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Russian Civil War

As is known, in 1918 the Civil War began in Russia, which lasted for almost four years. This war is strikingly different from the just-concluded World War, not only in scale. It was different in strategy and tactics of the troops. Most of the military theorists of that time agreed that the Civil War in Russia was a vivid example of a maneuvering war without stable, pronounced echelon defensive lines, similar to those built in the period 1914-1918.

It was the Civil War, where the battles were fought mainly along major highways, became a real forge of armored vehicles and armored trains. Here units of armored vehicles and cavalry units successfully showed themselves. It is quite clear that such a nature of war demanded a general increase in the mobility of all troops, and first of all artillery.

At the beginning of November 1917, the Bolsheviks, being sure of a majority in the All-Russian Soviet Congress, decided to overthrow the bourgeois democratic government of Kerensky, at the moment of the opening of that congress. On 01 November 1917 the revolt put into effect by the Red garrison of Petrograd is successful and all authority passes into the hands of the Military Revolutionary Committee which is to hand over the power to the Government of the Soviet of Workers, Peasants and Soldiers, as soon as it was created. Kerensky after fleeing from Petrograd, attempts a counter-attack with a few Cossack regiments under the command of General Krassnov and was beaten back by the Petrograd armed workers. Simultaneously an anti-Bolhevist revolt of the military cadets broke out in Moscow and was suppressed after violent fighting.

By the middle of November 1917 civil war had started on the border regions of Russia. Don Cossacks under Kaledin, Ural Cossacks under Dutov, Ukrainian nationalists under Petlura and Vinnichenko, Monarchists under Semionov in Eastern Siberia, started a struggle on various fronts. By January 1918 nearly all of these attacks were repulsed. In December 1917 peace negotiations with the Central Powers began at Brest-Litovsk. The Constituent Assembly convened in January 1918 and was immediately dissolved after refusing to ratify the agrarian law and to recognize the Soviet Government.

Vladimir Vasilievich Kolchak (1875-1920) was an admiral in the Russian Navy. After the 1905 Russo-Japanese War Kolchak took a leading part in the campaign for the reorganization of the Russian Naval Department and the reconstruction of the Russian fleet. In the summer of 1916 he was appointed commander of the Black Sea Fleet, with the rank of rear-admiral. His activities in this command were most valuable. Even after the revolution the Black Sea Fleet remained for some time the only part of the Russian military force where order and discipline were maintained. Kolchak took an active part in the fighting against the Bolshevists in Siberia. On Nov. 18 1917, by a decision of the Russian Government at Omsk, Adml. Kolchak elected to assume the supreme power instead of the Directorate, which was abolished. He became virtually dictator of Russia. The Council of Ministers remained unchanged under the leadership of Vologodsky. Kolchak assumed the title of Supreme Ruler of Russia. On Jan. 20 1918, at the first meeting of the revived Russian Senate, whose sitting at Pctrograd had been suspended by the Bolshevists. Kolchak solemnly took the oath to obey the laws and to fulfil faithfully his trust as Supreme Ruler.

Kolchak was recognized as Supreme Ruler of Russia by the anti-Bolshevist army of Gen. Dcnikin in the south of Russia, by the Archangel Government, and, later, by the leader of the N.W. Russian army, Gen. Yudenich. The success of the Siberian offensive in the first half of lorg had as a result the conditional recognition of Kolchak's Government by the Supreme Council in Paris, June 1010, as the de facto Government in Russia. In his declaration to the Allied Powers Kolchak recognized the Russian foreign debts, but refused to recognize the Independence of Finland and of the Baltic States.

In February 1918 there was a break in the peace negotiations. The Germans advanced eastward, took Dvinsk, Pskov and menaced Petrograd. Soldiers of the old Russian army retreated without fighting. A Decree was issued on the organization of the Red Army. On 03 March 1918 the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty was signed. Poland, Latvia, Esthonia, Finland, Ukraine were occupied by the Germans. In Georgia and Baku the Mensheviks tooke charge of affairs with the help of the British.

May 1918 saw the beginning of the uprising of the Czechoslovak prisoners of war, abetted by Czecho-Slovak politicians and the French General Staff. All counter-revolutionary elements joined them under the banner of the dissolved Constituent Assembly. They tooke many cities and on July 28 occuppied Kasan on the Volga where they captured an important part of the Russian gold reserve and large ammunition stores. A few weeks later Anglo-American detachments landed in the North on the Murmansk coast on the White Sea. A revolt started at Yaroslav (Norhern Russia) organized by Savinkov, former Social Revolutionist, former Minister of War under Kerensky, agent of the General Staff of the Entente. The revolt was crushed by Red Guards, though the city was greatly damaged.

In July 1918 the "Social Revolutionists of the Left" (former associates of the Bolsheviks, who had withdrawn from the Government on account of the Brest-Litovsk peace) killed the German ambassador Mirbach and organized an unsuccessful insurrection in Moscow in order to take over the government and to renew the war against the Germans. At the end of August Uritsky, Chairman of the Petrograd Extraordinary Commission ("Cheka"), was assassinated, and an attempt made on the life of Lenin. This prompted the beginning of mass repressions against the counterrevolutionists. At the same time America and Japan started their intervention in Siberia.

