for Eastern Georgia, Abkhazia and Racha
February 25 –
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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