KUROPATKIN, Aleksei Nikolaevich. A.N. Kuropatkin was born on March 17th 1848 in the Pskov province of Russia, the son of a provincial official. His father's status as a minor noble enabled his son to gain admittance to the Cadet Corps, the first step of a military career in Russia. Kuropatkin next entered the Pavlovski Junker Academy in 1864, from whence he obtained his commission as a lieutenant in 1866. Assigned to the 1st Turkestani Rifle Battalion, he served during Major-General Kaufmann's Bokhara Campaign in Central Asia, rapidly gaining company command before he was twenty years old. He was promoted to Staff Captain in 1870 and earned a place in the Nicholas Staff College in 1871, graduating first in his class in 1874. He accompanied French General Laverdeau's Algerian Expedition into the Sahara in 1874.

Staff Captain Kuropatkin's next assignment was as a staff officer on Major-General Skobelev's staff during the 1876 campaign in Turkestan. His staff work during the operation was excellent, earning many positive comments. When Major-General Skobelev served in the Russo-Turkish War as a volunteer, Colonel Kuropatkin was already there as the Chief of Staff of the 16th Infantry Division. As the young general's responsibilities grew, Colonel Kuropatkin was reassigned as his chief of staff. Know as the 'White General' to the soldiers for his many exploits, Major-General Skobelev's skill became widely recognized within the army. Equally important, the skill of his even younger chief of staff was also noted.

At the end of the Russo-Turkish War, Colonel Kuropatkin taught at the General Staff Academy before receiving command of the Turkestani Rifle Brigade on 27 August 1879. His dashing leadership of the brigade during the Akhal-Tekhe Expedition 1880-81, being twice wound during the storming of Geok-Tepe, earned his promotion to Major-General in 1882 at the age of 34. He was assigned to the General Staff from 1883 to 1890 as General in Charge of Strategic Questions. Here his diplomatic skills, his intellectual talents, and his ease with various audiences came to the fore. Promoted to Lieutenant-General in 1890, he was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Trans-Caspian Military District, a post he held with conspicuous skill until 1898. In that year, Nicholas II selected him for the office of War Minister, a position he would hold until the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War. He was promoted to General in 1900.

General Kuropatkin was appointed Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Manchurian Army of Operations on 20 February 1904. This appointment placed Kuropatkin under the command of Admiral Alexeiev, His Majesty's Viceroy of the Far East. On 26 October 1904 after the Battle of the Scha Ho, the Czar recalled Alexeiev and appointed General Kuropatkin as 'Commander of all the Fighting Forces opposing the Japanese by Land and Sea'. During his command, the Russian army suffered an unbroken series of defeats culminating in the Battle of Mukden, the largest land battle in history up until that time. Following this defeat at Mukden, the Czar on 16 March 1905 appointed General Livenvich as the new Commander-in-Chief. General Kuropatkin replaced General Livenvich as Commander of the 1st Manchurian Army on 21 March 1905, holding this position until 16 February 1906. After this assignment, General Kuropatkin retired from the army and went into private life.

General Kuropatkin spent the next years writing of his experiences, publishing several books including a four volume work titled The Russian Army and the Japanese War. On the outbreak of the First World War, General Kuropatkin applied for active service, but remained on the retirement list until 1915. Shortly after the Czar replaced the Grand Duke Nicholas as Supreme Commander in September, General Kuropatkin received command of the Grenadier Corps in October 1915. On 22 February 1916, General Kuropatkin was appointed as Commander, North Front, replacing General Plehve. He held this position until July 1916, when he was relived of command and was assigned to Turkestan as the Governor-General of the Turkestan Military District. In 1917, he again retired from the army and returned to his hometown in Pskov where he worked as a teacher until his death in 1925.

A brave, intelligent, and thoroughly professional officer, there hasn't been any true debate of General Kuropatkin's fitness for high command: the judgment of the war being taken at face value. This, I feel, does the man a disservice. As most of the histories of the war relate, General Kuropatkin was one of the few who fully understood the question of Manchuria as it pertained to both the political and military realities of the time. He recognized that Manchuria wasn't worth a war; clearly saw that Russia's current military situation was inadequate to gain a swift victory; and he didn't underestimate the Japanese Army and its ability to wage war. His was a voice of reason that was dismissed by the Czar and others as Russia stumbled towards the Manchurian War.

This simplistic judgment of his command abilities also ignores the realities of Russian Army at the time. The decision to fight the war with the troops currently stationed in the east, reinforced only by newly mobilized reservists, would have taxed the abilities of any great leader. Then, while General Kuropatkin and Admiral Makarov certainly represented the best of their services, many of the remaining senior leaders available in Manchuria were mediocre or worst. A Commander-in-Chief can only set favorable conditions under which subordinates must do their part for a success to be gained. General Kuropatkin achieved these conditions on several occasions, only to see his subordinates fail in their assigned tasks. Finally, General Kuropatkin's understanding of the operational situation was excellent, surpassing that of his Japanese opponents. History has recorded that Russia would have been better served if Kuropatkin had not been fettered by Alexeiev and been allowed to implement his operational plan. While lacking brilliance of maneuver and dazzling speed, it was a fundamentally sound plan that recognized the realities of Russian army and its operational environment. Given the restrictions under which General Kuropatkin served, it is unlikely any other commander would have achieved success within the same time frame with the same resources.

This is not to say that General Kuropatkin didn't make mistakes during the war, nor does this imply he was a great leader dragged down by the men around him. It is to say he was a highly competent commander whose true role in the war has yet to be fully explored. The question to be answered is not whether General Kuropatkin was the right man for the job, but whether Russia, given the realities of its army and its politics, even possessed a 'right' man to command in Manchuria. I would offer that success for Russia in Manchuria included Kuropatkin; whether as the Commander-in-Chief, or as the Chief of Staff to another, his talents were needed for success.

Jeff Leser