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

While the Bolsheviks had Lenin as their leader, no one person was in charge of the White forces.

Leaders of the White Russian forces: Yudenich, Kolchak, Deniken, Wrangel

The Whites had several leaders - Yudenich, Kolchak, Deniken and Wrangel. All wanted glory for themselves. While trying to defeat the Reds, they were also often in competition with each other. They were all ambitious men and each was determined to take control of Russia for himself.

Deniken and then Wrangel were concentrated in the south, while Admiral Kolchak was in the north-east and Yudenich in the west. They were so far apart that they were unable to coordinate attacks.

As a result, there was virtually no co-operation between the various White Armies. They fought independently and this made it easier for the Red Army to defeat them individually.

Brutality and corruption

White Army forces often behaved with great brutality and cruelty in the areas they controlled. Towns were burned, property destroyed or stolen, and crops and livestock were taken by force. If civilians objected, they faced torture and execution. Inevitably, the Whites became hated and feared.

Corruption was widespread in White-controlled areas. White soldiers looted shops and houses, and were often drunk. A black market was created for goods originally intended to help fight the war.


The Bolsheviks were fighting for a very definite cause - the establishment and survival of a communist Russia.

The Whites, however, had problems motivating their troops and building up support. Why should soldiers face death simply to make Kolchak or Yudenich master of Russia?

Moreover, some Russians feared that foreign intervention would bring an end to Russian independence in the event of White victory. As time passed, more and more soldiers deserted from the White Armies.

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