Volunteer Army (White Army)

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Badge on the sleeve of the soldiers of the volunteer army

The Volunteer Army ( Russian Добровольческая армия / Dobrowoltscheskaja Armija ) was a major association of the White Movement in the Russian Civil War . It was the nucleus of the White Army under Denikin in southern Russia. In 1919 she merged with the Great Army of the Don to form the armed forces of South Russia . After the unsuccessful attempt to attack Moscow , it was withdrawn to the Crimea and formally dissolved. Some of their soldiers continued to fight the Bolsheviks in the army of Pyotr Wrangel in the Crimea until 1920 .


After the October Revolution in November 1917, the Don Cossacks declared themselves independent under their ataman Alexei Kaledin . As a result, numerous officers and politicians fled to the Don area before the revolution. Among them was the former chief of staff of the Tsarist army, Mikhail Alexeyev , who continued to lead the troops under the Kerensky government . Alexeyev's goal was to build an organization to overthrow the Bolsheviks .

Alexeyev traveled to the Don region with another forty officers. There the officers were received very cautiously at first. The Cossacks, who wanted their own Cossack state, saw the nationalist -minded military as a threat to their independence efforts. Kaledin even had to keep Alexejew and his men temporarily hidden in order not to attract resistance from his own people. In the winter of 1917 the Red Guard began to conquer the Don area bit by bit. The Cossacks were hardly motivated to defend their territory against the Red Forces and Kaledin's regime received little support. In particular, Cossacks returning from the front no longer wanted to participate in the war. In order to take action against the advancing Bolsheviks, Kaledin let Alexeyev have their way. This had meanwhile expanded his organization to 500 officers. The former putschist against the Kerensky government, Lavr Kornilov , also joined them. Both agreed to share command. Alexeyev was nominally Kornilov's superior and was responsible for political and financial questions. Kornilov himself was given command of the troops. On December 9, 1917, under the leadership of the officers who gave themselves the name Volunteer Army , Rostov-on-Don was able to recapture an important city in the Don area from the Reds. In Rostov itself the mood towards the volunteer army among the people remained hostile. Denikin reports that members of the volunteer army who accidentally got lost in working-class neighborhoods did not return from there repeatedly.

Unit of the volunteer army

During their stay on the Don, the army grew to around 4,000 fighters. Officers and students in particular volunteered. An internal list of the origins of the troops stated that more than 90% of the soldiers were former officers and only a tiny number had previously served as ordinary soldiers. The revolution had robbed the volunteers of their perspective on life in the old society and mostly of their material possessions as well. This fed their will to fight against the new rulers. Often revenge also played a role. Numerous volunteers, most of them from the " bourgeoisie " class , had lost their family members to the Bolshevik Red Terror . One volunteer summed up his feelings about the peasants who had appropriated the land of the landowners and the Bolsheviks as follows: “These are the people who smashed our old mahogany chairs. These are the people who tore up my favorite books that I bought as a student on Sukharevka. These are the people who cut down our orchard and uprooted the roses that mom once planted. These are the people who burned our house. "

During the fighting for Rostov, the whites repeatedly found brutally murdered and mutilated soldiers of the volunteer army or their family members. Often, as a result of such finds, reprisals were taken against captured Red Army soldiers. Denikin reports in his memoir about the first experiences with such finds: "It soon became known that the Bolsheviks killed all the volunteers they had captured, there was no doubt about that. More than once the volunteers found the places by hand went to hand, the disfigured corpses of their comrades-in-arms, heard the terrifying story of witnesses to these murders, miraculously rescued from the hands of the Bolsheviks. I remember how terrible I felt the first time she paid attention brought with them tortured volunteers from Bataysk - chopped up, mutilated, with disfigured faces in which their loved ones, depressed with sadness, could barely see their original features. "

Lawr Georgievich Kornilov. Leader of the volunteer army until his death during the ice march.

