alexander kolchak

Alexander Kolchak was put to death on this date in 1920.

Kolchak was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1874. His father was a retired major-general in the Marine Artillery, who was actively engaged in the siege of Sevastopol in 1854-5. After his retirement, he worked as an engineer in ordnance works near St. Petersburg. 

Kolchak was educated for a naval career, graduating from the Naval Cadet Corps in 1894 and joining the 7th Naval Battalion of the city. He soon was transferred to Vladivostock, near Russia’s borders with China and what’s now North Korea, from 1895-9. He then returned to Russia and was based at Kronstadt, joining the Russian Polar Expedition of Eduard Toll on the ship Zarya as a hydrologist in 1900.

Kolchak returned from the expedition in December 1902. Toll and three other members of the party had gone exploring further north and gotten lost. Kolchak took part in two Arctic expeditions and received the highest award from the Russian Geographical Society.

In December 1903, Kolchak was on his way back to St. Petersburg to marry his fiancee, Sophia Omirova. Not far from Irkutsk, he got notice that war had begun with the Empire of Japan and summoned his bride and her father to Siberia before heading directly to Port Arthur (now Lushunkou, China). 

In the early stages of the Russo-Japanese War, he served as watch officer on the Askold, and later commanded the destroyer Serdityi. He made several night sorties to lay naval mines, one of which sunk the Japanese cruiser Takasago

Kolchak was decorated with the Order of St. Anna 4th class for his endeavours. As a blockade of the port tightened and the Siege of Port Arthur intensified, he was given command of the coastal naval artillery battery. He was wounded in the final battles at Port Arthur and taken as a prisoner of war to Nagasaki, where he was held for four months. His poor health, including arthritis he acquired from his polar expeditions, led to him being repatriated before the end of the war. He was awarded the Golden Sword of St. George for bravery when he returned to Russia.

When he returned to St. Petersburg in 1905, Kolchak was promoted to lieutenant commander. He helped rebuild the Imperial Russian Navy, which had been almost completely destroyed during the war. He was on the Naval general staff from 1906, helping draft a shipbuilding program, training program and developing new protection plans for St. Petersburg and the Gulf of Finland.

He also designed the special icebreakers Taimyr and Vaigach, launched in 1909 and 1910, respectively. The vessels were sent on a cartographic expedition of the Bering Strait and Cape Dezhnev. His studies of these expeditions were printed in the Proceedings of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences and are considered the most important works on the subject. In 1912. he was assigned to the Russian Baltic Fleet.

After World War I broke out, Kolchak laid extensive coastal defensive minefields and commanded the naval forces in the Gulf of Riga off the coast of modern-day Latvia. He was ordered to prepare a scheme for attacking the German naval bases, and during the autumn and winter of 1914-15, Russian destroyers and cruisers began dangerous night operations, laying mines near Kiel, Germany and Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland). 

Kolchak was promoted to vice-admiral in August 1916, becoming the youngest man to attain that rank. He was made commander of the Black Sea Fleet and was told to support General Yudenich against the Ottoman Empire. He was also tasked with countering German U-boat threats and began planning an invasion of the Bosphorus. This was never carried out, however, but he was successful at sinking Turkish ships, causing the Ottomans lots of hardship because he essentially blocked off the coal transit lines from Constantinople (now Istanbul) and eastern Turkey, since there was no railway to pick up the job. In 1916, he took command of Trebizond (now Trabzon, Turkey). 

After the February Revolution of 1917, the Black Sea Fleet fell into political chaos. Kolchak was removed from its command in June and travelled to St. Petersburg. When he arrived, he was invited to meet the Provisional Government. He presented his view that the Russian forces were completely demoralized because of the war. He said the only way to restore discipline was to reinstate capital punishment in the army and navy. 

Many newspapers in the country began speaking of him as the future Russian dictator. Many organizations began springing up in St. Petersburg in opposition to the Bolsheviks, and asked Kolchak to accept leadership. 

When Alexander Kerensky, the Provisional Government’s Naval Minister, heard the news, he ordered Kolchak to leave for the United States. On Aug. 19, 1917, Kolchak and other officers left St. Petersburg for the United Kingdom and the United states as a quasi-official military observer. While passing through London, he met Admiral John Jellicoe, who offered him transport on a British cruiser to Halifax. By the time Kolchak arrived in America, his visit was unnecessary since the U.S. had given up the idea of independent action in the Dardanelles. Kolchak decided to return to Russia through Japan.

When civil war broke out in Russia in November 1917, Kolchak was in Japan and Manchuria. He supported the Provisional Government and returned to Russia through Vladivostok in 1918. He was then an absolute supporter of Russia’s struggle against Imperial Germany and said withdrawing from the war would be dishonourable. 

