Plans of action of the Whites and changes thereof in each theater of operations in 1919 in view of the changes in the political and strategical conditions involved. Evaluation of the same. Plan of operations of the commander-in-chief, Vatzetis, of October 7, 1918, and his immediate missions on each of the fronts. Defeat on the Don army on the South front at the close of 1918. Plan of further action of the Red high command. Beginning of the fighting in the Donets Basin; significance of the same. Strength of the opposing forces. Situation of the North Caucasus front at the close of 1918. Objectives of both sides. Fighting in North Caucasus early in 1919; results thereof. Formation of the Ukrainian front; intervention in the South. First successes of the Red forces in the Role and action of the naval fleets on both sides in the Caspian and Black Seas. (Sketch 3. - original text).
The advent of the second year of the civil war was marked by an unsteady equilibrium on all fronts, of both sides. This, however, was one of the positive results of the Soviet strategy, inasmuch as the first year of the civil far had been conducted by it while the troops were being organized and accumulated, which constituted one of the main difficulties of its situation. Soviet strategy led it out of its difficult situation and even enabled to gain some partial victories on certain fronts, though it was unable to at once perform all missions involved in the execution of its policies. The conclusion of these had thus to be transferred to the second year of the civil war. In turn, the enemy during this year endeavored to gain those ultimate objectives which had confronted him as a result of the World War and internal counter-revolution. Consequently, it was natural that the phase of the high commands of both sides for 1919 were to be offensive in nature, while the campaign itself was to be conducted intensively with a view to gaining the initiative.
As already pointed out, the unified command of all military forces of the counter-revolutionaries brought about in the early part of 1919 by Admiral Kolchak had been such in form only, whereas in reality, the more powerful White groups (Kolchak's Siberian forces and the "Armed forces of South Russia") each carried out its own plans of action, and the matter of unifying these operations did not go beyond discussions of the same. This imposes upon us the responsibility of examining the plans of action of these two groups -- each one separately.
The non-successes in the Samara-Ufa area which followed the recapture by the Red forces of Kazan, and the collapse of the Peoples Army, along with the departure of the Czecho-Slovak forces did not cause the "Siberian ruler" to abandon his plans for an offensive. The plan involved contemplated the making of a main effort in the Perm-Vyatka area (in the hopes of establishing contact with the Allied North Front) and the launching of active operations against Krasno-Ufimsk-Sarapul, Kazan-Arzamas-Murom-Moscow, and Zlatoust - Ufa - Middle Volga - Penza - Moscow. The time was even set for the occupation of Moscow, which had been designated for July, 1919, provided the offensive got under way in the first part of March.
The events in the autumn campaign of 1918 on the Volga should have indicated to Admiral Kolchak that this plan lacked soundness either politically or materially. The collapse of the "Peoples Army" should have convinced him of the true attitude of the wide masses of the population toward his armies and their goals. The departure of the Czecho-Slovak troops deprived him of his strongest forces. Finally, the concentration of considerable forces in the Perm-Vyatka area, after the secondary importance of the North front had become apparent to both sides (as well as the passive nature of the same), was not justified by the strategical situation. Under the circumstances, the only thing upon which the Siberian White command could have counted was temporary success in one of the selected strategic areas, but this success would have had to be bought at the price of a complete strategic exhaustion, inasmuch as the execution of the plan by Admiral Kolchak would have required the introduction of the last available forces that had as yet not completed their organization and which were contemplated as a strategic reserve. The subsequent events fully demonstrated all these deficiencies of the plan of campaign of the Siberian White high command.
General Denikin, assuming command on January 10, 1919, over all "Armed forces of South Russia" formulated his plan of operations for 1919 by placing exaggerated hopes on Allied intervention in south Russia, basing his calculations on the strength of forces that were originally intended for the purpose (in excess of 12 infantry divisions). Hence his plan was even more pretentious in its implications than that of Admiral Kolchak, while his ultimate objective was also the capture of Moscow with a simultaneous attack on Petrograd and along the right bank of the Volga.
The immediate missions before General Denikin were:
(1) To prevent the enemy from occupying the Ukraine and Western governments;
(2) To completely clear the Northern Caucasus of the Bolsheviks.*
* The Russian Turmoil, Vol. IV, pp. 38 and 39, by General A. I. Denikin (Russian Text).
The execution of this plan involved the scattering of the White forces of south Russia over an extensive area extending from the Volga to the Dniester, where they were bound to become dispersed in these vast areas. And this was actually the case. The forces of the interventionists offered little assistance to Denikin for the reason that they were themselves short of men, and conditions in their home countries were in a state of disintegration. Like the Kolchak plan, this plan too was politically impossible of realization. With every step taken further into Soviet territory, separating them from the Cossack districts, the "Armed forces of South Russia" became ever more unacceptable to the wide masses of the country, and these forces could thus not count on added strength to be derived from among these.
