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so Austria-Hungary could break up peacefully ummm don't know what to make of this
It doesn't have to break up at all as the state already has long-standing legitimacy already thanks to the Habsburg dynasty which was affirmed (unlike Tito's Yugoslavia which revolved around him) by the victory in the Great War, and the suppression of the Hungarian uprising. Plus Kaiser Karl's death in this tl's has essentially made him into a sort of martyr for Danubia. And with the coming future industrialization, the Empire is bound to experience further prosperity giving its people even more incentives to keep the Empire together especially as it passed its trial by fire in the Great War.

Things like Czechoslovak nationalism was a pretty fringe thing in otl and only really got off the ground thanks to the French seeking to totally destroy Austria-Hungary and create its own new set of alliances (The Little Entente) in the region. The original plans in an entente victory were at best to award Transylvania to Romania, the evacuation of Bosnia, Russian annexing Galicia, and granting Italy its irredentist claims in Dalmatia and in Tyrol/Trieste.
Why would the Habsburgs allow this?
They have ruled the state for centuries by this point.
The Habsburgs were popular in their dominions so they could easiy rally the people and arny behind them.
Franz Joseph was the Elizabeth II of A-H.
Franz Joseph had the combined stature of Lizzy and the Pope.
Moving on the Austria-Hungary discussion, I'm wondering why is Kosovo not part of Albania don't Italy make Kosovo an Albania territory during ww2? (Here is a map of Albania in ww2)
Wow, I have read the entire story so far, and I have to say it is very well done! It has quite a nice setting that really wasn't used and it's very accurate in execution!
Chapter 53: The Siege of Petrograd
Chapter Fifty-Three: The Siege of Petrograd
"By God, they will try. They will grind us down, shell us, reduce us to rats in rubble. We are worthless, it is true. Russia will keep spinning on without us, when we inevitably catch a bullet, or shell, or simply fall over dead. In such a hellscape, that day will come soon. But at this moment, here and now, we are alive. And we will not cease fighting. (1 December)"

"Petrograd is no longer a town. By day it is an enormous cloud of burning, blinding smoke; it is a vast furnace lit by the reflection of the flames. And when night arrives, one of those scorching, howling, bleeding nights, the dogs plunge into the Neva and swim desperately to the other bank. The nights of Petrograd are a hell for them. Animals flee this fell; the hardest stones cannot bear it for long; only men endure. (10 January)"
-Diary excerpts from a Republican soldier in Petrograd.

It was time to expand the Russian Civil War.

The quasi-failure of the Brusilov Offensive elated the Tsarists. Though Tver remained cut off, the Republican advance northwest was no more. Anton Denikin had proved himself, while it seemed as though Alexei Brusilov’s brilliance was exaggerated. Grand Duke Alexander, his firstborn son Prince Andrei, and General Yudenich gathered at Veliky Novgorod on 29 June to plot a course forward. Russia’s climate dictated that campaigns halt with winter, meaning the campaign season was half over. Whatever the Tsarists did, then, had to be finished in three months lest General Mud and General Winter intervene. Yudenich argued for attacking Moscow. The Central Volga People’s Army, he said, had been crippled at Second Borodino and wouldn’t be able to defend itself. Though the Republicans controlled over two hundred thousand square miles, including many of Russia’s greatest cities, they were still surrounded. Denikin could attack from the west, Yudenich argued, while he could attack from the north and another general come in from Siberia. Trapped between three enemy armies, the Republicans would surely surrender and the war would be won. Grand Duke Alexander wasn’t certain. While the strategy seemed sound, it would take too long. If fighting for Tver and the approaches to Rzhev had consumed a month and a half, trying to conquer the entire Central Volga might take a whole year. Besides, this would entail capturing large and potentially hostile cities; garrisoning them would use up scarce manpower. Grand Duke Alexander argued instead for a siege of Petrograd. The Republican capital was isolated from the rest of the rebel holdings and small enough that it could easily be conquered in three months. As a political target, he said, taking the enemy capital and hopefully capturing Kerensky was surely better than conquering Moscow. Prince Andrei agreed, and General Yudenich reluctantly consented. Petrograd it would be.

This was the greatest blunder of the Russian Civil War.

Republican intelligence was sub-optimal but nonetheless they knew an attack was imminent. Just as the Central Volga People’s Army reported reduced pressure from the foe, Lavr Kornilov experienced “heightened tensions at the front” (as his diary records). Trenches and machine-guns couldn’t stop scout planes from penetrating deep into Tsarist territory and noticing unusually heavy rail traffic northwest. And of course, in a war where both sides spoke the same language and even wore similar uniforms, spies penetrated both sides like sieves. Republican agents in Veliky Novgorod and Pskov saw thousands of Tsarists passing northwest; Tsarist agents in Petrograd reported on the state of the capital’s defences. The coup de grace came on 16 July, when a clerk in Petrograd’s docks was arrested for espionage. Cracking under interrogation and fearful for his life, he told his captors everything. Yes, he admitted, he was in the pay of General Yudenich, who was planning a march on the capital! Yes, there were over a dozen divisions en route! It was all true- just let me live!

Lavr Kornilov ordered the body chucked in the freezing Neva River and the city’s defences strengthened.

