substantial importance. His analysis of the leaders and program of the Directorate and of Admiral Kolchak’s successor regime is that of an “insider” and therefore would be of considerable interest to historians of the Russian Civil War. Perhaps most important, however, are the general’s observations on the foreign assistance rendered to the Whites and, particularly, on the diplomacy of the Kolchak government with respect to the Americans and Japanese. "
An American specialist on Russian military history
By : Lt. General Sergey N. Rozanoff
(Captain Peter Sarandinaki's great-grandfather)
The five Directors all belonged to different political parties and therefore could not have a single, well-defined programme. Anksentieff and Sentikoff were Revolutionary Socialists and had not severed their ties with the Central Committee of their Party. Vologodsky, of rather irresolute character, was also socialist, but from another group. Vinogradoff was a cadet and rather insignificant. The only prominent man among the Directors was General Boldireff, from the political circles of Moscow, educated, energetic, shrewd politician and good administrator, as well as a very good Major General, having experienced the Great War.
The task of these five men was enormous and almost impossible to achieve. Only a man full of energy, with an iron will and exceptional organisational and financial talents, in one word a near genius, a man acknowledged and obeyed by all, could possibly accomplish this task. There was a need to unify power, to be accepted and recognized by the populations of the reconquered provinces. The central and local powers had to be organized. The situation in the Provinces was absolutely chaotic. Nobody knew which laws were applicable – the old Russian Empire laws, those promulgated by Kirinsky, those of the Bolsheviks or the local ones. They were all contradictory and mutually excluding. The pressure exerted by the Czechs and the Allies was more and more palpable. The economic situation was more than threatening. Depending on different autonomous authorities along its itinerary, the Trans-Siberian train was hardly functioning. Local trade was paralyzed and industry was moribund. In short, everything had to be built up, absolutely everything – and first and foremost the army. It had to be meticulously organized and readied for action, capable of resisting the Bolshevik offensive, which, judging by their active preparations, was about to become excessively strong.
The Directoire began with the creation of the Council of Ministers and the Ministries. They immediately encountered serious problems. All those who had been involved in, or had been leading the revolutionary movement, had only grudgingly relinquished power and, to make up for it, wanted to become Ministers or get the best positions within the Ministries. Even though they had only shown a very limited capacity for action, lacked administrative experience and were short-sighted and coterie-minded, they nevertheless could not simply be disregarded since they were all backed by their more or less powerful or vocal parties. Consequently, it was not the most competent, but the most scheming persons who became Ministers. The formation of the Ministries and of the senior military management was just as complicated. The overwhelming majority of former experienced employees and especially of high-level civil servants and military personnel had stayed in Bolshevisia, and the military command, which was supposed to create, supply and lead an army of a half-million soldiers, was only composed of seven real staff officers. The organization of local authorities was even more difficult, owing to the same lack of competence and everyone’s desire to play a central role.
Finally, after a painful process, a lot of discussions, dismissals and wasted time, the Directoire became functional and even managed to obtain some important results.
First of all, it was recognized by all the organizations that were fighting the Bolsheviks, even by Denikine, with whom pretty good relations were eventually established and were about to result in a formal agreement notwithstanding their initial difficult start. The only one to be recalcitrant was the Ottoman Semionoff who attached many conditions to his surrender. The Directoire considered him a reactionary, a brigand of sort, and someone it would gladly have done without, was it not for the backing he enjoyed from very well organized forces. A more or less satisfactory “modus vivendi” was finally obtained and the Trans-Siberian was able to run again. In November, the Commander-in-Chief Boltireff could officially declare that no more Czechs were positioned on the lines, that the entire front was occupied only by Russians and that the constitution of numerous reserves was rapidly progressing.
However, in all the other branches of the administration, the Directoire was hardly able to do anything. It was not even able to promulgate a law concerning the elections to the Zemstvas. Around mid-November, someone, who was to play an important role later on, appeared - Admiral Koltchak. He arrived as a simple traveller from Vladivostok, on his way to southern Russia. Government circles came to think that his name, his reputation of boundless energy, his prestige as the fearless and beyond reproach Knight, would weigh a lot in favour of the Government, if only he would accept to be part of it. After protracted negotiations, Admiral Koltchak reluctantly accepted to stay in Omsk and to become War and Marine Minister.
