RETURN TO NOVOROSSISK : The Green Guards

GREEN-GUARDS

The Green Guards, their faces blurred by fire and time. An artists impression. Image:The Author.

We arrived at Ekaterinodar at 10pm on Monday 12th Jan. 1920 & left at 11pm on the same date. An order was issued at 1am on Tuesday 13th Jan. 1920 to the effect that all men were to stand by with loaded rifles while we were crossing the Caucasian Mountains in case were attacked by the Green Guards.

kopisto-mapEkaterinodar, now Krasnodar, was where the White Army headquarters had been at the very start of the Volunteer Army offensive. It was here Denikin and his fellow generals had fled, here the Volunteer Army had formed and here Denikin was appointed overall chief. It was here also that the British, in the form of Lieuenant-Colonel Blackwood and a small mission, made first official contact with General Denikin in November 1918 to discuss the British Intervention (Kopisto, p.170). Since then all those plans had disintegrated and everyone was fleeing south. The Bolsheviks, suffering the same over extended lines the Whites had months previously, would not take Ekaterinodar until March 1920. Typically, British General Herbert C. Holman, would be the last to leave that city on March 15th (Kopisto, p.169), the Whites long gone. But we’ll get around to Holman another time.

Of the players in the war my granddad mentions it is the Green Guards who appear most often. As he spent the majority of his time in Novorossisk I suppose that is no surprise. While the enemy in the form of ‘Bolshies’ were on the other side of the line the Green Guards were everywhere in South East Russia. We have met the Green Guards before, or the Green Army as they were sometimes called. My granddad describes them here…

The Green Guards are mainly composed of deserters from the Bolshevik and Russian armies & they number about 17,000.

In fact it is quite good summing up from someone in a chaotic situation and even though this account was written after the fact, in the early 1920s, even then accurate information would have been impossible to come by. Everyone was a deserter in these times. The Red Army recorded betweem 20,000 and 50,000 desertions per month in 1919 and the White Army were sometomes reduced to trying to recruit Bolshevik prisoners (Volgin, 2015).Besides hosting deserters, among others, the Green Guards were primarily a peasant army. Many had been forced to join up, leaving their homes and farms to fight for something they didn’t really have anything to do with. Added to this their food and livestock were often taken by soldiers of both armies.

The Green Guards had a big impact on the course of the War. They had assisted the White advance, unintentionally of course, by harassing the Bolsheviks who the peasants detested and who were at this point no fan of the peasant as they considered them petit bourgeois. Some considered that they impacted the Soviet policy (Raleigh, p354-387). But the peasants in the form of the Green Guards harassed the White Army too causing cahosin Denikins rear and contributing to the collapse of the Volunteer Army. They would interfere with the White retreat and nearly capture Novorossisk at least twice in the first months of 1920 (Kopisto, p.120) forcing Denikin to withdraw the Don Army to assist in the protection of the city (Smith, 2010).

Any time I have imagined the Green Guards I imagine a bizarre mixture of Green Berets, The Green Lantern, a band of truculent earth covered lunatics (courtesy of Monty Pythons argumentative peasants in The Holy Grail) and…nuns. This last is because the only picture I can find that might be of Green Guards seems to have them huddled around a nun. They were in fact a force to be reckoned with. The Green Army were able to field up to 70,000 men at their peak (Murphy, 2000) and possibly more. They must have been very hardy to spend the winter in the mountains with temperatures dropping to well below zero. They used weapons they had brought from their various armys, weapons they captured  and they were also funded by the Georgian government who intent on keeping their independence rather than be united under a Soviet or White Russia.

Anti-Bolshevik-Volunteer-Army-in-South-Russia-January-1918

This might be the Green Army. Or possibly members of the Volunteer Army, South Russia,1918. Anyway, its the only possible picture I have found so far. Available at https://learnodo-newtonic.com/russian-revolution-facts

Some of these bands were very well led as many of them were army men. Despite the Soviets dislike of peasants, when they belatedly realised the size of the Green Army-previously having dealt with peasant uprisings separately (Brokvin, p.318)- they wanted to harness it. To do this they requested reports from from the Donburo (a sort of Soviet administration for the ‘free’ parts of the Don district (Sarikov, 2013)). One of the first reports. From as late as September 1919, states that the Green Army began with a group of Red Army deserters who found themselves a hideout in the mountains in 1918. Peasants who had been persecuted by the Volunteer Army began to gather around these men, some of whom had good leadership qualities. As the White Army was dissolving in late 1919 and early 1920, deserters from other forces would join too and there were even some Communist units.

There seems to have been confusion over the terms Communist, Soviet and Bolshevik at the time. The peasants had initially revolted on communist principles and with the encouragement of the Soviets, to divide the landlords land fairly (Brokvin p.128), but now the Bolsheviks were taking their livelihood in the form of requistioning livestock and food so one can see how a peasant might be under the impression that the Communists were good guys while the Bolsheviks were the enemy.

