Lontsov and the Makhnovist armoured train

A short biography of Makhnovist commander Lontsov

Submitted by Battlescarred on January 30, 2022

We know little about the Makhnovist commander Lontsov. What there is comes from the memoirs of the Makhnovist Viktor Belash, some Cheka records, and the writings of one Anatoli Vladimirovich Binetsky, a second lieutenant in the White Guard.

Lontsov appears to have been born in the village of Petropavlovka, in the Pavlograd district of Yekaterinoslav province but there is no information when his birth took place. Lontsov was a pseudonym and his real name was Mikhail Vasilievich Kanevsky. We know that he worked as a miner at Yuzovka before the Revolution of 1917, that he was apparently illiterate and that he became an anarchist in 1918, joining the Makhnovist Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine (RPAU) from its inception.

In autumn 1919 Lontsov was a detachment commander in the Azov corps of the RPAU. At the end of October that year, the RPAU captured a heavy armoured train, called Soldat (Soldier) from the Whites. Its name was changed to Memory of Grigori Makhno after Nestor Makhno’s brother who had been killed by the Whites. "Armoured train in memory of the freedom fighter comrade Grigory Makhno" was written in red paint over the old name. The train had two Pullman cars, was armed with ten machine guns one three inch gun and one six inch gun.

With the end of the alliance with the Reds, Lontsov fled from Zaporozhye with the armoured train to Nikopol on January 10th 1920 before the advance of the Red Army. At Nikopol, there were 15,000 Makhnovists incapacitated by a typhus epidemic. The Reds arrived and began disarming the sick Makhnovists and shooting their commanders, whether sick or healthy. The armoured train was seized. Lontsov, together with Viktor Belash, Danilov (chief of artillery supplies of the RPAU) the Makhnovist commander Petrenko-Platonov, a doctor and two sailors fled to Gulyaipolye on January 12th.

With the temporary collapse of the Makhnovists, Lontsov went underground at Gulyaipolye.

With the signing of a new accord between the Reds and the Makhnovists at Starobelsk, in autumn 1920 Lontsov now was given a mandate to raise a detachment in the Pavlograd area and advance to the Crimean front.

On February 19th 1921 Lontsov’s cavalry reconnaissance detachment of one hundred horsemen then joined the Caucasian Insurgent Army (Makhnovists) which had been set up with the agreement of RPAU headquarters and led by the ex-Commander of the Red Army Grigori Maslakov and the Makhnovist Mikhail Brova.

Crossing from the Ukraine into the Caucasus, Maslakov’s forces grew to 10,000 by July. However in autumn both Maslakov and Brova were killed and the Caucasian Insurgent Army collapsed. Lontsov continued operations against the Reds until the end February 1922 and then fought his way back to Ukraine with 200 partisans.

Hoping to take advantage of the Bolshevik amnesty offered to Makhnovists, Lontsov surrendered on October 15th with 38 fighters in the Constantinograd district of the Poltava region. He was ordered to give an account of his life by the Chekists and this autobiography duly appeared dated October 19th. After this, nothing more was heard of Lontsov and it is likely that he was shot by the Bolsheviks, like other victims of the fake amnesty, Zabudko, Protsenko, Fomenko, Khokhotva and Vinnik.

Binitsky, who was captured by the Makhnovists in October 1919, has left an account of his time on Lontsov’s train until his escape in December, under the title Captured by Batko Makhno. However there are a number of historical errors in his account, not least the allegations of a non-existent alliance between the Makhnovists and the White general Baron Wrangel. As such Binitsky’s account needs to be treated with caution. Lontsov is described as of average height, with the face of a drunk and a prisoner! Apart from this, Binitsky portrays Lontsov as quite an amiable character and that he travelled on the train with his wife.

Nick Heath