Last stand of the Whites

General Baron Petr Wrangel assumed command of the shattered AFSR upon Denikin's resignation on 4 April 1920, Immediately, Wrangel renamed his Whites The Russian Army' on 11 May and forbade the use of the tricolor chevron on uniforms in order to build a new force, a new morale. The classes of 1900 and 1901 were mobilized on the 15th. Ships sailed to rendezvous with and collect pockets of troops left behind along the Black Sea coastline. A new government and a new army had to be created quickly.

The Russian Army's diplomatic situation was desperate. Britain offered little if any help and made it clear that if the Whites moved beyond the Crimea diplomatic relations would cease. Britain, under the leadership of David Lloyd George, had already written off the Whites and looked instead towards better relations with the Bolsheviks. France talked eloquently about aid and good relations, but made tough economic bargains and sent little. France's diplomatic policy rested on creating alliances with the new nation states in Eastern Europe - Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania - as a cordon sanitaire against the infection of Bolshevism on the one hand, and as a hedge against German imperialism on the other. French support would be conditional on Wrangel's ability to be useful to that scheme.

Wrangel, therefore, determined to be pragmatic. In his own words: 'With the devil and for Russia, hut against the Bolsheviks.' Consequently, he sought alliances with Poland, Georgia, Petlyura and Makhno. Poland dispatched a military mission to the Crimea in response while Makhno hanged the White emissaries on the spot.

The Polish were wary of any Russians, however, and began their own advance into the Ukraine on 24 April against the Red Army in order to recreate the 'Greater Poland' they had enjoyed during the Middle Ages. This 'Russo-Polish War' would last until 12 October. Although not aimed at helping the fortunes of the Russian Army, the Polish offensive nevertheless distracted the growing might of the Reds and bought Wrangel time to organize.

Strategically, he was in a good position. The Crimea was a peninsula with only two entrances: one natural, one man-made. The first was the Perekop peninsula, a land bridge

General Baron Pyotr Nikolaevich Wrangel had commanded cavalry In the Russo-Japanese War and World War One, His rise in the White Arm/was meteoric -commanding a cavalry division in August 1918, the Caucasian Army from spring 1919, the Volunteer Army from December 1919, finally becoming commander-in-chief of the new Russian Army on 4 April 1920. Brilliant and charismatic, his tall, imperious figure, dressed in a Cossack cherfcessko, allowed the Bolsheviks to caricature him as Russia's 'Black Baron'. (Photo, Beloe Delo, 1924)

connecting the Crimea to the mainland, nowhere wider than eight kilometres. From east to west lay the Turkish Wall, a rampart with a deep ditch that the Crimean Khans had once dredged so that the sea could fill as a moat against marauding Zaporozhian Cossacks. The second was the Taganach Bridge connecting the town of that name with the Chongar peninsula on the mainland. There were, of course, the salt marshes of the Sivash, northeast of Perekop, consisting of tide pools so deep that one could only cross by boat. I ligh winds were known to have blown and dried these pools for a period of a few hours, but only a few times each century.

Wrangel formed his 'Government of South Russia', with A. Krivoshein and

Wrangel Pyotr Nikolayevich
Right of the Bourgeoisie at Novorosstsk. 1920 by f.Viadimirov. (Soviet art card, 1930)

R Struve heading, respectively, domestic and foreign affairs. Wrangel himself took the title 'ruler' In the same vein as had the other White leaders, ultimately concentrating civil and military power into the hands of one man. This arrangement would end when the Russian people finally were able to elect their own representatives in a properly constituted constituent assembly. The new government further promulgated a liberal law that recognized previous peasant seizures of estates while offering compensation for the landowners, a law meant to secure the support of the peasantry. In keeping with her Eastern diplomatic policy, France recognized the new government de facto in June 1920.

Geographically, the Government of South Russia controlled the Crimea, a zone of about 25,000 square kilometres known administratively as the South Tauride (or Taurida). They did not control the North Tauride, an area of about 39,000 square miles that followed the Dnieper River from the Black Sea to Alexandrovsk, then southeast towards Berdiansk on the Sea of Azov.

