From the Sea to the River:  Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak  and the Russian Civil War

 Admiral KolchakAdmiral Aleksandr Vasilevich Kolchak gained a reputation for energetic leadership and personal courage during his twenty-eight year career in the Russian Imperial Navy. He was known for having a sharp scientific mind, intense patriotism, and a strong devotion to duty. His subsequent political career as the Supreme Ruler of Russia showed a great deal of courage but very little leadership. The lack of an effective leader and diplomat in the trying times of the Russian Civil War was a major contributing factor in the defeat of his forces but was not the only reason for the failure of the White forces.

Kolchak began the war as the commander of the Russian Imperial Black Sea Fleet. After the Tsar abdicated in March of 1917, the navy was thrown into chaos. To preserve discipline and order in his fleet, Admiral Kolchak swore allegiance to the Provisional Government. When asked about it later, he said that he was "after all, serving not one form of government or another but my country, which to me was above all else." His answer showed a strong sense of patriotism to mother Russia and an incredible sense of duty.

Kolchak's patriotism can be traced back to his childhood and a lifetime of duty to his country. He was brought up in a middle class family, the son of an army major-general. He graduated from the Imperial Naval Academy with the highest honors in 1894. He was awarded the empire's highest scientific honor, the Constantine Gold Medal, for the scientific work he did in the Arctic. He used his extensive naval knowledge to help reorganize the Imperial Admiralty, and he established himself as an expert on naval mine warfare. He had directed the laying of the minefields in the Gulf of Finland and later in German waters. He had been promoted to rear admiral at the extremely young age of 43. A year later he was promoted to vice admiral and given the command of the Black Sea Fleet. He was at the height of a very promising military career when the Russian Revolution destroyed the Imperial Russian Navy.

Erosion of the fleet's discipline led to many of the ships' crews revolting against their officers. In The White Generals, Richard Luckett describes most mutinies as the massacre of all ship's officers in "gross and bloody circumstances," perhaps because of the often brutal disciplinary measures of the officers. Kolchak was only partially successful in keeping his Black Sea Fleet operational. Other fleets, often led by the larger ships with their larger crews, mutinied in March. Several even went to the extent of putting themselves under the command of the Soviets. Despite Kolchak's meetings with the Provisional Government and cooperation with the Sailor's Soviets, Bolshevik agitators and the continual strikes in the ship-building and repair yards finally took their toll and the fleet mutinied in June 1917, demanding that the officers be disarmed. Kolchak assembled his crew on the deck. Declaring that the demand that the officers be disarmed was a personal insult, Kolchak hurled his sword over the ship's rail and into the sea, ending his naval career and beginning a political career for which he was not prepared nor equipped to succeed.

Peter Fleming wrote in The Fate of Admiral Kolchak that he believes there was a "Jekyll and Hyde" contrast between Kolchak the admiral and scientist and Kolchak the dictator, the Supreme Ruler of Russia. As a naval officer, he inspired loyalty in his men and superiors. He was honest and chivalrous, had a sense of duty and personal honor, and was a true gentleman. Fleming admits right up front that it is his purpose in writing to establish the circumstances of Kolchak's failure as a political leader and so draws a strong contrast between the 'two' Kolchaks by emphasizing his widespread successes as a naval officer. Fleming is not alone in his view that Kolchak was a fine military leader. Charles Weeks and Joseph Baylen call him one of the "great tragic personalities of the Russian Revolution" and describe him as having "all the characteristics of an excellent naval officer" who experienced an "almost meteoric rise in the Imperial Russian Navy."  When Captain Geo. Hunt wrote The History of the Twenty-Seventh Infantry, he considered Kolchak to be one of the greatest men that Russia ever developed. This opinion was carried on by the regiment when they named their new mascot "Kolchak."

