First off, my apologies for the long delay since my last update. There are two reasons for this: We had some technical troubles with corrupted files and secondly, our Southern White player is unfortunately very busy in real life. Still the game is slowly but surely progressing.
Chapter 8 - The White, the Yellow, and the Black: Ukraine, December 1918 - April 1919
Russians are too kind, they lack the ability to apply determined methods of revolutionary terror.
Since the Red defeats early in the war, the South had been calm. Volunteers and Cossacks had methodically cleared the region of Red outposts and then turned towards Tzaritsyn. However Denikin had stopped his troops before reaching the city. The scouting reports on Stalin's strength had been too discouraging as both forces seemed of almost equal strength. Thus neither Stalin nor Denikin dared to attack. For its part, the Red leadership was more than content to settle into a stalemate. For the moment time was working in its favour.
In the meantime, encouraging news had arrived from Germany: The Kaiser had lost the Great War. German forces would soon be pulled out of the Ukraine. The Bolsheviks immediately scratch together all reserves that could be spared and assembled a new army at Kursk. Half of the men were survivors of the Kuban Campaign, the rest newly recruited conscripts. In total Kamanev had 56.000 men under his command.
When the Germans finally retreated from the Ukraine in December 1918, Kamanev immediately struck. On December 11th, his army entered Belograd and 10 days later the Red flag was hoisted over Kharkov. The first major offensive of the Red Army in the war resulted in the bloodless conquest of the Ukraine's second most important city.
The White armies had been slow to react. Their main force was still outside Tzaritsyn and the railroads back to the Don had been the target of constant attacks by Red partisans. But that was soon to change. French and Greek forces had landed at Odessa, ready to meddle in Russia's internal affairs. The intruders swiftly struck north and advanced towards Kiev. Almost simultaniously thousands of Cossacks revolted along the Don. Supposedly, these counter-revolutionary malcontents had been pushed into revolt by Stalin's harsh politics. But knowing the Red commissars reputation for kindness and generosity, who would believe such rumours?
The Cossack revolt reinvigorated the White war effort in the South; soon Kudinov's force conquered Liski (a small harbour on the northern bank of the Don just opposite of Voronezh). But luckily the advance could be stopped as this point since Voronezh was well defended.
In the meantime, new White forces had assembled on the Krim. In January 1919, they started to advance north as well. These fresh volunteers committed one of the biggest blunders of the war. A regiment of light infantry that was spearheading the White advance conquered Melitopol on January 15th. Although the city had pledged its allegiance to the Ukrainian nationalist government at Kiev, Nestor Makhno considered it as part of his territory. The Anarchist wasn't prepared to tolerate this infringement and entered an alliance of conveniance with the Soviets. In exchange for an insignificant gain, the Whites had unleashed more than 25.000 highly motivated partisans and cavalrymen that would plague than for a long time to come.*
Makhno wasted no time and immediately started to spread havoc. His first victim was to be an officer who himself enjoyed a reputation for daring cavalry raids and guerilla actions: Shkuro. Makhno's men had the surprise on their side when they attacked Donetsk on January 24th. Shkuro managed to retreat his force in some semblance of order but at that point one third of his men had already been killed.
The war in the South continued in the same style: both sides sent cavalry forces and partisans into enemy territory to destroy railroads, conquer small cities and harrass each other. The main White areas of operation were along the Tambov-Tzaritsyn and the Kursk-Kharkov railroads which were under constant attack. The Red Army retaliated in kind: Anarchists and Ukrainian partisans did their best to slow down the progress of the Franco-Greek Expeditionary force while Makhno was striking like a whirlwind in the South-Eastern Ukraine. In the absence of major battles, the Southern front deteriorated into a bloody guerilla war.
Along the Tambov-Tzaritsyn railway, it was Blucher who waged a series of pitched battles to keep the railway open. And he did so with some success.**
On February 10th, the Soviet general surprised Wrangel at Kamyshin and destroyed one of his regiments. Considering that Wrangel had been outnumbered by more than 6:1, it was a bit embarrassing that the Red Army suffered higher casualties in this battle.
But there was to be at least one regular field battle during this time. Poliakov had crossed the Donets and was coming uncomfortably close to Kharkov. This was when Kamanev, the Red Commissar in charge of the Ukraine, decided to counterattack before the Cossacks could receive further reinforcements. Unfortunately, he was too late to prevent Krasnov from uniting his force with Poliakov's.
Nevertheless the battle was a moderate success: Outnumbered 3:1 Krasnov's men were pushed back across the river inspite of a stiff defense.***
Reinforced by Gregoriev, Makhno met his favourite foe again on March 10th. Their second battle took place just a few miles west of the first one. Again Makhno was to remain victorious.
But his success paled in the light of a surprise blow that Wrangel landed a month later. With just 2.400 cavalrymen the White general attacked Kursk. The Red defenders had a clear numerical advantage but their fighting strength was far inferior. Wrangel's men overran the Red defenses within minutes. Kursk had fallen in White hands.**** The loss of this crucial railroad hub put Kamenev's army at Kharkov in an uncomfortable position: its only supply route was interrupted.
Now the question was whether the Volunteer Army could follow up on Wrangel's stunning success? Could it transform what had started as a raid into a permanent occupation?
* Melitopol is a nasty trap laid by the RUS developpers. The city flies the Ukrainian flag but conquering it will unlock the Anarchists. Ian is more experienced with the Short than the Grand Campaign; I think he simply didn't know this. For me, it was a very welcome present.
** After several battles this eventually gained him his second star.
*** I think these battles highlight why there was a stalemate in this theater: not counting the French, who were still busy breaking a stubborn Ukrainian resistance, I had a numerical advantage. Not huge, perhaps 1,5:1, but nevertheless a clear advantage. The problem was that this advantage was evaporated by the inferior quality of my troops. My army was a mixture of conscripts and militia whereas Ian could rely on a professional force reinforced by some conscripts. As a consequence, my units suffered higher casualties even when they outnumbered their enemy by big margins.
Just as importantly, we both kept our major forces on the defense. Ian's main army stayed passively outside Tzaritsyn and medium stacks were protecting his bases (Ekaterinodar, Rostov, Novocherkassk). A fifth stack had taken Liski and was now a constant threat to Voronezh and Tambov. This left Ian short of troops for a major effort into the Eastern Ukraine. Thus he operated with fairly small armies and waged a guerilla war against my supply lines.
I was in a similar dilemma: my main army was necessary to guard Tzaritsyn. Kamanev secured Kharkov and two medium stacks defended Tambov and Voronezh. However I was more prepared than Ian to temporarily weaken some of these positions to wage limited offensive actions like Blucher's counterattacks along the Tambov-Tzaritsyn railway or Kamanev pushing back Krasnov. My only force almost constantly on the offensive was Makhno's flying column.
Of course the big question is who of us could afford to wait? Frankly, I am not entirely sure, myself. My recruitment speed was higher but there were several factors working in Ian's favour: his French troops would certainly clear the Western Ukraine and could then threaten Kharkov from the East. Moreover, there was always the possibility of foreign interventions (Balts and Caucasians if Southern White NM decreased further, Polish in 1920 if the Siberian NM dropped below 90; we have a house-rule prohibiting Finnish intervention).
Perhaps the correct answer is that time was working for me short and mid term but not long term. In other words, their was a window of opportunity opening for the Reds in 1919 but it would shut quickly if they were too successful and triggered foreign interventions.
**** That one took me by surprise. Wrangel's force had been small enough to remain unnoticed. I had considered the garrison just strong enough to fend off two or three enemy regiments but I hadn't counted on Wrangel leading such an attack.