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Aleksandr Vasilevich Kolchak

Aleksandr Vasilevich Kolchak (November 4, 1874 - February 7, 1920) was a Russian naval commander and later head of part of the anti-Bolshevik (White) forces during the Russian Civil War.

He was born in St. Petersburg, the son of a naval officer. He was educated for a naval career, graduating from the Naval college in the city in 1894 and joining the 7th Naval Battalion of the city. He was soon transferred to the Far East, serving from Vladivostok from 1895 to 1899. He returned to west and was based at Kronstadt[?], joining the Polar expedition of Toll in 1900 as leader of one of the two groups. After considerable hardship Kolchak returned in December 1902, the other group including Toll were lost. He took part in three Arctic expeditions and for a while was nicknamed Kolchak-Poliarnyi.

When the Russo-Japanese War began, Kolchak was sent to Port Arthur in March 1904. He commanded a cruiser and won a valour medal. As the siege of the port intensified he was given a land command, later wounded he became a prisoner of war. His poor health led to his repatriation before the end of the war. He became one of the modernisers in the Russian military.

He was on the Naval General Staff from 1906 and joined the Baltic Fleet on the outbreak of war in 1914. Initially on the flagship Pogranichnik, he oversaw the extensive coastal defensive minefields and commanded the naval forces in the Gulf of Riga[?]. He was promoted to Vice-Admiral in August 1916, the youngest man at that rank. He was also made commander of the Black Sea Fleet and tasked with defeating the U-boat threat and also planning an invasion of the Bosporus. After the February Revolution as the fleet descended into political chaos he left the navy in June and travelled to Britain and the USA.

At the time of the revolution in November 1917 he was in Japan and then Manchuria. Kolchak was a supporter of the Provisional Government[?] and returned to Russia, through Vladivostok, in 1918. Arriving in Omsk, Siberia, enroute to enlisting with the Volunteer Army[?] he agreed to become a minister in the (White) Siberian Regional Government[?], joining a fourteen 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[?].

In November 1918 the unpopular regional government was overthrown in a military coup d'etat. Kolchak returned to Omsk on November 16 from an inspection tour. He was approached and refused to take power. The Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) Directory leader and members were arrested on November 18 by a troop of Cossacks under Ataman Krasilnikov. The remaining cabinet members met and voted Kolchak to become the head of government with dictatorial powers. He was named Supreme Ruler (Verkhovnyi Pravitel), he also promoted himself to Admiral. The arrested SR politicians were expelled from Siberia and ended up in Europe, the SR leaders in Russia denounced Kolchak and called from him to be killed. Their activities resulted in a small revolt in Omsk on December 22, 1918 which was quickly put down by Cossacks and the Czecho-Slovak Legion[?], who summarily executing almost 500 rebels. The SRs opened negotiations with the Bolsheviks and in January 1919 the SR People's Army joined with the Red Army.

Kolchak instituted a tough military dictatorship, imprisoning his opponents and forcing workers who had socialised their factories out. He saw his role in military terms, he needed a strong army, regular supplies and some victories and he did what he saw as necessary to enforce the preconditioons to this, he claimed he "had absolutely no... political objectives... [but tried] only to create an army of the regular type" "...capable of victory over Bolshevism". He was a political innocent, a patriotic idealist, awkward outside of military issues and with other people and always seeking the simplest explanations. "He does not know life in its severe practical reality and lives in a world of... borrowed ideas" recorded Aleksei Budberg, a contemporary official. It has been said that his favourite reading was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Whatever his military successes he was a poor and careless administrator, his government was notoriously corrupt and, unchecked, representatives acting in his name did much harm.

Initially the White forces under his command had some success, Kolchak was uncertain about combat on land and gave the majority of the strategic planning to D. A. Lebedev and his staff. The northern army under 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 a number of advances, for Gajda to take Archangel, for Khanzhin to capture Ufa[?] and Perm[?] and for the Cossacks under Alexander Dutov[?] to capture Samara and Saratov. Kolchak had put around 110,000 men into the field facing roughly 95,000 Bolshevik troops. Kolchak's good relations with General Knox meant that his forces were almost entirely armed, munitioned and uniformed by the British (up to August 1919 the British spent an official $239 million aiding the Whites, although Churchill disputed this figure at the time as an "absurb exaggeration").

The White forces took Ufa in March 1919 and pushed on from there to take Kazan and approach Samara on the Volga River. Anti-Bolshevik risings in Simbirsk, Kazan, Viatka and Samara assisted their endevours. The newly formed Red Army proved unwilling to fight and 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 Committee made countering Kolchak their 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 was pouring newly raised troops into the area.

Kolchak had also aroused the dislike of potential allies including the Czecho-Slovak legion[?], who withdrew from the conflict in October 1918 but remained a presence, their new leader Maurice Janin[?] regarded Kolchak as an instrument of the British and was pro-SR. Kolchak could not count on Japanese aid either, they 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 William S. Graves[?] personally disliked the Kolchak government which he saw as royalist and autocratic, a view that was shared by the American president.

When the Soviet forces managed to reorganise and turn the attack against Kolchak from 1919 he quickly came under pressure. 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 June 9 and later that month the Red forces under Michael Tukhachevshii[?] broke through the Urals. Freed from geographical constraints of the mountains the Reds made rapid progress, capturing Cheliabinsk[?] on July 25 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. The Reds were sufficiently confident to start redeploying some of their forces southwards to face Anton Denikin[?].

Kolchak also came under threat for other quarters, local opponents began to agitate and international support began to wane, with even the British turning more towards Denikin. Gadja, dismissed from command of the northen army, staged a abortive coup in mid-November. Omsk was evacuted on November 14 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 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 Czecho-Slovaks 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 formed a 'Political Centre'. One of their first actions was to dismiss Kolchak, when he heard of this on January 4, 1920 he announced his resignation, giving his office to Denikin and passing control of his remaining forces around Irkutsk to the Ataman, G. M. Semėnov[?]. The transfer of power to Semenov proved a particularly ill-considered move.

It appears that Kolchak was then promised safe passage by the Czecho-Slovaks to the British military mission in Irkutsk. Instead he was handed over to the leftist authorites in Irkutsk on January 14. On January 20 the government in Irkutsk gave power to a Bolshevik military committee. Kolchak was 'investigated' before a commission of five men from January 21 to February 6, when following the arrival of an order from Moscow he was summarily sentenced to death along with his Prime Minister V. Pepelaev. They was executed by firing squad in the early morning and the bodies were disposed of in a local river, the Ushakovka. The Red Army did not enter Irkutsk until March 7 and only then was the news of Kolchak's death officially released.



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