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Useful Terms


One problem with studying this period is the difficulty in understanding terms. Especially if they have changed meaning somewhat over time.

The definitions are only intended to apply for the period 1917-1923.

  
AFSR : Armed Forces of South Russia – the covering name for the forces commanded by General Denikin and then Baron Wrangel from January 1919 until May 1920. It included the Volunteer Army and the various Cossack Host armies. It became the Russian Army.

Antanta
: the transliterated version of the Russian for the Entente.

Bandit
: 1) a bandit.
2) in Bolshevik terminology, any person opposing Soviet power by force, especially those not belonging to the main White or Nationalist factions. Also termed gangster.

Bashlyk : a large hood for bad weather, often coloured when worn by Cossacks or Mountaineers.

Beshmet : shirt worn under a cherkeska by the the Caucasian mountaineers and some Cossacks.

Beskozirka : a cap like a furazhka, but with no visor ("peakless" in American terminology). Associated with students, sailors and the coloured regiments.

Black
: the colour associated with Anarchism. Anarchists are often called "Blacks".

Black Hundreds : groups of ultra-reactionary Monarchists, usually violently anti-Semitic.

Budenovka : another term for shlem.

Burka : large fur cape, associated with the Cossacks and Natives of the Caucasus mountains.

Cadet : 1) a young man at officer training school.
2) a supporter of the Constitutional Democrat party.
3) a counter-revolutionary (the Constitutional Democrats being numerous in the White armies).

ChEKa : the Soviet internal security force which combined military-, security- and political- police functions. The initials come from the "Extra-Ordinary Commission" portion of the full title: the All Russia Extra-Ordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage.

Cherkeska : the traditional outer garment of the Caucasian tribesmen, worn by Kuban and Terek Cossacks.

ChON
: élite Communist military units (from the Russian initials of Chasti Osobogo Naznacheniya, or Special Purpose Units).

Cockade
: the badge on the front of a military hat, generally very prominent in White armies.

Coloured, colourful
: term applying to the Volunteer Army units that wore uniform items of a colourful nature, mostly meaning the Kornilov, Alekseev, Markov and Drozdovski, but also sometimes the Samursky and HQ units.

Combined or Composite : the usual translations of svodniĭ. This term was often used by White armies to describe units which were formed around the core of a previous much larger unit, usually from the former Imperial Army: thus, the "Composite Regiment of the 19th Infantry Division" was a regiment formed around men who had formerly served in the 19th ID.

Commissar : a politically reliable man placed inside a Red Army military unit to further the revolution. Their functions were concerned with propaganda and organising political activity and not military at this time.

Communist : Bolshevik.

Cossack : in Tsarist Russia a hereditary legal status, with rights and responsibilities tied to service in Cossack units. After the revolution the Ukrainians started to use it as a term for free soldier (its original meaning) and this carried over to other armies, including the Red Army. Not all later "Cossack" units were therefore formed of Cossacks in the pre-1917 sense.

Czapka : the Polish for cap, of any variety (but see Rogatywka).

Directory : 1) when used of a Ukrainian government, another word for the UNR.
2) when used in Siberia, the Ufa Directory.

Division : 1) the smallest unit in an army which mixes arms. Thus very small units might be called "divisions" during the Pygmy Wars as there was no other word to describe units which combined infantry / cavalry / artillery.
2) a very common mistranslation of divizion (see below)
3) a misunderstanding of the name of a unit that is actually a much smaller composite unit formed around a cadre from a previous Imperial division.

Divizion : a Russian term for a unit between company and regiment size. For artillery and armour the word "battalion" is appropriate, but English does not have a standard translation for cavalry: "demi-regiment" is one option. Note: it is often translated as "division", which is quite inappropriate.

Entente : the alliance that included France, Britain and Russia at the start of WWI was the Entente Cordiale. This came to be the termed used by Russians where "Allies" is more commonly used in English. It became Soviet dogma that all anti-Soviet forces were acting in collusion with the Entente at all times. Thus the 1920 Polish war was sometimes referred to as the "Third Entente Campaign".

Esau : Captain in the Cossack system of ranks.

Forces Group : an ad hoc collection of units for a particular task placed under the leadership of one man.

Front
: in the Red Army what is usually know as an Corps. Thus several Fronts might be at a front.

Furazhka : the standard Russian service cap.

Galicia : the eastern portion of the Ukraine that had been Austrian in 1914.

Gangster : in Bolshevik terminology, any person opposing Soviet power by force, especially those not belonging to the main White or Nationalist factions. Also termed Bandit (2).

Green : the colour associated with those who took a locally-minded position in the struggle between Red and White (although their political position might align either way).

Gimnastërka (also gymnastiorkagymnasterka) : the standard military Russian blouse, with or without a couple of pockets on the breast and with no fold-down on the collar.

Horse : a term often used for units which mixed cavalry with infantry, but sometimes just an alternative for cavalry.

Host : the usual translation of Voisko, applying to both the Cossack states and their armies.

IRA : Imperial Russian Army.

International : 1) a term for a person from outside the borders of the Russian Empire serving in the Red Army. There were quite a few units of "Internationals", especially early in the Civil War.
               2) the international Communist organisation founded in March 1919, also known as the Comintern (for Communitst International) or the Third International, dedicated to world-wide Marxist revolution.

