Holding the line

I am a bit tied up with Important Things right now and so am falling a bit behind in this important Great War endeavour. These are some of the things that happened since the my last post, which I hope to return to shortly.

29/12/1918 The Independent Social Democrats leave Ebert‘s coalition in protest at the German Chancellor’s decision to send troops against the People’s Navy Division on Christmas Eve.

31/12/1918 In less than two months flu has claimed the lives of 20% of Western Samoa‘s population.

2/1/1919 Criminal investigations open into atrocities ordered by Turkey’s leaders during the war.

3/1/1919 Emir Faisal reaches an agreement with Zionist leader Chaim Weizman to support Jewish immigration into Palestine.

3/1/1919 The Red Army occupies Riga. In response to the Bolshevik invasion, Latvia’s government seeks to form an armed force of German volunteers.

4/1/1919 A bizarre and ultimately unsuccessful attempt by an American officer to kidnap the Kaiser.

5/1/1919 Demonstrations in Berlin by the far left Spartacists escalate into an armed uprising against Ebert’s government.

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Spartacists (Wikipedia: Spartacist uprising)

24/12/1918 Striking back against the Bolsheviks: Kolchak routs the Red Army and storms Perm #1918Live

With the defeat of Germany on the Western Front the main threat to the established order of Europe is now Bolshevism. Lenin and his Bolsheviks have taken power in Russia and overturned the prevailing order of society there, executing the royal family, seizing property and reversing traditional hierarchies. Across Europe and beyond the fear of those in power is that something similar might now happen in their own countries. Consequently their policemen are on guard for any sign of Bolshevik contagion spreading to their own disgruntled working classes.

The end of fighting on the Western Front and the Middle East has freed up large numbers of Allied troops. Large stocks of war materials are no longer needed for the struggle against Germany and Turkey. Could some of these soldiers and some of this materiel be sent to aid the White armies fighting against the Bolsheviks? Allied troops have already established themselves in ports on the periphery of the former Russian Empire: Archangelsk and Murmansk in the north, Vladivostok in the far east, and Odessa, Sevastopol and Novorossiysk in the south. The Allied forces thus far deployed are too small to seriously affect the outcome of the Russian Civil War, but White leaders hope that they are just the advance guard of larger intervention forces. Allied material aid to the Whites has also been relatively modest thus far, but again, the anti-Bolshevik leaders hope that more is on its way.

Trotsky‘s reorganisation of the Red Army had seen it win a number of victories but now perhaps the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. Admiral Kolchak has reinvigorated White forces in the Siberian theatre, with his troops no longer needing the backing of the Czechoslovak Legion to take on the Red Army. Today Kolchak’s men capture Perm, an industrial city in the Urals. In the fighting large numbers of Red Army troops surrender to Kolchak; they appear to have been sent into the battle without adequate training or winter clothing. The Red Army troops appear also to be suffering from food shortages, a consequence of disorganisation in the Bolsheviks’ rear and the alienation of the peasantry by the Red Terror. This is all very promising for Kolchak, as it suggests that the Red Army might just be on the brink of disintegration.

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Kolchak reviewing troops (Wikipedia: Russian Civil War)

18/11/1918 Meanwhile in Russia…

Peace is descending on Western Europe but in Russia the civil war between the Bolsheviks and their opponents continues. The terms of the Western Front armistice oblige the Germans to abandon the gains of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, so now German and Austro-Hungarian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine, forcing the client regime there to stand on its own two feet and face off a likely Red Army invasion. Meanwhile the Germans are also withdrawing from the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where liberal nationalists are now establishing independent administrations.