Unaware that their agent had been captured and cover blown, the Tsarists continued preparing their attack. Anton Denikin was tapped to lead the siege but ultimately turned down. This wasn’t, Prince Andrei explained, because he had fallen from grace, but rather because he was too sorely needed where he was. If the Central Volga kicked off again, having a solid man at the front would go a long way to repairing the damage. Denikin wasn’t thrilled but consented. Grand Duke Nicholas tapped his comrade from the Caucasus front to lead the siege- Nikolai Yudenich. An avowed monarchist and hero of the Caucasus front (inasmuch as, unlike his counterparts in the East, he’d fought the enemy to a stalemate till the Treaty of Konigsberg), Yudenich was considered highly capable and ferociously loyal.

He faced a worthy opponent.

Lavr Kornilov had been to the People’s Army of Petrograd what Mikhail Tukachevsky was to the Central Volga People’s Army. Being a career officer had taught Kornilov what made good troops and the Petrograd garrison was nowhere near that standard. Kornilov strove to fix his force not just for the sake of liberal ideals or his own career, but his life. As Tukachevsky had in Moscow, Kornilov spent the summer putting eager volunteers through their paces. Petrovskoye, on the outskirts of the capital, became a military training ground. Soldiers cut down trees and built barracks and fences themselves before spending sixty days there. Grizzled drill sergeants screamed themselves hoarse, reminding their charges that the Tsarists took no prisoners (like much else they said, this was a lie but it motivated the men), so if they wanted to survive they’d best stop being lazy. This terrified civilian volunteers who’d dreamt of adventure and irritated Great War veterans who’d seen it all before. Though Kornilov wasn’t directly involved, he didn’t complain when Provisional President Kerensky informed him that “sympathetic foreign supporters” had provided the Petrograd garrison with sufficient rifles for everybody… a strange number of which were Browning M1917s. Having got the hang of American rifles, the Petrograd Worker’s Army got down to business. They became more aggressive on the front lines, going from mere ‘active patrolling’ to launching serious incursions and artillery duels. “This is an impressive force you have here, General Kornilov”, remarked Defence Minister Alexander Guchkov at a mid-August parade.

“Sir, while that is most gratifying it is not you who shall be the final judge, but that swine General Yudenich. One hopes he will agree with your assessment.”

It was time to find out.

Yudenich had learnt much from the Republican siege of Tver. As Brusilov had tried to do at that city, the Tsarist general aimed to sever the capital’s road connections one by one. The drive to the Livionian border complicated this by adding sizeable towns which needed conquering. Yudenich’s plan was to cut these off slowly with two attacks: one from the east, the other from the west. Not only would this help Tsarist troops move faster, it would force the Republicans to divide their strength. Eventually, Yudenich told himself, he could reduce the Republican perimeter to just the city itself, which could be stared at will.

He was eager to begin.

Operation PYOTR VELIKY (Peter the Great) commenced at dawn on 1 August 1919. Forty Tsarist divisions of varying quality (some 350,000 men) slammed against the Petrograd perimeter, with artillery lighting the skies above. To the east, the first day’s target was Priozeronye on Lake Ladoga. Advancing down the northernmost highway to the capital, Tsarist troops shoved their way into the village shortly before nine AM. The Republican colonel in charge of Priozeronye was under orders not to waste time defending the town and pulled back. A similar story repeated itself several miles to the west in the afternoon, with the result that Tsarist troops conquered five miles that day. However, the Republican retreat was orderly and preplanned. That night, a Republican battalion occupied the town of Shlisselberg at the northern extremity of the front, while another retreated to the fortified island of Oreshek. As had happened elsewhere, they used artillery placed there for this exact purpose to hamper Tsarist moves, confident that the foe wouldn’t be able to amphibiously eliminate them. The bulk of the Republican strength in the region, though, crossed the Neva River, blowing the bridge up as they went. Kornilov had ordered that no supplies be kept on the right bank of the Neva for this exact reason. Now, the Petrograd Worker’s Army occupied a river line with all the supplies needed to hold it.

It would fall to Yudenich’s men to force a crossing the next day.

PYOTR VELIKY had met with better success in the west as it rolled over the very territory its namesake had conquered from the Finns. The region was less built-up than to the east and there was no Neva River the enemy could flee behind. The only town of much consequence was Kingisepp, which before the war had connected the capital to its Baltic provinces. With the Baltic now a largely irrelevant foreign nation, Kingisepp had dried up since 1916. Thus, Yudenich elected to bypass it. Cavalry raids and artillery strikes could sever communications with Petrograd without paying the price of conquest. Light infantry struck north to plant bombs or lob grenades at the railway line before retiring; Tsarist sympathisers were more than willing to give them a hand. The goal wasn’t to occupy and use the railway but to leave it in too poor condition for the Republicans. Of course, this wasn’t what the latter had imagined. Kornilov had anticipated the Tsarists either besieging Kingisepp or taking it by storm. Aside from a brief artillery barrage which miserably failed to destroy the town’s bridge over the local stream, the Tsarists made no move at the town on the first day. While Kornilov was glad not to have to worry about his position there, he was frustrated that he couldn’t counterattack. Pulling troops from Kingisepp’s sizeable garrison might repulse the foe but would leave the town defenceless against encroachment. Bitterly commenting that he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t, Kornilov issued a directive late in the day for the western forces to “continue your present path of resistance, seeking to deny at every opportunity the territory which you contest to the foe.”