Though officially acknowledged, the Directoire had many enemies - first among them, the members of the former Assemblies of Samara and Siberia that had been dissolved. After being removed from positions of power, they were grumbling, intriguing and shouting that the Directoire was not sufficiently socialist. Several of their leaders even went back to the Bolsheviks later on. On the other hand, almost all the army officers and all of the Cossacks were resolutely anti-socialists and viewed the Directoire as too left-leaning. They enjoyed the backing of the right-wing Parties, of the Cadets and the Monarchists, who were in large numbers among the refugees. For the most part former landlords, employees, senior civil servants or members of the Doumas, their numbers were growing day by day. Being better educated and having a greater governmental experience than anyone else in Siberia, they got themselves organized and became influential. The bulk of the population, although freed from bolshevism but displeased with the levying of new troops and requisitioning of horses, was as usual passive and remained indifferent. Lastly, even within the Directoire, differences of opinion and divergences were growing from day to day between the socialists and the anti-socialists, headed by Koltchak.
This internal fighting, aggravated by personal ambitions and intrigues, greatly impeded any productive work and paved the way to the coup d’état of 1st December 1918 that put an end to the Directoire and brought Admiral Koltchak to the helm of the Government of all Russia, with the title of “Supreme Governor”.
I. General overview of the situation in Siberia.
In the face of its rise and undisputed previous military successes, such a rapid rout of Admiral Koltchak’s armies and Government astonished the world. Having taken part in the Siberian campaign and having been rather intimately involved in these events, I shall endeavour to explain them.
If the state of mind of the senior management was partly responsible for the collapse of Koltchak’s armies, the main reasons are more deep-rooted. It is, therefore, necessary to present a brief historical and geographical perspective of Siberia in order to understand them.
The immensity of the Siberian territory, one third bigger than the Pacific Ocean, and spanning six time zones from west to east, covers many diverse territories and populations. Between the Ural Mountains and the Ob River – 2000 km. – the region is flat, fertile in cereals, and rich in livestock. Before the war, it used to supply England and Denmark with almost all the butter they consumed. The population is made up of farmers and is very similar to the Russian region between the Volga and the Urals. Further east and as far as Lake Baïkal –another 2000 km or so – the more mountainous region, at the foothills of the Sayanes chain, with an immense forest cover known as the “taiga”, is infinitely wilder, even though quite a few very fertile valleys cross through it. The inhabitants of these oases live in large villages, sometimes even towns, rely on agriculture, hunting, some industrial activity, and trade for their livelihood, and are totally self-sufficient. To the east of the Urals for over 3000 km, the wilderness is even more accentuated, with fewer fertile valleys. The climate is very harsh and only becomes milder as one nears the Ocean.
It is difficult to estimate the population of Siberia. An approximate figure could be 30 million of excessively mixed and diverse composition. Russians are predominant in all areas, due to their influence and their political standing.
First you find residents who are the descendants for several generations of former deportees. They are rich, well-established, reasonable, with a sense of ownership, and constitute the stable population of Siberia. Then come the new voluntary migrants from Russia, not yet adjusted to the tough Siberian way of life and who yearn for their far-off Russian motherland, which seems far more attractive. They are often discontent and are easily troublemakers. Thirdly, one has to mention the Cossacks, descendants of the first conquerors of Siberia, initially genuine brigands who, after having subjugated Mongolian and Finnish tribes, offered these territories to the Czar Ivan the Terrible. Of undisciplined character, jealous of their privileges, faithful to the death, all soldiers, they are composed of several armed tribes (Voïska) that are quite distinct from each other. The Siberian Voïsko lives along the Irtitch River, the Ienisseï Voïsko along the River bearing the same name, the Irkoutsk on the Baïkal, and those of the Transbaïkal, the Amour River, and the Oussouri. All these warrior tribes own huge pieces of land that they cultivate and exploit as simple landlords in times of peace. Ruled by special laws, following strong traditions and enjoying very large autonomy, they provided Russia with valuable warriors. Their “esprit de corps” and their loyalty have always been a military and political force, and at times a decisive one.
The political deportees are not numerous, but are the “intelligentsia” of Siberia. As lawyers, doctors, journalists etc., they shape public opinion. All are Russian-style socialists, brought up in a spirit of systematic opposition to the Government, whichever it may be. Opposed to the Koltchak Government, they also opposed the Bolsheviks, and whenever themselves in power, being incapable of any creative action, they would manifest constant opposition and obstruction among themselves by being critical and disagreeing.
Finally, at the bottom rank of the Russian Siberian population, you find huge numbers of Common Law convicts who, having served out their sentence, form the dregs of society.
The rest of Siberian inhabitants are composed of a multitude of small Mongolian and Finnish tribes with their own standards and often unwritten languages. Most of them are nomads, shepherds or hunters. All in all, they are very numerous and represent half of the population of Siberia.
