Baron Roman Ungern von Sternberg (Roman Fedorovich Ungern von Shternberg), also known by the epithet Mad Baron (or Black Baron; January 22, 1886, September 15, 1921), fought the White Movement during the Russian Civil War and later was a bloodthirsty warlord.
He attempted to establish a monarchy in Mongolia and the lands to the east of Lake Baikal.
Related article: Haunting images of Mongolia (1913), Japanese war prints of the Sino-Japanese war, Fascinating Xinhai Revolution images, the Chinese Revolution of 1911, history of the First Sino-Japanese War
He was born in Graz, Austria by a Balkan family and grew up in Tallinn in Estonia, which at the time was not yet entered in the orbit of Russia, in the custody of his stepfather Oscar von Hoyningen-Huene.
After attending the Pavlovsk Military Academy in St. Petersburg, he served in Siberia where he came in contact with the nomadic lifestyle of Mongolian and Buryat tribes. During World War II, Ungern von Sternberg fought in Galicia.
In this period he was considered a brave soldier, but sometimes reckless and unstable. General Wrangel mentioned in his memoirs fears to promote Ungern-Sternberg.
After the February Revolution of 1917, he was sent by the provincial government in Eastern Russia, under the command of Grigori Semenov to establish a military garrison.
With the October Revolution of 1917, Semenov and his right arm, Ungern von Sternberg opposed the Bolsheviks.
In the following months, Ungern von Sternberg distinguished himself for his cruelty towards the local population and his own subordinates, earning the nickname Bloody Baron. For his decidedly eccentric attitudes, it was also called Crazy Baron.
Semenov and Ungern von Sternberg, though anti-Bolsheviks, were not part of the White Movement and did not recognize the authority of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak.
They were instead supported both financially and from a military point of view by the Japanese. The Japanese hoped to set up a puppet state headed by Semenov in Eastern Russia. For Kolchak who believed in Russia as a powerful and indivisible entity, this was an act of treason.
The troops of Ungern von Sternberg were a mixture of Russian soldiers, Cossacks, and Buryat nomad’s ethnicity. They targeted the supply trains of the Bolsheviks and of the White movement.
Semenov and Ungern von Sternberg were successful against the White Movement as the base of operations of Admiral Kolchak was located in the heart of Central Siberia and the trains came from Vladivostok, on the Pacific Ocean.
At this point, the railway line of the Trans-Siberian was in their hands. But they chose different paths in 1920 when Ungern decided to become a Lord of the Independent War.
He strongly believed that the monarchy was the only antidote to the corruption and self-destruction of Western civilization. He began to cultivate the idea of restoring the Qing Dynasty of China on the throne and then unifying the countries of the Far East under its flag.
It was also a fanatical anti-Semitic leader and in 1918 he proclaimed to want to exterminate all the Jews and the Russian Communists bringing back the Grand Duke Mikhail, the younger brother of Nicholas II on the Russian throne. Its troops massacred many Jews fleeing even with extremely cruel ways as flaying victims still alive. Since 1919 Mongolia was under the control of the Republic of China forces.
At the turn of 1920 and 1921, the troops of Ungern von Sternberg entered Mongolia called by the deposed Bogd Khan, a civil and religious Mongol leader.
In January 1921 the army of Ungern repeatedly assaulted the capital Urga (now Ulaanbaatar), but without ever succeeding and undergoing numerous losses. He gave orders to set fire to the fields around the city trying to tighten its grip on the besieged. The following February he managed to take control of the city.
On 13 March 1921 Mongolia was proclaimed an independent monarchy, and Ungern von Sternberg became its dictator.
Ungern was a mystic fascinated by Eastern religions that believed to be the reincarnation of Genghis Khan and the XIII Dalai Lama: an abnormal mixture of Russian nationalism and Chinese and Mongol beliefs.
His brief reign was characterized by looting and terror.
A Red Army sent to fight Ungern, supported by the leading Mongolian pro-Soviet Shbaatar (Sukhe-Bator), defeated the Mad Baron troops.
In May Ungern von Sternberg tried to invade the territory of Russia at Troitskosavsk (now Kyakhta, Buryatia).
After some initial successes in May and June, in the summer he was defeated by the Soviet counteroffensive and was arrested on August 21, 1921. After a summary trial, he was executed in Novonikolayevsk (Novosibirsk today).
Before being shot, he swallowed his St. George Cross medal of honor, to prevent it from falling into communist hands.
Ungern von Sternberg is at the center of the beautiful graphic novel by Hugo Pratt “Corte Sconta detta Arcana” (Corto Maltese in Siberia), first serialized in the Italian comics magazine Linus in 1974, where he will meet Corto Maltese.
In the video game Iron Storm, Ungern becomes the model to depict the evil “Baron Ugenberg”, the leader of a mysterious Russian-Mongolian Empire during the First World War until the early sixties.