Russian civil war

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The Russian Civil War ( Russian Гражданская война в России / Graschdanskaja woina w Rossii ) was between the communist Bolsheviks (the "Red" or the Red Army founded by Leon Trotsky ) on the one hand and a heterogeneous group of conservatives, democrats, moderate socialists, nationalists and the White Army on the other hand. The exact time of its beginning is controversial among historians; it is set either for the October Revolution in November 1917 or for the spring of 1918.

The war was bitter and brutal, especially against the civilian population; around 8 to 10 million people lost their lives. The intervention of the Entente and the Central Powers in the conflict contributed significantly to its length and violence. Through him, Soviet Russia achieved control over a large part of the area of ​​the former Russian Empire. However, in addition to Poland , which had been independent since 1918 and which also included western areas of today's Ukraine and Belarus , the Baltic states , Finland and the Tuvinian People's Republic also gained independence.

The conflict ended in Europe with the victory of the Red Army over the last white troops in Crimea in November 1920, in the Caucasus with the capture of Batumi in 1921, and in East Asia with the capture of Vladivostok in 1922. At the end of that year the Soviet Union was founded.

Time limitation

The timing of the civil war is controversial in both Western and Russian historiography. One doctrine sees the beginning of the civil war in the October Revolution in November 1917, the other begins in May 1918, when the Czechoslovak legions rose against the Red Army . The second position highlights the effects of foreign influences on the civil war and neglects the previous surveys against the newly emerged Soviet power . The article follows the first opinion in its presentation in order to give a complete overview.

The war was chaotic because both sides mostly acted without an elaborated strategy and led their campaigns in response to short-term developments. The course of the fighting was complicated by foreign intervention and the Polish-Soviet war .

The end of the war is also given differently: either November 1920 (decisive victory of the Red Army in the Crimea ) or 1922/1923, depending on which subsequent combat operations in Siberia are added. The last fighting took place in June 1923 in the Far East: on June 6 at Okhotsk and on June 16 at Ayan .

Revolution year 1917

In the winter of 1916/17 the supply of fuel and food to the population of Russian cities deteriorated and famine loomed. Strikes and demonstrations began across the country from the capital, Petrograd . Tsar Nicholas II's attempt to crush the movement by force failed because garrison soldiers mostly supported the rebels and also took action against the Tsarist police. The tsarist government resigned as a whole, the tsar was forced to abdicate. A dual government consisting of the bourgeois provisional government under Alexander Kerensky on the one hand and the grassroots democratic workers' soviets on the other came to power. With the Kerensky offensive named after him, the last major offensive operation of the Russian army in World War I failed in July 1917 .

The Bolsheviks tried to implement the socialist revolution propagated in Lenin's April theses as early as July 1917 ( Juliet Uprising ), without success . However, through their demands for the end of the war against Germany and the expropriation of the large landowners, they were able to gain more and more influence in the councils and demanded that all power in the state be transferred to them. The attempted coup by General Kornilov in August 1917 played into their hands even more because of the fear of a new autocracy. With the October Revolution, on November 7th (October 25th according to the Julian calendar), the Bolsheviks overthrew the Kerensky government that had emerged from the February Revolution. Just three days later, on November 10th (October 28th according to the Julian calendar), both officer students in Petrograd and an outside improvised Cossack unit under Ataman Krasnov tried to put down the revolution. These attempts failed because of the mobilization of the city's armed workers and sailors, who repulsed both attacks.

After the communists had secured their power in the capital, the picture for the leaders of the party was thoroughly positive. As a cadre party, the Bolshevik Party had important structural advantages over the other political organizations . The industrial cities of central and southern Russia, as well as the Baltic States , had well-organized party apparatuses, which were to form the backbone of the Bolsheviks' expansion of power. Armed groups of workers, sailors and returning soldiers from the front served as maneuvering mass. The party leadership was able to bring the Russian heartland under its control by the beginning of 1918. After this consolidation, the final blow of the Bolsheviks against parliamentarism took place . On the night of January 5–6, 1918, the Social Revolutionary- ruled Russian Constituent Assembly in Petrograd was dissolved by Red Guards .

From the October Revolution in 1917 to the military intervention of the Central Powers in early 1918

After the Reds had politically and militarily consolidated their power in the core area of ​​the former tsarist empire, they began to secure this power also on the periphery. Here, the first resistance to the coup arose, which marked the lines of conflict of the civil war. They ran along social, regional and national borders within the multi-ethnic state . This period of the civil war is known as the "railroad war" because the military actions of the Reds relied primarily on the relocation of improvised, revolutionary units to the various trouble spots via the railway network centered on Petrograd and Moscow . It was extremely successful for the Reds and lasted until the intervention of the Central Powers in February 1918.

Resistance of the Cossacks

The Cossacks were a minority that supported the state under the Tsar . Ethnically speaking Russian, they represented a special social class in the empire. They were settled in the border regions of the Romanov state as military farmers and, as cavalry troops , made up the country's military elite. In return for their achievements, they were given the privilege of extensive self-government and land ownership, some of which they worked themselves or leased to non-Cossack farmers. Due to their stable internal social structure, their monarchist ethos and also their special rights, which they saw in danger from the Bolsheviks, these peasant soldiers were not very receptive to Marxism and hostile to the violent seizure of power by Lenin's party.

In 1917 the ataman of the Orenburg Cossack region in Siberia, Dutow , tried to organize armed resistance against the communists. However, it failed because of the war weariness of the military farmers returning from the world war. So he could not build a powerful force. Orenburg was conquered by the Red Guards on January 31, 1918.

The uprising of the Cossacks in the Don area was more dangerous for the Soviet state . Here the ex-general and ataman Kaledin tried to set up a force to restore the empire. He also tried to mobilize the non-Cossack population for his project through a “united government of the region”. However, like the leader of the Orenburg Cossacks , he failed because of the war weariness of those returning from the front. In addition, he did not succeed in winning over the rest of the region's population to his cause. The non-Cossack farmers hoped that the Soviet power would dissolve the privileges of the Cossacks and thus gain land for their farms. The reaction of the Reds was not long in coming, because the Don region blocked the railways to the Caucasus and the uproar there could pose a threat to the important industrial area of ​​the Donets Basin . As early as November 1917, the People's Commissar of the War Ministry, Antonov-Ovsejenko , was instructed to take countermeasures. By bringing workers in from Petrograd, recruiting returnees from the Caucasus front and mobilizing workers from the Donets Basin, he managed to get a powerful red force into position over the winter. The weak Cossack troops were no match for this; With the conquest of the capital of the Don Region Novocherkassk on February 25, 1918, the revolt was over. Kaledin committed suicide because of his failure and the lack of support of the Cossacks suicide .

After the uprising on the Don had failed, the last Cossack region on the Kuban was also subjugated by the Reds. There the local Cossacks had turned against Soviet power without a popular outside leader. On March 13, their capital Yekaterinodar was conquered by red units, and thus the counter-revolt on the Kuban had failed for the time being.

Creation of the volunteer army

Noteworthy for the further course of the war was the formation of the volunteer army under the generals Kornilov and Alexejew , the former having played a decisive role in the hands of the Bolsheviks through his failed military coup in July 1917. This association had only 4,000 soldiers at the time of the Don Campaign, but it was to become the nucleus of the later White Army in southern Russia. First, after the defeat, the troops settled in the so-called " ice march " in the steppe south of the Don area. The aim was to get through to the Cossack areas on the Kuban. During the unsuccessful attack on Ekaterinodar, their commander-in-chief Kornilov was killed by an artillery hit on April 10th. His successor Denikin was to determine the fate of the conservative forces in southern Russia for the greater part of the further civil war. After the defeat at Ekaterinodar, he ordered a renewed retreat to the Don.

National minority surveys


The Ukrainians were the largest national minority in the tsarist empire and also lived in a "closed" territory. As early as the 19th century, a Ukrainian desire for national independence had developed. With the weakness of the central power, this claim was consolidated in 1917 in a separate parliamentary government, the Ukrajinska Narodna Respublika . Although this was dominated by Ukrainian social revolutionaries and Marxists , it still retained the desire for national independence.

The government of Lenin did not want to tolerate a national independence of Ukraine under the sign of parliamentarism, especially since Russia was dependent on Ukrainian food and raw material production. The attempt to find a political solution to the problem was constituted on December 4th July. / December 17, 1917 greg. . In Kiev , on orders from Petrograd, an “All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets” was formed to act as a counter-government to the Central Na Rada , the parliament of Ukraine. On the same day, the Bolsheviks gave the Ukrainian parliament the ultimatum to recognize the Soviet Congress. Otherwise, the use of military force was threatened.

An attempt to eliminate the parliamentary structures as in Russia failed due to a lack of popular support. Lenin's party was rather unpopular in Ukraine, with only 11% of the country's population voting for it in the 1917 National Assembly elections. As a result, the Bolshevik delegates to the Soviet Congress had to withdraw from Kiev to Kharkov on the same day . They were more popular with the majority of the Russian population there.

