Odessa 1919

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Peter H
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Odessa 1919

Post by Peter H » 02 May 2004 05:10

Allied intervention in Russia between January-May 1919 included French and Greek troops landing at Odessa:

Despite some assertions to the contrary, often fed by Soviet propaganda, the French had not landed in the Ukraine with the intention of fighting the new Bolshevik state – their aim had been to support local government against the Soviets. French foreign policy, although contradictory and muddled, was aimed at providing a cordon sanitairebetween the communists and the West, and an independent Ukraine could have been part of that cordon...


http://orbat.com/site/history/open3/rus ... odessa.pdf


As far as I can establish Allied forces consisted of:

French
30th Infantry Division
156th Infantry Division

Greek
2nd Infantry Division
13th Infantry Division

Poles,Rumanians
Assorted Regiments


More details on the Greek deployment can be found here:

http://orbat.com/site/history/historica ... a1919.html

Any further details on this campaign would be appreciated.Although short lived it does show that the French (via Salonika) were able to introduce substantial land forces into Eastern Europe in 1919.Their Danube Army also was involved in the fighting in Hungary in 1919.

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RCW Mark
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Post by RCW Mark » 08 Oct 2004 20:44

I recognise that, because I wrote it!

Further information is pretty hard to find in English, and not that easy in any other languages. The research for that Orbat (which is slightly wrong IIRC) led me to write a little book (with a great deal of assistance from two co-authors) on the French Intervention in the Ukraine that I sell in .pdf format. $10 and all you will ever need to know about the French disaster in Odessa.

I trust this does not constitute spam :roll:

Mark

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Victor
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Post by Victor » 09 Oct 2004 21:05

Here are some fragments from the memories of gen. Radu Rosetti (during WWI he was a major and then a lt. colonel; he resigned from the Romanian army in 1918 and traveled to France where he joined the French army and was assigned to gen. Berthelot's Danube Army).

It seems there were six, not four divisions. It also gives an insight on some of the reasons the intervention failed.

