General from Turkestan – Aleksey Nikolaevich Kuropatkin (1848 – 1925)
The road from the governor of Turkestan to the General in the WWI is quite a trip, spanning thousands of kilometers and years of faithful service to the empire. From the volatile politic scene in Turkestan to the far, scorching Manchuria and ending in the horror of the WWI, the journey of Aleksey Kuropatkin is an interesting one, full of difficulties, tension, reliefs and commissions.
Early years of Aleksey Kuropatkin:
Young Aleksey first saw war as a lieutenant in the 1st Turkestan battalion and took part in all Russian operations there. He was soon promoted to major and was allowed to finish his military studies in Berlin and Paris. However, Turkestan again welcomed Kuropatkin, but this time as a commander of the Turkestan Rifle Brigade and with it, he led a charge against the fortified city Geok Tepe. This victory and his subsequent work regarding it was highly prized and thanks to the impetus from it, he was promoted to major general.
Transcaspian region became Kuropatkin’s both home and obligation. Here we see his talent as both governor and a reformer – Kuropatkin suspended gradually robbery and violence there, formed schools and developed mercantile institutions as well as agriculture. He didn’t stop his efforts just yet – he promoted the settlement of people in the Russia’s Southern borders. Everything was looking great, but not for long.
The year 1898. saw Kuropatkin bumped up to the position of the War Minister. His objective was to reform the very military structure and introduce both doctrinal and recruitment changes, but they were all short-lived, since there were little allocated funds for the military, whose soldiers also experienced low social status. There was too little time to do anything, especially with the advent of the Russo-Japanese war.
Kuropatkin strongly opposed the idea of war – maybe he was well aware that the way military was organized then: low paid, poorly supplied and with a weak structure that needed time to regenerate. Despite this, he was appointed general and given command of all land forces in Manchuria. It will turn out that this campaign will be the rich and juicy source for criticism of his tactics employed during the war.
Let’s see… he is held responsible for all Russian defeats and is accused of being too cautious and hesitant by the most critics. His idea was to wait for the supplies and reinforcements that would had came from the trains via the Trans-Siberian Railroad and then perform the breach. This was a typical approach to the warfare then, but the constant retreats left ample reasons for his critics. Despite his defective commanding during the war, he was also put in charge during the WWI by Tsar Nicholas II, but it was a complete fiasco – Kuropatkin was in charge of the Northern front and after the unsuccessful offense near Riga, he was relieved of command and sent back to Turkestan, where his very presence inspired loyalty and greatly diminished the possibility of rebellion.
The reason for his faulty offense was according to Kuropatkin, the shortage of artillery support, bad transportation and bad weather, but those excuses fell onto deaf ears. Kuropatkin spent the rest of his days in Turkestan (although he had a little escapade when the tsarist regime fell) as a teacher at an agriculture school that he built.
This was a flamboyant thriller – from Central Asia to Far East and later on the West. Kuropatkin achieved his glory during the war with the Turks and in Turkestan, but it was mitigated by defeats during the Russo-Japanese war and on the North in Europe. Who’s to blame?
- Incapable Tsar?
- Mediocre military organization?
- Poor supplies?
Chose your own answer – I chose “2”, but I’m still thinking whether is this the right one…