Bri­tish sup­port

Be­tween 1919-20 Bri­tish tanks lum­bered across the sun-baked steppes of south­ern Rus­sia, flanked by Cossacks wield­ing lances and sabres

History of War - - ISSUE 56 -

Bri­tish tanks and guns were sent into the fray


In 1916 the Rus­sians had been con­sid­er­ing im­port­ing tanks from the west. How­ever, in the con­fu­sion fol­low­ing the rev­o­lu­tion of March 1917, this plan lapsed, al­though a down pay­ment was made by the Pro­vi­sional Gov­ern­ment. How­ever, dur­ing 1919 a num­ber of tanks were supplied di­rectly to Denikin’s forces in south­ern Rus­sia by the Bri­tish. A dozen French Re­naults were also pro­vided but fell into Bol­she­vik hands. The Bri­tish supplied small num­bers of tanks to other an­ti­bol­she­vik groups. They also supplied other equip­ment in the hope of in­flu­enc­ing the bit­ter civil war.


The bulk of the tanks supplied to Denikin’s forces from March 1919 were Mark V types: Male (two six-pounder guns, one on each side), Fe­male (ma­chine guns only, two on each side) and Hermaphrodites/com­pos­ites (a six-pounder gun on one side and two ma­chine guns on the other). All types also had ma­chine guns be­tween the tracks to the front and rear. Some of the Bri­tish tanks supplied were cap­tured by the Bol­she­viks, in­clud­ing 50 or so Mark Vs.

The first 12 tanks (six Mark Vs and six

Medium As, known as ‘Whip­pets’) de­liv­ered were com­mit­ted to ac­tion on 20 May 1919 north­west of Ta­gan­rog where they spear­headed an oper­a­tion to clear an im­por­tant rail­way line. They struck ter­ror into en­e­mies, who broke and ran. This re­ac­tion was to be­come com­mon over the course of the next six months. In June a fur­ther 16 ma­chines ar­rived. Two Mark Vs and two Whip­pets were dis­patched to sup­port the at­tack on the heav­ily for­ti­fied city of Tsar­it­syn (later Stal­in­grad). The tanks, some with Bri­tish crews, broke down barbed wire de­fences and on 30 June en­tered the city in tri­umph.

Denikin or­gan­ised the 73 tanks he’d re­ceived by Oc­to­ber 1919 into the First and Sec­ond Tank divi­sions. Re­pair and train­ing fa­cil­i­ties, su­per­vised by mem­bers of the Royal Tank Corps, were lo­cated at Ta­gan­rog un­til late 1919, when the base was over­run by the Red Army.

A cap­tured Mark V tank in use by Red Army troops

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