Voenno-Istoricheskii Zhurnal, Volume 9, 1992, pages 86-92.

The Argentine Archive of General M.V. Alekseev


[Photograph: Lieutenant general M.V. Alekseev. 1908. From the archive of V.M. Alekseeva-Borel.]




Mikhail Vasil’evich Alekseev was born 3 November 1857. His father, Vasilii Alekseev, was a captain and for many years devoted to his service in the 64th Kazan Infantry Regiment. On 1 December 1876 Mikhail Vasil’evich was promoted to ensign in this same 64th Kazan Infantry Regiment in which his father had served earlier.

On 31 October 1878 Mikhail Vasil’evich was promoted to sublieutenant and on 15 January 1883 to lieutenant. On 24 October 1885 Lieutenant Alekseev took command of a company, and in the spring of 1890 he completed studies at the Nicholas General Staff Academy. In the first class and judged the winner of a 1000-rouble prize, in the rank of captain he was “enrolled in the General Staff.” He received the post of senior adjutant in the headquarters of the 1st Army Corps in the St.-Petersburg Military District. From 1894 to 1900 M.V. Alekseev (promoted to colonel in 1898) served on the Main Staff’s Expert Military Committee, and then until 1904 he was in the operations section of the Main Staff’s Quartermaster-General section.

On 2 March 1904 M.V. Alekseev was promoted by Highest order to major general, and on 5 November of that same year he went to war with the Japanese as the quartermaster-general of the 3rd Manchuria Army. During the war he was awarded a gold sword and the orders of St. Stanislav 1st class with sword and St. Anne 1st class.

After the war M.V. Alekseev was named first senior quartermaster of the General Staff’s main directorate while maintaining his position as professor at the General Staff Academy, but after two years he was given a new posting: “By Highest order of 30 August 1908, promoted to lieutenant general for excellence in service with assignment as chief of staff of the Kiev Military District.” In July of 1912 he was named commander of the 13th Army corps and in August of 1914 he was already chief of staff of the Southwestern Front, being given the rank of general-of-infantry in September. In March of 1915 M.V. Alekseev was commanding the Southwestern Front and beginning in August—the Western Front.

At the end of August 1915 Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich stepped down from his position as supreme commander-in-chief and this responsibility was taken up by Nicholas II himself. M.V. Alekseev was selected by the sovereign to receive the key post in the active army—chief of staff of the supreme commander-in-chief’s headquarters [Stavka]. After Nicholas II’s abdication from the throne in 1917 the Provisional Government named Alekseev supreme commander-in-chief, but at the end of May it relieved him of this position. After much thought, in August of 1917 M.V. Alekseev accepted the assignment of chief of staff of the Stavka with the goal of preventing the Kornilov movement from developing into fratricidal civil war. But in a matter of days he gave up his post in protest against the politics conducted by the new supreme commander-in-chief—Minister-President of the Provisional Government A.F. Kerenskii. After the October Revolution he went to Novocherkassk where he began to form the “Alekseev organization” which laid the foundation for the Volunteer Army. Mikhail Vasil’evich died on 25 September (8 October) 1918 in Yekaterinodar. At first he was buried in the crypt of the cossack host cathedral but later his body was taken by his family to Belgrade, where it rests to this day.


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The Argentine Archive of General M.V. Alekseev


“All my life I had one goal—to honorably serve my country. Our motherland can develop and exist only when there is established order, when delegates assemble and adhere to their legitimate needs, because if in an assembly of many people everyone talks at the same time and each person draws attention to what he himself wants, then nothing will result except disorder. But meanwhile contemporary Russians are doing exactly this, forgetting their duty even when facing those millions of hungry mouths which are waiting for bread and not inflammatory phrases.”


These would seem to be contemporary words, written down today! In fact, they were written by a man removed from politics but at least acquainted with our problems. After becoming familiar with the life of General-of-Infantry Mikhail Vasil’evich Alekseev, one could mistakenly attribute these words to the year 1917. No, these were written in November of 1905 in a personal letter and could hardly be intended for anyone besides his wife. But it happened that this woman, Anna Nikolaevna, preserved, like the greatest treasure, her husband’s letters, notebooks, service papers, and academic works.

