General Kutepov: A Collection of Essays (III)
The Preobrazhenskii Lifeguard Regiment
According to the reminiscences of his friend and comrade
in the Preobrazhenskii Lifeguard Regiment
former aide-de-camp E. I. V (His Imperial Majesty)
Colonel V. V. Svechin
Everywhere he would perform a crucially important deed, but then came 26 January 1930 and everything unexpectedly ended... At the same time, the name of General Kutepov, who had always shunned notoriety, at once becomes famous - he becomes a martyr for the holy idea of Russia. His name is repeated not only by Russians, but also by foreigners, and his moral authority grows.
Four years passes by, but the name of Kutepov sounds louder than ever, and the more so the further we depart from that fateful day of 26 January 1930, the more so everyone repeats with great respect this hallowed name of the great fighter for the motherland, the more popular it becomes, gradually transforming itself into a symbol of sacrificial patriotism, becoming the slogan for the uncompromising struggle for the salvation, happiness and greatness of Russia.
I first met Kutepov in the fall of 1906, when he had been transferred to the Lifeguard Preobrazhenskii regiment from the 85th Viborgskii Infantry regiment.
Having arrived at the barracks on Million street, he appeared in the Chancellery, in order to present himself to me as regimental adjutant, prior to going to the regimental commander.
I knew, that the officer we had expected from the Vyborgskii regiment was no ordinary officer. The attestation from the regimental commander, Major-General Zaionchkovskii, readily confirmed this. Besides the usual official expressions - outstanding and so on, this time there were other ones as well, from which it was possible to form a more detailed portrait concerning the achievements of this officer.
Under such conditions, I was naturally well-disposed towards him, nevertheless he made an exceptional impression upon me.
Not overly tall, thickset, bedecked with military decorations, he presented himself to me with irreproachable military bearing and discipline. Displaying proper respect for his superior in rank, age and position, he at the same time behaved with the greatest dignity, conveying not the slightest trace of that flattery or servility, which I always found offensive. What is more, he always looked me directly in the eye.
There could be no doubts - before me stood a true officer, meaning by this an officer-knight, incapable of degrading himself before anyone, and capable of heroic deeds in the name of duty.
Moreover, I saw that I was dealing with a man honourable to the very core, for whom the word was not separate from the deed.
Having wished him good luck and success, I directed him to the commander of the regiment, whom I notified at the same time by telephone.
"How do you find him?," asked me Colonel V. M. Dragomirov. I answered: "He is undoubtedly an asset for the regiment. I have the very best impression of him. Kutepov is an officer in the best sense of the word, someone that can be relied upon. I believe people would follow him in both peace and war, regardless of where he were to lead them. And in the present time, this is especially important and necessary."
I am proud of this response, which I gave in 1906. Everything subsequent to this has done nothing but validate it. In the regiment during peacetime and war, during the revolutionary days in Petrograd and during the days in command of the Lifeguard Preobrazhenskii regiment, and subsequently in the time of struggle against the Reds in southern Russia, Kutepov was at all times constantly imbued with the great spirit of a soldier, behind whom people followed everywhere without hesitation.
I do not remember in which companies he passed his service during his first years in the regiment. Apparently he was quickly assigned to the post of assistant to the chief of the Instructional Detachment, and in 1914 he himself became Chief of the Detachment. According to regulations, he was required to remain as part of the complement of the reserve battalion, but he was not one to be reconciled with this.
With the announcement of mobilization, his heroic spirit would flash with a new strength - rearward service was not for him, he strained for battle.
Hearing his petition, the commander of the regiment, Flugel-Adjutant Count Ignatiev, appointed him commander of the 4th company.
Rich with experience from the Japanese campaign, Kutepov would give valuable advice to his fellow company commanders of the 1st battalion and in the first battle displayed wondrous bravery at the head of his company and gave evidence of his deep understanding of the military art.
Later, he took command of the 2nd battalion, crowning it with new laurels, and in 1917 he received the command of the regiment itself, after the commander, H. I. M. Suite Major-General Drentel'n, was dismissed on orders of the Provisional Government.