The anti-Bolshevik forces within Russia itself hope that the armistice means that they will receive more assistance from the Allies, who have promised the Whites that Russian military stores captured by the Germans will be shipped to them; there is even talk of sending troops to occupy Ukraine. For now though the military situation remains confusing. Baron Wrangel is leading a White army in the northern Caucasus and is successfully clearing the Red Army and Bolsheviks from there. Elsewhere though the Red Army seems to be getting stronger and stronger and is no longer the ineffectual rabble it once was. The White are also suffering from the increased lack of interest by the Czechoslovak Legion in the Russian Civil War; the emerging independence of Czechoslovakia means that the Czechoslovaks do not see why they should remain in Russia any longer.

In southern Russia Denikin is the preeminent leader of White forces, particularly since the recent death by heart attack of Alexeev. In Siberia the situation is more complicated. The Komuch had attempted to establish a liberal and socialist regime but never attracted much popular support and increasingly became puppets of more reactionary military figures; the Komuch also finds itself consumed by infighting between different factions. Now the pretence of democracy is abandoned and a purely military regime is established under Alexander Kolchak, previously the commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

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Pyotr Wrangel (Wikipedia)

Alexander Kolchak (Wikipedia)

7/10/1918 Twilight of the Komuch

In Siberia the leftist government of the Komuch (the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly) attempted to present itself as a progressive alternative to the Bolshevik dictatorship (as opposed to conservative figures like Denikin and Kornilov). Soon after the Komuch formed an alliance with the Czechoslovak Legion, which took control of the Trans-Siberian Railway and carved out an impressive swathe of territory they then placed under the Komuch’s notional control. An early acquisition by the Legion was the city of Samara, which the Komuch then made its capital.

Now though the Czechoslovaks’ power is eroding; many of their soldiers have become demoralised and are wondering why they are fighting against the Bolsheviks instead of returning to Western Europe to fight for the creation of independent Czechoslovakia. The Red Army meanwhile is becoming ever more powerful. They have already recovered Simbirsk, birthplace of Lenin, and now they chase the Komuch from Samara itself.

The Komuch retreat to Ufa to lick their wounds, but here they find themselves falling under the influence of more reactionary forces of the White Russian counter-revolution. The Komuch never managed to establish much of a popular following for itself. Now it appears that its attempt to present itself as a progressive rallying point for opposition to the Bolsheviks appears to have failed.

10/9/1918 Kazan: the Red Army pushes back against the Czechoslovak Legion #1918Live

Bolshevik rule in Russia has many enemies. Within the Bolshevik-controlled zone there are malcontents plotting against Soviet rule; these are being dealt with by the Cheka. Elsewhere the Bolsheviks’ enemies are a matter for the Red Army. And there are many of these enemies. Denikin‘s army is on the loose in the south while the Komuch government in Siberia is presenting itself as the true government of Russia. Foreign armies have also started inviting themselves into the country, with Japanese and American troops landing in Vladivostok while British-led forces have landed in Murmansk and Archangelsk, bringing influenza with them.

One of the most effective forces in the field against the Bolsheviks is the Czechoslovak Legion, made up of Czechs and Slovaks who had been serving in the Tsar’s army and are now seeking their homeland’s independence from Austria-Hungary. Heavily armed and highly motivated, the Czechoslovaks triumphed over the Bolsheviks earlier in the summer. Now though the dominance of the Legion is eroding. Thanks to the organising work of Trotsky, the Red Army is now a more effective opponent. The Czechoslovaks meanwhile are becoming demoralised, fearing that they are doomed to fight endlessly in Russia when their real interest is in returning to Europe to fight for their homeland.

For the last few days the Red Army has been battling elements of the Czechoslovak Legion and Komuch forces defending Kazan. Today the Red Army successfully storms the city, driving away their enemies. With a separate Red Army column preparing to recapture Simbirsk (birthplace of Lenin), it looks like the tide of battle may now be turning against the Komuch and its Czechoslovak allies.

