Source: The Catastrophe
Transcriber: Jonas Holmgren
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.
THE last act in the struggle of the Provisional Government against the Bolsheviki on the Right and on the Left was played between November sixth and fourteenth, 1917.
After the abortive attempt of the conspirators behind General Korniloff—so fatal in its consequences for the entire country—to overthrow the Provisional Government, the social groups supporting the "dictator" decided to give no aid to the government in the event of its collision with the Bolsheviki. Their strategic plan was not to hinder in any way the success of an armed Bolshevist uprising and, then, after the fall of the Provisional Government they so hated, quickly to suppress the Bolshevist "mutiny." In this way were to be realized finally the aims set for the Korniloff rebellion.
The military and civil strategists who were the authors of this plan were thoroughly convinced that the Bolshevist triumph would entail no serious danger and that within three or four weeks the "sound elements" of the Russian people would make short shrift of the mutinous mass and establish a "strong government" in Russia. Alas, having successfully carried out the first, so-called passive part of this plan, having "overthrown" the Provisional Government with the hands of the Bolsheviki, the "patriots" found themselves absolutely unable to execute the second, activist part of their program. They failed to defeat the Bolsheviki not only in three weeks but in ten years!
On November sixth it had become quite evident that the uprising was inevitable, that it had already begun. At about eleven o'clock in the morning I appeared before the Council of the Republic and requested from N. D. Avksentieff, the President, permission to make an urgent statement. On taking the floor I informed the council that I had in my possession unmistakable evidence of the organization by Lenin and his lieutenants of an uprising against the Provisional Government. I declared that all possible measures were being taken by the Provisional Government for the suppression of the uprising and that the government would fight to the end against the betrayers of the motherland and of the Revolution. I declared that the government would resort without qualms to the use of force, but that to insure the government's success the immediate cooperation of all parties and groups, and of the entire people, was necessary. I demanded from the Council of the Republic full confidence and cooperation. The atmosphere of the meeting and the sentiments of those assembled were indicated by the ovations which greeted my declaration, the members punctuating their approval and expressing their solidarity with the Provisional Government in its fight against the enemies of the people by rising from their seats. In those moments of general national indignation only a handful of leaders, representing the two extreme political flanks, could not subdue in themselves their fierce hatred against the government of the March Revolution. They kept their seats when the rest of the assembly rose as one man.
Convinced that the representatives of the nation were fully conscious of the seriousness of the situation and of their own responsibility, I returned, without awaiting the actual vote, to Staff Headquarters to resume important unfinished business, confident that within an hour or two I would be informed of the decisions and active preparations of the Council of the Republic in support of the government.
Nothing of the sort happened. The council, torn by inner discords and irreconcilable differences of opinion, could not come to a decision until late into the night. Instead of organizing all their forces for the difficult struggle against the traitors, the leaders of all the anti-Bolshevist and democratic parties wasted the entire day and evening in useless quarrels and disputes.
And meanwhile, the Bolsheviki, being already entrenched at Smolny Institute, preparing for the final blow, were proclaiming loudly that all assertions concerning "some kind of a Bolshevist uprising" were pure inventions of "counter-revolutionists" and of "that enemy of the people—Kerensky." By this maneuver, knowing well the psychology of their opponents, the Bolsheviki were successfully attaining their aims.
I shall never forget the following truly historical scene.
My office, midnight, November sixth. The Provisional Government has just met and adjourned for a short recess. A stormy conversation between myself and a delegation from the Socialist groups in the Council of the Republic concerning the final adoption by the Left majority of the council of the resolution I had demanded in the morning. This resolution, as adopted, was now of no more use to anybody, being endlessly long and involved, of little meaning to simple mortals. If, in its substance, it did not directly express lack of confidence in the government, it drew an obvious line of distinction between the Left majority of the council and the government and its struggle.
Enraged, I informed the delegation that after such a resolution the government would resign to-morrow and that the authors of the resolution and all those who had voted for it must take upon themselves all responsibility for events, although apparently they seemed to have little conception of the situation.
The reply to my outburst was delivered calmly and analytically by Dan, at that time not only leader of the Mensheviki but also president of the All-Russian Executive Committee of Soviets. I cannot, of course, repeat Dan's historic reply textually but I vouch for the substance. First of all, Dan told me that the delegation was more correctly informed than I was and that I was exaggerating developments, due to the misinformation of my "reactionary staff." He then added that the resolution of the Council of the Republic, however unpalatable to the "government's sense of self-respect," was extremely useful and desirable for its psychologic effect on the masses, that this "effect" was already noticeable, and that the influence of Bolshevist propaganda was now bound "to decline rapidly." On the other hand, Dan continued, the Bolsheviki themselves, in their negotiations with the leaders of the Soviet majority, expressed readiness to "subordinate themselves to the will of the Soviet majority" and were willing, beginning to-morrow, to undertake all measures to stop the uprising, "which had begun against their wish and without their sanction." In conclusion Dan, asserting that the Bolsheviki would "to-morrow" (always to-morrow!) disband their military staff, declared that all measures taken by me for suppression of the uprising tended only to "disturb the masses" and that, in general, my "intervention" served only to "interfere with the success of the negotiations of the majority of the Soviets with the Bolsheviki for liquidation of the uprising." At the very moment when Dan was communicating to me this remarkable information, armed detachments of the "Red Guard" were already occupying one government building after another. Almost immediately upon the departure of Dan and his comrades from the Winter Palace, Kartasheff, Minister of Cults, was arrested in Millionnaya street, on his way home from the meeting of the Provisional Government, and taken to Smolny, whither Dan had departed for negotiation with the Bolsheviki.
One must admit that the Bosheviki were acting with great energy and no less great skill.
While the uprising was in full swing and "Red" troops were in action all over the city, some Bolshevist leaders especially assigned to the task tried, not without success, to make the representatives of the "Soviet democracy" blind to what was actually taking place. The entire night was spent by these acrobats in endless disputes on various formula? supposed to serve as conditions of peace and liquidation of the uprising. By this method of "negotiation" the Bolsheviki gained a great deal of valuable time. The fighting forces of the Socialists-Revolutionists and Mensheviki were not mobilized in time.
I had hardly concluded my conversation with Dan and his comrades, when into the room came a delegation from the Cossack regiments then stationed in Petrograd, consisting, if I recall aright, of two or three officers and as many Cossacks. The delegation informed me, first, that they wanted to know what forces I had at my disposal for suppression of the mutiny. They then declared that the Cossack regiments would defend the government, but only on condition of my assurance that this time the blood of the Cossacks would not be spilled in vain, as it was in July, when I was supposed to have failed to take sufficiently energetic measures against the mutineers. Finally, the delegates insisted that they would fight only on my personal orders.
In reply, I first of all pointed out to the Cossacks that declarations such as they were making were quite inadmissible from men of military duty, particularly when the nation faced great peril, and that it was incumbent upon every one of us to fulfill his obligation to the end! I then added: "You know full well that at the time of the Bolshevist uprising of July sixteenth to nineteenth, I was at the front where the offensive was then beginning. You know that, after leaving the front, I arrived in Petrograd on July nineteenth and immediately ordered the arrest of all the Bolshevist chieftains. You know, also, that I immediately dismissed General Polovtzoff as commander of the troops because of his indecision during the uprising."
As a result of this conversation, the Cossacks declared categorically that all their regiments in Petrograd would do their duty. I thereupon signed a special order to the Cossacks, commanding them to place themselves at the disposal of the district military staff and to carry out all its instructions. At that moment, at 1 A.M. on the night of November sixth, I had not the slightest doubt that these three regiments of Don Cossacks would not violate their oath and I immediately sent an adjutant to Staff Headquarters with the information that the Cossacks could be relied upon fully.
As in the morning, at the meeting of the Council of the Republic, I made a grave mistake. I did not know that while I was conversing with the regimental delegates, the Council of Cossack Troops, meeting all night, had proclaimed the neutrality of the Cossacks in the struggle of the Provisional Government against the Bolshevist uprising.
