Status
Not open for further replies.
It struck me that it might give off the impression, and admittedly I went with 1800 specifically out of compromise between depicting keeping relevance (the political circumstances of Russia, while unique, weren't nearly as unusual in the early modern period as compared to the 19th century and onward) and depicting the full picture of Russia's sovereigns. I debated going as far back as Peter the Great, but decided that more focus should be put on the dialectic between the autocracy and popular sovereignty, which really only came to the fore in Europe with the Napoleonic period.

That said, earlier periods of history are just as tumultuous and interesting to learn about. Peter's antics in particular are fascinating - the man reminds me a lot of Theodore von Neuhoff if he were in established charge of a massive state rather than a pretender king. But the innate instability of Russia was as visible then as in the 1880s, between Peter's rather insane economic and modernization policies, Pugachev's rebellion during Catherine's reign, and Paul's various idiosyncrasies.
Understood. And there were some shenanigans during the time of the British George's between father and son. But, yeah "innate instability" sounds about right. :)
 
This idea was extremely popular among the Koreans. So popular they embeeded 6 bullets into the body of the guy who proposed this to the Japanese government otl.

Korean nationalism is going to be very hard to deny after 1909 for Japan.
ooh, a colonial war that Japan loses would rid them of their victory disease, especially if it occured during the second weltkrieg.
 
Glad you appreciated the dissertation! The idea of government power systems vs. governing capability as distinct lobes of the state apparatus' agency, and the autocracy having led to both these being centralized such that reform and subterfuge are both hazards to the state, is a fascinating one; probably the clearest delineation of the practical problems with reforming the Russian system, from the system's perspective, that I have read.

I do remember listening to "All is Now Against Us" some years ago - a good indicator of how things looked on the other side of the fence. You can really tell how emotions ran during the RCW from the music of the era, and it offers some interesting insights into their aesthetics and ethos of the combatant factions too. Probably the most fascinating example of the dichotomy I can think of is the March of the Siberian Riflemen - a song composed for the Imperial army in WWI, and later used by the Whites in the Civil War - and the March of the Far Eastern Partisans, which was composed using the exact same melody by the Soviets in the dying days of the Civil War. Here they are back-to-back:
Surely at least some of the divergence between the two has been caused by them being remembered differently by different groups of people, but even that is interesting in terms of RCW historiography.

I had forgotten about Antonov still being canned up in Moscow, though I guess it makes sense that Tukhachevsky's command would see to it that he be kept there. Being stuck in a gilded cage while retaining some station bodes better for the peasants' cause in the future than being imprisoned as an enemy belligerent, I suppose. This of course assumes that the Republic does end up winning, and he doesn't simply mirror his OTL fate against resurgent Tsarist armies after fleeing a crumbling Republic.

Fun fact for the curious - while records indicate that it ended up amounting to negligible effect (the rest of Soviet command recognized the horrific collateral damage of the prospect, and there ended up not being any qualified technicians available on-site), Tukhachevsky did sign off on the use of chlorine gas against the Tambov rebels.
Regarding Baku: all eyes are on them indeed. As I mentioned above, the Ottomans aren't quite ready to go in yet but that may well change.
👀
Considering Enver Pasha was willing to go out leading pan-Turanist rebels while Turkey itself was in near-anarchy ... Though then again, being a head of state that can be reasonably described as extant probably takes policy priority over insane personal adventurism; I guess we will see given time. Ottoman speculation aside, I am also going to be keeping my eyes on Baku, as whether or not the Tsarists hold it seems like a good determinant as to whether or not they will be able to make real use of their fancy German mechanized equipment. Discounting economic/trade benefits and political ramifications with their neighbors, that alone is a potent force modifier for whichever side manages to take hold of and utilize that oil.

