Nazi atrocities in the Alexander Park, 1941-42

PHOTO: Nazi soldiers lead a group of Jews through the streets of Pushkin (1941).
Artist: V. V. Kahn

In July 2018, a horrible discovery was made by workers in the Alexander Park in the city of Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo], a place where Jews had been shot by the Nazis, between 17th September 1941 to 1st January 1942. According to archival documents, the execution and burial of Pushkin’s Jews were carried out near the Alexander Palace.

During the repair of drainage channels in the park, workers discovered the remains of two people. On one of the skulls, the temple had been pierced, believed to be from a blow with a rifle butt, while evidence of a bullet was found in the back of the head. Local historian Vitaly Novitsky claimed that these were the remains of Jews shot during the Nazi occupation of Pushkin in 1941.

Novitsky’s discovery marks yet another place associated with the “Leningrad Holocaust” – the extermination of the Jews of the Leningrad region during the war years. Jews were shot in Pushkin, Pavlovsk [in 1941, shot a total of 41 Jews in Pavlovsk Park], Gatchina, among other towns in the occupied territory.

The history of the Holocaust in Pushkin has not been sufficiently studied. Firstly, there were not many witnesses of the extermination of Jews. In addition, during Soviet times, the tragedy of the Holocaust was hushed up and the systematic study of the crimes of the German Nazis in Pushkin was not carried out until many years later.

It was only in 1986 that the collection of evidence about the acts of genocide carried out the Nazis in Pushkin began, and subsequently published in 1991.

Konstantin Plotkin, a historian and researcher of the Holocaust in the Leningrad region, claims that before the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), the Jewish population of the occupied part of the Leningrad region was 7,500 people. Approximately half of them were drafted into the Soviet army or evacuated. According to the reports of the Einsatz groups, the rest (3600 people) were shot by the Nazis.

It is believed that approximately 250-300 Jews were shot in Pushkin, however, some historians believe there may have been many more killed, up to 800 people. One historian claims that the bodies of about 500 Jews were buried near the White Tower – just steps from the Alexander Palace.

Plotkin also noted that during the battle for Pushkin, residents hid in the basements of Gostiny Dvor, the Lyceum and other places. And so the Germans immediately began to inspect these cellars in search of Jews. Following their arrests, many Jews were shot in the Babolovsky, Alexander and Catherine parks. On 20th September 1941, 38 people, including 15 children, were shot on the square in front of the Catherine Palace. In addition, Jews were shot in front of the Large Caprice [situated on the western boundary between the Catherine and Alexander Parks] and in the Lyceum Garden [near the Catherine Palace]. After the executions, personal items were collected from the murdered victims, and laid out on the second floor of the Lyceum, where local residents were free to help themselves.

PHOTO: The Formula of Sorrow (1972) monument by Russian artist Vadim Abramovich Sidur

On 13th October 1991, the Formula of Sorrow, a monument to Jewish victims of Nazism, killed in 1941 in Pushkin during the Great Patriotic War was unveiled in the city. In attendance were delegations from Israel, the USA, Germany, Finland and numerous compatriots.

The sculpture which was made by Soviet artist and sculptor Vadim Abramovich Sidur (1924-1986), while the architectural design of the memorial was made by Boris Bader.

The Formula of Sorrow resembles a mournful figure leaning over a lake of blood-red flowers. It is placed on a low equilateral triangular granite pedestal, which cuts like a wedge into the face of a larger triangular flower bed, the edging of the opposite faces of which is also made of granite. On the opposite corner of the flower bed from the sculpture, there are three inclined triangular plates, which, overlapping each other, form the Star of David . On the middle slab, in cast letters in Hebrew and Russian, the verse Tegilim 79:3 is displayed (Psalm 79:3): “.שפכו דמם כמים… ואין קובר // … they shed their blood like water, / and there was no one to bury them.” This text for the monument was chosen by the chairman of the Leningrad Jewish Association and Hebrew teacher Felix Fainberg. Below is a dedicatory inscription: “To the Jews of Pushkin, / fallen victims of / the fascist / genocide / 1941.”

The memorial is located in the park at the intersection of Dvortsovaya and Moskovskaya streets, not far from the Alexander Palace, near which mass execution of Jews took place.


