Hello everyone, this historical post will not feature any tanks (although there are armored cars and trains), it will instead be about one of the most glorious military chapters of Czechoslovak history and – without any overstatement – one of the most daring military undertakings in history of wars, the struggle of Czechoslovak legions in Russia after the end of WW1. This campaign has everything: stunning victories, crushing defeats, suicidal bravery, glorious last stands and a small “underdog” army fighting (and defeating) the forces of entire Russia. So sit back and enjoy. The history of the Legion formation is actually quite complicated and we will get to that in detail perhaps later. Suffice to say that as early as 1914, Czechoslovak volunteers were gathering on the Russian side of the conflict in order to fight the Germans and Austrians. These men had no love for the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and were supported by the “exile” Czechoslovak leadership (including T.G.Masaryk, a legendary figure, who would later become the first president of independent Czechoslovakia). At first, these men were viewed with suspicion by the Russians, but after 1917 battle of Zborov (one of the most glorious military moments of Czechoslovak history), they rescinded the limits imposed on the Czechoslovak units and what started as a company grew quickly into a regular army, that – at the peak of its power – had around 100 thousand men at arms, including its own armor (cars and trains), air force and artillery. The Legions were however loyal to the Tsar and after his murder by bolsheviks and the Russian peace treaty with Germans (March 1918), their situation became very complicated. There were other Czechoslovak legions fighting in France and the presence of tens of thousands of armed Czechoslovak was needed in the western theater of operations. However, Russia (now controlled by bolsheviks, though just barely) was less then cooperative. No ships were available and the only way that seemed viable was to transport the Legions to Vladivostok and then to literally cross the entire world to reach the western front. The Russians (red) agreed with this plan at first in exchange for the Legion’s heavy weapons and most of machineguns. And so began the monumental undertaking, that took years and had a bitter ending. Another condition the Legions had to suffer was the fact that the bolsheviks incessantly spouted their propaganda amongst the Czechoslovaks. It did not work (Czechoslovaks cared little for bolsheviks and were under orders not to get mixed up in internal affairs of Russia) and when the bolsheviks got more aggressive in their propaganda as a result and started to verbally attack he Czechoslovak leadership including Masaryk (who at that point was extremely popular) and depict them as incompetent in order to make more skilled Czechoslovak legionnaires join the (at that time horribly incompetent and practically non-functional) Red Army, conflicts flared up. Another factor of the conflict was was that the foreign (German and Hungarian) bolsheviks (“internationalists”) gained a lot of influence in local soviets – and those guys were practically unanimously hostile towards Czechoslovaks. The last factor was that the Russians proved to be totally untrustworthy, breaking their promises all the time, especially Trotsky, who did not trust the Czechoslovaks to leave peacefully and in May 1918, he decided to have the Legion disbanded by force, to force the men to serve in Red Army and those, who would resist, would be used as slaves in Soviet industry (Lenin personally knew about this all of course). The situation got only worse (Russians tried to arrest Czechoslovak leadership – General Radola Gajda escaped only because he was armed, in turn Lenin got shot by a Czechoslovak socialist) and after the so-called Chelyabinsk incident (a Czechoslovak soldier was killed by a bolshevik, who in turn got lynched and when the bolsheviks tried to arrest the Czechoslovaks, they basically captured the entire town by force, forcing the release of the captured soldiers), it turned into a regular war, as the entire body of the Legion (scattered through several locations) started moving east towards Vladivostok and their way home. The fighting was brutal. The Soviets were taking very few prisoners, executing captured Czechoslovak soldiers on regular basis. Czechoslovaks in turn did usually let the Russian soldiers go (many were pressed into service by bolsheviks and did not want to fight), but the internationalists (German and Hungarian soldiers fighting for the bolsheviks) were usually executed. A series of battles followed after the Chelyabinsk incident and this article will actually describe one of the more important of them, the Battle of Lipyagy. The account is based on this article by P.J.Kuthan. If you are Czech, I strongly suggest reading it in original. Lipyagy, 1918 One of the groups trying to get to Vladivostok was the “Penza group” of Lt. Čeček, using the railway. The route however was blocked by the Russian city of Samara, one of the most important local trade centers. The Soviets were massing units within the city, intent on crushing the Czechoslovaks using massive firepower and sheer numbers in order to make up for the battle of Panza, where they were defeated earlier by the Czechoslovaks. But before Samara, there was another obstacle in the Czechoslovak path: the railway town of Lipyagy. The bolshevik HQ from Samara selected Lipyagy to be the place of the decisive battle, where Czechoslovak forces would be utterly crushed. Therefore it moved the best and most skilled Red army units to Lipyagy, consisting of the reinforcements sent to Samara from Moscow, Kazan and Ufa, consisting of Russian bolsheviks. Along with them came the Lithuanian bolshevik units from Siberia and experienced units of international bolsheviks (mostly former POW’s). These “internationalists” were mostly Germans and Hungarians, but there were also for example some Czech communists. Altogether there were around 4000 Soviet men in Lipyagy at that point. They were also better armed than the Czechoslovak, they were stocked with ammunition and had around 180 heavy machineguns, 30 artillery pieces of various caliber, 12 heavy mortars, 2 armored cars and an armored train. The bolsheviks were also very well dug in – there were trenches, strongpoints and machinegun nests all around the area. In order to build all this on time, the entire local population was forcibly put to work at gunpoint. Overall, the entrenchement system was very good, especially thanks to the experienced German interbrigadists, skilled in the art of trench warfare. The use of natural landscape was masterful. When the works were finished, the entire system was so good the bolsheviks considered it completely impenetrable and that (apart from the numerical and firepower advantage) also gave them good morale and self-confidence. The Continue reading →

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