Icebreaker Kozma Minin with white refugees in Norway
100 years ago, in February 1920, Miller’s white Northern Army crashed and ceased to exist. On February 21, the Red Army entered Arkhangelsk. The remnants of the White Guards fled by sea to Norway.
In August 1919, Entente forces (mainly the British) were evacuated from Arkhangelsk. Considering that to remain in the Arkhangelsk region was a suicide for the 20th Northern Army, the British command proposed to evacuate it to another front - to Yudenich or Denikin. The option of relocation to Murmansk was also considered. There were large reserves, it was possible to advance in the Petrozavodsk direction, helping Belofinns and Yudenich. There was an ice-free sea in the rear, so in case of failure it was relatively easy to retreat to Finland and Norway.
Staying in Arkhangelsk was not practical. The Northern Front rested on the support of the Allies. They supplied the white Northern Army. The Arkhangelsk province could not feed the white army for a long time, supply it with everything necessary, there was no developed industry. In the event of a military failure, the army was doomed to disaster. There was nowhere to retreat. After the completion of navigation, the sea froze. In white fleet not enough ships and coal. Because of food transportation, there were no more than 1-2 icebreakers in Arkhangelsk, and coal would not always be on them. The crews of the ships supported the Bolsheviks and were unreliable. A retreat to Murmansk by land in the harsh local conditions and impassability is practically impossible, especially for units that were far away, on Pechora or Pinega. And Murmansk itself was not a fortress; timely measures to strengthen the Murmansk sector were not taken. Moreover, the most unreliable units were sent there. The rear was unreliable, the socialists, including the Bolsheviks, had strong positions among the people. In the troops, pro-Soviet uprisings often took place.
The command of the white army held a military meeting. Almost all regiment commanders spoke in favor of evacuating with the British to another front, or at least to Murmansk. It was proposed to withdraw the most reliable and combat-ready units there. However, the headquarters of the commander of the troops of the Northern Region General Miller decided to stay in Arkhangelsk. The fact was that it was a time of maximum success for the White Army in Russia. Kolchak still fought, Denikin broke through to Moscow, and Yudenich was preparing the offensive. In the North, the White Guards also successfully attacked. It seemed a little more, and the White Army would take up. In such a situation, throwing the North seemed a big military-political mistake.
As a result, it was decided to stay and fight alone. At the front, the situation was stable at first. In September 1919, the Northern Army went on the offensive and won a number of victories, occupied new territories. The Red Army in the Arkhangelsk sector, which was secondary, did not expect the White Guards to attack after the British left and consisted of weak parts. Soldiers often deserted, surrendered, went over to the white side. True, having become white, they were still an unstable element, they easily succumbed to socialist propaganda, rebelled, and sided with the Reds. In October 1919, Kolchak abolished the provisional government of the Northern Region and appointed General Miller as the head of the region with dictatorial powers. Democracy is over.
Tank Mark V in Arkhangelsk, analogue tankused by the armed forces of the Northern Region
On the road to disaster
While the armies of Kolchak, Yudenich, Tolstov, Dutov and Denikin were dying, it was calm on the Northern Front. General Eugene Miller proved to be a good staffer and manager. Miller was from a noble family, he graduated from the Nikolaev Cadet Corps and the Nikolaev Cavalry School. He served in the guard, then graduated from the Nikolaev Academy of the General Staff and became a staff officer. In World War I he was the chief of staff of the 5th and 12th armies, and commander of the corps.
Miller enjoyed great popularity and authority among the population of the Northern Region and in the troops. He was able to create a supply system for troops, established the search and storage of stocks that the British abandoned. Reorganized the headquarters. As a result, almost until the fall of the Northern Front, White did not experience any special supply problems. Local resources were also used. There was little bread, its delivery was normalized. But fish, venison, and game were plentiful, so there was no hunger. The northern region had its own stable currency, rubles were issued and provided by the British Bank. The population, in comparison with other regions of Russia, where there was a war and the front could go back and forth several times, lived relatively well. The monetary maintenance of soldiers and officers was high, their families were provided.
