SEE A PORTRAIT
ALEKSÉEV, Evgenii Ivanovich. Admiral.
Adjutant General. Alekseev was born on 11 May 1843 (O.S.?) in Sevastopol
into the family of Captain-Lieutenant Ivan M. ALEKSEEV; he was, however,
widely believed to be an illegitimate son of Tsar Aleksandr II, hence
an uncle of Tsar Nikolai II; his mother was reputedly a woman of Armenian
descent. He entered the Nikolaevsk Naval Academy in 1860 and was graduated
in 1863. Shortly after, as gardemarin, he served aboard the screw corvette
Variag during her visit to the United States as a unit of Admiral S.S.
LESOVSKII's squadron in 1863. Variag then went on to complete a voyage
around the world. Alekseev served aboard Variag until 1867.
Alekseev was naval attaché to France from 1883 to 1888. In 1886
he was appointed commander the cruiser Admiral Kornilov (which overlaps
with his period as attaché in France; perhaps he was attaché
only to 1886, or perhaps he held two positions at once from 1886-1888),
at that time still under construction. She was completed in 1888, and
Alekseev served as her captain until 1891. In 1891 accompanied the tsarevich
(later Tsar Nikolai II) on his tour of the Far East. He also commanded
a cruiser squadron at some point. In 1892 he was promoted to rear admiral
and appointed assistant head of the Main Naval Staff, a post he held
until he was named junior flag officer in the Pacific Squadron in 1895.
By this time he had been promoted to vice admiral, and in February 1896
he replaced Admiral S.P. TYRTOV as commander of the Pacific Squadron,
a post he held until 1897. He flew his flag in the ironclad cruiser
Vladimir Monomakh (Captain Z.P. ROZHDESTVENSKII). In 1897 he was appointed
senior flag officer of the Black Sea naval division.
On 19 August 1899 (O.S.?) Alekseev was appointed commander of the Pacific
Squadron and commandant of the newly-established Kwantung district,
which included Port Arthur. He participated in the suppression of the
Boxer Rebellion in 1900, flying his flag in the battleship Petropavlovsk.
For his actions during the rebellion he was awarded, on 26 February
1900 (O.S.?) the Gold Medal with diamonds "For Bravery," with
the inscription "Taku. Tian'tszin. Pekin 1900." On 6 May 1901
(O.S.?) he was made a general-adjutant.
Alekseev was one of several senior officers (the others being Minister
of War General A.N. Kuropatkin and General Grodekov, military commander
in the Pri-Amur region) who advocated the annexation of Manchuria after
it was occupied by Russian troops during the rebellion. On 9 November
1900 (N.S.) he concluded a treaty with the Tatar general at Mukden,
Tseng Chi, regarding the Russian occupation of Manchuria. The agreement
-- which contradicted the simultaneous negotiations on this issue between
the Russian and Chinese governments -- provided for the eventual restoration
of Chinese civil administration, but allowed Russian troops to be stationed
at Mukden and at other points along the Russian-controlled railway.
This "treaty" was superseded in early 1901 by an official
agreement between the two governments.
Alekseev was a supporter of Russian expansion in the Far East. He was
opposed to the agreement to evacuate Manchuria, and in April 1902 he
told War Minister A.N. Kuropatkin that any sign of Russian weakness
would only encourage China to make new demands. He also wanted to increase
the Kwantung garrison. Inevitably, he became involved in the activities
of A.M. Bezobrazov, an adventurer and speculator who sought to expand
Russian influence in northern Korea by means of a timber concession
along the Yalu. Alekseev's role in the Yalu concession is ambiguous;
he seems to have distrusted Bezobrazov, but when it became clear that
the tsar supported the schemes of Bezobrazov's group, Alekseev was willing
to go along with them. Thus when Bezobrazov arrived in Port Arthur in
early 1903, Alekseev paid him court to win his favor, yet he was soon
after expressing concern about Bezobrazov's activities to Minister of
Finance S.Iu. Vitte. Vitte asked Alekseev to report these concerns to
the tsar, and Alekseev had a report drafted, but he never sent it to
the emperor. He seems instead to have decided to give Bezobrazov mild
support because he was angered by War Minister Kuropatkin's failure
to strengthen the defenses of Port Arthur. Apparently Bezobrazov was
already advocating a scheme to make Alekseev viceroy of the Far East,
which would have given him the right to report directly to the tsar
on the question of the port's fortifications.
