Since the beginning of World War I, all the armies of European monarchies were headed by their rulers or heirs to the throne. Only two warring monarchies were an exception. Franz Joseph I, being already in his advanced 84 years of age, appointed the commander-in-chief of the second cousin of Friedrich, the Archduke of Austria. But the appointment in the Russian Empire, the Supreme Commander of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich (by the way, the same age as Friedrich) looks, indeed, not an indisputable step.
First of all, because Emperor Nicholas II himself could lead the army. The commander in chief during the initial period of the war of the Grand Duke, and not the emperor, perhaps, can be explained only by one reason, which is emphasized by contemporaries: the Russian Empire did not have a more worthy, and most importantly, popular candidate for this position ...
Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich Jr. was born 6 in November 1856. His father is Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich the Elder, the third son of Emperor Nicholas I, and his mother is a German princess Alexandra Petrovna Oldenburg. Marriage is unhappy, parents constantly quarrel, change each other and, eventually, get divorced. Family scandals affect the character of the future commander in chief. On the one hand, he makes an impression with his firmness and determination, even bordering on rudeness, but at the same time justice and nobility. On the other hand, he is completely devoid of quality, which is important for the commander - composure.
At fifteen, the young grand duke enters the Nikolaev Engineering School as a cadet, a year later he graduated with the rank of second lieutenant. The usual service of the august officer does not suit. The only one of all the Romanovs, in 1876, he graduated from the Nikolaev Academy of the General Staff, and in the first category, with a small silver medal.
With the beginning of the Russian-Turkish war 1877 — 1878. The Grand Duke attaches to the division of General M.I. Dragomirov, an outstanding military theorist who revived the study of the heritage of A.V. Suvorov. The assistant to the head of this division was General MD. Skobelev, one of the most talented Russian commanders.
Nikolai Nikolayevich Junior participates in the crossing of the Danube, the storming of the Sistovskiy Heights and the Shipka Pass. He was awarded the Order of St. George 4 degree and the gold weapons.
At the end of the Russian-Turkish war, the Grand Duke continued his cavalry career. In the Life Guards Hussar Regiment under his command are other Romanovs, as well as the heir to the throne, the future emperor Nicholas II. The grand-ducal youth respectfully calls Nikolay Nikolayevich “the Terrible Uncle”. At the same time, the older princes scornfully call their rather unsociable relative "Nikolasha."
One of the guards cavalry officers recalls the Grand Duke in this way: “It was the very special face of a very big chief commander — a powerful, stern, open, resolute and at the same time proud face.
The gaze of his eyes was fixed, predatory, as if all-seeing and forgiving nothing. The movements are confident and relaxed, the voice is sharp, loud, slightly guttural, used to command and shout out words with some kind of semi-punitive negligence.
Nikolai Nikolayevich was a guard from head to toe ... His prestige at that time was enormous. Everyone trembled before him, and it was not easy to please him at the exercises. ”
In 1895, Nikolai Nikolayevich is appointed the cavalry inspector general. In this position, he remains until the summer of 1905. In many respects, it is on the Grand Duke who is responsible for preparing the Russian cavalry for the First World War. In this respect, he achieves outstanding results and makes blunders.
Indeed, before the beginning of the Great War, the Russian cavalry was perfectly prepared at the lowest tactical level. The horse of the army was significantly improved, the Officer Cavalry School was reorganized, which gave such a general as A.A. Brusilov.
However, with all the advantages of individual training, the cavalry, for objective reasons, could not effectively interact with infantry and artillery. Preparation of the troops was distinguished by stereotypedness, to the notorious Prussian drill. Possession of cold arms and riding was given much more attention than rifle training. The priority of the tactical training of cavalry was considered to work out the "shock" (direct massive attack to destroy the enemy in hand-to-hand), obsolete in the conditions of trench warfare. Significantly less importance was attached to such necessary components of the tactical training of cavalry units and units as maneuvering, bypassing, pursuing and reconnaissance.