Vera Mikhailovna Alekseeva-Borel worked with this archive for many years and wrote a book on her father that is at the same time a history of the Russian army in which M.V. Alekseev served for more than forty years. At this time the manuscript is being prepared for release by a Moscow publisher. Vera Mikhailovna lives in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires and is 92 years old. The editors of Voenno-Istoricheskii Zhurnal thank Vera Mikhailovna Alekseeva-Borel’ for presenting the book’s manuscript, chapters of which we now begin to publish with minor abridgements. The letters and documents are printed without any change in style or spelling.


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With the Active Army.

(En route to Mukden.)


Letter No. 19[1] is being written on the train at the village of Vanshitun, being started on 9 December 1904, but when it will be finished—I don’t know.

I now have to begin by saying I don’t know when I’ll be able to finish this letter. I am experiencing the full pleasure of taking on what should be on the shoulders of many. Strange, the chiefs of staff of the 1st and 2nd Armies are present. They come to meetings with the necessary helpers. I am changing everything in the 3rd Army and think that at the end of it all people will be angry with me for all the deficiencies in every unit. But I can’t do much and there is no time. Questions are piling up at the quartermaster section especially, it’s good that the Japanese are playing into my hands and standing still, otherwise it would be bad... As a result of all possible problems being directed to me I haven’t been able to get a letter started to you for eight days. I am beginning one today even though my head is heavily nodding toward sleep...

At a little past 4 o’clock we set off for Chansamutun, 6 or 8 miles from Mukden, on a special temporary railroad branch... We arrived at the current commander-in-chief’s[2] train when it was already getting quite dark. Further travel, God willing, will be tomorrow. I want to sleep very much, even if only beginning at midnight.

10 December. Good morning. Maybe I’ll be able to write a little, but the staff wheel is turning I’m losing each minute. I will continue my speech. After Baron Kaulbars’[3] short visit with Kuropatkin all our general-staff officers were invited to his car. Kuropatkin greeted me in a way that was more than just friendly: “Very happy, I would kiss you.” Kuropatkin knew father a long time ago, ever since the Russo-Turkish War in General Skobelev’s[4] column and headquarters and then while father was serving on the Main Staff.


[From letter No. 21]. Begun late at night on 26 December 1904. Train near the village of Vanshitun. Christmas Eve. I got up at six in the morning and went over to the Commander’s car. At 7 o’clock we left Suyatun station to inspect the positions that had just been included in the corps. On getting back we found out Port Arthur’s supposed fate to be an unspeakably crushing and sad fact.[5] (5) Those fateful minutes that ticked away over all our work… This was a misfortune that complicated what was already a difficult situation...


[That very same eveningChristmas Eve—we in St. Petersburg were lighting our Christmas tree after vespers. I do not recall that tree but I well remember that evening’s dinner. At the place where father always sat was his photograph with silverware set In front. He was far from us but at the same time right with us. On that same evening in distant Manchuria…]


At the table it was said that the commander-in-chief’s chief of staff was inviting us to a meeting at Chansamutun at 10 o’clock on the 25th. Acting as the 3rd Army’s chief of staff, I got into a supply cart before nine and set off on the five-mile trip. In the train car I could hear the church bells summoning us to mass, but that was not for me! One of the persons invited to the meeting was late but when he arrived we sat down at the table. Halfway through the talks the commander-in-chief himself came in and the rest of the meeting was conducted by him, i.e. he talked, expressed his wishes, but in spite of the breadth of his plans he didn’t dwell on the kinds of details that could obscure that central idea which had to infuse everything, and didn’t allow these details to overshadow what was important. Priests came in to perform blessings and then there was breakfast but without Kuropatkin’s participation. Then General Sakharov[6] explained some secondary questions and at about 4 o’clock I was again in my cart plodding to Vanshitun. Port Arthur... This meeting. No, it wasn’t in a cheerful or lively mood that I returned home. If one could have faith in strength and numbers and not rely on the personality that was directing and controlling.