The times were difficult, authority tottered, and anarchy reigned at the front... The army was collapsing, but thanks to Kutepov's steadfast energy, thanks to that exceptional authority, which he employed among the soldiers, authority based upon respect for his courage, his deep knowledge of the military, his constant concern for his subordinates which never left him, despite the extraordinary demands placed upon him, and his sense of justice, he managed to preserve the regiment entrusted to him from disorder and maintain not only its internal discipline but also its combat effectiveness longer than others.
Everyone remembers the events, which unfolded in the summer of 1917 near Ternopol', when after a momentary glorious success, Kerenskii's revolutionary regiments fled in a panic, leaving to the enemy untold spoils and giving themselves over to robbery and violence in their flight...
In these terrible moments, the Preobrazhentsi with their age-old brethren, the Semenovtsi, became one as an unbreakable wall, barring the path of the victor.
A wondrous repetition of events! In 1700, Peter's youthful regiments, with their courage and steadfastness, rescued the retreating forces of the Duke de Croÿ from capture at the hands of the Swedes, and 217 years later, the Commander-in-Chief of the South-West front, General Kornilov, would send a telegraph:
"The entire army disgracefully flees, only the Petrovskii brigade offers battle under the canopy of their grey banners...."
After having entered the ranks of the Preobrazhentsi in 1906, Kutepov would enter the last glorious page of its history, and this last page would be a repeat of the first, inscribed near Narva.
Kutepov's further service to the motherland is the history of the White movement; that wondrous tale of heroism, sacrifice, suffering and unquenchable faith in the final victory of truth over falsehood, the idea of the motherland over internationalism, God over Satan, which I hope those who have the all necessary information will set forth with impartiality and desired clarity. I, however, wish only to say a few words about Kutepov as an officer, a commander and as a man.
For Kutepov's qualities as an officer and a commander, I will cite what I happened to hear about him from a soldier.
"Strict - they said about him before the war, - but he wasn't faulted for it; he understood the likes of us, one could say, he could see right through us, he wasn't one to lie to. If you did something wrong, best admit guilt straight away. Then things wouldn't be too bad. But if you weren't straight with him, there 'd be trouble.
"With him, it was also a good thing that he owed nothing to either the sergeant or the corporal, he knew the service, and what is more, he had his hand in everything, so he knew where the truth was.
"In a word, he was a commander. "
Such were the opinions of Kutepov in peacetime, during wartime they were more interesting still.
"He is a hero, responded anyone who ever happened to be asked what they thought of Kutepov. And if they were asked further, 'what they meant by very brave?,' then one would hear: 'Yes, there is that bravery which does not astonish us, your Honours, by its bravery. Our gentlemen officers, all, are brave as needs be... This is not that bravery, which God knows as something special. With death all around and hell facing us at times, for him this was nothing. He would laugh and joke and our comrades' spirits would lift." And again the same testimonial would be heard as in peacetime: 'He knew the service,' but how significantly more important this phrase sounded now than in peacetime!
One also heard the following explanations:
"By itself, bravery in war isn't much, it's necessary to think about things, otherwise nothing will come of it, only losses... Here in this matter, Captain Kutepov, God grant him health, was a fine sort. Not a single man was lost in vain. To follow him was like being behind a brick wall, one could say"
"Other officers, both brave and good warriors, were a trifle hot-headed - would rush to attack, even when pointless - well, nothing would come of it... But Captain Kutepov was always calm, would keep his eye on everything, both us and the enemy, and if he gave an order, you can be sure, it was exactly what was needed..." It was not only wounded men in his company or battalion who told me this, but others as well when I visited the infirmaries. My former soldiers also would tell me this upon being discharged from the infirmaries and being sent back to the front - everyone knew Kutepov.
Such were descriptions given of Kutepov as an officer and as a military commander; descriptions made sincerely and directly. These are not wooden phrases, these are the heartfelt cries of the little ones.
