Caucasian horsemen and their rare bolt-guns
Here we see a group of of the 2nd General Krukovskii’s Mountain-Mozdok Regiment of the Terek Cossacks, with their distinctive Cossack model Mosin-Nagant Model 91s.
The Cossacks were organized somewhat differently than the regular line cavalry and also varied slightly between the different “hosts” (voyska)—Don, Kuban, Terek, Astrakhan, etc.—however, in general, a Cossack regiment consisted of six companies (sotni), grouped into two battalions (diviziony) of three companies. Each host maintained a “1st regiment” of men on active duty with the regular army. Each of these regiments had a “2nd regiment” back home on the farm of those who had recently completed service and could be recalled within two weeks. Then there was a further “3rd regiment” of older men in their 30s and even 40s who could muster to the flag inside of a month if needed.
The small Terek host hailed from the Caucasus Military District along the banks of the Terek River and had their headquarters at Vladikavkaz, now the capital city of the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania, Russia.
In peacetime the Terek host provided four “1st regiments” (1st General Krukovskii’s Mountain-Mozdok, 1st Sunzha-Vladikavkaz, 1st Volga, 1st General Yermolov’s Kizlyar-Grebensk) along with four batteries of horse artillery while the Terek Guard Watch [Terskaya Okhranaya Strazha] remained in the krug itself to handle bandits and raiders and the Terek horse farm kept breeding and breaking ponies. The Tereks also had the honor of providing two squadrons [Terskaya Kazach’ya Sotnya] to the Tsar’s own personal household cavalry escort [Sobstvennyi EGO IMPERATORSKAGO VELICHESTVA Konvoi].
When the war kicked off in 1914, the four “2nd regiments” as well as the quartet of “3rd regiments” were swiftly called up, which is what you see in our brave, if aging, lads above.
The 2nd Mountain-Mozdok Regiment found itself part of the Russian Imperial Army’s 1st Caucasian Cavalry Corps of Lt. General Nikolai Nikolayevich Baratov (Baratashvili) fighting the Turks in Persia during the Great War. The corps, as its name implies, was formed of almost two-thirds horse mounted units but did have some artillery (38 guns) and infantry attached. It was composed of the Cossacks mentioned above and reinforced by such exotic units as the Georgian Cavalry Legion (which Colonel Kaikhosro Cholokashvili, later a white partisan leader in the Russian Civil War served in), Omansky Cossack Regiment, the Katerinadraski Cossack Regiment, a unit of Armenians, and Shkuro’s Kuban Special Cavalry Detachment (under Andrey Shkuro who would also lead white partisans in the Civil War). This assemblage of units was as colorful and interesting as any that graced the battlefields of the Napoleonic Wars. It would fight the Ottoman Turks and their German allies across the deserts of modern day Iraq and Iran for the next four years and survive to be the last of the Tsar’s armies.
The Russians supported the Persian Shah and even provided officers for his own Cossack brigade of bodyguards. They fought rebellious tribes, demonstrators and bandits on the Shah’s behalf and served the greater Russian political good in the region.
General Baratov landed at Bandar-e Pahlavi in November 1915 and marched rapidly to Tehran where the Shah (Ahmet) was in hiding at the Russian Legation after being forced out in a coup. The Russian force reinstalled the Shah and then marched to the Hamadan to scatter the pro-German tribes and small units of Turkish troops.
He attempted to relive the British Forces under siege at Kut and indeed made it as far as Hamadan (some 100 miles away). Baratov fought Ottoman forces consisting of scattered Mesopotamian infantry, some Persian irregulars, and a handful of German officers. The Russians routed a Turkish force under German Count Kaunitz at Kangavar. Pushing on, they captured Kermanshah on February 26, 1916 and Kharind on March 12th where the army encamped and awaited an advance on Baghdad. It was not until the Turkish Gen. Ali Ishan Bey’s XIII Corps entered the theater (June 1916) that Baratov was finally met by a sizable force. The two forces met at Khanaqin where Baratov withdrew after a sharp skirmish.
Gen. Baratov led his force back into Persia to regroup and attempt to link up with British forces in northern Mesopotamia. In January 1917 the Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich Romanov was sent to join Baratov’s unit as punishment for taking part in the assassination of Rasputin. The Grand Duke met the general at the Cavalry Corps headquarters at Kasvin in northern Persia. The two became fast friends and the young Romanov, who had represented Russia at the 1912 Olympics in equestrian events, served on the general’s staff.
After the Russian Revolution (March 1917) Baratov’s forces began to suffer terrible desertions. By the time the Bolsheviks opened peace negotiations with the Germans and Turks in November 1917 Baratov could barely field an effective regiment. Many of his Cossacks would return hundreds of miles from Persia to their stanisa villages only to join the new White cause in the brewing Russian Civil War.
Baratov did in fact meet with a force sent north from the British in April 1917 which included a Col. Rowlandson, who would served as a liaison until the Caucasian Cavalry Corps linked with the British Dunsterforce in February 1918. By this time the Caucasian Cavalry Corps only consisted of Baratov, Gen. Lastochkin, Col. Bicherakov, Col. Baron Meden and about 1000 loyal Kuban and Terek cossacks (including our veterans of the 2nd Mozdoc). The rest of the Russian soldiers had left for home or deserted and milled around the town on their own recognizance. Baratov and his men, largely a forgotten army with no home, assisted the British in Persia until the end of World War One.
Many of the Russian officers found appointments as aides and eventually transitioned into the British Army. The Grand Duke Dimitri even came away with a commission as British Captain at the time. When the last of Baratov’s troops dissolved near Baku as part of Dunsterforce in August 1918, the old Ossetian general supported the fledgling state of Georgia, which was briefly independent. He lost a leg to a terrorist’s bomb there in 1919 and left the country just before the Red Army occupied it. He died in 1932 while in Paris in exile. While in France he worked as senior editor of the Russki Invalid newspaper and was president of the Union of White Officers veterans group. He is buried in the Russian cemetery in St-Genevieve de Bois and his diaries and correspondence are held at the Hoover Archives.
As for the distinctive rifles shown above, the Soviets used the Cossack/Dragoon pattern to convert the overly-long M91 into the more common M.91/30 that we know today.