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Alexander Kolchak

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Alexander Kolchak

Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak
Admiral Kolchak
Born (1874-11-16)16 November 1874
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died 7 February 1920(1920-02-07) (aged 45)
Allegiance  Russian Empire
Service/branch  Imperial Russian Navy
Years of service 1886–1920
Rank Admiral (from 1918)
Commands held Black Sea Fleet (1916–1917)
Russian Army (1918–1920)
Battles/wars Russo-Japanese War
World War I
Russian Civil War
Awards Order of St. George 3rd class
Order of St. George 4th class
Order of St. Vladimir 3rd class
Order of St. Vladimir 4th class
Order of St. Anne 1st class
Order of St. Anne 2nd class
Order of St. Anne 4th class
Order of St. Stanislaus 1st class
Order of St. Stanislaus 2nd class

Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak (Russian: Алекса́ндр Васи́льевич Колча́к, 16 November [O.S. 4 November] 1874 – 7 February 1920) was a polar explorer and commander in the Imperial Russian Navy, who fought in the Russo-Japanese War and the First World War. During the Russian Civil War, he established an anti-communist government in Siberia—later the Provisional All-Russian Government—and was recognised as the "Supreme Ruler and Commander-in-Chief of All Russian Land and Sea Forces" by the other leaders of the White movement from 1918 to 1920.[1] His government was based in Omsk, in southwestern Siberia.

For a year and a half, Kolchak was the internationally recognised leader of Russia. He tried to defeat Bolshevism by ruling as a dictator but his government proved weak and ineffective. For example, it lost track of the imperial gold reserves and much of it disappeared. He also failed to unite the numerous but disparate anti-Bolshevik elements; Kolchak refused to consider autonomy for ethnic minorities and refused to cooperate with non-Bolshevik leftists, and also relied too heavily on outside aid. As his White forces fell apart, he was betrayed and captured by independent units who handed him over to local Bolsheviks, who executed him.[2]


  • Biography 1
    • Early life and career 1.1
    • First World War 1.2
    • Revolution 1.3
    • Russian Civil War 1.4
    • Supreme Ruler of Russia 1.5
    • Defeat and death 1.6
  • Legacy 2
  • In culture 3
  • References 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Early life and career

Kolchak on Zarya

Kolchak was born in Saint Petersburg in 1874 to a family of minor Russian nobility. His father was a retired major-general of the Marine Artillery and a veteran of the 1854 siege of Sevastopol, who after retirement 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. He was soon transferred to the Russian Far East, serving in Vladivostok from 1895 to 1899. He then returned to western Russia and was based at Kronstadt, joining the Russian Polar expedition of Eduard Toll on the ship Zarya in 1900 as a hydrologist.

After considerable hardship, Kolchak returned in December 1902; Eduard Toll with three other explorers continued further north and were lost. Kolchak took part in two Arctic expeditions and for a while was nicknamed "Kolchak-Poliarnyi" ("Kolchak the Polar"). For his explorations Kolchak received the highest award of the Russian Geographical Society.

In December 1903, Kolchak was en route to St. Petersburg with plans to marry his fiancee Sophia Omirova when, not far from

Returning to Saint Petersburg in April 1905, Kolchak was promoted to lieutenant commander and took part in the rebuilding of the Imperial Russian Navy, which had been almost completely destroyed during the war. He served on the Naval General Staff from 1906, helping draft a shipbuilding program, a training program, and developing a new protection plan for St. Petersburg and the Gulf of Finland.

Kolchak took part in designing the special icebreakers Taimyr and Vaigach, launched in 1909 spring 1910. Based in Vladivostok, these vessels were sent on cartographic expedition to the Bering Strait and Cape Dezhnev. Kolchak commanded the Vaigach during this expedition and later worked at the Academy of Sciences with the materials collected by him during expeditions. His study, The Ices of the Kara and Siberian Seas,[4] was printed in the Proceedings of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences and is considered the most important work on this subject. Extracts from it were published under the title "The Arctic Pack and the Polynya" in the volume issued in 1929 by the American Geographical Society, Problems of Polar Research.

In 1910 he returned to the Naval General Staff, and in 1912 he was assigned to the Russian Baltic Fleet.