PHOTO: the damaged Alexander Palace and SS cemetery, 1944

During the Nazi German occupation of Tsarskoye Selo (1941-44), during the Great Patriotic War, the Alexander Palace was used as headquarters for the German military command.

The basement of the Alexander Palace was used a prison, while the area in front of the palace was turned into a cemetery for SS soldiers. The bodies were later reinterred to Germany.

As the Nazi German forces were leaving the Soviet Union, many of the former imperial palaces were set ablaze – Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, the Grand Palace in Peterhof, and Pavlovsk Palace.

The Alexander Palace was spared, however, many of the interiors were destroyed, their contents left prior to evacuation were stolen or destroyed.

© Paul Gilbert. 20 April 2022

The Soviet Navy’s use of the Imperial Yacht “Standart” during WWII

PHOTO: the former Imperial Yacht Standart, refitted for wartime use during the Soviet years

It seems that royal yachts are today a thing of the past. In the Russian Empire, the last was the Imperial Yacht Standart of Emperor Nicholas II. A magnificent ship that survived its owner by more than 40 years and left it’s mark on Russia’s nautical history. Why was it renamed several times? Why was the luxury yacht converted into a warship? What combat missions did she perform during the Great Patriotic War? And why did Stalin dislike this ship?

PHOTO: Emperor Wilhelm II and Emperor Alexander III

Competition between two emperors

The history of the Imperial Yacht Standart began in Denmark at the Burmeister and Vine shipyard. On 29th August 1893, Alexander III, together with Empress Maria Fedorovna and Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich [future Emperor Nicholas II], arrived on the Imperial Yacht Polar Star in Copenhagen, where the Emperor ordered the construction of the ship.

“There was an unspoken competition between Emperor Alexander III and Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany. When Wilhelm built himself the ocean yacht Hohenzollern, Alexander III decided to outdo him with an even more splendid vessel,” claims the Russian marine writer Vladimir Shigin.

On 1st November [O.S. 20 October] 1894, Alexander III died. The sovereign never stepped on board the new yacht, however, he did manage to give her a name in honour of the first ship of the Russian fleet, and the beloved frigate[1] of his ancestor Peter the Great. Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich had no idea that he would inherit not only this ship, but the entire Russian Empire the following year. The new Emperor Nicholas II travelled to Copenhagen for the launching ceremony of the Imperial Yacht Standart on 21st March 1895.

In August 1907, Nicholas wrote to his mother, that ” . . . he [Wilhelm II] so much liked the Standart that he said he would have been happy to get it as a present and that after such a yacht he was ashamed to show the Hohenzollern.”

The Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna replied: “I am sure the beautiful lines of the Standart would be an eyesore to Wilhelm. Still, his joke about how happy he would be if the yacht were given him as a present was in very doubtful taste. “

“I hope he will not have the cheek to order himself one here, this would really be the limit, though just like him, with the tact that distinguishes him!”[2]

PHOTO: views of the elegant and state of the art Imperial Yacht Standart

Floating palace

On 8th September 1896, the Standart made its first trip [without sea trials] to England. The British called the yacht a “floating palace”. Black lacquered body, furniture made of fine wood, and embossed leather [instead of wallpaper], were used for its construction and interior decoration.

The state of the art Imperial Yacht had 3 masts, a displacement of 5480 tons, a length of 128 m, a width of 15.8 m, a draft of 6.6 m, a design speed of 22 knots, 24 boilers and 2 propellers. Armament – eight 47-mm guns. The sharp clipper-head bow of the Standart was decorated with a gilded double-headed eagle. The crew numbered 373 officers and sailors, for whom the Emperor knew each one by name.

On the main deck (above the engine room) were the imperial cabins. Each block of cabins for the Emperor, Empress and Empress Dowager consisted of a living room, bedroom and bathroom. The same deck housed the dining room, the saloon, the cabins of the grand dukes and princesses, the yacht officers and the ship’s wardroom. On the lower deck there were cabins for children of the imperial family, rooms for servants, crew quarters and showers. The same deck housed a radio room, dynamo enclosures, workshops and some storerooms. Below this deck, in the bow of the yacht, there was a cargo hold and a powder magazine, and in the stern – refrigerators for perishable provisions. For the crew, much better living conditions have been created than on previous Imperial yachts.