The fertile black soil of the North Tauride grew oats, barley, wheat, rye, potatoes and tobacco, not to mention fruits, farm animals and horses. These products could be traded to international customers in exchange for materials the Whites lacked. Equally important, in addition to the indigenous population, the new government had to feed a quarter of a million mouths that included their army and administration as well as the mass of White sympathizers and refugees who had fled the Red terror.

Wrangel determined, therefore, to advance into the North Tauride in June, even though such an advance would cost the support of Great Britain. By early June, the army consisted of 25,000 former Volunteers and 10,000 Cossacks. These were divided into three formations: the 1st Corps under Kutepov at the Perekop defences, the Crimean Corps under Slaschev at the Chongar positions and the Don Corps in reserve at Dzhankoi. Opposing these were 20,000 combat effectives of the Red 13th Army.

At 2 am on 7 June White tanks of the 1st Corps began moving towards the first line of Red defences on the Perekop peninsula, snagging the barbed-wire entanglements, turning and ripping them outward. The Kornilov Shock Division charged through the gaps. Overhead, artillery from both sides shattered the quiet night while the heavy guns from the White Navy thundered into the lied positions. Then, before dawn, green bursts from exploding flares signalled that the first line had been taken. The 1st Corps surged forward onto the second line. The Whites secured the peninsula on the 9th and by 13 June the Red 13th Army had been pushed beyond the Dnieper River, hotly pursued by General Babiev's Kuban Cavalry Division.

The right flank also moved on 7 June. General Pisarev's tanks and infantry crashed into the lied positions at Salkovo, while General Slaschev, landing by sea, outflanked the Reds to the east and advanced on Melitopol, taking the city on 10 June. By the 17th, much of the Northern Tauride district was in White hands. The Red 13th Army had lost 8,000 men and much materiel.

The Reds counter-attacked at the end of June. Dmitry Zhloba's 1st Horse Corps with attached infantry regiments, a force numbering 13,500, moved southwest towards Melitopol, while the Kith Army pressured the Dnieper River line, two assaults on the Dnieper were hurled back. Zhloba himself had to make night marches because by day White aircraft pinpointed then strafed his troops. Outnumbered, the Don Corps facing Zhloba retired.

Wrangel, however, had planned a Cannae for 2-3 July. While the elite divisions of the 1st Corps moved east against the Red right and centre, the Cossacks wheeled to the Red left and rear. Several units of infantry lay in wait in a series of villages across Zhloba's path. Other infantry units, equipped with armoured cars and tachanki machine-gun carts, moved forward to engage the Red cavalry on open ground. Elements of the White 2nd Corps equipped with armoured cars closed the gap in the enemy rear. Hit on all sides, and strafed by White aircraft, the Reds panicked, and, desperately seeking a way out, ran Into a series of ambushes. Only a few hundred survived.

France Republican Horse Guard

Trooper of the Empress Marie Feodorovna's Cuirassiers Regiment, the 'Blue Curisassiers'.This unit was brigaded with other former imperial Guard Cavalry regiments such as the "Yellow Cuirassiers' and the 'Horse Guards' to form the (White) Guard Cavalry Division inYusefovich's 5th Cavalry Corps in 1919 and Wrangel's 1st Cavalry Division in 1920. (Russian art card, c. 1910s).

Trooper of the Empress Marie Feodorovna's Cuirassiers Regiment, the 'Blue Curisassiers'.This unit was brigaded with other former imperial Guard Cavalry regiments such as the "Yellow Cuirassiers' and the 'Horse Guards' to form the (White) Guard Cavalry Division inYusefovich's 5th Cavalry Corps in 1919 and Wrangel's 1st Cavalry Division in 1920. (Russian art card, c. 1910s).