First World War

The onset of the First World War found him on the flagship Pogranichnik, where Kolchak oversaw the laying of extensive coastal defensive minefields and commanded the naval forces in the Gulf of Riga. Commanding Admiral Essen was not satisfied to remain on the defensive and ordered Kolchak to prepare a scheme for attacking the approaches of the German naval bases. During the autumn and winter of 1914–1915, Russian destroyers and cruisers started a series of dangerous night operations, laying mines at the approaches to Kiel and Danzig. Kolchak, feeling that the man responsible for planning operations should also take part in their execution, was always on board those ships which carried out the operations and at times took direct command of the destroyer flotillas.

He was promoted to vice-admiral in August 1916, the youngest man at that rank, and was made commander of the Black Sea Fleet, replacing Admiral Eberhart. Kolchak's primary mission was to support General Yudenich in his operations against the Ottoman Empire. He also was tasked with countering the U-boat threat and to plan the invasion of the Bosphorus (never carried out). Kolchak's fleet was successful at sinking Turkish colliers. Because there was no railroad linking the coal mines of eastern Turkey with Constantinople, the Russian fleet's attacks on these Turkish coal ships caused the Ottoman government much hardship. In 1916, in a model combined Army-Navy assault, the Russian Black Sea fleet aided the Russian army's capture of the Ottoman city of Trebizond (modern Trabzon).

One notable disaster took place under Kolchak's watch: the dreadnought Imperatritsa Mariya exploded in port at Sevastopol on 7 October 1916. A careful investigation failed to determine whether the cause of the disaster was accident or sabotage.


The Black Sea fleet descended into political chaos after the onset of the 1917 February Revolution. Kolchak was relieved of command of the fleet in June and traveled to Petrograd (St. Petersburg). On his arrival at Petrograd, Kolchak was invited to a meeting of the Provisional Government. There he presented his view on the condition of the Russian armed forces and their complete demoralisation. He stated that the only way to save the country was to re-establish strict discipline and restore capital punishment in the army and navy.

During this time many organisations and newspapers of a conservative bent spoke of him as a future dictator. A number of new and secret organisations had sprung up in Petrograd with the goal of suppressing the Bolshevist movement and the removal of the extremist members of the government. Some of these organisations asked Kolchak to accept the leadership.

When news of these plots found their way to then Naval Minister of the Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky, he ordered Kolchak to leave immediately for America. Admiral James H. Glennon, a member of American mission headed by Senator Elihu Root, invited Kolchak to the United States to brief the American Navy on the strategic situation in the Bosphorus. On 19 August 1917 Kolchak with several officers left Petrograd for Britain and the United States as a quasi-official military observer. When passing through London he was greeted cordially by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, who offered him transport on board a British cruiser on his way to Halifax. The journey to America proved unnecessary, as by the time Kolchak arrived, the US had given up the idea of any independent action in the Dardanelles. Kolchak visited the American Fleet and its ports, and decided to return to Russia via Japan.

Russian Civil War

The Bolshevik revolution found Kolchak in Japan and then Harbin in November 1917.[1] As a supporter of the Provisional Government he returned to Russia, through Vladivostok, in 1918. Kolchak was an absolute supporter of the Allied cause against Imperial Germany and regarded Russia's immediate withdrawal from the conflict as dishonorable. Upon hearing of the October Revolution, Kolchak offered to enlist in the British Army to continue the struggle. The British were inclined to accept Kolchak’s offer and there were indeed plans to send Kolchak to Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Ultimately, the British Foreign Office decided that Kolchak could do more for the Allied cause by toppling Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks and bringing Russia back into the war on the side of the Allies. Reluctantly, Kolchak accepted the British suggestions and with a heavy sense of foreboding returned to Russia. Arriving in Omsk, Siberia, en route to enlisting with the Volunteer Army, he agreed to become a minister in the (White) Siberian Regional Government. Joining a 14-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 British sponsored coup d'etat. Kolchak had returned to Omsk on 16 November from an inspection tour. He was approached and refused to take power. The Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) directory leader and members were arrested on 18 November by a troop of Cossacks under ataman Krasilnikov. The remaining cabinet members met and voted for Kolchak to become the head of government with emergency powers. He was named Supreme Ruler (Verkhovnyi Pravitel), and he promoted himself to full admiral. The arrested SR politicians were expelled from Siberia and ended up in Europe.

Signature Supreme Ruler Alexander Kolchak
He issued the following manifesto to the population:
The Provisional All-Russian Government has come to an end. The Council of Ministers, having all the power in its hands, has invested me, Admiral Alexander Kolchak, with this power. I have accepted this responsibility in the exceptionally difficult circumstances of civil war and complete disorganisation of the country, and I now make it known that I shall follow neither the reactionary path nor the deadly path of party strife. My chief aims are the organisation of a fighting force, the overthrow of Bolshevism, and the establishment of law and order, so that the Russian people may be able to choose a form of government in accordance with its desire and to realise the high ideas of liberty and freedom. I call upon you, citizens, to unite and to sacrifice your all, if necessary, in the struggle with Bolshevism.

