Special Corps of Gendarmes

The Special Corps of Gendarmes (Russian: Отдельный корпус жандармов) was the uniformed security police of the Imperial Russian Army in the Russian Empire during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its main responsibilities were law enforcement and state security.

Special Corps of Gendarmes
Отдельный корпус жандармов
Russian Gendarmes 1890.jpg
Russian Gendarmes, 1890
Active1827-March 1917
Country Russian Empire
AllegianceTsar of Russia
RoleLaw enforcement
Part ofGuberniya
Gen. Alexander von Benckendorff, for being the founder.
Uniform of gendarmes 1911

The responsibilities of the Gendarmes also included the execution of court orders, pursuit of fugitives, riot control, and detainment of "unusual" criminals. Gendarmes could also be assigned to assist local police and officials.



The precursors of the Corps were the Imperial Army Gendarmerie regiment (formed in 1815 and based on the Borisoglebsk Dragoon Regiment) and Gendarmerie units of the Special Corps of the Internal Guards (raised 1811). Following the 1825 Decembrist revolt, the new Russian Emperor, Nicholas I, established the office of the Chief of Gendarmes in July 1826 and appointed General Count Alexander Benkendorf to it; all of the gendarmes were subordinate to the Chief. Benkendorf was also appointed Executive Director of the newly-formed Third Section of the Imperial Chancellery, although the office of the Head of the Third Section did not formally merge with that of the Chief of Gendarmes until 1839.


In 1836, the Gendarmerie of the Internal Guards was transformed into the Special Corps of Gendarmes, under the Chief of Gendarmes. The Commander of the Corps and Chief of Staff of the Corps were also Directors of the Third Section under the Executive Director. The Corps was divided into seven territorial Districts, six of them located in Russia and one in the Kingdom of Poland, each having a Directorate. The Main Directorate, along with additional Gubernial Directorates, was also created. The Army's Gendarmerie regiment joined the Corps in 1842.

As of 1867 statute, the Corps consisted of:

Expanded roleEdit

In 1871, the Gendarmes acquired the right to investigate both political and criminal cases, as the judicial investigators were dismissed.

Only the most competent of the Army's officers in noble ranks could join the Corps of Gendarmes. In August 1880, both the Third Section and the Special Corps of Gendarmes were transferred to the authority of the Minister of Internal Affairs by proposal of Count Loris-Melikov. The office Chief of Gendarmes was inherited by the Minister, and the Commander of the Corps became his Deputy. Many Gendarme officers were transferred to then-created Department of Police.

Following the 1902 assassination of MVD Minister Sipyagin, the state security power of Gendarmerie Directorates was transmitted to the Okhrana and counter-intelligence units of the General Staff and the Department of Police.

Disbandment 1917Edit

During the Russian Revolution of February 1917, gendarmes stationed at Kronstadt remained loyal to the Tsarist regime, firing on demonstrators and subsequently being imprisoned for trial.[1] On 17 March [O.S. 4 March] 1917 the Corps of Gendarmes was formally abolished by order of the Provisional Committee of the State Duma, along with the regular Tsarist police.[2]


Ranks and uniformsEdit

The Gendarmes used cavalry ranks of the Russian military ranks system introduced in 1826.

Most branches of the Special Corps wore light blue uniforms in contrast to the dark green of the regular army and police. Gendarmes of the Railroad Directorates were however distinguished by dark blue tunics.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Pitcher, Harvey (2001). Witnesses of the Russian Revolution. pp. 105–106. ISBN 978-0-7126-6775-3.
  2. ^ Frame, Murray (21 December 2016). "Concepts of Policing during the Russian Revolution 1917–1918" (PDF). Journal of Europe-Asia Studies. 68 (10: Against the Grain: Essays in Honour of Geoffrey Swain): 1654–1671. doi:10.1080/09668136.2016.1255309.

Further readingEdit

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