war czar

The Czar Abdicates

Nicholas Romanov, pictured after his abdication, sometime between March and August 1917.

March 15 1917, Pskov–By late on March 1, Russia’s military leaders and even the Czar himself had reached the conclusion that the revolution in Petrograd was a fait accompli; there would be no use in crushing it by force, especially not while they also faced the German threat.  They hoped that if the Czar recognized this and handed over political power to the Duma, that the situation could be salvaged, Nicholas could remain as Czar, and the war against Germany could continue.  Nicholas had been attempting to reach Petrograd himself, but as the direct lines there were clogged with Ivanov’s stalled expedition to the city, on the night of March 1 he found himself in Pskov, along with General Ruzski, commander of the Northern Front.

Overnight, Ruzski was in contact with Mikhail Rodzianko, one of the moderate Duma leaders:

It is obvious that His Majesty and you do not realize what is going on here….The troops are completely demoralized, they not only disobey but kill their officers.  Hatred of Her Majesty has reached extreme limits, and the dynastic question has been raised point-blank….Troops everywhere are joining the Duma and the people and there is a definite, terrible demand for abdication…

Ruzski informed Alexeyev at Stavka of this conversation, who in turn informed the other army and navy leaders.  Ruzski also talked to the Czar, who after some reflection said “If it is necessary, for Russia’s welfare, that I step aside, I am prepared to do so.”

At around 2PM, Ruzski informed the Czar that it was the unanimous opinion of the commanders of the Army Fronts that the Czar would have to step down.  At 2:50 PM, the Czar announced that he would, and drew up a note that he would abdicate in favor of his son, the hemophiliac Alexei.

Later that afternoon, however, he changed his mind; worrying for his son’s health, and not wanting to be parted from him if he was forced to go into exile after abdicating, he decided to leave the throne to his brother Michael, instead.  This was of dubious legality, as the crown was “not the Emperor’s private property nor his patrimony to dispose of according to his will.” A few minutes before midnight, after meeting with representatives from the Duma, he signed a formal letter addressed to Alexeyev (backdated to 3:05 PM), announcing his abdication in favor of his brother, and giving the Duma free reign to establish the principles of the state.

After consulting with the Provisional Government (which was divided on the matter, but largely opposed to his succession), Michael decided the next day to refuse the crown unless offered it by an elected government.  This would never come to pass; the Russian monarchy had come to an end.

Today in 1916: Austria Declares War on Portugal
Today in 1915: Germany To Send Submarines to Austria, Turkey

Sources include: Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy; Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution

PHILIPPINES. Pasay city. July 23, 2016. Jennelyn Olayres, 26, cradles the body of her partner Michael Siaron, who was killed on a street by a vigilante group, according to police, in a spate of drug related killings. Siaron was killed by suspected vigilantes acting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s call to kill all the country’s drug dealers. A sign written on cardboard found near the body reads “Pusher Ako”, which translates to “I am a drug pusher.”

Photograph: Czar Dancel/Reuters


How the American Civil War almost started a World War 

The relations between Britain and the United States were tense during the American Civil War, and in the year 1863 the situation almost resulted in an international war between the US and the powers of Europe.  While officially the British Empire was neutral in the war, unofficially Britain was pro-Confederate, as her industry depended heavily on cheap raw materials from the south.  Throughout the war Britain supplied the Confederacy with weapons, ammunition, and ships.  British ports built ships which would later be sold to the Confederate Navy, the most famous was a merchant raider called the CSS Alabama.  The British made M1853 Enfield musket became the Confederate Army’s weapon of choice, and Britain would supply hundreds of thousands of such muskets during the war.  Along with Britain, it seemed that France would join the Confederate band wagon as well.  Like Britain, France also imported raw materials from the Confederacy.  French Emperor Napoleon III was indifferent to the Confederacy, but many in his government were enthusiastically pro-Confederate. In 1862 France invaded Mexico, hoping to take advantage of the United State’s inability to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. France loaned the Confederacy $15 million and at the time were in the process of building a small fleet of ironclad warships for the Confederate Navy.  Both acts brought Franco-US relations to a boiling point.  

