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:: [  The Tsar's Rolls Royce  or  Lenin's Rolls Royce  ] ::
Part 1 of 3.

Investigative research by Bozi Mohacek

Interesting photo received in 2008 from Stanislav Kiriletz (Germany) trying to firm up the history of "Lenin's Rolls Royce", chassis plate 79 YG, then in the Gorki Leninskie Museum. 

It is with some alarm I am finding myself having "Trump-ite" thoughts about 'fake news', disinformation, and journalistic miss-reporting. What is confusing to me is that I am having these thoughts while identifying vintage cars which have been fully documented for over 100 years. In 2008 we had an enquiry from Stanislav Kiriletz who was trying to firm up the history of "Lenin's Rolls Royce" then in Gorki Leninskie Museum. Our researches of the day revealed from the RREC that the build-date for this chassis was 1922, and that the client was listed as the "All Russian Co-Operative Society". Having reported this some 13 years ago, we had cause to recently to re-visit the subject and were amazed at the amount of rubbish and totally wrong information that is continuing to be disseminated by 'first internet ranking' news organizations dressed up in a very salacious manner in order to comply with the new algorithms demanded by the search engines. Although it seems that 'false news' are being generated by the media, it seems the mass disseminations could well be down to the algorithms of search engines? 

When looking for information on this car on the Internet, and in some learned books on Rolls Royce, the normal story goes that " this was one of many Rolls Royces belonging to Tsar Nicholas II which was subsequently confiscated by the new Soviet Regime from the Tsar and given to Vladimir Lenin as his daily chauffeured car. Same sources report that Lenin's chauffeur at the time was Frenchman Adolphe Kegresse, and that it was he who put the half-track system, which he had designed, onto the car for purposes of this being Lenin's 'winter car'. This was apparently one of 9 Rolls Royce cars owned by Lenin ! ".  Regretfully, none of this is  possible !

There seems much copy-pasting and cribbing of other journalists reportage so that same historical mistakes keep on being regenerated without anybody ever bothering to check if the facts are actually valid, true or accurate. The purpose of this article is to go into historical detail about this Rolls Royce Half-Track and determine the history behind the car, the history behind the main characters in the story, and the history behind the events that were the cause of it.  Is it the Tsar's or is it Lenin's Rolls-Royce?

Romanov Family 1905

Nicholas II & George V 

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Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, eldest child of Emperor Alexander III of Russia, came to the throne in 1894 when he was 26. He was married to Alexandra Fedorovna, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter and British King George V’s was his first cousin. Nicholas’s’ father died in 1894 at the Summer Palace in Livadia on the Black Sea. This was not long after Nicholas had spent quite some time in Britain. The visit had coincided with the birth the British future King Edward VIII. Nicholas and Alexandra were listed among the child's godparents. Leaving Livadia  the Tsar Alexander's funeral procession which included the British Prince and Princess of Wales—arrived in Moscow, and after lying in state in the Kremlin, the body of the Tsar was taken to the state capital St. Petersburg.

There is no mention of any motorised vehicles being involved anywhere on the route nor there being any in use of motorised vehicles by any of the palaces. It was either horse or train. This was 1894 at the very dawn of motoring.  Karl Benz had introduced his Motorwagen in 1886 and Daimler the motorised carriage in 1889. There was some knowledge of steam, because of the railways, but there was very little knowledge of the internal combustion engine and there were practically no types of news media’ to be able to spread the word to the general public.

Adolphe Kégresse was born in 1879, in Héricourt, Haute-Saône in France to reasonably well off parents. His mother had a textile business and his father was a manager in a thread factory. Adolphe was a bright lad, educated at the nearby town of Montbéliard, and studied at an Industrial Engineering School, which he left with an engineering degree. Those who know the area will be familiar with the Schlumph Motor Museum in nearby Mulhouse and, if they had flown there, they would have gone to the tripartite airport of Basel in Switzerland/Germany/France. The Sclumpf Museum houses one of Adolphe’s developments, a much later Citroen-Kegresse.

