As a wargamer I tend to read every book I can find which
gives detailed military treatment. I also read up on the social and
political aspects, but more patchily. I have omitted books which are
either difficult to
find or which are of only marginal interest.
If you want a real bibliography, then the book to get is
Jonathan Smele's The
Russian Revolution and Civil War: 1917-1921, an Annotated Bibliography
In its 600-odd pages it lists pretty much every book on the Civil War
published in a Western language, plus comments that help determine
their usefulness. Quite an outstanding piece of work.
My favourite book on the period as a whole would have to be A People’s
Tragedy: the Russian Revolution: 1891 -1924
by Orlando Figes. If you want to know why the Reds had more popular
support than the Whites, here is as good a place as any to start.
Other currently available books that are good value include Red Victory: a History of
the Russian Civil War 1918-1921
by Bruce Lincoln and the imaginatively named The Russian Civil War
by Evan Mawdsley, both written in the 1980’s but bearing up
relatively well. These chronicle the confusing multitude of campaigns
in comprehensible fashion.
Older books abound: Civil
by David Footman (1961), Civil
War in Russia, 1917 - 1920
by J. F. N. Bradley
(1975) and The
White Generals: an Account of the White Movement and the Russian Civil
by Richard Luckett (1971)
all seemed fine to me, though nothing special. Older still is the
Russian Revolution: 1917-1921
by William Henry Chamberlin (1935) which is rather bigger than the
rest, being two volumes, and The
White Armies of
Russia: a Chronicle of Counter-Revolution and Allied Intervention
by George Stewart (1933) which does better maps than most of the rest.
The older books really start to show their age when discussing the side
theatres but are mostly fine for the main White armies.
In Osprey Publishing's Essential Histories series is The Russian Civil War 1918-1922
by David Bullock. It's cheap and is accurate, but has rather too much
space wasted on pictures for my taste. They could have provided more
detail and still stay within their 140 page format.
The video Russian
(from the series Russia,
the Missing Years
executive producers: Terry Shand and Victor Rabinkov is a particularly
easy introduction. Like all videos it is skimpy on the factual side but
some of the pictures, like the little armoured cars bouncing along the
roads, are quite fascinating.
I would recommend avoiding Stamping
out the Virus
by Perry Moore – it is error-ridden and patchy for all
theatres other than the northern intervention.
For the French speakers, there is the recent book: La guerre civile russe
1917-1922. Armées paysannes rouges, blanches et vertes
by Jean-Jacques Marie. As the title implies, the coverage goes past
just the Red vs White struggle, and it is a perfectly acceptable
introduction. I had the misfortune to read Les Armées
by Marina Grey et
Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution 1914–1921
edited by Howard Acton, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev and William G. Rosenberg
is a series of essays about various themes in the period. Not really a
beginner’s book, since it assumes quite a bit about the basic
story, but good value all the same.
The classic work on the south is Civil
War in South Russia,
1918: The first year of the Volunteer Army
followed by Civil
War in South Russia, 1919-1921: The Defeat of the Whites
by Peter Kenez (available as reprints titled Red Attack, White
Advance, White Defeat
which explains the failure of Denikin and Wrangel pretty well, with an
emphasis on the political over the military.
As its title suggests, The
Volunteer Army and
Allied Intervention in South Russia: 1917-1921
a study in the politics and diplomacy of the Russian Civil War by
George A Brinkley isn’t very interested in the armies either.
The lives of the two commanders of the southern Whites are covered in White against Red: the
life of General Anton Denikin
by Dimitry Lehovich and General
Wrangel: Russia’s White Crusader
by Alexis Wrangel. Although not inaccurate factually, I found them both
tiresome reading without quite being sure why. But they are better than
the English version of those Generals’ memoirs – The White Army
by A I Denikin is heavily edited and concentrates largely on the early
fighting in the south, treating the major campaigns later with undue
haste, while The
Memoirs of General Wrangel: the last Commander in Chief of the Russian
by Baron Petr
Vrangel was edited to exclude the specifically military details found
in the original Russian.
