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Michael Kihntopf Articles
The Northwest Army
The Great Retreat
Krasnaya Gorka
Antwerp
The Kerensky Offensive

Recommended Reading


Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War


The Russian Civil War

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Krasnaya Gorka: A Missed Opportunity, The Keys to Petrograd Lost
Krasnaya Gorka: A Missed Opportunity, The Keys to Petrograd Lost
by Michael Kihntopf

History is full of incidents that changed the historical flow of events from one course to another. Such examples are the defeat of the Persians at Salamis and the 1914 Battle of the Marne. Yet history has more examples of missed opportunities that, had they been taken advantage of at the time, could have saved the world from untold trails and tribulations. These missed opportunities are historians' and history aficionados' favorite topics of discussion over one too many whiskies. Instances such as the failure to follow up on the naval bombardment of the Gallipoli coast and the dismissal of the mutinies at the Kronstadt forts of Krasnaya Gorka and Seraia Loshad on 13 June 1919 have the distinction of being such missed opportunities.

Since April 1919, Russian counter revolutionary forces led by General Nicholai Yudenich had been operating along the Gulf of Finland coast in an effort to establish a launching pad for an eventual campaign to capture the Bolshevik bastion of Petrograd. Called the Northwest Corps, the force had its beginnings in a scheme by German Quarter Master General Erich Ludendorff.[1] He had formulated a plan to organize a few thousand Russian prisoners of war into an army that his staff could control. The corps was to invade Russia, topple the Bolshevik government through the capture of Petrograd and establish a new government that would be sympathetic to the German Reich and become an ally in the continuing fight against the Allied powers of France, the United Kingdom and the associated powers. The armistice in November 1918 ended German funding of the corps but not its existence. Most of the soldiers, nearly 10,000, could not go home because of political differences with the Bolshevik led government of Vladimir Lenin. Its ranks were not only filled with former prisoners of war but also army and bureaucratic dissidents who escaped Bolshevik Russia.[2]

In those first few days after the armistice, the corps' focus was muddled but that quickly changed when the Bolshevik government sent its Red Army to reconquer the Baltic coast region whose people, the Estonians, Letts, and Lithuanians, had declared themselves independent republics. The corps allied itself with the Estonian army; however, the lack of supplies soon became evident as the Red Army pushed both factions mercilessly back toward the coast. Only exhaustion of the Bolsheviks brought the onslaught to a stop on the outskirts of the Estonian capital of Tallinn. For a short while it appeared that the Red Army would be victorious in their reconquest; however, a new sponsor appeared in the nick of time in the form of a British navy flotilla. The British government was pursuing a political campaign of isolation toward the Bolshevik government. As a result it saw the three fledgling republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on the Baltic coast as a means to accomplish its policy. The naval flotilla had orders to shoot on sight any Red Navy ships and to help the hard pressed armies with training, supplies, and combat support where possible.[3] While the guns of the ships kept the Red Army at bay, the Estonian army and the corps were reequipped and retrained. Then in April 1919, the two armies launched a counter offensive that pushed the Red Army back into Russia.

The Estonians stopped their campaign at the traditional border of their province, the Narada River while the corps advanced into Russia to claim the city of Iamburg in the north and Pskov in the south as a base for a counterrevolutionary government. The corps continued to attract dissidents but also instituted conscription for the citizens living in their conclave. The number of bayonets soon reached 25,000 and the British government saw it as a viable faction that might overthrow the Bolshevik government by attacking Petrograd. Equipment and training specialists came pouring in. The vitality that the new corps showed gained it not only respect but also a new overall commander. General of the Infantry Nicholai Yudenich became the figure head of the corps which was renamed the Northwest Army. Yudenich had been the chief of staff on the Caucasus front from 1914 through 1917 and had recently escaped Russia. The army's sphere of influence extended to less than 100 kilometers from Petrograd. Before it stood a very demoralized Red Army which suffered from hunger, lack of equipment, and over-zealous commissars who periodically purged the ranks destroying leadership as well as those who would aspire to command. The moment seemed ripe to continue the drive. All that was needed was a sign.

That omen of good fortune came on 13 June 1919 when the radio waves along the coast crackled to life. Over those airwaves came the voice of Colonel Nikolai Nekliudor, the commander of Krasnaya Gorka, the land fort that protected the approach to Kronstadt harbor where the Bolshevik fleet lay moored:

"The commissarocracy has been overthrown in the fort. Come join us."[4]

The plea was aimed at the other three forts that guarded the harbor. Nekliudor punctuated his call for mutiny with a bombardment of the ships in the harbor. Within hours, another fort, Seraia Loshad, joined the mutiny. Both of these forts were less than 30 kilometers from the Northwest Army's positions. They were the tumblers to the lock around the Bolshevik stronghold at Kronstadt and Petrograd.

