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3 RUSSIAN CIVIL WAR, 1918–1921 One of the ironies of Russian history is that, having seized power in Petrograd by undermining military discipline and civil authority, the Bolsheviks had to create their own strong armed forces in order to survive. The shock troops of the October 1917 revolution were militant soldiers and sailors, but even with the addition of the armed workers of the Red Guard, these forces were inadequate to face the threats to the infant Soviet state. From every direction, foreign enemies and so-called White Russian forces menaced the new government. With the Imperial Russian Army exhausted by three years of world war and wracked by mutiny and desertion, nothing stood between the new government and the victorious German Army. In March 1918, the Germans dictated an armistice and then roamed at will over western Russia. Even after the Western Allies defeated the Germans in November, German troops supported the breakaway Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia as well as a separatist movement in the Ukraine. Once the Bolshevik government signed the armistice with Germany, its former allies also intervened in an effort to reverse the revolution and bring Russia back into the world war. To support the White cause, American and British soldiers landed at Arkhangel’sk and Murmansk in the north, and additional British and French forces operated in Odessa, Crimea, and the Caucasus. In Siberia, the highly effective Czech Army, composed of former Russian prisoners of war (POWs) who had enlisted to fight against Austria-Hungary, dominated the transcontinental railway line in support of the Whites. Japanese , American, and other troops spread westward to Irkutsk in Siberia from the Pacific port of Vladivostok. The result was the Russian Civil War of 1918–1921, a formative experience for both the Soviet state and its Red Army. During 1918 and 1919, V. I. Lenin and his commissar for military affairs, L. D. Trotsky, used the railroad lines to shuttle their limited reserves from place to place, staving off defeat time after time. This became known as echelon war, in which large forces were shifted on internal lines by railroad train (echelon) to reinforce successively threatened fronts. Some infantry divisions shifted between fronts as many as five times in the course of the war. This experience gave CHAPTER ONE The Red Army, 1918–1939 4 Chapter One all participants an abiding sense of the need for strategic reserves and forces arrayed in great depth.1 Necessity forced Lenin to declare “War Communism,” a system of forced requisitions and political repression. To create an effective military force, the new government had to conscript men of all social backgrounds and accept the services of thousands of former Imperial officers. In turn, the need to ensure the political loyalty of these “military experts” led to the institution of a political commissar for each unit who had to approve all decisions of the nominal commander. Ultimately, the new government triumphed. In early 1920, the Czech commander in Siberia turned over to the Soviets the self-appointed White Russian leader, Admiral A. V. Kolchak, in return for unrestricted passage out of the country. Later that same year, the Red Army repulsed a Polish invasion in support of the Ukrainian separatists but was itself halted by “the miracle along the Vistula [River]” just short of Warsaw. For years thereafter, the leaders of the Red Army engaged in bitter recriminations concerning the responsibility for this defeat. Despite the Polish setback, by 17 November 1920 the Reds drove the last White Russians out of the Crimea. Foreign armies also withdrew. After a few actions in Turkestan and the Far East, the war was over. In the process, the first generation of Soviet military commanders developed a unique view of warfare. In the West, the trench stalemate of World War I dominated most military experience, albeit reformers sought various solutions to that stalemate. The Eastern Front, being longer and less well forti fied, had never been as rigid as the trenches in France. More importantly, the Russian Civil War was characterized by vast distances defended by relatively small armies. Soviet commanders tried to integrate all tactical operations into an overall campaign plan, aiming for objectives deep in the enemy’s rear. The two keys to victory proved to be concentration of superior forces to overwhelm the enemy at a particular point, followed by rapid maneuvers such as flank attacks, penetrations, and encirclements to destroy the thinly spread enemy. Such maneuvers required a...


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