The “Ice March” or the First Kuban Campaign

Despite the initial military successes, the Don region could not be held against the Reds. The war-weary Cossacks refused to fight. The urban population also refused to support the volunteer army. In the cities there were also strikes by workers against the officers' presence. These strikes were followed by riots against wealthy citizens. The volunteer army reacted with terror in the form of shootings and mutilations. On January 29th, Ataman Kaledin committed suicide because of the desperate situation. On February 24, 1918, Alexeyev and Kornilov decided to make their way with their army to the Cossack area on the Kuban . They hoped to build a new base with the support of the local population. On February 23, the Soviets had retaken Rostov and two days later, with the conquest of Novocherkassk , they were able to take complete control of the Don region. The volunteer army meanwhile withdrew with 4,000 armed men and an unknown number of relatives of the soldiers and civilians through the frozen steppe, often in single file, for miles on the Kuban. During the march there were numerous clashes with local farmers. These were hostile to the volunteer army and pursued their soldiers as far as they could defend themselves against them. The volunteers in turn reacted with terror in the form of torture, mutilation and shooting. The army also looted food to support themselves. Wrangel summarized the dealings with the villagers as follows: "We brought neither forgiveness nor peace, but only the cruel sword of vengeance" .

Map of the "Ice March" of the volunteer army

In the Kuban arrived, the army included 3,000 Cossacks on. With a strength of now 7,000 men, Kornilov tried to conquer the capital of the newly founded North Caucasian Soviet Republic of Yekaterinodar . The troops were unable to prevail against the city's 18,000 red defenders. Kornilov was killed by an artillery hit on his headquarters. The new commander of the army was Denikin . He gave the order to withdraw to the Don again. As a result of the fighting, the army had melted back to its original strength of around 4,000 men. The army also had to leave 200 wounded at Jekaterinodar in the absence of transport and supplies. After the death of Kornilov, Lenin announced to the Moscow Soviet : "It can be said with certainty that the civil war is by and large over" .

When the campaign began in February, the army was composed of the following groups:

  1. Kornilov Combat Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Neschentzjew)
  2. St. George's Reserve Regiment - from a small cadre of officers who had arrived from Kiev. (Colonel Kirienko).
  3. First, Second and Third Officer Battalion - made up of officers who had gathered in Novocherkassk and Rostov. (Colonel Alexander Kutepow , Lieutenant Colonels Borissow and Lavrentiev, later Colonel Simanovsky).
  4. a junker battalion - mainly from the capital's junker schools and cadets. (Staff Captain Parfenow)
  5. Rostov Volunteer Regiment - from the Rostov student youth. (Major General Borovsky).
  6. Two cavalry divisions. (Colonel Wassili Hoerschelmann and Peter Wladimir von Glasenapp ).
  7. Two artillery batteries - mostly made up of junkers and officers from the artillery school. (Lieutenant Colonels Mionchinsky and Erogin).
  8. A whole series of small units, such as the "Marine Company" (Hauptmann 2nd Ranges Potemkin), an engineering company, a Czechoslovak engineering battalion, the "Death Division" of the Caucasian Division (Colonel Schirjajew) and several irregular units named after their commanders.

Second Kuban campaign

During the ice march, the situation on the Don had changed in favor of the whites, regardless of the defeat of the volunteer army. In a few weeks the rule of the Bolsheviks had driven the Cossacks into armed rebellion. The Bolsheviks confiscated food, plundered the Cossack villages and randomly shot hostages they considered politically unpopular. Churches were also attacked and priests murdered or mutilated. At the same time as the ice march began, the Germans had launched a major offensive ( Operation Faustschlag ) to force the Soviet government to conclude a peace agreement that was favorable to the German Empire. The offensive ended on March 2nd with the peace dictated by Brest-Litovsk . As a result, the Germans brought large parts of the Don region under their control and interrupted the railway connections between the Don region and central Russia. They supported the ataman Pyotr Krasnov , who headed the rebellious Cossacks. Krasnow had an independent Cossack state supported by the Germans as its goal. He received weapons from German stocks in exchange for grain. As a result, the Bolsheviks were repulsed across the Don after about ten weeks. In this climate the volunteer army on the Don was able to regroup. It also grew in numbers with the arrival of new volunteers and 3,000 old Russian army men returning from the Romanian theater of war. The army grew from 4,000 to 7,000 armed men during their second stay on the Don.

Denikins ordered his strengthened troops to invade the Kuban area again. There they faced red troops totaling 80,000-100,000 men. However, the situation was completely different from a few months earlier. Just like on the Don, the Bolsheviks had turned the population against them through looting, food recruitment and politically motivated terror, so that their drafted recruits could not be relied on. The Kuban region also had few industrial cities, so that only a few workers could be used. Just like on the Don, the German intervention and the Cossack uprisings cut off traffic connections to central Russia. Thus no reinforcements and no supplies could be brought in from the strongholds of the Bolsheviks. The command of the Red Army led its armed forces even more chaos. Their first in command, an KI Kalnin, ensign in World War I, was dismissed for incapacity. His successor Sorokin had a subordinate commander shot after a dispute and then caused the command structures to collapse with a failed coup attempt against the Bolsheviks. As a result, the professional soldiers of the Volunteer Army and the Cossacks succeeded in quickly removing control of the area from the Soviets.

