Kolchaks offensive

In the weeks after Kolchak's ascension, the front stabilized along the Urals and morale improved dramatically. The Izhevsk and Votkinsk Brigades, Molchanov's Brigade and Kappel's troops formed tile nucleus of the new Western Army in the centre. The imperial gold had successfully arrived in Chelyabinsk from Samara in November, soon to be transferred to Omsk. The Whites desired an early offensive, even in winter, to throw the Reds off balance, understanding that they were growing in strength. Early success could also bring diplomatic recognition from the Allies, and, just as importantly, much-needed supplies.

In December 1918, General Gaida, having resigned from the Legion and accepted command of the Siberian Army in Russian service, moved against the Red 3rd Army at Perm. The city fell on the 25th, yielding a rich haul of 20,000 prisoners, 20 staff cars, 5,000 train wagons and stock, 60 guns, 1,000 machine guns and several armoured trains. Local intelligence reports described the 3rd Army as 'annihilated'. Partially offsetting this, the Reds pushed back the Whites in the south, taking Ufa on 31 December and Uralsk and Orenburg in January 1919.

Kolchak now ordered a general mobilization throughout Siberia, with about 200,000 responding to the call. Many of these recruits were located in garrisons along the lines of communications that stretched for 8,000 kilometres from the front to the Pacific. Others entered into various training establishments. According to arrangements among the Allies, the British had control of the 'rear', which meant overseeing and advising the Whites about the administration of supplies and the training of new recruits.

The British advised Kolchak to call up only the number of men who could be armed, suitably attired, fed and lodged in decent quarters, then trained for a minimum of two months. In order to build cadres for the Whites, the British established a Training Brigade on Russian Island, off the Pacific port of Vladivostok, where such a regime could be carried out. Each 'class' could graduate 3,000 soldiers at a time, including officers and non-commissioned officers. Each platoon had a Russian officer, the commander of each company also being Russian, but with a British supervisor. The command, at battalion level and up, would be in British hands. After two months, a fresh crop of 3,(KM) would rotate in, fully equipped.

The purpose was to create a bond between the young officers and the new conscripts by having them train together. The British described the potential of the average

Kolchak troops in British caps, coats and equipment, but with Russian boots and cockades, spring 1919. (Bullock collection)

Kolchak troops in British caps, coats and equipment, but with Russian boots and cockades, spring 1919. (Bullock collection)

1919 Barnaul Intelligence Service

Kolchak's offensive

Spring Offensive Kolchak


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N iihny^Novgorod



Eastern Array Group



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1 Uralsk ihilov

I I White and Cossack unit Frontline in January 1919 Advance point reached May ljH9


Caspian Seo

Siberian recruits as 'excellent', but noted that their performance and morale were quickly degraded by company-level officers who had not established a critical rapport with their men. Lacking supplies and care, or a clear understanding of why they were expected to fight, the troops naturally preferred to return to their homes. For example, the Russians packed one new regiment onto trains, bounced it around on the tracks for six weeks without necessary food and equipment, then halted near the front. Upon disembarking, the entire unit deserted.

T he Whites, on the other hand, felt the urgent need to send all troops to the front quickly, either as fresh drafts to replace casualties or to plug gaps in the line. Two British training experiments just behind the front, the Anglo-Russian Brigade and Kappel's Corps, failed for these very reasons. The Anglo-Russian Brigade, which received Kolchak's approval, was the first of several planned units with mixed Russian and British officers and instructors, the British taking a particularly prominent role in forming machine-gun companies and batteries of artillery. The first battalion showed great promise but became the jealous object of scorn from senior Russian officers who broke up the establishment at the earliest opportunity.

Kolchak Cavalry

Czech Legion patrol in the Urals, early 1919. (Legion painting, 1926)

The other scheme involved processing the mass levies raised during the general mobilization. Eight divisions were to be created, three as components of Kappel's Corps, the other five based at regional centres. These were to be fully equipped and trained before being sent into battle. Owing to urgency at the front, however, the regional centres were pared down to three, and even these were disbanded prematurely to get troops into the forward sectors. The White command, or stavka, then committed Kappel's divisions to combat before they were ready.