[Obviously, this meeting revealed to my father the true nature of General Kuropatkin. Perhaps he remembered him from his time on General Skobelev’s staff. There was a kind of close familiarity with the “White General,” and working with him created in the young aide and ensign Alekseev a consciousness of a sort of aura, a belief in a commander’s talent, daring, and boldness. Perhaps father acknowledged his authority while working in the Main Staff just before the Russo-Japanese war, when Kuropatkin was minister of war. But this meeting shattered all hopes, and father understood that the masterful military commander who “directs and controls” did not exist. And a professor of military history well knew that it was not numbers, but character that leads to victory.]


[From letter No. 23 of 10 January 1905.] In the morning Kuropatkin came to Suyatun station, to which we had moved by train on the evening of the 11th, in order to inspect hospitals and the two reserve infantry regiments closest to the station. It appeared that he wasn’t aware of anything, expecting only an operation at Sandepu.

At about noon the chief of artillery began to receive reports that next to us 10th Corps was starting to attack and asking him for artillery support. Just how important and unexpected this news was can be seen from the fact that it had been agreed that our right flank would attack at the same time as 10th Corps and that much would have to be done before delivering the blow, and—the main thing—there would have to be a lengthy and heavy bombardment to shell our forces’ objectives.

I hurried to the commander-in-chief. At first he was completely unperturbed and calmly replied that nothing was going to happen, that he was sending an order to Grippenberg[7] not to undertake anything except the attack on Sandepu. But the whole situation changed within five minutes; an attack by 10th Corps, isolated and unsupported, could be expected any minute. Telegrams and telephone messages began to fly, even bypassing the commanders directly in charge. Kuropatkin had abdicated his position as commander-in-chief and as much as he was able became everything up to company commander. We managed to halt the attack. The explanation lay on Kuropatkin’s desk—the 2nd Army’s plan and dispositions. When it had arrived and why it did not immediately reach the hands of who it was addressed to, I don’t know. On the night of the 14th came Grippenberg’s categorical announcement that Sandepu had been taken, but in the morning many of the officers serving with neighboring corps began to send partial information, which soon became definite, that the actual main part of this village had been turned into a sprawling fortress, extremely strong. This part had not been taken, and if it was not taken then nothing at all had been achieved. Here it appeared that more than just laziness was the reason for the many tasks that had been neglected when the artillery was preparing its reconnaissance. And as a result... and now on 15 January when I am continuing this letter, the action at Sandepu has still not come to an end, and in the western region in general it was clear that already there had been heavy losses and how much they wanted to rally themselves with a success. But by now we could say that we were short of so many things beyond what I have already mentioned: the need to give each commander the freedom to act within the scope of his responsibility, independently but still being held to account.

We had little skill or hardly knew anything. So much effort had been wasted during peacetime in this regard. Of course, we will overcome, but the goal, as in 1877, will be achieved with great effort, by the massing of a great quantity of troops. Losses will be greater than then; different weapons, a different enemy. It is already 16 January. My letter is full of interruptions and is as disjointed as my whole day, spent between telephone, desk, running about. The night of the 16th held no rest at all, less from real business than from the bustle of those who take more to fussing about than actually being able to load a battery on a train. In the evening I thought of lying down early in order to be ready to work at night against the external foe, but... at 10 p.m. the internal enemy called a meeting. This all lasted until 12:30 a.m.

Yesterday there was a series of events that gradually made clear to me a picture of the preceding days of the campaign. Yesterday there were isolated successes, heavy losses in the 2nd Army, strong demonstrations by the Japanese. But success at Sandepu, towards which the 2nd Army was pushing, was still not achieved and for now could not be. This had all taken place but it was all disconnected parts, not changing the overall course of events. We are nevertheless stronger at the given moment than the Japanese. Meanwhile Kuropatkin yesterday declined to make further efforts to reach the objective, recognizing the push to be a failure and ordering a withdrawal of the 2nd Army’s troops to their previous positions occupied before 11 January. And for what were the casualties that had already been incurred? would it really make it easier later? wouldn’t everything be attained later without the losses, without the individual failures? Once a commander lacks persistence and decisiveness there will only be failures lying ahead of us without the comfort of grand successes. Under these circumstances our victories will go no further than the much admired Putilov Hill (in October 1904).

