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Roman von Ungern-Sternberg

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Roman Fyodorovich von Ungern-Sternberg
Baron ungern.ruem.jpg
Roman Fyodorovich Ungern-Sternberg in Irkutsk under interrogation at the headquarters of the 5th red Army[a]
Born(1886-01-10)10 January 1886
Graz, Duchy of Styria, Austria-Hungary
Died15 September 1921(1921-09-15) (aged 35)
Novosibirsk, Russian SFSR
Years of service1906–1921
RankLieutenant general
Commands heldAsiatic Cavalry Division
Elena Pavlovna "Ji"
(m. 1919; div. 1920)

Baron Roman Fyodorovich Ungern-Sternberg (Born Nikolai Robert Maximilian Freiherr[b] von Ungern-Sternberg; Russian: Рома́н Фёдорович У́нгерн-Ште́рнберг, tr. Román Fyodorovich Úngern-Shtérnberg; [1][page needed] 10 January [O.S. 29 December] 1886 – 15 September 1921), better known as Roman von Ungern-Sternberg or Robert von Ungern-Sternberg, was an Austrian-born, Russian Empire's Baltic German anti-Bolshevik lieutenant general in the Russian Civil War and then an independent warlord whose Asiatic Cavalry Division wrested control of Mongolia from the Republic of China in 1921 after its occupation. He was often referred to as Baron Ungern, or simply Ungern.

Ungern was an arch-conservative monarchist who aspired to restore the Russian monarchy under Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia and to revive the Mongol Empire under the rule of the Bogd Khan. During the Russian Civil War, Ungern's attraction to Vajrayana Buddhism and his eccentric, often violent treatment of enemies and his own men earned him the sobriquet "the Mad Baron". In February 1921 he expelled Chinese troops from Mongolia and restored the monarchic power of the Bogd Khan. During his five-month occupation of Outer Mongolia, Ungern imposed order on the capital city, Ikh Khüree (now Ulaanbaatar), through fear, intimidation, and brutal violence against his opponents, particularly Bolshevik supporters.

In June 1921 he went on to invade east Siberia in support of supposed anti-Bolshevik rebellions and to head off a Red Army-Mongolian partisan invasion; this action led to his defeat and capture two months later. He was taken prisoner by the Red Army and a month later put on trial for counterrevolution in Novonikolaevsk. After a six-hour trial he was found guilty, and on 15 September 1921 he was executed.

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  • ✪ The Mad Baron - Roman von Ungern-Sternberg I WHO DID WHAT IN WWI?
  • ✪ Russian Revolution: Journeys of Baron Ungern- Willard Sunderland
  • ✪ Roman von Ungern-Sternberg: The Mad Baron | Tooky History
  • ✪ Alternate History: What If Baron Ungern Succeeded?
  • ✪ The Bloody Baron & The Russian Civil War


