Troubles. 1919 year. On September 28, 1919, unexpectedly for the Reds, Yudenich’s army launched an offensive. The units of the two red armies defending the Petrograd direction were defeated and thrown back in different directions, the 7th army to the northeast, the 15th army to the southeast. The White Guards broke through the front, took Yamburg on October 11, Luga on October 13, Krasnoye Selo on October 16, and Gatchina on October 17.
Defense of Petrograd 1919. Seeing the Red Army soldiers to the front. On the podium – G. E. Zinoviev and L. D. Trotsky
The North-Western Army, pursuing the retreating Reds in panic, made transitions with battles of 30-40 kilometers per day. On October 18, General Yudenich ordered the 1st Corps of the North-Western Army to begin the assault on Petrograd. On October 19, the 5th Livenskaya division of the Whites captured the village of Ligovo, and by the evening of October 20, the troops of the 7th Red Army withdrew to the line of Pulkovo Heights, the last tactical line on the way to the northern capital.
Breakthrough of the defense of the Red Army
The white command counted on occupying Petrograd by a sudden and strong blow along the shortest direction Yamburg – Gatchina. Part of the generals of the North-Western Army (NWA) believed that before attacking Petrograd, it was necessary to secure the southern flank, take Pskov, or even choose the Pskov direction as the main one. However, the opinion of those commanders prevailed who believed that in a maneuverable civil war, success would bring a blow with the main forces along the shortest direction to Petrograd, despite the situation on the flanks. On the Pskov and Luga directions, only auxiliary, distracting strikes were delivered. The NWA flanks were covered by Estonian troops: in the north – the 1st Estonian division, in the south (Pskov direction) – the 2nd Estonian division.
The red command, weakened by the apparent weakness of the previously defeated SZA, by the peace negotiations with Estonia, missed the enemy’s preparation for the offensive. Intelligence was poorly placed and did not reveal the plans of the White Guards. In addition, when, as a result of the September counteroffensive of the Red Army, the Whites were defeated and thrown back from Petrograd and the immediate danger to the city was over, many of the most efficient units, commanders, commissars and communists were transferred to the Southern Front, where Denikin’s army was breaking through to Moscow and the situation was extremely dangerous. … Therefore, the 7th Red Army (about 25 thousand bayonets and sabers, 148 guns and 2 armored trains), which took up defenses directly in the Petrograd direction, in a sector of 250 km, was noticeably weakened and not ready for a surprise attack by the enemy.
On September 28, 1919, NWA units, in order to divert the Reds from the direction of the main attack, launched an offensive in the Luga and Pskov directions. Part of the 2nd Rifle Corps (4th Division), with the support of tanks that were used for the first time in this sector of the front, easily broke through the enemy’s front in a wide sector. The next day, the offensive was continued, but without the participation of a tank detachment. The tanks had to be returned to the base in Gdov due to the poor condition of the engines and broken roads. In the first few days, the whites developed an offensive, but from October 1, the movement slowed down noticeably, since the red command transferred large reserves to this direction. The Reds tried to counterattack, but without success. On October 13, the Whites took Luga, on October 17 they reached the Strugi Belye station, intercepting the Pskov-Luga railway. At this point, White’s successes, due to their extremely small number and lack of reserves, practically ended in this direction.
In the future, the White Guards were able to advance 20-30 km east of the Pskov-Luga road. By October 21, when the decisive battles for the Pulkovo Heights were taking place, the NWA units on the southern flank occupied the Batetskaya junction station along the Petrograd-Dno and Luga-Novgorod railways. At the same time, the 2nd Estonian division, which stood against Pskov, showed complete passivity, not joining the battle throughout the entire operation. Although the Estonians could quite easily capture Pskov and divert significant forces of the Red Army. The passivity of the Estonians led to the fact that the southern flank of the NWA remained open for a counterattack by the Red Army.
Thus, the offensive of the Whites in the Luga and Pskov directions, despite rather modest successes, solved the main problem. The Soviet command, believing that it was in the Pskov direction that the enemy was delivering the main blow, transferred large forces to the Pskov and Luga area, removing their Yamburg sector.
On the northern flank, the Whites and Estonians launched an offensive on October 8, 1919. From the sea, they were supported by the forces of the British Navy and the Estonian Navy. The left flank of the Northwestern Army advanced along the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, with its main task of capturing the forts of Gray Horse (from October 21 – Advanced) and Krasnoflotsky (formerly Krasnaya Gorka). The operation was led by the Estonian admiral Johan Pitka.
On October 10, 1919, the SZA launched an offensive in the main, Yamburg-Petrograd direction. Yudenich’s army (2nd, 3rd and 5th divisions of the 1st corps) quite easily broke through the enemy’s defenses. Already on October 10, the whites captured the river crossings. Luga, and on October 11, with the support of a shock tank battalion, they captured Yamburg. Here the white tanks stopped for a long time, as did the armored trains and armored vehicles of the SZA. The only railway bridge across the river. Lugu was blown up when the Reds left Yamburg, and other bridges in the area could not bear the weight of the tanks. The tanks were only transported on October 20. Armored trains and armored cars were delayed even longer, until the completion of the repair of the railway bridge in early November (at this time the Whites were already defeated and retreating).
Pursuing the retreating Reds in panic, the White Guards began to develop an offensive along the Yamburg-Gatchina railway line. White units, almost without encountering resistance, made transitions of 30-40 kilometers per day. The 7th Red Army suffered a heavy defeat, the units fled in chaos and panic, without communication with the command and even without enemy pressure. The spare regiments of the Petrograd Military District, hastily sent to the front, simply fell apart along the way, of which up to 50 – 70% of the personnel deserted.