In the late summer and autumn of 1918 the reorganized Red Army, composed mostly of Petrograd and Moscow workers, repulsed the Czecho-Slovaks and Cossacks. Toward the end of November 1918, after the German revolution, the German troops evacuated Russian territory. Esthonia, Latvia, White Russia and Ukrainia were occupied by the Red Army. At the same time, in Siberia the Russian-British Admiral Kolchak dispersed the remnants of the Constituent Assembly that had gathered at Ufa (in the Ural Region), arrested and executed some of its members and proclaimed himself Supreme Ruler of Russia. With the help of Britain, France, America and Japan he organized a White army out of forcibly drafted Siberian peasants and prepares a big spring (1919) offensive towards Moscow.

The Russian army of Kolchak was at the same period estimated at about 150,000 men; this number increased considerably later, but the greater part of this army was composed of raw recruits. When Kolchak assumed the supreme power, the Ural front was held by the Czechoslovaks, but a few weeks later they were relieved by the new Russian army, in the organization of which Kolchak took a leading part as War Minister of the late Government. An offensive was ordered in the middle of December 1918 and proved a considerable success. In the beginning of 1919 British and American troops occupied Archangelsk and proceeded southward along the railroad lines and the Dvina river. Letts, Esthonians and Poles, supplied by the French and British, advanced from the West and took Riga, Narva, Pinsk, Baranovichi and Wilno. The Spring of 1919 saw the calling of the Prinkipo Conference to which Soviet Russia was invited. The first reports of the success of Kolchak, who in March 1919 started a big advance towards the Volga, caused the Allies to abandon the project of the conference.

Anton Denikin was of humble descent and held democratic views. After going through the usual military training and service he joined the Russian general staff, and in the earlier period of the World War he rose to the rank of lieutenant-general and to the command of a division on the Danube front. During the Russian revolution he followed Kornilov, and was for some time chief of his staff. On Kornilov's death (March 31 1918) he became the military commander of the army, while Gen. Alexeyev held power as "Supreme Leader" of the Government and organized recruiting and supplies. They collected the army on the southern border of the Don region. The Kuban Cossacks had had time to ascertain the true character of Bolshevik occupation, and the volunteers moved down the Rostov-Vladikavkaz line and the Black Sea line from Tikhoryetzkaya to Novorossisk. The Reds, in spite of their numerical superiority, melted before this advance and one stanilsa (camp settlement) after the other joined the invaders.

During May 1919 Denikin starting from Kuban in the South (north of Caucasus) supplanted Krassnov and organized a big Cossack and "Volunteer" army of former officers and forcibly drafted peasants and advances towards the North, endeavoring to effect a junction with Kolchak to the East and the Poles on the West. General Yudenich with Balakhovich and Krassnov organize the "North-Western Russian Government" in Esthonia, for an attack against Petrograd. Denikin advanced rapidly northward. His cavalry under General Mamontov devastated all of Central Russia and approches Tula, the main industrial center for arms and ammunitions in Russia, less than 150 miles from Moscow.

The Moscow Government sent new troops to the eastern front and launched an attack in the direction of Ufa. In the beginning the Siberian army defended the line gallantly. But on 25 April 1919 Kolchak met with his first great defeat, in the battle at Buguruslan in the lower Volga region. After a few weeks of constant fighting Kolchak's troops were obliged to retire, and Ufa was captured by the Reds on June 9. The success of the Bolshevists grew rapidly. This disastrous retreat could not remain without influence on the Russian policy of the Allies. On Sept. 15 the Supreme Council in Faris unanimously agreed to follow the British policy of evacuation from Russia and expressed itself as absolutely opposed to any " Russian adventures." The news from abroad certainly did not strengthen the resistance of the Russian army. A rebellion against Kolchak's Government took place in Vladivostok, ands similar riots on a smaller scale were reported from Irkutsk and olhcr places. Under the pressure of the growing hostility of the population Kolchak made a last attempt to reorganize the Government. The Reds took Novo-Nicholaievsk on Dec. 14, and were moving towards Irkutsk without meeting any resistance as the Siberian army was practically dissolved at that time. On 04 January 1920 Kolchak signed an ukaz transferring his power to Gen. Denikin and the supreme military authority in Siberia to Gen. Semenov. At the same time he asked for the protection of the Allies and this was promised to him. But when Kolchak, under the guard of Czechoslovaks, was passing through Irkutsk in his train, which was also loaded with a considerable part of the 65,000,000 gold reserve, the new Irkutsk Government demanded his surrender, threatening in the case of non-acceptance to resist the free passage of the Allied Missions. Gen. Janin ordered the surrender of Kolchak and Pepeliaev. They were kept prisoners for some time at NijniUdinsk, and were shot by the Bolshevists on Feb. 6 1920.