These tribes are often attracted by the notion of independence and dream of autonomy without having the slightest idea of what it means. They are often elements of trouble, quarrels, and rivalries, and revolt against those who govern them and whose authority they do not easily accept.
The scarcity of the population in such a vast area, the almost total absence of roads and the small number of Government civil servants impeded any real contact between the different communities. Despite all the efforts of the Russian Government, the Siberian clans preserved that spirit of independence and anarchy, always ready to revolt. Only a strongly organized Government could contain such diverse and opposite elements by virtue of its prestige and ensure obedience and submission.
The Trans-Siberian railway was the only existing link between Russia, Siberia and the Pacific. It played a dominant role at all times. With very few industries of its own, Siberia imported the manufactured goods and equipment necessary for the population, as well as all the weaponry for the armies. To protect the Trans-Siberian against raids was always the most important and difficult task, in view of its extended course through the deep taïga that could conceal entire enemy detachments without a trace.
II. Political situation
The political situation in Siberia in spring 1918 was approximately the following: 60,000 Czecho-Slavs who had left the Austrian army at the beginning of the war joined the Russian army. With the collapse of the Russian army, they decided to go back to France to continue fighting against Germany. Unable to force their way through the Austrian-German front, they opted for the long route across Russia and Siberia, intending literally to go around the globe to reach their destination by sea. The Kerenski Government had promised them free passage and made available all the necessary means of transportation. In May, they controlled the railway between Penza and the first town of Siberia, Tcheliabinsk. Their primary intention was simply to pass by without meddling in Russian affairs, but the resistance they faced on the part of the Bolsheviks who were then in power, forced them to get involved. They seized all the towns encountered on their way and gave their first support to all the numerous people discontented with the Bolshevik regime. As the Czechs were approaching, the population, led by officers assembled up to then in secret cells, would revolt, chase out or exterminate the ruling Bolsheviks, and formed the white army. In the beginning, they were mere gangs, but as the Czechs advanced east, these gangs snowballed, transforming themselves into armies, and benefited from the precious support of the Siberian Cossacks and of the organisations of Officers in Siberia. During that summer, the Czechs and the Whites together seized the left bank of the Volga between Kazan and Volsk (700 km), the whole Trans-Siberian line and the towns along it. By August, the totality of the railway and adjacent regions were purged of the Bolsheviks as far as the Ocean. The Czechs were greeted enthusiastically everywhere as friends and liberators, and their Chiefs, at the time Colonels Gaïda and Tchétchek, basked in the glory.
But to free these immense regions from the Bolshevik yoke was not enough. It was necessary to organize an Authority to govern them. The Czechs stayed away from that.
It appeared obvious from the start that it was impossible to organize a single government from the Volga to the Pacific. The great distances and the different conditions prevailing in the liberated provinces made it impossible. Four provisional governments were thus created as a first step.
The first one covering the area between the Volga and the Urals was located in Samara and was called “The Committee of the Constituent Assembly”. It was composed of some of the elected Members of the Constituent Assembly dissolved by the Bolsheviks. They adopted a left-wing Revolutionary Socialists’ program with Tchernoff as their leader. It speaks for itself. Instead of readying themselves for battle, of finding the necessary resources, organizing the army and, in particular, instead of trying to rally to its cause an indecisive population who, although not wanting to have anything to do with the Bolsheviks, dreamed of a government that would levy neither soldiers nor taxes, while supplying them with whatever was necessary – and even what was not necessary – fearful of a possible counter-revolution, they wasted their abilities and their forces in fighting against those same officers that had just saved the country. They provoked anger by introducing within the army the Kerensky principles that rapidly transformed a good, well-disciplined army into a bunch of faithless and lawless anarchists. Proclamations, meetings and speeches were abundant. Nevertheless, the Officers held their ground, with Colonel Galkine at their head. The young and brilliant Chiefs of Detachments Cappel, Stépanoff and others kept up the fight and organized the army, trying to ignore or to circumvent all the hindrances and obstacles created by the government.
In Siberia, between the Urals and Lake Baïkal, the “Government of Siberia” was put in place, sitting in Omsk. It was composed of representatives of the “intelligentsia”- lawyers, journalists, doctors, who came from small Siberian cities, but who had never participated in the previous government nor pursued any great policy. They also had a Socialist program, but as separatists they wanted an autonomous and even independent Siberia. The executive power was in the hands of ministers that were socialists only in name, who had fought the Bolsheviks and had organized governmental elections. They had close ties with the military headed by General Ikonoff Rinoff. Being further away from the theatre of the great battle that was brewing on the banks of the Volga, they could organize themselves and their army at leisure. The basis for the organization of the military was solid, thanks to the brilliant Chief of Staff General Béloff. In contrast, the difference in principles among the various members of the government could do no good and, in August, the conflict ended in favour of the Ministers with the arrest of several socialist members.
