Enemy at the Gates: A Chinese Intelligence Report

In previous posts, we saw how opposition to bolshevik rule soon coalesced around moderate socialist or liberal groups that then appealed for international and Chinese support. While the Foreign Ministry dealt with these diplomatic overtures in Beijing, however, governors on the Sino-Russian frontier had more pressing concerns in mind. These centred around a rather different breed of anti-bolshevik: Armed cossack bands whose opposition to soviet power was thoroughly violent. They had been gathering on the border since December 1917 and threatened to take Russia’s political upheavals right to China’s doorstep.

Ataman G.M. Semenov and members of the Mongol-Buriat Cavalry Brigade, 1919. Source.

Therefore, in January 1918, the Military Governor of Jilin province Meng Enyuan sent agent Guo Yongnian to report on the forces in the Maritime Province. Guo’s observations, extracted here, show the gathering storm before the outbreak of the Civil War. I could not identify all the place names.




German and Austrian POWs in Russia, 1915. Source.

On 9 January this year, I received Your confidential orders to travel to Nikol’sk-Ussuriisk, Vladivostok, Pos’et, Khabarovsk etc in Russia to observe the situation. Complying with these, I departed for Nikol’sk-Ussuriisk, Vladivostok, Pos’et, Khabarovsk etc disguised and in secret.
A detailed account of Russian forces as well as German, Austrian and Turkish POWs is compiled here for Your reference.

Information as follows.
On the location and number of Russian troops in Nikol’sk-Ussuriisk and the situation regarding POWs and factions.
Russian cavalry: 4,350 (translit. Ussuriisk cossacks, stationed in Dongning, Lake Khanka and Pogrannichnaia, all in the international border zone).
Russian cavalry: 1,100, these troops are protecting the railway (translit. Ussuriisk dorogo-okhrannyi).
Russian infantry: 12,000, without officers or weapons (These were of the 4th, 6th and 24th Regiments, who had returned to base on their own from the front. Majoritarians, ie bolsheviks, form the majority; they plotted to evenly distribute the contents of the granaries, clothes etc on 15th January O.S.).
The pro-government, workers’ and soldiers’, conservative and Izvestiia parties all keep to party regulations and adhere to the principle of implementing the constitution for the betterment of society and the people.
German, Austrian and Turkish POWs: Officers and men, total 527 (There were originally more than 4,000 German, Austrian and Turkish POWs. In autumn 1917 more than 3,000 were sent back to Europe and more than 400 escaped. Now there are 320 Austrian soldiers, 15 Austrian officers, 130 Turkish soldiers, 8 Turkish officers, 47 German soldiers, total 527. They are not guarded by Russians and have the freedom of the city. Such lax treatment is a manifestation of the peace treaty.)

On the location and number of Russian troops in Mamatang [Razdol’noe?], and the POW and political situation.
Russian “yellow” cavalry: 150 (translit. cossacks)
Russian infantry: 1,250, without officers or weapons (These were of the 13th Regiment, sent to the front in 1914 and returned to base on their own in winter 1917. They are local residents and return home freely).
German, Austrian and Turkish POWs: Total for three countries 266 (There were originally more than 2,500 German, Austrian and Turkish POWs. In autumn 1917, 2,200 were sent back to Europe with the POWs from Nikol’sk-Ussuriisk. Now left with 13 Germans, 178 Austrians, 75 Turkish, total 266. All are craftsmen or older men who can make a living and do not wish to return home.)

Korean volunteers in the Krounovskii and Korsakovskii platoons, Maritime Province, 1900-1901. Source.



On the location and number of Russian troops in Yuanchuhe [Ianchikhinskaia]:
Russian “yellow” cavalry: 200 (translit. cossacks), 100 stationed on the border between Hunchun and Ianchikhinskaia, another 100 in Ianchikhinskaia town itself.
Russian infantry: No officers or weapons, all in uniform, wandering the streets. It is impossible to determine their number (These are of the 27th and 28th Regiments, sent to the front in 1914 and returned on their own in autumn 1917. They are all Koreans from the nearby households.)
The area has a Korean majority and Russian minority. Factions have not revealed themselves and it is still at peace.

On the location and number of Russian troops in Hulu jizi [Shkotovo] and Qinmeng he [Tsemukhinskaia],
Russian “yellow” cossacks: 100 in Razdol’noe, 100 in Tsemukhinskaia.
Russian infantry: 2,500 stationed in Tsemukhinskaia, without officers or weapons (These are of the 3rd Regiment, sent to the front in 1914, returned on their own in winter 1917. Ten platoons totalling 2,500, two out of ten are Korean.)
German, Austrian and Turkish POWs: Total for three countries 403 (In 1915 more than 5,000 were sent here from Europe, more than 4,300 returning to Europe in 1917. In these three years more than 300 escaped. Now left with 25 Germans, 175 Austrians including 11 officers, 203 Turkish including 25 officers, total 403. All at liberty.)