On October 7, 1918, the Red high command, represented by Comrade Vatzetis, formulated its plan of operations for 1919 on all fronts. The plan involved was based on the following considerations. Of the more important hostile forces were those of the Siberian counter-revolutionaries and of South Russia. These hostile forces in the east were cutting off the Soviets from the sources of provisions, fuel and raw materials for Soviet industry. Taking into consideration the existing economic conditions, the foreign political situation and the hostile forces involved, primary importance in the impending campaign was attached to the South front. The political situation had made it necessary that the missions on the South front be so formulated as to drive a wedge into it between the departing German militarism and the approaching Anglo-French imperialism and to establish a foothold and consolidate the Soviet government thereat, which included also the Don, Caucasus and the Ukraine. Based on the above general considerations, the Soviet high command assumed the following missions in the various theaters of operation of the civil war:
(1) On the North Front - a tenacious defense.
(2) On the East Front - consolidation of positions on the line of the Middle Volga and the liquidation of the Izhevsk - Vyatka uprising, and also the establishment of contact with the Turkestan army. And ultimately, an advance on Siberia.
(3) On the South Front - liquidation of the Don Cossack army, with the aid of all possible available forces there, with a view to establishing the power of the Sovietized Cossacks, on the completion of which the forces to be relieved here were to be transferred either to the North Caucasus or to the East front with a view to crushing the White armies operating there.
(4) The planned West Front was originally to assume passive missions. This provided also for possible yielding defensive undertakings with a view to gaining time, though the foreign political situation, at least in the first half of 1919, did not give much promise in this connection.
(5) Finally, in the event of necessity, and if the opportunity presented itself, the occupation of the western portion of the Ukraine after the withdrawal of the Germans, and the organization in the Kaluga - Smolensk - Bryansk area of a "reserve army" of about three divisions.
Thus, the strategy to be employed by the Soviets was to be active both in the east and south, which involved the employment of the available forces on widely separated and extended operations. The secondary importance attached to the North front was quite proper, though the role and importance of the West and Ukrainian fronts had not been presented in their proper light, which became apparent about a month later. The active measures adopted for these fronts, in view of the political situation thereat, had brought about the expenditure of unexpectedly large forces, which served to restrict our undertakings at the time and thus resulted in a long and intensified struggle on all fronts during the 1919 campaign.
V. I. Lenin attached much importance to the speediest possible decisive liquidation of Krasnov's forces (Don front). As far back as the 3rd of January, 1919, he telegraphed Trotsky: "I am very much disturbed concerning the fact of whether or not you have become involved in the Ukraine to the detriment of the general strategical mission which Vatzetis is insisting upon, which consists of a speedy, decisive general offensive against Krasnov; I am most apprehensive lest we be late in effecting this."*** Lenin suggested greater efforts toward "hastening a general attack against Krasnov and bringing about an end to the latter." But, as we shall see later, the offensive against Krasnov was protracted; the action of out forces on this front is characterized by uncoordinated, scattered efforts. Lenin more than once called the attention (in April, for example) of the commander-in-chief to this factual underestimation of the importance of a timely and swift liquidation of Krasnov's forces. The penetrating strategic genius of Lenin recognized the full importance of the Don front and foresaw those difficulties which would confront the Red army and Soviet strategy, and which actually resulted because of the failure to liquidate Krasnov's forces in time (action of General Denikin).
We have interrupted our study of events on the South front in the course of the intensive action on both sides for the possession of the Povorino - Novokhopersk - Bobrov - Liski railway line, extending north of the administrative borders of the district; the Don forces were at the time in control of the Liski - Novokhopersk railway section. In like manner, the Don forces had succeeded in gaining local successes in the Elan -Saratov area and in immobilizing the forces of the Red Tenth Army in the Tsaritsyn area. These successes, gained by the exertion of tremendous effort, were being contested by forces of the Soviet South front which, committing to action individual reserve units that had been made available to them, had gained some temporary victories, which they could not exploit, however, owing to a lack of sufficient forces at their disposal.
The increasing successes of the Don army were to be curtailed not so
much by the arrival of fresh Soviet reserves as by the nature of outside and
internal causes arising at this time within the very theater of operations and
within the lines of the Don forces themselves. The external cause which
complicated the general strategic situation of the Do army, was the departure
of the Germans from the Ukrainian territory, which now exposed the left flank
of the entire Don front. This matter was as yet unnoticed, but already in the
latter part of November, 1918, units of the right-flank Red Eighth Army began
infiltrating the liberated territory, gradually turning the left flank of the
Voronezh group of the Don army. On reaching the Ostrogozhsk - Korotoyak line,
these forces, already on the 29th of November captured the Liski railway
station, whence they were, however, dislodged by the reserves of the Voronezh
group of the enemy. On the 3rd of December, however, these forces extended to
the town of Valuiki. Meanwhile the Tenth Army launched an advance with its
right flank against the Ilovlya railway station. The enemy, on the other hand,
failing to recognize the importance of the fact of his exposed flank, and
weakening his forces in the Voronezh area, concentrated an assault force
against the Tsaritsyn area, against the center of the Tenth Army, endeavoring
to drive it back toward Tsaritsyn.
Thanks to these actions of the enemy, there were organized two groups on his front: the weaker, Voronezh group, and the stronger, Tsaritsyn group, with their rears turned toward one another. The strength of the first of these groups was 18,000 to 22,000 men and 16 guns, and that of the second, in the neighborhood of 50,000 men and 63 guns. The two groups were connected by a weak cavalry screening force.
