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The Russian Imperial Guard, officially known as the Leib Guard (Russian: Лейб-гвардия leyb-gvardiya, from German Leib "Body"; cf. Life Guards / Bodyguard) were military units serving as personal guards of the Emperor of Russia. Peter the Great founded the first such units following the Prussian practice in the 1690s, to replace the politically motivated Streltsy. The Imperial Guard subsequently increased in size and diversity to become an elite corps of all branches within the Imperial Army rather than Household troops in direct attendance on the Tsar. Numerous links were however maintained with the Imperial family and the bulk of the regiments of the Imperial Guard were stationed in and around Saint Petersburg in peacetime.

Imperial Guard
Konstantin Palace.jpg
Leib Guards reception at the Constantine Palace
Country Russian Empire
AllegianceTsar of Russia and  Russian Empire
BranchRussian coa 1825.png Imperial Russian Army
TypeInfantry, cavalry and horse artillery
RoleExecutive protection



The first units to be formed were the Preobrazhensky & the Semyonovsky Regiments by Peter the Great. He formed the two regiments as part of his move to professionalize Russia's army following their disastrous defeat in the Battle of Narva against the Swedish Empire during the early phases of Great Northern War. Another influencing factor for the unit's formation was the fact that the Streltsy had fallen out of favour with Peter as a result of a series of uprising, one taking place during his childhood which traumatised him, and another taking place during his reign.

Later on, Anna of Russia formed the Izmaylovsky Regiment recruited from her native Duchy of Courland and Semigallia out of distrust of her then current guard regiments (especially the Preobrazhensky) as a result of her paranoia of losing power. The Izmaylovsky Regiment became the official palace guards during Anna's reign.

But the term "leib" was not used until the reign of Elizabeth of Russia during her formation of the Leib Company made up of the grenadiers (especially the Preobrazhensky) who helped put her on the throne.[1]

Revolution of 1905Edit

The Imperial Guard played a key role in the suppression of the 1905 Revolution. This was especially the case in Saint Petersbugh on Sunday, 22 January [O.S. 9 January] 1905 (Bloody Sunday) and the subsequent repression by the Semyonovsky Regiment of wide-spread disturbances in Moscow. A full battalion of the Life-Guards Preobrazhensky Regiment did however mutiny in June 1906.[2]

Revolution of 1917Edit

In February 1917 the garrison of Saint Petersburg included 99,000 soldiers of the Imperial Guard. These were reserve battalions, made up of a mixture of new recruits and veterans from the regiments of the Imperial Guard serving at the front. While generally still recruited from rural districts the rank and file of the Guards were no longer the reliable instruments of Tsarist autocracy that their predecessors had been during the disturbances of 1905. About 90 percent of the officers of these reserve units were wartime commissioned, often militarily inexperienced and sometimes sympathetic towards the need for political reform.[3] Overall the morale and leadership of the Saint Petersburg troops was poor, although they still enjoyed the status of the historic regiments that they represented.

During the early days of rioting in Saint Petersburg the Semenovsky, Pavlovsky and Volhynsky Regiments obeyed their officers and fired on the crowds of demonstrators. However on 27 February first the Volhynsky, then the Semenovsky, Moskovsky and Ismailovsky Regiments defected in large numbers to what had now become a revolution. Some officers were killed. An estimated 66,700 guardsmen in the capital had deserted or defected within about two days.[4] This mass defection among units of the Imperial Guard marked the end of the Tsarist regime.

During the October Revolution, the Pavlovsky Regiment, though celebrated for their actions during the Napoleonic Wars, was among the first regiments to mutiny and join the Bolsheviks, and participated in The Storming of the Winter Palace.[5] Much of the former Imperial Guard was still in existence in existence in October 1917, retaining their historic titles, though now their role was that of politicised republican soldiers. In addition to the Pavlovsky, the Semenovsky and Ismailovsky Regiments rallied to the Bolsheviks at a crucial stage in the revolution.[6]

In December 1917 the remmanents of the erstwhile Imperial Guard were disbanded.