After his dramatic resignation from the navy, Kolchak is portrayed by Fleming as more of a pawn of the British than the future ruler of Russia. Kolchak's naval expertise earned him an invitation by the United States Navy to lead a small technical mission to the United States in September 1917. He was on his way back to Russia when he received news of the October Revolution. He sent a telegram to the British government offering his services in any capacity, including that of an army foot soldier. The British Foreign Office accepted his offer in late December 1917, but did not effectively use his services for several months. Kolchak's obvious command experience and a "kingly quality... that made men eager to place authority in his hands" made him a good choice to send to Omsk to help organize the White Russian forces. A few days after he arrived in Omsk he was appointed as the Minister of War, maintaining his close ties with the British. Fleming does not mention it, but the fast appointment was no doubt due to the British Military Mission's commanding officer, General Knox, giving an ultimatum to the council of ministers that unless Kolchak was accepted as a member of the ministry, British aid would be cut-off.  The British must have had even greater plans for Kolchak since Colonel John Ward, one of the senior British Army officers in Siberia, stayed with Kolchak to advise him and the 23rd Middlesex "Die-hards" Infantry Battalion were assigned as Kolchak's protection. Kolchak was the only minister that was offered that protection by the British.

According to Fleming, Kolchak made one of his biggest mistakes just after assuming office as the Minister of War. Earlier he had traveled to Omsk in the same train carriage as a young Czech officer, who had told him of the conditions in the Czech legions. From this conversation Kolchak knew that the legions were going to leave the eastern front. Fleming writes that Kolchak considered the legions a spent force, and that he did not take into consideration the conditions that had caused the legions to be exhausted and war weary. He departed Omsk for a tour of the front lines in November 1917. During his trip he expressed his rather poor opinion of the Czech legions, angering the Czechs. The British High Commissioner, Sir Charles Eliot, reported to his home office that Kolchak had spoken most harshly of the Czechs and how he wanted them out of Russia as soon as possible. Fleming considered Kolchak's lack of understanding of the Czechs' plight a critical mistake, one that would later cost him his freedom and ultimately his life.

Kolchak returned early from his inspection of the front lines in mid-November. On the way back to Omsk, he stopped and spent several hours speaking with General Boldyrev. He stopped again several kilometers outside Omsk, where he was approached by several officers who wanted him to take over as the head of a new government.

Fleming states that Kolchak refused, but events were proceeding without him as the Directory was overthrown and the position of dictator was offered to Kolchak. He goes on to point out that there was no way that Kolchak could have been involved in the coup, since he had returned from the front less than 36 hours before, and he had no friends or associates in Omsk to form a conspiracy. It is clear that Fleming took this information only from the transcript of Kolchak's interrogation. In the transcript, Kolchak stated that he could not have become the dictator because he did not have an army that would have supported him as such.  It is only human nature for Kolchak to have minimized his initial role, to appear as though he was reluctantly elected into the role of dictator instead of actively seeking to lead the counter-revolutionary government.

Kolchak may have been much more politically savvy than Fleming gives him credit for in his book. It is true that he had returned from the front less than 36 hours before, but Fleming does not mention that Kolchak cut his trip short to return to Omsk. Omitting this point conveniently eliminates the need to explain Kolchak's premature return and its implication that Kolchak did indeed know about the impending coup. Jonathan Smele fills in some of the holes and explains that while Kolchak was visiting the front, he had a meeting with the very same young Czech officer he had traveled to Omsk with. That officer, Gajda, later recalled that Kolchak had stated that he was "fully resolved" to assume the mantle of dictator and had asked for and received a pledge of Czechoslovak neutrality. Smele goes on to say that Ivan Sukin, a trusted confidant of Kolchak, wrote in his memoirs that the only reason Kolchak had visited the front was to ensure that the military officers were favorable to a military government. If this is true, Kolchak had the army he needed to support him as dictator, and he was much more politically aware than some historians give him credit for. He already knew that he had the full support of the British. Additionaly, diplomats at the U.S. State Department had been wanting a military man who could restore order decisively.