In 1900, the Grand Duke becomes a cavalry general - only the rank of Field Marshal was higher. And at the beginning of the 20th century, Nikolai Nikolayevich got a chance to prove himself in the war. Twice he is offered the post of commander of the Russian army in the war with the Japanese - and twice he refuses. For the first time - because of a conflict with the governor of the emperor in the Far East, Admiral E.I. Alekseev. The second time, the Grand Duke is afraid of spoiling his reputation in an unpopular war.
After the war, Nikolai Nikolayevich initiated the creation of the State Defense Council - a special governing body intended to coordinate the reform of the armed forces. He also becomes the chairman of the Council.
The activities of the State Defense Council lead to the removal of the General Staff from the control of the military ministry. The Grand Duke plans to create the General Staff on the model of the German. The issues of mobilization and strategic planning are completely removed from the jurisdiction of the Minister of War. This artificial division for several years hinders the planning of military reform in Russia. Only in 1909, the General Staff returns to the military ministry. This reorganization is being carried out by a new military minister, General V.A. Sukhomlinov.
Another task of the State Defense Council is to purge the command staff. When the Council establishes the Higher Attestation Commission, which considers candidates for general positions and eliminates from the army generals who have ineptly manifested themselves in the service.
In addition, Nikolai Nikolayevich (as commander of the guard) translates a number of army officers who distinguished themselves during the Russo-Japanese War into elite guards units. The necessary rotation of personnel and the nomination of talented commanders is the merit of the Grand Duke.
However, the Council of State Defense does not exist for long. Intervention in the affairs of the military and maritime ministries, conflicts with the State Duma, disunity of the actions of various structures of the military administration lead to the abolition of this body in 1909 year.
Along with the solution of military problems, Nikolai Nikolayevich plays a significant role in the period of the first Russian revolution 1905 — 1907. It is he who has a decisive influence on the emperor in the direction of concessions to the opposition. The Grand Duke, commander of the Guard and the capital's military district, does not justify the secret hopes of Nicholas II, who intended to endow his uncle, who was famous for his decisiveness, with dictatorial powers for the uncompromising suppression of the rebels. And no one else, exactly Nikolai Nikolaevich, actually makes the reigning nephew sign the October 17 Manifesto, allegedly threatening to shoot himself in case of refusal. Of course, this document, which granted Russian society wide rights and freedoms, actually represented a certain concession to the circles of the liberal opposition, which dreamed of establishing a constitutional monarchy in Russia in the British style and putting the autocrat under its complete control.
At this time, the failed dictator is drawing closer to the liberal opposition. The Freemasonry of the Grand Duke (with 1907, under the influence of his wife, he becomes a member of the Martinist Lodge) and his pro-French orientation, are pushing for this.
Moreover, many of the liberals are Freemasons and hope to reorganize the Russian empire on the basis of Western models.
A convinced enemy of Germany, the Grand Duke considers war with the Second Reich not only inevitable, but also necessary for Russia. Hence his desire to strengthen the Franco-Russian alliance - after all, the French give the tsarist government a loan to suppress the revolution. Long before the war, the allies, in their turn, want to see the Supreme Commander only as the uncle of the sovereign.
And it’s not for nothing that since the 1903 year, in the event of a big European war, Nikolai Nikolayevich is the main candidate for the post of first commander of the armies of the German front, and then Supreme Commander.
However, with the arrival in 1909 of the year to the post of War Minister V.A. Sukhomlinov Grand Prince loses his influence. Yes, and Nicholas II himself can not forgive the uncle of the pressure when signing the October 17 Manifesto.
As a result, by the year of 1914, Sukhomlinov completely pushes the Grand Duke away from senior positions in the military administration, especially since the prestige of Nikolai Nikolayevich in the eyes of the emperor is noticeably falling. The Minister of War reduces his role in the upcoming war to the level of only the commander of the 6 army, which will guard the capital from a possible landing of Germans from the Baltic. Sukhomlinov himself plans to become chief of staff under the emperor - the Supreme Commander.
