Tambov Rebellion: Did Bolsheviks Use Chemical Weapons?

Preface from Politsturm

There were and there are a lot of attempts to denigrate the Soviet power and the Bolshevik party as its’ creator, to show them as a bunch of “evil totalitarian tyrants, suppressing their own nation”. For example, “Tambov Rebellion” article from English Wikipedia not just uses materials from infamous “Black Book of Communism” as one of the sources, but also links to “Tambov rebellion and liquidation of peasants in Russia” by Sennikov, with its “colorful depictions” of Red Army men, allegedly violating whole peasant villages. “Bolsheviks used chemical weapons against their own population” – this phrase is one of the first things related to Tambov rebellion.

What was really going on there? We have translated the historical article by Alexander Bobkov – Russian historian, focusing on the history of the Civil War in Russia. We hope that Bobkov’s article will help our readers to understand, what was really going on there and to oppose anti-Communist lies.

A lot of things have been written about the Tambov Rebellion. Much attention is paid to the usage of poisonous gases. And this problem is so actively used by the media that the “massive usage of chemical weapons against peasants” has become a “well-known fact”, a common cliche, strongly associated with the words “Tambov Rebellion”. However, despite the widespread public disсussion of this theme, there are no works that investigate the issue of “Tambov gases”. This work is an attempt to fill this gap and show the history of the “Tambov gases” on the basis of the study of archival documents and works of the 1920s. 

The decisive actions against the uprising that was spread across the Tambov province began at the end of May, 1921. On May 25th 1921, Kotovsky’s cavalry brigade defeated and scattered two rebel regiments under the general command of Selyansky, who was deadly injured. Between June 2nd–7th, Uborevich’s combined maneuvering group destroyed the main forces of the 2nd rebel army under the command of Antonov. Alexander Antonov himself was wounded and with a small detachment fled in an unknown direction, narrowly escaping death.

The defeated remnants of the rebel regiment, seeking to survive the defeat, striving for rest and opportunities to regroup, filled the Tambov forests. These forests, stretching north of Tambov and along the banks of the Vorona River, south of Kirsanov, have become a real thorn in the Tambov command for a long time.

“All these forests were heavily swampy, dense, had a mass of small undergrowth and were difficult, as a result of this, to pass. … These forests served as a permanent and reliable shelter for the gangs. These were true “islands of salvation” for the broken and those forced to flee from their district’s gang forces. Depending on the success of the actions of the troops in the bandit areas, these forests filled with gangs from everywhere, then again emptied for a while, serving as a shelter for only a small number of hapless bandits. They were all the more important for the gangs because the terrain of the area of the greatest development of banditry was, in general, treeless”.

Despite the continuous attempts to comb the forests, mobile gangs, who knew the area perfectly and always had information about the actions of the red units, managed to leave dangerous areas. And although the combing scared the bandits from their homes and put a certain moral pressure on the Antonovites, it never led to major successes. It was only in late July – early August, when the troops received the appropriate experience, and the remnants of the rebels lost the help of the bulk of the local population, several successful operations were carried out to clear the forests. In the meantime, at the beginning of June, there were simply neither methods of dealing with the insurgents entrenched in the forests, nor the experience necessary to carry out such operations.

To discuss the situation after the defeat of the main forces of Antonov, and to develop a plan for further actions to suppress the uprising, a meeting of the Plenipotentiary Commission of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee was held in Tambov on June 9, 1921, chaired by Antonov-Ovseenko. Among other things, methods of action against the Antonovites hiding in the forests were also discussed at this meeting. So, in his report, the chairman of the political commission of the 2nd combat station, Comrade Smolensky, noted: “… There are no large groups of bandits on the site, groups of 500-600 people are hiding in the forests …”. It was here that the proposal was first made to use gases. Now it is difficult to say to whom exactly of the participants of the meeting the initiative for making such a decision belonged; it remains to build only assumptions of one degree or another of reliability. Surely one thing can be said: this method of action, at that time, looked simple and quite effective, so the Commission decided: 

“…2. Use the defeat of Antonov for agitation. …4. To smoke bandits out from the forests, use gases, in each case notifying the civilian population about this…”

A day later, on June 11th, 1921, an appeal to the rebels was published and widely distributed, in which all the decisions of the Plenipotentiary Commission of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee were shown. Once again, the authorities called on the rebels to surrender, but this time the arguments presented were very convincing:

“… Members of white-bandit gangs, partisans, bandits, surrender. Or you will be mercilessly exterminated. Your names are known, your families and all their property have been declared hostages for you. If you hide in the village – your neighbors will hand you over. If your family finds shelter with someone, he will be shot and his family will be arrested. Anyone who helps you is risking his life. If you hide in the forest – we’ll smoke you out. The plenipotentiary commission decided to smoke the gangs out of the forests with poison gases …”

The next day, June 12th, 1921, the famous order of the troops command of the Tambov province on the usage of poison gases against the rebels, No. 0116, was printed:

“The remnants of the defeated gangs and individual bandits who fled from the villages where Soviet power was restored, gather in the forests and raid civilians from there.

For immediate “cleaning-up” of forests, I order:

1. The forests where the bandits are hiding must be cleaned up with poisonous asphyxiant gases, it is precisely calculated that the cloud of suffocating gases spreads completely throughout the forest, destroying everything that was hiding in it.

2. The artillery inspector immediately supply the required number of cylinders with poisonous gases and the necessary specialists to the field.

3. The chiefs of combat areas persistently and energetically carry out this order.

4. To report on the measures taken.

Commander Tukhachevsky,

CSA of the General Staff Kakurin”.

However, one order is not enough. Any order, even be it categorical and harsh, will remain empty words without carrying out the necessary work on material and technical supplies, personnel and organizational support. The direct implementation of all this work was entrusted to the artillery inspector of the Tambov command, Sergei Mikhailovich Kasinov. Over the next few days, on June 13th-15th, on behalf of the commissars, he telegraphed the Commander-in-Chief Kamenev with a request for “… the urgent dispatch of five chemical teams with the appropriate number of gas cylinders to service the combat areas to the Inspector of the Tambov Command …” and also about “… urgent leave at the disposal of the Tambovskaya chief of staff 2000 three-inch chemical projectiles … “. Telegrams of a similar content are sent to them and to their immediate superior – the artillery inspector of the RMC (Revolutionary Military Council) Georgy Mikhailovich Sheideman. On June 15th,  Kasinov reports to Tukhachevsky about the work done with his periodic report on the state of the artillery units of the Tambov command:

“…4. On the issue of smoking bandits out from the forests with gases, the following has been done: telegrams were sent on your behalf to the Commander-in-Chief with a request to expel 2000 chemical shells and 5 chemical teams with the appropriate number of gas cylinders. For my part, I asked the artillery inspector to send two experienced gas technicians to my disposal.

At the present time, I am drawing up an instruction for the application of the Tambov gas situation, which will be sent out in a timely manner to the start of the combat sections.

5. To speed up the reception of the necessary supplies, delivery of chemical shells and sending chemical teams, and to clarify the question of the state of the artillery units that exist in the Tambov command, I ask for your permission on June 16 to go for a few days with a report to the artillery inspector in Moscow…”

Permission was received, and Sergei Mikhailovich began to get ready for a trip. But before leaving, he had to solve one more question. The fact is that, inspired by the decision of the Plenipotentiary Commission and Order No. 0116, the command of the 4th combat station already on June 14th, 1921 plans to “… clean up bandits by means of poisonous suffocating gases … the area of ​​forests located on both sides of the eastern border of the Kozlovsky district …” and asks “… an urgent order to supply cylinders with poisonous gases and send reliable specialists to the headquarters of area 4 …” Organisational work on the implementation of Order No. 0116 has just begun. The Tambov command simply did not have “poisonous gas cylinders” at their disposal, and the “reliable specialists” represented by a separate chemical company and a platoon of cadets of the Higher Military Chemical School, although they arrived in the province shortly before the events described, were not yet ready for gas attacks. Therefore, nothing else but “Specialists in chemistry and cylinders are required from Moscow. Upon arrival, they will be sent immediately. ”Artillery inspector Kasinov could not answer.

