Alexander Kolchak

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Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak
Supreme Ruler of Russia
In office
18 November 1918 7 February 1920
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded by Anton Denikin
Personal details
Born16 November 1874
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died7 February 1920
Irkutsk, Russian SFSR (aged 45)
Military service
AllegianceFlag of Russia (1914-1917).svg  Russian Empire
Flag of Russia (1696-1917).svg Russian State (From 1918)
Branch/serviceNaval Ensign of Russia.svg  Imperial Russian Navy
Flag of Russia (1696-1917).svg White Army
Years of service1886–1920
RankAdmiral (From 1918 Onward)
Battles/wars Russo-Japanese War
World War I
Russian Civil War

Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak KB (Russian : Алекса́ндр Васи́льевич Колча́к; 16 November [ O.S. 4 November] 1874 – 7 February 1920) was an Imperial Russian admiral, military leader and polar explorer who served 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 Leader and Commander-in-Chief of All Russian Land and Sea Forces" by the other leaders of the White movement from 1918 to 1920. [1] His government was based in Omsk, in southwestern Siberia.

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Old Style and New Style dates 16th-century changes in calendar conventions

Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) are terms sometimes used with dates to indicate that the calendar convention used at the time described is different from that in use at the time the document was being written. There were two calendar changes in Great Britain and its colonies, which may sometimes complicate matters: the first was to change the start of the year from Lady Day to 1 January; the second was to discard the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian calendar. Closely related is the custom of dual dating, where writers gave two consecutive years to reflect differences in the starting date of the year, or to include both the Julian and Gregorian dates.

Russian Empire former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire was an empire that extended across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.


For nearly two years, Kolchak was Russia's internationally recognized head of state. [2] However, his effort to unite the White Movement failed; Kolchak refused to consider autonomy for ethnic minorities and refused to cooperate with non-Bolshevik leftists, heavily relying on outside aid. This served only to boost the Reds morale, as it allowed them to label Kolchak as a "Western Puppet". As his White forces fell apart, he was betrayed and captured by the Czechoslovak Legion who handed him over to local Socialists-Revolutionaries, and he was soon after executed by the Bolsheviks in Irkutsk. [3]

Czechoslovak Legion

The Czechoslovak Legion were volunteer armed forces composed predominantly of Czechs with a small number of Slovaks fighting on the side of the Entente powers during World War I. Their goal was to win the support of the Allied Powers for the independence of Bohemia and Moravia from the Austrian Empire and of Slovak territories from the Kingdom of Hungary, which were then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With the help of émigré intellectuals and politicians such as the Czech Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and the Slovak Milan Rastislav Štefánik, they grew into a force of over 100,000 strong.

Socialist Revolutionary Party political party in early 20th century Russia

The Socialist Revolutionary Party, or Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries was a major political party in early 20th century Imperial Russia.


Early life and career

Kolchak on Zarya KolchakOnZarya.jpg
Kolchak on Zarya

Kolchak was born in Saint Petersburg in 1874 to a family of minor Russian nobility of Moldovan origin. [4] Both his parents were from Odessa. His father was a retired major-general of the Marine Artillery and a veteran of the 1854 siege of Sevastopol, who after retirement worked as an engineer in ordnance works near St. Petersburg. Kolchak was educated for a naval career, graduating from the Naval Cadet Corps in 1894 and joining the 7th Naval Battalion. He was soon transferred to the Russian Far East, serving in Vladivostok from 1895 to 1899. He then returned to western Russia and was based at Kronstadt, joining the Russian Polar expedition of Eduard Toll on the ship Zarya in 1900 as a hydrologist.

Saint Petersburg Federal city in the Northwestern federal district, Russia

Saint Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants in 2012, part of the Saint Petersburg agglomeration with a population of 6.2 million (2015). An important Russian port on the Baltic Sea, it has a status of a federal subject.

Russian nobility privileged social class in the Russian Empire

The Russian nobility originated in the 14th century. In 1914 it consisted of approximately 1,900,000 members.

Odessa Place in Odessa Oblast, Ukraine

Odessa or Odesa is the third most populous city of Ukraine and a major tourism center, seaport and transport hub located on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea. It is also the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast and a multiethnic cultural center. Odessa is sometimes called the "pearl of the Black Sea", the "South Capital", and "Southern Palmyra". Before the Tsarist establishment of Odessa, an ancient Greek settlement existed at its location. A more recent Tatar settlement was also founded at the location by Hacı I Giray, the Khan of Crimea in 1440 that was named after him as "Hacıbey". After a period of Lithuanian Grand Duchy control, Hacibey and surroundings became part of the domain of the Ottomans in 1529 and remained there until the empire's defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1792.

