The role of Russian volunteers in the collapse of the international legion in the South African War

  • Boris Gorelik Institute for African Studies


The establishment of an international legion by General Georges de Villebois-Mareuilin March 1900 was the most ambitious attempt to coordinate the activities of foreignvolunteer units within a single formation during the South African War. On the general’sdeath (5 April 1900), De Villebois’s Russian deputy and successor, Lieutenant ColonelYevgeny Maximov, lost control of the legion. As a hierarchical formation, it survivedDe Villebois by only two weeks. Given Maximov’s ample experience in conventionaland unconventional warfare, and the accolades that he later won from the republicanpolitical and military leadership, including the rank of general, the legionnaires’opposition to him appears to be unjustified. Accounting for the discrepancy betweenhistorians’ perceptions of Maximov and his lack of success in controlling the legionis based on a premise that legionnaires had compelling reasons to reject his authority.Maximov had come to Africa ostensibly as a journalist. He was yet to earn the respect ofhis subordinates because he had not seen action in the South African War. In subsequentweeks, having resigned from his post in the legion, he distinguished himself in theengagement at Tobaberg as the leader of the Dutch corps. By then, Maximov had the‘moral authority’ to command an international unit, but his poor health prevented himfrom carrying on fighting. Unlike De Villebois, who was supported by like-mindedFrench lieutenants, Maximov could not rely on his compatriots. Instead of endorsing hisclaim to leadership, the Russian corps refused to join the legion while he was in charge,and intentionally discredited him. In the power vacuum after De Villebois’s death, thelegion collapsed, and a chance to transform the emerging alliance of foreign volunteerunits into a formidable force was missed.
How to Cite
Gorelik, B. (2021). The role of Russian volunteers in the collapse of the international legion in the South African War. Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, 49(2), 29-41.