Having received the above telegrams, Commander-in-Chief Sergei Sergeevich Kamenev reported on the decisions taken by the Tambov command at a meeting of the Commission for Combating Banditry under the RMC chaired by Efraim Markovich Sklyansky, held on June 19th, 1921 in Moscow. The decision to use poison gases for cleaning up forests from bandits was met with controversy by the Commission. The fact is that the spread of a cloud of gas during gas attacks depends on many random factors, ranging from the strength and variability of the wind, and ending with the topography of the area, and therefore gases are not very predictable and extremely capricious. It was practically impossible to reliably calculate the direction of motion of a gas wave at that time. Therefore, the use of such method of action in a densely populated area, such as the Tambov province, was quite dangerous, mostly because of its unpredictability. Now it is no longer possible to say what kind of arguments and considerations were given in Kamenev’s report and in its discussion, but the fact that fears of this kind were expressed can almost certainly be asserted. However, the Commission’s decision was:

“… Suggest the Tambov command to use gas attacks with the greatest caution, with sufficient technical training and only in cases of complete security of success…”

This decision was brought to the attention of the Tambov command. So, with his resolution on Tukhachevsky’s telegram, the Commander-in-Chief asked: “We need to take the protocol of the last commission on banditry and write to the Tambov command and to the artillery inspector adhering exactly to the protocol. ” The order of the Commander-in-Chief was carried out exactly, as it stated. Several telegrams were sent to Tambov at once, both on behalf of the artillery inspector of Scheidemann and on behalf of Shaposhnikov, repeating the decision of the Commission.

However, it cannot be said that the headquarters of the Tambov troops did not realize the complexity of the gas attacks. They were very clearly aware. So, back on June 17th, 1921, the chiefs of the combat units and units were sent a circular from the chief of staff Kakurin, which prescribed: “… in all operations with the use of poison gas, exhaustive measures must be taken to rescue livestock in the area of ​​usage of gases …” Considering the enormous value of livestock in the peasant economy, the remark was quite useful. Both the decision of the Sklyansky commission and the circular of Kakurin were necessarily addressed to the artillery inspector of the troops of the Tambov province Kasinov. In his replies to the telegrams he received, he reported: “… that appropriate instructions will be given in the instructions that will be sent out in battles areas, after the approval of the Command Troops … “. Such an instruction was written and sent out to the combat stations. It, in particular, reflected the comments made by the command:

“… During usage of gas waves, care must be taken not to injure people and livestock. That is why, the chief, that is carrying out the attack, through the local authorities, must notify the population in advance with an indication of the gas-hazardous areas. Livestock should not be closer than 5 versts ( 5.3 km)  from the leeward gas outlet…”

Here the Tambov command faced the first problem. The decision to use gases not long ago – at a meeting of the Plenipotentiary Commission of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, which seemed so simple and effective, began to gradually lose its attractiveness. It is clear that one has only to “notify the local population in advance” about the gas attack, as this information will instantly become known to the Antonovites, who had a well-organized spy network. Of course, “gas-hazardous areas” will be immediately abandoned and the attack will be wasted. And if we do not forget also that the implementation of measures to alert and evacuate the population, and the preparation of the gas attack itself requires a significant investment of time, it is clear that this time will be more than enough to get out of the zone of the gas wave.

While the headquarters were deciding organizational issues, the work on the material and technical support of Order No. 0116 went on as usual. Although Commander-in-Chief Kamenev expressed certain doubts at the meeting of the Sklyansky commission about the advisability of conducting gas attacks, nevertheless, the commander-in-chief made the order to urgently send the requested equipment. 21.06. B.Sh. ” However, Inspector Scheideman took care of this issue even earlier and gave appropriate orders, since the GAU (Main artillery agency)  already on June 17th assigned 2,000 three-inch chemical projectiles to squad No. 89232 and 250 gas cylinders to be sent to Tambov from Moscow OKARTU  (Local artillery agency)  No. 1916 squadron.

In the early 1920s, the Red Army was armed with gas cylinders and chemical shells, produced and equipped in tsarist Russia.

The first experiments on the industrial production of asphyxiant agents in Russia began in August 1915, when about three tons of chlorine were extracted, and in October of the same year, the production of phosgene began. At the same time, special chemical teams began to form to carry out gas-cylinder attacks, as soon as they appeared at the front. However, the supply of the Russian active army with special chemical equipment and the organization of chemical warfare were fully developed only in 1916.

The resulting suffocating agents were used to equip cylinders and projectiles. In 1916, gas attacks were the predominant chemical attack on the Russian front. But with the accumulation of combat experience, the center of gravity shifted to the use of firing chemical projectiles, which had many advantages over a gas-cylinder attack. This was due to the fact that the success of an attack by releasing gas from cylinders depends very much on meteorological conditions – the speed, direction and stability of wind, precipitation, frost, fog, as well as on the topography of the area – the presence of forests, reservoirs, swamps, ravines. All this made carrying out gas attacks a difficult and very capricious affair. Shooting with chemical projectiles was devoid of many of these shortcomings and made it possible to very quickly deliver the required amount of suffocating agents to the required point. But this method of action also had its drawbacks. So, to create the necessary combat concentration, a massive shelling of the selected target was required with a high consumption of shells in a short time. The effectiveness of firing was influenced, though to a lesser extent, by meteorological conditions and the nature of the soil in the target area.

Cylinders for the production of gas attacks were filled with chlorine or its mixture with phosgene. There were two types of cylinders of different capacities – small E30 and large E70. “… The name of the cylinders indicates their capacity: for example, large cylinders are named E70 because they can hold up to 70 pounds (28 kg) of chlorine condensed into a liquid; the letter “E” in russian is the initial letter of the word “capacity ”. Before the attack, the cylinders were assembled in 3-6 pieces into a battery using lead collectors, which were connected with a rubber tube to a spray disk, where, in fact, the liquid was evaporated and turned into gas. In order to observe the course of the gas wave and moral influence on the enemy, smoke from smoke bombs was often mixed with it.

For the production of chemical projectiles, mainly 3-inch grenade shells and (in small quantities) 6-inch bombs were used. The ratio of the volumes of manufactured 3-inch and 6-inch ammunition is clearly illustrated by data on the number of these equipped in Moscow. These data are very indicative, given that the lion’s share of all chemical shells produced in Russia were equipped by N.A. Vtorov, located exactly in Moscow, at Luzhnetskaya embankment 2/4 (the former factory of aniline paints “Fr. Bayer and K”) and Bogorodsk (Noginsk), as well as the Serpukhov “Association of Konshin’s United Manufactories”, the managing director of which, however, was the same Nikolai Aleksandrovich Vtorov. For 1916 – 17, about 1,700,000 3-inch ammunition (93% of the total production) and about 120,000 6-inch ammunition (7%) were equipped and delivered

According to the composition of the liquid filling the shell of the projectile, chemical ammunition was divided into:

1. Choking, loaded with chloropicrin with various additives. The head part of the projectile was painted gray, the lateral surface, from the leading belt to the central thickening, red. The action of these ammunition caused irritation of the mucous membranes of the respiratory organs and eyes, a cough with profuse sputum and, at high concentrations and prolonged exposure, pulmonary edema resulting in death.

2. Poisonous, soon poisonous, filled with hydrocyanic acid mixed with various additives (chloroform, arsenic trichloride). The head part and the side surface of the projectile were painted blue. They did not act on the mucous membranes, but caused a general poisoning of the body and, in severe cases, death.