Regarding Japan - they certainly have a lot more acting potential here than in OTL (having access to the material resources of formerly-French Indochina means the alleviation of a significant element of that fear of supply starvation; there's also the fact that, unless the communist faction somehow manages to coup the Russian Republic and go on to win the RCW, they won't have a hostile Marxist power right next door), and the United Kingdom facing stability issues is to their benefit, but a lot of the looming specters that drove them to the insanity of the 1930s are still there. For one, the Meiji Constitution has a couple odd points in its structure which lend it to being exploited by bad actors within the military:
  • It is illegal to convene and govern with the cabinet in the event any of its positions are unfilled.
  • The cabinet's army and navy ministers must be actively serving members of the army and navy; this contrasts most other cabinet positions, which can be staffed with civilians.
  • Cabinets must be approved all at once - any one member of a putative cabinet retracting prior to everyone's approval leads to the current effort being reset, necessitating the PM to make a new cabinet.
For another, the issue of Korea is almost certainly not one that will be resolved in an amicable way for everyone. I don't see what exactly sort of events from the PoD onward would avert the sentiments leading to March 1st 1919, and historically that was followed by the galvanization of the Korean independence movement. I wouldn't actually be that surprised if Japan's current system of protectorates in Indochina follows a similar path into annexation that Korea did, with a gradual curbing of the native monarchy's sovereignty until a formal annexation some time later; they would be more difficult to administer in a centralized way for certain, but if that didn't stop France I doubt it would stop Japan. Given that both of them are liable to have strong native nationalist movements, while simultaneously being viewed as vital to retain due to their proximity and resources, I have a hard time seeing the conflict of interests there staying peacable.

Taiwan is a different matter, as policies of civic integration and local government started right around this time and only really concluded with the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It is certain to retain some level of independentism, whether in the form of Chinese nationalists or aboriginal Taiwanese (who have a bad history with the Japanese government which is unlikely to improve anytime soon), but unless Japan undergoes a civil war or pulls some OTL-level tactics to bring on the wrath of the world, there's a real possibility of it being retained long-term.
 
Last edited:
Taiwan is a different matter, as policies of civic integration and local government started right around this time and only really concluded with the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It is certain to retain some level of independentism, whether in the form of Chinese nationalists or aboriginal Taiwanese (who have a bad history with the Japanese government which is unlikely to improve anytime soon), but unless Japan undergoes a civil war or pulls some OTL-level tactics to bring on the wrath of the world, there's a real possibility of it being retained long-term.

Taiwan will be retained by Japan and be partially colonised to the point of it having a lot of Japanese and the Chinese populations would have a lot of Japanese influence to call themselves not a part of China. Plus Mandarin won't be forced onto Taiwan as an official language under the Republic of China unlike otl, so whatever Sinitic language China is going to unite upon Taiwan will have a mixture of Taiwanese Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and Japanese to make the Taiwanese language.

I hope after the Second Weltkreig Japan makes an economic union with the rest of Asia instead of continuing like France, as that's going to be bad. Maybe Japan controls the rates and controls foreign policy?
 
Taiwan is a different matter, as policies of civic integration and local government started right around this time and only really concluded with the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It is certain to retain some level of independentism, whether in the form of Chinese nationalists or aboriginal Taiwanese (who have a bad history with the Japanese government which is unlikely to improve anytime soon), but unless Japan undergoes a civil war or pulls some OTL-level tactics to bring on the wrath of the world, there's a real possibility of it being retained long-term.
this is a massive trope in alternate history I am not sure I agree with. From 1895 - 1930, Japanese Taiwan was wracked with rebellions and the Japanese brutally putting down said rebellions. After 1930, the Taiwanese were broken as a militaristic rebel force due to sheer brutality, which was why the Taiwanese did not rebel in ww2 (though that might be because the Japanese kept a large force on the island, more than what was needed to keep intimidating the populace). As per Outcasts of Empire: Japan's Rule on Taiwan's "Savage Border," 1874-1945 by Paul Barclay, the island was moving on to become what was essentially a massive version of the Ainu, which was both unsustainable, and crucial in fermenting Chinese nationalism in Taiwan from the 1930s onwards. It was good luck that Japan ceded Taiwan in 1945, for the island was virtually on the verge of a massive uprising against them.

