Russian Civil War 1917-1920 Military Conflict in Kaiserreich Chronicles (1936 AD.) | World Anvil

Russian Civil War 1917-1920

The Great War, of the 1910s which began with such enthusiasm among its participants, would eventually become a much regretted conflict, even by the victors, but nowhere, were its consequences more dreadful, or catastrophic than in Russia. In the summer of 1914 most of Europe held Russia to be a semi-civilised, or semi-savage, backwater governed by an inept autocrat. Yet even as the Tsar's army walked to its destruction at Tannenberg, there were hints that Russia was not as backward as many thought. The speed with which the Russians struck forced a German response which arguably saved the French army and the British expeditionary force in Flanders, but this was cold comfort to a devastated army which found itself critically short of everything but manpower and water. Mainly thanks to the marshes so many of them were fighting in. The Russian Army soldiered on for over two more years, meeting with triumph, disaster, and farce on a near daily basis. By the end of 1916, the Russian Army had swollen dramatically, the shell crisis had been solved, and the sucess of the year's Brusilov offensive had been a serious blow to the central powers. However, not all was well.   Russian industry had been unable to keep up with the demands of the war; poverty and misery were widespread, and political activists were seizing their opportunity. In January 1917, the domestic situation in Petrograd collapsed, the Tsar was not in the city, but rather was at the front overseing the army, where he had spent so much of the war. Protest turned into riot, and then into revolution. By the time the Tsar heard, it was too late, and he was too far. Seeing he was powerless, the Tsar chose to abdicate in favour of his brother, Grand Duke Michael, but he refused to take the throne without a democratic process to approve his accession. Thus a provisional governemnt was assembled in Petrograd under the leadership of Alexander Kerensky, election were called, held, and then, the bolsheviks revolted.   Dissatisfied with their failure in the elections the communists under Lenin decided a returnt to the rabble rousing of the old days was required, not simply to raise dissent, but to completely take control of the government. In November (October OS) 1918, they made their move and siezed control of Petrograd, Moscow, and several other major cities. At a stroke, they had taken control of Russia's major urban centres and the industry and people that came with them. The army meanwhile, paralysed by the months of political uncertainty, still locked in a war in the caucasus and west, and now with no one person or even institution to be loyal to, simply began to fade away as individual men, or whole units began to join one faction or another, or simply attempted to abandon any fight and simply go home.   In what is known as the "Consolidation Campaign" the reds used their early momentum to take control of western and central Russia controling territory that ran from the front with the German army, to Ekaterinburg on the far side of the Urals, and from Karelia in the north to the southern border in Transcaucasia, by the spring of 1918. With the various white factions controlling most of Siberia, central Asia, Crimea, southern Ukraine, the Baltic provinces, and the far northern ports of Arkangel and Murmansk, along with the surrounding territories. Finland meanwhile, had declared independence, crushed its own communist uprising in short order, and was mainly focused on trying to decide on what form its government should take, ideally before the rest of Russia noticed what had happened.   Most pressingly, there was still a war on in Europe, and Russia was not out of it yet. Ever pragmatic, Lennin quickly decided to negotiate with the Germans for peace, and sent the commisar of war, Leon Trotsky, along with a few other delegates, and some peasants for windodressing, to meet with the Germans in Brest-Litovsk, once a Russian city now deep behind German lines. The Germans knew their advantage and made use of it. The terms they demanded were harsh, all occupied territories were to be handed over to the central powers to be carved up, along with all of Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic provinces, Kars and Batum, Finnish and Ukranian independence was to be recognised, and all that was before the question of reperations was raised. The result was that Russia lost more than a third of its population, more than half its industrial capacity, almost all of its coalfields, and over a quarter of its railways. There were several attempts by the reds to stall negotiations in the while awaiting the (to them) inevitable comunist uprisings in central Europe, but these were not forthcoming, and the terms were agreed to in March 1918.   