Interventionist : the standard Soviet term for the forces from non-Russian powers which intervened in the Russian Civil War. Includes both the Entente and Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary and Turkey).

Kadet : see Cadet (2) and (3).

Kaftan : a coat, but often used for cherkeska.

Kittel : an officer's tunic.

KomXxx : the Red Army dispensed with officer ranks and commanders were known by a shorthand for their command: thus a KomDiv commanded a division, a KomBrig a brigade, a KomPolka a regiment, KomRoty a company.

KOMUCH : the abbreviation for The Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly: a Socialist but anti-Bolshevik government based in Samara. The Czech Legion supplied their main fighting force.
 
Kubanka : a low fur hat, frequently worn by Cossacks.

Kursant : a Red officer student. Sometimes whole units were formed of such men: they were among the best in the Red Army.

Lace : coloured strips down the opening, the cuffs and along the pockets, associated with the Imperial Guards and VA coloured units.

Mortar : the Russian word mortira is often translated as "mortar", but for the WWI / RCW period it would usually be referring to a howitzer (along with the term gaubitsa).

Nationalist : the term describing factions fighting for independence from Russia, whether Socialist or not.

NDA : the Russian Peoples' Volunteer Army, which formed in Poland in late 1920, under the control of Boris Savinkov.

Northern Corps : strictly the Independent Corps of the Northern Army. The White army based in Estonia and the immediately bordering parts of Russia that became the North-Western Army. Can easily be confused with the Northern Army based in the Murmansk-Archangel area.

North-Western Army : the force Iudenich led in his drive on Petrograd.

Officer : when used with respect to a unit, it implies that there were numerous men serving in the ranks who had previously held officer rank in the Imperial army.

Papakha : the standard fur hat.

Partisan : a man or unit operating in a non-regular manner, including those operating in the front line rather than behind them. Units tended to keep the title "partisan" long after it was still strictly speaking applicable.

Plastoon, plastun etc : a Cossack infantryman. It originally had the implication of being a scout, but not by 1918.

Pogoni : shoulderboards or epaulettes. Originally large and stiff, with a field khaki side and a dress coloured side. During WWI and into the RCW they often appeared as sewn-on strips on the shirt.

Razgovory : the system of three large tabs across the front of the Red Army regulation gimnastërka and coat (kaftan/shinel).

Red : the colour associated with the revolution and its supporters.

Red Guard : originally a member of a local self-defence organisation, usually quite revolutionary in nature. These were disestablished as fighting units in 1918. The term was sometimes later used to describe anyone fighting for Soviet power. 

RevKom : a member of a Revolutionary Military Committee (RMS or RVS if using the Russian letters): i.e. a “commissar”.

Revolution : generally refers to the Bolshevik take-over (“the October Revolution”) not the previous February Revolution. Thus a “counter-revolutionary” was not necessarily pro-Tsarist.

RFSFR : the Bolshevik government of Russia (from initials in Russian РФСФР).

RKKA : the Red Army (from РККА, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army).

Rifle : the term the Soviets used for infantry units.

RMS : see RevKom

Rogatywka : a visored, four-pointed cap, worn by many Polish units.

RVS : see RevKom

Rubashka : an other ranks version of the gimnastërka.

Russian Army : the name given by Baron Wrangel to the White forces under his command in May 1920; the successor to the AFSR.

Sharovari : trousers

Shinel : greatcoat.

Shlem : the Red Army's new regulation pointy hat which entered service in large numbers only towards the end of 1920.

Shoulderboards : the usual translation of pogoni, being the unit and rank markings worn by soldiers on their shoulders.

Soviet : 1) the Russian word for committee.
2) after 1917, another word for revolutionary.

Sovnarkom : the Council of People's Commissars: the official governing body of Soviet Russia.

Tachanka (
Polish taczenka) : a heavy machine gun mounted on a horse-drawn cart and usually used to support cavalry with firepower. The number of horses could vary from two to six, but three and four seem most common. The wagons were generally civilian models, preferably well-sprung.

Transcaspian : basically the area now known as Turkmenistan.

Transcaucasus : basically what is now Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Ufa Directory :  the common name for the merger of the Komuch and the Provisional Siberian Government (technically it was the Provisional All-Russian Government). Quickly overthrown by Kolchak.

UGA
: Ukrainian Galician Army.

UHA : another term for Ukrainian Galician Army (Galicia starts with H in Ukrainian).

UNR : the Socialist but non-Bolshevik government of the western portion of the Ukraine, under Petliura.

VA : Volunteer Army.

Volunteer Army : generally the main non-Cossack counter-revolutionary army of south Russia, led by Generals Kornilov, Alekseev and Denikin. This merged into the AFSR. There were other White groups that termed themselves the "Volunteer Army" but they generally get an additional title (Peoples' VA, Astrakhan VA etc).

VChK, VChEKa : see ChEKa.

Voisko : see Host.

White : 1) the colour associated with those supporting the counter-revolution.
2) in Bolshevik terminology, anyone who opposed Bolshevik power (including those who supported the revolution and opposed the counter-revolution).

White Guard : a Bolshevik term for a soldier fighting for the Whites, or just a counter-revolutionary.
 

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