My personal relations with Alexander Pavlovich took on a friendly character as soon as he entered the regiment. I was first among the old officers who became on familiar terms with him, but since our time serving together in the regiment did not happen to be very long - in 1917 I was "dismissed from the front" to join His Majesty's retinue, I did not manage to become very good friends with him at this time. This would occur after the Revolution, when I was among the numerous refugees who had left Kislovodsk in September 1918 upon the retreat of Colonel Shkuro's detachment, and arrived at Novorossisysk, where General Kutepov was at that time the Military Governor.
The spiritual isolation we both suffered in this awful city, having no relatives and being separated by fate from all those dear to us, naturally brought us together.
Our mutual convictions and inconsolable grief for the Sovereignty of Old Russia, its sacred army and our valorous old regiment, and our shared precious memories and hopes - all of this naturally elicited our desire to see each other often and with each passing day our connection grew stronger and stronger. Our previous friendly relations became transformed in the shortest time into a real and sincere bond of friendship.
We met almost every night and would converse for long hours, unburdening our souls to each other, and here I can actually say I got to know him. I understood what sort of man he was. I was convinced, that he not only validated my earlier impressions of him, but also possessed qualities which I had never suspected.
I knew that he was a distinguished officer and that he was an extremely honourable and respectable man, but I was not aware of many other things, that I discovered in Novorossiysk.
First of all, I was convinced, that Kutepov was a very kind man by nature. Many may not believe this, but I assert that this is simply the case. I have much evidence of this based on fragments of memoirs, showing that I am not mistaken.
Yes, he could be ruthless when necessary, when he knew extreme measures were unavoidable. But in accepting these measures, he would do violence to his own person in the name of duty. While possessing enormous stamina, he hid his internal feelings behind an icy countenance, but the more these feelings painfully reverberated on his own heart, the more they rent his spirit.
The breadth of human malice which became displayed after the revolution caused him no small amount of pain, and he often complained of the shameless behaviour exhibited on all levels of society.
Being possessed of steadfast principles himself, he could not understand how people, who just yesterday occupied prominent positions, carried rank and were decorated by medals, could change so much....
He himself remained faithful to the oath he swore when he became an officer to serve the Tsar and the Fatherland. Like the ancient Romans, he did not know the word compromise. As with the majority of the Russian people, his concept of the motherland was inseparable from that of the Tsar and was the sole purpose of life. The words of the great founder of the Preobrazhenskii regiment, connected with the battle of Poltava, remained his maxim. He was possessed of neither personal interests nor personal ambition. He sought nothing for himself, but only that Russia should flourish.
He was a monarchist to the very depths of his soul and not in the European meaning of this word, which views it as a defined form of government, but rather in the traditional Russian perspective as a divine institution.
For him, the Tsar -Emperor of all the Russias - was an Anointed Sovereign Divinity, whose power to command stemmed "not only from fear but was enjoined by the conscience of God himself."
While professing this, he at the same timed understood that absolutism, as a permanent regime, was less conceivable, and while being an opponent to parliamentary democracy on principle, he recognized that this system, which had been introduced into Russia after the reforms of 1906, with minor improvements could fully provide for both the fair management of the country as well as its all-round prosperity and true cultural development.
But as I mentioned, for him the Motherland came before all else, and he was prepared to serve it even under conditions not to his liking. He would often say:
"Yes, I do not consider Russia as being powerful and fortunate under anything other than the scepter of its lawful Tsar, but I am prepared to serve Russia under any regime, as long as they have pledged themselves to the task of the national revival of Russia, rather than being servants of internationalism."
"But before all else," he would say, "it is necessary to save Russia, which is bleeding profusely and passing away. This is the chief and most urgent problem, and when it is achieved, all else will come in due course. "
It was not easy for him in Novorossisyk. The task he had been charged with was new to him. He was aware of his lack of experience in civil administration and it weighed upon him. Wishing to overcome his lack of knowledge, he carefully studied the laws, and possessing an excellent memory, he quickly understood much.
But by books alone one cannot overcome a lack of schooling and experience, which were all the more necessary in the absence of an established administrative apparatus, which had been destroyed by the Revolution.
