The classic representation of the White Russian officer in the West: the fictional notorious womanizer Count Wladyslaw Sergius Karamzin, portrayed in Universal’s B&W silent 1922 classic film Foolish Wives portrayed by Austrian-American actor Erich von Stroheim in the uniform of a Russian Captain of Hussars complete with a St. George Cross and one of the Order of St. Vladimir. The decorations are probably authentic, as many officers in exile sold their treasured awards to eat, and pawn shops across Western Europe and the U.S. were likely full of such medals in the 1920s.
When the Tsar of Holy Russia was kicked from the throne by his own act of abdication in March 1917, he set in motion a chain of events that led to a short-lived democratic government swept away by the later Red October revolution. This, in turn, sparked an almost immediate civil war and famine that left the country fractured and largely turned to ash. You know, the last half of Dr. Zhivago.
The frozen nightmare that was the retreat of the White Guard army in Siberia, in 1919, by Pyotr Staronosov, 1934
Tsarist Imperial Navy Admiral Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak, who led the White Russian volunteer army in Siberia against the Bolshevik Reds. Things didn’t work out too well for The Admiral, who before the war was a noted polar explorer. When turned over to the Reds by his own troops, he was interrogated, led to a hole in the ice of the frozen Agara River, and told he was to be executed. 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?” as his last words, then was shot and stuffed through the ice as depicted in this painting by FA Moskvitin.
After the anti-communist Whites lost the Civil War (1917-22), some two million Russians fled to all points of the globe. If they didn’t leave, certain death was sure to follow.
The Evacuation of Wrangel’s White Army from Crimea, November 1920
The Drozdovites (Drozdovtsy) regiment and the new banner handed to them on the day of the evacuation with Wrangle’s forces, November 1920. The Kornilovites and Markovites regiments, named for killed White Russian generals, also received new banners to take into exile. They had been previously made the summer before with the idea they would be unfurled once the forces made it to a victory parade in Moscow.
White Russians leaving Crimea, 1920
In short, they lost their Russia privileges when they lost the war.
The White Russian diaspora in the 1920s
Nearly a quarter of these were military men who quite naturally formed veterans groups such as the Society of Gallipoli and the Russian Common Military Union (ROVS). This latter organization, founded in 1924 and led by former General Grand Duke Nicholas, then Lt-Gen Baron Wrangel, numbered some 100,000 members spread around the world within just a couple of years.
Baron Pyotr Wrangel was welcomed in Skopje, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, in the early 1920s. The locals seem to be really cool with the old White Russian commander, who, it should be noted, is in uniform
Lieutenant General PN Pyotr Wrangel (bottom row, second from left), next to Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and other Russian émigrés in Yugoslavia 1927. Although this group had left Russia more than seven years before this picture, they still have immaculate uniforms. Soviet agents would soon poison Wrangel within a year of this image.
Colleagues carry a coffin with the body of General Wrangel. Lt. General Alexander Kutepov is in the foreground. The furthest (smallest) General V. In. Marushevsky. General A on the left. A. Zegelov, General AA von Lampe. General PN Chatilov.
Wrangel, “The Black Baron,” died in 1928 and was a dynamic leader of the Russian exile movement. However, the Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich of Russia, the old Imperial Army commander in 1914-15, seen here in state in 1929 under uniformed guard in France, while not officially part of the White Army during the Civil War (a body which was anything but monarchist) was also a powerful figure to the exile community.
I say men repeatedly, but there were also some fierce White Russian military women in exile as well.
Valentina Zimina (1-1-1899 / 12-3-1928) Was a silent screen actress, Russian born, the daughter of a Moscow stage actress, Zimina served with the famed Women’s Battalion of Death (of 10 Days in October Winter Palace fame) during the Great War. She was in a Siberian prison, from which she escaped and made it across Asia and onto Hollywood. The rest of her family were killed in the Russian Civil War. In the photo, 1927 is an uncredited Valentina Zimina, and James Kirkwood, for the Fox Picture Gerald Cranston’s Lady.
These organizations were officer-heavy, as many of the rank and file of the White volunteer armies were either professional military officers under the Tsar, or were officer cadets at one of more than 100 military schools spread across the country. These officers in exile tended to band together.
For a generation in the 1920s and 30s, ROVS formed an exile Army in waiting and held large training camps and schools in which battalion and even regimental size units participated. The old generals had troops to salute. The young children born overseas who had never seen Russia were given an idealized account of life in the good old days under the father Tsar.
