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|Geplaatst: 23 Jul 2008 22:14 Onderwerp: Battle of Jaroslawice 1914
For half an hour 2,500 Imperial horsemen fought each other with lance and sabre under the eclipsing midday sun of Eastern Europe. It was 21 August 1914 and the troopers who rode in four consecutive charges that day had taken part in the biggest and virtually the only battle between cavalry in World War I, less than three weeks after it had started. For the weapons that spelt the doom of classical mounted action during the rest of that war, the machine-gun and the quick-firing field gun, brought even this nostalgic encounter to a premature end.
Involved in the Battle of Jaroslawice (or ‘Wolczkowce’ in the Russian version) were (theoretically) two Russian cavalry divisions against one Austrian, the latter supported by two territorial infantry battalions — with the promised support of an important regular infantry detachment (four battalions with six batteries) from the SW, and a cavalry brigade supported by two further infantry battalions from the SE — a balanced concentration of all arms, which never materialized, because of the rashness of both opposing cavalry division commanders. They brought the fighting to a head much too early, long before the promised reinforcements could arrive and, in the Russian case, before the overall commander (also commanding the other cavalry division) awoke to the reality of the situation.
In 1914 it was assumed by all European cavalry that they could survive on the battlefield only in exceptional circumstances, making maximum use of surprise, speed and open order. Light cavalry only is suitable for this purpose, but it must be well trained for dismounted combat, thus also playing the role of very fast-moving infantry.
Austria had made great strides to this end in the 1880s, completely unifying her cavalry (small differences in attire —headgear mainly — were immaterial) including the type of horses — light half-breed English or Anglo-Arab, regarded as best for both speed and staying power. They rightly abolished lances as superfluous ballast. But nevertheless, the Seven Weeks War of 1866 with Prussia remained their last battle experience. Austrian regulations of 1914 did not foresee any breaking of the Napoleonic-style stiff battle array (’close order’, stirrup-to-stirrup) even when the crossing of broken terrain was involved. And because Austrian cavalry despised dismounted combat this important aspect of training was grossly neglected. Progressive officers were discouraged by generals, who seeing some cavalry officers applying a dismounted maneuver, used to ask, ‘Why do you not apply for transfer to infantry?’
The most experienced and best trained European cavalry in 1914 was Russian. They still had the Turkish war (1877/8) in living memory and the Russo-Japanese War (1904/5) was a quite recent experience with MGs and QF artillery, which quickly taught them how to behave on the battlefield. Moreover, besides hereditary soldiers like the Cossacks, every Russian peasant had some inborn knowledge of the steppe country and behaved like a Wild-West pioneer experienced in Indian warfare.
Ready for war in six hours
Austrian cavalry always was ‘at the ready’. In theory they could start operations six hours after the first alarm. The general mobilization of 1914 was proclaimed on 31 July. The commander of 4th Cavalry Division (one of two stationed in the Lvov or 11th Army Corps military district of Polish Galicia, NE Austria-Hungary), Major General Edmund Ritter von Zaremba, ordered his four cavalry regiments, the 11th Horse Artillery Group and ancillary units to start their march to the concentration area at 0500 on 1 August. Most of them rallied at 1100 at Busk on the River Bug, 35 miles east of Lvov (Lemberg). They marched 15 miles next morning in order to join the forward regiment (13th Lancers). War with Russia was declared on 4 August, announcing the start of hostilities for 5 August at noon. But nothing changed on that and the following days, except for more patrol activity. Mobilization was still under way on both sides of the front and no one wanted to disturb it for fear of retaliation.
Besides protecting Austrian Third Army mobilization, the cavalry division’s task was to reconnoitre the whole Volhynian border and beyond it. The order to proceed with distant reconnaissance came by 15 August and the division crossed the Russian border in force on the 17th. It was just one of nine cavalry divisions pushed out to reconnoitre along a 250-mile front ahead of the assembling Austrian armies. The first defended village was bravely captured by the 4th Squadron of 1st Lancers charging in ‘Schwarm’ (the one very long, loose formation admitted by Austrian regulations). Many prisoners were taken and important news was gathered about Russian movements.
