Arltan Baskhaev, A Brief Military History of the Kalmyk
The integration of the Oirat/Kalmyks with the Russian state commenced at the beginning of the 17th century. Prior to this, they lived in south Siberia and in the 1620s came to Lower Volga which was the land of the Nogais who were the vassals of the Crimean Khan. The Crimean Tatars and the Nogais often raided the southern borders of Russia. By pushing the Nogais out of their land, the Kalmyks put an end to their raids. In 1657, the Kalmyks made an agreement of alliance with the Russians by which they agreed to help the latter with cavalry. In return, the Russians agreed to provide the Kalmyk side with military equipment and support. The Kalmyks actively participated in many Russian wars. For example, in 1659 a Russian army of 50-60 thousand men was defeated by the Crimean Tatars who were allies of the Polish king. The next year another Russian army of 100 thousand men under the command of Chudnov was crashed by a joint Polish-Ukrainian-Crimean army. As a result, the Russians were left without a regular army. The allies were planning a further campaign into Central Russia. But their plan was disrupted by the Kalmyks who in 1661 raided Crimea and Ukraine defeating both the Crimean and Polish armies. From 1677 to 1681 the Kalmyks participated in the Russo-Ottoman war, which has not been properly studied in Russian historiography. This war was a continuation of the 1654-57 Russo-Polish war. Supported by the Crimean Tatars, the Ottoman army of 200-300 thousand was met by an allied force consisting of the Kalmyks, Russians and Kabardians in a place called Chigirin in 1677. The battle continued for 4 days, during which the Russians retreated. The Kalmyks, in contrast, successfully held the left wing of the front. The next Russo-Ottoman war of 1687-1700, also known as ‘Peter the Great’s campaigns to Azov’, was also fought with Kalmyk participation. Peter’s first campaign was unsuccessful and the Russian army had to retreat. The second campaign, which was supported by the Kalmyk cavalry, was successful and as a result Azov became part of Russia. From 1700 to 1721 Russia waged a long war with Sweden. The first defeat to the Swedish army was inflicted by the Kalmyk cavalry, which gave Russia a hope that they could win the war. At the end of the war the Kalmyks participated in an offensive near Stockholm, which compelled the Swedish side to sign the long-awaited peace treaty with Russia. The Kalmyks defended the southern borders of Russia from raids carried out by the Crimean Tatars and various peoples of the Caucasus. When the Don Cossacks rebelled against Russia, it was the Kalmyk Ayuka Khan who put down the rebellion. A small number of the defeated Cossacks, however, fled to Turkey under the leadership of Ignat Nekrasov who pledged his loyalty to the Ottoman sultan. Soon the Nekrasov’s Cossacks along with the Kuban Tatars began to raid the Russian border territories. During one of these clashes the famous Kalmyk commander Chimid Baatr was killed. During the Russo-Ottoman War of 1710-13, Peter the Great reached the Prust river in Moldavia where his 10 thousand strong army was surrounded by the Ottomans. The ensuing peace treaty, however, was beneficial for Peter thanks to Kalmyk victories over the Crimean and Kuban Tatars. The Kalmyks also repelled the Ottoman landing in Azov. On Peter’s request, in 1722 Ayuka Khan sent the Kalmyk cavalry for the Russia’s Persian campaign. The two leaders, Peter and Ayuka, met in a place that is today the town of Saratov. Peter requested 7,000 cavalrymen but Ayuka agreed to only half of that. During this campaign Russia expanded its territory. In 1732, according to a treaty, these territories, however, were returned to Iran. Other wars that the Kalmyks participated in were the ensuing Russo-Ottoman War of 1735-39 and the Russo-Swedish War of 1741-42. During the Russo-Swedish War the Kalmyks had to operate in the unusual terrain for them of bogs and thick forests. The Kalmyks contributed to the Russian victory. The Prussian king Frederick II attacked the western and central parts of Russia. A coalition consisting of Russia, Austria, Saxony and other powers, was formed to stop him. The Kalmyks again served Russia by carrying out raids on the enemy forces, conducting reconnaissance and propaganda to instil fear in the hearts of the Prussian soldiers. From 1768 to 1774 Russia had another war with the