The Red Kaleidoscope of the Civil War.

The People’s Revolutionary Army of the Political Center and the East-Siberian Soviet Army (1920).

By Aleksei Stepanov.



 [From Tseikhgauz No. 13, 1/2001. Pages 40-43.]


            The Political Center [politicheskii tsentr] was formed on 12 November 1919 in Irkutsk. It was an anti-Kolchak organization that was joined by representatives of the All-Russian Territorial Committee of Social Revolutionaries, the Bureau of Siberian Bolshevik Organizations, the Land Political Bureau (from the left wing of Siberian oblastniki (i.e., liberals and democrats who pushed for an autonomous Siberia), and the Siberian Central Committee of “Unions of Working Peasantry.” Along with the local Bolshevik organization and the closely related Central Executive Committee of the All-Siberian Military-Socialist Alliance, it prepared an armed revolt against the regime of Admiral A.V. Kolchak, the Supreme Leader of Russia, which began on 21 December 1919 with a demonstration by workers in Cheremukhovo. On the night of 22 December the uprising spread to the Irkutsk suburbs. Fighting for the city began on 27 December and lasted ten days. Pro-Bolshevik oriented soldiers of the Irkutsk garrison took part in this fighting, as well as local workers and partisans. The government forces in Irkutsk included:

            Units of the 14th Siberian Rifle Division: 1st Brigade (53rd and 54th Siberian Rifle Regiments), a Jäger Battalion.

            14th Siberian-Rifle Artillery Brigade (14th Siberian-Rifle Artillery Division – 3 batteries; 14th Siberian-Rifle Light-Howitzer Division – 2 batteries; 14th Separate Heavy Battery).

            Irkutsk Local Brigade (1st and 2nd Local Battalions).

            Special Purpose Group (of captured Red Army men) under the administration of Irkutsk Province.

            Irkutsk Cossack Brigade (Irkutsk Cossack Regiment and 2nd Transbaikal Cossack Regiment).

            Irkutsk Horse Brigade (1st and 2nd Horse Regiments).

            Guard battalion.

            Cadets of the senior classes of the Omsk Cadet Corps, relocated to Irkutsk.

            Irkutsk and Orenburg Military Schools.

            Irkutsk Instructors’ School, formed into a battalion.

            A number of other small units.

All these units, in one form or another, took part in the fighting both against the uprising as well as on its side.

            After resistance by government forces was quelled and they came over to the side of the rebels on 5 January 1920, the Politcenter announced a convocation of a Provisional Soviet of the Siberian People’s Administration and the transfer to it of all power.

            The Politcenter immediately set about organizing its own armed forces, which acquired the name “Popular Revolutionary Army” [“Narodno-Revolyutsionnaya armiya” (NRA)]. Staff-Captain N.S. Kalashnikov was designated commander of the army, with Captain A.G. Nesterov as his deputy.

            On 9 January, Order No. 15 was issued to the NRA forces. It read:

      In view of the fact that the wearing of shoulder straps is unavoidably linked to the use of force upon the people and violated that indispensable unity among soldiers and officers, I consider the further wearing of shoulder straps and cockades as unnecessary, and with the agreement and confirmation of he Political Center I order that these be immediately removed. Distinguishing badges for army personnel are to be: for soldiers – a small shield of subdued color with red piping, and for officers – a small red shield with subdued piping 1½ vershoks high and 1 vershok wide, worn on the left sleeve above the elbow.

      Command personnel are to have: straight and narrow sewn-on strips of red (section leaders – 1, platoon leaders – 2, and sergeants [fel’dfebeli] – 3; narrow galloon pointing down (company commanders – 1, battalion commanders – 2, and regimental commanders – 3); brigade commanders have the same chevron but wide; division commanders are to have 1—and corps commanders 2— wide straight stripes; commanders of armies are to have one wide stripe from right to left, the stripe being yellow; collar tabs are retained.

      Personnel in staff positions wear the chevron appropriate to their position.

      When in troop units carrying out duties, strict and rational discipline must be maintained, and orders must be carried out exactly.

