‘A Year of War’ from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 3 No. 1. July 3, 1920.

Soviet Russia – besieged camp. All to the defence! Workers ‘and peasants’ defense-A worker forges guns-The communist points to the enemy and leads him into battle-A peasant is carrying bread-Young people are trained in military affairs-A woman replaces a departed fighter.

The Red Army’s official account of the military situation during the year 1919, including maps and posters from the year, first published in “Izvestia,” on January 2, 1920.

‘A Year of War’ from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 3 No. 1. July 3, 1920.

THIS last year was a year of intense struggle on the revolutionary front; but it seemed at times that the final victory of the Soviet Government was becoming uncertain.

In the beginning we had only two theatres of war, one in the north and the other in the east.

Nevertheless the danger to be faced seemed to be great. The eastern front had cut off Siberia and Turkestan, had moved to the Volga and the Kama and its tributaries, and in places was already on the hither side of those two rivers. Although the pressure from the north was not very great, nevertheless it was dangerous, and threatened to allow the two groups of the enemy to unite and form a single front from the Murmansk road and Arch- angel to Orenburg and the Caspian Sea.

This uneasiness was all the more logical because at that time intervention was being considered, and our military apparatus was only in the period of formation and did not provide us with a sufficient guarantee of safety.

The eastern front had formed the year before last. Its kernel consisted of Czecho-Slovak regiments inspired by the White Guards and supported by foreign embassies in their fight on the Russia of the workman and peasant. Around this kernel there gathered other inimical elements com- posed of ex-officers, ex-junkers, land-holding bourgeoisie and local cossacks. And although the numerical strength of the White army was not large, still that army was successful in the beginning, because it was faced by poorly organized Bed Guards. It held the line of the Ural mountains with the Yekaterinburg mining district as the center. Its south wing intrenched itself rather strongly in the district of Orenburg, and the center was placed on the lines of the rivers Belaya and Ufa, and threatened the city of Ufa. Here the enemy fortified himself rather well, and began to gather new strength.

Meanwhile the northern front, formed in the same year by the expeditionary forces of the Allies in Archangel who were later joined by other White Guard elements, gradually grew in width, crossing the Murmansk road not far from the lake of Onega, and moved its left wing to the river Pechora and its left tributary, Izhma. The chief pressure of the enemy was directed along the river Northern Dvina, its tributary Vaga, and the Archangel railroad. At first he planned to pierce our position in the district of Vologda or Kotlas, and tried to establish tactical connections with the army of Admiral Kolchak in the vicinity of Perm.

General Denikin’s gang fight workers and land labourers.

But tremendous distances between places and impossible roads, together with the defense put up by the Red Army did not allow the operation to develop. It died out naturally, one might say, because of the expenditure of muscular energy on the part of the enemy.

From that time on, the great northern theatre of war lost its primary strategic importance. It still retained the serious role of a sector of the flank, both during the general attack of the Siberian armies and during the attacks of the Finns on Petrograd, when the latter were joined by the enemy at the beginning of last year and occupied the inter-lake district to the west of Lake Onega, between Onega and the Olonets range.

Spreading out along the western ranges of the Urals, the reorganized army of Admiral Kolchak directed the efforts of its right wing and its center to a movement in the direction of the northern part of the River Kama, and the district of Ufa. Here there were many hard fights of an indecisive character on the roads near Perm and Osa, near Kungur and Krasnoufimsk, near Birsk, near Ufa, and at last near Sterlitamak. The first few months of 1919 were passed in such encounters which were more or less occasioned by chance, and took place especially in the mountainous district of Yekaterinburg.

The conditions of struggle in the Yekaterinburg sector are in reality unfavorable to the development of attacking measures on any large scale. The vicinity is a row of more or less wide valleys rimmed with mountains. At the foot of the latter there are railroads which radiate from Yekaterinburg, and other means of communication. There are also factories and settlements. In other words there is a series of defilations with ready made points of defense. Besides the railroad lines, as has been said before, meet in Yekaterinburg, a fact that gave the staff of the enemy a great advantage in the matter of attack, notwithstanding that at the beginning of the year he was numerically weaker than we were.