Despite the war with Poland, Red reinforcements continued to arrive throughout July from northern and eastern Russia. On 7 August the Reds crossed the Dnieper using boats and established a bridgehead at Kakhovka. Pontoon bridges were constructed. White attempts to reduce the bridgehead had all but failed by 13 August. Simultaneously, in the east the Red 2nd Horse Army with four infantry divisions maintained steady pressure on the White 1 st Corps. Losses on both sides were heavy.

Understanding that he was facing a war of attrition, Wrangel tried to raise more troops by sending an expedition into the Kuban under General Ulagai in August. This force, consisting of 5,000 cavalry and infantry, 130 machine guns, eight aircraft, a detachment of armoured cars and 26 pieces of artillery, landed on the 14th and headed inland towards Ekaterinodar. The Bolsheviks, however, had already learned of the landing and a general uprising by the Cossacks against them did not occur. On 23 August, Ulagai decided to retreat back to the coast. Despite overall failure and sharp rearguard actions, the Kuban expedition safely re-embarked on 1 September with an additional 5,000 Cossacks on board.

Wrangel now received news from his agents in Warsaw that the Poles were considering an armistice with the Reds. This event would release additional enemy armies onto his fronts along the Dnieper and the Northern and Eastern Tauride. In anticipation of this, Kutepov's 1st Army held the left flank, the Dnieper River line, from the sea to Alexandrovsk, including positions extending to the right of the city. Here stood the elite 1st Corps and the Kuhan Cavalry. General Abramov commanded the 2nd Army on the right flank with the Don Corps and former units of the Crimean Corps. Considering the coming armistice, the Poles released General Bredov and 8,000 White troops who had been operating in the Russo-Polish War and these arrived by ship in the Crimea.

Wrangel determined not to wait for the attritional onslaught, but to manoeuvre and disrupt Red positions before their reinforcements arrived. After unsuccessful attempts to reduce the Kakhovka bridgehead throughout August-October, the Whites organized the 'Trans-Dnieper Operation'.

This operation took place between 6 and 16 October. While the 1st Corps threw its armoured units and infantry against the trenches and barbed-wire positions at Kakhovka, other infantry, including Kuban cavalry, crossed north of the Kakhovka bridgehead at Uchelka and constructed a pontoon. For three days they captured and held Nikopol. Meanwhile, the Markov Division anchored the northernmost White defences at Khortitsa Island in Alexandrovsk. The Kornilov Shock Division with Kuban cavalry crossed the Dnieper at Khortitsa and moved southwest.

If successful, the entire Red front on the Dnieper would have been dislocated and White units could have continued southwest, encircling and destroying the Kakhovka bridgehead. Unfortunately, the centre column did not move decisively and the Kuban cavalry lost their hero, Bablev, who received his 20th and final wound. This group and the Kornilov column both encountered unexpected Red reinforcements and decided to withdraw on 13 October. In fact, the anticipated armistice between Poland and the Bolsheviks had taken place the day before.

By mid-October, the Reds were free to transfer the majority of their combat troops against the southern Whites. On the White left stood the Red fith Army and the 1st Horse Army; in the centre, the 2nd Horse and 4th Armies; and on the right, the 13th Army. Having temporarily made an armistice with the Reds, Nestor Makhno additionally contributed a brigade from his Insurgent army, the majority mounted on horses or tachanki. In all, there were 188,000 infantry, cavalry and engineers with 3,000 machine guns, 600 artillery pieces and 23 armoured trains, not including Makhno's special tachanki machine-gun regiment.

Opposing this array were the White 1st and 2nd Armies consisting of 23,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry. Each army contained component Infantry and cavalry units and aviation, armoured car, armoured train and tank detachments. When the general front-wide offensive commenced on 25 October, Wrangel was in little doubt about his enemy's strategy. Combined with continuous pressure all along his lines, the 1st Horse Army intended to cut a swathe to Salkovo and trap the majority of his armies in the North Tauride, preventing their retirement into the Crimea,

Outnumbered five to one, the Whites fought valiantly in the Tauride. Some units lost cohesion and were overrun by the two horse armies. Once again, the 1st Corps lost half its men in savage rearguard actions. Despite desperate hours at the Salkovo pass, Kutepov and Abramov succeeded in

Russian Painting Horses

Waiting for the enemy. (Russian painting. 191 Os)

unusual phenomenon. If the Bolsheviks had believed in God, they would have assumed that Moses had returned to part the 'Red' Sea on their behalf. As it was, their god was the Revolution and the opportunity seemed clear enough. 1'wo divisions of Red troops moved rapidly through the shallow and now less treacherous marshes.