At the front, the situation was also initially favorable. The northern army was significantly increased: by the beginning of 1920, there were over 54 thousand people with 161 guns and 1,6 thousand machine guns, plus about 10 thousand militias. There was also a flotilla of the Arctic Ocean: the battleship Chesma (formerly Poltava), several destroyers, minesweepers, hydrographic vessels, icebreakers and a number of other auxiliary vessels. The White Guards were still advancing by inertia. Winter, fettered the swamps, gave freedom of maneuver for the white detachments. The White Guards occupied large areas in Pinega, Mezen, Pechora, and entered the territory of the Yarensky and Ust-Sysolsky counties of the Vologda province. It is clear that in many respects these successes were connected with the fact that the Northern Front was secondary for Moscow. The successes of Miller's army did not threaten the vital centers of Soviet Russia and were temporary. Therefore, while the Red Army was in a decisive battle with the Denikins, almost no attention was paid to the Northern Army. Some units were withdrawn from the North to more important fronts, and the rest were of poor combat quality. Yes, and replenishment was practically not sent here. In some areas, as in Pinega, the Soviet command itself left its position.
However, this imaginary well-being soon ended. The population of a large part of the Arkhangelsk province could not for a long time contain a large army, the number of which was constantly growing. As the "successes" at the front, the front line stretched, and the combat stability of the units was still low. Quality was exchanged for quantity, resorting to extensive mobilization in order to maintain a quantitative advantage over the Reds on the entire front. The economically weak Northern region, deprived of food and military assistance from the Entente, was doomed to collapse.
With the collapse of other white fronts, the reliability of the troops (a large part of the soldiers were former Red Army soldiers) fell significantly. The number of deserters increased. Many went into reconnaissance and did not return, abandoned advanced posts and guards. Red propaganda intensified. The soldiers were told that they could atone for the extradition of officers, the opening of the front and the transition to the side of the people. The soldiers were urged to stop the senseless massacre, to dump the power of the counter-revolutionaries. The officers were offered to stop being mercenaries of their own and foreign capital, to switch to service in the Red Army.
White guerrillas showed themselves poorly. They fought well on the front lines, near their villages. But when transferred to other areas, on the defensive, their fighting qualities fell sharply. The partisans did not recognize discipline, drank, fought with local residents, easily succumbed to the Socialist Revolutionary propaganda. The difficult situation was in the white fleet. All ship crews were on the side of the Bolsheviks. Ammunition had to be unloaded from the battleship Chesma, fearing rebellion. Of the 400 crew, half were transferred ashore, sent to the security service with unusable rifles. But soon the crew grew to the previous strength and retained its Bolshevik attitude. The sailors did not hide their moods and waited for the arrival of the Red Army. It was a real "red stronghold" in the camp of the enemy. Officers in every way tried to escape from the ship until they were killed.
In river and lake fleets, formed from armed steamboats and barges, under the command of Captain 1st Rank Georgy Chaplin, the situation was slightly better. Chaplin surrounded himself with young naval officers and at first successfully operated on the Dvina. The flotilla actively supported the advance of the ground forces in the fall of 1919, and did not allow the Reds to take control of the Dvina after the British left. But with the onset of winter, the flotilla arose, and sea rifle companies were formed from the crews. However, they quickly decomposed and became hotbeds of red propaganda among the ground forces.
The socialist revolutionaries also intensified. They in the Northern region were in quite legal positions. Eserov was headed by the chairman of the provincial zemstvo council P.P. Skomorokhov. Until September 1919, he was part of the third provisional government of the Northern Region. An energetic and strong-willed man, Skomorokhov stood in left positions and was inclined to defeatism. He crushed the zemstvo and a significant part of the Social Revolutionary party. Skomorokhov actively criticized the government, its economic and military policy. He promoted the idea of "reconciliation" with the Bolsheviks. Among the soldiers were the Social Revolutionaries, and many supporters in the troops found defeatist positions.
The White Guards received an information blow from the West. There were reports in the press about the lifting of the economic blockade and trade with Soviet Russia. It was concluded that, since Western countries are lifting the blockade, then further war is meaningless. Local trading cooperatives, hoping for future profits, began to actively support the left Skomorokhov in order to make peace with the Bolsheviks more quickly. Thus, the fighting spirit of the Northern Army was sharpened from all sides.
1 ruble of the Northern region of 1919. An analogue of the banknote of the Russian Empire
The collapse of the Northern Army
At the beginning of 1920, when troops from other fronts were liberated, the Soviet command decided that it was time to put an end to Miller’s Northern Army. The main strike force of the red Northern Front in the Arkhangelsk direction was the 6th Soviet Army under the command of Alexander Samoilo. The red commander was a former tsarist general, graduated from the Nikolaev Academy of the General Staff, and served in staff posts. After October, he sided with the Bolsheviks, participated in negotiations with the Germans in Brest-Litovsk, and fought on the Western and Northern Fronts.