Following my conversations with Dan and with the Cossacks I returned to the meeting of the Provisional Government. One can imagine the tension that marked the meeting, particularly after the arrival of information concerning the seizure by the "Red Guard" of the central telephone station, the main post office and other government buildings. None of us, however, thought for a moment of the possibility of any negotiations or agreements with the traitors at Smolny. As I remember, the government concluded its meeting at 2 A.M. and the ministers went home. I remained alone with Konovaloff, Vice-Premier and Minister of Commerce and Industry. We worked together all night, after M. Terestchenko, who had tarried a while longer at the Winter Palace after the departure of the other ministers, had gone.
Meanwhile, the uprising in the city was developing with tremendous speed. Armed detachments of Bolsheviki were closing in upon the Winter Palace and the Military District Staff Headquarters. Some soldiers of the Pavlovsk Guards Regiment set up a real ambush in their barracks at the end of Millionnaya street, near the Field of Mars, arresting all "suspicious" persons coming from the direction of the palace. The palace was guarded only by military cadets and a small squadron of armored motor cars. Immediately upon adjournment of the cabinet meeting, the commander of the garrison and his chief-of-staff appeared before me. They offered to organize an expedition of all the forces loyal to the government, including the Cossacks, for the capture of Smolny Institute, the Staff Headquarters of the Bolsheviki. During this conversation I followed with more and more interest the ambiguous behavior of Colonel Polkovnikoff, being increasingly impressed by the crying contradiction between his all too optimistic and reassuring reports and the sad reality of the situation as I already knew it. It became more than evident that all his reports of the past ten to twelve days concerning the attitude of the troops and the preparedness of his own staff for a decisive struggle with the Bolsheviki had no basis in fact.
The government's commissar attached to the municipal administration, Rogovsky, appeared during my conference with the commander of the troops. He brought alarming news, contradicting in every way the reports just presented by Colonel Polkovnikoff. We learned from Rogovsky, among other things, that a considerable number of warships from the Baltic Fleet had entered the Neva in battle formation, that some of these ships had moved as far as the Nicholayevsky Bridge, and that this bridge had been, in turn, occupied by detachments of mutineers, who were already advancing farther toward the palace bridge. Rogovsky drew our attention especially to the fact that the Bolsheviki were carrying out their plan without any trouble, meeting no resistance on the part of the government troops. To me personally Rogovsky reported his observation that the staff of the Petrograd military district was watching the developments with utter indifference, showing no inclination for activity on its part.
The contradiction between the report presented by Rogovsky and that of Colonel Polkovnikoff was shockingly obvious. There was not a minute more to lose. It was necessary to hurry to Staff Headquarters!
Together with A. T. Konovaloff and accompanied by an adjutant, I left for the staff building, passing through the endless, almost dark corridors and lower chambers of the palace, where the military cadets who were off duty were preparing for bed. The staff building was filled with officers of all ranks and ages and delegates of various military units. Amidst this military throng moved about some strange civilians. Rushing up to the third story, directly into the office of the commander of the troops, I requested Colonel Polkovnikoff to present a report on the situation immediately. The report convinced us—Konovaloff and me—that it was no longer possible to rely on Colonel Polkovnikoff and the majority of the officers of his staff. It became urgent in this eleventh hour to take command into one's own hands, not only for an offensive against the mutineers but for the defense of the government itself, pending the arrival of fresh troops from the front and reorganization of the government's forces in the capital.
Within the district staff there were a number of high ranking officers upon whom I could rely with absolute confidence. But there were too few of them. I summoned by telephone those of them whose presence appeared most necessary and asked them to come to Staff Headquarters without delay. Then I decided to bring into action the volunteer military organizations of the parties, particularly the considerably numerous organization of the Party of Socialists-Revolutionists. The hours of the night dragged on painfully. From everywhere we expected reenf orcements, but none appeared. There were endless telephone negotiations with the Cossack regiments. Under various excuses the Cossacks stubbornly stuck to their barracks, asserting all the time that "everything would be cleared up" within fifteen or twenty minutes and that they would then "begin to saddle their horses."
On the other hand, the volunteer military forces at the disposal of the party organizations likewise evinced no activity. This rather puzzling circumstance was to be explained by the fact that the party centers, engrossed in endless negotiations with Smolny, and relying more on the force of "resolutions" than on the power of bayonets, had failed to issue the necessary orders in time.
Meanwhile the night hours passed. And the closer morning approached, the tenser grew the atmosphere at the Staff Headquarters. One honest and devoted officer, summoned to duty, came to me and after observing what was going on in the staff building and following closely the actions of Colonel Polkovnikoff, declared that he could not term the things he had seen otherwise than betrayal. The many officers assembled in the staff building conducted themselves in their attitude towards the government, and particularly towards me personally, in an increasingly defiant manner. As I learned afterwards they were engaged, on the initiative of Colonel Polkovnikoff, in an agitation for my arrest. At first they did this quietly, in whispers, but towards morning they began to talk quite loudly, almost without embarrassment and without regard to the presence of "strangers." A mad idea had struck the minds of many of them in those moments: without Kerensky it would be easier to "finish" the Bolsheviki and establish finally that so-called "strong government." And there is no doubt that throughout that night Colonel Polkovnikoff and certain other officers of the district staff were in constant contact with conservative anti-government organizations, such as the Council of Cossack Troops, the Union of the Knights of St. George, the Petrograd branch of the Union of Officers and other similar military and civil organizations.
Naturally, this suffocating atmosphere could not remain without effect on the spirits of those defenders of the government who were in touch with the staff. Already on the previous evening the military cadets, who had been in a confident state of mind, had begun to lose courage. Later, the crews of the armored cars began to grow panicky. Every moment of futile waiting for reenforcements lowered the fighting spirit of both.
At seven o'clock in the morning, after conversation by direct wire with the Staff Headquarters of the commander of the Northern front, in an effort to prevail upon him to rush loyal reenforcements to Petrograd, for the Cossacks were still "saddling their horses," Konovaloff and I, weary and exhausted by the impressions of the night, returned to the Winter Palace for a bit of rest. I remember how on the way we were surrounded several times by groups of excited military cadets. I remember how I had to reassure them and to explain all the probable consequences to the nation of a success for the Bolsheviki.
I had intended, on arriving in my rooms, to get together all my correspondence and all documents in my keeping and have them sent somewhere else for safe keeping, but I abandoned this intention, realizing the discouraging effect this would produce on all those in the palace. As a result, some of my papers, among them documents of not inconsiderable interest, fell into the hands of the Bolsheviki, while others disappeared.
After parting with Konovaloff and issuing some urgent instructions to cover possible eventualities, I remained alone in my study. Without undressing I lay down on the couch in my room. To sleep was impossible. I lay with my eyes closed, dozing, in a kind of semi-consciousness. Hardly an hour had passed when I was roused by a noncommissioned officer, who came in with urgent information: the Bolsheviki had captured the central telephone station and all our palace wire communications with the city had been cut. The palace bridge (beneath my windows) was occupied by Bolshevist sailor-pickets. The palace square was dead and empty. Not a word from the Cossacks, as was to have been expected.
In another ten minutes, both of us—Konovaloff and I—with all my adjutants were racing back to Staff Headquarters. Nothing had changed there in the two hours of our absence. No, something had changed; some of the units operating the armored cars had "disappeared." The armored cars were now about as useful as water wagons. The approaches to the palace and to Staff Headquarters, separated from one another by the palace square, were absolutely undefended. There was no news of any reenforcements from the Northern Front, although they should have been by this time in Gatchina. There was the beginning of panic. The staff building, filled to capacity all the previous evening and all night, was being gradually deserted.