The Left SR leaders in Russia denounced Kolchak and called for his assassination. Their activities resulted in a small revolt in Omsk on 22 December 1918, which was quickly put down by Cossacks and the Czechoslovak Legion, who summarily executed almost 500 rebels. Subsequently the SRs opened negotiations with the Bolsheviks and in January 1919 the SR People's Army joined up with the Red Army.

Kolchak pursued a policy of persecuting revolutionaries as well as Socialists of several factions. His government issued a decree on 3 December 1918 stating, "In order to preserve the system and rule of the Supreme Ruler, articles of the criminal code of Imperial Russia were revised, Articles 99 and 100 of which established capital punishment for assassination attempts on the Supreme Ruler and for attempting to overthrow his government. "Insults written, printed, and oral, are punishable by imprisonment under Article 103. Bureaucratic sabotage under Article 329 was punishable by hard labour from 15 to 20 years.[5]

Although the news of Kolchak's ascension to power spread very slowly behind Bolshevik lines, it caused considerable excitement among anti-communist Russians living there. Ivan Bunin wrote in his diary, "4/17 June 1919. The Entente has named Kolchak the Supreme Ruler of Russia. Izvestia wrote an obscene article saying: 'Tell us, you reptile, how much did they pay you for that?' The devil with them. I crossed myself with tears of joy."[6]

On 11 April 1919, the Kolchak government adopted Regulation no. 428, "About the dangers of public order due to ties with the Bolshevik Revolt". The legislation was published in the Omsk newspaper Omsk Gazette (no. 188 of 19 July 1919). It provided a term of five years of prison for "individuals considered a threat to the public order because of their ties in any way with the Bollshevik revolt." In the case of unauthorised return from exile, there could be hard labour from 4 to 8 years. Articles 99–101 allowed the death penalty, forced labour and imprisonment, repression by military courts, and imposed no investigation commissions.[5]

Kolchak acknowledged all of Russia's debts, returned nationalized factories and plants to their owners, granted concessions to foreign investors, dispersed trade unions, persecuted Marxists, and disbanded the soviets. Kolchak's agrarian policy was directed toward restoring private land ownership. To this end former Tsarist laws concerning property were restored.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia alleges that more than 25,000 people were shot or tortured to death in Yekaterinburg alone the.[7] In March 1919 Kolchak himself demanded one of his generals to "follow the example of the Japanese who, in the Amur region, had exterminated the local population."[8]

External links

  • Connaughton, R. M. The Republic of the Ushakovka: Admiral Kolchak and the Allied Intervention in Siberia, 1918–1920, Routledge, 1990.
  • Cracknell, Brian. The Failure of Admiral Kolchak, Eureditions, 1978.
  • Hammond, Gail C. Admiral Kolchak: A Contrast of Hope and Betrayal for Russia, 1918–1920, Western Connecticut State College, 1982.
  • Landfield, Jerome. "The Attempt to Discredit Kolchak," Weekly Review, Vol. I, No. 9, July 1919.
  • Pereira, N. G. O. "White Power during the Civil War in Siberia (1918–1920): Dilemmas of Kolchak's "War Anti-Communism," Canadian Slavonic Papers (1987) 29#1 pp 45–62. online
  • Stewart, George. The White Armies of Russia; A Chronicle of Counter-Revolution and Allied Intervention, The Macmillan Company, 1933.
  • Unterberger, Betty Miller. America's Siberian Expedition, 1918–1920; A Study of National Policy, Duke University Press, 1956.

Further reading

  • Admiral Kolchak. M. I. Smirnov. The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 11, No. 32 (Jan., 1933), pp. 373–387
  • Problems of Polar Research: a Series of Papers by Thirty-one Authors. Special Publication No.7. New York, American Geographical Society, 1928.
  • The testimony of Kolchak and other Siberian materials. Stanford University Press. 1935.
  • Civil War in Siberia: The Anti-Bolshevik Government of Admiral Kolchak, Jonathan D. Smele. Cambridge University press, 1996.
  • White Siberia, N.G.O. Pereira. McGill-Queens University Press, 1996.