The second day saw new developments in both East and West. Though it pained him, Yudenich admitted that the retreat across the Neva had been a good idea. In the absence of a naval presence, his men would have only one way to cross the river- take stolen fishing-boats across while artillery whizzed overhead and pray. He was faced with a dilemma. The retreat across the river hadn’t been along the whole front- only the easternmost sector. Numerous Republican units continued to hold positions along the east bank of the Neva. Not only would eliminating them now serve as a quick way to beat the foe and thus raise morale, but if left unattended they might become real threats to Yudenich’s rear once his forces crossed. However, he had no idea how orderly the Republicans on the west bank were. If he forced a crossing today, bugger the casualties, he might strike weak units still rebuilding. Giving the enemy a day or two of peace would make the crossing that much harder when he did it- because he’d have to eventually.

Orders thus went out in the small hours of 2 August for the sector’s artillery to pound the far bank of the Neva River. This didn’t have the results Yudenich had hoped for. Having withdrawn to the west bank late last evening, the Republicans had spent nearly twelve hours in their new positions when the shells started falling. Rather than unpacking their equipment and sitting down for a badly needed meal, they were resting in fresh trenches guarded by night watchmen. Their supply dumps and supporting artillery were located several miles behind the river specifically to prevent their being blasted to smithereens. Thus, when Yudenich’s men began traversing the river they found fierce opposition. Soldiers of the Petrograd Worker’s Army equipped with the aforementioned American rifles shot at overcrowded boats and picked off foolish swimmers one by one. Building a pontoon bridge was impossible, not only for lack of materials but because engineers standing still for more than a few seconds were likely to get mown down. After an hour, Yudenich halted the bombardment to conserve shells and sent his two Sikorsky bombers into the air. 220-pound bombs crashed on the defenders, blowing steel, earth, and flesh everywhere. Republican artillery did their best to counterattack but the bombers flew too high. Ironically enough, it wasn’t enemy action but engine trouble which repulsed the bombers. Black smoke started coming out of one’s engine, forcing it to retreat east. The other pilot decided it was lonely at the top and withdrew. For all the harm tactical bombing had done to the foe, the Tsarists still had to get across in the face of firm opposition. After the bombers withdrew, they attempted to do just that. Men waded across sandbars and crossed in commandeered fishing-boats. This was a logistical nightmare, and Yudenich faced much heat for failing to provide adequate support for his men. When one was gingerly wading across a sandbar, up to one’s waist or shoulders in water, one had no chance of spotting the gun trained on him. Overcrowded and slow fishing-boats were target practice for Republican snipers. Those few Tsarists who managed to cross the river found themselves fighting for their lives and pulled back after half an hour; few survived the second river-crossing.

Lavr Kornilov’s professionalism, the courage of his fighting men, and their strangely-acquired American guns had won the day.

Republican troops prepare to shell approaching Tsarists (the gun is of Russian, not American, make)
russian artillery.jpeg

Things were more fluid in the west. It pained Kornilov to admit it, but he had too much to defend. Tsarist troops could attack along the road and rail line wherever they so chose. Keeping the lines safe would cost too much but abandoning them wasn’t feasible. Retreat- even a localised one- would open up his flanks. Kornilov still believed Yudenich’s goal was Kingisepp, and ceding the roads around the town seemed a poor way to prepare to defend it. The need to prevent a Tsarist breakthrough closer to the capital precluded sending reserves. Yudenich was slowly waking up to the possibilities in the west. If he couldn’t force a crossing of the Neva, why not try something where his foe was overextended? Late in the evening of 2 August, he cabled forward headquarters at Luga. He wanted two fresh rifle divisions at the far left of the front immediately. The men enjoyed a nice long night march, their stomachs rumbling and legs aching. Reaching their positions at four AM on 3 September, the reservists settled down for a long nap.

It was to be a busy day tomorrow.

Instead of another ill-prepared attempt at crossing the Neva, Yudenich turned his fury on Schlisselberg. The Republican garrison had expected an attack since the first day of fighting and forcibly evicted civilians before the shooting started, the besieged had ample supplies. A quiet day to dig earthworks hadn’t hurt either. Yet, there was being militarily prepared for attack and being psychologically prepared. The Schlisselberg garrison had spent the past two days sitting in fixed defences listening to the war; their Tsarist opponents had spent the past two days fighting it. Many had just escaped the Neva River by the skin of their teeth twenty-four hours ago. Cries of “for the Republic!” and “down with the Tsar!” only reminded them of their comrades floating in the freezing river surrounded by a pool of blood.

Their eagerness to fight made all the difference.