The Red Army is the defense of the proletarian revolution.

All this allowed the enemy command with its Ural section to hold our armies back until it had finished the formation of new armies in its rear.

At the beginning of April the Eastern front suddenly came to life. Formidable masses of troops were advanced to the front, and the enemy seemed to have made clear his intentions of advancing on the whole line of operations towards Perm and the Volga along the Volga-Bugulminsk and the Samara-Zlatoust roads. His left wing began to press energetically between Sterlitamak and Orenburg in order to reach the Samara-Orenburg and the Saratov-Ural lines.

Ufa was soon taken. Then came the turn of Perm, and then, after unsuccessful battles near the Osa and Kungur we evacuated the entire basin of the river Kama as far as Yelabuga, and also the river Belaya and Ufa Soon it became evident that the center of the enemy attack was west of Ufa, along two lines leading to the Volga near Simbirsk and Samara. At the same time both wings of the White army continued the pressure on our troops near Vyatka And also to the north-west of the Orenburg-Ural line. Here and there they advanced comparatively far. On the north they were west of Glazov, and their southern wing captured the cities of Buzuluk, Uralsk, Nikolsk, and Yershov, and threatened Samara and Saratov. But Orenburg did not surrender, remaining like a red island in a raging white sea. Later this was of great importance in the development of our counter-attack.

The situation was. becoming dangerous. Not only because the enemy, after occupying Bugulma, Buguruslan and Buzuluk, was but 100 miles from the Volga and its bridges. This had happened many times before. But more because of the impetus of his movement and the seeming preparations of the White forces to attack in other theatres of war. It became clear that the armies of Kolchak were only a chain ring in the plan of a concentrated general attack from all directions on Soviet Russia on the part of the enemy.

Kolchak’s victims in Omsk.

In fact, after the German evacuation of the occupied provinces of what was once the Russia of the Czar and parts of Ukraine, revolutionary struggle began everywhere. In Ukraine the Reds were quickly victorious. But the hetman’s army was not destroyed. Its kernel and most of all its officers went to Kuban and the southern part of the Army of the Don, and with the energetic cooperation of the Entente served as the nucleus for the quick formation of a strong southern army under the command of General Denikin. At the same time, General Yudenich was able to create a strong army corps on the border of the government of Pskov. In doing so, he took advantage of similar conditions in Esthonia, Finland, and Latvia. It became known that Polish and Lithuanian attacks were in preparation. The position taken by the border countries showed that they were only waiting for a favorable moment to attack.

In a word one could see the separate rings of the White chain that was supposed to cut off Soviet Russia from Siberia, Turkestan, the Caucasus, the southern provinces, the north, and the Baltic Sea; to deny it bread, fuel and raw material, and to continue it within the frontiers of the time of Czar Ivan III.

Two circumstances spoiled the success of this plan. In the first place the various groups of the enemy did not co-ordinate their operations from a strategical point of view. The result achieved was not one of complete constriction as the enemy desired, but a succession of independent, although powerful blows. And what is still more important, the Red Army seemed to be reborn in the moment of the greatest danger, reborn from the very top to the very bottom. The ghost of defeat brought the army and the people closer together, and the army, like the ancient Antaeus, drew new strength by touching the earth. Past defeats were useful.

The muddy water caused by them had left the army only its healthy elements. There was a filtration of the command and the commissary; the ammunition supply, food, and clothes came more regularly, and what is most important, one general plan of action became for the first time visible in the command.

The enemy wants Tula – a smithery of the Red Army – to fall. Comrades! Defend Tula. Crush the enemy.

Taking advantage of the fact that the attack of Denikin was stopped for a while, and that on all other fronts, except in the north where an attempt had been made to reach Kotlas by Way of the Dvina, everything was quiet, our command directed the full force of its blows at the enemy in the east.

Its plans was to push back the forces of General Dietrichs on the Ufa sector, and at the same time to sever his communications with Yekaterinburg, by pressure towards Sarapul and Krasnoufimsk. Then, if the operation was successful, the plan was to pass on and strategically surround both groups.