However, the hopes of the Minister of War do not come true. The death of Prime Minister P.A. Stolypin, sharply responding to the Grand Duke’s “disastrous for Russia” militarism, the clear progress in rearmament of the army weakens the position of the “pigeons” party, which include Sukhomlinov. Foreign Minister Anglophile S.D. Sazonov, “hawks” from the military, rallying around the figure of Nikolai Nikolayevich, the francophiles from the State Duma overpower the emperor’s love of peace and the resistance of the minister of war.
Similarly, the plan of Sukhomlinov, suggesting that the emperor will become the Supreme Commander, is doomed to failure. Nicholas II, being convinced in 1914 in the short war, then he does not dare to take this post. Moreover, the Council of Ministers acts unanimously (with the exception of the Minister of War) against such a decision. Meanwhile, in favor of the Grand Duke said his huge popularity among the officer corps, and the obvious location of the French allies. Finally, the king wants to avoid disobedience and intrigue among the generals. As a result of 2 in August 1914, the day after the declaration of war by Germany, the Grand Duke was appointed Supreme Commander.
However, his power was significantly limited. Firstly, it was immediately determined that the appointment of the Grand Duke to the highest office is temporary.
Secondly, the headquarters of Nikolai Nikolaevich (which in fact was the headquarters) is drawn up by the military minister. From his hands, N.N. Yanushkevich. This general was known for not participating in any war. His entire career has been in adjutant, bureaucratic and staff positions. 1-th quartermaster-general Yu.N. becomes assistant Yanushkevich. Danilov, whose task is to develop operational plans. Danilov also has no military experience, although for many years he has been engaged in drawing up plans for a war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. General A.A. Brusilov thus later characterized the two closest assistants of the Grand Duke: “Yanushkevich, a very nice man, but rather frivolous and bad strategist ... Danilov, a narrow and stubborn man.”
For the sake of justice, it should be noted that, at his appointment, the Grand Duke is trying to make up a headquarters of other persons — F.F. Palitsyna (one of the chiefs of staff in the prewar period) and M.V. Alekseeva (corps commander, and before that - chief of staff of the Kiev military district). Probably, this composition would be stronger in all respects. However, the Minister of War convinces the emperor to leave the Stake in the same composition. Thus, Sukhomlinov is able to control the actions of the commander in chief through his protégés.
Thirdly, Nikolai Nikolayevich is actually unable to change the pre-war deployment plan. After all, the Grand Duke, before the war, did not take part in drawing up plans for a campaign against the central powers.
Finally, the Regulations on the field control of troops in wartime, adopted a week before the start of the war, sharply limits the power of the Supreme Commander in favor of the fronts.
In the 1914 campaign of the year, virtually none of the operations carried out, except for the offensive of the troops of the South-Western Front in Galicia, did not achieve the intended goals. But the success of the Galician operation was obtained due to the fact that the troops carried out the plans developed on the eve of the war (without the participation of the Supreme Commander).
Yet its main task - the salvation of France at the cost of Russian blood - the rate fulfills.
The first decision of Nikolai Nikolayevich himself is the formation of a third line of attack (on Berlin), in addition to the two already existing ones. Under the constant pressure of the Allies, the Grand Duke strengthens the power of the blow to Germany. For this, in the area of Warsaw, two new armies were formed that were not provided for before the war - the 9 and 10. As a result, both Russian fronts attacking Galicia and East Prussia were weakened. For the North-Western Front, the decision of the Grand Duke will be one of the key reasons for the defeat. Moreover, a few days before the disaster, Quartermaster General Danilov proposes to transfer the 1 Army to Warsaw, leaving only the 2 Army in East Prussia. It was after the defeat of the 2 Army that the Supreme Commander began to resort to meetings with the front headquarters - the strategic "talents" of his assistants become quite clear to him ...
As a result, the grand duke has to constantly maneuver between the rather contradictory opinions of front headquarters, instead of developing a common strategic plan of action. The results of such activities are either defeat or regrettable non-use of success, even in situations where Russian troops take the upper hand in the fight against Austro-Germans ...
After a heavy defeat in East Prussia, when the 2 Army lost only 110 thousands of people killed and captured, and its commander, cavalry general A.V. Samsonov, fearing capture, shot himself, Nikolai Nikolayevich begins to rely on artificially inflating insignificant successes in outstanding victories.