After considerable hardship, Kolchak returned in December 1902; Eduard Toll with three other explorers continued further north and were lost. Kolchak took part in two Arctic expeditions to look for the lost explorers (who weren't found) and for a while was nicknamed "Kolchak-Poliarnyi" ("Kolchak the Polar"). For his explorations Kolchak received the highest award of the Russian Geographical Society.

Russian Geographical Society organization

The Russian Geographical Society (RGO) is a learned society based in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It promotes exploration and geography with research programs in fields including oceanography and ethnography.

In December 1903, Kolchak was en route to St. Petersburg with plans to marry his fiancée Sophia Omirova when, not far from Irkutsk, he received notice of the start of war with the Empire of Japan and hastily summoned his bride and her father to Siberia by telegram for a wedding, before heading directly to Port Arthur. In the early stages of the Russo-Japanese War, he served as watch officer on the cruiser Askold, [5] and later commanded the destroyer Serdityi. He made several night sorties to lay naval mines, one of which succeeded in sinking the Japanese cruiser Takasago. He was decorated with the Order of St. Anna 4th class for the exploit. As the blockade of the port tightened and the Siege of Port Arthur intensified, he was given command of a coastal artillery battery. He was wounded in the final battle for Port Arthur and taken as a prisoner of war to Nagasaki, where he spent four months. His poor health (rheumatism, a consequence of his polar expeditions) led to his repatriation before the end of the war. Kolchak was awarded the Golden Sword of St. George with the inscription "For Bravery" on his return to Russia.

Irkutsk City in eastern Russia

Irkutsk is the administrative center of Irkutsk Oblast, Russia, and one of the largest cities in Siberia.

Empire of Japan Empire in the Asia-Pacific region between 1868–1947

The Empire of Japan was the historical nation-state and great power that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the enactment of the 1947 constitution of modern Japan.

Siberia Geographical region in Russia

Siberia is an extensive geographical region spanning much of Eurasia and North Asia. Siberia has historically been a part of modern Russia since the 17th century.

Returning to Saint Petersburg in April 1905, Kolchak was promoted to lieutenant commander and took part in the rebuilding of the Imperial Russian Navy, which had been almost completely destroyed during the war. He served on the Naval General Staff from 1906, helping draft a shipbuilding program, a training program, and developing a new protection plan for St. Petersburg and the Gulf of Finland.

Gulf of Finland arm of the Baltic Sea

The Gulf of Finland is the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea. It extends between Finland and Estonia all the way to Saint Petersburg in Russia, where the river Neva drains into it. Other major cities around the gulf include Helsinki and Tallinn. The eastern parts of the Gulf of Finland belong to Russia, and some of Russia's most important oil harbours are located farthest in, near Saint Petersburg. As the seaway to Saint Petersburg, the Gulf of Finland has been and continues to be of considerable strategic importance to Russia. Some of the environmental problems affecting the Baltic Sea are at their most pronounced in the shallow gulf.

Kolchak took part in designing the special icebreakers Taimyr and Vaigach , launched in 1909 spring 1910. Based in Vladivostok, these vessels were sent on cartographic expedition to the Bering Strait and Cape Dezhnev. Kolchak commanded the Vaigach during this expedition and later worked at the Academy of Sciences with the materials collected by him during expeditions. His study, The Ices of the Kara and Siberian Seas, [6] was printed in the Proceedings of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences and is considered the most important work on this subject. Extracts from it were published under the title "The Arctic Pack and the Polynya" in the volume issued in 1929 by the American Geographical Society, Problems of Polar Research.

In 1910 he returned to the Naval General Staff, and in 1912 he was assigned to the Russian Baltic Fleet.

First World War

The onset of the First World War found him on the flagship Pogranichnik, where Kolchak oversaw the laying of extensive coastal defensive minefields and commanded the naval forces in the Gulf of Riga. Commanding Admiral Essen was not satisfied to remain on the defensive and ordered Kolchak to prepare a scheme for attacking the approaches of the German naval bases. During the autumn and winter of 1914–1915, Russian destroyers and cruisers started a series of dangerous night operations, laying mines at the approaches to Kiel and Danzig. Kolchak, feeling that the man responsible for planning operations should also take part in their execution, was always on board those ships which carried out the operations and at times took direct command of the destroyer flotillas.

