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First Cavalry Army

Ever since the exploits of General Denekin's cavalry, the Bolsheviks laid great stress on the employment of that arm. It was mainly through the instrumentality of large cavalry units formed by the Bolsheviks during the summer of 1919 that Denekin was later defeated. This success of the Bolsheviks resulted in the strengthening of the cavalry, which contributed to the success of the operations against the Poles during the summer of 1919. The Bolsheviks used extensively large mounted formations - Budenny's cavalry army in the south and the Hid cavalry corps in the northern sector of the Polish front. Budenny's cavalry was largely responsible also for Wrangel's defeat.

Semyon Mikhailovich Budenny [aka Budyonny, Budennii, Budyoni, Budyenny, etc, ] was said to be a large man, of good appearance, about thirty-five years old. He has little education. He rarely rides horseback, but moves by carriage. He was a non-commissioned officer of, cavalry in the old Russian Army. Officers who knew him then say that he did not appear particularly able. Whether or not he has real military ability is questioned. It is often said that his Chief of Operations, Zotoff, is the man who really forms the military plans. But Budenny is without doubt a man of great determination and strength of will. His Chief of Staff and a large part of the staff usually remain well in the rear. Zotoff is in charge of the advance section of the staff, which remains with Budenny.

As in all Bolshevik units, there are commissaires attached to Budenny to watch him. No orders are valid without their approval. Most of the officers were in the old Russian Army. They were brought into the Bolshevik Army by different circumstances. A few joined because they are convinced Bolsheviks ; many because it is easier to be an officer in the Bolshevik Army than to make a living otherwise; others were conscripted. Some entered from pure love of adventure and plunder.

The troops consist of Cossacks and non-Cossacks. The Cossacks serve the Soviet Government because it temporarily replaces the old Czar Government which they formerly served. They are, in general, anti-Bolshevik in sentiment. Whole units have deserted to the Poles. The non-Cossacks are mostly conscripted peasants or those who have volunteered for the good food and plunder or for the love of adventure. In the army, there are a certain number of real Communists.

Budenny's force was named the First Cavalry Army. It consisted of the 4th, 6th, 11th, and 14th Cavalry divisions. A division had two or three brigades, each of two regiments, and one battalion of artillery. The regiments had four squadrons of 70 to 100 combatants. Headquarters had a special guard of 500 picked men. Budenny's force may have had 12,000 or more cavalrymen, in addition to the men in the trains and auxiliary forces. The armament was most varied. Most of the troopers carried a short carbine. Many of them carried the saber of curved, cutting model. None were armed with lances at the beginning, but later carried captured ones. Each squadron had two or three machine-guns. These were usually mounted on the back seat of a carriage, a Victoria, or similar springed vehicle, from which they were fired to the rear. During the summer, when the grain crops of the Ukraine were very high, these machine-guns were able to fire over1 the top of the grain. Small-arms ammunition seemed to be supplied in plenty, and an enormous amount was expended, mostly in pure waste. The horses were only fair, being mostly small peasant horses.

The artillery, consisting principally of three-inch guns, was drawn by oxen when not in the presence of the enemy. The men were usually mounted. The guns were fairly well handled, but the shells rarely exploded. There was generally a shortage of artillery ammunition. A number of armored cars were used early in the operations. These seem to have disappeared in the course of the campaign. Four armored trains were assigned to the Cavalry Army. They were of doubtful value, as the cavalry usually operated too far from the railway. Each cavalry division and army headquarters had a radio station.

The Cavalry Army was moved from the Caucasus to the Polish front by marching. It required two months to make the march. The divisions marched separately, in general over the same road, following each other at distances of two days. The daily marches were from 30 to 35 kilometers. Every fourth day was normally a day of rest. There were also three rests of three days each during the entire march. There was no organized supply system and the troops lived by "requisition" (so called) and pillaging.

Budenny invariably tried encircling movements in order to reach the rear of his opponent without fighting. If he ran into opposition, he did not persist, but tried elsewhere. A second or third failure did not discourage him. With great determination he kept on trying. Having four divisions at his disposal, he could feel the line at different points with part of his force, while the remainder was in the reserve, ready to exploit a success. The Poles, having repulsed him at many points, would congratulate themselves on their success, when Budenny, having found the unguarded point, would pass through and suddenly appear in the rear. Confusion and retreat resulted for the Poles, usually almost without a battle. In this method of handling cavalry, Budenny may be regarded as almost a model to be followed.

Budenny's favorite formation for attack seems to have been one in which the attacking unit was formed in successive lines of foragers, with intervals of about 10 paces, on an extensive front, giving the impression to those attacked that the whole terrain was filled with advancing cavalrymen. In the rear of these successive lines of foragers would be machine-guns drawn by one- or twohorse teams. These were only used after the cavalry had wheeled to one or both flanks. Budenny's divisions usually operated at some distance from each other, with much independence of action. There is no instance of the whole force being engaged at one time under his immediate command, though each division appears to have been always well under his general direction.

The individual use of arms was poor. The saber was rarely used, except to torture or kill.the wounded. The method of handling machine-guns, while as a novelty it had a great advantage against the enemy whose morale was shaken, would have been useless against good troops. After the Polish morale had been restored, the large target offered by the enemy's machine-guns frequently resulted in their elimination, either by direct fire of artillery, by hidden machineguns, or often by a bold mounted charge. There were, however, numerous examples of excellent and effective work of machine-guns, especially in covering a withdrawal. The carbine was used but little dismounted. The Bolshevik cavalry usually fired from horseback-mostly in the air. While at times this had a great moral effect on retreating and demoralized troops, it did not pay for the expenditure of ammunition. The trooper was rarely dismounted to fire. There is no authentic example of a properly carried out dismounted action.

When the enemy was met the foragers did not charge. They usually fired from horseback, remaining at a safe distance. If the enemy attacked or his fire was serious, the foragers withdrew behind the machine-guns. The mounted charge occurred very rarely and was never pushed home. On one typical occasion a large force, a division, emerged from a wood in a comparatively compact mass, vaguely resembling a line of platoon columns, and advanced at a slow gallop toward a much smaller force of Polish cavalry which was assembled in close order in the open. The Bolsheviks, yelling and firing in the air, stopped at some distance from the Poles. When the latter appeared about to charge, the whole mass of Bolsheviks turned and fled.

On reconnaissance and the service of information in the field, Budenny's cavalry was fairly good, especially his Cossacks. Their patrols covered the country well. They fully understood the principle that the duty of a patrol is to see and not to be seen; to reconnoiter and report, and not to fight. In the use of the terrain and the taking of shelter, the Bolshevik cavalry was excellent-in marked contrast to the Poles. Service of security hardly existed. Both sides relied on the other's not attacking during certain hours of the day and night. Frequently troops were surprised in their billets.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:47:07 ZULU