Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Monarchist Profile: Baron Ungern-Sternberg Part II

By 1920 the motley collection of Siberian Cossacks, Kalmuks, Buriats and Japanese mercenaries clustered around the Baron had almost been totally pushed out of Russia by the massive Soviet forces, but the Baron hatched another plan. He would go into the heartland of the Mongols, gather the forces loyal to the Khan and the deposed Emperor of China and forge a massive, revived Asian empire under the Manchu dynasty that would take in Mongolia, Manchuria and Tibet which was spiritually linked to the Mongols. Setting out, the Baron and his private army rode into Mongolia in 1920 with the Red Army nipping at their heels. This move, however, was not simply an invasion on his part. The Baron had been invited in by the displaced Bogd Khan of Mongolia who had ruled as Emperor and Living Buddha of the country in a Buddhist theocracy since the Chinese Revolution. By this time, however, the Chinese republicans had returned and the Khan was anxious for help from any quarter to restore his country. This was fairly common practice at the time as the deposed Emperor of China was also in constant contact with various White Russian warlords in the hope of enlisting them in the service of the restoration of the Manchu dynasty. Ungern-Sternberg was more than willing to comply. A committed monarchist, he viewed all republicanism with disgust and felt that only monarchy possessed the secular and spiritual purity to save civilization from chaos.

He immersed himself in his surroundings, donning native robes, learning at least passable Mongolian and studying Buddhist mysticism. This was to be the heartland of the Eurasian empire he planned to build. The Baron succeeded in restoring the Bogd Khan to his throne but at this time the Manchu Emperor has to be wary of his actions for fear of upsetting the republic and endangering the “Articles of Favorable Treatment”. The Baron had taken the capital of Mongolia (then called Urga) after intimidating the Chinese republicans by setting fires on all the surrounding hillsides to give the impression of an immense host waiting to slaughter them. He led his men in the attack with reckless abandon, on a white horse, even if his only weapon was often his bamboo stick he constantly carried. Prior to taking the city he had liberated the Khan with the help of 300 Tibetan cavalrymen sent by the Dalai Lama to aid in the rescue of his deputy. The Chinese republicans were totally defeated though they were not all dealt with as harshly as some say as the Baron hoped to recruit Chinese forces into his army for the restoration of the monarchy in that country.

On March 13m 1921 Mongolia was officially proclaimed independent of Chinese control once again as the Bogd Khan was ceremoniously restored to his throne amidst much rejoicing by the local populace. However, for the Baron, this was just to be the beginning. The first step in his grand plan to forge a massive Mongol-Manchu Empire had been accomplished but further progress proved more difficult. Aside from restoring the Qing dynasty, he wished to make an alliance with the Japanese so that all could join forces in invading Russia, wiping out the Bolsheviks and restoring the Romanov dynasty to the throne. Most would agree that was not about to happen but most would also not dare to say so to the Baron who, for the moment, was the man of the hour. A grateful Khan lavished titles and honors on him and the XIIIth Dalai Lama in Tibet declared him to be an incarnation of the wrathful, protecting deity Mahakala. However, Buddhist incantations aside, the enemies of the Baron were organizing, on both the Russian and Mongol sides of the border.

The Soviets had already set their sights on Mongolia becoming their first satellite state and had already begun grooming a new set of Mongol communists to be puppet dictators on their behalf. They were also not prepared to tolerate the growing number of White Russians taking refuge in Mongolia and Manchuria. Baron von Ungern-Sternberg was a priority. Others, they felt, were all talk, but the Baron was just crazy enough to make good on his threats to return. Ungern was convinced that the great mass of the Russian peasantry were loyal to the Tsar and had only been misled by deceitful agents into supporting the revolution. Once he and his army rode back on to Russian soil, he was sure, they would rush to his colors and together they wash their motherland clean of the Marxist infection. Meanwhile, in Mongolia, the Baron was forced to deal with domestic issues.

Although most sources speak of atrocities committed by his forces, the Baron was actually a strict disciplinarian who meted out harsh punishments for those who committed crimes or who were drunk on duty. His troops cleaned up the city, established a wireless station, telephone network, public transportation, built bridges, printed a newspaper, established a veterinary clinic, hospitals, re-opened the schools and reestablished commerce -which is another reason for his safeguarding the Chinese community as most were merchants. He was, at all times though, adamant that the Bogd Khan was the final authority and he no more than commander of the army. His headquarters was a simple Mongol yurt set up in the courtyard of a Chinese house and very sparsely furnished. His habits were Spartan and he tried (ultimately without success) to enlist the support of the Japanese government and the exiled Qing Emperor.

