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Pisarev A.
Suppression of Chechen mutiny. 1918

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  • Аннотация:
    Любопытная статья деникинского офицера Писарева о подавлении чеченского мятежа в тылу деникинцев в 1918 г. Я перевел ее для своего знакомого кавказоведа Джона Коларуссо, профессора канадского университета Мак Мастер.

Translated from Russian by Sergei Akopov

   Suppression of Chechen mutiny
   After skirmishes around Georgievsk units of the 1st Cavalry Division proceeded their march to Terek region along the railroad "Mineralnye Vody - Grozny".
   By the beginning of 1919 all Terek region including Vladikavkaz featured significant signs of Bolshevik influence. Epidemic typhus expanded all over the region with the railroad area being affected the most. Sick and dead Red Army soldiers filled all the railroad stations and carriages. Deficit of medicines facilitated spread of the infection which started to affect units of the Dobroarmy <Voluntary Army or the White Guard during the Civil War in Russia - translator's remark>.
   By that time units of General Shatilov, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, concentrated around Grozny ready to strike against Chechnya.
   It's hard to define the so-called Chechen movement. I used to talk to the educated Chechens in Grozny asking them about the meaning of the word. Their answers were:
   " One should not identify the Chechen ideology as Bolshevism. Being Moslems they are naturally opposed to the Communist atheism. Are there amongst Chechens separatist moods as we mean this? Hardly. The former Russian Government was tolerant towards Chechens in spite of all their wrongdoings in the past. Doors of secondary and higher schools were wide open before us, we were allowed to serve in the army and enjoyed all the rights on equal basis with Russians. Besides we were released from the obligatory conscription. What's going on in Chechnya now was detonated by the events in modern Russia. The Chechen people have militant spirit, inclined to wage life of a brigand who enjoys strong emotions. Also counts the old dispute over lands between the Chechens and Terek Cossacks."
   Answering my question "how they view future development of the events and if there is an opportunity of turning suppression of Chechnya into minor but prolonged war?", - most of them said that everything depends on ourselves.
   Geographically Chechnya is divided into Major Chechnya situated on highlands and Minor Chechnya which is on plains. Population according to Chechens themselves does not exceed 200,000. Their positive features - courage and endurance, negative -insidiousness and inclination to theft; robbery is the ideal of the Chechens and the most infamous brigands came from them. All the Chechens are Sunni Muslims, their religiousness is close to blind fanaticism.
   Sunja river is a natural border between the Terek Cossack villages which are on the left bank, and Chechen aouls (villages)- on the right bank. Gangs of Chechens used to attack Cossack villages' line and thus ruined normal life. This resulted in establishment of paramilitary way of life in Cossacks' villages which put guards day and night. Chechens acted accordingly.
   As most of Oriental people they are very impressionable and slightest success strengthens their hopes; at the same time striking their impression could lead to soon and positive results. Headquarters of the Chechen troops were in "aouls" <local name of a Caucasian village - Tr.> Vedeno and Shali. There found shelter from the White Guard troops red commissar Ghikalo. Short before the first action he visited Alhan-Yurt and one could see in binoculars great crowds of locals under green and red flags. This is very characteristic for the Chechens for it proves they may be not only good Muslims but equally capable of rallying under the red banner. In late March units started to concentrate in Yermolovskaya village with the objective of march to Alhan-yurt. The operation of General Dratsenko was of punitive nature; it aimed at demonstrating Chechens our power, proving them with demolition of their "aouls" that they are being spoken to in realistic language of force.
   Among the highlanders there were trained and experienced veterans of the World War 1. They perfectly knew the landscape and used tactic of small equestrian groups. They quickly rode during the battle in different directions constantly shooting. They were serious opponents, desperate in fighting, especially in defense.
   All the above makes clear that a plain attack at any number of Chechen warriors does not make sense for it has no target. Number of soldiers, weaponry and artillery, otherwise being a pledge of victory, here do not guarantee anything for they may strike only at random.
   In the rear of Chechens there were plains and further - mountains. The operation against them started in springtime, so the enemy had pastures at hand. Having had cattle as a main source of life they could easily open a guerilla war, sending their families, cattle and property to the rear.
   Taking into consideration all the above, even a unit several times exceeding General Dratsenko's by number, would have been able only to unleash a prolonged minor war which would further enrage Chechens. Invasion of our troops to Chechnya with aouls remaining intact, would be equal to dealing a blow on emptiness. Chechnya did not have any considerable or economically strategic locations, which being occupied by opponent's troops could seriously impact life of the population.
   Offensive units might expect ambushes constantly changing locations, sniper bullets and flexible line of fanatic horsemen ready to die. In these conditions troops were to find an all-directional frontline plus constant pressure. With further advancement superiors should have assigned considerable units to defend the rear. General Dratsenko could not afford it because of lack of sufficient forces and what was more important, time. Troops were mostly engaged in actions in Don region and in the direction of Tsaritsyn (presently Volgograd- Tr-r).