During the meeting outside Omsk, where he was offered the dictatorship, Kolchak argued that the position should be offered to General Boldyrev, the White Army commander-in-chief. He could have been having second thoughts about accepting the position, as Smele states. On the other hand, his arguing against himself could have been for show if he had already ensured that he would be elected by the council of ministers. In the end Kolchak received ten votes to Boldyrev's one, regardless of whether he was a consummate politician or a straight-minded scientist and military leader out of his league. Fleming takes the latter position and quotes a letter Kolchak sent to his wife soon after he became dictator. Kolchak writes about "the terrifying burden of Supreme Power" and that he thought of himself as "a fighting man, reluctant to face the problems of state craft." Either way, the British knew about the coup and had given it their approval, provided there was no bloodshed. The evening that the coup was being discussed, Colonel Ward deployed British soldiers around the government buildings in Omsk and positioned machine gun sections in all the approaches to the center of town. The first day of Kolchak's reign was foreshadowed by British and Cossack patrols through the city and by the first blizzard of the harshest winter in living memory.

Kolchak's new government started with major problems, both inherited and new ones caused by poor leadership and poor statesmanship. They faced a lack of popular support and allowed development of pro-revolutionary bureaucratism in government agencies. The Czech Legion had been fighting alongside the Russian army and was now trying to move to Vladivstock. They represented an armed and battle-tried foreign army sitting on the Trans-Siberian railroad, growing more impatient by the day. The Czech commander refused to acknowledge Kolchak's authority and resigned, publicly declaring that for years the government had been fighting for democracy and now it was ruled by a dictator. He claimed that the change in government had killed his soldiers. Foreign governments were pressuring for reforms, and eleven foreign expeditionary forces, including American, British, French, Chinese, and Japanese troops, were in control of vast parts of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The Japanese had a clearer agenda than the others countries, and their troops outnumbered all the rest of the allied forces added together. Kolchak had made a poor impression with the Japanese government during his short stay in Tokyo before he returned to Omsk. They considered him too independent and believed that he took his job too seriously. The Russian Ambassador to Japan told once told him that he had been too independent in dealing with the Japanese and that they considered him to be an enemy. Japan also had their own agenda for the region, and it did not include a strong and stable government.

Japan's involvement and interference contributed to many of the problems that Kolchak faced. Kolchak did not help smooth the problems between his government and Japan. One of his first actions in office was to send a message to Tokyo telling them they would not be allowed to garrison troops in eastern Siberian towns and that Japanese businessmen in the Far East would not receive any concessions. The Japanese presence made it difficult for Kolchak to gain any popular support, since the Japanese had been hated and feared by the population since the Russo-Japan War. The British Special Commissioner, Mr. R. H. Bruce Lockhart, had a lengthy interview with Trotsky in March 1818. He sent a telegram to the British government calling any Japanese intervention in Siberia the "most serious and lasting harm" that could be done to every Russian. The Japanese were more than willing to demonstrate what type of harm could come to Russians. Japanese soldiers routinely accompanied "pacification" patrols that were well-known for their violence and indiscriminate brutality. The biggest problem with the Japanese was their funding of elements in the army that did not support Kolchak or fight the Bolsheviks, but practiced banditry and murder for personal profit. At one point the Japanese government openly encouraged attacks against Kolchak by their paid bandits. Then the commander of one of the Japanese divisions announced that measures taken against those bandits would not be permitted and that he would not hesitate to use armed force to prevent them.

The army was one of the inherited problems for the new government. Kolchak's army was beset by individual greed, poor generalship, brutal discipline, sheer banditry, and widespread insubordination. Many of the problems compounded each other. The brutal leadership and the often brutal and bloody recruiting techniques that filled the army with conscripts ensured that the soldiers would not fight with their hearts and would run if given the opportunity. In Armed Intervention in Russia, 1918-1922, W.P. and Zelda Coates relate articles from a London Times correspondent. He reported that the men in the army "did not want to fight" and did not know why they were fighting.  Poor discipline was not limited to the soldiers. Many of the officers were hiding-out in the bars and restaurants of Omsk instead of fighting on the front. The job of actual fighting, reported by the London Times, went to the NCOs. Officers were busy "swindling the men of food and equipment." American and British officers came to the conclusion that Kolchak's swaggering officers were out of touch with their men and cared little about the starving and unprotected soldiers living on the streets of Omsk. General Knox estimated that there were more than 2,000 ranking officers living comfortably but with no apparent purpose.  The abuse of power by individual officers on such a large scale led to lack of supplies for the forces in Volga, which in turn contributed to their being incapable of action by late 1919.

