The Southern White Army 1917-1920

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Under the protection of the Cossacks and aided by a corps of Interventionists, the AFSR White Army of the South fought for three bloody years until defeated.

The southern Ukraine had been under the control of anti-Bolshevik Don and Kuban Cossacks under their subsequent leaders Generals Kaliden, Kransov, and Shkuro as early as November 1917. This area was also occupied by German troops from March 1918 until the end of World War One eight months later. When the Germans left the Allies arrived and remained for nearly another year. This combination of guardian angels kept the coastal Ukraine free from Bolshevik influence and enabled a large White Army, which at its peak grew to some 250,000 men under arms, to grow and flourish. This formation was the first of the so-called White Armies, founded on November 15, 1917 by Generals Kornilov and Alekseev with a handful of loyal officers.

The fighting core of this army’s formation came from a group of men led by Colonel MG Drozdovsky. At the end of Russia’s involvement in World War One he collected 667 officers, 370 soldiers, 14 doctors and a dozen nurses together in a volunteer force that he led 1100 kilometers in 61 days from the front to the Don Cossacks territory. The Don and Kuban Cossacks under Generals Kaliden and Kransnov largely governed their own semi-independent settlements and were in open conflict with the Reds. Once in the Don the force of volunteers was joined by officers led by the most famous of the former Tsarist generals. Generals Kornilov and Alekseev had both risen to position of Commander-in-Chief of the entire Russian Army at various times during World War One. This army was deprived of its leadership early on when Alekseev died of a heart condition and Kornilov was killed in April 1918. The force was then led by Lieutenant General Deniken with the help of General Ivanov (who died of typhus a few months later).

When the German, Austrian and Turkish occupation troops withdrew from South Russia at the end of World War One, some 30,000 Polish, Greek and French troops, supported by British logistics and the Royal Navy, began entering South Russia on December 18, 1918. Deniken, despite a grossly incapable logistic system, launched an offensive against Moscow in the summer of 1919. The Allies gave Deniken’s whites more than 130 early tanks (British Mk Vs, Mk As, Mk Bs, and French Renault FT-17s) which led to a dozen armored squadrons being formed for the planned offensive. These interventionist forces assisted Deniken’s army on its offensive but typically did not take part in direct front-line combat. Deniken’s forces reached as far as Orel, just 320 kilometers from the Kremlin by September. It was then that he suffered a defeat largely at the hands of the 50,000 man anarchist Green Army under Nestor Makhno. Deniken’s army largely melted away as he faced increasingly stronger Red Army and Green Army troops. When his supplies became exhausted and he found no more Allied support he retreated back to the Crimea. The whites abandoned much equipment to the Red advance. The tanks that the Reds captured in their advance greatly influenced early Soviet tank design and many are still around today in Russian armor musems.

At the end of his retreat Deniken resigned and left Russia in defeat, handing the army over to Major General Baron Wrangle in April 1920. Wrangle, who had never commanded more than a four-thousand-man division during World War One, held on for an impossible seven months more before he was forced to withdraw his army in a huge seaborne evacuation to Turkey on November 14,1920. It was kept intact, but unarmed, in Turkey for several months before being broken into separate corps that went to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and into exile.

This group of 140,000 souls would wander Europe for a generation. General Wrangle would die in 1928 of mysterious causes while General Deniken lived until 1947. Deniken’s body was allowed to return to Russia where it was buried with military honors in 2005. The elderly Cossack generals, Kransov (along with his son and grandson) and Shkuro led Cossacks for the Nazis during World War Two and were later hung by the Soviets.