War of the Russian army of Wrangel

From left to right: head of the government of the South of Russia A. V. Krivoshein, commander-in-chief P. N. Wrangel, chief of his staff P. N. Shatilov. Crimea. Sevastopol. 1920

Troubles. 1920 year. Crimea as a base and a strategic foothold for the revival of the White movement was inconvenient. The lack of ammunition, bread, gasoline, coal, horse train, and aid from the allies made the defense of the Crimean bridgehead hopeless.

“Black Baron”

When Wrangel took command of the Armed Forces of the South of Russia in early April 1920, he was 42 years old. Pyotr Nikolaevich came from an old noble family of Danish origin. Among his ancestors and relatives were officers, military leaders, seafarers, admirals, professors and entrepreneurs. His father, Nikolai Yegorovich, served in the army, then became an entrepreneur, was engaged in the extraction of oil and gold, and was also a famous collector of antiques. Peter Wrangel graduated from the Mining Institute in the capital, was an engineer by training. And then he decided to go into military service.

Wrangel enrolled as a volunteer in the Life Guards Horse Regiment in 1901, and in 1902, having passed the exam at the Nikolaev Cavalry School, he was promoted to the cornet of the Guard with enrollment in the reserve. Then he left the ranks of the army and became an official in Irkutsk. With the beginning of the Japanese campaign he returned to the army as a volunteer. He served in the Trans-Baikal Cossack army, bravely fought against the Japanese. He graduated from the Nikolaev Military Academy in 1910, in 1911 – the course of the Officer Cavalry School. He met the world war as a squadron commander of the Life Guards Cavalry Regiment with the rank of captain. In the war he showed himself to be a brave and skillful cavalry commander. He commanded the 1st Nerchinsk Regiment of the Trans-Baikal Army, the brigade of the Ussuri Cavalry Division, the 7th Cavalry Division and the Consolidated Cavalry Corps.

The Bolsheviks did not accept. He lived in Crimea, after the German occupation he went to Kiev to offer his services to Hetman Skoropadsky. However, seeing the weakness of the Hetmanate, he went to Yekaterinodar and led the 1st Cavalry Division in the Volunteer Army, then the 1st Cavalry Corps. He was one of the first to use cavalry in large formations in order to find a weak spot in the enemy’s defense, to reach his rear. He distinguished himself in battles in the North Caucasus, Kuban and in the Tsaritsyn area. He headed the Caucasian Volunteer Army in the Tsaritsyn direction. He came into conflict with Denikin’s headquarters, as he believed that the main blow should be delivered on the Volga in order to quickly unite with Kolchak. Then he repeatedly intrigued against the commander-in-chief. One of the leading qualities of the baron’s personality was the desire for success, careerism. In November 1919, after the defeat of the White Guards during the Moscow offensive, he led the Volunteer Army. In December, due to disagreements with Denikin, he resigned and soon left for Constantinople. In early April 1920, Denikin resigned, Wrangel led the remnants of the White Army in the Crimea.

VSYUR poster

White Guards in Crimea

At the time of assuming the post of commander-in-chief, Wrangel saw his main task not to fight the Bolsheviks, but to preserve the army. After a series of catastrophic defeats and the loss of almost the entire territory of the white South of Russia, practically no one thought about active actions. The defeat took a heavy toll on the morale of the White Guards. Discipline collapsed, hooliganism, drunkenness and licentiousness became commonplace in the evacuated units. Robberies and other crimes have become commonplace. Some divisions left their subordination, turned into mobs of deserters, marauders and bandits. In addition, the material condition of the army was undermined. In particular, the Cossack units were taken to Crimea with practically no weapons. In addition, the Don people dreamed of going to the Don.

The “allies” dealt a heavy blow to the White Army. They practically refused to support the White Guards. France, refusing to interfere in Crimean affairs, now relied on buffer states, primarily Poland. Paris only in the middle of 1920 recognized the Wrangel government as de facto Russian and promised to help with money and weapons. Britain generally demanded an end to the struggle and a compromise with Moscow, an honorable peace, an amnesty or free travel abroad. This position of London led to a complete disorganization of the White movement, a loss of faith in a future victory. In particular, by this the British finally undermined Denikin’s authority.

Many believed that the White Army in the Crimea was trapped. The peninsula had many vulnerabilities. The Red Army could organize a landing from the Taman side, attack on Perekop, along the Chongar Peninsula and the Arabat Spit. The shallow Sivash was more a swamp than a sea, and was often passable. In history, the Crimean peninsula was taken by all conquerors. In the spring of 1919, the Reds and Makhnovists easily occupied the Crimea. In January, February and March 1920, Soviet troops broke through to the peninsula and were repelled only thanks to the maneuverable tactics of General Slashchev. In January 1920, Soviet troops took Perekop, but Slashchyovtsy knocked out the enemy with a counterattack. In early February, the Reds marched across the ice of the frozen Sivash, but were thrown back by Slashchev’s corps. On February 24, Soviet troops broke through the Chongar crossing, but were driven back by the White Guards. On March 8, the shock group of the 13th and 14th Soviet armies again took Perekop, but was defeated near the Ishun positions and retreated. After this failure, the red command for some time forgot about the white Crimea. A small screen from the 13th Army units (9 thousand people) was left near the peninsula.

