Aleksandr Kolchak

Aleksandr Kolchak

Infobox Military Person
name= Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Kolchak
born= birth date|1874|11|16
died= death date and age|1920|2|7|1874|11|16

caption= Admiral Kolchak
allegiance = flag|Russian Empire
branch = Russian Navy
battles=World War I

Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Kolchak ( _ru. Алекса́ндр Васи́льевич Колча́к, OldStyleDate|November 16|1874|November 4 – February 7, 1920) was a Russian naval commander, polar explorer and later head of part of the anti-Bolshevik White forces during the Russian Civil War.


Early life and career

Kolchak was born in Saint Petersburg, the son of a naval officer. He is a Romanian in origin. He was educated for a naval career, graduating from the Naval college in 1894 and joining the 7th Naval Battalion of the city. He was soon transferred to the Far East, serving in Vladivostok from 1895 to 1899. He returned to western Russia and was based at Kronstadt, joining the Polar expedition of Eduard Toll on ship "Zarya" in 1900 as a hydrologist.After considerable hardship, Kolchak returned in December 1902; Eduard Toll with three other members went further north and was lost. Kolchak took part in three 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.

When the Russo-Japanese War began, Kolchak was sent to Port Arthur in March 1904. He served on cruiser "Askold" and later commanded destroyer "Serdityi". He destroyed Japanese cruiser Takasago and was awarded the Order of St. Anna, 4th class. As the siege of the port intensified, he was given command of a naval gun battery. Later wounded, he became a prisoner of war in Nagasaki. His poor health led to his repatriation before the end of the war.

Returning to Saint Petersburg in April 1905, Kolchak took part in rebuilding of the Russian Navy, almost completely destroyed in the war. He was on the Naval General Staff from 1906 and joined the Baltic Fleet upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Initially on the flagship "Pogranichnik", Kolchak oversaw the extensive coastal defensive minefields and commanded the naval forces in the Gulf of Riga. He was promoted to Vice-Admiral in August 1916, the youngest man at that rank, and 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 the job of countering any U-boat threat and to begin planning an invasion of the Bosporus (which was 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 attacks on the Turkish coal ships caused the Ottoman government much hardship. In 1916, in a model combined Army-Navy assault, the Russian Black Sea fleet helped the Russian army to take the Ottoman city of Trebizond (modern Trabzon).

One notable disaster took place under his watch as the great Russian dreadnought "Empress Maria" blew up in the port of Sevastopol on October 7, 1916. A careful investigation failed to determine the cause of the explosion, it could have been accidental or sabotage.

After the February Revolution in 1917, the Black Sea fleet descended into political chaos. Kolchak was removed from command of the fleet in June and travelled to Britain and the USA as a quasi-official military observer.

Russian Civil War

At the time of the revolution in November 1917, he was in Japan and then Manchuria. Kolchak was a supporter of the Provisional Government and returned to Russia, through Vladivostok, in 1918. Kolchak was an absolute supporter of the Allied cause against Germany, and initially hearing of the Bolshevik coup on November 7, 1917, he offered to enlist in the British Army to continue the struggle. Initially, the British were inclined to accept Kolchak’s offer, and there were plans to send Kolchak to Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), but London decided that Kolchak could do more for the Allied cause by overthrowing the Bolsheviks and bringing Russia back into the war on the Allied side. Reluctantly, Kolchak accepted the British suggestions and with a heavy sense of foreboding, Kolchak 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 fourteen 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 military "coup d'etat". Kolchak had returned to Omsk on November 16 from an inspection tour. He was approached and refused to take power. The Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) Directory leader and members were arrested on November 18 by a troop of Cossacks under ataman Krasilnikov. The remaining cabinet members met and voted for Kolchak to become the head of government with dictatorial powers. He was named Supreme Ruler ("Verkhovnyi Pravitel"), and he promoted himself to Admiral. The arrested SR politicians were expelled from Siberia and ended up in Europe. The SR leaders in Russia denounced Kolchak and called for him to be killed. Their activities resulted in a small revolt in Omsk on December 22, 1918, which was quickly put down by Cossacks and the Czech Legion, who summarily executed almost 500 rebels. The SRs opened negotiations with the Bolsheviks and in January 1919 the SR People's Army joined with the Red Army.

Kolchak instituted a tough military dictatorship, imprisoning his opponents and forcing workers who had socialised their factories out. He saw his role in military terms – he needed a strong army, regular supplies, and victories, and he did what he saw as necessary to enforce the preconditions to this. He later claimed he "had absolutely no... political objectives... [but tried] only to create an army of the regular type" "...capable of victory over Bolshevism".

He was a political innocent and a patriotic idealist,POV-statement|date=December 2007 awkward outside of military issues and with other people and always seeking the simplest explanations. "He does not know life in its severe practical reality and lives in a world of... borrowed ideas" recorded Aleksei Budberg, a contemporary official. Whatever his military successes, he was a poor and careless administrator, his government was notoriously corrupt, and, unchecked, representatives acting in his name did much harm.

