Semirechensk Host in the Russian Civil War
The Semirechensk Host was small, and only recently split off from the
Siberian Host. The province of Semirech'e means "Seven Rivers" and
refers to those which flow into Lake Balkhash. It occupied an area
south of Semipalatinsk
in what was then eastern Russian Turkestan, between the lakes in what
today northern Kirghizstan and the area north of that in Kazakhstan.
The area has some very fertile parts, separated by high mountains and
dry steppes, which were then being colonised by Russians. However, in
population was still three-quarters Kirghiz, plus sizable
groups of Taranchis (Uighurs) and Dzungars (Mongols).
Following the history is
made much more difficult by the different names for many of the
features; such as for the largest towns of Almaty (Alma-Ata, Vyernyi),
Bishkek (Pishpek), Karakol (Przhevalsk), Zharkent (Jarkent), Ayagoz
(Sergiopol) and Semipalatinsk (Semey).
The Semirechensk Host soldiers wore standard Cossack dress, with their
colour being red (often given as "scarlet").
Isolated a long way from the main theatres, with no rail link and
precarious communications, the Semirechensk area was always very much a
secondary theatre of the revolution and Civil War. However that didn't
prevent it from being the scene of continuous warfare.
towns in the area set up Bolshevik-leaning Soviets upon the October
Revolution, arrested and killed much of the Cossack leadership
(including the Ataman), and took control of the area. The Cossacks
remaining in the area dispersed to their
villages. It took a while for the veterans to return home from the
front, and many
were Bolshevised by the time they arrived.
In spring 1918
fighting broke out between the Cossacks and the Reds, but it was mostly
small scale and the Reds were able to hold all the urban centres. Under
newly elected Ataman Ionov the bulk of the rebels were forced onto
However the Reds began a regime of anti-Cossack terror, and more and
men rose to oppose them. (In fact the fighting was as much about who
control the best land, and feed the towns, as it ever was about
the assistance of the 3rd Siberian Cossack Regiment, the north
of the area was
taken. Some help came from conservative peasants, especially Old
Believers, and the local Kirghiz
as well. The fighting was to and fro, but in mid-1918 the forces were
still often only in the hundreds: in one of the larger actions
Ya. Petrenko vastly outnumbered the defending Cossacks with his 1,000
infantry, 500 cavalry, 6 guns and several MGs.
In August, with
the parties still disputing the northern part of the province, Ataman
Ivanov-Rinov of the Siberian Cossacks sent the 5th Siberian Rifle
Division to assist, but this was still unable to make sufficient
difference. The Soviets in turn supplied men and equipment from central
Turkestan. The Reds also faced numerous Cossack
uprisings in their rear and partisan units striking from Chinese
territory. Meanwhile the Whites likewise faced a
determined partisan effort, especially around Cherkasskoe, as well as
the more regular Red forces.
December 1918 when Kolchak reorganised all the White forces in the
east, the Semirechensk forces were designated as part of the Steppe
Group (later the 2nd Steppe Siberian Army Corps). To the
Semirechensk forces, the 3rd Siberian Cossack Regiment and the 5th
Division already in the area, there was added the Annenkov Partisan
Boris Annenkov was one of the Civil War's great
adventurers, in the mould of Shkuro in the west. He had recruited a
mixed force, including many Cossacks, and
vigorously suppressed all opposition. Brutally, even sadistically, many
Nonetheless he was popular with the Semirechensk Cossacks and many
joined him, mostly in his Ataman Regiment. He also recruited heavily in
and Mongols. The
forces in Annenkov's Division are given here
Semirechensk Ataman Ionov and Annenkov did not see eye to
eye, which did not help the White cause.
The fighting continued with the Whites making more progress with their
additional forces in the north but never coming close to clearing the
partisan detachments grew quite large: Colonel Sidorov had 1,000 men,
including Cossacks, Taranchi and Kirghiz, and often operated out of
Chinese territory. Meanwhile Colonel Bryantsev had formed a "Separate
Rifle Brigade" which included a Semirechensk Plastoon Regiment and a
Towards the end of 1919
Ataman Ionov was sent eastwards by Kolchak, and Annenkov became the
clear military leader. A Separate Semirechensk Army was formed. Volkov
gives it 3,400 bayonets, 3,800 sabres and 6 guns, and it
included the Annenkov Partisan Division, the 17th and 19th Regiments of
the 5th Siberian Rifle Division, the Separate Semirechensk Cossack
Brigade, the Kirghiz Mounted Brigade, and the 1st Sergiopol and 2nd
Zaysan Infantry Regiments).
Then at the beginning of 1920 the area
was over-run by people fleeing the Red Army – regular forces from
Kolchak's army, the main body of the Orenburg Host and a huge number of
refugees. Ataman Annenkov briefly tried to separate out the incomers
and defend his territory. In the north was a group under General
Bakich, mostly Orenburg Cossacks and about 12,500 strong. Annenkov's
central group was 9,000 men with his Partisan Division as the core. The
southern group under the Deputy Ataman, General Shcherbakov, included
the 5th Siberian Rifle Division, several Semirechensk Cossack
Regiments, a Plastoon Regiment, a native regiment and and four
But the Red Army was far too numerous. In March they
attacked in force, and after a brief struggle various groups passed
over the mountains into China, while the others surrendered.
had led one of those groups, including quite a few Semirechensk
Cossacks, and it remained initially quite well disciplined. During
1920 Colonel Sidorov even continued to raid Soviet territory with part
forces, as discontent continued in the Cossacks stanitsas
In 1921 there were still 3,000 men under arms, but now
things became much worse for the Whites. The Soviet started to press
over the border more energetically, having successfully disposed of the
similar Orenburg group under General Bakich. They also stepped up a
campaign of targeting the White leaders, by assassination and
political pressure on the Chinese. However, the remnants of the
Semirechensk Host under Sidorov and Ataman Shcherbakov lasted into
1922, still actively plotting a return.
There were also a few
Semirechensk Cossacks who made it across China to form the "Ataman
Annenkov" Regiment in the Primorye Province in April 1922.
Ivlev, M. Antibolshevik
Forces in the Semirechensk Cossack Host. A brief historical sketch
White Guard #8. Posev 2005, pp. 225-235.
Articles at a-pesni.golosa.info.
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