….and we’re back….again. Sorry for the delay in posting this third and final part, but I had to move house. It was a saga, an ordeal, a trial no less and I now vow never to move again. I shall die, right here, where I’m sitting now, tormented by the memories of what I am about impart. That’s right. It’s time. Time for some crazy.
We left the Baron last time happily ensconces in his own playground of madness (Dauria), joyfully torturing all those unlucky enough to be near him and generally making one of histories most horrific episodes all the more appalling. However, things weren’t quite as rosy as they seemed. The Red Army was finally getting its shit together and by 1920, they were starting to hammer the Whites in Siberia. While his comrades-in-arms (in the loosest possible sense) soon found themselves staring down the wrong end of righteous vengeance, the Baron began to develop other plans. Plans that would raise the bar in the batshit stakes a fair few notches.
The unwitting subjects in this unholy project were the inhabitants of Mongolia, a large but backwards country, sandwiched unenviably between China and Russia. Just looking at the map, it’s pretty easy to see why Mongolia falls into the category of histories Shit Out Of Luck countries, much akin to the likes of Poland and Belgium. Over the years, its two large and belligerent neighbours had generally interfered, meddled and invaded from time-to-time while poor old Mongolia appeared to be tottering around the world stage with a massive geopolitical ‘KICK ME’ sign taped to its back. While it had somehow managed to gain a few years of independence, by 1920 the Chinese were demanding it hand over its dinner money and sent troops in to restore their authority. Ungern, sensing that things were going sideways in Siberia resolved that not only would it be great fun to put a stop to these shenanigans, it would also serve as a launch pad for his wider goals of, you know, restoring monarchs to the throne left, right and centre whilst simultaneously ensuring that the working classes were bloody well put in their place. Oh, and I think he also penciled in wiping out as many Jews as he could…..just for a good measure. With this in mind, he gathered 2500 men and set off to conquer Mongolia….as one does.
Ungern, at this point, was looking pretty damn fruity. Observers at the time reported that he had a “disconcerting habit of skipping into battle” (tra-la-la!) and had taken to wearing some suitably ‘ethnic’ garb (robes that resembled “a yellow dressing gown” apparently). Like all good warmongers, the Baron went to the trouble of consulting a fortune teller before marching off to war and was delighted to hear that October the 26th, 1920, was “an auspicious” day to attack the capital, Urga. Armed with this precious knowledge and an unshakable faith in the rantings of charlatans he promptly started his attack but then, rather disappointingly, got lost. 5 days later he tried again, but this time got a thorough thrashing from the Chinese garrison and was forced to retreat to a place in the middle of wtf-istan called Zam Kuren. Unable to overthrow the Chinese and wary of return to a fast imploding Siberia, Ungern was left with no choice but to spend the winter with his army in the frozen wastes of Outer Mongolia.
Generally speaking, armies work best when they are paid, fed and have some sort of purpose. During the winter of 1920/21, they had precisely none of these things and were forced to live a feral existence in one of the world’s least hospitable areas. Luckily, the Barons despotic skill set was ideally suited to the task in hand and he lost no time in instigating a regime of such brutal and bizarre punishments that his men would rather freeze/starve/atrophy to death than take a chance at legging it. His own unique brand of discipline at this particular junction warrants further attention. His first move was to get rid of useless mouths so he had his Medical Bastard In General kill anyone who looked a bit too sick. If ever there was incentive to turn up to work if you were feeling a bit peaky, this was it. He also made sure that he, personally, was seen to be putting in the hours. To this end, he would walk around the camp, looking for people he didn’t like the look of and then lash them with bamboo canes. 100 Lashes was classed as ‘mild’. One guy, who had sense enough to desert, but not sense enough to ensure he didn’t get caught was lashed 50 times daily for 10 days. He was then sent to hospital so he could recover enough for more lashing. This went for 20 months until he finally went insane. Just in case that wasn’t brutal enough for you, he had some further incomprehensible punishments up his sleeve. Top of the list was ‘tree-sitting’. This involved getting the poor sod in question to stand at the top of a tree for a whole night. If they fell (which I’m guessing was quite likely) and hurt themselves, they would be shot for being useless. If they were lucky, that would be the end of it, but as past form suggests, it probably wasn’t and for those who were deemed not have presented their pound of flesh, there were further tree-based horrors, chiefly amongst them execution by tree. I bet that’s got you thinking “how the hell do you execute someone with a tree? Throw it at their heads? Roll a tree trunk over them?” Close, but no cigar. In what seems to be a precursor to the cartoon violence of Tom And Jerry the Baron would have his men bend back a tree, bind the victim to it and then let it go, tearing the unfortunate limb-from-limb. If I was him, I’d sue the fuck out of Tex Avery for unpaid future royalties. Oh, and he was very fond of “execution by fire”.
