The AFSR retreated in the late autumn and early winter of 1919 in good order, pressed all along the line from Poland to the Volga, lied numerical superiority ensured that the Whites almost always had one or more of their flanks turned in a given sector. In particular, Red cavalry maintained pressure on the junction between the Volunteer and Don Armies. In this area also lay the primary rail lines through which the Whites had to retreat. Severance of any part of the railway meant units were trapped and ultimately destroyed.
Failing to hold Kursk, the AFSR attempted to defend Kharkov to the south. A bottleneck of trains, filled with retreating troops and civilians sympathetic to the White cause, began at Kharkov and continued all the way to Rostov, Outflanked to the west, Kharkov fell on 11 December. Typhus set in with what would become a particularly harsh winter. By January 1920, over 42,000 White soldiers lay wounded or stricken with the epidemic.
White commanders in the west, pressed by the 12th and 14th Armies, also retreated. Kiev fell on 16 December. Shilling's forces retired towards Odessa and the Crimea. The 5th Cavalry Corps, reorganized as the 1st Cavalry Division because of combat losses, was down to the strength of a small regiment by 17 December. Bredov's troops, cut off, tried to fail back on Romania, but being turned away by gunfire, retreated northwest to be Interned by Poland. Slaschev's Corps cut its way through Makhno's partisans in time to secure the entrances to the Crimea, behind which survivors could rally. On 7 February, Odessa endured its third tragic evacuation.
In the east, Tsaritsyn fell on 3 January, prompting a withdrawal of the Caucasian Army and North Caucasian Detachment to the southwest, back, essentially, to the starting lines of early 1919. In the general confusion, Denikin relocated his headquarters from Taganrog, to Rostov, to Tikhoretskaya, to Ekaterinodar and finally to Novorossisk. These relocations reflected the fate of the AFSR. From 5 to 8 January, Red cavalry took Taganrog, Novocherkassk and Rostov.
Cossack morale had collapsed between November 1919 and March 1920. Once more the Don voisko fell under occupation. Troops deserted wholesale to protect their families. Cossack nationalists in the Kuban agitated for independence and, threatening to
overturn their government, had to he quelled in a show of force by General I'okrovsky in November,
The AFSR partially rallied in January-February, scoring several successes on the Don River and at Rostov and ¡iataisk. However, the Red 1st Cavalry Army outflanked the line in the east. A corps of White cavalry, consisting of Don, Kuban, Terek and Astrakhan Cossacks and the remnants of the Russian Guard Cavalry, attempted to halt the breakthrough in mid-February. After a forced march in sub-zero temperatures, the Whites literally bumped into the Reds, surprising both sides. Thousands drew sabres and interpenetrated each other's ranks in mêlée. One White veteran of this battle confided to the author that his Guards cavalry had not thought themselves defeated, for the Red regiment opposing theirs eventually retired. Nevertheless, in subsequent encounters the Reds flanked the line.
The renewed Kuban line also failed to hold, Ekaterinodar falling on 17 March. The Whites were now pushed back onto the port
of Novorossisk from which they hoped to evacuate by ship to the Crimea. While Denikin requested Allied naval assistance and prepared the White Navy for evacuation, the Volunteer 1st Corps held the mountains north of the city. Rebels calling themselves 'Greens' took control of the Black Sea coast and attacked White trains, stragglers and isolated units.
The early stages of the evacuation went smoothly enough, units that still had cohesion embarking first. Allied munitions, including tanks and aircraft, were dumped into the bay. On 27 March, units of the 1st Corps withdrew from the forward positions and prepared to embark. Reds and Greens entered the suburbs of Novorossisk in their wake, sporadic firing breaking out in the streets. Now positioned on the hills above, the Reds commenced shelling the doomed city.
As the too-few ships began to sail away, Chaos ensued. Crowds surged towards the docks and the safety of the ships that for so many meant life or death. Profiteers made fortunes from any boat or berth that could still he bought as families and comrades were torn apart. Cossacks embraced then shot their horses at the docks, scores then shooting themselves.
In the harbour, the French ship Waldeck Rousseau and the British ship Empress of India opened counter-battery fire on the Red artillery. Denikin, remaining to the last, witnessed the fires raging and the pall of smoke. Suddenly, a White destroyer, the Pylki, dashed back in and with guns blazing rescued a regiment of the Drozdovsky that had been the final rearguard. As his ship pulled away Denikin reflected: 'After this, everything grew quiet. The contours of the city, the shoreline, and mountains became misty as they receded into the distance ... into the past ... the hard and painful past.'
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