Ottomans. Although the main field of battles was in the region of Dunai where the number of the Kalmyk cavalry was 40,000, the Kalmyks were also tasked with repelling the Ottoman advance from North Caucasus. In North Caucasus a 15,000 strong army of pro-Ottoman forces was defeated by a 20,000 strong Kalmyk army consisting mainly of teenagers and old people. To commemorate this victory Ubashi Khan ordered two hills to be erected near the Kalaus river in what is today Stavropol’skiy krai. His conflict with the Russian general-major Medem was one of the reasons why in 1771 Ubashi took half of the Kalmyks and fled Russia for Dzungaria. As a result, the southern borders of Russia became unprotected. Soon the Cherkassy took advantage of the situation and plundered Cossack villages in Don. The next big war that the Kalmyks fought on the Russian side was the Napoleonic War of 1812. The Kalmyks participated with 3 national cavalry divisions. The first Kalmyk division, consisting of Derbets, was led by prince Tundutov; the second division, consisting of Torghuts and Khoshuds, was led by prince Tyumen; and the third division which was under the command of Pavel Deomidiy consisted of Kalmyks who served in the Orenburg Cossack Army. Apart from them, an estimated 5,000 Kalmyks participated in the war, being enlisted as Cossacks of the Don Cossack Army. Half of the Kalmyks, however, did not return from the war. In memory of the Napoleonic War Prince Tundutov built the Khosheutovskiy Temple. During the First World War the Kalmyk Cossacks from Don fought on the front line. During the Civil War following the Bolshevik Revolution, the Kalmyks supported both the Red and White armies. In the Red Army, there was one Kalmyk division. People such as Gorodovikov, Kanukov and Khomutnikov served in the ranks of the Bolsheviks. In contrast, the White Army had two Kalmyk divisions, namely the third division consisting of teenagers and the eightieth Dzungarian division which was made up of the veterans of the First World War. The inexperienced third division was quickly crashed by the Reds, whereas the eightieth division survived and many Kalmyks fled on boats from the Crimean Peninsula to Turkey at the end of the Civil War. From there the Kalmyks moved on to other European countries, including Bulgaria and Serbia. The eightieth division existed until 1923, hoping to reach Tibet and serve the Dalai Lama. Since the British did not want to see the Tibetans being reinforced by a Kalmyk division, the British government did not give a passage to the Kalmyks through India. After unsuccessful negotiations, the eightieth division was disbanded. Outside Russia, the Kalmyks also participated actively in the Socialist Revolution in Mongolia in 1921. A squad of 150 Kalmyk men fought as part of the Mongolian People’s army. For 2 years Kharti Kanukov was the commander of the border patrols of Mongolia simultaneously being in charge of the Intelligence Agency of the People’s army. There were other Kalmyks who worked as instructors in the Mongolian army. At the beginning of the Second World War about 40,000 Kalmyk men were mobilized by the Red Army. Many of them fought at the Brest castle and other strategically important places. The 110th Kalmyk cavalry division was formed in 1942 and sent to the front to fight in the Don region. Their task was to stop the German’s progress in the Caucasus. In the hardest of circumstances the Kalmyk cavalrymen repelled the German tank attacks. The division was destroyed, although two small squads managed to escape. They were later united to form another division which was disbanded in 1943. The Kalmyk general Basan Gorodovikov’s unit was the first to reach the Soviet-German border for which he was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union. During the Second World War 22 Kalmyk men became Heroes of the Soviet Union, which makes the Kalmyks number one nation in the Soviet Union in terms of the number of Soviet heroes relative to population. In 1944 all Kalmyk soldiers, however, were called back and sent to exile. Prior to that in 1942 a part of Kalmykia was occupied by the Germans. A partisan movement began in Kalmykia. In the rain and snow Kalmyk partisans destroyed German planes, tanks and communication lines. Partisan squads consisted not only of young men but also of those who had not been recruited by the Red Army, including old people, invalids, teenagers and women.