The commander-in-chief of the Red army decided on the exploitation of the apparent victory by the delivery of a decisive attack against the Don army. He assigned as the principal immediate mission of the commander of the South front the defeat of the Voronezh group of the enemy immediately upon the concentration on the front of all reserves ordered there, which included also the Kozhennikov detachment (20,000 men and 20 guns) from the East front; the latter constituted the nucleus of the assault force which, developing on the Valuiki - Kupiansk front, was to gain the rear of the hostile Voronezh group on the Millerovo---Doguchar front. A frontal attack was to be delivered against the Voronezh group by them Eighth and Ninth armies. There had thus been designated for action against this hostile group a force of about 50,000 men, i.e., about half of all forces of the Soviet South front, the aggregate strength of which by the end of December reached about 124,500 infantry and cavalry with 2,230 machine-guns and 485 guns. The North Caucasus front was to cooperate with the South Front by launching an attack with the Eleventh Army against the Novo- Tcherkask - Rostov line.
Next the commander-in-chief contemplated the destruction of the rest of the forces under Krasnov on the right bank of the Don river along with any of General Denikin's forces that might be found there.
With a view to coordinating the action of the forces at the front with the revolutionary reserves behind the lines of the enemy, the commander-in-chief provided for the sending to the Donets Basin of members of the Communist party who were to prepare the revolt of the workers there, and organize partisan detachments along with the activities of the latter on the railway communications of the enemy between the Likhaya railway station and Rostov-on-the-Don. Thus the essence of the plan formulated by Vatzetis consisted of a turning with the entire South Front of the Tsaritsyn area and the simultaneous destruction of the weaker hostile Vorenezh group. This might involve the crowding of the main forces of the South Front in the Tsaritsyn area, where the railways were in a poor state, whence a regrouping of forces would have been most difficult, and which might have placed the Donets Basin, which was vitally important for the Soviets from a political and economic standpoint, in a precarious situation.
Vatzetis, the commander-in-chief, was apparently aware of this fact. At least he pointed out, in special instructions, that the main effort must be made in the direction of Millerovo, which in his opinion, would draw the main Red forces to the Donets Basin. This was furthermore affected by the views of the commander-in-chief concerning the further operations of the South front. The initial successes on this front had apparently enabled Vatzetis to considerably widen his plans with respect to the further operations of the forces of this front (group of armies) in connection with his plan of operations of the 7th of October, 1918. In his "Views concerning the impending operations against the Don" of the 20th of October, 1918, Vatzetis contemplated changing the South Front so as to face west immediately upon the liquidation of the counter- revolutionary forces in the south, and the launching of an offensive against the middle Dnieper.*
* "Archives of the Red Army," Coc. No. 22 (Protocols and reports).
Thus, especially in the execution of the missions designated by the
political center, the commander-in-chief, Vatzetis, contemplated first to deal
with the forces of the internal counter-revolution, and later to take action
against the Anglo-French imperialism. In reality, however, as we shall
presently see that the commander of the South front developed his forces in a
manner that did not conform to the spirit of the instructions of the
commander-in-chief, with the result that the Donets Basin was left without
proper defense, and necessitated a change in the development of the forces of
the South Front, which occasioned the loss of considerable time.
Among the positive aspects of Vatzetis' plan of action was the insurance of the initial success by the concentration of a preponderance of forces against the Voronezh group of the enemy, though the two changes in the front made the execution of his plan difficult and required too much time, which affected all subsequent events.
The nature of the situation, i.e., the hasty abandonment of the Ukraine and Donets Basin by the Germans, where the people favored the Red forces by their class and political ideology, made possible the adoption of a more simple plan of action and the direction of the spearhead of the assault forces directly through the Donets Basin. The latter would have been more firmly connected with the rest of the Soviet territory, the turning movement would have been affected in greater depth, the enemy would have been prevented from escaping from under the attack aimed at him, and considerable time would have been saved in the process. This latter factor was of much importance not only in view of the possible appearance in the Southern theater of operations of the Volunteer Army and the forces of the Allies, but on account of the weather conditions as well. Early in March there were to be expected the opening of rivers and the loosening of the ground on roads, which would have greatly complicated any frontal attacks against Rostov and Novo- Tcherkask.
At all events, speed was important in the launching of the attack,
inasmuch as the Volunteer Army command already at the close of December of 1918
was preparing to shift one of its infantry divisions to the Donets Basin (at
the request of Ataman Krasnov, who completely lacked available forces for the
organization of a new 600-kilometer front on the western frontiers of the Don
district that had been exposed with the departure of the German forces), while
the disintegration that had set in within the Don army units began abandoning
the front; some of the towns (Veshinsk and Kazan) established Soviet control,
and finally, the Don forces in the Khoper district were rolled back without
putting up any resistance whatever.
Intensification of this process in the future presaged for the Cossack counter-revolutionaries the loss of all possible social ties with the masses and complete disintegration, an obvious indication of which was to be seen in the collapse of their military forms.
In compliance with the instructions given him, the commander of the South front (group of armies) designated the following missions for his units on the 4th and 8th of January, 1919: The group of forces under Kozhevnikov - to reach the line Kantemirovka - Mitrofanovka by the 12th of January; the Eighth Army was to advance on both banks of the Don river; the Ninth Army advancing on the sector of the Khoper river between Novokhopersk and Yuriupinsk group at Budarino; the Tenth Army, defending the Tsaritsyn area, was at the same time to develop an attack against Kamyshinsk, with a view to relieving the left flank of the Ninth Army.