He was promoted to vice-admiral in August 1916, the youngest man at that rank, and was made commander of the Black Sea Fleet, replacing Admiral Eberhart. Kolchak's primary mission was to support General Yudenich in his operations against the Ottoman Empire. He also was tasked with countering the U-boat threat and to plan the invasion of the Bosphorus (never carried out). Kolchak's fleet was successful at sinking Turkish colliers. Because there was no railroad linking the coal mines of eastern Turkey with Constantinople, the Russian fleet's attacks on these Turkish coal ships caused the Ottoman government much hardship. In 1916, in a model combined Army-Navy assault, the Russian Black Sea fleet aided the Russian army's capture of the Ottoman city of Trebizond (modern Trabzon).

One notable disaster took place under Kolchak's watch: the dreadnought Imperatritsa Mariya exploded in port at Sevastopol on 7 October 1916. A careful investigation failed to determine whether the cause of the disaster was accident or sabotage.


The Black Sea fleet descended into political chaos after the onset of the 1917 February Revolution. Kolchak was relieved of command of the fleet in June and traveled to Petrograd (St. Petersburg). On his arrival at Petrograd, Kolchak was invited to a meeting of the Provisional Government. There he presented his view on the condition of the Russian armed forces and their complete demoralisation. He stated that the only way to save the country was to re-establish strict discipline and restore capital punishment in the army and navy.

During this time many organisations and newspapers of a conservative inclination spoke of him as a future dictator. A number of new and secret organisations had sprung up in Petrograd with the goal of suppressing the Bolshevist movement and the removal of the extremist members of the government. Some of these organisations asked Kolchak to accept the leadership.

When news of these plots found their way to then Naval Minister of the Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky, he ordered Kolchak to leave immediately for America. Admiral James H. Glennon, a member of American mission headed by Senator Elihu Root, invited Kolchak to the United States to brief the American Navy on the strategic situation in the Bosphorus. On 19 August 1917 Kolchak with several officers left Petrograd for Britain and the United States as a quasi-official military observer. When passing through London he was greeted cordially by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, who offered him transport on board a British cruiser on his way to Halifax in Canada. The journey to America proved unnecessary, as by the time Kolchak arrived, the US had given up the idea of any independent action in the Dardanelles. Kolchak visited the American Fleet and its ports, and decided to return to Russia via Japan.

Russian Civil War

The Bolshevik revolution found Kolchak in Japan and then Harbin in November 1917. [1] As a supporter of the Provisional Government, he returned to Russia, through Vladivostok, in 1918. Kolchak was an absolute supporter of the Allied cause against Imperial Germany and regarded Russia's immediate withdrawal from the conflict as dishonorable. [7] Upon hearing of the October Revolution, Kolchak offered to enlist in the British Army to continue the struggle. [7] The British were inclined to accept Kolchak's offer, and there were indeed plans to send Kolchak to Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). [7] Ultimately, the British Foreign Office decided that Kolchak could do more for the Allied cause by toppling Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks and bringing Russia back into the war on the side of the Allies. [7] Reluctantly, Kolchak accepted the British suggestions and with a heavy sense of foreboding returned to Russia. [7] Kolchak arrived in Manchuria and was placed in charge of security for the Russian-owned Chinese Eastern Railroad. [7] Arriving in Omsk, Siberia, en route to enlisting with the Volunteer Army, he agreed to become a minister in the (White) Siberian Regional Government. Joining a 14-man cabinet, he was a prestige figure; the government hoped to play on the respect he had with the Allies, especially the head of the British military mission, General Alfred Knox. Knox wrote that Kolchak had "more grit, pluck and honest patriotism than any Russian in Siberia". [7]

Kolchak was a man with poor social skills, being moody, melancholy, taciturn, and very uncomfortable in dealing with people. [8] Arriving at a dinner, Colonel John Ward described him as "a small, vagrant, lonely soul without a friend enter unbidden to a feast". [8] One who knew him wrote:

The character and soul of the Admiral are so transparent that one needs no more than one week of contact to know all there is to know about him. He is a big, sick child, a pure idealist, a convinced slave of duty and service to an idea and to Russia. An indubitable neurotic who quickly flares up, exceedingly impetuous and uncontrolled in expressions of displeasure and anger; in this respect he has assimilated the highly unattractive traditions of the naval service, which permit in high naval ranks behavior that in our army has long since passed into the realm of legend. He is utterly absorbed by the idea of serving Russia, of saving her from Red oppression, and restoring her to full power and to the inviolability of her territory. For the sake of this he can be persuaded and moved to do anything whatever. He has no personal interests, no amour propre: in this respect he is crystal pure. He passionately despises all lawlessness and arbitrariness, but because he is so uncontrolled and impulsive, he himself often unintentionally transgresses against the law, and this mainly when seeking to uphold the same law, and always under the influence of some outsider. He does not know life in its severe, practical reality, and lives in a world of mirages and borrowed ideas. He has no plans, no system, no will: in this respect he is soft wax from which advisers and intimates can fashion whatever they want, exploiting the fact that it is enough to disguise something as necessary for the welfare of Russia and the good of the cause to be certain of his approval. [9]

