Russian Hussar. A Story of the Imperial Cavalry, 1911-1920. Vladimir Littauer.
This is a book which I bought on the basis of a short description and a title. I happened to be looking for something else. I was very fortunate to find it.
Vladimir Littauer's memoir of his time in Russian military school and Russian Imperial Army is absolutely fascinating. It is an extremely valuable insight in to a lost world.
Littauer, while he doesn't go into his early years, was clearly born into an upper class Russian family. He chose early in life to enter the military, and was able to enter a military academy in his teenage years. The school, apparently one of several run by the Russian Army, had the specific purpose of producing officers for the Imperial Russian Army. Littauer's descriptions of the school, its teaching and focus, and atmosphere are vivid and extremely interesting. The special world, more 19th and 18th Century than 20th, that it existed in, is fascinating to read about. I doubt there is a better description of life in a European military school of this era written elsewhere, let alone another one of a Russian military school.
While academics was actually discouraged by the atmosphere of the school, with the focus being on practical military arts and riding, Littauer managed to have sufficiently high marks to be able to secure a posting to a unit of his choosing. This was the Sumsky Hussars. To my surprise, it is revealed by Littauer that the Russian Army had actually reintroduced traditional classifications for cavalry, such as Hussars, Dragoons, etc. after the Russo-Japanese War in an effort to boost moral. Still, Littauer makes it clear that Russian planers were aware that the days of traditional cavalry were drawing to a close, and while there were differences, most types of Russian Cavalry were close to being dragoons.
The prewar years are very interesting, and the life of a Russian officer in this era fascinating. Littauer's description of the units actions in World War One, in which it remained mounted, are one of the few really good descriptions of a mounted unit in that war. The mental images he paints of the units actions, which were often mounted, are vivid. Littauer doesn't gloss over the massive losses the unit sustained, and at the same time the text entertains, the reader is shocked to realize the terrible suffering the soldiers of WWI endured.
Littauers recollections of the Revolution and Civil War, which form only a very small portion of the book, are hair raising. Littauer was extremely fortunate not to have been arrested and executed on more than one occasion, and his escape to the Ukraine, and then from the Ukraine, must be attibuted to extreme good fortune. Littauer became an officer in two White forces in the Civil War, the first in the Ukraine and then one in Siberia (and was offered, while temporarily out of uniform in St. Petersburg, a colonelcy in the Red Army, which he declined). His role in Siberia is little touched on, and he makes it clear that by the later stages of that he was aware that the White cause was doomed.
Littauer emigrated to Canada, and ultimately to New York. He founded a riding school there, and while I am not familiar with him, the biographic information included with the book claims he was a proponent of the forward seat. This book is certainly a fascinating one, and I recommend it highly.
Russian Hussar, A Story of the Impreial Cavalry, 1911-1920. 1965. J. A. Allen & Co. Ltd. London, England. 1993. White Mane Publishing Co., Inc. Shippenburg, PA.
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