SovietJournalist

The Czech Legion (1)

In Russian Civil War Project on May 3, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Heroes? Traitors? Or pawns?

Foreword: A part of my “Russian Civil War” project. This is an analytical/historical article about the Czechoslovak legions which will be part of the project’s conclusion.

If you click on the image above, it will take you to a link with an article called “The Odyssey of the Czech-Slovaks” as a part of the book “Great Events of the Great War” 1920, by Charles F Horne. The majority of the article is by Vladimir Nosek, an executive organizer of the Czech legions during their stay in Russia. It’s followed by an “officially recognized” account of the events of February 1917- 1920 and an announcement regarding the events by the future president of Czechoslovakia: Thomas Masaryk. This article completely embodies how the combination of post-war press craze and nationalism/militarism are capable of deforming history into something it’s definitely not. If you read the article among many texts about the Czech legions, the primary thing said about them are showers of praise. They are elite warriors of WWI, who raised an army out of ‘nothing’ under fire from all sides, and became the strongest force in the Russian Empire.  The blame for ‘calling on their wrath’ is not-so-surprisingly put on the Bolshevik government, at which point the Czechs went on to fight for their ‘survival’ and ‘freedom’ against the atrocities of red Russia. The Czech legions went on an epic adventure through thousands of miles, managing to steal the Kazan gold reserves, ‘liberate’ the whole of the Volga-Ural region and capture half the Trans-Siberian railway. Finally agreeing to barter with the vile Russians, they were able to escape through Vladivostok in 1920 and came home to a new nation (Czechoslovakia) where they were hailed heroes, and their leader, professor Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, was elected president.

Reading such articles (there are many texts from the era available online; newspapers, speeches etc), I feel like it’s less a political essay and more a children’s comic book.  Not only is this a terribly childish view of the events, but it’s awfully wrong. The Czech legions were their own armed camp, with their own government. It’s a lie to say that they had no administration; their military structure alone was enough discipline and organization to have broken into Bohemia and liberated the Czech lands, rather than trek slowly down the under-maintained Trans-Siberian railway. Their formal organization into an independent army transpired under the friendly Russian Provisional government and not under fire.  The legions are merely looked at as rag-tag because they just didn’t have sovereignty and were the equivalent of ‘warrior-nomads’ during their stay in Russia. What they did have was an organized structure and 100,000 strong army, well equipped and provisioned with horses, artillery, rifles etc. If you look at images of the Czech legion, you’ll see; they all have uniforms, weapons, provisions. They crowd around artillery, food and dead bodies, they smile and take photographs. Neither the white nor Bolshevik camp had a similar scenario and looking at the supply fronts on all Russian sides, one could clearly see they were ones of scarcity and deprivation. 10 million people died as a result of the Russian civil war, many of whom due in part to the Czech legions, which had helped tremendously to spark counter-revolution in Russia. It was due to their fighting that most of the resistance to Bolshevik rule were able to organize and work with some form of cohesion. The Czech ‘adventure’ played perfectly within the interests of the western allies. All of their actions had immediate and decisive consequences, which indeed nearly crushed Russia and Communism.

Lets talk about that; what did the Czech presence throughout Russia mean for the revolution, and the world?

Origin

Some of the best soldiers of WWI: Czech regiments.

I’ll take this from the very start. First, I do not doubt Czech prowess as fighters, history has spoken for them in this regard. They were among the fiercest warriors of WWI. Just as fierce was the competition for then day journalism, one indeed had to go to desperate measures and extensive media manipulation (just like modern times, if no one’s noticed) to make a selling story; so if you don’t paint the Czech soldier as Mr.America- someone else does and you don’t get your slice of bread. There are two results from this sort of wartime/post-war rhetoric in capitalist press. 1 The desired effect is always achieved no matter which journalist wins or loses 2 History and reality are severely distorted in the eyes of the masses and that’s for generations, regardless of reformed government or upgraded education. These effects were especially strong for the case of the Czechs; press attention and public support for the Czechoslovaks saw the United States government recognizing the Czechoslovak national council as the righteous sovereign government of Czechoslovakia before the republic had even declared its independence. But that’s later, now; how did the Czech legions form? There were many Czech legions, throughout western Europe, but the ones that typically carry the name “The Czechoslovak Legion” were the ones that fought in Russia, during the Civil War. In World War I, the Czech (Bohemian) and Slovak (Northern Hungarian) peoples were under the yoke of Austro-Hungarian imperialist tyranny. Many Czechs and Slovaks were conscripted into Austrian service and formed Czech brigades. Forming these was a fool’s errand since most wanted independence and weren’t integrated with loyal Austrian or Hungarian soldiers. The Czech brigades eventually surrendered to the allied powers, which supported an independent Czech republic… at least from Austria. In the West, the Czechs were integrated with French and British battalions but in Russia, so as to maximize fighting spirit and unit cohesion, Czech brigades were once again formed. These were formed from among Czech volunteers as well as Czech prisoners of war from the Austrians. Contrary to their counterparts, Poles and Ukrainians who too wanted independence; the Czechs had their own command structure, and while submitting to the Russian army, they fought even more independently than autonomous Cossack units. The Czech legions had a unique discipline, organized cohesion of forces and almost nationalist spirit. Their numbers swelled as deserting Czechs from the Austrian army, Czech POWs and volunteers enlisted increasingly faster. The total number of Czech soldiers in Russia exceeded 130,000 in 1917.

After the February revolution of 1917 the Tsarist army was in a critical state and the head of the new provisional government Kerensky- who’d earned his ‘legitimacy’ with the west by continuing the highly unpopular war and bringing on useless but democratic reforms -was appealed to (in a visit by Czech professor and future president Masaryk with his political backing in the west) allow the Czechs what would be understood as autonomy were they a state and not an army. The Czechs organized an executive council and appointed their own officers which would rule their army, instead of submitting to other Russian generals like they had in the past. Now the Czechoslovaks only received their orders directly from the Russian stavka, the highest military headquarters in Russia. Also; all Czechoslovak units would be put under command of the council and removed from direct Russian service. This officially formed ‘The Czech legion’. The action highly bolstered the strength of the Czech corps but at the same time created the capacity for self-government for the legion. This would enable the Czechs to go freely on their own initiatives in disobedience to any form of order and law which could not suppress them. When the stavka and Tsarist army began collapsing, the Czechs found themselves entirely free to do as they wish, because such law and order were effectively removed as Russia slipped into anarchy.

Times came a-changing and after two revolutions, the All-Russia Congress of Soviets passed ‘The Decree of Peace’ officially ending Russia’s participation in the war. Millions of soldiers had died, the nation was exhausted and starving, but the Czechs, with their own ‘mini-nation’ wanted to continue fighting. It was a matter of pride and independence for them, after all. For whatever reasons, the Czechs decided not to immediately leave Russia. If there was a chance and a necessity, the Czechs would stay and continue to fight the Germans. Oddly enough, both arrived and since the Czechs were fighting on their own initiative; they could have easily went to the Ukraine (which was being trampled on by the Germans up until March 1918) and launched their own campaign against Germany. After all, who commanded them? It certainly wasn’t the Soviet power. Neither did the Soviet power disarm them, they were allowed free passage through Siberia to Vladivostok on the Pacific ocean where the allies would ‘pick them up’ and transport them to the Western front and that was only AFTER the Czechs, enemies of the Germans, were welcomed back into officially neutral Russia. This is a path that the Czechs chose for themselves, to travel 6000 miles from Kiev to Vladivostok than just a few hundred from Kiev to Poland… odd?? Of course not, the decision is totally understandable, such would be the most suicidal campaign in history, but; if the allies really wanted the Czechs on their front, could they have not picked them up through Sevastopol, or Petrograd? Which were both about as close to Kiev as Poland and certainly much closer than Vladivostok. Or perhaps even Murmansk, which would have been quite a distance but still three-four times less than Vladivostok and, unlike Sevastopol or Petrograd, Murmansk was totally 100% safe from the Germans and Turks.

Indeed, both the Bolsheviks and the western allies needed the Czechs in Russia. For both, there was a hope that the army would side with THEM, or at least act on their interests and crush the opposing party’s interests in Russia. The reds, hoped that the Czechs would be inspired by Communism, and align themselves with the party, later fighting for Russia and eventually Czechoslovakia. The west meanwhile, knew that due to the right-wing nature of the Czech leadership, the high level of antagonism against Communism and their own ability to manipulate the situation; that the Czechs would likeliest wind up neutral or counter-Soviet. However, the conventional wisdom would also have dictated that most Russians should too, by nature, be counter-Soviet, and this was perhaps the wrongest assumption of the 20th century.