Thus, the former tsarist officer and Social Revolutionary Mikhail Muravyov was commissioned by Lenin to settle the matter militarily. Although the Rada had the support of the urban intelligentsia , it did not manage to build up effective military structures. The resistance of the improvised Ukrainian units quickly collapsed and on January 27th July. / February 9, 1918 greg. Kiev was captured by Red Guards.


White citizens' militia, so-called "Protection Corps" in Finland

Finland had retained extensive political self-determination under the tsarist rule. A separate parliament administered the country and was the political center of the nation, also in the tsarist empire. Likewise, the Finns were released from general conscription in the Romanov state. But even in Finland, whose parliament declared independence on December 6, 1917, the Bolsheviks gained influence over the workers' movement. A constitutional crisis, food shortages and traditional social tensions together with this influence led to the revolutionary attempted coup on January 27, 1918. This succeeded in southern Finland, while the north was maintained by the “white” government troops . A civil war broke out between the “reds” and the “whites”. While the opponents were roughly equally strong in numbers, the whites were able to gain a head start in the quality of the combat units in the course of the war through better training of the troops and, above all, the return of hunters trained in Germany in connection with a German intervention .

Lenin, who had recognized Finnish independence in January, was prevented from providing large-scale aid to the Reds by the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty . By May 5, 1918, the Whites, led by General Mannerheim, were able to break the red resistance and put down the uprising. The civil system was preserved and Finland became a democratic republic as a result.


Another setback for the Bolsheviks was the secession of the 1.5 million Romanians in Bessarabia . As early as January 1918, a counter-government was formed here and the Moldovan Democratic Republic was proclaimed. Red Guards from Odessa who were hastily brought in were repulsed with the help of troops from the entire Romanian state. In April 1918 the minority was reunited with their home country. The government in Petrograd contented itself with taking the Romanian ambassador hostage and confiscating the country's Petrograd gold reserve . She made no further effort to recapture the lost territory.

1918 - Intervention of the Central Powers

Operation punch

The Bolshevik administration was divided over how to proceed with the Central Powers . Only a small part of the party, including Lenin, spoke out in favor of peace at any price. The majority of the communists considered it unacceptable to cede large parts of the country to the "imperialists". The consequence was the formula drawn up by Leon Trotsky that neither war nor peace was sought with the German Empire and Austria-Hungary . Trotsky announced this at the armistice negotiations and left them in a scandal.

The OHL under Erich Ludendorff then considered continuing the war in order to force the communist government in Petrograd to conclude peace. The "Operation Faustschlag" envisaged an advance of the German and Austro-Hungarian troops across the entire width of the Eastern Front . This operation began on February 18, 1918, and it quickly became apparent that the resistance of the irregular units of revolutionary workers and peasants was ineffective. Minsk fell just three days later , Zhitomir on February 24, and finally the Ukrainian capital Kiev on March 3. One day later the delegation, headed by Trotsky, consented to the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty . Lenin had succeeded in convincing the party of his position in the face of the military defeat. This treaty brought the Germans control of Ukraine , Crimea and parts of Belarus and southern Russia. However, the advance of the Central Powers continued even after the treaty was signed.

The Soviet government moved to Moscow in early March 1918 as a result of the threat to Petrograd . In addition, during the military operation, out of uncertainty as to whether the Germans intended a political overthrow in Russia, she held talks with the Allies, which led to British troop landings in Murmansk .

Political impact of the occupation

Consequences of the Armistice of Brest-Litovsk

The actions of the Central Powers acted as a catalyst on the political tensions between the parties to the civil war. The power of the Bolsheviks was broken wherever German soldiers invaded. The occupation gave new potential to the factions that had just been marginalized during the Reds' consolidation phase. During the German advance in Crimea, for example, the Muslim Crimean Tatars were raised . This culminated in the assassination of the council of people's commissars of the local Soviet republic .

Nationalism revived in Ukraine with the German invasion. The advancing German troops had already received support from Ukrainian railway workers when they captured Zhitomir. Shortly after the conquest of Kiev, the Rada returned to the capital. Your parliamentary activity lasted only a short time. It was overthrown on April 29, 1918, as a Marxist-dominated parliament seemed dangerous to the German occupiers. Power went to the conservative nationalist leader Pavlo Skoropadskyj , who from then on acted as the country's dictator under the title of Hetman . He was able to maintain his rule until the German defeat in the World War. After that, the Rada again took power in Ukraine; two months after the German withdrawal after the November Revolution, it lost it again to Soviet power.

The German occupation had far-reaching consequences in the Baltic States. In Estonia the popularity of the Bolsheviks was very low and the revolutionaries failed to build a political organization under the German occupation that could have changed this. The conservatives were also able to attract the peasantry to their side by expropriating landowners of German descent. As a result, a nationalist government was formed under the leadership of the Estonian Social Democrats, which was also able to assert itself militarily against the Reds in the following year. Lenin tried to tie Lithuania to the remnants of the Russian Empire by creating a local Soviet republic. This attempt failed due to a military intervention by Poland and resistance from the country's bourgeois forces. In Latvia the situation turned out to be more complex. There was an unstable balance between nationalist and communist groups. In January 1919, the party leadership tried to turn this over in their favor with the invasion of the Red Army. The nationalist forces, however, gained the upper hand after initial defeats. This was made possible by building bridges between the national politicians and the local Baltic Germans . By May 1919, the German-Latvian Freikorps under the command of the former German General von der Goltz had brought the capital Riga under their control and thus ousted the last Soviet influence from the Baltic States.

Building the Red Army

There were two doctrines in the leadership of the Bolsheviks on how the Red Army should be built. The position of the Marxist ideology, represented by Stalin and the first commander in chief Krylenko , called for a "revolutionary army". This should rather take the form of a militia, do without military ranks and only be led by officers elected by the soldiers. This is how the red troops had been built up since the revolution. The German offensive clearly showed the failure of this policy. The improvised units under the red star proved to be incapable of maintaining terrain even against weak German Landwehr troops . Krylenko was deposed as Commander in Chief and Trotsky was commissioned to build the Red Army on his premises. To this end, he envisaged the establishment of a regular army, which, although ideologically indoctrinated, would still have to be built up according to the standards of obedience and discipline. The leading positions were to be filled mainly by former tsarist officers, who were made compulsory in large numbers under threat of severe penalties and family liability . Political commissars should guarantee their political reliability . The originally envisaged goal was the formation of an army of 700,000 soldiers by the end of 1918. Meanwhile, the remaining irregular units were supposed to act as “curtains” in front of the German troops, at least symbolic protection against possible further German intervention. But it was soon assumed that an army of three million men would be needed.

1918 - Consolidation of the anti-Bolshevik forces and reform of the Red Army

Uprising of the Social Revolutionaries

Territory under Soviet control until the end of 1918 and revolts against central power

The young Soviet power had won the railway campaigns, but the invasion of the Germans made their power at the end of the year just as uncertain and fragile as it was after the revolution. An external element again acted as the determining factor that initiated the series of anti-Bolshevik upheavals of 1918. The Czechoslovak legions , still under the tsar mainly from imperial - POW set, proved to be the first serious military threat to communist rule. They were to be returned to Europe in coordination with the Entente via the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok . The corps , around 40,000 soldiers in total, was spread over long distances due to the adversity of transport along the Trans-Siberian Railway . On May 14, there was a clash between Czech soldiers and Hungarian prisoners of war in Chelyabinsk , which resulted in deaths. In his function as war commissioner Trotsky then gave the order to disarm the foreign troops. The Czechoslovaks, who became more and more suspicious of the Central Powers due to the appeasement policy of the Bolsheviks, refused the Russian order. Trotsky thereupon gave the order to shoot every armed member of the legions. This turned out to be a misjudgment, however, because the few reds in the Volga region and in Siberia were by no means up to the regularly trained Czechs.

As a result, another political group managed to instrumentalize the Czechs for itself. The Social Revolutionaries of the Samara area were able to win over parts of the foreign troops for a rebellion against the Bolsheviks. In June 1918 the “Committee of the Members of the Constituent Assembly” ( KOMUTSCH ) was founded in Samara . In doing so, the Social Revolutionaries tried to tie in with the democratic process of the Russian Constituent Assembly , which was suppressed by the Bolsheviks , and in which they themselves had a majority.

