1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wrangel, Peter Nicholaievich, Baron

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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Wrangel, Peter Nicholaievich, Baron
See also Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

WRANGEL, PETER NICHOLAIEVICH, Baron (1879- ), Russian general, was born in Petrograd in 1879, the eldest son of an impoverished Baltic nobleman of Swedish descent. His father, Baron Nicholas Igorevich, held an important post in the International Bank, at Petrograd. At the age of 20 Wrangel entered the Mining Institute at Petrograd and finished its course brilliantly. He served as private in the Horse Guards for one year. Leaving the regiment with the rank of N.C.O. he went to Siberia and worked there as a mining engineer until the Russo-Japanese War. At the beginning of that war he joined the Trans-Baikal Cossack Regt., which he left at the end of hostilities with the rank of captain. He retained his rank in the Horse Guards, which he rejoined after the war, thus devoting his life to the military profession. At the beginning of the World War he was in command of a squadron, but was soon promoted colonel, received the St. George Cross and was made A.D.C. to the Tsar. In 1915 he was appointed commander of a Cossack regiment at the Galician front. Later he rose to the command of a Cossack division. Wrangel was among the first officers who joined Gen. Kaledin in his fight against the Bolsheviks, and after Kaledin's suicide he took part in the organization and struggle of the volunteer army under Alexeyev and Denikin, and distinguished himself especially by the defence of Tsaritsyn. After the disastrous retreat of Gen. Denikin, from Orel to the Black Sea, Wrangel was appointed on April 4 1920 commander of the volunteer army. Men and officers of the army were demoralized, and the lack of munitions and food supplies made the situation almost desperate. Fortunately for Wrangel, the Bolsheviks considered the volunteer army to be out of action, and they had to send a large part of their forces against the Poles who were approaching Kiev. This made it possible for Wrangel to attempt the reconstruction of the southern army; and for some time his attempt was successful. His nomination to the post of commander-in-chief corresponded with the attempt of Mr. Lloyd George to induce the volunteer army to begin peace negotiations with Soviet Russia. In a note to this effect the volunteers were warned that, in case of refusal, they would be deprived of all British support; this note was handed to Gen. Denikin on April 4, and seems to have been one of the chief causes of his resignation. Replying to this proposition Wrangel refused to enter into direct negotiations with the Bolsheviks, and asked the Allies to guarantee the life and safety of his troops and of the refugees under his protection. These negotiations proved eventually a failure. In the meantime Wrangel did his best for the reorganization of the army and the administration. A Council was formed which continued the work of Denikin's Government. Krivochin was nominated president of the council; Peter Struve received the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, Bernadsky that of Finance. The Government was modelled on the basis of personal dictatorship. In the “Statute” published on April 14 it was proclaimed that the “Ruler and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of South Russia holds full military and civil power without any limitation whatever.” It was intended that this temporary dictatorship should lead in the future to the reconstruction of Russia. The main points of Wrangel's programme were outlined by Struve in an interview to the representative of an English paper in the following way:—

“The seizure by the peasants of large properties should be recognized wherever it has actually taken place. It constitutes the starting point for wide agricultural reform destined to assure the peasants the full ownership of the land which they cultivate. The agrarian revolution which has taken place in favour of peasants would thus be legalized, and, to the profit of the new owners of the soil, would result in an agrarian organization based on the principle of private property, which corresponds beyond doubt to the aspirations of the peasants.” (These principles served as a foundation to the “Rules for the transfer of agricultural tend to the tillers of the soil” of March 25 1920.) “The future organization of Russia should be based on an agreement between the existing political formations. The union of the different parts of Russia, at present divided, in a large federation would be founded on voluntary agreement between them, resulting from the community of interests, and, above all, from economic needs. This policy in no way seeks to enforce union by violence. Whatever may be the future relations of the different parts of Russia now separated from one another, the political organization of these territories and the constitution of their federal union should be founded on the free expression of popular will by means of representative assemblies elected on democratic basis. The underlying motive of Wrangel and those who supported him in attempting to establish themselves in Southern Russia was the conviction that while, sooner or later, the Bolshevist system must come-to an end, it is nevertheless essential that its disintegration should be assisted by outside action.”

The reorganization of the army by conscription proceeded successfully, and the events of the Polish front as well as the shortage of food in Crimea obliged Wrangel to try a new offensive. On May 25 he began an advance on the whole front, combined with landings on the coast to the east and west, which resulted in a series of defeats for the Bolsheviks. The whole of the fertile corn lands of the Taurida Province were occupied, and the position of the army was greatly strengthened. At the end of June the new line of the front passed approximately through Berdyansk (Sea of Azov), Tokmak (Sevastopol-Kharkov railway), Alioshki (on the Dnieper, near Kherson). The front of 30 km. had been extended to one of 250 kilometres.