So really, I do think this trope that taiwan was a peaceful part of the Japanese Empire much unfounded.
 
Did Japan have enough Japanese living in a corner of Korea that they might have kept a small Southern Korea?
Well, the situation in Northern Ireland isn't just ethnic, it's also religious, which would be harder to have happen in this context, since there's nothing quite like the Protestant-Catholic issue in the region.
 
Well, the situation in Northern Ireland isn't just ethnic, it's also religious, which would be harder to have happen in this context, since there's nothing quite like the Protestant-Catholic issue in the region.
The Japanese practice Shinto, the Koreans... don't. But as far as I can tell (at least from the Wikipedia article), no single sect of any faith topped 15% of the Ethnic Koreans in the 1910s-1920s, and even Christianity as a whole (everyone from the Baptists to the Eastern Orthodox) didn't top 35%. And the closest thing to a Korean religion Cheondoism moved toward acceptance by the Japanese Government rather than away. I'm truly wondering whether Korea in the 1910s-1920s has British India beat in the *variety* of Faiths.
 
The Japanese practice Shinto, the Koreans... don't. But as far as I can tell (at least from the Wikipedia article), no single sect of any faith topped 15% of the Ethnic Koreans in the 1910s-1920s, and even Christianity as a whole (everyone from the Baptists to the Eastern Orthodox) didn't top 35%. And the closest thing to a Korean religion Cheondoism moved toward acceptance by the Japanese Government rather than away. I'm truly wondering whether Korea in the 1910s-1920s has British India beat in the *variety* of Faiths.
But that's my point. There's noting quite like the Catholic-Protestant issue to work with. Religious diversity isn't the problem, it's the specific mix of and history of the Catholic-Protestant divide in Ireland that led to Northern Ireland being a thing.
 
But that's my point. There's noting quite like the Catholic-Protestant issue to work with. Religious diversity isn't the problem, it's the specific mix of and history of the Catholic-Protestant divide in Ireland that led to Northern Ireland being a thing.
True. basically instead of Ireland's X vs. Y, you had Korea's X vs. a lot of things that aren't X. The question is whether Ethnicity is enough.
 
this is a massive trope in alternate history I am not sure I agree with. From 1895 - 1930, Japanese Taiwan was wracked with rebellions and the Japanese brutally putting down said rebellions. After 1930, the Taiwanese were broken as a militaristic rebel force due to sheer brutality, which was why the Taiwanese did not rebel in ww2 (though that might be because the Japanese kept a large force on the island, more than what was needed to keep intimidating the populace). As per Outcasts of Empire: Japan's Rule on Taiwan's "Savage Border," 1874-1945 by Paul Barclay, the island was moving on to become what was essentially a massive version of the Ainu, which was both unsustainable, and crucial in fermenting Chinese nationalism in Taiwan from the 1930s onwards. It was good luck that Japan ceded Taiwan in 1945, for the island was virtually on the verge of a massive uprising against them.

So really, I do think this trope that taiwan was a peaceful part of the Japanese Empire much unfounded.
Oh, I wasn't meaning that Japanese control of Taiwan would be idyllic and peacable. This is still Imperial Japan we're talking about, attempting to rapidly assimilate the inhabitants of a heavily-populated island in the age of nationalism (alongside more traditional colonial settlement). And the history of rebellions in Taiwan against colonialists is long, even before the Japanese period - Qing presence on the island to my knowledge constituted effective military rule due to the constancy of native Taiwanese uprisings. But the power disparity between Taiwanese independence elements and, say, Korea (much less Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) is significant enough that it isn't just feasible for Japan to continue suppressing rebellions and independence movements, it is in my opinion likely unless they get well and truly wrecked by catastrophic forces. Beyond that power disparity, that there are civic elements of society willing to cooperate with Japanese authority and integrate into the system - up to and including Taiwanese appointed to the House of Peers - lends the Japanese a carrot to offer alongside the big stick. The same may have been true of Ireland, but it should be remembered that the process of Irish independence was greatly enabled by their overlords being socially and financially exhausted in a long and terribly destructive war.