With the help of the Czechs they succeeded in gaining control of the Samara and Ufa areas and in some cases extending it to neighboring oblasti . The socialist counter-government tried to recruit a "people's army" of 30,000 men from this area. Since only about 10,000 volunteers were available, soldiers were forcibly evacuated. This made the Social Revolutionaries unpopular, especially since the Bolsheviks had hitherto only relied on volunteers, and significantly reduced the morale of the troops. Furthermore, the committee was unable to turn its initial popularity among the peasants into political capital. Other shifts were not available to her. The Marxist Mensheviks were against rebellion against Soviet power. The workers could not be won. The class of the urban educated and the bourgeoisie was averse to the socialist tendencies of the KOMUTSCH. In view of the political and military weakness, one could only wait for the reaction of the red central government. During the summer Trotsky withdrew as many soldiers as possible from the "curtains" facing the Central Powers. By October 1918, the Red Army Group East under Tukhachevsky had more than 100,000 men. This red general, however, did not want to wait until full strength and struck off towards Simbirsk in August . At the same time Trotsky succeeded in disciplining the completely chaotic 5th Red Army in front of Kazan and at the same time repelling the attempt of the People's Army under Vladimir Kappel to interrupt the railway line to Moscow. After the unsuccessful advance, the KOMUTSCH armed forces were largely demoralized. In September the sections of the Red Army led by Trotsky succeeded in conquering Kazan and Simbirsk, and on October 7, Samara finally fell. The Czechoslovak units were so discouraged by the events that they withdrew to the east without a fight. The local legionary commander Svec also committed suicide after the fall of the movement's capital.

Another survey in the Don area

Just a month after the Bolsheviks broke the backbone of the Cossack revolt, the tsar's former military farmers rose again. On May 6, the capital of the Cossack tribal country on the Don, Novocherkassk, was conquered by the whites and the still weak red administration was taken by surprise. The reason for this was the bitterness among the Cossacks and also the non-Cossack population, which had brought about a month of rule of the Reds. On the one hand, the central government's policy of forced food purchases caused a conflict with the authorities. On the other hand, the draconian methods of the red units affected popular opinion. They took hostages and shot them.

German war aims in the east towards the end of the world war with dependent Cossack republics in the Don and Kuban areas

However, an external factor proved to be the decisive element. When German soldiers marched into the surrounding areas, the Soviet power was pushed back from the places where the invaders were. The rebellion of the Cossacks received support from their former enemies even in the initial phase. German troops blocked the railways in the Don area, slowing down the arrival of red troops. Captured Russian weapons were also passed on to the rebels. The insurgent army, led by General Krasnov , was able to rely on 40,000 armed men as early as June.

Ataman Krasnow turned these advantages into military action. In August 1918 General Mamontov launched a cavalry attack against Tsaritsyn . This was the first mass deployment of cavalry in the civil war and it was intended to induce the Red Army to raise mounted troops themselves. After Mamontow had to withdraw temporarily, another advance of the whites culminated in a siege of the city. The battle for the city lasted until October and was transfigured into the Red Verdun in communist propaganda due to the defensive efforts. When Mamontow finally withdrew, he had only a fraction of his soldiers at his disposal, because the majority of the Cossacks had given themselves up to extensive looting and deserted with their booty to their home regions. Josef Stalin's role in this struggle was greatly glorified during his time as Soviet head of state. At the end of the year the army of the Don Cossacks had only been able to keep small parts outside their home country, but another military core of resistance against the Soviet power germinated in the Kuban area.

As the second largest Cossack population, the Kuban region rose against the new rulers of the former empire in 1918 . The blockade of the southern Kuban area by the Germans was the decisive factor here too. Thus the Kuban and the North Caucasian Soviet Republic were cut off from supplies and reinforcements from central Soviet Russia. The commander of the volunteer army Denikin tried to exploit this weak point . However, between 80,000 and 100,000 Bolshevik soldiers opposed the 9,000 white volunteers. Denikin's troops were led by professional officers, and almost all of the soldiers had served in the World War. The communist troops, which were irregularly deployed without military training, were led by a former non-commissioned officer and had little to counter the professionalism of their opponents. At the end of the campaign that began in May, the White Guards captured the capital of the short-lived Soviet republic of Yekaterinodar on August 18, 1918.

White movement in Siberia

Troops of the Czechoslovak Legions in Vladivostok

Even without the presence of anti-Bolshevik forces, Siberia offered rather weak ground for Lenin's revolutionary ideology. The contrast between large landowners and tenants was weaker, as there were far fewer large estates than in other parts of Russia. Likewise, a larger workforce was not available that could have been radicalized for the cause of communism. In terms of the constituent assembly elections, the Social Revolutionaries were the dominant political party, while more conservative elements were supported in the cities. With the turn of the Czechoslovak legions against Soviet power, the thin patina of party rule over Siberia was completely wiped away. With the Trans-Siberian Railway, the non-Russian corps brought the only transport axis within the vast country under its control. After a week-long siege, the Czechoslovaks captured Yekaterinburg , the local administrative center of the Bolsheviks, on June 25, 1918 . The red troops, cut off from central Soviet Russia, then withdrew as far to the west as possible. Two days later, a “Provisional Government of Siberia” was constituted in Omsk under Pyotr Vasilyevich Vologodski , which consisted of regionalists and social revolutionaries.

In addition to the civil intellectuals of the cities and foreign forces, the anti-communist movement rested on two other pillars. On the one hand, the Cossacks of Siberia, who also had their center in Omsk, rejected the revolution. On the other hand, there were more than 8,000 dismissed officers of the former tsarist army in Siberia . As supporters of an undivided Russian nation-state, however, they rejected both the regionalists' aspirations for secession and the ideas of social upheaval of the Socialist revolutionaries. Over the summer, the Provisional Government was unable to set up an apparatus that administratively penetrated the vast expanse of Siberia, nor was it able to bridge the political differences with the conservatives. In view of the weakness of the government and out of opposition to its political positions, the conservative military carried out a coup on November 17, 1918, which, although bloodless, ended the parliamentary phase of resistance against the Bolsheviks for good. The Provisional Government was replaced by Admiral Kolchak , who founded a military dictatorship on a directory of civilians . As the "Supreme Regent of Russia", he was to stand out from the other main leaders of the white movement, who recognized him as such despite certain differences, and to a large extent shape the following year of the war. He himself summarized his program as follows:

“In the extraordinarily difficult conditions of the civil war, I take the cross of this power upon myself and declare: I will neither take the path of reaction nor the fatal path of party politics. My main goals are to build an efficient army, defeat the Bolsheviks, and restore law and order. So that the people can decide for themselves without oppression the nature of their government, recognizing the ideals of freedom that are being proclaimed all over the world. "

This refusal to offer a political vision, by refusing party politics, would later prove to be one of the reasons for the failure of the military government, but operations on both sides came to a halt over the winter of 1918. Reds and whites were preparing for the coming year.

Intervention of the Entente Powers

Lenin's decision to carry out an unconditional appeasement against the Central Powers by accepting the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk successfully led to the averting of the military threat that the German and Austro-Hungarian troops posed to the young Soviet power. However, this policy put a great strain on the relationship with the Entente states . To safeguard their interests in Russia and to counteract further German-Soviet rapprochement, troops were sent to Russia during the war.

Since the European ports of Russia on the Baltic Sea were not yet accessible to the Allies, the first British contingent of 600 soldiers landed in Murmansk on the Arctic Ocean in June 1918 . The British occupied the port, far from the Russian heartland, and the surrounding area. On the ground, the British troops acted as if they were on colonial theaters by raising local auxiliary troops and ruling indirectly. Over time, the British were confronted more and more with mutinies and withdrew again.

Bolsheviks captured in Arkhangelsk

Another landing operation took place in Arkhangelsk in August 1918 . The first 600 British and French soldiers landed here. They were reinforced by a US contingent of 5,000 men from the Polar Bear Expedition . The reason was to secure the weapons depots there, which should not fall into the hands of the Germans or the Bolsheviks. American politicians also stressed the obligation to rush to the aid of the Czechoslovak legions, which, however, was more of a pretext due to the enormous distance between Arkhangelsk and the Czechoslovaks in Siberia. The expeditionary force was able to advance several hundred kilometers inland. Isolated battles between the Allies and red troops dragged on throughout the following year, without a strategically significant decision could be brought about. In July 1919 the remaining foreign units left northern Russia for their homeland. In the Entente countries, public opinion, already tired of war after the First World War, was increasingly hostile to the intervention.

In December 1918 a Franco-Greek contingent of 1,000 men landed in Odessa . It was supported by a French fleet association. As the war approached, there was an uprising in the French Black Sea Fleet (during which the red flag was hoisted), and the mutineers forced France to withdraw in April 1919. The last Entente troops left Odessa on April 7, 1919.