The final composition of the Russian Imperial Guard at the beginning of 1914 was:

His Majesty's Life-Guards Hussar Regiment, 1914

Guards Corps St. Petersburg District. Headquarters, St. Petersburg, Millionaya. (Guards units not part of the Guards Corps were the Guards Replacement Cavalry Regiment and Guards Field Gendarme Squadron.)

'Guard units of direct subordination as of 1917:

  • Palace Grenadiers Company
  • Guards Replacement Cavalry Regiment
  • Guards Field Gendarme Squadron
  • His Majesty's Guards Convoy Unit
  • His Majesty's Railway Regiment

Plus the following were part of the 23rd Army Corps, Warsaw Military District. Headquarters, Warsaw, Poland.

  • 3rd Guards Infantry Division. Headquarters, Warsaw
    • Division HQ
    • 1st Brigade: Life-Guards Lithuania Regiment, Emperor of Austria's Life-Guards Kexholm Regiment
    • 2nd Brigade: King Frederick-William III's Life-Guards St.-Petersburg Regiment, Life-Guards Volynski Regiment
    • 3rd Life-Guards Artillery Brigade
  • Independent Guards Cavalry Brigade
  • 3rd Battery of Life-Guards Horse Artillery


Every soldier and officer of the Guard had the style of the Leib Guard (Лейб-гвардии...), for example: Colonel of the Leib Guard (Лейб-гвардии полковник). It is a misconception that the monarch himself functioned as the commander of the Leib Guard regiments, so only he and some members of the imperial family could hold a title of Colonel (Polkovnik) of the Guards. In fact, there were many guards officers in the rank of colonel.[specify]

Commissioned officers enjoyed a two-grade elevation in the Table of Ranks over regular army officers; this later changed to a one-grade elevation -- first for the New Guards then for the rest of the Leib Guard. Following the abolition of the rank of Major in 1884, most grades below VII shifted one position upwards, effectively returning to those of the Old Guards.

Grade, Old Guards Grade, New Guards Category Infantry Cavalry, Cossacks until 1891 Cossacks (since 1891)
IV V Staff Officers Colonel (Полковник)
V VI Lieutenant colonel (Подполковник) (until 1798)
VI VII Premier Major, Second Major (Премьер-майор, секунд-майор) (until 1798)
VII VIII Ober-Officers Captain (Капитан) Rittmeister (Ротмистр) Yesaul (Есаул)
VIII IX Staff Captain(Штабс-капитан) Staff-Rittmeister (Штабс-ротмистр) Junior Yesaul (Подъесаул)
IX X Poruchik/Lieutenant (Поручик) Sotnik (Сотник)
X XI Junior Poruchik/Sub-lieutenant (Подпоручик) Khorunzhiy (Хорунжий)
XI XII Praporshchik (Прапорщик) Cornet (Корнет)
XII XIII Under-Officers Feldwebel (Фельдфебель)
XIII XIV Sergeant (Сержант) (1800-1884) Wachtmeister (Вахмистр) Junior Khorunzhiy (Подхорунжий)
Junior Praporshchik (Подпрапорщик); Senior Unteroffizier (Старший унтер-офицер) since 1800 Wachtmeister (Вахмистр)
Unteroffizier (Унтер-офицер) Uryadnik (Урядник)
Gefreiter (Ефрейтор) Prikazny (Приказный)
Privates Musketeer, Fusilier, Grenadier etc. (Мушкетер, фузилер, гренадер и т.д.) Dragoon, Hussar, Cuirassier, Cossack etc. (Драгун, гусар, кирасир, казак и т.д.) Cossack (Казак)


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ de Gmeline, Patrick. La Garden Imperiale Russe. pp. 334–336. ISBN 9-782702-501412.
  3. ^ Mansel, Philip. Pillars of Monarchy. p. 136. ISBN 0-7043-2424-5.
  4. ^ Mansel, Philip. Pillars of Monarchy. pp. 136–137. ISBN 0-7043-2424-5.
  5. ^ Barrack of the Pavlovsky Regiment
  6. ^ Mansel, Philip. Pillars of Monarchy. p. 137. ISBN 0-7043-2424-5.

See alsoEdit