Urals Host in the Russian Civil War
The Civil War started on the Urals River in the same manner as most of
the isolated portions of Russia. The Bolsheviks and their allies seized
control of the cities in early 1918 and prevented anti-Bolshevik forces
from grouping. Numbers were very low on both sides. The Urals Cossack
at the WWI front were a long time coming home, and when they did they
were inevitably disarmed along the way.
In March 1918 anti-Bolshevik rebellions broke out in Guriev under
Major-General V.S. Tolstov, and in Iletsk under Colonel K.I. Zagrebin.
Initially forces were based on the training units in the areas, with
support from officers and students. Very few men were former frontoviki
Unlike most hosts, however, the Urals Cossacks found that it was able
assemble a decent army. The lack of urban and industrial centres meant
that there were few opposing forces, and they had a huge mobility
advantage in being
cavalry in an area with a low communication net. By April as many as
15,000 men were under the overall command of Major-General
M.F. Martynov. The front spread from Guriev
along the river to Iletsk, with forces also having to face the rear
towards Turkestan. At this point the problem wasn't numbers but
as the Urals Cossacks had no source of supply, either external or
In May 1918 the Czech Legion started fighting the Soviets and this drew
off even more opposing forces, leaving the lower Urals in entirely
The host started to organise a formal army, and some supply came from
to Klaving, on 1
June 1918 the 1st Urals Corps (Saveliev) had the 1st and 2nd Urals
Cossack Divisions, the 2nd Corps (Akutin) had the 3rd Urals Cossack and
4th Iletsk Divisions, and the Reserve had the 3rd Urals Horse Division.
For the remainder of the war the 1st Corps fought along the river
around Uralsk and the smaller 2nd Corps around Iletsk.
By July the front reached to Novouzensk.
With their flanks protected by supporting forces (Kalmyks to
the west, Kirghiz and
Orenburg Cossacks to the east, and the north in Czech and White hands)
Cossacks pressed on towards Nikolaevsk on the Volga. To the rear there
remained the embattled Turkestan Soviet, which posed little
threat at this stage. Some supply now started
to arrive from the newly formed KOMUCH
government in Samara.
In August things started to take a bad turn for the anti-Bolshevik
forces, as Trotski began to organise the Red Army more systematically.
One result was that the
Ufa Directory was formed, combining KOMUCH
the conservative Omsk government. With that there was a
of White forces. The Urals Host troops were combined with the Orenburg
Astrakhan Hosts in the "SouthWestern Army" under Ataman Dutov of the
Orenburg Host. In practice control remained with the local forces, as
communication was too slow for it to be otherwise, although some
sharing of resources did occur.
The Soviets initially concentrated on defeating the Czechs and Siberian
Whites, correctly assuming that Cossack forces would not operate
effectively far from their home territory. Kazan fell in September, and
the Soviets continued to press eastwards. The Cossacks did not attempt
to ride behind the Red Army lines to
assist their allies, despite their overwhelming cavalry superiority.
In October the Soviets were able to draw men off to attack more
forcefully towards the Urals River. The famous commander Vasili Chapaev
(Chapaev) led the 2nd Nikolaevsk Rifle Division towards Uralsk city.
Uralsk to Iletsk stretch was the main front from this time onwards.
While a potential threat to the rear of the Urals Cossacks came from
the Turkestan Soviet forces no serious attacks ever eventuated.
Red Army along the Volga remained focused on their southern enemies
(first the Don and then AFSR).
gives the Urals Army in October 1918, which is about the peak
for that year before the defeats of the winter, as 21,000
men, with 169 MGs and 51 guns. There were 17
numbered Urals Cossack Regiments plus the
13th Orenburg Cossack Regiment. The low numbered Training
Regiments were the main strike force. Infantry was only a quarter of
army, and came from the 33rd Nikolaevsk Infantry Regiment and
units. A force mostly composed of non-Urals forces were now being
assembled in Guriev, in order to face towards Astrakhan.
of battle for the SouthWestern Army
at the end of 1918 gives total Urals forces of 10,000 sabres and 3,000
infantry, but this greatly underestimates the total numbers, as it
excludes men in supporting units and is in mid-winter, when
numbers had dropped
Although the Soviets were more numerous and had
much more supply and heavy support, they were massively outnumbered in
cavalry. Their progress was therefore slow, as they had to be very
careful to guard their flanks and rear. From time to time Soviet
regiments were isolated and destroyed, but in general weight of numbers
began to tell.
In November Kolchak overthrew the Ufa Directory and the White fronts
reorganised soon afterwards. The SouthWestern Army
was dissolved, and the Urals Host once again formally became a separate
body (now under General Saval'ev). The bulk of the forces was
in the 1st
Corps, covering Uralsk, and the 2nd Corps, covering Iletsk. A small
force was in Guriev covering attacks from Astrakhan or Turkestan.
was low as the Red Army moved forward on all fronts but the main
Soviet thrust was still eastwards, and the Urals Host was less pressed
than Kolchak or the Orenburg Host.
It was January 1919 by the time the Soviets were outside Uralsk, and
another month before they could take the Uralsk to Iletsk stretch. The
Cossacks fell back southwards to a small pocket of loyal villages.
However, they more or less kept their shape as an
army, though reduced in size.