Though now at peace, the German, and Hapsburg governments were in no way sympathetic to the communist cause, especially considering its avowed intention to create a worldwide revolution and communist state. As a result, both began looking to the Whites for more friendly, or at least, less hostile, alternatives. With the war still raging in Europe though, only Germany would be in any position to provide any significant help. If it chose to.   The momentum of the Bolsheviks and the lack of a clear opposition gave them the advantage in the early months, and the lack of unity among the Whites would be have consequences for years after the war had ended. By May 1918, the first offensives by the Red Army, which had been formed shortly after the October Revolution, had cut deep into Cossak lands on the Don, had siezed Kiev from the Anarchist Black Army in Ukraine, and crossed the Ural mountains en masse into Siberia. It was the largest area the Reds would control in the civil war. It was here though, things started to go wrong for them. Despite controlling the vast majority of Russia's remaining industry, the breadbasket of Ukraine was out of their hands, as was resource rich, if largely unexploited, Siberia. In addition, several months of fighting, including against the Germans prior to peace being agreed, with no time to establish a clear base of power beyond the communist party and the red army, had found the reds going into the summer of 1918 with their position seriously overxtended, and almost entirely surrounded by forces that ranged from the unfriendly to the outright hostile.   1918, The fighting truly began in March 1918 with fighting breaking out all along the front lines. International involvement also arrived in the form of the first Allied Intervention Forces landing at Murmansk and Arkangel to support the Whites. Their hope had been to contain and then crush the communist uprising, thus also keeping Russia in the war with Germany. Germany itself however, began to withdraw forces from Russian territories it had not take in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk to focus on the Western front, of The Great War, still an active and lethal conflict. As a consequence of these withdrawls, the Bolsheviks would be the first to occupy many of the cities abandoned by the Germans, the most prominent being Minsk. In contrast, most territories in Ukraine would be occupied by the Ukranian State, an anti-Bolshevik coalition lead by General (later Hetman) Palvo¬†Skoropadskyi. The first months of fighting produced mixed results for all sides. In the Baltic, and the North, little progress was made, in the South, the Ukrainians bore the brunt of the fighting as the Whites tried to organise and the Reds advanced, while in the East, Admiral Kolchack proved to be a capable general, subduing revolts in Siberia and advancing on the Urals.¬†   In July howver, the Whites suffered a dreadful moral blow. In the year after his abdication, the Tsar and his family had still lived in the imperial residence at Tsarskoye Selo, in the custody of whichever faction had held power in Petrograd. With the Bolsheviks in charge, and the fighting intesnifying however, the Imperial family and their remaining household were moved from their familiar home deeper into the country. Their party was whillted down in numbers as servants and friends were left behind or sent elsewhere, even some of the children were at times seperated from their family, concerns for the family's whereabouts and saftey began to grow. July would see the worst fear realised as news reached Admiral Kolchack's army that not only the Tsar, but his wife, children, and their last servants, had all been murdered in the city of Ekaterinburg. Any doubts were dismally dispelled when the city fell soon after, and several of the perpetrators were caught and happily admitted to what they had done. Sadly, their graves have never been found. The consequences were manifold for the whites, for one thing, their greatest ally was dead. Whether or not they were royalist, most whites at least respected the Tsar, and could have supported him as a figurehead while the war raged. With the murder of him, his son, and his brother Grand Duke Michael, the line of succession was left in tatters. The remaining Romaov loyalists became divided between the Tsar's cousins Cyril, whose betrayal in 1917 had lead directly to the October Revolution, and Dimitri, who was living in exile in Iran following his involvement in Rasputin's murder. Neither man presented a likely, or viable candidacy to rule Russia as Tsar in the midst of a civil war. The long term future of Russia was now well and truly a mystery, but first, the immediate had to be delt with.   