East of Lake Baïkal, the Cossacks played by far the dominant role. With the backing of the Czechs, they also settled down. Their Chiefs, or “Ottomans”, enjoyed absolute power. They behaved like old-time Ottomans, brigands, or bellicose conquerors, but were capable of being administrators with an open and just mind. The principal Ottoman was Sémionoff, who lived in Tchita, around whom assembled not only the Cossacks, but also numerous Russian officers and refugees. As a great diplomat, he succeeded in establishing durable friendly relations with the Japanese and is still recognized nowadays as the Chief of the entire region and of all anti-bolshevik organizations beyond the Baïkal.
And finally, a government was formed in Vladivostok under General Harvad, an educated broad-minded man, but who lacked the strength and energy necessary in those circumstances.
In July, the government of Siberia entered talks with the Committee of the Constituent Assembly in order to put in place a single government. The talks continued in Oufa until the end of September. An agreement was reached to form a government composed of five Directors elected by the delegates of Omsk and Samara. It would be called “The Provisional Government of All Russia”.
The Coup d’Etat that brought Admiral Koltchak to power was carried out by a detachment of 200 partisans of Krassilnikoff. The night of December 1st was chosen for the raid. No one opposed it, even though the Omsk garrison included an Infantry Division. General Boldireff, then at the front line, and his Chief of Staff, General Rosanoff, did not take any part in the plot and only learned about it once it was all over. The army as a whole received the news calmly, without any particular enthusiasm but without opposition either, as did the population, which would tend to prove that the Directoire had no deep roots in the country. By contrast, the political and ruling circles, for the most part officers and military chiefs, were rejoicing. They were tired of the vacillating policy of the Directoire, which was unable to understand that in the midst of a revolution, one could not act as in times of peace. People were craving a strong and common authority, capable of expressing its will and giving orders according to the laws of necessity.
The Admiral’s reputation was excellent. He distinguished himself as a young officer during the siege of Port Arthur. Later on, he commanded a polar expedition and during the Great War, was highly regarded in the Baltic fleet. Appointed by Kerensky, Commander-in-Chief of the Black Sea fleet, his gesture in front of rebelling seamen (who were demanding that all decorations be handed over to them; he challenged the menacing crew by throwing overboard his Saint Georges Cross from the flagship’s deck) triggered general admiration. A strong policy and decision-making authority were expected from him. One was hoping he would manage to reactivate the office’s work and shake up the whole administrative machinery and adapt it to the circumstances [at the time], and it appeared at the beginning that he would succeed. He gave his all, working relentlessly, allowing himself some rest only to eat and sleep 4 to 5 hours a day.
The legacy of the Directoire was all but easy to handle, but as was said earlier, the organisation that had been started had to be continued and strengthened. The most urgent and burning issue was the army. Even a stable and well-established government can collapse because of an unsuccessful war. In the case of a spontaneous government like the one of Admiral Koltchak, it could only become strong if backed by a victorious and strong army. The first task was, therefore, the pursuit of the organization of the armed forces and the preparation of the 1919 campaign.
The Directoire had planned to secure a line for strategic deployment, to strengthen the troops already engaged with men requisitioned in the region west of the Urals, to take advantage of the calm of winter to organize the so-called Siberian troops and to launch an offensive in spring of 1919. Until then, the troops that were forming in Siberia were in no case to be called upon, even if the Reds were to push back the line foreseen for the deployment. Considering the immensity of the territory, there was no harm in relinquishing 300 or 400 km. But the coup d’état brought about some changes in the military Command.
