Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia - War


Upon the outbreak of World War I, Michael telegraphed the Tsar requesting permission to return to Russia to serve in the army, providing his wife and son could come too. Nicholas agreed, and Michael travelled back to Saint Petersburg, via Newcastle, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Michael had already leased Paddockhurst in Sussex, an estate larger than Knebworth, and had planned to move there on the expiry of the Knebworth lease. He moved his furniture and furnishings there. The war was not expected to last long, and they assumed they would be moving back to England at the end of the war. In the meantime, Michael offered its use to the British military. At Saint Petersburg, now named Petrograd, they moved into a villa at 24 Nikolaevskaya street, Gatchina, that Michael had bought for Natalia. Natalia was not permitted to live at any of the imperial palaces.

He was promoted from his previous rank of colonel to major-general, and given command of a newly formed division: the Caucasian Native Cavalry, which became known as the "Savage Division". The appointment was perceived as a demotion because the division was mostly formed from new Muslim recruits rather than the elite troops that Michael had commanded previously. The six regiments in the division were each composed of a different ethnic group: Chechens, Dagestanis, Kabardin, Tatars, Circassians and Ingush, commanded by Russian officers. The men were all volunteers as conscription did not apply to the Caucasus, and although it was difficult to maintain discipline, they were an effective fighting force. For his actions commanding his troops in the Carpathian mountains in January 1915, Michael earned the military's highest honour, the Cross of St. George. He, unlike his brother, the Tsar, was a popular military leader.

By January 1915, the horrific nature of the war was apparent. Michael felt "greatly embittered towards people in general and most of all towards those who are at the top, who hold power and allow all that horror to happen. If the question of war were decided by the people at large, I would not be so passionately averse to that great calamity." Michael confessed in a letter to his wife that he felt "ashamed to face the people, i.e. the soldiers and officers, particularly when visiting field hospitals, where so much suffering is to be seen, for they might think that one is also responsible, for one is placed so high and yet has failed to prevent all that from happening and protect one's country from this disaster."

At the start of the war, Michael wrote to Nicholas asking him to legitimise his son so, he argued, that the boy would be provided for in the event of Michael's death at the front. Eventually, Nicholas agreed to make George legitimate and granted him the style of "Count Brasov" by decree on 26 March 1915.

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