The Siberian White Army 1918-1923


The counter-revolutionary White forces in Siberia started much like those in the South had in 1917. As in the Ukraine and number of Cossack bands including the Orenberg Cossacks of General Dutov, and the various Siberian Cossacks and irregulars of Generals Semenov, Baron Ungern-Sternberg, and Kalmykov had secured large parts of the region as early as April 1918 before any larger White Russian force could be established. Allied interventionist forces from no less than a dozen countries poured into Vladivostok all chasing their own national interests. These included as many as 70,000 Japanese troops.

In May 1918 some 50,000 members of the Czech Legion were being transported across Siberia. They stretched out all along the Trans-Siberian Railway from the Urals to Vladivostok. The Czechs had been recruited from Austrian prisoners held in Russia to fight for their independence. When Russia withdrew from World War One, she agreed to ship the Czechs by rail to the Pacific where the Allies would transport them to Western Europe to fight the Germans. In the Siberian town of Chelyabinsk, just east of the Ural Mountains, the Czechs became involved in an altercation with Bolsheviks that led to the entire legion being denied passage. Being the largest armed force in the sub-continent, the Czechs simply overpowered the Reds all along the railway and seized the whole line from Vladivostok to Omsk. Within a month they joined with the small White Russian Army under 28-year old Lt. Colonel Anatoly Pepelyayev and the 16,000-man 5th Polish Rifle Division and started pushing west, fighting the Reds. They seized Omsk and Ekatrinberg during the summer then Perm, at the foot of the Urals, by December 24, 1918. Ufa and Glazov fell to the Whites led by dictator Admiral Kolchak by July 1919. Patrols were eagerly sent out to General Millers White Army to the North and General Deniken’s Army to the South to plan a link-up and eventual crushing of the Reds.

The end of World War One led the Czechs to demand to return to their newly-independent country. This halved the White’s forces who were crippled by poor and overstretched logistics, and a faced with a growing Red Army. The remaining White/Czech forces were forced to retire. A withdraw turned into a summer long rout that grew in speed as panic spread among the Whites.

As summer turned to winter, Admiral Kolchak was captured and executed by the Reds as Omsk fell. The Polish Rifle Division fought a last stand against the Reds and was wiped out. General Kappel, with the help of the military theoretician and historian General Golovin, assumed command of the scattered remnants of the White Army and continued to escape on foot over frozen Lake Baikail in what was later called the Great Siberian Ice March with 30,000 men. Kappel died of wounds shortly after and the beaten army passed eventually to General Dietrich (Diterikhs). Dietrich maintained a low-key armed conflict aided by Japanese intervention forces until his forces were evacuated by the last White Fleet under the elderly Admiral Stark in October 1922. After Dietrich evacuated Vladivostok, left behind were some four hundred white partisans under General Glebov that withdrew across the border into China and evaporated.

The Cossack forces fared little better: General Dutov, head of the Orenburg Cossacks, led his forces into the barren Sinkiang region of China in 1920 and was later murdered there by a Soviet agent. General Kalmykov, of the Ussuri Cossacks, tried to be a warlord in China and was promptly killed by the Chinese within a year. The brutal warlord General Semenov escaped to Manchurian China as well in September 1921 where he became something of an agent for the Japanese government and a godfather for the white russians in exile in China. He was captured by the Soviets there in 1945 and executed painfully. Baron Ungern-Sternburg went off the deep end and marched his band of exiles into Mongolia where he declared himself a reincarnation of Buddha and set up something like the fictional Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now before the Soviets caught up to him in 1921. Lieutenant General Tolstov, the Ural Cossack chieftain, fled with 15,000 Cossacks and civilian refugees in January 1920. They marched 1200 kilometers from the Urals to Iraq across the frozen Caspian steppe in the heart of winter. By the time they crossed into exile only 162 Ural Cossacks remained with the general. Tolstov later died in Australian exile in 1956. Several hundred whites in chinese exile, led by cossack General Vladmir Kosmin went on to fight for the Japanese Army in Manchuria as late as 1945.

The last White force fought for almost a year after all other white guards had left russia. Colonel Pepelyayev, who had helped found the White Army, led an 800-man amphibious assault known later as the “Yakut Raid” from Vladivostok to Okhotsk behind the Red lines in August 1922. The remains of Pepelyayev ‘s White expedition were defeated near Okhotsk on June 16, 1923 . Pepelyayev with 333 followers were taken prisoner. Pepelyayev languished off and on in a Soviet jail until his eventual execution in 1938. To the Soviet’s credit he was listed as being ‘rehabilitated’ in 1989.