Her Majesty's 2nd Pskov Life-Dragoon Regiment
General, Gala Dress 1870
The Ancient City of Pskov , founded in the 10th century, lies upon the River Velikaya in the far northwest of Russia. To the west and southwest are the modern countries of Estonia and Latvia, once the Duchies of Livonia and Courland. Because of its strategic position it was always a bastion against western invasion. Its medieval achievement was the 1242 victory under Alexander Nevsky over the Livonian Knights on frozen Lake Peipus, just to the north of the city. To this day, the mighty citadel or Kremlin, with its long high walls, dominates the city. In 1510 it fell to the Muskovites and by the end of the 16th century it was one of the largest fortresses in Muskovy and successfully defended itself against the Poles in the siege of 1581. From the time of Peter the Great’s subjugation of the Baltic states, the city’s influence diminished substantially but it still remained an important provincial capital. It was here that the poet Borisovitch and the composer Mussorgsky were born as well as the Soviet military hero, Marshall Rokossovsky of Stalingrad fame. It was also here on a cold March evening in 1917 that Tsar Nicholas II abdicated on a train parked in a siding near the main railway station. The city was later occupied by the Germans after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in December 1917 and suffered substantial damage under the Nazis in the Second World War. Today it is the regional capital of an ‘Oblast’ or province of the Russian Federation.
Like most great Russian cities, Pskov contributed manpower to the armed forces including one infantry and one cavalry regiment. The cavalry unit was originally raised as a regiment of dragoons by Colonel Novikov in Moscow during 1701, although it would later claim its ancestry date as 1688 from troops of stolniki and stryapchie cavalry led by Boyar noblemen. The Pskov Dragoons would see hard service during the Great Northern War (1700-1721) including the battles of Lesnaya (1708), Poltava (1709), and the siege of Vyborg (1710). It did not see much more service until the end of the century, being in garrison and line-of-communication service during the Seven Years War. It did serve during the War of Polish Independence in 1768 and the Russo-Swedish War in 1788. During the Napoleonic Wars it was in the thick of fighting from 1805 onwards taking part in the battles of Eylau (1807), Friedland (1807) and Borodino (1812). It was during one of the minor actions against the retreating French armies that the Pskov Dragoons are said to have captured the cuirasses of a French regiment, which would lead to an insignia dispute nearly 100 years later. In 1813, the Pskov dragoons became the Pskov Cuirassiers and gave up their orange faced green jackets for raspberry faced white ones. The cuirasses issued were said to have been the captured French ones owing to a lack of Russian equipment, but another account says that the cuirasses were only awarded in 1817. The Pskov Cuirassiers fought at Lützen, Bautzen and Leipzig in 1813 and entered Paris in 1814.
The years following the Napoleonic wars were relatively quiet for the regiment. They were mobilized with other cuirassier regiments for the Crimean War, but peace came before they could be dispatched to the seat of the war. In 1860 the all the cuirassier regiments except those of the Guard were converted to dragoons and the Pskov were amalgamated with the Yelisavetgrad Dragoons to form Her Majesty’s Pskov Life-Dragoon Regiment and their ‘Chef’ or Colonel was the Empress Maria Alexandrovna. It was as dragoons that they participated in the suppression of the Polish Rebellion in 1863. They did not see service in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877 where the static warfare centered on Plevna provided little opportunity for mounted troops. In 1880, upon the death of the Empress Maria, the Empress Feodorovna became the Regiment’s Chef. The following year, Alexander II was assassinated and the new Tsar, Alexander III ordered all cavalry except for the Imperial Guard to be converted to dragoons in which case the Pskov Dragoons became the 4th Regiment. At the same time, Alexander nationalized the appearance of the Russian army and the dragoons were no exception wearing fur caps and short skirted double breasted tunics that fastened with hooks on the inside.