He was cruel, ruthless, and violent, but he was also magnetic and was a soldier brave to the point of foolhardiness. He was also to many a Divine figure and his legend bears repeating - Baron von Ungern-Sternberg. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War bio Special about Baron von Ungern-Sternberg and the First World War. Nikolai Roman Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg was born January 10th, 1886, in Graz, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His mother was German and his father Estonian. His father was declared insane, and his mother married another Estonian nobleman and went to live in Reval, which is Tallinn today in Estonia, but was then part of Russia. The family claimed to have Romanov blood - the Russian Tsar’s family - in them and to be partly Mongolian, but in reality they were mostly German with Hungarian roots. The Baltic German community was well established as an elite class in Estonia, and in the 19th century many of them pursued Russian military careers, in service in eastern or central Asia against the unruly Khanates during that period of Russian colonization. The young Roman was obsessed with tales of his ancestors - pirates and bandits. His grades in school were abysmal, but worse than that was his behavior. He wasn’t a bully; he was the guy bullies are scared of - a sadistic and violent young man who was eventually expelled from school. His father pulled some strings and got him into the Marine Academy in St. Petersburg, but neither his grades nor his behavior saw any improvement. In fact, to get out of the academy, he volunteered for the army; Russia was currently fighting the Russo-Japanese War. The 19 year old Roman dreamed of making a difference, but by the time he arrived at the front the demoralized Russians and the overextended Japanese were at a stalemate. He did not see action, but emerged from the war as a Corporal, was very impressed with the Japanese skill and courage, and had seen the Far East for the first time, which to him was the land of old. His grandfather had been a privateer in the service of an Indian prince against the British and had introduced him to Buddhism. He was also interested in astrology and the occult, which were quite popular at the time in Russia and Asia, as the old order seemed ready to crack. The abortive 1905 Russian Revolution took care of that. The Tsarist rule was indeed threatened, and the monarch’s response bloody, but the response to his response was violent uprisings. The Estonian peasantry burned down the Ungern-Sternberg estate. This served to confirm Roman’s radical beliefs that the peasants were animals, led astray by Jews. In fact, Roman was a rabid monarchist, who had no patience for ideas of capitalism or liberalism. The Tsar was appointed by God. His father once again pulled some strings and Roman was enrolled in the prestigious Paul I Military Academy as a cavalry cadet. He was a natural athlete and an excellent horseman and he graduated and found service in a Cossack regiment- the 1st Argum regiment of the Zabaikal Cossacks under General Rennenkampf. They were stationed near Lake Baikal in Siberia, and lived a nomadic life on the steppes, riding border patrols against Chinese bandits. This was a world of magic and adventure for Roman. He practiced “military Buddhism” and brought others to its cause. Among other practices, it promoted celibacy, but allowed unlimited alcohol, opium, and hashish. In 1913, he arrived in the Mongolian capital city of Urga, which could have been medieval if not for hunters with rifles. It had been under Chinese control until 1911 and was now fighting for independence. There, Roman delved deeper into Buddhist and shamanistic studies. He was expelled, however, from the Cossacks for his violent behavior, and only the outbreak of the world war got him reinstated and sent to the Eastern Front. There, he was exposed to some of the most brutal, bloody, and stupid fighting of the war, making suicidal charges against entrenched machine guns and artillery. Cossack casualties were 3-4 times higher than they were anywhere else in the Russian army. He took part in the invasion of East Prussia, the defeat at Tannenberg, the Battle of Galicia, and the fighting in the Carpathians. He was wounded five times, which isn’t surprising since he volunteered for the most dangerous missions and rode at the head of formations. “Ungern´s survival was due partly to blind luck, partly to an almost suicidal absence of fear. As he was to show winning his medals, he could do things so madly heroic that his enemies would often pause in sheer astonishment.” The war on the Eastern Front reminded him often of the vast steppes of Central Asia. Instead of the enclosed killing zones of the west, the vast regions and deep forests of the east dwarfed the men, who were surrounded by nothingness with only death ahead of them. Humanity became increasingly absent; cruelty and violence took its stead. The war worsened him. A large part of his activities as a Cossack were raiding parties, rushing in short, violent bursts deep into enemy lines where there was no time to take prisoners or distinguish between soldier and civilian. He was awarded the Cross of St. George 4th Class, but in late 1916, after serving a sentence in military prison for yet another violent drunken rage against his superiors, was assigned to the Black Baron - General Pyotr Vrangel - and sent to Lake Urmia, now in Northern Iran. He was there when the February Russian revolution of 1917 broke down the machinery of state. The following Kerensky Government, to Ungern, was a total mess, but at least it was some sort of authority, compared to the Bolshevik rule after the October revolution, but it allowed his regiment to travel to Mongolia once more, to recruit men to fight against the revolutionaries once Russia left the World War. In 1918, counter-revolutionary White Army forces outnumbered the Bolshevik Red Army by a considerable amount, but they lacked cohesion. Anarchists, monarchists, republicans, socialists, they had different ideologies and were scattered across the former empire, while the Bolsheviks could draw on the industry of Petrograd and Moscow and the remnants of the old army. FHG: Y'know I had no idea about this guy, it truly is fascinating how widespread the ramifications of the Russian Revolution were. Indy: Yeah, it really is. But what also might be interesting is to know who you are FHG: Well you see, I'm the guy behind Feature History, often known as Feature History guy. If you wanna see some drawings with no eyes bouncing about talking about the Polish-Soviet War, I have something like that. Indy: That sounds pretty cool, it's also not a conflict a lot of people know about. I'll certainly drop by later to check it out. FHG: Be there or be square. Ungern believed the salvation of Russia lay with the people of the borders. With the aid of a fake armored train, Mongol warriors, Chinese merchants, Japanese arms dealers and “volunteers”, as well as help from the Czech Legion and the Americans of the Siberian Expeditionary Force, he began building his army. It didn’t hurt that the Cheka - the Red secret police - were running a reign of terror in Siberia at the time, and the consequent stream of refugees swelled his ranks. His Special Manchurian Mounted Division crossed the border into Russia. Raids and skirmishes against the Red Guard procured ammunition and supplies, and soon he had his own regime in the Dauria region. He called himself Baron and established a feudal rule of nearly medieval tradition, and though his rule was culturally tolerant, violence or the threat of violence as the order of the day. So each race was welcome, and just about all Gods were, though Jews were hanged on sight, and Bolsheviks brutally tortured before being hanged or clubbed to death. He became known as the Bloody Baron and rumors and legends about him abounded; he had people skinned alive, he had a pack of wolves that he fed with his enemies, he was the God of War reborn and was favored by the Dalai Lama. It is true that death trains accompanied him, transporting captured enemies to torture chambers, and his Mongolian bodyguards revered him as a god. He, however, saw his violence not as torture, but as punishment and a means to maintain discipline. It’s not really my place to talk about postwar activity, though the Russian Civil War certainly ties in with the world war. I’m pretty sure a bunch of you are gonna look up the rest of his story, though. Ungern never abandoned his belief in the restoration of the Tsar, believing that Michael Romanov would rule, not learning of his murder. He fell out with the other White Army leaders because of his autocratic rule, but he conquered the Mongolian capital at one point, and fought the Red Army until his capture and execution. That last happened after his attempt to cross the Gobi Desert - without supplies - and reach Tibet, turned even his most diehard supporters to mutiny. His life ended with a trial and a firing squad in September 1921 at the age of 35. Baron von Ungern-Sternberg was quite likely a psychopath, but he was definitely one of the most colorful characters of the Great War and its immediate aftermath, and we thought you’d find his story - though not as important to the war as many of our other bio specials - extremely interesting. Thank you Markus Linke for the research on this episode. If you want to learn more about the Polish-Soviet War which also is a lesser known consequence of the Russian Revolution, you can click right here to watch the episode on Feature History. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don’t forget to subscribe, see you next time.



Childhood and youth

Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg as a child.
Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg as a child.