On the evening of 19 August, Gen. Zaremba, waiting in the Brody area, received urgent news from 8th Cavalry Division in Tarnopol that Russian cavalry had crossed the Seret river barrier in force at Zalozce. The news was confirmed by 11th Infantry Division in Brzezany. Zaremba immediately sent a 1st Lancers recce squadron against them, and started a cautious march southwards in the early morning of 20 August, directing the two territorial battalions of 35th Landwehr Regiment to follow him. This slow advance over the high, wooded terrain took him to its southern border, where he bivouacked at 2200 in the village group Kruhow-Nuszcze. There, at 2210 he received a brief order by telegram from 11th Army Corps in Lvov: ‘Enemy reaching Zborow. Attack them early morning from the rear’.
The Austrian chain of command was in a bad mess. Austria had attacked Serbia, not believing that Russia would risk a war after the bad experience of 1904/5. The long standing concentration plan against Russia was upset. Everything now had to be improvised. Many formations were arriving late because the whole Second Army had to be transferred from the Serbian front. The Army HQ was absent. Army Group Kovess in Stanislawow (90 miles south of Lvov) was the Army’s forerunner without its liaison net. Civilian telegraph and telephone services were replacing it. The peacetime HQ of 11th Corps was the main intermediary. Advanced units did not know exactly who was their superior nor did superiors always know where to locate their units.
Russian cavalry cross the frontier
General Zaremba was unable to get any explanation for the brief order of 2210. It certainly was misleading, because not one of the many patrols sent out during the day had seen or heard anything about the enemy. The one thing he now knew for sure was that both ‘neighboring’ divisions, 8th Cavalry and 11th Infantry, might help him in his difficult task, that the Russian 9th Cavalry Division now was in Zalozce and was commanded by Lieutenant General Prince Begeldeyev. But he did not know that the Prince also temporarily commanded a Cavalry Corps, whose second division was the 10th, commanded by Lieutenant General Count Keller . Their respective destinations were Zloczow for the 9th, Zborow for the 10th. On 20 August this Cavalry Corps, marching in two columns, crossed the River Seret, which was not defended by the Austrians. There were frontier guards only and local gendarmes supported by a few Landsturm militiamen. They reported to their superiors by telephone and retreated by means of farm carts. Their reports were often exaggerated and militiamen were adding panic news to it.
The reaction of the Austrian High Command was logical and promising. The enemy should be crushed in the pincers of three formations arriving from three different directions. But intelligence and liaison were missing and therefore good timing was almost impossible. Zaremba did the best he could in this situation. He alarmed his tired division at 0400 on 21 August and arrived on the battlefield of his own choice, the great Plateau 419-418, at 0545, concealing his units in woods or on western slopes. The wretched territorials, who had marched 20 miles the previous day to rendezvous with the cavalry, were alarmed at 0300 in order to get in time to the position assigned to them in Hukalowce-Lopuszany. Their task was to protect the cavalry from the NE.
The two divisions to be engaged were in many respects almost equal: two brigades each of two regiments, each regiment of six squadrons of 150 riders; artillery, three batteries of 4-6 guns; machine-guns, eight in each division. But there were temporary differences in strength. Austrian units were generally stronger, because they had received more numerous replacements for the young horses left behind, some of their squadrons had over 170 riders. But not all squadrons were on the spot. The 9th Dragoons left two with the garrison of Brody. One squadron of 1st Lancers was detached for deep reconnaissance. One battery was left behind with the dragoons in Brody.
The Russian 10th Division had more detached squadrons than its counterpart. Russian cavalry of the line had to lend squadrons to infantry formations for the period of the mobilization procedure — the raising of reserve squadrons. Thus the 10th Novgorod Dragoons had one squadron detached, the 10th Ingermanland Hussars two, the 10th Odessa Lancers also two, and the 1st Orenburg Cossacks one. One battery had not yet arrived, and the same was the case in 9th Division. Thus the respective strengths may be summed up as follows. Austrians: 20 sqdns, eight guns and eight MGs, plus two territorial batallions with four MGs. Russians: 18 sqdns, 12 guns and eight MGs, plus six guns and four MGs ‘on loan’ from 9th Division.
General Zaremba knew the terrain perfectly well from pre-war manoeuvres. He had a huge, dry, open space in front of him, both east and south. His sole disadvantage was the long hours of waiting, which made both the divisional HQ and the regiments rather nervous. There was no trace of the enemy, no news from numerous patrols sent out at 0400. Distances were too long — the more so since the enemy had not moved from the previous night’s bivouacs.
