Frunze against Wrangel. Retreat of the White Guards from Tavria to the Crimea

Vladimirov I. A. “Capture of tanks near Kakhovka”. 1927 g.

A decisive battle took place in Northern Tavria a hundred years ago. The Red Army defeated Wrangel’s Russian army. With great difficulty, the White Guards broke through to the Crimea, having lost up to 50% of their personnel in battles.

General environment

After a heavy defeat in the Zadneprovskoy operation, White went over to the defensive. Meanwhile, the Red Army has qualitatively and quantitatively increased its forces in the Crimean direction. First, Frunze reached an agreement with Makhno. The Makhnovists again sided with the Bolsheviks against the Whites. Makhno and his commanders fielded 11-12 thousand soldiers. At the call of Makhno, the atamans who joined him with their detachments and part of the peasants mobilized by the White fled from Wrangel’s army. The situation in the rear of the White Army deteriorated significantly, many insurgents and partisans in the Crimea and Tavria considered themselves to be supporters of the Makhno line.

Secondly, Poland made peace with Soviet Russia. Moscow had to give Warsaw the regions occupied by the Poles in Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, which were the consequences of the erroneous decisions of the military-political leadership headed by Trotsky (dreams of a red Warsaw and Berlin) and the mistakes of the high command and command of the Western Front, headed by Tukhachevsky. The Blitzkrieg in the west ended in failure. However, the Red Army was strong in numbers (5 million fighters on all fronts and directions) and significantly increased in quality, and the Poles understood this. They felt it in the fierce battles for Lvov, Warsaw, Grodno and Kobrin. The Polish leadership hastened to make peace until the Reds recovered from their failures, defeated the White Guards and pounced on Poland with all their might. The Second Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was exhausted by the war and was in a hurry to emerge victorious from the war. Peace was concluded, troops from the Polish front began to be transferred to the South.

Thirdly, the Soviet command in October 1920 made a powerful regrouping of forces. 80-90 thousand people were transferred to the Southern Front. From the Western (Polish) Front, control of Lazarevich’s 4th Army, Budyonny’s 1st Cavalry Army was transferred, from Siberia – the powerful 30th Infantry Division (3 rifle brigades – each with three regiments, a cavalry regiment). A new 3rd Kashirin Cavalry Corps (5th and 9th Cavalry Divisions) has been formed. The number of Frunze’s troops increased to 140 thousand people (there were 100 thousand people directly on the front line) with 500 guns, 2.6 thousand machine guns, 17 armored trains, 31 armored cars, about 30 aircraft. According to other data, the number of the Southern Front before the offensive consisted of 180-190 thousand bayonets and sabers, about 1 thousand guns, 45 aircraft and 57 armored vehicles.

Against the Red Wrangelites (1st and 2nd armies, shock group) could deploy about 56 thousand bayonets and sabers (directly on the front line – 37 thousand fighters), over 200 guns and 1.6 thousand machine guns, 14 armored trains, 25 tanks and 20 armored cars, 42 aircraft. At the same time, the White Guards were drained of blood and demoralized by the just-completed defeat on the Dnieper. They did not have the opportunity to quickly replenish the ranks. The Red Army men, on the contrary, were inspired by the victory. The personnel structure of the Russian army by October 1920 had noticeably changed for the worse. Cadre frontline officers, volunteers and Cossacks were knocked out by incessant fighting. In their place came former insurgents – “green”, prisoners of the Red Army, mobilized peasants. The fighting efficiency of the army dropped sharply, many soldiers at the first opportunity tried to surrender and go over to the side of the Red Army.

Mikhail Frunze in the early 1920s

Parties plans

Despite the heavy defeat and the unsuccessful disposition of the troops, the large numerical superiority of the enemy (3-5 times), the dispersion of troops in different directions, the white command abandoned the idea of ​​retreating to the Crimea. Although the chief of staff, General Shatilov, suggested withdrawing the troops to the peninsula, fearing the encirclement and death of the army. It was decided to take battle in Northern Tavria. Wrangel underestimated the strength and capabilities of the Red Army, believed that his troops, as before, would be able to reflect the enemy’s blow. Withdrawal from Tavria to the Crimea deprived the White of important resources and room for maneuver. Also, the commander-in-chief of the Russian army proceeded from the political situation. The withdrawal of white troops to the Crimea could lead to the refusal of France to provide assistance to the whites. And he put an end to the possibility of the transition of the White Guard units from Poland through Ukraine. This error in calculations hastened the defeat of the White Army.