During this offensive the best gains originally made were those of the Kozhevnikov group; its advance was conducted practically without any opposition on the part of the enemy. Some minor fighting took place at Starobyelsk, which was captured on the 10th of January. This group carried along with it the right flank of the Eighth Army, which had already reached the Chernaya Kalitva stream on January 8th. The enemy, however, meanwhile delivered a brief thrust against the junction of the Eighth and Ninth armies in the vicinity of Voronezh, repelling the inner flanks of these armies at the Abramovka and Povorino railway stations. The Ninth Army, however, succeeded in restoring the situation, capturing Novokhopersk on the 15th of January and Yuriupinsk on the 21st of January, which presented a direct threat to the rear of the Cossack forces that had effected the penetration. Only then did the hostile Voronezh group, threatened with an envelopment on three side began withdrawing southward. In the Tsaritsyn area the Don group repelled the Tenth Red Army almost to the very suburbs of Tsaritsyn, cutting off the Kamshin group from it. Thus, the White command had not yet realized the full danger of its situation in the Voronezh area and lost time in effecting a basic regrouping of its forces there.
The commander of the South front endeavored to exploit the success of the Kozhevnikov group on the Valuiki - Kupiansk line by ordering a turning movement in greater depth of the hostile Voronezh group, for which purpose the Kozhegvnikov group was to concentrate its main forces in the vicinity of Kantemirovka, moving up one division to Lugansk (January 21) and then advance on Millerovo. The Ninth Army was to re-form its lines facing to the southeast and proceed along the Provorino-Tsaritsyn railway; the major forces of the Eighth Army were likewise to operate on the left bank of the Don.
The above orders clearly indicate the manner of the concentration of
the main forces of the South Front in the Tsaritsyn area between the 17th and
21st of January. This had coincided with the particular time when the Don army
was completely becoming disintegrated, as was shown by the number of prisoners
and supplies that fell into the hands of the Soviet forces and the mass
surrender or desertion of entire Cossack regiments. On the 8th of February
seven Don regiments surrendered at the Archeda railway station with their
artillery and equipment; on the 11th of February five other regiments partly
surrendered and partly dispersed at Kotluban.
Thus the South Front was confronted essentially with the mission of pursuing the remnants of the Don army, and on the 1st of February the commander of this army issued orders sending the central armies (Eighth and Ninth) directly south; the group of forces under Kozhevnikv was to proceed from the Kantemirovka area to the Kamenskaya - Millerovo area, while the Tenth Army moved along the railway against Kalach, at direct angles of the axis of communications of the Ninth Army.
On the 8th and 9th of February units of the Ninth and Tenth armies
established contact among them in the Archeda area with this the operations
against the Don front came essentially to a close, but therefore the center of
gravity was now transferred to the Donets Basin, where a fresh division of the
Volunteer Army had arrived and restricted the freedom of movement of the
Disembarking at Mariupol on the 8th of January, this division on the 27th and 28th of January already launched an attack on Lugansk, though of little vigor, but nevertheless delayed the progress of the Kozhevnikov group in the Nikitovka - Debaltsevo sector. On the 5th of February it severed communications between Lugansk and Bakhmut, seizing Popsanaya, and on the next day, bay an assault against Millerovo along the railway compelled the Kozhevnikov group to refuse its left flank which, threatened in the south by the Volunteer forces, had been compelled to re-form its lines facing directly south and found it impossible to reach the Kamensk area, which had been designated as its final objective.
This is the manner in which the fighting began for the possession of the Donets Basin and which was the principal action in the next phase of the South Front campaign. The intensity of the struggle here had been due to the liberation of considerable hostile forces from the North Caucasus theater of operations owing to the decisive victory gained there by the enemy. It is therefore of interest now to discuss the events which had brought about such a favorable change in the situation for the southern counter-revolutionaries.*
* A true presentation of these events does not quite agree with the data presented by Denikin in his book, The Russian Turmoil (Vol. V). Denikin states that already in December, he had transferred to the Donets Basin the 3rd Infantry Division, under command of General Mai-Mayevsky. At first landed at Yuzovka it was given the mission of covering the left flank of the Don forces, in view of the departure of the Germans, and to organize the defense of the Donets Basin. Denikin does not give the exact dates of the arrival of the 3rd Division under Mai-Mayevsky in the Donets Basin, but further on he emphasizes the fact that by the middle of January the Mai-Mayevsky group, successively reinforced by basic assault units of the Volunteer Army (with the Kornilov, Markovsky, Drozdovsky, and Samursky regiments) had occupied with main forces the Tuzovki area, advancing in the Kharkov area up to Bakhmut and Konstantinovki and in the Berdiansk area up to Pologi. During February Mai-Mayevsky's group was reinforced by the Caucasus division under General Shkuro, the 1st Kuban Division under General Petrovsky, the 1st Terek Division and other forces that had been relieved in the North Caucasus in view of the defeat of the REd Eleventh Army - in other words, by the main forces of the so-called Caucasian Volunteer Army commanded by General Wrangel.
