AFTER THE REVOLUTION
COL. KALPASCHNECOFF was in Petrograd, where he occupied an important position in the newly organized Red Cross. He was trying in every possible way to help this organization, which had been badly handicapped by the removal of many of the officers and by the difficulty in getting men to carry on their work conscientiously. Not only had this excess of liberty spread among the soldiers but also among the orderlies in the army and the workmen in the factories.
The Twenty-first Flying Column was temporarily commanded during the Colonel's absence by another man.
I desired to return to the front and visit my old corps, so that I could see for myself the conditions existing in the army, and the Colonel quickly secured permission for me to do so.
One day in August we accordingly set forth in a second-class coach from the Nicholas Station on a train bound for the front.
"General Pleschcoff left the corps a month ago and returned to his home near Vladivostock," said the Colonel, as we closed the door of our compartment and settled back in our seats, preparing for the long ride ahead of us. "He found he could no longer have any discipline in the corps, so he gave it up. You remember General Padgoursky, who commanded the First Division---the very fat one with the red face? He too was discharged by the soldiers but he re-enlisted as a private. He lived in the trenches with them, ate the same food, and slept in the same dug-outs---the men whom he had formerly commanded. When the attack in July occurred, he was the first man over the top, and although sixty-six years of age he led his men into the first-line trenches where he bayonetted two Germans, and then he started on alone for the German second-line. The Germans had concentrated a great many machine-guns and men in their second-line, and they turned a terrific fire on him as he dashed across the intervening space. He was wounded twice but kept going, and his men, seeing their old commander all alone and about to plunge into a trench full of Germans, followed him-and they took the second German line! During the hand-to-hand fighting he was bayonetted through the shoulder. They held the second-line until the battalion on their right gave way in the face of a German counter-attack and they were forced to retire, carrying back the wounded ex-general, who raved and cursed all the way to the Russian trenches. Then the men decided they wanted him back as commander, so they discharged the general who was commanding the division and gave him back his old place. We shall probably see him on our arrival."
This General Padgoursky had always had the reputation of being a fire-eater and was known to be a very brave man. He had been wounded four times in the Japanese war, twice before in the present war and now, with his three additional wounds, had a grand total of nine wounds.
In the corridor of the car we met an old acquaintance---a man who had been a colonel in the old days. He now had the uniform of an underofficer with the red and black ribbon of the Death Battalion on his arm.
"Things are frightful at the front," he said. "I was removed from my command and I enlisted in one of the Death Battalions. I have lost all my property. The peasants confiscated it.. My house was looted and burned and I am almost penniless. The soldiers at the front stole all my equipment and I have just been to Petrograd to buy a new one."
The next day we found the cars packed to suffocation with soldiers who were apparently riding about merely for the novelty of the experience. Where they were going or for what reason, God only knows. They surely did not seem to have any objective. They crowded into the first and second class cars and stood stolidly in the corridors jamming the compartments. When the conductor asked for their place-cards, they replied: "Tickets! We have no tickets! Isn't Russia free? Can't we ride where we wish without paying?" The poor train official would wildly expostulate but, unable to pierce their armor of childlike blandness, would disappear waving his hands hopelessly in the air.
After three days we reached the little station near the front, where we were met by our old battered victoria driven by one of the orderlies who had worked with us through so many months of active fighting.
The drive to the base of our old column was about fifteen miles. Although it was in August when they should be at their best, the roads were almost impassable because for over six months the soldiers had absolutely refused to do a bit of roadmending or road-making. They were worn and torn by the innumerable wheels of transport and artillery until they had holes in them which were big enough almost to swallow a horse and wagon.
We passed many groups of soldiers lolling in the fields along the roadsides or strolling about smoking the inevitable pungent makorka and orating. They didn't salute us as we passed.
We finally arrived at the base of the column, where I was effusively greeted by the tall lean student Nicholi, the new doctor and Michael, my old orderly. Michael begged me to take him back with me to Petrograd, explaining that it was impossible for him to do any work under the rule of the committees. I said I would try to get him into the Red Cross.
They told me that in the July offensive they had had the greatest difficulty to make the men work more than eight hours a day because some of the larger committees, who correspond with the I. W. W. of America, had told them that if they worked more than eight hours they would be hurting the Revolution, and the poor ignorant overgrown children implicitly believed all they were told.