I mentioned last time that the Baron had, at this point, cleaned up his act a little and had quit drinking (but had taken up opium instead…just in case you were getting worried). Much like modern day reformed-smoker Nazis who zealously persecute their former comrades with theatrical splutterings and sanctimonious lectures, Ungern decided to take the moral high ground and reserve some extra special punishment for anyone found to be drunk in his army. Those unlucky enough to get busted were stripped naked and left on frozen rivers for a few nights with only raw meat to eat. Even a turning up to work with a hangover was enough to land you a whole load of bizarro bullshit. A bunch of officers who did just this were forced to stand to attention all night whilst continuously reciting their names and ranks. With a hangover. Cold blooded. Yet despite all these elaborate and frankly ridiculous punishments, the Baron still reserved the fondest place in his heart for good, honest, flogging. He loved it and marveled that “a man can still walk when the flesh and bone are separated”. It’s good to be passionate about what you do.
As you can imagine, being in Ungern’s Army in the winter of 1920 totally sucked. Yet somehow, the army actually grew during this time and eventually numbered around 5000. Part of this was down to some quirks in Mongolian and Buddhist culture. As I mentioned earlier, Buddhism in Mongolia’s neck of the woods at this time was much more warlike and bloodthirsty than we tend to think of it these days. Along with a fair smattering of gore-soaked deities, there were also legends of a great warrior who would come from the north and restore Mongolia to its rightful place as the ruler of fucking everything. The Baron, being a) from the north, b) a double hard bastard and c) already pally with the Mongolians after his year of pissing about there neatly fitted this bill and soon Mongolians were referring to him as a ‘god of war’. The Baron, for his part, wholeheartedly bought into this and his already fractured mind was given an additional helping of delusional lunacy. He was a GOD OF WAR, OK?! Heartened by this talk of cosmic grandeur and a decent sized army, the Baron (after consulting fortune tellers, of course) marched on Urga in New Year, 1921. After a messy battle with the Chinese, the city fell and Ungern restored the Bogd Khan (the Mongolian monarch, of sorts) to the throne. The remaining Chinese fled (only to be hunted down by the Baron’s cavalry) while 3 days of looting and untold mayhem ensued. To tie things up nicely, Ungern finished it off with a pogrom and then declared everything to be mellow and groovy. The Bogd Kahn (a man with an impressive clutch of vices by all accounts) was no fool and realized that without Ungen, he was nothing. Anxious to keep him onside, he declared the Baron “Outstanding Prosperous State Hero”, issued a bunch of currency (that was redeemable in livestock) in his name and then let him get on with the job of being de-facto dictator of Mongolia.
Given past form, it’s fair to say that the Barons style of governance was hardly going to be sedate. True to form he kicked off with a series of Bolshevik witch hunts (in which pretty much everyone was a Bolshevik) while his army set about the systematic looting of everything. All those appalling methods that the Baron had perfected in Dauria and out in the frozen wastes were now conducted at a national level and Mongolia soon became a close approximation of hell-on-earth. Naturally, some Mongolians were horrified by this and before long revolutionaries started to form an army and establish bases. Not that the Baron gave a hoot. He had bigger fish to fry in the shape of invading China, restoring the Qing Dynasty and then saving the rest of the world in the name of all that is regal and godly. There was a problem though. Invading China isn’t something you just knock together over a few beers at the weekend. It’s a bloody big place and you need a bloody big army. However, what with all the institutionalized flogging/looting/terror, the Mongolians were fast falling out of love with this savior from the north and decided they wouldn’t play ball. Further to this, the Baron was delivered a cosmic slap in the chops when his fortune teller told him that he only had 130 days to live. The Baron was shocked by this. There was so much more killing to do! So little time! However, it’s fair to say that he wasn’t particularly the emo type and reacted to the news by saying this:
“Goodbye for all time! I shall die a horrible death, but the world
has never seen such a terror and such a sea of blood as it shall see
I doubt that those within earshot were filled with hope for the future.
