Tsaritsyn Defense of 1918–19

Tsaritsyn Defense of 1918–19

 

Soviet military operations undertaken to defend Tsaritsyn (now Volgograd) against the White Cossack Army of General P. N. Krasnov. The operations took place between July 1918 and February 1919 during the Civil War in Soviet Russia.

Tsaritsyn was of strategic importance as a major junction of routes that linked the central regions of the republic with the Lower Volga Region, the Northern Caucasus, and Middle Asia and along which food and fuel supplies for the central region were transported. By capturing Tsaritsyn, the White Cossack command hoped to join up with the forces of Ataman A. I. Dutov and to secure the right flank of the White Cossack Army on the Voronezh axis, which for Krasnov was the principal axis.

In July 1918, Krasnov’s Don Army (approximately 45,000 men, 610 machine guns, and more than 150 pieces of artillery) launched its first attack on Tsaritsyn. Colonel Poliakov’s detachment (approximately 10,000 men) was to strike from the south, from the Velikokniazheskaia area; General K. K. Mamontov’s task force (approximately 12,000 men), which was concentrated in the Verkhnekurmoiarskaia-Kalach area, was to attack Tsaritsyn with its main forces; and General A. P. Fitskhelaurov’s task force (approximately 20,000 men) was to strike at Kamyshin from the area of Kremenskaia, Ust’-Medveditskaia, and Chaplyzhenskaia.

The Soviet forces in the Tsaritsyn Sector (approximately 40,000 men and more than 100 pieces of artillery) were made up of uncoordinated detachments; the forces in the highest state of combat readiness were detachments of the Third and Fifth Ukrainian armies, which had been driven back to the area by the German interventionists.

On July 22 the Military Council of the Northern Caucasus Military District was established, comprising J. V. Stalin (chairman), K. E. Voroshilov, and S. K. Minin. The Communist, First Don, and Morozovskaia-Donets, and other divisions and units were formed. On July 24, the Soviet troops were divided into sectors: the Ust’-Medveditskaia Sector, under the command of F. K. Mironov (approximately 7,000 men, 51 machine guns, and 15 pieces of artillery); the Tsaritsyn Sector, under the command of A. I. Kharchenko (approximately 23,000 men, 162 machine guns, and 82 pieces of artillery); and the Sal’sk Group, under the command of G. K. Shevkopliasov (approximately 10,000 men, 86 machine guns, and 17 pieces of artillery). In Tsaritsyn was a reserve of approximately 1,500 men, 47 machine guns, and eight pieces of artillery.

At the approaches to Tsaritsyn, 2–3 km northwest, west, and southwest of the circular branch railroad line (Gumrak-Voroponovo-Sarepta) two to three lines of trenches with wire obstacles were established. The branch railroad line, located at the rear of the position, made it possible to carry out swift maneuvers along the front and to support the troops with artillery fire from armored trains. The flanks of the Soviet forces were covered by fire from ships of the Volga Military Flotilla.

The White Guards captured Torgovaia and Velikokniazheskaia in late July, cutting Tsaritsyn off from the Northern Caucasus. In early August, Fitskhelaurov’s group broke through the front to the north of Tsaritsyn, occupied Erzovka and Pichuzhinskaia, and advanced to the Volga, thereby cutting Tsaritsyn off from Moscow. On August 8, Mamontov’s group moved to the offensive in the central sector: from August 18 to 20 it fought a series of engagements just outside Tsaritsyn, but its advance was halted. On August 20, Soviet troops, striking suddenly, threw back the enemy north of the city, and by August 22 they had liberated Erzovka and Pichuzhinskaia. On August 26 they launched a counteroffensive along the entire front. By September 7 they had driven the White Cossack forces, of which 12,000 were killed or taken prisoner, back across the Don. In September the White Cossack command decided to launch a new attack against Tsaritsyn and mobilized additional forces. The Soviet command took measures to strengthen its defenses and to improve troop command and control. An order of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic dated Sept. 11, 1918, established the Southern Front under the command of P. P. Sytin; the members of the revolutionary military council of the front were J. V. Stalin (until October 19), K. E. Voroshilov (until October 3), K. A. Mekhonoshin (from October 3), and A. I. Okulov (from October 14).