Robert Nikolaus Maximilian Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg was born in Graz, Austria, in 1886 to a noble Baltic-German family. The Ungern-Sternberg family settled in what is now Estonia during the Middle Ages.[2] Ungern-Sternberg's first language was German, but he was also fluent in French, Russian, English and Estonian.[3] His mother was a German noblewoman named Sophie Charlotte von Wimpffen, later Sophie Charlotte von Ungern-Sternberg, and his father was Theodor Leonhard Rudolph Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg (1857–1918). He also had Hungarian roots, and claimed descent from Batu Khan, Genghis Khan's grandson, which played a role in his dream of reviving the Mongol Empire.[4]

In 1888 his family moved to Reval (Tallinn), the capital of the Governorate of Estonia within the Russian Empire, where his parents divorced in 1891. In 1894 his mother married Baltic German nobleman Oskar Anselm Hermann Freiherr von Hoyningen-Huene.[5] Ungern-Sternberg grew up in the Governorate, with his home being the Hoyningen-Huene estate at Jerwakant (modern Järvakandi, Estonia) that was set deep in the forests about 40 miles from Reval.[6] In the summer Ungern-Sternberg lived on the island of Dago (modern Hiiumaa) in the Baltic, which he liked to boast had belonged to his family for over 200 years.[7]

The coat of arms of the Baltic noble family von Ungern-Sternberg
The coat of arms of the Baltic noble family von Ungern-Sternberg

As a boy, Ungern-Sternberg was noted for being such a ferocious bully that even the other bullies feared him and several parents forbade their children from playing with him as he was a "terror".[7] Ungern was well known for his love of torturing animals and at the age of 12 tried to strangle to death his cousin's pet owl for no particular good reason other than his cruelty towards animals.[7] Ungern-Sternberg had an extreme pride in his ancient, aristocratic family, later writing that his family had over the centuries "never taken orders from the working classes" and it was outrageous that "dirty workers who've never had any servants of their own, but still think they can command" should have any say in the ruling of the vast Russian Empire.[8] Ungern-Sternberg, despite his pride of German origin, identified himself very strongly with the Russian Empire. When asked if his "family had distinguished itself in Russian service", Ungern proudly answered: "Seventy-two killed in wartime!"[9] Ungern-Sternberg believed that return to monarchies in Europe was possible with the aid of "cavalry people", meaning Russian Cossacks, Buryats, Tatars, Mongols, Kyrgyz, Kalmyks, etc.[10]

In 1898 his father was briefly imprisoned for fraud and in 1899 was committed to the local insane asylum.[11] From 1900 to 1902 Ungern attended the Nicholas I Gymnasium in Reval. His school records show that he was an unruly, bad-tempered young man who was constantly in trouble with his teachers owing to frequent fights with other cadets and breaking other school rules—smoking in bed, growing long hair, leaving without permission, etc.—which finally led to the schoolmaster writing a letter in February 1905 to his stepfather and mother, asking them to withdraw him from the school, otherwise he would be expelled.[12] In 1905 he left the school to join the fighting in eastern Russia during the Russo-Japanese War, but it is unclear whether he participated in operations against the Japanese or if all military operations had ceased before his arrival in Manchuria,[13] although he was awarded the Russo-Japanese War Medal in 1913.[14]

In 1905 Russia exploded into revolution, and in the Governorate Estonian peasants went on a bloody jacquerie against the Baltic-German nobility, which owned most of the land there, lynching aristocrats and burning down their estates.[15] One of the estates burned down was the one at Jerwakant where Ungern-Sternberg had grown up. The revolution of 1905 and the destruction of the Jerwakant estate were huge traumas to Ungern-Sternberg, who saw the jacquerie as confirming his belief that the Estonian peasants who worked on his family's lands were all "rough, untutored, wild and constantly angry, hating everybody and everything without understanding why".[16]

R.F. Ungern in the form of the 91st Infantry Dvinsky Regiment
R.F. Ungern in the form of the 91st Infantry Dvinsky Regiment

In 1906 Ungern was transferred to service in the Pavlovskoe Military School in St. Petersburg as a cadet of ordinary rank.[17] As an army cadet he proved to be a better student than he ever was as a naval cadet, and he actually studied his course material, though in the words of Palmer Ungern was a "mediocre student" at best.[18] During the same period Ungern-Sternberg had become obsessed with the occult and was especially interested in Buddhism. His cousin Count Hermann von Keyserling, who knew him well later, wrote that the baron was very curious from his teenage years onward with "Tibetan and Hindu philosophy" and often spoke of the mystical powers possessed by "geometrical symbols". Keyserling called Ungern-Sternberg "one of the most metaphysically and occultly gifted men I have ever met" and believed that the baron was a clairvoyant who could read the minds of the people around him.[19] Later, in Mongolia, Ungern became a Buddhist but did not leave the Lutheran faith. There is a widespread view that he was viewed by Mongols as the incarnation of the "God of War" (the figure of Jamsaran in Tibetan and Mongol folklore). Although many Mongols may have believed him to be a deity, or at the very least a re-incarnation of Genghis Khan, Ungern was never officially proclaimed to be any of these incarnations.[1][page needed]

After graduating he served as an officer in east Siberia in the 1st Argunsky and then in the 1st Amursky Cossack regiments, where he became enthralled with the lifestyle of nomadic peoples such as the Mongols and Buryats. Ungern had specifically asked that he be stationed with a Cossack regiment in Asia, as he wanted to learn more about Asian culture, a request that was granted.[20] During this period Ungern-Sternberg was notorious for his heavy drinking and exceptionally cantankerous moods. In one such brawl his face was scarred when the officer he was fighting with struck him with his sword, leaving him with a distinctive facial scar.[11] It has been claimed that the sword blow that caused the scar also caused brain damage that was the root of Ungern's insanity.[21] However, a special study revealed that Ungern-Sternberg was not mentally insane, although the wound affected his irritability.[22] Those who knew him well described him as very drawn towards "Eastern culture", as he was fascinated by Asian cultures, especially that of the Mongols and the Buryats.[23] At the same time Ungern was an excellent horseman who earned the respect of the Mongols and the Buryats due to his skill at riding and fighting from a horse, being equally adept at using both a gun and his sword.[24] In 1913, at his request, he transferred to the reserves. Ungern moved to Outer Mongolia to assist Mongols in their struggle for independence from China, but Russian officials prevented him from fighting with Mongolian troops. He arrived in the town of Khovd in western Mongolia and served as out-of-staff officer in the Cossack guard detachment at the Russian consulate.[25]