A Host conference was called, and in March Major-General Tolstov was
elected Ataman, with full emergency powers (he had previously commanded
the forces in the Guriev area). The host army was
reorganised, based largely on the three strike Training Regiments, and
then a group of territorially based Cossack Regiments. A few partisan
units remained. There were a
large number of non-Urals Cossacks merged into the Host by
mostly in separate units in the infantry. These non-Host men
Cossacks, units of the People's Army cut off during
former Red Army soldiers and various volunteers. The new 1919 order
remained more or less the same until the end of the
In March Kolchak began his Spring Offensive towards Saratov, Simbirsk
and Samara. The Soviets still considered this front their main priority
forces were withdrawn from the Urals River. This allowed Urals Ataman
to once again take the offensive.
By mid-April the Cossacks had again reached Uralsk and the Soviet 22nd
Rifle Division fell back into that city. It wasn't until early May
however before a proper siege could begin. Soviet
forces inside the city
numbered some 2,600 men, with 27 MGs, 19 guns, improvised armoured
train, improvised armoured car and armed boat. The northern sector, not
protected by the Urals and Chagan Rivers, was heavily fortified with
and barbed wire, built by mobilised citizens. Lacking heavy
support the Cossacks could not force the lines, despite at
four attempts. An attempted crossing of the Chagan was a total
The situation otherwise was looking fairly good by the end of June.
Iletsk had fallen in early May, and apart from the pocket of resistance
in Uralsk, the Soviet lines were pushed 100 kilometres beyond the Urals
River. Pugachaev and Novouzensk were taken. The supply situation was
still poor, but some
help was coming via the AFSR, shipped across the Caspian. Sufficient
forces had arrived from the Astrakhan area that the Urals-Astrakhan
Corps could even attack towards the Volga and threaten Astrakhan city.
The Separate Urals Army may have numbered as many as 25,000 men.
of battle for the Separate Urals Army
in mid-1919 is
available, though it appears to omit some units.
However Kolchak's defeat was now fairly obvious, and Frunze could
withdraw troops to fight the Cossacks on his southern edge.
early July the “Chapaev group", based around the 25th Rifle Division
and a Special Infantry Brigade, start to make headway against the Urals
Cossacks. Their main priority was to relieve the siege of Uralsk. Once
again Chapaev's progress was slow, lacking the mobility of the
Cossacks. Pugachaev fell to the Soviets, only to see a surprise raid
take it back.
By 5 July Pugachaev was taken again by the Red Army,
and Iletsk fell
soon afterwards. Ataman Tolstov grouped his best forces around Uralsk,
which was rapidly running out of food and ammunition, but on 11 July
the city was relieved. The stubborn defence against larger
numbers was much lauded by the Soviets, as it had proved critical in
holding the flank of the Red Army’s attack against Kolchak. If it had
fallen early the Cossack cavalry
would have had a welcome supply of material and been in a position to
attack Frunze’s flank.
The Soviets had now driven solid wedges between the various White
forces in Siberia. The Urals Cossacks had the bulk of their forces
falling back along the Urals river, while the 2nd Corps remained behind
Iletsk. A small corps continued to attack along the Caspian coast
towards the Volga. Solid links to the Orenburg Host were now broken
and there was no hope of serious co-ordination with Kolchak's forces.
Meanwhile Tsaritsyn had fallen to the AFSR in July and their troops
now operating on the eastern side of the Volga. The Urals Host
therefore transferred itself to the AFSR, while remaining operationally
On 9 August Lbischensk (now Chapaevsk) on the Uralsk-Guriev rail line
fell to the Soviets and it looked as if the Host would be rapidly
driven into the Caspian. However, at this point one of the most amazing
White attacks of the Civil War took place. A large force of Cossacks
skirted the main Soviet forces by riding far west of the river and
attacked the Soviet headquarters in Lbischensk. The destruction was
including the death of the Soviet commander, Chapaev. The result was a
demoralised and leaderless Soviet retreat back to Uralsk. The Cossacks
gathered up thousands of prisoners and many valuable supplies.
The Cossacks followed up, and in October Uralsk was again threatened.
Briefly a link was made with the AFSR forces which had pushed across
Volga at Tsaritsyn.
However the collapse of all the other forces allied to the Urals Host
meant that the
end was inevitable. The Soviets reorganised and diverted more forces to
the Uralsk area. Three weeks of fighting around the city end with
Cossack retreat. Worse, the Red Army now has enough quality cavalry to
By mid-December Kalmykov fell, and the bulk of the army retired on
Guriev. The Iletsk Corps was cut off and fell back in a south-easterly
direction. Its 6th Division retreated
across the Bukeyev Steppe, but was totally destroyed by disease, hunger
and pursuit. Large numbers of Cossacks started to surrender. A Kirghiz
unit killed its officers and passed over to the Reds. The Alash-Orda
(Kirghiz and Kazakh separatists) formally surrendered.
On 5 January 1920 Guriev was captured. More Cossacks surrendered.
The remains of the Urals Host, perhaps 15,000 people including
retreated along the Caspian coast under Ataman Tolstov, with the aim of
joining up with the
AFSR army in Turkestan. Short of food and water and trekking across
land in winter, the Cossacks fell rapidly. Port
Alexander was reached after two months, by which time
only some two to three thousand remained. A
few early arrivals were lifted by the White fleet and joined General
Dratsenko’s forces on the
other side, eventually retreating to Azerbaijan. However then the Red
arrived at the port and fought off the two White cruisers. On 5 April
the few remaining
Cossacks were forced to surrender and the Urals Army ceased to
Tolstov retreated with a few hundred people towards Iran. Many of these
remnants of the Host later emigrated to Australia.
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