General Boldireff was even obliged to leave Siberia and his Chief of Staff, General Rosanoff, was only later posted in the interior. Koltchak himself became Commander-in-Chief and took on as Chief of Staff Colonel Lebedeff, who had just graduated from Military School in 1918, had limited experience and had only served in posts of secondary importance. The plan of the Directoire was altered, losing much of its wisdom and caution. The situation on the front was not bad. The troops levied along the Volga were holding ground in front of Oufa. The right flank reinforced by a Siberian army corps, in order to show the population that Siberia was with them, was progressing towards Perm (communication centre indispensable for the deployment). The Czechs were held in reserve, occupying the towns and the railway in the rear. In view of the general situation in the country, and the very fact that the national army was becoming better organized and was growing in numbers, it became more and more difficult to equip and supply it. It is precisely in this field that the Officers were lacking experience and know-how, and that fact was to become one of the main reasons for the demoralization of the army. Most of the Officers were young, brilliant partisans, courageous and active, but with no experience of a great war. For example, General Gaïda, a Czech who transferred to the service of Koltchak, 28 years old and previously a veterinarian in the Austrian army, commanded the 1st Army composed of 5-6 Divisions within a 300-500 km radius; and General Pepeliaeff, 27 years old, second rank officer, commanded an army corps. These two young men were extraordinarily brave but completely ignorant. Without any assurance of being supplied with what was lacking, the troops requisitioned what they needed from the local inhabitants, but being poorly disciplined, these requisitions degenerated into pillaging. Lacking resolution and authority, their Officers were unable to oppose it, and sometimes even indulged in looting for their own account or for their units. This could only exasperate the population, and a village that had happily greeted the “Whites” as liberators would see them out shooting them in their backs.
If the organization of the army remained the biggest preoccupation of the new government, the most difficult aspect was its internal policy. The general situation was the same as under the Directoire, the divergences and intrigues even growing considerably. The Admiral felt caught between all these contradictory currents and it appeared rapidly that he would be dominated by the situation rather than the opposite as was hoped upon his arrival. Very impulsive, too quick-tempered, he lacked the steadfastness to follow a given program and to adapt his decisions to this overall program. The Chairman of the Cabinet was still the former Director Vologodsky. He had no influence, and the Ministers could report directly to the Admiral. He allowed himself to be too influenced by them, his decisions always bore the mark of his counsellors who, in disagreement amongst themselves, were intriguing one against the other, which resulted in a lack of unity. The Admiral’s relations with Ottoman Sémionoff are a striking example of his character. This had huge repercussions in Siberia and did not improve the Admiral’s position. When the Admiral came to power, Ottoman Sémionoff acknowledged him but only under certain conditions. The Admiral demanded complete submission, but Sémionoff refused. The Admiral got extremely angry and dismissed him. Sémionoff couldn’t care less and let it be known that he would act independently and would close down the Trans-Siberian railway. The Admiral was compelled to give in, revoked his orders and not only reconciled with Ottoman Sémionoff but appointed him in due form Lieutenant-General and granted him more rights than he had ever had before. Much later, a few days before his death, it was to Ottoman Sémionoff, chosen by the Cossacks and occupying a central position in Siberia, that Admiral Koltchak transmitted his pitiful legacy and appointed him as his successor.
The internal policy was still ill-defined and indecisive. Under pressure from a few of the Ministers, of the Socialist parties and cooperatives whose influence had considerably grown, the Government published very democratic decrees full of promises. The Law on the election procedure to the “Zemstvas” and Municipal Councils was very progressive, but in practice, the Government remained perfectly autocratic, centralistic, in no way ressembling a Parliament, with only a consultative voice. Instead of stating the main directions of a defined program, the Ministers gave only partial orders, which were often clumsy and contradictory. Covetous of their powers, still lacking experience, not trusting anyone, they failed to grant sufficient independence to Senior Managers in remote regions and often harmfully hindered their actions. Given the huge Siberian distances and the diversity of conditions in the regions, it would have seemed appropriate on the contrary to give the local Chiefs more freedom of action, bordering on autonomy. One should have understood that what was good for Omsk was not so for Irkoutsk, Tchita or Vladivostok; hence delays, conflicts and frictions leading to disorganization and discontent.
The administration of small towns and rural areas was practically non-existant. The Government failed to rally the masses and neglected them. From time to time, it would send orders that could not even be read, no one was literate! So, a big village along the railway and situated at the most 50 km away, would send a delegation to the town of Atchinsk to request that someone knowing how to read be sent to them! The rural population was of course receiving all the mute rumours continuously spread in the propaganda of the Bolsheviks and the Revolutionary Socialists. The ground was very favourable for such propaganda when orders of mobilisation reached the villages. As was said before, the population was opposed to any duty towards the State, and especially to supplying it with soldiers. Starting from the month of January, riots ensued in the centre of Siberia near Krasnoïarsk, as well as on the Amour River where even under the Czarist regime the Government had never managed to make its authority felt. These riots would become extensive.
