Death March. How the Ural White Army died

Ural Cossacks. Hood. Nikolai Samokish

Troubles. 1919 year. The Ural White Army of General V.S.Tolstov died at the end of 1919. The Ural army was pressed against the Caspian Sea. The Urals made the “Death March” – the hardest campaign along the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea to the Alexandrovsky fort. An ice campaign in the desert finished off the Urals.

Retreat of the Urals to the Caspian

After the defeat in October-November 1919 of the Eastern Front of Kolchak, the Ural White Army found itself isolated and in the face of the superior forces of the Reds. The Urals were deprived of any sources of replenishment with weapons and ammunition. The defeat of the White Cossacks was inevitable. However, the Urals continued to resist, despite the fact that the Kolchak people were rolling back further and further to the east, and the neighboring Orenburg army was defeated and retreated to the east, then south. Denikin’s help was weak, autumn storms in the Caspian made it difficult to bring supplies, Guriev blocked the red Caspian flotilla. Soon, the supply by sea was completely blocked – the northern part of the Caspian was frozen, Guriev’s connection with the Caucasus was interrupted.

At the beginning of November 1919, the Red Turkestan Front under the command of Frunze as part of the 1st and 4th armies (22 thousand bayonets, sabers, 86 guns and 365 machine guns) launched a general offensive against the Ural army (about 17 thousand bayonets and sabers, 65 guns, 249 machine guns) in order to encircle and destroy the main enemy forces with concentrated attacks on Lbischensk from the north and east. Under the pressure of the Reds, the Ural army began to retreat. On November 20, the Red Army occupied Lbischensk, but it was not possible to encircle the main forces of the Urals. The front stabilized south of Lbischensk.

The remnants of the Ural army gathered in Kalmykov. 200-300 fighters remained in the regiments, almost all the artillery was lost. There were many sick and wounded. Only about 2 thousand people remained in the main direction against 20 thousand Red Army soldiers. The Reds also had a typhoid epidemic, but they had a rear to accommodate the sick, and were getting reinforcements all the time. On the right flank were the remnants of the 2nd Iletsk Cossack Corps of General Akutin, only about 1,000 healthy fighters. The headquarters of the corps was located in the village of Kyzyl-Kuga.

With the onset of winter, Frunze managed to break the resistance of the Ural Cossacks. The Turkestan Front pulled up reserves and received weapons and ammunition. Frunze obtained from Lenin a complete amnesty for ordinary Cossacks. The Cossacks, who did not want to leave their native villages, began to return to a peaceful life in masses. The front commander also applied new tactics to combat the recalcitrant Urals, who made horse raids. The red cavalry and machine-gun outposts began to cut off the White Cossacks from the villages and farmsteads, forcing them into the bare winter steppe, not allowing them to live and feed. The combat capabilities of the Uralites were undermined, they could no longer conduct partisan actions.

On December 10, 1919, the Red Army renewed its offensive. Voskanov’s 4th Soviet army and the expeditionary corps of the 1st Soviet army broke the resistance of the weakened Ural units, the front collapsed. The Cossacks retreated, leaving village after village. The command of the Ural army decided to retreat to Guryev, then to Fort Alexandrovsky, since the northern part of the Caspian was already frozen and it was impossible to evacuate from the Guryev port. From Aleksandrovskoe they hoped to cross to the Caucasian coast.

On December 18, the Reds captured the Kalmyks, thus cutting off the escape routes of the 2nd Iletsk corps. On December 22, the Reds occupied the village of Gorsky, one of the last strongholds of the Urals before Guryev. The commander of the Ural army, Tolstov, with the headquarters went to Guryev. The Soviet command offered the Cossacks to surrender, promised an amnesty. The Urals promised to think about it, a 3-day truce was concluded. At this time, the White Cossacks destroyed the property that they could not take with them, and under the cover of a small screen they began a campaign to Fort Aleksandrovsk. On January 5, 1920, the Reds entered Guryev.