The blow to the White Army was inflicted not only from the front, but also from the rear. On February 3, 1920, the opening of the provincial Zemsky assembly was scheduled. Before that, the government was criticized. The government temporarily resigned. Miller urged the ministers to temporarily remain in place until a new government was formed. At this time, the Zemsky assembly opened. His leader was Skomorokhov. Economic issues were immediately forgotten, the meeting resulted in a stormy political rally against the government. The question of the desirability of further struggle was raised. Leftist defeatists insisted on an immediate peace with the Bolsheviks, calling for the arrest of counterrevolutionary officers. Through newspapers and rumors, this wave immediately covered the whole of society and the army. Miller summoned the leaders of the Zemsky assembly to him. Skomorokhov said that the commander-in-chief must submit to the will of the people if the people speak out for peace. The assembly grew more and more heated and adopted a declaration in which the government was declared counter-revolutionary and deposed, and all power passed to the Zemsky assembly, which was to form a new government. The situation in Arkhangelsk was tense.
At the same time, when Arkhangelsk was swept by political unrest, the Red Army attacked in the Dvinsky district. The positions of the White Guards were plowed by artillery, the 4th Northern Regiment and the Shenkur battalion could not stand the blow of the superior forces of the Reds and began to retreat. The Reds threw fresh forces into the breakthrough. On February 4, Miller spoke in the Assembly and, with the support of the City Duma, Zemstvo representatives from defensive positions, was able to calm the situation in Arkhangelsk. The declaration of deposition of the government was canceled and appealed to the troops to continue the struggle. The formation of a new government has begun.
Meanwhile, the situation at the front continued to deteriorate. The battle begun on the Dvina became common. The battle was especially stubborn in the Seletsky fortified area, where the 7th Northern Regiment, composed of partisan-Tarasovites who defended their villages, stood. They stood to their deaths and, with their perseverance, helped the troops of the Dvinsky district, who backed up under the blows of the Reds, to stop at new positions. However, on the night of February 8, part of the 3rd Northern Regiment raised an uprising in the Zheleznodorozhny District. At the same time, the Reds attacked in this area. The rebels and the Reds crushed the remnants of the regiment. As a result, in one of the most important sectors, the front was broken. This was the beginning of a general disaster.
Commander of the Northern Army Eugene-Ludwig Karlovich Miller (1867-1939)
Russian and Soviet military leader, participant in the First World and Civil Wars, commander of the 6th Soviet Army Alexander Alexandrovich Samoilo
General disaster and evacuation
The threat at the front made the political community of Arkhangelsk forget about grievances and ambitions; on February 14, 1920 a new government was formed (the fifth composition). It did not matter anymore. The government only managed to issue a defense appeal and hold several meetings. The Soviet command proposed peace, promised the inviolability of officers.
At the front, disaster developed. White tried to close the gap, but the units thrown into battle were unreliable and scattered. The retreat continued. The Reds took Plesetskaya station and created a threat to the surroundings of the Seletsky fortified area. The 7th Northern Regiment, which stubbornly defended this fortified area, was ordered to withdraw. But the soldiers of this regiment, made up of local partisans, refused to leave their homes and simply fled to their homes. A company remained from the best regiment of the army. At this time, the remaining units against the backdrop of defeat at the front quickly fell apart. In Arkhangelsk itself, sailors openly conducted propaganda among the soldiers of spare parts.
However, the command believed that, although the fall of Arkhangelsk is inevitable, there is still time. The front will hold out for some time. Therefore, the city lived an ordinary life, no evacuation was announced. Only counterintelligence and the operations department of the headquarters on foot began to move to Murmansk, but because of deep snow they moved extremely slowly. And then on February 18 the catastrophe became complete. The front collapsed. Units in the main directions threw positions, surrendered, local residents went home. Only groups of “irreconcilable” remained, who independently began to leave towards Murmansk. At the same time, the Reds could not immediately enter Arkhangelsk. Due to impassability and low organization, Soviet troops lingered. Between Arkhangelsk and the front line a zone of 200-300 km was formed, where the disarmament of the white units, "fraternities", meetings took place, and fledging soldiers of the Northern Army were caught.