      Relations between commanders and subordinates must be respectful. Instead of the address “mister” [“gospodin”], I order that “citizen” [“grazhdanin”] be used. Mutual salutations are required for all army ranks. Every officer and soldier must remember that they are the defenders of the great common goal of freeing our country and liberating the oppressed people, so all must remember that in the present difficult moment only our united efforts can finish the great struggle we have begun.

Commander of the Popular Revolutionary Army,

Staff-Captain Kalashnikov.

   Chief of Staff,

   Staff-Captain Gorshkov.[i]


            That these badges were actually worn in spite of the brief existence of the army is evidenced by Order No. 1 to the Irkutsk Local Brigade, signed on 10 January by Major General Naperstkov, in which it was demanded that the order to the army troops quoted above be immediately carried out.[ii]

            Also active at the same time as the Politcenter was the Central Staff of Workers’ and Peasants’ Militia Battalions [Tsentral’nyi shtab raboche-krest’yanskikh druzhin – TsSh RKD], created in December 1919 to coordinate the movements of partisan groups advancing on Irkutsk. On 21 January 1920, Order No. 23 of the TsSh RKD brought all Irkutsk workers’ and peasants’ militia battalions into the 3rd Irkutsk Communist Division as the 7th, 8th, and 9th Irkutsk Communist Regiments.[iii]

            After negotiations between a Politcenter delegation and representatives of the Siberian Revolutionary Committee and the 5th Red Army, on 21 January the Politcenter abdicated its full powers and transferred them to the Irkutsk Military-Revolutionary Committee [(voenno-revolyutsionnyi komitet (VRK)]. The next day the Irkutsk VRK issued Regulation No. 1, according to which all units of the NRA and the partisan groups under the TsSh RKD were united into a East-Siberian Soviet Army [Vostochno-Sibirskaya Sovetskaya Armiya (VSSA)][iv] That same day two orders were issued to the VSSA forces: No. 1 – on A.G. Nesterov assuming temporary command of the army,[v] and No. 2 – on the creation of the 4th and 5th Irkutsk Soviet Divisions based on units of the former NRA.[vi] The 4th Division incorporated the 53rd Siberian Revolutionary Regiment,[vii] the 1st Instructor’s Regiment (the former Irkutsk Instructors’ School), and the Jäger Battalion, which were respectively renamed the 10th, 11th, and 12th Irkutsk Soviet Regiments. The 5th Division incorporated the 1st and 2nd Local Battalions (of the Irkutsk Local Brigade) and the 54th Siberian Rifle Regiment, renamed respectively the 13th, 14th, and 15th Irkutsk Soviet Regiments. This same order also designated the division commanders: 3rd Irkutsk Communist Division – Aleksandrov; 4th Irkutsk Soviet Division – D’yachkov; 5th Irkutsk Division – Alyakritskikh. From 23 January the commander of the VSSA was D.Ye. Zverev.[viii]

            On 24 January, Order No. 1 was issued to the Military Commissariat:

     §1. In connection with the transfer of power from the Political Center to the Rev[olutionary] Com[mittee] and the liquidation of previous military organizations and commands, the Central Staff of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Militia Battalions is renamed the Military Commissariat. Subordinate to it for administrative and logistical matters are all military units, commands, and army establishments within the territory of Siberia liberated from the Kolchak regime.

     §2. Titles, ranks, orders and medals, and all types of distinguishing badges in the forces subordinate to the Military Commissariat are abolished. Submissions for awarding military personnel with St.-George crosses and medals are to cease.

     §3. The distinguishing sign on the uniform of personnel of the East-Siberian Soviet Army is established to be a sleeve badge – a red five-pointed star on a black square background.

     Personnel of the Kolchak army who are not currently serving in Soviet units do not have the right to wear the established distinguishing badges.


     §8. Elections and the forming of committees in military units prior to incorporation into the Russian Soviet Army is not permitted.[ix]

            The order did not indicate the location of the badge nor its dimensions. It may be supposed that it was worn on the left sleeve above the elbow.