Impatience is a bad counsellor. The whole HQ staff were roused to their feet when at about 0630 a loud explosion was heard from the direction of Zborow. It should have been self-evident that this was the cutting of the railway line by a Russian squadron, whose passage during the night was reported by the local people. But this was not enough for the impatient general and his chief of staff, Lieutenant Colonel Maxon de Rovid, Zaremba’s evil spirit. They discussed this faraway explosion so fervently, that the one explosion soon became ‘artillery fire’ and they convinced themselves that 11th Infantry Division was already fighting.
The chivalrous Zaremba could not leave them unsupported. He ordered 15th Dragoons to start immediately as vanguard, and followed them a quarter of an hour later. He stopped behind the village of Beremowce seeing the first dispatch-riders from two of his patrols. Their reports were disastrous for his whole scheme. On the road from Zalozce taken by the northern Russian division (the 9th) scouts of15th Dragoons saw several patrols and a column several miles back and slow moving. More explicit was an observer from the divisional staff on Hill 426, Lieutenant Count Sizzo-Norris. He exactly described the whole southern column (the 10th Division) whose head was just nearing the Olejow-Zborow highway. He reported a Russian battery already in position. The same column was reported by a cavalry patrol of 11th Infantry Division in a rather irresponsible way: six cavalry regiments, five battalions and 32 guns!
Instead of disappearing from the open terrain although dust must have already betrayed his movements, Gen. Zaremba drew up a battle line of east of Jaroslawice, facing, perhaps inviting the enemy to a duel. He recalled 15th Dragoons, but did not change the 0630 orders for the territorial infantry: they had to proceed to Monilowka over Height 416. At this moment initiative definitely passed from Zaremba to the enemy. Three Austrian regiments and two batteries were standing in line, ready to charge at one movement of Zaremba’s hand, 15th Dragoons in reserve half-a-mile back — but there was no enemy. Eventually Lieutenant J. Grobicki (13th Lancers) noticed a rider with a lance on the top of the ridge. At his colonel’s behest he galloped to the general to report this good news. But the bizarre situation changed almost immediately. The infantry vanguard had just moved forward, downhill and was nearing Monilowka. The rest of the infantry was crossing the ridge in column of march, unfortunately right on the skyline. They knew nothing about the enemy when suddenly they came under Russian artillery fire from two sides, from Gen. Keller’s batteries already in position on the back slope of Hill 426, and from Prince Begeldeyev’s leading battery debouching from Troscianiec.
The Austrian territorials were very tired, some almost asleep on their feet. Most of them had joined these ranks only a few days earlier. Their almost unanimous reaction was to run away in the one safe direction — westwards, towards their garrison town, Zloczow. Officers and NCOs were unable to stop them. Shrapnel was coming down in quantities. It stopped when the plateau was cleared. The mounted officers galloped after them in order to organise a defense on the River Strypa at Wolczkowce. Neither the advance-guard nor the reserve in the wood were involved in this ‘retreat’.
Zaremba still understood nothing. He did not move. He still hoped for an opportunity to charge. His hope was badly frustrated. After finishing off the infantry, the Russians turned their guns towards this colorful, glittering target, almost at their feet, two miles from Hill 426. Some 10 minutes after dispersing the infantry, the cavalry and the two batteries got their share of 141b shrapnel shells. There was nothing they could do to defend themselves. The batteries were unable to shoot at an invisible enemy. The general at last ordered the enforced retreat, to his first position on Plateau 418-419, which he should have done an hour earlier.
This time it was not easy. Men and horses had nervously waited for more than four hours. They were unaccustomed to artillery fire. The dragoon regiments were able to bypass Jaroslawice from both sides. But the lancer regiments, ordered to go through the village, found it blocked by the divisional transport with the ammunition and medical echelons at their head. The scenes which now followed were worse than those in a cavalry charge. There was a small stream running through the village, with three small wooden bridges crossing it. These bridges crumbled under the first galloping horses. All others had to cross the stream by jumping in boggy ground. Losses in horses were considerable, but small in men. Russian shrapnel proved inoffensive. It was bursting much too high. The well-handled artillery ammunition caisson teams somehow performed a turnabout, but the medical echelon became prisoners of war.