The Czechs were accepted into Soviet Russia ‘with fraternal comradeship’ as glorious ‘defenders of the nation.’ Naturally they were allowed to retain their self rule, but lets stop for a moment. 100,000 armed and well provisioned soldiers, who don’t even represent a country, are allowed free passage. Did the All-Russia congress have an army? Scarcely, after the decree for peace the already shattered and broken Tsarist army began demobilization. The Czechs, in purely legal terms, were a French army. They were going to Vladivostok in order to be shipped to France where they would serve with the French and this was all under the direction of guess who?; the French government, meaning of course the French stock exchange. This never happened, but had it happened, the units and their government would be dissolved and distributed among western (primarily French but shared with other allies’) divisions. France, (and most of the west for that matter) was an openly hostile force to the Soviet power, and later in 1918, they with the British would land a force in the North of the country and battle Bolshevik troops. Yet, one of their de jure armies was allowed free passage through Russia. This highly endangered the prospects of peace with Germany, negotiations over which had begun almost immediately after the October revolution. Of course there would have to be terms, this is totally understandable and justified (not by the account of western press); the Czechs were partially disarmed for the voyage. Their weapons were to be returned to them when they reached their ships in Vladivostok. Later in 1918, on June 29, the Czechs really would reach Vladivostok, but not to leave. They began a joint occupation with the Japanese imperialists, and established supply lines for their campaign into the heart of Russia, upon which they’d reached striking distance that same month. In only four months after beginning their voyage as fraternal comrades of Soviet Russia, the Czechs were sinking the boot of imperialist oppression deep into Russian lands. It began, with their guaranteed free transit through Siberia.

Voyage

Transit through Siberia was lengthy and ineffective. This led to quarrels and hostility with local Soviets, some of whom attempted to blackmail the Czechs for weapons and supplies by not allowing them passage.

The transit through Siberia began around March 1918 after the Brest-Litovsk peace with Germany was signed, the documentation of which said nothing in legal terms about the Czech (once again a western-allied anti-German army) presence. Formal diplomatic ties then opened between imperial Germany and the Congress of Soviets. It is on the reports of many western journalists that when efforts were taken by some soviets to roadblock the transit of the Czechs, it was under pressure from the German embassy of Count von Mirbach. However, the only government that had the right to effect the Czech transit was the same which gave them free passage; the Congress of Soviets and the Central executive committee that comprised Soviet Russia’s executive branch. These bodies had ordered the soviets to allow the Czechs what had been promised to them. The soviets, who were elected by workers, were actually the only organizations that made up the Congress. The Congress then elected the CEC. The CEC acted as the executive branch on decrees passed by the Congress and only during times when the congress was not in cession. Authority over the actions of the soviets (at least in this instance, which regards foreign policy) therefore was dictated by majority vote in the congress and the execution of its orders by the CEC. If any soviet gave into pressures by the Germans and disobeyed an order by the central government, it was to be interpreted as traitor-ship. The Germans, by the peace they signed, claimed no authority over matters of Russian interior and had no say in them. When the allied intervention came around, it came under the guise of protecting the Czechoslovaks and the trans-Siberian railway from German soldiers, former prisoners, mercenaries and bandits. In fact no such accusations were ever reality and German soldiers never stepped foot on RSFSR territory during the term of the Brest-Litovsk peace.

Another common play by western journalists was the extreme activity of bandits, raiders and even former central-powers prisoners of war apparently ‘threatening’ the Czechoslovaks journey along the Trans-Siberian railway. While the railways were sprouting in corruption and decay, they still operated with some minor degree of functionality in the first half of 1918. Bandits and raiders only became a serious problem after the allied interventions and the actual Czech campaigns. This isn’t to say there weren’t roadblocks, but these were chiefly corrupt soviets, seeking self-betterment instead of considering the common good, which would have meant staying on good terms with the Czechoslovaks in favor of going to war with them (the actual end result). The prospect of opposition by former German and Austrian soldiers is absolutely ridiculous. Less than 1/20 of the red army consisted of foreigners at the time of the Czech revolt’s height. Most German prisoners were returned to Germany. Those who had broken out of prison knew (for the most part) no Russian and could not get around. The former central-powers soldiers in Russia were stranded, starving, defenseless and were no threat to anyone. This was opposed to the Czech legions who had formal diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia and were better provisioned than the red army itself which protected Russia, let alone some kind of former German prisoners.

Indeed this had been a great era of lying for the press. The Czech soldiers and officers, who would revolt in a few months, had to have developed some inner contempt against the Soviet power. After all, an army cannot on sudden order pick up arms against friends and comrades. During the Czech voyage through Siberia, a great many incidents occur which incite the Czech revolt and future campaign against Soviet Russia. These antagonisms are considered reasonable justification for the Czech revolt, which by all means, though considered a grand adventure and achievement, are also thought to be minor by most journalists and analytics from the west. The campaign actually created a world of difference between what is history and what was then possible, which I’ll discuss later. In any case, the influence of the western press on the western public and the influence of the western public on decisions such as combating or befriending Russia, were both obvious. Most workers, specifically in America and France, though embroiled in other concerns felt sympathy for the Russian workers that had taken up arms and broken their chains. The capitalists didn’t plan on making mistakes, after all, it was a matter of survival; they acted carefully.

At first, the meaning of the Czechs in Siberia wasn’t totally clear. Naturally they wanted to fight for their independence, but they were just soldiers, ‘war is young boys dieing for old hags’ and ultimately, they acted on the bidding of the bourgeoisie. It seemed obvious that the French should want them fighting on their front; at first the western governments weren’t fixed on actions regarding Bolshevik Russia, and the German Spring offensive of 1918 threatened to finally crack the allied position in west Europe. However, the western allies were content to wait and see how things played out before ruling on the situation. Meanwhile transit through Siberia was slow, cumbersome and aggravating. There were two major factors in this. 1 The inefficiency of the railways after years of under-maintenance and stagnation. Corruption, shortage of supply/repair and of course banditry were all rampant and growing along the trans-Siberian railways 2 The decentralized nature of Soviet government. Some regional Soviets were frightened by the armed Czechoslovaks and nearly attacked them, some tried petty recruitment methods, but most just attempted to further disarm the Czech echelons to bolster their own arsenals. The Czechs, at the start of their transit, had been allowed a wide range of personal arms for protection, and most of the soviets were in desperate need of these weapons. All of the soviets were free to act as they pleased since little in discipline could be done by the central authorities, though most honest soviets felt it necessary to maintain order and abide by the Congress decrees

For the most part, the corrupt soviets failed, order was maintained, and the Czechs passed, though, at an increasingly slow rate. This aggravated their officers; though slight, the loss of arms, constant encounters with bandits and unfriendly Soviets left them feeling increasingly vulnerable (though they were undoubtedly the strongest force in the former Russian empire and could wipe their feet with soviet forces). The loss of men to minor soviet recruitment efforts found many Czech soldiers demoralized and disillusioned by these actions while officers felt even more threatened. This was despite that they claimed these (men who defected) to be the very bottom tier of the Czech legion, the most cheap and weak men and a perfidious action by the Soviet government: this wasn’t so.

The Soviet government was in a desperate position but it never conscripted or tried to conscript any Czechs into military service. Despite many claims (once again, the lying western press) it would be greatly against Soviet interests to do so as it would be a TRUE provocation and would lead to a decisive action by Czech officers. Czechs who left their legion for the red army were presented with no particular opportunities or advantages since there was no system of merit and for a period of time not even one of rank, in the Soviet army. Furthermore few Czechs could even speak Russian and that coupled with general dislike for foreigners by the Russians of the time, didn’t make soviet service the most attractive path for Czechoslovak soldiers. Czechs who joined like Jaroslav Hašek did so purely by ideologically inclination and the legion officers resented their desertion; quickly resorting to anti-Bolshevik propagandism to prevent it. They took on a fiercely anti-Communist stance, ‘just in case’ the possibility of a conflict with the Soviet power became ever more real. This aggravated many problems with the transport of the Czechs to Vladivostok by creating undue hostility with the Soviets and good foundation for further disarmament, delay and thus even more such hostility.

