General Aleksey Kuropatkin
He graduated from the Pavlovsky Military School in 1866, completed the General Staff Academy in 1874, and served with distinction as chief of staff in an infantry division during the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878.
The bulk of Kuropatkin's first two decades of service was spent in Central Asia. There he built a glittering reputation as diplomat, soldier, and colonial administrator.
By 1882, at the age of thirty-four, he was a major general. Kuropatkin served with the General Staff, 1883-1890, commanded the Trans-Caspian Military District, 1890-1897, and then became Russia's minister of war. He remained in this post for six years, with appropriate elevations in rank: to general of infantry in 1901 and to the honorific title of general adjutant the following year.
The Russo-Japanese War shattered his brilliant line of successes. Kuropatkin took over command of the Manchurian Army in early 1904. Soviet historians have castigated his performance as indecisive and marked by an inability to coordinate large armies in the field characteristics that were to become even more evident in World War I.
Following the Russian defeat at Mukden, Kuropatkin was demoted. He went down the ladder of command to take charge of the First Army. The end of the war saw him given the consolation prize of membership in Russia's State Council. Prospects for further combat command seemed nonexistent; the aging general took up the pen to defend his policies as war minister and his combat performance.
World War I gave Kuropatkin a second chance. He besieged the War Ministry, pressed his influential former subordinate General Alekseev, and in late 1915 received a corps for his troubles. That Kuropatkin was returned to duty tells volumes about the shortage of promising senior commanders in the Russian army. Tsar Nicholas II was stirred to hope that the old general would be carefully supervised. Kuropatkin at once bloodied his corps in a futile night attack; using searchlights to illuminate the battlefield, he made 8,000 of his men into perfect targets, then corpses. He moved upward. By February 1916, the old warhorse had received charge of the northern front, after a brief stint as commander of the Fifth Army. He thus supervised a front stretching from the Gulf of Riga southward to Lake Narocz.
Kuropatkin's characteristic indecisiveness was joined to a fatal pessimism about Russian prospects against the Central Powers. Together with his like-minded neighbor General Evert, commander of the western front, Kuropatkin fended off repeated calls to attack in aid of the French at Verdun. Kuropatkin scarcely budged to support Evert's reluctant, botched offensive at Lake Narocz in mid-March. When French calls grew louder in April, it was the fiery Brusilov, commanding the southwestern front, who begged for a chance to move. Kuropatkin icily dismissed the chances for a Russian advance. He was predictably passive when Brusilov successfully challenged such predictions on the battlefield in early June. Rutherford claims that Alekseev was partly to blame. The Russian chief of staff may have lacked the will to push Kuropatkin, his former superior in the Far East, into action. Some reserves did move southward as Kuropatkin responded to Brusilov's pleas for more men, but the northern front remained rich in resources, passive in posture.
In July Kuropatkin resigned, doubtless to avoid outright dismissal. He returned to Central Asia, where he served as governor general of Turkestan until early 1917. There he found local insurgents easier to fight than the field armies of the Central Powers. The aged commander stayed on in Russia despite the revolution.
He was arrested briefly in April 1917, and transported from Central Asia to Petrograd; but the provisional government set him free to return to his old estate near Pskov. He refused French offers to help him emigrate and passed the last years of his life as a local schoolteacher.
He died in the village of Sheshurino, near the estate he had once owned, on January 16, 1925.