Orel-Kromy Operation of 1919

Orel-Kromy Operation of 1919


or Orel-Kursk operation; combat actions of the Fourteenth and Thirteenth armies of the Southern Front (commanded by A. I. Egorov; members of the Revolutionary Military Council, J. V. Stalin and G. Ia. Sokol’nikov) in order to rout the Orel grouping of General A. I. Denikin’s White Guard troops (the First Army and V Horse Cavalry Corps) from October 11 to November 18 during the Civil War of 1918–20.

After having repulsed a blow by the Southern Front along the Kharkov axis, General V. Z. Mai-Maevskii’s Volunteer Army resumed the offensive in mid-September, captured Kursk on September 20, and began advancing toward Orel. The Fourteenth and Thirteenth armies retreated northward under the buffeting of superior enemy forces. To stop the enemy advance on Moscow and to defeat them, the Central Committee of the Party issued the order to send reinforcements to the Fourteenth and Thirteenth armies and to transfer from the Western Front the Latvian and Estonian Rifle Divisions, the Detached Rifle Brigade, and a Red Cossack cavalry brigade. These troops were to become the main attack force in the Navlia-Dmitriev region. This changed the balance of power on the Orel axis in favor of the Soviet troops. (By October 20 they had more than 50,600 infantrymen and cavalrymen, 1,074 machine guns, and 253 artillery guns versus the Whites’ 45,000 infantrymen and cavalrymen, 403 machine guns, and 93 artillery guns.) While reserves were arriving on the Southern Front, the Volunteer Army continued its offensive.

In early October the enemy seized Dmitriev, and the main attack force had to concentrate farther north, in the Karachev-Khotynets region. By October 9 the White Guard troops reached the Khutor-Mikhailovskii-Sevsk-Dmitrovsk-Eropkino-Livny-Petrovskoe line and threatened to break through Orel toward Tula. It was therefore decided to begin the counteroffensive without waiting for the arrival of the Estonian Division. On October 9, Commander in Chief S. S. Kamenev placed the main attack force (about 10,000 men) under the command of the Southern Front and ordered it to deploy northwest of the Kromy-Dmitrievsk line at the coordinating point of the Fourteenth and Thirteenth armies in order to strike a blow along the southeastern axis.

On October 9 the command of the Southern Front worked out the plan of the Orel-Kromy operation. The main attack force was to pass to the offensive on October 11 from the Turishchevo-Molodovoe region (60 km southwest of Orel) and to cut the Orel-Kursk railroad between Maloarkhangel’sk and Fatezh. The troops of the center of the Thirteenth Army under Army Commander A. I. Gekker was to advance southwest and, in coordination with the main attack force and the 9th Rifle Division, to encircle and destroy Kornilov’s division, which was rushing toward Orel; the left-flank units of the army were to advance on Livny. The Fourteenth Army under Army Commander I. P. Uborevich was ordered to capture Khutor-Mikhailovskii with its right-flank units, to rout the enemy in the Dmitrovsk-Komarichi region with its main forces, and to advance on Dmitriev.

On October 11 the main attack force passed to the offensive and, not meeting any serious resistance, captured Kromy on October 14. At the same time the main forces of the Fourteenth and Thirteenth armies continued their retreat toward the north and northwest under buffeting from the enemy. Kornilov’s division defeated the right-flank units of the Thirteenth Army and captured Orel on October 13. The retreat of the 7th and 9th rifle divisions exposed the flanks of the main attack force, and its communications with the Thirteenth Army were disrupted. In this situation the command of the Southern Front entrusted the main blow to the Fourteenth Army and transferred the main attack force and the Estonian Division, which had just arrived, to the Fourteenth Army command. The left wing of the Fourteenth Army was ordered to advance along the eastern and southeastern axes. The main attack force was to strike a blow on Orel from the southwest and to capture Orel in coordination with the Estonian Division, which was advancing from the west, and with the right-flank units of the Thirteenth Army.

The capture of Kromy by the main attack force compelled Kornilov’s division to halt its advance on Tula. The White Guard command decided to encircle and destroy the main attack force with converging blows. On October 16 a fierce fight broke out along a front from Khutor-Mikhailovskii to Elets, and the enemy’s design was thwarted. Soviet troops enveloped Orel from the southwest, west, and northeast and forced Kornilov’s division to leave the city in haste on the night of October 19. Orel was liberated on October 20.

The pursuit of the enemy began, and the main blow was struck by the adjacent flanks of the Fourteenth and Thirteenth armies on Kursk. On October 21 the cavalry brigade of the Red Cossacks and the 11th and 14th cavalry brigades of the Fourteenth Army were merged into the 8th Cavalry Division. The White Guard command tried to rout the Fourteenth and Thirteenth armies and to recapture Orel. Especially fierce battles were fought south of Orel and around Kromy, which changed hands several times. Late on October 26 the Whites passed to the defensive, intending to stabilize the front on the Sevsk-Dmitrovsk-Eropkino-Novosil’-Elets line, but the troops of the Fourteenth and Thirteenth armies broke through the line with vigorous attacks, mounted an offensive, and by late November 18 reached the L’gov-Kursk-Tim-Kastornoe line. A great role was played by B. M. Primakov’s 8th Cavalry Division, which on November 3 poured into the breakthrough southeast of Dmitrovsk. Fighting in the enemy’s rear, it captured Ponyri on November 4, Fatezh on November 5, and L’gov on November 15, thereby disrupting the enemy’s defense.

During the Orel-Kromy operation the troops of the Southern Front inflicted a serious defeat on the Volunteer Army and thereby seized the initiative. The Orel-Kromy and Voronezh Kastornoe operations of 1919 brought about a radical change in the struggle against Denikin’s forces and signaled the beginning of the Red Army’s victorious offensive along the southern axis. The performance of the Soviet troops in the Orel-Kromy operation was marked by resolution and perseverence in accomplishing the mission, fierce fighting to gain the initiative, bold massing of men and materiel along the main axes and powerful strikes on a narrow front, and wide maneuvering on the battlefield.


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