The Armed Forces of Southern Russia, also known more informally as the Southern Whites, was the Civil War era military and provisional government established by the merger of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer and Don Armies in August, 1918. The AFSR nominally recognized its political subordination under the Provisional All-Russian Government after the latter's establishment in November, 1918, but it would remain largely independent for a full year, until the more comprehensive merger following the Congress of Ufa.

Established and led by many of the most competent generals on the anti-Bolshevik side, the AFSR was arguably the military lynchpin of the White Russian movement. Following the end of the Civil War, many AFSR veterans transferred wholesale into the army of the refounded Republic, and the core of the contemporary Russian military is disproportionately influenced by its AFSR heritage.

Volunteer Army

Early History

The origins of the Volunteer Army can be traced back to the chaotic flight of anti-Bolshevik officers from the cities of central Russia in the aftermath of Red October. The efforts of Generals Mikhail Alekseev and Nikolai Dukhonin proved crucial in smuggling their comrades to areas beyond Bolshevik control (chiefly the Cossack territories and Ukraine), as well as freeing General Lavr Kornilov and his cohorts, who had been imprisoned following their failed "March on Petrograd" in August of 1917.

Volunteer Army infantry company

Volunteer army soldiers and a nursing sister pose for a photo in a Rostov train station (January, 1918)

The Volunteer Army as a genuine anti-Boshlevik fighting force only emerged in the aftermath of the famous "Ice March" of February-May, 1918, which saw Kornilov's few thousand ragged troops trek across the frozen

steppe and triumph against overwhelming odds by seizing the Kuban capital of Yekaterinodar. By the summer of 1918, the Volunteer Army not only managed to successfully drive back persistent Bolshevik attacks, but even expand their territory in the wake of popular uprisings among the Don and Terek Cossacks.

Formation of the AFSR

The arrival of Pyotr Wrangel and Mikhail Drozdovsky's "Special Corps" from Ukraine proved to be both a blessing a curse for the Volunteer Army. The available manpower of the Southern Whites nearly doubled, but the unsubtle presence of German support with the Special Corps ignited a firestorm of controversy among the many pro-Entente figures in the Volunteer Army, most notably Alekseev and Denikin. The Allies had supplied the Whites with ammunition, food, and uniforms, but these contributions paled in comparison to what the Germans offered through cooperation with the Central Powers and Skoropadsky's Hetmanate.

Denikin in tank detachment of White Movement

Anton Denikin inspects a German-supplied A7V-U tank after victory in Tsaritsyn (January, 1919)

Kornilov agonized over the decision, but was ultimately swayed to agree with the German's proposal after discussing the matter with Wrangel, who confirmed Kornilov's suspicions that the Entente (and its support) were on the verge of collapse. For strategic reasons and as a sign of good faith, Kornilov united the Volunteer Army, Don Army, and Special Corps under the mantle of the "Armed Forces of Southern Russia." To ease the transition, the bulk of the Special Corps under Wrangel was folded into Denikin's nascent "Caucasian Volunteer Army."

Service in the AFSR

After August, 1918, there technically existed two Volunteer Armies, the "original" under Kornilov, and the Caucasian Volunteer Army under Denikin and Wrangel. By the beginning of 1919, the White order of battle had largely stationed the Volunteer Army in the northern Don oblast and eastern Ukraine, while the Caucasian Volunteer Army fought along the Volga.

Upon receiving sole command of the Caucasian Volunteer Army, General Wrangel proved instrumental in the White victories of the Volga Campaign which arguably saved the Siberian Whites from Trotsky and Frunze's offensive. Kornilov and the Volunteer Army, on the other hand, spent much of 1919 battling with Alexander Yegorov's Reds on the Kharkov-Don Front, while also helping Skoropadsky's Ukrainians deal with the "Black Army" of Nestor Makhno.


Kornilovist infantrymen rest in winter kit (February, 1919)

Following the string of White victories in the latter months of 1919, the Volunteer Armies undertook parallel offensives directed towards Moscow, Wrangel westward from Penza and Kornilov northward from Orel. The Volunteer Armies formed the largest and best-equipped White formation in the Siege of Moscow, and for this reason acted as the hammer which ultimately broke the Red capital.

Don Army

Early History

While Pyotr Krasnov's Don Cossacks were attempting to recapture Petrograd for Kerensky, the Ataman of the Don Cossack Host, Alexei Kaledin, declared the secession of the Don Republic from the RSFSR. Krasnov and his men retreated to the Cossack capital of Novocherkassk, also home to the fledgling Volunteer Army. Despite their small size and similar goals, the newly-created "Don Army" remained separate from its Russian counterpart, chiefly because the Don Cossacks had agreed to receive German support, while the Volunteers remained pro-Entente at this early stage.

The Ice March proved no less dramatic for the Cossacks than it did for the Volunteers, with Ataman Kaledin shooting himself upon learning of the fall of Rostov-on-Don. Kaledin's replacement, Anatoly Nazarov, not only failed to convince the Volunteers to defend Novocherkassk, but also chose to surrender to the Reds, who promptly rewarded him and many other Cossack leaders with summary execution. The ensuing "Red Terror" backfired spectacularly, with thousands of Don & Kuban Cossacks rising up in rebellion and joining the Don Army.

Don army command

Command staff of the Don Army (August, 1918)

Formation of the AFSR

By the beginning of summer in 1918, the Don Army was arguably in better condition than the Volunteers, as German supplies had begun to arrive, and its manpower had swelled in the wake of the anti-Bolshevik uprisings. Much of the Don oblast was soon liberated, but the newly-elected Ataman Krasnov squandered the Don Army's rebirth with two disastrous attacks on the city of Tsaritsyn .

Like with the Volunteer Army, the arrival of the "Special Corps" from Ukraine proved controversial for the Cossacks. While Krasnov's open pro-German stance had earned him some benefits in the ensuing negotiations, the pro-independence leanings of the Ataman and many of his supporters made the Russians leery. The Don Army was ultimately made one of the pillars of the AFSR, but it gained little manpower from this merger, and its other gains also soon proved ephemeral.

Service in the AFSR

Having been founded as an independent, non-Russian army, the Don Army was understandably viewed with considerable suspicion by the Volunteers, and a sizeable number of Cossacks. The Don and Kuban Republics both still existed under White control, and both hoped the Don Army would act as a concrete representative of their aspirations for autonomy or outright independence.

Don army

The dichotomy of the Don Army: on the left, a frontline regiment in surplus British equipment, and on the right, a garrison unit in a mixture of Russian army fatigues and civilian clothes.

Though the Don Army had entered the merger with the other armies as the 2nd largest, the swelling ranks of the two Volunteer armies over the course of 1919 left the Don Army a distant 3rd. This fact was not helped by many Cossacks willingly choosing to serve with the Russians, as the Don Army's diminishing status left many regarding it as little more than a glorified garrison. To the White generals' frequent frustration, many Cossack units were reluctant to serve beyond their own borders, and the Don Army became a natural dumping ground for these "national" units.

Though many Cossacks were present for the battles in Central Russia and Siege of Moscow, the Don Army as a formation had largely been relegated to the reserves by the middle of 1919.

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