Sea Stories

The Cossack Inferno

100 years ago, in November 1920, the White Guards evacuated from the Crimea.

Earlier this week, a wreath ceremony was held in Sevastopol, Crimea marking the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Exodus. Photo

Off media radar is one of the most horrific holocausts to stigmatise the half-human race. The proud Cossack had long suffered stigmatisation, hate and horror by the Bolsheviks. On November 14, 1920 one of the largest flotillas in European history was moored off the bay at Sevastopol in Crimea. The rescue by armada included 150 ships of every size and type imaginable. Most but not all were ships of Imperial Russia.

Waiting to escape Bolshevism’s murderous marauders was General Pyotr Wrangel’s Russian White Army. For years his incredible wandering army had fought the Red Terror. Finally, overwhelmed by the American-backed Soviets 145,693 White Russians had only the exile option to consider. Of these unfortunates there were 5,000 sick and wounded. The throng’s gathered on Count’s Quay at Sevastopol included 15,000 Cossacks, 12,000 Cossack officers, 4,000 to 5,000 regular army troops. Assembled on the Quays of Heartbreak were more than 30,000 officers of the rear units and 10,000 army cadets.

The evacuation took place in an orderly and quiet manner. The organisation was taken care of by mainly Cossack troops and Cossack cadets. Finally, carrying as many evacuees as possible, the vast armada of exiles sailed off into the sunset under the sponsorship of France.

The evacuation was accompanied by unimaginable scenes of pathos. One has to remember that to the Cossack his horse was a family member. The sentiment between animal and man was mutual.

The scenes of devastation were beyond horror. Tens of thousands of Cossack horses that had borne their warriors throughout the Civil War were by necessity abandoned. Fed for the last time these horses were released to fend for themselves. Many of these horses plunged into the sea in a futile attempt to follow the ships of the exiled Cossacks. War horses died in their thousands.

There is a legend about a young powerful stallion that was used for transporting the White Army’s cannons. The war horse remained on its feet until the very end. The noble creature seemed to set a survival example for others but finally his dead hour approached too. The dying horse unsteadily made its way to an escarpment overlooking the sea. After standing for a while looking seawards its legs buckled and voluntarily the battle horse plunged onto the rocks far below.

This was not quite the Western rescue it seems. Before the fleet had reached the Bosporus Straits the plunder began. Attracted to the helplessness of the exiled armada the British set about pillaging the armada. By the time the convoy reached a safe haven in French Occupied Tunisia only 33 of the original 150 vessels remained. Their passengers were now exiled displaced persons. The better of these Russian ships were requisitioned by the French and those that remained broken up. The Cossack peoples now set out on a 70 year long exile from their homeland.

Some of the dwindling few surviving Cossacks were sent to the island of Lemnos. Many Cossacks were exiled to France. Others under the command of General Alexander Kutepov were settled near Turkish Gallipoli.

Some of the Russian ships moored in Bizerte, Tunisia were sold by the French to Italian and Maltese ship-owners and breaking yards. In 1924 the French Government recognised the Soviet Union and the remaining ships of the Russian Squadron were surrendered to the Bolsheviks. This betrayal led to a wave of protests throughout Europe and the surrender of the ships was not implemented.

On the Sevastopol quays today one will find a commemoration plaque on Count’s Pier from which the distressed fleet set sail. The tablet commemorates those Russians able to depart the Motherland. They were in fact the lucky escapees. As the Bolsheviks swept into Crimea they set about murdering the surviving White Russians in their tens of thousands.

Related books: Trotsky’s White Negroes, Slaughter of a Dynasty and The Exiled Duke Romanov Who Turned Desert Into Paradise

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2 replies »

  1. Thank you Michael for another enlightening article about a piece of history that I knew nothing about. There is a Cossack piece of music in my repertoire – I will play that today, with new ears and new reverence.

    Liked by 1 person

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