Three White generals were instrumental in organizing the first resistance that led to civil war in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution: l.avr KorniJov, Mikhail Alexiev and Anton Denikin. Kornilov, the son of a Cossack, had been born in Siberia in 1870, A man of reckless courage and almost magical charisma, he had been the first Russian general to escape from an enemy prisoner-of-war camp in World War One. By 31 July 1917, he had risen to the position of supreme commander-in-chief under Kerensky. In August, in an attempt to restore order at the front and continue the war against the Central Powers, Kornilov attempted to overturn the Provisional Government and failed.
Alexiev, the son of a simple soldier, had been born in 1857. Fighting in both the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, Alexiev became a professor of military science before serving as chief of staff when Tsar Nicholas II assumed personal command of the Russian Army in September 1915. He then became
General Lavr Kornilov, beau sabreur of the White movement in the south. Although short in stature, his presence and command authority were as total as his determination and braver/ in combat (Dr Laurent Ligutne collection)
commander-in-chief from March to June 1917, becoming chief of staff once more under Kerensky in September. In this new position, arid despite his real sympathies, Alexiev had been forced to order the arrest of all conspirators implicated in Kornilov's coup.
Included amongst the prisoners with Kornilov were Denikin and Generals A. Lukomsky, I. Romanovsky and Sergei Markov. These generals contemplated the ensuing Bolshevik Revolution and the future of their country while incarcerated at Bykhov Monastery near Mogilev. Then, learning that Alexiev had arrived in Don Cossack territory on 15 November in order to raise a volunteer army to fight the Germans and Bolsheviks, the generals decided to take action. Escaping from the monastery, aided by loyal troops, on 2 December they made their way to the Don separately and in disguise.
had reached Cossack lands and Kaledin was not able to field a loyal army.
South Russia was in chaos. Revolutionary bands sacked homes and businesses and opened the jails to free political comrades and criminals alike. Nobles, officers and bourgeoisie were shot, sometimes on sight. Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers demobilized from the Caucasian Front thronged the cities, railheads and countryside. Now without orders and loitering without jobs, they learned of a revolution that promised all to those who had nothing. Many, hungry and desperate, went in search of food or easy money.
While Kornilov busied himself forming the new Volunteer Army, Alexiev used his extensive contacts to seek alliances and secure financing. The 'Volunteers', as they came to he known, recruited in the adjacent towns and surrounding areas of Rostov-on-Don (hereafter called Rostov), Taganrog and the Don Cossack capital, Novocherkassk. Nearly 4,000 joined between December 1917 and February 1918. The majority were officers and teenagers from the Cadet and Junker military schools. In addition, General A. liogaevsky had brought in a unit of Don Cossacks, and a band of women, survivors of the revolutionary massacres, joined as fighters and nursing sisters.
Meanwhile in January the Red Army had entered the Don. Kaledin, who had only been able to field one loyal unit, the elite Chernetsov Partisans, shot himself through the heart on 11 February Eleven days later, deprived of an ally and facing an increasingly hostile city, Kornilov ordered his army to leave Rostov and head for the steppe country of the Kuban.
What followed was one of the epic events of military history, a campaign known by historians as the First Kuban Campaign and by veterans as the ice March'. Over the next weeks, the Volunteers weathered snow and sleet, forded icy streams and rivers, and trudged through the late spring mud, while sleeping in the rough, eating scant rations and receiving half the minimum wage allotted to Bolshevik workers. Their arms and ammunition were what they carried with them, or what they could capture from the enemy.
During these weeks the Volunteers fought merely to stay alive against the overwhelming numbers of Red Guards sent to destroy them. The Reds established defences in towns while their troop trains and armoured trains travelled the rails attempting to locate and pin down the Volunteers. The Red Army in the south was estimated at 100,000 to 150,000 in those months. However, poor training and organization and lax discipline reduced their combat effectiveness.
In skirmish after battle, the Whites broke through the Reds, fording a river through sleet and darkness to take a town one day, advancing silently with fixed bayonets over an open field to take a position or a town on another. In 50 days they fought 40 actions. The number of killed always exceeded the number of wounded; nevertheless, the wounded were so numerous that over 1,200 bad to be transported in peasant carts on the inarch. To leave anyone behind meant death.
The Reds routinely mutilated then executed any Volunteer, while in turn the Whites usually shot Red prisoners out of hand.
In early April the Volunteers reached Ekaterinodar, the capital of the Kuban Cossacks, where they hoped to find allies. Like the Don, however, the Kuban had run red with revolution and the Bolsheviks were in control of the city.
At this point, Ataman Filimanov and 2,5<X) Kuban Cossacks under Colonel Pokrovsky rode in and joined the Volunteer Army. Encouraged, Kornilov decided on a desperate gamble: 6,(KX) Whites would try to wrest a city from 18,(>()() Red defenders armed with superior artillery and machine guns.
Over three days, from 10 to 13 April, the armies closed, often fighting hand-to-hand In the streets. 1'he Volunteers lost over half their men. The Reds had suffered far more losses but were being reinforced daily. Finally, on the last day, an artillery shell struck headquarters, killing Kornilov. General Denikin, succeeding as commander-in-chief, decided to retreat north to reorganize and refit the army.
The Kornilov Shock Regiment participated in the First Kuban Campaign, the 'Ice March', and in every major campaign on the Southern Front until November 1920. In 1919 the kornilov Shock Division came closer to Moscow than any other White unit, fighting savage battles at Orel in September-October (Allied art card. Bullock collection)
During this retreat, the Volunteers learned that the Don Cossacks had risen against the Bolsheviks. Moreover, Colonel Drozdovsky and 2,000 elite troops, who had just completed a 1,600-kilometre march across the Ukraine, joined the Volunteers in June. A steady trickle of officers and cadets from the north continued to arrive in these weeks so that by the middle of the month the Volunteer Army could field 9,000 men, three armoured cars and 21 guns. With the Cossacks anchoring his northern front, Denikin determined to strike southward and conquer the territories of the Caucasus and Kuban.
Was this article helpful?