Military Wiki
Lavr Georgiyevich Kornilov
General Lavr Kornilov in 1916
Born (1870-08-18)18 August 1870
Died 13 April 1918(1918-04-13) (aged 47)
Place of birth Ust-Kamenogorsk
Place of death near Ekaterinodar
Allegiance  Russian Empire
Service/branch Imperial Russian Army
White Movement
Years of service 1892-18
Rank General
Battles/wars Russo Japanese War
World War I
Russian Civil War
Awards Order of St. George (twice)
Order of Saint Anna
Order of Saint Stanislaus

Lavr Georgiyevich Kornilov (Russian: Лавр Георгиевич Корнилов, IPA: [ˈlavr kɐrˈnʲiləf]; 18 August 1870–13 April 1918) was a military intelligence officer, explorer, and general in the Imperial Russian Army during World War I and the ensuing Russian Civil War. He is today best remembered for the Kornilov Affair, an unsuccessful endeavor in August/September 1917 that purported to strengthen Alexander Kerensky's Provisional Government, but which led to Kerensky eventually having Kornilov arrested and charged with attempting a coup d'état, and ultimately undermined the rule of Kerensky; strengthening the claims and power of the soviets, and the Bolshevik party.[1]

Pre-revolutionary career[]

It was believed that he had been originally born as Don Cossack Kalmyk Lorya Dildinov and adopted in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Russian Turkestan (now Kazakhstan) by the family of his mother's brother Russian Cossack Chorąży George Kornilov, whose wife was of Kazakh origin.[2][3] But his sister wrote that he had not been adopted, had not been a Don Cossack, and their mother had Polish and Altai Oirot descent. (Though their language was not Kalmyk/Mongolian one, but because of their Asian race and their history in Jungar Oirot (Kalmyk) state Altai Oirots were called Altai Kalmyks by Russians. And they were not Moslems and Kazakhs. But Boris Shaposhnikov who served with Petr Kornilov, the brother of Lavr, in 1903, mentioned "Kyrgyz" ancestry of their mother, this name was usually used in reference to Kazakhs in 1903.[4] His Siberian Cossack father was the friend of Potanin, the leader of Siberian autonomy movement.[5] Kornilov entered military school in Omsk in 1885 and went on to study at the Mikhailovsky Artillery School in St. Petersburg in 1889. in August 1892, he was assigned as a lieutenant to the Turkestan Military District, where he led several exploration missions in Eastern Turkestan, Afghanistan and Persia, learned several Central Asian languages, and wrote detailed reports about his observations. He returned St. Petersburg to attend the Mykolayiv General Staff Academy and graduated as a captain in 1897. Again refusing a posting at St. Peterburg, he returned to the Turkestan Military District, where he resumed his duties as a military intelligence officer. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 Kornilov became the Chief of staff of the 1st Infantry Brigade, and was involved heavily at the Battle of Sandepu and the Battle of Mukden. He was awarded the Order of St. George (4th class) for bravery and promoted to the rank of colonel.

Following the end of the war, Kornilov served as military attache in China from 1907–11. He studied the Chinese language, traveled extensively researching the history, traditions and customs of the Chinese, which he intended to use as material for a book about life in contemporary China, and regularly sent detailed reports to the General Staff and Foreign Ministry. Kornilov paid much attention to the prospects of cooperation between Russia and China in the Far East and met with the future president of China, Chiang Kai-shek. In 1910 Kornilov was recalled from Beijing, but remained in St. Petersburg for only five months, before departing for western Mongolia and Kashgar to examine the military situation along China's border with Russia. From 2 February 1911 he was made Commander of the 8th Infantry Regiment of Estonia, and was later appointed commander of the 9th Siberian Rifle Division, stationed in Vladivostok. In 1914, at the start of World War I, Kornilov was appointed commander of the 48th Infantry Division, which saw combat in Galicia and the Carpathians. In 1915, he was promoted to the rank of major general. During heavy fighting, he was captured by the Austrians in April 1915, when his division became isolated from the rest of the Russian forces. After his capture, Field Marshal Conrad, the commander of the Austro-Hungarian Army, made a point of meeting him in person. Being a major general he was a high value prisoner of war, but in July 1916 Kornilov managed to escape back to Russia and return to duty. Kornilov was critical of the Russian monarchy and, after the overthrow of Czar Nicholas II he was given command of the Petrograd Military District in March 1917. In July, after commanding the only successful front in the disastrous Russian offensive of June, 1917, he became Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Provisional Government's armed forces.