17 February 1919
General Berthelot, upon his return from Odessa, told me that the Russians are even less interested than he imagined. "They won't fight". Denikin abuses of his power. Many Russians, of all political colors, told him that they would fight the Bolsheviks, but not under Russian command. They prefer an Entente command.
[...]
27 February 1919
Captain Berthelot has returned from another visit at the Kransov and Denikin armies. He says the situation in Russia is slowly becoming dangerous. The Bolsheviks fight, while Denikin doesn't. His staff continues to draw up plans to conquer Russia. Krasnov fled together with his family. Tsaritsin [Volgograd] is threatened. From what he says the situation of the French troops in Russia isn't one to be envied either.
[...]
12 March 1919
The Franco-Greek detachment at Kherson had to abandon it , after it lost 40% of its men in a terrible fight. The lack of unity in planning the Entente actions in Russia is concerning.
[...]
14 March 1919
In the report on his second mission in Russia, captain Marcel Berthelot concludes that the only strong party in Russia and the only one that can speak in its name are the Bolsheviks.
[...]
16 March 1919
Lt. colonel Germain returned from Odessa. He said: 1). At Kherson the civilians attacked the allied troops from behind with grenades 2). at Odessa martial law has been instituted 3). his opinion is that the allied troops should evacuate Russia and retreat on the right bank of the Dniester River and help us defend Bessarabia. After what Caput told me yesterday, this is necessary as the French troops aren't content. This is because the French government doesn't have a clear policy on the subject and doesn't know that its soldiers don't want to be sacrificed for nothing.
[...]
24 March 1919
General Berthelot retuned from Odessa. He thinks that Odessa should be abandoned, because there are 1,000,000 mouths to be fed instead of allied troops. And they would probably shoot on our troops if the opportunity should arise. According to him, they should be immediately retreated and assigned t odefend the Lower Dniester, while the Romanians defend the Upper Dniester.
[...]
26 March 1919
General d'Anselme (CO of the French forces in Russia) requested that our troops occupy Ribnita to ease up the situation of the Ukrainians. Berthelot disagrees and ordered all the bridges over the Dniester to be destroyed, except the railroad ones, which are only to be prepared for destruction.
[...]
2 April 1919
Lunch at Vintila Bratianu. After, Berthelot told Prezan [general Prezan was the Chief of the Romanian General Staff] in my presence: "It is absurd to remain at Odessa, because we only have food left there for 8 days. We must think about living the city and I will order general d'Anselme to make the necessary preparations. I would like to see you in the afternoon to discuss sectors which will be manned by French, greek and Romanian troops [on the Dniester River]. Polish Division I think should be deployed on the Romanian left, in Polish territory. All the civilians that want to flee from the right bank of the Dniester should be directed to the Chiulia-Ismail area (I'll set up food store houses there) from where they will be taken by ship to Crimea. I will order general d'Anselme to evacuate all railroad material to Bessarabia.
[...]
4 April 1919
The evacuation of Odessa and the retreat to the right bank of the Dniester has begun.
[...]
Discussion with Ion Antonescu on the military situation. He says that Prezan wants to deploy the forces in the following maner. In Bessarabia: in the first line from right to left: 10th Infantry Division (Dubasari), 4th Infantry Division, 9th Infantry Division and the 2nd Cavalry Division with some infantry. In Bukovina: the 8th Infantry Division. In the second line: 1st Vanatori [Chasseurs] Division in the Dorohoi-Boitosani area, 6th Infantry Division in the Iasi-Sculeni area, 5th Infantry Division in the Husi-Leova area. In the third line: the 7th Infantry Division in the Roman-Pascani area. General Berthelot had told me that he wanted the six French and Greek divisions deployed in the following manner: four in the first line from Dubasari down to the mouth of the Dniester, one in the Chisinau-Husi area and one at Roman.
[...]
4 April 1919
The news from Odessa is unsettling. It seems we won't be able to evacuate all the railroad material we need.
[...]
11 April 1919
Ion Antonescu in a conversation with me says that it would be better if the French and Greek troops in Bessarabia be taken to Galitia to fill up the gap between us and the Poles and to get them out of the country, as they are a bad example of discipline and lack of combat spirit for our own troops. I replied that the Allies will never go that far away from their supply base (the Black Sea). Plus Romania will have to put at their disposal the Galati-Cernauti railroad. Then Antonescu said, that he would then prefer to have no Allied troops at all or at least to have colonials, who are more disciplined.
[...]
General Patey returned in the evening from Cetatea Alba. He said that the French and Greek troops "sont a\en pagaie" [they are in disarray] and he needs time to discipline them ("les mettre en mains"). He praised the attitude of our [Romanian] troops, frontier-guards and authorities. He and general d'Anselme request that the Romanian troops be kept in the area as they alone can maintain order.
[...]
14 April 1919
Following general Berthelot's intervention, the Romanian General Staff took all necessary measures to insure the transportation of the disarmed Ukrainians from Tighina to Hotin, where they will cross the Dniester River.
[...]
17 April 1919
I talked with Landrot, Berthelot and Petin about the morale state of the French troops in Bessarabia.
The first one said that is true that the troops won't fight, that the men were ready t osacrifice their lives once, but won't anymore for a cause that is not theirs. He thinks that once they crossed the Dniester they will stay on the defensive. An officer was sent to evaluate the situation\, because general d'Anselme hasn't reported anything yet. The Greek morale status is unknown.
Berthelot said that indeed the soldiers and especially the officers don't want to fight anymore. The 58th Regiment, which had been penetrated by Bolshevik propaganda, will be sent to southern Morocco as punishment. He requested from Paris more equipment in order to mobilize all the Romanian forces and man the Dniester front. He also asked for the repatriation of te hFrench forces as soon as possible.
Petin said it is humiliating for them to confess, but so it is. Their troops won't fight. What would our soldier be thinking after seeing two allied armies Bolshevized? In Tighina there were a French unit and a battalion of the 39th Infantry Regiment. The French were having a very good meal, as opposed to the modest rations our troops were receiving. A gentleman asked a sergeant what he thought about this. He replied:"Probably we will have to disarm them too", hinting to the fact that the Russians also had good meals, but eventually had to be disarmed. Ironically the French unit was disarmed by that battalion several days later.
[...]
23 April 1919
Franchet d'Esperey, as usual, is blaming his subordinates and now wants to dismiss d'Anselme for what happened at Odessa.
[...]
28 April 1919
General Patey, freshly returned from Bessarabia, said that general d'Anselme does not deserve to be relieved of command and that now the French troops are again under the control of their officers.


Source: Marturisiri (1914-19) by Radu R. Rosetti, Modelism, Bucharest 1997

To be continued.

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RCW Mark
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Post by RCW Mark » 09 Oct 2004 21:43

Counting divisions is a useless exercise with respect to Odessa because the size of the French ones went from small to tiny. By the time they left the two divisions 30th and 156th were two weak battalions strong. If they had had two full divisions upon arrival, it would have turned out quite differently.

