One Against the New World: The Adventures of Baron Ungern

Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg was born in Russia’s rival Austria-Hungary. In the future, he will have to fight against this country, but by aristocratic standards, built in opposition to the national, in the service of the overlord, and not the people, this was normal. Fortunately, fate brought the family of our hero to Russia quite early – although not so much that he could eventually get rid of a weak, barely perceptible, but still German accent.

In 1902, as a boy, Roman was sent to study in St. Petersburg, in the Naval Cadet Corps. It seemed that Ungern was dear to naval officers, but it did not go well. He studied without enthusiasm – the grades were so-so, but the behavior regularly stepped over the line of disgusting. Disciplinary sanctions were constantly applied to our hero, but this science did not go for the future. Roman was sent to a punishment cell, and he brazenly fled from there. As a result, the case ended in abandonment for a second year, and in the end, with expulsion.

But Ungern was not just a lazy bumpkin, as well as a man who hated military affairs. In 1905, the offspring, wanting adventure, fled as a volunteer for the Russo-Japanese War. It is not completely clear whether he had time to take part in the battle even then. In favor of the baptism of fire was the fact that he brought home a commemorative medal, which was given only to those who took part in the battles. But in the description from 1913 it is directly written that von Ungern-Sternberg was not in the battles. Perhaps our hero has stolen or exchanged a reward. Or, on the contrary, someone messed up something in the papers.

Be that as it may, after serving, Ungern decided to continue his military career by going to the Pavlovsk Infantry School in St. Petersburg. He graduated in 1908, this time with enough effort in his studies. True, even here Roman did not look for simple and predictable ways – having graduated as an officer, he went not to the infantry, but to the Cossacks. Perhaps the aristocrat Ungern was already sad for the long past feudal times and wanted to be closer to the image of a knight – that is, at least to serve on a horse.

One Against the New World: The Adventures of Baron Ungern
Ungern as a child

At the same time, our hero did not particularly respect other officers. He did not even “hang out” in the officers’ gatherings, was indifferent to customs and traditions. He also didn’t care about money, women and gloss. Ungern has always kept aloof, earning the justified label “not like everyone else.”

And the young baron was also susceptible to dubious adventures. For example, he reacted to the revolution in China. But unlike some of the aristocrats, oversaturated with prosperity, who supported the “progressive revolutionaries”, he expressed sympathy for what the revolutionaries call the “reactionary” feudal part of society – the Chinese Mongols. And he did not just express it, but went to fight for these same Mongols.

To do this, Ungern had to retire to the reserve. There was only one way to do this a few years after the start of the service – without a pension and without the right to wear a uniform. But our hero did not give a damn about such prospects from the high bell tower and in the summer of 1913 he went to the Mongolian steppes.

Only now, all this turned out to be in vain – having arrived where it was necessary, Ungern immediately ran into the opposition of Russian diplomats, who did not need the probable adventures of a newly retired Cossack officer. After all, the country still had interests in China, and additional complications due to someone’s initiative of Russia were definitely useless. It seemed that Ungern played the role of an eccentric who bought a train ticket and did not go anywhere – but then his situation was suddenly straightened out by the outbreak of the First World War.

Big war

As soon as there was a big bang in Europe, everyone immediately began to spit on the circumstances of Ungern’s dismissal – everyone was rowing into the army, especially former officers. And our hero was glad himself – his violent nature demanded feats and adrenaline.

On the battlefields of the First World War, Ungern proved to be excellent – he took part in a dozen assault attacks that ended in hand-to-hand combat, picked up five wounds, received two ranks and many awards. However, he was not an ideal officer anyway – he was brave in battle, the baron liked to kick into unconsciousness in the rear. Sometimes it ended with very unpleasant consequences for him.

Perhaps the most memorable phrase that pops up in the collections of documents about Ungern is his phrase “Who can beat the face here ?!”, which thundered from his lips in 1916. Then the baron was sent on vacation to Chernivtsi, and he had problems with the hotel doorman, who refused to let Ungern, who had arrived on vacation, into his room without the sanction of the city commandant. To this the drunken baron tried to teach the insolent a lesson with a saber (fortunately, not taken out of its scabbard), but due to the influence of alcohol he hit not on the lucky head, but on the hotel glass.


Into the First World

If it was still possible to try to hush up this incident, then Ungern finally buried his chances, immediately going to the local commandant’s office. There he issued the very same phrase about beating the muzzle, after which he attacked the first ensign that came across. He nevertheless grabbed him over the head with an Ungernov saber in a scabbard, after which he considered it best to retreat. Returning with reinforcements, the injured warrant officer found that Ungern, laden with alcohol, was sleeping in the first chair he came across, spreading a mighty fumes around him. The saber was immediately unfastened, and the baron was treacherously arrested.

The case was outrageous and could have ended very badly, but the regiment commander stood up for the brawler – the very future leader of the White movement, another baron, Peter Wrangel. Ungern earned Wrangel’s favor with unconditional courage on the battlefield. Therefore, everything ended relatively well – our hero was held for a couple of months in the fortress for an ostracis, after which he was thrown out of the unit.

Whirlwind of change

In 1917, Ungern was able to secure an appointment to Persia, where a sluggish civil war was going on at that time. The Entente was forced to keep its contingents there so that the Germans and Turks would not take advantage of the unstable situation in the country. Ungern helped to gather and train local paramilitaries.

