1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kornilov, Lavr Georgievich

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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Kornilov, Lavr Georgievich

KORNILOV, LAVR GEORGIEVICH (1870-1918), Russian general and patriot, born on Aug. 31 1870 in the little town of Ust-Kamenogorodsk, Siberia, was essentially a son of the people, his father being a poor Cossack officer and his mother also a Cossack. As a boy he went through a severe schooling in a life of want and privation. At nine years old he entered the parish school, where somehow he learnt to read and write. He prepared himself unaided for his entrance into the Siberian Cadet Corps, which he joined in 1883. Passing thence to the Michailovsky artillery school in St. Petersburg, he was in 1892 commissioned and posted to the Turkestan Artillery Brigade. Within three years he was back again at the capital to enter the academy of the general staff, in the final examinations of which, in 1898, he was among the first. Not attracted, however, by life in the big civilized centres, and instinctively drawn to the open spaces of the Russian borderlands, Kornilov again devoted himself to service in Turkestan, whence he undertook a series of daring journeys into Afghanistan, Chinese Turkestan, Persia and Baluchistan. In 1904, on the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, Kornilov, then a lieutenant-colonel, received an appointment with the field army. As a staff officer he took part in many engagements, and for gallant conduct in a difficult rear-guard action at the battle of Mukden he was decorated with the order of St. George of the fourth class. Subsequently he served in the headquarters offices of the general staff and spent four years (1907-11) as Russian military attache in Pekin, during which period he made journeys into the interior of China.

In the opening stage of the World War, during the Russian campaign of 1914-5 in Galicia, Gen. Kornilov commanded the 48th Inf. Div., which, under his leadership, performed many daring exploits as part of Brussilov's VIII. Army. In the great battle of May 1915 this division became isolated in the Carpathians, and was only extricated by the self-sacrifice of its rear-guard, which Kornilov personally led. He himself was wounded and taken prisoner. He was sent to the fortress of Laka, in Hungary, but, having learnt the Czech language, he managed to escape, dressed as an Austrian private, with the help of a Czech medical officer. They made for the Rumanian frontier on foot, but on their way Kornilov's companion was arrested, the general himself escaping and reaching Russia in the autumn of 1916. He was at once appointed commander of the XX. Army Corps. This corps operated in conjunction with the Rumanians and in Oct. 1916 made a brilliant diversion to save Bucharest from the invading army; but when the Rumanian troops on Kornilov's right gave way he had to retreat. At the beginning of March 1917, with the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Kornilov was called by Gutchkov to command the troops of the military district of Petrograd. As in this appointment he was responsible for guarding the Provisional Government, it was from this moment that his influence on political events began to be felt. He found the troops, however, in such a demoralized state under the influence of the “Soviet of workers' and soldiers' deputies” that he asked to be relieved and sent to the front, and at the beginning of May he was made commander of the VIII. Army. During the June offensive movement ordered by Kerensky, who went round appealing to the soldiers to advance, Kornilov with his army broke the Austrian front and occupied Kalusz and Halicz, but the impetus was not of long duration and success was followed by débâcle. It now became clear that to restore the fighting capacity of the Russian army, stern decisive measures would have to be taken. Hopes were centred on Kornilov when he was appointed by Kerensky supreme commander-in-chief. “The man with the lion's heart” inspired a general confidence. At the beginning of August, just before the opening of the “State Conference” at Moscow, Kornilov went to Petrograd and presented his programme to Kerensky as president of the Provisional Government. This “programme” demanded the severe punishment of military offenders, not only at the front, but in the rear as well; it called for extraordinary measures for the improvement of transport and the insuring of order at the factories that were working for defence; it demanded the limitations of the privileges of the soldiers' committees and the reëstablishment of the officers' power of enforcing discipline. The programme was, however, rejected, and this was the beginning of the split between Kerensky and Kornilov (see Russia: History). The gulf between the two men, who proclaimed two opposite political faiths, became wider, and the struggle between them ended in the outbreak of Sept. 8-12. Kerensky gained an apparent victory, and Kornilov, with some faithful followers, was interned in Bikhov, where he remained for over two and a half months. After the October revolution, when the Provisional Government had fallen and power was forcibly seized by the Bolsheviks, Kornilov left Bikhov and early in December made his way to the Don (Novotcherkask), where he assisted Gen. Alexeiev in collecting some 3,500 men and eight guns, and forming the Volunteer Army. Kornilov was given a command in this army, which was badly clad, had no winter equipment and hardly any munitions, but was ready to go anywhere and do anything. The position of the Don, however, grew more and more complicated. The sympathies of the population were divided and doubtful and the Bolshevik forces steadily advanced. The new army, still small in numbers and incompletely organized, was compelled to leave Rostov on Feb. 9 1918, and Kornilov then began his march to the Kuban, where he hoped to find help and support. Through country where the Bolsheviks held all the principal centres and railway lines his men fought their way victoriously but under great difficulties, and crossed the Kuban on March 7, having marched on to the mountain villages of the North Caucasian range and established connexion with a group of Volunteers which had formed under Gen. Erdeli. After a short rest they started again for Ekaterinodar, which, as the capital of Kuban, Kornilov held it essential to occupy. On March 17, in the neighbourhood of Novo Dmitrievskaya, they had to march knee-deep in water and to ford a mountain stream; the men reached the bank half frozen. This adventure was popularly known as the “ice flight.” The attack in Ekaterinodar, however, resulted in a terrible misfortune. A stiff battle ensued and the Volunteer Army carried some of the outskirts of the town. But early on the morning of March 31 Kornilov was struck down by the burst of a shell and died without regaining consciousness. His loss was irreparable. A magnetic personality and born leader of men, he knew no fear and shared the hardships with his soldiers.

(Y. D.; P. Vi.)