Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg.: Selflessly providing history with a whole crapload of wtf?!
And we’re back….OK, in case you missed the last post a quick recap on the all-encompassing madness that is Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg.
Born to an aristocratic German/Estonian family in 1886 –> Proves himself to be a first class shit of a school kid–> Joins army –> Spends time in army boozing, flogging and fighting his colleagues in Siberia –> Colleagues in Siberia lose patients –> Transfers to reserves and bums around Mongolia –> Gets super-stoked for WWI and spends the next three years killing anything that moves or stays still too long –> WWI ends, Russian Civil War starts.
Now, the Russian Civil War is one of those conflicts that doesn’t get a great deal of attention, mainly for the following reasons:
1. It was utterly, utterly bonkers.
2. The likes of us really didn’t come out of it looking too good.
3. Like most things Russian, it was supendously vast in scope and brutality.
4. The names involved are often long and largely impossible to pronounce.
In a nut shell, the origins can be traced back to 1905 when the seams of the old Russian Empire started to unravel. p With Russia being poor, backward and ungovernably large, people started to notice that a) their lives were largely rubbish, b) the lives of privileged were pretty damn great, thank you very much and c) there were some fairly volatile ideas kicking about such as Marxism. At some point, all of this had to spill over and in 1905 it did. Joe Public (or Joseph Publeski….context is important) decided to take matters into his own collective hands. Peasant revolts, mutinies and strikes became the order of the day and even Ungerns family found some of their mansions reduced to charred ruins. The Russian monarchy began to take notice and did what Russian leaders tend to do best: Repress the fuck out of these jumped up rabble rousers. They also instituted a parliament of sorts, but this was mainly window dressing and largely a distraction from the far more invigorating job of putting large chunks of the population to the sword. This early stab at a revolution was duly crushed and life soon started to return to normal. However, brutalising your own people does have the nasty side effect of really pissing them off and while all the really impressive stuff (such as bread riots….they always sound really fun, like a big pillow fight, but with bread) might have calmed down a little, the revolution was merely postponed and carried on simmering away in the background.
The Romanov’s (like most monarchies) didn’t seem that bothered about all this and were soon back to their old ways of alienating the population whilst swanning around and getting involved in World Wars. The main problem here was that Russia wasn’t very good at this world war business and soon found the Germans and co to be really rather good it (a recurring theme). Despite some early successes, it all started to go horribly wrong at the battle of Tannenberg in 1914 and from then on it was pretty much downhill all the way. The Germans happily nommed up plenty of territory, the Russian military fell apart like a turd in the rain and the lot of your average Russian (already a pretty ropey deal) became further complicated by even more food shortages and millions of Germans bullets flying in their direction. By 1917, the jig was up. The tsar belatedly tried to placate the masses by setting up a Provisional Government, but they weren’t falling for that again. By October, the Bolshevics had seized the reigns of power and so began the Russian Civil War.
I realise that there hasn’t been much Ungern in all this yet, but fear not…our raging ball of lunacy is waiting in the wings, ready to crazy the crap out of this situation, but first you’ll just have to sit through a little more history. When the revolution kicked off, Russia appeared to split into two factions, known today as the ‘Reds’ (the Revolutionaries) and the ‘Whites’ (the monarchists). In actual fact there were hundreds of different factions, each with their own agenda but for now lets just go with the Red and White thing. The Reds had control of the major metropolitan areas like Moscow and Petrograd and were keen to destroy the Whites as soon as possible so that they could get on with the rather daunting task of remodelling Russia to their own designs. The Whites on the other hand were a more disparate bunch who could only really agree on one thing: They hated Commies. Despite not being the most organised bunch, they did control the vast expanses of Siberia and had a few sympathetic friends overseas (Britain and America being two of them). Naturally, Ungern was a White and not just your average “I’m not so sure about these Red chaps and wouldn’t it be nice to see the tsar back on the throne” type White. He was more your sort of “I WAS BORN TO KILL ANYONE WHO DOESN’T ENTIRELY AGREE WITH MY SOMEWHAT UNHINGED OUTLOOK OF THE WORLD” type White. You can see where this is going.
As I mentioned in the last post, Ungern’s worldview could be pretty much boiled down to the following: “Monarchies are great. Great great great. Monarchy monarchy monarchy. ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME!?”. To him, WWI had been nothing more than a jolly wheeze. It was monarchies doing what they do best: Having a good scrap, tearing the world asunder and then getting back to their good old stock-in-trade of being obscenely rich and powerful. It didn’t matter if you were a Catholic King or a Muslim Sultan (but God forbid if you were a Jew. That really wouldn’t be cricket). So far as he was concerned it was all good red faced boyish caperings and afterwards they’d all shake hands and then go hunting peasants. Lovely. The Civil War, on the other hand, was an entirely different beast and one that threatened the existence of everything the Baron held dear. These Commies weren’t just messing about with politics, they were messing about with the god-given order of things. Was he going to stand for this? Was he hell!