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Red Army cavalry march into Kazan (The Russian Revolution 1917-1922: Fifth Army horse units oust the White Guards out of Kazan, September 1918)

30/8/1918 Lenin shot #1918Live

Bolshevik rule in Russia rests on shaky foundations. In Siberia the party’s writ is challenged by the Komuch government in Samara, whose Czechoslovak allies are a powerful military force. Meanwhile in southern Russia, Denikin has established himself in Novorossiisk in the Kuban region, from where his White Army represents a potent threat to Bolshevik power. But surely the Bolsheviks are secure in Moscow and Petrograd, the heartlands of the revolution?

Lenin certainly thinks so when he heads off today to urge some Moscow factory workers to remain unrelenting in their defence of the revolution. While there has been some industrial unrest in the big cities, the Bolsheviks have successfully faced it down and now face a more pliant workforce. The uprising by their erstwhile allies, the Left SRs, has been crushed. So Lenin should have nothing to worry about.

News of the assassination of Moisei Uritsky, Cheka commander in Petrograd, appears not to have engendered any caution on the part of the Bolshevik leader. Lenin’s nonchalance however proves almost fatal when, as he leaves the factory, a woman emerges from the crowd and produces a pistol. She fires three times at the Bolshevik and then attempts to escape.

Lenin is gravely hurt; his comrades fear that his death may be imminent. His would-be assassin meanwhile is apprehended and interrogated by the Cheka. She is Fanny Kaplan, a Socialist Revolutionary, who declares to her captors that she shot Lenin because he has betrayed the Revolution.

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The attempted assassination, by Vladimir Pchelin (Wikipedia: Fanny Kaplan)

5/8/1918 Allied intervention in Russia and the defence of Baku

Russia is now in the grip of civil war between the Bolshevik government in Moscow and its various enemies. However the chaotic situation in the country is not merely an internal matter, as foreign powers are now beginning to intervene. This is mainly a matter for the Allies, as the Central Powers are too busy with the territories they wrested from Russia at Brest-Litovsk to actively take sides in the civil war. Allied intervention in Russia however is somewhat confused, with a lack of clear goals or a consistent approach.

In the Russian Far East, Japanese and American troops have landed in Vladivostok, to secure the city for the Czechoslovak Legion. This is implicitly an anti-Bolshevik intervention, as the Czechoslovaks are fighting the Bolsheviks on behalf of the Komuch government in Samara. British forces meanwhile have established themselves in the north Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangelsk. They landed initially to secure military supplies that had been sent there to support the Russian war effort. The British were also keen to deter German or Finnish expansion in this region, which meant that there was some tacit support for their landing on the part of the Bolsheviks. Since then though there are suspicions that the British are working with anti-Bolshevik elements.

In Baku British intervention is fighting to block Turkish expansion in the Caucasus region. Turkish forces have been expanding here since Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, seeking to recover territory lost in previous conflicts with Russia. Their attempts to advance into Georgia had put them at loggerheads with the Germans, who favour Georgian independence. It seemed briefly as though the Turco-German alliance would collapse over the issue, but instead Enver, Turkey’s war minister, backed down and redirected his men towards Azerbaijan.

Following inter-communal violence in April, Baku is now largely devoid of Azeris and is under the control of the Central Caspian Dictatorship, an alliance of Armenian nationalist and various anti-Bolshevik forces that recently seized power in the city. The Dictatorship is now facing a Turkish army under the command of Nuri Pasha, Enver’s half brother. The defence of Baku is aided by an amphibious British force, which arrives today from Persia. The British are only too happy to take on the Turks, fearing that if they are victorious in Baku they will then attempt an overland march on India. Their expeditionary force is nick-named Dunsterforce, after its commander, General Lionel Dunsterville, who is reputedly the real-life model for the eponymous character in Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky & Co.

The arrival of Dunsterforce at Baku proves decisive. The Turks are forced back. For now at least Baku remains a safe haven for Armenians.
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British troops advancing to the aid of Baku (Wikipedia: Battle of Baku)

Armenian fighters (Wikipedia: Sebastatsi Murad)