M. B. Grekov. Battle of Yegorlykskaya
In January – early February 1920, the Red Army tried to “finish off” Denikin’s army in the Caucasus. However, she met with fierce resistance and was thrown back. The first attempt to liberate the Caucasus failed.
General situation at the front
After the fall of Rostov and Novocherkassk, Denikin’s army retreated beyond the Don and Sal. The White Guards were able to repel the first attempts of the Red Army to break through the Don. The Reds were tired of previous offensives, drained of blood by battles, a strong epidemic of typhus and desertion.
In early January 1920, the front passed along the Don to the village of Verkhne-Kurmoyarovskaya and from there, crossing the Tsaritsyn-Tikhoretskaya railway line, went along the Sal to the Kalmyk steppes. In the Rostov direction and in the center, the main forces of Denikin were located: the Separate Volunteer Corps of Kutepov and Sidorin’s Don army. Pokrovsky’s Caucasian army stood behind Salom. The volunteers held their defenses in the Azov-Bataysk sector, where they expected the main enemy forces to strike. Bataysk was turned into a stronghold. To the south of Bataysk there was a reserve – the Kuban corps. Don buildings were located from the village of Olginskaya and further. White forces numbered about 60 thousand people with 450 guns and over 1,180 machine guns.
The Red South-Eastern Front on January 16, 1920 was transformed into the Caucasian Front under the command of Vasily Shorin (from January 24 he was temporarily replaced by Chief of Staff Fedor Afanasyev, then the front was headed by Mikhail Tukhachevsky). The Caucasian Front was tasked with crushing the North Caucasian grouping of the White Army and liberating the Caucasus. The front initially included: 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 1st Cavalry armies. The 8th and 1st Cavalry armies were located in the Rostov direction, the 9th Army was in the center, and the 10th and 11th armies were on the left flank. Front troops numbered over 70 thousand bayonets and sabers, about 600 guns and over 2,700 machine guns. That is, the Reds did not have a decisive superiority in forces in the Caucasian direction. In addition, the Reds were tired and drained of blood by the previous offensive, their communications were stretched, the railways were destroyed during the hostilities. Therefore, the Red Army could not quickly restore, replenish the thinned out units, send reinforcements, arrange the supply of weapons, ammunition and provisions.
The plans of the Soviet command
The area beyond the Don was a plain with a large number of lakes, bolt, streams and rivers, which strengthened the position of the defending White Guards and interfered with the maneuvering actions of the Reds. Also, the Reds underestimated the enemy, believed that it would be easy to “finish off” the already defeated Denikinites.
The Soviet command decided to force the Don and Manych on the move, not to wait for spring, not allowing the enemy to gain a foothold in these positions and regain strength. Occupy the line Yeysk – Velikoknyazheskaya, develop an offensive on Tikhoretskaya. The 1st Cavalry Army of Budyonny received the task of crushing the volunteers, reaching the Yeisk, Kushchevskaya line. Sokolnikov’s 8th army struck in the area of Bataysk and Olginskaya, was supposed to defeat the 3rd Don corps and reach the Kushchevskaya, Mechetinskaya line; Stepin’s 9th army to defeat parts of the 2nd and 1st Don corps, reach the Mechetinskaya, Grand-Ducal line, then send Dumenko’s cavalry corps to Tikhoretskaya; Pavlov’s 10th Army – to defeat the 1st Kuban Corps and advance on the Grand Duke. The 11th army of Vasilenko, with its right flank, advanced on Torgovaya. Other units of the 11th Army advanced on Divnoe, Holy Cross and Kizlyar, opposing the North Caucasian troops of General Erdeli. Thus, the main blow was struck at the “joint” between the volunteers who were in the lower reaches of the Don and the bottom. It was also the shortest route to Yekaterinodar.
On January 17-18, 1920, units of the 1st Cavalry and the 8th Army tried to cross the Don, but did not succeed due to the early thaw and the lack of ferry facilities. On January 19, the Reds were able to cross the river and occupy the Olginskaya, and the troops of the 8th Army – Sulin and Darievskaya. On January 20, the Reds attacked Bataysk, occupied by volunteers, but got stuck in a swampy area. The red cavalry could not turn around, and the volunteers successfully repelled attacks on the forehead.
Meanwhile, the white command, in order to eliminate the enemy’s breakthrough, transferred its reserve cavalry corps of General Toporkov (the remnants of Shkuro’s 3rd corps, Barbovich’s cavalry brigade) to the Bataysk area. Also, the 4th Don Corps was transferred to the battle area, which, after the death of Mamontov, was led by General Pavlov. The white cavalry secretly concentrated and dealt a sudden blow to the enemy. Volunteers also counterattacked. The Budenovites, who did not expect a strong blow, were overturned. Parts of the 1st Cavalry and 8th armies were forced to leave the already occupied bridgehead, to retreat beyond the Don. A day later, the Red Army again tried to attack, captured Olginskaya, but after a counterattack by the White cavalry, it again retreated beyond the Don.