On the topic of Ireland, there are other outcomes to "long-term retention" then integration as a part of Japan's home islands. Assuming Japanese democratic traditions manage to survive the Taisho era rather than be eroded by neo-absolutism, and that the profound militarism of Japanese society manages to quiet with the years, I can see some outside crisis (say a war with China, or an independence war(s) in Korea and/or continental Southeast Asia) coupled with increased organization of Taiwanese independence elements leading to home rule being accepted in some capacity to prevent the military situation from blowing completely out of control. Whether such an autonomous administration on the island would more closely resemble a British-style dominion, or a structure more reminiscent of the abortive French Union, remains to be seen, as does the potentiality of something like it being able to occur at all. Ebbing the militarism in Japanese society and keeping democratic traditions dynamic would need the military forces to discredit themselves in the next few decades, soon enough that they are not able to gradually eke out a controlling stake in the governing dynamics of the country. Though, this is exactly the sort of thing that an abortive expedition in Indochina resulting in a far earlier attainment of independence there could result in...
 
Last edited:
Chapter 57: Verdun On the Volga
Chapter Fifty-Seven: Verdun On the Volga

"They have found their winter line, sir. And they shall stay frozen in it for quite some while!"
-A subordinate of Mikhail Tukhachevsky's to the general.

"The last battalion will decide the issue!"
-
Anonymous


Volgograd had been called Tsaritsyn before the war. After Antonov's peasant armies had handed it over to them in summer 1920, the Republicans had renamed it for obvious reasons; the Tsarists didn't recognise the change. Yet, a stop line by any other name would be as good a strategic objective. Volgograd sat astride the Volga River, while being less than forty miles from the Don. If Drozdovsky could capture the city before winter, he could reinforce and resupply while cold paralysed both sides, and be in a good position entering spring 1921. "Just a hundred and sixty mile dash", he told his staff in the map room, "and then we will have ourselves a fine Russian Christmas!"

Many would go to their graves for the general's holiday plans.

The intense preparation both sides put into the battle neatly confirms what we've known for a century: that the Russian Civil War would be decided where the Don meets the Volga. A head-on trial of strength between Mikhail Tukhachevsky and Mikhail Drozdovsky would grant the winner control of Russia's river network, ensuring victory within months.

Or so the narrative goes.

In fact, neither side was particularly concerned with grand strategy. Tukhachevsky saw the same map as Drozdovsky and could easily infer the foe's plans. Just like the Tsarists, the Republicans needed to win before winter. Drozdovsky might've decided on the battlefield, but Tukhachevsky was damn sure he'd decide the outcome. His first decision was to make his stand in Volgograd itself, not on the approaches to it. With such a short timetable, every day Drozdovsky had to march his men was a bonus. Even though they'd come back to bite him later, sacrificing men to doomed but useful last stands in key locations and sabotaging lines of communication would lengthen the interlude until the battle. Not only would that buy time to reinforce Volgograd, it'd make Drozdovsky spent just that much longer in the field. Accordingly, while some advance units moved into the five largest villages west of Volgograd and others demolished roads, three-fourths of Tukhachevsky's precious reserves hunkered down in Volgograd. Novyy Rogachik became Tukhachevsky's main defence point. It housed multiple bridges across the River Don, and yet was only twenty miles west of the River Volga. As November wore on and the days grew shorter, Tukhachevsky moved into an underground bunker in Volgograd proper, appearing for suitably heroic propaganda shots. Civilians in essential industries spent fourteen hours a day at work; able-bodied women and children were mobilised to dig trenches and lay sandbags. Everyone else was evacuated upriver to Moscow. Men began donning greatcoats, wrapping themselves with blankets, and heating their rations over fires. Sergei Prokofiev travelled to the city in early December to compose his score "Volgograd": a suitably epic piece which was soon being blasted for morale purposes. Kerensky, Lenin, and Zinoviev were pre-occupied in Petrograd (and had no desire to suffer Brusilov's fate travelling over Tsarist held territory), but other leading political figures paid brief visits to the city- many of whom belonged to the Soviets.