I had hardly entered the Staff Headquarters when a delegation of the military cadets guarding the palace appeared. It developed that the Bolsheviki had sent them a formal ultimatum demanding surrender of the palace on pain of merciless repressions. The delegates wanted instructions, saying that the majority of their comrades were ready to do their duty to the end, if there was any hope of at least some reenforcements. It was evident, under the circumstances, that only the quick arrival of reenforcements from the front could save the situation.
But how to obtain those reenforcements? There was but one thing to do: to lose no more time and go to meet the echelons, delayed somewhere near Gatchina, and hurry them forward to Petrograd, regardless of all obstacles. After conferring with Konovaloff and Kishkin (who had arrived in the meanwhile) and consulting with several loyal officers of the staff, I decided to break through the Bolshevist lines and personally meet the advancing troops approaching, as we believed, in the direction of Petrograd.
To do this it was necessary, first, to cross the entire city in full view of everybody, without arousing the attention of the Bolshevist troops and Red Guard patrols scattered throughout the capital. This was most difficult of all. After some consideration it was decided to stake all on one play. To remove all suspicion we determined to act openly.
I called for my open touring car. My soldier-chauffeur, with whom I had covered the entire front, was a brave and devoted man. One of my adjutants made clear to him the task we were embarking upon. Without a moment's hesitation he accepted it. As luck would have it, the supply of gasoline was not sufficient for the long journey, nor were there reserve tires. We preferred to take the risk of running out of gasoline and of the absence of the reserve tire to the possibility of attracting attention by prolonging the preparations, I took along with me Captain Kuzmin, assistant commander of the garrison, and a staff officer.
I do not know how it happened but the news of my proposed departure reached the Allied embassies. Just as we were about to leave, representatives of the British and, as far as I can remember, of the American embassies arrived saying that the Allied envoys desired that I be accompanied by an automobile flying the American flag. Although it was more than evident that the American flag could not save me and my companions in the event of our failure and that, on the contrary, it would only attract unnecessary attention on our passing through the city, I accepted the suggestion as evidence of the interest of the Allies in the Russian Provisional Government and their solidarity with it.
Shaking hands for the last time with Kishkin, who took upon himself the direction of the defense of the capital in my absence, I went out into the yard of the staff building, together with my companions. We entered my car. Close at hand was the American machine. One of my officers, unable to find room in my car, decided to travel alone, but on the condition that in passing through the city he was to keep his machine, flying the American flag, at a "respectful distance" from ours. Finally, we moved. We followed closely all the details of my daily travel through the city. I occupied my usual seat—on the right, in the rear. I wore my customary semi-military uniform, which had become so familiar to the population and to the troops. The automobile moved at the usual city speed. At the very beginning of the Morskaya, near the telephone station, we passed the first Bolshevist guard. Some distance beyond, at the Astoria Hotel and at the Maryinsky Palace, were additional patrols and detachments of Bolsheviki. I need hardly say that the entire street—pedestrians and soldiers—recognized me immediately. The soldiers straightened up, as they would ordinarily have done. I saluted, as usual. In all probability, the moment after I passed not one of them could account to himself how it was possible for him not only to have permitted this "counter-revolutionist," this "enemy of the people" to pass, but also to have saluted him.
Having passed safely through the center of the city, on entering the workmen's section and approaching the Moscow Toll Gate we increased our pace and, finally, moved with breakneck speed. I remember how at the very exit from the city Red Guardsmen, patroling the road, came rushing towards our machine from all sides of the chaussée, but we had already passed them, while they had not only failed to make an effort to stop us, but had not even had time to take a good look at us.
At Gatchina we drove up straight to the palace gate leading to the commandant's quarters. We were chilled through and through by the mad drive. On learning, to our great surprise, that there were no echelons from the front at Gatchina and that no one here knew anything about them, we decided to proceed farther, to Luga, and if necessary to Pskoff. But to undertake such a long journey on a wet, autumn road without reserve tires and sufficient gasoline was unthinkable. We resolved to spend a half hour at the commandant's office, to have some tea and warm up, while our machines were to be taken to the garage of the local military automobile command to take on the necessary materials. However, the moment I stepped into the commandant's office his conduct appeared very strange to me. He tried to speak as loudly as possible and kept close to an open door leading into an adjacent room, from where we were being closely eyed by some soldiers. As if responding to the warning of some inner voice I suddenly ordered my machine detained and proposed to my companions that we resume the journey at once, without waiting for tea. Only the car with the American flag and one officer went to the garage for the necessaries.
We had left in time. Five minutes after our departure a machine all decorated with red flags raced into the palace yard; members of the local military-revolutionary committee had come to arrest me. It developed that some traitors in the staff building in Petrograd had informed Smolny of my departure for Gatchina. From Smolny had come an order to have me arrested here. Our automobile managed, however, to escape from the city. But our other machine fell into serious difficulty. For more than an hour it wandered about the streets of Gatchina. After breaking through two ambushes, under a hail of shots, it found escape from the third ambush not quite so easy. One bullet pierced a tire and another struck the chauffeur in the hand. My officer, deserting the machine, was compelled to seek refuge in a near-by wood. We learned of this only next day, on our return to Gatchina from the front.
But on leaving Gatchina we counted only the minutes, jumping with every jerk of the machine, trembling for the fate of our tires. There is no use to describe in detail our mad hunt for the elusive echelons from the front, which we did not find until our arrival at Pskoff.
When we entered that city at nine o'clock in the evening we knew nothing of what had possibly taken place here. Nor had we any knowledge of the extent to which the people were familiar with events in Petrograd, or of how these events had been received here. For this reason we decided to move with great care and instead of going directly to the Staff Headquarters of the Commander of the Northern Front, General Tcheremisoff, we went to the home of his quarter-master-general, Baranoffsky, formerly chief of my military cabinet. Here I learned that the news from Petrograd was very discouraging, that a Bolshevist military-revolutionary committee was already functioning in Pskoff itself, and that it had telegraphed an order for my arrest, signed by Lieutenant Krilenko and the sailor, Dybenko. In addition, I learned what was even worse, namely, that Tcheremisoff himself was making all sorts of advances to the revolutionary committee and that he would not take any measures for the dispatch of troops to Petrograd, believing anv such expedition to be useless and detrimental.
Soon, upon my order, the commander himself appeared. A very unpleasant conversation followed. The general did not conceal his intention of not binding his fate in any way with that of the "doomed" government. He also tried to show that he had no troops he could spare from the front, and declared that he could not guarantee my personal safety in Pskoff. Tcheremisoff informed me also that he had countermanded the order, given in response to my demand from Petrograd, for the dispatch of troops, the Third Cavalry Corps included.
"Have you seen General Krassnoff? Does he share your opinion?" I asked.
"I expect General Krassnoff any minute from Ostroff."
"In that case, general, direct him to me at once."
The general left, saying he was going straight to a meeting of the Military-Revolutionary Committee to get a clear idea of the attitude of the troops and that he would come back to me to report. My conversation with this clever, able, extremely vain man, who had so completely forgotten the call of duty, made a disgusting impression upon me. Considerably later I learned that upon leaving me the general did not go to a meeting of the Military-Revolutionary Committee. He even tried, by long distance wire, to prevail upon General Baliayeff, commander of the Western Front, not to give any aid to the government.
Tcheremisoff's absence seemed endless. Meanwhile every minute was costly, for every delay meant irreparable damage in Petrograd. It was 11 P.M. How could we in Pskoff know that at that very moment the Winter Palace, where the Provisional Government was sitting, was withstanding the final bombardment and the last attacks of the Bolsheviki? Finally, at one o'clock in the morning, General Tcheremisoff returned to declare that he could not give any aid to the government. And if, he continued, I still held to my conviction that resistance was necessary, I should go immediately to Mohileff, as my arrest here, in Pskoff, was inevitable. In mentioning Mohileff, General Tcheremisoff did not, however, tell me that General Dukhonin, chief-of-staff at General Headquarters, had tried twice to speak to me by long distance wire and that twice Tcheremisoff had refused to permit him to do so, without asking me.