At the beginning of the campaign, one of the founders of the volunteer army, General Sergei Markov , fell in the attack on the railway line near Salsk . The White Movement lost with him, one of its most gifted leaders.

On August 18, 1918, the volunteer army captured Yekaterinodar. The taking of the Kuban meant rapid growth for the army. Other volunteers joined her, but Denikin also ordered the Cuban Cossacks to be confiscated. In September 1918 the volunteer army had grown to around 35,000 - 40,000 men, even if this meant that its actual character as a voluntary association of highly motivated professional soldiers was partially lost.

March on Moscow

Map with the line-up of the red and white armies and the plans of the white army to conquer Moscow - the so-called "Moscow Offensive". Russian civil war. Summer 1919.
Volunteer Army in Kharkov. June 25, 1919.
Alexander Kutepov. Released Mai-Majewski after the failure of the offensive on Moscow as makeshift agent.
Evacuation of the White Army from Novorossiysk in 1920.

On September 8, 1918, Alexejew died of a heart attack and Denikin took over both the political and military fate of the army. Denikin's attempt to unite all whites in the armed forces of southern Russia under his command, however, was opposed to the independence efforts of the Cossacks under Krasnov. In particular, Krasnow's pro-German stance made him a traitor in the eyes of the officers of the volunteer army, who made common cause with the old war opponent from the First World War. Denikin himself even became abusive towards Krasnov: "The Don region is a prostitute who sells itself to anyone who is willing to pay." Both sides were in a mutual dependency relationship against their common enemy. Militarily, however, they fought separately. The Cossack Don army tried unsuccessfully to capture Tsaritsyn . Meanwhile, the volunteer army, together with local forces, managed to beat the disorganized army group in the North Caucasus and bring the region under their control. They conquered Grozny on February 5, 1919 and Vladikavkaz on February 10, 1919. This gave them a connection with the Cossack area on the Terek . They took around 50,000 prisoners in this campaign and captured large amounts of war material.

The withdrawal of the German troops after the November Revolution deprived Krasnov of his foreign supporters. The defeat against the Red Army demoralized his army and made him impossible as a leader. Great Britain also began to provide material support to Denikin. Because of his proximity to the Germans, Krasnow was not acceptable as a negotiating partner for them. As a result of these factors, Krasnow's Don Army melted from around 50,000 to around 15,000 armed men in February 1919. Krasnow resigned on February 15, 1919 and went to Germany. His successor Ataman Bogajewski completely subordinated himself to Denikin. The Cossacks had become militarily dependent on the volunteer army. Denikin had already disbanded parts of the army from the Caucasus campaign in January. Under the actual name of the Volunteer Army, this defended the Don area against the advancing Red Troops. The parts of the unit remaining in the Caucasus continued their campaign as a Caucasian volunteer army. Denikin was now able to assert himself as commander-in-chief and combined the armed forces of the volunteers and the Cossacks in the Armed Forces of Southern Russia under his command.

The defense of the Don area by the volunteer army now under the command of Vladimir Mai-Majewski was very successful. The volunteers were able to make up for their numerical inferiority through intensive use of the existing railway network in the Donets Basin by quickly relocating their units. In the summer the military situation had turned so in favor of the whites that Denikin wanted to go back on the offensive. He let his troops march on Moscow to finally win the civil war. The volunteer army, regrouped into three divisions with a total strength of 20,500 soldiers, was to spearhead the advance. They conquered on June 13, Kharkov , September 20, Kursk and took on 14 October Oryol one. Martial law was declared in Moscow because of this threat and Trotsky saw Tula , the most important city of the Soviet war industry, at risk. Other Denikin's associations brought large parts of Ukraine, including its capital Kiev, under their control.

A counterattack by the Red Southern Front under Alexander Yegorov captured Oryol on October 20 and threw back the volunteer army. The Soviets raised around 100,000 soldiers, including the elite Latvian rifle troops . After this success, the red cavalry army under Semyon Budyonny managed to conquer the city of Voronezh southeast of Oryol . As a result, the volunteer army threatened to be cut off from supplies on the Don. Then she retreated. As a result, the whites could no longer consolidate their positions. The announcement by the British government under Lloyd George that it would no longer support Denikin finally broke the morale of the troops. The commander of the May-Majewski volunteer army fell into alcoholism and was replaced by Kutepov . The volunteer army was now withdrawing disorderly to the south.