The swashbuckling Gen. Vasily Iosifovich Romeyko-Gurko speaking in exile in Bulgaria, 1923, hard-earned orders of Sts. George, Vladimir, Anna, and Stanislaus on his chest. Born to a noble family in 1864, he graduated from the General Staff Academy in 1892 and rode with the Boers against the British then served as attache to Berlin. Commanding a Cossack brigade in the Russo-Japanese War, he then later served as the chairman of the commission to learn lessons from Russia’s shellacking in that conflict. Commanding the famed 1st Cavalry Division under Rennenkampf, his troopers were the first to raid over the Prussian frontier in August 1914. He later rose to command the Sixth Army Corps, then the 5th Army, and ultimately replaced the ailing Mikhail Alexeev in late 1916 as overall chief of staff at Stavka. Thrown into prison after the March revolution, he was released and skipped the country for the West. While he turned down command with the White Volunteer armies during the Civil War, Gurko was a force in the ROVS throughout the 1920s and 30s, as witnessed by the above image. He died in Italy in 1937 and is buried in Rome.
Some 70,000 White Russians settled in Yugoslavia in the early 1920s, with as many as 30,000– almost half– going on to serve in the Yugoslav military or police in one form or another, forming a backbone in the young country’s armed forces. Wrangel had his headquarters there and Russian general Vasily Logvinov became a celebrated figure.
Russian cadets under the portrait of Tsar Nicholas II in Cetinje-Montenegro.
Lt. Gen. Alexander Ilyich Dutov. Born in 1879 in what is now Kazakhstan, he graduated from a string of military academies in St. Petersburg on scholarship and by the Great War was a captain in the 1st Orenburg Cossack Regiment, later rising to colonel. Headed back home after the Revolution, he was named ataman of the Orenburg Cossack Army in Sept. 1917, just before the Bolsheviks took over. By November, he was one of the first counterrevolutionaries and, later allied with Kolchak and the Czechs, was part of the push to clear Siberia and the Urals of the Reds, ultimately leading a mounted force of some 6,000 horsemen. Falling back in defeat during the collapse to Manchuria in May 1920 with 2,000 stragglers including many old men, women, and children, he still posed a threat to Moscow, and in February 1921 he was assassinated by a Cheka agent. Buried in a catholic cemetery, his grave was later desecrated and his body decapitated, his head rumored to have been spirited back to Russia. He would not be the last White General to meet his end in a targeted hit while in exile. However, today in Russia he is venerated.
Most of all, the exiles maintained some sort of legitimate military cohesion. In 1934 its rolls held some 300,000 members around the globe.
White Russian Anti-Communist Poster, around 1932. Such propaganda was both smuggled into Russia and used as fund-raisers in White communities
From the same 1932 series. Note the imagery of former Tsarist-era officers leading a new generation of cadets back to the Motherland under the 1917 flag
Indeed, in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, a nearly division-sized force of Whites patrolled the borders of that country looking for smugglers. The 1st Cavalry Regiment of the French Foreign Legion (1er REC), a unit that still survives today, was formed in Northern Africa in the 1920s by former Cossacks and guards cavalry of the Tsar.
Lt. Gen. Ataman Afrikan Petrovich Bogaewsky. Born in 1873 in a Don Cossack stanitsa near Rostov to a hereditary noble family, he graduated from the Don Yunkers school in 1890, then the Nikolaev Cavalry School in Petersburg two years later, joining the Atamansky Guards Cossack regiment as a cornet in 1892. After service in the Boxer Rebellion, the Russo-Japanese War, and the punitive expeditions of the 1905-06 revolution, he was a colonel by 1908, serving as chief of staff on the 2nd Guards Cavalry Division. Earning a St. George Cross commanding the 4th Mariupol Hussar Regiment against the Austrians in 1914, he finished the Great War as a major general in charge of the 1st Trans-Baikal Cossack Division. Escaping execution in December 1917 (his brother, Mitrofan Petrovich, was not so lucky), he took command of anti-Bolshevik Cossacks near Rostov and, in Feb. 1919, was elected ataman of the All-Great Don Army, ousting Pytor Kransov. Leaving Russia in November 1920 with Wrangel, he helped form and lead the exile All-Cossack Union in the West and was seen as “the last ataman elected on the Don land.” He died in Paris of a somewhat mysterious heart attack in 1934 and is buried in the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery.
Nikolay Nikolaevich Turoverov was a Don Cossack officer during the Great War assigned to the Ataman Life Guards regiment. He led a partisan detachment under Colonel V. Chernetsov in the South during the Civil War before the evacuation of the Russian army of Wrangel from Crimea. Settling first in Serbia and then in France, he later joined the 1st Cavalry Regiment (1er Régiment Étranger de Cavalerie) of the Foreign Legion and fought in North Africa then, in 1940, after the unit he was assigned to (97e GRDI) laid down its arms, he went to ground and fought with the Resistance until 1944 then rejoined the Army proper for the push on Germany. He died in 1972 and is buried at the Russian cemetery in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois near the graves of fellow soldiers of the Ataman regiment. The Russian government in 1992 moved to add some of Turoverov’s selected works to the Collection of Russian Poets of the Silver Age and he now has several markers in the Motherland.