Now riled to the n-th degree, Ungern made his way to Siberia and met up with another notable nutter of the era, a Cossack by the name of Colonel Semenov. A brilliant (and also brilliantly corrupt) commander fighting on the White side, Semenov had carved himself out a little niche in Siberia and happily welcomed Ungern on board. There was plenty of killing to be done and Ungern had the look of a chap who might quite tasty in that department. Together, they established a base in a region called Dauria and put together a plan to get this whole revolution deal reversed. As I mentioned last time, Ungern had some pretty way-out-there spiritual beliefs and at last he found himself in a totally lawless neck of the woods where he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. What he really wanted to do was to get a bunch of hard as nails super soldiers, reconquer Russia and then kill everyone who wasn’t Ungerns kind of guy. But in order to properly fulfill his dreams of hell on earth, Ungerns first needed to establish himself and raise an army. Before he could even do this, Semenov asked him to go and disarm a Russian garrison across the border in Manchuria that had mutinied. Sounds like a good opportunity to display your trademark brand of insane scariness, no? Yes! With a single Cossack assistant, Ungern marched into the town and told the commander there were more troops on the way and that he should give up his weapons. In what was to prove an understandable yet costly error, the commander simply laughed at him. Ungern then punched him in the belly, told him he was going nowhere and then disarmed the garrison himself (that’s several hundred troops in case you were wondering). That’s how fucking scary this guy was.
Luckily for Ungern, scary was a positive asset in his quest to build an army. At this point in time, Russia was awash with all sorts of people, drifting about the place and getting drafted into whatever army (and there were a few) that happened not to be killing them at the time or threatening to kill them if they didn’t join. As a result, Ungern built up a fair few men and could now spend his time putting down mutinies (he really did love to put down a good mutiny), ‘requisitioning’ stuff (stealing) and just to spice things up a bit, he’d get onto trains, find someone who looked suspicious (which, in the Baron’s eyes, covered pretty much everyone) and then beat them up on the platform. Ahhh…the personal touch. He also got a chance to take some of his more genocidal ideas for a spin as well. Civil wars tend to be more brutal than regular wars and the Russian Civil War was no exception. After a years worth of fighting, both sides had given up taking prisoners which then created another problem: What do you do with the guys you do catch? Luckily, Ungern was happy to turn Dauria into a mass execution/torture centre to cater for this very need. Oh, and he also quit the drink. And started smoking Opium instead. And hanging out in fields covered with the bones of his victims to, you know, just chill out. Nice guy.
Generally speaking, these were good times for Ungern. He slowly built his army up, mainly out of Buriats and Mongolians. He had a soft spot for these guys as a) the Buriats were the only people who’d hang out with him during his earlier years in Siberia, b) he’d gotten quite the taste for Mongolians after bumming around there for a year and c) they were hard bastards. He’d also become quite enamoured with Central Asian culture. We often think of Buddhism to be all touchy-feely Richard Gere type navel gazing but this isn’t entirely the case. In fact, Buddhism has plenty of blood thirsty deities, fables of mass carnage and legends of divine warlords. Furthermore, Ungern saw Asia to be much ‘purer’ than the west. By ‘pure’ he meant that their populations seemed to know their place (which, generally speaking, would be somewhere underneath his iron fist, seconds away from being smashed to oblivion) and weren’t riddled with uppity ideas such as democracy and other assorted flounce. The rest of his army (which he fetchingly called the Asian Division of Cavalry) were mostly either desperate, crazy or unlucky Russians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, a few Chinese, and some Tibetans (to name but a few). Together, they spent the early part of the civil war having a gay old time repressing, robbing supply trains (even if they happened to belong to the Whites who’s side they were technically on) and being harshly disciplined by their Nutter-In-Chief. They even had the odd opportunity to fuck about with the armoured trains that gave the Russian Civil War its distinctly Mad Max tinge. All good fun, but sadly not the sort of fun that lasts. Change was afoot.
By 1920 the Reds had started to get their shit together and fighting back in the far east. Semenov and the other White commanders soon found themselves feeling the squeeze and before long, they were on the back foot. I’m sure by now, you’ve picked up the feeling that Ungern wasn’t the ‘back foot’ kind of guy and that hanging out with people who get beaten by Goddamn Pinkos wasn’t going to get you very far in life. Writing off Siberia as a bad job he gathered his army and headed for Mongolia. Now an independent warlord in his own right with precisely nobody to attempt to keep him in check, he started to hatch possibly his most disproportionately ridiculous plan. It went a bit like this:
1. Take over Mongolia.
2. Install a monarch of my choosing who will do exactly what I say.
3. Restore the Qing Dynasty in China.
4. Take over pretty much the rest of the world. Simples!
Taken at face value, these are clearly the ramblings of a madman and have absolutely no basis in reality, right? Right? Oh god, he wouldn’t would he? Well, you’re just going to have to wait and see. I realise that I said I’d get this done in two posts, but the brutal truth is that there just isn’t enough space to do justice to the epic levels of lunacy that the Baron was going to unleash. Seriously, the shit that he’s just about to go tear-assing into is so horrifically inexplicable in its WTF?!ness that even the act of me writting it down could result in my face melting off like that guy in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I’m even thinking about asking WordPress to clad their servers in adamantium and holy water so that terror doesn’t escape from the internetz and rip the space/time continum asunder. That being the case, stick about for the next (and hopefully final) instalment of a tale that goes from ‘worse’ to, erh, ‘worser’. See you next time and don’t forget to bring your nerves of steel.