Machine-gunners from the First Ussuri Cossack Regiment on the Southwestern Front, 1916. Source.


On the location of Russian troops in Spassk and the number of POWs
Russian cavalry: 300 (translit. cossacks)
Russian infantry: 1,250, without officers or weapons (These were originally of the 30th Regiment and four airship platoons from the 31st Regiment. Each platoon had 250 men. More than 100 airships total. Sent to the front in 1914. In winter 1917 five platoons returned on their own, the disparate units regrouping. They move freely. The remainder of the infantry soldiers were all wounded or killed on the front.)
German, Austrian and Turkish POWs: Total 380 (There were originally more than 4,000, more than 3,200 of whom were sent back to Europe in 1917 with the Nikol’sk-Ussuriisk POWs. Now 380 are left, mostly Austrian and Turkish.)

[In Khabarovsk; Honggou and Ribengou probably refer to the two channels of the Amur and Ussuri that meet here.]
Russian “yellow” cavalry: 500 (translit. cossacks). There were originally 1,000, stationed at Honggou, 12 miles from Khabarovsk. All were sent to the front; in winter 1917 500 returned to base, complete with officers and weapons.
Russian volunteer infantry: 1,500 (translit. Saratovsk[?]-dobrovol’nyi), all soldiers from the 578th Regiment protecting the Amur railway.
Russian 6th Division: The entire division is stationed in Ribengou (including one artillery, one engineering, one logistics and one infantry regiment, normally stationed in Khabarovsk to protect the area).
Russian 39th Artillery Regiment: One regiment (Originally the 37th, 38th and 39th Regiments stationed at Honggou, sent to the front in 1914. After the ceasefire in 1917 only the 39th Regiment returned to Khabarovsk, stationed in Honggou. Officers and weapons insufficient).
German, Austrian and Turkish POWs: Total more than 600. Originally more than 7,000, in winter 1917 more than 6,300 were sent to Europe on the Trans-Siberian. Of those left, the majority are Turkish and Austrian. No supervision. They come and go freely.
Some 40 soldiers of the 39th Regiment decided to carry out an armed robbery on the treasury on 20 November O.S.. There was a leak and more than 20 were arrested by cavalry troops (translit. cossacks). All were shot. The remaining 20 escaped to their unit and could not be apprehended. The area is at peace.
Bikin station: 100 “yellow” cavalry (translit. cossacks)
Iman station: 400 Russian cavalry (200 in the station, 200 east of the river, total 400).

Letter from the State Council copying a message from Jilin Military Governor Meng Enyuan, 5 February 1918. Deng Ruyan, Guo Tingyi and Hu Qiuyuan (eds.) Zhong-E guanxi shiliao: Dongbei bianfang (1), Minguo liunian zhi banian. (Taipei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan jindaishi yanjiusuo, 1960), pp. 63-67.
Korean Red partisans under Han Chan Ger, 1922. Source.

Guo’s report shed light on two phenomena: The presence of POWs from the Central Powers and the involvement of ethnic Koreans in Russia’s conflicts. Over the course of the war Russia had captured 2-2.3 million POWs, the vast majority of whom were from Austria-Hungary. As Petrograd moved closer to a separate peace, the Allies increasingly feared that these POWs would be armed and bolshevised. The number of internationalist “shock troops” in Siberia was placed as high as 11,000. Nevertheless, Guo’s calculations showed that most POWs had already been sent westwards by 1917 to supplement the labour force in European Russia. The few who remained largely resisted the allure of bolshevik ideology, as the Czech revolt of summer 1918 would soon demonstrate.

Less well-known is the presence of Koreans in the tsarist army. Here, Guo showed how many of them joined in the general flight from the front; their families had taken up Russian citizenship and they had been drafted or volunteered for military service. Korean settlements were concentrated in the Pos’et area, which then became recruiting grounds for both Reds and Whites during the Civil War. It was Koreans, not Austro-Hungarian POWs, who flocked in large numbers to the Red Army, and whose exploits as partisans would become part of the Civil War’s internationalist mythos.

One thought on “Enemy at the Gates: A Chinese Intelligence Report

  1. Pingback: A Manchurian Warlord Addresses the Red Threat – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s