3. Poisonous, slowly poisonous. The head part of the projectile was painted gray, the lateral surface blue.

It must be said that shortly before the events described – in October 1920 – the Main artillery agency was already faced with the need to urgently prepare chemical shells and cylinders for conducting gas operations on the Southern Front. In those days, it was decided to use the means of gas warfare in Northern Tavrida and during the assault on the Perekop fortifications. For which a chemical company was urgently formed, and the Main artillery agency was ordered to prepare 10,000 gas cylinders, 40,000 3-inch and 10,000 6-inch chemical shells. However, despite the enormous efforts made by Main artillery agency, warehouses and direct supervisors of the work, representatives of Artkom M.G. Pimenov and E.F. Dengin, then managed to fully prepare only 3,000 E70 cylinders, 13,360 pieces of 3-inch chemical cartridges (exclusively of the AZHO brand) and 5,000 6-inch chemical shells (AZHO and YO brands). Note that this was practically all the usable chemical ammunition that the Republic had in those years.

To a large extent, due to the delayed Main artillery agency work on the preparation of ammunition, they were not put into action, and Wrangel’s troops were defeated much faster than expected. The echelons sent to the bases of the Southern Front Novaya Bavaria and Sinelnikovo were returned halfway and unloaded. However, the necessary lessons have been learned from this story:

“… the experience of the last preparation for the dispatch of chemical shells and chemical balls to the front showed that it takes considerable time to bring both cylinders and chemical shells to full combat readiness; If necessary, cylinders and chemical shells could be sent to the front as soon as possible …”

Therefore, in 1921 there was no time to waste. Despite the fact that the Tambov command rushed its artillery supplies, and that, in turn, pushed Moscow, this time the Main artillery agency worked extremely quickly, since there was prepared ammunition. Already on June 22, from the Shuisky Temporary Fire Warehouse with a delivery agent by the Voentransagent of the Yaroslavl office of Uvogruztrans comrade. Mityagin sent 2,000 3-inch suffocating chemical cartridges of the 1st storage group, equipment 05.16 – 10.17 to the disposal of the Tambov supply. with chlorine. On July 1st, the ammunition arrived in Tambov, were examined by the gas technician Puskov, who found them quite serviceable and ready for battle, and unloaded to the Tambov artillery warehouse

“… I am reporting this date, I have examined the gas cylinders and gas property that arrived at the Tambov art. warehouse.

At what I found: E56 chlorine cylinders in the amount of 250 pcs are in good condition, there is no gas leak, there are spare caps for the cylinders; technical accessories: wrenches, hoses, rubber and lead pipes, washers, etc. small inventory are in good condition and in excess. The metal parts are freshly painted with oil paint without bruises and rust, the rubber tubes are made of fresh rubber, flexible enough and not fragile. There are no gas masks. In the presence of gas masks from the cylinders available in the warehouse, an attack can be made without any additional equipment, because all technical equipment is available, even bandages for carrying cylinders.

Having arrived at the warehouse, two wagons of chem. shells could not be examined, tk. the wagons have just been brought in from St. Tambov and were in a state of maneuvering. Gas technician V. Puskov …”

Report of the gas engineer V. Puskov on the inspection of the arrived gas cylinders.

It should be noted that here some misunderstanding is caused by the mention by Puskov in his report “… of E56 chlorine bottles …”. As noted above, there were gas cylinders of the E30 and E70 brands. There is no mention of E56 cylinders either in the CCC (Central Communication Center) documents or in the Main artillery agency documents. It remains unclear what Puskov meant. Perhaps he was just wrong.

Initially, Inspector Kasinov planned to distribute the allocated chemical projectiles equally between the ammunition stations – 100 for the first – the fifth and 200 for the 6th, leaving 900 shells in his own reserve, which he reported in the report to Tukhachevsky. Corresponding orders were made to the chief of artillery supplies Arkady Yakovlevich Lifshits. However, in the future, plans have changed. The fact is that at the beginning of July, the main areas in which parts of the Antonovites hid and operated were forests north and west of Tambov and the swampy floodplain of the Vorona River south of Kirsanov, included in the zones of responsibility of the 2nd and 6th combat stations. That is why the military commanders ordered to allocate “… the start of the second round of 1000 shells and 200 cylinders, the start of the 6th combat station of 1000 shells and 50 cylinders …” received the assigned ammunition and the 2nd combat station.

On July 6th, the commander of the chemical company was ordered to immediately send “… to the headquarters of the 2nd combat unit of the Rasskazovo platoon with command personnel and a meteorological instrument, for the production of a gas attack …” The squad was sent, but was not used and already on July 26 left back to Inzhavino.

On June 26th, chief chieftain Arkady Yakovlevich Lifshitz requested 1,500 Kumant-Zelinsky gas masks from the Main Artillery Agency, which were sent on July 8th by the Moscow warehouse of artillery and gas mask equipment “… in a group car at low speed …”. The same request, but for 1,000 gas masks, was made completely independently by Kasinov. In addition, the Khimrota’s property had 6,000 gas masks. Thus, the Tambov troops were provided with gas masks even with profusion.

It is necessary to mention that the Tambov command also made attempts “… to urgently prescribe gas, poisonous airplane bombs …”. Corresponding orders were made to the head of the air squadron, Comrade. Korf, and, apparently, artillery supplies. But in its response to a request from Tambov, the CCC informed “… there are no airplane bombs with asphyxiant substances registered with Main Artillery Agency and Aviation supply Agency …”, so they refused it.

Summing up the work done on the supply on July 13th, Inspart Kasinov reported to Tukhachevsky:

« VI.  According to your instructions, the gas cylinders have been distributed and have already been delivered: 50 to the 6th combat station and 200 to the second.

 Chemical shells were also delivered 1,000 each in 2 and 6 combat stations.

 So far they have not been used anywhere.

 A platoon of cadets from the chemical company was sent to the order of the start of combat training 2 from Inzhavino.

 Vii.  To inspect the chemistry, I sent a gas technician to Inzhavino, Comrade  Puskov.  I submit his report on the deplorable state of the company to the order….»

Fig.2. Report of Artillery Inspector S.M. Kasinov dated July 13, 1921

This document is of undoubted interest because it allows some conclusions to be drawn.  First, that, at least until July 13th, no gases were used in the fight against the Antonovites.  Secondly, the words from “Puskov’s report” are alarming.  And not without reason, for this report clarifies a lot in the history of “Tambov Gases”.

In the spring of 1921, there were only three chemical units in the Red Army capable of conducting gas attacks.

First, the Moscow Higher Military Chemical School (HMCS), organized in 1920 in accordance with the order of the RMC No. 42.

Secondly, the 1st separate chemical company, formed in mid-October 1920 (RMC order No. 2107/405 – 1920) to conduct gas operations on the Southern Front. In view of the fact that the need for these disappeared, the company was sent to Kostroma, where it was stationed.

Finally, the Ukrainian Separate Chemical Detachment, which was stationed in Kharkov, formed in March 1921.

At the end of May, a separate chemical company arrived in the Tambov province to undergo a camp gathering. A few HMCS cadets were also sent there, of which the 1st cadet platoon was formed, which on June 21st, 1921 became part of the chemical company

In an effort to provide the Tambov command with the necessary cadre of chemists as much as possible, Yuri Mikhailovich Sheideman went to the Commander-in-Chief with a proposal to strengthen the units already in the province with servicemen of the Ukrainian chemical detachment. As a result, on June 21st, 1921, the nachart (commander of artillery) of Ukraine was given the order of the Commander-in-Chief: “ … urgently, within the limits of the possible, to complete the chemical squadron of Ukraine and immediately send it to Tambov at the disposal of the Insparta of the Tambov command …”. At the same time, Tambov was informed about this: “… Urgent orders are being made to prepare and send 250 gas cylinders from Moscow and send one chemical detachment from Ukraine. Everything is sent to the disposal of the artillery inspector command in Tambov. In addition, the chemical plant located at the station. Inzhavino has 50 gas cylinders previously sent to the company under invoice No. 659083/223 / n. Inspector Scheidemann “. All possible efforts were made, all available forces of specialists with the necessary technical means were pulled into the province. It would seem that nothing can interfere with the execution of order number 0116.