"And Krassnoff?" I asked.
"He has already been here and gone back to Ostroff."
"But, look here, General, didn't I ask you to send
Krassnoff to me?"
As far as I can recall there was no answer to this exclamation. His criminal shirking of his duty was obvious and I was in a hurry to get rid of him. For there was no hesitation in my mind. 1 felt I must return to Petrograd, even if only with one regiment. After considering the situation with General Baranoffsky and my young companions, I decided to proceed immediately to Ostroff, Staff Headquarters of the Third Cossack Cavalry Corps and, in the event of failure there, to continue to Mohileff. While waiting for my automobile I lay down to rest. In the silence of the night I could almost hear the onward lightning-like rush of the seconds, and the realization that every passing moment was bringing everything closer to the abyss was unbearable.
Suddenly, a ring at the main door! It was Krassnoff with his chief-of-staff. He wanted to see me at once. At one jump I was in the room where the two officers awaited me. It appeared that having received from General Tcheremisoff an order, signed ostensibly by me, countermanding the move on Petrograd, which had already been begun, General Krassnoff somehow doubted the authenticity of the order, and instead of leaving for Ostroff he had begun to look for me here in the night.
"And I, general, was just making ready to go to you, to Ostroff, relying on your corps and hoping, regardless of obstacles, to march on Petrograd."
It was decided that we would immediately go together to Ostroff, with the idea of moving on the capital the same morning, with whatever forces we could muster. At this point it is necessary to stop for a moment in order that all the fatal events that followed may be made clearer. It is necessary to stop and recall the past history of the Third Corps, with which it pleased fate to bind my last effort to save the country from Bolshevist destruction. The Third Cavalry Corps was the very same celebrated corps which together with the "Wild Division," under command of General Krimoff, had been hurled against the Provisional Government by General Korniloff on September seventh. After the collapse of the rebellion the "demoralized" parts of this corps had been scattered all over the Northern Front. That was why instead of a corps I found only several regiments in Ostroff. On the other hand, the participation of the corps in the Korniloff adventure had seriously lowered its spirits, shattered its military discipline and sowed mistrust of the officers on the part of the Cossack rank and file. The officers, on their part, could not reconcile themselves to the collapse of the Korniloff enterprise and hated all its opponents, particularly me.
General Krassnoff himself conducted himself, in his relations with me, with great but proper restraint. In general, he was all the time holding back much that he would have liked to say. However, I did get the impression immediately that he was ready to do all he could to crush the Bolshevist mutiny. Moreover, not in vain did it please fate to make it possible for me to continue the struggle by pushing Krassnoff to my side. Late in the night we left for Ostroff, arriving there at dawn. The order stopping the move on Petrograd was in turn recalled.
The advance on Petrograd was announced. We did not know then that the government, to whose aid we were rushing, was already in the hands of the Bolsheviki and that the ministers themselves were in the Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul. But we could see how quickly events in Petrograd reacted on the front, destroying everywhere all the discipline and order barely restored anew after the Korniloff affair. We had hardly entered Ostroff when we began to hear reports on all sides that the local garrison had decided to use force to prevent the Cossacks from leaving the town. In the morning, addressing a meeting of garrison and Cossack delegates, at the request of General Krassnoff, I had opportunity to convince myself that every hour's delay in the town made the departure of the Cossacks from Ostroff increasingly more problematical. Gradually, the soldier mass, disorderly and partly armed, gathered in increasing numbers around the Staff Headquarters of the Third Corps.
At last, at about ten o'clock in the morning, we received word from the railway station that the military trains were ready for the entrainment of the troops. Our automobiles moved to the station under a Cossack convoy, to the accompaniment of the threatening cries of the infuriated soldiery. At the station new difficulties developed. Under various excuses, with the object of paralyzing our enterprise, our trains were not permitted to pass. Only my personal presence among the troops finally removed all apparent and concealed obstacles. With much delay, the trains loaded with the echelons of the Third Cavalry Corps moved on their journey.
The entire "fighting force" of the corps consisted of five or six hundred Cossacks and several cannon. However, with these forces and at any cost we decided to fight our way to Petrograd, without awaiting any reenforcements or stopping anywhere.
Only towards evening of that day, in the train, near Luga, did I receive the first report of the capture of the Winter Palace. The report was brought to me by special courier from General Baranoffsky at Pskoff, who in turn had received it by direct telephone communication from the telegraph station at the Winter Palace through an officer of my military cabinet. Although based apparently on unimpeachable authority it appeared to us, as often happens in life, improbable, while the courier from Pskoff himself roused our suspicion. For with us in the train was an officer who had left Petrograd on the morning of November eighth. According to him the government was at that time still defending itself while resistance to the Bolsheviki was increasing in the city. Comparing this testimony of the "eyewitness" with the report from Pskoff, we involuntarily questioned the authenticity of the latter, believing the tragic information to have been fabricated by a Bolshevist agent in order to provoke panic and demoralization in the ranks of the government forces. And however difficult, almost hopeless, may have been the position of Petrograd on the morning of November seventh, at the hour of our departure, it still seemed to us improbable that at two o'clock in the morning, on November eighth, the Bolsheviki could already be masters of the palace and of Staff Headquarters.
At dawn, on November ninth, our detachment was approaching Gatchina, which was by this time already in the hands of the Bolsheviki, under the authority of the local military-revolutionary committee and of the local Soviet. The town was filled with all kinds of Bolshevist troops—local infantry, artillery, Kronstadt sailors, armored cars from Petrograd, etc. Despite the overwhelming numerical superiority of the "enemy" we decided to capture the town at once. We unloaded our troops and the military operations began. These operations were concluded quickly and brilliantly. Almost without firing a shot and, as I recall, without any losses, the government "forces" captured Gatchina. The "revolutionary" troops fled in all directions or surrendered together with their rifles, guns, hand grenades, etc. In their hurried retreat they even left behind an armored car. At about four o'clock in the afternoon, accompanied by all my companions, I was again entering the office of the commandant, from which less than two days before I had made my timely and fortunate departure.
In preparing the military operations that followed, I did not, of course, assume the direction of the military-technical side of the task, appointing General Krassnoff commander of all the armed forces of the Petrograd district. I was prepared, however, to support him at any point at which his personal authority might prove inadequate.
The first prerequisite of continued success was the arrival of reenforcements from the front, especially of infantry. From Gatchina I sent out many telegrams demanding the dispatch of troops. From many sections of the front I received replies that the troops were either already on the way or were about to leave. According to our calculations, based on official data, the first echelon of infantry was due to arrive in Gatchina towards evening of November ninth. We were particularly in need of infantry, as it was difficult to develop our operations with only the cavalry and artillery at our disposal. The Cossacks of the Third Corps, remembering the bitter experience of the Korniloff expedition, were eagerly awaiting the arrival of other soldiers. Our appearance at Gatchina had brought into the town a considerable number of officers who aroused the suspicion of the Cossacks, all the more so because these officers gave expression to sentiments quite reactionary.
Despite the insignificance of the forces at our disposal, we decided not to halt our advance on Petrograd pending the arrival of reenforcements from the front, for we were convinced that the first echelons would surely reach Gatchina by evening of November tenth. Moreover, it was necessary to take full advantage of the demoralizing effect produced on the Bolsheviki by our speedy return from the front and the capture of Gatchina. It should be remembered that no one really knew the exact number of bayonets and guns at our disposal.
In Petrograd the impression in both friendly and hostile circles was that our troops were numbered in thousands! Our policy of "speed and pressure" was, moreover, made imperative by the general condition of the country and, particularly, of the front. The trump card of the Bolsheviki was peace, peace, immediate peace! Having seized the central telegraph station in Petrograd on the night of November eighth and the most powerful Russian wireless station at Tsarskoye Selo, the Bolsheviki had begun immediately disseminating throughout the front their appeals for peace, arousing the weary troops, provoking their elemental demobilization and rush for home and stimulating fraternization with the enemy. It was necessary to destroy all communications between the Bolsheviki in Petrograd and the front and to stop the stream of poisonous propaganda coming over the wires and the radio. We felt that in eight or ten days it would be too late and the entire country would be overwhelmed by the masses of soldiery streaming from the front. There was no other way out. It was necessary to act, however great and mad the risk.