Another who knew him wrote of Kolchak:

He is kind and at the same time severe, responsive and at the same time embarrassed to show human feelings, concealing his gentleness behind make-believe severity. He is impatient and stubborn, loses his temper, threatens and then calms down, making concessions, spreads his hands in a gesture of helplessness.He is bursting to be with the people, with the troops, but when he faces them, has no idea of what to say [10]

Politically naive and an inept administrator, Kolchak described himself as a "military technician" who knew nothing of politics, described power as a "cross", and in a letter to his wife wrote about the "terrifying burden of Supreme Power" and admitted that as "a fighting man he was reluctant to face the problems of statecraft". [8] The American historian Richard Pipes wrote that Kolchak's only strengths were his courage, patriotism, integrity, and a strong sense of honor, writing that he was "... in many ways, along with Wrangel, the most honorable White commander in the Civil War", but his weaknesses such his tendency to suffer from manic-depression and an inability to "understand people or communicate with them", which made him into "an execrable administrator in whose name were committed unpardonable acts of corruption and brutality that he personally found utterly repugnant." [9]

In November 1918, the unpopular regional government was overthrown in a British sponsored coup d'etat . Kolchak had returned to Omsk on 16 November from an inspection tour. He was approached and refused to take power. The Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) directory leader and members were arrested on 18 November by a troop of Cossacks under ataman Krasilnikov. The remaining cabinet members met and voted for Kolchak to become the head of government with emergency powers. He was named Supreme Ruler (Verkhovnyi Pravitel), and he promoted himself to full admiral. The arrested SR politicians were expelled from Siberia and ended up in Europe.

Kolchak's signature Aleksandr Kolchak Signature.jpg
Kolchak's signature

He issued the following manifesto to the population:[ citation needed ]

The Provisional All-Russian Government has come to an end. The Council of Ministers, having all the power in its hands, has invested me, Admiral Alexander Kolchak, with this power. I have accepted this responsibility in the exceptionally difficult circumstances of civil war and complete disorganisation of the country, and I now make it known that I shall follow neither the reactionary path nor the deadly path of party strife. My chief aims are the organisation of a fighting force, the overthrow of Bolshevism, and the establishment of law and order, so that the Russian people may be able to choose a form of government in accordance with its desire and to realise the high ideas of liberty and freedom. I call upon you, citizens, to unite and to sacrifice your all, if necessary, in the struggle with Bolshevism.

The Left SR leaders in Russia denounced Kolchak and called for his assassination. Their activities resulted in a small revolt in Omsk on 22 December 1918, which was quickly put down by Cossacks and the Czechoslovak Legion, who summarily executed almost 500 rebels. Subsequently, the SRs opened negotiations with the Bolsheviks and in January 1919 the SR People's Army joined up with the Red Army.

Kolchak pursued a policy of persecuting revolutionaries as well as Socialists of several factions. His government issued a decree on 3 December 1918 stating, "In order to preserve the system and rule of the Supreme Ruler, articles of the criminal code of Imperial Russia were revised, Articles 99 and 100 of which established capital punishment for assassination attempts on the Supreme Ruler and for attempting to overthrow his government. "Insults written, printed, and oral, are punishable by imprisonment under Article 103. Bureaucratic sabotage under Article 329 was punishable by hard labour from 15 to 20 years. [11]

Kolchak (seated), Anna Timiryova and General Alfred Knox (behind Kolchak) observing military exercise, 1919 Kolchak, Noks i angliiskie ofitsery vostochnogo fronta.jpg
Kolchak (seated), Anna Timiryova and General Alfred Knox (behind Kolchak) observing military exercise, 1919

Although the news of Kolchak's ascension to power spread very slowly behind Bolshevik lines, it caused considerable excitement among anti-communist Russians living there. Ivan Bunin wrote in his diary, "4/17 June 1919. The Entente has named Kolchak the Supreme Ruler of Russia. Izvestia wrote an obscene article saying: 'Tell us, you reptile, how much did they pay you for that?' The devil with them. I crossed myself with tears of joy." [12]

On 11 April 1919, the Kolchak government adopted Regulation no. 428, "About the dangers of public order due to ties with the Bolshevik Revolt". The legislation was published in the Omsk newspaper Omsk Gazette (no. 188 of 19 July 1919). It provided a term of 5 years of prison for "individuals considered a threat to the public order because of their ties in any way with the Bolshevik revolt." In the case of unauthorised return from exile, there could be hard labour from 4 to 8 years. Articles 99–101 allowed the death penalty, forced labour and imprisonment, repression by military courts, and imposed no investigation commissions. [11]

Kolchak acknowledged all of Russia's debts, returned nationalized factories and plants to their owners, granted concessions to foreign investors, dispersed trade unions, persecuted Marxists, and disbanded the soviets. Kolchak's agrarian policy was directed toward restoring private land ownership. To this end former Tsarist laws concerning property were restored.

