TransBaikal Host in the Russian Civil War
The TransBaikal Host was based on the area east of lake Baikal, with
their lands around the border area, but politically centred on Chita.
The Ataman of the host was historically commander of all Imperial
troops in the area.
Its soldiers wore standard Cossack dress,
with their distinguishing colour being yellow.
TransBaikalia was utterly dominated throughout the Civil War period by
one man: Grigorii SemŽnov. He set up the first serious anti-Bolshevik
forces in Siberia, and was fighting when others were merely blustering
or still plotting underground.
Grouping a few reactionary officers, some locals
and foreigners fleeing the Reds, he raised his Special Manchurian
OMO (named after the town of Manzhouli, not the
province of Manchuria) across the border in China. He was able
to persuade the Japanese to support him with both money and arms. He
then made a serious attempt to take TransBaikalia in
early 1918. With few other military threats at that time, the Soviets
were able to concentrate
all their Siberian forces against the OMO, and SemŽnov was pushed back
nearly into China.
when the Czechs started the clear their path to the east the OMO
already had substantial forces and was able to take advantage of the
new threat to the Soviet rear. In June 1918 SemŽnov already had about
5,000 men, and he
and Czechs cleared the Trans-Baikal region of all formal Red forces
from July to September.
While he was a Cossack himself, local Cossacks were reluctant to join
forces. Instead the OMO was largely Buryat Mongols and Chinese,
Russians and foreigners. There was also a small, but militarily
significant Japanese contingent from the start. The OMO also already
had a couple of the
armoured trains that were to dominate the fighting in the east, plus at
least one armoured car.
Once in power SemŽnov instituted a reactionary regime, intended to
benefit himself and his immediate supporters rather than
further the White cause. Incapable of building on the anti-Soviet
feeling that Siberians generally felt, SemŽnov proved
to be every bit as bad. The TransBaikal Cossacks were no more
impressed than anyone else, and while regiments appeared on the
payroll, troops failed to turn up to fill them. Instead SemŽnov drafted
in more Buryat and Tungus tribesmen and any foreigners trying to head
east – ending up with a substantial Serbian unit, for example.
partisan strength grew tremendously in 1919, as it became clear that
SemŽnov's forces could not defeat them. The Japanese able to keep him
in power, but not suppress the partisans. The atrocities of the OMO and
their Japanese allies further stoked discontent, leading to mutinies
and revolts. In July 1919 the 1st TransBaikal SemŽnov
Regiment killed their officers and went over to the Reds. By now
partisan attacks were full scale assaults on towns, not just isolated
attacks on easy targets. From a heady mix of anarchists, SRs, refugees
and bandits, they were increasingly infiltrated by Bolsheviks, who
provided the organisation and cooperation that was otherwise lacking.
By the end of 1919 the Red Army was on the borders of TransBaikalia,
Irkutsk having fallen to Red partisans just ahead of the advancing Red
Army. SemŽnov's forces were now the front line, and the only force not
actively retreating. As a result in January 1920 the Ataman
was proclaimed Supreme Russian Authority, that is commander of
movement, despite his unpopularity with White supporters.
The remnants of Kolchak's White Army, the kappel'evtsy
struggled into TransBaikal at the start of 1920. There they received
food and shelter, but more importantly they lost their pursuers. The
regular Red Army did not want to fight the Japanese, for diplomatic
reasons, which limited their military options (though the partisans
continued to fight anyone). Also the nationalist units of Czechs,
Romanians and Poles were now often the rearguard of
retreating forces, which forced them back into active combat with
Soviet forces: something they had been avoiding for the previous year.
It took a long time for the Red Army to mop up these forces and
consolidate its position in western Siberia.
When the kappel'evtsy
arrived in Chita in March 1920 they were commanded by General
Voitsekhovskii, Kappel' having fallen to frostbite in early 1920.
Despite their intense loathing of SemŽnov, they realised that they
to work with him to survive. They reorganised into the Far Eastern
Army, but were soon pinned to a small strip along the Trans-Siberian
Technically White forces were now opposed by the Far Eastern Republic,
which was Lenin's
puppet regime east of Lake Baikal. The Soviets did not want to be
seen to be officially fighting Japan, but wished to do so via the FER's
Revolutionary Army", the NRA. In fact the Red Army continued to send
units east of this line from time to time, as the division between
Soviet Russia and the FER was entirely
In April the NRA attempted to take Chita, which would have
removed all significant White forces from Siberia. They were
opposed by the Japanese, the kappel'evtsy
and the OMO. The TransBaikal Cossacks, with their homeland in desperate
straits, were now finally fighting for the White cause in decent
numbers. This motley collection held out
until October. In August SemŽnov's assembled forces were up to 20,000
men, nine armoured trains and 175 guns.
By November 1920 the
remaining White forces had been pushed back to the Chinese border near
Manzhouli. They attempted to get permission from the Chinese to cross
via the railway to Primorye still armed, but in the end they had to
agree to surrender their weapons as they crossed the border.
Many opted to cross over to Primorye, where the last White stand on
Russian soil would be made. A TransBaikal Cossack Divizion
included in those forces, although SemŽnov himself was not welcome.
The Special Manchurian Detachment was a polyglot mixture, with frequent
changes in its order of battle and a confusing history. It wasn't
really a particularly Cossack army, although the Buryats and Tungus
were probably dressed in more or less Cossack uniforms for want of
Supply was largely Japanese, although large amounts of British and US
equipment were pilfered from the Trans-Siberian on their way to Kolchak.
Jamie Bisher, "White
Terror: Cossack Warlords on the Trans-Siberian
is far and away the best source in English for anyone trying to follow
the military history of the OMO or assemble orders of battle.
> TransBaikal Host