Between 1861 and 1863 a number of incidents would occur between the US and Britain which further strained relations between the two countries.  The most notorious was the Trent Affair, in which a British mail steamship was seized by the US Navy to capture two Confederate envoys. This resulting in Britain stationing troops in Canada in preparation for war. In October of 1862 the British Government warned that it would take “resolute action” in the war, though it did not elaborate on what action would be taken.  Finally in late 1862 the British government contracted with the Confederacy to produce two Laird Rams for the Confederate Navy.  Also called Scorpion Class warships, they were heavily armed ironclad battleships, then the most powerful warships in the world, easily capable of breaking the Union blockade.  The United States warned that if they delivered the Laird Rams to the Confederacy, there would be war.

By 1863 it was clear that Britain and France were going to intervene in the American Civil War.  But the construction of the Laird Rams and threats of war set off a domino like procession of events that would make them think twice about intervention.  First, the Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck warned that if Britain and France intervened, Prussia would side with the Union.  Bismarck wanted a war with France in the hopes of unifying the German states with Prussia. (Bismarck would get his war in 1870, defeating France and accomplishing his goals). Next, the newly unified nation of Italy expressed support for the Union, with the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi even offering his services as commander of the Union Army to Abraham Lincoln.  Then the Russian Czar Alexander II announced that if Britain and France went to war, he would side with the US.  At the time Russia and the United States had close diplomatic relations, while Britain and France were despised enemies after the Crimean War.  However, Alexander II did not merely announce his support, he upped the ante by sending the entire Russian Baltic fleet to New York City.  The fleet arrived in September of 1863 with orders to support the Union Navy.  Another Russian fleet was sent to San Francisco, chasing away the Confederate warship CSS Shenandoah, which was planning to bombard the city and harbor. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells shouted, “God bless the Russians!” upon hearing the news.  Likewise Oliver Holmes hailed Czar Alexander “who was our friend while everyone else was our foe.”

The presence of the Russian fleet in New York upped ante for the British and French.  Alexander’s placement of the fleet served a strategic purpose as well; preventing it from being bottled up in the Baltic if war did occur.  With the powers of Europe lining up and choosing sides, it was time for the lead actor, Britain, to decide if the war was worth it.  After the Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, it became apparent that it was not.  The British withdrew their plans to deliver the Laird Rams to the Confederacy, instead commissioning them in the Royal Navy.  Once Britain backed down, France likewise withdrew from the war.  A number of Russian warships remained on patrol along the Atlantic coast after the incident, just in case things heated up again.  The Union of course, would win the American Civil War.

Vodka Permanently Banned in Russia

Count Sergei Witte (1849-1915), father of the Russian state alcohol monopoly (and much of the rest of Russia’s economic structure, including its gold standard).  He had been opposed to the outbreak of the war, but his poor health had sidelined him by 1914.

October 21, Petrograd [St. Petersburg]–When general mobilization was announced on July 30/31, the sale of vodka was also suspended throughout Russia.  The state had had a complete monopoly on vodka in Russia for nearly twenty years, and thus was able to enact the prohibition swiftly.  The ban was initially supposed to be a temporary measure, but was repeatedly extended as the war continued and as it seemed to be having a positive effect on productivity and law and order.

On October 21, the Czar announced that that the halt of vodka production and sales in Russia would be permanent, lasting even beyond the end of the war.  At the same time, a ban on the sale other hard liquors, and even beer and wine, went into place, except along with meals in private restaurants, though local municipalities would have the authority to ban such sales within their jurisdictions.

David Lloyd George (late British PM) would hail the Russian prohibition as the “single greatest act of national heroism” during the war.  Temperance activists abroad (especially in the United States) would cite the Russian action as a shining example of the success of prohibition, but as time went on, the Russian prohibition (like the later American one) would run into problems.  Vodka and other hard alcohols would be produced by local bootleggers, and sale of alcohol would continue in private clubs.  The government also lost a major source of revenue; alcohol sales (mostly from the state vodka monopoly) had formed nearly a third of Russia’s receipts before the war.