But, as often happens, life makes its own adjustments and breaks any plans and good intentions. The first discouraging news came already from Kharkov on June 26: “… I am reporting that according to the order of the Crimean Command Troops. The chemical brigade has allocated teams to the Kiev and Kharkov military district to train the troops in the gas mask business, and two teams have been assigned urgently to the Taman Peninsula to fight locusts. “… In view of the allocation of these teams, the detachment is currently an incapacitated unit. It is necessary to leave the detachment in Ukraine, until the end of the work of the allocated teams and their concentration in Kharkov. CSA Sollogub “. It became clear that there was no need to count on help from Ukraine. Despite the fact that Inspector Scheidemann, addressing the Commander-in-Chief the next day, insisted: “… the direction from Ukraine at the disposal of the Tukhachevsky Chemotryad is absolutely necessary, since the sent cylinders will remain unused …”, he could not do anything. Therefore, his resolution on this document looks like a kind of bitter epitaph of the whole history: “1 and Inspector Scheidemann. Now it is quite obvious that we cannot do anything. 1.07.21 “.

It remained necessary to rely on our own, already available forces – a separate chemical company. However, Inspector Scheidemann would be a bad leader if he did not foresee such a development of the situation. Back at the end of May, he asked the Mobupr of the Red Army Headquarters “… about replenishing a separate chemical company up to its regular number …” But the Mobilization Directorate was in no hurry. The request, but in a more categorical form, was repeated at the end of June: “… In view of the possible receipt of a combat mission, Khimroth, who is in the camps of the Oryol District, must be urgently replenished with personnel. After staffing, start intensive training …

This time some shifts took place and the chemical detachment began to replenish. All of the worries about this were placed on the shoulders of the local gubernia enlistment office, which sent its recruits to the company, essentially the same Tambov peasants, and did it so actively that, in the end, the company became more than 60% “Tambov”. However, this was not the main problem. The quality of replenishment in terms of its educational level left much to be desired. Suffice it to say that about 20% of the recruits were simply illiterate, and the education of the rest was limited to rural schools. Of course, service in the technical troops, which included the chemical company, was difficult for such people and required the application of tremendous training efforts, both from the Red Army men and from the command staff of the company.

But even here the situation was far from ideal. The company commander Vasily Vasilyevich Demidov, judging by the certification, was a good boss, rightfully taking his place. He could probably organize the training process and raise the company’s combat effectiveness, but, being treated in a hospital in Kostroma, he was forced to leave the unit entrusted to him in the care of the platoon commander. The attestations of the start of Rodov’s 6th combat station on two out of three platoons are extremely unfavorable: “… As a platoon commander he is weak. Not energetic enough and lacks command authority. It is required that we replace him by another person more suitable for this position … “. Of course, the platoon officers were not able to organize training, and they did not strive for this. The results of this attitude were evident very soon.

However, for the time being, these problems were not known to either the Tambov command, or even more so in Moscow. Tukhachevsky was generally very surprised when he received Scheideman’s message on June 22 about the subordination of the chemrota directly to him, and asked Insparta Kasinov to find out “… Is this a company of cadets’ lag collection? …”. Having found out that it was so, he was concerned about their fighting efficiency and ordered “… comrade. Pavlov to test the company’s ability to operate with poisoning gases … “. However, this question had long worried Sergei Mikhailovich Kasinov. On June 20th, they had already issued an order to conduct a chemical inspection to the gas technician Puskov assigned to his department, who departed for the station. Inzhavino.

The picture that appeared to the eyes of the gas technician who arrived in the company on July 5th, 1921, was dull and joyless, which is reflected in his report:

“ I report, according to the order I received from the Inspector of Artillery of the Headquarters of the Tambov province for No. 1089 dated 20 / VI-21, I examined the chemical company located in the village. Inzhavino (Tambov province) at the camp gathering.

On examination, it turned out:

There is a command staff according to the list of 6 people, persons of administrative and economic 3; of them: the company commander is in the hospital undergoing treatment in the city of Kostroma, the company commissar is on a business trip in Moscow, the assistant com. Companies – on a business trip in Krasnodar, the head of the household and the clerk for the economic part – in a hospital undergoing treatment in the city of Kostroma.

In total, there are 3 platoon commanders and 1 meteorologist.

There are 214 Red Army soldiers on the list; 25 of them were sent to Krasnodar, 13 remained in Kostroma, 16 – in a hospital, 6 – on vacation, 3 – on a business trip in Moscow, 10 – on the run.

In total, there are 131 people.

The clothing supply is unsatisfactory: apart from 75 pairs of linen taken out from the city of Kostroma, the company received nothing else. There are no bedding, trestle beds and bunks, people sleep on the floor, on uncovered straw. Some Red Army soldiers wear only underwear, no outer dress, shoes or headgear. Thanks to this, there were cases of their erroneous arrest by patrols, since they were mistaken for bandits.

The external examination I made showed that people look sick and tired. Almost all are infested with lice.

Most of the Red Army men only recently arrived from Tambov and had no special training.

From the tutorials there are: training (empty) cylinders, 2 collector set boxes.

The Red Army soldiers attire all the time, except for the internal attire, due to the small number of the garrison with. Inzhavino. In total, about 90 people are in the outfit every day. Thus, some Red Army men who slept during the day are again dressed up in patrols and patrols at night.

The company does not have chemical weapons, chemical reconnaissance and meteorological observations are not conducted”.

This was the harsh reality. The company command was three platoon commanders, two of which “should be replaced.” Where did the “50 cylinders of gas … sent to the company by invoice # 659083/223 / n” go, only God knows. Despite the fact that Moscow demands that the company be released from its orders and “begin intensive training”, the company does not get out of its orders, and “… training sessions are not being conducted.

And the inevitable conclusion:

“Due to the foregoing, namely: constant orders and the absence of command personnel and uniforms, training sessions are not conducted, people are completely untrained, and the chemical warfare is absolutely unprepared and incapable of fighting gas in relation to gas warfare. Gas technician V. Puskov”.

There was no one in the Tambov province to carry out gas attacks to clear the forests of bandits.

However, one “gas attack” did take place. Contrary to Scheidemann’s fears that “… the sent cylinders will remain unused …” they found a use. Thanks to the energy and initiative of the Tambov inspectorate Kasinov, on July 26, a team of cadets of the Moscow Higher Military Chemical School (Mikhail Khozhankov, Vasily Kukin, Vasily Gavrilov), under the guidance of Nikolai Ivonin, the head of the technical department of this school, gave lectures on military chemical tasks. On July 27th, in the arena of the Tambov Cavalry Barracks, an “approximate fumigation” was carried out, for which two chlorine cylinders from among the supplied ones were consumed. This was the only known “gas attack”.

It should be noted that Puskov’s report had other consequences as well. Once in the command of the special artillery, to which the company was administratively subordinate, this report made him realize that the Khimrota is still “the only unit of its kind in the Republic” and take care of its fate, which had clearly received insufficient attention. The result was letters to the Tambov command (September 17th) and its inspectorate (September 8th) of approximately the same content:

“I would like to inform you that according to the report of the Commander of the Separate Chemical Company, the shortcomings discovered by gas technician V. Puskov in the chemical laboratory located in the village. Inzhavino, Tambov province, at the present time, in relation to the conditions of the premises and supply of the Red Army soldiers, the companies have been eliminated. I express my heartfelt gratitude for the observation and ask you not to leave her unattended in the future.

