The Legion at Samara

Hello everyone,

since the “Legion” series I posted here around Christmas was apparently successful, I will be continuing the story. I hope you find it to your liking. The previous Legion series part one can be found here, part two here and part three here – if you haven’t read them, I suggest you do that before you read this post.

Summer, 1918 – the city of Samara on river Volga

After the crushing Czechoslovak victory near Lipyagy on 4.6.1918 against the bolshevik forces, another obstacle to overcome on their journey east was the city of Samara. It was a fortified city, it housed the headquarters of an entire Volga district and it was home to both local military command, but also to a strong garrison under its commander of ruthless reputation, Soviet Comissar Dolgushin.

The area looked like this (the broken line from Lipyagy over Kryazh to Samara is the railroad and there is a railway bridge marked over river Samarka too):


When they heard about the fate of the bolshevik troops at Lipyagy, the Soviet staff members tried to secretly negotiate with the Czechoslovaks, because they realized in full that the bulk of the elite Soviet forces in the entire region was destroyed there, but it was also clear to the Czechoslovak Legion that with the elite of the bolshevik army gone, Samara was practically defenseless against the Legion. In a move previously unheard of, the Soviet (ruling committee) of Samara even offered the Czechoslovaks the right of free passage through Samara, despite the fact that only days earlier they called for Czechoslovak destruction and would never even consider this option. Lieutenant Čeček (the commander of the Legion force) refused this offer – for one, he had nothing to gain, since Samara was ripe for taking, on the other hand, he didn’t believe the sincery of the Soviets, fearing treachery.

He was actually right to think that way – even as the Soviet emissaries were negotiating with Czechoslovaks, bolshevik-controlled press in Samara was spreading propaganda and misinformation, calling the Czechoslovak victory at Lipyagy meaningless and stating that the Czechoslovak morale is poor, they have deserters and their position untenable. None of that was the truth of course – in fact, it was the other way around: Czechoslovak morale was at all time high and it was the Soviet army, that had to deal with mass desertions – an understandeable outcome, given the fact that a lot of the men in the Red Army were forcibly conscripted and did not want to fight.

After the victory at Lipyagy, one combined arms company from the 4th Legion Rifle Regiment under 2ndLt.Veselý followed the retreating Soviets with the goal of capturing the railway station near the village of Kryazh. Little did the company know it would run into fresh reinforcements from Samara, advancing along the railway to relieve Lipyagy – these Soviets did not even know Lipyagy fell and were not expecting to run into trouble so soon. They however had vast superiority in numbers and the company was forced to retreat from the Kryazh station. The legionnaires dug in behind it, expecting their own reinforcements, while the Soviets held the station but did not advance, because they were not sure what to do and the connection with Samara was temporarily broken. Another reason for Soviets not advancing further was that they ran into some retreating men from Lipyagy and learned of the fate of the elite of the Red Army later that day – this was a major blow to Soviet morale.

The legionnaires sent their own call for reinforcements too and later that day, 2nd Batallion of 4th Regiment arrived. Together, both units assaulted the train station and drove the Soviets off. The situation was decided by the arrivel of the Czechoslovak armored train “Orlík”, its mere presence routing the bolsheviks. Under the protection of the train, the Czechoslovaks managed to advance to the railway bridge over the river Samarka. This bridge was a natural chokepoint and was practically impossible to capture, even with an armored train. The bolsheviks managed to build series of strongpoints on the other end of the bridge and overall, they were very well fortified and dug in. The rails were blocked by a barricade, that could not be removed without the help of engineers, who in turn were not able to advance over the bridge, because the entire area offered no cover and was basically a kill zone. The result was that both sides entrenched on their respective sides of the bridge, with Soviets shooting anything that moved with their machineguns and rifles and the armored train occasionally shelling the other side – but otherwise, it was a stalemate. That’s how the troops spent the night – in the morning, the 1st Batallion was relieved by 2nd batallion.

Commander of the Legion forces, Lt.Čeček, realized that the time is against the Legion. Every minute the Legion was held at the gates of Samara meant one minute for the Soviets to strengthen their defenses and for Soviets reinforcements to arrive. Furthermore, he was not exactly aware how many men the Soviets had at Samara and was fearing Soviet counterattack, that would circumvent the attacking Legion forces and assault the Czechoslovak position at Lipyagy.

Fortunately, what he did have was the plan of Soviet defenses, made by Lt.Schmidt (a German communist officer, who fell at Lipyagy). According to this plan, the Soviets were expecting the attack over the bridge and focused most of their defensive capabilities there. The bridge was quite long (300 meters) and did not provide much cover for the attacker.

Seeing this, Lt.Čeček came up with a plan to attack from both direction. One force would attack over the bridge, tying the defenders there, while another force would move westwards over the village of Samarskaya Slobodka and attack from there over the river, that was 215 meters wide. Two batallions were assigned to this flanking maneuver, the rest of the regiment was to stay at the bridge, distracting the Soviets from discovering the flankers. Two flanking batallions would in the meanwhile capture river ports and boats on the left bank of Samarka, using the boats to get themselves over the river, appearing behind Soviet lines, moving back south-east and attacking the bridge defenses from behind, thus freeing the way for the rest of the regiment to participate in the main battle for Samara. This operation was planned for 8.6.1918.

