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Nicholas III
Emperor of All the Russias

Portrait of Czar Nicholas III
Reign 1919-1929
Predecessor Nicholas II
Religion Russian Orthodox Church

Nicholas III (Николай III Никола́евич) was the Emperor of Russia from 1919 to 1929. A grandson of Nicholas I of Russia, he had previously been supreme commander of the Russian military during the Great War.



Nicholas was named for his paternal grandfather, Czar Nicholas I, and was the firstborn son of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich (1831-1891) and Alexandra of Oldenburg (1838-1900). Nicholas was the first cousin once removed of Czar Nicholas II. To distinguish between the two men, his family referred to him as "Nikolasha".

Military Career

Grand Duke Nicholas was educated at the school of military engineers and received his commission in 1872. During the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78, he was on the staff of his father who was commander in chief. He distinguished himself on two occasions in this war. He worked his way up through all the ranks until he was appointed commander of the Guard Hussar Regiment in 1884.

He had a reputation as a tough commander, yet one respected by his troops. His experience was more as a trainer of soldiers than a leader in battle. Nicholas was a very religious man, praying in the morning and at night as well as before and after meals. He was happiest in the country, hunting or caring for his estates.

By 1895, he was inspector-general of the cavalry, a post he held for 10 years. His tenure has been judged a success with reforms in training, cavalry schools, cavalry reserves and the remount services. He was not given an active command during the Russo-Japanese War, perhaps because the czar did not wish to hazard the prestige of House Romanov and because he wanted a loyal general in command at home in case of domestic disturbances. Thus, Nicholas did not have the opportunity to gain experience in battlefield command.

Grand Duke Nicholas played a crucial role during the Revolution of 1905. With anarchy spreading and the future of the dynasty at stake, the czar had a choice of instituting the reforms suggested by Count Sergei Witte or imposing a military dictatorship. The only man with the prestige to keep the allegiance of the army in such a coup was the Grand Duke. The czar asked him to assume the role of a military dictator. In an emotional scene at the palace, Nicholas refused, drew his pistol and threatened to shoot himself on the spot if the czar did not endorse Witte's plan. This act was decisive in forcing Nicholas II to agree to the reforms.

From 1905 to the outbreak of the Great War, he was commander-in-chief of the St. Petersburg Military District. He had the reputation there of appointing men of humble origins to positions of authority. The lessons of the Russo-Japanese War were drilled into his men.

The Great War


Grand Duke Nicholas with Czar Nicholas II at the Austrian Front of the Great War.

Nicholas had no part in the planning and preparations for the Great War, that being the responsibility of General Vladimir Sukhomlinov and the general staff. On the eve of the outbreak of the war, his first cousin once removed, the Czar Nicholas II, yielded to the entreaties of his ministers and appointed Grand Duke Nicholas to the supreme command. He was 57 years old and had never commanded armies in the field before, although he had spent almost all of his life on active service. His appointment was popular in the army. He was given responsibility for the largest army ever put into the field up to that date. He recalled that "... on receipt of the Imperial order, he spent much of his time crying because he did not know how to approach his new duties."

On August 14, 1914, he published the Manifesto to the Polish Nation.

Grand Duke Nicholas was responsible for all Russian forces fighting against Germany, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire. He decided that their major effort must be in Poland, which thrust toward Germany like a salient, flanked by German East Prussia in the north, and Austro-Hungarian Galicia in the south. He planned to attend first to the flanks and when they were secure to invade German Silesia. In the north poor coordination of the two invading armies resulted in the disaster at Tannenberg. In the south they conquered much of Galicia. Their subsequent move toward Silesia was blocked by the Bttle of the Vistula River and the Battle of Lodz. The Grand Duke picked and chose from the various plans offered by his generals. The Grand Duke begged for the artillery and ammunition they desperately lacked, so he could not embark on a coherent plan for victory. On a personal level he was well liked by both officers and men. The Germans thought him a formidable opponent.

On the other hand, some regard Nicholas as more a bureaucrat than a military leader, lacking the broad strategic sense and the ruthless drive to command all the Russian armies. His headquarters had a curiously calm atmosphere, despite the many defeats and the millions of casualties. On March 22, 1915 he reсeived the Order of St. George, 2nd Class, for the successful siege of Przemyśl.

After the great retreat of the Russian army, the czar replaced the Grand Duke as commander of the Russian armed forces on August 21, 1915.

Nicholas was reassigned to the Caucasus region to fight the Turks.

After the dissolution of the Russian Empire on March 15, 1917, he was relieved of his command and retired to the Crimean Peninsula.

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