Chapter 10 - The Hills Run Red: Siberian front, January - May 1919
I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things,
and pat the little heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty.
These days, one can’t pat anyone on the head, they might bite your hand off.
Hence, you have to beat people's little heads, beat mercilessly.
While the White generals Makhin and Khanzhin were on their disastrous flanking march towards Nizhny Novgorod (see previous chapter). The rest of the Siberian front hadn't been quiet.
The Battle of Kazan: In the North, Vatzetis' 2nd Red Army had been locked in stalemate with a Siberian army under Semenov and Janin. Both forces were of almost equal strength and both were heavily entrenched. In consequence, neither side had dared to attack, yet. But Grigory Semenov wasn't a man patient enough to sit around waiting. On February 6th, he ordered a frontal assault against Vatzetis' positions.
The attack was spearheaded by two formations: The Izhevsk Brigade, an elite Komuch formation, and Zinevich's 1st Siberian division. The target of concentrated Red fire, both units suffered horribly. The Komuch brigade was almost entirely annihilated during the initial charge. But Zinevich's men managed to break into the Red positions. Their success wouldn't last however. Egorov threw the entire 7th corps into a brutal counterattack, the 1st Siberian Division fought bravely but finally had to yield. When Zinovich led the battered division back to the Siberian positions, two thirds of his men were missing.
Semenov's attack had been a colossal waste of human lifes: 9.200 Siberians had been killed, one third of his entire army. Red casualties were comparatively light: 3.900 men.
But the Red Army was no longer content to wait for the Siberians to attack. Trotzky had long since planned to strike back. 1919 would see Red offensives on all fronts. The first one was a relatively minor affair:
Operation Iron Broom: Kolchak had concentrated his troops on the northern half of the Siberian front while the southern sector between Syzran and Saratov was only guarded by a handful of divisions. This weak spot offered an excellent opportunity for the rapidly expanding Red Army to blood some of their raw recruits. A large number of them had been assembled at Tambov. They were to form the 5th Red Army. It was to be commanded by Dimitri Zhloba who had gained his second star late in 1918. He was joined by two very capable lieutenants: Timoshenko and Chapaev.
With his 63.000 men Zhloba conquered Penza on January 1st 1919. The city was to serve as his base of operations in the months to come. Zhloba never stayed in one place very long. In February he threatened the flank of Grichin-Almazov's main Siberian army. But the time was not yet ripe to take on this strong foe. Instead Zhloba received orders from Trotzky to harrass the relatively weak Siberian forces further south. For the following two months the area between Penza and Saratov became the hunting ground of the 5th Red Army. Operation Iron Broom had started in earnest.
orange oval: Zhloba's hunting grounds
1: Battle of Penza (January 1st, 1919): a minor affair, 1 Siberian regiment was annihilated
2: Battle of Kazan (February 6th, 1919)
3: Battles of Cherkasskoye (March 17th and April 2nd, 1919)
4: Battles of Saratov (April 21st and May 1st, 1919)
5: Battle of Simbirsk (May 5th, 1919)
Early in march 1919, Zhloba retook Saratov without a fight. It was on the railway voyage back to Penza that his men struck the first serious blow. Half-way to their destination, Onchokov's division was spotted on the side of the railroad heading in the opposite directon. The Red soldiers disembarked and attacked the badly outnumbered Siberians viciously. The First Battle of Cherkasskoye was an easy victory. The Siberians were forced to flee into the countryside while the 5th Red Army continued its voyage north. Red casualties remained insignificant but Onchokov's force was rather battered after losing a third of its 13.000 men.
Zhloba didn't intend to stay at Panza, rather he headed back south immediately. This time he would cross the Volga and take Pokrovsk (the city just opposite of Saratov). The town didn't matter much but Bakich's small Komuch force defending it constituted tasty prey. However it turned out that victory could be had even closer to Penza:
Red flags were proudly flying on the locomotives when the 5th Army passed through Cherkasskoye again. It was a pleasant surprise when their old foe was spotted again just outside the town. What followed wasn't much of a battle: Onchokov's men were in a sorry state and didn't offer much resistance anymore. Almost 4.000 of them died, 3 regiments were entirely annihilated. The survivors ran for their lifes.
