Category: russian civil war

Whites Retake Ufa

Kolchak’s Ufa Offensive.

March 14 1919, Ufa–On March 4, Kolchak’s Whites launched a major offensive around Ufa, which they had lost to the Reds at the very end of 1918.  The White forces took advantage of the snowy conditions to move troops and supplies forward by sledge, surprising the Reds and avoiding the typical back-and-forth fighting on the railway lines.  Nonetheless, progress was slow at first, and the Whites did not take Ufa until March 14.  They quickly pushed beyond Ufa, however, and by the end of April had advanced over 250 miles, and were back to within 75 miles of the Volga.  The spring thaw, however, turned the ground to mud and made rivers and streams wide obstacles, slowing the Whites’ progress in April.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War. Image Credit: Rowanwindwhistler – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18657424

Whites Retake Ufa

Kolchak’s Ufa Offensive.

March 14 1919, Ufa–On March 4, Kolchak’s Whites launched a major offensive around Ufa, which they had lost to the Reds at the very end of 1918.  The White forces took advantage of the snowy conditions to move troops and supplies forward by sledge, surprising the Reds and avoiding the typical back-and-forth fighting on the railway lines.  Nonetheless, progress was slow at first, and the Whites did not take Ufa until March 14.  They quickly pushed beyond Ufa, however, and by the end of April had advanced over 250 miles, and were back to within 75 miles of the Volga.  The spring thaw, however, turned the ground to mud and made rivers and streams wide obstacles, slowing the Whites’ progress in April.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War. Image Credit: Rowanwindwhistler – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18657424

Reds Retake Kiev

February 5 1918, Kiev–In the vacuum left by the sudden German withdrawal from the Eastern Front after the armistice, both Bolshevik and nationalist groups had been trying to reestablish their authority.  So far, British-backed Estonia excepting, the Reds had had the upper hand.  Ukraine was no exception; Hetman Skoropadskyi’s puppet state had been quickly overthrown by forces loyal to the Rada, but their control was tenuous, and they were fighting another war to the west against Poland.  The Bolsheviks set up their own Ukrainian government, and took Kiev after heavy fighting on February 5; the Ukrainian government fled west to Vinnytsia.  This marked at least the fifth time the city had changed hands since the February Revolution.

The Red Army commander, Jukums Vācietis, wanted to stop at Kiev and consolidate along the Dnepr, but the local commander, Antonov, wanted to secure the rest of Ukraine and was soon drawn across the river.  This would prevent the Ukrainian nationalists from consolidating and prevented the French from expanding their foothold around Odessa, but it tied up many troops that could have been used to fight the Whites in the Don or to aid revolutionary movements in the rest of Europe.  The troops also did little to cement permanent Bolshevik power in the Ukraine; there was no civil administration to go along with the armies, and what little there was mainly served to seize Ukrainian grain for Russia.

Reds Retake Kiev

February 5 1918, Kiev–In the vacuum left by the sudden German withdrawal from the Eastern Front after the armistice, both Bolshevik and nationalist groups had been trying to reestablish their authority.  So far, British-backed Estonia excepting, the Reds had had the upper hand.  Ukraine was no exception; Hetman Skoropadskyi’s puppet state had been quickly overthrown by forces loyal to the Rada, but their control was tenuous, and they were fighting another war to the west against Poland.  The Bolsheviks set up their own Ukrainian government, and took Kiev after heavy fighting on February 5; the Ukrainian government fled west to Vinnytsia.  This marked at least the fifth time the city had changed hands since the February Revolution.

The Red Army commander, Jukums Vācietis, wanted to stop at Kiev and consolidate along the Dnepr, but the local commander, Antonov, wanted to secure the rest of Ukraine and was soon drawn across the river.  This would prevent the Ukrainian nationalists from consolidating and prevented the French from expanding their foothold around Odessa, but it tied up many troops that could have been used to fight the Whites in the Don or to aid revolutionary movements in the rest of Europe.  The troops also did little to cement permanent Bolshevik power in the Ukraine; there was no civil administration to go along with the armies, and what little there was mainly served to seize Ukrainian grain for Russia.