This transfer of the main forces of the Volunteer Army to the Donets Basin constituted the apple of discord between Wrangel and Denikin. General Wrangel's chief of staff, Yuzefovich, and then Wrangel himself, who was at the time convalescing, back in February already insisted on the concentration of the main forces of the Volunteer Army in the Tsaritsyn area. Their plan of action contemplated an advance with all available forces of the Volunteer Army in a vigorous action against Tsaritsyn while maintaining the Don army as a covering force, and to establish a unified front with the advancing Kolchak forces on the Volga. According to General Wrangel, this was to lead to the establishment of a more favorable strategic situation for further coordinated action of the south and Siberian counter-revolutionary forces against Moscow. General Denikin rejected this plan as being too adventurous. The inevitable defeat of the Don army, in his opinion, would have led the Red forces to and advance in the north via Novo-Tcherkask and Rostov against the communications of the Volunteer Army and would have soon liquidated the latter's progress in the Tsaritsyn area.
After the second abandonment of Stavropol the forces of the two armies (the Taman army and the former Sorokin army) were reorganized into the Eleventh Army and disposed on the line: Zavetnoys - Petrovskoye - Remontnoye - Priutnoye - Sukhaya Buivnla - Dubovy - Kursavka - Vorovskolesskay - Kislovodsk - Nalchik. This line formed a half arc, while the rear of the line touched the dry and sandy Caspian desert through which, for a distance of 400 kilometers, there were no established communications and there had been no established supply depots of reserve materials. (Sketch 10. - original text.)
The line from Grozny via Kizliar up to the Terechnaya railway
station on the Caspian Sea had been occupied by the weak Twelfth Army, facing
in the direction of Petrovsk, i.e., almost on a line at 180 degrees of the
Eleventh Army situated at Tikhoretskaya. On the 8th of December, 1918, both of
these armies were incorporated into the independent Caspian Caucasus Front. The
aggregate number of the forces is given by the front commander himself as
150,000 men, of which there were about 60,000 men at the front; about 30,000
men in the transport service, rear garrison and military roads guard; 40,000
sick and wounded, and finally, about 20,000 were counted as deserters.
The Eleventh Army was the strongest numerically, and it faced the principal mass of forces of the Kuban-Volunteer army, numbering about 25,000 men and 75 guns, concentrated in the area Priutnoye (exclusive) Kursavka (exclusive) - Stravropoi - Armavir.
A smaller number of hostile forces, which did not form part of the above-mentioned army, comprising 4,000 to 5,000 first line troops, with about 6,000 men of local formations and British occupational troops behind the lines, had been concentrated against the Twelfth Army. These forces occupied the line: Petrovsk - Temir-Han-Shur, and either completely ignored or just partly recognized the authority of the Volunteer Army, and consisted primarily of forces of the Azerbaijan government and of the Dagnestan mountaineers.
The difficulties of the Red forces in Northern Caucasia were
augumented by the fact that the main forces of the front, i.e., those of the
Eleventh Army, were separated from the main base, Astrakhan, by the desert and
had been conducted with this base by a military road 600 kilometers in length,
which ran first parallel to the front through Georgievsk - Sviatoi Crest -
Yashkul and then to Astrakhan. No proper transport system over this route could
be established. The Twelfth Army was better situated with respect to its
transport system, inasmuch as the communications of this army extended along
the shores of the Caspian Sea (Kizliar, Cherny Rinok, Alaabuzhskaya,
Astrokhan), over more populated regions and areas with more or less local
supplies, and the number of troops involved was smaller here. This road,
however, was not properly equipped for the purpose.
The absence of dependable communications of these two armies with their main base of operations brought the subsequent military failure to the point where it resulted in a catastrophe. The situation of the enemy in this respect was quite the opposite, deriving his supplies from the wealthiest districts of the North Caucasus and being in possession of a properly developed system of short railways and highways.
Enjoying a numerical superiority over the enemy, the commander of the front proposed to take his armies out of the dangerous situation by the launching of an attack with the Eleventh Army on Tikhoreskaya and with the Twelfth Army on Petrovak.
These plans coincided with the intentions of the commander- in-chief, to which we have already referred to above. On December 19, 1918, the commander-in-chief assigned the following mission to the front (group of armies): To develop an assault against Tikhorestskaya and Vladikavkaz, and to consolidate positions in the Kizliar area, whereupon, with the support of the naval forces, to develop an attack on Petrovsk - Temir-Khan- Shur and Derbent, and come to an understanding with the mountain tribes. In addition, the operations were to be developed from Astrakhan against Guryev, with a view to the restoration of Soviet control south of the Ural district.
The strength of these two armies, and especially their disposition, permitted the concentration of all attention only on the execution of the first of the mentioned undertakings (in the Tikhoretskaya and Vladikavkazsk areas, and an effort toward the execution of this had been made, whereas in the other areas no special efforts were undertaken.
Preparations for the operation continued throughout the second half of December and the forces of the Eleventh Army were meanwhile organized into divisions of more or less uniform strength and organization* deployed on the line: Predtecha - Kalinovskoye - Krukhta - Sultanskoye - Kursavka - Vorovskolesskaya - Mt. Kislovodsk - Nalchik. The general extent of the front that was more firmly occupied by the Eleventh Army was about 250 km. wide, while the total strength of the army was 88,000 men.
