Cossacks from 1917
World War II
During the Russian Civil War (1918-20), Cossack lands became a cradle of the White
Movement and main centers of resistance to the Bolshevists. However, some Cossacks
"bought" Lenin's propaganda and fought for the Red Army. But most of the
Cossacks were fighting against the bolshevists. It was a very bloody war, and the
Cossacks, who fought in the most active units on both sides experienced particularly heavy
losses. For example, The Ural Cossack Host lost ѕ of male population during the Civil
War. Tens of thousands of Cossacks and their families left Russia and the Ukraine with the
White armies and now you can meet descendents of Cossacks in the US, Germany, Canada,
Australia, etc. (Read about Kuban Cossacks of New Jersey).
Bolshevists saw the organized and armed Cossacks as a threat to the communist state, and
and under the Soviet rule the Cossack communities ceased to function as administrative
units. The land and property were confiscated, millions of Cossacks were repressed, over
1.5 million were killed. Cossack traditions and unions were associated with the
pre-communist Russia and were abolished. It seemed like the Cossacks simply seased to
exist. But it would be a wrong assumption.
As it was becoming more and more clear that Hitler had serious intentions in the East,
Stalin realized that he has to at least imitate return of certain military traditions of
Russia. Perhaps, he realized that he could not fight the war with ideology only. In 1936
Stalin ordered to introduce Cossack units in the Red Army, to dress them in the Cossack
uniforms. One of the first Soviet Cossack units was lead by future marshal G.K.Zhukov, who was at the time the commanding officer of the
4th Cavalry Division. The division was renamed into 4th Don Cossack Division, the soldiers
received traditional uniforms with the stripes on the side of uniform trousers and colored
cap-band on the service cap. Zhukov put the Cossack uniform on too. I have to stress here,
that even though the division was called "Cossack", many soldiers there not of
the Cossack origin. Stalin tried to form Cossack units without re-creating the Cossack
structures and principles of the unit mobilization.
During WWII Cossacks were again, as they were during the Civil
War, fighting on both sides. Some of the Cossacks formed cavalry units and supported the
Germans, sincerely believing that the German mission in the war against the Soviet Union
was to free the people of Russia from Stalin's tyranny. Others courageously fought against
the nazis with the cavalry units of the Red/Soviet Army,
considering that the war was first of all a war against Russia and the people living
there. It was a tough choice - to pick sides in a fight between Hitler and Stalin. The
Cossacks who fought on the Soviet side never got their liberties and special status back.
And those who supported the Germans, in 1945 tried to surrender to allies instead of the
Soviet Army, knowing that otherwise they would be sent to Siberian GULAGs by Stalin.
Unfortunately, Cossacks were sordidly betrayed by the allies who didn't hold their
promises not to give POW Cossacks to Stalin. Most of the Cossacks who were against their
will returned to the Soviet Union were executed or died later in GULAGs. Read an article
written by the Cossack Ivan Zhukov, who witnessed the repatriations.