Wilson and Lloyd George Propose Conference Wit…

January 22 1919, Paris–The sudden end of the war left Allied efforts in Russia in an awkward position.  Their official purpose, to prevent the Central Powers from having a free hand in Russia after Brest-Litovsk, was no longer relevant, and the Allied public had no interest in a full-scale war in Russia to depose the Bolsheviks.  Lloyd George wanted a way out, and wanted to invite the Bolsheviks to the peace conference.  While he did not like the Bolsheviks, “To say that we ourselves should pick the representatives of a great people was contrary to every principle for which we had fought.” Talking only to the Whites and the Russian émigrés would be to follow the same course Britain had during the French Revolution, which “led [Britain] into a war that lasted about twenty-five years.”

Clemenceau, understandably, had a much different perspective.  A veteran of the fight against the Paris Commune in 1871, he had no patience for the Bolsheviks and certainly would not invite them to his city to let them cause trouble.  Backed by Wilson, Lloyd George proposed a compromise on January 21–a separate conference to handle any matters falling within the former boundaries of the Russian Empire (apart from Poland and Finland).  The Bolsheviks would be invited, along with the various White governments and the states that had declared independence from Russia since the revolution.  The conference would be held on Prinkipo [Büyükada], an island in the Sea of Marmara near Allied-occupied Constantinople, starting in mid-February.  Clemenceau strongly objected, but decided not to break with the British and French.  Sonnino was even more adamant, but could not back up his anti-Bolshevik attitudes with any commitment of Italian troops.

On January 22, the Council of Ten agreed to Lloyd George’s proposal, and the invitation was extended by radio the next day.  The conference, it was hoped, would work out a peace between the various Russian factions, would normalize relations between Russia and the Allies, and settle the question of Russia’s new western and southern borders.  As a pre-condition for the conference, the Allies called for a ceasefire on all fronts of activity between all parties.

The non-Bolshevik governments in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Crimea accepted the proposal, although in some cases with preconditions of their own.  Georgia declined to attend, believing its independence secure.  The Whites felt betrayed by the Allies, and most of their governments rejected the invitation or lodged strong protests.  The Bolsheviks were of two minds about the invitation–they wanted Allied troops, weapons, and money out of Russia, but they also believed world revolution was imminent and that negotiations were pointless.  On February 4, they responded, avoiding the question of a ceasefire and offering large concessions of territory and raw material to the Allies.  Effectively, this was a repeat of Brest-Litovsk; Lenin simply hoped to gain enough time for the revolution to spread.  

Wilson said that “This answer was not only uncalled for, but might be thought insulting.”  Lloyd George thought the same, and came under considerable political pressure at home from both the Conservatives and many within his own party (especially Churchill).  Combined with continued French opposition and the non-cooperation of the Whites, the proposal quietly died.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

British and Transcaspian Forces Repel Bolshevi…

January 16 1919, Annenkovo–As the threat that the Turks might cross the Caspian from Baku into Central Asia had ended with the Armistice, the British were now most concerned with the Bolsheviks based out of Tashkent.  In the final months of the war, they had expanded their mission from Mashhad in Persia across the border, and had a small force assisting the Ashgabat government in modern-day Turkmenistan.

On January 16, the Bolsheviks attacked the front line at Annenkovo, between Merv and Chardzhou [Türkmenabat].  The Bolsheviks hoped to outflank their opponents and destroy the railway line in an attempt to cut off their enemies’ escape route, but what little damage they managed to do was quickly repaired.  An engagement then began on the railway line itself, centered between a Transcaspian and a Bolshevik armored train.  Despite an at least six-to-one numerical advantage, the Bolsheviks were seen off after a determined counterattack by the 19th Punjabis and British and Transcaspian cavalry.  The Bolsheviks found it hard to coordinate their attacks in heavy fog, and much of their force was composed of German and Austrian former prisoners of war who hoped that the position at Annenkovo would be the sole obstacle between them and a return home.

The Bolsheviks were not pursued during their long retreat back to the Amu Darya, as the British were reluctant to commit to an offensive in a remote part of the world they had decreasing interest in.  Less than a week later, the British decided to pull their forces out of Transcaspia, as part of an overall disengagement from Russia.

Sources include: C.H. Ellis, The Transcaspian Episode.

Royal Navy Captures Russian Destroyers

December 26 1918, Tallinn–The arrival of British ships in Tallinn had shifted the balance of power in Estonia.  In addition to the 5,000 rifles that were brought for the Estonians, the ships themselves could shell the Russian supply lines.  The Red Army asked for help from the Baltic Fleet, but it was in poor condition since the upheavals of the revolution, and could only spare one battleship, one cruiser, and three destroyers, and even those suffered mechanical problems.