Incidentally, I may say that the legend that the Provisional Government disappeared from the face of the earth amidst general indifference is in no way borne out by the facts. Simultaneously with our advance on Petrograd, civil war broke out all over the country and at the front. The heroic uprising of the military cadets in Petrograd on November eleventh, the street battles in Moscow, Saratoff, Kharkoff and other cities, the battles at the front between troops loyal to the Revolution and Bolshevist units—all these show conclusively that we were not alone in our final stand.
And so, making Gatchina our base and taking stock of our forces and all possible reenforcements, we decided to move on Tsarskoye at dawn of November tenth, intending to capture it by noon of the same day.
General Krassnoff himself was full of courage and confidence, believing that he would not require reenforcements until after the capture of Tsarskoye Selo, when the direct operations against Petrograd would begin. The attitude of the Cossacks on that day, November ninth, was still quite satisfactory. At dawn, on November tenth, the Cossacks moved from Gatchina and soon their ranks were advancing along the Tsarskoselsky chaussée. On the same morning we received our first reenforcement: a splendidly equipped armored train, abundantly supplied with guns and light quick-firing field pieces.
But already on that morning we began to be worried by the delay in the advance of the echelons from the front. This delay appeared quite strange and mysterious. Later, we learned the reasons for it. On the one hand, we were being sabotaged by various military authorities, like the aforementioned Tcheremisoff, and, on the other, railroad and telegraph workers were hindering the troop trains going in the direction of Gatchina.
About three hours after the departure of our forces, I followed them in an automobile. I found the Cossacks at a place where I did not expect them to be. They were not advancing at the rate of speed expected of them, and it soon became clear that they would not reach Tsarskoye Selo by noon.
Observing strictly my rule not to interfere in actual military operations, I stopped halfway between Gatchina and Tsarskoye Selo, at the Meteorological Observatory at Pulkovo, from the dome of which the battlefield was clearly visible through field glasses. Here I learned that the Bolsheviki had apparently organized some kind of resistance near Tsarskoye Selo and that General Krassnoff, following an artillery bombardment, was attacking the town.
Indeed, very soon after our arrival at the observatory we heard a short cannonade. Then everything grew still. Time passed quickly. The silence was unbroken. There was no information from General Krassnoff. Finally, I grew tired of waiting and left for the point of concentration of the government troops.
General Krassnoff reported that the delay was due to the organization of the defense of Tsarskoye Selo, which was more thorough than he had expected, and to the insignificant forces at our disposal.
Continuing this conversation, General Krassnoff adopted a rather new attitude towards me. At the conclusion of the conversation he suddenly asked me rather hesitatingly not to remain on the battlefield, explaining in no particularly convincing manner that my presence was interfering with the military operations and was disturbing the officers. All this mystified me greatly. I could not understand it, until ... I observed in his entourage a number of very familiar figures from the Council of Cossack Troops. It developed that the council had sent a special delegation to General Krassnoff. I thereupon understood all too clearly General Krassnoff's changed manner and attitude. I had not forgotten the conduct of the Cossack regiments in Petrograd on the night of November sixth, remembering their suspicious neutrality instigated by the propaganda of the very same Cossack Council. The appearance of politicians and intriguers from the Cossack Council had already made itself felt in my detachment and boded no good. My suspicion was aggravated when on my return to the observatory, after my conversation with General Krassnoff, I was overtaken by Savinkoff.
Savinkoff in my detachment as a delegate of the Cossack Council! This was and for a long time remained a riddle to me. It was difficult to realize how Savinkoff had suddenly gained the confidence of the Cossack Council, which had remained loyal to Korniloff to the last. On his own insistent plea, Savinkoff had been appointed by me commander of Petrograd, in the defense of the capital against Korniloff, and had openly denounced Korniloff as a traitor. And now he was the representative of the same Cossack Council that was so bitterly hostile to the Provisional Government and to me in particular.
On the appearance in the small room of the observatory of this most peculiar Cossack I realized in a flash the entire new situation in my detachment. I realized immediately that the appearance of this "delegation" would not pass without serious effect on my undertaking.
Time passed. The sun was already in the west. I managed to make another trip to Gatchina to attend to some urgent business, but there was no news about a "determined advance" on Tsarskoye Selo. Thereupon I again returned to our troops, planning this time to interfere directly in the military operations. I was no longer in doubt that the sudden paralysis that had befallen the troops was not of military-technical but of purely political origin.
I found General Krassnoff and his men already in the very suburbs of the town but observed not the slightest indication of military action. On the contrary, between the "besieging" and the "besiegers" some kind of endless conversations were in progress concerning "voluntary" capitulation, surrender of arms, etc. On learning the situation I sent General Krassnoff a written demand for immediate active operations against Tsarskoye Selo by opening artillery fire.
The general replied that his forces were inadequate and that, in addition, the hesitation and extremely disturbed attitude of the Cossacks compelled him to refrain from decisive measures. It was evident Krassnoff was not in a hurry. I still am absolutely convinced that with proper good will on the part of the command and with the absence of intrigue, we would have occupied Tsarskoye Selo in the morning, twelve hours before it was actually occupied, i.e., before the crushing of the military cadets in Petrograd.
As will be seen later, this deliberate delay at Tsarskoye Selo was a fatal blow to our entire expedition.
Late in the evening, General Krassnoff, continuing to delay the bombardment, reported to me his intention to withdraw his troops some distance, postponing the capture of Tsarskoye Selo until the morrow. This was too much. Under no circumstances could I give my assent to such a move.
First, I saw no obstacles to the immediate occupation of Tsarskoye Selo; second, I believed it highly dangerous to create an impression of our weakness and uncertainty in the military operations. At that very time there arrived from Petrograd the army commissar at General Headquarters, Stankevitch, whose report strengthened my determination in my differences with General Krassnoff.
Stankevitch, reporting on the situation in the capital and the forces ready to support us there, insisted on speeding up our advance on Petrograd. Finally, it was decided to occupy Tsarskoye Selo at once. As was to have been expected, our detachment entered the town about midnight, seizing the city without any difficulty. This could have been achieved with equal success twelve hours earlier.
I returned to Gatchina for the night in a mood of utmost dejection and misgiving. The experiences of the day had shown that the men in command of our detachment were already in the web of intrigue, that many of them had lost consideration for the welfare of the country. I saw no escape from the situation except through surrounding and disarming the Cossack detachment as speedily as possible by other troops. These troops I confidently hoped to find in Gatchina and move them on Tsarskoye Selo. In Gatchina I found only telegrams. Meanwhile, in our absence, the situation at Gatchina had taken a sharp turn for the worse, due, particularly, to the effects of the pressure of Bolshevist forces on the right flank (in the direction of Oranienbaum and Krassnoye Selo), the Bolshevist forces consisting principally of naval detachments.
The uncertainty of the situation, the absence of exact information, the mass of rumors created extreme nervousness and tension in the town, particularly towards night. Panic threatened to ensue at any moment.
On the very same night of November eleventh and on the morning of the following day a tragic and bloody misunderstanding developed in Petrograd. At that time there were still sufficient forces in the Petrograd garrison, both in the regular regiments and in special units, ready at the first opportune moment to move against the Bolsheviki. Adding to these the cadets of the military schools, nearly all of which were preparing for action, there were still very considerable forces in Petrograd able to deal a decisive blow in the rear of the Bolshevist troops facing our detachment at Pulkowo. In addition, all the military units of the respective parties, especially that of the Socialist-Revolutionists, had finally been mobilized by this time. But due to misunderstanding of the confused situation and the misleading activity of agents-provocateurs and traitors, all the anti-Bolshevist forces in Petrograd had gone into action too soon, before we could be of any assistance to them or, at any rate, before we could take advantage of the fighting in Petrograd to attack the Bolshevist forces at Pulkowo.