PHOTO: Pavel Dybenko and his common-law wife Alexandra Kollontai 

What happened to Standart after the revolution?

In 1917, those very sailors, personally selected by Nicholas II, took part first in the February and then in the October Revolution. The central revolutionary organ of the Baltic sailors, Tsentrobalt[3], set up their headquarters in the former Emperor’s study. Not only did they loot the ship’s expensive wood and silk, they even took the Romanovs’ family silver. “The chairman of Tsentrobalt Pavel Dybenko and his common-law wife Alexandra Kollontai slept in Nicholas II’s bedroom. That is, they enjoyed all the benefits of the Imperial Yacht’s previous owners, the very same ones the Bolsheviks condemned and accused of living better than the common Russian people”, – writes Vladimir Shigin.

In the spring of 1918, the Standart took part in the Ice Campaign[4], following an order issued by Vladimir Lenin to save the Baltic Fleet from anti-Bolshevik forces.

In 1918, having lost its guards status and renamed March 18 (in memory of the first day of the Paris Commune), the yacht was mothballed and laid up for many years in the Military Harbour of Kronstadt.

Between 1933-36, the former imperial yacht was converted into a minelayer in Leningrad. By order of the commander of the Naval Forces of the Baltic Sea Lev Mikhailovich Haller (1883-1950) of 22nd January 1934, renamed Marty, after the French communist and secretary of the Comintern[5] – André Marty (1886-1956).

On 25th December 1936, Marty officially became part of the KBF[6]. The ship was equipped with the latest devices for laying 320 mines, powerful artillery weapons (four 130-mm main guns, seven 76.2-mm universal guns, three 45-mm anti-aircraft guns and two coaxial machine guns). New steam engines were installed, providing a speed of over 14 knots and a cruising range of up to 2,300 miles.

In 1938, the ship became the flagship of the Baltic Fleet’s barrage and trawling formation. In 1939, the ship laid mines off the coast of Finland, for which she received a commendation from the Military Council of the Baltic Fleet. In the summer of 1941, Marty’s crew won the Red Banner Challenge of the People’s Commissariat of the Navy .

PHOTO: the Standart was renamed after the French communist Andre Marty

Naval battles with the participation of Marty during the Second World War

The Marty entered combat duty on 23rd June 1941. On 25th June, while performing a combat mission, Marty sank an enemy submarine. In September of the same year, it repulsed a German air raid. The ship withstood bombardment of ten enemy bombers.

In early November 1941, the Marty took part in the evacuation of the defenders of the Hanko Peninsula. Despite the damage sustained by a mine explosion, Marty took on board and transported to Kronstadt 2,029 soldiers, 60 guns, 11 mortars, shells and food, and about 800 tons of cargo.

On 3rd April 1942, Marty was one of the first in the fleet to receive the honorary title of Guards Units[7]. The Marty was awarded the honour again in 1948.

In 1948, the very same French communist Andre Marty, whose name the ship bore, criticised both Stalin and the CPSU[8], in an article, published in the newspaper L’Humanité[9]. This was enough for the name of the Frenchman to be removed from all factories and ships, and a new name was chosen for the hero ship.

Traditionally, all mine layers in the Russian fleet, have been named after large Russian rivers or lakes. Thus Marty was renamed Oka, and was converted to a floating barracks. Under it’s new name, the former Imperial Yacht served in the Soviet fleet until the end of the 1950s,

PHOTO: A still from the Soviet film “Мичман Панин” [Warrant Officer Panin]. 1960

The film “Warrant Officer Panin

The Oka embarked on its last voyage in the summer of 1960, when it was used as the auxiliary cruiser Elizabeth for the Soviet film Мичман Панин [Warrant Officer Panin] [10]. The film sounded the Imperial hymn God Save the Tsar one can only imagine the parallels? Thanks to the creators of the film, the ship can be seen in detail, including the engine room and the partially preserved interior decoration of the ship.

After filming, the ship was sent to its home harbor at Libau [today, Liepāja in Latvia] in the Baltic, where during exercises it served as a target for the testing of anti-ship missiles. In the mid-1960s, the former grand and luxurious Imperial Yacht was dismantled for scrap. Thus, one of the most famous Russian ships sunk into history.