Aided by the Tsarist artillery which had pounded the far bank the preceding day (as well as the undamaged bomber), the attackers pushed forward. A couple machine-guns would’ve turned Schlisselberg into a Great War-style fortress, but the Republicans still held their own Their metal superiority countered the Tsarist elan and foiled Yudenich’s hopes for the sector. Instead of a quick victory to secure his flank and raise morale, Yudenich found a quagmire in Schlisselberg. He unofficially wrote off the units sent to capture the town, assuming that they’d be in no shape to fight even if they succeeded. Events proved him right; when the tiny town succumbed after a week the Tsarist brigade which held the rubble was down to one-quarter strength. Grand Duke Nicholas rebuked Yudenich for this, and the whole episode raised fears in both minds that if the Republicans defended a small outpost this well, what would they do for the enormous capital? Of course, Yudenich bitterly pointed out, all the while Schlisselberg had distracted him the foe had reinforced his bank of the Neva. Crossing it again would be a bastard…

Yudenich had more luck in the west. When freshly arrived reserves struck west of Kingisepp, they quickly broke through.The battalion commander unfortunate enough to have taken the brunt telephoned Petrograd at ten AM that they’d best dispatch reinforcements quickly, but there would be no need for ambulances as the only breathing man in the battalion was uninjured- himself. Zakhonye and Komarovka- with a combined population in the hundreds- fell within hours.

Livonian border guards had been under standing orders from Riga not to let anyone cross, even wounded needing treatment, since the war began. Russians attempting to cross the border should be given orders to halt, then a warning that if they didn’t cease the guards would shoot, then cordite. Previously, guards had been willing to look the other way at deserters, escaped prisoners, wounded, and refugees sneaking into the United Baltic Duchy, but they toughened up today. Border guards stopped Republicans whose desperation to get away and Tsarists whose overeagerness chasing them had led them where they didn’t belong. One patrol squad descended on two cavalry squadrons duking it out in the woods; reinforcements soon arrived and broke the fight up. Both commanders apologised profusely to the Livonian border guards and agreed to be disarmed. Travelling together, the two commanding officers remarked on how daft this was. Wouldn’t they much rather be at home- the Republican hailed from Petrograd, the Tsarist from a tiny village in the North Caucasus- with the wife and kids? Was it all really worth it?

Then the Livonian guards shoved them across the border and they went back to killing each other.

The Tsarist advance continued throughout the wet and windy week. Yudenich played on Kornilov’s fear of losing Kingisepp by not going for the town. Tsarist troops advanced due north, forcing the garrison to extend its flank. Unlike their compatriots to the east, this Tsarist force had no problem crossing the local river and reached the Baltic Sea after three days. Their advances left Kingisepp at the tip of a “peninsula”, surrounded by enemy territory on three sides. Kornilov now faced a dilemma. He’d failed in his initial goal- keeping the roads west of Petrograd in Republican hands- and now had to wonder if it was worth holding on. Committing reserves might stabilise his flanks but would prevent those units from being used elsewhere. When Kornilov brought this before War Minister Guchkov, his superior said it was Kornilov’s decision. Ultimately, the commander opted to pull back. The only valuable thing about Kingisepp was that it lay en route to Petrograd, and wasting men’s lives to hold it would be amoral and foolish.

Though they were disappointed at having to retreat, the Kingisepp garrison had done well. They’d served as a lynchpin of the western sector for several days and, though they didn’t realise it, threatened Yudenich. Fear of an expensive break-in battle forced the Tsarist commander to extend his front and waste time. Since the garrison had pulled out intact, they could fight another day.

Yudenich’s pursuit gained steam as August went on. As the cool Baltic breeze battled the summer heat, his men advanced along parallel roads (one on the coastline, the other several miles inland). Kornilov didn’t want to risk an all-or-nothing defence and so kept retreating until they reached the next fortified towns. Sosnovy Bor- captured in the first days of the war- was a sizeable harbour while Cheremyniko was a road junction. Unlike at Kingisepp, Kornilov couldn’t retreat. With only thirty miles of steppe and gentle hills separating him from Petrograd, the Republican general’s back was to the wall. In his Order of the Day for 20 August, he declared that “the capital of the Republic is but a stone’s throw from the line you now occupy. Your wives and children, as well as the institutions of State and Provisional President Kerensky, are all on the line. Your failure means their death.” With those encouraging words ringing in their ears, the People’s Army of Petrograd took to the trenches. Their resistance became almost desperate as every day they were reminded of how much they had to lose. Supplies from the Petrograd armoury reached them daily- this close to the capital, Russia’s rail lines were actually quite decent. Tsarist artillery pounded the supply lines by day; labour details repaired them by night. As August turned to September, the pressure subsided enough for Kornilov to relax. Whatever else went wrong, the enemy wasn’t going to blow through his left flank.

It was a good job too because plenty of other things were going afoul.

Yudenich had postponed crossing the Neva but hadn’t given up. Through commandeering civilian boats and having the carpenters in his ranks build their own (one advantage of fighting in northern Russia was ample timber), he’d assembled a haphazard crossing fleet. Unfortunately, enemy possession of the coastline prevented transferring gunboats to the fight, but Yudenich hoped artillery and aircraft could compensate. “It had better”, he remarked, “because I am scraping the damn barrel and it would be a rotten shame if those traitors made me waste time and men!” Russia didn’t have infinite resources and Yudenich couldn’t afford to use up equipment at will. When Grand Duke Nicholas mentioned this to Prince Andrei, the prospective Tsar shrugged. “Nikolai Nikolayevich will do what he will. If I did not have faith in him he would not be there! And if, after the big push, I no longer have faith in him, he will no longer be there either!” Much like Denikin outside Rzhev, Yudenich knew his career depended on his success outside Petrograd.

He was as determined to survive as the men smelling cordite and spraying lead.