I don’t know the reason for Kaulbars’ meeting yesterday because it was so lacking in a central theme or, let’s say, any hint of reasoned judgment. But for me his closing words as he sent us off were important: “I think this meeting was very useful, as it showed me that our situation was not at all so bad.”! Really, was a meeting and “reports” from subordinates necessary for that? This was the situation which vexed me and oppresses me still. I was able to sleep six hours but got up with a severe headache.

Our leader lacks decision, and more than that, he greatly fears for our situation. The previous failures cut short the flight of the eagle, turning it into the unsure waddle of a duck on land when it finds itself out of its watery element.

In the meantime he bore down on his subordinates with categorical orders. If today, 16 January, the operations against Sandepu are continued in spite of everything in the name of achieving the objective, for that we will be solely obligated to General Grippenberg’s persistence. If they are halted, then it means that there had been no insistence or reports from that quarter, but from here there had come an “order” that did not permit any objection.

We still hear nothing along the front, there are no reports. Quiet reigns, but that silence is not good. To me it is the silence of a grave in which has been buried Russian success, Russian victory. Give us now, Russia, a man sure of himself, strong-willed and with talent! But Russia is not going to send us such a man!!! With heavy and oppressed spirits I read in the Manchuria Herald about the reigning state of affairs in St. Petersburg. Here blood is flowing in combat with the enemy. The purpose of the war isn’t understood by today’s generation, but it will be understood and valued by their descendents. Back there blood flows as a cleansing sacrifice for our collective sins. Also, the fact that it is exclusively Russian blood that flows is a source of joy and satisfaction for our neighbors, enemies, and doubtful friends.

[Here the subject is the events in St. Petersburg of 9 January 1905 and the subsequent days of the “beginning of the first revolution,” the clash between army troops and the crowd at the Narva gates and Alexander Gardens.]

It is hard to judge from a short telegram, but it describes a dangerous domestic situation for us. Unrest seeks an outlet. This outlet may be provided by preventive measures, but accumulated forces cannot wait for these measures and will overcome all obstacles and flow out in the form determined for us by history. For a peaceful outcome a certain man is again needed and there is no time to lose. But there is no man and much time has been lost. Give wisdom, God, to those entrusted with Russia’s fate, send them the ability to guide her ship of history into clear waters, a ship now rudderless between dangerous rocks, without an experienced captain, without wise, decisive, and daring lieutenants.

I am now divided in spirit between our unimportant affairs here and the events in Russia. It is a dangerous and alarming time -in St. Petersburg. I would so much want to be with you and our children.[8]

However, it is required to be absent during Russia’s time of suffering as fate decrees. Overall, it is a truly difficult year, and it is the motherland’s fate to go through it without any visible leadership. It may be said that here power and fate are in shaking and unsure hands. But of course in Petersburg you yourself know that.

[These tragic lines were prompted by events both near at hand on the front and from far away—the incipient revolution inside Russia or what were then just disorders in St. Petersburg. The letter ends with an answer to Anna Nikolaevna’s inquiry about Baron Kaulbars’ character which, I think, would be interesting to give here.]

Kaulbars’ relationships are in general good. However, one must always keep in mind that his whole being is like vinegar with baking soda. When water is unexpectedly poured on them no one can stop the process of bubbling gases being formed, in such moments he can’t fully realize what his eruption of words is saying. These will be too many, and sharp. Our Odessa coworkers [who came from Odessa Military District along with Kaulbars - V.A.-B] are excellent workers but there is no corporate aspect, and I can be satisfied only with their diligence... Martson[9] is unaffected, affable, and I think that it will be excellent to live and work with him.

I live with a burning desire for the success of our Russian interests accompanied by the thought that I will return to you all the sooner. I dream, if only when I can, of how you are living in Petersburg and how my dear little ones are.