[1] The frigate Standart was the first ship of Russia’s Baltic fleet. Her keel was laid on 24th April 1703 at the Olonetsky shipyard near Olonets. She was the first flagship of the Imperial Russian Navy and was in service until 1727.

[2] Excerpted from Dearest Mama . . . Darling Nicky: Letters Between Emperor Nicholas II and His Mother Empress Maria Feodorovna 1879-1917, published privately in 2021.

[3] The Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet (Tsentrobalt) was a high-level elective revolutionary democratic body of naval enlisted men for coordination of the activities of sailors’ committees of the Russian Baltic Fleet.

[4] The Ice Campaign was an operation which transferred the ships of the Baltic Fleet of the Imperial Russian Navy from their bases at Reval [Tallinn], and Helsinfors [Helsinki] to Kronstadt in 1918.

The Campaign was carried out in difficult ice conditions in February-May 1918. As a result of the operation, 236 ships and vessels were rescued from capture by German and Finnish troops and redeployed, including 6 battleships, 5 cruisers, 59 destroyers, 12 submarines.

[5] The Communist International (Comintern), was an international organization founded in 1919 that advocated world communism, controlled by the Soviet Union. The Comintern resolved to “struggle by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the state”

[6] The Red Banner Baltic Fleet ( KBF ) was an operational-strategic formation of the Navy in the armed forces of the USSR during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45).

[7] Guards units were elite units and formations in the armed forces of the former Soviet Union. These units were awarded Guards status after distinguishing themselves in service, and are considered to have elite status. The Guards designation originated during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, its name coming from the Russian Imperial Guard, which was disbanded in 1917 following the Russian Revolution.

[8] The Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

[9] L’Humanité is a French daily newspaper. It was previously an organ of the French Communist Party.

[10] Click HERE to watch the film on YouTube [in Russian].

© Paul Gilbert. 14 December 2021

The fate of Nicholas II’s Imperial Train

PHOTO: Two carriages of the Imperial Train on display in Alexandria Park, Peterhof. 1932
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

In May 1917, the Imperial Train of Emperor Nicholas II was sealed and transferred to Moscow, where it remained mothballed on the side tracks for more than a decade.

In the fall of 1929, two railway carriages were slowly rolled along temporary tracks which were laid from the Novy Peterhof railway station through the Proletarsky (former Alexandria) Park in Peterhof, to a small clearing just south of the Cottage Palace, it was to be the final stop for the former Imperial Train of Emperor Nicholas II.

The history of the Imperial Train dates back to the 1890s. Construction on the first of two trains began in 1894 in the Alexandrovsky Mechanical Plant of the Nikolaev railway, and completed in February 1896. A few years later it was supplemented with three additional carriages manufactured in the St. Petersburg-Warsaw railway assembly workshops. By the early 1910s, the Imperial Train consisted of a total of eleven carriages.

Each of the carriages was painted dark blue with gold trim and gilded decorations in the form of the Imperial coats of arms mounted between the windows. The interiors featured panels, ceilings and furniture made of polished oak, walnut, white and gray beech, maple and Karelian birch. 

PHOTO: Workers move carriages to the Alexandria Park, Peterhof. 1929
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

With the outbreak of World War I, the number of carriages was reduced to three, and the Imperial Train became a travelling residence for Nicholas II. Travelling back and forth between Tsarskoye Selo and General Headquarters at Mogilev, the train served as a military field office, equipped with telephone and telegraph communications. It was in the Salon Car of on this train that Emperor Nicholas II signed his signed his abdication on 2nd March 1917.

Subsequently, the former Tsar’s train was used by the ministers of the Provisional Government for several months. After the Bolsheviks came to power, the Imperial Train was used by the chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council Leon Trotsky (1879-1940).

PHOTO: Semyon Geychenko (second from the left) and Anatoly Shemansky (far right)
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

One can only speculate what the fate of the Imperial carriages would have been, had it not been for the efforts of two Peterhof museum workers, Semyon Geychenko and Anatoly Shemansky. It is largely thanks to their efforts, that two carriages from the Imperial Train were transferred from the People’s Commissariat of Railways to the Peterhof Museum in 1929.