As far as the left wing of the White army is concerned it was first planned to restrict our operations to a frontal attack, so as to surround the White army on the Ural-Orenburg line.

The enemy had by this time spread considerably, centering his reserves partly behind his right wing and partly behind his center. The point of attack towards Krasnoufimsk was rather sparsely defended, and the attack was successful.

Hop on a horse worker and peasant! Red Cavalry – the guarantee of victory!

Without giving time to the enemy to regroup his forces, the Red column began to move forward towards the line of Yegaterinburg-Cheliabinsk, threatening the communications of both armies of the enemy, which were especially open to attack in the central sector. The enemy began to retreat, but could not succeed in doing so in an orderly manner, or by occupying one position of prepared defense after another, for the northern and central groups of the Red Army, seeing the moral and physical exhaustion of the enemy and the failure of his plan of attack caused by our victory at Krasnoufimsk, developed the maximum amount of energy in their attack. The quickly defeated White vanguard flowed swiftly backward, leaving the main forces open to attack. In turn they also, not being able to withstand our pressure, began to retreat slowly, trying to hold us back in a series of rearguard encounters mostly in the northern sector, where the development of the Krasnoufimsk wedge had put the enemy army in as bad a position as in the center.

Soon Ufa and Perm were recaptured, and then Yekaterinburg and Cheliabinsk.

With the capture of Ufa our command began to take strong measures against the southeast sector. Even before that we had attacked along both railroads towards Orenburg and Uralsk. Now a third group was moved from Sterlitamak and Verkhne-Uralsk in the north towards Orenburg and Orsk. This finished the matter. The end was hastened by a victory of the Turkestan Red Army which had defeated a White column defending the railroad from Orenburg to Tashkent.

The road to Turkestan and cotton was now open. Only a small part of the local White Guards occupied the Trans-Caspian railroad, closing the way to Krasnovodsk. They are being cleaned out at present.

Coal from the mines of Donetsk must be ours!

Meanwhile the operations of Denikin’s army had become more and more real in their form. His central group seemed to be moving into the Don coal mine district, trying to cut off the Red troops near the sea of Azov by a left flank movement. At the same time they began to press strongly in the Don sector along the Kharkov-Balashov line with the clear purpose of attacking the Soviet armies on the southwest near Kamishin and Tsaritsin.

The plan of the enemy was to clear the central part of the Volga of Red troops, to take possession of it, and to enter into close communication with the Ural White army which still managed to hold its positions, resisting all our attacks. Having captured Kamishin and Tsaritsin the White Guards were not able to help the Ural army, which had already been forced by us to retreat, leaving Uralsk to us, and which had been defeated at Erikov by our left wing and was holding a line north of Alexandrov-Gai near Novo-Uzensk.

The successful manoeuver of the volunteer left wing column of our army saved the situation, leaving our command free of the worry of having to do with a united South Ural front, and with the possible loss of Saratov.

Just when the movements of Denikin’s armies began to take form, and the armies of Admiral Kolchak had reached the zenith of their successes, that is, at the end of April and the beginning of May, the new attack of the enemy began to show on the northwest front, aimed at Petrograd.

Having decided to capture the capital, Yudenich took measures to weaken the unity of our position in the west and southwest of the city. With this goal in view the Finnish White guard group in the Murmansk sector began to press energetically along the eastern shore of Lake Ladoga in the direction of the northern branch of the railroad, thinking of capturing it at Zvanka, and then to move along the Nikolayevsk road, helping there- with the armies of Kolchak, especially his right wing. But after it had captured the Lodeynoye Field, it was stopped and forced to retreat.

Keep your revolutionary step, a restless enemy does not sleep.

The attempt of the White command to act in unity had failed.