When General Alexander Rodzianko, the Northwest Army's field commander, received the report of the mutiny his demeanor was one of reluctance.[5] He claimed that the situation all along his line was tenuous and he could not spare any soldiers to attempt a link up. General Yudenich echoed his field commander's assessment. However, the reason for reluctance was not based in military readiness but rather in politics.

In the distant past, there had existed a native region called Ingermanland along the Gulf of Finland coast between Narva and Petrograd. When Peter the Great had taken this land from the Swedes nearly two centuries before, the Ingermanlanders had become Russians. In 1919 this identity had resurfaced in a military unit that was operating in the area against the Bolsheviks. This unit had responded to the forts' call for help and added their strength to the garrisons. Yudenich and Rodzianko did not recognize this faction as part of the counter revolutionary movement and feared that should they concede to a rescue of the forts, the Ingermanlanders might try to gain independence like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Yudenich and his superior, Admiral Alexander Kolchak the recognized leader of the counterrevolutionary forces, did not condone the independence movements that had swept through the provinces of the Russian Empire. Their intention was to keep Russia intact as it had been before 1914. As a result, the Northwest Army could not rescue the forts as long as the Ingermanlanders were there.

The Kronstadt Soldiers, Sailors, and Workers Soviet were not lethargic in their response to the mutiny. The battleships Petropavlovsk and Andrei Pervozvanni steamed out of Kronstadt, anchored within range of the forts, and began pounding both with their 14 inch guns. After a day, the dreadnaughts were replaced by the cruiser Oleg which continued the bombardment on Krasnaya Gorka.[6] The British flotilla, which was still operating along the Baltic coast, was unable to assist the fort since it was within the perilous minefields that protected the harbor. The situation was grave for the fort's garrison and the Ingermanlanders. Help, although insufficient, came from an unlikely corner.

For a number of months, British navy Lieutenant Augustus Agar had been operating three coastal motorboats in the Gulf of Finland in support of espionage missions in Petrograd. His role had been to ferry agents in and out of Petrograd on his boats which could, because of their shallow draft, skim over the mines at the harbor's entrance. Agar offered his services to the British naval commander. His boats were fitted with torpedo launchers. The commander provided the torpedoes but, because Agar was operating outside of navy jurisdiction, he did not give him an order to destroy the Russian ship that was hammering the forts. Agar took the initiative. On the evening of 15 June, he maneuvered his craft into the narrow confines in which the Oleg was anchored and loosed his torpedo. The weapon found the target and the Oleg sank. But the feat did little to help the garrison.

The following morning, 800 sailors attacked Krasnaya Gorka from the land side.[7] The bombardment had breached the fort's walls in many places allowing the assault force easy access to the interior. However, the garrison and the Ingermanland defenders also had easy access to an escape. Nearly 1300 men managed to escape and get safely to the Northwest Army's trench lines. Seraia Loshad held out for two more days before surrendering. Rodzianko, wishing to save face, blamed the British for the mutiny's failure.

The route to Petrograd was closed. Yudenich and Rodzianko had failed to follow up on the opportunity. Consequently, the Northwest Army's drive on Petrograd in September and October of the same year had to fight across the land areas that would have been safe had they occupied the forts. Undeterred by their previous treatment, the Ingermanlanders, supported by a British monitor with a 12 inch gun, were involved in the attempt to retake Krasnaya Gorka. Their attempts failed. As a consequence, the left flank of the Northwest Army was unsecured. The army arrived at the outskirts of Petrograd exhausted and low on supplies and was easily beaten back by a reinforced Red Army. Petrograd, later to be named Leningrad, continued to be the rock of the Bolshevik revolution resisting counter revolutionary forces and, in 1941, the Nazi army as well.

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Show Footnotes and Sources

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Copyright © 2007 Michael Kihntopf.

Written by Michael Kihntopf. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Michael Kihntopf at:
kihnt@swbell.net.

About the author:
Michael P. Kihntopf is a 23 year veteran of the U.S. Air Force. His last position was as Chief, War Planning-Contingency Operations Division, Personnel Directorate, Strategic Air Command. During that tour he was directly involved in the planning and execution of the personnel portions of DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. His assignments included being a Contingency and War Planning Officer for the Military Airlift Command from 1983-1986, in which he served on the battle staff for the Grenada and Panama invasions. He is currently a world history teacher in the San Antonio, Texas area. His specialization is World War I's Eastern Front. He is the author of Victory in the East, the Rise and Fall of the Imperial German Army and Handcuffed to a Corpse, German Intervention in the Balkans, 1914-1917. Both are available through White Mane Publishers, Shippensburg, PA.

Published online: 06/23/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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