After passing the village everything gradually quieted down. The rallying point was near the Wolczkowce bridges General Zaremba was now wavering about whether or not to retreat behind the Strypa, but he was pinned down by his chief of staff who exclaimed: ‘Austro-Hungarian cavalry never retreats.’ Eventually, he ordered 15th Dragoons behind Point 418; 9th Dragoons into the valley behind the steep western slope; 13th Lancers to remain behind the batteries, which in a brave gallop took up gun positions on the terrain-saddle 410 and started a running fire against the Russian batteries, now partly visible from this higher point. The heavier Austrian 77 mm guns were outmatched.
Cossacks now appeared quite close, pursuing the retreating infantry from Monilowka; 1st Lancers were sent against them, but they were forced to retreat when they reached the open space, which was under fire from four Russian batteries. They were then sent into the valley behind 9th Dragoons. The Austrian batteries also sustained heavy losses from the twice as numerous Russian artillery which had the advantage of better observation. The Austrians retreated by single batteries and they were directed into the valley behind the two regiments where they found the road completely blocked; 13th Lancers were now ordered to march over the plateau to be on the left of 15th Dragoons.
All these rash movements of the cavalry prevented the infantry officers from rallying their dispersed men. Most of them again went on the run. A small number organized a defense of the Wolczkowce bridges, supported by their braver part, the remnants of the vanguard who were just arriving.
These happenings were a foreboding of the decisive combat. Zaremba, despite his knowledge of the terrain, seems to have misjudged one important item — the dangerous, large boggy area behind his chosen battlefield, the main source of the River Strypa. The road assigned to his two reserve regiments was no road at all. It was a footpath between a wooded, precipitous slope and the bog. Good perhaps for small farm carts, it could serve at best a double file of cavalry, without any possible deviation. Now there was terrible congestion. The artillery stopped short of the wooded slope, a place just as steep, but permitting the clearing of the footpath and parking.
When the order came to take up fire positions, to the right of 15th Dragoons, it appeared that the horses were unable to perform it, the slope was too steep. Guns and caissons had to be lifted uphill by men pushing the wheel-spokes. The first battery only managed to do it. The guns were placed on the edge of the rolling plateau in such a way, that each troop (two guns) had its position half-covered and a rich selection of targets, but they could not see one another. They even could not support the charges of their own cavalry, which would go down a mild eastern slope invisible to the gunners.
The cavalry battle, dreamed of by Gen. Zaremba, was fast approaching, thanks to the identical outlook of his much more experienced Russian adversary, Count Keller. From the moment of the Austrian retreat from Jaroslawice, he was pushing his troops forward by single squadrons, through concealed valleys or behind villages or maize plantations. He sent his main force, 10th Dragoons and 10th Lancers, under Major General Markoff, northwards along the Mala Strypa valley, and led the left column (10th Hussars) in person on the far (or enemy) side towards Height 410. He was stopping quite alone on ridges in order to observe all movements. First, he had sent the 1st Orenburg Cossack Regiment to dislodge the infantry from Monilowka and 9th Dragoons (Austrian rearguard) from Jaroslawice. It had been successful in both tasks and was now threatening the Austrian artillery and the Wolczkowce bridges. Keller was watching both the Zborow and Jezierna directions, with two recce squadrons and many patrols, and he detailed three squadrons for the protection of his artillery and the battery ‘on loan’ from 9th Cavalry Division.
‘Forward with God, the Almighty!’
The 13th Austrian Lancers were crossing Plateau 418, invisible to the enemy, the CO, Colonel Count Lelic Spanocchi, being the only rider on the ridge. He saw General Markoff’s column and immediately ordered a line to the right. But he soon changed his mind. The distance was 1,300 yards. He should not be in front of 15th Dragoons (who knew and saw nothing!) but on their left. He therefore would advance farther north in order to fall on the flank of the enemy. He re-formed his column and marched off at a gallop. By these movements he betrayed his presence; the regiment was shifted some 200 yards eastwards, almost onto Point 418, and thus became visible to the enemy. General Markoff immediately grasped this unique opportunity (the enemy offering him his right flank). He deployed his column into line and issued this touching Russian command: ‘Forward with God the Almighty!’ Thus started the first formal cavalry charge of the day.