Budenny organized the Red Cavalry, and in October 1919 Buddeny destroyed Mamontov's mounted troops, forcing Denikin to retreat on the whole line. In the beginning of 1920 Denikin resigned and relinquished the command to Wrangel, who concentrated in the Crimea under the protection of the Entente fleet. In July 1920 Russian White soldiers on Archangelsk front mutinied and joined the Red Army. In September 1920 the British decided to withdraw, owing to complete defeat of Kolchak.

On 01 November 1920 Yudenich, who was already approaching Petrograd, was crushed decisively by the Petrograd armed workers and retreated to Esthonia where the remainder of his troops was disarmed on demand of the Soviet Government. Availing itself of the breathing space afforded by the crushing of Denikin and Kolchak, the Soviet Government undertook the organization of Labor Armies which were to help in the industrial and agricultural reconstruction of Russia.

In the Spring of 1920 the Poles undertook a great offensive against the Ukraine and Western Russia (called "White Russia") with the intention of creating a "Greater Poland" from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The Russian counter-offensive repulsed the Poles to the very walls of Warsaw, but was stopped in August by the reinforcements received by the Polish army under the command of French officers. Part of the Russian Red Army was compelled to cross over to German territory and the entire Russian army was driven back approximately to what eventually became the Polish-Russian frontier.

Peter Nicholaievich Baron Wrangel, the Russian general, was born in Petrograd in 1879, the eldest son of an impoverished Baltic nobleman of Swedish descent. At the beginning of the World War he was in command of a squadron, but was soon promoted colonel, received the St. George Cross and was made A.D.C. to the Tsar. In 1915 he was appointed commander of a Cossack regiment at the Galician front. Later he rose to the command of a Cossack division. Wrangel was among the first officers who joined Gen. Kaledin in his fight against the Bolsheviks, and after JCaledin's suicide he took part in the organization and struggle of the volunteer army under Alexcyev and Dcnikin, and distinguished himself especially by the defence of Tsaritsyn.

After the disastrous retreat of Gen. Denikin, from Orel to the Black Sea, Wrangel was appointed on April 4. 1920 commander of the volunteer army. Men and officers of the army were demoralized, and the lack of munitions and food supplies made the situation almost desperate. Fortunately for Wrangel, the Bolsheviks considered the volunteer army to be out of action, and they had to send a large part of their forces against the Poles who were approaching Kiev. This made it possible for Wrangel to attempt the reconstruction of the southern army; and for some time his attempt was successful. His nomination to the post of commander-in-chief corresponded with the attempt of Mr. Lloyd George to induce the volunteer army to begin peace negotiations with Soviet Russia. In a note to this effect the volunteers were warned that, in case of refusal, they would be deprived of all British support; this note was handed to Gen. Dcnikin on April 4, and seems to have been one of the chief causes of his resignation. Replying to this proposition Wrangel refused to enter into direct negotiations with the Bolsheviks, and asked the Allies to guarantee the life and safety of his troops and of the refugees under his protection.

His relations with the Caucasus, Ukraine, Poland and oihcr territories, which had been parts of the Russian Empire before the revolution, were of vital importance for the success of the undertaking. The principle of federation was proclaimed and resulted in the agreement of July 22 (Aug. 4) between Wrangel on the one side and the Atamans of Don, Kuban, Terclc and Astrakhan on the other. Complete self-government was granted to the Cossacks in their internal organization and administration, but the direction of foreign relations and of military affairs was reserved for the Commandcr-in-Chief. A delegation of the Paris Ukrainian National Committee was received by Wrangel at Sevastopol on Sept. 23, and established cooperation of the non-separatist Ukrainians with Wrangel. Wrangel was also recognized as the supreme chief of the anti-Bolshevik movement by the leader of the Siberian Cossacks. Ataman Semenoff and the chiefs of different independent guerilla units acting in the south of Russia, the best known of whom is Makhno. Wrangel successfully repulsed all Bolshevik attacks until the end of October 1920, and even found it possible to extend the area of his occupation.

But these successes were only of a short duration. While the Polish war was on, the White General Wrangel began to advance from the Crimea over South Russia. To finish once for all with Wrangel, the Red Army concluded an armistice with Poland on October 19, 1920. Peace with Poland had freed considerable Bolshevik forces, which were transferred to the southern front against Wrangel.

The White army numbering 45,000 trained soldiers was unable to defend a front of 400 km. against the overwhelming number of Bolsheviks, well provided with heavy artillery and unlimited munitions. On Nov. 15 Sevastopol was occupied by the Bolsheviks. The evacuation of the army and of thousands of refugees was carried out in good order under the personal supervision of Wrangel, who was the last to leave. A total of 130,000 people were evacuated, of whom 70,000 were soldiers. The refugees were sent to Lcmnos, to Egypt and to Yugoslavia. Wrangel hoped that the evacuation would enable him to keep his army together as a fighting unit to be used at the first opportunity against the Bolsheviks. The excellent discipline and gallantry of the troops and their devotion to their chief favoured such a plan; but it could not be effected without the support of the Allies, and this resource proved to be exhausted.

Major military operations ended on 25 October 1922.

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Page last modified: 05-04-2019 18:53:31 ZULU