At that moment, there were three icebreakers in Arkhangelsk. "Canada" and "Ivan Susanin" were 60 km from the city on the pier "Economy", where they loaded with coal. Some of the refugees were sent there. The icebreaker Kozma Minin, recalled halfway to Murmansk by a radiogram, came directly to Arkhangelsk. The team was unreliable, so a group of naval officers immediately took control of the ship. The Minin and the Yaroslavna military yacht, which the icebreaker took in tow, were loaded by Commander Miller himself, his headquarters, members of the northern government of various compositions, various famous people, sick and wounded, Danish volunteers, members of White Guard families. Miller transferred power to Arkhangelsk to the workers' executive committee; crowds of workers and sailors with red flags roamed in the city. Raised the red flag and the battleship "Chesma". On February 19, the Minin began its campaign. Having reached the “Economy”, they planned to load coal and attach two more icebreakers. But there were already red flags fluttering. The marina and icebreakers were captured by the rebels. Ice officers ran to the Minin.
Coming into the White Sea, the ships reached the ice. The ice fields were so powerful that I had to abandon Yaroslavna. The icebreaker took on board people from the yacht (there were 1100 people on board), coal, food and one 102-mm gun, and the empty Yaroslavna was left in the ice. She was rescued, she became part of the Soviet flotilla as a watchman (since 1924 - "Thieves"). On February 20, the icebreakers Sibiryakov, Rusanov, and Taimyr noticed in the ice; they left Arkhangelsk to Murmansk on February 15, but were stuck, unable to break through further. There was no confidence in the reliability of their crews, so the officers and officials were transferred to Minin and they took part of the coal.
On February 21, a chase was revealed. The Red forces occupied Arkhangelsk, the Canada icebreaker was sent in pursuit. The red icebreaker opened fire. Minin replied. The White Guards were lucky, they were the first to achieve a successful shot. “Canada” got hit, turned around and left. The ice began to move. All four icebreakers resumed their campaign. But soon three icebreakers, intentionally or accidentally, lagged behind the Minin. Then the Minin was again jammed with ice. Meanwhile, the purpose of the path has changed. On February 21 in Murmansk, under the influence of news of the fall of the death of the Northern Army and the fall of Arkhangelsk, an uprising began. The white units scattered and opened the front in the Murmansk sector. Therefore, “Minin”, when the ice broke, moved to Norway. Already in Norwegian waters we met the Lomonosov steamboat, on which some officers, a detachment of Belgian volunteers and two English pilots fled from Murmansk. A group of Arkhangelsk refugees was transplanted to Lomonosov.
On February 26, 1920, Minin and Lomonosov arrived at the Norwegian port of Tromsø. On March 3, Minin and Lomonosov left Tromsø, and on March 6 arrived in Hommelvik. On March 20, the Russians were interned in a camp near Trondheim. Altogether, over 600 people were interned, some of the sick and wounded remained in Tromsø, some returned to Russia, some refugees who had money and connections in other countries left for Finland, France and England. It is worth noting that the Norwegians welcomed the Russian refugees in a very friendly manner, treated and fed for free, covered them with gifts, gave out benefits for the period of finding a new place in life. Miller soon left for France, where he became the chief commissioner for military and naval affairs of General Wrangel in Paris.
The rest of Miller’s army ceased to exist. The Reds occupied Onega on February 26, Pinega on February 29, and Murmansk on March 13. After the collapse of the army, part of the officers and soldiers (about 1,5 thousand people) in the Murmansk sector, not wanting to surrender, moved to Finland. After two weeks of hike without roads, through the taiga and swamps, they nevertheless reached Finnish territory. In the Arkhangelsk direction, the remote eastern sections (Pechora, Mezensky, Pinezhsky) after breaking through the front, the Reds in the central direction were in the rear of the enemy and were doomed to captivity. The troops of the Dvinsky district, which according to staff plans were to connect with Zheleznodorozhny to move to Murmansk, could not do this. The remnants of the units began to withdraw to Arkhangelsk, but the Soviet troops had already occupied it and the White capitulated. The troops of the Zheleznodorozhny district and those who left Arkhangelsk themselves shawled to Murmansk (about 1,5 thousand people). But there was an uprising in Onega, White had to break through. February 27, they reached the station of Soroki on the Murmansk railway, and then they learned that the Murmansk section of the front also collapsed. They were waiting for the red armored trains and infantry. The extremely difficult 400-kilometer campaign was in vain, the White Guards entered into negotiations and surrendered.
Thus, the white Northern army of Miller ceased to exist. The northern region existed only with the support of Britain and because of the secondary nature of this direction. Miller’s army did not threaten the vital centers of Soviet Russia, therefore, while the Red Army smashed the enemy on other fronts, the white North existed. As soon as the threat in the northwest and south disappeared, the Reds launched a decisive offensive, and the Northern Army collapsed.
Icebreaker Kozma Minin in Norway