Category: russian revolution

The Tsar’s brother Grand Duke Michael, left, a…

The Tsar’s brother Grand Duke Michael, left, and his friend Nicholas Johnson in captivity, April 1918. Michael and Johnson were executed by Bolshevik secret police on June 13, the first of the Romanovs to be killed.

June 13, 1918 – Bolsheviks Execute Tsar’s Brot…

June 13, 1918 – Bolsheviks Execute Tsar’s Brother Grand Duke Michael, First Romanov to be Killed

Pictured – Michael was second in line for the throne when his older brother Nicholas abdicated in March 1917. A proponent of constitutional monarchy, he reluctantly agreed to be Tsar in place of Nicholas’s son if the people would ratify his succession. The Bolshevik Revolution came first, however.

In the early hours of June 13, the Tsar’s brother Grand Duke Michael was removed from his house arrest in Perm and put in a horse-drawn trap, along with his British secretary Nicholas Johnson. Four Bolshevik secret policemen accompanied Michael, who asked where they were headed. “To the train station,” responded one of the guards, but in fact they drove into the nearby woods. There the guards forced Michael and Johnson out of the carriage and shot them. Wounded, Michael crawled towards Johnson. “Let me say goodbye to my friend,” he asked. The guards shot both dead and stripped their corpses, which were never found.

Whatever one thinks of the Romanovs and the Bolsheviks, Michael’s execution was a sad story. The Grand Duke was second in line to the Russian throne in 1917, but had spent much of his life trying to distance himself from the monarchy. In 1905 he had shocked his elder brother by marrying a twice-divorced commoner, Natalia Wulfert, with whom he lived in London. Only when the First World War broke out did Michael return to his native Russia to serve as a cavalry corps commander. His relationship with his brother remained chilly, especially when Michael warned Nicholas that his position was far shakier than he realized.

Michael proved the prescient one. The Tsar abdicated in March 1917 and chose Michael to take his place on the throne. Michael, who had spent his life trying to get further away from the Romanov crown, agreed on the condition that the Provisional Government ratified his succession, which it never did. Nevertheless he supported the new government, even when it declared itself a republic in September 1917. In his diary, Michael accepted the decision:
“We woke up this morning to hear Russia declared a Republic. What does
it matter which form the government will be as long as there is order
and justice?”

When the Bolshevik revolution came in November, Michael helped Prime Minister Kerensky escape Russia. Because of this, and because of his claim to power, MIchael became a revolutionary target although he himself had nothing to do with the White movement. The four policemen who killed him had all been victims of Tsarist imprisonment, and forged the orders to execute Michael on their own initiative. Later they claimed they had shot Michael when he “tried to escape.”

May 15, 1918 – Revolt of the …

May 15, 1918 – Revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion

Pictured – Czech legionaries in one of the train-cars that carried them through Siberia.

A modern anabasis began on May 15, 1918 at a railway station in

Chelyabinsk, a town in the Ural mountains.

During World War I, the Russians formed the Czechoslovak Legion from
Czech and Slovak prisoners of war eager to switch sides and fight for national
independence by turning their guns on the Austro-Hungarian army. One of the few military formations that
fought well under Kerensky’s Provisional government, the Czechs disavowed the
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and wanted to continue fighting the Central Powers,
declaring their loyalty to the Supreme Allied Council in France. 

Lenin came to an agreement with the Allies
for half the Czech legionnaires to be transported to Vladivostok, where they
would be shipped all the way around the world to France, to fight on the
Western Front.  Over 50,000 Czechs, loyal
to the Allied Powers, chugged along the railroad tracks for 5,000 miles between
the Volga and the Pacific in the spring of 1918.  The British military, however, believed the
Czechs had more potential to be a decisive factor by staying in Russia and
fighting the Germans there, rather than going to France.

Britain got
its way soon enough.  In the town of
Chelyabinsk in May 1918, a train carrying a unit of Czechs came to a stop at
dawn alongside another train, full of Hungarian POWs being repatriated
home.  The two trainloads of former
enemies hurled curses at one another, but when the Hungarian train pulled away
to leave, one of the POWs chucked a piece of an iron stove at a group of Czechs
standing near the train tracks, striking one of the legionnaires on the head.  While their comrade lay bleeding on the
ground, the Czechs halted the Hungarian train and demanded, rifles in hand,
that the culprit be handed over.  They
lynched the miscreant on the spot, in sight of his vanishing comrades on the
departing train.

When a platoon of Red Guards came to arrest
the Czech killers, the legionnaires refused to comply. Trotsky was enraged by the news and demanded
that the Czechs be disarmed immediately on May 25.  When the Czech legionnaires received word of
Trotsky’s order, and that he had also declared that Czechs found with weapons
would be shot on sight, they overpowered and disarmed the garrison of Red
Guards at Chelyabinsk.  Other Czech
units, scattered all over Russia along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, started to
seize adjacent towns and prepared to fight their way through the Red Army to
Vladivostok and the Pacific coast.

One of the first regiments of the Worker’s and…

One of the first regiments of the Worker’s and Peasant’s Red Army departs for the front. 1918.

Violence Erupts in Baku

Azerbaijani victims of the violence in Baku.

March 31 1918, Baku–A major oil boomtown, much of the world had their eyes on Baku in 1918.  The Turks had ambitions in the Caucasus, but were still busy retaking their own territory; the British Dunsterforce aimed to prevent this, but was still in Persia.  The Bolsheviks wanted to maintain Russian control over the area, but faced opposition from the local Azerbaijani population.  The existence of a large Armenian minority, suspicious of the general pro-Turkish Azerbaijanis, also added to tensions.  The return of Azerbaijani soldiers from Russian army units after its demobilization concerned the Bolsheviks, and they tried to disarm as many of them as they could.

