Revolution within the Russian Army


Russian soldiers take to the streets to protest in Petrograd in April 1917

By 1917, three years into World War I, Russia had drafted nearly 15 million men to serve in the army; a majority of them being peasants. After years of fighting, soldiers would question why they were even fighting and just wanted to return back home to their families. With Tsar Nicholas II commanding the Russian army, all the blame for their unsuccessful military campaigns would be given to him. It was soon noticed how the Russian military was falling apart.

The revolution within the Russian military played a prominent role in the abdication of the Tsar as well as the Russian Revolution. On 23 February 1917, the Cossack cavalry refused the order given to them to shoot the protesting women workers in Petrograd. Within days, strikes and demonstrations brought the city to a standstill, eventually leading to a mutiny among the troops garrisoning the city. The first regiment to rebel was the Volhynsky. They were disturbed by their ordered to shoot-to-kill, soon after other regiments would follow and joined the protests.

During the first few weeks of the revolution the Russian Army had lost between 100,000 and 150,000 soldiers to desertion. The majority of those deserting were peasants who returned to their homes expecting a division on land would occur. There were even arrests or executions taking place in the military, and they were replaced by more popular leaders.

With a revolution starting to occur and the mutiny of his soldiers, the Tsar had no one who support him or to enforce his rule. On 27 February  70,000 troops along with 400,000 strikers marched in the streets of Petrograd, leading to the arrests of the Tsar’s ministers. On 1 March the Tsar’s remaining loyal soldiers, in Petrograd, surrendered. The Russian Army High Command recommended that the Tsar abdicate in favor of a more popular member of the royal family. On 2 March the Tsar  was forced to abdicate.


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  1. Do you think Nicholas II believed that his presence in the Russian Army was going to effect the moral of the soldiers positively? Or was it a move of self-confidence, though it led to his demise? Though talking about his move to the front lines in class and reading about it in our Freeze text, I am still unsure of the exact reasons Nicolas II decided to join the Russian Army. In my opinion, I think it was an act of arrogance: believing he could help turn around the war with just his presence, what could he do at the front lines that he couldn’t do in the safety of his home?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do not think it was to raise the moral of his soldiers. In order for a leader to take full control of their armies, it seems that they have no faith or trust in their generals. If I was serving in a military operation, I wouldn’t want the President their telling everyone what to do, because he has no military training or experience; I would want someone giving me orders that actually know what they are doing. If the President was to die on the front lines, who would take command in that moment? Who would be looking out for the citizens back home? I agree that arrogance played a role, and that’s what lead to his failure. Since he was on the front lines there was no one to take control of the situation back home.


  2. Phil, I really liked your post, especially the emphasis on the tsar’s personal role in the conflict. By emphasizing his role, the revolutionaries had more of a target when things went badly. As Rachel said, I’m interested in why you think he put this personal emphasis during the war. Do you think that if the war had gone better, the people would’ve rallied around the tsar?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is hard to know how it would play out if they had a successful military campaign; Russia still had a food scarcity issue they would need to resolve. I believe if the Russian Army had more training and the supplies needed to fight a war, that they would have had more success. If they had a successful military campaign, at least he would have the military supporting him for when he returned home and there probably wouldn’t have been a mutiny or desertion of soldiers. With the military behind him maybe things would be better back home, or they may have been able to successfully disperse the strikes and demonstrators.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed! I think the lack of military support played a huge role in the demise of the autocracy– without military power, it’s really hard to be a successful autocrat.


  3. Inquiring minds want to know your thoughts on Nicholas! But I’ll add that I really appreciate your narrative here, and the way you hyperlinked to some cool and relevant sources. I especially like the map reference. Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Phil, I really enjoyed your post and how you focused in on the specifics of how the military played a role in the February Revolution of 1917. You really captured the quick progression of the Revolution’s spread among the rank and file of the Russian military, and the causation behind the mass desertion that took place, in a succinct yet informative manner. My question for you is, based off of your readings on the subject, what caused some troops to remain loyal to the Tsar while so many others were abandoning? I know for the officer corps there was probably much more reason to stay, but what about the drafted and enlisted that kept their loyalty to the Tsar?


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