When Nicholas II ascended to the throne in 1894 the regiment was titled Her Majesty the Sovereign Empress Maria Feodorovna’s 4th Pskov Life-Dragoon Regiment. In 1898 Nicholas restored many of the traditions and insignia to the Russian Army but the Pskov Dragoons received little at this time. A request was put in to restore the old French cuirasses, which had apparently been in storage since 1870 but despite extensive research the request was denied. Apart from the fact that the so called ‘French” cuirasses had been destroyed for scrap in 1875 the regiment persisted and they were finally, in 1910 awarded a special headdress badge by “Highest Order” to recognize the trophies. Even this however was eventually cancelled because no evidence could be confirmed for the honor in the first place and events were soon to overtake the issue for all time. In 1908 the Tsar revived Hussar and Lancer (Ulan) regiments and along with dragoons, all received elaborate full dress uniforms. The Pskov Dragoons were also restored to their number of 2nd regiment of dragoons. The regiment had not served in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 and like many of the Tsarist cavalry, were little prepared for the First World War. Their service in that war is too complex to retell here. Needless to say, they had disappeared by October 1917 and little account is given of their final months in action. A proud regiment, after 200 years of faithful service, the Pskov Dragoons were no more..
Kepi Badge 1870
When raised in 1701, the Pskov Dragoons wore a conventional European style uniform of blue coat with red cuffs and turnbacks and a black tricorne hat. By the time of the Seven Years war it was regulated to be the same for all dragoons as cornflower blue coat with red cuffs and linings. In 1786 a new and revolutionary uniform was introduced for the whole army, sometimes known as the “Potemkin” uniform. The dragoons and infantry were dressed virtually the same. It included a dark green coat with closed red lapels and facings, long red trousers with a wide scalloped yellow stripe on the outer seams and black leather reinforcing on the bottoms of the legs and around the inseam. The helmet was black boiled leather with a yellow woolen crest running athwart with a red plume on the right side and a black leather peak. Two black leather flaps hung down the back for about eight inches (to be wrapped around the neck in cold weather). The only visible distinction between dragoons and infantry was a yellow knot worn on the right shoulder by dragoons. This innovative uniform, worn by the regiment during the Russo-Swedish war of 1788 would not last long. The Guards had never worn this uniform and the new Tsar Paul in 1790 immediately ordered the army to revert to its old uniforms. This time, all the dragoons, keeping their dark green coats, adopted their own facing color and that of the Pskov Regiment was orange.
In 1803 dragoons were dressed in medium green double breasted coatees with short tails, white breeches and knee boots for parades and gray overalls, buttoned up the sides, for campaigns. A new headdress was issued which was a tall black leather Grecian style helmet with brass plate and black horse hair comb running front to back. The orange facing color for the Pskov was worn on collar, round cuffs and piping on the turnbacks. Buttons were white. Upon conversion to Cuirassiers in 1813, they exchanged their green coats for white ones of the same cut, this time with raspberry red facings. The helmet was the same and cuirasses may have been those captured at Lyakhovo, but that is by no means certain. In 1814 the coatee became single breasted and in 1817 the black comb on the helmet became a tall rounded crest. In 1826, the facings of the regiment were changed to rose, a color that would remain with the regiment for the rest of its existence and trousers were ordered to be changed from gray to blue-gray with piping of facing color down the side seams. In 1844 the cuirassiers were ordered to wear black leather spiked helmets similar to that worn by the infantry with a hanging black horsehair plume. This was soon changed to a white metal spiked helmet similar to that of the Prussian Cuirassiers. After the Crimean War, in which the cuirassiers took no part, a double breasted white tunic was issued but this was worn by the regiment only until 1861 when they were again converted back to dragoons.