Soviet troops suffered significant losses in manpower, lost over 20 guns. The 8th Army divisions (15th, 16th, 31st and 33rd) were badly battered. On the other hand, the morale of the whites rose. The failure of the 1st Cavalry and the 8th armies led to a conflict between the commander of the army Budyonny and the commander of the front Shorin. Budyonny shouted that his troops were thrown head-on at the well-fortified positions of the enemy, for which the cavalry was not intended. The terrain was unsuitable for the deployment of cavalry. The front commander believed that the main reason for the failure was an unjustified pause in hostilities, when the troops, taking Novocherkassk and Rostov, were walking and drinking, which the commanders condoned also. Shorin noted that the Budennovites drowned their military glory in the wine cellars of Rostov. In addition, the command of the 1st Cavalry Army did not use all of its forces. As a result, the front command was changed. Shorin was sent to Siberia, and from there the “winner of Kolchak” Tukhachevsky was summoned, who led the Caucasian Front. Before his arrival, Afanasyev was acting as front commander.
Commander of the Consolidated Cavalry Corps, General S.M. Toporkov
Commander of a cavalry brigade, a combined cavalry division, General I. G. Barbovich
However, on the eastern flank of the Caucasian Front, the Reds were successful. The 9th and 10th armies crossed the Don and Sal on the ice, reached the line of Starocherkasskaya, Bagaevskaya, Holodny, Kargalskaya and Remontnoye. The Reds pressed the 1st and 2nd Don corps, the weak Caucasian army. Dontsov was thrown back beyond Manych, the 21st Infantry Division crossed the river and captured Manychskaya. There was a threat to the flank and rear of the main grouping of Denikin’s army.
The Soviet command decided to transfer the main blow to the zone of the 9th Army, transfer Budyonny’s army there and attack together with Dumenko’s cavalry corps. The 9th and 10th armies were to develop the offensive in the same direction. Having regrouped the forces, on January 27-28, the troops of the Caucasian Front again went on the offensive. Budenny’s army went to the Manychskaya area. Dumenko’s cavalry, together with the 23rd rifle division, struck from the Sporny area to Vesyoliy, crossed the Manych and defeated the Don infantry of the 2nd corps. There was a threat of a breakthrough of the red cavalry in the rear of Denikin’s army.
However, the white command was able to avoid disaster. In the Efremov area, a shock fist was urgently formed from the 4th Don corps, units of the 1st and 2nd Don corps. Toporkov’s corps was urgently moved to the area of the breakthrough. The Donets attacked Dumenko’s corps and the 23rd division from three directions. The Reds retreated behind Manych. Then White struck at Budennovtsy, who also retreated to Manych. As a result, the offensive of the shock group of the Caucasian Front was thwarted. The volunteers also repelled new attempts by the Reds to advance in the Bataysk area. The fighting continued for several more days. January 31 – February 2, the Reds again tried to force the Manych, but were thrown back. On February 6, the offensive was stopped, the troops went over to the defensive.
This failure caused a new controversy in the Soviet command. Shorin believed that the 1st Cavalry Army, after the first successful strike, delayed for half a day, without starting to pursue the enemy. And White managed to regroup his forces. Voroshilov, a member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the 1st Cavalry Army, had a different point of view: the point was that two cavalry groups (Budenny’s army and Dumenko’s corps) were advancing separately, were not united under one command. As a result, Dumenko’s corps pulled ahead, Budyonny’s troops were just preparing to force the Manych. This allowed White to defeat Dumenko and Budyonny separately.
Thus, the Red Army was able to fulfill only part of the task: the territory north of the Manych River was occupied, and a bridgehead was created for the development of the North Caucasian strategic operation. The main goal was not achieved: the North Caucasian grouping of the White Army repelled the attack on Tikhoretskaya – Yekaterinodar, successfully counterattacked.
The main reasons for the failure of the Caucasian Front: the Reds did not have a decisive superiority in forces; attacked in isolated directions, could not concentrate efforts on the main direction; poorly used the main striking force of the front – the army of Budyonny, which got stuck in the swampy floodplain of the Don; the Soviet armies were tired and bled from previous battles, had a significant shortage of manpower; cavalry and rifle divisions did not interact well; the enemy was underestimated, the white command skillfully organized the actions of its cavalry, delivered strong counterattacks.
General A.A. Pavlov, Commander of the 4th Don Corps and the Don Army Shock Cavalry Group