First World War


On 19 July 1914, Ungern joined front-line forces as part of the second-turn 34th Regiment of Cossack troops stationed on the Austrian frontier in Galicia. He took part in the Russian offensive in East Prussia and from 1915–16 also participated in rear-action raids on German troops by the L.N. Punin Cavalry Special Task Force.[26][page needed] Ungern served in the Nerchinsky Regiment. Throughout the war on the Eastern Front he gained a reputation as an extremely brave—but somewhat reckless and mentally unstable—officer, a man with no fear of death who seemed most happy leading cavalry charges or being in the thick of combat.[27] He was decorated with several military awards: orders of St. George of the 4th grade, St. Vladimir of the 4th grade, St. Anna of the 3rd and 4th grades, as well as St. Stanislas of the 3rd grade. Despite his many awards, he was eventually discharged from one of his command positions for attacking another officer and a hall porter during a drunken rage in October 1916, which led to his being court-martialed and sentenced to two months in prison.[28] Gen. Wrangel mentions Ungern's determination in his memoirs.

After his release from prison in January 1917, Ungern was transferred to the Caucasian theatre of the conflict, where Russia was fighting against the Ottoman Empire.[29] The February Revolution that ended the rule of the House of Romanov was an extremely bitter blow to the monarchist Ungern-Sternberg, who saw the revolution as the beginning of the end of Russia.[30] In the Caucasus Ungern-Sternberg first met Cossack Capt. Grigory Semyonov, later one of most well-known Russian anti-communist warlords in Siberia. In April 1917 near Urmia, Iran, Ungern, together with Semyonov, started to organize a volunteer military unit composed of local Assyrian Christians. The Ottoman government had waged the Assyrian Genocide, attempting to exterminate the Assyrian minority, which led to thousands of Assyrians fleeing to the Russian lines.[31] Ungern and Semyonov conceived of a scheme under which the two would organize and lead Assyrian troops to serve as an example for the Russian army, which was being demoralized by the revolutionary mood.[28] Under Ungern's command his Assyrians went on to score some minor victories over the Turks, but their total contribution to Russia's war effort was limited.[32] Afterwards, the Assyrian scheme led Semyonov to the idea of placing Buryat troops in Siberia. The Kerensky government gave its approval to Semyonov's plans, and Ungern-Sternberg soon headed east to join his friend in trying to raise a Buryat regiment.[33]

The Russian Civil War

After the Bolshevik-led October Revolution of 1917, Semyonov and Ungern declared their allegiance to the Romanovs and vowed to fight the revolutionaries. In late 1917 Ungern, Semyonov and five Cossacks peacefully disarmed a group of about 1500 pro-Red combatants on a railway station in Manchuria on the China-Eastern Railway (FER) in China near the Russian border. For a time the station in Manchuria was a stronghold of Semyonov and Ungern in their preparations for war in Transbaikal. They started to enroll troops in a Special Manchurian Regiment, which became a nucleus for anti-communist forces led by Semyonov.[34]

After the White troops defeated the Reds on a section of the FER line in Russia, Semyonov appointed Ungern commandant of troops stationed in Dauria, a railway station in a strategic position east-southeast of Lake Baikal. Semyonov and Ungern, though fervently anti-Bolshevik, were not typical of the figures to be found in the leadership of the White movement, as their plans differed from those of the main White leaders. Semyonov refused to recognize the authority of Adm. Alexander Kolchak, the nominal leader of the Whites in Siberia. Instead, he acted independently, supported by the Japanese with arms and money. For White leaders like Kolchak and Denikin, who believed in a "Russia strong and indivisible", this represented high treason. Ungern was nominally subordinated to Semyonov but he, too, often acted independently.[35] Adm. Kolchak was a conservative but not a monarchist, who promised that after the victory of the Whites he would reconvene the Constituent Assembly disbanded by the Bolsheviks in January 1918, which would then decide the future of Russia, including the question of whether or not to restore the monarchy.[36] Ungern, to the contrary, believed that monarchs were accountable only to God, and the monarchy was the political system that God had chosen for Russia, so it was self-evident that it should be restored to the way it had existed before the October Manifesto of 1905. For Ungern, the opinions of the people of Russia were irrelevant, as monarchs were not accountable to the people.

Because of his successful military operations in Hailar and Dauria, Ungern received the rank of Major-General. Semyonov entrusted him with forming military units to battle Bolshevik forces. They enrolled Buryats and Mongols in their national military units. In Dauria, Ungern formed the volunteer Asiatic Cavalry Division (Russian: Азиатская конная дивизия), which included Russians, Buryats, Tatars, Bashkirs, Mongols from different tribes, Chinese, Manchu, Polish exiles and many others.[35] Ungern reinforced his military station at Dauria, creating a kind of fortress from which his troops launched attacks on Red forces. Under his rule, Dauria became a well-known "torture center" filled with the bones of dozens of Ungern's victims, people who were executed because of accusations of being Reds or thieves (details in [37]). Ungern's chief executioner had been a Col. Laurentz, but later, in Mongolia, Ungern had him executed because he lost Ungern's trust, although under unclear circumstances.[38] Like many other White units, Ungern's troops employed "requisitions" as a source of their supply. They examined trains passing through Dauria to Manchuria. While these confiscations did not significantly diminish the supplies of Kolchak's forces, private Russian and Chinese merchants lost considerable property.[39]