Freshly motivated by his freshly stamped ‘Use By’ date, the Baron began to rethink things. Even he still had a tentative enough grasp of reality to realize that the bets were now off on the whole China deal. However, he was mad enough to think that he might be able to re-invade Russia, restore Prince Michael (who had now been dead for 2 years) to the throne and thus save the world. Spurred on by his rapidly diminishing days, the Baron gathered what was left of his army and headed north. It didn’t start well. As soon as he was across the border, the Red Army caught up with and gave him a thrashing… twice. Now forced to head back to Mongolia with the Reds on his tail, he was horrified to find the Mongolians siding with the commies. Ingrates!
And so we enter the final stretch of this sorry tale. Ungern, now looking a right state (he had lost most of his clothes so would stride about bare chested and covered in talismans) found himself and his dwindling army in a snake infested swamp (although he promptly banned his men from killing snakes because he thought it was ‘bad luck’) while rebellion fermented in the ranks. Always one to try and nip this sort of thing in the bud, Ungern gathered what men he could and looked for some of his own officers to kill. When he couldn’t find any, he then turned north into Russia and attacked some Reds who were garrisoned in a monastery. While he managed to win this battle (and flog some monks) he was left with 500 men and dwindling options. Never one to let reality intrude on his schemes, the Baron declared that they were all off to Tibet (which was hundreds of miles away and on the other side of the Himalayas). For his men, this was the final straw. They’d been flogged, treed, burnt, and generally tormented so hard that they figured nothing the Baron could be do was any worse than things already were. As a consequence, most of them deserted while a group of officers hatched a plot to kill him.
Considering there was always someone wanting to kill him, the Baron thought he was on top of this. In an effort to discourage others from getting any uppity ideas, he made a Colonel sit in a tree all night, but it was too late. The die was cast. That night, a group of officers tried to ambush the Baron in his tent, but he somehow got the drop on them and legged it into the night. Unperturbed, the officers seized command, executed a couple of loyalists and then began the long march to Manchuria where they hoped there might be someone around who they hadn’t yet pissed off. The Baron, now thoroughly irked, chased them down and confronted them in what was to become one of the more surreal scenes from his already demented life. Totally outnumbered and with a bunch of guns pointing at him, Ungern began to berate his former men and hurl abuse at them. The conspirators, despite having an awesome amount of firepower pointed at the Barons head, completely froze, terrified by this rambling psychopath. The stand off continued some while (with the Baron going completely off his mash the entire time) until someone finally came to their sense and pulled the trigger. What followed was a hail of bullets that would surely kill anyone stuck in the middle. Yet somehow, the Baron escaped, weaving through the fusillade and even finding enough time to turn around and shout “Bastards!” before disappearing into the night. Alone and quite, quite mad, the Baron ran into a group of Mongolian troops who quickly betrayed him and handed him over to the Russians. Finally the game was up.
Considering the mayhem he had instigated, Ungern was quite the catch for the Reds who promptly shipped him off to Novonikolavsk for a rousing show trial. The Baron, now certain of his fate, took every opportunity to ramble about “Hanging, shooting, flogging” and even took the time to ask why an office smelt “strongly of garlic? Why do you employ so many Jews?” The trial itself was pretty much your standard totalitarian affair and the Baron happily played his part by nonchalantly ‘fessing up to pretty much everything (“do you often beat people?” he was asked, “Not enough” he replied), expressing zero remorse, blaming the Jews and advocating the crushing of the working classes. Given that this was a communist court, his line of defense probably wasn’t the wisest and unsurprisingly, sympathy for him was thin on the ground. He was found guilty and shot in secret.
So there you have it. One, big, fat, steaming pile of infernal, apocalyptic horror. If this whole affair tickled your fancy, then definitely check out James Palmer’s ‘The Bloody White Baron’ from which this was largely cribbed. It’s fully great. Oh, and just in case your wondering, the people of both Mongolia and Russia went on to live blissful existences in lands of milk and honey. YA RLY. That’s it from me and the Baron for now. Hopefully I’ll be back in a week or two with some cynical mutterings about this or that so watch this space.