Other officers were uncontrollable, and their actions reflected directly on Kolchak and his government. The most notorious of these was General Grigori Semenov. Peter Fleming describes Grigori Semenov as a "strange, terrible man." General Graves, the commander of the American forces in Siberia, considered him to be a "murderer, robber and a most dissolute scoundrel." Smele is not as kind. He quotes a witness to the "inhuman cruelty" of Semenov's inner circle as saying that Semenov would boast that "he could not sleep peacefully at night unless he had killed someone that day." In just one three-day period, Semenov had over 1,000 people killed. Semenov slaughtered victims on the first day by gunfire, the second day by the sword, and the third by poison and asphyxiation, then finished with a grand finale of burning the remaining victims alive. The allies had looked at his career before the revolution, where he had apparently served with distinction as a Cossack leader and was well-decorated, and at the fact that he had a small but effective fighting force committed to fighting the Bolsheviks. Since he looked like one of the best hopes for Siberia, he was funded by the Americans, the Japanese, the French, and briefly by the British. David Foglesong explains that diplomats in America had grown tired of the weak Kernensky government and were actively looking for a strong military man who could restore order and establish a stable government.

The truth about Semenov's style of leadership was known but ignored by the Washington officials. Allied observers had regarded Semenov as brutal, and a trusted advisor to President Wilson warned that Semenov was a "reactionary military autocrat of the old type" and that his men were not well-liked by the Russian people because they often committed "infringements of [the Russian people's] personal rights."  The U.S. even sent an observer to Manchuria and Siberia to report on Semenov. The observer, David Barrows, was a professor serving as an intelligence officer for the U.S. Army. Barrows reported that he had found "the most promising anti-Communist force" under Semenov. Later reports from Barrows encouraged a positive image of Semenov and called him "tolerably severe," even though he had personally witnessed seven suspected Bolsheviks executed in one night. (Barrows was the same intelligence officer who concluded in 1917 that America could control the forces in Siberia and use them against the Bolsheviks merely by controlling the supplies.) Semenov was given support from the highest levels of the U.S. government. President Wilson ordered that a close watch be kept on Semenov and any legitimate way that could be found to help him should be pursued.

The initial, very elaborate, U.S. plan was to have allied troops support Kolchak's and Semenov's forces and the Czech Legion in pushing the Bolshevik forces back and establishing a stable government in the region.  In reality, the forces under General Graves operated without a clear set of instructions or rules. There was often a conflict between the U.S. State Department (who supported Semenov) and the War Department (who was operating on a policy of neutrality). The U.S. provided arms and supplies to Semenov even though the U.S. forces had numerous conflicts and even pitched battles with his forces. The British were similarly at odds with their own policy and those of other allies. The French were supporting the Czech Legion and did not trust Kolchak because of his close attachment to the British. The Japanese were paying Semenov to fight the Bolsheviks, and the British were paying him not to. Britain was negotiating with the Soviet government in Moscow to have Russia reenter the eastern front. The fact that they were funding a counter- revolutionary army in Siberia did not inspire a lot of Soviet trust in the Allies. At about the same time as the negotiations between the British and the Soviet governments broke down, Semenov's true nature was beginning to be known. The image of patriotic hero and liberator was fast being replaced with that of a bandit. Meanwhile, Semenov and his subordinate officers put a stranglehold on supplies moving from Vladivstok to the front in the Urals, routinely committed unspeakable atrocities against the population, accepted bribes and encouraged corruption, and used the railroads as their personal transportation all the while.

Smele considers one of the major causes of rural discontent with the Kolchak government to be the brutal actions of Cossack bands led by Semenov and his associate General Kalmykov. Certainly Kolchak's demonstrated inability to control what Semenov -- and the Japanese -- were doing in the Far East caused many people to associate the White government with the horrors they saw from Semenov and others like him. General Graves had the opportunity to meet both men and came away with the impression that the only difference between the two men was that "Semenov ordered others to kill" while "Kalmykov killed with his bare hands." Cossack bands rode into villages looting, beating, abducting, torturing, and murdering villagers. Friends and relatives of loved ones killed by the rampaging bands became instant converts for the Red partisan ideology. A U.S. Army Intelligence officer remarked that "a lot of people who did not necessarily coincide with Bolshevik beliefs, and did not necessarily coincide with the other forces, were obliged to take one of those two sides because the only two military forces existing were of the two extremes."