In 1919, taking advantage of the weakness of Russia's government caused by revolutions and civil war, the Chinese government, established by members of the Anhui military party, sent troops led by Gen. Xu Shuzheng to join Outer Mongolia to China and end its autonomy. This violated the terms of a tripartite Russian-Mongolian-Chinese agreement concluded in 1915, which secured the autonomy of Outer Mongolia and did not allow the presence of Chinese troops, except for small numbers of consular guards.[40] Although the Anhui party was supported by Japan, indications that Japan inspired Chinese occupation of Outer Mongolia[41] have not yet been confirmed by documents.[42] After the fall of Anhui party rule in China, Chinese soldiers in Mongolia found themselves effectively abandoned. They rebelled against their commanders and plundered and killed Mongols and foreigners.[43][page needed] Some of the Chinese troops during the occupation were Tsahar (Chahar) Mongols from Inner Mongolia, who had been a major cause of animosity between Outer Mongols (Khalkhas) and Inner Mongols.[44]

As part of his plans, Ungern traveled to Manchuria and China (February through September 1919). There he established contacts with monarchist circles and also made preparations for Semyonov to meet with Manchurian warlord Marshal Zhang Zuolin, the "Old Marshal". In July 1919 Ungern married Manchurian princess Ji in an Orthodox ceremony in Harbin. The princess was given the name Elena Pavlovna. She and Ungern communicated in English, their only common language.[45] This marriage had a political aim, as Ji was a princess and a relative of Gen. Zhang Kuiwu, commander of Chinese troops at the western end of the Chinese-Manchurian Railway, and governor of Hailar.[35]

Restoring the independence of Outer Mongolia

Ungern-Sternberg in a Mongolian deel uniform with Russian Order of St. George 4th Class
Ungern-Sternberg in a Mongolian deel uniform with Russian Order of St. George 4th Class

After Kolchak's defeat at the hands of the Red Army and the subsequent decision of Japan to withdraw its expeditionary troops from the Transbaikal, Semyonov, unable to withstand the pressure of Bolshevik forces, planned a retreat to Manchuria. Ungern, however, saw this as an opportunity to implement his monarchistic plan. On 7 August 1920 he broke his allegiance to Semyonov and transformed his Asiatic Cavalry Division into a guerrilla detachment.[1][page needed] Ungern's troops started to move towards the border of Outer Mongolia. They crossed the northern border of Outer Mongolia on 1 October 1920 and moved southwest.[46][page needed] Having crossed the Mongolian border, Ungern moved westwards to the Mongolian capital of Urga (officially Niislel Khuree, now Ulaanbaatar). He entered into negotiations with Chinese occupying forces. All of his demands, including disarmament of the Chinese troops, were rejected. On 26–27 October and again on 2–4 November 1920, Ungern's troops assaulted Urga, but suffered disastrous losses. After the defeat his forces retreated to the upper currents of the Kherlen River, in Setsen-Khan Aimag (district ruled by princes with the title Setsen Khan), in eastern Outer Mongolia. He was supported by Mongols who sought independence from Chinese occupation, especially the spiritual and secular leader of Mongols, the Bogd Khan, who secretly sent Ungern his blessing for expelling Chinese from Mongolia. The Chinese had tightened their control of Outer Mongolia by this time, strictly regulating Buddhist services in monasteries and imprisoning Russians and Mongols whom they considered "separatists". According to memoirs by M. G. Tornovsky, the Asiatic Division numbered 1,460 men, while the Chinese garrison was 7000 strong. The Chinese had the advantage in artillery and machine guns and had built a network of trenches in and around Urga.[46][page needed] At his camp Ungern imposed ferocious discipline on his Russian soldiers to prevent desertion and demoralization.

Ungern's troops began moving from their camp to Urga on 31 January. On 2 February they battled for control of Chinese front lines and secured parts of Urga.[46][page needed] His detachment, led by B. P. Rezukhin, captured Chinese front-line fortifications near Small Madachan and Big Madachan settlements in the southeastern vicinities of Urga. During the battle Ungern's special detachment of Tibetans, Mongols, Buryats and Russians rescued the Bogd Khan from house arrest and transported him through the Bogd Uul to Manjushri Monastery. At the same time another detachment moved to the mountains east of Urga.[47] On 3 February he gave his soldiers a respite. Borrowing a tactic from Genghis Khan, he ordered his troops to light a large number of campfires in the hills surrounding Urga, using them as reference points for Rezukhin's detachment. This made the town appear to be surrounded by an overwhelming force.[43][page needed] Early on 4 February Ungern launched an assault on the Chinese White barracks from the east and captured them. Then he divided his forces in two parts. The first launched a major assault on the remaining Chinese positions in the Chinese trade settlement (Chinese: 買賣城, Maimaicheng). The second moved westwards towards the part of Urga called Consular Settlement. Upon reaching the Maimaicheng, Ungern had his men smash their way in by blasting the gates with explosives and improvised battering rams.[48] After breaking in, a general slaughter set in, as both sides fought with sabers. After the capture of Maimacheng, Ungern joined his troops attacking Chinese troops at the Consular Settlement. After a Chinese counterattack, Ungern's soldiers retreated a short distance northeast and then launched another attack with the support of another Cossack and Mongolian detachment, which began an attack from the northeast and northwest. Ungern's troops gradually moved westwards in Urga, pursuing retreating Chinese soldiers. The capital city was finally taken on the evening of 4 February. Chinese civilian administrators and military commanders abandoned their soldiers and fled northwards from Urga on 11 cars on the night of 3–4 February. Chinese troops fled northward on 4 and 5 February. They massacred any Mongolian civilians they encountered along the road from Urga to the Russian border. Russian settlers who supported the Reds moved from Urga together with the fleeing Chinese troops. During the capture of Urga the Chinese lost about 1500 men, while Ungern's forces suffered about 60 casualties.[49]

