Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak
Александр Васильевич Колчак
Alexander Kolchak.jpg
Deputy Chairman of the Provisional Government
In office
President Alexander Kerensky
Preceded by None; position established
Succeeded by None; position abolished
1st Prime Minister of Russian Democratic Republic
In office
Preceded by None; position established
Succeeded by Georgy Lvov
Personal details
Born Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak
16 November 1874
St. Petersburg, Russian Empire Flag of Russia
Died 14 June 1956
Moscow, Russian Democratic Republic Flag of Russia
Nationality Russian
Political party Russian People's Party
Occupation Politician
Profession Military officer
Military service
Allegiance Flag of Russia Russian Empire
Kolchak (blason) Provisional All-Russian Government
Flag of Russia Russian Democratic Republic
Service/branch Naval Ensign of Russia Russian Navy
Years of service 1886—1921
Rank Admiral
Commands Black Sea Fleet
National Army
Battles/wars World War I
Russian Civil War
Awards Order of St. George 3rd class
Order of St. George 4th class
Order of St. Vladimir 3rd class
Order of St. Vladimir 4th class
Order of St. Anne 1st class
Order of St. Anne 2nd class
Order of St. Anne 4th class
Order of St. Stanislaus 1st class
Order of St. Stanislaus 2nd class

Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak (Александр Васильевич Колчак) was a Russian admiral and later politician, having served in World War I and the Russian Civil War. During the Civil War, he was part of the White movement, being the deputy chairman of the Provisional All-Russian Government and overall commander of the Russian National Army (though this was jointly with Anton Denikin), and commanded the forces on the Eastern Front.

Early life and career

Kolchak was born in Saint Petersburg in 1874. His father was a retired major-general of the Marine Artillery, who was actively engaged in the siege of Sevastopol in 1854–55 and after his retirement worked as an engineer in ordnance works near St. Petersburg. Kolchak was educated for a naval career, graduating from the Naval Cadet Corps in 1894 and joining the 7th Naval Battalion of the city. He was soon transferred to the Far East, serving in Vladivostok from 1895 to 1899. He returned to western Russia and was based at Kronstadt, joining the Russian Polar expedition of Eduard Toll on the ship Zarya in 1900 as a hydrologist.

After considerable hardship, Kolchak returned in December 1902; Eduard Toll with three other members went further north and were lost. Kolchak took part in two Arctic expeditions and for a while was nicknamed "Kolchak-Poliarnyi" ("Kolchak the Polar"). For his explorations Kolchak received the highest award of the Russian Geographical Society.

In December 1903, Kolchak was on his way back to St. Petersburg, there to marry his fiancee Sophia Omirova. Not far from Irkutsk, he received notice of the start of war with the Empire of Japan and hastily summoned his bride and her father to Siberia by telegram for a wedding before heading directly to Port Arthur. In the early stages of the Russo-Japanese War, he served as watch officer on the cruiser Askold, and later commanded the destroyer Serdityi. He made several night sorties to lay naval mines, one of which succeeded in sinking the Japanese cruiser Takasago. He was decorated with the Order of St. Anna 4th class for the exploit. As the blockade of the port tightened and the Siege of Port Arthur intensified, he was given command of a coastal artillery battery. He was wounded in the final battles for Port Arthur and taken as a prisoner of war to Nagasaki, where he spent four months. His poor health (rheumatism – a consequence of his polar expeditions) – led to his repatriation before the end of the war. He was awarded the Golden Sword of St. George with the inscription "For Bravery" on his return to Russia.

Returning to Saint Petersburg in April 1905, Kolchak was promoted to lieutenant commander. Kolchak took part in the rebuilding of the Imperial Russian Navy, which had been almost completely destroyed during the war. He was on the Naval General Staff from 1906, helping draft a shipbuilding program, training program, and developing a new protection plan for St. Petersburg and the Gulf of Finland area.