Yudenich’s second crossing of the Neva began on 1 September 1919. Much as before, thousands of shells crashed on the Republican positions across the river. While field pieces chewed up the Republican gunners, Yudenich’s tactical bombers buzzed overhead, fighter escorts in tow, to pound supply depots in the rear. Kornilov’s artillery returned fire, but despite inflicting heavy losses on their opposite numbers was out of its depth. After two hours (23), the infantry began crossing. With Lake Lagoda to his right, Yudenich had a fairly large body of water at his disposal containing nothing more serious than the odd floating mine. He’d used this as a safe haven for building and storing crossing vessels. Their crews had practiced in the calm lake waters for several weeks beforehand. Forgoing a night’s sleep, they’d left the safe haven at four AM, sailing past the ruins of Schlisselberg en route to the crossing-points. Three hours later, with the barrage providing cover, they were ready to ferry men across. Unlike before, every platoon had a boat (even if it was bloody crowded and slow), while the Tsarists had done a much better job weakening the Republican forward positions. Nearly everyone made it across the river and pushed westward. Several hours of fighting exhausted the first wave of defenders and enabled the Tsarists to keep moving. Yudenich’s men advanced six miles by dusk; impressive considering the opposition they faced.

As enemy troops advanced along the banks of the Neva, Lavr Kornilov was forced to admit he’d lost. Yudenich had out-thought him in the west and out-muscled him in the east. Though his men would continue to resist valiantly in the suburbs, he knew they were fighting a losing battle. That night, he met with Provisional President Kerensky and War Minister Kornilov (but specifically excluded Lenin and Zinoviev). It was time, he said, to start evacuating civilians. Women and children couldn’t fight and would only use up the city’s rations. Government ministers were too valuable to be captured. Kornilov had no idea where they could go- he supposed they could travel around Scandinavia for Murmansk- or how they could get there, just that the Republican capital was no longer safe.

Despite his best efforts Petrograd now faced a Tsarist siege.

If the Republican regime seriously thought they could exclude the Petrograd Soviet, they were dreaming. Much ink has been spilled over the past century pondering this, but the question is academic. Lenin and Zinoviev heard just as much gunfire as Kerensky and while neither were military men, both knew the capital was doomed. On 3 September, Lenin read an official order to the Petrograd Soviet to the people. “The hour has come, people of Petrograd, to fight not just for political causes but for your very being. Enraged by your refusal to submit to bourgeois and feudal authority, the foe has opted to crush you here and now. Only the sweat on your brow can repulse him!” The unions of the Soviet were warned not to rely on the “Republican regime for defence of (their) rights. A militarised people’s campaign at all levels of society is needed.” To this end, Lenin exhorted the citizens of Petrograd to arm themselves “under their own authority.” Those last four words were key- while Lenin wasn’t explicitly calling on the people to reject Kornilov’s authority, he was tacitly telling them not to obey the Republic if it couldn’t provide for them. The people listened to the hero of the Nine-Point Programme, and on 5 September, just as Yudenich’s men were entering Ryzhiki (only eight miles from the city centre), the Petrograd Soviet issued a “Decree of a State of Militarisation”. Signed by representatives of all the capital’s unions, it declared the city to be under siege and under “popular justice”. Men took it upon themselves to patrol the streets in the name of their unions. Shopkeepers, fearing assault, boarded up their windows and locked their doors, while the capital’s gentry (who’d been in poverty and prison since May) hoped for liberation.

Everyone knew what was coming. The spectre of the Romanovs quelling the revolt and putting them all to the sword hung over the capital. Ignoring orders from Kerensky, many tried to flee. Fishermen trying to flee into the Baltic Sea for Finland were stopped by patrol boats. Walking north out of the city though miles of tundra was not for the fainthearted, but with the defences facing south it was easy to avoid detection. Sympathetic Finnish border guards often let people through illegally. Refugees crowded into camps run by the Finnish government. Though Helsinki’s actions were charitable, they were woefully unprepared. Russian escapees often found themselves sleeping on Finnish Army cots, sleeping bags, or simply on the grassiest bit of tundra they could find. Rations were none too plentiful; the country wasn’t about to make its own people go short so that refugees could eat well. Disease spread like wildfire, with many dying of cholera and the Kansas flu. Herbert Hoover’s American Relief Association, along with the Red Cross and Catholic organisations, did their best to help but could only do so much. Eventually, President Matti Passivuori had enough. His Christian conscience told him to aid the refugees however he could, but his advisers told him something different. There was neither enough food nor space for thousands of refugees. So-called refugee camps in the southeast were really nothing more than open-air prisons, hopelessly overcrowded and unsanitary. If something didn’t change soon, his advisers warned him, trouble would break out as Russians went looking for food. Besides, it was almost certain that some of the ‘refugees’ were in fact Russian agents. Finland had been part of Russia for a century and independent for three years; everyone in Helsinki knew that both Republicans and Tsarists wouldn’t mind re-annexing their country. Being allowed to venture to the border at their leisure, have a look at the defences, and then enter the country was every spy’s dream. For the sake of national security, Finland had to close the door. His conscience panging, Passivuori ordered the border guards to start turning people away on 1 November. Many Russians broke down and wept when told the door to the promised land was locked and bolted. Some sympathetic border guards smuggled people through while others managed to sneak in through the long northern frontier, but these were the exceptions rather than the rule.