Adolphe Kegresse

Adolphe Kegresse driving the Imperial Benz

Adolphe subsequently joined the army where he served as an engineer. After his military service he returned to Héricourt where he worked in a nearby factory. In his spare time and with only basic facilities, he begins to show his mechanical prowess by building a single cylinder engine and a motorcycle.

In 1905 at the age of 26 he teamed up with a friend and together they traveled north to almost as far as it was possible to go in Europe, to St. Petersburg on the Baltic sea, the imperial capital of Russia. Although Russia was immensely vast country it was relatively outside the mainstream of European technical developments. To put it in historical perspective, at the same time the British were having the Emancipation Run celebrating the repeal of the red flag act removing the four miles per hour rule for cars and the need for a man to walk in front of the vehicle with a red flag. It was at the dawn of the motoring era when the British were way behind the French and the Germans in Automobile engineering. Russia had a very small indigenous motor industry and motoring and automobiles were very few and far between. There were no dealers and fuel or servicing facilities were non existent. 

It is not entirely clear as to how
Adolphe Kégresse came into contact with Prince Vladimir Orlov, or if Orlov was in any way instrumental in getting Kegresse to Russia. Prince Vladimir Nikolayevich Orlov (1868-1927) was one of Tsar Nicholas II's closest advisors and headed the Tsar's Military Cabinet between 1906 and 1915. Orlov was also a member of the Russian Olympic horse riding teams at the 1900 Olympic Games. Orlov was also a keen technologist who was interested in military applications of the motor car, and it may have been him who introduced the Tsar to the automobile.

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Prince Vladimir Orlov

  Vladimir Orlov apparently driving the Tsar

Story goes that Orlov showed the Tsar his new car in 1903 and that the Tsar asked to be driven in "this kerosene thing". He was so impressed that that he had Orlov drive him almost every day as a personal chauffeur until it was suggested that the Tsar should have his own car. The Tsar readily agreed and asked Orlov to choose one for him. Other accounts claim that Orlov, a Prince, never learned to drive, but did indeed accompany the Tsar on his automobile travels. The car Orlov chose was the one he drove in 1906 for the Tsar, a Dealunay Belleville.

Orlov continued his military duties and continued being Adolpe Kegresse’s sponsor until Orlov was banished by the Tsar in 1915 to the Caucasus after losing the struggle for power to the ‘Mad Monk’ Rasputin. Orlov had made an unsuccessful attempt to discredit Rasputin and the Tsarina in a newspaper. -  The Tsar then took supreme command of the Russian armies fighting on the Eastern Front of the First World War with all the disastrous consequence that this incurred; by 1917 he was forced to abdicate and in1918 had been assassinated with his complete family. But all this was to come later.

Interesting footnote was that Vladimir Orlov’s ancestor was Prince Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, the ‘favourite’ and paramour of Catherine the Great of Russia. He was the leader of the conspiracy which resulted in the abdication and death of her husband Emperor Peter III, and installation of Catherine as empress. There is much mystery surrounding the Emperor’s banishment and death. The official cause was apoplectic stroke, while others say he was assassinated. Catharine had meantime found a new lover and Grigory was out, so to regain her favour he gave her one of the greatest diamonds of the world, the Orlov Diamond. Didn’t get him anywhere, he went abroad and eventually died of severe mental illness.
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Peter III

Catherine the Great

Grigory  Orlov

So this is where Adolph Kegresse really comes into the picture. He was tasked by Vladimir Orlov with organising everything that was necessary for the Tsar to obtain, garage and service the car. The Imperial Personal Garages were established in 1905 in the Tsars Palaces at Tsarskoe Selo and Peterhof. By the end of 1906, there were six cars in the Garage. Garages were also established at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, and at Livadia Palace in the Crimea. It was reported that by 1912 over 40 vehicles were housed in the Imperial Garages and that each car had its own driver.