The commander of the task force, a commissar Raskolnikov, decided to test the British forces by sending two destroyers, the Avrotil and the Spartak, to Tallinn; if they encountered any warships, they would return to Gogland island (a distance of over 90 miles), where the cruiser Oleg would wait to ambush the British.  The Avrotil tasked for the plan ran into mechanical issues, but Raskolnikov went ahead with just the Spartak.  The Estonians observed the destroyer shelling islands off of Tallinn, and informed the British, most of whose sailors were in a celebration on shore.  Hurrying back to their ships, they then pursued the Spartak.  The Spartak was not much faster than the British cruisers, and slower than their destroyers, and to add to her woes, soon ran into mechanical problems herself.  Although outnumbered, she attempted to engage the British, but doing so while fleeing them required her to turn her guns at a dangerous angle, and her shells hit her own bridge.  The Spartak then ran aground on a sandbank, and attempts to scuttle her failed.

The British captured the Spartak and her crew, and found the details of the Russian plan.  The British cruisers were dispatched to Gogland to find the Oleg (to no avail, as it turned out) but encountered the Avrotil on the way, which was similarly captured.  The crews (less Raskolnikov) were turned over to the Estonians, who, despite British pleas, executed over 40 of them.

Sources include: Prit Buttar, The Splintered Empires.

Whites Take Perm

December 25 1918, Perm–The quick defeat of the Komuch in the late summer of 1918, and the loss of interest by the Czech Legion after Czechoslovakia’s independence was declared, lulled the Reds into a false sense of complacency.  They continued to push east along the three railway lines towards Siberia, but the Whites had plenty of space in which to retreat–it was over 850 miles to their temporary capital in Omsk.  In December, after seizing power in Omsk, Kolchak launched a counter-offensive in the north.  The Red forces there had little training, and not nearly enough clothing or food to survive the winter conditions, and they quickly collapsed.  On December 25 (which is not the Orthodox Christmas), the Whites took the major industrial city of Perm.  This opened up the possibility in more optimistic minds of a push even further to link up with the Allies in Archangelsk–though the rail junction that would allow this, at Vologda, was still over 750 miles away.

The “Perm Catastrophe” came as a major shock to the Reds, and Stalin and Dzherzhinsky were sent to investigate the failure.  Winter largely halted any further White advance, however, and the Reds continued to advance further south, taking Ufa on December 31.

Sources include: Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy; Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War.

Allied Fleets Reach Ukraine

November 26 1918, Odessa–The terms of the Armistice of Mudros opened the Straits to the Allies, giving them reliable access to Russia for the first time since Turkey’s entry into the war (and Allied warships free passage for the first time ever).  The Allied fleet passed through the Dardanelles on their way to Constantinople on November 12, and over the coming weeks the first Allied ships crossed the Black Sea.  By November 26, they were established in force at Odessa, Sevastopol, and Novorossiysk.  There, they took possession of what remained of the German U-boat squadrons that had been based out of Turkey (as required by the terms of the armistice), as well as what remained of the Russian Black Sea Fleet that had chosen to surrender to the Germans rather than scuttle.

In Ukraine, the Allies arrived to a political vacuum; Skoropadskyi’s regime was quickly collapsing as the Germans withdrew, but nothing had been formally organized to replace him.  The French eventually recognized the successors of the 1917-1918 Rada as the proper civilian authority in Odessa, but even their claim was tenuous in a city that was a mix of Ukrainian, Russian, and Jewish populations.  In Novorossyisk, the Allies were welcomed by the Volunteer Army, who hoped the Allies would soon sweep them to victory over the Bolsheviks.  However, the extent of Allied commitment to the Whites was still unclear.  The ostensible reason for Allied intervention so far was the continuation of the fight against Germany–a justification that suddenly vanished with the Armistice.  

Further east, the British had returned to Baku on November 17; part of the new occupying force had left only two months before.  They quickly imposed martial law, and would remain there until August 1919.

Nov 26 1918 Allied fleet arrives at Sevastopol…

Nov 26 1918 Allied fleet arrives at Sevastopol and takes over the remainder of the Russian Black Sea Fleet from the Germans as well as propping up White Russian forces

Russians out in small boats to greet the British and Australian warships on their arrival at Sebastopol, Russia, (Donated by Mr. Slaughter.)

AWM 

J03219

AWM 

J03218