US troops in Vladivostok 1918
Dead Red Army soldier in Arkhangelsk

The foreign presence lasted the longest in the largest Pacific port of the former tsarist empire, Vladivostok . As early as April 1918, individual Japanese and British associations went ashore here. They were also followed here by an American expeditionary force, the American Expeditionary Force Siberia with a strength of 8,000 soldiers. Vladivostok was to serve as a supply line for Kolchak's Siberian troops. Because of his anti-German stance, the Entente recognized him as the legitimate head of state of Russia. Allied soldiers remained in Siberia until the fall of the white movement in 1920. The communists founded the Far Eastern Republic in Chita in 1920 . As a counterweight to this, the 70,000-strong Japanese interventionists founded the coastal republic in 1921 (see Siberian intervention ). In the battle between the two states, the Reds finally prevailed. However, they did not reach Vladivostok until December 1922, after the integration of the Far Eastern Republic into the Soviet Union.

Even if the importance of the invading troops was often emphasized by Soviet historians, their military influence on the decision of the civil war was rather minor. The German occupation up to the collapse of the German Empire in November 1918 was a greater threat to the Soviet state in the early period of this war than the small contingents of former allies who were intervening on the periphery.

Allied deliveries and aid to the White Army in Siberia and southern Russia were far more important for the civil war . Winston Churchill wrote in a memorandum of September 15, 1919 that in 1919 England had spent £ 100 million and France between £ 30 and 40 million on white troops in Russia.

1919 - Kolchak's defeat

Military history

In Siberia and the Urals, under Admiral Kolchak, a military dictatorship emerged as the nominally highest organ of the white movement. It was able to consolidate its rule over the winter of 1918/19, as the Soviet government turned to foreign policy goals. The communist leadership awaited the world revolution . This expectation was reinforced by the November Revolution in Germany. In May 1919, for example, the Comintern , which had been founded two months earlier, wrote appeals to propagate the proletarian uprising in Europe. Another factor in the passivity of the Bolsheviks towards the Kolchak movement was the misunderstanding of the situation by the leaders of the Red Army. At the beginning of 1919 Trotsky described the situation on the civil war fronts as calm and beneficial for the communists.

In this climate, the offensive of Kolchak's White Army, begun on March 4, 1919, turned out to be a surprising blow against Soviet power. The operation targeted Ufa , the central railway junction in the Urals. It was carried out by two armies. The Western Army under General Khanshin advanced directly towards Ufa. The Siberian Army under the Czech General Gajda was 200 km north and was supposed to advance from Perm . The Siberian Army managed to advance almost 300 kilometers into the red area. However, this was of secondary strategic importance as there were no major cities or transport hubs in the area ahead. The advance of the Western Army came as a shock to the Red military leadership. The Western Army succeeded in conquering Ufa on April 28, 1919 and thus closed the central railway access to the Urals for the Reds. The Red 5th Army, which Ufa defended, lost two thirds of its original strength of 30,000 soldiers. However, the conquest of the city turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory . Now Khanshin's army was holding a 150-kilometer-deep and almost 300-kilometer long edge in the Red Front, exposing its flanks. Gajda's northern army was too far away to be of any assistance to Khanshin's army. On April 28, the Red 1st Army from the south and the Red 2nd Army from the north began a counterattack on the flanks. At the end of March, the now reinforced 5th Red Army, under the command of Mikhail Tukhachevsky, had recaptured Ufa and the white troops were back at their original positions.

Now the political leadership of the Bolsheviks had also recognized the importance of the eastern civil war front. Lenin proclaimed the following thesis on May 29, 1919: "If we do not take the Urals before winter, the defeat of the revolution will be inevitable." The Eastern Red Army Group, which had been materially neglected until Kolchak's Ufa offensive, was now under Sergei Kamenev's command and quickly increased in personnel. At the beginning of the year it comprised 84,000 men, by mid-May its strength had quadrupled to 360,000 men. The total number of Kolchak's fighting force at the beginning of his operation was about 100,000 armed men. The red troops' summer offensive was correspondingly successful. Perm was recaptured on July 1st, and the Siberian White Army began a disorderly retreat to the east. Two weeks later, Yekaterinburg, the most important industrial center in the Urals, fell to the Reds. On July 24th, Chelyabinsk was captured by the Red 5th Army. Thus Kolchak's units had been displaced from the Ural Mountains.

The loss of this line of defense turned out to be a disaster for the Admiral's anti-Bolshevik movement. His third major formation, the Southern Army under Below , which was in the Orenburg area , was cut off from Siberia and had to surrender on September 14, 1919 due to a lack of supplies (→  Aktyubinsk Operation ). But the other two armies fared no better. After the costly battles in the Urals, the advance of the communist troops could no longer be stopped. By October, the red army group had moved within 200 kilometers of Kolchak's seat of government, Omsk. The city fell to Bolshevik troops on November 14th without a fight. Kolchak was captured by the Czechoslovak legions, handed over to the Red Army and shot in Irkutsk in February 1920 .

Military reasons for failure

Kolchak was unable to raise the quality of his army to a level superior to that of the Reds. He criticized even the poor connection between men and officers. With 17,000 officers, he had a considerable number of military leadership personnel, but only 1,000 officers had gone through regular cadre training. The majority of his troop leaders consisted of conscripts who were promoted to sergeant ranks during the World War. The teams themselves also posed a problem. While the Bolsheviks also drew from the reservoir of World War II veterans and thus had trained soldiers with combat experience, Kolchak was very reserved towards this population group. The white administration almost exclusively used the age groups who had not served in the World War, as Kolchak feared the penetration of the veterans with revolutionary propaganda from the time of the war. The training of the draftees was inadequate and proceeded too slowly. When Omsk fell to the Reds, there were nearly 30,000 young conscripts in the city who had never received military training.

In addition, the Soviets with central Russia as their base had a larger population reservoir than the whites with the sparsely populated Siberia. By the turn of the year 1918/19, the Red Army had a strength of almost 800,000 soldiers. This far exceeded the overall strength of all white armies in Russia. The numerical inferiority meant that the white troops stood at the front without a break, while the Red Army was able to pull its troops from the battle line in order to regenerate them in the stage. This explains the collapse of white morale after the failure of the Urals defense.

Another problem faced by the white troops was the supply of ammunition and food to the troops. Neither the Urals nor Siberia had an intact war industry in 1919 and most of the former tsarist arms and ammunition reserves were located in what was now Soviet central Russia. The white troops therefore had to fall back on the help of the Entente, above all Great Britain, which arrived via the Siberian port of Vladivostok. Large quantities of material had been made available by the end of the year, including one million rifles, 15,000 machine guns and 700 pieces of artillery. But the transport across Siberia over several thousand kilometers turned out to be a huge disadvantage. At the time of the Ufa offensive and the fighting in the Urals, most of the foreign aid had not yet reached the troops. By the time it became available, the White Guards were already in retreat. Large parts of the supplies also fell victim to the regime's corruption and were embezzled and sold to civilians. This problem was exacerbated in the food sector as the white army provided for many civilians who consumed rations as family members of soldiers and officers. At the beginning of the year, with a combat strength of 100,000 men, more than 800,000 people were entitled to support from the army. The resources for this were requisitioned at the expense of the local population, which decisively reduced the popularity of whites among the population.

Political reasons for failure

Kolchak's political program was characterized by vagueness throughout his career. On the one hand, he rejected the re-establishment of the monarchy , but neither did he provide a political vision for the future of Russia. He saw a military dictatorship as the optimal solution for the transitional state of civil war. In doing so, he deterred the urban educated class who feared a revival of the Russian autocracy . He had already largely turned left intellectuals against his movement through his putsch against the Provisional Government of Siberia in 1918. His program remained completely indifferent to the workers, which only gave further impetus to communist propaganda. He was also unable to win over the peasantry, the greater part of the Russian population. In the turmoil of the revolution a “black redistribution” had taken place in the countryside. The peasants had forcibly appropriated the land of the landowners. This had subsequently been legalized by decrees of the Bolsheviks and the Social Revolutionaries. Kolchak took no position on this question, and the invasion of his troops often led to the regaining of large estates by the nobles. By confiscating foodstuffs, the White Army gambled away the last credit it had owned among the peasantry. On the one hand, this political self-isolation made even the troops receptive to red propaganda, which was reflected in a high number of desertions. On the other hand, it prevented white propaganda work from turning the anti-Bolshevik cause into a mass movement.