Yudenich tightened the ring. On the seventeenth, he sent a self-congratulatory telegram to Grand Duke Nicholas, informing him that Petrograd had been “hermetically isolated” from the rest of Russia. Within two or three weeks, Yudenich predicted, his optimism running ahead of the maps and charts before him, Petrograd could be reduced to a “subsidiary theatre in Northern Russia requiring a relatively minimal commitment of resources.” A glance at a map explains Yudenich’s optimism. Tsarist trenches formed a hundred-mile perimeter around the capital. All the towns on the outskirts of Petrograd for which so much blood had been spilled- Sosnovy Bor, Cheremykino, and others- lay under his control. Once his men brought this final hammer down, Russia’s capital city would be his. Yet, Yudenich reckoned without the tenacity of the People’s Army of Petrograd. Lavr Kornilov may not have been Caesar, but his men were fighting to defend their home city. They’d had weeks to fortify and stockpile supplies. Added together, that meant that the last push would be no mean feat. Grand Duke Nicholas was clearly aware of this, as his cautious reply to Yudenich indicated. “Do not attempt to breach the Republican perimeter at this time”, he wrote. “A break-in battle would entail unnecessary casualties and expenditure of supplies difficult to replace.”

Lavr Kornilov was determined to resist. As his diary, recovered after the siege, attests, he briefly considered defecting but dropped the idea. Kornilov loathed Bolshevism and wanted nothing more than to stab Lenin in the back, but he’d burned all his bridges. If the Tsarists caught him, he’d hang for treason. Knowing he was fighting for his life just like the men around him galvanised the Republican general. As he saw it, his task was to remain on defence. His supply situation was a long way from perfect but it was enough to see him through several months. The capital’s arms factories could continue furnishing him until they ran out of raw materials (after which, the general freely admitted, “the supply situation might well become untenable”). Ideally, he told War Minister Guchkov, the enemy would wear out faster. Ideally.

Provisional President Kerensky believed otherwise. A glance at a map showed how isolated they were. The closest Republican forces in the Central Volga might’ve been on the far side of the moon. “We tried that already, damn it”, Kerensky snapped at an aide who proposed that Brusilov advance to relieve Petrograd. “The bodies are still cooling off outside Rzhev!” With enemies at the gate and his supplies trickling away, Kerensky fell into despondency. The Revolution had failed. Once Tsarist troops entered the capital, he’d be shot like a common criminal, and with him the Republic would die. Score one for Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality. Part of him was enraged at the Bolshevik leaders for fleeing, but another part of him understood why. Petrograd was a sinking ship and it made sense to take to the lifeboats. But as the captain, Kerensky couldn’t leave. Honour compelled him to risk his life for the Russian Republic just as the men in the field did. Yet, the Provisional President spent his eighteen-hour days behind a desk, not in a factory. He had doctors and nurses on hand, ate three meals a day, and slept in a bombproof shelter.

The people of the Republic weren’t so fortunate.

"Besieged Petrograd", one woman remembered years later, "was a fine approximation of hell. What the people went through that winter must've convinced many they'd stumbled across a land where God did not reign for how could He have tolerated this? But then, many found out they were wrong. Though Petrograd was but an approximation of hell, it might have been tailor-made to send people to the real thing." The climate was a greater foe than the Tsarists. Autumn rains drenched Petrograd in a foretaste of the dreaded winter. General Mud and General Winter, which had saved Russians in countless wars, turned on the people of Petrograd. The mercury dropped to freezing and kept sinking. Sleet and hail pounded the capital; snow blanketed ruins. Day followed day. Shells and raindrops fell from an iron-grey sky. The streets reeked of cordite and the stench of death. After a while, people stopped noticing the rumble of guns. Like the screeching of tyres and honking of horns before the war, it became background noise. You learned to tell when an incoming shell would land half a mile away and when it would land fifty feet away. The sounds were completely different- and of course, one would destroy your home, maim your wife and children, and bury you alive, wishing you were dead, with no one to hear you scream. The other would do that to a different poor sod. Every day, the people of Petrograd saw war. One might be walking to one’s factory when suddenly the cry came. “Make way! Make way!” And then along came the victims. Women and children pulling stretchers full of groaning men, eyes gouged out, innards dripping to the floor, half-dead. Stretcher-bearers collapsed in the street from carrying corpse after corpse. The doctors, the government said, would treat them, but did they? Dropping from fatigue, they stumbled over, saw in hand. If hacking off a limb might save the poor bastard, they did so and left him to bite on a rag from the pain. If not, they shook their head. A surgical knife could put a man out of his misery just as well as a gun without wasting precious bullets. Blood mingled with bile. Hunger bit the capital as December deepened. September's food stockpiles were for one month, not three. Attempts to make the rations stretch abandoned many. Officially, 'labourers' received fifteen hundred calories a day, soldiers two thousand, and everyone else seven hundred. In practice, it was every man for himself. Raw rat and sparrow were delicacies because they were meat- shoe leather was near enough. And of course, there were plenty of corpses lying about. Petrograd was a breeding ground for the Kansas flu, which may have claimed twenty thousand lives during the siege. Facemasks offered a modicum of protection- plus, chewing on them helped one forget hunger. More traditional diseases of the besieged, such as smallpox, typhoid, and cholera, were on full display, fuelled by malnutrition. Incinerating corpses en masse for hygiene's sake lessened the spread of illness but sent ash clouds spiralling above the sky. It seemed somehow fitting for such a place. Conscripted civilians fell down at their posts, never to rise again. Men in the trenches- the best-fed in the city- happily defected in exchange for hot kasha. Russian Orthodox Christmas- 6 January 1920- saw a group of nuns giving the last of their oats away murdered; soldiers massacred a hundred people in retaliation. Eventually, people had enough. Whatever punishments the Tsarists had in mind for Petrograd wouldn't include starvation.

