The first victories of Wrangel’s army

General P.N. Wrangel accepts the report of the pilot of the 5th squadron

Troubles. 1920 year. The threat of starvation pushed the Wrangelites to Northern Tavria, where it was possible to seize the grain harvest. Crimea as the base of the White movement had no future. It was necessary to capture new areas in order to continue the struggle.

April battle

On April 4, 1920, Wrangel took command. A few days later, intelligence reported that the Red Army was preparing a new assault on Crimea. Artillery and aviation were drawn together. The 13th Soviet Army under the command of I. Pauka was reinforced, its strike force consisted of 12 thousand soldiers and 150 guns. It consisted of a select Latvian division and the 3rd Infantry Division, which included many internationalists.

Wrangel’s army at that time numbered 35 thousand people. But only 5 thousand were combat-ready. Slashchev’s building and the Volunteer building. The rest of the troops after the defeat in the Kuban and the North Caucasus were demoralized, deprived of the material part. They needed to be put in order, replenished and armed. Volunteers were urgently sent to strengthen Slashchev.

On April 13, 1920, the Latvian riflemen overturned the advanced units of Slashchev, occupied the Turkish shaft and began to develop the offensive. The 8th Red Cavalry Division crossed in the Chongar direction. The Slashchevites counterattacked, stopped and pushed the enemy back. However, the Reds caught on to the Turkish Wall and stood firmly, constantly receiving reinforcements. Both sides fought bravely and suffered heavy casualties. The situation was reversed only with the help of volunteers. Part of the Volunteer Corps, one after another, pulled up to the battlefield and went on the attack. By evening, the Reds were driven out of Perekop. At the Chongar crossing, the Reds were met by the cavalry of General Morozov. After a tough fight at Dzhankoy, White threw back the enemy.

Wrangel decided to build on the first success. Gathering a shock group of Slashchevites, Kornilovites, Markovites, reinforced by cavalry, several armored cars, on April 14, the whites went on a counteroffensive. They broke through the positions of the Reds, seized the exit from Perekop. However, the Soviet command launched a counterblow with the help of cavalry and restored the situation. Then the red infantry went on the attack again, but without success.

The White Black Sea Fleet played an important role in keeping the Red Army on the Crimean isthmuses. The 1st Black Sea Detachment supported the defense of Perekop. The Azov detachment supported the defense of the Arabat arrow. In mid-May, the White Fleet raided Mariupol. The Whites shelled the city, captured and took away several ships that the Reds were preparing for military operations. Having complete superiority at sea, Wrangel decided to strike on the flanks with the help of landings. On April 15, 1920, the Drozdovskaya brigade (2 regiments with 4 guns) was landed in Khorly – 40 km west of Perekop. On the same day, the Wrangel troops landed at Kirillovka – 60 km east of Chongar (Captain Mashukov’s detachment of 800 fighters with one cannon).

The White Guards could not achieve serious success with the help of the landing operation. I didn’t have enough strength. Enemy airborne forces discovered red aircraft even before the landing. The Soviet command took countermeasures in time. Several planes raided Kirillovka, attacked the landing, drowned a barge with ammunition and drove away the ships that were supporting the White Guards with fire. Then the volunteers were attacked by units of the 46th Infantry Division. The Wrangelites were able to destroy the railway, and then, with great difficulty and losses, broke through to Genichesk, where they were evacuated by ships. The Drozdovites near Khorly caused a commotion in the rear of the enemy and, after two days of heavy fighting, broke through to Perekop. During the landing, the White Guards lost about 600 people killed and wounded.

Thus, the white landing did not cause the collapse of the defense of the 13th Soviet army. However, the next assault on Crimea was thwarted. The Soviet command realized that it underestimated the enemy and the degree of decay of the White Army. The new offensive was postponed to May in order to bring up additional forces. The Red Army temporarily went over to the defensive, new firing positions, fortifications and barriers were built to lock the enemy on the peninsula.

The April battle was also of great importance for the White Army. Despite the losses, the Wrangelites believed in themselves, the authority of the new commander-in-chief strengthened. Order and discipline were quickly restored in the army. They acted according to the law of wartime – up to military courts and executions for robbery and violence. The violating officers were demoted down to the rank and file. The troops began to revive, they believed in themselves again. In the rear they saw that the army, at least, could hold the defense. The White command abandoned plans for an immediate evacuation and at the end of April approved a plan for a general offensive from the Crimea. In addition, the situation on the Western Front, where the Polish army began its offensive, inspired hope. The Soviet high command began to transfer forces and reserves from all directions to the west. The only cavalry division was removed from the Crimean direction and sent to war with the Poles.

Commander of the 13th Army of the Red Army I. Kh. Pauka

The need for a breakthrough from Crimea

At the end of April 1920, Wrangel approved a plan for an offensive from the Crimea. The offensive was conceived for two main reasons. First, the moment seemed auspicious. The Red Army solved more serious tasks on the Western Front and fought with Poland. Secondly, Crimea, cut off from the mainland, deprived of Western aid, downtrodden by refugees, was on the verge of starvation and a fuel crisis. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and tens of thousands of military retreating to the Crimea destroyed all food reserves of the peninsula. The threat of starvation pushed the whites to Northern Tavria, where it was possible to seize the grain harvest. Crimea as the base of the White movement had no future. It was necessary to capture new areas in order to continue the struggle.