The anti-Bolshevik Czech officers soon found allies; members of the former government seeking to reestablish their power. The old provisional government and constituent assembly were overthrown by the urges of the working masses and their Soviets to the Bolsheviks, after the decisive division in the Russian government leading to extreme instability, complete failure and decay. The most popular party in Russia, by somewhat biased electoral vote was the ‘Socialist revolutionary’ party. In November 1917 the party had went through a left-right wing split. The right SRs claimed authority holding the majority of SR support, while the left SRs formed a coalition government with the Bolsheviks and thus outweighed the rightists by total vote (not party vote, total vote). Yet the Duma (Russian parliament) only recognized the whole SR party, which by all means no long existed. Meanwhile the mensheviks held their own ground and the constitutional democrats formed a coalition with the labor party. This essentially, put Russia in a stand-still and in need of a referendum (the constituent assembly), which would take months as the country starved and crumbled. In opposition of this, the October revolution crushed the provisional government and gave all power to the Soviets to stabilize and win the hearts of the people while also restarting the constituent assembly. After the results were once again indecisive like in the Duma, the Soviets voted to dissolve the assembly. Soon enough, old government officials seeking to take back their power conducted revolts, resulting in a ban of the Right SR, Menshevik and Constitutional Democratic parties and any of their former members from holding posts in the government. About as soon as the voyage began, Right SRs and Mensheviks sought to reclaim control and recognized that the strongest force in the country was the Czech legion. They met with Czech troops and spread lies about regional Soviets plans to attack and disarm them, later force them into service with the fledgling Red army. The Czech officers found it in their favor to support such perfidious lies and rumors so soon enough, they were running rampant through the Czech echelons. The Soviet central government had promised Czechs safe passage, but because of many hostilities between regional Soviets and increasing shortages as well as fear by those same Soviets; some continued their petty attempts. Trying to seize Czech arms and men, though understandable, it continued to fail and incited more contempt from the Czechoslovaks. This, in turn, further slowed the Czech progress through Siberia. In Tambov oblast for example, the tensions were so high that the echelons were held up an entire month. After repeated orders from central authority, the Tambov soviet finally allowed the Czechs passage.

In the beginning of April, things weren’t looking so good neither on the western front, where the French and British armies were collapsing in the wake of the German Spring offensive, nor in Siberia. Abruptly, the allied intervention began, at this stage it was still raw and not at all cohesive. Japanese troops seized Vladivostok and began marching west. The former Russian Cossack general ‘Semyenov’ began his far east ‘white’ movement, setting up a puppet state for Japan and meanwhile raping and pillaging Russian lands in extraordinary acts of banditry. Semyenov was no statesman or general, he was a pure thief and only upheld an army, in no way supporting the far east’s people while looting and stealing from them and their railways.The Japanese intervened under the guise of protecting ‘vital to them’ trans-Siberian railways from bandits (which they were actually supporting) and escaped German prisoners of war. They soon established a military-police regime as brutal as Semyenov and his cossacks.

The Imperial(ist) Japanese army at Vladivostok.

It became clear that the Japanese weren’t interested in the Czechoslovaks and that the French were in too dire straights to start worsening relations with Japan. Neither English nor French embassies gave any certain promise, set date, plan or really anything to help the Czechoslovaks get evacuated out of Russia and transported to the west. The Czechs felt threatened by the Soviets, the Soviets felt threatened by the Czechs and the western press relished in it; finally seeing the opportunities it needed. The opportunity presented to them was to, as foolish as it may sound, somehow restart the war on the Eastern front using the Czech legion to force the Soviet government into such an abortive action. The French understood that with a Japanese occupation and thus total degradation of the rail system in the far east; the Czechoslovaks would neither arrive soon, nor were they best used on the western front.

They hatched a simple plan; do nothing, and allow the deteriorating relations between the Czechs and the Soviets to break out into a conflict OR for the Soviet-German peace to fail, and for the Soviets to allow the Czechoslovaks service on the new front. Both plans were unrealistic and unfeasible, at least for fighting the Germans, but doing nothing was about as much as the west could spare. They waited, the Czechs moved and the press never relented… but the peace of Brest-Litovsk remained steadfast and showed no signs of wavering. The west came to understand that their only option was supporting counter-revolution in Russia, not just as an only chance to reestablishing the war with Germany: but also to halt the development of a Marxist revolutionary state, thus strengthening the Marxists in Europe and France too and perhaps inciting future revolutions of their own (the French were exactly right and they acted just in time). Soon enough, with the blessing of America, England and France (who were now planning an intervention into Russia), the latest rumor arrived from Right SR provocateurs; a Soviet order to completely disarm and arrest the Czechoslovak legions. The Czech officers knew this was absurd, but were careful not to characterize it as such and to hide their faces in confusion whenever the time came to give their soldiers real answers.

In May 1918 Soviet intelligence unveiled plots by the right SRs to incite war with the Czechoslovaks and once again claim power over the Soviets but this didn’t reach the ears of neither the increasingly anti-Bolshevik press nor the Czech soldiers. It was obvious that there were lies and deceit in the air, it was obvious that someone was trying to provoke a conflict, but it largely went ignored and tensions continued to spread. May 14th, while being held in Chelyabinsk as the Soviet government and Czech executives pondered on what do to about the Japanese landing, a serious confrontation broke out amongst former Hungarian prisoners with the Czechoslovaks. The local Soviet included some former Hungarian soldiers and also had a few former Czech soldiers as members, they loathed their former commanders and quickly voted siding with the Magyars. The case was that of a lone Hungarian throwing a rock at the Czech legion’s train-car and then being shot by one of the Czechs. After that a fight broke out amongst some of the dead man’s friends and Czechoslovak soldiers which once again turned lethal. The Czechs, after shooting their enemies, proceeded to seize control of the area surrounding their echelons and arrested several soviet guards and workers. The action taken by the Chelyabinsk Soviet would have a massive effect on the future of Soviet Russia and the world: they voted to arrest several Czech officers and completely disarm the echelons in Chelyabinsk. This action coincided completely with the recent rumors of Soviet plans by the Right SRs which the Czechs had been worried about.

Despite the presence and anti-war agendas of both professor Thomas G Masaryk and Czech politician/French general Milan Stefanik, the Czechs were stricken easily by panic, resisted arrest and soon attacked the Chelyabinsk soviet militias: a battle broke out. By the end of the day the Chelyabinsk Soviet was defeated and their city was held by the Czechoslovaks. Most of the Soviet escaped, many that didn’t were executed and now, Soviet Russia was cut off from many of its holdings east of Chelyabinsk (the city had been a key link of the trans-Siberian rail way.) After a continued stalemate and total halt of transport to Vladivostok, tensions reached their peak. The Czechs refused to reinstate the Chelyabinsk soviet and the All-Russia Central executive committee refused to revoke a trial against the perpetrators of the Czech-Hungarian brawl. May 25th The People’s Commissariat for Military affairs, (highest military authority in Soviet Russia 1918) headed by Leon Trotsky,  ruled on the total disarmament of the Czech legions to eliminate the chance of armed struggle with the Czechoslovaks. If the reds caught the Czechs by surprise and they surrendered, such chance would be eliminated. If not, it would be spun directly against the favorable environment for Soviet Russia.

It became this final break at which the two armies entered a state of war. Several raids were conducted by the red army, to catch the Czechs by surprise and disarm them without bloodshed, but the legion was ready, and repulsed these attacks. At this point, officially, the battle between the Czechoslovak legions and the Red army began. The next day Marinsk and Novonikolaevsk were taken by Czech forces advancing by train and foot. It had been clear from the start that the local soviets could not handle the well disciplined Czechs. They had no where else to go, nothing to do but fight, anyhow.

Battle

The Czech legions advanced by train, up and down the Trans-Siberian railway. Their battles for stations, links, cities and bridges are indeed the great locomotive-inspired adventure. One city; Syzran changed hands a dozen times over the course of one month, since it's the site of a crucial rail link between Turkmenistan and the Ural region.

If you click the image above, it’ll take you to a site with a chronological history of the Czechs’ battles in Russia. The history is missing a lot, like *akem* some of the many defeats of the Czechs which are just plain gone. Most notably those before Kazan and the liberation of the Volga region. Regardless, it points to a few things generally missed in Communist reading on the matter and it’s nice to have some perspective.