The talented military leader Slashchev did not rely on strong fortifications, which did not exist. He left only posts and patrols ahead. The main forces of the corps were in winter quarters in settlements. The Reds had to walk in frost, snow and wind in a desert area, where there was no shelter. Tired and frozen soldiers overcame the first line of fortifications, and at this time Slashchev’s fresh reserves approached. The white general was able to concentrate his small forces in a dangerous area and crushed the enemy. In addition, the Soviet command initially underestimated the enemy, aiming at the Kuban and the North Caucasus. Then the Reds believed that the enemy had already been defeated in the Caucasus and that the pitiful remnants of the Whites in the Crimea would be easily dispersed. Slashchev’s tactics worked until the Soviet command concentrated superior forces, and especially the cavalry, which was able to quickly pass Perekop.

The Crimean peninsula was weak as a base and a strategic foothold for the revival of the White movement. Unlike the Kuban and Don, Little Russia and Novorossiya, Siberia and even the North (with its huge reserves of weapons, ammunition and ammunition in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk), Crimea had negligible resources. There was no military industry, developed agriculture and other resources. The lack of ammunition, bread, gasoline, coal, horse train, and aid from the allies made the defense of the Crimean bridgehead hopeless.

Due to refugees, evacuated white troops and logistic institutions, the population of the peninsula has doubled, reaching a million people. Crimea could barely feed so many people, on the verge of starvation. Therefore, in the winter and spring of 1920, the Crimea was hit by a food and fuel crisis. A significant proportion of the refugees were women, children and the elderly. Again, a mass of healthy men (including officers) squandered their lives in the rear, in the cities. They preferred to participate in all sorts of intrigues, to arrange a feast during the plague, but they did not want to go to the front line. As a result, the army did not have a human reserve. There were no horses for the cavalry.

Thus, the white Crimea was not a serious threat to Soviet Russia. Wrangel, who did not want peace with the Bolsheviks, had to consider the possibilities of a new evacuation. The option of transferring troops with the help of the allies to one of the active fronts of the war with Soviet Russia was considered. To Poland, the Baltics or the Far East. It was also possible to take the White Army to one of the neutral countries in the Balkans, so that the Whites would rest there, rebuild their ranks, arm themselves and then take part in a new war of the West against Soviet Russia. A significant part of the White Guards hoped to simply sit out in the Crimea in anticipation of a new large-scale uprising of the Cossacks in the Kuban and Don or the start of the Entente war against the Bolsheviks. As a result, the change in the military-political situation led to the decision to maintain the Crimean bridgehead.

Wrangel’s “New Deal”

Wrangel, having gained power on the peninsula, proclaimed a “new course”, which, in fact, due to the absence of any new program, was a revision of the policy of the Denikin government. At the same time, Wrangel rejected the main slogan of the Denikin government – “united and indivisible Russia.” He hoped to create a broad front of the enemies of Bolshevism: from the right to the anarchists and separatists. He called for building a federal Russia. Recognized the independence of the highlanders of the North Caucasus. However, this policy was not successful.

Wrangel was never able to agree with Poland on common actions against Soviet Russia, although he tried to be flexible on the issue of future borders. Attempts to plan general operations did not go beyond talk, despite the desire of the French to bring the Poles and White Guards closer together. Obviously, the point is in the myopia of the Piłsudski regime. The pans hoped for the restoration of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth within the borders of 1772 and did not trust whites – as Russian patriots. Warsaw believed that the fierce battle between the whites and the reds had weakened Russia so much that the Poles themselves could take whatever they wanted. Therefore, Warsaw does not need an alliance with Wrangel.

Wrangel also failed to conclude an alliance with Petliura. Only the spheres of influence and theaters of military operations in Ukraine have been identified. The Wrangel government promised the UPR full autonomy. At the same time, the Petliurites no longer had their own territory, their army was created by the Poles and was the fruit of their complete control. Also, the baron promised full autonomy of all Cossack lands, but these promises could not attract the allies. First, there was no serious power behind the “Black Baron”. Secondly, the war had already exhausted the same Cossacks, they wanted peace. It is worth noting that if in an alternative reality the Wrangelites had won, then a new disintegration awaited Russia. If the Bolsheviks, one way or another, led matters to restore the integrity of the state, then the victory of the White Guards led to a new collapse and the colonial position of Russia.

In a desperate search for allies, the whites even tried to find a common language with daddy Makhno. But here Wrangel was in for a complete failure. The peasant leader of Novorossiya not only executed the Wrangel envoys, but also called on the peasantry to beat the White Guards. Other atamans of the “green” in Ukraine willingly went to an alliance with the baron, hoping for help with money and weapons, but there was no real power behind them. Negotiations with the leaders of the Crimean Tatars, who dreamed of their own statehood, also failed. Some Crimean Tatar activists even suggested that Pilsudski take Crimea under his arm, giving the Tatars autonomy.

In May 1920, the Armed Forces of the South of Russia were reorganized into the Russian Army. The baron hoped to attract not only officers and Cossacks, but also peasants. For this, a broad agrarian reform was conceived. Its author was the head of the government of the South of Russia, Alexander Krivoshein, one of Stolypin’s most prominent associates and participants in his agrarian reform. The peasants received land by dividing large estates for a certain fee (five times the average annual harvest for a given area, a 25-year installment plan was given to pay this amount). Volost zemstvos – local government bodies – played an important role in the implementation of the reform. The peasants generally supported the reform, but they were in no hurry to join the army.

Wrangel is coming. To arms, proletarians! Poster by artist N.M. Kochergin. 1920 In the center of the poster is shown the ominous figure of General Wrangel, running into the attack with a saber bald. For Wrangel, the ranks of the infantry and cavalry of the White Army go on the offensive. The sign “To Tsaritsyn” emphasizes the threat of the White Army entering the lines on which it was at the time of its greatest successes in 1919.


To be continued…

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