Soviet-Georgian War and Sovietization of Georgia, II-III. 1921

La guerre soviéto-géorgienne et la soviétisation de la Géorgie (février-mars 1921)


By  Andrew Andersen and George Partskhaladze
Revue historique des Armées      Numéro 254, 1/2009


Photographs: private archive of  Levan Urushadze





Struggle for Eastern Georgia, Abkhazia and Racha



February 25 – March 4



Within the 6 days after the fall of Tbilisi, Georgian troops under the command of George Kvinitadze were retreating westwards in the direction of the Surami range. Several attempts to organize counter-offensive against the Red Army along the left bank of Kura (Mtkvari) river and re-take Tbilisi failed mainly due to the poor organization and low spirit of the Guard that made up to 75% of all Georgian military force at that moment[1].





Click on the map to get high resolution image



Meanwhile, Kakheti - the biggest and the easternmost province of Georgia North-East of Tbilisi - was also lost to the Soviets after approximately 10 days of resistance of several thousand local irregulars under general Akhmeteli. At the end of February, two Red Army detachments of the Tersky group entered Eastern Georgia from the north, across the Main Caucasus range through the Roki and Jvaris passes. The first detachment that officially claimed to be Georgian Bolshevik guerillas under Alexander Gegechkori attempted to storm its way through Jvaris pass protected by a small Georgian garrison. The attempt was unsuccessful until another detachment of some 900 former Ossetian rebels organized and trained in Vladikavkas under the command of Red Ossetian warlord Gagloev went through unprotected Roki pass and prepared to attack the garrison of Jvaris from the rear. Facing inevitable overkill, defenders of Jvaris surrendered, and by March 1, the two “Red Guerilla” detachments marched into Dusheti thus further complicating Georgian defense of the remaining part of the province of Kartli[2]. Another detachment of Tersky group on February 25 percolated through Mamisoni pass the province of Racha in Western Georgia. That group was officially called the 98th Brigade of the 33d Rifle Division although it was reported to be only 300 men strong bringing it closer to the level of a battalion[3]. On February 28, this 98th Brigade took over the town of Oni forcing its small Geogian garrison to retreat towards Sachkhere and continued its offensive down Rioni river towards Kutaisi where by that time Georgian government was stationed.



Simultaneously, the 31st Rifle Division of the 9th Red Army together with 271st Naval Infantry Regiment and some irregular troops calling themselves “Abkhazian rebels” was developing successful offensive in Abkhazia and by the end of February took Gagra and Gudauta in spite of sustain resistance of scanty Georgian troops under General Artmeladze supported by heavy artillery fire of the French fleet stationed near the Abkhazian coast[4]. On March 3, the Georgians had to leave their well-fortified positions west of Novyi Afon, w here they were outflanked by the Reds. On the next day, Artmeladze decided to evacuate Sukhumi and three days later, on March 7, Ochamchira fell.  On March 4, the Soviet occupational authorities in Sukhumi sanctioned the creation of a separate “Revolutionary Committee” which was not subordinate to the one already existing in Tbilisi. The Committee proclaimed the creation of a separate “Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia” following the traditional Russian policy of dismembering Georgia[5].



French Dreadnought Waldeck-Reusseau that provided artillery support of Georgian troops in Abkhazia, 1921



The main war theater however, was still the province of Kartli west of Tbilisi where Kvinitadze assembled about 6000 efficient Georgian troops comprising 4000 guardsmen and 2000 regular soldiers. In order to defeat that bulk of Georgian resistance force, the command of the 11th Army formed special “Batum Group” under Nikolai Kuybyshev that included 2 brigades of the 9th Rifle Division, 96th Rifle Brigade as well as the 12th and 18th Mounted Divisions while the 54th Rifle Brigade was sent back east to Kazakh district in order to crush nationalist rebels still fighting in Armenia and other formations were deployed as garrisons in Tbilisi, Telavi and strategically important towns of Kartli and Kakheti. In early March the “Batum Group” started offensive on Mtskheta and Gori and by the end of March 3 secured both towns after severe fighting. The Georgians of Kvinitadze retreated towards the fortified town of Mikhailovo (Khashuri) in order to seal the Surami pass that could block further advance of the Reds into Western Georgia.