The plan assumed a quick seizure of the Dnieper-Aleksandrovsk-Berdyansk region. With the success of the first stage of the offensive, the second stage began: movement to the Dnieper – Sinelnikovo – Grishino – Taganrog line. Further, it was supposed to return to the Kuban and Don, there they were going to restore the main base of the White Army. The “Black Baron” did not want to lead a decisive offensive in Ukraine. Firstly, the local peasantry for the most part did not support the White Guards, preferring the Reds, anarchists, greens and Petliurists. Secondly, the Wrangelites did not want a clash with Petliura and the Poles. Thirdly, Wrangel believed that the main human resource of the White Army was located in the Don and Kuban. The Cossacks could give the White movement 50-70 thousand fighters, and with such force it was possible to repeat the attack on Moscow.

If the offensive failed, the whites planned to seize the food resources of Northern Tavria and again fortify themselves in the Crimea. Wrangel hoped for the success of the offensive in connection with a new deterioration in the situation of Soviet Russia. The Bolsheviks were opposed by Poland, the Petliurites, various Ukrainian atamans, in Belarus, in alliance with the Poles, part of Bulak-Balakhovich (he had previously fought as part of Yudenich’s army). There were also hopes for large-scale uprisings of the Cossacks in the Don and Kuban. The Soviet command eased the pressure on the Crimea in connection with the defeats from the Poles. The White Guards were in a hurry to take advantage of this.

Russian army

In late April – early May 1920, the white command, preparing for the offensive, reorganized the army. In early May, Wrangel celebrated the successful evacuation of parts of the Kuban and Don armies, which retreated to the Sochi area. The White Army in the Crimea was replenished. The total number of Wrangel’s army increased to 40 thousand people, but there were 24 thousand people on the front line. The cavalry was very small – only 2 thousand sabers.

On May 11, 1920, the Armed Forces of the South of Russia were transformed into the Russian Army. The name “Volunteer Army” was abolished as it bears an element of spontaneity and partisanship. The 1st Army Corps (formerly Volunteer) was led by General Kutepov, and included the Kornilovskaya, Markovskaya and Drozdovskaya divisions. The 2nd Army Corps was headed by General Slashchev, it included the 13th and 34th Infantry Divisions, a separate cavalry brigade. The Consolidated Corps of General Pisarev included the 1st and 3rd Kuban Cavalry Divisions, the Chechen Brigade (in July, the Consolidated Corps was reorganized into the Cavalry Corps). The Don Corps of Abramov included the 1st and 2nd Don Cavalry and 3rd Don Infantry Divisions. The name “cavalry divisions” was originally conditional, since there was no horse composition. The army also included artillery (two brigades), aviation, tank units and armored trains.

The Baron was able to suppress intrigues in the army and on the peninsula for some time. In the Don Corps, General Sidorin and Kelchevsky (the former commander of the Don Army and its chief of staff) were muddying the waters. There were rumors that the “Cossacks were betrayed”, that the command prefers volunteers, and the Donets are kept in a black body. It was proposed to break the alliance with the volunteers and go to the Don. There, to raise a new uprising and restore the Don Republic. Despite the threat of a conflict with the Cossacks, Wrangel dismissed the generals from their posts and put them on trial for “separatism.” They were sentenced to 4 years in hard labor, deprived of all ranks and awards. Then the punishment was mitigated, and Sidorin and Kelchevsky were exiled abroad. General Abramov was appointed commander of the Don Corps.

The Duke of Leuchtenberg and his accomplices, who intrigued in favor of the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, were also exiled abroad. He tried to organize the performance of naval officers. Wrangel did not go to rapprochement with the Crimean right, with their leader Bishop Benjamin. The right-wing circles, which had hoped that the new commander-in-chief would make a radical turn in policy, were mistaken. The Wrangel government as a whole repeated Denikin’s policy, with minor differences in details. Wrangel said in a conversation with reporters:

“The politics will be non-partisan. I must unite all the forces of the people. … There will be no division into monarchists and republicans, but only knowledge and labor will be taken into account. “

Relations with the West have somewhat revived. Britain was still trying to negotiate with Moscow, but since the Soviet government was slow to retaliate, the British decided to help Wrangel. In particular, before the beginning of the April battle, the British sent coal for the fleet, which greatly helped the whites in the operation. But in May, the British officially dropped their support for the White movement. Things were better with France. In winter, Paris supported London’s idea to lift the economic blockade from Soviet Russia, and then tried to coordinate its actions with the British. However, now the position of the French has changed. The French government actively supported Poland as the main enemy of Germany and Russia in Eastern Europe. The White Army was Poland’s natural ally in the fight against the Bolsheviks. Also, the French were quite rightly afraid that the Bolsheviks would not return the debts of old Russia to them.

Therefore, the French authorities de facto recognized the Wrangel government. The Russian army was promised material assistance and provisions, support for the French fleet in the defense of the peninsula and assistance in evacuation if the White Army was defeated. The head of the French mission, General Mangin, tried to coordinate the actions of the Wrangel and Poles (without success). Under Wrangel, American aid began to flow to the Crimea: machine guns, medicines and provisions (the United States was against an agreement with the communists).

Meeting of P.N. Wrangel and the head of the French military mission Ch. Mangin

To be continued…

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