This ended rather unsuccessfully, because two coups took place in Russia – one demolished the monarchy, and the other brought fanatical radicals to power in the form of the Bolsheviks and the Left Social Revolutionaries who joined them. Revolutionary events corrupted the troops, destroyed the authority of officers – especially those like Ungern, who were monarchist and even traditionalist. Therefore, the Baron fled to join the conservative forces to further fight against change.

As a result, the paths of fate led Ungern to Transbaikalia. In the spring of 1919, he formed the Asiatic Cavalry Brigade (later to become a division). In his detachment were people of various nationalities – Russians, Chinese, Mongols, Buryats, Japanese and even Germans with Turks, whom he lured from the prisoner of war camp.

Ungern liked this International – but for exactly the opposite reason than some Bolsheviks. If they saw in the “friendship of peoples” a means to unite people on a new, class basis, then Ungern did not like nationalism as a factor of modernity. After all, he gave birth to that very new world of republics, democracies, hated by the baron, the world of the collapse of monarchies and the impoverishment of the aristocracy.

Moreover, Ungern, who had spoken with Asians, noticed that, due to the backwardness of social processes, they were least affected by revolutionary ideas. And in the most dense corners of the planet, one might say, they are not affected at all. This gave, as it seemed to him, an excellent opportunity to reverse the processes – it was only necessary to reject Europe, which already “cannot be saved”, and to pay attention to the East. It’s funny, but later a crowd of European nationalists led by the Frenchman René Guénon will come to the same idea. Only now, unlike them, Ungern was a resolute practitioner.

Oh, wondrous East

For a time, Ungern’s division fought along with the rest of the whites – so the chances of resisting the red were higher. But when in 1920 they were pushed to the Chinese border, and all were dutifully interned in Manchuria, Ungern did not follow this example. His mind was occupied with a much more interesting idea – to take advantage of the fermentation in China, to enter there with his people, to restore the Mongolian (and in the future, perhaps, the Chinese) empire. And already at the head of the eastern army to invade Russia in order to cleanse it not only of Bolshevism, but also of any revolutionary spirit and “modernity” in general.

Fortunately, the Mongols have been at war with the Chinese Kuomintang for quite a long time – the very nationalist revolutionaries whom Ungern, yearning for the old days, hated. Therefore, the locals were glad to see the appearance of a cavalry detachment, ideally suited for operations in the Mongolian steppe. Not everything worked out for Ungern right away – but in the end, in February 1921, after a series of campaigns, he still “took the weight” and took possession of Urga, the Mongolian capital.

At the same time, Ungern in some places greatly annoyed his own people, trying to force them to assimilate – the baron sincerely believed in the theme of the traditionalist East and himself sought to become a part of it. For example, he proudly wore a golden silk uniform embroidered with Mongolian ornaments. But his fighters did not want to be forged from Europeans to Mongols – for example, only 2 people attended the Mongolian language courses he organized.

Having taken possession of Mongolia, Ungern decided that it was time to expand the revived empire. And, of course, it was necessary to start with Russia – fortunately, refugees from there regularly came to him and reported that, they say, no one could tolerate the Bolshevik government, there was a mess and arbitrariness in the country, and it would not be easy, but very easy to raise an uprising.

Ungern believed in such layouts and decided to act quickly, until some revolutionary “Februaryists” from among the whites took advantage of this position, who saw his ideas of traditionalism in their grave, and even more so the Mongol Empire.


The same Mongolian uniform

In the spring of 1921, he threw his horse forces on a campaign in Transbaikalia. And quite quickly he realized how wrong he had appraised the situation – the riots in Soviet Russia were resolutely suppressed, the overwhelming majority of the population did not want to riot, and the Red Army was organized, disciplined and strong as ever.

Therefore, Ungern quickly got on the cap and was forced to retreat to Mongolia. Only this did not end there, because the Red Army did not sit out in Russia, but followed him. The baron began to rush about the Mongol steppes, exhausting the enemy. While the infantry acted against his cavalrymen, it turned out well, but then the Reds connected their horsemen and armored cars, and things went much worse.

Predictable ending

Ungern frantically went over new possibilities in his mind. Perhaps it is worth going to Tibet and restoring the ancient monarchy there, since it did not work out with the Mongols? Or mobilize all the nomads around to beat the Reds? Or is it worth coming up with something else?

As a result, the truth of life turned out to be much more prosaic – Ungern could not do any of this, because he was sick of everyone. His quirks with admiration for the East, an attempt to make Mongols out of his officers and harsh punishments for violation of discipline were tolerated, while all this helped to beat the Reds. And when the Reds began to beat him – it already looked far from so promising. The Mongols were all the more uninterested in all his ideas – they were in their own country and could migrate anywhere at any moment, and look for them in the steppes.

Therefore, on August 21, 1921, his judgment hour came. Conspirators from among his officers crept up to his tent late in the evening and riddled it with pistols. True, they made a mistake and shot not the baron, but the adjutant. Not bothering to check what had been done – when Ungern jumped out of the tent, they had already galloped away long ago.

The Baron jumped on his horse and rushed to gallop over his men from one unit to another. But everywhere he was met by shots. Ungern was not hurt by them, but in the end he was caught by his own Mongols. They were lucky to hand him over to the Russian part of the conspirators, but at night they orientated themselves “in the wrong place” and ran into a Red patrol, which took everyone prisoner.


Under interrogation in Bolshevik captivity

As a result, Ungern was taken to Russia, interrogated in detail (without concealing all his traditionalist ideas) and shot on September 15, 1921. The attempt to reverse the seething social movements backfired.

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