As the Tsar’s thinking slowly changed from horse transport to vehicular transport, budgets were becoming quite enormous and were being questioned.
Large numbers of vehicles and large amounts of expenditure did also include all vehicles being used by the government and the Palace officials, as well as commercial vehicles such as busses and trucks. Grumbles started when the costs associated with the Garages began to be paid for the Government coffers rate that Tsars own pocket.

The early cars in the Tsar’s personal garage were all Delaunay Bellville, and then a big Benz, and then some Mercedes cars started being added as well as some local Russo Balique. The physical size and horsepower rating of the Delaunay Bellevilles also grew when special cars began to be built specifically for the Tsar. Unusual other cars included a Lessner, a Serex, and a Panhard Levassor. The only British make at that time in the garages was an English Daimler. This was probably because these were being used by the British monarchy. There were no Rolls-Royce cars listed in the Imperial Fleet in the western garages but there may apparently have been one at the Livadia Garage in Crimea by 1913. It is believed it had been ordered for the Tsar by his wife Empress Alexandra.
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Livadia Palace 

Livadia Garage 

Livadia is a settlement in southern part of the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea, not far from the city of Yalta. Livadia had been the summer residence of previous Tsars which Nicholas had enlarged to a Grand Palace in 1912. It was here that Nicholas ascended to the throne and where the Tsarina converted to Orthodoxy adopting the name Alexandra Feodorovna. The last time the family visited the Palace was in spring 1914. World War One started just a few months later, preventing further use. 


The next significant mention of Livadia and its 40 bedrooms was in February 1945 when the Yalta Conference was held there following the defeat of Adolph Hitler in the Second World War.

 The conference changed the mapping of much of the world and involved Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin.


Meanwhile in 1910 Russia, as there were no dealerships or service departments or automobile repair shops in Russia and it was the responsibility of the Chauffeurs to repair and service their vehicles, as well as drive them.  The Imperial Chauffeur School was introduced to train the men to repair and maintain their cars. As most of the cars being used were open cars, the Chauffeurs were also responsible to look out for any danger which could be of harm the Tsar or members of his family. The Chauffeur would need to look out for and avoid any potential threats to his passengers and would have to be able to elude or prevent a potential assassination.

Evidently one of Adolphe Kegresse’s other abilities was to be able to drive, - very well.  As he and his new family lived in the Palace Garage Complex he was also readily on tap. It seems that for many of the later Tsar’s important or difficult automobile journeys he called on the services of Adolphe as chauffeur, and probably as 'riding mechanic'. So as well as being the head of the imperial Mechanical Department, he was also being the Tsar’s Personal chauffeur. It seems evident that Adolphe felt the pressure getting to him because his boss Orlov wrote to the Tsar in 1914: ...  the Head of the Mechanical Department of the Garage, Mr Kegresse and his assistant must listen to numerous reprimands and claims which surely makes the work of the employees much less efficient. Under the circumstances Mr Kegress has lately asked me several times for the permission to retire.  …I consider Kegresse an irreplaceable worker and I am afraid his leaving will be a great loss for the garage. "

It should be noted that whenever the Tsar went for a drive there would always have to be at least one other vehicle following in case the Tsar's car broke down. On one such trip. a hunting expedition, the Tsar’s car got stuck in a mid winter snowstorm and eventually the whole column got bogged down. As Tsars do not find themselves abandoned in the middle of freezing nowhere stuck solid in a snow drift, much ruckus and wringing of hands was caused by the event. Thus Adolphe Kegresse was tasked with finding a way of preventing that such an event could ever happen again, -  and this is why he came up with the revolutionary Autochenille half-track system that he is now famous for. 