As more White units reached the Ural Front, the Czech Legion withdrew its troops along the lines of communications, setting up small garrisons from Ekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk to such faraway locations as Barnaul and Harbin. T he entire Trans-Siberian Railway and the spur lines to the north and south were effectively under Legion control. These garrisons were supported by, or worked In coordination with, the various other Allied powers who had similar garrisons at strategic locations.

Czech Legion patrol in the Urals, early 1919. (Legion painting, 1926)

Kolchak ordered his spring offensive to begin in March, despite the snow in the Ural passes. His main objective was to attain and consolidate the Volga. Thereafter, the armies would move directly on Moscow from the centre, or adopt a north-centre strategy if linking with the Allies in North Russia proved feasible, or even a centre-south strategy if conditions looked auspicious for linking with Denkin's Armed Forces of South Russia.

In theory, each White army would comprise 50,000 infantry and cavalry in two corps, with two or three divisions and a reserve brigade in each. In reality, the armies were much under-strength, and stretched along a 1,100-kilometre line from Perm to Orenburg. On the left, the front extended still further to the Caspian Sea.

On the right, or farthest north of the line, stood Gaida's Siberian Army with headquarters at Ekaterinburg. The largest of the armies, Gaida's had 45,000 men, the majority being the new recruits. His troops would advance against the lied 3rd and 2nd Armies with the objective of taking Viatka.

General M. V. Khanzin's Western Army anchored the centre with headquarters at Chelyabinsk, Khanzin, possessing 42,000 men, would advance against the Red 1st and 5th Armies to capture Samara and Ufa and consolidate the central Volga region. Kappel's Corps, still under formation, would reinforce the Western Army as the offensive unfolded.

General Belov's Southern Army, situated on the left of the line, was the smallest, with perhaps 20,000-30,000 men. Belov would protect Khanzin's left flank by grappling with the Red 1st Army, while offering support to the Orenburg Cossacks on his own left flank.

Two Cossack armies worked to the south of Belov. Ataman Dutov's Orenburg Cossacks, headquartered near Orenburg, had an approximate strength of 15,000. Dutov would advance from Orsk and take Orenburg while severing the Tashkent Railway, thereby cutting off the Red Turkestan Army from the main Red forces to the northwest. Ataman Tolstoy's 15,000 Ural Cossacks, with their left flank on the Caspian Sea, would direct their attention on the Red 4th Army and capturing Uralsk.

Overall, the Whites had a nearly five-to-four numerical advantage over their enemy's 118,000. However, the Reds had greater artillery and machine gun assets and much larger reserves in their immediate interior, and a field army in Turkestan operating to the southeast of the White lines.

The general offensive opened across the entire front between 4 and 13 March, taking the enemy by surprise. Khanzin's army moved on horse-drawn sledges over snows over half a metre in depth, breaking through the Red 5th Army and securing Ufa on the 16th. His cavalry pursued the Reds to Belebei. Sterlitamak followed on 6 April, allowing Dutov to recapture Orsk on the 9th and proceed to within 32 kilometres of Orenburg. Gaida's Siberian Army pressed forward on skis to Glazov, taking Sarapul on the Kama River on the 11th. By the middle of April the Western Army had captured Bugulma and Buguruslan, opening the way to Samara and Simbirsk.

The end of April became the high-water mark of the White advance, Khanzin having gained 550 kilometres in the centre. Tor two weeks the Whites had been stuck in seas of mud that developed in the spring thaw, giving the enemy time to recover. Moreover, the Siberian Army had moved too far to the northwest while the Western Army had advanced too far to the southwest, creating a dangerous gap in between. As Gaida neared Kazan in early May, the sodden ground started to harden and the lied Army counter-attacked.