PHOTO: Carriages of the Imperial Train on display in Alexandria Park, Peterhof. 1930
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

The following year, 1930, a permanent exhibition “The Carriages of the Former Tsarist Train” was opened in a small clearing just south of the Cottage Palace in the Proletarsky (Alexandria) Park. At the time of the opening of the exhibition, the interiors of the Tsar’s carriages had survived nearly intact. Near the carriages a platform and two wooden pavilions were built.

The pavilions housed the exposition “Imperialist War and the Fall of Autocracy,” which included four sections: “Causes of the World War”, “Russia in World War”, “The Collapse of Tsarism”, “The Final Journey of Nikolai Romanov from Tsarskoye Selo to Yekaterinburg.” The exhibit was supplemented with items from the Lower Dacha, the summer residence of Nicholas II and his family, located nearby on the shore of the Gulf of Finland.

The first carriage consisted of two parts: a dining room and a salon. In this car, the exhibition outlined the situation that had arisen before the February 1917 Revolution and the projects of the palace coup that preceded it. The dining car was used during the war for staff meetings with the Tsar’s participation.

The second carriage consisted of a maid’s compartment, the Empress’s bedroom, Nicholas II’s office and his valet’s compartment. The interior decoration, furnishings and decoration of the carriages resembled that of the Lower Dacha: Art Nouveau furniture made by Melzer’s firm, a comfortable leather cabinet, family photographs, and numerous icons in the bedroom.

PHOTO: The Imperial Train can be seen through the trees during the years of occupation
© Private Archive

PHOTO: German soldiers stand at the gutted Imperial Train during the years of occupation
© Private Archive

Sadly, the fate of most of the luxurious carriages of the Imperial Train is a sad one, having been destroyed in a fire some time during the Russian Civil War (1917-1922).

Equally sad, “The carriages of the Former Tsarist Train” exhibit at Peterhof was permanently closed in 1936. During the years of Nazi occupation of Peterhof (1941-44), the exhibition complex was virtually destroyed by the invaders: the platform and pavilions were destroyed, as well as the two remaining carriages and their historic interiors.

PHOTO: The salon of the Imperial Train, destroyed by the Nazis
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

PHOTO: The sad state of the carriages of the Imperial Train as they looked in the 1950s
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

In the first decade after the end of the Great Patriotic War, the question of the possibility of restoring the cars remained open. Nevertheless, the revival of the museum turned out to be unrealistic: on 18th February, 1954, a special commission of the October Railway ruled that due to the damage inflicted during the war years, the carriages of the Imperial Train  had become completely unserviceable and could not be restored.

In the summer of 1954, by order of the Department of Culture of the Executive Committee of the Leningrad City Council, the carriages were dismantled. Out of almost one thousand items and memorial items from the carriage interios, nearly all were destroyed or stolen. Today, only 55 items have been preserved in the funds of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve, including writing utensils, furniture, and furnishings.

NOTE: I am currently preparing an article on the Imperial Train and its luxurious interiors. Stay tuned . . . PG

© Paul Gilbert. 12 January 2021


Dear Reader

If you find my articles, news stories and translations interesting, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. Thank you for your consideration – PG

Traitors of Heroes? Officers of Nicholas II during the Great Patriotic War 1941-45


Without the tsarist officers, the victory of the Reds in the Civil War would have been impossible
– Leon Trotsky

Despite the Civil War and the repression of the 1930s, a significant number of former officers of the Russian Imperial Army and the Russian Army of the Provisional Government survived both the 1917 Revolution and the Civil War to serve under the Soviet regime during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45).

They played an important role as “military specialists” who trained the new generation of the Soviet military, transferring the traditions and spirit of the old Russian Imperial Army to the Red Army. Up to 40% of the entire officer corps of pre-revolutionary Russia joined the Bolsheviks and forge their victory. The head of the Revolutionary Military Council, Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), believed that without the tsarist officers, the victory of the Reds in the Civil War would have been impossible.

Tsarist officers contributed to the victory of the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War, by contributing to the training of the armed forces and commanding the Red Army. Statistically – about 35% of all commanders of the Red Army divisions during the Great Patriotic War were officers of the old Imperial Army, 35% of the commanders at the fronts in 1941-1945, a third of the commanders and 13% of the comcors had become officers before 1917. Their presence in the infantry was especially great.

