Report of Captain VS Hurban, of the Czecho-Slovak Army in Russia


Report of Captain VS Hurban, of the Czecho-Slovak Army in Russia


V. H. V. (Vladimír Hurban Vladimírov), 1884-1950




No date


Description of fighting in Siberia.


Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson Papers


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum


World War, 1914-1918--Russia
Czechoslovakia. Army
Trotsky, Leon, 1879-1940


Morgan Willer






Document scan was taken from Library of Congress microfilm reel of the Wilson Papers. WWPL volunteers transcribed the text.



I cam [sic] to Washington to give a detailed report of our army now in Russia, to the commander-in-chief, the President of the Czecho-Slovak National Council, Professor T.G. Masaryk.

We in Siberia were almost completely cut off from the rest of the world, and already on our way, in Honolulu, we were very glad to see in the papers, how the United States, - not only the Government, but also the public, - sympathetically follow our progress through Russia and Siberia, to which there is hardly any equal in history.

The history of the origin of our army, of its operations on the Russian front, and its march around the world to the French front will some day read like a phantastic romance, before which the imaginations of Wells fade into prosaic, matterof [sic] fact stories. It will be, of course, a romance with documents written in blood.

Much of it is already known to the American public. It may, however, prove interesting to outline a general picture of the events as they presented themselves to my eyes. It is not customary for a soldier to give interviews; but under exceptional circumstances I was permitted to give an authentic report to the American public.

Our army in Russia was organized from Czech and Slovak prisoners of war under almost insurmountable difficulties. We were cooperating with the Russian army, and since 1917 we were practically the only army on the Russian front capable of any military action in the proper sense of the word. In July, 1917, during the first revolutionary offensive under Kerensky, it was only our army that really attacked and advanced.

When the Bolshevik-Soviet Government signed the peace treaty at the beginning of March, our army of about 50,000 men was in Ukraina, near Kiev. The former Ukrainian Government, to escape the Bolsheviks threw themselves into the arms of the Germans and called for help. When the German and Austrian armies began their advance into Ukrainia, the position of our army was almost desperate. We were in a state which had concluded peace, into which, however, the Germans were advancing and occupying large territories without resistance; the Red Guards of the SOVIETS did not represent any real military power.

The Germans advanced against us in overwhelming numbers and there was danger that we would be surrounded on all sides, on the right and left flank; our rear was not covered, and the Germans were liable to attack us from the rear. We had no lines of communication behind us, no stores of materials and no reserves; everywhere there was disorganization and anarchy, and the Bolshevik Red Guards seized the locomotives and were fleeing East in panic.

Under these circumstances Emperor Charles sent us a special envoy with the promise that if we disarm we will be “amnestied” and our lands will receive “autonomy”. We answered that we will not negotiate with the Austrian Emperor.

As we could not hold a front, we began a retreat to the East. Already then in agreement with the Allies, (our army had been proclaimed a part of the Czecho-Slovak army on the Western front, and thus allied with the French army) it was decided to transport our army over Siberia and America to France. We began the difficult retreat from Kiev. The Germans in an overwhelming force were trying to prevent our escape. About a hundred miles behind us they seized the important railroad junction at Bachmac, which we were obliged to pass in our trains on our retreat to the East.

When we arrived at Bachmac the Germans were already waiting for us. There began a battle lasting four days, in which the Germans were badly defeated and which enabled us to get our trains through. The commander of the German detachment which was defeated by us at Bachmac was to leave Ukrainia, but the truce was canceled by the German chief commander, -Linsingen - yet too late; our trains had already gotten away. We lost altogether about 600 men in dead, wounded and unaccountable, while we buried 2000 Germans in only one day.

In this manner we escaped from Ukrainia. Our relations with the Bolsheviki were still good. We refrained from meddling with Russian internal affairs, and we did not react to the appeals of the different anti-Bolshevist circles. Therefore, when we found ourselves on the soil of the Soviet Russia, we tried to come to an agreement with the Bolshevik Government with respect to our departure, or, respectively, passage through Russia. But already then signs were visible that the Bolsheviks - either under German influence or because we then represented the only real power in Russia - will try to put obstacles in our way. We made it clear to the Bolsheviki that if we were not absolutely loyal it would suffice to order one of our regiments (our army was then, in March, near Moscow) to take Moscow, and in half a day there would be no Bolshevik Government; for then we were all armed, having taken from the front everything we could carry, so as to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Germans (each of our regiments had 200 to 300 machine guns) and nobody in Russia, to say nothing of Moscow, could have at all contemplated an attempt at opposition. Moscow, moreover, would have received us with open arms. But we were determined to leave as the army of a friendly, brother nation, an army which, in spite of all bad experiences, wished Russia the strengthening of real democracy. Knowing Russia as we did, we understood that the misfortune of the nation was the Tsarist regime, which had held the nation in darkness. Although we could not sympathize with the Bolshevik Government, we, as guests, refrained from all action against it, and remained absolutely loyal to it.

