The defeat of Wrangel’s army in the battle on the Dnieper

British tank captured by soldiers of the 51st Infantry Division near Kakhovka on October 14, 1920

A hundred years ago, Wrangel’s Russian army launched its last offensive operation. During the Zadneprovskoy operation, the white command planned to encircle and destroy the Kakhovskaya group of the Red Army, to enter the expanses of the Right Bank Ukraine.

On October 13, 1920, fierce oncoming battles unfolded beyond the Dnieper. The losses of the White Guards reached 50%, in the divisions there were less than 1000 people in the ranks. On October 14, Vitkovsky’s troops went to storm the Kakhovsky fortified area, but it failed. On October 15, the remnants of the Zadneprovsk white grouping retreated to the left bank of the Dnieper.

General situation. Frunze’s actions

In September 1920, Wrangel’s troops were able to develop an offensive in the eastern and northeastern sectors of the Tavrian Front (“The Last Offensive of the Russian Army”). The White Guards captured Berdyansk, Pologi, Orekhov, Aleksandrovsk (Zaporozhye), Volnovakha, Mariupol. Stubborn battles began in the Sinelnikov area. White threatened Yekaterinoslav. The 13th Soviet Army suffered a heavy defeat. In early October, Wrangel’s Russian army was reinforced by several thousand Cossack rebels, who were taken to Crimea from the Adler region (Fostikov’s detachment).

The Soviet high command formed the Southern Front on September 21, 1920. On September 27 it was headed by Frunze. The Soviet commander studied the situation and realized that now there was no point in breaking through to the northeast for the White Army. At best, they can occupy some more territory, no more. They will not break through to the Don. Taking Yekaterinoslav and moving further north is dangerous, while the Soviet Kakhovsky bridgehead is in the rear, from where the Reds can hit Perekop at any moment and cut off the enemy from the peninsula. It was obvious that White would soon try to hit Kakhovka again. In addition, in this direction, the white command had the hope of joining with the Ukrainian rebels and the Polish army.

As a result, Frunze did not regroup his forces to the east. In the Donbass, he decided to limit himself to reinforcements coming from the Caucasus and the Kuban. The first to arrive from the Kuban was Kuibyshev’s 9th Infantry Division. The remnants of the retreating units were poured into its structure and ordered to “fight to the death.” Kuibyshev’s division pinned down the enemy in the Volnovakha area. The division suffered heavy losses, but held out. The introduction of fresh forces of the Red Army stopped the enemy offensive, which was already running out of steam. In the northern sector of the front, Frunze formed the Fedko group from the troops located there (46th and 3rd divisions, cavalry brigade). The White Guards were drained of blood and could not continue to move without reserves. The situation has temporarily stabilized.

Frunze also realized that the Red Army could inflict a decisive defeat on Wrangel’s troops even earlier, if it did not undertake one offensive after another. It was necessary not to throw the newly approaching divisions and formations into battle, but to wait, achieve a decisive advantage in forces and means and crush the enemy with one powerful blow. It turned out that the Wrangelites grinded the connections that fit in parts and they lost their striking power. Therefore, Frunze decided to wait, wait for the arrival of the units moving towards him and the expected reinforcements. First of all, they were waiting for the arrival of the 1st Cavalry Army. Frunze had sufficient authority in the government and in the army to implement his plan. The fourth operation to eliminate Wrangel was postponed, the Soviet troops concentrated on strengthening the defense. The improvement of the Kakhovsky fortified region continued. New anti-tank ditches were dug, special firing positions were erected so that the guns could hit tanks and armored cars with direct fire. New strongholds were built so that in the event of an enemy wedging into the line of defense, they could attack him from the flanks. A shock and fire brigade, which had flamethrower companies and 160 machine guns, was transferred to the bridgehead.