The consequences of political isolation for the Kolchak administration itself were even greater. He ruled Omsk with the help of a "Council of the Supreme Ruler", which was composed primarily of army officers and former politicians of the Constitutional Democrats ("Cadets"). This liberal party was instrumental in the February Revolution and supported the Kerensky government. Since the penetration of the country with an administrative apparatus failed due to a lack of support from the population, this government remained powerless and without influence. The white general Alexei Budberg summed up the situation of the council as follows: “The regime was just a shell with no content. The ministries can be compared to huge, impressive windmills. They are busy turning their sails, but without millstones and with mostly broken or missing machinery. "

1919 - The white movement in European Russia

Offensive Denikins

Denikin's furthest advance and Kolchak's positions in 1919

The situation of the white movement in southern Russia in early 1919 was ambivalent. Cut off from their nominal chief Kolchak, the southern units of the whites pursued their own military strategy. The volunteer army had achieved resounding success in the Caucasus. The Don Army , which was under the command of the Cossack leader Pyotr Krasnov , was in an attrition north of Rostov with the Red Southern Army Group under General Vladimir Gittis . The 100,000 Red Army soldiers were far superior to the 38,000 men in the Don Army. The red military leadership tried to compensate for the lack of training and discipline with actions by the Cheka and the military tribunals. In one army alone, 2,000 death sentences were pronounced during the fighting, 150 of which were carried out. By February 1919 the Cossack army had melted down to 15,000 armed men due to the superiority of its opponents. This sealed Krasnow's political fate. Under pressure from his own people, he resigned from all posts on February 15. He was replaced by Bogajewski, a Cossack leader who distinguished himself through close ties with General Anton Denikin . The new chief of the Don Army also recognized the military and political supreme command of the white general over the Cossacks. The departure of Krasnow was also advantageous for Denikin in terms of foreign policy. Before the end of the World War, Krasnow had tried to get help from the German Reich for his movement and had even tried to establish diplomatic relations with Wilhelm II . This had disavowed him in the eyes of Great Britain and thus strengthened Denikin's position even more.

As the now undisputed leader of the whites in the Don region, Anton Denikin brought together both the Cossacks and his own soldiers in the armed forces of southern Russia and instructed the volunteer army to provide assistance to the beleaguered Don army. The victorious formation was then moved by rail from the Caucasus to the Donetsk Basin and now covered the western flank of the battered Don Army. The balance of power between reds and whites, however, had tightened again. Both white armies had around 50,000 soldiers. The Communist Southern Army Group had grown to over 200,000 men by early March. By May the volunteer army under General Vladimir Mai-Majewski had also been put on the defensive by the Reds. This anti-communist general was able to compensate for the numerical inferiority by using the dense railway network of the Donets industrial area. His troops shuttled between well-prepared defensive positions and repulsed the Red attacks by May. In June the volunteer army counterattacked and was able to prevail against the weakened 2nd Ukrainian Army and the 13th Army of the Bolsheviks. The two armies were driven into a disorderly retreat, and by the end of June the white troops occupied the center of the Russian part of Ukraine, Kharkov.

Anton Denikin (1st row, 3rd from left) in Kharkov after the conquest of the city. June 1919

In the east of the volunteer army, the battered Don Army was reinforced with Denikin's troops. The command was taken over by the white general Pyotr Wrangel , who had already commanded a cavalry division victoriously in the Caucasus campaign. Wrangel managed to consolidate his troops against the attacks of the 10th Army of the Reds under Alexander Yegorov . In May 1919, by skillfully deploying his cavalry, he surprisingly attacked the opposing army on their flanks. This put the Bolsheviks on the defensive, and here too the solidarity of the Red troops was broken. Wrangel intensified the offensive and on June 30, 1919 captured the "Red Verdun" Tsaritsyn . With the advance of the Don Army, which a few months earlier had faced a military catastrophe, the Communists had completely lost initiative on their southern front, and Denikin was preparing for larger undertakings.

The collapse of the red southern front was, especially to judge by the balance of power, extraordinary. It also came as a surprise to the Soviet high command under Trotsky. One factor contributing to the defeat was that all three Red armies fought against an unsafe hinterland. In the rear of the 2nd Ukrainian Army and the 13th Army, the anarchist leader Nestor Makhno caused uncertainty. He was allied with the central government of Lenin in 1918 and was supposed to create a buffer for them with Ukraine, but he had risen against his former allies at the turn of the year. The 8th Army advanced on the territory of the Don Cossack territory. At the beginning of March they were demoralized and tired of the war by the attrition battle, which made it difficult for Krasnow to mobilize new reserves. But with the invasion of the Red Army, they rose again. The Central Committee of the Communist Party, nominally the highest party organ, demanded in February that crackdowns should be taken against the Cossacks with all severity. The government also imposed a "decosakization program", in which the non-Cossack population of the region was supposed to gain political power and the former military farmers to be wiped out as an independent class. Among other things, the traditional Cossack clothing was banned and local committees were set up to monitor this policy. This culminated in terror and show trials against real and suspected opponents of the regime. So instead of integrating the Cossacks into the political system, they were given numerous reasons to turn against Soviet power again.

But the Red Army itself was only partially operational. Trotsky's reforms were still in their infancy. The Commander in Chief of the Red Army set up a system that relied on former officers of the Tsarist Army who were supervised by political commissars . Their loyalty was also secured by Trotsky 's kinship liability in the event of a defection. By the end of the civil war, their number in the ranks of the Red Army had grown to around 75,000. This system had not yet been implemented in mid-1919. It was not possible to tie the peasant recruits who were now drafted to the Red Armed Forces. This was expressed, among other things, in a high rate of desertions. Likewise, despite the forced recruitment of former World War II troop leaders, there was a great shortage of trained personnel, and the Red Army often continued to fall back on NCOs from the radicalized masses of soldiers of the time, which resulted in major organizational problems. The leadership of the Red Army reacted to the reduced fighting strength of its troops against the whites with terror. In August 1919, Trotsky created special detachment detachments to hunt down deserters behind the front. Cases have also been recorded in which reserve units were ordered to shoot their retreating comrades. According to the former High Commander of the Red Army Jukums Vācietis , these measures were rather counterproductive: “The discipline based on severe punishments that has been and is enforced in our Red Army has only led to fear and mechanical execution of orders without inspiration and conscientiousness . "

Yudenich offensive

While Denikin's troops tied up large parts of the Red Army in the south, the communist regime on the north-western border of the former empire was facing a new threat. Under the protection of the German occupiers, white military units had already formed in the Russian-Estonian border area in 1918. With the revolution in Germany, the reds took over the territory again and the whites withdrew to Estonia. In this state, which saw its newly won statehood threatened by communism, the white Northwest Army “overwintered”. In May 1919 she crossed the border with 6,000 soldiers under General Yudenich . Within a few weeks they managed to occupy an 18,000 km² territory around the city of Pskov . At the end of September the white army renewed its offensive in the direction of Petrograd. By October 21, 1919, Yudenich's soldiers had moved within 30 kilometers of the former capital of Russia.

Given the threat and the economic and propaganda importance of the city, the Soviets withdrew troops from the front against Denikin. Shortly after Leon Trotsky took command of the city's defense, the two Red Armies in the Petrograd area had grown to over 70,000 soldiers. The Northwest Army had meanwhile been reinforced to around 15,000 men, but its resources were limited. The majority of the personnel reinforcements consisted of deserted Red Army soldiers, were not very motivated and not very reliable. Since Yudenich, like his white comrades at the time, did not present a political program, the support of the population of the conquered areas remained low. The material situation was even more hopeless. The supply situation was poor, as there were hardly any efficient railway connections to the Estonian supply bases of the whites. In general, the army was poorly armed, so it had only 44 pieces to oppose the 581 guns of the Reds. In November the White Guards were back at the Estonian border. The government of the Baltic country allowed them safe entry, but disarmed and interned the Russians days after their arrival. The Soviet government thus had reserves for the fight against Denikin, and in December 1919 Estonia became the first neighboring state of Russia to conclude an armistice with the Bolsheviks.

Defeat Denikins

After the surprising wins in early summer 1919, Denikin set the strategy of his associations in July. He planned to have his three main groups - the Caucasus Army under Wrangel in the east, the Don Army under Sidorin in the center and the Kiev army of Dragomirov in eastern Ukraine - march in a wedge-shaped movement on the capital Moscow. The main thrust was to take place in the center, here the volunteer army under Vladimir Mai-Majewski should form the spearhead of the attack.

This elite association of whites also achieved tangible success in the autumn. On September 20 they captured Kursk, the two local Red Divisions almost completely dissolved. On October 14th, the volunteer army marched into Oryol and was now 400 km south of Moscow. Dragomirov's troops also achieved a success with the capture of Chernigov , which further removed Ukraine from the influence of the Soviets. With the loss of Oryol, panic temporarily spread in the Red High Command, but it finally managed to take off again. As early as September, the Red Army High Command had started to form a "shock group" made up of loyal Cossacks, cavalry and the Latvian Rifle Division . This unit managed to retake Oryol six days after it fell to the whites. This would have resulted in a fragile stalemate had the situation not been decided by a refusal of orders on the part of the communists. The red General Budjonny stood with the 1st Red Cavalry Army east of the wedge formed by the whites. According to his orders, he should advance east against Wrangel's Caucasus army, but he decided to attack west against Sidorin's forces. On October 24th, his horse troops captured Voronezh . With the loss of this railway junction, the "volunteer army", as the spearhead of the whites, was cut off from supplies and retreated. Denikin had lost the initiative and his offensive had failed. Nor could he stop the retreat of his army, whose morale had collapsed after Moscow became inaccessible. On December 13, 1919, red troops captured Kiev, and by the beginning of January, Denikin lost the territory of the Don region . Rostov , the capital of the Cossack Territory, fell on January 7, 1920. His last troops fled to the Kuban area. 37,000 men were evacuated from Novorossiysk to the Crimea on English ships . 60,000 stayed behind and were taken prisoner. Denikin himself was evacuated, but in the face of his defeat he had lost all legitimacy as the leader of the white movement. He left Russia in April 1920 and died in exile in America in 1947. Denikin's offensive was the point in the civil war at which the Red Central Power was most at risk. With his defeat, however, the last chance the White Army had to carry the resistance against the Bolsheviks into the Russian heartland was wasted.