The tradgedy of July would give way to some success for the whites in August. Kolchack continued his offensive from Siberia, successfuly crossing the Urals, reaching Kazan and the Volga river by the end of the month. While in the south the Volunteer Army, which had formed both itself and an alliance with Skoropadskyi's coalition of Ukranians and Cossaks launched the Kuban campaign from Crimea across the Azov sea into the lands between the Don river and the Caucasus mountains. The reds however suffered a serious blow when an assassination attempt was made against Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks and their revolution. Exaclty how a nearly blind woman was able to shoot a man thrice with bullets from two different gus, only one of which she had, in broad daylight without being seen by any witnesses to actually fire the guns in question, remains a mystery. Nonetheless, Fanny Kaplan was murdered 4 days later without naming any accomplices and admitting to the murder attempt. In the immediate aftermanth Yakov Sverdlov used the incident, along with the earlier murder of Moisei Uritsky, head of the Cheka in Petrograd, as a justification to instigate the Red Terror only hours after the attack. it aslo allowed the Reds to bring back the death penalty, which the Provisional Government hasd abolished in 1917, and began applying with enthusiastic vigour. While the campaign would indeed create fear and terror, it did not create support, and many how expreienced it would go on to become fierce enemies of the reds once they were free of them.   September, first Siege of Tsaritsyn ends, The Provisional All Russia Government (The Directorate) is formed in Omsk, it lasts until November. October, Second Siege of Tsaritsyn begins November. Admiral Kolchack siezes politcal control in Easter Russia December, Perm is occupied by the Whites advancing throught the Urals.     1919, january, Armed Forces of South Russia Form February, Tsaritsyn falls, March, Volga campaign begins. April, Saratov Taken by South Russia Forces May, Southern and Eastern Armies link up at Samara, Intervention forces from the North begin to advance down the Vaga and North Dvina River towards Vologda, the now united White Armies move to link up with them. June, Don campaign begins. Nizhny Novgorod falls, July, Kharkov falls, siege of Voronezh begins, Diversionary attack on Tambov fails to decive the Red Army but does take the city. August, Much of the Red Army is now positioned within a giant salient running between Tambov and Nizhny Novgorod almost to the Volga between Kazan and Ulyanovsk. The Whites plan attacks from Tambov and Nizhny Novgorod to either force an evacuation of the salient, or crush the Red Army within it. Towns and cities such as Rastyapino and Pezna are taken for use as either jumping off points, or to secure future flanks and supply lines. Kostroma on the river Volga falls to Kolchack's Army, Ukranian forces being offensives in Belarus and Western Russia, Belgorod falls to the Ukranian Army   October, Intervention forces reach Vologda, Voronezh falls, offensives to close the Volga salient begin from Nizhny Novgorod moving east before turning south, and northward from Tambov. Intervention and Eastern forces link up north of Danilov on the road between Vologda and Yaroslavyl. Gomel falls to the Ukrainian Army.   November, Eastern Whites take Rybinsk, where the Volga begins to turn south, Intervention forces reach Lake Onega from the south at Vyterga but due to the situation on the Western Front and at home, Intervention forces begin withdrawing at the end of the month. The Salient offensives have reached Shatsk from the south and Melenki from the north, cutting several key supply lines into the salient. Despite the vast areas they occupy, Red Army soldiers begin to suffer severe shortages, especially of fuel and ammunition. Ukrainians lay siege to Kursk.   December, The Southern Salient Offensive nears Pitelino before most offensive opperations stop due to the winter. Intervention forces continue to withdraw troops but leave heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery behind. These play a key part in the fighting for Kashin as the advance along the Volga continues. Red efforts to dislodge the White spearheads from Melenki and Shatsk are unsuccessful, Kursk falls. Kolchack seeks to increase pressure on the Reds by attacking from Nizhny Novgorod towards Vladimir     1920, January, large scale offenisve opperations resume, Whites from Murmansk reach Petrozavodsk on Lake Onega, Red forces in Estonia collapse and an Estonian-White Army under Genereal Yudenich captures Pskov advance westward towards Petrograd and Novgorod. Kursk falls to the Whites, Baltic Whites advance south of Petrograd and isolate it by reaching Lake Ladoga from the South on the banks of the River Neva, Northern Whites reach Lake Ladoga from the north on the Svir River. All White forces now form a single, if rather convoluted, front. In the Salient Offensive, exhausted by the winter, the red army in the Volga salient begins to collapse as the Northern and Southern spearheads link up east of Kasimov, their origional objective. General attacks from all sides shrink the pocket until it is centred in around the city of Saransk in Mordovia. Offensives mainly come from the north and east under Kolchack as Wrangel prepares to strike for Tula and Ryazan Ukranian advances also resume with the capture of Babryusk and Mogliev, Novgorod is captured by Yudenich's forces while, surrounded and without any hope of relief, a civil revolt in Petrograd forces the city's surrender. Yudenich turns his attention towards Moscow, seeking to take Tver and Smolensk. Vladimir falls to Kolchak, while in Belarus, the road from Moscow to Minsk is cut east of Smolensk as the Ukrainians advance towards and caputure Vitebsk.   