Primary Documents - Anton Denikin on Mutiny in the Russian Army, 28 July 1917
Reproduced below is the text of Anton Denikin's official report into mutiny in the Russian Army which culminated in military failure during the Kerenski Offensive of July 1917.
Denikin, as Chief of Staff to Commander-in-Chief Alexei Brusilov, made clear in his report that he blamed workers' committees for paralysis in the army's command structure. No military decision could be taken, he argued, without it being countermanded within short order.
Denikin served as Chief of Staff to three successive Commanders-in-Chief: Mikhail Alexeev, Brusilov and Lavr Kornilov. Denikin subsequently came out in support of Kornilov's attempted government coup - with unfortunate results, since Denikin was arrested and imprisoned with the former Commander-in-Chief.
The October Revolution later the same year brought both Denikin and Kornilov an opportunity to escape from imprisonment. They consequently fled to join up with Alexeev in southern Russia to form the anti-Bolshevik White army.
General Denikin's Official Report on the Kerenski Offensive
Well aware of my great responsibility, and with a heart full of the deepest feelings, I have written this report.
Be patient. In the presence of the autocratic Tsar, I could ever speak honestly and without fear; in the presence of the revolutionary autocracy, my words shall be of the same kind.
The troops were in a state of complete disorganization, I discovered when called to the command. This amazed me because neither the reports that had reached the headquarters of the General Staff, nor in fact my own observations, had caused me to suspect so tragic a situation.
However, it is easily accounted for: the soldiers committed no serious excesses when they had only to give a passive acquiescence. But, when they were ordered to prepare for attack, and the time for active duty came, the animal instinct cried aloud and the truth was revealed!
Ten divisions at least did not take their positions for departure as ordered. Thereupon a tremendous furore arose among officers of every rank, and the committees, and the agitators. There were endless commands and arguments.
Before any action could be taken, the number of troops in revolt must be lessened. The greater part of a month was consumed in this way, and but a part of the divisions obeyed the order to go into battle. The 2nd Corps from the Caucasus, and the 160th Infantry Division revolted. Thus many companies degenerated from their former appearance, and some even lost human semblance!
Never shall I forget the scenes I watched in the 703rd Regiment!
Eight to ten distilleries of alcohol existed in some regiments. Consequently drunkenness, gambling, pillage and assault of all descriptions, even murder, occurred. I decided to send the 2nd Caucasian Corps to the rear, excepting the 51st Infantry Division, and to reorganize it as well as the 16oth, thus, from the outset, losing a force of about 130,000 bayonets.
In the same sector with the Caucasian Infantry Corps were the 28th and 29th Infantry Divisions, which were considered the best on the front. The 29th went into position as ordered, but the day following almost two and a half regiments returned to the rear. The 28th Division agreed to send one of its regiments to hold the vacant position, but that regiment voted on its own account not to occupy the position; it withdrew instead.
Everything was done to persuade the men. The Commander-in-Chief came in person, and after interviews with the committees and delegates of the two corps retired with the impression that the soldiers were sound, but that the officers were frightened, and had lost their heads. This was false; the officers had done all in their power in this unprecedented and painful predicament.
A meeting was held by the 1st Siberian Corps, at which the address made by the Commander-in-Chief was received enthusiastically; but he was unaware that the meeting was continued after his departure, and that the soldiers listened to other speakers who commanded them not to listen to - I ask your pardon, but this is the word used - "the old bourgeois." His name was loaded with insults; and such speeches met with tremendous applause.
M. Kerenski, Minister of War, while on a tour of inspection, delivered an inspiring appeal to glory, and received a staunch welcome from the 28th Infantry Division. One half hour after this orator's departure, a deputation from one of the regiments in this division was sent after him with a resolution they had taken, declaring they would not attack.
Even more misleading in its temporary enthusiasm was the sight of the 28th Infantry Division breaking into wildest enthusiasm when the red flag was returned to the commander of the regiment from Poti. The soldiers kneeled to receive it, and vowed that they would die for their country. This they affirmed by repeated oaths and by the fiery speeches of three orators.
On the first day of the attack, without even going into the front trenches, this regiment made a half-face and marched off some six or seven miles to the rear of the battle.
The morale of the men should have been upheld by the soldiers' committees and the political commissaries; but in reality these deputies led them into complete demoralization. Perhaps there were among the commissaries a few "black Swans" who really were of assistance by not meddling in what was no concern of theirs. But this very institution, involving as it did two powers, creating friction, interfering banefully and unsolicited, could not help but be a cause of disintegration in the army.
Another cause of demoralization lies in the committees. That some of these do remarkable work with intense regard for their duty, I do not deny. Many of their members set superb examples of heroic death. But such usefulness, I reaffirm, does not compensate, except in a minor way, for the enormity of the evil to army discipline caused by the committees by reason of their oligarchy, of their division of power, their hostile interference in war affairs, and their overthrow of all authority.
Although I could give hundreds of examples of their weakening and disorganizing work, I will limit myself to the most characteristic.
On June 8th a committee at the front decided not to attack. Then, shifting, it decided for an attack. On June 1st the committee of the Second Army decided not to attack, and on June 10th changed this decision. The Soviet of Workmen's and Soldiers' Delegates at Minsk refused to authorize the attack, by a vote of 123 to 79.