On October 16, the Whites occupied Krasnoe Selo, on October 17 – Gatchina. On the same day, the headquarters of the 7th Red Army moved from Detskoye Selo to Petrograd. A serious threat loomed over the heart of the revolution. By the evening of October 17, the White Guards were 15 km from the Nikolaev (October) railway. By cutting this highway, Yudenich’s troops could cut off Petrograd from the possibility of delivering the main reinforcements. This would greatly complicate the defense of the city. However, the Vetrenko 3rd Division, advancing in this direction, did not carry out the order to capture the Tosno station. The main forces of the division headed towards Petrograd, which gave the Reds time to concentrate large forces in the area and cover the iron canal.
On October 18, the commander-in-chief of the NWA Yudenich ordered the 1st corps to begin the assault on Petrograd. On October 19, the 5th Livenskaya division of the whites occupied the village of Ligovo. By the evening of October 20, the Red Army retreated to the line of the Pulkovo Heights, the last tactical line on the way to the city. The headquarters of the red 6th rifle division moved to Petrograd, to the Baltic station. On October 21 and 22, there were bloody battles for the possession of the Pulkovo Heights. Having captured these heights, the whites could conduct artillery fire at the Putilov and Obukhov factories with their workers’ settlements.
Meanwhile, the White and Estonian offensive on the northern flank had failed. The operation to capture the Forts of the Frontline and Krasnaya Gorka did not lead to success. The garrisons of the forts, despite the fire of the naval guns of the Estonian fleet, the raids of Estonian and British planes, and the attacks of the ground forces, held their positions. At the same time, they fired actively at sea and land targets, forcing the enemy to withdraw. In addition, the forces of the British fleet and Estonia were distracted by the performance of the Western Volunteer Army of Bermondt-Avalov, which, instead of helping the NWA attack on Petrograd, confronted the Latvian government and tried to seize Riga. This led to the fact that the entire coastal flank remained behind the Reds, where Estonian and British landings were to operate with the support of the British fleet. As a result, Red troops from the areas of Peterhof, Oranienbaum and Strelna began to threaten the left flank of the NWA, advancing on Petrograd. Since October 19, the Reds have been attacking Ropsha. And the ships of the Red Baltic Fleet were able to land the landing of sailors on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland and shell the enemy positions.
“Don’t surrender Petrograd!”
It is worth noting that by the beginning of the storming of Petrograd by Yudenich’s army, the situation had already changed in favor of the Red Army. SZA was initially small in number, did not have second echelons and reserves. That is, it was necessary to storm Petrograd with the same units that began the campaign, tired, exhausted. Tanks and armored trains at the moment of decisive battles at Petrograd remained in the rear. And the enemy received fresh reinforcements and reserves all the time. It was not possible to intercept all the railways to Petrograd. The calculation to support the Estonian army and the British fleet did not come true. As a result, the northern and southern flanks of Yudenich’s army remained open. The western volunteer army of Bermondt-Avalov, which was supposed to develop an offensive from Dvinsk to Velikiye Luki, in order to further cut the Nikolaev railway, breaking ties between Petrograd and Moscow, staged its own war in the Baltic states. Bermondt-Avalov began a campaign to Riga. This caused a terrible commotion in the region. The British fleet, the best Estonian and Latvian regiments were sent to Riga, which led to the strongest weakening of the anti-Bolshevik forces.
In the meantime, the Reds restored their defenses by emergency measures. The Red Command regained consciousness after the first shock and strengthened the defense. The headquarters of the Petrograd fortified area sent 18 thousand soldiers to the front with 59 guns from the Petrograd garrison (in total, the Petrograd district had more than 200 thousand people). On the coastal flank, troops of the Baltic Fleet sailors were landed – up to 11 thousand soldiers in order to hold the coast and forts. Detachments made up of the most motivated fighters, communists, cadets of courses of red commanders, sailors of the Baltic Fleet, workers, etc. were transferred to the front. Reinforcements were arriving in the city. So, on the basis of military units that arrived from the Eastern and Southern Fronts, the Bashkir Group of Forces was formed. On October 17, the Bashkir Separate Cavalry Division and the Bashkir Separate Rifle Brigade were sent to defend the Pulkovo Heights.
On October 15, 1919, when the catastrophic situation in the Petrograd direction became obvious, a meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RCP (b) was held. A resolution was adopted: “Not to surrender Petrograd. To remove the maximum number of people from the White Sea Front for the defense of the Petrograd region. Help Petrograd by sending a certain amount of cavalry … “. Trotsky was sent to the cradle of the revolution; on the 17th he arrived in the city.
Trotsky, by the most brutal methods, restored order in the units of the disorganized 7th Army. The red units now offered the fiercest resistance, fighting for every inch of land. The “District of Internal Defense” of Petrograd and the “Headquarters of Internal Defense”, which were operating during the first spring offensive of the White Guards, were restored, which were supposed to organize the defense inside the city. In 11 districts of Petrograd, their own headquarters and armed detachments were created – a battalion with a machine-gun command and artillery. Plans for street battles were developed, streets and bridges were blocked with machine-gun points. The evacuation and destruction of the most important objects were being prepared. Three lines of defense were prepared inside the city. On October 20, the mobilization of all workers between the ages of 18 and 43 was announced. The mobilization of the city’s communists was carried out, the communists arrived from other parts of Russia, and the Komsomol members were also mobilized. Improved the supply of the city and the army. All this led to a fundamental turning point in the battle. Already on October 21, the 7th Red Army launched a counteroffensive.
Bashkir group of forces in Petrograd
To be continued…