On October 3, the Soviet forces on the Kamyshin and Tsaritsyn axes were incorporated into the Tenth Army, under the command of K. E. Voroshilov; those on the Voronezh axis were incorporated into the Eighth Army; those on Povorino and Balashov axes were incorporated into the Ninth Army; and those in the Northern Caucasus were incorporated into the Eleventh Army.

On September 22 the main forces of Krasnov’s Don Army launched a second attack on Tsaritsyn. The White Guard command created two task forces. The first, under General Fitskhelaurov (20,000 men, 122 machine guns, 47 pieces of artillery, and two armored trains), was to advance on Elan’, Krasnyi lar, Kamyshin, Kachalino, Dubovka, and Tsaritsyn; the second, under General Mamontov (25,000 men, 156 machine guns, 93 pieces of artillery, and six armored trains), was to carry out operations on the Voroponovo-Tsaritsyn and Sarepta-Tsaritsyn axes. The White Cossacks had in the rear a reserve of approximately 20,000 men of the “young army,” made up of new recruits. The Soviet Tenth Army numbered approximately 40,000 men, approximately 200 machine guns, 152 pieces of artillery, and 13 armored trains.

From September 27 to 30 bitter fighting took place in the central sector, near the railroad station of Krivomuzginskaia. In late September the White Cossacks struck south of Tsaritsyn; they captured Gniloaksaiskaia on October 2 and Tinguta on October 8. They were able to cross to the left bank of the Volga, where they posed a threat from the Soviet rear; on October 15 they broke through to the suburbs of Tsaritsyn: Sarepta, Beketovka, and Otradnoe.

The Soviet forces, fighting tenaciously and aided by supporting fire from an artillery group of 21 batteries (approximately 100 pieces of artillery), and from armored trains, halted the enemy advance and inflicted heavy losses. An important role was played by D. P. Zhloba’s Steel Division, which arrived from the Northern Caucasus and attacked the White Cossacks from the rear. The Tenth Army received considerable assistance from the Eighth and Ninth armies, which diverted a substantial part of Krasnov’s army. Combined operations of the Tenth and Ninth armies threw the enemy back beyond the Don by October 25.

On Jan. 1, 1919, Krasnov launched a third attack against Tsaritsyn. By mid-January the White Cossacks, after breaking the stubborn resistance of the Tenth Army (from December 26 commanded by A. I. Egorov), again formed a semicircle around the city. On January 12 they struck north of Tsaritsyn and captured Dubovka. In order to fill the breach, the Soviet command moved B. M. Dumenko’s Combined Cavalry Division from the southern sector to the north. Taking advantage of this weakening of the southern sector, the White Cossacks achieved their final success, the capture of Sarepta, on January 16. On January 14, Dumenko’s division forced the White Cossacks from Dubovka and then carried out a raid deep behind enemy lines; the raid was led by S. M. Budennyi, who had taken command when Dumenko had fallen ill. In mid-February the enemy was forced to withdraw from Tsaritsyn.

In the defense of Tsaritsyn the Soviet command efficiently organized engineer support and cooperation among the various services; it skillfully carried out bold troop maneuvers and counterattacks, which were combined with a stubborn defense in fortified positions. A major role in the city’s defense was played by the workers of Tsaritsyn, who reinforced the ranks of the defending forces and supplied the troops with arms. The Soviet government awarded Tsaritsyn the Honorary Revolutionary Red Banner on Apr. 14, 1924.

REFERENCES

Direktivy komandovaniia frontov Krasnoi Armii (1917–1922): Sb. dokumentov, vol. 1. Moscow, 1971.
luzhnyi front: Sb. dokumentov. Rostov-on-Don, 1962. Vodolagin, M. A. Bastiony slavy. Moscow, 1974.

N. A. AZOVTSEV and S. D. GUSAREVICH

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