After the battle, Ungern's troops began plundering Chinese stores and killing Russian Jews who were living in Urga, as the Cossacks had also been set against the Jews. Ungern himself ordered the Jews to be killed, except for those who had notes from him sparing their lives. It has been estimated by surviving archival documents and memoirs that 43–50 Jews were killed during Ungern's stay in Mongolia, or about 5%–6% of all those executed under his orders. Several days later the looting by his troops was stopped by Ungern, but his secret-police bureau led by Col. Leonid Sipailo continued searching for "Reds".[50] Between 11 and 13 March Ungern captured a fortified Chinese base at Choir between the mountains Otsol Uul and Choiryn Bogd Uul to the south of Urga. Ungern had 900 troops and the Chinese defenders about 1500. After capturing Choir Ungern himself returned to Urga. His detachments, consisting of Cossacks and Mongols, moved southward to Zamyn-Üüd, a frontier settlement and another Chinese base. The defending Chinese soldiers abandoned Zamyn-Üüd without a fight.[46][page needed][51]

When the remaining Chinese troops, having retreated to northern Mongolia near Kyakhta, attempted to round Urga to the west in order to reach China, the Russians and Mongols feared they were attempting to re-capture Urga. Several hundred Cossack and Mongol troops were dispatched to stop the Chinese forces, which numbered several thousand, in the area of Talyn Ulaankhad Hill near the Urga–Uliastai road in central Mongolia. After a battle that raged from 30 March to 2 April, in which more than 1000 Chinese and approximately 100 Mongols, Russians and Buryats were killed, the Chinese were routed and chased to the southern border of the country. Thus Chinese forces left Outer Mongolia.[52][53]

Mongolia and Ungern in February–August 1921

The Bogd Khan (1869–1924) in the Khan's Winter Palace
The Bogd Khan (1869–1924) in the Khan's Winter Palace

Ungern, Mongolian lamas and princes brought the Bogd Khan from Manjusri Monastery to Urga on 21 February 1921. On 22 February a solemn ceremony took place, restoring the Bogd Khan to the throne.[54][55] As a reward for ousting the Chinese from Urga, the Bogd Khan granted Ungern the high hereditary title darkhan khoshoi chin wang in the degree of khan, and other privileges. Other officers, lamas and princes who had participated in these events also received high titles and awards.[56][57] For seizing Urga, Ungern received from Semyonov the rank of Lieutenant-General.

On 22 February 1921, Mongolia was proclaimed an independent monarchy. Supreme power over Mongolia belonged to the Bogd Khan, or the 8th Bogd Gegen Jebtsundamba Khutuktu.[1][page needed] According to some eyewitnesses (among them his engineer and officer Kamil Giżycki, and Polish adventurer and writer Ferdynand Antoni Ossendowski), Ungern was the first to institute order in Urga, imposing street cleaning and sanitation and promoting religious life and tolerance in the capital, and attempting to reform the economy. Ossendowski, one of the most popular Polish writers in his lifetime (at the time of his death in 1945, his overseas sales were the second-highest of all the writers of Poland), had served as an official in Adm. Kolchak's government and after its collapse, fled to Mongolia.[58] He became one of Ungern's very few friends and in 1922 published a best-selling book in English, Men, Beasts and Gods, about his adventures in Siberia and Mongolia, which remains the book by which the Ungern story is best known in the English-speaking world.[59] Comparison of Ossendowski's diary with his book and with documents on Mongolia revealed that his reports on Mongolia at Ungern are largely true, except for a few stories; Ossendowski was the first to describe Ungern's views in terms of Theosophy, although Ungern himself had never been a Theosophist.[60]

Ungern did not interfere in Mongolian affairs and only assisted Mongols with some issues according to orders of the Bogd Khan. Russian colonists, on the other hand, suffered cruelties from Ungern's secret-police bureau led by Leonid Sipailo. Many innocent people were tortured and killed by Sipailo and his subordinates. A list of people known to have been killed on Ungern's orders or by others on their pretext, both in Russia and Mongolia, confirms the deaths of 846 people, approximately 100–120 from Urga, which was about 3%–8% of the total foreign colony population.[61]

Some eyewitnesses considered his Asiatic Cavalry Division as a base for a future Mongolian national army. This division consisted of national detachments, such as the Chinese regiment, Japanese unit, various Cossack regiments, Mongol, Buryat, Tatar and other peoples' units. Ungern said that 16 nationalities served in his division. Dozens of Tibetans also served as part of his troops. They might have been sent by 13th Dalai Lama, with whom Ungern communicated, or these Tibetans may have belonged to the Tibetan colony in Urga.[1][page needed] The presence of the Japanese unit in the division is often explained as an evidence that Japan stood behind Ungern in his actions in Mongolia. Studies of interrogations of these people from Japanese archive revealed that they were mercenaries serving on their own, as other nationals in the division, and that Ungern was not managed by Japan.[62]

Defeat, capture and execution, 1921

Ungern-Sternberg in 1921.
Ungern-Sternberg in 1921.

The Bolsheviks started infiltrating Mongolia shortly after the October 1917 revolution, i.e., long before they took control of the Russian Transbaikal. In 1921 various Red Army units belonging to Soviet Russia and to the Far Eastern Republic invaded newly independent Mongolia to defeat Ungern. These forces included Red Mongolian leader Damdin Sükhbaatar. Spies and various smaller diversionary units went ahead to spread terror to weaken Ungern's forces. Ungern organized an expedition to meet these forces in Siberia and to support ongoing anti-Bolshevik rebellions. Believing he had the unwavering popular support of locals in Siberia and Mongolia, Ungern failed to properly strengthen his troops despite being vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the Red forces. However, unbeknownst to Ungern, the Reds had successfully crushed uprisings in Siberia and Soviet economic policies had temporarily softened in Lenin's NEP. Upon Ungern's arrival in Siberia, few local peasants and Cossacks volunteered to join him.