The Exodus Monument was opened on October 12, 1985 in memory of those killed in the Civil War in Novorossiysk. The composition consists of a figure of a White officer with his warhorse. The famous character of Vladimir Vysotsky of the disillusioned White Guard officer Brusentsov from the 1968 film “Two Comrades Were Serving” served as a prototype.
Turoverov’s poem on the last White Cossack horses in November 1920:
We left the Crimea
Between the smoke and fire;
I’m out of the feed all the time
Shot a horse in his head.
And he floated, exhausted,
Behind the high feed,
I don’t believe everything, without knowing everything,
What’s going on with me.
How many times one grave
We waited for a fight.
The horse all floated, losing its strength,
Believing in my loyalty.
My dayman shot not past –
The water turned a little red…
Leaving the Crimea coast
I have remembered forever.
Active the West
These veteran groups also formed underground units to send sabotage and intelligence gathering teams into the Soviet Union. Under the auspices of such names as the Brotherhood of Russian Truth and the Fighting Organization General Kutepov, (which in Cyrillic has the unenviable abbreviation BORK), they gave the Reds a series of bloody noses.
This got the attention of the Soviets and the OGPU/NKVD soon started rubbing out influential White Russian officers in the West, including Gen. Kutepov himself. Kutepov’s replacement, Lt. Gen. EK Miller, was likewise liquidated.
Kutepov, who inherited the White Russian volunteer Army in exile after Wrangel passed in 1928.
Headquarters of the I Army Corps of General from Infantry A.P. Kutepov, 1920. Born in 1882 in the far Northern part of the country near Archangel, he graduated from a yunker school in St. Petersburg, fought in the Russo-Japanese War in the 85th Vyborg Infantry Regiment, and by the Great War was a company commander in the famed Preobrazhensky Life Guards, a regiment formed by Peter the Great himself. The last commander of the unit, he joined the White Guard in its infancy in Ukraine in early 1918 and by the next year was a Lt. Gen. in charge of a corps in Denikin’s army. Escaping to Bulgaria and later settling in Serbia after Wrangel was chased out of the South, he became the commander of ROVS after the Baron’s death in 1928. Less than two years later, he was kidnapped in Paris by agents of the Bolsheviks and reportedly buried in an unmarked grave in the French countryside. Maj. Gen. Nikolai Skoblin, sitting to Kutepov’s right, has historically been blamed for selling him out. A memorial to Kutepov is at the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery in Paris.
Lt. Gen. Evgeniy-Lyudvig Karlovich Miller. The White General with the English name. Of Baltic extraction, Miller was born in 1867 in what is now Latvia. After service with the Imperial Guard, the multilingual and socially graceful officer spent a decade as a military attaché in assorted European capitals. By the Great War, he proved a decent field commander, rising to lead the 26th Infantry Corps in the field. Managing to remove himself from Petrograd during the Revolution, he was in Archangel at just the right time and, mixing with the Allied Interventionists, stood up the White government in Northern Russia until it collapsed after the Allied withdrawal in early 1920. In exile, Miller served as the first chief of staff to Baron Wrangel and was assistant to the chief of the ROVS. He later moved up as in the organization as Wrangel and others passed. Following the kidnapping and killing of Kutepov, Miller was the de facto head of ROVS in Western Europe in the late 1930s. Smelling a rat when going to a Sept. 1937 meeting with Maj. Gen. Nikolai Skoblin, who was in fact in the pay of Soviet intelligence, Miller left a note pointing to Skoblin’s way should he disappear. Kidnapped and spirited out of France in a trunk, he spent the next two years undergoing torture at Lubyanka. Then, in May 1939, Miller was burned alive by Blokhin – Stalin’s favorite executioner– in the ovens of the crematorium located at the Church of Seraphim of Sarov.
General M.N. Grabbe with the Cossacks in Billancourt (France), 1932. Grabbe was the last commander of the Tsar’s bodyguards.
Other Russian officers became soldiers of fortune. They appeared in Mexico during the government oppression of the Cristeros and as well as in the Chaco Wars in Latin America in the 1930s where Maj-Generals NF Erna and IT Belyaev helped keep the Paraguayans in the fight against, ironically, German-led Bolivians.
Ivan Timofeyevich Belyaev was an artillerist and cartographer by trade, graduating from the Mikhailovsky Artillery School in 1893. Starting the Great War as a light colonel, by the time of the Revolution he was a major general on the injured list. After serving on Wrangel’s staff with the White Guard in Ukraine, he ended up in Latin America by 1923 and, by 1925 under the name Juan Belyaev, had been appointed an officer in the Paraguayan Army. In a short time, he had at least a dozen fellow White Russian exiles on the staff and was teaching at the country’s military academy. He mapped the controversial Gran Chaco region over the course of 13 expeditions, which played a big part in the Chaco War. After he passed in 1957, with a general’s rank in the Paraguayan military, he was seen as a messiah figure for the Maká tribe as he was an activist for the rights and education of Paraguayan Indians, and was interred in a mausoleum on their land.