At that point, Lt.Čeček found out from his recon troops (soldiers dressed as civillians, commanded by NCO Dušek) about the numbers of soldiers in Samara. Although the bulk of the elite troops was crushed at Lipyagy, Samara was still defended by 1500 Soviet soldiers, mostly fanatical bolsheviks with good morale but of poor fighting qualities (second line troops). They however did have some strong fire support – 40 machineguns and 6 field guns. Furthermore, there were reinforcements from Simbirsk and Ufa – these men built a chain of trenches and strongpoints all along the northern bank of Samarka river, while the rest prepared the city for the siege by building barricades, strongpoints and log rifle pits. The defenses of Samara were formidable indeed – any attacker would have to face the horror of gruelling city combat, something the Legion, who could not expect reinforcements, could not afford, unlike the Soviets.

But it was not so bleak. While the fanatical bolshevik core still had some morale, the defeat at Lipyagy did hurt the morale of the other troops and civillians a lot and overall the Soviets were feeling nowhere near as strong as before Lipyagy. They could not understand it – an enemy with inferior numbers and less firepower managed to somehow defeat the core of the entire regional Soviet army without even taking significant losses. Such victory was unheard of and the Soviets realized it full well. Before Lipyagy, Russians considered their position there to be impenetrable, but after the battle they were no longer so sure, facing the bleak prospect of a battle for Samara itself.

What was even worse for the Soviets was the fact they could not suppress the truth about Lipyagy, as the returning broken Soviet units were spreading rumors and fear all over Samara. They not only refused to fight the Czechoslovaks, they disobeyed their officers and some of them were even heard saying “It’s better to fight the devil himself than to fight the Czechs!” (Orig: “Лучше с чертом чем с чехами воевать!”). This resulted in a partial riot according to news from the scouts and a part of the original Lipyagy force refused to fight and left the city – a part of them fled using railway to Ufa, the other part “commandeered” a few ships on river Volga and sailed to Stavropol. Further riots were incited by the scouts themselves, who were spreading lies, telling tall tales about the strength of the Legion and even starting rumors that Samara is already surrounded. This again caused more and more panic, even amongst Soviet officers.

The truth was not nearly as impressive. Against the 1500 men of Samara stood only the partial force of the 4th Regiment (already damaged from Lipyagy), its recon and communication units gone too (fighting at another battle at Bezenchuk). Two Batallions from the 1st Legion Regiment (“Mistr Jan Hus”) arrived to support the assault on Samara however and Lt.Čeček also had 3 light field guns, 2 long range field guns and the armored train “Orlík” for support, roughly 1200 men altogether.

And so it begins…

On the eve of the attack, 6.6.1918, negotiators were sent one last time over the bridge to request the unconditional surrender of Soviet troops. They were refused and it was clear that the only solution to get Samara would be to capture it by force. One of the negotiators however was a combat engineer in disguise, who – on his way back – made sure with a quick glance that the bridge is not undermined with explosives – it wasn’t, that was good news for the Legion.

In the evening, two combat patrols were also sent to scout the Soviet positions. Both fulfilled their duty and one of them (25 men and one machinegun) even managed to capture and hold the Samarskaya Slobodka village. In the night it got into a skirmish with a Soviet recon troop, that was trying to use barges in order to cross the river and managed to hold them off. This could potentially spell a disaster for the Czechoslovaks however, as it meant that their cover was blown and the Soviets knew about the Czechoslovak presence in the village. Nothing could be done – the plan had to be followed, because the only place the river could be crossed was near Samarskaya Slobodka. After repulsing the bolshevik unit, the patrol commander sent Lt.Čeček a map of the area and a description of the incident. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Lt.Čeček sent three companies as reinforcements to the patrol: one company of combat troops under Cpl.Smejkal, one platoon of combat engineers and one technical platoon.

A day later, in the evening of 7.6.1918, the entire Legion force assembled at Kryazh moved towards the Samarka bridge with only one batallion left in reserve. All the forces were to reassemble near the bridge with only one light field gun (under cpl.Šára) assigned to support the flanking batallions. Lt.Čeček himself selected Kryazh as his headquarters and he stationed a small artillery unit there too, with its guns aimed at the bridge.

In the meanwhile, both 4th Regiment batallions assigned to flank the defenses arrived at Samarskaya Slobodka and found out that the technical and engineer platoons were busy: the entire previous day, while stationed there, they were gathering all the wood they could find, making rafts and commandeering all the barges they could find for the troops to cross the river on. When 2ndLt.Vobratílek, the commander of the flanking force arrived in the village however, there were still too few for all the troops to use. Despite the fact, knowing the time was short, he ordered the troops to board the rafts and barges they had immediately. In the mists across the river, bolsheviks were waiting, cowering in the darkness, hands sweaty, backs frozen with fear, looking for any sound of trouble. In the meanwhile, grim-faced legionnaires, silent as Death itself, prepared to cross the water…

15 thoughts on “The Legion at Samara

  1. I really really starting to have feeling that you are stalking me, my dear Kalixt

  2. Pingback: The Legion at Samara – Part II | For The Record