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KELLER, Count Fedor. Fedor Keller was born in 1850, the son and heir of a noble family with many connections to both Austrian and French society. His birth earned him entrance into the prestigious Corps of Pages, the military school of Princes, Dukes and future Tsars. After his graduation in 1866, he was commissioned an ensign in the Chevalier Guard Regiment, the premier cavalry regiment of the Russian Army. He first saw combat in the Servo-Turkish War of 1876 as a volunteer on the staff of Major-General Cherniaev, an officer later known as the 'Russian General Custer'. The Russian led Serbian forces were defeated by the Ottomans, thus creating the situation that exploded into the Russo-Turkish War the following year.
It was during this war of 1877-78 that Count Keller was first noticed from amongst his peers. Originally serving as the Chief-of-Staff to the Russian raised and trained Bulgarian Militia, he was transferred to serve as Chief-of-Staff for the Russian Advance Guard under the 'White General', Major-General Skobelev. This appointment was fortuitous, as he was to replace the previous Chief of Staff who was wounded at Shipka Pass. That man was Colonel Kuropatkin, the future Russian War Minister. It is likely that it was during this period that Colonel Kuropatkin formed a high opinion of the slightly younger officer. Count Keller served in this position for the remainder of the war.
After the war, Count Keller was promoted to Colonel and served in various staff positions. His noble birth certainly played a part in the duty positions that followed, but his skills allowed him to rise above his peers. In 1882, he renewed his connections with the Imperial Guard when he received command of the 4th Life Guard Rifle Battalion. After several years of successful command and another staff position, he was promoted to Major-General in 1890 and was assigned to the Great General Staff. He held this position of only three years, for in 1893 he was selected by Tsar Alexander III to serve as the Director of the Corps of Pages; the same school at which his military service began. He held this prestigious post until 1900, when, after his promotion to Lieutenant-General in 1899, he became Governor of Iekaterinoslav. On the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in February 1904, he volunteered for a military command in the theater of war, one of the few senior Russian officers to do so. His request was approved and he was placed at the disposal of the Minister of War, General Kuropatkin.
Lieutenant-General Count Keller initially served on General Kuropatkin's staff in Manchuria as his Intelligence Officer. After the Russian defeat on the Yalu on 1 May 1904, General Kuropatkin decided Count Keller would replace Lieutenant-General Zassulitch as commander of the Eastern Detachment. The Count took up his new appointment upon his arrival at Lian-dia-san on 16 May.
Count Keller found a force that had been severely handled by General Kuroki's 1st Japanese Army. His leadership skills quickly made a difference, restoring the confidence of the soldiers in the III Siberian Army Corps. During the next month, the Eastern Detachment found itself marching hundreds of miles, but doing little fighting. The Mo-tien Ling, a strong defensive position, was abandoned by Keller's forces on May 26 due to many factors not under his control. Several small operations followed over the next two months, but lack of forces and focus limited their scope. On 31 July, Count Keller established a strong defensive position at To-wan to block the Japanese advance. The Japanese 2nd and Guards Divisions attacked all day, but couldn't break the solid Russian defense. In the late afternoon, the Japanese were surprised to see the Russians withdrawing from their positions. Later that evening, Chinese civilians informed them that Russian Commander, Lieutenant-General Count Keller, had been killed during the battle by Japanese artillery fire at about 2:00 PM that day.
Lieutenant-General Count Keller was one of the 'what ifs' of the Russo-Japanese War. While lacking experience in the handling large bodies of troops, he was highly respected within the Russian Army as a leader. What actual abilities he had as a commander were only hinted at during his brief time in command, but they appeared promising. His greatest strength was aggressiveness; a quality sadly lacking in many Russian senior leaders during the war. During the months of June and July he had boldly and rapidly maneuvered his limited forces to cover a large area. Most historians don't fault him for abandoning the Mo-tien Ling, and his defense of To-wan was excellent. For many individuals of the time, his death was compared to the earlier loss of Admiral Makarov. As General Kuropatkin said of Count Keller when the latter took command of the Eastern Detachment, 'he was the man most fitted to revive the Skobelev tradition.' If true, Russia certainly needed such a man in Manchuria.
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