The task of Admiral Koltchak was therefore difficult and onerous, and required almost superhuman strength to be performed. Despite his vitality, his courage, his loyalty, his self-sacrifice and personal selflessness, the State flagship that the Admiral wanted to bring to victory and prosperity did not happen as expected. The more enlightened part of society that had welcomed his arrival was no longer supporting him enough. For generations, the “intelligentsia” was used to oppose and criticize. But in times of war and revolution, criticism becomes fatal. All the forces should have been directed toward the same objective, everybody should have felt the danger. By contrast, the behaviour of the army and the seeming stability of the Government were giving an impression of security… One forgot the danger in order to indulge in petty politics and speculations.
The relations with the Allies were becoming very complicated due essentially to the mute struggle that was going on between America and Japan. Each one of these States wanted to prevent the other from attaining a predominant position in Siberia. The Japanese urgently needed the iron ore and coal of the Far East and were hoping to obtain the rights to exploit them in return for their assistance against the Bolsheviks. The Americans, on the other hand, had no interest in allowing Japan to enrich itself and preferred to keep the immense riches of Siberia for themselves. The first steps of the Allies in Siberia predated the Directoire. During the summer of 1918, and with the agreement of the Government of that time, the Americans and the Japanese descended on Vladivostok to maintain order in that city. They were followed by some High Commissioners of the other Allies who, when the Czechs started fighting the Bolsheviks, took them under their protection and especially France who committed itself to help them financially and materially. When the Directoire was formed, the Allied Powers established relations with it and their representatives came to Omsk. These relations were maintained with the arrival of Koltchak, who received quite an important material assistance: the English sent large quantities of weapons, ammunitions and equipment, the French gave weaponry and subsidized the Czechs, and the Americans set up mainly hospitals. Later on, the Allies also sent some troops that, except for the three Japanese Divisions, were not very numerous: one English regiment, one French battalion and battery, one American brigade and even one Italian battalion. All these troops were assigned to the protection of the Trans-Siberian railway and were stationed in the towns. The French battalion alone fought for some time on the front. During the first months of the Admiral’s Government, it was thought that this reinforcement was amply sufficient.
The winter and early spring campaign looked promising. The Government position seemed stable. The Admiral was recognized as the Supreme Commander by all the groups fighting the Bolsheviks. General Dénikine in the South, General Miller in the North, the whole of Siberia were receiving orders from Omsk, and the Allies were about to acknowledge it. Unfortunately, as a consequence of the Armistice, the French, the English and the Italians lost interest in the Admiral’s lot. The demobilization in France, England and Italy, triggered the recall of all their troops in Siberia. According to the agreement with the Allied Forces, the assistance of the French and the English was to be given up in the South and in the North of Russia, whereas Siberia was to continue to be supported by the Americans and the Japanese. The protection of the central portion of the Trans-Siberian returned to the Czechs alone. It must be said that the Czechs at that time hardly looked like those of summer 1918. To start with, around 75% of these heroes were disabled on the Volga. 75%! Authentic figure. The remnants were complemented with Slav Austrian prisoners from the Siberian camps, eager to be thus spared of camp life, and who were Czechs only in name. The Czech Command managed not only to complement and reinforce its initial troops but even created a new 3rd Division. The reigning spirit among these new Czechs was quite different from that of the real ones. All excessively enriched by the spoils of war grabbed from the Bolsheviks, dreaming only of returning to a new homeland recognized as independent in virtue of the Armistice, having no more reasons to fight, they also began to be demoralized by the Bolshevik propaganda that was sparing no effort to split them up. Some limited uprisings even took place among them, and they were the ones that, in the end, gave the finishing stroke “coup de grâce” to the Admiral.
The order of events on the front during the winter of 1918-1919 was the following. In executing one of the main elements of the Directoire’s plan, Perm was taken around the 15th of December. But instead of leaving it at that, carried away by its success, the army pursued its offensive despite the rigours of the winter. This almost spontaneous offensive, engagements after engagements, was not part of any given plan and lacked cohesion. The Bolsheviks were stubbornly resisting, without engaging for that matter the bulk of their reserves. Soon enough, the rigorous cold weather, the defective organization of the rear and the lack of experience and know-how of the Commanders began to be felt more and more. In order to beef up the ranks, to continue and maintain the offensive, reserves were called in. The young officers of the General Headquarters had no idea of the dangers awaiting them on that road, and the Admiral himself was too inexperienced in land strategy and much too impulsive to play for time and lend an ear to the opinion of old officers, such as his War Minister, General Stepanoff. He approved the superficial plans of his Chief of Staff Lebedeff, who managed to impose his influence. Instead of concentrating on the organization of the reserves, on the preparation of a summer campaign that he could have led with a compact mass of half a million men, in concert with an offensive by General Denikine and General Miller, Lebedeff was only looking for cheap successes and wasted the reserves by sending them to the front by entire brigades and divisions, hardly trained and insufficiently prepared. In May, the Koltchak army almost reached the Volga. The “Reds” were defeated and were running for it, the “Whites” were breathlessly in their pursuit… But all the reserves were exhausted and the troops extenuated. That is when the Reds launched a counter-offensive. With fresh, well-trained and well-armed troops, with great vigour and talent, they easily got the better of an army disorganized by its own successes and managed in a single month to not only retake the lost ground but to reach the Urals, last barrier before the plains of Western Siberia!
