Don Host in the Russian Civil War
The Don was the largest Host, and had few of the internal political
issues that plagued the Kuban or Terek. It therefore was able to
organise itself quickly and effectively with the revolutions in 1917.
Unfortunately for it, however, it was a critical spot for any Russian
government, so it was always going to be one of the first targets for
Lenin to recover.
The Don Host soldiers wore standard Cossack dress, with their
colours being dark blue with red trim. A few regiments, for historical
reasons, followed a slightly different pattern, and they have been
dealt with in separate pages.
The central Don saw many changes of possession through the course of
the Civil War and any good history will eplain them in more detail than
we have space for here. In the history section of the site, there is
also an article by Dobrynin which discusses the Don Army itself.
Nevertheless there are a couple of terms that are mentioned in the
uniform pages that are hard to find explanations for in most sources.
The first attempt at a Don Army straight after the Bolshevik takeover
failed. The vast bulk of the Don Cossacks returning from WWI, the
remained more or less in their regiments but would not fight to oppose
any Socialist government. Soviet forces quickly overwhelmed the few men
prepared to fight. Novocherkassk fell in February 1918 and Ataman
Nazarov was shot - his immediate successor, Ataman Kaledin, having
already committed suicide in despair.
The hard core of Don Cossack opposition, under General Popov, withdrew
into the Sal' steppe on the border with the Kalmyks. Popov's intention,
with just 1,500 men originally, was just to keep opposition alive.
Within weeks the Bolsheviks had enraged the Cossacks, and Popov was
soon able to lead a growing rebellion, leading to the election of Piotr
Krasnov as Ataman. By mid-1918 the Don was Cossack again. Popov's march
was termed the Степной Поход, generally translated as the Steppe
, and fills much the same place in White Don
mythology as the Ice March of the young Volunteer Army.
Krasnov knew the Don was weak, and tried various expedients to solve
this problem. He co-operated with the Germans in the Ukraine, who
supplied him with military equipment because it helped keep the
Bolsheviks busy. While mostly solving his supply issues, it was an
unfortunate situation politically.
In an attempt to restrict the influence of the frontoviki
drafted the 19 and 20 year-olds of the Don into the Молодая
Армия, usually translated as the Young Army
These men were put into the first three divisions, with regiments
numbering up from 1 to 12, plus a few plastoons and heavy support.
Later a Border Division was added. The experiment wasn't hugely
these units were merged into the rest of the army. Most of the
rest of the army was recruited by area, eventually being put into a
numbered system. However the repeated risings
in the rear of the Soviets meant some units started out as partisans,
which stayed intact on entering the Don Army.
Krasnov knew that taking Tsaritsyn was important, as it would help free
the Astrakhan Cossacks and protect the Don's right flank. He also knew
that his army probably could not achieve the capture of a fortified
city, as it was outside the Don area and he lacked the solid infantry
and technical means. He tried to persuade the Volunteer Army to help,
but Denikin wanted to ensure a secure Kuban and Terek before he moved
northwards. So Krasnov set about recruiting anti-Bolshevik Russians in
the Ukraine to give himself a solid infantry force. The Germans and
Skoropdsky actively assisted, because it drew off men who would
otherwise go to the virulently anti-Germand and anti-Ukrainian
While a good idea in theory, the recruitment was poorly organised. Many
men were recruited, but far too many were in the tail and in
end only a few thousand bayonets were able to be deployed by the Don as
part of this so-called Южная Армия, or Southern
Two smaller, equally poorly organised bodies also drafting
anti-Bolshevik forces were absorbed as part of this process;
the Астраханская Армия, or Astrakhan
, which despite its name was composed of Russians
recruited in Kiev, and the Рсская Народная Армия, the Russian
which was formed around Saratov. These men were deployed in
1918, took heavy losses, and were later merged into the 6th Division of
the AFSR in March 1919. The main effect of all this
was to draw men away from Denikin. The attempts to take Tsaritsyn
failed and once again the Don started to fall to the Soviet advance as
the morale of the Cossacks dropped.
With the collapse of Germany removing his line of support, Krasnov was
forced to throw his hand in with the Volunteer Army. While unpalatable
politically, the formation of the AFSR (January 1919) removed many of
the military problems facing the Don. On the whole the Don Host still
mostly fought separately and around its home lands, but cooperation
gave it some access to British tanks, planes, machine-guns and
artillery. Some non-Cossack infantry units were also added and other
Cossacks leant from time to time.
While by the end of 1918 the Soviets were again masters of the Don,
their repeated brutality led to a reaction, and there was a huge
revolt in the northern Don. For a long time the rebels in the north and
regular army in the south could not link up, but the unsettled rear
made the situation impossible in the long term for the Red Army.
Don forces swept north, pressing beyond their borders.
was taken this time, but by the Caucasian Army under Wrangel.
It could not last though. With the collapse of the AFSR in early 1920,
the Don Host ceased to exist politically. Don soldiers formed
a sizeable chunk of the forces in the Crimea, but they were now fully
integrated into the White army.
> Don Host