The Grand Duke daily reports to Petrograd reports on the results of the battles of individual formations and units, “forgetting” to summarize them. Thus, the overall picture of the successes and failures of the Russian army is completely unknown even to the emperor ...
Indicative in this respect история with the capture of Lviv. Two days after the Germans defeated the 2 Army, the troops of the South-Western Front occupied Lviv, the capital of Austrian Galicia, without a fight. This event was inflated by a bid for a grand victory. Contrary to the facts, it was even claimed that the city was taken after a bloody assault (which in fact was not, because the Austrians simply left the city). The commander of the 3 Army, General N.V. Ruzsky for the capture of Lviv receives an unprecedented award - at the same time the Order of St. George 4 and 3 degrees.
By the end of 1914, another serious problem is becoming acute in the Russian army: “shell hunger”. The Russian units are already experiencing a shortage of artillery shells in September, after the first operations. And by the beginning of December, army commanders receive a secret order of the Bet: to release a single weapon per day ... no more than one shell! In fact, the Russian army becomes unarmed before the enemy, surpassing it both in quantity and as artillery (especially heavy), and most importantly with sufficient ammunition ... The Supreme Commander, instead of drawing proper conclusions from the current situation, accuses hunger "Minister of War and preparing new offensive, not wanting to save people and go to a strategic defense. The reason for Nikolai Nikolayevich’s “incomprehensible” commitment to an insanely offensive strategy and tactics, with the troops completely unavailable, is, alas, extremely simple: the French, anxious about their great losses in the battles on Ypres, are insistently asking for all new Russian help ...
All winter offensive 1914-1915. in the end do not reach their goals. The Russians are accompanied only by local successes, but the last shells are worthlessly wasted. The only significant victory was the capitulation of 3 in March of 1915 of 120 000 of the Austrians in the Austro-Hungarian fortress of Przemysl, besieged since October of 1914 in the Russian rear. For Przemysl, the Supreme Commander is awarded a high military order - St. George of the 2 degree.
Meanwhile, the German command decides to transfer its main efforts to the Eastern Front in the summer campaign of 1915. The goal of the campaign is the withdrawal of the Russian Empire from the war.
19 April 11-I German army breaks through the front in the area Tarnow - Gorlice. To avoid encirclement, the armies of the South-Western Front leave the Carpathian passes and retreat.
Wait for help from nowhere. The British and French are firmly buried in their trenches and do not want to be active. Not by chance, thanks to the allies, no German soldier was ever withdrawn from the Eastern Front in 1915. The entry of Italy into the war in May on the side of the Entente is diverted only by Austro-Hungarians. The Germans, on the contrary, are shifting all new divisions from the Western Front to the Eastern.
Despite the lack of (and sometimes complete lack of) ammunition, the Grand Duke gives the sacramental order: "Not one step back!". Famous military historian A.A. Kersnovsky described this “defensive” strategy as follows: “Not one step back” eventually led to the defeat of manpower and, as an inevitable consequence, the loss of the territory, for the preservation of which it was ordered to “stand and die”.
The calculation of the higher generals on the inexhaustibility of human resources becomes a real disaster of the Russian army. As a result of an ill-conceived, and often simply criminal, military command and control in 1915, the last regular soldiers and officers of the Russian army are actually destroyed ...
Meanwhile, the German command intends to arrange for the troops of the North-Western Front a giant "cauldron" in Poland. Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich is still ready to fight on the occupied lines, which promises great success to the enemy ...
To the commander of the North-Western Front, General M.V. After much persuasion, Alekseev managed to persuade Bid on a gradual retreat from Poland. Four Russian armies are moving away in an organized way, restraining the onslaught of seven enemy armies. In all sectors, the Russians are defeated, but the enemy still fails to break through to the rear of the North-Western Front.
The retreat forces the Stake to make a decision on the use of scorched earth tactics. This not only leads to the destruction of food stocks, but also condemns the population of the territories left to starvation. In addition, the Headquarters issues an order to evacuate all men from eighteen to fifty years. Families of men who are hijacked to the east inevitably go after their relatives. More than four million refugees migrate to internal provinces during the war years. Railways are always overloaded. In the winter of 1917, this will cause a crisis in the supply of the country and the food front ...