The Reds directed their main effort against Khanzin's centre and on his northern and southern flanks, exploiting the gaps that had developed as well as taking advantage of command-and-control weaknesses that naturally develop between armies on the move. Hard-pressed, the Western Army fell back on Ufa and the llelaia River line. On 7 June the Red 5th Army, spearheaded by Vasily Chapaev's legendary 25th Division, loaded onto barges and crossed below Ufa, creating a bridgehead. The Whites committed their shock brigade in a desperate, bloody attempt to prevent the line from crumpling. Nevertheless, by mid-June the Western Army had been pushed back 80 kilometres.

In the north, the Red 2nd and 3rd Armies, cooperating with the heavily armed Volga Flotilla, captured Term on 1 July. Gaida's Siberians fell back in disarray to and then beyond Ekaterinburg by 15 July. Desertions among his new recruits were particularly high. In the south, the Orenburg and Ural Cossacks made only limited headway. The hosts were still disorganized after the loss of Orenburg and Uralsk in January and the defection of the Allied 'Bashkir Corps' in February.

In response, Kolchak shook up his command, placing the steady General M. K. Dieterichs in charge of the front on 20 June. On 8 July, he removed Gaida, and the Siberian Army became the 1st Army under General Anatoly Pepelyaev. Khanzin was also

The Russian Civil War and cinematography

Stills from the 1934 Lenfilm movie production Chapaev {100 Soviet Films, (skusstvo: Moscow, 1967). in this scene, Kolchak's White Guards advance silently with fixed bayonets into withering machine-gun fire and are annihilated. The uniforms of black and white have a large black patch on the left arm, bordered white (with a white Orthodox-style cross, and just above, an inscription in white, both in the patch centre). Their black flag bears a white skull and crossbones with the inscription 'God with Us' superimposed. In the film, Red soldiers verbally warn their comrades of the attack of this 'Kappelevtsi Officer's Regiment', This scene recreates an actual battle on 8 June 1919 when an officers' shock regiment, each man previously having won the St George Cross for bravery, attempted to save the city of Ufa. In his memoirs, the adjutant of Red Commander Frunze recalled the 'terrifying impression' made by General Kappel's shock battalions advancing on their positions 'with the skull and crossbones insignia mounted on their caps, sleeves, and epaulettes' (Bubnov et aL, Grazhdanskaia Voina, vol. 3, 1928). Another eyewitness, Dmitry Lurmanov, Red commissar to Chapaev's famed 25th Division, had received intelligence the evening before that 'two battalions of officers and the Kappel Regiment' were to attack at dawn. He recalled:

In black columns, in ghostly silence, without sound of human voice or clatter of arms, the battalions of officers and the Kappel Regiment advanced to the attack. They came on in open order, covering an enormous space ... the battalions were allowed to come up quite close, and then, at the word of command, scores of machine-guns blazed fire. Their work was gruesome. They mowed down the Whites in swathes,, line after line, wiped them out. (Chapaev, Martin Lawrence Ltd, London, 1935, pp. 278-79).

Kolchac OffensiveKolchac Offensive

At the end of that day of slaughter, nearly 3,000 of Kolchak's finest lay dead.

Days before the battle, foreign observers, including the Dutch correspondent l.udovic Grondijs, had reported elite shock units, bedecked with 'death's head insignia', marching through the streets of Chelyabinsk en route to the front. Hased on White orders of battle, these units belonged to the Shock Brigade of General Kappel's Volga Corps, the brigade that attacked at Ufa.

An historical question remains, when tying the film and book to the actual events. Were the incredibly detailed uniforms only a Soviet epitome of what a White Guard unit should look like, or were they hased in whole or part on captured uniforms? The answer may lie in the archives of Lenfilm, the former Soviet studio owned since 2004 by Filmofond I'lSC.

To the Urals

Ural Cossacks





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n White and Cossack unrt Frontline in May 1919

— Advance point reached July 1919 _



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Astrakhan removed, the Western Army reorganizing into two; the 2nd Army under General A. N. Lokhvitsky and the 3rd Army under General K. V. Sakharov.

As the Whites retired, the armies began melting away, the conscripts deserting to their villages. Zlatoust fell on 13 July, bringing the Red 5th Army over the Urals to Chelyabinsk. Here the Whites planned an elaborate manoeuvre. The 5th Army would he allowed into the city and then encircled. For eight days, from 23 to 31 July, the battle raged.

