Polish cavalry on the attack
One of the largest cavalry battles of the 20th century took place 100 years ago. The Battle of Komarov ended with a heavy defeat for Budyonny’s 1st Cavalry Army.
Turn of Budyonny’s army to the north
Due to the deteriorating situation in the Warsaw direction, the main command decided to transfer the 1st Cavalry Army from the Lvov area to the north. The commander of the Western Front ordered Budyonny’s army to attack the enemy’s right flank. Tukhachevsky hoped to divert the forces of the Polish strike group to the south to parry the blow of the 1st Cavalry Army, which should have allowed the armies of the Western Front to regroup, avoid encirclement and disaster, and then resume the offensive on the Polish capital.
However, until August 19, 1920, Budyonny’s divisions fought heavy battles for the Lviv fortified area. By this time, the armies of the Western Front had already retreated from Warsaw and during the retreat to their original positions suffered heavy losses in manpower, artillery and material and technical units. The 1st Cavalry Army could not immediately complete the battle at Lvov. The main command still did not set clear goals. On August 20, Trotsky gave instructions to immediately support the Western Front, but did not give a clear order to end the assault on Lvov. On August 21-24, Cavalry units had to participate in repelling Polish attacks. The enemy shot down our infantry near Lvov, the Red Army was rolling back to the Bug. Budyonny’s cavalry delivered a series of blows to the enemy.
It is worth noting that the Polish troops held out in the Lvov region with their last strength. It was wise to continue the operation and take the city. This would lead to the defeat of the enemy’s Lvov grouping and the strengthening of the Southwestern Front. Also, the capture of Lviv by the Red Army posed a threat to the right flank and rear of the Warsaw grouping of the Polish army. The Polish command had to transfer part of its forces from the north to the Lvov direction, which eased the position of the retreating armies of Tukhachevsky. And the withdrawal of Budyonny’s army from the battle for Lviv, where there were two infantry divisions (Yakir’s group), sharply worsened the situation of the Lvov group of the Red Army. The Poles pulled units to Lviv that were scattered during the breakthroughs of the Cavalry on various lines and far behind the red cavalry. Yakir, being threatened with encirclement, was forced to retreat.
The transfer of the 1st Cavalry Army to the north-west did not matter anymore, the Western Front had already been defeated, the position of the South-Western Front was only getting worse. On August 25, the remnants of Tukhachevsky’s armies rolled back to the line Augustow – Lipsk – Visloch – Belovezh – Opalin. The battle on the Vistula ended in disaster. On August 25, Budenny’s army was sent to a raid on Zamoостьć, which made no sense. Also, the red cavalry was already exhausted and drained of blood by previous battles on the river. Styr and for Lviv. The personnel were tired, weapons and equipment were deteriorating, ammunition was running out. The soldiers sat on starvation rations, the horses were exhausted. As a result, the Cavalry’s blow was weak.
Raid on Zamoć
It so happened that against the background of the retreat of the main forces of the Western and Southwestern Fronts, the 1st Cavalry Army had to conduct a separate offensive operation. The cavalry was supposed to go to Zamoć, to occupy the Skomorokhi-Komarov area. On August 25, the Red Cavalry concentrated on the Western Bug River. The 4th Cavalry Division of Tyulenev (then Timoshenko) moved in the vanguard, on the right flank, with a ledge back, – Parkhomenko’s 14th Cavalry Division, on the left flank – Apanasenko’s 6th Division. The 11th Cavalry Division of Morozov was in the rearguard, the army reserve. A total of about 17 thousand soldiers, more than 40 guns and 280 machine guns. To the right of Budyonny’s army, east of Grubeshov, was the 44th, and to the left, on the Kristinopol-Sokal line, was the 24th rifle divisions of the 12th army. Armored trains of the Cavalry were transferred to the railway sections Kovel – Vladimir-Volynsky, Kovel – Kholm. Army artillery and food supplies were sent to Lutsk, from where ammunition and food could be delivered to the troops. The operational headquarters and medical trains also moved there.
Long rains began, the roads got wet. Several days of downpours turned the wooded and swampy area into an impassable area, greatly complicating the maneuvering of the cavalry. The movement of carts and artillery became impossible. On August 27, units of the Cavalry entered into battle with the enemy on the Khuchva River. The Red Army men pushed the enemy back. From the prisoners the Budennovites learned about the forces opposing them. The Polish grouping consisted of the 2nd Legionnaire Infantry Division, the 13th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions, the White Guard Cossack Brigade of Yakovlev (from the units of General Bredov). Also, the 10th Infantry Division and the Petliurites (6th Ukrainian Division) were transferred to this direction. The 13th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions were combined into General Haller’s group. Both divisions of the enemy acted against Budyonny near Lvov. The 1st Cavalry Division was sent behind the Cavalry Army as soon as the Budennovites left the Lviv region. The 13th division began to be transferred by rail.