Surprised, General Fostikov and his Kuban Cossack garrison opened fire. Rushing forward in the darkness, torpedoes affixed on long poles to explode holes in the strands of barbed wire, the Reds seized then developed a bridgehead. Ominously, the winds slackened just before dawn and the tidal basin began to fill again, trapping the advance force from their comrades on the mainland. Though their position was potentially desperate, they

Waiting for the enemy. (Russian painting. 191 Os)

extricating their forces, entering the more defensible Crimea on 2 November.

Both sides now girded for the critical defence of the Crimea. Wrangel placed all White defences under the command of his most reliable, most steady of generals, Kutepov, Unable to be strong everywhere, the Whites heavily defended Perekop and left a strong garrison at the Taganach Bridge. Smaller garrisons were placed at Kerch and along the Sivash.

Miraculously, on the night of the third anniversary of the Revolution, 7/8 November, high, howling winds came and blew the Sivash dry for several hours. l.ocal civilians loyal to the Reds informed them of this

Crimea Retreat 1920 Wrangel

The assault on the Turkish Wall. Penekop. November 1920. The ditch in front is approximately 8 metnes deep. The rampart at the top was reinforced by earth, wood and in several places by concrete and steel plates. The Whites had heavy naval guns in key positions, field artillery and machine-gun nests. Due to the dearth of barbed wine, only a few strands were available at the top. (Bullock photo from Central Armed Forces Museum, Moscow)

to their secondary positions, a series of light trenches and machine-gun nests between the lakes of Yushin, This retreat allowed the Reds at I'erekop and the Sivash to unite. The Whites held Yushin for two desperate days of attack and counter-attack. Yet again, the 1st Corps lost over half its strength. On 11 November, Kutepov, assessing his threadbare units against the seemingly inexhaustible Red reserves, told Wrangcl the end had come.

That day, Wrangel ordered his troops to disengage and fall hack to assigned ports for evacuation from the Crimea. Schedules had already been worked out for soldiers and civilians, and ships had been assigned to each of the Crimean ports at Eupatoria, Sevastopol, Yalta, Theodosia and Kerch. Everything that could float had been commandeered: 126 ships in all between the assets of the White and French navies.

1'he orderly embarkation took three days from the 14th to the 16th. In the end, 145,693 Whites sailed to Constantinople and into exile, to be scattered by the four winds to every distant corner of the world. Following just hours behind, the Red Army settled into the Crimea and 'political' units set to work. In the next weeks some 50,000 'politically unreliable' elements were rounded up and shot.

The assault on the Turkish Wall. Penekop. November 1920. The ditch in front is approximately 8 metnes deep. The rampart at the top was reinforced by earth, wood and in several places by concrete and steel plates. The Whites had heavy naval guns in key positions, field artillery and machine-gun nests. Due to the dearth of barbed wine, only a few strands were available at the top. (Bullock photo from Central Armed Forces Museum, Moscow)

had flanked the almost impregnable Turkish Wall from the southeast.

The Reds now threw their full weight against the key to the White positions, the Turkish Wall on Perekop, opening a devastating artillery barrage. Refusing to be silenced, the Whites replied. That day, the Whites threw back three massive attacks by Red infantry, which came on so thickly that soldiers in several of the regiments were packed shoulder to shoulder. Red casualties mounted in the thousands under the withering fire of White artillery canister and machine guns.

The fourth assault came in darkness in the early morning hours of 9 November. As the Whites fired flares to illuminate the charging enemy, both sides traded grenades up and down the ditch below the ramparts, finally, Red assault troops climbed up and surged over the Turkish Wall.

In response, the Whites were forced back

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