Alekseev's residence in Port Arthur was the home of the former Chinese
governor on Quail Hill, a luxurious house that included a table of green
jade and beautiful silk screens. The port was a heterogeneous mix of
Russians and foreignors of every nationality, all brought to Port Arthur
by the hope of quick wealth -- the government construction contracts
alone were worth enormous sums of money, and as official controls were
lax, the opportunities for graft were extensive. Alekseev's governorship
of this "frontier" port seems to have been quite liberal,
at least with regard to Europeans (the Chinese population was required
to live in outside the walls of the town), and social events frequently
included people who would have been excluded from "polite society"
in the mother country. He established a town council, and by 1904 the
town included a primary school, public library, hospital and fire department.
Alekseev had plans to create an entirely new city between the Old and
New towns, which was to include an impressive palace for himself and
a cathedral. These plans were aborted by the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese
As commandant of Kwantung, Alekseev was increasingly involved in discussions
of Russian policy in the Far East; although matters more and more centered
on Russia's relations with Japan, there were also conflicts with the
United States over the applicability of the "Open Door" policy
in Russian-occupied Manchuria. Alekseev was anxious to keep the Americans
out of Manchuria; on 10/23 June 1903 he telegraphed the government that
"the execution of the American demands for the opening of ports
and consulates... is for us unquestionably harmful," and that "it
is necessary to explain to the American government that at the present
time the economic interests of the United States in Manchuria have not
developed to such a point that they can insist on the immediate establishment
there of consuls and ports."
At this same time (June) meetings were held at Port Arthur to discuss
Russia's overall policy in the Far East. Attending were Alekseev, Kuropatkin
and P.M. Lesser, the Russian minister to China, as well as various other
people, among them Bezobrazov. It was decided to make some small concessions
to the Americans -- but Russia was to maintain economic and political
primacy in the region. To maintain good relations with Japan, the conference
decided that all Russian military personnel and government officials
should leave the Yalu concession, as a step toward reducing tensions
with Japan. The conference also recommended that, given Russia's military
weakness in the Far East, no steps should be taken that would involve
the risk of war with Japan.
Although Alekseev, as the government official responsible for the Yalu
concession, endorsed these views, they resulted in no changes in government
policy. Bezobrazov had been outmaneuvered at the Port Arthur conference,
but once back in St. Petersburg he was able to frustrate the moderate
policies of the ministers through his direct contact with the tsar.
In his report to Nikolai he advocated the creation of a viceroy in the
Far East who would bring unity to Russian policy there; he proposed
Alekseev for the job, despite the latter's recent siding with Kuropatkin.
Alekseev also apparently nourished some hopes of becoming Director of
the Naval Ministry, and was well-regarded by General Admiral Grand Duke
ALEKSEI ALEKSANDROVICH (Sergei Iu. Vitte claims that Alekseev had, at
some unspecified time in the past, took the blame in a waterfront brawl
involving Aleksei Aleksandrovich in Marseilles, thereby earning the
grand duke's gratitude; as unlikely as the story sounds, it cannot be
completely discounted, as it is certainly true that Aleksei Aleksandrovich
was a carrouser of note). However, on 6 June 1903 (O.S.?) he was instead
promoted to full admiral and on 30 July 1903 (O.S.?) he was named viceroy
in the Far East, which more less removed him from ministerial supervision,
placing him directly under the tsar's supervision. This appointment
had been engineered by the Bezobrazov clique as a meams of circumventing
the cautious policies of the Foreign Ministry in the Far East. It came
at a most inopportune time, since it introduced a new bureaucratic level
in the diplomatic negotiations then underway with Japan. The interposition
of the viceroy between the minister in Tokyo and the government in St.
