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The Don Host in the Russian Civil War

The Don was the largest Host, and had few of the internal political issues that plagued the Kuban or Terek. It therefore was able to organise itself quickly and effectively with the revolutions in 1917. Unfortunately for it, however, it was a critical spot for any Russian government, so it was always going to be one of the first targets for Lenin to recover.


The Don Host soldiers wore standard Cossack dress, with their distinguishing colours being dark blue with red trim. A few regiments, for historical reasons, followed a slightly different pattern, and they have been dealt with in separate pages.

Ataman Regiment
Lifeguard Regiment

Cossack Infantry
Border Regiments
Non-Cossack Infantry
Finland Life Guards Regiment



A Ravaged Land

The central Don saw many changes of possession through the course of the Civil War and any good history will eplain them in more detail than we have space for here. In the history section of the site, there is also an article by Dobrynin which discusses the Don Army itself. Nevertheless there are a couple of terms that are mentioned in the uniform pages that are hard to find explanations for in most sources.

The first attempt at creating a Don Army straight after the Bolshevik takeover failed. The vast bulk of the Don Cossacks returning from WWI, the so-called frontoviki, had remained more or less in their regiments but would not fight to oppose any Socialist government. Soviet forces quickly overwhelmed the few men prepared to fight. Novocherkassk fell in February 1918 and Ataman Nazarov was shot - his immediate successor, Ataman Kaledin, having already committed suicide in despair.

The hard core of Don Cossack opposition, under General Popov, withdrew into the Sal' steppe on the border with the Kalmyks. Popov's intention – with just 1,500 men originally – was just to keep opposition alive. Within weeks the Bolsheviks' harsh policies had enraged the Cossacks, and Popov was soon able to lead a growing rebellion, leading to the election of Piotr Krasnov as Ataman. By mid-1918 the Don was Cossack again. Popov's march was termed the Степной Поход, generally translated as the Steppe March, and fills much the same place in White Don mythology as the Ice March of the young Volunteer Army.

Krasnov knew the Don was weak, and tried various expedients to solve this problem. He co-operated with the Germans in the Ukraine, who supplied him with military equipment because it helped keep the Bolsheviks busy. While mostly solving his supply issues, it was an unfortunate situation politically.

In an attempt to restrict the influence of the frontoviki, Krasnov drafted the 19 and 20 year-olds of the Don into the Молодая Армия, usually translated as the Young Army. These men were put into the first three divisions, with regiments numbering up from 1 to 12, plus a few plastoons and heavy support. Later a Border Division was added. The experiment wasn't hugely successful and these units were merged into the rest of the army. Most of the rest of the army was recruited by region, eventually being put into a numbered system. However some units started out as partisans, operating in the Soviet controlled areas, and these tended to stay intact on entering the Don Army.

Krasnov knew that taking Tsaritsyn was important, as it would help free the Astrakhan Cossacks and protect the Don's right flank. He also knew that his army probably could not achieve the capture of a fortified city, as it was outside the Don area and he lacked the solid infantry and technical means. He tried to persuade the Volunteer Army to help, but Denikin wanted to ensure a secure Kuban and Terek before he moved northwards. So Krasnov set about recruiting anti-Bolshevik Russians in the Ukraine to give himself a solid infantry force. The Germans and Skoropdsky actively assisted, because it drew off men who would otherwise go to the virulently anti-Germand and anti-Ukrainian Volunteer Army.

While a good idea in theory, the recruitment was poorly organised. Many men were recruited, but far too many were in the tail and in the end only a few thousand bayonets were able to be deployed by the Don as part of this so-called Южная Армия, or Southern Army. Two smaller, equally poorly organised bodies also drafting anti-Bolshevik forces were absorbed as part of this process; the Астраханская Армия, or Astrakhan Army, which despite its name was composed of Russians recruited in Kiev, and the Рсская Народная Армия, the Russian People's Army, which was formed around Saratov. These men were deployed in late 1918, took heavy losses, and were later merged into the 6th Division of the AFSR in March 1919. The main effect of all this recruitment was to draw men away from Denikin. The attempts to take Tsaritsyn failed and once again the Don started to fall to the Soviet advance as the morale of the Cossacks dropped.

With the collapse of Germany removing his line of support, Krasnov was forced to throw his hand in with the Volunteer Army. While unpalatable politically, the formation of the AFSR (January 1919) removed many of the military problems facing the Don. On the whole the Don Host still mostly fought separately and around its home lands, but cooperation gave it some access to British tanks, planes, machine-guns and artillery. Some non-Cossack infantry units were also added to the Host line-up and in return Cossacks loaned from time to time.

While by the end of 1918 the Soviets were again masters of the Don, their repeated brutality led to a reaction, and there was a huge revolt in the northern Don. For a long time the rebels in the north and regular army in the south could not link up, but the unsettled rear made the situation impossible in the long term for the Red Army. Don forces swept north, pressing beyond their borders. Tsaritsyn was taken this time, but by the Caucasian Army under Wrangel.

It could not last though. With the collapse of the AFSR in early 1920, the Don Host ceased to exist politically. Don soldiers formed a sizeable chunk of the forces in the Crimea, but they were now fully integrated into the White army.