February, Lenin, still not fully recovered from the attempt on his life and suffering from the stress the war's failures have imposed on him, sufferes a stroke but appears to recover. However it is a serious blow to the Red's ever more dissolute and fractious leadership which suffers as a result, Lipetsk, Oryol, and Bryansk fall in the south, Minsk surrenders to the Ukrainians, effectively securing Belarus at the beginning of the month, advancing Ukranian and Baltic froces meet each other near Velikiye Luki, the Whites now form whole front completely surrounding the Reds, centred on their capital of Moscow. Tver falls to Kolchak's Army, beating Yudenich and concluding the Volga campaign. By the end of the month, all white armies are within 140 miles of Moscow, most are 130-110 miles away, Eastern army forces at Dubna (almost due north of Moscow) are the closest at 80. The cities of Tver, Vladimir, Ryazan, Tula, Kaluga, Vyazma, and Rzhev are either on or near the front lines and will be the starting points for the advance on Moscow, the decision is taken to allow minor opperations as the opportunity allows, but the major offensive will begin after the rasputitsa and is planned for late March.   March, the rasputitsa slows fighting for the first two weeks, but White advances do not stop, last troops in what is now the Saransk pocket surrender. The fnal compaign begins in the third week of March with offensives all around the front. Demorlaised by he course of the war and the increaing brutality of Red leaders, many conscript soldiers desert or surrender as soon as they can. Lenin's fragile health deteriorates further while other leading revolutionaries begin planning for their escape or death. Despite the desperate situation, committed Reds have no where to retreat to, nor have any desire to surrender, their fierce resistance slows the White advance, but cannot stop it. Seeking to Plan for the future, the senior leaders of the White movement begin meeting to discuss what form of government Russia should have when the war ends.   April, Wrangel is the first to reach the outskirts of Moscow through the expedient of bypassing and isiolating areas of stubborn resistance, the Battle of Moscow begins as White troops begin to enter the city proper. Fighting for the city will last for nearly a month. In a conference at Podolsk, the White leaders agree to invite Alexander Kerensky to form a temporary provisional government, with themselves as his ministers, he accepts and begins to travel to Russia from exile. After nearly three weeks of intense fighting within the city, almost all of Moscow south of the River, and most river islands, are under white control, while to the north, Kolchak and Yudenich are racing to see who can reach the Kremlin first, as the Red Army concentrates its lasd defence around the Kremlin and Zaryadye Park. Several major Bolshevik leaders begin to either surrender, die, or disappear entirely. Kolchack wins the race to the Kremlin as troops from the Eastern Army enter Red Square in the evening of the 27th, forcing their way into the State Historical Museum and neutralising a small, ill equipped garrison, and after some difficulty, breaching the gate of the adjacent Nicholas Tower the next day (28th). Fighting begins within the Kremlin as the Red Army soldiers stationed there fight a futile last stand as more gates are forced open. Throughtout the 29th all gates into the Kremlin are breached and the surviving garrison is forced indoors as the Whites take the walls, making any defence of the grounds impractical. Lenin's body is found in his bed in the Grand Kremlin palace, he has been shot, apparently it was a suicide, but no gun is found in the room. On the 30th of April, after a month of fighting within the city, with the Red army garrison becoming partitioned into pockets, running out of ammuntion, without hope of resupply or reinforcement, and fighting within the Kremlin itself, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, commander of the Red army in Moscow, meets with General Wrangel at St. Basil's Cathedral, and agrees to surrender, organised resistance officilaly ends at midnight. Though in practice many Red Army soldiers surrender as soons as the hear the news. Some fanatics decide to commit suicide by either killing themselves of drawing the attention of White snipers and machine gunners.   1st May, The Russian Tricolour is raised over the Grand Kremlin Palace by a colour party lead by Captain Pavel Romanov of the Eastern Army. Battle of Moscow ends, The Russian Civil War Ends. Alexander Kerensky is confirmed as the Acting President of the Provisional Government in a meeting of the White leaders in the Grand kremlin Palace.

