Russian Civil War - The White Army

Leadership of the Whites

The White Armies appeared to have a number of advantages in the Civil War:

  • Their leaders were experienced military commanders
  • They controlled huge areas of Russia
  • They had the Bolsheviks surrounded
  • They had the active support of foreign countries, which intervened in the Civil War on their behalf.

However, as the Civil War developed, the White Armies began to face major problems and difficulties in organising their campaigns. Against the drive and ruthless energy of the Bolsheviks, their campaigns faltered. By the end of 1920, the Bolsheviks were close to achieving total victory.

White Army weaknesses

The Whites had a number of weaknesses that led to their defeat.

  • Divided leadership- lacking a single figurehead like Lenin, different generals had conflicting aims
  • Whites became hated and feared for the brutality they showed towards local areas, stealing crops and livestock and torturing objecting civilians
  • Low moral- their lack of a clear aim or plan was less enticing than the Bolshevik cause- the establishment and survival of the revolution and a communist Russia.
  • Many feared that foreign intervention would bring an end to Russian independence in the event of White victory.

Given the choice between the Bolsheviks and the Whites, it was hardly surprising that Bolshevik support increased dramatically.

Impact of foreign intervention

The impact of foreign countries on the Civil War was minimal for a number of reasons:

  • World War One had ended in 1918, resulting in a lack of commitment to Russia
  • With the threat of Germany gone, Britain, France and the USA did not feel the need to supply Russia
  • After World War One, foreign powers lacked resources or troops to spare
  • Neither the fear of communism, nor the desire to protect Russian autocracy was strong enough to keep Western powers committed to involvement in Russia

By the end of 1919 most foreign troops had left Russia. But the Reds used the idea of foreign support for the White armies as propaganda. They claimed that the White generals were attempting to defeat the Bolsheviks in order to hand Russia over to foreign imperialists.

The fear of losing their independence convinced a great deal of Russians to support the Reds. As a result, the Reds established themselves as the saviours of Russia.

Geographical implications

At the start of the Civil War, the Bolsheviks controlled the key central area of Russia between Petrograd and Moscow. This gave them a number of advantages.

  • Most of Russia's railways were in this area. This made communication between the various battlefronts much easier. Trotsky was able to move troops and supplies quickly to positions under attack. As Commissar for War, he was able to visit the battlefronts in an armoured train, and to take personal command.
  • The large population of the major cities was a key resource for the Bolsheviks. The cities provided fresh recruitment for the Red Army.
  • Much of Russia's industry and raw materials was located in this area. This made it possible for the Bolsheviks to keep their troops supplied and equipped with weapons, ammunition and supplies.
  • The sheer size of Russia worked against the White Armies. They had to move their forces and supplies over huge distances. This made it difficult to maintain effective control.