Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of History and Politics


The First Cavalry Army was the most famous component of the Red Army in the Civil War of 1918-1920. This reflected its close association with Joseph Stalin and its prominence in Soviet accounts of the Stalin era. The First Cavalry Army became a legendary force that, according to Stalinist hagiography, was the most important factor in the Red Army's campaign against the White Armies in south Russia in 1919-1920 and against the Poles in summer 1920. This thesis has the aim of determining how much substance there was to this legend, to subject to investigation the nature and achievement of the First Cavalry Army. The conclusion reached is that there was a great deal of substance to the legend of the First Cavalry Army. The First Cavalry Army's contribution to the Red Army's campaigns against the White Armies of general Anton Denikin and baron Peter Wrangel and against Poland was truly remarkable. That is not to claim that the accounts of the First Cavalry Army put out at the time of Stalin can be taken at face value. This literature contains a great many exaggerations and some monstrous distortions. Yet the First Cavalry Army was not simply a product of Stalinist myth making. The answer to the principal question leads to other questions about why the First Cavalry Army was an outstanding military force, in Civil War terms, and what its battlefield experience tells us about the Red Army in the Civil War. It is argued that the First Cavalry Army was a product of front-line improvisation, rather than a creature of the Red Army's central planners. The basic problems that needed to be solved before it could become an effective fighting force were solved at the front line. The First Cavalry Array was formed on the basis of recruitment that took place at the front line. It contained a solid nucleus of volunteers drawn from the rural poor, chiefly peasants, but some Cossacks, from south-east Russia. It performed in the manner of a highly-motivated force. This reflected the social origins of its fighters, who had a vested interest in the triumph of Soviet Power in south-east Russia. The First Cavalry Army developed an effective fighting style, based on the extensive use of firepower. This gave it an edge over the White cavalry, which preferred more traditional but less effective charge and sabre based tactics. The commanders of the First Cavalry Army were, for the most part, former Tsarist Non Commissioned Officers or ordinary soldiers yet, as they gained in experience in the Civil War, they showed great talent. Semen Budennyi, the commander of the First Cavalry Army, displayed exceptional ability. Soviet writers tend to portray the campaigns of the Civil War as if the achievements of the Red Army reflected the shrewd leadership of the centre, the political leadership and the high command. Problems that arose are usually put down to overwhelming enemy strength or incompetence at the front line. In the campaigns of the Civil War that are investigated here, a different conclusion is reached. In the campaigns in which the First Cavalry Army fought, it was often the case that the shape and result of the campaign was determined much more by front-line fighters than by the centre. Sometimes the centre exercised a baleful influence upon events. At other times it was irrelevant. The First Cavalry Army was involved in a steady stream of disputes within the Red Army command during the Civil War as well as much controversy. Some writers have considered that this, in large measure, reflected the conflict-prone behaviour of the command of the First Cavalry Army. It is argued here that these disputes have to be viewed within a wider pattern of conflict in the Red Army and that they can only be understood within this broader context.

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