Barend's banner

Flags of the Whites in the Russian Civil War

Did they even take flags into battle during the Russian Civil War?

Williamson, who was an eye-witness, relates:

"The artillery opened the attack and the colours were unfurled. The men were drawn up in battle array to the sound of music; bugles rang out, and the standards floated above the breeze. Swords flashed and a cheer went up, and the men moved forward in a cloud of dust."

"... we could just make them out pouring forward, waving flags and sweeping towards the Red positions in a swarm."

"... in a carriage drawn by two fast trotting ponies, side by side with the Russian [artillery] commander, whose flag – of colossal proportions! – floated from a pole on the box seat."

"... then the Cossacks were sweeping past, swinging round the rear of the Red cavalry, and the Reds began to throw in their hands before the two formations were properly locked together. Flags were thrown down and weapons followed."

Mamontov has a slightly different take, because he served as a courier for a while:

"Each regiment and divisional HQ had its insignia, and in the basically flat steppes of the northern Caucasus, they could be distinguished from far away. That greatly aided the work of the dispatch riders. It was only necessary to glance around to find the unit you were searching for."

These, and plenty of others, confirm that flags were commonplace in the front lines of the Civil War.

As with most things, the Whites carried over Imperial traditions in a large way. It is therefore quite useful to understand the old Imperial practice for flags when looking at the Civil War period.

Ceremonial Flags

When Imperial units were "reformed" they had a traditional flag to use, and in many cases the originals were smuggled out of Soviet territory. However many of the most elite units of the White armies were new formations, with no traditions to fall back on. Solutions varied.

These remained parade flags though. Many were taken out of the country to prevent them falling into Bolshevik hands. As the White cause collapsed others were destroyed or buried to prevent their capture.

Divisional and Higher Flags

Orange and black striped flags (the colours of St George) had originally been used by Army commanders, and this was also revived in the Civil War.

We know that the Kornilov Division had an HQ flag, though sadly not its colours.

Regimental Flags

Some repeated patterns can be seen from those flags either remaining from the Civil War, photographed or described fully.

Flags on the Imperial Patterns

The diamond pattern in a rectangle would have been easy to make in the difficult conditions of the Civil War, and lots of units flew them. Some of those include:

Cossack Command Flags on the Imperial Patterns

Cossacks were traditionalists and mostly retained their Imperial regiments, so it would make sense they kept Imperial era flags.

Russian Tricolours

Many units flew the white, blue and red of the Russian flag with unit names and slogans added. This is probably the safest option when guessing flags for wargames units. Cossack units might do the same thing, but on their Host's flag instead of the national one: there are examples of Don units doing this.

St George Flags

The orange and black stripes of St George were also a common background for flags when the unit had an association.

St Andrews Flags

The Imperial navy had flown a St Andrews flag (diagonal blue cross on white) and this pattern appears several times in White units.

Imperial Eagles

Particularly with units formerly of the guard. Traditionally guard units had flags with a yellow background colour.

Maltese Crosses

This was the form of many Imperial Russian medals, and had been a design on many Imperial flags, especially with St George in the middle of the cross.

Skull and Bones

This was associated with "Shock" units.

Battalion and Company Flags

The Kornilov Regiment of the AFSR appears to have used battalion flags on bayonets. In the Army Museum in Moscow one can be seen behind the manequin in the Kornilov uniform. (Small flags also appear behind the Markov and Drozdovsky models, but as they hang vertically they may be different.)

Kornilov Battalion flag

It would seem likely that any old Imperial unit would use the former Imperial system for battalion flags, likely switching to white-blue-red from the Tsarist white-orange-black though. The re-enactors to the right (Lieven's Regiment, NW Army) seem to think so. This is what they use:

We are not aware of any evidence about White company level flags, though at least one captured Soviet one is on display in the Orkneys of all places! Many White battalions were only company sized in any case, so company flags would not have been necessary.

Seen with the Drozdovski re-enactors at www.anticom.ru is this company or battalion level flag:

Squadron Flags

It seems likely that reformed Cossack Regiments would have used their old sotnia system – if they went to the bother of reviving old units it would seem odd to then change such details. The reformed "composite" imperial regiments in the AFSR and Russian Army had squadrons trying to keep their old traditions, and using the previous regimental colours would be a fairly obvious way of doing this.

Battery Flags

We know they flew them, as Williamson and Mamontov note them, but they were likely made to personal taste.

Conclusion

We can assume that the flags that have survived the Civil War have a tendency to be the most symbolic and precious. Many are probably only ceremonial and few come from a level below regiment. Therefore it seems reasonable that the ordinary battle banners were less ornate on average, than those remaining in museums and shown on web-sites.

Working from what we do have surviving the Civil War, we see few were entirely novel in their style, and many units used the old style flags or amended them only slightly by a unit cipher.

Those that were most different tended to belong to new units, rather than units seeing themselves as reformations of old units. Even then the themes tend to be old Imperial ones: national colours, St Andrews cross, St George stripes and badges, Imperial eagles, rounded and square Maltese crosses (the form of the Tsarist medals) and religious pictures (especially the Christ's head as appeared on the Nikolais). Many new units carried their shoulderboard cipher across to the flag.

One unusual, but common, feature is that flags did not carry the same pattern on the front and reverse. Even the base colour might be different.