Petersburg entailed delays in communications and some confusion over
policy. For example, Japanese proposals were submitted to the Russian
ambassador in Tokyo, Baron Rosen; they were then sent to St. Petersburg
for consideration; after a reply had been drafted, it was sent to Alekseev
for comment and additions; Alekseev then returned the document to St.
Petersburg, where a final reply was drafted and this was finally sent
to Baron Rosen in Tokyo. Small wonder, then, that the Japanese thought
the Russians were stalling.
It was increasingly clear that war with Japan was looming in the not-very-distant
future. Alekseev was expecting hostilities from at least mid-1903. As
Viceroy of the Far East, he developed a plan of campaign in the event
of hostilities. This plan involved challenging the Japanese at sea,
first by winning control of the Yellow Sea, thereby confining any Japanese
troop landings to southern Korea, which would have severely limited
their offensive potential due to the poor roads and lack of railroads
in Korea. While the Port Arthur Squadron won control of the Yellow Sea,
the Vladivostok cruiser squadron was to raid the Japanese coast and
threaten communications with the mainland.
Immediately before the war, Alekseev requested permission to mobilize
his troops, but this was refused by St. Petersburg on 9/22 January 1904,
lest such moves provoke the Japanese; however, Port Arthur and Vladivostok
were put on a war footing. The Russian reluctance to provoke the Japanese,
and the expressed desire of Tsar Nikolai II that the Japanese fire the
first shot, may explain Alekseev's own rejection of a request by Admiral
O.V. STARK, commander of the Port Arthur squadron, asking that the squadron
be put on a more warlike footing.
The directives from St. Petersburg undermined Alekseev's previously
conceived war plans, especially the instruction that Japanese landings
were not to be interfered with so long as they were no further north
than Chemulpo (Inchon). Only if the Japanese attempted a landing in
northern Korea did Alekseev have permission to take action. The situation
was made even more unfavorable by the fact that the Japanese controlled
the Korean telegraph system, which meant that Alekseev was unlikely
to receive timely warning of any Japanese landing. On top of this, it
customarily took the fleet a full day to steam out of Port Arthur because
of the narrow and winding entrance channel, and the state of the tides
sometimes trapped the squadron's big ships in the harbor because of
the channel's shallow waters. Alekseev therefore ordered Admiral Stark
to sortie from the harbor on 20 January/2 February 1904 and cruise for
a day in the Yellow Sea; after returning to Port Arthur on 22 January/4
February, the battleships and cruisers were ordered to anchor in the
roadstead outside the port, where they would be better able to react
to news of a Japanese landing. Unfortunately, Alekseev overlooked the
possibility that the first action of the Japanese might be an attack
on the squadron itself. This assumption is evident in the disposition
of the destroyers detailed to patrol to seaward of the fleet. They were
ordered to return to port to report if they sighted any Japanese ships
-- a reasonable procedure if the Japanese were landing in the vicinity,
but a ludicrous one if the the Japanese were attacking the squadron
One could argue with Alekseev's dispositions -- among others, Admiral
Stepan Osipovich MAKAROV thought them dangerous -- but there was undoubtedly
a logic behind them. Unfortunately, few other preparations were made
at Port Arthur. There was no censorship of news, so that the new position
of the Russian squadron was reported in newspapers around the world.