Indeed, his main misfortune was the lack of reliable officials. There was no one, on which he could rely and he was required to take special measures against possible abuses committed by them. These included both the head of his chancellory (I do not remember his name) and his chief of staff, the notorious Colonel de Roberti.
I recall Alexander Pavlovich's complaints regarding the habitual corruption, lack of patriotism, and both the inability and unwillingness to adapt to new circumstances.
Operating under such conditions, his work in Novorossisysk comprised a continuous achievement. Lacking the possibility of trusting anyone, he wanted do everything by himself... He would haul up undisciplined officers, struggle with the willfulness of various newly-appearing officials, pursue abuses and relentlessly turn over to military courts robbers and rapists, whoever they were, and as I now recall, he would become indignant over the softness of the Yekaterinodar leadership, who did not wish to approve such verdicts.
"Do they really not understand," he would complain, "that by failing to punish the guilty with full severity, they will be encouraging disoluteness and criminality themselves?"
He would border on despair at moments. This stern and iron-willed man was sometimes close to tears, recognizing the tragedy of the situation.
Recalling the first volunteers, he told me:
"If you had seen them, they were such worthy men. Speaking bluntly, one could say they were saintly. With such men one could do anything, " and he would relate episodes from the beginning of the White struggle, in which he would describe the high moral standing of its devotees.
"Alas," he would exclaim, "almost all of them are dead, and now with mobilization almost any sort of element flows into the army, including many who are worthless for any task.
"You cannot imagine," Kutepov would continue, "what sort of filth people get up to, you would not believe, if I were to tell you that gray-haired colonels have placed themselves before me on their knees, pleading forgiveness for having served in the Red army... And officials? All these people of the 20th rank, deprived of any sort of patriotism and prepared to serve anyone available, as long as they pay more..."
How brightly would his eyes burn during these conversations of ours, how much disappointment and indignation they contained.
It was during these long conversations that I comprehended him, understood his spirit, valued his strength of will, and measured the depth of his chivalrous integrity and selfless nature.
With Kutepov's appointment as the commander of the 1st Volunteer army in January 1919, we parted company.
We would meet again in Paris. He was still the same man. Neither the collapse of the all hopes connected with the White movement, nor everything endured during the time of the evacuation, and later in Gallipoli, and finally in Bulgaria, in no wise broke his powerful spirit. He was still the same.
And he was thus not only before those for whome he needed to set an example, but before me as well, his best friend, whom he loved as anyone, and who, he knew, loved him with all his heart...
He was the same - spiritually invincible, invariably cheerful, and steadfast in the belief of final success.
In one aspect, however, he had changed and in this I was glad. It was apparent that he was making use of wordly experience and was studying much. He was now not only a brave, talented and straightforward general, but also possessed of a political outlook.
It was apparent that he had read much, thought much and made efforts at improving himself.
In Paris, our friendship grew even stronger, becoming more intimate. I valued it especially during the time I was struck with a serious illness.
Visiting me almost every day, he always found the words for comfort and cheer.
Once, when I thanked him for a particular visit, he told me:
"In fact and friendship, if we cannot support each other in misfortune, then who can? My friendship for you is special. I always remember how you displayed much kindness towards me when I arrived in the regiment. I, of course, did not display my feelings at that time, I was not entirely at ease the first time we met and therefore I have never forgotten your regard for me then."
I cite these words, as I remember them, in order to confirm once again the statements I made above regarding the depth of his spirit and the nobleness of his character.
Completely different activity awaited Kutepov in Paris; activity that was in sharp contrast to his former military existence. Caution and diplomacy now stood in the foreground.
I am convinced, that eventually he would have been equal to the task set before him, for many Russian people in various times of our history have similarly gained notoriety and despite lacking a wide education have furthered the glory of Russia with honour. Kutepov as well, with his natural common sense and his purely Russian ingenuity, correctly understood the most difficult questions and, barring the unfortunate events of 26 January 1934, would have entered his name into the history of Russia through incomparably greater feats, than those of men he himself admired and for whom all true patriots nowadays admire with reverance before him.