Roman von Ungern-Sternberg

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Roman Fyodorovich Ungern von Sternberg, ca 1919, in an improvised uniform, a Mongolian deel with Russian military insignia

Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg[1] (adopted Russian name: Роман Фёдорович Унгерн фон Штернберг, which transliterates as Roman Fyodorovich Ungern von Shternberg), also known as the Bloody Baron and the "Mad Baron" (January 22, 1886 NSSeptember 15, 1921) was a Baltic German-Russian Yesaul (captain), and self-proclaimed lieutenant-general who was dictator of Mongolia from March to August 1921. An independent and brutal warlord in pursuit of pan-monarchist goals in Mongolia and territories east of Lake Baikal during the Russian Civil War that followed the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, his goals included restoring the Russian monarchy under Michael Alexandrovich Romanov and the Mongolian Khanate under Bogd Khan, and his opponents were mainly Communists. He was known for persecution of Jews (he organized the only pogrom of Jews in Mongolian history).[2] Following his defeat by the Red Army, he was tried and executed for his counter-revolutionary involvement.

Although born with the name von Ungern-Sternberg, in later life he often used the incorrect formulation Ungern von Sternberg.


Ungern von Sternberg was born in Graz, Austria to a noble Baltic German family, and was brought up on a landed estate at Järvakandi, some forty miles from Tallinn (Reval), the capital of Estonia (then part of the Russian Empire) by his stepfather Oskar von Hoyningen-Huene.[3] After graduating from Pavlovsk Military School in Saint Petersburg, he served in Siberia where he was enthralled with the life-style of nomadic peoples such as the Mongols and Buryats.

First World War

During World War I, Ungern von Sternberg fought in Galicia. During the war, he was considered a very brave, but somewhat reckless and mentally unstable officer. General Wrangel mentioned in his memoirs that he was afraid to promote Ungern-Sternberg. After the February Revolution in 1917 he was sent by the Provisional Government to the Russian Far East under command of Grigori Semenov to establish a loyal military presence there.

Bolshevik Revolution, 1917

After the Bolshevik-led October Revolution of 1917, Semenov and his right-hand man, Ungern von Sternberg raised their banners against them. Semenov, who was backed by the Japanese, appointed Ungern von Sternberg as governor of the large area to the east southeast beyond Lake Baikal called Dauria[2]. In the following months Ungern von Sternberg distinguished himself by extreme cruelty to the local population and to his own subordinates. He earned the nickname Bloody Baron. Ungern von Sternberg was also known as the "Mad Baron" because of his exceedingly eccentric behaviour. Semenov and Ungern von Sternberg, though anti-Bolshevik, were not part of the White movement, and declined to recognise the authority of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, the nominal leader of the Whites. Instead, they were supported by the Japanese with arms and money. The Japanese intention was to found a puppet state in the Russian Far East headed by Semenov. For the White leaders, who believed in "Russia strong and indivisible", this was high treason.

Ungern von Sternberg’s army comprised a mixture of Russian troops, the Transbaikal Cossack Host, and Buryat tribesmen. Several writers, such as Robert de Goulaine and Hugo Pratt, refer to Ungern von Sternberg's unit as "The Savage Division", although it is unclear whether this name was ever used at the time by either Ungern or any of his contemporaries. The unit title "Asian Division of Cavalry" has also been used in reference to Ungern's unit. The Savage Division properly refers to the military unit of mountain people from the Caucasus in the Russian Imperial Army, which fought in World War I and later, after the Russian Revolution, against Bolsheviks.

Ungern von Sternberg's unit plundered the Whites' supply trains as often as those of the Reds. Since Admiral Kolchak had his base of operations in central Siberia, and Semenov and Ungern von Sternberg operated to the east of Kolchak in the Transbaikal area, their attacks on supply trains travelling west from Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railroad did much to hinder Kolchak's operations in the Urals.