On 26 May 1919, the Supreme Allied Council in Paris offered to provide Kolchak with unlimited supplies of food, weapons, munitions and other supplies (but not diplomatic recognition) provided that he was willing to meet the following conditions:

Kolchak with French general Maurice Janin Kolchak-Zhannen.jpg
Kolchak with French general Maurice Janin

Pipes wrote though the Allies wanted a Constituent Assembly to decide the future of Russia, but they had decided in advance in their conditions that they had imposed such as no restoration of the monarchy many matters that properly should have been decided by the Constituent Assembly. [14] As Kolchak was entirely dependent upon supplies from Britain as the British shipped him in the period October 1918-October 1919 about 600, 000 rifles, 6, 831 machine guns, and about 200, 000 uniforms, he had to accept nearly all of the conditions. [14] In a telegram to Paris sent on 4 June 1919, Kolchak accepted every condition except for the independence of Finland, which he accepted only de facto, not de jure, saying he wanted the Constituent Assembly to grant Finland its independence. [14] As the Allies were especially opposed to a return of the House of Romanov, Kolchak emphatically declared "that there cannot be a return to the regime which existed in Russia before February 1917". [14] The British War Secretary Winston Churchill pressed very strongly in the cabinet for British recognition of Kolchak's government, but the Prime Minister David Lloyd George would only do so if the United States likewise recognized Kolchak. [14] The American president Woodrow Wilson was strongly hostile towards Kolchak, openly doubted his word, and was against diplomatic recognition. [14] Wilson's main adviser on Russia was the former head of the Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky, who told Wilson that Kolchak was a "reactionary" who would "inaugurate a regime hardly less sanguinary and repressive than that of the Bolsheviks". [15] Though American forces in Siberia co-operated with Kolchak, it was clear he was not the man favored by the United States as the next leader of Russia. [16] American forces had been sent to Siberia less to help the Whites than to prevent the Japanese who had occupied the Russian Far East from annexing it as Tokyo was openly considering.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia alleges (without evidence) that more than 25,000 people were shot or tortured to death in Yekaterinburg alone. [17] In March 1919 Kolchak himself demanded one of his generals to "follow the example of the Japanese who, in the Amur region, had exterminated the local population." [18] Sovietskaya Rossiya , an official organ of the Soviet Bureau established by Ludwig Martens, quoted a Menshevik organ, Vsegda Vperyod, alleging that Kolchak's men used mass floggings and razed entire villages to the ground with artillery fire. 4,000 peasants allegedly became victims of field courts and punitive expeditions and that all dwellings of rebels were burned down. [19]

In an excerpt from the order of the government of Yenisei county in Irkutsk province, General. S. Rozanov said: [11]

Those villages whose population meets troops with arms, burn down the villages and shoot the adult males without exception.

If hostages are taken in cases of resistance to government troops, shoot the hostages without mercy.

Kolchak inspecting troops Kolckak-v-armii.jpg
Kolchak inspecting troops

There was prominent underground resistance in the regions controlled by Kolchak's government. These partisans were especially strong in the provinces of Altai and Yeniseysk. In summer 1919 partisans of the Altai Region united to form the Western Siberian Peasants' Red Army (25,000 men). The Taseev Soviet Partisan Republic was founded south-east of Yeniseysk in early 1919. By the fall of 1919, Kolchak's rear was completely disintegrating. About 100,000 Siberian partisans seized vast regions from Kolchak's regime even before the approach of the Red Army. In February 1920, some 20,000 partisans took control of the Amur region. [20]

British Marxist historian Edward Hallett Carr wrote, [21]

It is no longer possible for any sane man to regard the campaigns of Kolchak, Yudenich, Denikin and Wrangel otherwise than as tragic blunders of colossal dimensions.

On the contrary, a former Chief of Staff to Admiral Kolchak wrote, [22]

They (Kolchak, Kornilov, Denikin and Wrangel) were first of all patriots with a deep love for their country and worked for its salvation without any regard for self-advancement. Political intrigues were unknown to them and they were ready to work with men of any political party, so long as they knew that these men were sincere in their endeavours to free Russia... and to make it possible, after the end of the war, for a National Assembly, chosen by the people, to decide the character of the future Government of Russia.