To prove indisputably our loyalty we turned over everything, all our arms, with the exception of a few rifles which we kept for our, so to say, personal safety (10 rifles for each 100 men) to the Bolsheviks. The equipment we turned over to the Bolsheviks, including arms, horses, automobiles, aeroplanes, etc., was worth more than 1,000,000,000 rubles, and it was logically our possession, for we took it away from the Germans, to whom it was abandoned by the fleeing Bolsheviks. This transfer of the equipment was, of course, preceded by an agreement made between us and the Moscow Government, by which we were guaranteed unmolested passage through Siberia, to which the Government pledged to give its unconditional support.

Already then there were signs that the Germans were beginning to be uneasy about our movement. Today we have documentary evidence of the fact that In March the Germans considered our progress as a naive adventure, which would soon end in failure. When they saw, however, the “Impossibility”, as they called it, was becoming a reality, they began to do their best to frustrate our efforts, and organized an army of agents against us. As I had said before, the Bolsheviks, though not exceptionally friendly to us, restrained so far from all direct action against us. Their only desire in this respect, to which they devoted much money, was to persude our volunteers to join their Red Guard. After getting our support and the support of the Lotts, Lenine [sic] and Trotzky felt they would be safe. This agitation was carried on vigorously and not by very honest methods. We did practically nothing to oppose it, but knew our men. Our people are too well educated politically and in every other way to be carried away by the methods of Lenine and Trotzky.

More dangerous was the work of German agents, who, under the mask of internationalism, found their way into the Soviets. In every Soviet there was a German who exercised a great influence over all its members because of his superior intelligence. Soon there came the news that the German and Magyar prisoners of war were organizing in Siberia and were being armed by the Bolsheviks under the pretense that they were going to fight the “World Imperialism.” We have proofs now that the Germans were planning to provoke our conflict with the Bolsheviks and to destroy us piece meal with the aid of the armed prisoners of war.

Under such circumstances we began our pilgrimage East. I was in the first train (there were then eighty trains of us) which was to prepare the way. It is no exaggeration when I say that if our men were to choose between two routes, one of which would lead through five lines of German fortifications, and the other through friendly Soviet Russia, they would have chosen the first route. There can be no greater torture for a soldier hardened by many battles than the constant abuse and difficulties which were thrown in our way by people to whom we were loyal, of whom we knew that they were doing wrong without knowing it, and whom we knew we could destroy by a single move of our fingers. Our men were patiently suffering it all, although some times it was mighty hard to keep them from losing their patience; but we were determined to leave Russia without a conflict. Notwithstanding the fact that we kept our word, that we surrendered all arms with the exception of the few necessary, our progress was hindered and unending negotiations were to be repeated in every seat of a local Siviet [sic]. We were threatened by machine guns, by cannons, but we patiently stood it all, although the Bolshevik Red Guard could have been disbanded by a few of our volunteers. After 57 days of such tiresome travel our first train arrived at Vladivostok, when we were enthusiastically received by the Allied units stationed there.

When the Germans saw that we, notwithstanding all their intrigue, were nearing Vladivostok, they have exercised a direct pressure on Lenine and Trotzky, for the things that were later committed by the Soviets cannot any further be explained away by ignorance. The trains were stopped at different stations so that they were finally separated by a distance of over 50 miles from one another. The arming of the German and Magyar prisoners was begun on a large scale. One of the orders of Cicerin, the Bolshevik Foreign Minister, reads: “Dispatch all German and Magyar prisoners out of Siberia, stop the Czecho-Slovaks.” Three members of our National Council who were sent to Moscow for an explanation of the stopping of our trains, were arrested. At the same time our trains were attacked in different stations by the Soviet troops, formed mostly of German and Magyar prisoners.

I will recall the Irkutsk incident. Our train - about 400 men, armed with ten rifles and twenty hand grenades - was surrounded by a few thousand Red Guards armed with machine guns and cannons. Their commander gave our men ten minutes to surrender their arms, or be shot. According to their habit, ours began negotiations. Suddenly there was heard the German command “Schiessen.”, and the Red Guards began firing at the train. Our men jumped off the train and in five minutes all the machine guns were in their possession, the Russian Bolsheviks disarmed, and all the Germans and Magyars done away with.