In the Kakhov area, the defense was now held by the 6th Army of Avksentyevsky, which was included in the Southern Front (the second formation, the first fought in the North). The 6th Army from the 13th Army was transferred to the Right Bank and Kherson groups of forces, which occupied the right bank of the Dnieper in the regions of Kherson, Kakhovka, Berislav and Chaplinka. The Avksentievsky army included the 1st, 13th, 15th, 51st, 52nd rifle, Latvian rifle divisions (17 thousand soldiers). Berislavskaya (Kakhovskaya) group (51st and Latvian rifle divisions, later 15th rifle division) defended the Kakhovsky fortified area. In the Nikopol area, Mironov’s 2nd Cavalry Army was located to protect the crossings. It was restored, the number reached 6 thousand soldiers. Mironov was popular among soldiers and Cossacks, even deserters from the previously defeated units of Zhloba and Gorodovikov flocked to him.

Frunze was able to come to an agreement with Makhno. On October 2, 1920, Makhno again entered into an alliance with the Bolsheviks. His Insurrectionary Army maintained its autonomy, but was subordinate to the Soviet command in operational subordination. The Makhnovists were to attack the rear of Wrangel. They were promised help with weapons, ammunition, equipment, they were put on allowance. Makhno could summon peasants in Tavria and Yekaterinoslavshchina. Obviously, Makhno and his field commanders were attracted by the opportunity to “walk” in the Crimea. Also, the dad was afraid of a possible strengthening of the White Army. Frunze strengthened his rear on the eve of the decisive battle for Tavria and Crimea. On October 13, Makhno put 11-12 thousand sabers and bayonets against the White Army with 500 machine guns and 10 cannons. The Makhnovists occupied the section of the front between the Sinelnikovo and Chaplino stations. On the call of Makhno, rebel chieftains, who had previously joined the Russian army, and part of the peasants mobilized by the White (about 3 thousand people in total) ran over to him from Wrangel’s units.

Commander of the 2nd Cavalry Army Philip Kuzmich Mironov

Zadneprovskaya operation

Meanwhile, a strong grouping of the Red Army was concentrated on the eastern flank. New divisions came up from the Kuban. In the east, the Taganrog group was created. Frunze launched a private offensive against the White Cossacks. The left flank of the Don corps was attacked by the 5th cavalry division, the center – groups from the 9th rifle, 7th and 9th cavalry divisions, the right flank – from the Naval division. On October 3, the red cavalry breakthrough and the threat of outflanking forced the enemy to retreat from Yuzovka. On October 4, the Whites left Mariupol, on the 8th – Berdyansk, on the 10th – Gulyai-Pole. Wrangel could not support his right flank with new units. The White Army began the Zadneprovsky operation. We had to take risks and limit ourselves to defense in the east. Moreover, the Don corps had to stretch the defensive formations to the north, as parts of the neighboring 1st corps were moving in the direction of the main attack.

Secretly, at night, the 1st corps (Kornilovskaya, Markovskaya and Drozdovskaya divisions) was concentrated in the Aleksandrovsk area, opposite Nikopol – the 3rd corps. The cavalry of Babiev and Barbovich was also transferred here. Vitkovsky’s 2nd corps remained on the left bank of the Dnieper for the assault on Kakhovka. Having crossed, the 1st Army Corps was supposed to go to the rear of the Kakhovsky bridgehead along the right bank of the Dnieper, and Vitkovsky’s troops simultaneously attacked head-on, and the white cavalry would break out into the operational space, go to smash the enemy’s rear. As a result, the Red Army in the Kakhov area will be defeated and the strategic initiative will remain with the White Guards. Parts of the Soviet 1st Cavalry Army will not have time to connect with the 2nd Cavalry Army.

Rafts were knitted, boats were being prepared and assembled. On October 8, 1920, the Markov division established a ferry near the island of Khortitsa. The Markovites threw back Fedko’s units that were standing here and seized the bridgehead. The Kornilov division crossed the river. The Soviet 3rd Infantry Division, which was holding the defenses here, was defeated. The White Guards took many prisoners. The Markovites moved to the north, the Kornilovites to the west. The Drozdovites remained in the area of ​​the crossings to protect them from the east. Babiev’s cavalry is crossing to the captured bridgehead. The main forces of the White Guard Zadneprovskaya grouping moved south-west, towards Nikopol. Mironov’s 2nd Cavalry Army moved towards the enemy. But on the night of October 9, another white group, the 3rd Army Corps and Barbovich’s Cavalry Corps (6 thousand bayonets and sabers), crossed the river to the south. White hit the flank and rear with the red. Mironov’s army began to slowly withdraw, responding with strong counterattacks. Both groups of Wrangelites united and on the 11th occupied Nikopol. Then the White Guards launched an offensive to the west. We moved 10-25 km from the Dnieper.