Whether by accident or design, the Battle of Volgograd was going to be one hell of a fight.

Historians consider the battle to have begun on 8 December 1920, at Kalach. It's a slightly arbitrary date, given that Drozdovsky had been advancing on the city for weeks, but Tukhachevsky considered the village part of Volgograd's outer defences. He popularised the date in his memoirs, and gradually historians have come to accept it. Regardless, the strategic value of Kalach was obvious; it was there that the River Don diverged into north-south and east-west branches. (1) A sturdy bridge ran eastwards while a marshy, unpaved isthmus provided a subpar means of crossing south. Though Tukhachevsky wanted to draw his foe into Volgograd proper, this was a position worth holding, at least temporarily. Ignoring the advice of his aides, Tukhachevsky refused to destroy the bridge. He took much criticism for it at the time, but subsequent events proved he had a plan. Short-term, though, keeping the bridge up undermined the defence of Kalach. Intense fighting on the tenth saw the bridge fall into Tsarist hands, making the end only a matter of time. Tsarist troops advanced east over the north-south estuary, while advancing up the northern bank of the east-west one. After the commander of Kalach gave himself up on the 12th, Drozdovsky's men occupied the isthmus, though they quickly encountered entrenched Republican troops who prevented them from attacking south.

Though the Republicans had lost Kalach, their retreat had been orderly. Survivors conducted a fighting retreat to the next pre-prepared position, just west of Marinovka. It was one of ten thousand generic Russian steppe towns: dirt roads, animals running about, hardworking peasants who'd managed to eke out a living in this barren soil despite the calamities washing over them. It was the sort of town Westerners would call "quaint", which they'd idealise with just a hint of patronisation. (2) Of course, it also sat astride a fork in the road, with one branch heading east towards Volgograd, the other turning south and crossing the east-west estuary of the Don. Strategy, not scenery, made it worth sacrificing a few lives for and destroying it in the process. As at Kalach, holding the town permanently wasn't tenable, but Tukhachevsky didn't care. This time, he did destroy a bridge: Republican artillery demolished the crossing over the east-west Don. Whether Drozdovsky realised it or not, a pattern was emerging: the Republicans were protecting the south bank of the Don like a bear and her cubs. Heavy snow blanketed the combatants, freezing rations and cartridges. Ice had to be scraped off of shells before they could fire. Horses lost hooves to frostbite after trudging through thick snow day after day. Friendly fire was a terrible problem for, as one Republican veteran remarked only half-jokingly, "God made sure our uniforms were all white as snow!"

And the Tsarists weren't even to Volgograd yet.

Marinovka's fall on the twentieth changed nothing. The Republican forward units were nothing more than frozen skeletons facedown in red snow; the Tsarists had suffered horribly in advancing this far. Drozdovsky was forced to consider whether or not he'd blundered. Could his men still hope to reach Volgograd, and what state would they be in on arrival? Was reaching a pushpin on a map important enough to warrant wrecking his army? Withdrawal to a winter line in milder climes would ensure that the nucleus of his army lived to fight another day. Yet, withdrawal would carry its own price. Tukhachevsky, for all the harm he was doing, remained on the defensive. Pulling back might invite him to counter-attack, with potentially disastrous consequences. Drozdovsky's aides retorted that if the threat of a counterattack was so great, it was best to pull out immediately. The blow, after all, could fall any day! Politics ended up deciding the argument. Withdrawing would be a sign of weakness. Not only would it invite angry telegrams from Grand Duke Mikhailovich, it would tell the Russian people there was limits to Romanov power. "Only by fighting on and bearing any price can we hope to reunite the Rodina." With these words, Drozdovsky ensured that there would be no backing down. Volgograd would be a fight to the finish.