The first battles occurred in Chelyabinsk where the practically unarmed Czechs took over the city soviet. When de facto war broke out on May the 25th, after a small brawl in Chelyabinsk, the Czechs once again had the city. After some quick communiques between the under-armed Czechoslovak echelons, a counter-revolutionary plan of attack was set up: the Czechs would take over storehouses from the soviets that had bartered transit for Czech arms and then use their former weapons once again, against the Bolsheviks. Suddenly, the weapons confiscated over the course of months were returned in one night. The 4th Czech rifle regiment held control of Chelyabinsk, meanwhile, several other regiments set west toward the Volga and its capital Samara, east toward the capital of Siberia; Omsk and north toward the centre of the Urals, Yekaterinburg.  The next day the 7th rifle regiment took Marinsk and Novonikolaevsk. Resistance by local soviets was a pathetic show of weakness since regional forces had nothing to resist with besides weak militia. With the hope that some nonexistent-in-the-Urals red army would come and pick up the pieces, most of the militias surrendered or fled. Within three days by May 29th, Ufa and Syzran with their railways and industry, Penza with its massively important train stations, Samara the center of the Volga region and Orenburg with its large population and industry- were seized by the Czechs without much resistance. All of these were key sites along the trans-Siberian railway and large Russian cities with sizable soviets and militias. Too easy did they fall. With them fell vast reserves of ammunition and equipment. Armoured trains, millions of cartridges, machine guns and field artillery that the Czechs has been trained with now fell back into their hands once more, to be armed against the soviet people.

One of the most unique adventures of the Czechs: Their capture of the Soviet armored train 'Lenin' at Penza station III on May 29th, renamed 'Orlik' or 'little eagle.' It participated in battles in the following five days, where it was heavily damaged fighting for Alexandrovského bridge but later repaired and rearmed.

While the Tsarist army was demobilizing, the Czechs had been rearming. Once they recaptured their confiscated modern weapons, they became the most severe threat to soviet authority.

The Czechs, once rearmed, consolidated and fully battle ready, headed toward Omsk. Omsk was the centre of all Siberia, all the important railways met here at this stronghold of industry. Capturing Omsk would be a rallying point for counter-revolutionary forces, it would be a massive victory both symbolically and materially. While the Czechs were very confident and high in spirit, their officers knew that once the Soviets too were fully mobilized and ready to fight; their resistance would be vastly superior. For now, they had the initiative and a grand advantage.

Yet, the situation was radically changing. The CEC had already recognized the need for a real army and had mobilized a volunteer force of 300,000. Since April 22 a decree on universal compulsory training for all male proletarians between 18-40 and non-compulsory training for female proletarians had been enacted. Several million workers and peasants had already undergone a term of training, and were ready to be called up when the order came.  The Red army had been based around principles of purely modern military science, revolutionary discipline and ideological indoctrination. For this role, commissariats were established in every minor province to oversee the ideological education and compulsory training, meanwhile, special commissars were appointed to monitor discipline, morale and ideological rigor in each military unit and province commissariat. These were also to counterbalance the influence of commanders, many of whom had been welcomed from the old Tsarist army, so as to have them serve a purely military role. Meanwhile military academies and special battalions would be tasked with overseeing the strictly modern level (well equipped, well trained, well prepared) readiness of the red army as well as training future commanders and soldiers. The Cheka secret police were to weed out deceit and maintain law within units where conventional revolutionary discipline might fail.

The Bolsheviks consolidated their strength against the Czechs by forming the united Siberia-Ural-Northern front (among 7 other military district for other purposes) under the command of R. Berzin June the 5th. This gave the Bolsheviks a much better organized command structure in the area, for better cohesion against the Czechs. After an organized resistance, Omsk fell to the Czechoslovaks, but this time, it wasn’t without (relatively) a fight, the battle had raged for days and it took two of the Czech regiments; the 1st and 6th to finally capture Omsk.

The Czechs rearmed, reorganized and redeployed quickly. Adhering to the strictest of discipline and the strongest of enthusiasm. They were up in arms and ready months ahead of everyone and their showing of initiative proved decisive to the history of the world.

The Czechs fought hard for their independence. Their scenario was one very much backed-into-the-wall. After months of tension and propaganda, they saw surrender as an impossibility for fear of Bolshevik retribution. The People’s commissar for military affairs Leon Trotsky; gave the Czechs every opportunity to surrender, negotiate and promised good treatment in an order, June 4th. The Czechs didn’t waver. After some failed counter-attacks at the capitals of Samara and Omsk on June 8th, the influence the Czechs had on the Russian civil war was becoming ever more evident. Former Soviet territory began to see the Japanese striding through. Soviets in the far east, now cut off from the industrialized Russian heartland, were surrounded on all sides and without support or supply. They surrendered in droves and the Japanese saw their chance for empire building. Eventually the Japanese intervention would number 70,000 men along with its puppet state; the Chita military district, commanded by Grigory Semyonov and his Cossack bandits. The latter would eventually number 100,000 additional forces. The Czechs were playing straight into the interests of the French and Japanese stock exchanges. Their legion was no longer necessary on the western front, the Germans had been caught in a stalemate at Lys and their advance completely halted at Aisne. German morale was sinking, slowly, but surely, they became more vulnerable the further they advanced. Countless lives were lost on both sides, but now, the Germans were without a fixed defense, without initiative, without sufficient manpower and without any real success to show for it. Meanwhile in Siberia, in a matter of weeks the Czechoslovaks had seized the most important central routes on the trans-Siberian railway and occupied many important industrial centers.

To the French and Japanese, the Czechs were tenfold the value in Siberia than they would ever be on the west and it didn’t end there. Not only were the honest and courageous Czech soldiers playing straight into the hands of exploiting powers, but they were, almost like puppets, being directed by agents of France, Britain and America. The most trusted and respected of Czech commanders consorted behind the backs of their soldiers with the imperialists, to find out what was necessary of them. The imperialists, in a way, were the ones conspiring; they blackmailed the Czechs into continuing their fight. Due to the position they were in, the Czech officers totally ruled out surrender and compromise with Soviet Russia as a possibility, in part due to false tales by the allies and right SRs. Ones such as that Russian ships on the Baltic were incapable of carrying them to safety or that the Czechs would be once again imprisoned or conscripted into service with the reds. The Czechs thought that the west was their only way out, the only way of returning them to their liberated homeland, so they followed such orders and carried through an amazing campaign.

The Czech artillery, gearing up to do what it did best: serve the capitalist imperialists. It was the Russian workers and peasants that paid the price for such mistakes.

The future drives at Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Yekaterinburg and Kazan would be totally on the order of the west’s stock exchanges. Gradually, the Czechs were filled with hollow promises. Promises of being returned to the western front to fight their oppressors. When the war in the west was over; to their home. When their new country was battling for survival; to its salvation. The Czechs did as they were ordered until they became too exhausted to fight on for foreign interests and they remained in Russia until 1920. Only when they let go of the capitalist lies and finally began to negotiate with the soviets were they met with the promised fraternal comradeship. By then, they’d long since missed out; on their country’s declaration of independence to its proclamation of a republic and finally; their country’s chance at Communism, sabotaged, once again, by foreign imperialism. However, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Returning to June 1918.

Of all the Czech success, the greatest was the rise of counter-revolutionaries given their que by military victories throughout Russia. Members of the former provisional government, members of the constituent assembly, former officers and monarchists, constitutional democrats, mensheviks and Right SRs: All saw their opportunity to rise back to power rather than defend Russia against the interests of foreign invaders. Only the soviets and their government, with their army under the skilled orator and military organizer Leon Trotsky, stood against the foreign tide. Former members of these political factions found their majority sweeping to the white movements; counter-revolutionaries, banded together under one flag. Radical Marxists fighting alongside monarchists. Socialists fighting alongside moderates. In some regards, they were an honorable camp, they thought they were fighting for their country. Like the Czechs, they had been deceived and taken as fools by the back-stabbers and bourgeoisie that too served within the white armies, those who later fled in the white emigre, after the rest had died for their country, and made it bleed for the effort.

The Czechs had no other option but to fight; they saw it as the only way to independence. They trusted their officers whom they had fought along side for years. They trusted their leaders. Such unwavering spirit and discipline was what made the Czech mutiny much more a serious threat than any other individual white movement. They set an example and in their eyes; they liberated a piece of Russia, where, behind them, the enemies of the Bolsheviks (supposedly the fighters for freedom) could rally. They differed from Kornilov, Kaledin and Dutov before them, Denikin, Wrangel, Yudenich and Kolchack after them, and came superior to them, because they lead by example, not by force. So on June the 8th, the same day a red attack was beaten off Samara, a meeting was held there which officially formed ‘KOMUCH’ the Committee of Former Members of the Constituent Assembly. Inspired by victories against the Bolsheviks, they hoped to ‘liberate’ Russia with the help of the friendly Czechs.

