These men are Dagestanis
from around 1910.
were formed in the the White Armies of South Russia from Caucasian
mountaineers, but they tend to be rather obscure in the historical
literature, since their members were not part of the literate White
elite who wrote their memoirs in exile.
The Caucasian Mountaineers wore their traditional dress in normal life,
and in the Russian Civil War men turned up to serve in what they
had. We can expect that they would
therefore be extremely varied in colour and style.
Most of the Caucasians were quite poor: the prospect of
loot being a
prime reason for serving, whereas men with property to protect had
every reason to stay in their villages. It seems likely that the units
of the RCW would be fairly dull as a result, and many may even have
been wearing ordinary military coats, rather than cherkeskas
, due to
Most of their senior officers however were
likely local nobility, serving out of allegiance to the old regime. A
fair few bear titles like Sultan. Each regiment of the Savage Division
in WWI also had a mullah, and it seems that they preferred white horses.
Units in the RCW
The Russians had not entirely pacified the Caucasus until quite late:
there were serious military uprisings up until 1877. As a result the
local tribes were not integrated into the Russian Imperial army in
large numbers. There was a small Dagestani unit and some Ossetians, and
that was about it.
Russia's need for men in WWI however lead to recruitment in new places,
and the result was a division entirely recruited from the Caucasus
mountains. The famous Дикая дивизия (normally translated as "Savage
Division", although "Wild Division" is perhaps better) served with
distinction and notoriety.
The Savage Division was
implicated in the "Kornilov Affair" but persuaded from attacking. After
that the men started to return home.
Throughout the Civil War the bulk of the Caucasian
tribesmen stayed in their homelands, where they set up a couple of
short-lived Mountain governments
and fought local Reds, Whites and Cossack nationalists alike. While not
unhappy with the overthrow of the Tsarist system, very few sided with
the Bolsheviks. An intense attachment to their
traditions, particularly religion, and independent mindedness
not compatible with Atheism and centralisation.
By late 1919 most major ethnic groups of the Caucasus were represented
by regiments in the AFSR, but usually in small numbers. A
few units had joined the Volunteer Army quite early, but most were
raised after the second Kuban campaign. Most of these units collapsed
with the retreat to the
Kuban and Terek in early 1920.
Less than 2,000 mountaineers made it to the
in the Crimea. Initially they were formed into a 1st and 2nd Native
Regiments, but they were given a very low priority for horses and
equipment and these two units seem to have been disbanded before the
major breakout campaigns. It is not clear what happened to the men.
For the period they did serve the White Army, the Caucasians were noted
bravery in battle. And their tendency to loot away from it.
The Red Army swept quickly into the Caucasus in 1920. No major
resistance was offered at first, but it was not long before Bolshevik
impositions caused friction. Dagestan was soon the site of
battles between the natives and Soviet forces.