* There was organized a total of 4 infantry divisions (1 to 4), while the entire cavalry had been organized into the Kuban-Terek cavalry division.
The commander of the Eleventh Army contemplated making the main
effort in a turning movement against the hostile right flank in the general
direction of Batalpashinsk - Nevinnomysskoye, with a view to cutting off the
main forces of the enemy in the Armavir - Stavropol area. This, however, had
not been properly provided for by the disposition of the forces. The major
portion of the forces (3rd and 4th divisions) had been given a passive mission,
consisting of a delaying of the enemy o his front; one division was placed in
reserve, and thus for the delivery of the main assault one division (one-fourth
of the available forces of the army) and the cavalry had been left. The army
could not calmly carry on its preparations for the offensive, inasmuch as the
enemy had been conducting a series of attacks throughout the month of December
against the army right flank from the Stavropol area, and he succeeded in
forcing it back somewhat in the Manych area.
The offensive launched on the 2nd of January, 1919, by the left flank of the army resulted at first in a purely local victory, in the occupation of Batalpashinsk, and was soon brought to a standstill owing to a lack of ammunition and to hostile counterattacks. The Eleventh Army again withdrew to its line of departure and on the 14th of January attempted to consolidate its positions along a quite unplanned line, on the line: Sviatoi Krest - Mineralnye Vody - Kislovodsk. Meanwhile, the right-flank division (4th), having received a vigorous hostile attack in the vicinity of Blagodarnoye, became separated from its main forces and withdrew partly to the vicinity of Elista and partly toward Yashkul. Those of the forces withdrawing to Elista joined there with the forces of the desert sector.
The non-success of the offensive further aggravated the situation of the Eleventh Army. Confusion in the matter of control went beyond that of the division; 2 brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division (adjoining the 4th Division in the south) also withdrew independently in different directions toward Blagadarnoye and Sablinskoye, opening the route to Sviatoy Krest, which permitted the enemy to exploit the initial victory gained by his counterattack and to develop it into the general defeat of the Eleventh Army.
On the Sviatoy Krest - Georgievsk line the enemy directed his main
effort with the detachment under General Wrangel comprising 13,000 infantry and
cavalry troops with 41 guns, endeavoring to cut the Eleventh Army into half, to
drive part of it into the desert and then to crush her separated wings. On this
front his main attacks were directed on Sviatoy Krest from Blagodarnoye and via
Georgievsk on Gosudarstvennaya and Kurskaya.
As a consequence of these attacks the remnants of the 3rd Division were driven into the desert, whereupon the enemy turned against left flank of the army (2nd and 1st divisions) withdrawing along the North-Caucasus Railway on Prokhladnoye and Mozdok, and twice surrounded it.
Though these divisions succeeded in getting out of the hostile
envelopment, only remnants of them numbering not more than 13,000 men succeeded
in reaching the Yandykovsky area. The defeat of the Eleventh Army compelled the
withdrawal of the Twelfth Army to Astrakhan, inasmuch as the enemy began
threatening also the communications of this army from the direction of Mozdok.
In March the Caucasus-Caspian front disintegrated, and the Twelfth and Eleventh
armies were reorganized into a single army designated as the Eleventh Army.
The outcome of the winter campaign of 1918 in the Northern Caucasus had an adverse effect of Soviet strategy. The large forces of the North Caucasus front ceased to exist as an organized military force for a considerable period of time. this circumstance, freeing the powerful Kuban-Volunteer Army, exercised an adverse effect of the progress of the campaign in the Southern theater of operations.
Aside from the military and geographic considerations involved, the
disaster here suffered affected also the social aspects of these armies. They
were deprived of that firm organizational and political nuclei of which on the
East and South fronts of the civil war were represented by the strong workers
and party cadres. Thus, the partial victory of the Soviet armies within the
Southern theater of operations was vitiated by their defeat on the
North-Caucasus front. The significance of this failure became apparent later.
The impending operations on the Ukrainian front were directly affected by the
events within the Southern theater of operations.
The problems confronting Soviet strategy in the Ukrainian theater of operations were defined by those objectives which the Soviet policy sought there. The aims involved followed from the very nature of the October revolution and consisted of the need of overthrowing the local weak bourgeoisie that had as yet not had sufficient time to become properly organized. These objectives, consequently, demanded an offensive form of action, particularly so in view of the fact that already with the beginning of the month of December the movement of the masses in the Ukraine was carried on under Soviet auspices. For this reason, on January 4 1919, it had been decided to organize an independent Ukrainian front under the control of Comrade Antonov-Ovseyenko, who was to be its commander-in-chief. The foundation of this front was to be established by the 9th Infantry Division of the G.H.Q. reserve. On division for the newly established front was to be provided by Comrade Antonov- Ovseyenko, with another division by Comrade Kozhevnikov. The principal object of the new front (group of armies) was the occupation and defense of the Donets Basin, for which purpose it was to closely coordinate its action with that of the South Front. For the occupation of Western Ukraine, the line of the Middle Dnieper, and the reconnaissance of the Black Sea coast and Eastern Ukraine (occupation of which had not been contemplated at first)* it was contemplated to utilize one brigade of the 9th Infantry Division and partisan formations. But here also, the plans were not destined to be executed. The partisan formations grew to such dimensions and importance that they completely absorbed the regular Red Army nucleus and carried it far beyond the missions imposed upon it by the commander-in-chief, Vatzetis.
