Southern Front of the Russian Civil War

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Southern Front
Part of the Russian Civil War
Date1917 - 1920
Result Bolshevik victory

White Army

Wrangel's Forces

Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Red Army

Black Army
Commanders and leaders
Lavr Kornilov
Anton Denikin
Pyotr Wrangel
Mikhail Alexeyev
Peter Krasnov
Andrei Shkuro
Konstantin Mamontov

Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Mikhail Tukhachevsky
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Semyon Budyonny
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Mikhail Frunze
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Kliment Voroshilov

Nestor Makhno
Flag of the Ukrainian State.svg Pavlo Skoropadsky
Flag of the Ukrainian State.svg Symon Petliura
Volunteer Army 8,000-40,000
Armed Forces of South Russia 150,000
100 000 - 260 000 Red army soldiers
The ethnic-Romanian Revolutionary Battalion in Odessa, 1918

The Southern Front of the Russian Civil War was a theatre of the Russian Civil War.

Don revolts and formation of the Volunteer Army[edit]

Many opponents of the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks fled to the Don region, hoping to gain influence and the support of the Don Cossacks. One of these was the former Tsarist General Mikhail Alekseev, who began raising troops in order to crush the Bolsheviks. Within time, his force grew to 400 men. With these experienced and well-motivated soldiers, Alekseev was able to influence the Don Cossack Council greatly.

Alekseev was soon joined by the charismatic general Lavr Kornilov, who had escaped detention and arrived in the Don region. This gave the Whites in the area a great boost. On November 17, 1917, both Alekseev and Kornilov announced the formation of the Volunteer Army, although that name was not officially accepted until early 1918. General Alekseev became its first commander-in-chief. In January 1918, the Volunteer Army numbered 2,000 men, and was transferred to Rostov, as Kornilov could not persuade the Don Cossack leader, Ataman Kaledin to take joint action alongside his Whites. By February Kaledin had been defeated by the Reds and the Volunteer Army retreated behind the river Don. In March 1918 the Volunteer Army was strengthened and now numbered 5,000 men. In April 1918, another formation was set up, the Army of the Don, created on April 17, 1918, numbering about 6,000 men and was commanded by General K. Plyakov and on April 25, P. Popov. In June 1918, the Whites in the south were joined by Colonel Mikhail Drozdovsky and his forces, in total the Volunteer Army numbered some 9,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry. From November 1918, the Entente was able to supply the Whites in the South of Russia through the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. This allowed the Whites to re-organise and create new units, although conscription helped quite a bit. This boosted the Volunteer Army up to 35,000 men by September and 100,000 by December. In September 1918, the Reds themselves formed the Southern Front to combat the Whites from Ukraine to the Sea of Azov. By then, the Army of the Don had reached a peak force of 10,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry.

The Armed Forces of South Russia[edit]

The following year (January 8, 1919) saw the creation[by whom?] of the Armed Forces of South Russia (AFSR), which encompassed many earlier formations. The Volunteer Army was renamed the Caucasian Volunteer Army. However, it reverted to its original name in May 1919. Besides the Volunteer Army, the AFSR also included many previously independent formations, including the Crimean-Azov Army, the Army of the Don, the Army of the Caucasus and the Army of Turkestan. When first formed, the AFSR numbered 51,000 infantry and 34,000 cavalry; by July 1919 numbers had risen to 104,000 infantry and 56,000 cavalry (as well as 19 aircraft, 34 armoured trains, 1 cruiser, 5 destroyers, 4 submarines and 20 gunboats). Bolshevik forces of the Turkestan Front (commanded by Mikhail Frunze) destroyed the Army of Turkestan in the Kazan-Dzhik area (2-7 December 1919), and by February 1920 it had officially ceased to exist.

Hard fighting and heavy losses left the White Armies in the South facing defeat. The Reds had almost destroyed the Army of the Don by 1920, and the survivors fled in the direction of the Crimea and of Wrangel's newly formed army. In April 1920 Denikin, the Commander-in-chief of the AFSR, passed all his powers to General Wrangel, who re-formed these units into his Russian Army.