In the spring the Asiatic Cavalry Division was divided into two brigades: one under the command of Lt. Gen. Ungern and the second under Maj. Gen. Rezukhin. In May Rezukhin's brigade launched a raid beyond the Russian border to the west of the Selenga River. Ungern's brigade left Urga and slowly moved to the Russian town of Troitskosavsk (present-day Kyakhta in Buryatia). Meanwhile, the Reds moved large numbers of troops towards Mongolia from different directions. They had a tremendous advantage in equipment (armored cars, airplanes, rail, gunboats, ammunition, human reserves, etc.) and in number of troops. As a result, Ungern was defeated in battles that took place between 11 and 13 June and he failed to capture Troitskosavsk. Combined Bolshevik and Red Mongol forces entered Urga on 6 July 1921, after a few small skirmishes with Ungern's guard detachments.[1][page needed]

Ungern-Sternberg before execution
Ungern-Sternberg before execution

Although they had captured Urga, the Red forces failed to defeat the main forces of the Asiatic Division (Ungern's and Rezukhin's brigades). Ungern regrouped and attempted to invade Transbaikal across the Russo-Mongolian border. To rally his soldiers and local people, he quoted an agreement with Grigory Semyonov and pointed to a supposed Japanese offensive that was to support their drive, although neither Semyonov nor the Japanese were eager to assist him. After several days rest, on 18 July the Asiatic Division started its raid into Soviet territory. Eyewitnesses Kamil Giżycki and Mikhail Tornovsky gave similar estimates of their numbers: about 3000 men in total.[63][page needed] Ungern's troops penetrated deep into Russian territory. The Soviets declared martial law in areas where the Whites were expected, including Verkhneudinsk (now Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia). Ungern's troops captured many settlements, the northernmost being Novoselenginsk, which they occupied on 1 August. By this time Ungern understood that his offensive was ill-prepared; he also heard about the approach of large Red forces. On 2 August 1921 he began his retreat to Mongolia, where he declared his determination to fight Communism. While Ungern's troops wanted to abandon the war effort and head towards Manchuria to join with other Russian émigrés, it soon became clear that Ungern had other ideas. He wanted to retreat to Tuva, then to Tibet. Troops under both Ungern and Rezukhin effectively mutinied and hatched plots to kill their respective commanders. On 17 August Rezukhin was murdered. A day later conspirators unsuccessfully tried to assassinate Ungern. His command then collapsed as his brigade broke apart. On 20 August Ungern was captured by a Soviet detachment led by guerrilla commander P. E. Shchetinkin (later a member of the Cheka).[64] After a show trial of six hours and 15 minutes on 15 September 1921, prosecuted by Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, the Baron was sentenced to execution by firing squad. The sentence was carried out that night in Novonikolaevsk.[65]

When the news on the Baron's execution reached the Living Buddha [the Bogd Khan], he ordered services to be held in temples throughout Mongolia.[66]

References in popular culture

  • Ungern-Sternberg is the main villain in the video game Iron Storm.[67]
  • In 1938 Ungern-Sternberg was the protagonist a novel published in Germany titled Ich befehle! Kampf und Tragödie des Barons Ungern-Sternberg (I Order! The Struggle and Tragedy of Baron Ungern-Sternberg) by Berndt Krauthoff, which depicted Ungern-Sternberg's struggle against Bolsheviks.[68]
  • "Ungern-Sternberg" is a song by French punk rock group Paris Violence which contains the lyrics "Ungern-Sternberg, chevalier romantique / Tu attends la mort comme un amant sa promise" ("Ungern-Sternberg, romantic knight / You wait for death like a lover's promise").[69]
  • Ungern-Sternberg is often mentioned in the novels of the Spanish thriller writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte.[67]
  • Ungern-Sternberg is featured in the graphic novel Corte Sconta detta Arcana by the Italian writer Hugo Pratt.[67]
  • The novels of the Russian surrealist writer Victor Pelevin often feature Ungern-Sternberg, most notably his 1996 novel Chapayev and Void.[67]
  • Ungern-Sternberg is used fictionally as a key character in the backstory of the 2010 novel The Fuller Memorandum by British writer Charles Stross.
  • Ungern appears as one of the cards of the board game "A Study in Emerald", based on the short story by Neil Gaiman.

See also

Further reading

  • Bodisco Th. von, Dugin A., Evola J., Fernbach M., Freitag Y., Greiner A.W., Mutti C., Nesmelow A. 2007. Baron Ungern von Sternberg – der letzte Kriegsgott. Straelen: Regin-Verlag.
  • Hopkirk, Peter (1986) Setting the East Ablaze: on Secret Service in Bolshevik Asia. Don Mills, Ont.
  • Kamil Giżycki (1929). Przez Urjanchaj i Mongolje. Lwow – Warszawa: wyd. Zakladu Nar. im. Ossolinskich.
  • Kuzmin, S.L. 2016. Theocratic Statehood and the Buddhist Church in Mongolia in the Beginning of the 20th Century. Moscow: KMK Sci. Press, ISBN 978-5-9907838-0-5.
  • Maclean, Fitzroy (1974). To the Back of Beyond. Little, Brown & Co., Boston.
  • Michalowski W.St. (1977). Testament Barona. Warszawa: Ludowa Spoldzielnia Wyd.
  • Ossendowski, Ferdynand (1922) Beasts, Men and Gods. New York.
  • Pozner, Vladimir (1938) Bloody Baron: the Story of Ungern–Sternberg. New York.
  • du Quenoy, Paul. “Perfecting the Show Trial: The Case of Baron von Ungern-Sternberg,” Revolutionary Russia, 19: 1, June 2006.
  • du Quenoy, Paul. “Warlordism à la russe: Baron von Ungern-Sternberg’s Anti-Bolshevik Crusade, 1917–1921,” Revolutionary Russia, 16: 2, December 2003
  • Yuzefovich, Leonid. Le baron Ungern, khan des steppes
  • Znamenski, Andrei (2011) Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books. ISBN 978-0-8356-0891-6
  • Paratico, Angelo The Dew of Heaven Cactus Moon, 2016.
  • Ribo, N.M. [Ryabukhin, N.M.] n.d. The Story of Baron Ungern Told by His Staff Physician. Hoover Institution, Stanford University, CSUZXX697-A.