Every day brought the Tsarists closer to Volgograd. Aside from two villages on the south bank, Komsomolskiy and Bereslavka, Republican resistance was meagre. Drozdovsky's cavalry outflanked the defenders of Novyy Rogachik on the 18th and took Biryuzovyy without a fight on the 25th. (3) Compared to the frozen hell of Kalach and Marinovka, this was easy going, and Drozdovsky drew exactly the wrong conclusion: Tukhachevsky had suffered as much as he had, and the Republicans couldn't resist. The tenacious defence of the southern bank of the Don should've made him realise his error. As it was, Drozdovsky pushed his men forward into the trap.

The good times came to an end on 31 December at Gorkovskii. As a suburban outskirt of Volgograd, it enjoyed Tukachevsky's full protection. Volgograd's painstakingly constructed defences were put to the test and found satisfactory. Fully supplied machine-guns, worth more than pieces of gold in a country desperately short of industrial capacity, scythed Tsarist infantry from behind the safety of barbed wire. Cavalry found that the mounts which spared them from trudging through the snow made them targets. Twenty-four hours had transformed the fighting from the Marne to Verdun, from Gettysburg to Petersburg.

This was the new order of business.

Tukachevsky could guess how mangled Drozdovsky's forces were by reviewing his own men and knew that unlike him, Drozdovsky didn't have the luxury of defending fortified positions. The gravity of the situation was obvious; there was no more space to trade for time. It was time to make good on his commitment to stand and fight on the Volga. However, Tukachevsky didn't yet plan for a complete battle of annihilation with strategic consequences. A tactical victory was good enough. Yet, as Russian Orthodox Christmas came and went, Republican troops began a piecemeal withdrawal into the city. The fighting was no different from the failed offensives of 1915, or the slog of St. Polten (4). Even if he'd wanted to, Tukachevsky couldn't have extracted himself... meaning, neither could Drozdovsky. Both sides were locked in a war of attrition... except he enjoyed fixed defences and superior supplies.

Tukachevsky realised he could wipe Drozdovsky from the map if he was willing to bleed.

Erich von Falkenhayn had devised his tactics at the Battle of Verdun to maximise French casualties. His "mincing machine" had chewed up division after division, bleeding the French white as they tried to plug the gap. His main goal had not been to break across the Meuse- though he'd done that- but to mow the flower of French youth down until they physically could not resist. Success had an equally grave cost in German blood, and only Germany's superior strategic situation had made the losses bearable. This was exactly what Mikhail Tukachevsky set out to do in Volgograd.

"This city must become a fortress", declared his Order of the Day for 10 January 1921. "Every house, every block, every factory must be defended to the last drop of blood. The Russian people of Volgograd, who are so clearly enamoured of the liberties provided to every citizen of the Russian Republic, stand at a precipice. Your failure will mean the return of the cruelty of the House of Romanov, whose secret police, extortions, terrorists, and prisons have oppressed the Russian people for two centuries. Fight on, though you yourselves may fall, for the sake of those around you, those we have left behind in liberated portions of the country, and those who yearn for freedom. Every act of resistance, every bullet fired and sweep of the machine-gun, every toss of the grenade and every wound dressed, is a step forward for Mother Russia. You are not fighting for yourselves, you are not fighting for this city, you are fighting for a nation."

Oratory was worth its weight in gold to the illiterates in the inferno.