The reasons for the failure of the White Offensive lay in the military as well as in the political area. Denikin's troops were fighting numerically superior forces at all times on a front nearly 1,000 kilometers long. He had a maximum of 99,000 soldiers available. In contrast, there were 150,000 Red Army soldiers at the front, and over 677,000 men as reserves. As Commander in Chief, he was certainly aware of these factors; his planning was based on the assumption that he would get broad support from the population. Denikin hoped that his advance would spark an uprising against communist rule. As bad as the situation in Soviet territory was, Denikin was unable to get the population on his side. One factor that disavowed the white movement from the peasants' point of view was the army's supply practices. Denikin did not have the resources or logistics to supply his soldiers hundreds of kilometers from his supply bases on the southern Don. In response to this, he allowed the troops to “self-suffice” - that is, forced recruitment - of food and other goods. This degenerated into downright looting. Wrangel complained in a letter to Denikin about the difference between the whites and the Bolsheviks, who since 1918 confiscated food on a large scale and under threat of punishment to supply the cities. The military chaplain Georgi Schawelski commented on the attacks by the “volunteer army” as follows: “Robbery, speculation, cheek and shamelessness undermine the spirit of the army. A predatory army is not an army, it is a gang. ”As a result, from January 1920 Denikin still had to fight with the“ Greens ”. These were small units of peasants and deserters who made the rear of the already disintegrating white army unsafe.

In general, Denikin made the same mistake as his nominally superior commander Kolchak. He did not initiate reforms, nor did he draw up a detailed political program. In contrast to the Bolsheviks, he did not even formulate a vision that could have put his movement on a broad emotional basis. He tried to rule the areas he controlled - 42 million people at the height of the advance - with a military dictatorship as a "temporary solution". But even this modest claim failed. The white generals alienated the educated layers of the cities from their movement through looting, the lack of a political program and the dictatorial structure of government. As a result, they were not in a position to build a sustainable administrative apparatus themselves, as the intelligentsia refused to cooperate with them. The anti-communist administration remained inefficient in southern Russia and lacked broad support. This naturally increased the troops' supply problems at the front, and the looting continued to rampant.

Consequences for Transcaucasia

Caspian Sea around 1907. Excerpt from map European Russia, Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon, Bad. 17, LeipzigWien 1907, after p. 288

The region of Transcaucasia was removed from the influence of the Soviet government by the white troops in southern Russia, as the rebels were able to block most of the traffic connections. In 1918 the Armenians , Azerbaijanis and Georgians declared their independence from the rump state. They initially formed a short-lived federation as the Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic , which, however, soon broke up due to internal disputes. In May 1918 the three states Democratic Republic of Armenia , Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan and Democratic Republic of Georgia became independent. In Georgia, the government consisted of Mensheviks , Armenia and Azerbaijan were ruled by nationalist parties. The Bolsheviks only managed to gain a foothold in the Azerbaijani oil center of Baku in May 1918 . However, the communist politicians were shot in September on the decision of the British military mission and the social revolutionary government. The dead in Baku (including Left Social Revolutionaries and Dashnaks ) were subsequently venerated as the "26 Commissioners" in the Soviet Union. The three young states could not overcome their differences and became involved in disputes. Armenia and Azerbaijan even fought a border war. The influence of Turkey, which also had territorial disputes with Armenia, made the situation even more complicated.

An alliance with the white movement was also out of the question for the Transcaucasian states, as they wanted to restore Russia to its old borders. All three republics were recognized by western countries. However, this did not lead to substantial interference by the Entente Powers. The British were talking with the so-called Dunsterforce a small garrison in oil-rich Azerbaijan and founded in Petrovsk (now Makhachkala ) an air station for the No. 266 Squadron RAF of the Royal Air Force . In Baku, the Royal Navy's British Caspian Flotilla was also set up, which was primarily intended to secure British-Belarusian naval supremacy on the Caspian Sea in order to cut off the oil supplies from Baku for the Bolsheviks. In this context, the naval battle of Fort Alexandrowsk took place on May 21, 1919 , during which the British flotilla prevented the attempt of the Caspi flotilla of the Red Workers 'and Peasants' Fleet to advance to Petrovsk and Baku. However, the British naval, air and land forces withdrew before the red troops marched into the Caucasus. The conquest by the Red Army took place shortly after the roads were cleared after Denikin's defeat. On April 28, 1920, the Reds captured Baku and proclaimed the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic. In September 1920, Turkish troops invaded Armenia. The chaotic government asked the Bolsheviks for help, and in November the Armenian SSR was proclaimed. Sovietization met with the greatest resistance in Georgia. The Soviet government had signed a non-interference pact with the country in 1920. In February 1921, however, the Red Army marched into Georgia. After a week-long battle for the capital Tbilisi , a Soviet republic was established in this country too. The Soviet nationality policy promised the peoples of the Transcaucasus extensive cultural independence, albeit at the cost of losing their political independence. In the 1920s there were revolts against Soviet rule in all three countries, which could only be suppressed by the Red Army.

1920 - The White Army in Crimea

After the defeat on the Don and in Siberia, the Crimean peninsula proved to be the last base of the white movement. There General Wrangel formed the Russian army with 37,000 soldiers from the core of the troops evacuated from Novorossiysk. In the strategically favorable location of the peninsula, the Polish-Soviet War gave Wrangel time to reorganize his units by April 1920. As early as June, his armed forces launched the first offensive by breaking out of the Isthmus of Perekop to the north. Local Soviet defenses collapsed and in late June a red cavalry corps that had counterattacked was encircled and almost completely wiped out. By the time the Red Thirteenth Army finally responded, Wrangel's troops had already reached the Dnieper. During the counterattack by the Bolsheviks, the Red Army managed to hold a bridgehead north of Perekop and thus narrow the connection between the advancing whites and the Crimea, but this did not prevent Wrangel's troops from taking Mariupol and Alexandrowsk on the shores of the Sea of Azov in the course of the summer . Wrangel was well aware, however, that these limited successes on the periphery of the empire were of dubious value. His offensive in the Kuban region, launched in the fall, failed. The attempt to break through to the formerly white Cossack territories had failed. With the crossing of the Dnieper to the west by the former volunteer army (now the 1st Corps of the new Russian Army) under Kutepov , Wrangel tried to keep the initiative in October. After a week, however, his soldiers had to retreat east across the river.

On October 12, 1920, Poland signed an armistice with the Soviet state, which now freed troops to fight Wrangel. A new Southern Army Group was set up under Mikhail Frunze . By the end of October the Reds were able to pull together six armies with 133,000 men. Frunze was able to take advantage of this numerical superiority of four to one. The main burden of the fighting was carried by Nestor Machno's Ukrainian partisans , who had previously fought against both whites and reds. Frunze drove the White troops back from their positions on the western bank of the Dnieper to the Crimea. The whites lost the majority of their army with more than 20,000 soldiers. General Wrangel had recognized the hopelessness of the situation and prepared an evacuation. By November 16, 146,000 people, mostly civilians, had been brought to safety with ships of the former Tsarist Black Sea Fleet from the advancing Reds towards Turkey.

White troops evacuated abroad in 1920

What was remarkable about Wrangel's brief activity as leader of the white movement was his flexibility. While his predecessors Kolchak and Denikin failed because of their political apathy, Wrangel carried out a land reform in the Crimea. He expropriated the large landowners with compensation. He also sought alliances with all political parties, he even tried to win the anarchist Nestor Machno for an anti-communist campaign. Wrangel adhered to the military dictatorship, but tried to integrate the urban intelligentsia into his system. His concessions kept his front line safe, an advantage no white general had enjoyed before him. Wrangel publicly summed up his change of strategy as follows: “Russia cannot be liberated with a triumphal march from Crimea to Moscow, but only through the creation of a government - on whatever small piece of Russian soil - with living conditions such that the Russian people which is now groaning under the red yoke, will inevitably give in to its attraction ”.