[In the succeeding days right up to 22 January father rode out to inspect positions, sometimes covering 20 or miles a day on horseback. Nevertheless, these journeys in the frosty air cheered him. When he returned he would decline dinner with the commander and eat hastily after the others so as not to lose time before sitting down to “the papers that had piled up.” But the overall situation on the front continued to worry Mikhail Vasil’evich. From letter No. 24, begun on 20 January and which father wrote over several days:]


…What is worse is that we develop our affairs slowly, drawing them out, indecisively, which gives our enemy time to await the arrival of reinforcements and endlessly fortify their positions. The Japanese arrange their fortifications expertly while we fail to do sufficient reconnaissance and bang our heads. That not everything is going well in our high command is shown by Grippenberg’s departure from the army. There has still not been any order reassigning him, but his own order to his army’s troops read like a permanent farewell to them. After the battles in front of Sandepu he reported sick. In talking with our commander, Kuropatkin gave the opinion that he did not think that a 67-year old man could break down so, that he was surprised that Grippenberg would seek a position if his health was so poor. However, one can hardly accept “illness” as the chief reason for the fact of his departure. My officer in the 2nd Army’s headquarters noted just in bits of telephone and telegram messages the reasons for Grippenberg’s and Kuropatkin’s different viewpoints on conducting the war. The insufficient resources given to the individual army commanders and the massing of reserves in his own hands (“my strategic reserve”) all led to us not being able to deliver a blow anywhere with a wide, bold scope, we knocked against them with individual units, incurring many casualties, but our gains were modest or paired with failures. But in compensation, our strategic reserves were numerous and untouched—up to the time, of course, when they too had to likewise tap at the door behind which victory lay hidden.

It was clear that a basic difference in outlooks, limited independence, and resistance to being patronized compelled Grippenberg to first report sick and then to send a telegram to the sovereign asking for relief. I can’t agree with Grippenberg’s decision to leave the army all together at a critical time, but I can’t help saluting his Swedish stubbornness and the man himself who did not hesitate from departing when he didn’t want to become a plaything in someone else’s hands. For our man [Kaulbars - V.A.-B.] this would not have been the case, and he would dance to another’s tune. All this, overall, is not good. All this hinders us and gets us farther away from our desired and needed victory along with an exit from the difficult situation in which Russia finds herself.

I don’t know who they will replace Grippenberg with. It’s not an easy choice. If it were left to Kuropatkin he would certainly prefer one of the old Turkestan hands like Stackelberg[10] for whom the approximately seven and a half thousand fruitless and unnecessary casualties of 13 and 14 January would rest easy on his conscience.

What did happen at Sandepu and what led to General Grippenberg’s alienation? Sandepu was yet another of our lost victories, lost through the fault of the commander-in-chief. But it was Grippenberg who had to leave.

[1] M.V. Alekseev’s letters, addressed to his wife Anna Nikolaevna, were numbered with the intention of determining if any were lost on the way.

[2] The reference here is to General-of-Infantry Aleksei Nikolaevich Kuropatkin, commander-in-chief of the Russian army.

[3] Aleksandr Vasil’evich Kaul’bars (1844-?)—baron, general-of-cavalry. From January to April of 1904 he commanded the troops of the Odessa Military District. From 22 October 1904 to 13 March 1905 he commanded the 3rd Manchuria Army, and from then until 27 August of that same year—the 2nd Manchuria Army.

[4] Mikhail Dmitrievich Skobelev (1843-1882)—major general in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 and then a lieutenant general, famous as the organizer of the assault on Plevna.

[5] Port Arthur surrendered to the Japanese on 20 December 1904, after which an investigative commission was formed which found that “the surrender of Port Arthur could not be justified by the situation on the attacked fronts at that time, by the garrison not being large enough, by the health or morale of the troops, or by a shortage of ammunition and provisions. The conditions of the capitulation and its execution were very severe and insulted the honor of the army the dignity of Russia.” Ten generals and admirals who directed the defense of Port Arthur were court-martialed.

[6] Vladimir Viktorovich Sakharov (1853-?)—general-of-cavalry, from October 1904 chief of the field staff of the Manchuria Army, then from 17 March 1905 chief of staff to the commander-in-chief of all army and navy forces operating against Japan.

[7] Oskar-Ferdinand Kazimirovich Grippenberg (1838-?)—general-of-infantry, member of the Government Council. In 1904 he commanded the 2nd Manchuria Army. On 15 March 1905 he was dismissed and on 15 June named inspector of infantry.

[8] M.V. Alekseev’s children were named Nikolai, Klavdiya, and Vera.

[9] F.V. Martson—1ieutenant general, chief of staff of the 3rd Manchuria Army during the Russo-Japanese war.

[10] Konstantin Karlovich Shtakel‘berg (Stackelberg) (1848-?)—baron, lieutenant general.