It is obvious that enemy intelligence quickly determined the direction of movement of the Cavalry Army. The Polish command made a corresponding regrouping of forces. At the same time, the flanks of Budyonny’s army were open. The divisions of the 12th Army, 44th and 24th, did not support the offensive. From the south, the Cavalry was threatened by Haller’s group, from the north – by the 2nd Legionnaire Division. The 14th and 11th Cavalry Divisions had to be sent to defend the flanks, which further weakened the striking power of the army. The 4th and 6th Cavalry Divisions, the largest and strongest, were to develop an offensive to the northwest, take Chesniki and Komarov, and then Zamosc.
Budyonny S.M.Traveled way
On August 28, despite the pouring rain and spoiled roads, the Cavalry advanced successfully. The Red Army defeated the enemy units opposing them, the 4th division took Chesniki, the 6th – Komarov. During the day, the army advanced 25-30 km and completely lost contact with the troops of the 12th Army that remained on the Bug. The convoys and artillery of Budyonny’s army finally fell behind. Nevertheless, the army command decided to continue the offensive. The left flank of the army (6th and 11th divisions) was supposed to bypass the city from the west, intercept the railway and take Zamosc. The right flank of the army (4th and 14th divisions) covered Zamosc from the north-east and north.
Already on August 29, the situation became dangerous. Polish troops, with the support of armored trains from the Grabovets – Grubieshov region, dealt a strong blow to the 4th and 14th divisions of Tyulenev (replaced Tymoshenko) and Parkhomenko. The wooded and swampy terrain deprived the cavalry of mobility. The cavalrymen acted on foot. Polish armored trains fired at our troops with impunity. The red artillery got stuck in the swamps and was silent. However, in the afternoon, the Budennovites were able to turn the tide in their favor. Part of the troops took over the enemy’s attacks, three Tyulenev’s regiments were mounted on horses and organized a flank attack. The enemy’s 2nd Infantry Division was forced to retreat to the north. Using this success, the 14th Cavalry Division also counterattacked.
Meanwhile, on the southern flank, Haller’s group knocked out parts of the 44th Infantry Division from Tyshovtsy and began to break through to the rear of the Cavalry. A special cavalry brigade of Stepnoy-Spizharny counterattacked the enemy and threw the Polish cavalry back to Tyshovtsy. In this battle, the brigade commander Stepnoy was wounded. The 6th and 11th divisions reached Zamost, but they could not capture it. Zamosc was defended by the Petliurites, units from the 2nd division of legionnaires and the 10th division (about 3.5 thousand soldiers), 3 armored trains. Despite the news of the heavy defeat of the Western Front, the lack of assistance from the 12th Army, the difficult weather and terrain conditions that fettered the cavalry, the lack of ammunition and food, and most importantly, the actual operational encirclement by enemy forces, the Cavalry command decided to continue the offensive on August 30.
On August 30, Haller’s group went on the offensive, pressed the 11th division and occupied Komarov. The Poles went to the rear of the Cavalry. The attacks of Apanasenko’s 6th division on Zamoć were unsuccessful. The enemy fought back stubbornly. There was a threat of isolation of the advanced 6th division from the main forces of the army. Budyonny ordered to withdraw parts of the 6th division back, gain a foothold on the line east of the settlement and establish communication with the 4th division. Budyonny and Voroshilov decided to regroup their forces at night, and attack the 4th and 6th divisions to defeat Haller’s most dangerous group. At this time, the 14th and 11th divisions covered the directions from the side of Grabovets and Zamoć.
On the night of August 31, ahead of the Reds, the Poles went on the offensive. By counter strikes, Haller’s group and the 2nd division of legionnaires united and captured the crossing on the Huchva River at Verbkowice. The cavalry finally ended up in the “cauldron”. At the same time, the enemy’s 10th division attacked head-on from Zamoć. During the day, the Budennovites repulsed enemy attacks, the northern, western and southern groups of the Poles advanced. Polish troops from the north and south strongly wedged into the location of the Red Army, occupied Chesniki, Nevirkov and Kotlice.
The Red Cavalry found itself in a 12-15 km wide corridor between two Polish groupings. The Red cavalry lost the ability to maneuver in a wooded and swampy area, in the conditions of torrential rains. The Poles had complete superiority in infantry and artillery. The command of the 1st Cavalry decided to retreat. On the morning of September 1, the Budennovites went to a breakthrough in the general direction of Grubeshiv. In the vanguard was the 4th division, ledges on the right and left were followed by the 6th division without one brigade and the 14th, and in the rearguard – the 11th division and the 6th brigade. A special brigade was in reserve. Budennovtsy broke through in a defile between two lakes, captured the crossing on the river. Huchwa and broke through to the units of the retreating 12th Army. Tymoshenko’s 4th division assisted the 44th rifle division and defeated the Poles in the Grubieszow area. In early September, the Cavalry fought stubborn battles with the advancing forces of the Polish army. After the retreat of the 12th Army, Budyonny’s divisions withdrew on September 8 across the Bug.
Thus, the offensive of Budyonny’s troops on Zamoć became a separate operation, without the support of other armies, which doomed the red cavalry to failure.