In the afternoon we went to the staff of the First Siberian Army Corps. It was located in what had formerly been the beautiful country house of some wealthy landowner but it was now dilapidated and dirty. There were no sentries on guard, and a crowd of ill-kept soldiers was lounging about in the reception-room. No one paid the slightest attention to us, and it was only with. great difficulty that the Colonel abstracted one of the individuals from some engrossing conversation which they were carrying on and asked him to call the officer of the day.
He slouched off, without saluting, and returned presently with a man who had evidently been recently promoted, for he was neither courteous nor showed any of the signs of culture and breeding which marked the officers of the old army. We asked to see the commander of the corps and were ushered into the "operation room" of the staff where all the orders are issued; and there we met the little mouse-like individual who was in command. He was pleasant and courteous enough, but one could see at a glance that he was the type of man who would be absolutely under the thumb of the soldiers' committees. As long as he retained sufficient meekness of spirit his position and his neck would probably be safe.
We secured permission to visit the trenches, and the next morning rode out to the first division on horseback. Things were in better shape there than at any other point we had so far visited. This was brave General Padgoursky's division. As we approached the staff we saw this huge corpulent man seated under an apple-tree by a table, drinking tea. In front of the house stood two sentries who presented arms as we passed. It looked more like the army of the old days and it was a relief to see a bit of discipline after the weeks of chaos through which I had passed.
The old General was swathed in bandages which made his rotund figure more bulky than ever and his arm was carried in a sling, but he arose and waddled toward us, his red face beaming, and breathing noisily as he came. We talked over old times, and as we were leaving he remarked: "It is all right just now, but who can tell when they will turn on me like a pack of wolves because I insist on discipline, and then---finis Padgoursky. Nu nichevo!(Well, it is nothing.)"
In the trenches of the first division discipline was on a fairly high plane but things were very quiet. The men sat about in their dug-outs and in the trenches smoking and singing and playing the balalika and but for the fact that they did not expose themselves above the trench parapets one would have thought the enemy was a thousand miles away.
Sanitary conditions were very bad in the trenches and we were told that great numbers of the men were ill with scurvy because of the poor food.
In the second division we found the discipline of a very low order and we went away heartsick at the deterioration of our old First Siberian Corps---the Ironside Corps of the Russian Army.
I spent a week at the front, visiting different regiments; and while conditions varied, one could see that unless some very radical change were made, the Russian army as an active offensive agent was a thing of the past.
On my return to Petrograd I found the city highly excited at the report of the advance of Korniloff in his effort to wrest the reins of government from Kerensky and establish a dictatorship---which we all thought would be about the best thing that could happen; but this hope flickered out with the failure of the Korniloff movement and we could see that things were rapidly drifting from bad to worse.
I left Russia before the Bolsheviki party overthrew the Kerensky government and took control of the affairs of Russia.
It is with sadness that I read of the further disintegration and demoralization of the Russian fighting machine, and yet I cannot but feel that it did a lot for us when it was in its prime. It was by the Russians' great sacrifices early in the war, when the Germans were sweeping across the fields of France and the fate of Paris---of France---yes, I may say of the whole world---hung trembling in the balance, that the tide of the onrushing Teuton flood was stemmed by the Russian advances into Austria and East Prussia.
Again, during that bloody fighting on the western front near Lake ---------, in which I participated and in which our losses were so frightful, there is no doubt that the Russians did much to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun.
Then Brusiloff, in his great drive in the summer of 1916---during which he captured 400,000 prisoners in three months---relieved the hard-pressed Italians and forced twenty-two divisions of Austro-Germans who were concentrated on their narrow front and who were pouring through the Alpine pass to be withdrawn and sent to the north to check the Russian onslaught. The Russians undoubtedly saved the Italians at that time from the disaster which subsequently overcame them after the Russians had been eliminated as a factor in the war.
Yes, I think the Russians have done their bit. I recall the hundreds of thousands of lonely graves scattered over the barren fields and the dark forest and the gloomy swamps of Poland and Galicia and I know that these brave Russian lads did not die in vain.