Category: russian civil war

October 14 1919, OrelDenikin’s offensive towards Moscow reached its apex on October 14 by taking the city of Orel.  Although still 240 miles from Moscow, the loss of the city caused a fair amount of panic among Red leadership, who quickly ordered the highest priority be given to the defense of the approaches to Moscow, especially Tula and its armories.  Yudenich’s offensive against Petrograd also caused severe worries; Trotsky would write that Lenin thought the city was lost, though Kamenev disputes this.  Regardless, reserves had to be divided between the defense of both Moscow and Petrograd.

Unfortunately for the Whites, however, their efforts on other fronts were not going as well as they were for Denikin and Yudenich.  The Allies had pulled out of northern Russia entirely, their last forces leaving Murmansk on October 12.  While the Whites remained in control there, they no longer posed any threat to Petrograd from the north, having long since pulled back from Lake Onega.  The Finns adamantly refused to help Yudenich or the Whites in Northern Russia, and the Poles and Lithuanians were preoccupied with each other.  In Siberia, Kolchak’s forces had long since lost all their gains from the spring, and an offensive toward the Tobol in September gained some ground but failed to make any dent in the Reds’ numerical superiority.  Denikin’s capture of Orel and Yudenich’s march on Petrograd were to prove the high water mark of the White offensives in 1919.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War

Yudenich (center-left) and his staff.

October 10 1919, Kingisepp–Yudenich’s White Army had built up its strength since the spring, and launched a second, more serious offensive against Petrograd on October 10.  The Reds, more concerned with Denikin’s offensives in the south, which by mid-October were approaching Orel, were taken by surprised, and Yudenich’s forces made considerable gains, and reached Tsarskoe Selo, on the southern outskirts of Petrograd, by the 20th.  However, Yudenich’s force had considerable weaknesses.  It only numbered around 18,000 men, with little artillery support, and was marching on a city that was largely opposed to its aims.  Though caught off guard, the Reds in the area still outnumbered the Whites considerably.  As time passed, the Red numbers only increased; the Whites failed to secure the railway line running to Moscow, allowing Trotsky to bolster Red defenses to at least 73,000 men by the end of the month.

Yudenich also had little support from anyone else.  The Royal Navy lent what help it could in the Gulf of Finland, and the British provided six tanks (as they had at Tsaritsyn), but little else; Lloyd George’s appetite for continued British involvement in Russia had run out.  The Estonians helped some along the coast, but were again unable to secure the Krasnaya Gorka fortress.  Yudenich had hoped for Finnish support, and Mannerheim was in favor of lending it, but the Finnish government believed (with reason) that a White victory would pose more of a threat to their independence than a Red one; Kolchak, nominally in charge of all White forces, had pointedly refused to recognize Finnish independence.

The Reds counterattacked on October 21, and by mid-November Yudenich had been driven back to the Estonian border.  But the attack had succeeded at drawing Red forces away from Moscow at a critical time.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Prit Buttar, The Splintered Empires.

White forces entering Kiev in late August 1919.

August 23 1919, Odessa–Although Denikin had, in his “Moscow Directive,” attempted to limit his forces’ advance to the East of the Dnepr, they were still drawn across it anyway.  On August 23, the White forces, supported by what remained of the Black Sea Fleet, landed and took Odessa (which had been in Red hands less than five months and had already alienated its population to the point of revolt).  Around the same time, the whites took Kiev as well.  These came despite orders from the Politburo to Trotsky to hold them “to the last drop of blood” as “the fate of the entire revolution is in question.”  Ultimately, Red forces west of the Dnepr, now penned between the Whites and the threat of a Romanian advance (now that Hungary was out of the way), did their best to extricate themselves from the Ukraine.  The operations spread the White front considerably further west than anticipated, but White forces in the Ukraine still numbered no more than 10-15,000 men.  The bulk of Denikin’s forces were further east, closer to the Volga, attempting to fight off a Red counteroffensive which had already gained around 100 miles, though on narrow fronts.

Sources include: Evan Mawsdley, The Russian Civil War.

July 22 1919, Ashgabat–The British, in little mood for continued involvement in Russia, pulled their troops out of modern-day Turkmenistan by April 1.  They left behind a large quantity of supplies for the Ashgabat government, but sent no further.  A small mission remained across the Persian border in Mashhad to guard against the Bolsheviks and Afghanistan.  The Red forces in Tashkent were still cut off from Red power in Moscow; despite the defeat of Kolchak’s offensive, his allies in the Orenburg Cossacks still controlled the Trans-Aral railway connecting Tashkent to the rest of Russia.  Nevertheless, they were still able to make significant progress against the forces loyal to the Ashgabat government, taking Ashgabat itself on July 22.  The Ashgabat government had fled to Krasnovodsk on the Caspian; its forces withdrew to Serdar.  In the fall, after the Reds secured control of the Trans-Aral, they were forced back further.

Sources include: C.H. Ellis, The Transcaspian Episode; Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War.

July 3 1919, Tsaritsyn [Volgograd]–Denikin’s armies had had great success in the last month, taking Kharkov, Tsaritsyn, and on July 3rd reaching the Dnepr.  On the same day, Denikin, from newly-captured Tsaritsyn, issued what would become known as the “Moscow Directive” to his generals–nothing less than a drive along the railway lines towards Moscow, in an attempt to end Bolshevik rule once and for all.  Wrangel would advance up the Volga towards Saratov, Penza, and Nizhny Novgorod; the center forces would move north via Voronezh, while the army that had just taken Kharkov would head towards Kursk.