Supreme Ruler of Russia

Kolchak with Radola Gajda in 1919 Shtab Sibirskoi armii.jpg
Kolchak with Radola Gajda in 1919

Initially the White forces under his command had some success. Kolchak was unfamiliar with combat on land and gave the majority of the strategic planning to D. A. Lebedev, Paul J. Bubnar, and his staff. The northern army under the Russian Anatoly Pepelyayev and the Czech Rudolf Gajda seized Perm in late December 1918 and after a pause other forces spread out from this strategic base. The plan was for three main advances – Gajda to take Archangel, Khanzhin to capture Ufa and the Cossacks under Alexander Dutov to capture Samara and Saratov.

The White forces took Ufa in March 1919 and pushed on from there to take Kazan and approach Samara on the Volga River. Anti-Communist risings in Simbirsk, Kazan, Viatka, and Samara assisted their endeavours. The newly formed Red Army proved unwilling to fight and instead retreated, allowing the Whites to advance to a line stretching from Glazov through Orenburg to Uralsk. Kolchak's territories covered over 300,000 km² and held around 7 million people. In April, the alarmed Bolshevik Central Executive Committee made defeating Kolchak its top priority. But as the spring thaw arrived Kolchak's position degenerated – his armies had outrun their supply lines, they were exhausted, and the Red Army poured newly raised troops into the area.

Draft coat of arms of the Russian government Kolchak (blason).jpg
Draft coat of arms of the Russian government

Kolchak had also aroused the dislike of potential allies, including the Czechoslovak Legion and the Polish 5th Rifle Division. They withdrew from the conflict in October 1918 but remained a presence; their foreign adviser Maurice Janin regarded Kolchak as an instrument of the British and himself was pro-SR. Kolchak could not count on Japanese aid either; the Japanese feared he would interfere with their occupation of Far Eastern Russia and refused him assistance, creating a buffer state to the east of Lake Baikal under Cossack control. The 7,000 or so American troops in Siberia were strictly neutral regarding "internal Russian affairs" and served only to maintain the operation of the Trans-Siberian railroad in the Far East. The American commander, General William S. Graves, personally disliked the Kolchak government, which he saw as monarchist and autocratic, a view that was shared by the American President, Woodrow Wilson.

Defeat and death

Postage stamp issued in 1919 with the inscription "For United Russia - Supreme leader of Russia, Kolchak." Kolchak marka.jpg
Postage stamp issued in 1919 with the inscription "For United Russia – Supreme leader of Russia, Kolchak."

When the Red forces managed to reorganise and turn the attack against Kolchak, from 1919 he quickly lost ground. The Red counter-attack began in late April at the centre of the White line, aiming for Ufa. The fighting was fierce as, unlike earlier, both sides fought hard. Ufa was taken by the Red Army on 9 June and later that month the Red forces under Tukhachevsky broke through the Urals. Freed from the geographical constraints of the mountains, the Reds made rapid progress, capturing Chelyabinsk on 25 July and forcing the White forces to the north and south to fall back to avoid being isolated. The White forces re-established a line along the Tobol and the Ishim rivers to temporarily halt the Reds. They held that line until October, but the constant loss of men killed or wounded was beyond the White rate of replacement. Reinforced, the Reds broke through on the Tobol in mid-October and by November the White forces were falling back towards Omsk in a disorganised mass. At this point the Reds became sufficiently confident to start redeploying some of their forces southwards to face Anton Denikin.

Kolchak also came under threat from other quarters: local opponents began to agitate and international support began to wane, with even the British turning more towards Denikin. Gajda, dismissed from command of the northern army, staged an abortive coup in mid-November. Omsk was evacuated on 14 November, and the Red Army took the city without any serious resistance, capturing large amounts of ammunition, almost 50,000 soldiers, and ten generals. As there was a continued flood of refugees eastwards, typhus too became a serious problem.

Kolchak had left Omsk on the 13th for Irkutsk along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Travelling a section of track controlled by the Czechoslovaks, he was sidetracked and stopped; by December his train had only reached Nizhneudinsk. In late December Irkutsk fell under the control of a leftist group (including SRs and Mensheviks) and formed the Political Centre. One of their first actions was to dismiss Kolchak. When he heard of this on 4 January 1920, he announced his resignation, giving his office to Denikin and passing control of his remaining forces around Irkutsk to the ataman, G. M. Semyonov. The transfer of power to Semyonov proved a particularly ill-considered move.

