General Wrangel and the Russian Refugees Overprints

10/09/2012     Russia, Ukraine

Baron Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel was an officer in the Imperial Russian Army and later in the anti-Bolshevik White Army that operated in Southern Russia during the Civil War.

Serving with distinction during the First World War he joined the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army (later the Armed Forces of South Russia with general Anton Denikin as commander-in-chief) after the 1917 Bolshevik putsch. General Wrangel was probably the most capable commander of all the White Army generals, gaining a reputation (whether fairly or not) as a skilled administrator who did not tolerate lawlessness or looting by his troops. Nevertheless, poor coordination between various White Russian forces, and internal feuds between their leadership lead to diminishing troop morale, suspension of foreign support with the Bolshevists eventually getting the upper hand.

Early in 1920, after several defeats, the Armed Forces of Southern Russia retreated to Crimea. General Denikin was forced to resign and General Wrangel was appointed as a new commander-in chief on April 4. By this stage in the Civil War, the Bolshevist’s superiority was overwhelming and further defeats lead Wrangel to organize a mass evacuation of military and civil personal. By November 15, about 125 ships evacuated tens of thousands of refugees. Camps were set up in Turkey, Lemnos in Greece, Serbia and in Tunis where Wrangel’s fleet was interned. Refugees later continued to Europe and settled mostly in France or in the Balkans. Wrangel and his staff eventually moved from Turkey to Tunis, then to Yugoslavia and finally to Belgium. He was the most prominent of all Russian exiles and often regarded as their head. He suddenly died in 1928, probably poisoned by a Soviet agent.

Various issues of Russia, the Russian PO’s in Levant, Ukraine & South Russia were overprinted with new values and Cyrillic “Pocta Russkoy Armiy” & “Russkaya Pocta” for use on correspondence from the refugee camps. The original surcharging was made by V.M. Essayan during 1920-1921 in Constantinople, where reprints from new stones were made, with even later printings produced in Paris entirely for collectors. About 190 different stamps were overprinted. The original idea behind these issues was to raise money for the impoverished camps, almost all covers were cancelled to order and produced for philatelists but they certainly represent a fascinating and heartrending episode in the great Russian story.


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