31/12/1917 Chaos in Trebizond as the Russian army disintegrates #1917Live

The war against Turkey had gone well for Russia, but now the Bolsheviks have signed an armistice with the Turks, agreeing to return their gains since the war’s start. Russian forces are now withdrawing from the former frontline. The situation is becoming chaotic as the Russian army disintegrates, leaving a power vacuum in the countryside.

In the Black Sea port of Trebizond (also known as Trabzon), Russian troops are out of control, defying their officers to either commandeer ships to bring themselves home or engaging in riotous bacchanalia. The Russian army commanders in Trebizond declare martial law in an attempt to bring the disorders to an end, but the effort is futile; they no longer have any means with which to enforce their authority.

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Trebizond in more peaceful times (Karalahana – Turkey’s Black Sea Region: Old Trabzon photos)

18/12/1917 Russia and Turkey agree an armistice #1917Live

The Russians have already signed an armistice with the Germans and Austro-Hungarians and are about to begin negotiations for a peace treaty with them. Now they also sign an armistice with Turkish representatives at Erzincan. The Caucasus front against Turkey had been the one theatre of the war where things had gone well for the Russians, with considerable gains of territory achieved after repelling an initial Turkish invasion. Now, in keeping with Bolshevik plans to use peace negotiations to trigger revolution across the world, the Russians agree an armistice with the Turks based on the principle of no annexations and no indemnities. The Turks cannot believe their luck: after years of defeat they are about to recover all the lands they have lost.

In truth, the Russians do not really have much of an option. The Russian army in the Caucasus is beginning to disintegrate, gripped by the same revolutionary spirit that has consumed Russian armies to the north. Soldiers want to return home now to benefit from the recently announced land owners. They no longer want to fight and die or be told what to do by their former masters. But in Petrograd Lenin and his Bolshevik colleagues hope that the Turkish armistice is just a step on the road to world revolution.

15/12/1917 Russia and Germany agree an armistice #1917Live

The Bolsheviks came to power in Russia promising to end the war. Now they manage to agree an armistice with the Germans, which will last for one month during which time representatives of the two countries will seek to negotiate a permanent end to their conflict.

For the Germans, this is a great coup. With Russia on its way out of the war they are now free to start transferring troops to the Western Front in preparation for their spring offensive next year. They also hope to extract concessions from the Russians that will improve the German food situation.

Lenin meanwhile knows that he cannot continue the war with the Germans; attempting to do so would rapidly make him as unpopular as Kerensky. In any case, the Russian army is disintegrating and unable to mount serious resistance to the Germans. By now around 370,000 men have deserted the ranks, either heading for home to benefit from the recently announced land reforms or milling around in lawless bands to terrify the countryside. The disintegration of the army is not something that upsets Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades: it prevents a reactionary general like Kornilov using it against the Soviet government.

Lenin has predicted that socialist revolution would start in Russia but then spread to the world’s more advanced nations. He sees the peace negotiations with Germany as part of this process. He hopes to play for time, time in which the soldiers and workers of the other belligerent states will also demand an end to the war, turning on their masters to usher in the new age of socialism.

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Signing of the armistice (Wikipedia) note Kamenev at front on the right

2/12/1917 Using unconventional methods, the Bolsheviks assert their power over the State Bank and the army

The Bolsheviks continue to consolidate their position. Striking civil servants are still a problem for the new regime. Many of Russia’s officials are opposed to the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power and have been on strike in protest. By now though the strikes are declining in effectiveness as enough civil servants return to work in order for some semblance of orderly public administration to progress.

One area where the Bolsheviks have had particular problems is the State Bank, whose staff have refused to obey the orders of Sovnarkom, the Soviet government. This puts the Bolsheviks in an awkward position, as it prevents them from paying their supporters. Finally though the situation is resolved by the removal at gun point of the State Bank’s cash reserves.

Another pole of opposition to the Bolsheviks is the army. Lenin has sent an order to all units to elect their own representatives to conduct local armistice negotiations with the Germans. Dukhonin, the acting army commander, has attempted to prevent this order reaching frontline troops. Dukhonin’s efforts are thwarted by the Germans, who have themselves retransmitted Lenin’s order, hoping to speed the disintegration of the Russian army.

Lenin decides that he has had enough of Dukhonin. He is dismissed and Krylenko, the Sovnarkom war commissar, heads to army headquarters at Mogilev to replace him. But when Krylenko arrives, Dukhonin is dead. An angry crowd of soldiers had attacked the general, accusing him of organising the release from captivity of Kornilov. Dukhonin is beaten to death and his body reportedly used for target practice.
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State Bank employees demonstrate in support of the Constituent Assembly (St Petersburg Encyclopaedia: Constituent Assembly, All-Russian)

Nikolai Dukhonin (World War 1: November 22, 1917 – Bolsheviks Begin Armistice Talks with Central Powers)

16/10/1917 Enemy at the gates: Germany threatens Petrograd #1917Live

German forces have staged an amphibious landing on the islands of Estonia, outflanking Russian forces defending the approaches to Petrograd. Now the Russians abandon the city of Revel (known to the Estonians as Tallinn), fearing that it has become untenable.

Revel was the last bastion between the Germans and Petrograd. With the Germans threatening the capital, the Provisional Government investigates evacuating itself and key industries to Moscow. But to the Petrograd Soviet and the revolutionary activists in the city, it looks suspiciously like Kerensky’s government is planning to hand them over to the Germans. Perhaps Kerensky would prefer to let the Germans deal with the unruly city.

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Kerensky wonders what to do (1917 portrait by Isaac Brodsky) (Spartacus Educational: Alexander Kerensky)

11/10/1917 Operation Albion: German troops seize the islands of Estonia #1917Live

On the Eastern Front, the Russian military situation continues to deteriorate. German troops have already taken Riga; now they land on Saaremaal in the Estonian archipeligo, crushing Russian resistance there. This is an ominous development: the amphibious operation is outflanking Russian defensive lines, threatening a German advance on Petrograd itself. To those in the capital who fear that the revolution has gone too far, the prospect of the Kaiser’s troops arrival becomes almost something to hope for.

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Riga & the Baltic Islands (Wikipedia: Operation Albion)

12/9/1917 Bolsheviks in the ascendant as Kornilov’s coup fails #1917live

Kornilov‘s attempt to overthrow Russia’s Provisional Government and establish a dictatorship is unravelling. Thanks to agitators from Petrograd his men are deserting the cause and throwing their lot in with the revolution. In some cases Kornilov loyalists are being arrested by their own men. Krimov, leading Kornilov’s vanguard, narrowly escapes this fate, but he is obliged to travel under escort to Petrograd. Elsewhere generals fall over themselves to disassociate themselves from Kornilov’s failed putsch.

So Kornilov’s counter-revolution is over: there will be no man on a white horse to save Russia. The news is a shock to reactionary elements who had hoped that the general would restore order to an increasingly chaotic country. But the Revolution‘s supporters are jubilant. The Bolsheviks are particularly pleased. Their involvement in the anti-Kornilov militias in Petrograd has rehabilitated them following the unpleasantness of the July Days. It has also put guns in the hands of large numbers of working people who are now effectively under Bolshevik control.

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Men of Kornilov’s Savage Division, which has now turned against him (Wikipedia)