Astrakhan Defense of 1919
Astrakhan Defense of 1919
the military actions of the Astrakhan group of Soviet forces (from Aug. 14, 1919, the Eleventh Army) and the Volga-Caspian Military Flotilla against the White Guard forces of Denikin and Kolchak in the summer and fall of 1919. On August 14 the Eleventh Army included more than 14,000 infantry, more than 3,000 cavalry, 30 guns, two armored trains, and seven planes; the Volga-Caspian Flotilla had four torpedo boats, two submarines, ten armed steamships, a battalion of floating batteries, and several patrol vessels. In August 1919 the enemy’s forces included 13,600 infantry, about 6,000 cavalry, and 32 guns. The enemy troops were deployed as follows: General Dratsenko’s detachment (3,000 men) operated from the Northern Caucasus, the Astrakhan group of the Urals Cossack Army (about 3,000 men) operated from Gur’ev, and the remaining forces joined General Wrangel’s Caucasus Army, which took Tsaritsyn on June 30, 1919. The Soviet troops were grouped in this manner: the Kizliar group (two to three regiments) operated against Dratsenko’s force 70–100 km southwest of Astrakhan; the Krasnyilar group (two infantry and one cavalry regiments) 60–80 km from Astrakhan screened the mouth of the Volga from the east; in the direction of Tsaritsyn, the main force of the Eleventh Army operated against Wrangel’s forces on both shores of the Volga in the vicinity of Chernyi Iar; the Astrakhan-Saratov railroad was covered for 400 km by the railroad group (two armored trains and individual units—2,600 men); and the Volga-Caspian Military Flotilla defended Astrakhan from the sea and aided land forces from the Volga. The Soviet force suffered an acute shortage of all manners of supplies, especially food and forage. The Eleventh Army was commanded by V. P. Raspopov, Iu. P. Butiagin (from Nov. 12, 1919), and M. I. Vasilenko (from Dec. 25). The military-political leader and heart of the defense was S. M. Kirov, a member of the Revolutionary Military Soviet (RVS) of the army; V. V. Kuibyshev was a member of the RVS of the army and its actual commander during August and September. The struggle became sharpest in the summer of 1919, when the Whites were attacking in all directions, and L. D. Trotsky, the chairman of the RVS of the republic, gave instructions to leave Astrakhan in order to “equalize the front.” Upon the protest of Kirov, V. I. Lenin canceled this instruction and demanded that “Astrakhan be defended to the end” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 51, p. 42). In spite of the extraordinarily difficult conditions which prevailed, Lenin’s instruction was carried out. In June-July the Kizliar group smashed Dratsenko’s detachment. In November the Astrakhan group of the Urals Cossack Army was routed. An intense struggle was waged north of Astrakhan from July. At first, units of the Eleventh Army drove the enemy, which was attempting to cut the Astrakhan-Saratov railroad, from the left shore of the Volga; then they repulsed all the Whites’ attacks on the right shore of the Volga in the vicinity of Chernyi Iar. In the fall of 1919, as the troops of the southern front moved to the offensive, the Eleventh Army launched an energetic attack on Tsaritsyn from the south and east; together with units of the Tenth Army, it took Tsaritsyn on Jan. 3, 1920. The Whites were then hurled back in the direction of Kizliar as well.
The defense of Astrakhan was one of the heroic incidents of the Civil War and played an important role in the outcome of the war, depriving Denikin’s and Kolchak’s troops of direct communications and cooperation.
REFERENCESKirov, S. M. Stat’i, rechi, dokumenty, 2nd ed., vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1936.
Sukhorukov, V. T. XI armiia v boiakh na Sev. Kavkaze i Nizhnei Volge. Moscow, 1961.
Sysoev, P. S., and I.I. Parfent’ev. Astrakhanskii front grazhdanskoi voiny i V. V. Kuibyshev. Astrakhan. 1960.
A. V. GOLUBEV