The last photo of Admiral Kolchak taken before his execution in 1920 Kolchak last photo.png
The last photo of Admiral Kolchak taken before his execution in 1920

Kolchak was then promised safe passage by the Czechoslovaks to the British military mission in Irkutsk. Instead, he was handed over to the Left SR authorities in Irkutsk on 14 January. On 20 January the government in Irkutsk surrendered power to a Bolshevik military committee. The White Army under the command of General Vladimir Kappel advanced toward Irkutsk while Kolchak was interrogated by a commission of five men representing the Revolutionary Committee (REVKOM) during nine days between 21 January and 6 February. Despite the arrival of a contrary order from Moscow, [23] Admiral Kolchak was sentenced to death along with his Prime Minister, Viktor Pepelyayev.

Both prisoners were brought before a firing squad in the early morning of 7 February 1920. According to eyewitnesses, Kolchak was entirely calm and unafraid, "like an Englishman." The Admiral asked the commander of the firing squad, "Would you be so good as to get a message sent to my wife in Paris to say that I bless my son?" The commander responded, "I'll see what can be done, if I don't forget about it." [24]

A priest of the Russian Orthodox Church then gave the last rites to both men. The squad fired and both men fell. The bodies were kicked and prodded down an escarpment and dumped under the ice of the frozen Angara River. Their bodies were never recovered. [23] [24] When the White Army learned about the executions, its remaining leadership decided to withdraw farther east. The Great Siberian Ice March followed. The Red Army did not enter Irkutsk until 7 March, and only then was the news of Kolchak's death officially released.


Admiral Kolchak's government was not successful from the time of his taking the position of "Supreme Ruler" until his death. As a military commander he was unable to make successful strategic plans or to coordinate with other White Army generals such as Yudenich or Denikin.[ citation needed ]

Kolchak also failed to convince potentially friendly Finland to join with him against the Bolsheviks.[ citation needed ] He was unable to win diplomatic recognition from any nation in the world, even Great Britain (though the British did support him to some degree).[ citation needed ] In addition he alienated the Czechoslovak Legion, which for a time was a powerful organised military force in the region and very strongly anti-Bolshevik. As was mentioned above, the American commander, General Graves, disliked Kolchak [25] and refused to lend him any military aid at all.[ citation needed ]

After decades of being vilified by the Soviet government, Kolchak is now a controversial historic figure in post-Soviet Russia.[ citation needed ] The "For Faith and Fatherland" movement has attempted to rehabilitate his reputation. However, two rehabilitation requests have been denied, by a regional military court in 1999 and by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in 2001. In 2004, the Constitutional Court of Russia returned the Kolchak case to the military court for another hearing.[ citation needed ]

Monuments dedicated to Kolchak were built in Saint Petersburg in 2002 and in Irkutsk in 2004, despite objections from some former Communist and left-wing politicians, as well as former Soviet army veterans.[ citation needed ] His memorial in St. Petersburg is a frequent target of vandalism. [26] There is also a Kolchak Island. The modern Russian Navy considered naming the third ship of the new Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates, Admiral Kolchak to commemorate the Admiral but declined to do so in the end.

Kolchak was a prominent expert on naval mines [27] and a member of the Russian Geographical Society. [28] Among his awards are the Saint George Gold Sword for Bravery, given for his actions in the battle of Port Arthur [28] and the Great Gold Constantine Medal from the Russian Geographic Society. [28] [29]

In culture

A Kolchak biographical film, titled Admiral (Адмиралъ), was released in Russia on 9 October 2008 after a gala preview to an audience of senior Russian Navy admirals. The film portrays the Admiral (Konstantin Khabensky) as a tragic hero with a deep love for his country. Elizaveta Boyarskaya appears as his common law wife, Anna Timireva. Director Andrei Kravchuk described the film as follows,

It's about a man who tries to create history, to take an active part in history, as he gets caught in the turmoil. However, he keeps on struggling, he preserves his honor and his dignity, and he continues to love. [30]

A collectible silver coin (31.1 gr, dia 40mm) showing Admiral Kolchak has been struck.

