How the Red Army inflicted a strategic defeat on the Whites

Troubles. 1919 year. 100 years ago, in December 1919, the Soviet troops of the Southern and Southeastern Fronts inflicted a heavy defeat on the Armed Forces of the South of Russia. Denikin’s army left Kharkov and Kiev, and the whites continued their retreat south. The main forces of the Don army were defeated and driven back beyond the Don.

General situation at the front

Having suffered a heavy defeat on the Kursk-Oryol and Voronezh directions (Battle of Voronezh; Oryol-Kromskoye battle), the Whites abandoned the offensive, suffered heavy losses (up to half of the Volunteer Army), lost their strategic initiative and went on the defensive. On the flanks, the troops of the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia relied on Kiev and Tsaritsyn, in the center they held the Kharkov region.

On the left flank, the Kiev group of General Dragomirov defended. The 12th Soviet army broke through to the Dnieper left bank, interrupted communication between Dragomirov’s troops and the Volunteer Army. By November 18, the Reds occupied Bakhmach and began to threaten the left flank of the Volunteer Army. In the center, leaving Kursk, the Volunteer Army fought, which, replacing May-Mayevsky, was led by Wrangel. He took the army in a disastrous position. On the left flank, the 12th Soviet army marched south along the Dnieper, on the right, Budyonny’s cavalry broke through. White troops lost half of their strength in heavy battles and retreated. The retreating rear and refugees blocked all the roads. The units, which had already switched to self-supply, were increasingly engaged in robbery, speculation and looting. Wrangel himself made the following conclusion: “There is no army as a fighting force!”

Next was the front of the Don army of General Sidorin. The 9th Red Army defeated the White Cossacks. Dumenko’s 2nd Cavalry Corps took Uryurinsk, wedged deeply into the enemy’s defenses between the 1st and 2nd Don corps. The Horp defenses were broken. Don Cossacks retreated to the Don. A deep gap formed between the Volunteer and Don armies, into which Budyonny’s cavalry cut through.

On the right flank in the Tsaritsyn area, the Caucasian army of Pokrovsky was defending, which, due to its small number, pulled all its forces into the Tsaritsyn fortified area. With the beginning of the ice drift, the Trans-Volga units were transferred to the right bank. Their place was immediately taken by the 50th Infantry Division of the 11th Soviet Army. Tsaritsyn began to be subjected to regular artillery fire. From the north and south, the defense of the whites was regularly checked by units of the 10th and 11th Soviet armies.

“Trumpeters of the First Cavalry Army”. Artist M. B. Grekov. 1934. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


By mid-November 1919, the troops of the Red Southern Front, pursuing the enemy, reached the Novograd-Volynsky, Zhitomir line, northwest of Kiev, Nizhyn, Kursk, Liski and Talovaya. The Soviet armies of the South-Eastern Front were located south of Talovaya, Archedinskaya, north of Tsaritsyn and along the left bank of the Volga to Astrakhan, with bridgeheads at Cherny Yar and Enotaevsk. The Southern Front under the command of A.I. Yegorov included the 12th, 14th, 13th, 8th and 1st Cavalry armies. The structure of the South-Eastern Front under the command of V.I.Shorin included the 9th, 10th and 11th armies, and the forces of the Volga-Caspian Flotilla. In total, Soviet troops numbered about 144 thousand people, about 900 guns and over 3800 machine guns.

The plans of the Soviet command

Having defeated the main forces of the Volunteer Army in the battles for Oryol and Voronezh, and defeating part of the forces of the Don Army, the red command continued the offensive without a pause. The commander-in-chief of the Red Army, Sergei Kamenev (a graduate of the General Staff Academy, a former colonel of the tsarist army) proposed to deliver three dissecting strikes to the enemy. The first blow in the Kursk-Kharkov direction was delivered by the troops of the 13th and 14th red armies with the task of cutting the Volunteer Army into two parts and, in cooperation with units of the neighboring 12th Army and the 1st Cavalry and 8th armies, to destroy the enemy army.

The 2nd blow was delivered by the adjacent wings of the Southern Front (1st Cavalry and 8th Armies) and the Southeastern Front (9th Army, Consolidated Cavalry Corps) at the junction between the Volunteer and Don armies in order to complete the division, crush separately, liberate the Donetsk region and reach Taganrog and Rostov-on-Don. Thus, the Reds from the Voronezh region had to break through to the Sea of ​​Azov, dismember the troops of the ARSUR, cutting off the volunteers fighting in the region of Kharkov, Donbass and in Little Russia, from the Cossack regions of the Don and Kuban. The Soviet command calculated that, having lost contact with the volunteers, the Cossack front would quickly stagger and collapse. Therefore, the 1st Cavalry Corps of Budyonny was deployed to the 1st Cavalry Army on November 17, 1919. The shock group of Budyonny originally included: 4th, 6th and 11th cavalry divisions, the 9th and 12th rifle divisions of the 8th army were in operational subordination, in cooperation with it they were supposed to attack, cover the flanks , 40th and 42nd divisions. The group also included a detachment of armored trains, an auto-armored detachment of trucks with machine-gun installations and an aviation detachment.

The third blow was delivered by the left wing of the South-Eastern Front – the 10th and 11th Soviet armies. The main task of the operation is the release of Tsaritsyn, the separation of the forces of the Don and Caucasian armies, their defeat and access to Novocherkassk, the liberation of the Don region.

White command plans

The general plan of White was to go on the defensive, to hold the flanks – Kiev and Tsaritsyn, to hold the lines of the Dnieper and Don. With the right wing of the Volunteer Army and the left wing of the Don Army, counterstrike the enemy strike group, which was breaking through in the Voronezh-Rostov direction.