But no one noticed it on the Austrian side; General Zaremba was just changing horses, and most of his staff were observing his movements instead of looking forward. The first to see the enemy was Captain Count Kicinski, commanding the rear squadron of 13th Lancers. He immediately issued the well-known regulation warnings by voice and sabre signals. Major Vidale heard him, formed a line to the right of his two squadrons, and off they went with a loud ‘hurrah!’ against a much stronger enemy, with the sole support of 15th Dragoons’ four MGs which just had taken up fire positions on the lancers’ left; the sole initiative shown by Austrian officers (Vidale and the MG commander) on that sad day. The Schwarzloses got off 2,000 of their 40,000 rounds before the melee started.
A Russian memoir thus describes the charge: ‘The Austrians were led by a splendid Polish count. They fought like lions. But when the count fell, they lost their élan and started looking backwards.’ This was the moment when badly needed help appeared. Major Vidale was not available. His horse carried him like a thunderbolt through the enemy’s lines. The hedge of lances opened by itself — in the words of Vidale’s report — so frightened were the Russian dragoons by the madman yelling and jumping at them. Count Kicinski later wrote of the Russians: ‘I saw a platoon making a sharp turn around the standing file-leader; they were too compressed, the leader’s horse tumbled and the whole row followed like a pack of cards.’
The loud ‘hurrah’ at last brought Austrian divisional HQ back to reality. The general immediately ordered the full-strength 15th Dragoons to charge and sent staff Captain del Adami to bring the reserve regiments nearer, fuming with rage at the disappearance of the first three squadrons of 13th Lancers (their commander, Major Count Runnerskirch, an old and deaf gentlemen led them into a bog). The 15th Dragoons reached the summit of the steep slope with some difficulty. Their flank squadrons were unable to form a line before the charge started (which proved to be a lucky accident). Bolstered by Zaremba’s leadership, they leapt forward like a hurricane.
Chief MO joins the charge
With equal strength, Austrians now were in the ascendancy, thanks to new elan and a slight slope downwards. But they ceased to be commanded. The disappearance in the charge of the divisional commander, his staff, both brigadiers with theirs — and even the chief medical officer (Colonel Dr Gidlewski, oblivious of international restrictions!) — became the greatest blunder of the day. Moreover, by the worst possible mischance, Capt. del Adami started fighting some Russian flankers and fell gravely wounded. Thus, both reserve Austrian regiments were cut off, left alone to ponder a battle they did not see —a noise they did not understand.
General Keller stood on Height 406 (later 410) easily controlling the fight from his side. He immediately sent his 10th Hussars to charge the Austrians in their right flank, a charge repelled only thanks to the coincidence that their flank squadron had no time to get into line.
Nevertheless, the hussars successfully stopped the Austrian ‘overspill’, and Gen. Keller was able to assign them a new task — attacking the Austrian artillery, whose position he spotted. But then appeared another dangerous ‘overspill’, in the very middle of the Russian line which now was broken through. Keller had no reserve left and in cavalry fighting the last reserve decides the day. It was now 1 ½ hours since the first gun had been fired off. The Russian commander was hoping for a strong support from 9th Division, but there was no trace of it. Without hesitation he sent every man left near him: his chief of staff with the whole staff and the escort platoon —all in all some 40 riders — and he remained quite alone, like the crane on guard supervising his flock.
This desperate charge was also successful — a proof of how useful any flank attack can be. But the danger of further break-through was still there. The MG squadron commander of 10th division, Captain Palshau, secured the Russian right flank. Escorted by the mounted sappers, he reached the wood near Lipnik farm from where he silenced the Austrian MGs with his more rapid-firing eight guns and repulsed a late squadron of 13th Lancers. In the center and on the other flank Count Keller was saved from his predicament by his gunners’ initiative. They were attentively observing the melee. Seeing the deteriorating situation, they covered the whole mass of struggling horses with their high bursting shrapnel. They had noticed the harmlessness of this sort of fire, and also its depressing effect on Austrians. The mêlée had lasted something like 20-30 minutes (reports are conflicting) — everybody was tired.