Whites, in a unit some 75-members strong led by Maj. Gen. Nikolai Shinkarenko Brusilov, then showed up in the Spanish Civil War carrying the torch for Franco, with some 34 émigrés, including former Maj. Gen Anatole Fock, killed in action.
White Russian volunteers in the Spanish Civil War wearing requeté uniforms, Russian medals, and insignia
Many a Chinese warlord of the period owed their military might to the assistance of a former Tsarist commander.
White Russian Maj. Gen. Viktorin Mikhailovich Molchanov, seen second row, second from right, with his staff (one of which wears a Great War pickelhaube trophy) and a Japanese liaison officer, in the Vladivostok area 1921-22. Born in 1886, he joined the Tsarist Army in 1906 as a sapper officer, rising to colonel by 1916. He was a division commander in Kolchak’s army until that fell apart, covering the rearguard for Kappel during the Ice Campaign, then led, with Dietrichs, the rump of the Siberian Volunteer Army from Vladivostok until 1922 when the Japanese left and the pocket collapsed. Evacuating with Admiral Stark’s White Russian Pacific Squadron, after a stint in Manchuria, he eventually wound up in America. He died in San Francisco in 1975, aged 88.
Lieutenant General Urzhin Garmaev of the Manchukuo Imperial Army, formerly a junior officer of the Imperial Russian Army. One of Semenov’s Cossack commanders, Garmaev beat feet to Manchuria and was soon recruiting Buryat-Mongolian anti-Communist troops to patrol the border on behalf of the Japanese-backed government. Involved in both the Battle of Khalkhyn Temple in 1935 and the Battle of Khalkhin Gol in 1939, he commanded the 10th District of the Manchukuo Imperial Army until he took the position of the head of the puppet state’s military academy. Captured by Red Army troops in Sept. 1945, he was sent to Moscow for trial and f executed by firing squad on 13 March 1947
White Russian paramilitary formation attached to the Far Eastern Academy in the city of Tianjin late 1930s Photo via Kyoto University. Note the Japanese-supplied Arisakas
Russian soldiers of the Imperial Manchukuo Army`s Asano Detachment, organized for sabotage against Soviet forces along the Manchurian Border. In all, some 4,000 White Russians served in this Japanese-equipped unit through 1945
Early M1927 type Zlatoust-marked Soviet “Red Cossack” sword-shashka with companion dragoon-style bayonet scabbard. The blade is dated 1929 while the hilt is dated 1931. This sword was recovered in China in 1945 along with other curious items by a U.S. soldier with Merrill’s Mauraders and likely came across the Soviet border in the hands of a defector or was captured in Manchu-White Russian-Japanese skirmishes along said border in the 1930s. The shashka is currently in the collection of the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum. (Photo: Chris Eger)
White Russian Cossacks at the Russian Ball in Shanghai, the 1930s
Col. Fedor Ivanovich Eliseev. Born 1892 in the Kuban region, he volunteered for the 1st Koshevoi Ataman Chepega’s Yekaterinodar Regiment of the 3rd Caucasian Cossack Division in 1910 then was picked for officers (junkers) training and, by 1914, was a cornet (ensign) with the 1st Catherine’s Viceroy General-Field Marshal Prince Potemkin’s Caucasian Regiment of the Kuban Cossack Host. Rising to the rank of captain, he was sent to join the Tsar’s own Konvoy Cossacks in 1917 then, post-Revolution sent back to the front. Casting his lot with the Whites, he would eventually rise to the rank of colonel and eventually inherit command of the battered 2nd Kuban Cossack division in 1920. Escaping to France after the endgame, he formed a Cossack circus group performing the traditional Kuban dzhigitovka horse gymnastics and toured the globe throughout the 1930s, ranging as far as Singapore and Shanghai. In the Far East when WWII began, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion in Indochina in 1939, eventually fighting the Japanese there and earning the Croix de Guerre before the war was over. Returning to private life, he reformed his circus and toured Europe as late as 1948. Eliseev then settled in New York and died there in 1987, aged 95.
Eliseev’s group in a grainy 1930s film:
Maj. Gen. Georgy Petrovich Tatonov. Born in 1884, he graduated from the Mikhailovsky Voronezh Cadet Corps (1902) and the Nikolaev Cavalry School (1904), then served in the Russo-Japanese War as a cornet in the 1st Sunzha-Vladikavkaz regiment (Terek Cossacks). On the staff of the 13th Cavalry Division at the start of the Great War, he ended the conflict as the head of the Wild Division, made up of Caucasian volunteers (Ossetian, Dagestani, Chechnyan) and formerly led by the Tsar’s brother, the Grand Duke Michael. Casting his lot with the Whites in the Terek and later Kuban regions during the Civil War, Tatonov rose to command the Terek-Astrakhan brigade by 1920 and later was chief of staff of the 3rd Kuban Corps under Wrangel. Exiled to Yugoslavia and then France, where he was active in ROVS, Ossetian independence organizations, and Cossack groups, he opened up a paper company, was reportedly active in the Resistance underground against the Germans, and died in Paris in 1970. He is buried in the cemetery of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois.