With the defeat of Poland Mr. Lloyd George renewed his proposals as to settlement with the Bolsheviks at the conference of Spa. On the contrary, on Aug. 11 the French Government issued a statement which declared, “that taking into consideration the military successes and the growing strength of the Soviet Republican Government” it was recognized by France as the de facto Government of Russia under the obligation of recognition of Russian debts, and the promise to follow a democratic policy with regard to domestic affairs.

Wrangel and his Government tried to follow these advices in spite of the opposition of a section of the Russian society. But the heavy hand of the military dictatorship made itself often-felt in spite of the democratic programme. For example, in his order of Oct. 3 Wrangel prohibited all “public speeches, sermons, lectures and conferences tending to arouse political or national disorder.” His relations with the Caucasus, Ukraine, Poland and other territories, which had been parts of the Russian Empire before the revolution, were of vital importance for the success of the undertaking. The principle of federation was proclaimed and resulted in the agreement of July 22 (Aug. 4) between Wrangel on the one side and the Atamans of Don, Kuban, Terek and Astrakhan on the other. Complete self-government was granted to the Cossacks in their internal organization and administration, but the direction of foreign relations and of military affairs was reserved for the Commander-in-Chief. A delegation of the Paris Ukrainian National Committee was received by Wrangel at Sevastopol on Sept. 23, and established coöperation of the non-separatist Ukrainians with Wrangel. In order to facilitate the organization of a special Ukrainian administration and the formation of Ukrainian military units, a Commissioner for Ukrainian affairs was appointed in Wrangel's Government with the rank of Minister. Wrangel was also recognized as the supreme chief of the anti-Bolshevik movement by the leader of the Siberian Cossacks, Ataman Semenoff, and the chiefs of different independent guerilla units acting in the south of Russia, the best known of whom is Makhno. Wrangel successfully repulsed all Bolshevik attacks until the end of Oct., and even found it possible to extend the area of his occupation. An official communiqué at the end of Oct. reports “that between May 25th and October 25th the Russian army had captured 70,500 prisoners, 250 guns, 17 armoured trains, 21 armoured cars, hundreds of horses, and considerable amount of other booty.” But these successes were only of a short duration. Peace with Poland had freed considerable Bolshevik forces, which were transferred to the southern front against Wrangel. The small army numbering 45,000 trained soldiers was unable to defend a front of 400 km. against the overwhelming number of Bolsheviks, well provided with heavy artillery and unlimited munitions. The isthmus of Perikop had to be abandoned in consequence of a turning movement by the Reds across the “Putrid Sea.” On Nov. 15 Sevastopol was occupied by the Bolsheviks.

The evacuation of the army and of thousands of refugees was carried out in good order under the personal supervision of Wrangel, who was the last to leave on board the “Korniloff.” A total of 130,000 people were evacuated, of whom 70,000 were soldiers (30,000 fighting men, and 40,000 from the rear), about 7,600 wounded, the rest being civilians. One hundred and fifty million fr. were advanced by the French Government for the relief of the arrriy and refugees, who were in the most awful condition. The refugees were sent to Lemnos, to Egypt and to Yugoslavia.

Wrangel hoped that the evacuation would enable him to keep his army together as a fighting unit to be used at the first opportunity against the Bolsheviks. The excellent discipline and gallantry of the troops and their devotion to their chief favoured such a plan; but it could not be effected without the support of the Allies, and this resource proved to be exhausted.

The French Government, which had done most for the forces in the Crimea, was unwilling to continue a policy which it considered hopeless. M. Leygues, the successor of M. Millerand as prime minister, demanded categorically the disbandment of Wrangel's army, and the General was directed to announce to the troops that he was not their chief any more and that they were free to disband. About 10,000 were “repatriated” to Soviet Russia, about 12,000 accommodated in Serbia and Brazil. The best part of the army kept together in the camp of Gallipoli in their regimental formations, maintaining according to the testimony of foreign officers excellent discipline and sturdy spirit. The problem as to what was to be done with these picked troops was still unsolved in the winter of 1921. France had withdrawn her support; Serbia had taken over 5,000 cavalry to serve as frontier guards; the rest were expecting assistance from Russian institutions abroad, such as the Russian embassies in Washington and Tokio, and from the intervention of the League of Nations. (P. Vi.)