Related Research Articles

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White movement anti-Bolshevik movement

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Baron Alexander Alexandrovich von Taube was an Imperial Russian general.He fought in the war of Russia against the Empire of Japan. In WWI - Major General, later as Lieutenant General commanding 5th Siberian Infantry division. After 1916 democratic revolution in Russia he was elected by soldiers council to lead Omsk (Siberia) military district. After 1917 Bolshevik insurrection he was conscripted, as military specialist, to serve in the Red army. His service with the Red army, during 1918, was planning strategic operations in Siberia. During that time, the Red Army in Siberia was defeated by the Volunteer Army of admiral Alexander Kolchak. General Taube was detained on the territory controlled by the Volunteer army. Being taken to Yekaterinburg, at that time one of the centers of the White movement) he was investigated, offered service with the Volunteer Army, however while still in detention he died of typhus. Many years later Soviet historians described him as a first Red General, however it is well known that Soldiers Council Soviets in Siberia were under control of Social Revolutionary Party who were largely independent of Moscow Bolsheviks. It is confirmed that he was in the Red Army in 1918 as a "military specialist". At the same time, his oldest son Alexandre, was an officer in Volunteer Army under admiral Alexander Kolchak fighting against the Red troops while his younger children were under Bolsheviks rule in Moscow. General Taube was born in Pavlovsk, Saint Petersburg. He had several brothers, including Mikhail Taube. He was a recipient of the Imperial Ruisshan decorations: Order of Saint Vladimir, the Order of Saint Anna, the Order of Saint Stanislaus and the Gold Sword for Bravery.

Vasily Flug

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  1. 1 2 Jon Smele (2006) Civil War in Siberia: The Anti-Bolshevik Government of Admiral Kolchak, 1918–1920, Cambridge University Press, ISBN   0521029074. p.77
  2. White, Matthew (2012). The Great Big Book of Horrible Things . W. W. Norton. p. 363. ISBN   9780393081923.
  3. N. G. O. Pereira, "White Power during the Civil War in Siberia (1918–1920): Dilemmas of Kolchak's "War Anti-Communism," Canadian Slavonic Papers (1987) 29#1 pp 45–62.
  4. Sergiu Bacalov, Moldovan ancestors of Russian Admiral Alexander Kolchak / Sergiu Bacalov, Strămoşii moldoveni ai amiralului rus Aleksandr Kolceak
  5. Admiral Kolchak, K.A. Bogdanov, St. Petersburg Sudostroyeniye 1993
  6. Kolchak A.V., 1909, Ice of the Kara and Siberian Seas (170 pp.). St. Petersburg (in Russian).
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Pipes 1993, p. 48.
  8. 1 2 3 Pipes 1993, p. 49.
  9. 1 2 Pipes 1993, p. 49-50.
  10. Pipes 1993, p. 50.
  11. 1 2 3 Цветков В. Ж. Белый террор – преступление или наказание? Эволюция судебно-правовых норм ответственности за государственные преступления в законодательстве белых правительств в 1917–1922 гг.
  12. Ivan Bunin (1926) Cursed Days: A Diary of Revolution, p. 177.
  13. 1 2 3 4 Pipes 1993, p. 78.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Pipes 1993, p. 79.
  15. Pipes 1993, p. 79-80.
  16. Pipes 1993, p. 80.
  17. S.N. Semanov, "Kolchakovshchina" Archived 31 January 2017 at the Wayback Machine , Great Soviet Encyclopaedia
  18. Arno J. Mayer (2000). The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions. Princeton University Press. pp. 254–. ISBN   978-0-691-09015-3. – not an original source citation, Mayer's footnote for this statement not cited.
  19. P. Golub (2006) White Terror in Russia (1918–1920). Moscow: Patriot, ISBN   5-7030-0951-0
  20. "The Partisan Movement of 1918–22" Archived 1 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine , Great Soviet Encyclopedia , 1969–1978
  21. A review of General Wrangel's memoirs, John Hallett, Fortnightly Review, January 1930, as quoted by Jonathan Haslam in The vices of integrity: E.H. Carr, 1892–1982, ISBN   978-1-85984-289-8, p. 32
  22. M. I. Smirnov (1933). "Admiral Kolchak". The Slavonic and East European Review. 11 (32): 373–387. JSTOR   4202781.
  23. 1 2 W. Bruce Lincoln (1999) Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War, 1918–1921, DaCapo Press, ISBN   0306809095
  24. 1 2 Peter Fleming (1963) The Fate of Admiral Kolchak, Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc., pp. 216–217.
  25. "Graves To Lead Our Siberian Army. Former Assistant Chief Of General Staff To Have 7,000 Men At The Start. Troops From Philippines 27th and 31st Regiments". New York Times . 8 August 1918.
  26. "В Петербурге доску Колчаку вновь закрасили черной краской". Lenta. 10 February 2017. Retrieved 12 February 2017.
  27. 100 великих казней, "Вече", 1999, ISBN   5-7838-0424-X
  28. 1 2 3 Колчак Александр Васильевич (in Russian). Retrieved 3 January 2009.
  29. Плотников, И.Ф. Александр Васильевич Колчак. Жизнь и деятельность (in Russian). Retrieved 3 January 2009.
  30. "Admiral" tells Russian love and history on YouTube


Further reading