The Conflict


The stresses of the Great War, and subversion by political agitators forced the Tsar to abdicate in February 1917 when he lost the loyalty of the army. In October of that year, a bolshevik uprising tried to size power from the provisional government. Thus the Russian Civil War began.


The Bolsheviks were quick to sieze power in major cities such as Moscow, Petrograd, Smolensk, Tsaritsyn and others. They controlled most of European Russia while the Whites were dominant in the Baltic, Kola and Karelia, souther Ukraine and Crimea, and the majority of Siberia. There were also smaller factions such as the Black Army in Ukraine, and the Cossacks who would side with the Whites for the most part eventually.


Russia, big place ain't it?


A thrity-three month long war fought across the leagnth and breadth of Russia. Fighting in all conditions and weathers was seen, most of it was unpleasant. The rest was downright awful.

The Engagement

The major fronts were the Eastern, or Siberian front, and the Ukrainian or Southern front depending on the time scale. There was also fighting on a smaller scale in the Baltic prior to first the Reds and then the Whites negitiating peace with Germany, which saw the Baltic states break away, and a smaller front in the north centered around the northern ports of Murmansk and Arkangel. However this northern front saw realatively limited fighting by comparison, at least in the beginning and was the main avenue for allied intervention. By contrast most aid from the Central Powers would go to the Southern front.   Major campaigns include: the consolidation campaign of 1917/18; The Southern and Siberian campaigns of 1918; the Volga and Don campaigns of 1919; the Petrograd campaign of 1919; and the circle campaign of 1920.


Polish territories are split between Germany and a polish kingdom within the Hapsburg Empire, Besserabia becomes Romanian, the baltic provinces become the united Blatic Duchies under German influance, Finland becomes independent, Sakhalin Island is fully ceeded to Japan, Red survivors from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in a breakaway state in the Caucasus mountains and the lands to the south, the Cossak tribes form protectorates within the new Russian state centred around Rostov-on-Don, Ukraine is also granted some autonomy, and the Whites make a fromal peace with the central powers under a revised treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Historical Significance

Technological Advancement

Widespread use of tanks by both sides, wireless communication also used on a significant, though limited scale at the time. Offensive techniques and strategies decisively brake the deadlock of trench warfare.
Conflict Type
Battlefield Type
Start Date
October/November 1917
Ending Date
May 1920
Conflict Result
Victory of the White coalition, loss of Poland, Baltic, Caucasus and Finland to the central powers or independence.




A coalition of the Bolsheviks, Left-Socialists, some Mensheviks and other smaller factions, as well as allies of oppertunity.
A coalition of the Monarchists, Conservatives, Liberals, Right-Socialists, Nationalists, Cossacks, and just about anyone else who opposed the Bolshevik Coup in Petrograd. They also recived significant support form foreign countries, mainly the allies in the begining, however this faded over time with the course of the Great War. Whatever their political motiviations, many who actively fought would eventually consider their primary loyalty to lie with whoever lead the army the fought in. By the end of the civil war, well over a million men were to be found in the armies of the coalition, though a significant number of these were in non-combat, or second line roles.


As the loosing side in a civil war, casualties for the Reds were truly horrendous. THe vast majority of those who fought were either killed or captured at some point in the fighting. While most taken prisoner were eventually released, hundreds of thousands were killed in the fighting, or were murdered under suspicion of collabaration.
While the raw numbers do not match the totals of the Great War, the White forces still suffered dreadfully, an exact figure has never been reached but most estimate that nearly 200,000 soldiers were killed, perhaps 500,000 were wounded or fell sick, though many of the sick would recover and return to the fight, only the vaugest estimates can be gathered for civillian deaths, which certainly count in the millions.


They sought ot overthow the fist provisional government after they failed to win the eletcions for the constituent assembly in 1917. Attempting to take power in November/October of the same year, they sought to establish a communist state in Russia.
Sought to undo the October Revolution and prevent the Bolsheviks form conquering Russia. In this they succedded, however, without a clear leader, or obvious successor to the Tsar, the issue of a permanent government has remained unresolved and largely ignored.


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