Some scholars (for example, Stone, Wildman) and most of his contem-poraries identify Ivanov as one of the few Russian generals to come from a peasant background. Other sources indicate aristocratic birth and cite, in support, an early posting to a guards unit after graduation from the Mikhailovsky Artillery College in 1869. All sources agree on Ivanov's rapport with the peasant rank and file of the army.
He saw action in the 1877/1878 war against Turkey and rose during the Russo-Japanese War to command a corps. Close ties to the imperial family helped Ivanov to climb rapidly. Following the war in the Far East, Ivanov was governor general of Kronstadt; in 1906 he suppressed a military mutiny in the important base near St. Petersburg. It was the kind of service that made him a lasting favorite of Tsar Nicholas II. Promoted general of artillery in 1908, Ivanov spent the next six years in charge of the Kiev Military District, one of the stellar field posts in the Russian army. At the outbreak of World War I, he moved, according to prewar preparations, to command the southwestern front facing Austria-Hungary.
A modest talent at best, Ivanov's year-long tenure in this crucial position brought him little glory. At the very start, the complex and rapidly evolving Galician campaign (August/September 1914) gave evidence of Ivanov's failings. The weight of the Austrian armies facing Russia began the campaign by advancing northward toward the line Lublin-Cholm. The Austrian First Army under Dankl defeated the Russians at Krasnik on August 23 sending Ivanov into panic; he nearly conceded the field to the enemy by ordering a withdrawal to Brest-Litovsk. The Russian commander's next major decision was similarly to raise doubts about his grasp of events. Ivanov called on General Pleve to wheel the Fifth Army westward into the Austrians right flank. As fresh enemy forces arrived, Pleve found himself strung out over fifty miles of countryside and in danger of being cut off from his neighbors. Patching the crisis in the north depended in the end on Pleve s fighting qualities and his independent decision of August 30 to retreat from the pocket into which Ivanov had drawn him. Meanwhile, Ivanov's main forces, the Third and Eighth Armies, advanced only sluggishly toward Lemberg in the face of notably inferior numbers of Austrians. When the overextended Habsburg armies pulled back to the southwest in mid-September, in a retreat that soon degenerated into a rout, Ivanov rested his troops, then pushed lackadaisically forward.
Ivanov's modest capabilities were stretched beyond their bounds in 1915. His huge southwestern front rimmed the Carpathians, then turned northward into the central plains of the Weichsel valley. In late March Ivanov got orders from the Russian High Command (Stavka) to push into the Carpathians and thus to threaten the Hungarian plain. In combination with the Allied assault on the Dardanelles, such an advance seemed to promise Balkan hegemony for the Entente. But Vienna responded to Ivanov's advance with a call for German aid. It came in a trickle at first, then in a stream of German troops for the Carpathians. In early May disaster struck. General von
Mackensen smashed Ivanov's thin line at Gorlice, cut into open country, and headed northward. Ivanov's armies reeled backward to stand briefly on the San River. Then, the shattered forces of the southwestern front retreated for nearly four months. Only in August was Ivanov able to establish a stable line near Luck. Throughout this fiasco, Ivanov's failings were matched by those of the Stavka. The old artilleryman's fellow front commanders were able to brush aside orders to send reserves southward. Meanwhile, Mackensen's advance made all of Russian Poland a German prize.
Ivanov was permitted a pathetic encore. In November the Stavka ordered him to advance in eastern Galicia, in the feathery hope this might relieve the collapsing Serbs. Ivanov reshuffled his senior officers on the eve of battle. The fighting presented a classic example of the failure of Russian artillery to support advancing infantry with well-coordinated fire. Stone has called this futile action on the Strypa "one of Ivanov's perfect little jewels of in-eptitude." It apparently sealed his fate, and in March 1916, Ivanov was relieved. But the shift took place with a solicitude befitting an imperial favorite. Ivanov was transferred to the Stavka at Mogilev to be a military adviser to the tsar.
The old general thus found himself at the monarch's side when the March Revolution struck. On March 12, 1917, Ivanov received charge of a force of 800 decorated war heroes. With this imposing band, he was to move on Petrograd to restore order. Other troops, he was assured, would join him on the way. The expedition was stymied at every turn. Rail workers sympathetic to the revolution blocked the line. Reinforcements destined for Ivanov melted away as they moved from the front to the turmoil of rear areas. Ivanov was given one final humiliation. In October 1918, he was persuaded to take nominal command of the White "Southern Army" on the Don. This rag-tag collection of reactionary officers and rank-and-file criminals soon dissolved, its militarily sound elements drawn to the more promising leaders on the White side. Ivanov died of typhus in southern Russia, January 27, 1919.