The Siberian Government which resides in Irkutsk and which, as it appeared later, ordered this attack, can thank only the intervention of the American and French consuls that it was not destroyed by our rightly embittered volunteers.

To what extremes our loyalty was carried is shown by the fact that, although perfidiously attacked, and although we disarmed the Red Guards in Irkutsk, we still began new negotiations, with the result that we surrendered all our arms, on the condition that all German and Magyar prisoners will be disarmed and disbanded, and that we will be allowed to proceed unmolested. The Siberian Government guaranteed us unmolested passage, and taught by bitter experience that it is dangerous to attack even unarmed Czecho-Slovaks, let us proceed to Vladivostok. True, this concerned only the trains in the vicinity of Irkutsk; the trains west of Irkutsk were, under the orders of Moscow, attacked in the same manner, but always with the same result. Everywhere the Bolsheviks were disarmed.

The arrest of the members of our National Council, which took place immediately before these treacherous attacks, then thousands of armed prisoners (Germans and Magyars) in the vicinity of Omsk, Krasnoyarsk and Chita, forced our army between Volga and Irkutsk to take the Siberian administration into their hands (toward the end of June). But even at this stage we were trying to enter into negotiations with Moscow. But Moscow, i.e. Lenine and Trotzky, proclaimed us murderers and began mobilization against us. Under these circumstances our troops were forced to take possession of the bridges over the Volga.

I must mention the fact that our defense, which, as said, was necessitated by treacherous attacks and everywhere resulted in the disarmament of the Bolsheviki, was joyfully greeted by the majority of the Russian population. Anti-Bolshevists took advantage of the situation and overthrew the Soviets. We did not interfere with their internal affairs even after the open conflict. We only disarmed those who attacked us, to make repetition of the attacks impossible.

The Germans were trying to spread rumors that our volunteers committed brutalities during these battles. That is not true. The fact is this: Russian-Bolshevists taken by our troops were disarmed and sent home, but Magyars and German prisoners, taken with arms in hand, were killed. That was made known to them beforehand. The Austrians hanged all our wounded whom they captured on the Italian front, and they attacked one of our trains of wounded in Siberia. The four years of a struggle for life taught us to be on guard. We did not harm German or Magyar prisoners who did not oppose us, although they were our enemies. We could have killed thousands and thousands of them, but we allowed them to leave Siberia in peace, if they desired to go home. When, however, they treacherously attacked us, they must be made harmless. We made an official announcement that every German and Magyar caught by us with arms in hand will be given no quarter.

On the contrary, we could cite many instances of unprecedented brutalities committed on our wounded by the German, and especially the Magyar prisoners.

In Siberia there are today some hundred thousand German and Magyar prisoners, a great number of whom are armed. It is these men who offer considerable resistance to our army -the Russian-Bolsheviks surrender after the first shot.

The Bolsheviks gave a sufficient proof of the fact that they are not capable to rule. The number of their fighting supporters is very indefinite. They consist chiefly of hungry masses, loath to work, who are getting 30-40 rubles a day in the Red Guard. They have no workers among them. A great number of the Bolshevik officials steal just like the officials of the Tsar’s regime. Industry, commerce, transportation, everything is at a standstill, and there is nothing to eat. That spells failure of the Bolshevist Government. The Bolsheviks are now doing everything to maintain their power. They obey the Germans and Austrians to keep themselves in power. The Germans, however, do not want a consolidation of Russia.

What will happen in the future I am unable to tell. The fact is Russia is ill today, powerless. If left to her fate, the Germans will obtain full control of her. But the consolidation of Russia is possible. That depends entirely upon the good will of the Allies. Russia needs effective, firm, friendly help, for today the Russians are incapable of upbuilding. The Russians are exhausted, they lost faith in themselves, and they need rest to recover. The majority of them are excited people who therefore cannot organize. The Allies, knowing the psychology of Russia today, and knowing the real strength of Russia, will extend their help in the proper manner. I think that our army can be of great assistance in this task. All of our boys have learned Russian in the four years of war, and know how to treat the people. They know the Russian people, and Russian situation, and they desire only the good of Russia. It was the Czecho-Slovaks who were always accused of exaggerated Russophilism by the Germans and Magyars. It is the irony of fate that we had to suffer so just in Russia. We hope and desire that our sacrifices be not offered in vain.


Original Format



Masaryk, T. G. (Tomáš Garrigue), 1850-1937




V. H. V. (Vladimír Hurban Vladimírov), 1884-1950, “Report of Captain VS Hurban, of the Czecho-Slovak Army in Russia,” No date, WWP25124, World War I Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.