Nevertheless, this attack which began with a strong blow at Yamburg, continued to develop favorably to the enemy. For many reasons which were given at that time in all newspapers, the Red columns were speedily retreating, especially north of the Baltic road. Soon the vanguard of the enemy was only thirty miles from the capital. The fortress of Krasnaya Gorka, captured by the counter-revolutionists was a great menace both to Kronstadt and the fleet. But it was this very fact that showed what little forces the White Guards had when they attempted their adventure. They did not possess the few necessary battalions to hold Krasnaya Gorka, and the fortress was recaptured by us after a heavy artillery attack by our fleet, through the brave attack of a comparatively small number of sailors.

This success seemed to be the signal for an entire change in military affairs. The enemy began to retreat quickly before our blows. He managed to remain a short time at Yamburg, but was quickly driven from there, and later from Pskov, and had to satisfy himself with holding Narva and Gdov, wedging outwards a little between them towards the southeast and Luga.

Both sides held their positions for four months or until the new attack of General Rodziakno on Petrograd in the beginning of October.

White Army burns grain when retreating from the Red Army.

Meanwhile conditions on the southern front were becoming more and more serious. Even at the end of May the strength and resources of Denikin were very apparent. It became self-evident that he would not stop with the capture of the Don Region, the Don coal mines, and the southern sea provinces, but that he would begin a general attack on the north, the northeast and the northwest, where Kharkov, Poltava, Voronezh, Yekaterinoslav and Kiev would serve him as stopping places.

Tired with its fighting of many months’ duration and suffering besides from local partisanship, the Red Army began to retreat. The Kharkov sector gradually became open, especially in one place where the White army succeeded in driving a wedge into our positions a little outside the city. The further development of the White attack in this direction led them through Chuguev to Volochansk, and finally forced us to evacuate Kharkov. Soon after the enemy occupied Kursk, Yekaterinoslav, and a little later, Poltava, which was surrounded from the north in the neighborhood of Lebedin.

Having captured the central section of the Kiev-Voronezh railroad, and developing the success of the Poltava-Lebedin group, the command of the enemy decided to attack both Voronezh and Kiev.

The Red Army has no borders!

The struggle for these cities, especially for Voronezh, was already of a more difficult nature, but the proportionate strength of the sides was such that we were forced to evacuate both cities.

The central White army continued its movement north on a wide front in the general direction of Bryansk, Orel, and Yelatz, that is, in the direction of the important railroad centers in central Russia.

Its advance was greatly helped by the continual cavalry raids of General Mamontov, who had broken our lines near Novokhopersk and Borisoglebsk, and who had attacked Tambov and Kozlov, and later moved north on Skopin, destroying railroads, and bringing disorganization into the work of our transport in the rear.

Notwithstanding this, the movement of the White Guard in the direction of Briansk-Orel-Yeletz was of an altogether different character from its advance on Kursk. It was at once noticeable that our enemy was growing weaker and more tired, and our military strength was increasing.

And although Orel fell finally, it was clear that this was due to the law of inertia, and a sort of unfitness on the part of our command in the matter of counter-attack. A change was imminent.

Orel, exactly like Voronezh, served as a dam that held back the White current. For a little while longer the enemy showed activity, trying to take Yeletz so as to attack the Red Army in the rear from Tambov and Penza, and to unite with the Voronezh column, which was attacking us in the direction of Kozlov, but these were merely last and unsuccessful efforts.

The Red Army had managed to fill its ranks with replacements, and having been regrouped, had passed from the defense to the attack on the wide front between Orel and Yeletz. At the same time the Soviet cavalry was sent to attack the enemy’s cavalry vanguard near Voronezh.

For the Red Petrograd! For the Red Finland!

The fact that we had torn the initiative from the hands of the enemy and that we were numerically superior, broke like lightning on the tired foe. Orel and Voronezh were taken by us in almost one day (October 20), and this moment saw a complete change in the nature of our operations.

Even the inspired attack of Rodzianko on Petrograd did not help Denikin. The capital lived through two or three weeks of danger, but the population was quiet and worked hard in putting the city into a state of defense, even fortifying the outlying suburbs, and then the enemy rolled back, even more swiftly than in May, before the blows of the garrison and of the replacements sent from the center. The reserves of our southern armies were untouched and continued to pursue their work.

