Evacuation of Novorossiysk (1920)

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Flight of the bourgeoisie from Novorossiysk in 1920 by Ivan Vladimirov.
Denikin on the Russian destroyer Captain Saken during the Novorossiysk evacuation, March 1920
White troops during the Novorossiysk evacuation, March 1920
Russian refugees on Red Cross Relief Ship Sangamon, Novorossiysk, March 1920

The Evacuation of Novorossiysk (Новороссийская эвакуация) or the Novorossiysk Catastrophe (Новороссийская катастрофа) was the evacuation of the White Armed Forces of South Russia and refugees from Novorossiysk in March 1920, during the Russian Civil War, in which thousands of officers, soldiers and Cossacks of the White Army and civilians were left behind and killed by the Red Army and the Green Army. In total, some 33,000 people were executed.

Chronology of events

By March 11, 1920, the front line was only 40–50 kilometers (25–31 mi) away from Novorossiysk. The Don and Kuban Armies, which were disorganized by that time, withdrew in great disorder. The line of defense was only held by the remnants of the Volunteer Army, which had been reduced and renamed to the Volunteer Corps, but which had great difficulties in containing the onslaught of the Red Army. The Cossacks failed to reach Taman, and as a result, many of them ended up in Novorossiysk with the sole purpose of getting on a ship. In total, the Armed Forces in the South of Russia in the Novorossiysk area on the eve of the evacuation amounted to 25,200 bayonets and 26,700 sabers.

Meanwhile, there were not enough ships in the harbour. Some of them were late due to stormy weather, others were unable to arrive on time due to quarantine established in foreign ports. All ships arriving from Russia with refugees were kept in quarantine for a long time, because of the terrible typhus epidemic in Russia.

The command ordered the immediate loading of the wounded and sick soldiers, but this order was never carried out. Moreover, military forces flocking to Novorossiysk began to occupy ships on their own, and officials cared more about the evacuation of property that could be sold after the war.

On March 11, General George Milne, Commander-in-Chief of the British troops in the region, and Admiral Seymour, Commander of the Black Sea Fleet, arrived from Constantinople in Novorossiysk. General Anton Denikin was told that only 5,000-6,000 people could be evacuated by the British. At night, British naval vessels opened fire for the first time towards the mountains surrounding Novorossiysk. The shelling was provoked by the fact that Green soldiers had broken into the city prison and released several hundred prisoners, which fled with them into the mountains.

On March 13, the first signs of panic appeared. On March 16, the South Russian Government was disbanded. On March 17, Yekaterinodar was taken by the Red Army. On March 22, around 22:00 hours, the Red Army occupied the Abinsk station and moved further towards Novorossiysk. The roads were crammed with carts, cars and military equipment left behind in the impassable mud. Only the railway remained open for movement, and it was used by Denikin's staff train, accompanied by armored trains. Parts of the Red Army under command of Semyon Budyonny also used the railway, leaving behind their heavy weapons and artillery.

The troops in the harbour were planned to be sent to the Crimea. Horses and artillery were to be left behind.

On March 25, 1920, parts of the Red Army, with the help of partisans, cashed the Volunteers from the Tunnelnaya station and crossed the pass into Gaiduk, a suburb of Novorossiysk. This blocked the railway tracks and forced the White Guards to leave their three armored trains behind here.

On the night of March 26, in Novorossiysk warehouses were burning, and tanks with oil and shells were exploding. The evacuation was conducted under the cover of the second battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Edmund Hakewill-Smith and the Allied squadron commanded by Admiral Seymour, which fired towards the mountains, preventing the Reds from approaching the city. At dawn on March 26, the last ship, the Italian transport Baron Beck entered the Tsemessky Bay, causing great turmoil as the people didn't know where it would land. The panic reached its apogee when the crowd rushed to the gangway of this last ship.

The military and refugees on the ships were taken to the Crimea, Constantinople, Lemnos, the Prince Islands, Serbia, Cairo and Malta.
On March 27, the Red Army entered the city. The Don, Kuban and Terek regiments, left on the shore, had no choice but to accept the terms and surrender to the Red Army.

Massacre of prisoners

Many of the officers of the Armed Forces of the South of Russia left in Novorossiysk committed suicide, not wanting to be captured, and many of those who became prisoners were later executed.

Consequences

About 40,000 soldiers were evacuated by Russian and Allied ships, without horses or any heavy equipment, while about 20,000 men were left behind and either dispersed or were captured by the Red Army. Following the disastrous Novorossiysk evacuation, Denikin stepped down and the military council elected Pyotr Wrangel as the new Commander-in-Chief of the White Army.

Officials involved in evacuation

The last commander of Novorossiysk (from February to March 1920) was Major-General Alexei Korvin-Krukovsky.
The commission that organized the evacuation was headed by General Alexander Kutepov.
At the last moment (after March 20), the chief of the communications service, Major-General M. M. Ermakov, was engaged in the evacuation of troops to the Crimea.
The chief of the Black Sea province and the department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the South-Russian government was N. S. Karinsky.

Ships participating in the evacuation

Russia

  • Ayu-dag (evacuated the headquarters of General Kutepov)
  • Rossiya (evacuated 4,000 Don Cossacks under command of Vladimir Sidorin).
  • Doob (evacuated parts of the Kuban army)
  • Bespokoynyy
  • Pylkiy
  • Kapitan Saken
  • pilot ship Letchik
  • auxiliary cruiser Tsesarevich Georgiy (evacuated Denikin and his headquarters)
  • submarine Utka
  • hospital transport Kherson
  • Violetta

Italy

United Kingdom

France

Greece

  • destroyer Ierax

United States

Source

  • This is a translation of an article in the Russian Wikipedia, Новороссийская катастрофа.

Links

  • South Russia Diary: Evacuation of Novorossisk part 1
  • South Russia Diary: Evacuation of Novorossisk part 2
  • South Russia Diary: Evacuation of Novorossisk part 3
  • South Russia Diary: Evacuation of Novorossisk part 4
  • South Russia Diary: Evacuation of Novorossisk part 5
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