A further report from the Donburo in October claimed that the Green Guards now controlled the entire east coast of the Black Sea. This report divided the Green Guards into three groups. One that operated on the coast 200km south of Novorossisk between Tuapse and Sochi, and two groups in and around Novorossisk. These groups were further split up into bands of between 2,000 and 4,000 men under varying qualities of leaders. Kopsito says that the Green Guards around Novorossisk at this point numbered  between 5000 and 6000 (Kopisto, p. 170). That’s a lot of big bands of bandits banging about…

Novorossisk was now the key, for both sides. The Reds wanted to cut the line to British supplies reaching the Whites, the Whites needed a way out. And that’s where granddad was headed. While we have mostly being following along with granddads’ account I will skip ahead here to include the different occasions he mentions them along with any brief information I can find relating to these occasions which we will revisit at a later date.

During the time we were in Novorossisk we were very often turned out of bed in the early hours of the morning to guard our stores owing to the Green Guards coming down from the hills to loot the town.

The night temperature at one point during these months was at minus 45 degrees…

At 5am on Sat 7th Feb. 1920 one of our warships called the “Benbow” left the harbour and sailed down the coast & bombarded the haunts of the Green Guards which were about three miles from our billet.

HMS_Benbow-battleline

The Benbow (Dreadnaughtz, 2017).

There had been some attempts by the Volunteer Army to negotiate with the Green Guards through one of the leaders, an ex-White Army officer, but as their numbers swelled, this (unnamed) officer could not make everyone obey orders and the British continued to be attacked by snipers resulting in actions like the one above. The Benbow, an Iron Duke Class Dreadnought (Dreadnautz 2017), was dispatched after 150 Russian soldiers and a British officer on a reconnaissance mission had been fired upon and taken refuge in a village seven miles down the coast from Novorossisk (Halpern, 2016). The British officer had been wounded and several others too. Kopisto says the Benbow pulverized a village in this instance in retaliation (Kopisto, p.170) presumably the same village the reconnaissance party had hidden in. So my granddads’ billet must have been three miles south of Novorossisk centre, which sound about right.

BENBOW

The Benbow bombards the coast. Image:The Author.

At 10am on Mon. 16th Feb. 1920 we saw about 150 of the Green Guards who had been captured by Cossack patrol. They were marched into the town and publicly shot.

304px-Firing_squad_IMG

Not the execution my granddad mentions but it is a White’ firing squad executes ”red” enemy soldiers in Länkipohja during the Finnish Civil War of 1918. There was a lot of it about. Source http://www.sodatkuvina.cjb.net/SisallissotaMain.htm

RUScivilwar

Photograph of Red Army soldier about to be executed by members of the White Army. Why do I get the feeling the photographer took forever to set the shot up?Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/RUScivilwar.htm

The Cossacks had been known to drag prisoners behind their horses with predictableyhorrific results, so shooting these Green Guards was quite merciful in context. Maybe the British, who had long been objecting to Denikins’ wholesale execution of Red Army prisoners, had been bringing pressure to bear regarding torture which was rife to the point that many officers, including British ones, carried poison capsules or grenades to kill themselves in the event of capture (Kopisto p.141).

However the report from the Donburo mentioned above stated that there were an growing and ‘enormous’ number of Red Army prisoners of war at Novorossisk held in appalling conditions* (Murphy, p.100) so it is possible there just was no room-and no time-to do anything more elaborate than shoot those Green Guards. These Cossacks were more than likely Don Cossacks who had retreated from the Don area with the Whites. Though the Don Cossacks were loyal to the last (though there is mention of various rebellions which we will look into), the Kuban Cossacks of the area were at loggerheads with Denikin, probably  because of the tension between Denikin and their commander, General Wrangel, and many were deserting and returning to their homes (Smith, 2010). Some I imagine joined the Green Guards.

*You will remember that last week we heard of granddad speak of leaving Taganrog with ‘Bolshie prisoners’ so I guess Novorossisk is where they were taking them. If they got them there or not we may never know.

On Wed. 25th Feb. 1920 one of our light cruisers the “H.M.S. Steadfast” was shelled by a land battery of the Green Guards along the coast before she entered Novorossisk. There were two casualties on board and the ship was only slightly damaged.

The Steadfast was an S class destroyer. It was the Steadfast on which Denikin would leave Novorossisk at the start of April 1920 after standing down in favour of General Wrangel (Halpern, 2016). Obviously the Benbows’ village pulverisation had done little to soften the cough of  the Greens and attacks continued.

On Wed. 10th Mar. 1920 we were turned out of bed at 2am because the Green Guards attacked a party of our men who were sleeping close to the aerodrome which was about five miles away from our billet & took their rifles & machine gun & ammunition. A small boat was sent out from one of our warships called “The Emperor of India” which was lying in the harbour & took our men onboard where they stopped until morning. A party of marines were also landed but the Green Guards were gone.

This also looks like a major incident but so far I have not come across another account of it. I will keep looking. The Emperor of India, like the Benbow, was an Iron Duke class Dreadnought. There were four in this class. At 25,000 tons they measured roughly 190 x 28 x9 metres and would carry roughly 1000 crew (Dreadnautz, 2017). The size of these ships might give some idea of the threat the Greem Guards posed.