Wrangel's position was strengthened by the Crimean Tatars, who made up a quarter of the local population. As Muslims , the majority of them were distant or even hostile to the atheist system of the Bolsheviks. Wrangel's forces were already too weak to assert themselves militarily against the Red Army. His political program was also unable to develop a general uprising in favor of the white movement. It satisfied those who lived under white rule. But his measures, especially on the land question, had effectively been overtaken by the communists years earlier.

Wrangel's political leeway was still restricted by the British. After Denikin's defeat, the British government was convinced that the Reds would win the civil war. They then withdrew their support from the White Army, advised Wrangel against an offensive and tried to establish diplomatic relations with the new government in the Kremlin during the civil war .

Domestic policy of the Bolsheviks

The internal politics of the communist leadership during the civil war was subsequently referred to by the official party line as war communism . Lenin himself did not use the term until 1921 in the course of the NEP . The general policy of the young Soviet state was taken even before the acute phase of the civil war. The basic problem of the Russian economy was the collapse in the distribution of food within the country. The trading system itself had collapsed and there were too few industrial goods available to motivate the farmers to sell their surpluses. As early as May 1918, the government announced the introduction of a "food dictatorship". This radical policy included a total ban on private trade in agriculture and a system of fixed prices. The main tool of politics, however, consisted in the often forcible confiscation of farm products without anything in return. This system enabled a maximum of a third of the pre-war grain to be brought into cities each year in the first two years of the civil war. The measure resulted in a shortage situation in both rural and urban areas. The only compensation mechanism in this disproportion turned out to be the black market, which in quantitative terms probably brought about more transfer between town and country than the official efforts of the government. After two years of confiscations without compensation, many farmers also reduced their acreage. This problem was approached in the same way in November 1920, simply setting up party committees which were supposed to force the farmers to maximum sowing and thus to excess production. These methods met with opposition from the peasants from the start. Between 1918 and 1920 inclusive, around 15,000 members of the procurement brigades were killed by revolting farmers. After the war, this policy of coercion was followed by a catastrophic famine . This famine was so severe that cannibalism even broke out in some regions of Russia .

In the cultural sector, too, the Soviet government increasingly used coercion. In February 1919, the leadership had started by creating educational institutions only for workers and peasants trying to zoom draw a loyal elite that the bourgeois educated elite should displace. Furthermore, from December 1919, compulsory courses in writing and reading were introduced for all illiterate people. The first attack on the Orthodox Church was launched that same month . Agitation against the clergy was part of the Bolshevik program even before the revolution. After the seizure of power, there were also attacks on church property and priests. The first attempt to push back Christianity in Russia through administrative measures was the ban on funding religious communities through donations. They were thus cut off from their primary source of money. However, further escalation steps in this policy did not take place until after the civil war.

The Bolsheviks pursued the same pace in industry. In June 1918, all larger companies were nationalized by decree. First, factories were placed under the supervision of elected workers. This approach often proved inefficient and was largely abandoned before the beginning of 1919. The government coercive measures could not stop the decline of the industry. In 1920 the pressure intensified when even the smallest businesses were nationalized and general militarization of work was announced. This resulted in the restriction of the most basic freedoms of the population. There was state compulsion to work. Failures in exercising the profession could be judged according to martial law. The radicalism of their actions turned out to be a political gain for the Bolsheviks, since with the expropriation of the old elite they found the benevolence of the less affluent classes of society. From an economic point of view, however, the measures were unsuccessful, but only intensified the crisis. After the Reds' victory in the civil war, the Russian economy had shrunk to a fraction of its pre-war performance. The political capital obtained through the expropriations was lost again in the course of the war through the bureaucratization of the party and the state. In 1921 the state bureaucracy had grown ten times the number of staff in the tsarist administration in 1917. All strike resolutions during the war accuse local party members, who held almost all administrative positions, of enriching themselves at the expense of the workers.

Soot. Production figures
in million tons, source:
1913 1921 Percentage
coal 29.0 8.9 −64%
steel 4.3 0.2 −95%
Rail freight 132.4 39.4 −70%
Grain 80.1 37.6 −53%

In the political field, radical developments emerged even earlier. The Cheka secret service was founded in December 1917. Under its founder Felix Dzerzhinsky , the Cheka received extensive powers, including the right to execute people without trial. Mass terror was disguised as a legitimate means of politics and was also used. However, it not only concerned political opponents, but also served to solve economic problems. In February 1919, when the state's transportation system was largely in disrepair, farmers were taken hostage. They were threatened with shooting if the remaining villagers did not clear the snow from the railway lines. The system expanded rapidly and, according to official figures, there were 4,100 concentration camps and 7,500 labor camps in Russia in 1919. The death penalty was formally abolished in January 1920, but this was largely ignored by the secret police.

Situation of the population

Mother and her daughters fleeing to their homeland, around 1921

The October Revolution and the Civil War triggered a migration movement . Members of the former upper class of the empire fled the urban centers of the revolutionary-controlled central Russia to the periphery. Under the rule of the Germans, national minorities or the White Army, they tried to evade the grip of expropriations and political persecution by the new rulers. The remaining members of the former upper class were targeted by state coercive measures, expropriations attacked their economic base, and the Bolshevik regime used the food rations purposefully to exert further pressure on them. But not only nobles and the property bourgeoisie took these measures. Likewise, the urban intelligentsia was deprived of its economic base through dismissal and inadequate allocation. Exceptions were intellectuals such as Maxim Gorki , who were considered to conform to the party's ideology.

The situation of the working population was hardly easier. The coercive system of food confiscation was not enough to supply the cities. As a result, thousands of workers tried every day as so-called "sackclothes" in the countryside through black market trading. In 1918, depending on the branch of industry, between 30% and 80% of the workforce were absent from their jobs every day. The workers tried to cover the barter trade by stealing and dismantling from their own factories, which further damaged the economy. In order to use this system for their people, many local party members and workers' representatives went over to institutionalizing this barter in “cooperatives” and thus maintaining at least a minimal production. However, this attempt was thwarted in May by Lenin, who forbade all private trade and also the cooperative exchange agreements between individual factories and villages. To enforce this decision, the government switched to using military force through blocking squads. However, since it was unable to satisfy the needs of the cities through the solely legal method of centralized requisitioning, the phenomenon continued throughout the civil war. In the areas controlled by the whites, this problem was less acute, since the state did not stop the private trading system. But especially in recently conquered cities, terror and shootings hit sympathizers and suspected sympathizers of the red central government.

The rural regions suffered even more from the civil war. Both the whites and the reds met their food needs by forcible confiscation. On the side of the white armies, especially in the ranks of the "volunteer army", this degenerated into veritable excesses of looting. The Soviet leadership, however, entertained up to 76,000 armed men in so-called "procurement tribunals". These ad hoc units roamed the country and pressed grain from the farmers according to arbitrary quotas. Hostage-taking and hostage killings among the village population were common practice if the requirements were not met. The situation for the rural population in the contested areas of southern Russia and the Urals was particularly dire. Villages were often overrun by the respective fronts several times and were thus exposed to intensified repression on both sides. The more the cities' supply crisis worsened, the more pressure there was on the peasantry. In the summer of 1918 Lenin initiated the class struggle in the village: “These leeches have soaked themselves with the blood of the working people and have become richer the more the workers in the cities and factories have starved. [...] Merciless war for these kulaks! Death to the kulaks! ”. The communist ideology tried to split the village communities into a class of wealthier peasants, the so-called kulaks , and a majority of poor peasants. The kulaks were supposed to be deprived of their supposedly dominant position in village life through expropriation, imprisonment and shootings. This endeavor was emphasized in 1919 with the establishment of local “Committees of Village Poverty” ordered from above with the support of the Cheka. In 1919 the operation was canceled because it made the food situation even worse. The propaganda of the Reds from now on concentrated on the "middle peasant" and tried to address the village community as a whole.

War victims

After the damage and losses of World War I, the civil war turned out to be an even greater catastrophe for Russia. A total of around 770,000 soldiers on both sides died in the battle. According to current estimates, the Red Army accounted for 80% of these losses. Another 700,000 or so combatants lost their lives to disease during their service. The number of civilians killed by terror on both sides is nowhere near established. The number of executions by the “Reds” is put in Western literature at between 50,000 and 200,000. How many people lost their lives as a result of state repression without a death sentence is completely unknown.

The terror on the part of the whites is also insufficiently documented. Today's estimates go from 20,000 to 100,000 murders of sympathizers of the opposing side. In addition, there are 50,000 to 100,000 victims of Jewish origin who were killed in pogroms against the Jews . The Jews were excluded from the civil service under the tsarist rule. When the administration was rebuilt under the Bolsheviks, they thus formed a reservoir of mostly educated specialists who had not been in the service of the previous regime. This influx of Jewish citizens into public offices was exploited in white propaganda with anti-Semitic slogans. In Ukraine in particular, pogroms and attacks against the Jewish minority increased during the civil war. The white troops and the Ukrainian nationalists under Petlyura were significantly involved . With a few exceptions, such racist attacks by the Red Army were rare. Militarily, the pogroms were of minor importance, but they deepened the division between the urban educated and the white movement. Their reputation abroad was also damaged more and more. According to the historian Simon Dubnow , over 1,000 pogroms took place in Ukraine during the civil war, with over 60,000 dead and many times more wounded, with 530 Jewish communities attacked.