At the same time, I ask at the earliest opportunity, as soon as the operational situation allows, to release the chemical company from the purpose that it is currently performing and send to Moscow, since the chemical company, as the only unit of its kind in the Republic, which is the engine and conductor new ideas in the field of chemical warfare should be at the center of scientific thought in Moscow and its use as a rifle unit will inevitably affect the success of the company training and the organization of the gas warfare in the Republic.

Military Commissar of the Chief of Staff”.

The command did not object, and on September 24 the chemical company dropped out of the Tambov command and was sent to Moscow at the station Pushkino at the disposal of the Chief of Staff of the Moscow Military District. This was the end of the Tambov odyssey.

Thus, as a result of the indicated organizational difficulties in carrying out gas-cylinder attacks and, mainly, the personnel shortage, the Tambov command was forced to completely abandon them.

However, there were still chemical projectiles, which were a much more flexible means of gas warfare. As mentioned above, the received chemical munitions were distributed between the second and sixth combat stations. Now was the time to use them.

It should be noted here that some information about the use of gas projectiles had been published earlier. For example, Sennikov in his book cited some documents that were widely cited in many later works devoted to the Tambov uprising. However, the authenticity of the texts cited raises serious doubts. And the point is not even that it is not possible to get acquainted with the originals, because Boris Vladimirovich refers to the mysterious “author’s archive” allegedly found by him under the floor of the Winter Church of the Kazan Monastery in Tambov, as much as the texts themselves do not stand up to criticism. For example, on page 88 of his book, Sennikov quotes several reports:

To the chief of artillery of the troops of the Tambov province

Comrade Kosinov


August 20, 1921.

The division of the Trans-Volga artillery courses during the operation in the area of ​​Lake Ramza used 130 shrapnel, 69 high-explosive and 79 chemical shells.

Head of the Department of the Zavolzhsky Artillery Course Division Mikhailov

To the chief of artillery of the group of forces of the Tambov province

August 22nd, 1921 p. Inzhavino.


On August 22, 1921, the artillery brigade of the Zavolzhsky V.O. in the battle with the bandits, it used up 160 shrapnel, 75 high-explosive and 85 chemical shells.

Chief of the artillery brigade.

The following should be said:

1. There was no “chief of artillery” in the troops of the Tambov province. The artillery activity was supervised by the artillery inspector of the troops of the Tambov province. Moreover, he was in charge, since in operational terms, the batteries were subordinate to the chiefs of the combat units or units to which they were attached. All the commanders of battalions and batteries more than once addressed with reports and dispatches to the inspectorate and knew perfectly well who they were writing to, so it would never have occurred to any of them to call the inspector “chief of artillery”. In all other documents, such an appeal was never found.

2. Not “Kosinov”, but Kasinov. The post of Tambov artillery inspector was held by Sergei Mikhailovich Kasinov. The commanders of the units were also aware of this, especially since they all knew him personally.

3. Neither on the 20th nor 22nd of August had any “operation in the area of ​​Lake Ramza” been carried out, and there were no “battles with bandits” with the use of artillery these days, therefore no shells could be fired.

4. No “Zavolzhsky artillery courses” existed in nature. As part of the 2nd combat unit of the Tambov troops, a rifle brigade of the Zavolzhsky military district (ZVO, brigade commander Gaevsky) operated with its light artillery battalion, usually referred to in documents as the “legacy division of the ZVO” (division commander Smok Khariton Kayatanovich). There was nothing more “Zavolzhsky” in the province.

By the way, given the fact that the legartdiv (commander of the light artillery) was part of the 2nd combat station, its participation “in the operation in the area of ​​Lake Ramza” looks strange, as the area was the zone of responsibility of the 6th combat station, which had its own artillery.

5. The term “high-explosive” in the documents of those years does not appear at all even once. Neither in the Tambov documents, nor in the documents of the funds of the Main Artillery Agency, CCC, Headquarters of the Red Army, or in others, such a term is not used. High-explosive shells at that time were called “grenades” for 3dm artillery, and “bombs” for larger caliber guns. Therefore, not a single artillery commander, and not only an artilleryman, could even think of writing “high-explosive”.

6. The term “department” looks absolutely absurd in relation to the artillery division, in which there were intelligence, communications, chancellery, but not “department” …

7. The surnames Mikhailov are among the personal files of the command staff of the legacy division of the Western Military District, and in the whole Tambov artillery, as well as in the department of inspect there are no such names.

8. Of course, there was no “artillery brigade” in Tambov province, and the Red Army in general, at that time.

9. It is also unclear why the head of the mythical artillery brigade writes his report from Inzhavino, where the headquarters of the 6th combat unit was located, and not from Rasskazovo (or from Sampur station), from the headquarters of the 2nd combat unit, which owned the artillery of the Western Military District.

All of the above does not allow us to recognize the above texts as being true.

However, chemical projectiles were still fired. True, in reality it did not look at all as impressive as it is described in many works. Only two operations are known where the use of gas shells was planned in advance, and in one of them they were never used. In addition, two scattered episodes of artillery firing with chemical ammunition were identified. This is the end of the history of “Tambov Gases”.

The first episode took place in the area of ​​the 2nd combat station. After receiving the sent chemical shells, the commander of the Western Military District light artillery  division, Smok (who also performed the duties of the start), with his next report on the movement of ammunition, informed Inspector Kasinov that “… 15 chemical shells were used up for the period from the 13th to the 20th of July …”

Fig.3. Nachart-2 report H.K. Smoka on the consumption of ammunition by artillery of the 2nd combat unit for the period July 13-20, 1921

Neither the reasons nor the results of this shooting were indicated in the report. It seems most likely that these munitions were fired in the battle near the village of Smolnaya Vershina on the night of July 12th-13th, at least other clashes with the use of artillery in the period July 13th-20th were not identified. The operational summary describes this fight as follows:

“At 24 hours 12.07 a gang of up to 200 sabers surrounded and launched an offensive on the village of Smolnaya Vershina. After an hour of battle, the village of Smolnaya Vershina, which was repulsed by the garrison and an artillery platoon and a bullet command from the village of Pahotny Ugol, had been recaptured, the gang disappeared in the western and southwestern directions. On our side, 2 Red Army men, the Chairman of the Village Council, were wounded. Several horses were wounded.

According to intelligence agents, the gang suffered 20 killed and 45 wounded.”

One can only guess what made the Red Army soldiers release as many as 15 suffocating shells. Alas, nothing but pure curiosity and a desire to find out how effective the new ammunition is could explain the usage. Probably, having made sure of the low effectiveness of chemical shells, the artillerymen of the 2nd combat station did not use them anywhere else, and these 15 shells exhausted the entire gas arsenal that was used.

The artillery fire in the area of ​​the 6th combat station looked somewhat larger.

On July 16, the beginning of the 6th Rodov reported to Inspect Kasinov: “… On July 14 at 22:00, the Belgorod horse battery fired at the forest south of Lake Ilmen. Fired 7 shrapnel and 50 chemical projectiles.

Fig.4. Report of Nachart-6 Radov about the shelling of a forest near Lake Ilmen on July 14, 1921.

The artillery firing in the zone of the 6th combat stage looked somewhat larger.

On July 16, the head of the 6th artillery Radov reported to the artillery inspector Kasinov: “… on July 14, 22 hours, the Belgorod horse battery shelled the forest south of Lake Ilmen. 7 shrapnels and 50 chemical shells were fired… ” (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Report of Nachart-6 Radov about the shelling of the forest near Lake Ilmen on July 14, 1921.

It should be noted that, despite the fact that the battery is mentioned in this report, it is still worth talking about the 2nd platoon of it. The fact is that the 1st Belgorod Horse Battery was constantly stationed in the village of Karai-Saltykovo and did not participate in the fighting on July 14th. The same can not be said about its platoon, which in early July was seconded to the village of Troitskoye-Karaul to strengthen the units that were combing the Semenovsky and Pushchinsky forests. Probably, it was with the guns of this platoon that the mentioned ammunition was released.