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Although Adolphe may have been aware of early ‘continuous metal track’ system of vehicle propulsion as introduced by theoretically by a Polish engineer in 1830,  and a steam plowing engine built by 1832 by Englishman John Heathcote, and a subsequent one built in 1837 by Russian Dmitry Zagryazhsky, none became commercial due to lack of investment. Things started better for the 'dreadnaught wheel' patented by the British Engineer James Boydell in 1846, - a series of pivoted flat feet attached to the periphery of the wheel, spreading the weight;  tried out on horse drawn wagons and successfully transferred to be used on large guns in the Crimean War. Adolphe may also have been aware of various experiments of driving a car from a  driving drum placed centrally under the car where simple skis replaced all four wheels, or similar ski cars driven by propellers. The term ‘caterpillar tracks’, was coined during the 1907 tests of the Hornsby Crawler whose trials for the British Army were held in Aldershot. Benjamin Holt, of USA, subsequently adopted the name for his "crawler" tractor in 1908,  as the "Holt Model 40 Caterpillar". Holt in early 1910 trademarked the name "Caterpillar" and founded Caterpillar Tractor Company in 1925, - but all this very much later.

So Adolphe Kegresse had nothing much to go on when thinking about trying to solve the problem of the Tsars mega-ton limousine sinking deep into the snow. As the purpose of this article is to introduce the Autochenille into the timeline of events, we will not go into its technicalities too deeply. In basic terms, he developed a bolt-on removable propulsion and suspension system which incorporated an articulated bogie, fitted to the rear of the vehicle with a large drive wheel at one end, a large unpowered idler wheel at the other and several small guide wheels in between, over which run a reinforced flexible belt. The belt was fitted with metal or rubber treads to grip the ground.

On a hard road the front of the vehicle runs on its wheels like an ordinary car. In the snow, the wheels sink, but the skies hold up the front of the car. Behind, it is the bogey belt mechanism that supports the weight and maintains the propulsion of the vehicle”.  Many experiments were held, all with the backing and finances from the Tsar. Some reports advise that early experiments used fabric belts, braided leather, and, perhaps perpetuating a myth, camel  hair/skins. Eventually a one-piece rubber convey type strap was used with metal reinforcing struts.

The first proper prototype was tested in 1913 using one of the Tsar’s local Russo-Balt cars and, proving successful, it was fitted to a number of Tsars other cars, This included the big French Delaunay-Belleville and the American Packards. There are a number of well known photos of the Tsar in the snow with his half- track cars.

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The following year, 1914, World War I broke out and Adolph Kégresse began to be used more often as a chauffeur for the Tsar for ceremonial duties. When the Tsar visited the troops in normal weather it would be one of the Dealunay Bellevilles, and when he visited the battle fronts and it was winter when the fields were covered in snow it would be the Packard half-track car. Russia was the only country that had vehicles equipped with this facility. There is no official mention that the Tsar used any Rolls Royce for ceremonial purposes, winter or summer.

And this is where the ‘Mad Monk’ Rasputin comes in. The Tsars’ son Alexei was born with Hemophilia but this was kept a closely guarded secret, with no doctors or clinicians being able to cure it. In 1912 an illiterate Siberian ‘mystic’ Grigori Rasputin had wheedled himself into the Tsarina’s circle and when one day Alexei had a massive bleed, Rasputin was able to stem it. Rasputin's influence over Empress Alexandra, and therefore the Tsar, consequently grew even stronger and affected the operation of the Imperial Court and policies.

Orlov, had continued his military duties as the head of the Tsar's Military Cabinet but began to have to fight for influence with the Tsar over the influence wielded by Rasputin. In 1915 Orlov made an unsuccessful attempt to discredit Rasputin and the Tsarina in a newspaper,  - and as a result Orlov was swiftly banished by the Tsar to the Caucasus. 

The Tsar then took supreme command of the Russian armies fighting on the Eastern Front of the First World War, with all the disastrous consequences that followed. The complexities of Russian Policies and actions in the Great War are far too complex for this article but by early 1917 Russia was on the verge of total collapse of morale. An estimated 1.7 million Russian soldiers had been killed. Organised discontent was brewing.