  1. ^ a b Jon Smele (2006) Civil War in Siberia: The Anti-Bolshevik Government of Admiral Kolchak, 1918–1920, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521029074. p.77
  2. ^ N. G. O. Pereira, "White Power during the Civil War in Siberia (1918–1920): Dilemmas of Kolchak's "War Anti-Communism," Canadian Slavonic Papers (1987) 29#1 pp 45–62.
  3. ^ Admiral Kolchak, K.A. Bogdanov, St. Petersburg Sudostroyeniye 1993
  4. ^ Kolchak A.V., 1909, Ice of the Kara and Siberian Seas (170 pp.). St. Petersburg (in Russian).
  5. ^ a b c Цветков В. Ж. Белый террор – преступление или наказание? Эволюция судебно-правовых норм ответственности за государственные преступления в законодательстве белых правительств в 1917–1922 гг.
  6. ^ Ivan Bunin (1926) Cursed Days: A Diary of Revolution, p. 177.
  7. ^ S.N. Semanov, "Kolchakovshchina", Great Soviet Encyclopaedia
  8. ^ – not an original source citation, Mayer's footnote for this statement not cited.
  9. ^ P. Golub (2006) White Terror in Russia (1918–1920). Moscow: Patriot, ISBN 5-7030-0951-0
  10. ^ "The Partisan Movement of 1918–22", Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1969–1978
  11. ^ A review of General Wrangel's memoirs, John Hallett, Fortnightly Review, January 1930, as quoted by Jonathan Haslam in The vices of integrity: E.H. Carr, 1892–1982, ISBN 978-1-85984-289-8, p. 32
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b W. Bruce Lincoln (1999) Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War, 1918–1921, DaCapo Press, ISBN 0306809095
  14. ^ a b Peter Fleming (1963) The Fate of Admiral Kolchak, Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc., pp. 216–217.
  15. ^ 100 великих казней, "Вече", 1999, ISBN 5-7838-0424-X
  16. ^ a b c
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Admiral" tells Russian love and history on YouTube


A collectible silver coin (31.1 gr, dia 40mm) with showing Admiral Kolchak has been stamped.

"It's about a man who tries to create history, to take an active part in history, as he gets caught in the turmoil. However, he keeps on struggling, he preserves his honor and his dignity, and he continues to love."[18]
described the film as follows, Andrei Kravchuk. Director Anna Timireva, common law wife appears as his Elizaveta Boyarskaya with a deep love for his country. tragic hero) as a Konstantin Khabensky (Адмиралъ), was released in Russia on 9 October 2008. The film portrays the Admiral (AdmiralA Kolchak biographical film, titled

In culture

Kolchak was a prominent expert on battle of Port Arthur[16] and the Great Gold Constantine Medal from the Russian Geographic Society.[16][17]

Monuments dedicated to Kolchak were built in Saint Petersburg in 2002 and in Irkutsk in 2004, despite objections from some former Communist and left-wing politicians, as well as former Soviet army veterans. There is also a Kolchak Island. The modern Russian Navy considered naming the third ship of the new Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates, Admiral Kolchak to commemorate the Admiral but declined to do so in the end.

After decades of being vilified by the Soviet government, Kolchak is now a controversial historic figure in post-Soviet Russia. The "For Faith and Fatherland" movement has attempted to rehabilitate his reputation. However, two rehabilitation requests have been denied, by a regional military court in 1999 and by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in 2001. In 2004, the Constitutional Court of Russia returned the Kolchak case to the military court for another hearing.

Kolchak also failed to convince potentially friendly General Graves, disliked Kolchak and refused to lend him any military aid at all.

Admiral Kolchak's government was not successful from the time of his taking the position of Supreme Ruler until his death. As a military commander he was unable to make successful strategic plans or to coordinate with other White Army generals such as Yudenich or Denikin.


A priest of the Russian Orthodox Church then gave the last rites to both men. The squad fired and both men fell. The bodies were kicked and prodded down an escarpment and dumped under the ice of the frozen Angara River.[13][14] When the White Army learned about the executions, its remaining leadership decided to withdraw farther east. The Great Siberian Ice March followed. The Red Army did not enter Irkutsk until 7 March, and only then was the news of Kolchak's death officially released.