Unfortunately, a purposeful search for the causes, goals and results of this shooting did not bring any results. Neither in the operational orders, nor in the reports of combat operations, nor in the reports of the commanders of the units, not a word is said about this shelling. The only document mentioning this shelling remains the report quoted above. It remains only to assume that the mentioned shelling could have been an integral part of the operations carried out in those days in the area of Lake Ilmen.

First, on July 12th-14th, an operation was carried out to clear the Semenovsky forest by the forces of the red communards ‘ companies and the Ryazan infantry courses. No large Antonov forces were identified, but sites and dugouts were found. It is possible that the shelling was undertaken in order to scare the bandits from their “homes”. Secondly, during these days, the forces of the ” … battalion of the Kaluga courses and the automobile platoon with the 1st gun of the Belgorod battery were conducting a survey of the forest along the banks of the Vorona river to Ramza lake… “. During such operations, the red units repeatedly resorted to preliminary shelling of forests where Antonovites would presumably hide. Perhaps this method was also used this time. Finally, on July 13th, a battle with the combined forces of the Chernavsky regiment and the Vorozhishchev detachment took place in the area of the villages of Verkhny Shibryai, Sergievskoye, and the Gusev settlements. The Antonovites, defeated as a result of this battle, retreated in different directions, including into the forest near Lake Ilmen. In order to prevent them from taking shelter in the forest, this shelling could also have been undertaken.

Alas, all of the above applies only to the field of assumptions. To date, it is difficult to say something more definite. The only thing that can be said almost for sure is that the specified shelling did not bring any serious results, because it was not even mentioned in operational reports, as an episode of little significance.

For both of the described cases of artillery firing – by parts of the 2nd combat stage and the shelling of the forest south of Lake Ilmen-no documents were found indicating the previously planned preparation of a gas attack. Both of these episodes look more like an improvisation of the commanders of the artillery units. The first and, perhaps, the only operation where the gas attack was planned in advance was the operation to clean-up the Parevsky forest, which was carried out in the period from August 1st to August 10th, 1921 by the forces of the units of the 6th combat stage.

Earlier, during such operations, the red units repeatedly used the method of shelling the forests occupied by the Antonovites with artillery fire, which served as some kind of artillery training. Since the location of the rebels was rarely known exactly, this fire was conducted on different parts of the forest, “on the areas”, mainly counting not on the material, but on the moral impact. And this goal was achieved. For example, describing the operation to clean-up the Bogdanovsky forest, in which this method was used for the first time, Mokerov writes:

“…this fire, without causing great losses to the gangs scattered in the forests, made an amazing moral impression on them. Many bandits, alone and in small groups, as a result of the artillery impact, began to go to the edges of the forests and surrender… “

At the same time, he complains that

«…. unfortunately, the artillery of the cadet training camp, and all other units did not possess chemical shells, the use of which could give really great results, even if only in a moral sense… ” 

However, this time this drawback was eliminated. The red units had an opportunity to find out whether the use of chemical projectiles is really as effective as it seemed to them earlier.

As part of the preparation for the use of gas ammunition, on July 22, Kasinov’s instructions were sent to the commanders of artillery units and the heads of artillery of combat units – “Brief instructions on protection from asphyxiating gases and how to use them”, in which the following was said about firing chemical shells:

“…Chemical projectiles can be used in cases where gas cylinder release is impossible due to meteorological or topographic conditions, for example: in the complete absence or extremely weak wind, if the enemy is settled in forests or behind an elevation, in places that are difficult to access for gases, but have the advantage that if gas gets there, it stays there stubbornly.

Types and actions of projectiles:

Chemical projectiles are divided into two types:

1). Blue, filled with suffocating gases and highly toxic substances (cyanide compounds) of extremely strong, but short-term action.

2). Red, filled with poisonous liquids that cause lacrimation and inflammation of the mucous membranes of the eyes and nose are longer (more than a day, depending on the air temperature). Strong wind (more than 3 m / s), heavy rain, below 15 degrees make shooting invalid.


Each projectile poisons an area of 400-500 square fathoms, which serves as the basis for calculating the number of chemical projectiles to be released…”.

Despite the fact that Sergey Mikhailovich Kasinov was undoubtedly a very competent artilleryman and an excellent commander, however, it should be recognized that he was mistaken when writing this instruction. Of course, the duration of the “red” (suffocating) shells “more than a day” is greatly overestimated. The area (400-500 square yards) is also greatly exaggerated. However, the command staff of the artillery of the 6th combat stage consisted of no less competent people. Suffice it to say that many of them were former officers who graduated from such reputable educational institutions as the Mikhailovsky and Sergiev Artillery schools, who managed to fight on the fronts of the First World War and were awarded military orders. By the way, it is noteworthy that in the personal cards of the artillery commander of the 6th combat stage, the entry “poisoned by asphyxiating gases” is found in the column of injuries. Dmitry Dmitrievich Repyev and Anatoly Grigoryevich Metkalev, assistant to the battalion commander of the Saratov battery, had known first hand about gases, for example, the chief of the artillery of the 6th combat stage. Kasinov’s mistakes were corrected. The report was compiled by the head of the 6th artillery Radov, which was included in the order for the troops of the 6th combat stage No. 43 of July 28, 1921:

“…For information and guidance, I announce brief instructions on the use of chemical weapons:

1. Chemical projectiles are used in cases when gas cylinder release is impossible due to meteorological or topographic conditions. For example: in the complete absence or weak wind, if the enemy is trapped in forests, in places that are difficult to reach for gases.

2. Chemical projectiles are divided into two types: the first – suffocating, the second – poisoning.

3. Fast-acting chemical projectiles are used for immediate action on the enemy; they evaporate after 3-5 minutes.

Slow-acting-used to create an impassable zone, to eliminate the possibility of enemy retreat: they evaporate after 15 minutes.

4. For actual shooting, solid ground is necessary (since shells, falling into soft soil, do not explode, and do not produce any action); the terrain is better closed and overgrown with sparse forest. If there is a strong wind and also in hot weather, shooting becomes invalid.

5. It is desirable to conduct shooting at night. It is not necessary to make single shots, because a gas atmosphere is not created. Shooting should be conducted persistently and with a large number of shells (the entire battery) for more action and creating an effect. The total rate of fire is not less than 3 shots per minute per gun. The scope of the projectiles is 20-25 square meters. Shooting can not be carried out with frequent rain.

Shooting is impossible if the enemy is 300-400 steps away and the wind is in our direction. All personnel of the batteries should be equipped with combat gas masks…”

Of course, “15 minutes and 20-25 square steps” is much closer to the truth.

After the artillery units received the appropriate instructions, the headquarters of the Tambov troops decided to use gas ammunition when clearing the Parevsky forest.

Unlike the two episodes of firing chemical shells described above, the entire course of this operation is well known. Firstly, a significant number of documents covering this operation have been identified and, secondly, there is a very detailed description of its direct leader Nikolai Nikolaevich Domozhirov in the article “Episodes of the Partisan War”.

The reason for this operation was the operational information of the special department of the 1st combat stage that near Lake Zmeinoe, in the area of Parevka-Ramza-Karai-Saltykovo, a part of the rebels is hiding, among which there are not only prominent Antonov commanders, but Alexander Stepanovich Antonov himself and his brother Dmitry. On July 30, 1921, the units of the 6th combat stage were assigned the task of destroying the Antonovites.