Exhausted Republican defenders prepare to give themselves up, January 1920
russian pows.jpeg

Petrograd surrendered on 21 January 1920.

Tsarist troops were taken aback by what they saw- one (unusually literate) officer commented that it put Dante to shame. "This is the real inferno and we made it." The devastation shamed the damage done by the May Day General Strike. Had all those times they pulled the lanyard, every time they turned away an American supply ship, caused this? How could they live with themselves? Some tried to track down the capital's surviving priests for absolution; others committed suicide. The people and soldiers had nothing left to say to one another. No words could express what the people of Petrograd felt for their conquerors. What do you say to a man who's put you through hell and who holds power of life and death over you? The Tsarists had the closest thing to a proper apology, though: food. They weren't especially well-provisioned but no Christian could refuse to feed men such as these- not least when they were Russians just like him. Men who'd been willing to kill over raw rat showed no mercy when it came to a freshly baked loaf. Mobs trampled Tsarists in haste to get at their rations; the men fought back. Tsarist-occupied Petrograd was a place where, as one woman remarked, "gold was only worth its weight in oats". Nonetheless, the capital slowly recovered under Tsarist rule. Grand Duke Mikhailovich understood that brutalising Russia’s greatest city was bad optics and did his best to avert starvation. Besides, what sort of Imperial father lets his children starve? That's for socialist traitors!

The flip side to this was harsh persecution of Republican sympathisers. Posters declared that Alexander Kerensky was worth a million rubles dead, a million and a half alive. Lenin, Zinoviev, and the rest of the Republicans and Soviets were worth half. Three weeks after occupying the capital, the Tsarists declared possession of Republican propaganda a capital crime. Petrograders had until 1 March to hand their copies of Stand With the Majority, Die With the Minority in or else face dire punishment. This order backfired by highlighting how much 'subversive literature' people had on hand. Though distributing rations had helped make amends, people still blamed the Tsarists for the horrors of the siege. Witnessing this outburst of support for the Republicans disguised as compliance made the Tsarists uneasy, and time-honoured fashion, they used the Jews for catharsis. Yudenich accepted a proposal from Anton Denikin to root out "Jewish Republican agents", and before too long synagogues started catching fire. Black Hundreds who'd survived the purges of summer 1918 suddenly found gainful employment. Jewish backlash became fodder for antisemitic propaganda, and before too long the rabbi of Petrograd was just as reviled as Kerensky. Jews and Gentile opponents fled; others weathered the storm in hiding.

The ruins of an observation post in front of a bombed-out, domed cathedral
petrograd siege.jpeg

Conquering Petrograd was ostensibly a triumph for the Tsarists. They'd taken the capital, secured the Baltic Fleet, and smashed both the Republican regime and Petrograd Soviet. Like Brusilov, Lavr Kornilov had been defeated. When the Tsar entered the capital on 15 February, his first stop was the seat of Romanov power for two centuries. The shell of the Winter Palace still stood and, miraculously, the Romanov throne was inact. The Tsar perched atop it for the first time in his reign for some first-class propaganda shots. "My illustrious predecessor Peter the Great, for whom this operation was named, conquered this city ten score years ago. Now, I shall add my name to the rolls of its history. Let my presence amidst the survivors of this city- who nobly withstood a ferocious battering in defence of the Motherland- illustrate the point. As Napoleon failed to destroy the Romanov Dynasty in 1812, and as the German clique failed five years ago, so too shall these traitors fail. God Save the Tsar!" Ignorant as he was of the sufferings inflicted by the siege, the man in the street likely fell for this. In fact, the conquest of Petrograd was a mixed blessing. The factories and ports were too badly damaged to be useable. Destroying the road and rail connections to the rest of Russia had been militarily necessary but made feeding the populace a challenge. Once again, Herbert Hoover's American Relief Association and the Red Cross eased the burden on both occupier and occupied, but they also got a firsthand look at the damage done. The stories which spread in spring 1920 did the Tsar's reputation few favours. Yudenich had committed the Tsar's best troops- including most of the Brusilov Offensive veterans- to Petrograd, pulling them away from the Ukraine or North Caucasus, or simply reaping the harvest. Many historians argue that those troops might've won the war in those places in autumn 1919 if they'd left Kerensky to wither on the vine.

Spring 1920 came. Grass grew over ruins and flesh grew over bones. The temperature rose and illness subsided. As the people of Petrograd began piecing their lives together again, they must've looked forward to peace. Yudenich was a cruel ruler but he gave them food and warmth... or rather, he let Herbert Hoover feed them. Their respite was about to come to an end though, as a new power prepared to enter the war...
Today- exactly one year after I posted the first chapter of Place In the Sun- the TL returns.