   All the above was considered by the superiors. So General Dratsenko took a decision which looked very harsh at the first sight, but which later proved to be much more human than other options. The Commander ordered to occupy the first line of Chechen aouls along Sunja river and raze them to the ground. In other words he decided to impress Chechens' imagination and make sure that they are not being joked with. He has taken into consideration the impact of the psychological factor of short and mighty strike with demolition of the aouls and further withdrawal to the initial positions. Later negotiations could be continued. In case of their failure, the equally strong blow should be delivered on the second line of aouls.
   Chechen settlements were rather comfortable with about 40% of European-style houses, so prospects of several aouls' total demolition frightened the enemy more that any battle, whatever desperate. I strongly believe that no bloodshed might push Chechens to surrender. Endless human and material losses on both sides could cost us and Chechens thousand times more than three to four ruined aouls. Diplomatic efforts of our commanders were also of great help.
   Though most of the low class Chechens were anarchists by nature, among others there were many supporters of state order. The latter viewed authorities of the Dobroarmy as symbols of this order and being opponents to bolshevism due to their religious beliefs split unity of the Chechen struggle. At my opinion, Chechens as all other Eastern people, despise weakness and feel deep respect for power.
   No severe measures could be excessive with Chechens and make them your enemy. The other way, such measures may raise you in their eyes and combined with some tact make them devoted and faithful to you. Memorizing details of General Dratsenko's operation, I become convinced that while working it out and implementation psychological factor played the main role.
   The results of the operation proved this conviction. Within two weeks and a half Chechnya was pacified with minimum losses. Chechens pronounced name of General Dratsenko with respect and some awe. The picturesque land received peace and order up to the end of Dobroarmy's struggle.
   Having completed depiction of the situation let me turn to the first operation against Alhan-yourt aoul.
   During twenties of March two battalions of dismounted Cossacks, units of the First Cavalry division and five artillery batteries were located in Yermolovskaya village with the purpose of attacking Alhan-yourt aoul...
   At dawn the Kuban Cossacks crossed the river and started moving ahead together with Terek Cossacks. At the line of Chechen guard posts they met with the first serious resistance. The enemy demonstrated exclusive stubbornness and desperate heroism of the doomed. Watching the action through the binoculars I haven't seen a single Chechen retreating to the second line of defense. They were killed where they were lying. I believe that combat order of Chechens proved our artillery useless. Their combat line could not be detected even through the mighty Zeiss lens. It consisted of chain of detachments which perfectly used the landscape features. Being militarily smart by nature, Chechens apply such order for the effective cross-fire defense. Their shotgun shooting was exclusively accurate: all wounds of the Cossacks were in the upper part of the body, i.e. lethal. Accurate shooting of Chechens made Cossacks to resort to one by one bounds. All the above made the artillery task very difficult which could not be performed even with double ammunition supply. The matter was aggravated by heavy losses of our infantry which could not detect points of maximum fire intensity. All the above incurred heavy losses among the Cossacks storming the first line of Chechen defense.
   At 2PM the battalions approached north of the aoul by 500 to 600 meters. The Cossacks who were first to storm the aoul had orders to set on fire all that could be burnt so that fire line could indicate targets for the artillery. At 2:30PM our batteries opened intensive fire. Excellent fire correction and good aiming at the targets resulted in even hitting of the aoul frontier. The Chechens were overwhelmed.
   At 14:45PM the Cossacks attacked the aoul and burst into its outskirts. Here in several locations short hand-to-hand fights occurred when Chechens desperately crying "Allah!" attacked the Cossacks with swards and dyed on their bayonets.
   By sunset the enemy was completely destroyed, no prisoners taken. We deliberately let go only several men on horses so that they tell the others about what happened to Alhan-yourt. The whole aoul was set on fire burning all night and day long lighting the valley and reminding the rebels what they are to expect from the future.
   Battle near Alhan-yourt once again demonstrated what Chechens were like. I view their tactics of guerilla war as the highest sample of military art. They make excellent warriors due to personal initiative and ability of many people to simultaneously estimate the situation and take similar decisions at distance from each other.
   In the evening after the battle at Alhan-yourt artillery received the order to take new positions opposite aoul Valerik. At dawn chains of dismounted Cossacks moved towards the aoul. They approached the aoul but the enemy was silent. Advanced detachments of Cossacks were moving ahead in order when at the distance of 400 meters Chechens opened shotgun fire. This did not stopped the soldiers and advanced lines of Cossacks reached the aoul outskirts. Horsemen received orders to block the village from south-east preventing retreat of the enemy from there.
   Cossacks continued their advancement setting on fire everything. I followed the chains into the aoul. It was hard to tell ours from the enemy, shooting was from every direction. Our artillery was silent. This operation was implemented without artillery support and at my opinion it was to the advantage of the commanders. Striking force of the Dobroarmy even without artillery was once again demonstrated to Chechens and visible positions of the batteries added to the impression of mighty power. By midday aoul was completely brushed by the Cossacks. There were no prisoners as before. The aoul was treated equally as Alhan-yourt. By the evening units of dismounted Cossacks and the 2-d horse-drawn battery retreated to Yermolovskaya village and the equestrian detachments to Grozny.