Wrangel's Russian Army[edit]

The formation of Wrangel's "Russian Army" heralded the last phase of the Russian Civil War in the South. The Crimean peninsula served as the White's last stronghold, where all the remnants of the other defeated White Armies gathered. In May 1920 the Reds destroyed the Army of the Caucasus, which had been part of the AFSR; the survivor's fled either to join Wrangel or to Georgia. By July 1920 Wrangel had 25,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, 13 tanks, 25 armoured cars, 40 aircraft, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, 11 destroyers, 4 submarines and 8 gunboats. This expanded by October 1920 to 41,000 infantry and 17,000 cavalry. But despite the rise in manpower, Wrangel was unable to undertake a successful offensive towards Moscow or break out of his Crimean stronghold. A raid into the Kuban area in August 1920 under the command of General Sergei Georgievich Ulagay failed to expand White-held territory.

The final assault on the Crimea by the Bolshevik re-constituted Southern Front (early November, 1920) under the command of Mikhail Frunze proved successful in defeating the last great White threat to the Reds. Entente vessels evacuated the last survivors of the White armies to Istanbul (16 November 1920). In 1921 they transferred to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, where they finally disbanded.

Ukraine in the Southern Front[edit]

At the Same time, the Reds were also fighting against the Ukrainians, as well as the Poles. With the defeat of Germany in the First World War, the pro-German Government, The Hetmanate, under Pavlo Skoropadsky was overthrown and the relative safety Ukraine had under German occupation and protection was gone. The Reds set up their own Bolshevik Ukrainian government. The Ukrainian National Republic (UNR) faced many enemies from late 1918 onwards. It faced the Reds to the north-east, Whites (who were against Ukrainian separation) to the south-east marching northwards against Moscow and the Anarchist Black Army of Nestor Makhno springing up all over Ukraine. The UNR came to terms with the Rumanians and the Entente who occupied Odessa in February 1919, and this allowed the UNR to release troops to face the Whites, Reds and Poles. Fighting broke out in January 1919 and the Reds pushed the Ukrainian forces back. Kiev fell to the Reds in February 1919 and had pushed the UNR's forces against Polish ones moving into Volhynia. This cut the UNR's armies in two. By May 1919, the UNR occupied a small strip of land around Brody and at the same time were negotiating with the Poles, with an armistice with the Poles, the Ukrainians could push forwards and they attacked south-eastwards to Kamanets Podil'skyi. With Denikin launching an offensive against the Reds in the north, along with spontaneous peasant uprisings allowed the Ukrainians to retake Kiev in August 1919, but they were expelled by Denikin's forces. With Denikin's defeat and the Ukrainians in severe trouble, they made an alliance with the Poles in April 1920, the combined Polish-Ukrainian forces pushed back the Reds, who occupied most of Ukraine. This was part of the Polish–Soviet War, and ended up with gains for Poland after the treaty of Riga in 1921, but with nothing for the Ukrainians who were fully defeated. The Ukrainians based in Poland tried to launch offensives and raids into Soviet Ukraine, but these failed considerably.

Georgia in the Civil War[edit]

With the defeat of the Whites in 1920, the Georgian Democratic Republic was under threat from the Red Army moving ever closer to her borders. The Reds offered an alliance with Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to defeat the Whites in the Caucasus etc. The Georgians refused, going for a policy of neutrality; they also hoped they could negotiate their official independence with the Bolsheviks. Several attempts by Russians and Soviets to take over Georgia failed. In April 1920, the Soviets managed to place a Bolshevik regime in Azerbaijan, mainly due to the help of the 11th Soviet Red Army. Georgian communists asked for permission to take over Georgia but no real authorisation was given. On May 3, Communists loyal to the Russian SFSR launched a coup in Tbilisi, which was defeated by the Georgian army. The Georgian General staff started to mobilise and ready themselves for war, however this never came, as negotiations with the Reds (May 1920) managed to secure their independence, on the conditions that they allowed Bolshevik groups and organisations to exist and that no foreign troops could enter Georgian soil. Refused entry into the League of Nations, Georgia gained de jure recognition from the Allies on January 27, 1921. This, however, did not prevent the country from being attacked by Soviet Russia a month later.

