Western Army (Russia)

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The Western Army (Russian: Западная Армия) or 16th Army was created on November 15, 1918, by the Russian SFSR for the purpose of recovering territories lost by the Russian Empire during the First World War and establishing Soviet republics in those territories. The Western Army engaged various local forces from the Baltic States, Belarus, Poland and Ukraine, and its actions contributed to starting the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1920.

History[edit]

Flag of the Red Army

After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the newly established Russo-German border was controlled on the Russian side, by the so-called Western Section of Curtain Troops (Западный участок отрядов завесы), or simply the Western Curtain. The curtain was a sparse and heterogeneous set of detachments. Its commander was Vladimir Egoryev. (His official rank was "military leader" (военный руководитель), since he was a former Tsarist general) The Western Curtain covered over 800 kilometres along the line NevelPolotskSennoOrshaMogilevZhlobinGomelNovy Oskol. Eventually the Western Curtain was arranged into seven detachments with over 20,000 troops. This number was actually very small in relation to the area it covered, and insufficient in case of any larger battle. Moreover, part of its manpower was moved to other bottlenecks of the Russian Civil War.

Eventually, further recruiting by the Red Army allowed a reorganization of the detachments of the Curtain into regular divisions, and the Western Curtain was further reorganized into the Western Defense Region (Западный район обороны). It was created by the Revolutionary Military Council order #3/2 on September 11, 1918. The Region extended from Petrograd to the Western edge of the Southern Front, and was commanded by Andrey Snesarev (Андрей Евгеньевич Снесарев).

After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was annulled by the Soviets on November 13, 1918 the Western Defense Region was transformed into the Western Army (November 15, 1918), garrisoned in Smolensk. It was composed of: the Pskov–Lithuanian Infantry Division, the 17th Vitebsk Riflemen Division, the 'Western' Riflemen Division and units of the 2nd Area of Front Defense. By the end of 1918, the strength of the Western (16th) Army was around 19,000 men, but had little artillery or cavalry (8 guns and 261 horses total). Over the next few months the strength of the Army grew to 46,000 men. It was considered by the Soviet High Command to be one of the least important armies in that period.

Immediately after its formation, on November 17, 1918, the Western Army started a bloodless advance, following the retreat of the German forces, in the direction of Belarus and Ukraine. The purpose of the Russian westward offensive of 1918–1919 was to take control over the territory abandoned by the German Army retreating from the Ober-Ost theater of operations. Later the Soviet Western Army engaged various self-defence and militia groups from Belarus, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. Among scores of battles, the Battle of Bereza Kartuska on February 14 sparked the Polish–Soviet War.

See also[edit]