In the meantime, across the border, his enemies were gathering. A Mongol cavalryman named Damdin Suhbaatar had earlier been sent to Russia to seek aid against the Chinese. He would become the preeminent “hero” of the communist revolution, known as the “Lenin of Mongolia” while other men such as Soliin Danzin and Khorloogin Choibalsan (the “Stalin of Mongolia”) would lead the political struggle into a nightmarishly bloody future. The communists would later portray these men, Suhbaatar in particular, as their liberators from the monarchical-religious despotism of the Bogd Khan and the Baron. In truth, this campaign would mark the beginning of decades of Mongolian oppression at the hands of the Soviet Union as the country became the first communist dictatorship in Asia and the first Soviet satellite state. Finally, frustrating with politics and diplomacy as his enemies continued to strengthen, the Baron determined to ride out with his army as it was and seek a climactic confrontation with the Reds that would determine the future of the Far East and whether there was any hope for a future counter-revolution in Russia.

However, his two divisions were almost totally mounted cavalry, with few machine guns or modern artillery. The Red Army, on the other hand, possessed no shortage of trucks, weapons, airplanes or manpower and they concentrated all against him as the two forces maneuvered for advantage along the Russo-Mongolian border, crossing back and forth as the situation dictated. Ungern-Sternberg threw himself into battle with his usual zeal but while the local revolutionaries were never a serious problem, everyone knew his relative handful of Cossacks, Mongols, Japanese, Chinese, Manchus and Tibetans could never be a match for the hordes of the Russian Red Army. After scattering the local forces opposing him, in May of 1921 the Baron marched his small army back into Russia near modern Kyakhta. He let loose his fury on the communists who had not been expecting the Baron to take the offensive in such an aggressive fashion. It was truly a case of the prey becoming the predator.

However, it was only a matter of time before the Soviets brought their full strength to bear and after about a month of successful raids the communist offensive came in July of 1921. Red Army patrols were everywhere, combing the countryside in search of the Mad Baron and his renegade army. Finally, on August 21, 1921, the end came. As usual, Ungern-Sternberg did not intend to go quietly. He and his men, in a wild-eyed rage, charged with maniacal fury straight into the Soviet forces. As would be expected, his troops were decimated and at that point the Baron lost control. After announcing that they would ride to Tibet to regroup and continue the fight, a portion of his bloodied troops mutinied and tried to kill the Baron themselves, but he survived and they were too intimidated by him to try again. Instead, he was bound and abandoned on the steppe, half naked with his talismans still hanging about his neck. A Red Army patrol finally came upon him and took him into custody though some witnesses were afraid to even look at him, so fearsome was his appearance. The reign of the mad monarchist of Mongolia had come to an end and with him his dreams of a restored Asian empire.

Lieutenant-General Roman Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg was taken to Novosibirsk in Siberia with his train stopping at every station to display him as if he were an exhibit at a freak circus. Undoubtedly this is where many of his more heinous deeds were dreamed up as the communists shocked the locals with tales of the bloodthirsty former Tsarist general they saw before them who had tried to revive the empire of Genghis Khan. He was the last monarchist general in the field to bedevil the new Russian dictator Vladimir Lenin and with his capture and execution the Soviet chiftain was eager to finally put the civil war and any threats to his new state to rest. In September a military tribunal was convened, though in typical communist fashion it was more for appearances than anything else. The prosecutor was known, even by Bolshevik standards, as a fanatical atheist and he used the trial and the Baron to preach at length about the evils of religious devotion, be it Christian, Buddhist or of any other variety. The Baron said very little, accepting his situation as the fate of the defeated, though he did object to state that his forces had never harmed women. However, he knew the expected outcome as well as anyone else.

The fate of Ungern-Sternberg was a forgone conclusion. To the surprise of everyone, when he did speak, he spoke quite eloquently and coherently, perhaps causing a little confusion for those who portrayed him as a mindless, raving, bloodthirsty beast. Nonetheless, he was swiftly found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad on September 17, 1921. Even in death, however, the Mad Baron could not simply die easily. He chewed up his prized Cross of St George so as to keep it from falling into the hands of the godless communists and when the executioners shot him in the chest (we are told because his head was too small a target) a piece of shrapnel from one of his many talismans still hanging around his neck flew back and seriously injured one of the Red soldiers. That would officially mark the last blood to be shed by Baron von Ungern-Sternberg. The mad monarchist of Mongolia, the man who thought to revive the glories of Genghis Khan and wanted a united Asian monarchy that would wipe the scourge of Bolshevism from the earth was no more.

In Mongolia, the again powerless Bogd Khan ordered Buddhist prayers to be said for the Baron in all the temples of the country. In Moscow the politburo breathed a sigh of relief and doctors dissected him to try to find some scientific explanation for his bizarre behavior. Most of the world has forgotten him, but his name, his image, reappears just often enough to remind everyone that he still haunts the dreams of Marxist revolutionaries. Wherever his soul now rests, that fact alone, I think, would make the Baron smile. He had ultimately been defeated, but he had gone down fighting for what he considered the most holy and righteous cause possible.

3 comments:

  1. This is certainly one of the more interesting people I've ever heard about. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone of his caliber in today's military forces, I'm sure.

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  2. Probably so, but today, especially in the upper echelons, we expect generals to be politicians and zeal and audacity is positively discouraged these days. Men like MacArthur or Patton for the US, Marshal Foch for France or Sir Thomas Picton for Britain would be drummed out of today's militaries as lunatics.

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