Stalingrad is a battle that needs no introduction, a place where the Red Army dug in and held the German tanks attacking the city. However 23 years earlier the Red Army had tried to hold Stalingrad against attacking British armour. By a curious coincidence the date it happened was the anniversary of the Somme, the first time the tank had been used in battle. Equally interestingly using the Russian calendar of the time the date was different, and was the anniversary of Waterloo.
As World War One came to a close there were large amounts of armaments going spare in the west. Most of these countries viewed the Communist menace with suspicion and concern, so the obvious answer was to supply these arms to the White Russians. Unlike the French who demanded payment, the British shipped over their supplies, along with advisers and teachers.
In April 65 men and officers, along with six of both Medium A Whippets and MKV Hermaphrodites arrived in Southern Russia, aboard the transport ship Sacred Heart. The school was set up in Ekaterinodar later that month and later it moved to Taganrog. By the end of the year the school would produce over 200 trained crew.
As the Reds dug in the Whites requested tank support. A number of machines were dispatched with Russian crews. However one tank was crewed by British, despite being ordered not to take part in the fight. Captain R.W Walsh commanded the British MKV.
The plan was for the tanks (three Whippets and two MKV's) and infantry to smash the Red defensive line and then for cavalry to attack through the gap to take Tsaritsyn. Each tank had a oxcart detailed to follow it carrying supplies of fuel.
At 0200 on the 19th of June the tanks moved out, for secrecy they had been stationed some distance from the front line and only reached it at 0230. Their march was not without losses as one of the Whippets had broken down.
As the tanks rumbled over the front line, the Reds began to fire everything they had at them, and the tanks attracted a hail of machine-gun fire, which of course had absolutely no effect. It took them about ten minutes to cross no-mans land. One of the Whippets became entangled in wire, and the Russian crewed MKV moved to its assistance.
The British tank continued forward, and after crossing the line swung to the left and travelled along the Red trench line blasting out any resistance. Meanwhile the infantry advanced into the shattered Red line as they fled wherever the British MKV approached. At about 0530 Captain Walsh dismounted from the tank to confer with some White infantry, and was wounded by shrapnel. This left Captain McElvaine in charge.
It was at this point the British tank found itself alone, the Russian crewed tanks had returned to the starting point. Luckily there was plenty of infantry around and some Russian armoured cars had moved up and were pursuing the Red Army as they routed back towards Tsaritsyn. A British major back at the starting point ordered the Russian tanks to advance again. This tour caused another Whippet to break down. By midday the tanks had linked up and been resupplied by their carts.
However the Red Army had by now reached a second line of defence and those positions had stopped the pursuing Whites. At about 1500 the remaining tanks were ordered forward again, with the tanks arriving at about 1700 just in time to meet a fierce counterattack from the Reds. As the tanks crossed a ridge line they were engaged by about twelve 4" guns using direct fire, these may well have been gunboats out on the Volga. This bombardment knocked out a Whippet with shrapnel penetrating the engine compartment, and the Russian MKV developed ignition trouble. With the Red attack halted the tanks withdrew for the night.
The next day the assault continued, however the carts with the tanks supplies had disappeared. Without any fuel the tanks couldn't join in the assault on Tsaritsyn, and they were sorely needed. The Reds were all in the buildings and the White infantry and dismounted Cossacks were taking heavy casualties. However by 1900 enough fuel had been located so both the MKV's hurried up the road to join in the fighting. Shortly after they arrived the Red Army broke and routed. Over 40,000 POW's were taken along with a huge supply of weapons, material and several armoured trains. But the White forces were too exhausted to pursue them.
The tanks returned to Taganrog, and later in the month more tanks arrived, bringing the total to about 57. However despite the enthusiasm of the White Russian commanders, one of whom announced a general march on Moscow, the forces on the ground just weren't up to the task and quickly reached what is often thought of as the high water mark of the Whites.
"Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: "Do not march on Moscow". Various people have tried it, Napoleon and Hitler, and it is no good."
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