The ban would outlast the czar who issued it; it was kept in place through two revolutions, and was only repealed by the Soviets in 1925.

Rasputin Murdered

The corpse of Rasputin, with the fatal bullet wound clearly visible on his forehead.

December 31 1916, Petrograd [St. Petersburg]–Few figures from the First World War have more myths surrounding them than that shadowy figure, Rasputin.  A self-proclaimed mystic healer, Rasputin had served the Imperial family since 1907, and was highly valued by the Czarina for the effect he seemed to have on the hemophiliac Czarevich Alexei.  After the Czar left for Stavka in 1915, the Czarina was left in charge of the Imperial household and thus had considerable authority over the government.  With the war going poorly and inflation soaring, the German-born Czarina was an easy target of discontent, and much of the blame was also placed at the feet of Rasputin.  Although his influence over Russian governance (and the allegation that he was having an affair with the Czarina) has been greatly exaggerated over the years, many leading Russians at the time thought him to be the root of the country’s wartime failings.  Kerensky gave a speech in November in which he called the government a bunch of “cowards” and “assassins” “guided by the contemptible Rasputin!”

By the end of 1916, Prince Felix Yusupov (descended from Nogai royalty) decided that speeches were not enough, and planned to kill Rasputin, inviting him to his house on the night of December 30.  The usual account of the murder is Yusupov’s, and is not considered to be very reliable.  The oft-repeated story that Rasputin was poisoned, beaten, shot, and then drowned is almost certainly an exaggeration, concocted by Yusupov to make Rasputin seem like an otherworldly villain.  In actuality, Rasputin was most likely shot twice in the torso, beaten, and then killed by a shot to the forehead, before his (by now quite dead) body was thrown into the Neva in the wee hours of December 31.

It is possible that British intelligence may have had some role in the murder, as well; one of Yusupov’s close friends was British agent Oswald Rayner.  There are many indications he was present that night, and some evidence to suggest that he fired the fatal bullet.  Whether there was any larger British involvement in the murder is unknown.

Yusupov’s involvement was soon uncovered, and he was exiled to his estate in southern Russia.  After the February Revolution, Yusupov left for France, where he remained until his death in 1967.  In 1932, he and his wife Irina successfully sued MGM for libel, as their movie Rasputin and the Empress’ clear analogue for Irina was seduced by Irina in the film.  This resulted in the now-common disclaimer seen in films and television shows that “No identification with actual persons (living or deceased) is intended or should be inferred.”

Today in 1915: Congressman Indicted for Inciting Peace Strikes in Munitions Factories
Today in 1914:  Churchill Proposes Attacks in German Bight, Gallipoli

Today in 1914 will be replaced by a new Today in 1916 feature, beginning tomorrow.

Grand Duke Nicholas Arrested

Grand Duke Nicholas (1856-1929), pictured in 1915.

June 2 1917, Tiflis [Tblisi]–The Russian royal family had been largely not been interfered with since the Revolution.  Although the former Czar and his immediate family had been prevented from leaving the country, he had even appeared in public a number of times, telling soldiers to obey the Provisional Government and to continue the war.  The royals in the Army had largely been removed; the most prominent of these was Grand Duke Nicholas, his first cousin once removed.  He had been in charge at Stavka in the first year of the war, until the Czar took command himself after the defeats in the summer of 1915.  He had spent the next two years in nominal command in the Caucasus, until recalled by the Czar to replace him at Stavka immediately before his abdication.

The Provisional Government obviously did not want a Romanov in charge of the Army, and quickly dismissed him in favor of Alexeyev (who by now was on his way out in favor of Brusilov).  He returned to his own stomping grounds in the Caucasus, where he ran afoul of the Provisional Government.  On June 2, he was arrested on a charge (of unknown accuracy) that he was plotting against the government.  He would be kept under house arrest in a dacha in the Crimea until White forces took over the area during the Russian Civil War; unlike many other Romanovs, he would ultimately escape the country.