V.K.Volsky - chairman, Ivan Brushvit, Prokopiy Klimushkin, Boris Fortunatov and Ivan Nesterov

Despite lacking in strength and public popularity to take up control of just Samara without legion support, they claimed sovereignty over all Russia until the constituent assembly could be regathered and a new government formed. With legion protection, the KoMuch developed a small base of support within the upper class of Samara and later the Volga region. They would develop a small army to fight against the Bolsheviks, trying to enact strict discipline which, rather than tight organization, let to disintegration of morale. The Komuch became highly loathed among the peasant population (80% of Russia versus 1-2% upper class) for returning land to the kulacks and abolishing many pro-peasant reforms, then supporting these laws with armed repressions.

The Czech legion’s actions showed their influence again and again, these were only the latest uprisings, as far back as May their actions were mass protests and conspiracy (I believe I touched on this before). On May 10th a conspiracy by the right SRs, was discovered and prevented. Meanwhile strikes by anarchists and SRs occurred with higher frequency and level of violence throughout Russia. One in Tsaritsyn (Stalingrad/Volgograd) got particularly violent on May 15th. Later in June, general Dutov, a former general that had fought against the soviet power, returned to Orenburg to once again lead his cossacks against the people of the Urals.

The same day as the failure of the red armies at Samara and Omsk, the establishment of KoMuch and the great expansion of support for Dutov’s bands; June 8th, the Supreme military council and People’s commissariat for military affairs ruled on the first compulsory service order in soviet history. Workers and peasants within certain age groups from the Moscow and Volga districts, who had already been given partial training, were called up for immediate completion of their military training and upon this; front-line service against the Czechs and the counter-revolutionaries. The call-up was completed with great success in only six days. The effects of this mobilization would be seen months after, when the additional training, technical supply and ideological preparations are complete and when the fight for Kazan is raging in the month of August. By then, the Red army will number one million men.

On June 9th, the Czech Siberian and Omsk armies linked up at Tatarskaya station. After a meeting by the Czech officers it was decided that that the Czech occupation must be strengthened and expanded to Vladivostok for communication and cohesion with the Japanese (and other interventionist forces in the near future), the establishing of consistent supply lines with the west- and of course, to be able to promise the somewhat weary Czech troops that the prospect of going home must be near. While the Komuch strengthened their political hold on the Volga and began ushering in serious political reform (and repression), the Czechs began their train trek east. For the first time it seemed to the Czech soldiers that they were finally going to the western front. But in the head-quarters, the officers knew the deception on the young boys that they were playing. They were heading to Vladivostok so as to better fight in Siberia, the Urals and the Volga, where half of the army still remained.

Here lies the true hypocrisy of the west in their talks about the Czechoslovak legion. They claim to want to return the legion to the west front and their new country, yet when the Czechs are geared to do this, they are resupplied, given a helping hand of Japanese thieves and told to march on. Their leaders, had no other choice but to willingly deceive their own soldiers. It was their only way of maintaining power and reaping the benefits of their future country for some, and the only way of ever seeing it for most. Or rather, that was the western allies happened to claim, and they happened to believe.

An order by the supreme military council and people’s military commissariat on June 13th reflects the dire situation caused by sudden uprisings of counter revolutionaries and assaults by Czechoslovaks. This sudden upsurge of counter-revolution was without-a-doubt given blessing from the west, motivation by Czech victories and organizational impulse by Russian bourgeoisie. With few notable exceptions (such as Tambov but thats way in the future and has nothing to do with Czechs) the disorder was not supported by proletarians, who’d come disillusioned with the opposition after they began to see the real life embodiment of the much coined term ‘enemy of the people:’ a foreign soldier shooting mother Russia, and a Russian soldier giving him ammunition. This is clearly reflected in the sinking popularity of underground parties once they began armed counter revolutionary activities, especially amongst upper middle class which were normally the most sympathetic to them.

Even as the Czech army expanded in the East, its fight in the Ural and Volga continued. June the 19th, Syzran changed hands once more, falling to the Bolsheviks in a costly offensive and falling back into the hands of the Czechs after a counter attack. Battles for Syzran were over the rail link to Central Asia located there and as a result of the fighting, most of the wagons there were damaged or destroyed and Turkmenistan was left isolated. That same day, violent riots inspired by Czech and KoMuch victories were staged by the Right SRs in Tambov and Kozlov oblasts.

A Czech unit near a train car.

On June 23rd after a heated battle with a Bolshevik army, the Czechs seized Ufa, another important city. At one point the Czechs had conquered Ufa along with its surrounding cities in the Volga, but the determined soviet counterattacked and liberated the city. Months ago, they had been threatening the Czechs to give up most of their arms or they’d stop their movement east- now they were under assault from the Czechoslovaks and their supporters from three fronts. The Czechs had been struggling against a particularly stubborn resistance by the local Soviet, but Ufa, surrounded by the now Czech-held strongholds of Samara, Chelyabinsk and Orenburg, sieged by Dutov’s Cossacks, KoMuch forces and the Czech legion, finally crumbled under the weight of concentrated offensive. Now, without Ufa in the middle of their business (see map) the Czechs could advance north; to Perm and Yekaterinburg, the latter of which was the key to the Urals, a vastly important center of commerce, transport and industry while the former, Perm is the link between Yekaterinburg and Kazan. Holding Kazan would give the Czechs the most desirable position from which to invade the heartland of Russia. Upon its capture, Ufa became a headquarters for the Polish 5th rifle division, which would fight amongst the whites, Czechs and other counter-Bolsheviks in Russia.

The 29th of June, 1918 became a key date in the Czech campaign. That day general Mikhail Diterikhs and his Czechoslovak force finally entered Vladivostok. First, it should be mentioned that they took the train, they didn’t march all the 4500 miles in 20 days. Contrary to popular depiction of the Czechs, while they fought (and fought well) on foot, control of the railway system was a major contributor to their success as well as Russian famines which greatly tarnished the soviet government. Russia’s heartland was cut off from Ukraine by the Germans, the Caucasus by the whites and mercenaries and now; Siberia, by the Czech legion and with all its primary sources of grain, Russia faced peril. In 1920, the book I mentioned at the beginning of the text called the Czech campaigns ‘the greatest military maneuver in history.’ While of course I cannot blame the Czechs for living before the Chinese Long march, which traversed 8000 miles through mountains, canyons, wastelands and swamps on FOOT. One must still remember that most of the Czechs transport was done by train, and that transit for them was rest while transit for Russian soldiers was labor. Carrying on- the Czechs entered Vladivostok. From here, they’d left small units all along the trans-Siberian railways to guard their supplies that would now transit here. Not exactly leaving like the French and English had ‘intended’ instead of passenger ships, supply ships were awaiting the Czechoslovaks in Vladivostok ports. The Czechs unloaded their provisions, knowing that with these they were to charge into battle in a war that was not theirs, AGAIN.

Despite the parade, morale was now more questioning and depressive than enthusiastic. Regardless, the Czechs would have to fight on, it was the only way out, so their officers say.

Here the Czechs received their new orders from the imperialists of the French, English and American stock-exchanges. They were to take Irkutsk, a soviet held city that was launching attacks along Czech positions at rail stations. They were to hold Syzran and establish a link with the Basmachi rebels across central Asia. They were to move on Yekaterinburg, the vital centre of the Urals, the equivalent of what Omsk had been for Siberia and Samara for the Volga. From there, they would advance to Perm and then Kazan. These would be done in order to gain the best position from which to form an incursion into Moscow and Petrograd. The Czechs were promised support from the North by an Anglo-French expeditionary force. They would jointly siege then link up at Kazan. The joint siege never occurred; the Czechs took Kazan themselves along with the white guards and other counter-revolutionaries but weren’t able to hold on long enough for English and French support. Once again, the Czechoslovaks had been deceived by their western allies, but they chose still not to negotiate with Russia and continued to die for a cause that was never theirs. Their attempts to enter central Asia and link up with Basmachi proved disasterous, and eventually the Basmachi would actually raid the few Czech wagons that ever entered central Asia. Anyway, that’s getting a bit ahead of the matter again.