* Directive of the commander-in-chief, Vatzetis, of January 4, 1919.
Cautiousness in the assignment of the initial mission had been due
not only to the limited available organized forces at the disposal of
Antonov-Ovseyenko after the Kozhevnikov detachment originally assigned to h*m
had been ordered to reinforce the South Front, but also because of the
uncertainty concerning the nature and extent of the military intervention in
the Ukraine on the part of the Allied powers.
The mission of the commander-in-chief was executed by the movement of the forces on the Ukrainian front in two basic groups: one group (Kiev group) - in the general direction of Kiev, and the other (Kharkov) - in the general direction of Lozovoye, thence partly on Yekaterinslav and with the main forces against the seaports of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov. Thus the forces of the Ukrainian front, in a manner of speaking, engulfed the Donets Basin, in spite of the fact that it entered into their line of demarcation.
The feeble resistance of the small forces of the Ukrainian Directory facilitated a rapid advance on the part of both of the above groups. On the 20th of January the main forces of these groups had already reached the line Kruty - Poltava - Sinelnikovo, while on the 5th of February, after some minor resistance, Kiev was taken, whereupon the commander of the Ukrainian front intended to consolidate the positions of the Kiev group in the Kiev and Cherkassy area, while firmly occupying with the forces of the Kharkov group the Kremenchug, Yekaterinoslav, Chaplino and Grishino areas, securing its flank in the direction of the Donets Basin. The course of the subsequent events caused both of these groups soon to become absorbed in a further advance, impelled by the urge of their mass of forces from the revolutionary centers toward the outlying districts of the country. The forces opposing them could in no way halt this urge of the advancing forces owing to their own weak force who were at the same time divided among themselves by profound inner contradictions, and to the weakness and meager forces of the Allied powers designated for active operations within the Ukraine, as well as the passive nature of the missions assigned these.
The inner contradictions of the local counter- revolutionaries in the south Ukraine had been due to fundamental differences in their political programs, some of them favoring an "independent" Ukraine while others insisted upon a "one inseparable" Russian nation. Both of these factions sought full control of the Black Sea coast.
The organization of the Volunteer Army in the Crimea had been conducted more successfully. This was accomplished with the aid of regular detachments transferred by Denikin at the request of the Crimean regional government in the latter part of November to Kertch and Yalta. These detachments were developed into the VI Corps and moved up by mid-December to the line: Berdyansk - Yekaterinoslav - Nizhne-Dnieprovsk. But already by the latter part of December this corps, under the attacks of the insurgents, cleared Yekaterinoslav and then withdrew to the Crimean isthmuses. General Denikin's efforts at forming a Crimea-Azov Volunteer Army from all of these forces, however, failed. The advance of the Red forces which had reached by the beginning of March the northern shores of the Sea of Azov had separated the forces under Mai-Mayevsky and the Crimean Corps, compelling the latter to withdraw to the Crimea in view of the threat of an envelopment from the direction of Aleshek and Kakhovka*
* Further events in the Crimean sector had developed in the following manner. Attempts on the part of units of the Crimea-Azov Army early in April to put up resistance on the Perekop isthmus were liquidated by the Red forces of the Ukrainian front. On the 10th of April the latter occupied the Dzhankoi railway center. The collapse of the Crimea government was heightened by the revolutionary fermentation in the Allied fleet which took the form at Sevastopol (April 20) of a demonstration on the part of French sailors against the war. By the end of April units of the Crimea- Azov Army, reorganized into a division, supported by the French navy, consolidated their ground in the southeast corner of the Crimea on the Akmanaisk positions, maintaining the Kertch peninsula.
Allied intervention, which had been so widely advertised and was expected to be conducted on such a wide scale, was greatly delayed. The French high command, confronted by many difficult problems in the Near East and in the Balkans, found no available forces near at hand, and those forces which it did have at its disposal did not manifest any special desire to become involved in our civil war. The feeling among the troops was such as to cause apprehension of the effect of Bolshevik agitation among them. The internal situation in Roumania was very tense, while at Constantinople it was necessary to maintain a large garrison.
Thus only by the beginning of December, 1918, was there found, after some difficulty, an available French division, which was sent by boat to Odessa. The soldiers of this division were promised (falsely, of course) a pleasant rest. The division arrived at Odessa on the 17th of December, 1918, at the very time when the local volunteers numbering about 1,500 men, loaded on a boat, cleared Odessa. At this time there appeared before the city of Odessa the forces of the Ukrainian Directorate, who were tardy in seizing the city. The French took advantage of this, forcing the Volunteers out of their boat, they compelled them to march in front of them, and occupied the city. The forces of the Ukrainian Directorate withdrew, and the Directorate entered into negotiations with the French, which led the former to join on the side of the French. On the 20th of January, 1918, the French expeditionary force was reinforced by Greek troops and they then extended their occupation up to the stations of Razdelnaya and Kolosovka, occupying Kherson and Nikolayev; their activity ended with this. The forces of the occupationists together with the local formations and a detachment of Polish forces by mid-February, amounted to 20,000 men.