This was a massively ambitious scheme; the maps he sent to his commanders discussing the plan had to be on the smallest scale possible, as they encompassed most of European Russia.  In practice, it would be difficult to follow the directive as planned; in an effort to guard their flanks and secure more territory, White forces would soon cross the Dnepr into the western Ukraine.  Supply would also grow more difficult the further they advanced.  Wrangel pointed this out, advocating for a more limited advance in the Volga; Denikin would respond: “I see you want to be the first man to set foot in Moscow!”

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

A White armored train on the way to Tsaritsyn in June 1919.

June 30 1919, Tsaritsyn [Volgograd]–Denikin’s Volunteer Army had been concentrating on defeating Red forces in the Donbass in the spring; this allowed him to secure his base of operations and recruit a sizable force of Cossacks that had decidedly turned against the Reds due to the genocidal “decossackization” efforts of the Red Terror.  In June, Denikin was able to push out of the Donbass; on June 26, his forces took Kharkov from Makhno’s Black Army of anarchists (who had temporarily allied themselves with the Reds).  Meanwhile, forces under Wrangel pushed north towards Tsaritsyn on the Volga.  An attempt in mid-June to take the city with cavalry alone was beaten off, but his forces were able to seize and repair the railway line linking Tsaritsyn to the Kuban, allowing to bring up reinforcements and heavy equipment.

The reinforcements included six British tanks, which proved highly effective at scaring off the Red defenders and letting the Whites break into Tsaritsyn’s outer defenses.  For the final push on the city on June 30, however, the Whites had essentially run out of petrol for the tanks, and was only able to scrounge up enough for a single tank.  This proved enough, however, and the single tank, under the command of a British officer, led the White forces into the city.  Forty thousand Reds were taken prisoner, along with huge stores of materiel.

The capture of Tsaritsyn did come far later than many Whites would have liked, however.  The Don Cossacks had attempted to take the city in 1918, but were repulsed by Red forces under Stalin (an action memorialized under Stalin’s regime by renaming the city to Stalingrad).  In 1919, Wrangel had strongly urged an offensive towards Tsaritsyn in the spring, hoping to link up with Kolchak’s Ufa offensive; by the end of June, Kolchak’s forces had already been thrown back across the Urals.

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

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Members of the 31st Infantry regiment (one platoon of which was at Romanovka) hiking near Vladivostok on April 27.

June 25 1919, Romanovka–Although the war in Europe had been over for months, and the signing of the final treaty with Germany was days away, Allied soldiers were still fighting and dying in Russia.  In the early morning of June 25, an encampment of an American platoons at Romanovka, about 30 miles east of Vladivostok, was attacked by Bolshevik and partisan forces.  The Americans had not anticipated a threat, and believed themselves on good terms with the local Russians, and had only had one sentry posted that night.  Distracted by preparations for reveille, he had not seen the Russians approach.  They opened fire on the American tents and inflicting heavy casualties.  The Americans were eventually able to find cover, return fire, and drive the Russians off.  

In response, over the next few weeks, the Americans moved back in to the Suchan Valley to the east, critical for its coal mines supplying the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  The 24 Americans killed at Romanovka, most in the first few minutes of the attack, were a large proportion of the American combat deaths during the United States’ intervention in Siberia.

Sources include: Gary Mead, The Doughboys.

May 23 1919, Paris–The Allies had largely given up on reaching out to the Red government in Moscow; their last half-hearted attempted, an offer of food aid via Norwegian intermediaries, was sternly rebuffed in mid-May.  On May 23, they decided instead to provide provisional recognition to Kolchak’s government in Omsk.  The Allies did specify that this was conditional on Kolchak establishing some form of democratic government, despite his earlier dismissal of what remained of the Constituent Assembly; Kolchak would pay some lip service to these requests, but did little to act on them.

Churchill would write that “the moment chosen was almost exactly the moment when that declaration was almost certainly too late.”  Kolchak’s Ufa offensive had ground to a halt in muddy conditions in April, and Red forces under Mikhail Frunze had launched a counterattack on April 28.  By the time the Allies decided to recognize Kolchak’s government, his forces had almost been pushed back to Ufa.  The Allies could do little to aid him directly (the only link to the outside world being via Vladivostok), and in fact their recognition of Kolchak likely harmed the more successful White efforts on other fronts, by tying them explicitly to Kolchak’s reactionary, Russian nationalist policies.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919; Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War.

Baltic German forces on a bridge over the Daugava in Riga.

May 22 1919, Riga–Rüdiger von der Goltz had set up his own puppet government in western Latvia in April, and it remained in power despite Allied objections.  In May, he decided he was ready to take the rest of Latvia from the Reds, who had held Riga since the start of the year.  He received some encouragement from the government in Berlin; Foreign Minister Brockdorff-Rantzau hoped that victories over the Reds would prove useful in convincing the Allies that a crippled Germany would not be in their best interests.  Officially, the offensive was to be a Latvian one; however, most of the troops involved were Baltic Germans or Freikorps units from Germany, and Latvian-speaking forces would only play a subsidiary role.

The Germans attacked at dawn on May 22, taking the Reds by surprise.  By noon, they had reached the Daugava, and in the afternoon they crossed the river with four machine guns and took Riga.  Five months of Red rule had not been kind to the city, and even the Germans were welcome amid food shortages and political terror.  Of course, the Germans then proceeded to carry out a white terror of their own, shooting many suspected Bolsheviks in the coming days.

Red forces put up stiffer resistance south of the city, backed by an armored train, but they too were forced to retreat beyond the Daugava by the end of the day.

Sources include: Prit Buttar, The Splintered Empires.

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