Battle of Surami



March 4 -7




By the end of March 4, the vanguards of the advancing Soviet “Batum Group” in the amounts of 3000-4000 men approached Mikhailovo moving along both banks of Kura (Mtkvari) and taking the villages of Nabathevi and Azarma. On the next morning they attempted an attack on fortified Georgian positions and were repelled. Immediately after that, Georgian troops launched counter-attack supported by 3 armored trains. By the evening of March 5, the outnumbered Soviet forces of 52nd, 25th and 26th Rifle Brigades and the 9th Mounted Regiment were pushed back, forced to abandon their artillery and partially enveloped on their right flank. That was a significant military defeat that caused panic in Tbilisi and even forced the Soviet Command and the Revolutionary Committee to send out a group to conclude ceasefire agreement[6].




Georgian soldier, 1921



Next morning, however the situation changed drastically, and the ceasefire talks were dropped. During night between March 5 and 6, the guardsmen of Georgian left flank under General Koniashvili, abandoned their positions for unclear reasons and started an unorganized retreat westwards[7]. That voided Georgian victory of the previous hours and turned it into defeat. Kvinitadze had to order retreat of his remaining forces, and during the 6th of March, the Reds, who received reinforcements from Tbilisi launched new attack on Mikhailovo. By the end of the day, Georgians lost both Mikhailovo, Surami pass with fortified positions around it and strategically important tunnel in the Surami range. That put an end to the plan of Georgian command to organize effective defense in Western Georgia as well as to all more or less organized resistance. The disaster of Surami marked the slide of Georgia into chaos and total collapse.



Upon the capture of Surami, the forces of “Batum Group” split in two subgroups. The 52nd, 25th brigades together with the 12th Mounted Division, secured their positions around the railway station of Tsypa west of Surami range while the 26th Rifle Brigade supported by the newly-arrived 18th Mounted Division turned southwards. By the end of the same day after a short but fierce skirmish, it took the town of Borjomi and advanced further on Akhaltsikhe[8].






Turkish Involvement



At the very beginning of Soviet Russia’s military campaign in Georgia, the Nationalist government of Turkey performed quite complicated policies at their North-Eastern frontier. Aiming at cooperation with Soviet Russia in their mutual confrontation with the West, Turkish Nationalists were trying to take over the bigger chunks of disputed territory in the collapsing South Caucasus. Georgia in turn largely abandoned by the allies tried to obtain Turkish support by offering territorial concessions. With the battle flaring up around Tbilisi, Georgian diplomats were promising to cede to Turkey the districts of Ardahan and Artvin in exchange for Turkish intervention on Georgia’s side or at least neutrality[9]. Accepting that offer, Turkish troops subordinate to the Eastern Front commander Kazim Karabekir Pasa crossed the border into Georgia and by February 23 secured the above-mentioned districts with the towns of Ardahan, Artvin, Ardanuc and Okam. After the fall of Tbilisi, the Turks started advance far beyond the territory offered to them by the Georgian government trying to reach their 1828 border. By March 7 the Turkish troops took over Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki and entered the South-Western outskirts of Batumi facing no or very limited resistance on behalf of few Georgian troops stationed in the area of their activity.


However, the Turkish expansionist plan in Georgia faced Soviet challenge on March 8, when the 18th Mounted Division of the Reds under the command of Dmitri Zhloba entered Akhaltsikhe, and after some non-combat confrontation, the Turks retreated to the border of Ardahan district. The same thing happened on the next day when a small detachment of the 11th Army marched from Borjomi into Akhalkalaki forcing the Turks to withdraw.[10] At the same time, according to Kadishev, the Soviet forces stationed in Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki districts received an order to refrain from any hostilities towards the Turks and under no circumstances cross the administrative borders of Artvin and Ardahan disricts[11] thus allowing the Turks to secure the border line of 1877 and satisfy at least their minimal territorial ambitions in Georgia. Ten days later, the events that happened in Batumi created additional stumbling-blocks for Soviet-Turkish cooperation to be described below.




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[1] Kvinitadze, p.306.

[2] Kadishev, p. 400.

[3] Kvinitadze, p. 320, Kadishev, p. 404.

[4] Kvinitadze, p. 321, Kadishev., p. 406.

[5] Kadishev, p. 407.

[6] Kvinitadze, pp.314-316.

[7] Ibid., p. 317.

[8] Kadishev, p. 402.

[9] Kvinitadze, pp. 277, 430, Kadishev, p. 408.

[10] Kadishev, p. 413.

[11] Ibid., p. 408.