            Order No. 21 to the VSSA, dated 29 January, renamed the Separate Combined Cossack Brigade as the 1st Irkutsk Soviet Cavalry Division, and its former constituent 1st and 2nd Peoples’ Horse Regiments and 2nd Transbaikal Cossack Regiment—as the 1st and 2nd Irkutsk Soviet Horse Regiments and 2nd Transbaikal Soviet Cossack Regiment, respectively.[x]

            On 30 January, VSSA Order No. 23 charged N.S. Kalashnikov to form the 7th Transbaikal Soviet Division.[xi] Order No. 25 was signed that same day, of which §2 said: “I order that the word ‘officer’ and the naming of ranks be dropped from use in official correspondence and orders, since in the Soviet Army there cannot be a distinction between officers and soldiers.”[xii] By this same order, the 17th Railway Battalion was renamed the 1st Soviet Railway Security Regiment, and the 1st International Communist Regiment was taken into the VSSA.

            By Order No. 27 of the VSSA, dated 1 February, the former Special Purpose Group (previously called the 1st Irkutsk Separate Volunteer Battalion), the 3rd Soviet Revolutionary Regiment, and the 7th Markov’s Regiment were respectively renamed the 16th, 17th, and 18th Irkutsk Soviet Regiments and incorporated into the 6th Irkutsk Soviet Division. In addition, the division was given the 3rd Communist Cavalry Regiment. Molchanov was designated acting divisional commander.[xiii]

            On 11 February the Transbaikal Group of Forces[xiv] was formed. In accordance with VSSA Order No. 42 it included the 1st Irkutsk Cavalry Division and 7th Transbaikal Division. N.S. Kalashnikov was assigned as group commander.[xv]

            On 13 February, VSSA Order No. 43 directed that the 1st International Communist Regiment be reformed into the 1st International Communist Division, which would include all international units.[xvi] Marion was designated division commander.

            The VSSA was disbanded in accordance with Order No. 5 of the Irkutsk Provincial Revcom dated 23 February and Army Order No. 58 of 28 February. Its formations, which were not put into the Transbaikal Group in view of their small size, were combined into the Irkutsk Rifle Division,[xvii] which along with the Transbaikal Group became directly subordinate to the Irkutsk gubvoenkomat [Provincial Military Commissariat]. By a 10 March directive of the Provisional Land Command (government) of the Baikal Region, formed after the liberation of Verkhneudinsk, an agreement was reached with the Irkutsk gubrevkom [Provincial Revolutionary Committee] in which the Transbaikal Group of Forces, the Irkutsk Rifle Division, and partisan bands operating around Lake Baikal were used as the basis for creating a Baikal Popular Revolutionary Army (NRA), which from 9 April 1920 was called the Transbaikal NRA, and form the middle of May—NRA of the Far-East Republic[xviii] (see Tseikhgauz No. 3).





Page 40: (Left) Sergeant [Fel’dfebel’] of Siberian Rifle units of the Popular Revolutionary Army of the Politcenter (1920).

(Right) Serviceman of the East-Siberian Soviet Army (February 1920). (Artist Il’ya Savchenko.)


Page 41: Rank Insignia for Personnel of the Popular Revolutionary Army of the Politcenter (NRA Order No. 15, 9 January 1920). (The author of this article would like to thank Aleksandr Deryabin for his help in preparing this piece.) Top to bottom, left to right: army commander, corps commander, division commander, brigade commander, regimental commander, battalion commander, company commander, sergeant, platoon commander, section commander. (Artist Vl. Perederii.)


Page 42: (Top) Sleeve badge for military personnel of the East-Siberian Soviet Army, instituted 24 January 1920.


(INSET) Special Labor Companies of the Army of Soviet Latvia.

            On 8 April 1919 the representative of the Army of Soviet Latvia’s Revolutionary Military Council [Revvoensovet] K.Kh. Danishevskii, and army commander P.A. Slaven confirmed a provisional “Regulation for a special labor company” which was issued the next day in Secret Order No. 60 of the RVS ASL.[1]

            We present extracts from this regulation below:

     1. To improve the state of the Army of Soviet Latvia and remove from it disorganizing elements that came in as volunteers and during mobilization, and whose conduct is no longer tolerable in the ranks of the Latvian Army, special labor companies are to be formed in Dvinsk[2] and places to be indicated by Army headquarters.