The population in the rear was almost invariably hostile to it. The whites did not have an orderly supply system, so the units requisitioned their food from the local population. They also forcibly drafted recruits if necessary. In practice this became a free pass for looting and repression against the civilian population. The volunteer army was popularly corrupted in the occupied territories as a "robbery army" . The volunteer army carried out massacres and atrocities among civilians as they withdrew. A chaplain of the army described them in a letter as a "robbery army" and a "gang". Several massacres of the Jewish population are also documented. The volunteer army was not an anti-Semitic organization when it was founded; Jews were admitted in 1918 and were also among the veterans of the ice march. In the course of the civil war, however, Denikin was urged by his generals to expel all Jews from the army. Numerous employees of the white propaganda agency OSWAG, which mainly distributed anti-Semitic pamphlets and posters, also came from the volunteer army.


The history of the volunteer army ended with their evacuation from Novorossiysk in April 1920. The volunteers were given preferential treatment over the Cossacks. 19,300 members of the army were evacuated to the Crimea . As part of the evacuation, the army commander forced Kutepov to board the ships only after the last volunteer had been evacuated, thereby depriving him of the last remaining authority as commander-in-chief. Wrangel took on the volunteers as part of his Russian army in Crimea. However, he avoided using the term volunteer army any longer, because in his eyes it had made itself unsustainable through its riots against the civilian population.


  • Orlando Figes : A People's Tragedy. The epoch of the Russian Revolution from 1891 to 1924. Berlin-Verlag, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-8270-0243-5 .
  • Nikolaus Katzer : The White Movement in Russia. Power building, practical politics and political programs in the civil war. Böhlau Verlag, Cologne et al. 1999, ISBN 3-412-11698-X , ( Contributions to the history of Eastern Europe 28), (At the same time: Bonn, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 1996).
  • Evan Mawdsley : The Russian Civil War. Reprinted edition. Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh 2005, ISBN 1-84341-024-9 .

Individual evidence

  1. a b Orlando Figes: The tragedy of a people , Berlin 1998, pp. 588-592
  2. a b c Evan Madsley: The Russian Civil War , Edinburgh 2005, p 20ff.
  3. a b c d e Содержание «Военная Литература» Мемуары - Глава XVII. Формирование Добровольческой армии. Ее задачи. Духовный облик первых добровольцев. In: militera.lib.ru. Retrieved July 7, 2020 .
  4. ^ Quote from the officer Roman Gul based on Orlando Figes: Die Tragödie einer Volkes , Berlin 1998, p. 588.
  5. a b Orlando Figes: The tragedy of a people , Berlin 1998, p. 594ff.
  6. a b Quote from Wrangel based on Orlando Figes: Die Tragödie eines Volkes , Berlin 1998, p. 596ff.
  7. ^ Quote from Lenin based on Evan Mawdsley: The Russian Civil War , Edinburgh 2005, p. 22; Original text in English: "It can be said with certainity that, in the main, the civil war has ending."
  8. a b c Orlando Figes: The tragedy of a people , Berlin 1998, p. 597ff.
  9. a b Evan Madsley: The Russian Civil War , Edinburgh 2005, p 92ff.
  10. a b c d Evan Madsley: The Russian Civil War , Edinburgh 2005, pp. 164ff.
  11. Denikin's quotation from a tradition by Krasnow in Evan Madsley: The Russian Civil War , Edinburgh 2005, p. 165; Original text in English: "The Don Host is a prostitute, selling herself to whomever will pay".
  12. Orlando Figes: The tragedy of a people , Berlin 1998, p. 699ff.
  13. Orlando Figes: The tragedy of a people , Berlin 1998, p. 715ff.
  14. Evan Madsley: The Russian Civil War , Edinburgh 2005, p 202ff.
  15. Proof of the term. "Robbery Army" Nikolaus Katzer: The White Movement in Russia , Cologne, Weimar, Vienna 1999, p. 141
  16. Comments by chaplain Georgi Schawelski: also Katzer, p. 286.
  17. ^ Mawdsley, Evan: The Russian Civil War , Edinburgh 2005, pp. 223ff., 264.