Col. Vsevolod Petrovich Aglaimov. Born in Kherson in 1892 to a noble family, he graduated from the Nicolas Cavalry School in St. Petersburg in 1911 and joined the historic 12th Akhtyrsky Hussar Regiment (the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrova was the honorary colonel) as a cornet. During the Great War, the young hussar rose to command a squadron and was decorated. Cashiered in 1917, he joined the White Volunteer Army in the South and rose to command a scratch regiment, personally leading a charge near the village of Tokmachka in July 1920 that captured a four-gun Red battery. In exile in Yugoslavia, he led a group of former officers of the Akhtyrsky Hussars, 12th Belgorod Lancers, and 11th Izyumsky Hussars in service to the local government around Belgrade then later emigrated to France and the U.S., where he was active in Russian officers associations and worked as a civilian cartographer in the American army during WWII. He died in Washington in 1965
Wladimir Vassilevitch Petropavlovsky was born 29 June 1897 in Russia and, a young artillery officer in the Great War, cast his lot early with the White Volunteer Army and commanded Romanian troops in the anti-Bolshevik Intervention, then settled in France after the Civil War and apparently served in the Foreign Legion as an officer for a term, fighting the Riff in Morocco. Known as “Petro” to his friends which included American writer Emily Hahn, he bumped around China and the Far East for over a decade and, in 1940, joined the 2/19th Punjabis in Hong Kong as a 42-year-old lieutenant but was soon seconded into the SOE as he was fluent in French, Arabic, Russian, English, Chinese, and a smattering of assorted Yugoslavian tongues. Writing as W. Petro, he is best known for his swashbuckling 1968 memoir “Triple Commission.” Buried in New York, he is listed on one memorial as a “Soldier of the Tsar, of France, and of England.”
A smaller unit of Whites, operating under the protection of the British, passed on to Japanese control in 1939 and only vanished when the Soviets appeared at the end of the war. The foreign legation in Shanghai was patrolled by a White Russian regiment employed by the Shanghai police until 1942.
The White Russian Regiment of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps, 1930s. Note the British kit. When the Brits withdrew from China in 1940, these Whites were left to befriend the Japanese the next year.
In 1934, one infamous Boris Skossyreff, a self-styled former White Russian officer, once an adviser to the Japanese Army and full-time con man seized power in the tiny nation of Andorra (pop 20,000), calling himself “Boris I, Prince of the Valleys of Andorra, Count of Orange and Baron of Skossyreff, sovereign of Andorra and defender of the faith.” Spain, it would seem, who is jointly in charge along with France of Andorra’s defense in times of war, two weeks later sent a group of military police into the country to politely show Boris I the fastest way over the Pyrenees. This did not stop him from serving later in the German Army in World War II.
The commander of Wrangel’s 2nd Army Corps in South Russia, Lt. Gen. Yakov Aleksandrovich Slashchov (third from right) with his chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Georgy Alexandrovich Dubyago (fourth from right), April-May 1920. Slashchov, born in 1886, graduated from the Pavlovsk Military Academy in 1903 and served in the Finland Regiment of the Imperial Guard where he was wounded five times during the Great War, earning multiple St. George Crosses. The colonel in command of the Moscow Regiment of the Imperial Guards in the summer of 1917, by the end of the year he had joined Kornilov and Alexev in the South where he fought with Shukuro’s partisan command and eventually became head of a Corps, famed for the defense of the Perekop Isthmus. Exiled in 1920, he negotiated a return to Bolshevik Russia in the 1920s and even appealed from Moscow for others to do the same. He was assassinated there in 1929. Dubyago, born in 1884, graduated from the Nikolaev Engineering School in 1904 and by December 1916 was a colonel in the Tsarist Army. After serving as a general with the Whites, he evacuated Crimea in November 1920 and settled in New York, passing there in 1954.
Maj. Gen. Vladimir Nikolaevich von Dreyer in his Tsarist uniform. The son of Baltic German nobles with a 200-year history of service to the Romanovs, he was trained as an artillery officer then lectured on the subject at the Vilnius Military Academy before the war. A scholarly man, he served as a military correspondent in the Italian-Turkish war in 1911 and then, from 1912 to 1913, in the Balkan Wars. During WWI, while a colonel, he assumed command of the encircled 20th Army Corps in February 1915 and led a breakout. He went on to command the 275th Khotyn Infantry Regiment (69th Inf Division) then the 8th Zaamurskii Frontier Border Regiment, and by 1917 was commander of the 7th Cavalry Division until he was cashiered with the Revolution. Rumored to have been a secret force behind the uprising against the Bolsheviks in Moscow in 1918, when he appeared in the South and offered his services to Denikin he was turned down. Ultimately living in exile in the U.S. and France, he went on to write no less than four tomes of military history. Passing away in 1967 at age 90, he is buried among other high-ranking White Russians in their Russian cemetery in Saint-Genev de Bouis in Paris.