Lives blew away like dust on the wind. True to their commander's words, every house, block, and factory became a fortress. A platoon might establish itself in a second-story window, where two or three riflemen could peer out halfway across the city. Machine-guns could spray lead across whole streets, forcing everyone to stay in the trenches. Grenades flung from such heights could travel dozens of yards. Storming these positions was difficult: attackers inevitably came under fire from above to which they couldn't properly respond. They then had to comb through every last nook and cranny to wipe out the defenders, always on their guard lest a man leap out from a corner and blaze away. Pre-existing defences were even better: they combined the strength of field fortifications with the advantages of being build into the city itself. A concrete blockhouse sandwiched between city blocks, ringed with barbed wire and entrenched infantry was unassailable. Shells were too scarce for artillery to play a major role, though the Republicans had a slight advantage. The only saving grace was that neither side resorted to gas. Fierce winter winds ensured that no matter where they were deployed, toxins would inevitably come back at whomever used them, while neither side possessed enough gas masks to secure their men. Both Tukachevsky and Drozdovsky- to say nothing of the men they commanded- feared that the other would resort to toxins first, and there were several false alarms, but expediency (if not human decency) kept them in the canisters. The meat grinder was effective enough as it was, and by the third week of January, total casualties ran at just under 80,000. For a nation running dry on manpower, this was truly horrific. Tukachevsky's mincing machine was working.

Republican troops scramble between one bit of cover and the next
stalingrad.jpeg


Worse still was the cold. Verdun had been fought in the pleasantly cool French springtime; here, the thermometer hovered near zero degrees. Men on watch against enemy snipers stood in their trenches or third-storey observation posts late at night. When their comrades came to relieve them in the morning, they found a frozen corpse staring blankly, skin covered in grotesque ice crystals. Boiling hot soup became lukewarm in one minute, cold in three, and was frozen solid in ten. Wounded men lay prostrate in the road, freezing to death. Frostbite caused gangrene, requiring amputations- but not to worry, the nurses were more than happy to freeze the arm into numbness before hacking it off. While Tukachevsky's supplies came down the frigid Volga River, the Tsarists had to carry everything across frozen roads which no horse could traverse, and which more often than not were ankle-deep in snow. Food often spoiled in these low temperatures, causing starvation. The good news was that rats froze to death too, and half an hour spent on smouldering rubble could sometimes halfway cook them.


A Tsarist courier drags rations through a snowstorm
Horse-and-soldier-in-Russian-winter.jpeg
The civilians suffered worst of all despite Tukachevsky's rhetoric of defending their liberties. Some had been evacuated upriver, but those who hadn't been able or hadn't wanted to faced hell. Physically capable women, children, and the elderly (virtually all able-bodied men were fighting for one side or the other) dug trenches and carried corpses away (though they couldn't be trusted to prepare food). As they were militarily unnecessary, civilians got short shrift. Soldiers eating while civilians starved was a feature of the Russian Civil War, but here it reached its apex. Civilians quite literally received nothing. Both armies guarded their field kitchens like holy places, shooting anyone even suspected of theft. In a world where a buck private shot a first lieutenant for nabbing someone else's bread crust, no civilian even had a chance of being fed. The wonder is not that so few survived- it's that any did. A study contrasting city records from 1912 with those from 1927 shows an eighty percent decrease- bearing in mind that many moved to the city after the civil war who hadn't lived there before, and that six years had passed for the city to recover.

Death was sometimes a release. Just stick your head above the parapet, go out on patrol in only a thin shirt, or simply die charging a pillbox halfway between what had once been two greengrocer's. That would end your pain- and it might posthumously get you a shiny medal. After all, wasn't glory the most important thing in Russia these days?

Freezing Republican prisoners-of-war
frostbite russia!.jpeg
Drozdovsky's dreams of a safe "winter line" had backfired spectacularly.