While it is still unclear exactly how violence started, it had something to do with the visit of Azerbaijani soldiers by boat, who the Bolsheviks attempted to disarm.  By late on March 31, after shots had already been exchanged, the Bolsheviks broke off any attempts at talks and were prepared to take this opportunity to crush Azerbaijani political opposition entirely.  A makeshift alliance of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and other socialist parties, and Armenians attacked Azerbaijani soldiers, militia, and civilians over the next few days, killing at least 10,000 and causing many times that number to flee the city.

Today in 1917: Danish Virgin Islands Transferred to United States


Today in 1916: Large Zeppelin Raid on London, East Anglia
Today in 1915:  Thomas Hardy: “The Pity of It”

March 12, 1918 – Bolsheviks Move Russian Capit…

March 12, 1918 – Bolsheviks Move Russian Capital from Petrograd to Moscow

Pictured – Children look at a demolished statue of Tsar Alexander III in Moscow.

The peace made between the Bolsheviks and the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 stripped Russia of most of its western European territory.  Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Germany divided up Russian territory in the Baltic, Poland, Galicia, Ukraine, and the Caucasus between them or parceled it into client states. Russia had been reduced to the borders it had before Peter the Great.

This put the capital of Petrograd, founded by Peter, under threat. German forces were on its doorstep and any renewal of the war could easily see Petrograd fall to them, or to anti-Bolshevik forces sponsored by them or the British. Meanwhile the population of Petrograd blamed the Bolsheviks for leaving them at the mercy of enemies. Therefore on March 12 the seventh congress of the Bolshevik Party officially approved what had already been done: moving the seat of government to Moscow. A secret evacuation moved the government behind the walls of the Kremlin in Moscow. Ironically, the movement that had toppled any last connection to the Tsars now held court in Russia’s medieval capital.

March 6, 1918 – Allied Intervention in Russia …

March 6, 1918 – Allied Intervention in Russia Begins as Royal Marines Land in Murmansk

Pictured – Troops of the Slavo-British Legion, a White Russian force raised by the British in Murmasnk.

In the aftermath of the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks portrayed the Allied
intervention in Russia as a concentrated effort by world capitalism to
smash the Red revolution in the bud. This is still probably the dominant
interpretation most people think of when they think of the Russian
Civil War, however it is not what actually happened at all.

The first Allied troops to land in Russia landed at Murmasnk on March 6, 1918. They were Royal Marines, invited by the local soviet, an action approved by Vladimir Lenin. The idea was to support the Red Army against the Germans; unfortunately the support arrived too late. Russia had surrendered at Brest-Litvosk two days earlier. Yet it was the beginning of the Allied Intervention in Russia, which began on a small-scale to fight the Germans and eventually became a massive effort against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.

February 28, 1918 – Bolsheviks Arrive at Brest…

February 28, 1918 – Bolsheviks Arrive at Brest-Litvosk to Make Peace

Pictured – A German poster celebrates the peace with now independent Ukraine, some weeks earlier.

After some desperate pleading, the Bolsheviks obtained an agreement to make peace with the Central Powers. On the last day of February 1918, the Russian delegation arrived at Brest-Litovsk again to resume the negotiations as before Germany ended the armistice. But their humiliations were to continue for a few more days, as the Germans refused to cease their invasion until the treaty was actually signed. In the meantime, German and Austrian forces finished the conquest of the Baltic, capturing the naval base at Reval. On the 27th Mogilev, the sight of Russia’s military headquarters, Stavka, fell. That day a bomber dropped its payload on Petrograd. The Bolsheviks had no chance but to sign to end the war before more of Russia’s chief city fell into enemy hands.

Former Tsarist officers labor in Petrograd. In…

Former Tsarist officers labor in Petrograd. In February and March 1918, War Commissar Leon Trotsky called for imperial officers to help lead the new Red Army. 8,000 volunteered to escape unemployment and to to continue fighting the Germans. Later in the war, however, Trotsky was forced to conscript ex-imperial officers. Although officially “military experts,” many of the Red Army’s leaders were closer to hostages, as their families would be held accountable if officers failed or defected to the anti-Bolshevik Whites. This system proved effective and created stable, competent leadership for the Red Army.

February 14, 1918 – Russia Adopts the Western …

February 14, 1918 – Russia Adopts the Western Calendar

Pictured – Revolutionary time.

Thoughtful readers may have noticed that the February Revolution in Russia occurred in March, and that the October Revolution of 1918 happened on November 7. Unlike Western Europe, the Orthodox and Islamic populations of the east had stuck with the old Roman Julian calendar. By 1918 only a few holdouts remained.

The Bolsheviks swept away the old calendar along with the other vestiges of  feudalism. Russia switched to the Gregorian calendar by skipping from February 1st, on the old calendar, ahead to February 14, catching up to the rest of Europe. The Tsar, imprisoned in Tobolsk with his family, was irritated by the change. “We learned from instructions which we received in the mail to change our
calendar from the 1st of February and count as if today were already
the 14th of February. This misunderstanding and confusion will not be
the last!“ The deposed monarch still underestimated Lenin and did not realize the full extent of changes in Russia since his abdication.

The Orthodox Church maintained the Julian calendar for religion, and there are “Old Calendarists” in Eastern Europe still today. Greece was the last nation in Europe to adopt Gregorian time, switching over in March 1924.