The area of the upcoming operation was as follows

“…a low hollow, 4-6 miles wide, 12 miles long, bounded on the west by the steep ravine-wooded bank of the Vorona River, on the east by a wide open plain and a number of villages: Ramza, Kipets, Pushchino, Saltykovo. Along the villages in the meridional direction there are deep lakes connected by arms both to each other and to the Vorona river. Inside there is a continuous swamp overgrown with thick reeds as tall as a man and a number of small islands, sometimes wooded (“Dry Oaks”). There are also several minor lakes: Snake, Clear, Swan, etc. The Vorona River is not passable anywhere, in the north, in the narrowest place of the basin, there is a Prokudin mill, with a bridge over the Vorona. To the north, about 4 miles away, there was a favorite place of Tambov bandits, the so – called Prison or Golden Cage-a wooded island surrounded on all sides by deep water. In the south, the basin is closed, at the confluence of the Karaya and Vorona rivers, by the Petrovo-Solovovo estate. The topography of the described area changes so much with spring water that even local residents could not serve as guides here… “

Fig. 5. Report of Nachart-6 Radov on the shelling of the island of Sev. – zap. S. Kipets from August 2, 1921

Such a configuration of the area did not require the allocation of significant forces for direct combing. For this purpose, three cadet companies were appointed – red communards, Kursk and Ryazan infantry courses and a dismounted squadron of Borisoglebsky cavalry courses. While a significant number of troops were allocated for the cordon, and in addition to the units of the 6th combat stage, the Cheka brigade from the 1st combat stage was involved. The gathering of troops began. Sitrep No. 518 of July 31, 1921 reported:

“…To carry out a secret operation, they came from the starting points: from Arkhangelsk-Balykley village … – Oryol infantry squadron, from Arkhangelsk-Karai … – a company of Ryazan infantry courses and a Borisoglebsky squadron from the village of Kozmodemyanskoe-Kalugino …, two companies of Vladimir courses from the village of Treskino, a company of the Ivanovo-Voznesensky battalion, a brigade of Kotovsky consisting of two regiments – from the village of Arkhangelsk…”

The area was taken into a tight ring of cordon.

On August 1, a reconnaissance mission was sent to the vicinity of Snake Lake, which, having not found the Antonovites, nevertheless found an equipped camp on the hummocks of this lake and allowed estimating the number of surrounded rebels at 180-200 people. By the evening of August 1st, a chain of companies assigned to comb ” … stopped in a dry place, approximately on the line of the village of Kipets-the northern outskirts of Parevka; the cordon of the Cheka brigade standing behind moved close to the chains… ” . On the night of August 1st to August 2nd, reconnaissance boats were sent along the lakes and along the Crow River, which showed that the Antonovites were again in the camp on the hummocks of Snake Lake. Thus, the preparatory measures were completed, and on August 2nd, the combing of the area began.

On August 1st, 1921, the headquarters of the Tambov troops issued a secret operational order allocating an artillery platoon with chemical shells for shelling the Parevsky forest. On the same day, the head of the operational department of the 6th combat stage reported to the army headquarters via a direct wire: “… the platoon has come out and is in position, but has not yet been used in action. According to the head Domozhirov will be here today…”, while specifying that ” … a whole battery will obviously be given to activate it…”. It was about the 1st Belgorod horse battery, stationed in Karai-Saltykovo and found itself in the center of events. The second platoon of this battery was urgently returned from the village of Karaul. On August 2, the head of 6 Radov reported to inspector of artillery Kasinov:

“…A platoon of the Belgorod battery, on August 2nd, from Troitskoye-Karaul moved to the village Karai-Saltykovo. The Belgorod horse battery performed an operational task at 8 am on August 2 to the village of Kipets, where it took up a position. At 4 pm, fire was opened on the island from the village of Kipets. 65 shrapnels, 49 grenades and 59 chemical grenades were fired. At 8 pm the battery returned to Karai-Saltykovo… “.

Fig. 6. The scheme of the area of the operation to clean up the Parevsky forest on August 1st-10th, 1921. A copy of the illustration given in the article by N. N. Domozhirov “Episodes of the partisan war” (“Military Bulletin”, 1922. No. 5-6).

Sitrep No. 519 reported:

“…the 2 / 8th platoon of the Belgorod battery fired at the forest that is 4 miles west of Kozmodemyanskoye-Ramza, 8 miles from / to art. After that, a detachment consisting of: a company of red commanders, a company of the Ryazan battalion, a company of the Kostroma battalion and a company of the Vladimir battalion began to inspect the forest… “

As before, the proven and well-proven method of preliminary “artillery preparation” before combing the thickets was again used. However, this time with the use of chemical weapons, which, as expected, would have to “give really great results”. Alas, the hopes were not fulfilled. On August 2nd, the cadet companies allocated for combing advanced from the initial line of Kipets – the northern outskirts of Parevka to the line of Kipets – the northern outskirts of Snake Lake, having managed to inspect the wooded island “Dry Oaks”, on which the fire was conducted.

“…On the Dry Oaks, the Kursk company found three horses with saddles tied to trees; the latter had inscriptions by A. Antonov, D. Antonov and Vostrikov. The gray horse, by all signs, belonged to Antonov. In the reeds, several bandits fell into our hands during the day, who confirmed that the main group of bandits, about 100 people, including Antonov himself, is located in the area of Snake Lake. Another group, about 80 people, separated and went to the south. There is a noticeable tendency among the main group to voluntarily surrender, but Antonov warned that he would personally shoot anyone who tries to cross… ” 

Either the Antonovites managed to get out of the shelling, or they were not at all on the “Dry Oaks”, neither the sitrep nor Domozhirov report any losses they suffered. The only trophies were the “three horses”, by the way, who successfully survived the gas attack. Which, however, is not surprising, because “59 chemical shells” were clearly not enough to create a gas cloud of the necessary concentration.

Domozhirov describes the further conduct of the operation as follows:

“…on August 3, on 15 boats (5 were brought from the Ingavin area) with five machine guns, the hunters were sent to the Snake Lake, but the gang did not let them get closer than 500-600 steps with gun and machine-gun fire. It was possible to get to the lake only in several directions, by paths from boats between the reeds, which were fired at by bandit fire. The second attempt of our brave men by the evening of the same day was also not crowned with success, as a result, by the morning of August 4th, a three – inch horse battery of the Belgorod platoon was demanded from Ingavin, and a detachment of airplanes from Tambov. The boats tried to break through to Snake Lake again at night; there was a lively exchange of fire on both sides until dawn, but the bandits were firmly entrenched. On the morning of the 4th, conventional signs were installed with an airplane that had descended near Karai-Saltykovo to correct artillery firing, and at 10 o’clock 6 guns opened fire on the area of Snake Lake. Airplanes dropped 10 bombs. The correction of artillery fire from an airplane and the correction from an observation post were so connected that at the slightest attempt by bandits on boats to move from the shelled area, the fire was immediately transferred after them. At the same time, the infantry narrowed the ring so much that the fragments from the grenades almost hit their own. At night, a horse battery with a rare fire all the time disturbed the gang… “.

Fig. 7. The course of the operation of combing the Parevsky forest on August 2nd-6th, 1921, indicating the areas of shelling.

Some obscure points should be noted in this description.

First, Domozhirov forgot to mention that on August 3rd and 4th airplanes were conducting aerial reconnaissance of the area of the operation, and one of them ” … dropped bombs directly on the fly into the observed boats 3 miles south of Snake Lake, which descended due to darkness, and also for additional orientation in Injavino…”, and the rest ” … flew back to Tambov…” This is also reported by sitrep No. 521 of August 4: “…On Snake Lake  (12b. s / in art. In the evening, 3/8 squadron consisting of 4 airplanes found several boats, on which 12 pounds of bombs were thrown. Successful hits were noticed. The pilots returned to Tambov… “. However, Domozhirov’s words are confirmed by a conversation on a direct wire that took place on August 4th between the army headquarters and the head of the 6th combat stage, in which he reported: “… The operation in the area of Snake Lake is in the phase of artillery preparation, because high reeds make it very difficult to observe, fire is being conducted on areas. The target, apparently, is already covered, but only an airplane can check the results of the shooting….” and asked: “… I believe that the operation will end no earlier than August 5th, and therefore it is necessary to send 1-2 airplanes, of which one is at least for correcting artillery firing… ” 

Note that on August 4th, the shelling was still carried out without adjustment, “by areas”.