   Valerik operation was followed by one week of truce. As far as I know the superiors were negotiating with Chechens. Obviously negotiations with aouls Tsatsan-yourt and Gudermes did not bring positive results and this prompted decision of a new operation against Tsatsan-yourt in the late March.
   Here Chechens tried to copy the defense of Alhan-yourt and disposed the first line of resistance two miles ahead of the aoul. Having no natural cover on the even landscape they had to dig several trenches which became an excellent target for our artillery. Within half an hour accurate artillery fire quickly destroyed defenders in their entrenchment. The trenches were directly hit and completely destroyed by the artillery shells. Chechens were morally suppressed.
   Artillery showed its might and power due to the visibility of exact targets. In this case Chechens failed to use advantages of natural terrain features resorting instead to the artificial installations. Speaking to his colleagues General Dratsenko pointed out that any resistance of the aoul's defendants will result in the same consequences as in Alhan-yourt. When Cossacks approached the village the Commander received some message from the equestrian detachment. It contained something important because he immediately gave orders by telephone to stop the offensive.
   Judging the situation we might assume that Tsatsan-yourt Chechens, probably together with the dwellers of the near-by aouls expressed their obedience (I heard that our superiors after positive negotiations took hostages to guarantee execution of the conditions).
   The combat order of our troops was perfectly seen from the small hill to the east of Tsatsan-yourt where crowds of highlanders stayed. The Chechens might be extremely impressed by the excellent order and discipline in our infantry chains with three artillery batteries keeping sinister silence. The locals viewing the menacing lines of the combatants felt that with a single word from the Commander their aoul might be razed to the ground.
   This situation lasted 2 - 3 hours, than an order to return to the initial position was received. The troops formed a column and marched towards Grozny.
   Several days passed after Tsatsan-yourt siege. The superiors probably negotiated during this length of time with Chechens. The talks were obviously unsuccessful for in early April an offensive against Gudermes was assigned. To execute this task troops advanced from Grozny, spent a night in Ilyinskaya village and the next day attacked Gudermes.
   The latter was at the time a large and very rich village situated on the right bank of Sunja river. To the west of it there was a hill overlooking both the aoul and approaches to it. On that hill Chechens dug trenches. Later I had an opportunity to examine them. I must admit they met requirements of the modern tactics. All the above made positions of the enemy very strong.
   In that case though Chechens didn't take into consideration one very important factor - they lack artillery and we had it. In orderly combat Chechens would always be doomed for our artillery though small in number but technically strong and well organized, was under command of the officers who had experience of the Great War. Besides being in trenches Chechens were excellent visible targets for the attack of our infantry.
   As soon as our infantry chains approached Chechen defense line by 1,500 - 2,000 meters the enemy opened rifle fire from the trenches. This very moment the batteries received an order to open fire on the hill. Accurate volley of our guns showered with shrapnel trenches of Chechens. They flickered and escaped from the trenches bearing heavy losses and dissipating over the hill. But in this case their move was not successful because the slope was facing our positions and Chechen chains though sparse were visible to our infantry. The latter with machine gun fire literally mowed down the highlanders who died though in manly manner.
   The moment our right wing approached the trenches left by the enemy, the left wing already burst into the aoul which was immediately set on fire. Noticing the fire Chechens raised white flags on poles. After short time two Chechen horsemen with band on their eyes and flags of truce rode past us. In forty minutes an order to stop the offensive came. We expected especially severe fighting at Gudermes, but in fact it turned out to be comparatively mild. Couple of minutes after the order to stop I talked to the Commander of artillery who confirmed that Chechens expressed full obedience and accepted any conditions begging only not to set on fire their aoul.
   Battle of Gudermes completed the pacifying of Chechnya which expressed full obedience and readiness to meet all the requirements of our authorities in addition to the equestrian regiment of Chechens detached to the Dobroarmy.
   If one looks back at the history of the Chechen people, their almost 20 years of struggle under the banners of Shamil, or all arms of the service which had been used unsuccessfully against small gang of Zelim-khan, one may realize the true meaning of the brightly executed campaign of General Dratsenko.
   Alhan-yurt cost us much, but for Chechens it cost immeasurably more; I believe it proved to be a pledge of our further success. Alhan-yourt strikingly impressed the enemy who experienced full force of the Dobroarmy. We can see decline of resistance intensity with every other operation. Finally Gudermes viewing as something terrible is begging for mercy and this final victory is reached with minimum losses. After Gudermes the 1-st Cavalry division together with 2-d and 3-d horse-drawn batteries during the Easter week was sent by train to the direction of Tsaritsyn.
   28 June 1925 A.Pisarev
   <Published in the issue # 47 (304) of "Inostranets" newspaper, December 1st, 1999>

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