The repercussions of that defeat were violently felt throughout Siberia and all clear-sighted people understood that from then on, Koltchak’s position was doomed without strong foreign assistance. Since help could come only from Japan and America, it was left to diplomacy to convince these two rival powers to render assistance to the Admiral. There was little hope of receiving troops from America, but on the other hand only America could supply the absolutely indispensable railway equipment. The Trans-Siberian was about to come to a halt, for a lack of locomotives and wagons. The Czechs were withholding 8000 wagons and the corresponding number of locomotives that they had embarked on. Therefore all the diplomatic efforts were directed to forging a closer friendship with both Japan and America. Unfortunately, this near impossible task could not be accomplished. Internal politics and intrigues came into play in this diplomatic effort. Some parties were created, the rightists being pro-Japanese and the leftists pro-American. Whereas he personally disliked the Japanese since the war, Admiral Koltchak was aware of the gravity of the situation and favoured a closer alliance with Japan. Talks were initiated to this end and around the month of July, it seemed that the issue of the assistance of Japanese troops was positively solved. The Japanese Mission was making serious and quite acceptable propositions to which Admiral Koltchak seemed to agree. But at the last moment, Soukine, in charge of Foreign Affairs, succeeded in convincing the Admiral that it was much too dangerous to let the Japanese invade Siberia; that they would refuse later on to give back the Trans-Siberian, and that the economic privileges they were seeking in return for their assistance were tantamount to auctioning off the Russian heritage for which posterity would never forgive the Admiral. These were incidentally the reasons advanced by the leftist parties against Japan, masking the only real reason, which was the fear of receiving assistance from a “reactionary” Empire, or in other words the constant fear of a counter-revolution. The almost concluded talks were suspended and the recognition by the Japanese of the Koltchak Government that was supposed to stem from this Alliance never took place. It was still hoped that the army could rally without foreign aid and the last possible reserves were hastily assembled. As for a more active assistance from the Americans, the issue was never raised. The Americans had troops in the trans-Baïkal region governed by the Cossacks Ottomans, and judging by what they could see there, they were not inclined to favour the Omsk Government. Besides, the Cossack population hated them. The reports established by their military staff posted here and there around the country and seemingly well- informed, gave the impression in America that the Koltchak Government was not at all desirable and that it was not to be backed. They openly expressed their sympathy towards the opposition and even supported it quite effectively.
The military and internal situations were worsening. The defeat of the armies had repercussions throughout the entire country, the Government was increasingly losing its prestige, the population was distancing itself more and more from it and the Bolshevik and Revolutionary Socialist propaganda encountered an increasingly fertile soil. Riots increased in number, and by August/beginning of September, when the Bolsheviks passed the Urals and invaded western Siberia, almost all of Siberia was on fire. Only the towns and the Trans-Siberian railway were in the hands of the Government, while some riots also took place within several garrisons. The Government deployed extreme efforts to gain the confidence of the population. It announced the convening of a General Assembly, but nobody believed in it, and the opposition refused to participate, which thus triggered the collapse of the plan. Completely defeated, the army disbanded, indulged in looting and other excesses. In October, the Government decided to move to Irkoutsk, since Omsk was under threat and beyond any hope of being saved. The end had come. Part of the Ministers and Offices managed to reach Irkoutsk but were unable to organize themselves and function. The Admiral stayed in Omsk with his staff until the last moment. His way to Irkoutsk was long and agonizing.