Zhloba took Pokrovsk 9 days later but unlike Onchokov, Bakich managed to avoid combat. Somehow he had the glorious idea to outflank Zhloba during his retreat and head to Saratov. For the Red Army this presented an excellent opportunity, though. Trotzky had brought two small corps south that weren't needed in the hunt for Khanzhin any longer. These 27.000 men now boarded trains in order to retake Saratov and administer a thorough beating to Bakich. Both objectives were achieved and Bakich's force was almost completely wiped out in the process. Of the 7.000 men the Komuch general had had under his command on the morning of April 21st only 800 were left when the sun set.
Trotzky then headed north where a much bigger operation was about to start. But he left Parsky behind to keep Saratov in Red hands for good. Parsky's men wouldn't have to spend their days sitting idly around since a dear friend of the Red Army had just retreated into the area: Onchokov was back!
As usual he was greeted with bullets and cannon balls. Parsky proved to be more tidy than his comrades and cleaned up thoroughly. 15 White regiments were annihilated and Parsky was able to report back to Moscow that no White soldier had survived.
Operation Cauldron: Zhloba and Trotzky returning north was the opening move for Operation Cauldron. It's objective was highly ambitious: the encirclement of the main Siberian field army. Commanded by Grichin-Almazov this force had been locked in stalemate with Frunze's 1st Red Army at Simbirsk for months. Recently, the Siberians had received Akutin's entire corps as reinforcements. After the destruction of the Red river fleet, it was no longer needed to guard the eastern bank of the Volga since White gunboats were now blocking all river-crossings.
Grichin-Almazov appeared to be preparing for an attack of his own. Otherwise this concentration of troops in one spot would have made little sense. For the Red Army this represented an excellent opportunity: focused on offensive action, the Siberians had neglected to protect their rear. The vital depot and railway hub Syzran was virtually undefended. If it could be taken, Grichin-Almazov's supply lines would be interrupted. The job fell to Zhloba's 5th Red Army. It entered the region without resistance on May 8th and laid siege to the city.
The Battle of Simbirsk: But Grichin-Almazov hadn't been passive. His plan hadn't been another flanking maneuver as expected by the Red leadership but rather a frontal attack in full force. On May 5th, 60.000 Siberians and 61.000 Red soldiers engaged in battle at Simbirsk.
Grichin-Almazov had divided his army into three corps: the biggest under Galkin's command contained almost half of his army, approximately 30.000 men. Akutin was in charge of another 18.000 soldiers while Grichin-Almazov kept the remaining 12.000 men with his headquarters as reserve.
When the order to attack was given on the morning of May 5th, Akutin had his men charge the Siberian lines without hesitation. However Galkin doubted the attack could succeed and held his corps back. Akutin's men were thus on their own. The ensuing battle was highly chaotic since Akutin's corps was organized along the lines of a street mob rather than a military formation. The Siberian general had only a single division commander, the very capable Voitsekhovski, the rest of his regiments were left to fend on their own. Voitsekhovski and Akutin were unable to stop the fiasco. Their men were butchered by Red artillery and machine guns before ever reaching enemy trenches. The few men who did were slaughtered in Red countercharges.
The one man not aware of the catastrophy was Grichin-Almazov, furiously he charged into Galkin's command post to make his insubordinate general attack. But it was already too late. Galkin informed him with a smugly apologetic grin that Akutin's corps didn't exist anymore and that there was little point in pressing this futile attack. Grichin-Almazov had little choice but to grudingly heed this advice. For the rest of the war, he and Galkin would blame each other for the fiasco of Simbirsk: Grichin-Almazov his subordinate for not joining the attack, Galkin his superior for ordering it in the first place.
The battle of Simbirsk was the biggest Red victory to date. An entire Siberian corps had been wiped out; 17.400 enemy soldiers lay dead on the battlefield. The 1st Red Army had lost no more than 1.900 men and captured two regiments worth of artillery from the enemy.