Other sources however depict a different perspective on him: "At west, Kolchak did have some victories, but in the end, due to his cruel behavior towards his political opponents and his savage attempts for reappraisals in which he endeavored all the Russian parties turned against him except the ultra-right wing ones."(EH Carr, History of the Soviet Union, vol1. , Greek edition p.465)


Initially the White forces under his command had some success. Kolchak was uncertain about combat on land and gave the majority of the strategic planning to D. A. Lebedev, Paul J. Bubnar a Czech General, 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. Kolchak had put around 110,000 men into the field facing roughly 95,000 Bolshevik troops. Kolchak's good relations with General Knox meant that his forces were almost entirely armed, munitioned and uniformed by the British (up to August 1919 the British spent an official $239 million aiding the Whites, although Churchill disputed this figure at the time as an "absurd exaggeration").

The White forces took Ufa in March 1919 and pushed on from there to take Kazan and approach Samara on the Volga River. Anti-Bolshevik risings in Simbirsk, Kazan, Viatka, and Samara assisted their endeavours. The newly-formed Red Army proved unwilling to fight and 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 Committee made countering Kolchak their 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 was pouring newly raised troops into the area.Kolchak had also aroused the dislike of potential allies including the Czech Legion and the Polish 5th Rifle Division. They withdrew from the conflict in October 1918 but remained a presence, their new leader Maurice Janin regarded Kolchak as an instrument of the British and was pro-SR. Kolchak could not count on Japanese aid either; they 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 William S. Graves personally disliked the Kolchak government, which he saw as royalist and autocratic, a view that was shared by the American President, Woodrow Wilson.

Defeat and death

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 June 9 and later that month the Red forces under Tukhachevsky broke through the Urals. Freed from the geographical constraints of the mountains, the Reds made rapid progress, capturing Chelyabinsk on July 25 and forcing the White forces to the north and south to fall back to avoid being isolated. The White forces re-established a line along the Tobol and the Ishim rivers to temporarily halt the Reds. They held that line until October, but the constant loss of men killed or wounded was beyond the White rate of replacement. Reinforced, the Reds broke through on the Tobol in mid-October and by November the White forces were falling back towards Omsk in a disorganised mass. The Reds were sufficiently confident to start redeploying some of their forces southwards to face Anton Denikin.

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 November 14 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 became a serious problem.

Kolchak had left Omsk on the 13th for Irkutsk along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Travelling a section of track controlled by the Czecho-Slovaks 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) and formed the Political Centre. One of their first actions was to dismiss Kolchak. When he heard of this on January 4, 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 Semenov proved a particularly ill-considered move.

It appears that Kolchak was then promised safe passage by the Czecho-Slovaks to the British military mission in Irkutsk. Instead, he was handed over to the leftist authorities in Irkutsk on January 14. On January 20 the government in Irkutsk gave power to a Bolshevik military committee. White Army under command of Vladimir Kappel rushed toward Irkutsk while Kolchak was "investigated" before a commission of five men from January 21 to February 6. Following the arrival of an order from Moscow, he was summarily sentenced to death along with his Prime Minister, Viktor Pepelyayev. They were executed by firing squad in the early morning and the bodies were disposed of in a local river, the Ushakovka. When the White Army learned about his execution, the decision was made to withdraw farther east. The Great Siberian Ice March followed. The Red Army did not enter Irkutsk until March 7, and only then was the news of Kolchak's death officially released.


Admiral Kolchak was a failure at nearly every level from the time of his taking the position of "Supreme Ruler" until his death, though it must be borne in mind that he operated under very difficult circumstances. As a military commander he was unable to make successful strategic plans or to manage to coordinate with other "White Army" generals such as Yudenich or Denikin.

As the leader of a political movement and the chief of state for a territory, he must bear some responsibility for the many acts of brutality, theft, rape, and murder which took place in areas nominally under his military and political control.

As a diplomat his failures were even more serious. Kolchak failed to convince the potentially friendly states of Finland, Poland, or the Baltic states to join with him against the Bolsheviks. He was unable to win diplomatic recognition from any nation in the world, even Britain (though they did support him to some degree). He alienated the very powerful Czech Legion, which for a time was the most powerful organized military force in all of Siberia and very strongly anti-Bolshevik. As was mentioned above, the American commander, General Graves, disliked Kolchak and refused to lend him any military aid at all. Given how hated the Bolsheviks were at this time, Kolchak's inability in this area is striking.

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. 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 and former Soviet army veterans. There is also a Kolchak Island.A movie about his life, titled "Admiral" (Адмиралъ), released in Russia on october 2008.

ee also

*White movement
*Russian Civil War

External links

* [ An essay on Aleksandr Kolchak] , including a photo
* [ Kolchak interogatory]

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