Meanwhile, the flanking units were cut off from the main forces. Alash-Orda, a self-proclaimed Kazakh national-territorial entity, went over to the side of the Reds (though this did not help the nationalists, the Alash autonomy was liquidated by the Bolsheviks). The troops of the Alash Horde, together with the Reds, attacked the Cossacks. Units of the 2nd Iletsk corps, having suffered heavy losses in battles during the retreat, and from typhus, in early January 1920 were almost completely destroyed and captured by the red troops near the settlement of Maly Baybuz. The corps headquarters, led by General Akunin, was destroyed, its commander was taken prisoner (he was soon shot). Colonel Balalaev’s Iletsk division on the Uil River suffered the same fate. Only the 3rd regiment was able to break out of the encirclement and reach the Zhilaya Kosa.

Part of the left flank of the Ural army – the 6th division of Colonel Gorshkov (from the 1st Ural corps), which was sent to the Volga to communicate with Denikin’s army, was cut off from the main forces in the area of ​​the Khan headquarters. The Cossacks could go west to cross the Volga and join up with Denikin’s army, or try to break through to join Tolstov, who had already entered Fort Alexandrovsk. As a result, it was decided to force the Urals and unite with their own in the area of ​​the Zhilaya Kosa. From the division there were 700 – 800 people left, there were many sick. About 200 people decided to go with Gorshkov, the rest decided to go home. A small detachment was able to force the river. Ural on ice, but then it was defeated by the Kazakhs of Alash-Orda. Only a small group escaped (Esaul Pletnev and 30 Cossacks) and two months later, by March 1920, reached Aleksandrovsk.

Vladimir Sergeevich Tolstov (1884 – 1956). The last ataman of the Ural Cossack army, the last commander of the Ural separate army

Death march

At the end of 1919, Tolstov left with the remnants of the army, fragments of the White Guard units, which were located in the area east of Astrakhan, and refugees (about 15-16 thousand people in total) on a 1200-kilometer campaign along the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea to Fort Alexandrovsky. It was a small fortress, formerly built by the Russians as a base for the conquest of Western Turkestan. There in advance, even during the navigation, substantial stocks of provisions, ammunition and clothing were taken out. In Aleksandrovsk, the Urals planned to establish ties with the Turkestan army of General Kazanovich and cross over to the Caucasian coast in Port-Petrovsk.

Before the villages of Zhiloy Kos and Prorva, there were still wintering places for local residents, but there were no further camps. Before the Residential Spit, the hike was more or less normal. There were winter quarters, food. The carts went in an almost continuous belt. It was possible to replace horses with camels more adapted to local conditions. In the Residential Kos, units, logistic institutions and refugees were provided with food for the onward journey (1 pound of wheat flour per day, for a total of 30 days).

Before the breakthrough, the road was worse. There were two roads. Nice steppe, but longer, bypassing narrow sea arms. And a short winter one, almost along the coast, where there were many narrow sea branches (eriks). In frosts, eriks froze. There were severe frosts, so most of them took the second route. But on the second day of the journey, it became sharply warmer, it started raining, the water began to arrive, the ice was washed away and it began to break when moving. This made the journey much more difficult. Many carts have drowned or are stuck to death. Prorva was a small fishing village, so they didn’t stay there. Only a small group of patients remained here, as well as those who wanted to try their luck – to drive to Fort Aleksandrovsky on the ice when the sea freezes. It was a shorter route. But this time the ice was broken by the southerly wind and the refugees had to return to Prorva. There they were captured by the arriving Reds.