For this blow, an equestrian group was formed – Mamontov’s 4th Cavalry Corps, the remnants of Shkuro’s 3rd Cavalry Corps. The 2nd Kuban corps of Ulagai was transferred, which was taken from the Caucasian army, the Plastun brigade of the Don army and other units. The general command was carried out by Mamontov. The new commander Wrangel immediately came into conflict with Shkuro and Mamontov, whom he considered the main culprits in the disorder of the cavalry corps. Shkuro dropped out due to illness. Wrangel, who had earlier sharply criticized Mamontov, decided to take command of the group from General Mamantov, leaving him as the commander of the 4th Cavalry Corps and subordinating him to General Ulagay. Offended Mamontov left the troops. This intensified the decomposition of the Kuban and Don people, who refused to fight and sought to leave for their native villages.

An angry Denikin gave the order to dismiss Mamontov from command. However, he met resistance from the Don Ataman Bogaevsky and the command of the Don Army. The Don leadership indicated that the removal of Mamontov had a negative effect on the army, and the 4th Don Corps generally scattered and only Mamontov could collect it. Indeed, when the 4th corps was transferred back to the Don army, Mamontov again led it, gathered a significant number of fighters, and subsequently behind the Don the Mamontovs delivered several powerful blows to the red cavalry. As a result, Denikin had to yield to the Cossacks and give the Don units from the cavalry group back to the Don Army.

Thus, a full-fledged equestrian group was never formed. The Whites are decomposed. Military failures, mistakes and discord among the command could not but affect the troops. On December 11, General Ulagai reported on the complete non-combat capability of his group: “… The Don units, although large in strength, do not want to and cannot withstand the slightest pressure from the enemy … There are absolutely no Kuban and Terek units … There is almost no artillery , machine guns too … “. The desertion of the Kuban people became widespread. Army commander Wrangel, instead of gathering the regiments somewhere in the army’s rear to put them in order, ordered the withdrawal of the “cadres” of the Kuban divisions to the Kuban for reorganization. As a result, the Cossacks and deserters, who were evading the battle, went over to a legal position and in large numbers were pulled to the rear. For the Don, whole regiments went home, on good horses, armed, which caused bewilderment and anger among the remaining Cossacks. The flight only intensified. Returning to their native villages, the Cossacks finally decomposed and lost their combat effectiveness.

With the collapse of the cavalry group, the position of the Volunteer Army became even more difficult. In the future, the volunteers had to make the most difficult flank march under the blows from the right flank of the powerful Soviet 1st Cavalry Army.

In addition, discord continued in the high command of the AFYUR. General Wrangel believed that the situation on the right flank of the Volunteer Army forced him to sever ties with the Don Army and withdraw troops to the Crimea. Referring to the inevitability of breaking ties with the Headquarters, he asked to appoint a commander of all the Kiev region, Novorossiya and the Volunteer Army. Denikin was categorically against the retreat to the Crimea. If the volunteers did not resist, then it was necessary to retreat to Rostov in order to maintain contact with the Don army. The departure of volunteers to the Crimea, in the opinion of the commander-in-chief, would immediately destroy the Cossack front, cause the loss of the Don and the entire North Caucasus. Cossacks would treat such actions as treason.

Objective reasons for the strategic turn in favor of the Red Army

The white movement was unable to achieve the support of wide sections of the population (Why the White Army lost). So the moment of the peak of Denikin’s army victories in September – October 1919 there were about 150 thousand whites, Kolchak had about 50 thousand soldiers, Yudenich, Miller and Tolstov – 20 thousand men each. The Red Army at this time already numbered up to 3.5 million people (in the spring there were about 1.5 million).

The principle of the formation of the armies of the AFSR, despite the introduction of mobilizations, remained half volunteer. Mobilizations were effective only where they met the support of the population, that is, they were on the verge of volunteering – mainly in the Cossack regions. In the bulk of the people, the mobilization caused a negative result. The peasants for the most part greeted the news of mobilization with hostility and preferred to go to the red partisans, rebels and “green” gangs. This led to the formation of a “second front” in the rear of the Whites, which became one of the main reasons for the defeat of the White Army. The townspeople, even in such large cities as Kiev and Odessa, were either neutral or hostile to Denikin’s people, supported the Bolsheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, nationalists, anarchists, etc. debates about the future of Russia fled abroad. The cities did not give white strong support. The officers hostile to the Bolsheviks had fought for a long time, their mobilization resource had been exhausted by the fall of 1919. Many officers joined the ranks of the Red Army, others chose to flee abroad, bided their time or joined the nationalist regimes.

Another reason for the defeat of the White Army is the central position of Soviet Russia in relation to white units. The Bolsheviks retained the most industrially developed, populated part of Russia. Provinces with the most developed communications. With the capitals – Moscow and Petrograd. This made it possible to maneuver forces, from one front to another, the alternate defeat of the white armies.

Also, the red command was able in the shortest possible time to create a new army of Russia – the Red Army. If at first these were semi-partisan formations, with a volunteer principle of manning, now the regular army was at war. The Bolsheviks skillfully used up to a third of the tsarist officers and generals, general staff officers, military experts. If the white armies at first had complete superiority in the quality of the units, they beat the more numerous enemy. But now the situation has changed radically. Elite, special units with high morale, disciplined, well-armed and with combat experience appeared in the Red Army. Skilled, brave and experienced commanders and generals have moved forward. The White Army, on the contrary, was greatly degraded and decayed.

Thus, the Bolsheviks won, as they offered the people a project for the future in the interests of the majority. They had faith, a vision for the future, and a program. They had an iron will and energy. Finally, the Bolsheviks had a powerful organization, not a “swamp” like the whites.

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