Grichin-Almazov's army was weakened but its two remaining corps were still intact. The next step would be a race: could the Red forces close the pocket? Or would their battered foe slip through one of the remaining holes?
 Grigory Semenov (or Semyonov) never waged war this far west. In fact, his theater of operations was the Transbaikal region where he carved out a petty fiefdom for himself with the help of the Czech Legion and later the Japanese. This warlord struggled on after Kolchak's defeat and death for a year and a half until he was finally forced to flee Russia in September 1921. After a stay in the US, he eventually ended up in Japanese/Manchurian employ where he served the former emperor Puyi. Shortly after WW II, he was captured by the Reds and hanged in 1946.
 In retrospective, this was an attack that couldn't succeed. But one of the great things about AGE games, is that it is not always easy to judge in advance how strong an enemy is and how a battle is going to turn out. If reconnaissance is good, you will see how strong each of the units within a stack is but this doesn't include the changes that the stack commander or command penalties may provide. If reconnaissance is bad, it gets even more difficult. Durk would have seen something like this:
 With 3-1-0 stats Zhloba is actually above average for a Red commander. Even if his dispersed mover ability is a bit of an annoyance. But a Red player can't be choosy when it comes to his commanders. Sidenote: Zhloba was executed during Stalin's purges in 1938.
- Regular** is a division with a two star general in command, it could contain only a few elements or it could be a monster with 30 elements of infantry, artillery and cavalry and an insane combat power.
- Regular* is a division with a one star in command
- Regular is a single infantry unit composed of conscripts, line or elite elements. This can be everything from a single infantry regiment to a big Red brigade composed of 8 elements and containing artillery.
- A leader not commanding a division would be displayed as Leader* (the number of stars represents his rank).
 I moved this stack around by railway almost constantly. It served as a powerful broom that cleaned the southern part of the Siberian front of Durk's forces within a few months.
 Saratov's depot had been destroyed which made it a bad base anyway. But more importantly there was always Grichin-Almazov's Army which could have tried to take Penza in Zhloba's absence. Holding Saratov was therefore of minor importance and consequently the city changed hands several times during the next few turns.
 Durk obviously hadn't enough time to get his defeated stack back to safety. Two days isn't enough to escape from a region on foot - especially not if cohesion is already horribly low after a prior defeat - but that was all the time it took to get Zhloba's stack back north by railway.
 The AGE engine and its retreat mechanics ... Logic would dictate that an enemy retreats away from his foe not through enemy lines.
 I had to use Trotzky to strike because Zhloba was inactive.
This whole campaign may seem like a major blunder on Durk's part. But there wasn't much he could have done differently. He had a lot of bad luck with his stacks retreating in the wrong direction. Control of the railways gave my troops superior speed which allowed me to administer second blows before Durk had a chance to get his troops out of danger. Durk made two mistakes though: He used relatively small forces too aggressively (I guess the amount of soldiers I threw into this sector surprised him) and Bakich's column was badly composed (a Komuch general commanding a stack made up of Siberian troops results in high combat and movement penalties). This could have been easily prevented by adding a Siberian general.
 Somehow I never manage to bombard enemy fleets. It's probably because I suck at naval combat. It's my weakness in all computer games.
 My guess at the time was that Durk would try another flanking maneuver, either to save the remnants of Khanzhin's force or to position himself between Kazan and Simbirsk.
 As usual for a Red commander, he was inactive. Getting your generals to attack is an artform when playing the Reds.
 The way Durk organized his army was not very efficient. I am not sure whether he was lacking division commanders? But attacking with unorganized regiments is asking for punishment (they will be wiped out quickly once one of the Red monster divisions targets its fire upon them).
This also forced him to use multiple corps - single units will eat up your command points very quickly. He had some bad luck as well. All his corps commanders had a 4 point strategic rating. Decent commanders like these tend to engage promptly (the exception are hq stack's since the game tries to use them as reserves).
Ultimately, this inefficient organization was also one reason why Durk's army was weaker in power although being equal in numbers (and even superior in quality, his army consisted almost entirely of regular soldiers while mine was a conscript force). Unorganized units don't profit from the boni division commanders could have provided. Of course Frunze's superior stats played a role as well.