If you want military detail of particular battles, you
can’t go past The
Trans-Dnepr Operation: Wrangel’s Last Offensive
by Tom Hillman. These are essential reading
for wargamers. Details
The standard text on the 1920 Russo-Polish War is White Eagle, Red Star: the
Polish-Soviet War 1919-1920
by Norman Davies.
I prefer The Battle for the
by Adam Zamoyski
for the military detail. This was recently republished as Warsaw 1920
in on Zamyski's new found fame but, while it has a few new details, it
is an inferior product for those primarily interested in the campaigns.
The various commanders wrote on the campaign, but The march beyond the
by M. Tuchachevski is more by way of protracted excuse and Year 1920 and its climax:
Battle of Warsaw during the Polish-Soviet war, 1919 - 1920
by Jozef Pilsudski is a spirited rebuttal of Tuchachevski rather than a
history of the campaign itself. My English copy has nice maps and the
French version has some detailed notes from the Polish Military History
Bureau as well. It is worth finding a copy with all these texts
of Eagles: a story of the American Kosciuszko Squadron in the
Polish-Russian War 1919-1920
by Robert Karolevitz and Ross Fern is a nice tale and there are several
other books on this famous unit.
fights for freedom: the rising of Lwów in 1918-1919
by Rosa Bailly is a look at the fighting around
L'viv/L'vov/Lwów entirely from a Polish perspective.
Coverage of this war is better in French than English. The Pilsudski,
Tuchachevski and Bailly works are all in French, but there is also La Campagne polono-russe
Sikorski, which covers the 1920 campaign as a whole only in general
terms but has wonderful detail for the fighting in perhaps the most
vital spot in the Battle of Warsaw (where the author commanded). La Pologne en lutte pour
ses frontières: 1918-1920
by Adam Przybylski is a small book, but is unusual in giving details of
the fighting against the Soviets prior to 1920 (I have translated most
of the 1919 section, see the history section of this site). L’Aigle blanc
contre l’etoile rouge
by Saint-Dizier is OK, but La
Manoeuvre libératrice du maréchal Pilsudski contre les
bolchéviks, août 1920: étude stratégique
Général Camon and L’Offensive
militaire de l’etoile rouge contre la Pologne
by Capt Charles Kuntz are very old and not terribly useful. La Guerre
collected by Céline Gervais is a series of academic papers
which I found mostly quite dull. Finally, the journals Revue
both contain a
number of eye-witness accounts of the fighting, unfortunately
concentrating almost exclusively on the cavalry (which is hardly
surprising for the second).
War of Independence
by J O
Hannula is a nice introduction
(available in French as La
Guerre d'indépendance de Finlande
I also enjoyed Finland
and the Russian Revolution, 1917-1922
by C Jay Smith.
Mannerheim wrote memoirs, but I understand that the part dealing with
the Finnish Civil War was left out of translations to avoid offending
The "Greens" were local
military groups for fought either to protect their area from other
armies or for reasons of survival. They were an important force in the
fighting, but tend to be left out of the standard histories. Behind the Front Lines of
the Civil War
by Vladimir N Brovkin is a really good introduction to them, although
the author launches into a few too many angry attacks on opposing
Two areas have seen particular attention, because they posed the
greatest threat to Soviet power. The first is the Tambov/Volga area,
for which I recommend the excellent Bandits
and Partisans: The
Antonov Movement in the Russian Civil War
by Erik C.
Landis. There is also The
Civil War in Russia: A study of the green movement in the Tambov
region, 1920 - 1921
Radkey which is interesting but marred somewhat by the
author’s near pathological dislike of every aspect of Marxism. Peasant Russia, Civil War:
Countryside in Revolution 1917 - 1921
by Orlando Figes looks at a region next to Tambov, but I found it
strangely dry from an author who is usually very enjoyable.
Then there is Nestor Makhno, poster boy for the anarchists,
who appear to overlook the fact that he was considerably better at
plundering and killing than he was at providing a better life for
anyone. By far the best history of him I have read is The Makhnovshchina,
nationalism, and peasant insurgency in early twentieth century Ukraine
which is an unpublished PhD thesis by Colin Darch (who very kindly
provided me with a copy). "Nestor
" by David Footman
appears in St
Anthony’s Papers Number 6 (Soviet Affairs) Number Two, 1959
and gives the basic details pretty well.