After the capture of Orel and Voronezh, the Red Army began to move on Kursk from two sides — on the north, from the surrounding railroads, and on the east from Voronezh.

The enemy defended himself vigorously in all encounters, often passing into short energetic counter-attacks. But little by little, before our steady attacks, his forces were disorganized into separate groups and columns, and the fighting developed into a series of encounters between small detachments. Most of these encounters ended favorably to us. They allowed us to keep the advantage of the initiative and make use of manoeuvers on the field of battle.

The fall of Kursk, and then of Kharkov and Poltava, and our latest successes are, the results of the numerous little victories of our independent columns, which are at once used to advantage by our command.

Long live the Red Army of Three Million!

When the center of the enemy first trembled and then began to retreat, it dragged with it both wings, that of the Dnieper and that of the Don.

In both places the defensive strength of the enemy is broken. He is forced to evacuate a tremendous stretch of country, on one side covering the right frontier of Ukraine, and on the other the southern part of the Don region and the roads to Rostov and Tsaritsin, which are important to him strategically, for they guard the way to the Caucasus. In the center the enemy is striving to defend the region of the Donetz and Yekaterinoslav, but without any success. Yekaterinoslav was taken by us on the last day of last year.

While the southern Red Army was living through a crisis, Soviet troops also had a hard time in the east, where they had passed Kurgan and Yalutorovsk.

Covering up with his rearguard, General Dietrichs collected new forces and moved them against our outspread and somewhat tired columns. The manoeuver was successful. We were forced to re- treat, but very little in all, a matter of sixty miles at the most. During this time, the Red Army, having succeeded in moving up its reserves, passed into a general attack on the whole front. It quickly defeated the columns of the enemy, and then captured Tobolsk, Ishim, and Petropavlovsk, and without giving the enemy any rest attacked in the direction of Omsk, which it took at tlie beginning of November.

This moment marks the beginning of a general pursuit of the enemy, who retreated eastward. We are pressing him continuously, taking a tremendous number of prisoners, cannon, machine guns, and an amount of war material and food that beggars all description.

In Nikolayevsk the downfall of the enemy was especially shown in high relief, when seventy separate detachments, and their senior staffs, refused the order to evacuate the city and surrendered to us.

At present in Siberia we are faced only by the pitiful remnants of the White armies, which are trying to organize the defense of Krasnoyarsk. The regions of Akmolinsk, Semipalatinsk and a part of the region of Semirechensk are already clean of White Guards.

In the great struggle that marked the last year, the Polish-Lithuanian front deserves a special place. Because of its central position between the armies of Yudenich and Denikin it could have played a great part, binding them into one complete unit; or it could at least have attempted to unite with one of them, for instance the southern army, in this way taking advantage of the moment when the latter was occupying Chernigov. But the Polish command did not try hard to unite with either of the White Guard leaders, being satisfied with operations on a small, provisional scale. Satisfied with its first successes, which enabled it to take the government of Minsk, and part of Vitebsk and Polotsk, the Polish-Lithuanian army remained in one place, allowing us to better conditions in case of having to conduct a general defense. This is the cause of the effort to take Dvinsk and move toward Polotsk, Vitebsk, and Mohilev.

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge.

During the past year, the Red Army lived through a great life. It may be said that during these twelve months it has been entirely reborn, having become, from the viewpoint of military organization, completely modernized, completely European, and even successful in developing new men for higher service.

Soviet Russia began in the summer of 1919, published by the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia and replaced The Weekly Bulletin of the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia. In lieu of an Embassy the Russian Soviet Government Bureau was the official voice of the Soviets in the US. Soviet Russia was published as the official organ of the RSGB until February 1922 when Soviet Russia became to the official organ of The Friends of Soviet Russia, becoming Soviet Russia Pictorial in 1923. There is no better US-published source for information on the Soviet state at this time, and includes official statements, articles by prominent Bolsheviks, data on the Soviet economy, weekly reports on the wars for survival the Soviets were engaged in, as well as efforts to in the US to lift the blockade and begin trade with the emerging Soviet Union.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/srp/v3n08-aug-21-1920-soviet-russia.pdf

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