When he heard about the October Revolution, he offered to enlist in the British army to continue the struggle against Germany. Initially, the British wanted to accept him, and were talking about sending him to serve in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Ultimately, the Brits decided he could do more for the Allied cause by toppling Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks and bringing Russia back into the war on the Allied side. 

Kolchak returned to Russia, and when he arrived in Omsk he agreed to become a minister in the White Siberian Regional Government. In November 1918, the unpopular regional government was overthrown in a coup supported by Britain. Kolchak had returned to Omsk and was approached about taking power, but he refused. 

The Socialist-Revolutionary Directory leader and other members were arrested on Nov. 18, 1918 by a troop of Cossacks, and the remaining cabinet members voted for Kolchak to become head of the government with emergency powers. He was named Supreme Ruler and he promoted himself to admiral. 

Kolchak then dedicated himself to destroying Bolshevism so that Russia could have a democratic government. The Bolsheviks quickly denounced him and called for him to be killed. This resulted in a small revolt in Omsk on Dec. 22, 1918, which was put down by the Cossacks and Czechoslovak Legion, who executed almost 500 rebels. Negotiations were opened with the Bolsheviks in January 1919 and the SR People’s Army joined the Red Army. 

Kolchak continued persecuting revolutionaries and socialists. He issued a decree on Dec. 3, 1918 stating that in order to preserve the system and rule of the supreme leader, the criminal code of Imperial Russia was revised, prescribing capital punishment for assassination attempts on the supreme ruler and for attempting to overthrow the government. In April 1919, Kolchak decreed that people considered ‘threats to the public order’ because of their associations with Bolshevism could be imprisoned for five years. 

There was a prominent resistance in regions controlled by Kolchak. In 1919, partisans in the Altai region united to form the Western Siberian Peasants’ Red Army. The Taseev Soviet Partisan Republic was founded near Yeniseyek in 1919. By the fall of 1919, Kolchak’s front was disintegrating. Siberian partisans began seizing vast regions of land from him even before the Red Army invaded. 

Initially, the White forces under Kolchak had success. They seized Perm in December 1918, and tried to advance to take Archangel, Ufa, Samara and Saratov. They succeeded in taking Ufa in March 1919 and took Kazan thereafter. Anti-Communist uprisings in Simbirsk, Kazan, Viatka, and Samara helped them. The Red Army was unwilling to fight and retreated, allowing the Whites to advance from Glazov through Orenburg to Uralsk. At its height, Kolchak’s territories covered over 300,000 square kilometres and contained around 7 million people. In April 1919, the Bolsheviks made defeating Kolchak their top priority. 

Kolchak’s allies - the Czechs and Poles - began withdrawing after taking a dislike to him, viewing him as mostly an instrument of the British. The Japanese also feared he would interfere with their occupation of far eastern Russia and wouldn’t assist him. The 7,000 American troops who were in Siberia were strictly neutral regarding Russian affairs and only operated the Trans-Siberian Railroad in the east. 

The Red Army finally managed to turn the attack against Kolchak in 1919. It began in April, aiming for Ufa, which was taken by the Red Army on June 9, 1919. The reds captured Chelyabinsk on July 25, 1919 and forced the White forces to the north and south. They re-established a line along the Tobol and Ishim rivers to halt the Reds, and held that line until October, but they were losing too many men. The Reds eventually broke through the Tobol river in mid-October and by November the Whites were falling back towards Omsk. Omsk was evacuated on Nov. 14, 1919 and the Red Army took the city without any huge resistance. 

Kolchak fled Omsk for Irkutsk on Nov. 13, 1919. While he was travelling on a section of the track controlled by Czechoslovaks, he was stopped. By December, his train had only reached Nizhneudinsk. In December, leftists took Irkutsk and dismissed Kolchak. He resigned his office on Jan. 4, 1920, giving his office to Anton Denikin and control of his remaining forces near Irkutsk to G.M. Semyonov. 

Kolchak was promised safe passage by the British military mission in Irkutsk. Instead, he was handed over to the Bolsheviks in Irkutsk. Kolchak was interrogated by a commission of five men representing the Revolutionary Committee from Jan. 21 to Feb. 6. He was then condemned to death along with his prime minister, Viktor Pepelyayev. 

Kolchak and Pepelyayev were executed by firing squad on Feb. 7. After being administered last rites by a Russian Orthodox priest, they were killed and their bodies were kicked and prodded down an escarpment and dumped under the ice of the frozen Angara River.