I have not read Nestor
Makhno – Anarchy's Cossack: The Struggle for Free Soviets in the Ukraine
Alexandre Skirda but his Nestor
Makhno: Cossack Libertaire – 1888–1934
spoiled for me by his over-riding desire to
push his personal political message. La
Makhnovchtchina: l'insurrection révolutionnaire en Ukraine
de 1918 à 1921
Pierre Archinoff is even more biased.
On the whole I am not
particularly interested in the foreign interventions and do not read
much about them. The support of the Allied powers was vital to the
progress of the White armies of Denikin, Kolchak and Yudenich, but it
was financial and logistical support, not military, which was
Intervention in Russia, 1917-1920
by J F N
Bradley is quite good as a start.
While the British and American interventions in the far North, Siberia
and Caspian are covered in dozens of books, the French interventions
are almost completely ignored. The gap annoyed me, especially since the
French official history of the fighting is available and clearly
contradicts the figures that are repeated in all general
histories. The result was that I wrote a military history of the French
in the Ukraine, How
Odessa Became Red
with the kind assistance of Tom Hillman and Alexis Mehtidis (who
provided vital material from Russian and Greek sources respectively). Details
Only one really good history covers the Czech,
Komuch and Kolchak campaigns from a military angle: Remembering a
Forgotten War: civil war in eastern European Russia and Siberia,
by Serge P.
under red and white rule:
Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Russian Far East, 1920-1922
by Canfield F. Smith is useful for the very far east after Kolchak (it
covers far more than just Vladivostok) and is a useful follow-on from
For those interested in the far east, there is White Terror: Cossack
Warlords of the Trans-Siberian
by Jamie Bisher, covering the exploits of Semenov mainly, but also
Kalmykov and Ungern-Sternberg. Recently out in paperback, this is a
"must buy" if you have any interest in the theatre at all.
The Japanese thrust into Siberia,
by James William Morley
is only concerned with the politics of Japan's decision to enter and
does not discuss the actual intervention at all. The Destruction of
is a fascinating look at one episode in the Japanese involvement.
Otherwise the only avenue is to read books about the US intervention,
which was primarily aimed at restricting the Japanese.
Czechoslovak Legion in Russia
by J F N Bradley is clearly a thesis
converted into book and you would never knew that the Czechs actually
fought a major campaign, so heavily political is his emphasis. The
recent Osprey The
Czech Legion 1914-20
by David Bullock covers all the various Czech units, not just those in
the Civil War. Useful if you need help with uniforms, especially for
the period from 1919 onwards, but it has basically nothing about the
fighting or the organisation of the Legion.
A short article "Siberian
Partisans in the Civil War
by David Footman appears in St Anthony’s
Papers Number 1 (Soviet Affairs) Number One, 1956
and is quite
illuminating about the difference between the reality of partisan
activity and the later Soviet version of events.
in the Ukraine: the Second Campaign: 1918-1919
by Arthur E Adams
is one of my favourite books on the Russian Civil War, unusual in
looking at the events of the first Soviet conquest almost entirely from
the Soviet side.
For a look at the very confusing series of events in the Ukraine during
the period, there is The
Ukrainian Revolution, 1917–1920: a Study in Nationalism
John S Reshetar Jr, but even it focuses almost entirely on the politics
in Kiev and Kharkov, and The
Ukrainian-Polish Defensive Alliance
1919–1921: and aspect of the Ukrainian Revolution
specifically on the Ukraine are
mentioned at this section
of the site here
There appears to be no decent book on the campaigns of the
North-Western army of General Iudenich in either English or French. The
best summary is The
History of the North-West
Army of General Iudenich
, a PhD thesis by Gleb Drujina.
For the campaigns in the Baltic, see this
section of this site
dedicated to the Freikorps.
The area of the Caucasus
mountains was the scene of numerous little wars and independence
movements throughout the period after the February Revolution. The only
general history appears to be The
struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917 - 1921
by Firuz Kazemzadeh.