The peace with Georgia, though initially supported strongly by Lenin, finally ended on February 11 when the Armenian and Georgian Bolsheviks organized a revolt in Lorri. The Armenia-based 11th Red Army marched on Tbilisi, while other Russian forces invaded from various directions. By February 25, the desperate resistance of the poorly organized Georgian military was broken at the capital and the Georgian Bolsheviks proclaimed the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. Almost simultaneously, Turkish troops took control over Ardahan Province, Artvin and Batumi. On March 17, the Menshevik and Soviet representatives agreed to a ceasefire and joined their efforts to recover Batumi. On March 18, the leadership of the DRG left Georgia by the French ship Ernest Renan. By the Moscow-dictated Treaty of Kars with Turkey (October 13, 1921), Georgia had to abandon its claims on Artvin and Ardahan provinces in return for Batumi granted autonomous status within Soviet Georgia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia also gained autonomy.

Qoroghli, near Tbilisi, has a monument to the Georgian Junkers who fell in battles against the Red Army. Guerrilla resistance to the Soviet troops continued, but was finally crushed in 1924. This was followed by harsh repressions and the reign of terror in which thousands of Georgian nobles, intellectuals and common citizens were purged. The country was eventually incorporated into the Soviet Union — first as a part of a Transcaucasian SFSR (1922), then as its own Soviet Socialist Republic (1936).


Since 1918, the Armenian Republic had been at odds with almost all of her neighbours, several wars were fought with her fellow newly formed Caucasian nations, as well as a hard-fought war with the Turks in 1920. With enemies all around, the Armenians were weak and unable to defend themselves against an invasion by the Bolsheviks.


By March 1920, it was obvious that Soviet Russia would attack the much-needed Baku. Vladimir Lenin said that the invasion was justified by the fact that Soviet Russia couldn't survive without Baku oil. According to prevailing opinion in Moscow, Russian Bolsheviks were to assist Baku proletariat in overthrowing the "counter-revolutionary nationalists."

After major political crisis, the Fifth Cabinet of Ministers of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic gave its resignations on April 1, 1920. On April 25, 1920, the Russian XI Red Army crossed into Azerbaijan and entered Baku on April 27. They demanded the dissolution of Azerbaijani Parliament (Majlis) and set up their own Bolshevik government headed by Nariman Narimanov. The deputies obliged to do so to avoid bloodshed, and on April 28, 1920, the ADR officially ceased to exist. The Red Army met very little resistance from Azerbaijani forces in Baku, which were tied up on Karabakh front.

In May 1920, there was a major uprising against the occupying Russian XI Army in Ganja, intent on restoring Musavatists in power. The uprising was crushed by the Bolsheviks by May 31. Leaders of the ADR either fled to Menshevik Georgia, Turkey and Iran, or were captured by Bolsheviks, like Mammed Amin Rasulzade (who was later allowed to emigrate) and executed (like Gen. Selimov, Gen. Sulkevich, Gen. Agalarov, a total of over 20 generals), or assassinated by Armenian militants like Fatali Khan Khoyski and Behbudagha Javanshir. Most students and citizens travelling abroad remained in those countries never to return again to their country.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Peter Kenez. Civil War in South Russia, 1918: The First Year of the Volunteer Army, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1971.
  • Peter Kenez. Civil War in South Russia, 1919-1920: The Defeat of the Whites, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977.
  • Ukrainian Armies 1914-55. P.Abbot and E.Pinak, Osprey Publishing
  • The Russian Civil War (1), (2), Mikhail Khvostov, Opsrey Publishing