At one point, General Kalmykov's atrocities went so far that a regiment of his Cossacks killed their officers and surrendered to U.S. soldiers in Khabarovsk. When asked what they were doing, they replied that they had mutinied and would prefer to "die fighting in the streets" rather than serve under Kalmykov or any of his officers again. An eyewitness account written by Nick Hociota, a veteran of the 27th Infantry in Siberia, in a letter to the 27th Infantry's commander in 1971, states that the Cossacks were disarmed, fed, and given firewood while officers decided what to do with them. The fact that the letter was written almost 50 years after Hociota returned from Siberia may account for his letter differing from the official regimental history both in details and concerning the broad issues. The letter says that Kalmykov arrived 3-4 hours after dark, accompanied by 2,500 Cossacks, and after a stand-off, Colonel Morrow turned over to him all the arms and horses that the deserters brought with them. The regiment's history is less dramatic. Five-hundred deserters (the number increased to 800 in the next two days) were disarmed and conducted to Krasnays-Retchka on February 1st. An assembly of the sixth Ussuri Cossack citizens committee conducted investigations into the matter. In mid-March the committee disbanded without making a decision, and the deserters departed for their homes, taking their horses with them. The arms were claimed by Japan, who reported they had supplied them to Kalmykov. The end result of both stories is the same: Kalmykov turned on the Americans and the relationship between the U.S. forces and those under Kolchak degraded further.

White forces were the not the only ones committing atrocities. John Stephen explains in The Russian Far East why there are more reports of White atrocities than Red ones. First, the White atrocities were far more visible to American forces, who reported them to their superiors. Secondly, it is the victors who write the history books. Red Russian atrocities were purged from the records. One report that survives is that of a partisan attack on the Japanese garrison of Nikolaevsk, near the mouth of the Amur river. The partisans razed the garrison to the ground, slaughtering more than 6,000 men, women, and children. Orders were even issued that every child over the age of five should be killed. About 700 of the victims were Japanese.

Even the allied forces are not free from the charge of atrocities. The Japanese were observed arresting five Russians without cause, marching them to a shallow grave site, and having them ceremonially decapitated by a Japanese officer with his sword. On another occasion the Japanese leveled an undefended village using artillery. There are unconfirmed reports from the Soviets that American forces committed numerous brutal raids, leveling several villages, torturing and murdering pregnant women, and beating newspaper editors. While the Soviet report, published in 1945, may have been written purely for political purposes, there is at least some evidence that American forces attacked non-combatants near Kazanka in retaliation for an attack near the village of Romanovka on the Trans-Siberian railway, where Americans from the 31st Infantry were killed. The U.S. forces would later name the battle the "Romanovka Massacre." It was the bloodiest day for the U.S. during its stay in Siberia. Of the 74 men in the unit, 23 were killed outright or died later of wounds and 20 were injured.  After these battles, General Graves reported to the Adjutant General's office in Washington D.C. that it had now become "bitter guerrilla warfare."

The movement of supplies to the soldiers was another critical problem. The importance of the 4,000-mile-long Trans-Siberian railway cannot be overemphasized. Control of the railroad meant control of the only major logistical and communication line in the region. It also meant access to massive stockpiles of munitions, food, fuel, coal, and other war supplies that the Allies had shipped to the ports of both Archangel and Vladivstok. The U.S. War Department estimated the tonnage of supplies sitting in Vladivstok at 400,000 tons of steel, copper, brass, lead, barbed wire, rails, automobiles and trucks, machine tools, and munitions, with a total worth of over $1 billion. Mr. Ole A. Bjonerud, one of a group of U.S. Army officers and railroad experts that visited Vladivstok in December 1917, kept a diary of his experiences. He wrote, "warehouses were loaded to the roof and large piles of supplies piled outside sheltered from the weather by tarpaulins. Some of those supplies have been here for over two years awaiting movement over the Trans-Siberian Railroad."