HMSEmperorOfIndiaAft135inchGuns

The Emperor of India, (Dreadnaughtz, 2017).

Once the Bolsheviks won, and famine intensified, the Green Guards would dissolve, the peasants making their way home. They would have all but disappeared within a couple of years. But right now, in January 1920, though it may have been some distance from the front proper, Novorossisk was not a particularly safe place to be. Next week we finish the journey from Ekaterinodar to Novorossisk where we  will stay for two and a half months.

We arrived at Novorossisk at 12 noon on Tuesday 13th Jan. 1920.

And as in any good story there has to be a Princess.

During the retreat I shared my rations with a Russian Princess who was a refugee.

Next Week:Novorossisk & a Marriage.

Further Reading & References

Brokvin, V.N., (2015),Behind the Front Lines of the Civil War, Princeton:Princeton University Press.

Dreadnautz, (2017), Iron Duke class Dreadnaughts, in The Naval Encyclopedia, [online], available at http://www.naval-encyclopedia.com/ww1/UK/iron-duke-class-dreadnoughts [accessed 12/01/2018].

Halpern, P., (2016), The Mediterranean Fleet, 1919–1929, New York:Routledge.

Kopisto, L., (2011), The British Intervention in South Russia: 1918-1920, Helsinki:Helsinki University Press. Available at https://helda.helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/26041/thebriti.pdf [accessed 12/01/2018].

Murphy, A., (2000), The Russian Civil War:Primary Sources, New York:Spring

Nomad, M., (1939), The Warrior:Nestor Makhno, the Bandit Who Saved Moscow in Apostles of Revolution, Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Starikov, S., (2013), Philip Mironov and the Russian Civil War, New York:Knopf Doubleday.Raleigh, D.J.,(2002), Experiencing Russia’s Civil War, 354-87, Princeton:Princeton University Press.

Voldin, S.,(2015), Cossacks in the Civil War. Part III. 1919 year. Russian Vendée, on Military Review, March 31st, [online], available at https://topwar.ru/71910-kazaki-v-grazhdanskuyu-voynu-chast-iii-1919-god-russkaya-vandeya.html  [accessed 12/01/2018].

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7 responses to “RETURN TO NOVOROSSISK : The Green Guards

  1. You’ll enjoy Dr Zhivago, I think. You get a real sense of the confusion, the deprivation and the reprisals. This morning I read a passage about the crops in the fields rotting because there was no one there to harvest them. I think I’ve reached 1920, but the novel has lost all sense of time. It also takes it for granted that its readers know the history.

    What has confused me the most is that the civil war wasn’t just between two opposing sides. There were many groups whose ideologies seem interchangeable to us, but which had vital differences to them. They were all revolutionaries, but they all wanted something slightly different. All the different groups were enemies of one another, which is what I don’t understand. They were all socialists/communists, even many of the bourgeoisie, but they couldn’t get along together.

    Anyway, we know it didn’t end well.

    As for Granddad, I can quite easily believe that there was a princess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes its chaos…and yes there are a large number of sides. The famine during and after the Civil War was appalling…I will do a post on it. Some of the pictures you find are as bad as any from Ethiopia and the like…this is why the peasants hated the armys so much…and why Soviet policy ceventually had to change because of peasant aggression.
      After reading so much, I do understand a little why they found it hard to get along. Those who wanted independence for their provinces were threatened by both the Whites and the Reds who both wanted a united Russia which would naturally take away the autonomy of separate regions autonomy. The Whites I guess would not have been so inclusive of the worker either and would have been connected to the aristocracy and the Tsar in the minds of some. Also there was a lot historical hatred between tribes and newer land acquistions by the old Russia, which were settled by outsiders, would have been rife with disagreement anyway. Many would have considered themselves different nationalities. I suppose it would be like saying that Ireland and England are both democracies so why can’t Ireland just be ruled by England…which I won’t say as it would boil a few heads around here 😀 So for instance Georgia funding the peasants and the Ukraine rising up behind Makhno. If they joined forces who would be in charge?For half of them it would be someone from another country.
      I haven’t really touched on the propaganda element either…the Red Terror was real for many, in the UK but I suspect in Russia too. And then there was the White Terror and the Cossacks also would have been held in fear by many…and no it didn’t end well…
      Thanks for reading April, I love that you take the time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I keep forgetting that Russia was an empire. This is understood in Dr Zhivago and there are some ‘amusing’ digs at people from the eastern parts of the empire.

        I’m used to the idea of civil wars being between two sides only. We had Cavaliers and Roundheads. Before that we had the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. Before that we had Edward II against everybody. Before that we had John against everybody… and so on. There were only ever two sides. The Russians rather turned civil war into an art form, so that everyone was the enemy of everyone else.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good point. Here too. The Irish and Vikings, Irish and Normans, Irish and English….then again we were al fighting eachother too 😀 But the Russians really took it to the limit didn’t they?…maybe its the location?We are islands on the edge of things after all but over there, central asia and so forth there is so much land, so many tribes and all vying for the same access to coasts and trade routes their borders abutting and head butting…

        Liked by 1 person

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