Meantime the tide of revolutionary insurgent forces continued to roll southward, sweeping before it the weak forces of the Directorate or causing them to join the revolutionaries. By the end of February, 1919, one such wave, represented by the detachment of Ataman Gregoryev, which became favorably inclined toward the Soviets, had rolled up to the advance positions of the French occupational forces in the cities of Voznesensk and Tiraspol, and after a minor engagement compelled their garrisons to withdraw. On the 2nd of March Grigoryev appeared in the suburbs of Kherson and on March 9th, after stubborn street fighting, seized the city, inflicting heavy losses upon the Greek troops defending the city, and on March 14th the French hastened to clear Nikolayev. Greek troops that had remained to defend the city were practically annihilated by the revolutionaries.
These circumstances served to decide the further offensive undertakings of the forces of the Ukrainian front which Antonov- Ovseyenko formulated on the 17th of March. The main forces of the Kiev group was directed against the Zhmerinka - Proskurov area, since there were still considerable forces of the Ukrainian Directorate which held on to their positions here. The Kharkov group, with main forces, proceeded against Odessa. On the 27th of March the Kiev group inflicted a decisive defeat upon the forces of the Directorate, driving them back to the Galician frontier, as a consequence of which the mission involved in the capture of Odessa was facilitated by the "voluntary"* abandonment of the city by the Greko-French forces.
* The clearing of Odessa of the Greek and French troops could only be partly ascribed to the actions of the "volunteers." In order to present a description of the situation of the occupational forces at Odessa the editors believe it well to present several extracts from Volume V of General Denikin's The Russian Turmoil.
"Lack of confidence in their troops had imposed an entirely passive attitude upon the strategy of the French command, which concentrated all of its forces at Odessa close to their transports, stationing only proper screening forces at the farther approaches," complains Denikin. He is also very much dissatisfied with the combat efficiency of the Greek and French troops. In mid-February Ataman Gregoryev, who betrayed Petliura, led an attack with an unorganized band of about 1,700 men and 3 guns against Kherson, which had been occupied by one battalion of Greek troops and a company of French soldiers with 2 guns. The fighting lasted several days, with the Greeks bearing the brunt of the fighting; under cover of newly arrived two battalions of reinforcements and the naval artillery guns, the Allied detachments, which had suffered heavy losses, was put aboard a transport and taken to Odessa. After Kherson, without any further pressure, the Allied troops also abandoned Nikolayev in much haste. "Within a few days (in March) the Allied forces suffered a new defeat in the Voznesensk area at the Berezovka railway station. Attacked by the Bolsheviks (insurgents - Ed.) they began a disorderly retreat, abandoning 6 guns, 5 tanks, and leaving behind their wounded, their transport and ammunition." Denikin does not conceal his disappointments in the Allied assistance. On the pages of his memoirs he repeatedly complains of the disdainful attitude of the representatives of the French high command toward his own representatives. The examples cited by Denikin are in reality sufficiently convincing in their portrayal of the high-handed attitude of the occupationists on the Black Sea Coast - methods that even tended to upset Denikin himself.
Bolshevization of the French military and naval forces made it necessary to hasten the execution of these measures. On the 6th of April the Red forces entered Odessa. On April 15th they appeared at Sevastopol, which caused the French commander-in- chief to open negotiations for a truce to permit the removal from a sand bar of the French Battleship "Mirabo" and of abandoning the waters there; at the same time the forces of the Kiev and Odessa groups of the Ukrainian front fully extended to the Galician frontier and line of the Dniester river.
The outcome of these operations was a considerable extension of the Ukrainian front as to size: its northwestern sector was situated in direct contact with the Polish forces, and its southwestern was in contact with the Roumanian forces on the Dniester river, while its southern boundary rested on the Back Sea. Only the Donets Basin, where sanguinary fighting still continued unabated, formed a deep salient or wedge into its disposition, involving the spreading out of its forces for defense against the enemy here.
Along with the territorial successes there was also a change in the physical aspects of the Ukrainian front; the front lost its regular aspect, absorbing a mass of local formations of the partisan types with their wavering and partly anarchist ideology. This was later reflected in the poor combat efficiency of the military forces on the front which, at the time of the failures on the South front opened a wide corridor for the invasion of the Ukraine on the part of the Volunteer Army and brought in its wake a new chain of events on the Ukrainian front that was unfavorable for the strategy adopted by the Soviets.
During the period described by us, the Allied naval forces freely operated in the Black Sea. In the Caspian Sea the activity of the Red naval forces, which compromised in all five vessels with several destroyers, consisted of the convoy of transport vessels to Staro-Terechnoye. The Red fleet being weaker numerically and as to quality against the faster naval craft of the enemy, avoided any encounters with the latter in unfavorable situations. Moreover, the hostile fleet being in control of the best harbors, such as the ports of Petrovsk and Baku, was more independent in its naval operations than the Soviet fleet, which had to resort to open and shallow-water Astrakhan raids, whence a narrow canal ice-bound in the winter, led to the open sea.