Olga Krasnova wrote: ↑
21 Apr 2010 17:20
I just came across this site, and I realize that this may be a little late for the subject under discussion: The Kornilov Shock Regiment and its supposed crimes during the Russian Civil War. But truth is always timely. As a Russian historian, I have devoted nearly ten years to the study of the White movement, and would therefore like to clear up a few myths.
The Kornilov regiment was first commanded b
y Colonel Nezhentzev and afterwards by General Skoblin, famous for defecting to the Bolsheviks during the 1930s. General Lavr Kornilov commanded the "Iron Division" during WWI. After he escaped from a German prison camp just before the February Revolution, he at first supported and then led a coup--called the Kornilov Affair--in July 1917, against the Provisional Government. After escaping from Bykhov Prison, Kornilov, Sergey Markov and General Lukhomsky fled south to organize the Volunteer Army with the help of General Alexeev. Kornilov was a liberal-minded man, and actually anti-monarchist, but he was against Communism, which was militantly atheistic, against private property and enterprise and traditional values. Upon his death in April 1918, the regiment became known forever as the Kornilovskii.
The unit crest for the Kornilovskii is easily explained. As early as May 1917, women's shock units were formed in Petrograd for the defense of the city and continuing the war with Germany. They--and later the Kornilovskii--wore a sleeve patch with a skull-and-crossbones. This stood for their commitment to fight to the death. Shock units were also called Death Battalions, not for their ferocity, but for their dedication to shed the last drop of their blood for the cause. It is false to credit the crest of this elite unit as a symbol of war crimes. Definately, they were not pirates. Officers of the Kornilovskii Regiment were famed as one of the purest in the entire White Army. For example, they bound themselves by an oath not to touch wine, women or cards until they had defeated the Bolsheviks.
This does not mean that all of the men of the Kornilovskii (and other White regiments) were aristocrates or landowners. In fact, to quote Paul Robinson's The Russian White Army in Exile, “these officers came from a wide variety of social backgrounds . . . . The shortage of officers meant that that the army had commissioned children from poor families . . . . Almost no officers possessed any property. Even before the war, only 15 percent of generals ever owned a house, let alone any land.”
While some White armies--there was no single "White Army"--did commit some atrocities, these was particularly in far Siberia, under the adventurer Ataman Semenov and Baron von Ungern-Sternberg (born in Austria). This includes the much-celebrated Jewish pogroms in the Ukraine. Both these actions were condemned by General Baron Peter N. Wrangel and General Kutepov, who swept the army clean of all dubious elements upon taking command. And if it comes to slinging mud, there is incontrovertible evidence of Red atrocities, which included skinning victims alive at Odessa, crucifixion, sawing men apart at Tsaritsyn, firing squads, or indescribable tortures that turned victims into a living bloody mass.
"White Terror" came nowhere close in frequency or volume to the Reds, and was often done in sheer revenge when Whites took a town and found officers, pregnant women and and old Jews butchered in the streets (see Savage Squadrons, by Sergei Kournakoff, The Russian Civil War, by David Bullock, etc.) The Reds killed their fair share of Jews, as well. No White army ever organized local committees devoted to terror like the CHEKA.
For the most part--although there were exceptions--the Whites were men of the old army, whether cadets, elite officers, workers, a narrower percentage of peasants, who preferred to stay out of the struggle altogether, and Cossacks. They were guided by traditional ideas of war and honor, that often made them morally incapable of the greater excesses conducted by the Bolsheviks.
As for whether these elite units were any good, Trotsky himself admitted that the White's cavalry (particularly General Babiev's) and tactical knowlege was far superior to that of the Red Army. This is what drove him to reorganize the entire Red Army. White crack units advanced silently to take the town of Perm in what is called in the Soviet film Chapaev, a "psychic attack." Up through the summer of 1919, when the Allies abandoned them--not because of White atrocities, but because they preferred to aknowlege the Soviet government--the White had made astounding advances, even to the point of converging on Moscow from three points. Badly outnumbered, and cut off from both capitals, naval bases and the vast industrial centers of central Russia, the Whites fought a bitter and unequal war to the end.
If anyone is interested in this argument, I will gladly answer questions when convenient. It is time to value truth over stereotype.
Bullock, David. The Russian Civil War: 1918-1922 (Osprey Publishing, 2004)
The multi-volumn work of Aleksandr Deryabin on the Russian Civil War throws much light on the role of the White Armies (in Russian)
Kappel and Kappelevsky (in Russian, Posev, 2003)
Kamyshansky, Boris. I am a Cossack (Longmans, Green, 1934)
Kournakoff, Sergei. Savage Squadrons (London: Harrap & Co., 1935)
The Kornilov Regiment, by M. Kritsky (1938) Trans. Colonel Thomas Hillman
Lincoln, Bruce W. Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War (Simon and Schuster, New
York, London, 1989)
Memoirs of a Russian Emigre Soldier: An Interview with Colonel Aleksandr Leksoff, conducted by Boris Raymond
(University of California, Berkley, 1967)
The Russian White Army in Exile: 1922-1941, by Paul Robinson (Clarendon Press, 2002)