Kornilov Affair[]

In the mass discontent following the July Days, the Russian populace grew highly sceptical of the Provisional Government's abilities to alleviate the economic distress and social resentment among the lower classes. Pavel Miluikov, the Kadet leader, describes the situation in Russia in late July as, "Chaos in the army, chaos in foreign policy, chaos in industry and chaos in the nationalist questions".[1] Kornilov, appointed commander-in-chief of the Russian army in July 1917, considered the Petrograd Soviet responsible for the breakdown in the military in recent times, and believed that the Provisional Government lacked the power and confidence to dissolve the Petrograd Soviet. Following several ambiguous correspondences between Kornilov and Alexander Kerensky, Kornilov commanded an assault on the Petrograd Soviet.[1]

Because the Petrograd Soviet was able to quickly gather a powerful army of workers and soldiers in defence of the Revolution, Kornilov's coup was an abysmal failure and he was placed under arrest. The Kornilov Affair resulted in significantly increased distrust among Russians towards the Provisional Government.[6]

Russian Civil War[]

After the alleged coup collapsed as his troops disintegrated, Kornilov and his fellow conspirators were placed under arrest in the Bikhov jail. On 19 November, a few weeks after the proclamation of soviet power in Petrograd, they escaped from their confinement (eased by the fact that the jail was guarded by Kornilov's supporters) and made their way to the Don region, which was controlled by the Don Cossacks. Here they linked up with General Mikhail Alekseev. Kornilov became the military commander of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army with Alekseev as the political chief.[7] Even before the Red Army was formed, Lavr Kornilov promised, "the greater the terror, the greater our victories." He vowed that the goals of his forces must be fulfilled even if it was needed "to set fire to half the country and shed the blood of three-fourths of all Russians."[8] In the Don region village of Lezhanka alone, bands of Kornilov's officers killed more than 500 people.[9]

On 24 February 1918, as Rostov and the Don Cossack capital of Novocherkassk fell to the Bolsheviks, Kornilov led the Volunteer Army on the epic 'Ice March' into the empty steppe towards the Kuban. Although badly outnumbered, he escaped destruction from pursuing Bolshevik forces and laid siege to Ekaterinodar, the capital of the Kuban Soviet Republic, on 10 April. However, in the early morning of 13 April, a Soviet shell landed on his farmhouse headquarters and killed him. He was buried in a nearby village. A few days later, when the Bolsheviks gained control of the village, they unearthed Kornilov's coffin, dragged his corpse to the main square and burnt his remains on the local rubbish dump.[10] The Kornilov Division, one of the crack units of the White Army, was named after him, as well as many other autonomous White Army formations, such as the Kuban Cossack Kornilov Horse Regiment. The Kornilov Division became recognizable for its Totenkopf insignia, which appears on the division's flags, pennants, and soldiers' sleeve patches.

Honours and awards[]

  • Order of St. Stanislaus, third degree (1901), 2nd degree (1904 and 1906 with swords)
  • Order of St. Anne, 3rd degree (1903) and 2nd degree (6 December 1909)
  • Order of St. George, 4th degree (9 August 1905) and 3rd degree (28 April 1915)
  • Gold Sword for Bravery (9 May 1907)
  • Badge of the 1st Kuban (Ice) campaign (1918)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kornilov Affair
  2. A. L. Bauman. Governors of Saint-Petersburg. Saint-Petersburg, 2003. p. 409 Бауман А. Л. Руководители Санкт-Петербурга. стр. 409
  3. Kalmyk or not? South reporter.
  4. Shaposhnikov. Memoirs. 1982. p. 92 (Шапошников Б. М. Воспоминания. М., 1982, с. 92).
  5. V. Z. Tzvetkov. Lavr Kornilov.
  6. The Petrograd Soviet and the Kornilov affair, Revolution, The Russian Revolution, SOSE: History Year 9, NSW | Online Education Home Schooling Skwirk Australia
  7. Evan Mawdsley (2008) The Russian Civil War: 27
  8. Arno J. Mayer, The Furies, p.254
  9. Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution, 1972
  10. Evan Mawdsley (2008) The Russian Civil War: 29


  • Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution (Knopf, 1990)
  • Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy (Viking, 1996)
  • Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War (Birlinn, 2008)

External links[]

  • Wikisource-logo.svg Yuri Danilov; Paul Vinogradoff (1922). "Kornilov, Lavr Georgievich". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York. 

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