Many famous Soviet marshals and generals who impressed the world with their victories, were former officers of the Imperial Army. Among those were Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov (1896-1974) who was awarded the St. George Cross twice for military merit, and promoted to the rank of non-commissioned officer for his bravery in battle. There were also men of higher rank, such as Apollon Yakovlevich Kruse (1892-1967), who served as Lieutenant General of the Red Army corps. The legendary Lieutenant General Dmitry Karbyshev (1880-1945), and Lieutenant General Alexander Bakhtin (1885-1963) had both sworn allegiance to Emperor Nicholas II.

But the most illustrious commanders of the Red Army in the war against Germany, consisted of five marshals of the USSR.


Alexander Mikhailovich Vasilevsky (1895-1977)

Alexander Mikhailovich Vasilevsky (1895-1977) had a strong Orthodox upbringing, his father was a priest, his mother was the daughter of a priest. He began his education in the local church school, and in 1909, he entered Kostroma seminary.

Vasilevsky began his military career during World War I, earning the rank of captain by 1917. Noted for his energy and personal courage, he took part in the famous Brusilov Offensive in 1916. After the October Revolution of 1917 and the start of the Civil War of 1917–1922 he was conscripted into the Red Army, taking part in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919–1921.

Vasilevsky served as a Russian career-officer in the Red Army, attained the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1943. He served as the Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces (1942-1945) and Deputy Minister of Defense during World War II, and as Minister of Defense from 1949 to 1953. As the Chief of the General Staff from 1942 to 1945, Vasilevsky became involved in planning and coordinating almost all the decisive Soviet offensives in World War II, from the Stalingrad counteroffensive of November 1942 to the assaults on East Prussia (January–April 1945), Königsberg (January–April 1945) and Manchuria (August 1945).


Fedor Ivanovich Tolbukhin (1894-1949)

Fedor Ivanovich Tolbukhin (1894-1949) volunteered for the Imperial Army in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I. He was steadily promoted, and appointed to captain by 1916 under Emperor Nicholas II. He was also decorated for bravery multiple times.

In August 1918 Tolbukhin joined the Red Army, where he served as the chief of staff of the 56th infantry division. After the Russian Civil War ended (1921), Tolbukhin was given a number of staff positions.

Tolbukhin took part in the opening phases of Operation Barbarossa until August 1941, when he was made the chief of staff of the Crimean Front, which he held until March 1942. From May to July 1942, he was the assistant commander of the Stalingrad Military District. After that, he was the commander of the 58th Army until March 1943, and was involved in the Battle of Stalingrad, where Tolbukhin’s superior, Colonel-General Andrei Yeremenko, praised his command organization and military prowess. On September 12, 1944, Tolbukhin was promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union.

Tolbukhin is generally regarded as one of the finest Soviet generals of World War II. Meticulous, careful, and not overly ambitious like some Soviet commanders, Tolbukhin was well respected by fellow commanders and also his men, especially since he had a dedication to keeping casualty rates low. Tolbukhin was the recipient of numerous awards and medals including the highest Soviet medal and rank, the Victory Order and Hero of the Soviet Union, respectively.


Colonel Boris Mikhailovich Shaposhnikov (1882-1945)

Colonel Boris Mikhailovich Shaposhnikov (1882-1945) joined the army of the Russian Empire in 1901 and graduated from the Nicholas General Staff Academy in 1910, reaching the rank of colonel in the Caucasus Grenadiers division in September 1917 during World War I. Also in 1917, he supported the Russian Revolution, an act unusual for an officer of his rank, and in May 1918 joined the Red Army.

Shaposhnikov was one of the few Red Army commanders with formal military training, and in 1921 he became 1st Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army’s General Staff, where he served until 1925. He was appointed commander of the Leningrad Military District in 1925 and then of the Moscow Military District in 1927. From 1928 to 1931 he served as Chief of the Staff of the Red Army.

In May 1940 he was appointed a Marshal of the Soviet Union. Despite his background as a Tsarist officer, Shaposhnikov won the respect and trust of Stalin. His status as a professional officer—he did not join the Communist Party until 1939—may have helped him avoid Stalin’s suspicions.