Of course, had we been properly informed of the developments in the capital, I would have demanded immediate supporting action on our part. The whole horror of the situation lay in the fact that not only was the action of our forces in Petrograd, provoked by agents-provocateurs, premature, but that we knew nothing about it all that day. Only late in the afternoon, at about four o'clock, when all was over, was I summoned to the telephone by the Mikhailowsky Castle and informed of the defeat of our forces in Petrograd. Accompanying the information was a plea for help.
But what could I do now? How could Petrograd venture to rise without contact with the army? This question threw me into despair and anger.
Late at night some political friends arrived in Gatchina from Petrograd and brought the answer to this terrible question. It developed that, according to the plan of our supporters, our forces in Petrograd were to go into action at the proper moment, in full cooperation with the military operations of our detachment advancing on the capital. At a meeting of our leaders in Petrograd, on the evening of November tenth, no resolution concerning immediate action had been adopted. Active operations were decided upon later, after adjournment of the meeting, when the majority of the participants had already departed. At that moment a group of military men, highly excited, appeared at the place of the meeting with the hardly reliable information that the Bolsheviki, having learned of the contemplated action, had decided to begin the disarmament of the military schools next morning and for this reason it was necessary to take risks and begin operations immediately. And, indeed, the morning of November eleventh opened with a cannonade, the meaning and purpose of which were at first a mystery to the majority of the civilian and military leaders of the anti-Bolshevist movement in Petrograd. The provocateurs had been completely successful in their aim. Our own detachment could no longer hope for any assistance from Petrograd, while the Bolshevist forces facing us were greatly encouraged.
At this point I must emphasize the conduct of the Cossack regiments in Petrograd throughout the tragic uprising of our forces on November eleventh. Although the Cossacks had given me their solemn promise to do their duty they continued throughout the fighting, as they did on the night of November eighth, "saddling their horses." These Cossack regiments remained true to themselves. Despite their promise, ignoring the horrors in the streets of Petrograd, when the military cadets and their civilian supporters were being shot and drowned in the Neva by the hundreds, the Cossacks remained "neutral." Old Tchaikovsky, accompanied, I think, by Avksentieff, made the round of the barracks, pleading for help from the Cossacks. According to the testimony of participants in the fighting, Colonel Polkovnikoff and his associates remained faithful to their policy of permitting the Bolsheviki to smash the Provisional Government and the democracy they so hated, in order to establish afterwards a strong "national" dictatorship.
But let us return to Tsarskoye Selo. The entire day of November eleventh was devoted to preparations for battle, which was to begin at dawn on Monday, November twelfth. The Bolshevist lines ran along the heights of Pulkowo. On their right flank was Krassnoye Selo, from which they were in a position to undertake a flanking movement against Gatchina.
The reports of our scouts showed that we were faced by 12,000 to 15,000 troops of various branches. The heights of Pulkowo were occupied by Kronstadt sailors, splendidly trained, as we learned later, by German instructors. We had several hundred (600-700) Cossacks, a limited quantity of artillery of excellent quality, an armored train and a regiment of infantry, which had meanwhile arrived from Luga. Not much! To be sure, we had also heaps of telegrams informing us of the approach of additional echelons. About fifty military trains from many sections of the front were fighting their way towards Gatchina against all obstacles. But it was impossible to delay any further. The Bolshevist command was feverishly assembling its forces, preparing to take the offensive at any moment.
Early in the morning, November twelfth, the fight at Pulkowo began. In general it was developing satisfactorily. The great portion of the Bolshevist forces, consisting of troops of the Petrograd garrison, deserted their positions as soon as our artillery opened fire and under the slightest pressure of our men. But the right flank of the Bolsheviki held fast. Here the Kronstadt sailors and their German instructors were in action. The report presented to me in the evening of that day by General Krassnoff stated that the sailors were fighting in accordance with all the rules of German tactics and that among the prisoners taken by us were men who spoke only German, or Russian with a foreign accent. The fight at Pulkowo was concluded in the evening successfully for us, but we could not follow up this "success" by pursuit or consolidate it because of the insignificant numbers at our disposal. Towards evening, General Krassnoff retreated to Gatchina. At about eight o'clock in the evening, General Krassnoff and his staff, accompanied by his weary troops, entered the gates of the Gatchina Palace.
From the military point of view, this maneuver was quite proper and reasonable. But in the tense, political atmosphere of the situation this retreat provoked complete demoralization in the ranks of the government forces. It meant the beginning of the end!
Before I describe these last thirty-six hours of our agony let us return to the picture presented by our detachment before the battle at Tsarskoye Selo. This will explain more clearly the psychology of the final events at Gatchina. Unfortunately, all the negative aspects of the situation at Gatchina had attained full bloom at Tsarskoye. On the one hand, our handful of Cossacks was virtually lost in the mass of the local garrison. Everywhere—in the park avenues, in the streets, at the barrack gates—meetings were in progress, with agitators doing their best to confuse and discourage our men. The main argument of the propaganda consisted in comparing my expedition) with Korniloff's: "Once more, comrades, as under the Czar and under Korniloff, you are being compelled to shoot down peasants and workmen in order that the landlords, the bourgeoisie and the generals may be returned to power." The rank and file of the Cossacks did not long remain indifferent to this demagogic agitation and began looking askance at the commanders. And at the same time, the commanders, without exception, from the highest staff officers to the very last noncommissioned officer, having forgotten their duty, were devoting themselves to playing politics. The local irreconcilable Kornilovites, supporting those who had come from Petrograd, began "working" openly among the officers, fanning confusion, stimulating hatred towards the Provisional Government and demanding my head. Indications of treason were clearly discernible in the atmosphere of intrigue.
My presence in our detachment was regarded by members of the staff as detrimental to our "success," etc. I did not wish to interfere with our success, but I could not abandon the fight against the Bolsheviki. To sit idle at Gatchina was likewise not particularly pleasant and, what is more, it was useless. This was how I viewed the situation at Tsarskoye Selo on the night of November twelfth. I decided to go immediately to meet the echelons supposed to be approaching from the front. I had hoped also by my personal presence to accelerate their advance, as I did in the case of the Cossacks at Ostroff, and to deliver the infantry reenforcements in time to Krassnoff. As far as I remember, I sent a note to Krassnoff, in the morning of November twelfth, informing him of my departure from Tsarskoye Selo.
Great was my surprise when a short time later a delegation of the Cossack Council, headed by Savinkoff, appeared before me! They informed me, in the name of the entire detachment, that my departure was most undesirable, that it was likely to produce a bad effect on the rank and file of the Cossacks and, therefore, on the progress of the battle, and, finally, as the Cossacks had come here with me I must share their fate with them. In reply, I explained to the delegates the purpose of my journey, emphasizing that I considered the journey possible only because yesterday's conduct on the part of Krassnoff and his staff had convinced me that I had become superfluous here. And if this was not so, I said, if my departure was likely to interfere with the success of the fight, I was, of course, ready to remain, on condition that the Cossacks remain loyal to the Provisional Government.
The interview was concluded. I remained in Gatchina, to which, as I have already pointed out, the entire detachment returned in the evening.
In Gatchina itself the report of "the retreat of Kerensky's troops" spread with lightning-like speed long before the return of the Cossacks, producing panic among some and doubling the energy and audacity of others. In the evening, shortly before the return of Krassnoff, a delegation of the All-Russian Executive Committee of the Union Railwaymen came to me from Petrograd with a brazen ultimatum, demanding on the threat of a railway strike that I enter into peace negotiations with the Bolsheviki. I was called upon to reply within a few hours. A stormy scene followed. The treason of the Railway Union rendered our situation nothing short of tragic, for a railway strike, without affecting in any way the movement of Bolshevist armed forces (already concentrated in Petrograd, with their reserves deployed along the Baltic coast) would have cut us off from all fronts and from all advancing reenforcements.