The coast defense batteries that could have helped protect the anchored
ships were not fully manned and, according to some reports, lacked the
oil necessary for their recoil cylinders. These decisions and dispositions
all contributed to the more or less successful Japanese torpedo boat
attack on the night of 26-27 January/8-9 February 1904, during which
the battleships Retvisan and Tsesarevich and the cruiser Pallada were
Alekseev's plan for the military defense in the Far East had been been
sent to the War Ministry in late 1903. Faced at first by only weak Russian
forces, Alekseev believed that the Japanese would spread their troops
throughout Korea, and even try to take Vladivostok in an attempt to
grab as much territory as possible before the Russians could transport
large numbers of troops to the Far East. If the Russians concentrated
their available troops at the Yalu River, Alekseev believed they could
keep the Japanese out of Manchuria, and thereby secure the Kwantung
Peninsula and Port Arthur. (It is interesting to note that Alekseev's
chief-of-staff was Ia.G. Zhilinskii, who went on to command the North
West Front at the opening of the First World War.)
This plan ran directly counter to that of General Aleksei Nikolaevich
Kuropatkin, who favored a strategic retreat, drawing the Japanese into
Manchuria and away from their bases of supply, while the Russians fell
back, all the while being reinforced by troops from European Russia,
until they were ready to strike a decisive blow against the over-extended
Japanese. This strategy of necessity meant that Port Arthur would be
cut off, at least until relieved by the main Russian forces.
Kuropatkin was the military commander, but Alekseev was the viceroy.
Kuropatkin knew he was in for a battle with Alekseev before he faced
the Japanese, so before heading east he lined up his political support
in St. Petersburg. Alekseev used this interval to make his own dispositions
in Manchuria, placing troops on the Yalu in direct contradiction to
Kuropatkin's orders. By the time Kuropatkin arrived in Mukden on 14/27
March 1904, his strategy of a strategic withdrawal had been ruined.
On 18 April/1 May 1904 the Russians were defeated at the Battle of the
Yalu, and the Japanese pushed into Manchuria.
Meanwhile, important events had taken place in the war at sea. Alekseev
seems to have been content to let the energetic new commander of the
Pacific Squadron, Admiral S.O. Makarov, devise his plan of campaign
without interference; unfortunately, Makarov was killed when his flagship,
the Petropavlovsk, ran onto a mine on 31 March/13 April 1904. Alekseev
briefly assumed direct command of the Port Arthur Squadron, hoisting
his flag in Sevastopol' on 4/17 April 1904. Alekseev was aboard the
gunboat Otvazhnyi during the unsuccessful attempt by the Japanese to
block the entrance to the port on the night of 20-21 April/3-4 May.
Within hours of the blockship attempt, Alekseev found himself confronted
with an a even more critical situation. The Japanese landed at Pitzuwo
on 21 April/4 May, and it was clear that Port Arthur would soon be cut
off from the outside world. Alekseev realized that he could not stay
in Port Arthur, telling one associate that "As an Admiral I can
do it, but as Supreme Commander I cannot." His decision to leave
Port Arthur was indeed correct, but it was carried out so hurriedly
that it gave the impression that the viceroy was fleeing from the enemy.
Alekseev left Port Arthur on his special train on 22 April/5 May, and
only slipped past the advancing Japanese by displaying a Red Cross flag.
He established his new headquarters at Mukden.
Before he left Port Arthur, Alekseev appointed his chief of staff, Rear
Admiral V.K. VITGEFT, "temporary commander" of the squadron.
Vitgeft was ill-suited to the task, and it is unclear why Alekseev appointed
him when he had several more experienced admirals available -- Admiral
M.F. LOSHCHINSKII, commander of the port's defenses, was by all accounts
an active and intelligent leader, while the second-in-command of the
squadron, Admiral Prince Pavel Petrovich P.P. UHKTOMSKII, while no Makarov,
had at least commanded a squadron, something Vitgeft had never done.
With the Port Arthur Squadron more or less beyond
his control, Alekseev soon found himself at loggerheads with Kuropatkin
over the conduct of the war on land. Alekseev wanted an advance to relieve
Port Arthur, while Kuropatkin was content to wait while the Trans-Siberian
Railway continued to bring him reinforcements. The matter came to head
on 14/27 May, when Alekseev summoned Kuropatkin to a conference in Mukden.