The collapse of the economic system and the chaos of war left millions of civilian victims with hunger and the spread of epidemics. On the basis of population censuses that were carried out up to 1923, it can be determined that in Russia in 1920 there were nine to ten million fewer people than in the same area at the end of the World War. After taking into account the emigration of around two million people and the famine of 1921, this leads to a number of around eight million civilian victims. This corresponds to four times the losses of the Russian Empire in the First World War. After war and famine, around seven million orphans lived on the streets of Soviet territory . These kept themselves afloat through begging and crime. According to a Soviet survey in 1920, 88% of female street children were involved in prostitution . No survey is available for the boys, but cases of prostitution have also been reported among them. Only a small number of the children could be placed in orphanages. Another part was employed as child labor and thus at least taken off the street. Older children were sometimes accepted into Red Army units.

Further political consequences

With the victory of the Reds in the civil war, the foreign powers also changed their attitude towards Soviet Russia. As early as 1920, Great Britain started building trade relations with the Soviet regime. France gave up the short-lived policy of intervention and advocated the formation of a buffer zone of independent states that should shield Europe from the communist state ( cordon sanitaire ). However, this containment policy was pursued only half-heartedly, even during the high international tension of the Polish-Soviet War (1920). Otherwise, communist Russia remained largely isolated and was only able to find an important partner again through the Treaty of Rapallo with Germany in 1922. At that time, however, Germany was itself an outsider on the international stage.

The political consequences within the Soviet state were more serious. The civil war became a founding myth of the totalitarian dictatorship. So his portrayal was subject to the respective power relations. In general, in the Orthodox historiography of the Soviet Union, foreign intervention was seen as the main factor. The inner-Russian fault lines of the war that the White Armies produced were equated in Marxist ideology with the foreign powers because of their supposed class character. During Stalinism, the history of the civil war was interpreted to highlight the role of Stalin to the detriment of his political rival Trotsky. The nationalism of the war opponents of the White Armies increased the Bolsheviks' urge to suppress all forms of patriotism in Russia. This term was only included in the arsenal of state ideology with the Second World War , the Great Patriotic War (Russian Великая Отечественная война).

Other warring parties

In addition to the two civil war parties named above, the White and the Red , there was a third group, the so-called " Greens ". Most of them were farmers who resisted the confiscation of their crops and seeds by the (red) supply army or deserted, withdrew to the surrounding area and from there waged a partisan war against the Red Army. An anarchist partisan army , an arm of the Machnotschina or Machno movement, named after its leader Nestor Makhno , also fought in Ukraine . Machnotschina initially fought together with the communists against the white army, but was later fought and brutally suppressed by the Bolsheviks.

Only after the end of the civil war in 1920 was the Bolshevik government able to break the extensive resistance among the rural population by shooting and taking hostages to camps: “At the end of June 1921 there were over 50,000 farmers in the Tambov concentration camps. In the end, the Red Army used planes and gas bombs against the insurgent peasants to 'smoke them out' in the swamps they had fled to. "

Artistic processing


The events of the civil war were reflected in numerous works of literature. Isaak Babel's volume of stories, Die Reiterarmee , mainly reproduced the events of the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 in unadorned form, but his work was censored by the Soviet government in the 1930s and was forgotten as an exemplary example of the Soviet literature of those days. Alja Rachmanowa published her diary in Austria in 1931 from the time of the civil war, which describes the suffering of the population and the rage of the Cheka in the area of ​​her hometown Kasli ( students, love, Cheka and death ).

The novels Derstille Don by Michail Scholochow and Doctor Schiwago by Boris Pasternak caused an international sensation . Both works were honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature .


The civil war was filmed in the Soviet work Tschapajew (1934), which is still popular in Russia today . In the West, the film adaptation of Doctor Zhivago (1965) of Pasternak's novel reached a large audience.

Part I: Revolution year 1917 , Part II: The struggle for power , Part III: The counter-revolution , Part IV: The end in Siberia , Part V: The betrayed revolution

See also


  • The RussGUS database records :
    • over 40 publications on the civil war (there search - form search - subject notation:
    • for the intervention of 20 publications (there search - form search - subject notation:
  • Hans von Rimscha : The Russian Civil War and Russian Emigration 1917–1921 . Frommann, Jena 1924.
  • Orlando Figes : A People's Tragedy. Berlin-Verlag, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-8270-0243-5 .
  • Manfred Hildermeier : Russian Revolution. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt 2004, ISBN 3-596-15352-2 .
  • Nikolaus Katzer : The White Movement in Russia. Böhlau Verlag, Cologne 1999, ISBN 3-412-11698-X .
  • Evan Mawdsley : The Russian Civil War. Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh 2005, ISBN 1-84341-024-9 .
  • Sergej P. Melgunow: The red terror in Russia 1918–1923. Diakow, Berlin 1924 (In Russian: Сергей Петрович Мельгунов: "Красный террор" в России, 1918–1923. Sn, Берлин 1924). Reprint: OEZ - Verlag, Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-940452-47-4 .
  • Richard Pipes : Russia under the Bolshevik Regime. Random House, New York 1994, ISBN 0-394-50242-6 .
  • Alex P. Schmid: Churchill's private war. Intervention and Counterrevolution in the Russian Civil War 1918-1920. Atlantis Verlag, Zurich 1974 ISBN 3-7611-04448 .
  • Collective of authors: Военный энциклопедический словарь (ВЭС) (military science dictionary); Воениздат (USSR Military Science Publishing House); Moscow 1986.

Web links

Commons : Russian Civil War  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Evan Mawdsley: The Russian Civil War. Birlinn, Edinburgh 2005, ISBN 1-84158-064-3 , p. 3.
  2. ^ Translation of a quotation from Kolchak from Evan Mawdsley: The Russian Civil War. Edinburgh 2005, pp. 109-110. Original text: "Taking up the cross of this power in the exceptionally difficult conditions of civil war and the complete breakdown of state life I declare: I will not go either on the road of reaction or on the fatal road of party politics. I set as my chief aim the creation of an effecient army, victory over the Bolsheviks, and the establishment of law and order, so that the people can choose for itself, without obstruction, the form of government which it desires and realize the great ideals of liberty which are now proclaimed all over the world. "
  3. Steven Balbirnie: Arkhangelsk and Murmansk: Revolutionary Russian and British Imperial Periphery , April 19, 2017.
  4. Jakob Moneta : The colonial policy of the French CP . Hanover 1968, p. 294.
  5. Reinhard Zöllner : History of Japan. From 1800 to the present . Paderborn 2006, p. 340.
  6. ^ Winston Churchill: The World Crisis. The aftermath . London 1929, Volume 4, p. 256; Online at [1] .
  7. ^ Translation of a quote from Lenin from Evan Mawdsley: The Russian Civil War. Edinburgh 2005, p. 148: Original text: "If before winter we do not take the Urals, I consider that the defeat of the revolution will be inevitable."
  8. ^ Military scientific dictionary, p. 24.
  9. translation of a quote from Budbergs Evan Mawdsley: The Russian Civil War. Edinburgh, 2005; P. 136. Original text: “The regime was only form without content; the ministries can be compared to huge and imposing windmills, busily turning their sails, but with no millstones inside and with much of their machinery broken or missing ".
  10. Vācietis quoted from Richard Pipes: Russia under the Bolshevik Regime , New York, 1993, p. 62; Original text in English: "The discipline which has been and continues to be enforced in our Red Army, based on severe punishments, has led only to fear and the mechanical execution of orders, without any inspiration and sense of duty."
  11. Schawelski's quote from Nikolaus Katzer: The White Movement in Russia. Cologne 1992, p. 286.
  12. Wrangels quote from Orlando Figes: The tragedy of a people. The epoch of the Russian Revolution from 1891 to 1924 ; Berlin, 1998; P. 757.
  13. ↑ The original table can be found in Evan Mawdsley: The Russian Civil War. Edinburgh 2005, p. 288. He himself quotes from Alex Nove: An Economic History of the USSR. London 1969.
  14. after George Leggett : The Cheka. Lenin's Political Police . Oxford 1981, p. 181.
  15. After Orlando Figes: The Tragedy of a People. The epoch of the Russian Revolution from 1891 to 1924 . Berlin 1998, p. 654 .; English translation of the speech
  16. ^ Jörg Baberowski : The Red Terror . German Publishing House 2003; here: Licensed edition of the Federal Agency for Political Education, Bonn 2007, pp. 50–51.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on April 21, 2007 in this version .