Fortunately for the Soviet Union, Shaposhnikov had a fine military mind and high administrative skills. He combined these talents with his position in Stalin’s confidence to rebuild the Red Army leadership after the purges. He obtained the release from the Gulag of 4,000 officers deemed necessary for this operation. In 1939 Stalin accepted Shaposhnikov’s plan for a rapid build-up of the Red Army’s strength. Although the plan was not completed before the German invasion of June 1941, it had advanced sufficiently to save the Soviet Union from complete disaster.


Leonid Aleksandrovich Govorov (1897-1955)

Leonid Aleksandrovich Govorov (1897-1955), was mobilized in December 1916, and sent to the Konstantinovskye Artillery School, from which he graduated in 1917. He became an artillery officer with the rank of podporuchik.

When the Russian Revolution broke out and the Russian Imperial Army disintegrated, Govorov returned home, but was conscripted into the White Guard army of Aleksandr Kolchak in October 1918, serving in an artillery battery in the Russian Civil War. Govorov fought in the Spring Offensive of the Russian Army, a general drive westwards by White forces in the east. He deserted in November 1919, fleeing to Tomsk, where he took part in an uprising against White authorities as part of a fighting squad. Govorov joined the Red Army in January 1920, serving in the 51st Rifle Division as an artillery battalion commander. With the division, he fought in the Siege of Perekop in November, during which Soviet forces drove Pyotr Wrangel’s White Army out of Crimea.

In World War II, Govorov rose to command an army in November 1941 during the Battle of Moscow. He commanded the Leningrad Front from April 1942 to the end of the war. He reached the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1944, was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and many other awards.


Ivan Khristoforovich Baghramyan (1897-1982)

Ivan Khristoforovich Baghramyan (1897-1982), joined the Russian Imperial Army as a volunteer on 16 September 1915. He was assigned as a private to the 116th Reserve Battalion and sent to Akhaltsikhe for basic training. With his training complete in December, he joined the 2nd Caucasus Frontier Regiment of the Russian Expeditionary Corps, which was sent to dislodge the Ottomans in Persia. Bagramyan participated in several battles in Asadabad, Hamedan and Kermanshah, the Russian victories here sending Ottoman forces reeling toward Anatolia.

Learning about the exploits of the men in the outfit, the chief of staff of the regiment, General Pavel Melik-Shahnazaryan, advised Bagramyan to return to Tiflis to enroll in the Praporshchik Military Academy. But in order to attend the school, Bagramyan needed to satisfy the academy’s requirement of having completed school at a gymnasium. This did not deter him and, after preparing for the courses in Armavir, he passed his exams and began attending the academy on February 13, 1917. He graduated in June 1917 and was assigned to the 3rd Armenian Infantry Regiment, stationed near Lake Urmia. But with the overthrow of the Russian Provisional Government in the midst of the October Revolution of 1917, his unit was demobilized.

Bagramyan’s experience in military planning as a chief of staff allowed him to distinguish himself as a capable commander in the early stages of the Soviet counter-offensives against Nazi Germany. He was given his first command of a unit in 1942, and in November 1943 received his most prestigious command as the commander of the 1st Baltic Front. As commander of the Baltic Front, he participated in the offensives which pushed German forces out of the Baltic republics.

Bagramyan was a Soviet military commander and Marshal of the Soviet Union of Armenian origin. During World War II, Bagramyan was the second non-Slavic military officer, after Latvian Max Reyter, to become a commander of a Front. He was among several Armenians in the Soviet Army who held the highest proportion of high-ranking officers in the Soviet military during the war.

* * *

It seems ironic that “Nicholas the Bloody” should play a much greater role in the history of 20th century Russia, than the Soviets would ever give him credit for. It is thanks to the excellent training during the reign of Russia’s last emperor, that former soldiers of the Russian Imperial Army should live through the 1917 Revolution and the Civil War to become marshals and generals, who fought heroic battles during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45.

It is important to recognize that each of them committed treason by breaking their oath of allegiance to Emperor Nicholas II and the Russian Empire, but should they be condemned? Certainly not. These marshals and generals, demonstrated sincere patriotism and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the Soviet Union, and saved the country from certain oblivion at the hands of the Nazi war machine. Their acts of bravery saved the lives of millions of Russians, had they not pushed the invaders back to Berlin, we may very well be living in a very different world today.

© Рaul Gilbert. 22 January 2020