The dashing Alexander Mikhailovich Ionov– son of the famed “Great Game” explorer who interacted with Francis Younghusband, triggering the so-called Wakhan Corridor that still exists today— was a colonel under the Tsar, commanding the 2nd Semirechensky Cossack Regiment during the Great War. Bringing his boys home, he was elected the last Ataman of the Semirechenskies and was made a general in the White Guard, commander of a separate Semirechensky Cossack army. After Kolchak collapsed in Siberia, he evacuated from Vladivostok through China and New Zealand, then to Canada, and finally to the U.S. where he headed the North American branch of ROVS during WWII and was a celebrated figure among cosmopolitan White Russian exiles on the East Coast. There, on July 18, 1950, he died in New York, aged 70.
3rd Cavalry Corps of Andrei Grigorievich Shkuro. Shkuro would escape to the West after the Civil War, then reemerge in WWII to join the Germans’ recruiting efforts for the anti-Bolshevik SS Cossack divisions. More on that below.
Generals N.N. Yudenich and A.P. Rodzianko at the headquarters of the 1st Rifle Corps of the North-Western Army. Perhaps the White Russian general that came closest to success, Yudenich, who had commanded the Turkish front in the Great War, made it to the outskirts of Petrograd/St. Petersburg in 1919 only to falter at the last minute. He died in exile in France in 1928. Rodzianko, meanwhile, would travel to Ireland and coach the Irish Army’s cavalry to worldwide equestrian acclaim.
Lt. Gen. Grigory Mikhaylovich Semyonov (mustache and hat, front) with staff officers, 1920. Note the Japanese advisors. Born in the Transbaikal region of eastern Siberia in 1890, he enlisted in 1908 and was a Cossack captain during the Great War, tasked by the Kerensky government with the later notorious Baron Ungern-Sternburg, first to raise a regiment of Assyrian Christians in the Caucus to fight the Turks, then to the Baikal region to form a regiment of Buryat volunteers. When Kerensky was swept from power, Semyonov and company took their act on the road and became warlords in Siberia, ruling an enclave around Chita and Lake Baikal that existed with Japanese blessing into 1920, when he was forced to withdraw to Manchuria. After 25 years of machinations with the exiled Whites and Japanese in the puppet Manchukuo, he was captured by the Soviets in 1945 with the destruction of the Kwangtung Army and sent back to Russia, where he was executed in 1946.
Semyonov (upturned mustache) with the Cossacks of the Special Manchurian Detachment, 1918
The image of a scarred White Russian officer, wandering the globe from conflict to conflict like a Ronin of Old Japan, or a Mandalorian of a galaxy far, far, away became a familiar trope between the World Wars.
Kinda like this but more vintage:
Medals issued by the White Russian forces, most were actually awarded in the 1930s for service during the Civil War
When WWII came, many of these now elderly officers dusted off their spurs and helped to form the 30,000-strong XV Cossack Cavalry Corps in the German Army (who began the war often in the uniform of the Russian Imperial Army!). Leaders, in spirit, if not in deed, included Kuban Cossack Maj-Gen. Pytor Kransov, the swashbuckling White bandit Andrei Shkuro, Sultan Kelech Ghirey, and Timofey Domanov among others. While the corps mostly fought against Yugoslav red partisans and was able to withdraw in good order to Austria at the end of the war to surrender to the British, they were handed over to the Soviets for execution and exile in Siberia.
Cossack Maj.-Gen. Vyacheslav Naumenko (tall) and Lt.-Gen Andrei Shkuro (short) seen inspecting Hitler’s Cossacks during World War II. These elderly White generals did not lead troops during the war but helped with support, morale, and recruiting among captured Soviet army personnel. Naumenko survived the war, escaping to the U.S. while Shkuro was turned over by the British to the Soviets and hung in 1947. Note the decorations for the old Emperor Nicholas Military Academy on Naumenko’s lower left tunic along with the Tsarist Cross of St Ann. The medal on the upper left tunic is the Ice March award, showing a sword piercing a crown of thorns, awarded to White volunteers who survived the 1st Kuban Campaign in 1918.