On that same date, the 29th, another historic event occurred. Alongside the KoMuch had stood the Provisional Government of Autonomous Siberia. On this date, they were reformed into Provisional Siberian Government, headed by Pyotr Vologodskiy and his council of ministers at Omsk. This was an opportunity granted by the Czech occupation of Omsk just as the Czech occupation of Samara, while suppressing the reds, supported the whites and granted them some small sovereignty so as to legitimize their cause in the eyes of Russians. Instead of pledging to become a serious military arm and instilling strict discipline (neither of which the PSG had capacity of actually doing) the government pursued a policy of reconstruction and reestablishment of economics. This was very much contrary to the ideas held by KoMuch in their strongholds. For the most part, little was done, but Siberia fared far better than the Volga region, which was in a ceaseless spiral downward due to heavy warfare, uprising and armed repression. Meanwhile, Siberia made a modest industrial gain and put workers back in factories. The fourteen-man cabinet which ruled the PSG and came to include the future dictator and head of the Siberian/eastern front Admiral Kolchak and became unpopular with its ruling class rather than its working class, despite making at least SOME progress. Soon enough, the upper class, supporting the Right SRs, would seize power.

Czech soldiers being inspected at Vladivostok

The Anglo-French intervention began on the Murman coast on July 1st. This was only a few days after the Czech force’s arrival at Vladivostok and meeting with foreign agents. The perfect cohesion of these two drives against Soviet Russia is a clear indicator of their planned partnership. It had long become clear that no Czechoslovak soldier wanted to fight in Russia- he wanted to fight against Austria, in the Balkans, to help liberate his country, he wanted to see that country as soon as he could. Yet his leaders, the Czech officers, deceived him and worked for the interests of the Anglo-French, rather than that of the Czech soldier. Later it would become clear that the intervention had happened under the guise of ‘protecting the Czechoslovaks from active German-Austrian prisoners’ And ‘establishing a path to the western front through Murmansk.’ The landings on the Murman coast increasingly threatened Soviet Russia. Now she was fighting a war on all four surrounding fronts. The Anglo-French expedition could easily link up with the Finnish whites near Iiomantsi and with the Czechs at Kazan, then march south to take Petrograd, the second most important city in Soviet Russia. The threat of such a move drew away the scarce-running Soviet armies to the north. Meanwhile, the fighting on the east was once again heating up. Small Czech patrols were encountering raiders from Irkutsk and Ussuriysk soviets. The Czechoslovak 5th and 8th regiments rushed north-west to quell the resistance.

Ussuriysk came first, it was closer to Vladivostok. The two Czech regiments, despite facing some of the most developed proletarians in the east, crushed the weak soviet by June 5th. By the next day, Czech forces counter attacked at Irkutsk. Though not seeming a weak fighter, the Irkutsk soviet disintegrated and the major industrial rail center came under the control of the Czechoslovaks. Here they proclaimed official control of around half the trans-Siberian rail system, having unrestricted control and stable management of all the railways between the Volga region (east Europe) to Irkutsk (Russian Far East in East Asia). Later, after some of Semynov’s raiders are put in line, this control was too expanded from Irkutsky to Chita and Chita to Vladivostok. Semyenov agreed to share the Chita region now with the Czechs as well as the Japanese. That same day, Russian leftists murdered the German ambassador count Von Mirbach in Moscow, sparking tensions with Germany. Also, after having defeated the Ussuriysk Soviet, all Czech forces East of Lake Baikal consolidated for a renewed offensive at the last bastion of resistance to their rule of the rails between Volga and the Pacific: the Baikal regional soviet.

Climax

July 14th the Czechoslovaks launch their only naval battle in Czechoslovakian history. Czech forces advanced along the coastal tunnels and bypassed the lake with boats to capture bridges being held by the red army.

The tunnels by lake Baikal served by major bridges, with railroad tracks running around both sides of the lake and a strategically important position by a drydock/port. The red navy held six small boats in lake Baikal, they guarded the major bridges and patrolled the coasts, the red army force on the ground had prepared a layered defense and some fortifications. This combined force seemed to hold an impregnable position. The Czechoslovaks organized a unique plan to destroy the seemingly unbreakable position in the middle of their railroad. Having made some rafts out of wood, they planned flanking and diversionary amphibious landings around the drydock. They mounted some artillery on the mobile lake rafts but still relied on some from coastal bombardment. The operation began on July 14th.

The Czechs had to improvise; they grabbed what that could find and made a make-shift amphibious force.

The brilliant plan was carried out cohesively and in a highly organized manner. The best of Czech officers had personally planned it and participated; shelling was extraordinarily precise, landings came with excellent timing. Most of the Bolshevik ground force was killed and three of the gunboats were destroyed, the remainder of the force escaped on the other three to north Baikal. It was the perfect battle, for the Czechs. In two days of particularly brutal fighting with high loss of life by both sides, the Czechs had cleared the Lake Baikal railways of Bolsheviks and now only Semyenov and his savages stood in the way of their absolute dominance of Siberia.

As I said; improvisation.

Immediately afterward, the Czechs marched to Chita and confronted the cossack bandit and white general Grigoriy Semyenov. The rouge’s forces had been terrorizing the local population and holding the Chita railways from Czechoslovak use. Despite holding an army of over 50,000 men, the Czech men managed to persuade the bandit into giving up his railways to Czech policing and use. His criminal domain over the innocent workers and peasants of the Russian Far East, remained.

Around the 8th of July, when the revolt of the left SRs began in Moscow, the Czech army launched their attack on yet another large, industrial Russian town; Simbirsk. Simbirsk was surrounded by defense emplacements and protected by a strong red army. At the start of the battle, the Czech offensive did not go as planned and failed to capture the city.

Meanwhile the war on the Volga continued to intensify, new battles arose, breaking Russia to the bone, and grinding away at the Czech resolve with each battle. Another brutal battle occurred at Syzran, this time the Bolsheviks  held the city for several days before it was reconquered by the Czechoslovaks on the 10th of July.

The next day, when Red general Muravyov heard of the ill-fated revolt of the Left SRs on July 8th, he retreated his forces in an attempt to support the revolt and capture Moscow for his party, the Left SRs. However, his troops did not support him and he was shot resisting arrest. As a result, the bulk of the red forces fighting around Simbirsk had been misplaced and the Czechs captured very valuable ground. Immediately, the red forces returned to their posts to combat the Czechoslovaks in some of the most difficult fighting of the Czech revolt.

Czechs in a City

The Czechs, in early 1918 were by far superior to the Red army on the individual level because of vast supremacy in training and equipment. However, toward the summer and fall of the year, these advantages began to severely falter.

That same day, July the 11th, the Czechs began their drive north toward Yekaterinburg, the last capital of the Ural-Volga-Siberia district that the Czechoslovaks had not yet conquered. Meanwhile, in Yaroslav oblast; Murom, Azarmas and Rybinsk several red army units defect to the whites in the ‘Yaroslav revolt’ they are joined by militias of Right SRs and monarchist officers from all over Yaroslav. Mutineers soon overtook the HQ at Yaroslavl and directed their army against the people’s soviets. The sudden disappearance of one of the red army’s forward forces that might have that day become crucial in the fight with the Czechs, deeply angered the high command and several units are dispatched to crush the revolt. Intense fighting encumbers the west Siberian front as numerous offensives and operations are carried out.

On the 16th of June, Czech forces battle in the outskirts of Yekaterinburg, facing slow progress, difficult fighting against some urban barriers and heavy casualties. Meanwhile in the headquarters of the Yekaterinburg soviet a telegraph from Moscow appears, an order from the Central Executive Committee, signed by the chairman Yakov Sverdlov: liquidate the Romanovs. Nicolas II, his wife, four daughters, son and maid are taken into a basement, read the order from the central executive committee, approval from the Ural executive committee (Uralispolkom) upon which a firing squad appeared and executed the last of the Romanov dynasty. The next day, Czech forces broke through soviet defenses and captured Yekaterinburg, to find no martyr for the white cause, for most of them, weren’t ever monarchists. Yet it was the symbol around which the whites would rally which Lenin wanted to decline them, when he and Sverdlov agreed on the decision, and sent that Yekaterinburg telegraph.

The last of the Romanovs were repeatedly shot by a firing squad of the Yekaterinburg soviet. After some firing most of the family remained alive so the squad moved in with bayonets.

During the battles of July and later the campaign for Kazan in August, the difficulty of maintaining supply lines and constantly provisioning soldiers became a massive issue for both sides of the conflict. The Czechs were receiving aid from the Anglo-French through the Trans-Siberian railway which the Czechs had fought to secure. Vladivostok-Khabarovsk-Chita-Irkutsk-Novonikolaevsk-Omsk-Chelyabinsk-Ufa-Samara: All the most vital cities along the trans-Siberian railway, now being supplied by the thousands of trains under Czech control, cities and trains which Czech and Russians had toiled and died for, now finally in desperate need, and finding themselves collapsing all over. The Czechs struggled to maintain order along the 6000 mile railway. And the reds issued a decree on the 20th of July, for organizing ‘rear levies’ essentially compulsory labor service for those non-eligible to serve in the army; counter revolutionaries, political dissidents, church clergy members etc. These would serve the Red Army’s auxilary necessities, and after a year’s service in one of the auxilary units, the former counter-revolutionary would be rehabilitated and allowed to join the work force, party and army. The mobilization wasn’t as effective as necessary, but it would be enough- with the shrinking length of red supply lines -to support the red army.