The two men wound up shouting at each other, and the matter was referred
to St. Petersburg for a decision.
The tsar decided in favor of Alekseev, and Kuropatkin
mounted a half-hearted offensive in the general direction of Port Arthur,
but it is clear from the size of the forces committed that he had no
expectation of reaching the besieged port. The offensive came to an
end at the Battle of Telissu on 1-2/14-15 June, and the Russians were
forced to retreat. Port Arthur remained under siege.
Alekseev realized that Port Arthur was now nothing
more than a trap for the ships there, and urged Vitgeft to take his
ships to Vladivostok. Communications with Port Arthur were sketchy at
best, but a fast destroyer could slip into the port from Newchang, and
coast-hugging junks were also used to convey messages back and forth.
On 19 May/1 June 1904 Alekseev ordered Vitgeft to get the squadron ready
for a trip to Vladivostok. This order led to the abortive sortie on
10/23 June, but Vitgeft retreated to Port Arthur after encountering
the Japanese fleet.
Alekseev again ordered the reluctant Vitgeft to
get his ships out of Port Arthur on 18 June/1 July, with further orders
to the same effect following on 20 June/3 July, 26 June/9 July and 3/16
July. Vitgeft still hesitated. On 25 July Newchang fell to the Japanese,
but it was still possible for the Russians to get messages into Port
Arthur by coasting junks. Alekseev finally obtained a direct order from
the tsar to get the ships to Vladivostok. Vitgeft could no longer hesitate.
On 28 July/10 August he led the fleet out of Port Arthur and met the
Japanese at the Battle of the Yellow Sea. A lucky hit on the bridge
killed Vitgeft, and the Russian squadron fell into disorder. Eventually,
Admiral Prince Ukhtomskii led most of the squadron back to Port Arthur;
a few ships managed to intern themselves in neutral ports. The Port
Arthur Squadron had, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist as
a fighting force; it was destroyed by Japanese howitzers in December
1904, and the port itself was surrendered to the Japanese on 20 December
1904/2 January 1905.
The lack of successes in the war and friction with
army general Kuropatkin led to Alekseev being recalled to St. Petersburg
on 12/25 October 1904, and Kuropatkin was appointed supreme commander
in the Far East. Alekseev, still officially "Viceroy of the Far
East," was quartered in the Europa Hotel for several months, with
little notice paid to him. He was not asked for his opinions about the
war, and was not invited to attend any military or naval councils. He
was not even kept informed of events in the Far East, and was eventually
reduced to buttonholing passing correspondents for information on what
was happening in his viceroyalty.
On 24 May/6 June 1905, soon after the disasterous
Battle of Tsushima, Tsar Nikolai II called a conference of his senior
advisors to discuss the war. Alekseev attended, pointing out that Vladivostok
and Sakhalin were now more or less defenseless (indeed, the Japanese
seized Sakhalin the following month), and the army in the field was
demoralized by lost battles and too-frequent retreats; he warned that
further reverses would make matters far worse.
Alekseev's ambiguous status as the viceroy of the
Far East came to an end at last in June 1905 when the post was abolished;
in that same month Alekseev was made a member of the State Council.
He was consulted by Count Vladimir Nikolaevich Lamsdorff, the foreign
minister, in late June/early July regarding the instructions being drafted
for the impending peace conference at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Alekseev's
recommendations were moderate in tone: Korea was lost to Russia, and
so efforts should be directed at preventing Japan from gaining unchallenged
influence in Manchuria; the Manchurian rail link to Vladivostok should
be retained, but Port Arthur should be returned to China, and the railroad
to the port, and fishing rights along the Russian Pacific coast should
be offered in place of a cash indemnity.
