The Russian counter-revolutionary Army of the Northwest had its origins in the death throes of the Great War. German Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff, ably assisted by General Max Hoffmann, chief of staff for the Eastern Front, had brought about the birth of the army in October 1918 in the occupied city of Pskov. They had theorized that Lenin’s Bolshevik government had a very questionable grasp on power and that a civil war was in the near future. To stake their place in the outcome of the civil war, the German General Staff authorized the organization of nearly 2500 prisoners of war and former tsarist officers who had sought shelter from the Bolshevik secret police in German occupied territory into a unit it designated as the Northern Corps. The corps’ mission was to seize Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and other important northern cities, and establish a government which would be sympathetic to the Reich. The armistice on November 11, 1918, brought the plan to a premature end.
Following World War I, the political and military status of this northwest region — covering the area between Petrograd and Pskov to the Gulf of Finland in the north and the Gulf of Riga to the west — was quite complicated. General Alexander Rodzyanko (Александр Родзянко) was accepted by the majority to take command of the Northern Corps in late 1918 and soon asked the British for aid in resupplying his troops. He led the Estonians in retaking their territory in early January 1919. The Northern Corps, with Estonian aid, began its own offensive to liberate a portion of Russia in March. While awaiting British support, Rodzianko began to organize the liberated territory. His first order of business was to impose conscription on the 500,000 inhabitants of the area. Through this act and coercion of Red Army prisoners and defectors taken in the drives, nearly 5000 bayonets were added to the corps. Rodzianko claimed an overall strength of 25,000 but British observers placed the corps numbers at just under 7000. The corps, considering its claimed numbers, declared itself the Northwest Army.
Administration of the area was turned over to former Russian parliament or Duma members who had been with the corps since its initial retreat. In late March support finally arrived from the British and other white forces in Russia. The British mission to the Baltic coast republics commanded by Brigadier General Frank G. March began distributing uniforms, weapons and ammunition to the Northwest Army.
Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, the supreme commander of Russian counter-revolutionary forces, gave his approval to Rodzianko and on June 14, 1919, ordered General of the Infantry Nikolai Yudenich (Никола́й Юде́нич), who had escaped to Finland in 1918, to take over the administrative command of the army. Although Rodzianko resented Yudenich, calling him “a decrepit old man”, he accepted his authority since Rodzianko still commanded in the field. Yudenich set to work immediately in reorganizing the army at British expense. His first act was to submit a list of needed supplies to outfit 50,000 soldiers. The list included all types of weapons including tanks, armored cars, and airplanes. London agreed to send the supplies incrementally. He then turned to securing financial aid from British, Swedish and Finnish bankers. Through these efforts he managed to fill the army’s war coffers with £227,000.
On August 11, under pressure from the British government, Yudenich was forced to create the counter-revolutionary “Northwestern Government”, which included Monarchists, Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. Yudenich served as Minister of War and spent the next two months organizing and training his army. On October 11, Yudenich launched his army against Petrograd, which was only lightly defended as the Red Army was actively engaged on several other fronts. However, this failed and on October 25 all elements began a headlong retreat. The 7th and 15th Red Armies repulsed the White Russian troops back into Estonia in November. YIudenich appealed to the Finnish government for aid and was turned down. He asked for more Estonian help but they too turned him down. On November 23, 1919, Yudenich sent Rodzianko to England to seek financial support. After his mission proved abortive, he chose not to return to Estonia but settled in the United Kingdom and later in the United States.
On January 28, 1920, General Bułak-Bałachowicz, together with several Russian officers and the Estonian Police, arrested Yudenich as he tried to escape to western Europe with Northwestern Army funds. A large amount of money was found with him (roughly 227,000 British pounds, 250,000 Estonian marks and 110,000,000 Finnish marks) these funds were confiscated and distributed to the soldiers of the disbanded White army as a final salary. Diplomatic pressure from Great Britain and France soon led to Yudenich’s release from prison.
Sometime in mid-August 1919, fourteen values of Russian stamps issued between 1909 and 1912 were overprinted for use by the Army of the Northwest. The Scott catalogue states that these were in use from August 1, 1919, but the provisional government had yet to be established by that date, although the army was in operation. These were overprinted by lithography in Pskov with “Sev. Zap. Armia,” an abbreviation for Северо-Западу Армия (Northwest Army). The overprint was in Slavic-church style Cyrillic to show a connection between the ancient Russia and the national character exemplified in the laws of the new counter-revolutionary government.
The stamps were on sale for only a short period of time and very few were purchased by the military or civilian employees of the army. Most found their way to stamp dealers and collectors; philatelic usage is much more common than actual prepayment of postage. In addition, 25 copies of each value were ordered by the Northwest Army to be printed with the overprint inverted. These were intended as gifts for influential Russians and foreigners who had assisted the government and army. The Scott catalogue states that the stamps were in use until October 15, 1919, but this may be in error. The city of Pskov fell into Red Army hands on August 28, An article in the Journal of the Rossica Society of Russian Philately (#51 p. 48, 1957) states that by that time “the stamps of the N.W.A. were already completely bought up by philatelists”.
A great number of counterfeits of each value of the Army of the Northwest stamps were created soon after the conclusion of the Russian Civil War in 1920. These forgeries exist in various forms: mint and cancelled, normal and inverted overprints, and on cover where the falsification begins with the overprint and ends with the sending and receiving cancellations, It can be very difficult to sort the genuine stamps from the counterfeits.
Scott #4 of the Army of the Northwest is overprinted on a 15 kopeck Russian stamp picturing the Imperial Eagle of the Russian Coat of Arms typographed in red brown and blue on unwatermarked wove paper with black overprint. The original Russian stamp is Scott #81, perforated 14×14½, and was issued in 1909. It also featured vertical lozenges of varnish on the face of the stamp.