A larger colonial division arrived just in time to be evacuated, so hardly counts as in the expedition at all. Another arrived when they were in Bessarabia. After that they had to keep merging them they were getting too small. The Greek divisions were not full strength either, though far stronger and higher morale.

After the disaster at Kherson, mentioned above (disregard the 40% losses) the French morale was so poor that they barely fought again, leaving almost all the fighting to Russians, Poles and Greeks.

Mark

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Victor
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Post by Victor » 11 Oct 2004 16:56

[...]
11 May 1919
We arrived in the morning at Cetatea Alba. Meeting with the French general Borius (CO 156th Infantry Division) and with Greek generals Vlahopol and Negropontes (CO of the 2nd and 13th Infantry Divisions). I also visited the old fortress. It is very hot.
Lunch at general Borius and tehn the decoration of general Vlahopol by general Franchet D'Esperey.
I sat near general Negropontes at lunch. He complains that there isn't any mention of Greek troops on the Dniester in our newspapers. He thinks the French want to leave as soon as possible.
Lt. colonel Loir, the liaison to the 4th Polish Infantry Division requests weapons and munitions for it. D'esperey orders to give them from the Russian store houses.
In the afternoon we went to Carolina and Bugaz with some Romanian armored patrol boats. We were fired upon from the left bank. At Bugaz we inspected a Algerian tirailleurs battalion, which presented itself in good shape. The morale seems t obe higher here.
[...]
13 May 1919
On the road back the French generals insist that the morale of their troops is improving
[...]
27 May 1919
Prezan sent a cable. The 5th Infantry Division will replace the allied troops on the Dniester.
[...]
2 June 1919
Lt. colonel Pinchon-Duclos, the chief of staff of general d'Anselme, told me that he believes that the 5th Division isn't enough to hold the sector held by the French and the Greeks. General Prezan and lt. colonel Ion Antonescu think that it will suffice.


Obviously memoirs aren't to be taken too seriously when they mention hearsay, but they can give an idea about the morale state of those troops.
The lack of numbers of the French and Greek divisions is obvious, since one Romanian division maned tehsame line they did in Bessarabia after they left without any problems.

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RCW Mark
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Post by RCW Mark » 11 Oct 2004 17:22

It's a nice excerpt, thanks for posting it.

As you say, the Romanians manning the same stretch with only one division is pretty telling.

Mark

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 17 Oct 2004 11:47

Mark,

My understanding is that both the French 30th and 156th Divisions had served on the Salonika Front in 1918.Did they deploy to Odessa by ship via the Straits or were they transported/marched across Romanian territory?

Regards,
Peter

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Victor
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Post by Victor » 17 Oct 2004 12:38

I think they were transported by ship. The Romanian railway network was already too crowded at that time and since the Entente navy controlled the Black Sea it was the logical solution.

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Post by Peter H » 17 Oct 2004 13:38

Victor,

Alan Palmer's The Gardeners of Salonika mentions that one British battalion actually force marched across Bulgaria into Romania:

Only one British battalion(10th Devonshires) crossed the Danube into Roumania and when the Armistice with Germany was signed it was still south of the river,in Bulgaria.It reached Bucharest in time for the victory celebrations.


Peter

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Victor
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Post by Victor » 17 Oct 2004 15:53

From what I know, the only British units that crossed the Danube to Romania were an engineer unit, which built a bridge over the Arges River at Copaceni and a battalion from the Devonshire Regiment and several officers of the 26th Division (general A. W. Gray, the division's CO; lt. A. B. Gray, general's aid; col. E. S. W. Poole, chief of staff; general A. I. Poole, 79th Infatry Brigade's CO – looks like the 26th Inf Div was a family business :D ), which took part at the celebrations on 1 December 1918.

In late November 1918, the French 30th Infantry Division was stationed in Northern Dobruja, on the Cernavoda-Constanta line, so the shortest way to Odessa from there would be by sea. However, at the end of January there was a French attempt to take Tiraspol, which was carried out from the Romanian bank of the Dniester, so I may be wrong about the sea route.

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Post by RCW Mark » 18 Oct 2004 07:54

The French all arrived in Odessa by sea. The lack of suitable shipping was one reason why the planned deployment was understrength from the start and why the Greeks were so late arriving. It was a primary reason for the failure of the whole operation.

Likewise the lack of suitable shipping meant that supplies could not be brought in -- and we see in the above quote that this meant that the civilian population could not be fed.

The troops left mainly by land, marching across to Bessarabia, despite what you will often see that suggests that they had to be emergency evacuated by sea. Only the rear guard and some heavy stuff left by boat.

Mark

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