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For Adolphe Kegresse this was becoming a great time of danger. With Orlov no longer on the scene as his mentor, there being great unrest in the whole country, and Adolphe being mobilized as an Officer of the Corps of Engineers in the service of the Imperial Court, things were not looking great. He decided to make a rapid exit with his Russian wife and children to Finland. Some reports even have it that he left with the tacit permission of the Tsar and that Adolphe was allowed to ‘liberate’ one of the Tsars cars. His escape to Finland would have been helped by St Petersburg being only some 50 miles from the border. Records indicate that Adolphe then stayed in Finland for a while while he carried on with the developments on the Autochenille based around a Talbot being used in Finland. Soon after he returned to his native France where by 1919 he had started a very successful career with Andre Citroen in developing the "Citroen-Kegresse" and undertaking trans-Sahara and crossing other world deserts in the Autochenille vehicles. He died in 1943 in the outskirts of Paris, France, aged 65

On 23 February 1917 in St Petersburg, a combination of very severe cold weather and acute food shortages caused people to start to break into shops to get bread and other necessities. Police shot at the populace from rooftops, which incited riots. The troops in the capital were poorly motivated, angry, full of revolutionary fervor and sided with the populace. 60,000 soldiers joined the revolution, order broke down, and members of the Duma and the Soviet formed a Provisional Government to try to restore calm. They issued a demand that Nicholas must abdicate.

Faced with this demand, echoed by his generals, deprived of loyal troops, with his family firmly in the hands of the Provisional Government, and fearful of unleashing civil war opening the way for German conquest, Nicholas had little choice but to submit. Nicholas II chose to abdicate in favor of Alexei, but on advice from doctors that Alexei would not live long enough while separated from his parents who would be forced into exile, Nicholas abdicated naming his brother, Grand Duke Michael as Tsar. Michael declined to accept the throne.

The Provisional Government and Nicholas agreed that the royal family would to go into exile, the United Kingdom being the preferred option. The British Government was worried that Nicholas's presence might provoke an uprising like the previous year's Easter Rising in Ireland and eventually refused permission to enter Britain. Great show of family loyaty? The Romanov family was held under house arrest at Tsarskoye Selo, but due to further local disturbances the family was moved to the governor’s mansion in Tobolsk in Siberia, some 2,870kn away, where they remained for nine months. Eventually ill-disciplined Red Guard soldiers arrived from the regional capital creating problems, resulting in a decision to remove the Romanovs by train to Yekaterinburg, 575 Km, with the intention of eventually bringing Nicholas to a show trial in Moscow.

They were imprisoned in the two-story Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. Although the Bolshevik leadership in Moscow was still intending to bring Nicholas to trial, the local military situation deteriorated. The Yekaterinburg leadership had decided to execute the Romanovs. A coded telegram was sent to Lenin in the new state capital of Moscow, some 1,790 KM away, and a reply was sent following Lenin’s discussions with Sverdlov. A firing squad was waiting for the instructions to proceed. On the 17th July 1918, in the very early hours of the morning the royal family was executed in the basement of Ipatiev House. 

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So at this point of the story in 1918 we know that The Tsar has been assassinated and that Adolphe Kegresse had already left the country. We also know that the Half Track Rolls Royce below has Chassis Number
79YG. We also know that there is no record of the Tsar having any Rolls Royces in the West, and know that none are listed in the final records of the the Tsar's fleet of some 60 cars. So this Rolls Royce could not have been sequestrated by the Bolsheviks. Also, as the Tsar had been dead for four years before the chassis was actually built, it can be safely said that this could not have been the Tsar's Rolls Royce. Adolphe Kegresse had long left Russia so there is no way he would have known this car nor have worked on it, nor have put the half-track system onto it.

So contrary to much published data claiming otherwise, it simply could not have been possible for the Tsar to have ever seen or used this car. This was never the Tsar's Rolls Royce, so guess, presumably it must have been Lenin’s ?

To be continued Next Month as Part 2 of 3

Three Part Article:
Part 1    Part 2Part 3

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