Alekseev apparently made a controversial appearance
at the St. George Cross banquet -- held in honor of the winners of Russia's
highest military award -- in late 1906 or 1907. This would seem to have
one of his last public appearances; he retired to Russian Armenia, and
in later years became a school teacher. He never made any attempt to
defend himself against the numerous attacks on his conduct of the war.
He was retired from the navy on 21 April 1917 (O.S.?), and finally died
Alekseev is described as "a short, thickset"
man. He presents a puzzling picture to the historian; prior to the Russo-Japanese
War he apparently had a good reputation, at least in some quarters.
The German naval attaché, Korvetten-Kapitän Hintze, told
his superiors that "The Russian officers... are unanimous in their
praise of Admiral Alekseev.... They mention as his traits of character
primarily the following: determination underneath outward smoothness,
tenacity underneath apparent complaisance, a man who lives and lets
live, big-hearted, sensible, and very knowledgeable about East Asia....
Alekseev applies his screw where he needs it, and turns it very softly
and imperceptibly, but always continues to turn it, more slowly or more
rapidly, depending on the circumstances, till he has tightened it....
Alekseev has no enemies, but he does have many people whom he has won
over through material [benefits] or through kindness and obligingness.
He has offended only those people whom he definitely needs no longer."
Whatever the truths of Hintze's observations -- and there
is probably some truth to them -- the strains of the Russo-Japanese
War revealed all his faults. Some of these were apparent some years
before to Ivan Korostovets, who served as Alekseev's diplomatic advisor
during the Boxer Revolt and who later served as Russian minister to
China; Korostovets described the admiral in these terms: "In spite
of his Russian name I would not have called him Russian... It is said
that his mother was Armenian. He had a practical, lively mind, with
little inclination, as is often the case among Russians, for metaphysical
generalization and chimeras. I consider his major shortcomings [to have
been] indecision, susceptibility to flattery, and intolerance of the
opinions of others." Some were more severe in their criticisms;
in early February 1904, General Kuropatkin, then Minister of War, recorded
a conversation with Naval Minister F.K. AVELAN:
To my question why -- having such
admirals as [N.I.] SKRYDLOV, [A.A.] BIRILËV, Rozhdestvenskii, Makarov
and [F.V.] DUBASOV -- almost our entire fleet is entrusted to the incompetent
Stark, Avelan said that the fleet's personnel had been decided by Alekseev
himself. He had asked for Birilëv but Birilëv had refused
on the grounds of Alekseev's character: `on my oath,' he had said, `I
assure you that after two months I would be forced to leave.' For the
same reasons, Rozhdestvenskii and Dubasov can't go.
Clearly, Alekseev was not a popular man with the navy's
senior admirals. But while some of his actions during the Russo-Japanese
War were unfortunate to say the least, others were very sensible. Whatever
one's final judgement, he was certainly not the villain some writers
(particularly Theiss, Voyage of Forgotten Men) have made him out to
(GSE, vol. 1, p. 227; Morskiia Zapiski, November 1953,
p. 19; Dudorov, Admiral Nepenin, p. 234; Malozemoff, passim; Westwood,
Illustrated, p. 34; McCully, pp. 41-42, 86-87, 164; WI, 1/1977, p. 75;
Wetherhorn; Gurko, p. 647 n.10; Modern Encyclopedia, vol. 1, pp. 106-107;
Esthus, pp. 44, 60-61; Lensen, Russo-Chinese War, pp. 63-64; MacDonald,
United Government, pp. 25, 43-45, 49, 51, 58-62, 70, 72; Zabriskie,
American-Russian Rivalry, pp. 65, 65 n.1, 67, 93, 93 n.142, 95, 100
n.175; Diedrich, "Last Iliad," pp. 90-93, 116-118, 137-138,
153-156, 182-183, 188, 190, 241-242, 271-275, 294, 298, 405-407; Connaughton,
Republic, p. 14; Lieven, Nicholas II, p. 145; Kalmykow, p. 190)