The tactic of "scorched earth" in the period of the Great Retreat, alas, entails the inevitable decay of the Russian army. Orders Staking that the territory to be left to the enemy "must be turned into a desert" instill in the troops the habit of robbery, violence and cruelty against the civilian population.
In addition, wishing to divert accusations of defeat from themselves, the Bet since the end of 1914 of the year has been actively pursuing the search for “spies”. This meets with warm support “from below”, since the front and rear do not want to believe in the obvious unpreparedness of the country and the army for war ...
Potential spies recognize all those who wear German surnames. To be beyond suspicion, you must have Russian citizenship with 1880 year. All others are exiled by families, soldiers are taken directly from the trenches. The rate gives an unwritten order of officers with German names to send to the Caucasian front. Ironically, Nikolai Nikolayevich himself will soon leave for the Caucasus ...
Moreover, the headquarters declares that the Jews are also potential German spies, and therefore all of them must be evacuated. Desperate Jews, Poles, and Galician Ukrainians are flooding Central Russia - the masses of the embittered, blaming (and rightly so) government, the revolutionary-minded population for all their troubles.
In the army, the suspicion of espionage can also fall on everyone, especially after the resignation of the war minister General from Sukhomlinov's cavalry in the summer of 1915 and the investigation into his treason case. As a result, all the failures at the front are explained in the army and society by the betrayal of the tops.
The campaign of total espionage will be one of the reasons that in February 1917 the nation will so easily renounce the monarchy ... After all, according to popular opinion, the emperor is surrounded entirely by “spies”, starting with his spouse, therefore he is a “spy”. Relations between the sovereign Alexandra Feodorovna and Nikolai Nikolayevich from the cold become frankly hostile. The Grand Duke publicly declares that the Empress is supposedly the culprit of all troubles, and that the only way to avoid even greater misfortunes is to immediately imprison her in the monastery ...
The reasons for hatred should be sought back in the 1905 year, when it was the wife of the Grand Duke, Montenegrin Princess Anastasia Nikolaevna, who presented the empress, then still unknown, to E.E. Rasputin-New, hoping through him to influence the royal family. But Rasputin did not want to be a pawn in the hands of eminent schemers, he deceived the expectations of his former patrons, after which he became the personal enemy of the Grand Duke ...
Since the summer of 1915, the Stavka is likely to actively discard the blame for its military setbacks in the internal affairs of the state. At the same time, the Grand Duke establishes close ties with the liberal opposition. This is primarily due to the fact that the lion's share of defense orders is transferred to private capital.
It was at the Stavka, under pressure from Nikolai Nikolayevich and the majority of the cabinet, Nicholas II had to sacrifice four extremely right-wing ministers (including the Minister of War Sukhomlinov) in June and agree to resume the Duma meetings, which from the year 1915 increasingly turns into a tribune for the propaganda of anti-government , and then antimonarchic sentiments ...
Despite the heavy, bloody retreat, the soldiers and officers for the most part still admire their commander in chief, giving him even the features of an epic hero and champion of justice. It comes to the fact that all the failures are attributed to the generals, and all the successes are attributed only to Nikolai Nikolaevich. Significant talk that the Grand Duke personally travels to the front, allegedly subjected to corporal punishment, and even shooting the generals for "disobeying orders." In reality, the generals are shifting according to the ideas of the commanders of armies and fronts (and they, in turn, are replaced by the emperor). And on the front, the Grand Duke, contrary to leisurely talk, never even seemed ...
Of course, such an attitude, regardless of the real situation, contributes to the strengthening of the moral climate in the army, especially during periods of failure. Warriors sincerely believe that they are being led into battle by a hot defender, with whom Russia is invincible. But at the same time, the strong-willed figure of Nikolai Nikolayevich in the public consciousness begins to be opposed to the "weak-willed" emperor and his spouse, the "traitor."
In fact, when, in 1915, the Russian army is facing the threat of a global catastrophe, incessantly panic and strife reign in the Headquarters. The Grand Duke, without hesitating, sobs into the pillow, and even claims that the war with the Germans is “lost” in general.