Kolchak took part in designing the special icebreakers Taimyr and Vaigach, launched in 1909 spring 1910. Based in Vladivostok, these vessels were sent on a cartographic expedition to the Bering Strait and Cape Dezhnev. Kolchak commanded the Vaigach during this expedition and later worked at the Academy of Sciences with the materials collected by him during expeditions. His study, The Ices of the Kara and Siberian Seas, was printed in the Proceedings of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences and is considered the most important work on this subject. Extracts from it were published under the title "The Arctic Pack and the Polynya" in the volume issued in 1929 by the American Geographical Society, Problems of Polar Research.

In 1910 he returned to the Naval General Staff, and in 1912 he was assigned to serve in the Russian Baltic Fleet.

World War I

After the outbreak of war initially on the flagship Pogranichnik, Kolchak oversaw the laying of extensive coastal defensive minefields and commanded the naval forces in the Gulf of Riga. Admiral Essen was not satisfied to remain only on the defensive and ordered Kolchak to prepare a scheme for attacking the approaches of the German naval bases. During the autumn and winter of 1914–1915, Russian destroyers and cruisers started a series of dangerous night operations, laying mines at the approaches to Kiel and Danzig. Kolchak, being of the opinion that the person responsible for planning operations should take part in their execution, was always on board those ships which carried out the operations and sometimes took direct command of the destroyer flotillas.

He was promoted to vice-admiral in August 1916, the youngest man at that rank, and was made commander of the Black Sea Fleet, replacing Admiral Eberhart. Kolchak's primary mission was to support General Yudenich in his operations against the Ottoman Empire. He also was tasked with the job of countering any U-boat threat and to begin planning an invasion of the Bosporus (which was never carried out). Kolchak's fleet was successful at sinking Turkish colliers. Because there was no railroad linking the coal mines of eastern Turkey with Constantinople, the Russian fleet's attacks on the Turkish coal ships caused the Ottoman government much hardship. In 1916, in a model combined Army-Navy assault, the Russian Black Sea fleet helped the Russian army to take the Ottoman city of Trebizond (modern Trabzon).

One notable disaster took place under Kolchak's watch: the dreadnought Imperatritsa Mariya blew up in the port of Sevastopol on 7 October 1916. A careful investigation failed to determine the cause of the explosion; it could have been accidental or sabotage.

February Revolution

After the February Revolution in 1917, the Black Sea fleet descended into political chaos. Kolchak was removed from command of the fleet in June and travelled to Petrograd (St. Petersburg). On his arrival at Petrograd, Kolchak was invited to a meeting of the Provisional Government. There he presented his view on the condition of the Russian armed forces and their complete demoralisation. He stated that the only way to save the country was to re-establish discipline and restore capital punishment in the army and navy.

During this time many organisations and newspapers with a nationalist tendency spoke of him as a future dictator. A number of new and secret organisations had sprung up in Petrograd which had as their object the suppression of the Bolshevist movement and the removal of the extremist members of the government. Some of these organisations asked Kolchak to accept the leadership.

October Revolution

At the time of the revolution in November 1917, he was in Japan and then Manchuria. Kolchak was a supporter of the Provisional Government and returned to Russia, through Vladivostok, in 1918. Kolchak was an absolute supporter of the Allied cause against Imperial Germany and regarded Russia's immediate withdrawal from the conflict as dishonorable. Upon hearing of the October Revolution, Kolchak offered to enlist in the British Army to continue the struggle. Initially, the British were inclined to accept Kolchak’s offer, and there were plans to send Kolchak to Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Ultimately, the British Foreign Office decided that Kolchak could do more for the Allied cause by toppling Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks and bringing Russia back into the war on the Allied side.

Russian Civil War

Reluctantly, Kolchak accepted the British suggestions and with a heavy sense of foreboding, he returned to Russia. Arriving in Omsk, Siberia, en route to enlisting with the White Movement. After organizing an army in the Far East and Siberia, had began preparing them for an offensive into European Russia, where the main part of the war was playing out. In 1918, Kolchak travelled to Tsaritsyn, a city on the Volga river in southern Russia. There, he arrived for the Conference of Tsaritsyn, where some 300 influential Russians met to create a new government. They established the Provisional All-Russian Government, and Kolchak was made the deputy chairman of the Provisional Duma (legislature).

At the same time, he was serving in the newly created Russian National Army, and returned to his position in the Far East. He later was the commander of all forces fighting on the Eastern Front.