From Prorva to Aleksandrovsk there were more than 700 miles of bare desert. Here the hike passed through a deserted desert with icy winds and frosts down to minus 30 degrees. The trek was poorly organized. They went out in a hurry, without proper preparation for moving through the bare, deserted desert, in frosts. General Tolstov sent a hundred Cossacks to the fort in advance to arrange supply and rest points along the way and prepare the fort for their arrival. This hundred did something, but it was not enough. The purchase of camels for soldiers and refugees from local residents was not organized. Although the Ural troops had money: the military treasury brought at least 30 boxes of 2 poods each with silver rubles to Aleksandrovsk. And there was a lot of property, it was mostly just abandoned along the way. This good could be exchanged for camels, wagons, felt carpets (koshma) for protection from the wind. There was no fuel, no food, they cut and ate horses, spent the night in the snow. People burned everything to survive, carts, saddles and even stocks of rifles. Many did not wake up anymore. Each halt in the morning was like a large cemetery. Dying and freezing people killed themselves and their families. Therefore, this campaign was called the “Death March” or “Ice Campaign in the Desert.”

By March 1920, only about 2-4 thousand frostbitten, hungry and sick Urals and other refugees passed through the icy desert. Mostly young, healthy and well-dressed people arrived (this is how the English mission reached almost without loss). The rest died of hunger, cold, typhus, or were killed by the Red and local nomads, or turned back. Local residents, taking advantage of the plight of the Urals, attacked small groups of people, killed and robbed them. Some of the refugees returned back. The Orenburg Cossacks, who were with the Urals, turned back. Many, especially the sick and wounded, women with children, remained in Zhilaya Kos, a small fishing village. She was occupied by the Reds on December 29, 1919 (January 10, 1920).

By this time, the terrible march to the Alexander Fort had lost its meaning. The Turkestan army of Kazanovich was defeated in December 1919 and at the beginning of 1920 its remnants were blocked in the Krasnovodsk region. On February 6, 1920, the remnants of the Turkestan army were evacuated from Krasnovodsk to Dagestan on the ships of the Caspian Flotilla of the Armed Forces of the South of Russia, part of the White Guards fled to Persia together with the British. The war between the White and Red armies in West Turkestan is over. The Whites were defeated in the South of Russia as well. The Denikinites were retreating from the Caucasus. The evacuation was poorly organized, and disagreements began with the command of the flotilla. The fleet sometimes sent ships, but they were primarily busy with the transport of goods. Therefore, they managed to evacuate to Petrovsk only non-Cossack units, some of the wounded, seriously ill and frostbitten Cossacks. The port of Petrovsk was abandoned at the end of March 1920 and further evacuation to the Caucasus became impossible.

Campaign of the Uralites to Persia

On April 4, 1920, from the port of Petrovsk, which became the main base of the red Volga-Caspian flotilla, the destroyer Karl Liebknecht (and the fighter boat Zorky) approached the fort. The detachment was commanded by the commander of the flotilla Raskolnikov. the last remnants of the Ural army The Cossacks, completely demoralized by the previous dramatic events, lost their will to resist and surrendered. More than 1600 people were captured.

General Tolstov with a small detachment (a little more than 200 people) went on a new campaign towards Krasnovodsk and further to Persia. The Ural army ceased to exist. After two months of the hardest campaign, on June 2, 1920, Tolstov’s detachment went to the city of Ramian (Persia). 162 people remained in the detachment. Then the detachment reached Tehran. General Tolstov suggested that the British create an Ural unit as part of an expeditionary force in Persia. At first, the British expressed interest, but then abandoned the idea. The Cossacks were placed in a refugee camp in Basra, and in 1921 they were transferred together with the sailors of the White Caspian Flotilla to Vladivostok. With the fall of Vladivostok in the fall of 1922, the Urals fled to China. Some of the Cossacks remained in China and lived in Harbin for some time together with the Orenburg Cossacks. Others moved to Europe, some went to Australia with Tolstov.

A small part of the Urals, whom they managed to evacuate from Alexandrovsk to the Caucasus, during the retreat of Denikin’s army ended up in Transcaucasia, some to Azerbaijan, others to Georgia. From Azerbaijan, the Cossacks tried to get into Armenia, but were blocked, defeated and captured. From Georgia, part of the Cossacks was able to get to the Crimea, where they served under General Wrangel.

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