The amount of supplies was more than sufficient. The problem lay in getting the supplies from the port to the soldiers at the front. A commission of American railroad experts had surveyed the rail lines between Petrograd and Vladivstok before the Provisional Government was overthrown. They found that most of the equipment was outdated, in poor repair, and poorly managed. The vast majority of the railroad line east of Omsk was built of lightweight rails. The inferior construction of the rails made it necessary for the trains to travel at slow speeds and with relatively light loads. In the winter, the intense cold froze watering points and burst pipes and boilers on train engines. Passenger cars that ran out of fire wood or had heaters that failed resulted in passengers dying from exposure. Policies that required trips to be no longer than 60 miles before turning around, so that the engineers "could be home every night," kept the railroad operating at 30% to 40 % less than its capacity.

The chaotic conditions along the railway were another reason the supplies were not reaching the front. The presence of thousands of refugees, poor communications, Czech control over parts of the railway, numerous allied sectors being run without central guidance, and bandits like Semenov kept the railway and the telegraph lines disrupted. Kolchak's government sometimes failed to pay the railroad workers for as long as 3 months at a time, and the railroad failed to maintain adequate stocks of coal along the routes. Trains would often have to wait for days because there was no fuel available for the engines. As the Red Army moved closer to Omsk, the westbound traffic that should have been carrying reinforcements and supplies was stopped so that those rails could be used for refugees fleeing the war. What supplies did get to Omsk were more likely to be warehoused than shipped to the front. When Omsk was captured, with minimal fighting, the Red Army became the proud owners of 3 armored trains, 3,000 wagons of military supplies, 40 artillery pieces, almost a thousand machine guns, and 5 million bullets that had been hoarded instead of being transferred to the army that needed them.

Not all the blame for the Kolchak government's inability to win the support of the people can be placed on the incompetence of government officials, the atrocities and violence of army officers, or even on the fact that regular army officers encouraged desertions by their degree of cruelty and summary justice to their own men. Kolchak himself bears much of the responsibility. Peter Fleming says that Kolchak had "all the attributes of a dictator except the will to dictate." A great many of the problems Kolchak faced were caused by his inability to select competent advisors and commanders. This blame can be somewhat mitigated by the fact that he really did not have much of a choice in the quality or quantity of the officers that rallied to his cause. The vast majority were second and third rate officers who were walking testaments to the corruption of the old Russian military bureaucracy. The Cossack-type officers were dishonest and greedy. Their idea of leadership was to beat or flog the men until they would fight bravely. They believed that "salvation of Russia lay in the whip and only in the whip: the whip in the barracks, the whip in the villages, the whip against the peasants and, in particular the whip against the workers."

Kolchak tended to direct the ground war himself instead of delegating it to a competent general. The soldiers in the armies were already inclined to desert because of the harsh brutality of the officers, and Kolchak's lack of a clear military strategy, frequent reversals of tactics, and continual changes in the chain of command maintained the army in a constant state of flux. Kolchak began the offensive without an adequate reserve force, a strategy which kept units on the front for extended periods of time without rest or resupply. In April 1919, facing drastic troop shortages, Kolchak ordered that all captured Red soldiers or deserters would be retrained and incorporated into the White army.

In reality, Kolchak allowed his officers to practice mass executions, torture, and inhumane treatment because he did not have the will to stop them. Jonathan Smele relates that in one instance that was observed by horrified British officers, starving prisoners from the 3d Red Army were summarily executed as Bolsheviks. Other units were stripped and thrown into overcrowded concentration camps. Abuse, overcrowding, cold, and typhus soon killed off all but a few. Those not put in camps were put on 'Trains of Death' where they spent months traversing up and down the Trans-Siberian railway. Undoubtedly the White leadership could have used many of these men in their own army, but even during the White retreat in May-June 1919, the army continued its wholesale slaughter. Kolchak knew of the attitude of the military toward the peasants and the workers and still chose to authorize the army's police powers. He then failed to control the brutal chaos that resulted. Smele cites Kolchak's Order Number 56 as giving military leaders the power and authority to make arrests of any political opponents of the government. The order instructed officers to "cut short the criminal work of these people by the most decisive means," including military force. Kolchak clearly did not foresee the ramifications of issuing such an order. Officers who were already looking at every order to see what personal benefit they could gain from it now became more independent and less likely to follow any order sent by the government. Kolchak's previous military background did not prepare him for what he was now doing. When he was in the navy, his advisors would have been men who were trained, motivated, and sincere in their careers. Now those who might be able to competently advise him on governing, politics, and land warfare did not, for the most part, exist in his army or in his cabinet. Smele sums it up by calling Kolchak's advisors "a gang of political adventurers and unscrupulous social climbers." Stress began to take its toll on Kolchak, affecting his decision making and his ability to run the government. After recovering from a near fatal attack of influenza and pneumonia, he spent an amazing amount of time -- almost half of his time in office -- touring the front lines. It must have been too difficult for a man who had in essence spent his entire life in and around the military not to portray the image of the commander- in-chief and professional soldier. His real fault was in naively trusting his unqualified advisors.