It was imperative to organize as speedily as possible the defense of Gatchina against possible blows from the direction of Krassnoye Selo and Oranienbaum. To do this had become, however, well-nigh impossible, despite the concentration of an enormous number of officers in the town. All of them preferred to while away their time at the palace, at Staff Headquarters, discussing the situation, quarreling and criticizing everything and everybody. On General Krassnoff's arrival I informed him of the Railway Union's ultimatum. Krassnoff expressed the opinion that under the circumstances it would perhaps be wise to begin armistice negotiations, in order to gain time. This, he said, would tend to pacify, to some extent, the Cossacks, who had begun to look with increasing suspicion on the commanders, and would give us a breathing space, pending the arrival of reenforcements.
The Cossacks had begun to lose all hope of the arrival of these infantry reenforcements. In vain were our efforts in showing them heaps of telegrams concerning the movements of the echelons; in vain did we seek to prove to them that the reenforcements were actually coming and that we had not very long to wait. In vain! The Cossacks were paying ever increasing attention to the speeches of agitators, being inclined to regard our assurances with ever decreasing credulity and showing a growing impatience and distrust with respect to the officers.
On the same evening of November twelfth, taking advantage of the arrival of a group of friends from Petrograd, I gave them a letter addressed to N. D. Avksentieff, President of the Council of the Republic, transferring to him, in the event of "possible necessity," the rights and duties of premier of the Provisional Government, suggesting also the immediate filling of vacancies.
I had hardly completed this task when I was informed that a meeting of the officers in Gatchina desired emphatically that I appoint Savinkoff commander of the defense of the town, that they trusted him and that they would immediately begin organizing the defense. I appointed Savinkoff to the post, which was utilized the same night by the Bolsheviki as new evidence of my "counter-revolutionism."
Only late at night did I find myself alone, with my two young adjutants, Lieutenant Kovanko and Lieutenant Vinner, who remained faithful to me to the last. It was now possible for me to think of my own fate, which did not appear particularly uncertain. One of my adjutants had just become a father. After much difficulty I prevailed upon him to leave me at the first opportunity, which presented itself very soon. The other, nineteen-year-old Vinner, who had stuck to me throughout the Revolution, declined flatly to yield to all importunities. We decided to meet all eventualities together. At that moment we already felt that we were moving quickly towards the inevitable.
In the morning, November thirteenth, I summoned a military council. Present were General Krassnoff; Colonel Popoff, his chief-of-staff; Captain Kuzmin, assistant commander of the troops of the Petrograd military district; Savinkoff, Stankevitch and another member of the staff. Opening the meeting, I presented a brief summary of the political situation as it appeared on the basis of the information at my disposal and, then, requested the chief-of-staff to explain the military situation and to report on the movement of the troops. After that I put the question of the acceptance or rejection of an armistice before the council. The opinions were given in the order of seniority, the youngest present speaking first. Only two opinions— Savinkoff's and mine—were in favor of unconditional refusal of any negotiations. All the military men present were unanimous in the view that it was necessary to start negotiations immediately, as otherwise it was impossible to guarantee the behavior of the Cossacks.
Thus, the opinion of the majority was clearly evident: however difficult and unpleasant the task was, there was no other way out; it was necessary to gain time by negotiations. In addition, I felt it was impossible to permit Krassnoff and his staff to say to the Cossacks: "We were for peace but Kerensky ordered us to fight." I confirmed the opinion of the majority and the military council began working out the technical conditions of the negotiations.
It was decided that Stankevitch go to Petrograd by detour, to inform the Committee for the Salvation of the Motherland and the Revolution of my armistice conditions. I regret that I cannot recall the full text of this document, of which I did not retain a copy. At any rate, these conditions were unacceptable to the Bolsheviki, who following our departure from Tsarskoye Selo had had little doubt of their ultimate success. But I remember clearly two of my conditions: first, the immediate laying down of arms by the Bolsheviki and their promise to obey the Provisional Government, which was to be reorganized; and, second, the reorganization of the government and its program to be determined by agreement of the existing Provisional Government with the representatives of all the political parties and the Committee for the Salvation of the Motherland and the Revolution.
At about four o'clock in the afternoon Stankevitch left for Petrograd. By this time General Krassnoff had organized a delegation to go to Krassnoye Selo, Bolshevist headquarters, to conclude an immediate armistice, pending the result of Stankevitch's mission. The delegation left for Bolshevist headquarters only in the evening. It consisted only of Cossacks, as Captain Kuzmin categorically declined to accompany the delegation, despite the importunities of Krassnoff.
Before that, early in the afternon, following the adjournment of the military council, Savinkoff had come to me with a paper in his hand. I thought his visit had something to do with some urgent question concerning the defense of Gatchina. I was mistaken. The paper stated that the bearer, Boris Savinkoff, was commissiond by Kerensky, Premier and Commander-in-Chief, to go to General Headquarters to facilitate the dispatch of reenforcements to Gatchina.
"Please sign this paper, Alexander Feodorovitch; I want to go."
"Go ahead," I replied, returning the signed commission, although Savinkoff's journey to General Headquarters was quite unreasonable, and although he was abandoning the very responsible task he had undertaken in Gatchina and towards the execution of which he had not yet done a single thing.
Both of us understood the purpose of his departure and it would have been useless to discuss it. Savinkoff's wise foresight served only to emphasize the atmosphere that surrounded me! Only by a miracle, only by the utmost self-sacrifice of the few defenders of Gatchina could the situation now be saved. But not even the impending grave peril served to unite us, to rouse energy and initiative; on the contrary it only stimulated and added poison to the disintegration. For the majority, self-preservation became the first consideration. The Cossacks looked with increasing anger upon their officers as the cause of their impending destruction, while the officers, under the hostile pressure of the Bolshevist soldiery and of their own Cossacks, began to think more frequently at what price they could buy their own lives from the Bolsheviki in the event of the fall of Gatchina. Because of the continued delay in the arrival of reenforcements the Cossacks honestly believed themselves betrayed. The officers considered it no longer necessary to conceal their hatred for me, feeling that I was no longer able to protect them from the fury of the mob.
Thus began the night of November thirteenth. No reports from the parliamentarians "at the front." No information from Petrograd. The half-dark, gloomy, endless corridors of the old palace, built by Emperor Paul I, are filled with masses of aroused, infuriated people. The air, poisoned by fear, is filled with most improbable, monstrous rumors. Everywhere there is whispering: "If the Cossacks will voluntarily surrender Kerensky they will be permitted to return to their homes, on the quiet Don." The temptation is too great; the thought of betrayal captures the minds of many. It seems as if the long autumn night will never end. The minutes appear like hours. The rats are deserting the sinking ship. There is not a soul in my rooms, only yesterday filled to capacity. There is only gravelike silence and calm. We are alone. There are very few of us. We have stuck together all these months, united by a common fate. Nothing hinders us now from thinking quietly and undisturbedly of what is impending. Daylight had already broken when, after destroying all the papers and letters which could not very well be permitted to fall into "strange hands," I lay down on the bed and dozed off with but one thought: "Will the echelons arrive in the morning?"
At about ten o'clock I was awakened suddenly. A most unexpected report: the Cossack-parliamentarians headed by Dybenko! The basic demand of the sailors was the unconditional surrender of Kerensky to the Bolsheviki. The Cossacks were prepared to accept the condition.
The report was quite surprising! To the very last moment, despite all the suspicious indications and dark forebodings, we had refused to admit the possibility of such contemptible treason. But the fact was undeniable!
There remained but one thing to do: to have a showdown with General Krassnoff and his staff, to clear up the question of whether or not they themselves were involved in the betrayal. I sent immediately for the general. He appeared, most correct and all too calm in his bearing.