On the 21st of July, Yaroslav cracked. Several frontline positions of the whites surrendered, some fled, the rest; overrun. The red army rushed into Yaroslav, slaughtering the white mutineers, former comrades in arms. The combat was most savage, many soldiers tried to surrender, a good many were butchered in the streets. They fled and were herded into the river where they were shot at, keeping them away from the firing lines on the shores. They all drowned. 300 mutineers who had joined the revolt then surrendered during the revolt’s liquidation were assembled in Yaroslavl (the capital of Yaroslav oblast), placed in neat, orderly rows, and all murdered on the spot, before the eyes of Yaroslav’s workers and peasants.

Whites and Czechoslovaks fighting at Simbirsk were outraged when the Czech officers fed to them the story of Yaroslav. With a new vigour and resolve they charged toward Red emplacements which had been slowly crumbling as the whites had creped nearer and nearer under intense crossfire. By the next day, the 22nd, they were near enough. The white army charged and drove the red army out of the city as the fight just seemed to be entering its urban stage. Czech and Right SR propagandist exploitation of massacres like Yaroslav and Yekaterinburg greatly encouraged many Russians with white inclinations to join the Czechoslovaks. The battles of Simirsk and Yaroslav witnessed increased participation by white, particularly monarchist forces, versus purely Czech armies.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, panic ushered through the ranks of the Soviet command. The Supreme military council and People’s Commissariat for military affairs, were placed under great pressure; the military dilemma loomed. On every front the red army was running in the face of white advance. All but the very heart of Russia were now in imperialist hands of the Japanese, of the murderer and criminal Semyenov, of the Czechoslovak legions, the British in the North, the French and Germans in Ukraine, the Germans and Turks in the Caucasus. Their proxies and other independent movements held the rest; the north Caucasus, such as the movement of the German proxy Krasnov and his Cossack bands or the free enemy of Krasnov; the Mountainous Republic of the North Caucasus. There was a drastic need for a victory, chiefly, one to break the back of the Czech legions and return rapidly slipping morale to soviet forces. The fight for Yaroslav had left a battle-hardened revolutionary army left on an unimportant strand of land, meanwhile, units outside Yekaterinburg were still fighting with revolutionary resolve on the outskirts of the city. The Czechs dare not stray from their railways, so their engagement was limited, and they had not driven the army out. The people’s commissariat for military affairs, headed by Leon Trotsky, decided to take advantage of both situations. The Yaroslav army would be pushed to back up the units fighting in and around Yekaterinburg and retake it. The Central executive committee and Uralispolkom (Ural Central committee) approved, sending the army to reinforce the battle for Yekaterinburg. Here the advantage went in the favor of the soviets. And here, a massive blunder occurred. The poorly planned charge of the hastily replenished army, fell right where they were expected; within the zone of Czech artillery fire and railways, guarded by armored trains. The attack staggered, and was completely repulsed by the 25th of July. It was, once again, a pathetic defeat for the red army and it put the revolution in grave danger.

Czech Train-mounted Artillery, the death of many a red soldier

The next few days were quite hectic. It seemed the soviet government was on the verge of collapsing; its armies, despite growing and arming rapidly with the vast reserves of old tsarist weapons, seemed weak and fleeting. It was long time to act, but every new action brought disaster. On the 29th of July, a special joint cession was held by the central executive committee, the Moscow soviet and many other political organizations.

The atmosphere was tense. One could feel the imperialists tightening their noose around the soviets. In the north, the British and French marched on Archangelsk. In the east, the Czechs had taken Simbirsk and Yekaterinburg, despite stubborn red army resistance, revolutionary discipline and cohesive central planning. The failures were great, and the red army was routing. In the south, independent movements like the mountainous republic and Chechnya reigned. Then the imperialists; the British/Turkish interventions, and their proxies, such as Krasnov’s cossack armies as German hirelings also took chunks of Russia out of the Bolshevik rule. Despite the best efforts, soviet Russia, was now restricted to just the very heart of Russia. Everything else had been cut off, stolen, and now under the imperialist yoke.

Leon Trotsky, before heading off to the front, gave a speech before all present. The speech called into the light all the facts of the matter, and showed the way by which the soviets must go. The speech was of enormous influence, as it showed the great objects and threats which endangered Russia, their strengths, their vulnerabilities, and truly presented a feasible plan. His efforts in organizing the red army hadn’t gone without merit. There remained of course, deserters and defeatists in the army, but they too had been forced to see the grave danger of their country’s situation. They knew the reprisals would be strong, and they feared the soviet power, they feared the revolutionary discipline which had been established so they remained quiet with their objections and they failed to desert in the critical hour. This was why the average soldier, after reading the reports at the front, after hearing the speeches of the commissars, found himself much more drawn by the opposite end of the camp; the true soldiers, those that always fought with courage for the revolution, for the people’s rule. Morale was miraculously saved and as the red forces retreated, their supply lines shortened. They were now in direct access to old tsarist storehouses, and while their weapons may not be the most cutting-edge, they were in immense supply. The soldiers of the red army were now excellently trained and battle ready. Propagandistic, disciplinary and rigorous ideological preparation put the army in the best shape it’d ever been. The motherland was in danger, and it was time to strike a mortal blow to the enemy. I highly recommend that you read the full speech in the link at the top of the paragraph, it will be instrumental to understanding the dire situation of that very day in history.

The deciding battle of the Czech campaign would be fought at Kazan. Kazan; the bridge to the heart of Russia; Moscow and Novgorod lie just ahead. Kazan was the pinnacle of the Volga which spread all throughout European Russia, controlling it meant ruling the rivers. Kazan, would provide the crucial link with the Anglo-French expedition in the North, their supplies, their reinforcements. Indeed Kazan was central to the imperialist plan to conquer Russia and subjugate the revolution. So the battle of Soviet Russia and all its opponents rightly culminates here.

But whilst the whites relished and awaited eagerly, they were not yet a mature force. The most significant white army was that of general Krasnov, they fought in the South. They were an extremely experienced and motivated, as well as provisioned (by the Germans) force of 40,000 men. Yet they refused to work with any other white army, their service for for their own Don Cossack host, supported by several old tsarist army units. Semyenov’s cossacks in the east, were too busy plundering Russia and raiding train stations to give a damn about the reds. Dutov’s cossacks with the Czechs, after several battles; were proven immobile and ineffective. Exhausted, they stayed in the cities they conquered as guards and marauders. The KoMuch army, despite controlling a land of 12 million, only numbered 30,o00 troops and lacked any real combat readiness. Their support for the Czechoslovaks was menial and nearly meaningless. PGA, kept its army in Siberia, suppressing peasant revolts and guarding their sections of the railway, straying far from the conflict in European Russia. The only significant help to the Czechs were Right SR and monarchist militias, formed in the cities they occupied. However, these militias were very shaky, inadequately armed (there was no one to arm them) and though some were very well experienced and trained former officers, for the most part, without the Czechs these units would crumble.

Meanwhile the Czechs came to hate their stay in Russia more and more. They wanted to be elsewhere, fighting Austria, for their freedom, instead they faced more and more brutality and increasing shortage of supplies. 6000 miles of railway with hundreds of thousands of organized bandits raiding it weren’t the most favorable conditions for an army of only 100,000. The Czechs still hadn’t seen the worst of it, their first atrocities, their first defeats, their first Russian winter; they had all this to look forward to. For what? Hollow promises from officers? Promises they’d already failed to fulfill? The Czechs had been promised evacuation from Russia through Vladivostok, yet when they reached it, they were sent through the whole of Asia into combat once more. Old friends were suddenly gone and guaranteed supplies were suddenly shrinking. Indeed the lines had been stretched too far, and now, it was time to pay up. Thinly stretched soldiers on the key bridges and trains of the legion were being slaughtered by massive bands of cossacks or bandits, and their cargo stolen. While the Czechs on the front weren’t yet demoralized, there certainly was a lack of once abundant enthusiasm in the legionaries as they moved toward their next battle.