Chelyabinsk held because the factory workers of the city revolted and joined the defences while the lied 3rd Army moved southeast from Ekaterinburg against the Whites' right flank. Even though the Whites inflicted 11,000 casualties on the Reds while only losing 5,000 themselves, thousands of conscripts deserted from Kappel's Volga Corps, proving the general unreliability of the troops mobilized that spring. In the end, the Whites continued to fall back, giving up the entire Ural line.

The Whites retreated across the immense western Siberian plain in August to the Tobol River, hoping to rally and make a stand. But the Reds retained the initiative. Finally, 350 kilometres from the Tobol, the Whites reached the Ishim River, itself

Red commanderV I. Chapaev won three St George Crosses as a non-commissioned officer in World War One. He commanded his famous 25th Ride Division against the Whites on the Volga and Ural Fronts. (Painting by K. D. Kumayka, art cand.Voenizdat, 1956)

Kolchak Cavalry Uniforms

only 225 kilometres from their capital at Omsk. Here, the Red offensive blew itseif out.

True to the fluidity of operations in the Russian Civil War, offensive and counter-offensive, after two weeks the Whites were in position to strike back. Kolchak determined to counter-attack in order to support the offensives of the Whites in south and northwest Russia that were already under way or about to begin. The immediate objective was the Tobol River line, the grander goal being the recovery of the Urals.

On 1 September, the 1st and 2nd Armies moved against the lied 3rd Army while the White 3rd attacked the Red 5th. Moving from the left, a Siberian Cossack Corps under Ataman I', Ivanov-Rinov aimed to hit the 5th Army from the rear. The Whites advanced along a 300-kilometre front and penetrated 350 kilometres deep at the furthest point by 14 October. Delays in the White 2nd Army and the failure of Ivanov-Rinov to get behind the Red

5th prevented full success. Fighting in the centre was particularly heavy, the Reds receiving the worst of it, but they were able to call up an additional 44,000 reserves from the recently-conquered Urals. On 15 October they counter-attacked and within two weeks had pushed the Whites back to their positions at Ishim, Kolchak now had to decide how best to defend the White capital itself.

That autumn, White resistance south of Omsk crumbled. The loss of the railways at Chelyabinsk and Petropavlovsk cut off the southern armies from Kolchak's main forces and completely disrupted their source of supplies. Reel forces converging on the Tashkent Railway from the west and the east from Turkestan crushed General lielov's Southern Army in September. Dutov still had 12,000 men on 9 November, but Red forces

Red commanderV I. Chapaev won three St George Crosses as a non-commissioned officer in World War One. He commanded his famous 25th Ride Division against the Whites on the Volga and Ural Fronts. (Painting by K. D. Kumayka, art cand.Voenizdat, 1956)

moved south from Petropavlovsk to Kokchetav, splitting his corps in two. hacking cavalry, the Reds maintained their momentum hy riding in hundreds of carts, 12 men in each, dismounting into firing lines, then loading up and driving on. Half of Dutov's men lacked rifles and ammunition, and a quarter were down with typhus. The Orenburg Army fell apart by the end of November.

The Ural Cossacks also suffered, especially after the British stopped supplying them from the Caspian in August 1919. While engaged at the front, the Cossacks had been unable to bring in the autumn harvest. Cossack and horse now faced starvation. Lacking artillery, shells and ammunition, and stricken with typhus, the Cossacks were pushed back to the town of Kalmykov in late November and then retreated over the Trans-Caspian Desert to Persia.

¡•'ive thousand of Dutov's survivors moved south to Semipalatinsk, headquarters of Ataman B. V. Annenkov's 9,000 Semirechie Cossacks. Annenkov's colourfully uniformed ¡'artisan Division was itself in similar straits and nearly surrounded. Losing his capital on 1 December, Annenkov retreated into the Altai Mountains, where, facing starvation, the division hroke into groups and escaped into China,

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