General Wrangel, second in command to General Denikin of the White Russian Forces until he was made overall commander on Denikins’ departure in the Spring of 1920, does not have a huge amount to do with out story except that he was a grateful to the RAF for helping him win his biggest victory at Tsaritsyn (renamed Stalingrad and currently Volgograd-until someone else razes it to the ground presumably) and it was to the RAF that my granddad was attached. Also, as I found out last week, it was General Wrangel who despatched the two trains to rescue the last 100 men left at Taganrog, one of whom was my granddad. So I can credit him with preserving the life of my granddad who went on to produce my father and then me (with a small amount of help from their respective wives). So he contributed to me being here and thus to this blog post that you are reading now…
If being a good general and a good man-unusual enough in itself-and a preserver of my genes wasn’t enough for him to deserve a post all to himself, photographs show him to be so peculiarly striking and elegant that I could not do otherwise.
Pyotr Wrangel was born in what would become Lithuania to a Baltic-German noble family in 1878. He would graduate in mining engineering from Rostov Technical School and receive his first army commission in 1902. During the First World War he commanded a cavalry corps. He became disillusioned with the nepotism of the Russian Army and concluded that the Tsar needed to be removed. At the opening of the Civil War he joined the White Army. He would lead the army-comprising mainly of Kuban Cossacks-that took Tsaritsyn July 1919 (Kopisto, p.86). Wrangel did not approve of Denikins’ rapid advance on Moscow in the late summer of 1919 and disapproved of the state of the army which was also frustrating the British. Wrangel believed Denikin has over extending his lines (Kopisto, p.88). In a letter to Denikin sent on December 9th 1919 he wrote…
“The continual advance has reduced the Army’s effective force. The rear has become too vast. Disorganization is all the greater because of the re-equipment system which Supreme Headquarters have adopted; they have turned over this duty to the troops and take no share in it themselves.” (Simkin, 2014)
He had a point but it is likely Denikin had little choice but to act fast and bank on victory before the White Army disintegrated or the Reds grew too strong (Kopisto, p.88-89). The disorganisation was also an issue. He continued…
“The war is becoming to some a means of growing rich; re-equipment has degenerated into pillage and peculation. Each unit strives to secure as much as possible for itself, and seizes everything that comes to hand. What cannot be used on the spot is sent back to the interior and sold at a profit. The rolling-stock belonging to the troops has taken on enormous dimensions – some regiments have two hundred carriages in their wake. A considerable number of troops have retreated to the interior, and many officers are away on prolonged missions, busy selling and exchanging loot. The Army is absolutely demoralized, and is fast becoming a collection of tradesmen and profiteers. All those employed on re-equipment work – that is to say, nearly all the officers – have enormous sums of money in their possession; as a result, there has been an outbreak of debauchery, gambling and wild orgies.” (Simkin, 2014).
He was quite vocal in his criticisms so although Denikin put him at the head of the Volunteer Army in late 1919 (Kinvig, p.305) he would dismiss him in January of 1920 (I guess he had got that letter Wrangel sent him by then!) and Wrangel retired to Constantinople in February of that year (Volkov, 2014). However when Denikin resigned in April 1920, believing he had lost the confidence of his men, he stepped down in favour of Wrangel. Wrangel returned to The Crimea and managed to impose some law and order, reorganising the army and its administration all of which helped to make sure postal services ran again, shops opened and trains ran on time (Kinvig, p.313). But it was far too late to save the situation. The British had withdrawn their aid and were negotiating with the Bolsheviks. They even offered to act as a go-between between Wrangel and the Reds, which much have surely annoyed him. How frustrating it must have been to see such a huge amount of supplies, an estimated £35.9 million worth (Wright, p.404), being frittered away by Denikin’s disorganised and rapacious army yet to get none himself. Wrangel managed to hold out against the Red Army with a small force until November 1920 when The Crimea was finally evacuated (Wright, p.428).
Wrangel’s staunch neutrality earned him admiration across the Russian political spectrum. To Wrangel’s own private amusement and annoyance, he gained a popular following in Germany following his appearance as a side-character in the critically-acclaimed film Mein Kampf, which portrayed him as a “German at heart” who whipped the Russians back into shape with Teutonic discipline (KaiserReich, 2017).
Wrangel and his wife Olga settled first in Gallipoli, then in Serbia and later in Brussels. He would be an organiser and leader of the Russians in exile and as such was a thorn in the side of the Soviet regime. He published his memoirs in 1928 before he died suddenly. It is said he was poisoned by his butler’s brother who was with the Wrangel household for a few days and may have been a Soviet agent. He was buried in Brussels but re-interred in Belgrade in Serbia. One of General Wrangels’ sons (he had two and two daughters) settled in Ireland. Baron Alexis Wrangel, who wrote a book about his father, General Wrangel – Russia’s White Crusader, died in 2005 in Tara Co. Meath. His funeral service was held in the Russian Orthodox Church in Stradbally Co. Laois (Volodarsky, p. 57-61) 20 miles from Clonaslee, Co. Laois where one of my granddads’ daughters, Mary, who died at the age of eight, is buried. Mary died of mushroom poisoning in the late 1930s at the age of eight. baron Alexis was then interred in Castletown, Celbridge,Co. Kildare.
General Wrangels’ wife Olga went to live in New York where she became lifelong friends with general Denikins wife (Wright, p.428). General Wrangels’ sister died at the age of 99 in New York in 2013 and its seems most of his descendants are in America (Gowan, 2013).
I searched for video footage of the good General, or the Black Baron as he was called, but so far have found none…except for this tiny clip from a Russian documentary about him.
Further Reading & References
Gowan, R., (2013), The Last of the White Russians, in Global Dashboard [online], available at https://www.globaldashboard.org/2013/08/12/last-of-the-white-russians/ [accessed 1/1/2018].
KaiserReich, (2017), The Russian Civil War, on Fandom [online], available at http://kaiserreich.wikia.com/wiki/Pyotr_Wrangel [accessed 01/01/2018].
Kinvig, C., (2006), Churchill’s Crusade:The British Invasion of Russia 1918-1920, London:Hambledon Continuum.
Kopisto, L., (2011), British Intervention in South Russia, Helsinki:Helsink University.
Kroner, (2010), The White Knight of the Black Sea, Den Haag:Leuxenhoff Publishing.
Simkin, J., (2014), Peter Wrangel, on Spartacus Educational, [online], available at http://spartacus-educational.com/RUSwrangel.htm [accessed 01/01/2018].
TVSoyuz, (2014), National history. Film 45. The Civil War. General Wrangel, [online], available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNjnhgPoHuM&t=948s [accessed 01/01/2018].
Volkov, E., V., (2014), Wrangel, Petr Nikolaevich, Baron,on the International Encyclopedia of the First World War, [online], available at https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/wrangel_petr_nikolaevich_baron [accessed 1/1/2018].
Volodarsky, B., (2009), The KGB’s Poison Factory, from Lenin to Litvinenko, Barnsley: Frontline Books.
Wrangel, A., (1987), General Wrangel – Russia’s White Crusader, New York:Hippocrene Books.