And yet, despite the strategic retreat, the Russian army manages to contain the enemy. It is planned that the distinguished General Alekseev will become the new chief of staff at the Grand Duke.
However, on August 21 1915, the emperor arrives at headquarters and announces his firm decision to become the commander-in-chief himself. In the army and society, they believe that Nikolai Nikolayevich’s dislocation is due to the intrigues of the empress and Rasputin. The troops already believe in advance that the king will be an “unlucky” commander in chief. The removal of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich finally undermines the faith of Russian soldiers in the victory ...
Nikolai Nikolayevich gets the post of viceroy of the king in the Caucasus. Despite the instructions of the emperor, he immediately tries to personally lead the Caucasian army in the Erzerum offensive operation in the winter of 1915-1916. Designed by the headquarters of N.N. Yudenich's plan of operation causes rejection of the Grand Duke and his assistants. Nevertheless, General Yudenich insists on his own, takes upon himself all the responsibility, and instead of a barren siege conducts a successful assault. The capture of Erzerum opens the way for Russians deep into Asia Minor and promises the imminent departure of the Ottoman Empire from the war. The Grand Duke admits his wrong and since then he has not interfered in the actions of the Caucasian army. However, in the army and society, the grand duke is still (and completely undeserved) considered the creator of the victories of Russian weapons in the Caucasus.
Increasing general discontent with the ruling regime at the end of 1916 allows the liberal opposition to go on the offensive against the emperor. Understanding that the armed forces are the last and most powerful trump card in the hands of the tsar-commander-in-chief, the opposition figures draw the generals into the plot.
Not forgotten, and the governor in the Caucasus. At the end of 1916, he was offered to replace his nephew on the throne as a result of a palace coup.
The Grand Duke refuses, but in February 1917 does nothing to save the emperor. Moreover, in his famous telegram, the Grand Duke "kneeling" asks the king to yield and abdicate.
It is known that the king is counting on his uncle, and at the time of the decision to renounce it is a telegram from the Grand Duke, which he looked the last of all, makes him agree with the opinion of the generals who were dragged into the conspiracy against the sovereign and unanimously voted for renunciation.
2 March 1917, the last decree of the king becomes the appointment to the post of commander-in-chief Nikolai Nikolayevich, the chief of staff - General Alekseev. The appointment was greeted with rejoicing both in the army and in society. This does not go unnoticed by the Provisional Government. Upon arrival at the 11 Headquarters in March 1917, the Grand Duke is already waiting for a notice of his full resignation from Prince GE. Lvov, the head of the Provisional Government. But a few months ago, Prince Lvov promised Nikolai Nikolayevich as much as the throne of the Russian Empire ...
After the resignation of the Grand Duke resides in the Crimea. Having come to power, the Bolsheviks arrested him, but in April 1918, the prince was freed by former enemies, the Germans who occupied the west of the former Russian Empire according to the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty.
A year later, Nikolai Nikolayevich leaves Russia forever. He lives in Italy, then in France, whose governments had to thank the Grand Duke ... Among white emigrants, Nikolai Nikolayevich is considered the nominal leader of all Russian foreign organizations and is still one of the main contenders for the Russian throne. However, he no longer takes an active part in politics. 5 January 1929 The Grand Duke dies in the town of Antibes ...
In his memoirs, the former war minister V. A. Sukhomlinov said about the Grand Duke: “the evil genius of Russia” ...
In many ways, it was the mistakes of the Supreme Commander that led to the emergence of a revolutionary situation during the war. And the most unacceptable mistakes were not so much military-strategic, as political. For, by withdrawing from the Stavka charges of heavy defeats through the imposition of espionage, flirting with the liberal opposition, the uncle very clearly contributed to depriving the regime of his reigning nephew of legitimacy, and thus unwittingly acted as one of the perpetrators of the relatively easy fall of the monarchy in 1917. What followed quickly came the complete collapse of the front, and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, and ultimately, the transition of Russia from the camp of the victors in the Great War to the camp of the defeated ...