Now, under the impact of renewed artillery fire, the Austrians began to waver. General Zaremba was not available. He was busy saving his chief of staff, unhorsed and wounded. Brigadier Count Huyn also lost his horse (promptly replaced by Prince Sapieha who offered him his own horse). There still was the other brigade commander, Major General Chevalier Ruiz de Roxas, the least dashing and therefore most level-headed of the three. He met the divisional trumpeter, who reported Gen. Zaremba dead. Ruiz galloped with him back to Height 48 and let him blow the signal ‘Appel’ which could mean ‘reform your ranks’ or — for the regiments in reserve — ‘come forward’. It was sadly understood by the fighting men as acknowledgement of defeat — and probably not heard by the regiments in the bog. Some witnesses think they heard the signal ‘Retreat’. There may be some truth in it, because Gen. Ruiz when riding down the slope and meeting the advancing 9th Dragoons, turned them back.
The 1st Battery, 11th Horse Artillery Group, was to suffer worst of all the retreating units. One of the two separated troops of guns was attacked by Russian hussars, who were forced to dismount after the first grapeshots. When ammunition failed the crew still efficiently defended themselves with rifles and pistols. They retreated when noticing that the other troop was overwhelmed by a Cossack squadron surprising them from the west. It had come from Wolczkowce bridges, which it was unable to take against a now stabilized infantry defense. Pandemonium now followed. Guns and caissons ran into the precipice, crushing men, horses and vehicles — the most atrocious episode of the battle. The other battery, still waiting in column of march, leapt forward to the now empty footpath and was drowned or disposed of by converging Russian patrols (hussars and dragoons). Riders only managed to escape. It was a sad end of these brave men.
The Russians were exhausted and unable to pursue farther than the boggy meadow. The pursuit was continued by artillery fire only, mainly by a battery of the 9th division which later took position on Hill 418. The rest of that division was still absent. This permitted even the unhorsed Austrian officers and men to retire in an orderly way as a sort of dismounted rearguard. Among them were Captain Count Kicinski (who regained consciousness after a bad cut on his head), Prince Sapieha, and several other officers. The artillery fire, although disrupting time and time again the orderly retreat, did not do much damage. The beaten division rallied 18 miles back, in Bialy Kamien. Less than half its strength was present on the first night, but by the third day the whole was ready again for action, including two batteries (one from Brody, the other a reserve unit).
The last to retire was Captain Tarnawski from Hukalowce wood where he defended the territorials’ transport, including the mobile field kitchens, the greatest treasure of the soldier. His men withstood an attempt to dislodge them by the flank column of 9th Cavalry Division, and later by its main column. Tarnawski started his orderly retreat only when artillery began supporting the attack — not a laudable success for the Russian cavalry.
The first news of 4th Division’s defeat reached higher command (11th Army Corps) at 1430 by accident. A gunner jumped the Strypa during the final tragedy of 1st Battery. He was run away with by his mount and carried at full gallop (average 20 mph) to his garrison town, the 60 miles distant Lemberg. He was stopped at the toll-gate by gendarmes. An incredible marathon by a tired charger. His report was then transmitted to HQ by telephone.
Russian 10th Cavalry Division was the victor of Jaroslawice. Its spammer included 8 guns, 4 caissons, 2 MGs, 151 prisoners (8 officers) and 150 horses.
Now, after the noise of battle had died down, Prince Begeldeyev appeared on the main battlefield. The landscape became disquietingly dark, despite a sunny day. An eclipse of the sun had commenced at 1110, reaching its height at 1230 — thus marking the end of cavalry charges, or perhaps rather that of useless commanders. Count Keller replied scathingly to the Prince’s congratulations ‘I would have preferred help instead’.
Div and Bde HQs 7 men, 3 horses; 9th Dragoons 15 men; 15th Dragoons 175 men 56 horses; 1st Lancers no casualty returns; 11th Horse Artillery Gp 60 men, 168 horses; Medical Corps 6 men; 35th Landwehr Regt 558 men; TOTAL 969 men.
10th Dragoons 42 men, 35 horses; 10th Lancers 59 men, 59 horses; 10th Hussars 20 men, 24 horses; Cossacks 39 men, 42 horses; Sappers 4 men, 2 horses; TOTAL 164 men, 162 horses.
 General Count F. A. Keller of the Cavalry Guards, formerly the commander of the Life-Guard Dragoons. He commanded in succession, during the war, the 10th Cavalry Division and the 3rd Cavalry Corps. A dashing leader and a great friend of the Tsar’s. He was killed by Ukrainians in Kiev in December 1918.
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