Otherwise coverage is patchy, with only Armenia getting full treatment:
Republic of Armenia
by Richard Hovannisian is comprehensive (being 4 heavy volumes) and
there are quite a few books about the battle of Sardarabad. I enjoyed
Last Ghazawat: the 1920-1921
" (an article in The
North Caucasus Barrier
Marie Broxop covering the virtually
unknown late Chechen uprising against the Soviets; and The Baku commune:
1917-1918: class and
nationality in the Russian revolution
by Ronald Grigor Suny
details the fascinating history of one very troubled city.
the East Ablaze
by Peter Hopkirk is more a fun read than a history book (although the
stuff is properly researched) about goings on in the Soviet east, but
otherwise the coverage of the fighting in central Asia is even worse
than for the Caucasus. Except, naturally, the British intervention in
the Trans-Caspian region gets lots of attention despite its
unimportance in the greater scheme of things.
There appears to be no full history in English on the Basmachis,
although there are some interesting essays in the journal Central
and a useful military summary in Chapter
3 of Leavenworth Paper No.20
from the US military here
by Kratkov in St
Anthony’s Papers Number 6 (Soviet Affairs) Number Two
is pretty solid but for military details from the Soviet side
I recommend The
Role of M.N. Tukhachevskii in the Suppression of the Kronstadt Rebellion
by Neil Croll in Revolutionary
, Vol 17, No. 2, Dec 2004.
I do not share most wargamers
obsession with vehicles, but there are a couple of indispensable texts.
Units of the Russian
Civil War: White and Allied
and its companion volume ...
: Red Army
by D Bullock and A
Deryabin are excellent on the armoured trains and good on the tanks,
but a bit thin on the armoured cars. But that’s fine because
there is Armored
Automobiles of the Russian Civil War 1918- 1920
by Tom Hillman which fills the gap
There is also the Russian book Tanks
of the Civil War
which can be bought with a translation.
Growth of the Red Army
by Dimitri Daniel Fedotoff White is quite interesting, though it deals
mostly with generalities. For the period before the Red Army proper
came in to being one of the most important Soviet units was the Latvian
Rifle Division, which is explained in The
Latvian Impact on the Bolshevik Revolution: the first phase: September
1917 to April 1918
Ezergailis. Another early military
force were the "Red Guard" militias in the towns, explained in Red Guards and Workers'
Militias in the Russian Revolution
by Rex A. Wade.
I found The
H. Liddell Hart and Histoire
de l’armée rouge: la revolution et la guerre civile
by Dominique Venner decent enough, without really engaging me.
Available on-line is Neil Croll's PhD thesis Mikhail Tukhachevsky in the
Russian Civil War
, which is an easy to read history of one
of the Red Army's first heros. Another early Soviet hero (also shot by
them, as it happens) is discussed in Philip Mironov and the
Russian Civil War
by Sergei Starikov and Roy Medvedev. Unfortunately, while Mironov was
the leader of the Second Cavalry Army, the book is short on military
The history of the 20th Century
has too often been written by people determined to divide us all into
Left or Right, "Red" or "White", good or bad: but in the confusion of
the revolutions and civil wars there were plenty of people who moved
between these groups, as the boundaries are much more porous than the
purists will allow. Richard
B Spence's Boris
Savinkov: Renegade of the Left
is the story of an amazing man
who was always where the action was hottest, and who fought for Red and
For a bit of a peek at what the
actual fighting was like you have to avoid the generals and try to
piece it from the reports of the average fighting man. My favourite by
a mile in this respect is Carnets
de route d’un artilleur à cheval 1917 - 1920: Mes Chevaux dans la poussière et dans la boue
by Serge Mamontov, who
fought as a horse artilleryman throughout the whole war in the south.
Large parts of La Guerre
en Russie et en Siberie
by L Grondijs are
also very good in this respect.
Included elsewhere on this site is the excellent The Lost Legion
by Gustav Becvar, who fought with the Czech Legion.