  1. ^ Lieutenant General Baron Roman Fedorovich von Ungern-Sternberg in Irkutsk during interrogation at the headquarters of the 5th Soviet Army. September 1-2, 1921, attention not in Mongolia
  2. ^ Regarding personal names: Freiherr is a former title (translated as Baron). In Germany since 1919, it forms part of family names. The feminine forms are Freifrau and Freiin.



  1. ^ a b c d e f Kuzmin 2011.
  2. ^ Palmer 2008, pp. 16–17.
  3. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 18.
  4. ^ Romein, Jan (1962). The Asian Century: A History of Modern Nationalism in Asia. Translated by Clark, R. T. Allen & Unwin. p. 128. ISBN 978-0049500082.
  5. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 22–23.
  6. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 17.
  7. ^ a b c Palmer 2008, p. 19.
  8. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 24.
  9. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 16.
  10. ^ Kuzmin 2011, p. 392.
  11. ^ a b Canfield 1980, p. 591.
  12. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 20.
  13. ^ Tornovsky 2004a, p. 190.
  14. ^ Kuzmin 2013, p. 178.
  15. ^ Palmer 2008, pp. 24–25.
  16. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 25.
  17. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 27–30.
  18. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 26.
  19. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 28.
  20. ^ Palmer 2008, pp. 32–33.
  21. ^ Palmer 2008, pp. 39–40.
  22. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 368–369.
  23. ^ Sunderland 2014, p. 57.
  24. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 37.
  25. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 61–63.
  26. ^ Khoroshilova, O. Voiskovye Partizany Velikoi Voiny. St. Petersburg: Evropeiskii Dom Publ.
  27. ^ Canfield 1980, p. 592.
  28. ^ a b Kuzmin 2011, pp. 67–70.
  29. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 75.
  30. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 79.
  31. ^ Palmer 2008, pp. 77–78.
  32. ^ Ataman Semenov. O sebe. Vospominaniya, Mysli i Vyvody. Moscow: AST Publ., 2002
  33. ^ Palmer 2008, pp. 78–81.
  34. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 76–78.
  35. ^ a b c Kuzmin 2011, pp. 94–96.
  36. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 87.
  37. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 102–103.
  38. ^ Kuzmin 2011, p. 370.
  39. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 91–92.
  40. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 141–143.
  41. ^ Major, John S. (1990). The land and people of Mongolia. Harper and Row. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-397-32386-9.
  42. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 120–55.
  43. ^ a b Pershin 1999.
  44. ^ Bulag, Uradyn Erden (1998). Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia (illustrated ed.). Clarendon Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0198233572. Archived from the original on 21 February 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  45. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 110.
  46. ^ a b c d Tornovsky 2004a.
  47. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 176–178, 339–341.
  48. ^ Palmer, James The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia, New York: Basic Books, 2009, p. 154.
  49. ^ Kuzmin 2011, p. 179.
  50. ^ Kuzmin 2011, p. 417.
  51. ^ Kuzmin 2011, p. 187.
  52. ^ (in Russian) Kuzmin, S. L., Oyuunchimeg, J. and Bayar, B. The battle at Ulaankhad, one of the main events in the fight for independence of Mongolia Archived 21 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine, Studia Historica Instituti Historiae Academiae Scientiarum Mongoli, 2011–12, vol. 41–42, no 14, pp. 182–217
  53. ^ (in Russian) Kuzmin, S.L., Oyuunchimeg, J. and Bayar, B. The Ulaan Khad: reconstruction of a forgotten battle for independence of Mongolia Archived 21 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine, Rossiya i Mongoliya: Novyi Vzglyad na Istoriyu (Diplomatiya, Ekonomika, Kultura), 2015, vol. 4. Irkutsk, pp. 103–14.
  54. ^ Knyazev, N. N. "The Legendary Baron". In Kuzmin (2004a).
  55. ^ Tornovsky 2004a, pp. 231–233.
  56. ^ . "Facsimile of the original and translations of the Bogd Khan edict". In Kuzmin (2004b).
  57. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 433–436.
  58. ^ Palmer 2008, pp. 182–183.
  59. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 184.
  60. ^ (in Russian) Kuzmin, S. L. and Rejt, L. J. Notes by F. A. Ossendowski as a source on the history of Mongolia Archived 21 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine in Vostok (Oriens) (Moscow), 2008. no 5, pp. 97–110
  61. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 406–418.
  62. ^ (in Russian) Kuzmin S.L., Batsaikhan, O., Nunami, K. and Tachibana, M. 2009. Baron Ungern and Japan Archived 21 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine, in Vostok (Oriens) (Moscow), no 5, pp. 115–133
  63. ^ Kuzmin 2004b.
  64. ^ Kuzmin 2011, pp. 228–372.
  65. ^ Kuzmin 2011, p. 302.
  66. ^ Alioshin, Dmitri (1941). Asian Odyssey. London: Cassell and Co., Ltd. pp. 268–269.
  67. ^ a b c d Palmer 2008, p. 244.
  68. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 243.
  69. ^ Stuttaford, Andrew (6 July 2009). "The Heart of Darkness". Archived from the original on 27 September 2016. Retrieved 26 September 2016.


External links

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