Two armies converged on Kazan. In the midst of intense warfare in the heart of Russia and the rapid degradation of the situations both north and south, the All-Russia Central Executive Committee passed a resolution on Trotsky’s speech. With that, the commander of the red army headed toward Kazan, where the fate of the revolution rested upon the troops now organizing its defense. Indeed, the fight here would be decisive to modern history.

To be continued

Sources

The Czech Legion Project : For many photographs and some minor information. Specifically about life of Czech soldiers, officers and the battle for Baikal. I watched the film advertised on the site too.

Tortsky’s “How the Revolution Armed” : For key information on the red army, the solid timeline, the characterization of imperialist partnership (Japan, England, France, America and Czech legion), several speeches and other documents and most of all, the general charachterization of the Czech revolt’s nature. Specifically: The section on the Czech legion.

This Article : for general information.

This Site : for general information and timeline.

Parts of this book : I read it a while ago and this time, I only skimmed through it for general stuff I needed.

This chapter of “Great Events of the Great War” : For general portrayal of western view on the Czechoslovak legion and general information.

On a quick note; this post is in no way intended to discredit the Czech legion, I don’t believe I’ve ever failed to mention the scale and grandeur of their campaign nor the immense courage of their soldiers. What I’m trying to point out here is the exploitation of these soldiers by the west against Soviet Russia and the true impact of their movements. I believe I’ve done THIS most satisfactory, since I’m about the first person on the internet to both accuse and credit the Czech legions… thanks for reading.

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  1. I leave a response whenever I appreciate a post on a blog or
    if I have something to contribute to the conversation.
    It’s a result of the fire communicated in the post I looked at. And on this article The Czech Legion (1) SovietJournal. I was excited enough to create a leave a responsea response :-P I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright.

    Could it be only me or do a few of these responses appear like they are
    coming from brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are posting on additional online social sites, I’d like to keep up with everything new you have to post. Could you make a list every one of your community sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  2. I was excited to find this posting, as my father’s uncle, Rudolf Kepka, served in the Czech Legion, signing up in America and coming back to America later. He was from a Kepka family that lived in Darova…the Dirka Mill, to be exact, but the mill was confiscated during the wars there. Josef Kepka and his wife, Mary and son Josef, lived and operated the mill prior to its being confiscated. I have not been able to find out what happened to Joseph, Mary and young Josef. If anyone has any information they could provide, please contact me. Or if any photos of my family can be provided, it would be a miracle and so much appreciated. I have no photo of Rufolf in his Czech Legion uniform. Thanks for listening.

  3. My paternal grandfather, Vincenc (Cenek) Stikar served in the other Czech Legion in the “White War” in Italy. I learned from my father that his dad was in the Czech Legion and I thought he was part of the 70,000 who fought their way across the Soviet Union. A friend, Jan Triska, wrote about his father’s service in the same campaign and helped find my grandfather’s POW record from when he was imprisoned by the Italians. Once the Czech Legion was founded, my grandfather served as a Legionnaire against the Austro-Hungarians.

  4. […] Source: The Czech Legion Artillery at the  Bat­tle of Lake Baikal [Photo]. (1918). Retrieved March 9, 2014 from https://sovietjournal.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/the-czech-legion-1/ […]

  5. I find it odd that this is the only site on the whole Internet which portrays the Czech legion in such an unfavorable light. It makes it appear that you are trying to rewrite history to suit Soviet propaganda. In truth the Russians broke their promise to the Czechs (and Serbs and their allies) when they brokered a separate peace with the Germans. The Czech legion was left on the wrong side of the front and facing an enemy which already labeled them as traitors. A 100,000 men sounds like a large army, but in WWI that number was easily destroyed in one battle. The Czechs had no supplies and were counting on their “Slavic Brothers” to keep them in the fight. Instead, they were abandoned and pursued to the frigid ends of Russia. No Soviet fairy tales can change history.

    • @George: this article features several incorrections and this website makes several assertions without quoting sources. Baseless statements like “For whatever reasons, the Czechs decided not to immediately leave Russia.” Both the Bolsheviks under Trotskky and the White Armies wanted the Czech Legion to side with them. The reason is that by the humiliating Brest-Litovsk capitulation signed by Lenin, the Russian army had been disbanded. The Russian civilians did not wanted war. They had deserted by the hundreds of thousands before the capitualtion. As a result, the Bolshevik and the White Armies had difficulties in finding well-trained soldiers. From a Red Army of 200,000 soldiers in 1918, 50% of them were German, Austrian or Hungarian mercenaries paid with good salaries (5o rubles/month, 4 times more than the salary of the Czech soldier – 12 rubles/month). Russians did not wanted to fight, so the Communist revolution was imposed upon Russia with 100,000 foreign German and Hungarian mercenaries. Most of the German, Austrian and Hungarian mercenaries were not Communist, but anti-Czech and Slovak, and by fighting in the Red Army against the Czechoslovak Legion they were continuing the war against their hereditary enemies. For the same reason, the well-trained Czech legion was a prized prey for Bolsheviks and the White Russians, who did all they could to force the Czech troops to support one or other side. That is why Trotsky blocked the transport of the Czech legion by train to Vladivostok in April 1918 and demanded the Czech troops surrender their arms. Trotsky’s planned to assimilate the Czech soldiers with proletarian background into the Red Army, while the soldiers with bourgeois background, well, we all know what the Communist Soviet Russia did with the Polish soldiers and officeers in Katyn. Exterminated. Trotsky’s decision left no option to the Czech legion but to fight their way to Vladivostok. Therefore it is not true that “For whatever reasons, the Czechs decided not to immediately leave Russia.” The Bolsheviks tried to coopt the Czech soldiers by a strong propaganda campaign, but without significant results. Only 1,000 Czech soldiers agreed to join the Red Army by May 1918. All they wanted was to go to the French front and after victory in war, return to their independenc country and live in peace. There is no historical proof the Czechs kept the Kazan gold to them. The Czechoslovak Legion had between 70,000 and 100,000 men (not 130,000), counting in that number also the support, logistic and administrative personnel. That leaves around 50-70 thousand soldiers to fight. Indeed a small number of Czechs under then colonel Gajda (Gaida) fought alongside the White Armies. Gaida was later dismissed from the Czechoslovak army for his ultra-right wing views. However, the French commander of the Legion, General Janin and French-Slovak general Stefaník expelled Gaida from any command in Siberia and kept the great majority of the Czech soldiers neutral. Again: their aim was not to lose the men in battles in Siberia, but to use them in the French front. Of course, if the Bolsheviks or the Whites got in the way of the Czech troops to Vladivostok, the Czechs would rightly unleash hell over to overcome the opposing troops. This article is biased and contains several imprecisions and does not mention sources. For an unbiased version of facts, please, read:

      1. The Bolsheviks and the Czechoslovak Legion, Origin of their Armed Conflict March to May 1918, by Victor M. Fic, Shakti Malik Abhinav Publications, New Dehli, 1978.
      2. Ceskoslovenske legie v Rusku: 1917-1920, p.93, by J. Kvasnicka, Vydavatelstvo Slovenskej Akademie Vied, Bratislava, 1963.
      3. Diplomatic Origins and Foreign Policy, by Felix J. Vondraček, in Czechoslovakia Twenty Years of Independence, p.351, University of California Press, 1940.
      4. Lu Taifu, Charles Lews, M.D., a Pioneer Surgeon in China, p.104, by Robert E. Speer, The Board of Foreign Missions, Prebysterian Church in the US, 1930-39
      5. Captivity, Forced Labour and Forced Migration in Europe during WWI, p.161, by Matthew Stibbe, Routledge Chapman & Hall, 2009.
      6. La Mémoire Conservée du Général Milan Rastislav Štefánik, by Frédéric Guelton, Emmanuelle Braud et Michal Kšiňan, Service Historique de La Défense, 2008.

  6. I’m an American, and I’m fascinated and love to read about history. Particularly ww1-ww2 and the peculiar things in between. So I’ve read a bunch of posts and articles about the fantastic adventure of the Czech legion that are typical. I was curious to read about them from the other view point. Their enemies you could say, that way you mix the two stories together and you get closer to the truth. I want to thank the author for posting this interesting article. About half way thru I found it tedious and unreadable…. the author just kept going back to the same platitudes and it got very tiresome… the western media are liars In this time being one example. OK fair enuf even today the mainstream western media and liars and fraudsters pushing an agenda I find Russia today more honest in america than American media. Anyway to keep banging on your point about the media just gets tedious.
    Anyhow thanks

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