The following have books have sections giving interesting details of
the fighting: Arms of
Pavlo Shandruk (for Ukrainian nationalists against Reds and Whites), The Unmaking of a Russian
by Nicholas Wreden (with Iudenich), Russia,
My Native Land: a US Engineer Reminisces and Looks at the Present
by Gregory P Tschebotarioff (Whites in the South), Farewell to the Don
by H N H Williamson (an Englishman’s observations in the south), Notes of a Red Guard
by Eduard M. Dune (mostly early fighting in Moscow), Years Off my Life
by A V Gorbatov (20 pages of his time as a low level cavalry commander), and
The Wind of Morning
by Hugh Boustead
(an interesting 20 pages on his time in south Russia). Although
containing elements of fiction, the Red
by Isaac Babel is essentially an eye-witness
view of what it was like in the Konnarmiya.
Budenny, which is only the first half of the Russian version and quite
the most one-sided autobiography I have ever read (though this may only
be the English translation, rather than the original) but is
nonetheless required reading since he does talk about military details
that most higher level commanders leave out altogether (and helps
counter-balance the pro-White sources of most memoirs in English). From Tsarist General to
Red Army Commander
by M Bonch-Bruyevich is the interesting tale of how a man could get
into the Red Army without any political thought involved, though for me
it was marred somewhat by the dodgy Soviet version of history.
I would recommend avoiding Memoirs
the Russian Revolution
by General Loukomsky (at least in the
English version) and The
Mill: Reminiscences of War and Revolution in Russia, 1913-1920
by Prince A Lobanov-Rostovsky. Dull, dull, dull.
The following books have some of the feel for the period, and it seems
unlikely that the original author was making it all up, but there
appears to be some embellishment: The
Secret of Nicolas Svidine
Nicolas Svidine, White
Devil of the Black Sea
Lewis Stanton Palen is more "ripping yarn" than history.
Another book in which it is hard to separate fact from fiction is Last Train over Rostov
Marion Aten. (Unfortunately this book is often cited as a source for
British aviation in South Russia, leading to a completely false
impression of the scale of the aerial fighting. If you read tales of
derring-do and dog-fights by British pilots over Tsaritsyn, then the
source is probably this book.) For what it was actually like in the
emergent airforces I recommend Gatchina
by Alexander Riaboff.
An usual struggle is detailed in the La Guerre
des Rouges et des Blancs: les insurgés du Kouban
Savtchenko, which is about some White-Greens trapped in the Kuban and
their march to safety. It is very hard to follow if you don't know the
basic history though.
For amusing tales in the early Red Navy try Tales of Sub-Lieutenant
Raskolnikov (available on-line somewhere).
There are a couple of reference books worth getting if you are
seriously interested in the period.
For the Soviets there is Гражданская Война И Военная
Интервенция В СССР (Civil
War and Military Intervention in the
), which is an encyclopedia with unit histories at
divisional level, loads of pictures and really good maps.
Гражданская Война В России: Война С Белополяками (Civil War in Russia: War
with the White Poles
) by Н Какурин and В
Меликов (I. Kakurin and V. Melikov)
has maps and loads of tables at the rear, even if you can't follow the
For the Whites there is Белая Россия Фотоалбом (White Russia Photoalbum
) published by
Посев (Posev), which has hundreds of photos of
the Whites in all the theatres.
Essential for tracking White units, Volkov's Знциклопедиу Гражданской
Войны: Велое Движение (Encyclopedia
of the Civil War: White Army
lists most of the major white commanders and units. Fabulous for
working out orbats and unit histories.
I find the tendency of
wargamers to have units with carefully researched organisations and
uniforms fighting on completely random terrain rather depressing. Until
I started reading I thought, like most people I suppose, that the
Russian steppe is one vast plain broken only by the Ural mountains. The
steppe is, however, not particularly flat in western Russia and the
Ukraine and is not particularly broken by the Urals.
A good starting point is a geography book. I use The U.S.S.R.: a
by Gregory and Shave because, being from 1944, the statistics about
land coverage and crops grown are closer to the 1920 values than with
modern books (it was also cheap).
Finding good topographic maps is easy: finding affordable ones less so.
I discuss some
Currently under slow reconstruction in the uniform section