Petrograd Defense of 1919

Petrograd Defense of 1919


combat actions to defend Petrograd against the White Guards and the interventionists from May to November during the Civil War of 1918-20. The Soviet forces included the Seventh and Fifteenth armies of the Western Front (commanded by D. N. Nadezhnyi, and from July 7 by V. M. Gittis; members of the Revolutionary Military Council A. O. Stigga, B. P. Pozern, J. V. Stalin, and R. I. Berzin) and the Baltic Fleet (chief of Baltic naval forces A. P. Zeleni; members of the Revolutionary Military Council A. V. Baranov and V. I. Zof).

The capture of Petrograd was an important part of the strategic plans of the Entente and the Whites. General N. N. Iudenich’s White Guard troops, who were formed in Estonia and Finland, were charged with the mission. The opening of the offensive on Petrograd was planned for the summer of 1919, but because of the defeat of Kolchak’s armies during the counter-offensive of the Eastern Front of 1919, the Entente accelerated the Whites’ venture in the northwest.

On May 13, General A. P. Rodzianko’s Northern Corps of about 6,000 infantry and cavalry soldiers, supported by the Estonian First Division with about 6,000 men and Admiral Co-wen’s British squadron, passed to the offensive on the Narva axis. S. N. Bulak-Balakhovich’s White Guard detachment and the Estonian Second Division delivered a secondary attack along the Gdov-Pskov axis. The Finnish, or Olonets, Volunteer Army vigorously attacked along the Olonets axis in April. Despite heroic resistance, A. K. Remezov’s Soviet Seventh Army, with 15,500 infantry and cavalry troops dispersed over a 600-km front from Lake Onega to Lake Chudskoe, could not contain the onslaught of the enemy, who reached the approaches to Gatch-ina and Krasnoe Selo. The White Guard underground in Petrograd was preparing a strike from the rear, and on June 13 the Whites staged a revolt in the forts of Krasnaia Gorka and Seraia Loshad’.

In view of the grave threat hanging over Petrograd, the Central Committee of the RCP (Bolshevik) and the Council of Defense, under the leadership of V. I. Lenin, adopted emergency measures to strengthen the defense of Petrograd. On May 21 the Central Committee approved the appeal For the Defense of Petrograd and resolved to mobilize Communists and workers of the northwestern provinces for the Petrograd sector of the front. On June 10 the Central Committee proclaimed Petrograd the most important sector of the Western Front and advised the commander in chief to be guided by this decision in allocating reinforcements.

In fulfillment of the Central Committee’s directives, troops, including those from the Eastern Front, and detachments of Petrograd workers were sent to the defense of Petrograd. A group of high officials headed by J. V. Stalin, extraordinary representative of the Council of Defense, arrived in the city. The operating detachment of the Baltic Fleet (41 ships, including three battleships, one cruiser, and ten destroyers) repulsed repeated attacks of British motor torpedo boats and submarines and prevented the landing of amphibious forces in Koporia Bay. The joint actions of ground forces and the navy, supported by the air force, crushed the revolt in the forts on June 16. In the city, Chekists, with the help of workers’ detachments, arrested counterrevolutionaries and confiscated more than 6,000 rifles and other weapons.

All of this enabled the forces of the Seventh Army (about 23,000 infantry and cavalry troops commanded by M. S. Matiiasevich from July 1) to pass to the counteroffensive on June 21 against the White Guard Northwestern Army (16,500 infantry and cavalry forces), which had been expanded from the Northern Corps. On August 5 the Seventh Army captured Iamburg. The forces of the Fifteenth Army (commanded by A. I. Kork, and from August 12 by S. D. Kharlamov) operated on the Pskov axis and liberated the city on August 26. During the Vidlitsa Operation of 1919, Soviet forces routed the Olonets Volunteer Army from late June to early July.

Iudenich’s forces managed to retain the Narva-Gdov base of operations. With economic aid from the Entente, they brought up their combat strength by late September to 18,500 infantry and cavalry troops. A new strike by Iudenich’s forces, supported by the 18,000-man Estonian Army and the British squadron, was supposed to assist the offensive of General A. I. Denikin’s forces on Moscow. On September 28 the White Guards carried out a strike on the Strugi-Belye-Luga axis against the left wing of the Seventh Army (25,600 infantry and cavalry troops commanded by S. D. Kharlamov from September 24 and D. N. Nadezhnyi from October 17). After diverting part of the Seventh Army forces, they passed to the offensive along the main, Iamburg, axis. They captured Krasnoe Selo and Gatchina on October 16 and reached the near approaches to Petrograd.

On October 15 the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RCP(B) passed the resolution: Do Not Surrender Petrograd. On October 19, V. I. Lenin’s appeal To the Workers and Red Army Soldiers of Petrograd was published, calling for a fight to the last drop of blood for every inch of land. Large reinforcements, including more than 4,500 Communists, arrived from other fronts. In fierce combat, the forces of the Seventh Army halted the enemy, and on October 21 the Seventh Army passed to the offensive along the Gatchina-Volosovo axis. On October 25 the forces of the Fifteenth Army (commanded by A. I. Kork from September 24) opened an offensive on the Luga-Volosovo axis with a view to a deep envelopment and encirclement of the main enemy grouping. The Whites were routed after stubborn fighting, and Soviet forces liberated Iamburg on November 14. The remnants of the White Guard army managed to escape to Estonia, where they were disarmed by the Estonian government in early December. A peace treaty with Estonia was concluded on Feb. 2, 1920.

The heroic defense of Petrograd and the rout of Iudenich’s forces were important factors in securing the decisive victories of the Red Army over the combined forces of domestic and foreign counterrevolution in 1919.


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