The two-week hiatus allowed White to replenish parts at the expense of spare parts. But the replenishment was weak, “raw”. Another reorganization of the army was also carried out. The 1st army of Kutepov included the 1st and 2nd corps, she held the defenses on the Dnieper and in the northern direction. 2nd Army – 3rd Army and Don Corps, covered the eastern flank. General Abramov was appointed commander of the 2nd Army instead of Dratsenko. The reserve was Barbovich’s Cavalry Corps and the group of General Kantserov (formerly Babiev’s group). Believing that the Reds would strike the main blow from the Nikopol area, in the 20th of October, Wrangel began to withdraw units of the 2nd Army to the southwest, to Chongar.

Frunze was in no hurry with the operation, he prepared it carefully. The command of the Southern Front developed an offensive plan based on the geographical features of the theater of operations. The troops advanced in converging directions in order to destroy the white troops in Northern Tavria and prevent them from leaving for the Crimea. The main blow was delivered by the Western grouping: the 6th Army of Kork and the 1st Cavalry Army of Budyonny. The western group was supposed to attack from the Kakhovka area in the direction of the isthmuses and Sivash, take Perekop and Chongar, cutting off the enemy from the Crimean peninsula. The northern group, Lazarevich’s 4th Army and Mironov’s 2nd Cavalry Army, struck from the Nikopol area to Chongar in order to smash, dismember and surround the elite enemy troops (Kornilovskaya, Markovskaya and Drozdovskaya divisions, cavalry corps). Then the Northern group was to break through to the Crimea through the Chongar Isthmus. The eastern group, the 13th Army of Uborevich, from the Orekhov-Chernigovka region, inflicted an auxiliary blow on Tokmak and Melitopol in order to bind the enemy forces and prevent him from leaving the peninsula.

Main battle

White began the battle. On October 20, 1920, they tried to launch an offensive in the direction of Pavlodar. However, the Wrangelites got bogged down in battles with the Makhnovists and the 42nd Infantry Division of the 13th Army. On the 23rd, the Makhnovists and units of the 4th Army, having overturned the Northern Group of Wrangel’s army, entered Aleksandrovsk. On the 24th the Makhnovists rushed along the rear of the Whites to Melitopol. Having broken through to B. Tokmak, Makhno turned sharply to the northeast and moved to Gulyai-Pole. This was a violation of the order. A stubborn battle unfolded for Gulyai-Pole, which drained Makhno’s group.

On October 26, Mironov’s army crossed the Dnieper near Nikopol, threw back the Kornilovites and occupied two bridgeheads. On October 28, the general offensive of the Red Army began. The operation was carried out in severe frost (unusual for these places) and a blizzard, which hid the movement of troops. The White Army was unprepared for the “unexpected” onset of winter. There was no winter uniform. The soldiers, in order not to freeze, left their positions and went to the villages. Hundreds of fighters were frostbitten, morale dropped even more.

The Western grouping of the Southern Front achieved the greatest success. Two shock groups attacked from the Kakhovsky bridgehead: the 15th and 51st rifle divisions marched south to Perekop; The 1st Cavalry and the Latvian Division were aiming southeast to link up with the 2nd Cavalry. The 6th Army, which attacked from the Kakhovsky bridgehead, broke into the defenses of Vitkovsky’s 2nd corps and moved to Perekop, driving the enemy in front of it. The breakthrough immediately entered the army of Budyonny. On October 29, the Reds took Perekop. The main forces of the whites in this direction retreated to the peninsula. The Reds went to the rear of Kutepov’s 1st Army. However, the Red Army could not break into the Crimea on the move. The 51st division of Blucher, with the support of artillery, tanks and armored cars, stormed the Perekop fortifications, in places burst into the Turkish Wall, but was thrown back by an enemy counterattack. The Reds in this area went on the defensive.

Army Budyonny, leaving behind the Latvian riflemen, deeply entered the rear of the enemy and was preparing to go to join Mironov’s cavalry. The front command, believing that the 2nd Cavalry Army was successfully advancing and did not need help, ordered the 1st Cavalry to go south. Budyonny arbitrarily divided the army: the 6th and 11th cavalry divisions, according to the old plan, went north, and the army headquarters with the 4th and 14th divisions, a reserve cavalry brigade went south. This was a serious mistake, it was impossible to disperse the forces of the Cavalry. The Budennovists went to the Agayman area and on the coast of the Sivash, broke through to Chongar to cut off the Wrangelites from the peninsula. They intercepted the railway to the Crimea. As a result, the White Army fell into the “cauldron”. Wrangel’s headquarters in Dzhankoy was cut off from the front. The headquarters managed to order Kutepov to combine the forces of the 1st and 2nd armies and break through to the peninsula.