     2. The object of forming these companies is to concentrate in one unit undesirable persons in the army for gradual rehabilitation and their preparation as fully enlightened, trained, and disciplined comrades in the ranks, suitable for manning regular units <…>.

     6. To distinguish them from privates of other units, the privates of this company will carry the title of “private-laborer” [“ryadovoi-rabochii”] and not enjoy the privileges accorded to Red Army men. <…>

     9. Labor companies are to be preferred for work on fortifications, earth moving, and various other types of physical labor, and at the same time undergo training in military subjects under strict discipline <…>

     22. The company is to have a sleeve badge: a shovel in red cloth, sewn onto the left sleeve, exclusively for the non-permanent personnel [i.e. the private-laborers – A.S.].

     23. Only the cadre are to have weapons, and those men determined to have been rehabilitated.

            The regulation does not mention dimensions and there is no sketch of the design, so we present here an approximate reconstruction.


Page 43:      Distinctive Insignia for Red Army Medical Personnel.

            One of the first official distinctive insignia of the Red Army, established by the Republic’s Revolutionary Military Council (RVSR), were headdress emblems and armbands for military medical personnel.

            Order No. 120 of the RVSR was published on 21 October 1918:

     In view of the acts of violence that the enemy has perpetrated against medical personnel caring for wounded and sick Red Army men, it is ordered:

     1. All institutions and organizations designated to receive wounded and sick are to fly the flag of the Red Cross over buildings that they occupy.

     2. Military medical personnel are to have an enamel Red Cross badge on their headgear in place of the former cockade, and personnel working on the battlefield are also to have a Red Cross armband on the left arm.

     Reference: Articles 18-23 of the Geneva Convention.

            As can be seen in the photographs presented here, in practice military medical personnel wore a wide variety of Red Cross insignia on caps, sleeves, and chest. (Note: the Geneva Convention was signed on 6 July 1906 by 35 countries, including Russia.)


Illustrations: 1,7 – Collection of A. Proshlyakov; 2,6 – RGA KFD; 3 – TsMVS; 4 – Author’s collection; 5 – Collection of A Shalito and I. Savchenkov.


[1] RGVA. F. 200. Op. 3 D. 800. L. 138-143ob.

[2] The headquarters of the Army of Soviet Latvia was at Dvinsk (now Daugavpils).

[i] RGVA, F. 207. Op. 1. D. 19. L. 23, 23ob.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid. D. 22. L. 27.

[iv] Ibid. D. 15. L. 1.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid. L. 3.

[vii] Information on the renaming of the 53rd Siberian Rifle Regiment as “revolutionary” has not be found, but most likely this happened during the anti-Kolchak uprising or immediately afterwards.

[viii] Daniil Yevdokimovich Zverev (1894-1941), of peasant origin, veteran of the First World War, completed a school for ensigns in 1917. In 1917-18 he served in the Red Guards and then in the Red Army (RKKA). In July of 1918 he was taken prisoner by the Whites and served as a sergeant [fel’dfebel’] in Kolchak’s army in Irkutsk. In August 1919 at the head of his company he went over to the partisans. He commanded a partisan band (later regiment). From November 1919 through January 1920 he was provisional commander of the Northeast Front of Red partisans of Siberia.

[ix] RGVA. F. 207. Op. 1. D. 19. L. 49.

[x] Ibid. D. 15. L. 19.

[xi] Ibid. L. 21.

[xii] Ibid. L. 23.

[xiii] Ibid. L. 25.

[xiv] Grazhdanskaya voina v SSSR. Moscow, 1986. Page 364.

[xv] RGVA. F. 207. Op. 1. D. 15. L. 38.

[xvi] Ibid. L. 39.

[xvii] Putevoditel’ RGVA. T. 2. Minneapolis (Minnesota), 1993. Pages 410, 417.

[xviii] Ibid. Page 398.


Translated by Mark Conrad, 2001.