This whiskered Cossack colonel is one Alexander Nikolayevich Pugovochnikov, who graduated from the Nikolaev Cavalry School in 1905. By 1917, he was a colonel who saved his regimental standard and icons from being destroyed by red-armband-wearing troopers– which ended his career even before the Bolsheviks took over. Fighting with Kornilov’s Volunteer Army by early 1918 as a private by 1920 he was again commanding a horse regiment under Wrangel as a colonel. Moving to Yugoslavia after the Whites lost, he was a jockey in Belgrade before landing a job as an instructor in the country’s cavalry school, helping to prep the country’s equestrian team for the ill-fated 1940 Olympic Games. Captured by the Germans in April 1941, within a year he was a volunteer for the German-raised 600th Cossack battalion fighting partisans. Finishing the war as a colonel (for a third time) he gave the Soviets the slip and by 1949 was living in New York City, teaching horseback riding in Central Park. He died in 1968.
Alexander Vasilievich Golubintzev, born in 1882, joined the Imperial Russian army during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 and was colonel of the 3rd Don Cavalry Regiment by the time the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917. He went on to become a Major General of the counterrevolutionary White movement in Ukraine during the Civil War, commanding the 5th Don Cavalry Division under Mamontov/Denikin. He was then exiled to Bulgaria in 1920 and later Germany, where he served as a colonel in German-allied ROA units (Vlasov’s Russian National Liberation Army) in WWII. After the war, he fled to the United States and died in Cleveland in 1963.
Don’t get the idea that the Whites just worked for the Germans or Japanese.
They also carried water for the Allies as well.
It should be noted that most professional European armies, especially countries in the east such as Poland and Greece, before 1939 contained cadres of field-grade officers who cut their teeth in the service to the Tsar.
Imperial Guards cavalry Col. Pavel Pavlovich Rodzianko– who rode for Russia in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm– helped teach the young Windsors how to ride immediately after making it out of Siberia after the Civil War and in 1926 formed the Irish Army Equitation School. The jumping team got good in just a few years. In fact, in the 1930s they scored 20 Nations Cups wins. The school still exists today.
One former Imperial Russian naval officer, George Ermolaevich Chaplin, fled to England to exile and became a major in the British Army, even leading a group of engineers ashore at Normandy on D-Day. He later retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel as the head of the Royal Pioneers. Moreover, of course, you cannot forget exiled Georgian Prince Dimitri Zedguinidze-Amilakhvari, who died as a colonel in the French Foreign Legion during the Second Battle of El Alamein against the Germans.
Heck, even Finland’s Field Marshal Carl Mannerheim had learned his military service in the Imperial Guards– and was such a fierce monarchist, he was forced to leave Russia at the onset of the Revolution for Finland under penalty of prison.
Immediately following the war, the CIA made careful efforts to revitalize the vehemently anti-communist White officer groups by using them as a backdoor into the old country. However, this was only marginally successful as whatever contacts they had that Stalin had missed, time soon claimed.
By the 1960s, with even the youngest of these exiled, stateless officers in their seniors, the veterans’ groups became smaller and smaller. The battalion-sized gatherings were no more.
Typically, meetings would be held with only a handful of veterans from the First World War/Russian Civil War at the head, with the bulk of attendees instead being sons and grandsons of such men.
With this, the group lost its last semblance of a military force in exile and became more of a historical and genealogical association.
The final Imperial Army general in exile, Alexei von Lampe– who had served in the Russo-Japanese War, was a member of the Tsar’s General Staff at Stavka during WWI, and had led ROVS for the last ten years of his life– died in Paris in 1967 at age 81.
Old von Lampe had served as an intelligence organizer during the Russian Civil War and the Nazis thought him such a threat that they threw him in prison in Germany in the 1930s. Odds are he likely remembered where a lot of bodies were buried. Indeed, the Nazis let him go and he continued to live in Berlin until 1945 when he beat feet.
The Final Chapter
One of the last of the White Russian generals, Vladimir G. Harzhevsky, had started World War I as a reserve ensign in the 47th Infantry Regiment. Advancing through the ranks, he was a captain by the time the Tsar fell and later rose meteorically through the officer list of the Southern White Russian army under Denikin and later Wrangel, making major general in September 1920 at the age of 28.
However, just three months later, he was exiled when the shattered remnants of Wrangel’s forces were evacuated from Crimea. Bouncing around Europe for decades, he settled finally in New Jersey.
Unknown White Army Kornilovets regiment veteran in exile. Los Angeles. The mid-1970s.
White Russians at the Sunodalny Znamensky temple in the New York 1970s. Col. Fedor Ivanovich Eliseev (see above) is at the right, in Kuban Cossack colonel’s uniform
Regiment holiday of the Life Guard of the Cossack Regiment in Paris (Courbevois) October 17, 1979. Some participants of World War I and the Civil War are still alive. Their young sons and grandchildren, who are now older people, are also present to hear of the bad old days.
Picking up the helm of ROVS on von Lampe’s death, being the senior-most officer left, Harzhevsky died in 1981 at age 89.