Both prisoners were brought before a firing squad in the early morning of 7 February 1920. According to eyewitnesses, Kolchak was entirely calm and unafraid, "like an Englishman." The Admiral asked the commander of the firing squad, "Would you be so good as to get a message sent to my wife in [14]

Kolchak was then promised safe passage by the Czechoslovaks to the British military mission in Irkutsk. Instead, he was handed over to the Left SR authorities in Irkutsk on 14 January. On 20 January the government in Irkutsk surrendered power to a Bolshevik military committee. The White Army under the command of General Vladimir Kappel advanced toward Irkutsk while Kolchak was interrogated by a commission of five men representing the Revolutionary Committee (REVKOM) during nine days between 21 January and 6 February. Despite the arrival of a contrary order from Moscow,[13] Admiral Kolchak was condemned to death along with his Prime Minister, Viktor Pepelyayev.

Last photo of Admiral Kolchak taken before his execution in 1920

Kolchak had left Omsk on the 13th for Irkutsk along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Travelling a section of track controlled by the Czechoslovaks, 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-Mensheviks) and formed the Political Centre. One of their first actions was to dismiss Kolchak. When he heard of this on 4 January 1920, he announced his resignation, giving his office to Denikin and passing control of his remaining forces around Irkutsk to the ataman, G. M. Semyonov. The transfer of power to Semyonov proved a particularly ill-considered move.

Kolchak also came under threat from other quarters: local opponents began to agitate and international support began to wane, with even the British turning more towards Denikin. Gajda, dismissed from command of the northern army, staged an abortive coup in mid-November. Omsk was evacuated on 14 November 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 too became a serious problem.

When the Red forces managed to reorganise and turn the attack against Kolchak, from 1919 he quickly lost ground. 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 9 June and later that month the Red forces under Anton Denikin.

Postage stamp issued in 1919 with the inscription "For United Russia – Supreme leader of Russia Kolchak"

Defeat and death

Kolchak had also aroused the dislike of potential allies including the Czechoslovak Legion and the Polish 5th Rifle Division. They withdrew from the conflict in October 1918 but remained a presence; their foreign adviser Maurice Janin regarded Kolchak as an instrument of the British and himself was pro-SR. Kolchak could not count on Japanese aid either; the Japanese 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, General William S. Graves, personally disliked the Kolchak government, which he saw as Monarchist and autocratic, a view that was shared by the American President, Woodrow Wilson. As a result, both refused to grant him any aid.

Draft Russian government Сoat of arms

The White forces took Ufa in March 1919 and pushed on from there to take Kazan and approach Samara on the Volga River. Anti-Communist risings in Simbirsk, Kazan, Viatka, and Samara assisted their endeavours. The newly formed Red Army proved unwilling to fight and instead 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 Executive Committee made defeating Kolchak its 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 poured newly raised troops into the area.

Initially the White forces under his command had some success. Kolchak was unfamiliar with combat on land and gave the majority of the strategic planning to D.A. Lebedev, Paul J. Bubnar, and his staff. The northern army under the Russian Anatoly Pepelyayev and 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 three main advances – Gajda to take Archangel, Khanzhin to capture Ufa and the Cossacks under Alexander Dutov to capture Samara and Saratov.

Supreme Ruler of Russia

They (Kolchak, Kornilov, Denikin and Wrangel) were first of all patriots with a deep love for their country and worked for its salvation without any regard for self-advancement. Political intrigues were unknown to them and they were ready to work with men of any political party, so long as they knew that these men were sincere in their endeavours to free Russia... and to make it possible, after the end of the war, for a National Assembly, chosen by the people, to decide the character of the future Government of Russia.
[12] to Admiral Kolchak wrote,Chief of StaffOn the contrary, a former
It is no longer possible for any sane man to regard the campaigns of Kolchak, Yudenich, Denikin and Wrangel otherwise than as tragic blunders of colossal dimensions.
[11] wrote,Edward Hallett Carr historian MarxistBritish

There was prominent underground resistance in the regions controlled by Kolchak's government. These partisans were especially strong in the provinces of Altai and Yeniseysk. In the summer of 1919 partisans of the Altai Region united to form the Western Siberian Peasants' Red Army (25,000 men). The Taseev Soviet Partisan Republic was founded south-east of Yeniseysk in early 1919. By the fall of 1919, Kolchak's rear was completely disintegrating. About 100,000 Siberian partisans seized vast regions from Kolchak's regime even before the approach of the Red Army. In February 1920, some 20,000 partisans took control of the Amur region.[10]

Those villages whose population meets troops with arms, burn down the villages and shoot the adult males without exception. If hostages are taken in cases of resistance to government troops, shoot the hostages without mercy.
[5]In an excerpt from the order of the government of Yenisei county in Irkutsk province, General. S. Rozanov said:


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