Source of maps: Civil War in Russia: Defense of Crimea. M., 2003

Defeat of the White Army

On October 12, the White group of Zadneprovskaya took the important station Apostolovo. However, the resistance of the Reds increased. Frunze pointed out that a withdrawal from the Dnieper line was unacceptable, ordered Mironov to hold on even “at the cost of self-sacrifice.” To strengthen Mironov’s Cavalry Army, Fedko’s group was transferred to the right bank of the Dnieper from the Yekaterinoslav direction. The first regiments of the 50th division being transferred from Siberia began to arrive. The division was one of the most powerful in the Red Army: the advanced units were unloaded in Pavlograd, others drove up to Moscow, the rear and artillery were still beyond the Volga. From the Kakhovsky bridgehead, in order to stop the enemy’s breakthrough, units of the Latvian, 15th and 52nd divisions were withdrawn. White reconnaissance discovered this regrouping, but considered that the enemy had begun to withdraw troops from the Kakhovsky fortified area. Vitkovsky’s corps was ordered to begin the assault on Kakhovka.

Meanwhile, Mironov made a regrouping of his forces, brought reserves into battle, rifle units arrived in time. Red aircraft were also pulled here. The Red Army counterattacked. On October 13, a fierce oncoming battle ensued. The White Guards suffered heavy losses, up to half of the composition. One of the brilliant cavalry commanders of the White Army, General Nikolai Babiev, was killed. The commander of the Kuban, General Naumenko, was out of action. Mironov’s army was able to break through the battle formations of the white cavalry and went to the Dnieper. The White Guards could not stand it and began to retreat. The 3rd Army Corps, made up of various detachments, rebels, Red Army prisoners, was crushed and fled. Management and communication between the units were broken. Disorder and panic. On narrow forest roads and in flooded areas, all parts were mixed. The retreating cavalry crushed its own infantry. A stampede began near the crossings.

Fedko’s group struck from the north, the Markovites also wavered. The commander of the 2nd Army, General Dratsenko, ordered the Zadneprovskaya group to retreat across the river. Red aviation fired at the crossings, beat the fleeing enemy from the air. The Whites were crushed by blows from the front and flanks. Red aviation dominated the air. The Kubans refused to attack. The Kornilovites and Markovites still tried to snap back, but without the support of the cavalry, they were easily bypassed and pressed. The panic was intensified by rumors that Budyonny’s cavalry had approached. The soldiers began to throw guns, machine guns, carts with property.

White Headquarters learned about this on the morning of October 14. Unaware of the defeat of the Dnieper troops, General Vitkovsky moved his corps to storm the Kakhovsky bridgehead. In his corps there were 6-7 thousand soldiers, 10 tanks and 14 armored cars. Aviation was also pulled here, leaving Dratsenko’s troops without air cover. Heavy fighting went on all day. The Wrangelites were able to capture the enemy’s first line of defense, the Reds retreated to the second line, even more powerful. White units were drained of blood and lost 9 tanks. Vitkovsky’s corps was unable to develop the offensive. On the 15th, White still attacked, but without success. The Soviet command recalled the units previously removed from here to the fortified area, but this could no longer correct the general situation. With the arrival of the units that returned to the bridgehead, the Red Army counterattacked and regained the previously lost positions. On the same day, the remnants of the Zadneprovskaya grouping of whites were evacuated across the Dnieper and destroyed the crossing.

Thus, the last offensive of Wrangel’s Russian army ended in a heavy defeat. The Whites suffered heavy losses, the units were drained of blood and demoralized. The White Guards went on the defensive. The Red Army, on the contrary, only grew stronger. New parts came up. The Makhnovists went over to the side of the Reds. The troops were enthusiastic about the victory. Frunze began preparations for a decisive offensive.

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