On the same day, the Crimean group of Makhno (5 thousand sabers and bayonets, 30 guns and 350 machine guns) broke into Melitopol. However, the offensive of the Northern and Eastern groupings of the Southern Front was halted by fierce enemy resistance. The 4th and 13th armies were unable to fulfill the assigned tasks, dismembering the enemy’s defenses. The Reds pressed the enemy, Abramov’s 2nd Army slowly backed away, clung to each line, snarled strongly. The 2nd Cavalry Army was unable to advance beyond B. Belozerka, getting bogged down in battles with three Cossack divisions.

On October 30, the Budennovites gained access to Crimea through Chongar. The white command gathered all the forces available on the peninsula (cadets, Fostikov’s brigade, artillery school, the commander-in-chief’s convoy) and threw them into the defense of the isthmus. The slow advance of the northern and eastern enemy groupings allowed the whites to regroup their forces, cover themselves with rear guards and rush the entire army to break through to the Crimea. A strike group was concentrated in the Agayman area: Drozdovskaya, Markovskaya and Kornilovskaya infantry divisions, cavalry. At the same time, the Don Corps with a strong counterattack fettered the 2nd Cavalry Army. The Donets defeated the 2nd Cavalry Division. With a blow from the north, the White Army was making its way to the Crimea. White cavalry was able to beat Budyonny’s divisions separately. First, Barbovich’s corps threw Morozov’s 11th cavalry division back, then hit Gorodovikov’s 6th division. In a stubborn battle that lasted several hours, two of Budyonny’s divisions were defeated.

On October 31, Frunze ordered Budenny to gather strength into a fist and stand to death. Mironov was ordered to break through to Salkovo, to the aid of the 1st Army. However, Budyonny could no longer carry out this order. The connection between the parts was lost. They fought separately. The 6th and 11th divisions, defeated the day before, received reinforcements from Latvians and took hold in the Agayman area. Selected units of the 1st Army Corps came out here and again defeated the red cavalry. The 11th division lost its entire command staff. Having covered himself from the attacking Latvians with the Kornilov division, Kutepov led the rest of the troops to Otrada and Rozhdestvenskoe. In Otrada, the White Guards defeated the reserve cavalry brigade and the headquarters of the 1st Cavalry. Voroshilov was barely rescued. Budyonny demanded that Timoshenko’s 4th cavalry division be sent to his aid, but it was tied up in battle with the Don and parts of the 3rd army corps. And the 14th Cavalry Division of Parkhomenko in Rozhdestvenskoye was defeated by Barbovich’s corps. The 1st Cavalry Army was thrown back from Chongar, blocking at Salkov and Genichesk, pressing it to Sivash. Army Budyonny did not expect a strong blow from the seemingly defeated enemy, was defeated in parts and itself was under the threat of defeat.

As a result, on October 30-31, 1920, the corps of the Russian army made their way through the disposition of the troops of the 1st Cavalry Army. Barbovich’s cavalry corps and Kutepov’s infantry successively defeated the 6th, 11th and 14th cavalry divisions, Budyonny’s headquarters lost contact with the troops. October 31 – November 1-2, most of the White Army, repelling the attacks of individual units of the Reds, left Tavria for the Crimea. Only on November 3, the gap in Chongar was closed by units of the 4th, 1st Cavalry and 2nd Cavalry armies. On the same day, the Reds broke through the enemy’s defenses on Sivash and occupied Chongar. The Whites blew up all the bridges to the Crimea. It was not possible to surround and destroy Wrangel’s army. But the White Army lost Northern Tavria, its base and bridgehead, and suffered a heavy defeat. Its losses amounted to 50% of the personnel killed, wounded, frostbitten and captured. Material losses were also great.

Frunze noted:

“Especially remarkable is the departure of the main core to the Crimea. The Wrangelites, cut off from the isthmuses, still did not lose their presence of mind, and at least with colossal sacrifices, they made their way to the peninsula. “

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