1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kolchak, Vladimir Vasilievich

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KOLCHAK, VLADIMIR VASILIEVICH (1875–1920), Russian admiral, was the son of an engineer. His father took part in the Crimean War, and was one of the defenders of the famous Malakhoff Hill. Kolchak spent his childhood at a factory where his father was employed. In 1888 he entered the naval college at St. Petersburg and finished his studies successfully in 1894. In 1900 an Arctic expedition was organized by the Academy of Sciences for the purpose of exploring the " Sannikov Land," to the north of the Siberian shore, the true position and even the existence of which was uncertain. Baron Toll, the leader of the expedition, invited Kolchak to come with him. At that time he was abroad with the battle fleet, in which he held the rank of lieutenant, but he joined the expedition and took part in its hardships. After many exciting adventures the non-existence of the " Sannikov Land " was proved. The expedition was then divided into two sections: one of them, under Baron Toll, undertook the exploration of the uninhabited Bennet Is. ; no member of this expedition was ever seen again. The other party, which included Lieut. Kolchak, after waiting in vain for the return of their companions, sailed back for St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1903.

Kolchak insisted on the necessity of sending a new expedition for the recovery of Baron Toll and his companions. The Academy upheld this opinion, and a new small expedition under Kolchak was sent to Bennet Is. in Jan. 1904. It succeeded in finding the place of the last camp of Baron Toll and in discovering his journal, from which it was clear that the unfortunate explorers, being at the end of their food supplies, had tried to return to the continent and had undoubtedly perished in the Arctic Sea. Kolchak returned to Siberia, bringing with him rich collections accumulated by Baron Toll. In Irkutsk he learned the news of the Russo-Japanese War, and left immediately for Port Arthur. His gallant behaviour during the siege received recognition even from the enemy: after the capitulation of Port Arthur he was allowed to wear his sword with the Cross of St. George when all weapons were taken from other officers. On his return to St. Petersburg in 1905 Kolchak handed to the Academy a report on his Arctic expedition, which was fully approved, and he was presented with a gold medal. Subsequently Kolchak took a leading part in the campaign for the reorganization of the Russian Naval Department and the reconstruction of the Russian fleet. A new general staff of the navy was created and Kolchak was appointed the head of the organizing and statistical section. His report on the " Distribution of the Naval Forces " was used as a basis of the new naval programme.

At the beginning of the World War Kolchak had the rank of captain and was in command of a destroyer in the Baltic. He took part in the operations in the Gulf of Riga in Aug. 1915 which resulted in the complete failure of the German attempt to seize the Riga shore and secured for a long time the right wing of the Russfan front. In the summer of 1916 he was appointed commander of the Black Sea Fleet, with the rank of rear-admiral. His activities in this command were most valuable. Even after the revolution the Black Sea Fleet remained for some time the only part of the Russian military force where order and discipline were maintained. But the rising wave of disorganization eventually prevailed here as elsewhere. Kolchak refused to recognize the dictatorship of the Council of Workmen, Sailors and Soldiers at Sevastopol, and when he was ordered to surrender to them his sword with the Cross of St. George, he threw it overboard and left the fleet.

After staying for some time in America, Kolchak returned to Russia, and took an active part in the fighting against the Bolshevists in Siberia. On Nov. 18 1917, by a decision of the Russian Government at Omsk, Adml. Kolchak elected to assume the supreme power instead of the Directorate, which was abolished. He became virtually dictator of Russia. The Council of Ministers remained unchanged under the leadership of Vologodsky. Kolchak assumed the title of Supreme Ruler of Russia, and declared officially that he would convoke a National Assembly, which must be convened as soon as normal conditions were restored, and which alone could have power to decide the future organization of Russia. But he refused to recognize the Constituent Assembly elected in 1917 under abnormal conditions as it did not represent the will of the nation. He proclaimed his sole aim to be the liberation of Russia from enslavement by the Bolshevists, and pledged himself to carry on the struggle to complete victory.

On Jan. 20 1918, at the first meeting of the revived Russian Senate, whose sitting at Petrograd had been suspended by the Bolshevists, Kolchak solemnly took the oath to obey the laws and to fulfil faithfully his trust as Supreme Ruler. The land policy of the new Government was modelled on democratic lines, in view of the advance of the army westward. Whoever sowed was entitled to the harvest, irrespective of the ownership of the land; every encouragement was promised to peasant owners. A final agrarian settlement was reserved for the decision of the National Assembly. But the exceptionally difficult conditions in which the new Government was placed forced Kolchak to take other and less democratic measures. An order was published stating that any attempt to murder the Supreme Ruler, or to wrest power from him, would be punished with death; failure to execute his orders and decrees would be punished with deprivation of civil rights and penal servitude. Numerous arrests were made among political opponents, especially among the members of the Social Revolutionary party. A certain number of executions were ordered by the courts martial.

Kolchak was recognized as Supreme Ruler of Russia by the anti-Bolshevist army of Gen. Denikin in the south of Russia, by the Archangel Government, and, later, by the leader of the N.W. Russian army, Gen. Yudenich. The success of the Siberian offensive in the first half of 1919 had as a result the conditional recognition of Kolchak's Government by the Supreme Council in Paris, June 1919, as the de facto Government in Russia. In his declaration to the Allied Powers Kolchak recognized the Russian foreign debts, but refused to recognize the independence of Finland and of the Baltic States, considering that a final decision on these questions could only be taken by the National Assembly.