All the committees of the 169th Infantry Division voted a lack of confidence in the Provisional Government, and declared that they considered an attack on the enemy to be "treason to the revolution."
Many dismissals of commanding officers resulted from this breach of authority, dismissals in which in most cases the committee took part. Thus a corps commander, a chief of the General Staff, and the head of a division entrusted with an important attack, had to renounce their commands at the very outset of military operations. About sixty officers were deposed as commanders of army corps or heads of regiments.
The total of evil done by the committees is difficult to estimate. No firm discipline any longer exists. If a patriotic and soldierly decision is made by a majority vote, this amounts to nothing. Another vote will soon change it. Hiding behind their privilege as members of the committee, the Bolshevik's sow revolt and trouble everywhere.
In a word, idleness and ever-shifting talk! The military leader with all his authority discredited is elevated and then cast down. Yet he is expected to be powerful enough to conduct the troops to vigorous battle.
This was the real preparation which preceded the operations. Enemy pressure on the southwest front made immediate assistance necessary, although the deployment was not finished. My front lost three or four divisions which disappeared before the enemy's attacks; so I decided to attack with the remaining troops who seemed faithful to their duty.
During three days our artillery thundered against the enemy trenches, tearing them up frightfully and inflicting heavy losses against the Germans, and pounding out a road for our infantry. The entire front zone was nearly carried. Our chain of troops reached the enemy batteries. The breach seemed about to be widened; it was the long promised victory.
Suddenly, however, the advance stopped. New regiments failed to appear. Men fled on every side. A gap yawned in our lines; and without any advance by the enemy, we were compelled to withdraw.
During this reverse, the lessening of our man-power increased. By nightfall it took on huge proportions. The soldiers, weary, unnerved, unaccustomed to the roar of cannon after months of inaction, of fraternization, and of meetings, deserted the trenches en masse, throwing away their rifles and machine guns, and stampeding like a wild herd to the rear.
The cowardice and panic reached such depths that several generals requested the artillery fire be stopped, fearing the noise of our own cannon would cause further panic among our soldiers.
The offensive thus resulted disastrously, yet never before had I had the good fortune to fight with greater numerical superiority in bayonets and materials. Never had success seemed more assured. On thirteen miles of front I had 184 batteries, against 29 enemy batteries ; 900 guns against 300; the batteries that were to go into the attack were 138 against 17. All this was reduced to annihilation.
The generals' reports showed that the mental condition of the troops immediately following the operation defied analysis. I called the army commanders together three days later, and asked these questions: "Will our armies be able to resist a serious German attack by increased numbers?" Answer: "No." " Can our armies sustain an organized attack of the Germans if the enemy forces remain the same as now?" Two commanders gave vague answers in conditional terms. The consensus of opinion was: "We no longer have any infantry." I will make that statement stronger and say, "We no longer have any army, and one must be created at any price."
Paragraph 6, of the "Declaration of the Soldiers' Rights," says all printed matter without exception shall be forwarded to the person addressed. Thus the spirit of the whole army is fed with incendiary literature, with which the Bolshevists deluge it. It is plain that official funds, funds of the people and of the Military Bureau at Moscow, have been invested in this vicious propaganda and sent to the front.
There arrived 7,000 copies of the Pravda, 2,000 copies of the Soldatskaia Pravda, and over 30,000 of the Social Democrat, between March 24th and May 1st. Between May 1st and June 11th there were again 7,000 copies of the Pravda, 32,000 of the Social Democrat, and over 61,000 of the Soldatskaia Pravda. These sheets were handed out to every one by the soldiers themselves.
Paragraph 14 of the new military code declares that no one is to be punished without trial. I n practice, however, this right belongs only to the private soldiers. Officers have been repeatedly condemned without trial. The result is that all military tribunals are at a standstill; they dare not act in the most ordinary cases.
The officers have lost all authority, and the courts which were to have been composed solely of private soldiers, have not even been selected. The men have either neglected them or in other places openly voted to have no courts at all.
In brief, the idea of justice has been quite thrust out of the army. These new laws and methods have utterly destroyed all authority and all discipline, have placed the officers in a shameful position, and deprived them of all consideration and all honour.
Of the sufferings of the officers, it is very painful for me to speak; and I will be brief. Sokoloff, writing of them, said: "I could not have imagined martyrs such as your officers; I bow before them."
It is true. Not even in the darkest days of the Tsar did the secret police employ upon those whom they regarded as most criminal, such tortures, such jeers, as are now inflicted upon faithful officers by the fury of drunken soldiers and revolutionary mobs.
Insulted at every turn, they are often struck and even lashed. No murmur of complaint escapes them, though they are moved by shame, mortal shame. Many a one, alone, weeps over his misfortune and to escape such humiliations seeks death upon the battlefield.
Here is a passage from a report of the 38th Army Corps. Does it not breathe of the heroic epic!
"The officers who were marching in advance, tried vainly to rally their men. At that instant, a white flag was hoisted by our soldiers in Redoubt 3. Thereupon fifteen officers, with a little group of soldiers, marched forward alone. Their fate is unknown. They were not seen again."
May the blood of these heroes be upon the heads of those who caused their untimely death, willingly or unwillingly! Peace to their noble souls! Powerful measures must be taken, if the army is to be rescued from its ruins.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
A Runner was a soldier who carried messages by hand.
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