Panic overtook Omsk, which was full of refugees from Central Russia. Civil servants, members of the Government, all would be victims of the Bolsheviks. Everybody wanted to leave. Those who could find a place on the cattle wagons or on those that had just disembarked people sick with typhus felt lucky. Others were leaving by car or by foot for an endless voyage of several thousand kilometres and with no precise destination. No one was preoccupied with what they would eat, or how to keep warm despite the impending approach of winter, the terrible Siberian winter with its -50 C temperatures. Thousands of wagons full of these unfortunate people were fleeing to the east. The two trains of Admiral Koltchak and his General Staff were following the same route, between the trains of refugees. A terrible chaos reigned because of the frantic panic aggravated by acts of sabotage perpetrated by the Bolshevik railwaymen. Omsk fell to the Reds on November 14. This news made things even worse, spreading more and more panic to the east. The Czechs, who were still guarding the line in Central Siberia, abandoned their positions and thought only of moving east too. Lacking locomotives, they took by force those of the refugees’ trains, unmoved by what would happen to those unfortunate people. Some 6000 wagons are estimated to have thus been left stranded, and almost all of the refugees, men, women and children crammed into them perished from hunger, cold or typhus.
The Admiral’s train, followed by the train transporting out of the reach of the Bolsheviks the gold reserves that remained to the Government, some 400 million gold roubles at least, was making slow progress in the midst of this tragic mass and reached Krasnoïarsk, mid-way to Irkoutsk. The remnants of the army, about 30,000 men, were following the railway lines on foot. These were the best, utterly anti-bolshevik troops, and among them, the heroic Division of the Igevsk workers, reduced to just 2000 men but untameable, led by General Cappel. Once in Krasnoïarsk, the Admiral found himself in a desperate situation. The Government in Irkoutsk had no authority at all, and the coal mining region of Tcheremkovo, between Krasnoïarsk and Irkoutsk, with its tens of thousands of workers, had just rebelled, proclaimed bolshevism and cut off the Trans-Siberian railway. The Czechs began to panic, refusing to obey orders coming from their Command in Irkoutsk, and made contact with the Bolsheviks, obsessed by one thing – to get back home. They seized all the locomotives and also demanded the handing over of the locomotives of the Admiral’s trains. It was at this moment that the Admiral sent two desperate telegrams to his deputies, Ottoman Sémionoff in Tchita, General Harvad in Harbin and General Rosanoff in Vladivostok, asking the latter to transmit them to the Allied Missions and to the Czech Command. It was to be the last agonizing call from the unfortunate Admiral. With aching hearts and full of pity, his deputies were powerless to save him. Being himself overstretched, the Ottoman Sémionoff’s attempts and efforts did not succeed. Only after three days of negotiations, and under Allied pressure, could the Admiral pursue his way. But once he reached the coal-mining region, the rebels refused to let him through. At that moment the insurrection also broke out in Irkoutsk itself, where the Revolutionary Socialists, about to be overwhelmed by the Bolsheviks, seized power. The Admiral could therefore only find refuge beyond Lake Baïkal. The insurgents even threatened the Czechs with the destruction of the railway if they insisted on letting the Admiral pass through. The Admiral thought of joining Cappel’s army and continuing the retreat with them, but the Czechs, fearful of the Bolsheviks’ vengeance, did not allow it. The Admiral and his suite were thus de facto prisoners of the Czechs. After long talks and thanks to the influence of General Janin, the Admiral was allowed to continue, but without his train. He was crammed with his followers into a single wagon attached to the Czechs’ train. The Czechs and General Janin had pledged to bring him to Tchita: the Admiral’s wagon was bearing the Allies’ flags. No one knows what happened to the train with the gold, but there was enough of it to arouse anyone’s lust.
The Admiral finally arrived in Irkoutsk. The city was in the hands of the insurgents, filled with hate against the Admiral and loudly clamouring for his surrender. The Sémionoff offensive that was progressing towards the Admiral was exacerbating the situation even more, in addition to another unfortunate event that proved to be fatal for the Admiral: some of Sémionoff’s men had killed the hostages taken precisely in Irkoutsk. According to an agreement with the Czechs, the railway station, located outside of the town on the other side of the River Angara, was in the hands of the Czechs, but was surrounded by the Reds who were threatening to destroy the bridges and the tunnels on the line along the Lake Baïkal if Koltchak was not delivered to them. General Cappel’s troops were too far behind to exert any immediate influence on the events. In a total panic, blinded by their fixation of being repatriated, the Czech troops joined the chorus of the Reds and called for the Admiral’s surrender by their Chiefs. The Czech Commander, General Sirovoï first among them, finally gave in and General Janin did not oppose the surrender of Admiral Koltchak to his enemies, even though they knew they were condemning him to death. A military tribunal was set up within the hour and on that same night the Admiral was executed by firing squad along with his most prominent followers and personal aides-de-camp. Chivalrous, fervent patriot, courageous soldier, but weak politician, he remained a man of honour to the very end.