The uniform worn by the regiment in 1861 was a dark green double breasted tunic with rose collar patches and Polish cuffs. silver litzen decorated the collar and cuffs, each secured by a button. The front of the tunic was piped rose. A green girdle was worn by other ranks, similar to the Ulans, with rose edging. The rear skirts had two button flaps on each side piped in facing color. Trousers were blue-gray piped rose and the helmet was the old dragoon pattern of 1844 with black plume. Two years later, along with the infantry, artillery and most other branches of the army, they adopted a kepi of French origin. This bore a band of facing color around the band and had a white hanging plume in front. At the same time, the eagle plate was changed to the ‘arms up’ style. This is the uniform worn by the General Officer in our illustration. He is in Gala Dress, or Full Dress as it would be called in Britain. His green trousers bear the triple stripes of facing color worn by all senior officers in this form of dress. He also has the heavily bullion fringed epaulettes on each shoulder indicative of his rank. Other than that, apart from his orders and decorations which include the Order of St. Ann on the right breast and the St Vladimir Order at his neck, there is little to distinguish him from senior field officers of the regiment. General officers were more numerous in the Russian Army than other European armies and many wore regimental uniforms at all times. In regular dress officers wore the blue-gray trousers piped rose.
In 1872 the tunic would become single breasted and for mounted duties blue-gray breeches were worn with soft leather boots that covered the knees. A new kepi for officers was ordered in 1874 that resembled the Austrian style. It was of stiff black felt with no colored band and a black hanging plume. The other ranks kepi retained the colored band.. When all cavalry became dragoons a new uniform in a more traditional Russian peasant style was introduced. The most notable features included a soft astrakhan fur cap with cloth top in facing color and a double breasted tunic with hooks and eyes on the flap instead of buttons. Finally, the last Full Dress was introduced by Tsar Nicholas II in 1908. He restored all the line cavalry regiments to their former designations of Dragoons, Hussars or Lancers (Ulans). The tunic for dragoons was dark green and the breeches blue-gray. Details varied for all regiments and for the Pskov Dragoons they were as follows. The dark green tunic was single breasted and the collar patch and Swedish cuffs were rose. The top of the collar, both sides of the tunic front and top and back edge of the cuffs were edged in half inch ‘cuirassier’ style silver lace (white for other ranks) piped in facing color. The tunic fastened with hooks and eyes and the collar patch had one silver litzen and the cuffs two with bottons.. The shoulder straps for other ranks were rose bearing the cypher of the Empress Feodorovna. Officers wore silver bullion epaulettes piped rose. The trousers were blue gray with rose outer seams. The helmet was perhaps a throwback to the Potemkin uniform of 1786 or was somewhat the same as that worn by the Horse Grenadiers of the Guard since the 1840s. Made of black boiled leather with front and rear peak, it bore a white crest worn athwart the helmet and a silver badge of Eagle with spread wings. The curb chain was silver or white metal. This was the last full dress of the regiment before it went off to war in 1914 wearing khaki.
The background to our illustration shows the Pskov Kremlin across the River Velikaya.
TITLES OF THE REGIMENT
1701 The Pskov Dragoons
1813The Pskov Cuirassier Regiment
1842 Her Imperial Highness Tsesarevna’s Cuirassier Regiment
1856Her Majesty’s Pskov Life-Cuirassier Regiment 1861Her Majesty’s Pskov Life-Dragoon Regiment 1865Her Majesty’s 2nd Pskov Life-Dragoon Regiment 1880 Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna’s 2nd Pskov Life-Dragoon Regiment
1882 Her Majesty the Sovereign Empress Maria Feodorovna’s 4th Pskov Life-Dragoon Regiment
1908Her Majesty’s 2nd Pskov Life-Dragoon Regiment
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FURTHER READING
Haithornthwaite, Philip. The Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars 2: Cavalry. Osprey 1987
Kilovskii, Alexandr. Trophy Cuirasses of the Pskov Dragoon Regiment. Tseikhgauz No. 13 (Translation by Mark Conrad)
Konstam, Angus. Peter the Great's Army 2: Cavalry Osprey 1993
Shenk V.K. Col. The Tables Of Uniforms of the Imperial Russian Army St. Petersburg 1910 (Reprint by Zaria Publishing)
Viskovatov, A.V. Historical Description of the Clothing and Arms of the Russian Army 1825-1855 (Translation by Mark Conrad)