Forty-two White army veterans joined the Carlist Requeté militias during the Spanish Civil War.
These men made up the majority of White Russian soldiers in Nationalist Spain – Only 75 White émigrés, almost all from the ROVS (Russian All-Military Union), had volunteered. Most of them had left Paris city life for the street-fighting of Spain. Those who didn’t join the Carlists were scattered among other units – 17 of the émigrés joined the Spanish Foreign Legion, 14 joined the Falangist militias, and 2 went with the National Air Force.
Many of them had been officers or generals in the White army, so their ability to command was very valuable to the Nationalist cause. While they were very small in number, their contribution was still significant. Good, experienced leadership can make all the difference.
Unfortunately, the White army had failed in Russia, leading to the violent liquidation of monasteries, the massacre of priests, the destruction of churches, and the most tragic murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family. These volunteers had already seen the horror that came with Communist victory and did not want to see it happen again. The ROVS had thrown its official support behind the Nationalists, and shortly after this General Evgeny Miller, just like his predecessor, was abducted by the Soviets and later executed.
General Major Nikolai Shinkarenko Brusilov believed more would come if the White Russians were granted their own unit, like the Irish, but General Franco denied this request. With only 75 men, compared to the Irish’s 700, it just wasn’t practical. This was an entirely pragmatic decision, as the Spaniards held the White Russians in high regard. The Russian Civil War, at its core, was the same as the Spanish Civil War, so its anti-Communist veterans were easily seen as brethren – comrades – by the Nationalists.
To the White Russians who did come, the war in Spain was an opportunity for redemption. “What we could not do at Sevastopol, perhaps from here, from Spain, we will continue, and not alone,” writes Jakob Polukhina, who died in 1937 at the Battle of Ebro. General-Major Anatole Fock was also killed there. Both of them were part of the Tercio Marco de Bello Requetés, and Polukhina’s diary can be found here.
Why did the majority fall in with the Requetés? Unsurprisingly, many of the White Russians, and especially those in the ROVS, were religious monarchists. The rallying call of the Carlists – “Dios, Patria, Rey!” – was the exact same as theirs during the Russian Civil War. They had been fighting “for the Faith, the Fatherland, and the Tsar!” The only big differences between the Carlist and the Tsarist were, firstly, that one was Spanish and the other was Russian, and secondly, that the Spaniard was in communion with the Pope.
It seems the volunteers remained Orthodox, but it is possible some did eventually convert to Catholicism. During the war, they practiced their faith, just as the Spaniards did. Archpriest Alexander Shabashev celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the volunteers on the peak of the Serro del Contradero mountain.
Fairly recently, on that same peak a cross was erected in their honor. It was finished on the 9th of June, 2012.
Archpriest Andrei Kordochkin, who consecrated the cross, had this to say about the Russian Requetés – “The White Russian volunteers are a page in the history not only of Spain, but also of the Russian Orthodox Church, as opposed to the Soviet ‘volunteers’, they were all Orthodox Christians; priests came to them three times, and Divine Liturgy was served. Today’s events are our prayerful duty to the Russian fighters who lived in Spain and died as Orthodox Christians.”
Despite religious differences, these Russians had joined the Spaniards to defeat Communism and to defend the Christian faith. This is the type of ecumenicism we should all be able to get behind.
The White Russians in Battle
The only details I can currently find about the Russian Requetés in combat comes from Shtabs-Captain Jakob Polukhina’s diary, which was mentioned earlier. When the enemy attacked their position with both men and armored cars, Jakob got one – “I perfectly saw how, after my shot, one of the red ones ‘stumbled’ and crashed to the ground.”
They were subject to continuous waves of attack, which “rolled one after another.” An armored car advanced on their position, but was damaged enough by a grenade to force the crew to dismount: “Suddenly, the hatches opened and two of them in black jumpsuits emerged… We were quick, I almost did not aim, barely rising in the pit, shot at one of the tankers, he rolled down, dead. The second one, not expecting a similar reaction, hesitated, trying to pull his revolver from its holster, but in vain. He was shot…”
At times, supply faltered, and on the 5th of September, Jakob wrote about how if it were not for capturing enemy ammunition, they would have had to fight off another assault with just rifle-butt and bayonet. Even still, he had to order his men to hold their fire until the reds were very close, at which point, he gave the order – “Fire!”
Two volleys were enough to force the enemy to retreat. Later, ammunition finally arrived – at that point they had no more then one clip per rifle.
They fought fiercely, and they endured such hell as they understood what was at stake and saw themselves in a righteous crusade against Communism. They shot “without haste, as if savoring, rejoicing at every hit.”
34 of the Russians died fighting during the civil war, and 30 of those who lived were awarded medals.
After the War
When the war was over, all of the Russian volunteers were offered Spanish citizenship. They marched in the Victory Parade, alongside everyone else who had fought so hard in order to save Spain. Here, they saw, at last – the reds defeated! Where they had failed in Russia, they had succeeded in Spain.
Most of them stayed in Spain and continued serving in the military, and some of them eventually joined the Spanish Blue (Azul) Division during World War II, where they served as both soldiers and interpreters fighting on the Eastern Front.
Ensign Konstantin Goncharenco died in combat on March 21st, 1942, fighting against the Soviets for the third time in his life. An important detail – they were with the Germans not out of support of Hitler, but because they wanted to, yet again, continue their crusade against the Communist Reds. It was another opportunity to battle with the Bolsheviks, and a few of them eagerly took it. This may be controversial, but many foreigners joined the Germans when they went to war with the USSR. Lauri Torni, a Finnish veteran, joined with the SS, and after World War II became a MACV SOG advisor and operator with the United States in Vietnam. History has its nuance, and it’s inaccurate to deem all Eastern Front volunteers as Nazis – they wanted to fight against Communism, and Germany was merely a means to that end. That is a topic for a different article, however.
To conclude, here is a song about the White Russian Requetés:
A rough English translation of the lyrics provided in that video:
For the faith and for the Tsar, against the Reds I fought, in my Holy Russia, that I saw blood fall!
After years of exile, I go to the mystical Spain, my tears are bathing me, towards a new Crusade!
I was always a White Russian, that’s why I’m going to enlist, in the Requetés with the Carlists, nothing will make me not be there.
With double-headed eagles, against the Revolution, always going to the Pope, and getting his blessing.
I remember my gray coat, and I wear the red beret, I am a White Russian, for the victory of the Requetés!
Here is a Spanish page that provides information on the White Russians.