Kolchak's policies and the widespread actions of the military alienated the middle class, the workers and the peasants. Land reform had initially reversed any gains that the peasants had made when Siberia was briefly under Soviet rule. Many of the peasants had already worked the land and had their crops in. When any of the villages refused to return the land to the previous owner or landlord, the military attacked and burned the village to the ground. A later policy decreed that the welfare of the peasants was more important than any other constraints or considerations. Smele interprets the new ruling as temporary and put into place only to facilitate the supply of food to the army, not to ensure production for the benefit of the peasants. Widespread grain requisitions, recruitment, and high taxes imposed by the government and by the army were supported by brutal methods of collection and conscription. Workers in factories and mines were treated in much the same way. Despite often-announced support for workers' rights, Kolchak issued orders to the army to prohibit work stoppages or even preparations for strikes. Anyone arrested would be tried by a military field court, which guaranteed they would be shot or otherwise executed. Smele writes that the military was increasingly dominant in society. He quotes the government's labor minister as saying that the military considered the working class responsible for the conditions the officers found themselves in.  Under the Tsar, the military officer had been a highly respected career. Since the abdication of the Tsar and the Bolshevik takeover of the Russian government, the warrior caste had lost much of its prestige and most of its benefits.

Some of the blame for the fall of the Kolchak government can even be placed on the British government and the other allies who pushed Kolchak into the role of Supreme Ruler. Much of the pressure came from General Knox, who did not take into account Kolchak's weaknesses, but rather accepted his credentials on the strength of his naval reputation, devotion to duty, and patriotism. Perhaps he was selected because he was the strongest option. In Admiral Kolchak's defense, is is possible that no one may have been able to control the many and varied intrigues and political agendas, the insubordination of army officers, and the lack of support by the population sufficiently to win.

Kolchak was turned over to the Red Army by the Czech forces while he was traveling eastward to Vladivstok. Peter Fleming believes that the allies had sufficient strength to free Kolchak but chose not to. He even quotes Kolchak as asking, a the time his train was being captured by Czech and Red Army forces, if the allies were now betraying him. The Czech officers that informed Kolchak of his arrest stated that orders had come from French General Janin to hand Kolchak over to the local authorities. Jonathan Smele thinks that Fleming is wrong to have blamed Janin. The Czechs could have saved Kolchak, but did they not wish to delay their railway evacuation and risk traveling the vast distance to Vladivstok on foot in the middle of the Siberian winter. He goes on to add that given the abuse (including orders to Semenov to stop the Czech's movement eastward) they had received from Kolchak, he wonders why they did not get rid of him sooner.

The White government represented all that was unpopular with the Monarchy. Kolchak, by his inaction, allowed the nepotism, corruption, brutality, greed, and incompetence to spread and grow until it took on a life of its own and became uncontrollable. Admiral Kolchak ended his ill-fated political career with the same courage that he showed in Sevastpool Harbor, when he threw his sword into the sea rather than submit to the orders of those he thought beneath him. After being interrogated by the Bolsheviks, he was led out into the cold Siberian pre-dawn for execution. True to his nature he remained outwardly calm, even refusing a blindfold. After two volleys by a firing squad, his corpse was kicked over the embankment and through a hole in the ice into the Angara River.

 backhome.gif (3644 bytes) Fedor Babanine ( ) 05/04/02