My creative batteries have, I think, been sufficiently recharged after two months off (even during my Lenten hiatus I was still writing, just not posting). I've resolved many of the discouraging behind the scenes plot holes which I was struggling with, and now have a far better idea of where I want to take the TL. Additionally, I've finally gotten my obsession with the edited Wikibox out of my system, so I can refocus myself here. Thanks to all of you who stuck around and encouraged me to keep going (especially @Jaenera Targaryen !) I do hope you'll stick around-- because more is on the way.

-Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth
Welcome back! I hope the break did you some good, because there's always a lot of detail in these updates and it is appreciated. Now, on to the next soul-crushing remind of Russia's bleak future (And I mean that in the best way possible)

What I think is clear from this, and it's something I've not brought up before nor have I seen it brought up, is that the end results of these vicious civil wars is going to result in a lot of screwed up people. Consider this is the early twentieth century, and consider that some of the nastiest people to be active in this century aren't even eighteen yet, it's not a conductive atmosphere to be living in. That scene where the Petrograd assailants finally see what it is they have done to the people inside the city is proof enough. You can't forgive, though the food does help. Certainly history is written by the victors, but there will always be someone to remember the atrocities. And as long as that person cannot forget, nor too can the guilty, no matter how much you try.

This was the greatest blunder of the Russian Civil War.
Oh my god, that really is saying something.

That bit about the two Captains comiserating for a moment, and then immediately returning to the fighting is great. It's a moment of sanity, a moment of "....Huh. Boy, this is stupid." and then the immediate realization of "Fuck it." wiping out the last. It's pretty much a summation of the entire Russian disaster.

Man, Lenin is in a really unique position in the timeline at this point. By all accounts, he is in the best position he has been in his life, he is the highest up the ladder that he can be. And yet, he is constantly being locked out of meetings, behind on information and the like. OTL, he's perhaps the most forward of the Troika, he's got his own cult of personality, here he's constantly dancing upon the verge of being Someone but never quite reaching that pinnacle. Nominally, he is primed to take his rightful place. But in reality? ...Well, reality is never quite what it seems,, is it?

As per usual, it is the Jews who get the blame. Fuck.

Well, at least thing seem to be calming
Their respite was about to come to an end though, as a new power prepared to enter the war...

This was brutal, and I really liked it. Can't wait to see what fresh horrors are to come.
So happy to see this come back to activity! ^^
Happy to be back.
Welcome back! I hope the break did you some good, because there's always a lot of detail in these updates and it is appreciated. Now, on to the next soul-crushing remind of Russia's bleak future (And I mean that in the best way possible)

What I think is clear from this, and it's something I've not brought up before nor have I seen it brought up, is that the end results of these vicious civil wars is going to result in a lot of screwed up people. Consider this is the early twentieth century, and consider that some of the nastiest people to be active in this century aren't even eighteen yet, it's not a conductive atmosphere to be living in. That scene where the Petrograd assailants finally see what it is they have done to the people inside the city is proof enough. You can't forgive, though the food does help. Certainly history is written by the victors, but there will always be someone to remember the atrocities. And as long as that person cannot forget, nor too can the guilty, no matter how much you try.

Oh my god, that really is saying something.

That bit about the two Captains comiserating for a moment, and then immediately returning to the fighting is great. It's a moment of sanity, a moment of "....Huh. Boy, this is stupid." and then the immediate realization of "Fuck it." wiping out the last. It's pretty much a summation of the entire Russian disaster.

Man, Lenin is in a really unique position in the timeline at this point. By all accounts, he is in the best position he has been in his life, he is the highest up the ladder that he can be. And yet, he is constantly being locked out of meetings, behind on information and the like. OTL, he's perhaps the most forward of the Troika, he's got his own cult of personality, here he's constantly dancing upon the verge of being Someone but never quite reaching that pinnacle. Nominally, he is primed to take his rightful place. But in reality? ...Well, reality is never quite what it seems,, is it?

As per usual, it is the Jews who get the blame. Fuck.

Well, at least thing seem to be calming


This was brutal, and I really liked it. Can't wait to see what fresh horrors are to come.
Thanks for the insightful reply.
Yes, Russia is really going to be in a bad way after the end of the war... but not necessarily worse than OTL. As of right now, the 'core' of the Soviet Union- ie, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, the Stans, etc- is all under the control of one of the two warring factions. A year removed from the May Day General Strike, and no foreign power has intervened. What I'm getting at is that, provided there is no intervention to bite off, say, Ukraine or Central Asia, whichever faction wins the war will end up with more or less the same technological, agrarian, and industrial base as OTL's Soviet Union... which subsequently rebounded. So Russia can definitely recover in the right set of hands.

Regarding Lenin, you're basically correct. He obviously had enemies aplenty in the real world, but here Julius Martov and the Mensheviks hate his guts (though they've more or less been sidelined). Kerensky is *officially* collaborating with him as a senior partner, but doesn't trust him one bit (and for good reason!). Grigory Zinoviev.... it's complicated. On the one hand, they're both Bolsheviks and leaders of the same bloc, but Zinoviev is far too friendly with Kerensky for Lenin's taste. Perhaps his rivals have been weakened enough by the loss of Petrograd that he can make his move... perhaps.

Nope, no respite for Russia will come, though...
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