Just as at Verdun, both sides bled nearly equally at Volgograd. Though their fixed defences gave the Republicans an advantage early on, weeks of combat quite literally wore this down. Zeroes dulled the mind daily as the casualty figures climbed. Yet Tukachevsky remained, if not comfortable, then calm. Certain that he was wearing Drozdovsky down just as fast, Tukachevsky refused to put all his weight into the battle. It seemed odd at the time- and caused great offence to those who'd spent a month in combat- but made sense. There was only so much a fresh division or two could accomplish in the stalemated city. In exchange for capturing a few blocks or wearing down another enemy formation, Tukachevsky would've lost thousands of good men, something he couldn't afford. Thus, he placed the very last of his reserves on the far bank of the River Volga. They trained hard, occasionally spending a day or two fighting in the quiet sectors of the city, but remained in reserve till the time was right. And by the start of February, that day had arrived. Both sides were worn to a nub. Drozdovsky's force, which had so menaced the Republican front in the autumn, was a pale skeleton, a frozen corpse in Tsarist fatigues. Nor were Tukachevsky's men any better: though they held the territory, they would have stood no chance against good-quality formations. But the Republican commander didn't care. His mincing machine had done its work; he'd eliminated the Tsarist army at an acceptable price.

Now it was time to counterattack.

These precious reserves crossed the Volga at one AM on 2 February 1921. They'd been spared the horrors of the city to enhance their performance here and now. By dawn, they were over the river in force. Many had crossed quite far from the city (the bridges in Volgograd, naturally, having been destroyed), and spent the day linking up. Their task would be long and their opposition fierce, but they were ready. The smell of ashes wafting from the city reminded them of the sacrifices made by those who'd come before and the words of their commander rung in their ears.

"...You are not fighting for yourselves, you are not fighting for this city, you are fighting for a nation."

The turning point in the Russian Civil War had arrived.

Comments?
(1) Much of the geography here will be... oversimplified... lest I clutter up the chapter with excessive descriptors. Apologies in advance, and I will hopefully have another of my maps to help visualise things.
(2) And yes-- in writing the above paragraph I, too, am guilty as charged.
(3) Russian Orthodox Christmas falls on what Westerners call 7 January, owing to differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. (Obviously, as an American, I have all Russian events occur on the Gregorian calendar-- ie, the May Day General Strike took place on the Western 1 May, the Russian 17 April.
(4) See chapter 41, but in brief: St. Polten was wrecked during the Danubian Civil War by advancing Imperial and German forces.
 
And so the legend is born: Erich von Falkenhayn has earned his place in history, when even Germany's former enemies are looking to him for inspiration. How far away can the sounds of Ludendorff and von Hinderburg eating their livers be heard from?
 
"Just a hundred and sixty mile dash", he told his staff in the map room, "and then we will have ourselves a fine Russian Christmas!"
It feels like at some point people would just learn not to say some variation on that phrase but nope. Turns out being that kind of idiot is a generational issue, who knew?

Incidentally I've been listening a lot to the History of Rome podcast (Great stuff, even if you've already heard this it's worth checking out) and it's given me a bit more insight into the art of the battle. Not so much to call myself an expert, but that stuff with the bridge had me very interested. It's expertly planned out, explaining each twist and turn that drives the battle, and I really appreciate it. What a bleak mess of a situation.
The turning point in the Russian Civil War had arrived.
Mamma mia, here we go again.
 
It being so very cold around what you describe as near zero temperatures confused me. Did you mean Farenheit rather than Celsius?
 
Chapter Fifty-Seven: Verdun On the Volga



Every day brought the Tsarists closer to Volgograd. Aside from two villages on the south bank, Komsomolskiy and Bereslavka, Republican resistance was meagre. Drozdovsky's cavalry outflanked the defenders of Novyy Rogachik on the 18th and took Biryuzovyy without a fight on the 25th. (3) Compared to the frozen hell of Kalach and Marinovka, this was easy going, and Drozdovsky drew exactly the wrong conclusion: Tukhachevsky had suffered as much as he had, and the Republicans couldn't resist. The tenacious defence of the southern bank of the Don should've made him realise his error. As it was, Drozdovsky pushed his men forward into the trap.
This is a fine chapter, with excellent evocations of Verdun 1916, and Stalingrad 1942-43. Well done! One tiny quibble: ITTL, is it likely that a village in this region would be named in honor of the Soviet youth organization, Komsomol?
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top