Split from the White Army, 1920

In 1920, Ungern von Sternberg split from Semenov and became an independent warlord. He believed that monarchy was the only social system which could save Western civilisation from corruption and self-destruction. He began to pursue an idea of restoring the Qing Dynasty to the Chinese throne, then uniting Far-Eastern nations under it.

Since 1919, Mongolia had been occupied by Chinese republican forces. In late 1920 to early 1921 Ungern von Sternberg's troops entered Mongolia at the invitation of the displaced Bogd Khan, Mongolia's civil and religious ruler. In January 1921, Ungern von Sternberg's army assaulted the capital town, Urga (now Ulaanbaatar), several times, but were repelled with heavy losses. Ungern von Sternberg ordered his troops to burn a large number of camp fires in the hills around Urga, making an appearance that the town was surrounded by an overwhelming force. In February 1921, after fighting a huge battle, he drove the Chinese out of town.

Mongolian dictator, 1921

On March 13, 1921, Mongolia was proclaimed an independent monarchy, under Ungern von Sternberg as a dictator. A mystic who was fascinated by beliefs and religions of the Far East such as Buddhism and who believed himself to be a reincarnation of Genghis Khan, Ungern von Sternberg's philosophy was an exceptionally muddled mixture of Russian nationalism with Chinese and Mongol beliefs. His brief rule of Mongolia was characterised by looting and a reign of terror by his army.

Defeat, capture, and execution, 1921

A Red Army force sent to deal with Ungern von Sternberg (a force led by Mongolian leader Damdin Sükhbaatar) defeated Ungern von Sternberg's forces in Mongolia. In May, Ungern von Sternberg attempted to invade Soviet territory near Troitskosavsk (now Kyakhta, Buryatia). After initial successes in May and June, Ungern von Sternberg was defeated in a July-August counter-offensive, captured by his own soldiers, and handed over to the Red Army on August 21, 1921.

After a five hour and twenty minute trial on September 15,1921, prosecuted by Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, Ungern was sentenced to death by firing squad. He was executed that evening in Novonikolayevsk (now Novosibirsk, Russia)."When he learnt of his death, the Bogd Khan ordered prayers for his soul to be read throughout Mongolia. They were undoubtedly needed." [4]

Ungern von Sternberg in fiction

  • Ungern von Sternberg is the model for the central villain, "Baron Ugenberg," in the alternate history game Iron Storm, in which he rules a Pan Russo-Mongolian Empire during a Great War that has stretched into the 1960s.
  • Ungern von Sternberg appears in Hugo Pratt's graphic novel Corto Maltese in Siberia (Italian: Corte sconta detta Arcana), part of the famed comics series Corto Maltese.
  • Baron Ungern is a character in the novel Chapayev and Void ("Clay Machine-Gun"), by the modern Russian writer Viktor Pelevin. He is depicted as the sovereign of esoteric spiritual "Inner Mongolia".
  • Ungern von Sternberg plays a significant role in Daniel Easterman's 1998 novel 'The Ninth Buddha'.

See also

Further reading

  • Alioshin, Dimitri(1941) Asian Odyssey. New York
  • Hopkirk, Peter (1986) Setting the East Ablaze: on Secret Service in Bolshevik Asia. Don Mills, Ont.
  • Ossendowski, Ferdynand (1938) Beasts, Men and Gods New York
  • Pozner, Vladimir (1938) Bloody Baron: the Story of Ungern–Sternberg. New York
  • Yuzefovich,Leonid. Le baron Ungern, khan des steppes
  • Palmer, James (2008) The Bloody White Baron. London: Faber and Faber ISBN 0571230237
  • "Personal survey of some books". Retrieved 2009-04-01.


  1. ^ James Palmer (2008) The Bloody White Baron: 1
  2. ^ a b Simon Sebag Montefiore (2008-03-23). "Baron Ungern-Sternberg, meteoric nutter". Sunday Telegraph. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ James Palmer (2008) The Bloody White Baron: 11-18
  4. ^ James Palmer (2008) pp. 229 ff.