Major General Mikhail Georgievich Kripunov. Born in 1889, he graduated from the Donsk Cadet Corps and Nicholas Cavalry School, joining the Ataman Cossack regiment of the Imperial Guard in 1909 as a cornet. By the Great War, he was a captain in charge of a squadron and was decorated. By 1915, he had been seconded to the Tsar as an ADC. Returning to his regiment in 1916, he brought what Cossacks he could home in late 1917 as the army disintegrated and cast his lot with first Kaledin and then Kransnov’s successive Cossack armies in the Don and Kuban region. Rising to major general by 1920, he ultimately commanded the 2nd Cavalry Division under Wrangel. Post Civil War exile led him to Greece, then Yugoslavia, and by 1924 to France. He spent WWII in Ireland before ultimately settling in Jerusalem in the 1960s. A popular figure in ROVs circles and among Cossack and Imperial Guard veterans, he died in 1983, aged 94, the last living ADC to the Tsar, the last White general from the Civil War, and the last officer of the Ataman Cossack Regiment.
Smyslovskiy as a cadet
The last of the old guard who wore the epaulets of an officer in the Tsar’s military was one Boris Smyslovskiy.
Born in 1897, Boris was a military academy cadet (junkers) in the 1st Moscow Cadet Corps (Mikhailovsky academy) when the First World War erupted. As a young Lieutenant, he was wounded in the Russian Revolution, fighting against the Reds in Moscow in October 1917. He went on to serve in the White Army under Denikin, as a captain, then a major, before his exile in Germany. Taking up with various underground groups there, he found himself working for the Abwehr (German army intelligence), helping to run agents in Poland and Ukraine.
During WWII, Smyslovskiy took a commission in the German army as a Major in the Wehrmacht and was leading a battalion of Russian troops on the Eastern Front by the end of the war.
General Smyslovskiy, in German service
In March 1945, he led some 500 Russian veterans of the German army into exile once again, crossing over into tiny but neutral Liechtenstein where he surrendered to the principality’s 33-man army. While the Soviets steadfastly petitioned the Liechtenstein government to hand over Smyslovskiy on war crimes, they did not. He then wandered to Argentina in 1947 and became an adviser to Peron’s army before returning to Liechtenstein in 1966. Smyslovskiy died there in 1988, just before the Berlin Wall came down.
The ROVS organization continued in the West for another decade, its commanders being chosen from men who were officers in White Russian units in WWII, as all of the Tsar’s few good men were gone.
The last commander of ROVS in the West was Cadet Vladimir Vishnevsky. Born in 1917 and leaving the country of his birth for the last time in 1922, he had served in the Yugoslav Royal Army before joining the German/White Russian Corps during World War Two, rising to the rank of an officer cadet in the organization. With no more regular meetings due to declining membership, Vishnevsky was informed of his new post via correspondence that Capt. Vladimir Butkov, who himself was only a year old when the Winter Palace fell, had died in New York, leaving the former cadet as the seniormost ranking officer.
Finally in 2000, after 76 years, ROVS dissolved (after Vishnevsk’s death of cancer) as even this pool of WWII veterans had dwindled. However, with the recent resurgence of Tsarist love in the new Russia, a Moscow-based version has taken its place.
In a final gesture of homecoming, the remains of General Anton Ivanovich Denikin and his wife, who were buried in the Orthodox Cossack St. Vladimir’s Cemetery in New Jersey, were repatriated to Russia in 2005.
He was buried with military honors and is now seen as something of a patriot there, bringing the saga to a full circle.
Murals to the infamous “Bloody Baron” Lt. Gen. Roman von Ungern-Sternberg have appeared in Siberia, his old stomping grounds, while other White generals are publicly venerated.
Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg mural in Novosibirsk
Rehabilitation of Gen. Pyotr Nikolaevich Krasnov, Born in 1869 to a long line of Cossack generals, by 1888 he was an officer in the Ataman Cossack regiment of the Life Guards of the Imperial Russian Army. Spending much of his early career in the Far East, he fought in the Boxer Rebellion and Russo-Japanese War, then by the Grea War had risen to the command of the 3rd Cavalry Corps. One of the first counterrevolutionaries against the Reds, he was named Ataman of the Don Cossack Host by May 1918, sheltered the fledging White Russian Volunteer Army as he threaded the needle with German occupation forces, and eventually, after falling out with Denikin, left for Germany in 1919. Later moving to France, he penned several books, helped organize underground networks back into Russia, and, after 1941, worked with the Nazis to help recruit anti-Bolshevik units for Berlin. This left him to be one of legacy White commanders handed over to the Soviets in 1945, who stretched the elderly general’s neck two years later. He was rehabilitated in 2008 and a pundit for the Putin regime has listed Krasnov as one of the figures from Russian history, whom he believes deserve a monument
Today in modern Russia under Tsar Vladimir IV of the House of Putin, it’s become fashionable once again to be a White Russian.