I asked him if he knew what was happening at that moment below. I asked him to explain how he had dared to permit the presence of the sailors in the palace itself; why he had failed even to inform me of this beforehand.
He began to explain at excessive length that this conversation with the sailors was of no particular significance; that he was keeping careful watch, through some trusted men, on everything that was taking place; that he even considered these negotiations an event of extreme benefit for us. "Let them talk," he argued. "The day will pass in conversation and argument, and towards evening the situation will clear up; the infantry will arrive and we will change our tone."
So far as the surrender of myself was concerned, he assured me he would never accept anything of the kind, saying I could remain perfectly undisturbed on this point. He thought, however, that it might be useful if I personally, accompanied, of course, by a good escort—he offered to supply it—would go to Petrograd and try to reach an agreement with the various parties and even with Smolny Institute itself! To be sure, he added, the enterprise was rather risky, but was it not worth trying for the sake of the salvation of the country?
Thus spoke General Krassnoff to me. It was my last meeting with the general. The general's nervousness following upon the outward calm with which he had entered my room, the unsteady eyes, the strange smile—all this left no doubt of the actual situation. The bargaining for my head in progress downstairs was by no means as innocent as it was painted to me! The general left.
I revealed the whole truth to those who were still with me. What was to be done? All my relations with the Cossack detachment were now broken by the Cossacks themselves. It would have been quite proper for me to consider myself no longer bound to those who had already betrayed me. But there was no way of escape. I had prepared no measures for my personal safety. Nor were any preparations made for departure from Gatchina. We were too few for any armed resistance—less than ten. Escape from the palace was likewise impossible. Built by Paul I in the form of a closed rectangle, the palace grounds had but one exit, already occupied by a mixed guard of Cossacks and sailors.
While we were discussing how to escape from the impasse, how to get out from the trap, one of the keepers of the palace appeared offering assistance. He explained that he knew of a secret underground exit, leading outside of the palace, but that it was impossible to make use of this exit before dark. If nothing happened before then, it was possible to escape from the trap by means of this secret exit. I requested my companions to lose no time and save themselves one by one as best they could.
I, personally, and Lieutenant Vinner determined not to give ourselves up to the traitors alive. That was all. Our plan was that, while the band of sailors and Cossacks would search for us in the front rooms, we would settle accounts with life by means of our revolvers in the) rear chambers. At that time, on the morning of November 14, 1917, this resolve seemed quite simple, logical and inevitable.
Time passed. We waited. Downstairs they were bargaining. Suddenly, at three o'clock in the afternoon, the same soldier who had brought us, in the morning, the news of Dybenko's arrival, came running in. His face was pale as death. The bargain had been concluded, he explained. The Cossacks had bought their freedom and the right to return to their homes with their arms for the price of only one human head! To carry out the bargain, i.e., my arrest and surrender to the Bolsheviki, the enemies of yesterday, in quite friendly manner, had chosen a mixed commission. The sailors and Cossacks were ready to rush into my rooms at any moment.
What was Krassnoff's role in this deal? In the archives at General Headquarters there is a short and eloquent reply to this question. On November fourteenth General Dukhonin received a telegram from Krassnoff: "I ordered the arrest of the Commander-in-Chief; he managed to escape."
Those who saw General Dukhonin at that time say that on receiving the telegram he was convinced that the order for my arrest had been issued because of my intention to compromise with the Bolsheviki.
The agreement between the Cossacks and the sailors seemed to settle the situation finally, leaving me no avenue of escape. But a miracle happened!
Two men whom I had never met or known before come into the room—a soldier and a sailor.
"There is no time to lose. Put this on."
"This" consists of a sailor's cloak, a sailor's hat and automobile goggles. The cloak is too short for me. The hat is too small and persists in falling back on my neck. The masquerade attire appears ludicrous and dangerous. But there is nothing to be done. I have only a few minutes.
"At the gate, before the palace, an automobile awaits you."
We say good-by.
Together—the sailor and I—we walk out of my rooms through the back door. Two sailors come passing the door.
They walk slowly across the empty corridor, engaged in quiet, nonchalant conversation. The rectangular corridor seems endless.
Finally, we are at the stairway. We go below to the only exit, already occupied by a mixed guard of Cossacks and sailors. The least mistake, an uncertain step, we will be discovered and all will be lost.
But we do not seem to think of that possibility at all. Our bodies move quite automatically, with perfectly balanced precision, like good machines. We pass the guard at the entrance door. Nothing!
We move under the arch. We look around. I certainly do look ludicrous. Again nothing.
We pass to the elevation before the palace. All is empty. There is no one to be seen! No automobile. We cannot understand at first what has happened.
We walk on.
Where? We don't know. To move faster is impossible.
"There has been a mix-up," says my new comrade.
"Let us go back," I reply.
We turn back.
We are again under the arch. We look around. We are now being observed.
We reenter the palace, through the door opposite to the one through which we left. This door leads straight to the guardroom.
We hear a diminishing distant roar. Dybenko's sailors and Krassnoff's Cossacks are running upstairs to arrest me.
At this moment we are met by the same friend who told us that an automobile would be waiting for us at the exit.
Imperceptibly, with an air of complete indifference, he passes us, saying:
"There has been a misunderstanding; the automobile is waiting for you at the exit from the town, at the Egyptian gates."
We turn and appear for the third time under the arch.
This is already too much. A guard takes a step forward in our direction. But here, under the arch, stands a trusted friend, an officer placed there for possible "necessity." He is covered with bandages; his face and body bear the scars of war. He "suddenly" grows faint and falls straight into the arms of him, a sailor or Cossack—I do not remember—who was about to approach us.
All eyes turn upon the officer who has fainted. We slip through.
We march through the city. The road is long. Gradually we put on speed. We meet a cab. We jump in.
From the distance we see the machine at the Egyptian gates. It seems as if we will never reach it. We almost stifle with impatience. Finally we are at our destination. We push into the hand of the cabman a ridiculously large bill. His eyes look with surprise at the machine, flying at breakneck speed.
The machine is an excellent one. So is the chauffeur, an aviator. We speed along the chaussee towards Luga at a fantastic rate. The chauffeur is master of the wheel. Inside the car are hand grenades. In the event of necessity we will hurl them at our pursuers.
A few minutes after our escape the pursuit begins.
Where and how I escaped is a puzzle to everybody in the palace.
Some friends at the palace take a most active part in the preparations. Our soldier, a chauffeur, a man absolutely devoted to me, appears "infuriated" at the escape. He volunteers to lead the pursuit. In my own machine, one I had used at the front, he follows along the route of our escape..
Others take the opposite direction. The automobile driven by my "pursuer" is filled with enemies. But this does not disturb him. While at full speed the excellent machine "suddenly" breaks down. We can no longer be overtaken.
But we do not know this. We speed on. But where are we going? Surely, not to Luga? We have not the slightest idea of what has taken place there in these last hours.
Near by, in the woods, there is a little peasant homestead. The occupants are simple folk, with no interest in politics, but honest.
They are acquaintances of the sailor friend with whom I escaped from the palace, although he has not been to see them for more than a year. We look around the chaussée. Not a soul is to be seen either in front or behind. We stop. Both of us jump out and disappear in the thick of the wood. The automobile proceeds.
From afar we hear the farewell of its horn.
While we had been speeding along the chaussée towards Luga, the trains with our long awaited infantry were approaching Gatchina from the opposite direction.
But it was too late. The first part of the strategic plan so cleverly conceived by the civilian and military "Kornilovites" was carried out brilliantly.
With the hands of the Bolsheviki the Provisional Government was overthrown. The hated man was no longer in power.
There remained only the task of executing the second and more important part of the plan: to "finish" the Bolsheviki within three weeks and to establish in Russia a "national" and, above all, a "strong government."
These three weeks have dragged out too long.
Last updated on: 2.17.2008