A peculiar feature of the situation in Siberia was the presence of foreign troops, which were under the command of the French Gen. Janin on the front, and under the orders of the British Gen. Knox in the rear, and thus were quite independent of the Supreme Ruler. In March 1919 the foreign effectives in Siberia numbered over 118,000 men, as follows: Czechoslovaks, 55,000; Poles, 12,000; Serbians, 4,000; Rumanians, 4,000; Italians, 2,000; British, i, 600; French, 760; Japanese, 28,000; Americans, 7,500; Canadians, 4,000. These forces were, however, mostly employed in guarding communications. As for the Czechoslovaks, they were not in sympathy with Kolchak's Government and their chief object was to go home. The Russian army of Kolchak was at the same period estimated at about 150,000 men; this number increased considerably later, but the greater part of this army was composed of raw recruits. When Kolchak assumed the supreme power, the Ural front was held by the Czechoslovaks, but a few weeks later they were relieved by the new Russian army, in the organization of which Kolchak took a leading part as War Minister of the late Government. An offensive was ordered in the middle of Dec. and proved a considerable success. In a great advance of the right wing of the Siberian army the Bolshevist troops suffered a heavy defeat. The town of Perm was occupied on Dec. 24, and more than 18,000 prisoners fell into the hands of Kolchak's troops. Ufa was captured on Dec. 31, and the victorious Siberian army crossed the Kama river and pursued the retreating enemy towards Glazov, taking another 30,000 prisoners. The unfavourable conditions of the Siberian winter, however, and the necessity of completing the organization of the army, did not allow Kolchak to develop his offensive at that moment, but the situation on that front remained fairly satisfactory during the whole spring. On the other hand, the Bolshevists had an important success on the southern front, occupying Orenburg with control of the Turke-tin railway.

The great offensive of the Siberian army started in March, when the weather became less unfavourable. For more than two months the young Russian army was advancing on a broad front towards Moscow, which was to be the final objective. Orenburg and Ekaterinburg were occupied in April, and in May Kolchak's troops reached the river Viatka on the Kazan-Sarapul railway line, moving towards Kazan from E. and S.E. Only a few dozen miles separated them from that city and the Volga river. The great advance on the northern section of the front seemed to favour the daring plan of a junction with the Archangel troops. But the great effort of these months had exhausted the power of the Siberian army. Lack of munitions and food supplies, bad communications, lack of true discipline, which could not be created in a few weeks, the absence of efficient administration, continuous misunderstanding between the Government and the Allied Missions which disposed of the munitions and food supply, internal troubles and quarrels among the leaders of different political parties, Bolshevist propaganda, and, most important of all, lack of staunch support from the mass of the population all these conditions broke down the vigorous advance of the army; it wa even unable to resist the Bolshevist counter-offensive. The Moscow Government sent new troops to the eastern front and launched an attack in the direction of Ufa. In the beginning the Siberian army defended the line gallantly, but after a few weeks of constant fighting Kolchak's troops were obliged to retire, and Ufa was captured by the Reds on June 9. The success of the Bolshevists grew rapidly. On July i they occupied Perm, and a fortnight later entered the town of Ekaterinburg. Nothing could stop now the retreat of Kolchak's army; demoralization was growing every day. The Ural was crossed in Aug., and in the beginning of Sept. the Bolshevists captured Tobolsk in Siberia and the town of Orsk in the Orenburg district. This disastrous retreat could not remain without influence on the Russian policy of the Allies. On Sept. 15 the Supreme Council in Paris unanimously agreed to follow the British policy of evacuation from Russia and expressed itself as absolutely opposed to any " Russian adventures." The news from abroad certainly did not strengthen the resistance of the Russian army. A last military effort was made in Sept. in the region of Tobol river, and the army had a temporary and local success on this sector of the front, but this diversion was not important enough to stop the advancing Reds. Omsk, the capital of the Siberian Government, was captured by them on Nov. 15; 10 generals, too officers, 80 locomotives, 3,000 waggons, etc., fell into their hands.

The seat of the Siberian Government had been transferred to Irkutsk. The leaders of the opposition, especially the members of Socialist parties, took the opportunity of the disaster on the front to renew their activities. A rebellion against Kolchak's Government took place in Vladivostok, and the rebels were joined by Gen. Gaida, the former chief of the Czechoslovaks in Siberia; the movement was suppressed by military force, and Gen. Gaida had to leave the country. Similar riots on a smaller scale were reported from Irkutsk and other places. Under the pressure of the growing hostility of the population Kolchak made a last attempt to reorganize the Government. Victor Pepeliaev, a former teacher and member of the Russian State Duma, was appointed prime minister. He tried to save the situation, basing the policy of his Government on the principle of local autonomy, which was advocated and supported by Gen. Diterichs, formerly chief commander of the troops, and Gen. Semenov, the Cossack leader. But no change of governmental policy could stop the course of the disintegration. The Reds took Novo-Nicholaievsk on Dec. 14, and were moving towards Irkutsk without meeting any resistance as the Siberian army was practically dissolved at that time. The socialist Zemstvo and municipal council of Irkutsk took energetic steps to overthrow the Central Government. The rising resulted in the creation of a new socialist Government, which was elected at the end of Dec. at a joint meeting of the Irkutsk Zemstvo and municipality. Kolchak was asked to resign; at first he refused, but on Jan. 4 he signed an ukaz transferring his power to Gen. Denikin and the supreme military authority in Siberia to Gen. Semenov. At the same time he asked for the protection of the Allies and this was promised to him. But when Kolchak, under the guard of Czechoslovaks, was passing through Irkutsk in his train, which was also loaded with a considerable part of the 65,000,000 gold reserve, the new Irkutsk Government demanded his surrender, threatening in the case of non-acceptance to resist the free passage of the Allied Missions. Gen. Janin ordered the surrender of Kolchak and Pepeliaev. They were kept prisoners for some time at Nijni-Udinsk, and were shot by the Bolshevists on Feb. 6 1920.

(P. Vi.)