Today in 1916: Germans Attack Canadians at Ypres
Today in 1915: Britain Announces Blockade of Turkey


The Russian Czar Tank

World War I was known as the war which introduced the tank to warfare.  However tanks were new technology, and the first designs were extremely odd compared to later designs.  The Russian Czar tank is certainly no exception.  Designed around 1914 and 1915, the Czar tank didn’t have caterpillar treads like most other tank designs.  Instead it was more like a gigantic tricycle with two 9 meter diameter wheels at the front and a single 1.5 diameter wheel at the rear.  Each of the large wheels had its own 250 horsepower engine.  Overall, this large monstrosity stood at 8 meters high and was 12 meters wide.  The Czar tank was to be armed with 3 large guns, one six pounder on a 360 degree traversing turret at the top of the tank, and two 9 pounders located at ports on the side.  A number of 7.62mm machine guns were also to be mounted around the tank.

The Czar tank was tested in August of 1915, when its many design flaws became readily apparent.  First and foremost, the small wheel at the rear was very prone to getting stuck in mud, soft ground, trenches and ditches.  Secondly, that Czar tank made an excellent target for artillery due to its large size and slow speed.  Only one prototype was ever built, which was taken apart for scrap in 1923.

Coliver/West Wing-ish AU

Author’s note: I blame this on the fact that I watch the West Wing way too much and am a sucker for political AUs and am just Coliver trash at the moment. The new ep was amazing and hurt so good and I wanted to write something about that but this happened instead. I’m going to go hide now. 

Author’s note part two: There will probably be more of this because…well see above.

“You know it’s all bullshit, right?” Connor’s pulled the campaign’s newest volunteer into the hallway to avoid the gossipy masses in the office. His father’s campaign manager just introduced the latest group of volunteers and the rest can spend months on end volunteering for his father but Connor figures he needs to tell this guy the truth. This guy probably heard some sound bite from his father’s speech at the Equality Alliance dinner a few weeks ago and thought to volunteer, too idealistic to realize he’s wasting his time on yet another candidate who’s not worth it.

“What are you talking about?” The volunteer whispers back. He pushes up the black frames slipping down his nose and Connor should not find that so freaking cute.

“My father.” At the volunteer’s blank stare Connor continues. “My father and his whole stance on gay rights and all of that. It’s all bullshit.” The crash of a door opening down the hall startles them both and Connor takes the volunteer’s upper arm to gently pull him further down the hall and pitches his voice even lower. “Look—”

“Oliver,” volunteer supplies.

“Look Oliver. My father doesn’t give a shit about any of that. Gay marriage. Adoption rights. Anti-discrimination laws. Doesn’t care about any of it.” The volunteer still just stares at him and Connor pulls a hand through his hair in frustration. “He just lays it on thick to up his approval ratings. Then, he pulls me out and throws an arm around me to show voters how much he cares because—look at him! He’s got a gay son who he still loves! He’ll be great supporter of our issues. It’s all just bullshit. He pulls the same crap with my sister too. He’s all about equal pay and pro-choice and women’s rights. Then he shoves Lacey into the spotlight and gives interviews about how he wants to make this a better world for women like his daughter.” Connor turns to lean his back against the wall next to Oliver. His father’s tactics are so transparent. Why does no one else seem to see it? “Robert Walsh just loves the rush and the thrill of the race. The presidency is just another game for him. He doesn’t want to lead. He wants to win.”

Oliver is silent and Connor can’t get a read on how he’s taken the news. Oliver glances up and down the hall, debating, before asking, “Want to go get a cup of coffee?”

“What?” After that, this guy wants to take him out for coffee. Is Oliver kidding with this?

“Coffee. Want to go get one?” At Connor’s confused look, Oliver explains in a hushed tone, “These walls have ears.”

“Sure. Coffee sounds great.”

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