Secondly, it is not entirely clear how the ” three-inch horse battery of the Belgorod platoon “was”demanded from Injavin”. This battery, in full composition of two platoons, was located in Karai-Saltykovo, from which it did not leave anywhere. It remains only to assume that the words “demanded from Injavin” mean an appeal to the headquarters of the 6th combat stage with a request to order the battery to fire at the area of Snake Lake.

Finally, the mention of “6 guns” is strange. The Belgorod horse battery consisted of two platoons of two guns each. Only 4. The question needs additional research.

However, be that as it may, on August 4th, the hummocks of the Snake Lake were shelled with artillery fire. There are no references to the fact that this shelling was carried out with the use of chemical ammunition. It is quite possible that they were used. However, this seems unlikely. First, the fire was conducted on the swamp.

“…The hummocks of Snake Lake presented an interesting picture: poles were thrown between them on a fairly wide space, branches, leaves, sticks, straw were thrown on the poles, as a result of which a floor was formed, and it was so strong that it allowed completely free walking and even the construction of some buildings: huts made of reeds, a marching reed church, etc. In some places, holes were made through the improvised floor and products – meat and butter-were lowered over the water in special reed baskets. There were even two huts made of reeds, covered with turf like dugouts. A few steps from this flooring, bumps were found, which, unfortunately, we did not pay due attention to. The tops of these hummocks were cut off at a distance of about 28 inches from the water, the earth was chosen from the hummock so that it turned out like a hole that could accommodate a person. Having covered himself with a top-cap and leaving a small gap for the inflow of air, a person can sit there for a long time, remaining unnoticed. Here, in these hummocks, food and sanitary equipment were stored… ” 

The gunners instructed by Radov remembered that ” … shells, falling into soft soil, do not explode, and do not produce any action…”, therefore, they would hardly fire chemical shells in these conditions. Secondly, Domozhirov mentions ” … the infantry narrowed the ring so much that the fragments from the grenades almost hit their own …”. The commanders of the Belgorod battery also did not forget that”…Shooting is impossible if the enemy is 300-400 steps away … ” . Thus, if gas shells were used, it was in complete contradiction to the instructions and rules of shooting, and therefore they were not able to cause any harm.

“…On August 5th, 15 boats, supported by artillery fire, managed to break through to the bumps of Snake Lake. On the hummocks, however, it was only possible to capture 4 bandits and large food supplies. The rest of the bandits, according to the testimony of the prisoners, dived into the reeds on 8 boats. However, the reconnaissance immediately sent in all directions did not bring any results, except for the fact that a number of boat trails were discovered in the reeds… on August 6, the boats and the infantry chain passed the rest of the space south to the Solovovo estate, capturing 19 prisoners in the reeds and finding a boat belonging to Antonov… on August 7th, a secondary cleaning of the area began…, on the morning of the 8th, the movement continued, the boats reached the Prokudin mill… on August 10th, the operation was completed, and the units went to their places…”

What was the result of the artillery firing of chemical shells, on which such high hopes were pinned? Unfortunately, the results were more than modest. On August 2nd, during the shelling of the “Dry Oaks”, on which “59 chemical” shells were fired, no casualties were reported. Apart from the “moral effect”, no other result was achieved. The result of the shelling on August 4th, where gas shells were hardly used

“…as it turned out the next day, it was not great financially, but morally it affected weak hearts so much that by the morning of August 5th, 26 people surrendered in the cordon of the Vladimirites…”

Again, we see only the “moral effect”. The results of the shelling on August 5th were established according to the testimony of prisoners. “…The prisoners showed that only three were killed by artillery fire, but this fire instilled such fear that the bandits began to disperse in different directions the night before with the aim of surrendering…”. Sitrep No. 140 of August 9th reported: “…2 women were wounded by artillery fire, 3 bandits…”. Whether chemical shells were used on August 5th is also unknown, at least the same can be said about this shelling as about the shooting on August 4th. But the result of this shelling is very modest.

Thus, it should be recognized that the method of preliminary shelling of forests, although it was of great importance and was successfully used more than once, was still more a “moral factor” than it caused any significant losses to the Antonovites. Regardless of whether it was carried out with conventional ammunition, or suffocating shells.

After the operation to clean-up the Parevsky forest, chemical shells were forgotten for a long time, and the artillery practically did not conduct combat operations due to the lack of need for them. Large formations of Antonovites were defeated, small gangs were caught by cavalry units. At the beginning of August, the troops of the Tambov province began to decrease to places of permanent deployment. Artillery units were also decreasing. On August 8th, the Cheka artillery division went to the command of the Republic’s chief of Staff, on August 20th, the Kotovsky brigade’s battery, as part of the brigade, left for the command of the Ukrainian SSR, on September 26th, the Saratov and Belgorod batteries went to the places of permanent deployment. The uprising was suppressed.

However, soon they remembered about chemical shells again.

The last time the threat of “being smoked out of the forest” by means of asphyxiating gases hung over the Antonovites in early September. Pursued by units of the 3rd combat stage under the command of Dmitrienko, a detachment of the combined gang of Kuznetsov and the Don esaul Matarygin in the number of 40-60 people was surrounded in the Telerman Grove, which is 3 miles west of Borisoglebsk. On September 3rd, 1921, reporting by direct wire on the actions of his units to the Commander of the troops, Dmitrienko reported that combing the forest “…does not give proper results due to its impassibility in many places… ” and asked to allocate airplanes so that “…at the agreed time, throw choking grenades at all the ravines of the Telerman grove, than smoke them out of the forest…”. Apparently not fully understanding Dmitrienko and deciding that he was going to bombard the Antonovites directly by dropping chemical shells from an airplane, the commander was somewhat taken aback by such an original method of action. And finding nothing better, he objected that “…the number of asphyxiating shells that can be lifted by airplanes will have absolutely no effect…” and recommended resorting to “…artillery shelling with asphyxiating shells, of which I have a sufficient number…”. Dmitrienko reluctantly agreed with this proposal, continuing, however, to insist on attracting aviation, since he believed that the use of gases “…is extremely necessary in order to show the bandits that they will not hide in the thicket of the forest…” and believed what “….artillery is not able to fire at all corners… “.

On September 4th, 1921, two hundred chemical shells were sent from the artillery arsenal of the 2nd combat stage from the Rasskazovo station to Borisoglebsk by armored car No. 1, which were issued to the horse battery of the 14th cavalry brigade.

The “forest operation” in Tellerman Grove was scheduled for September 8th. Due to heavy rain, it was postponed to the next day, and “…due to the wet weather…” it was not planned to use asphyxiating gases. However, on September 9th, the Antonov detachment left the forest and retreated in the direction of STA. Esipovo-Rusanovo, pursued by the 2nd cavalry regiment of the Dmitrienko brigade, where it split up and “some of the bandits went home”. The shelling with chemical shells was not used, and on September 25, these were handed over to the artillery depot of the 3rd combat stage, from where they were received.

This episode was the last in the history of suffocating gases in the Tambov region.

And the unused, forgotten cylinders and chemical shells continued to be stored peacefully in the artillery arsenal of the 2nd combat stage, in Rasskazovo, along Sovetskaya Street in the church fence. When you read the report on the inspection of the warehouse, the imagination involuntarily draws a slightly lazy, patriarchal picture. Under the soft September sun, chickens are swarming in the dust, people are slowly following their daily business, passing by the warehouse where “deadly chemical weapons” are stored, next to which, in the shade, a sentry is snoring, leaning on a rifle.

“…The chemical shells are located in a separate room, which consists of two floors. Shells and cylinders are stored below, and people live above, so that a private public marches back and forth all the time near the warehouse.

There is no fire-fighting equipment.

The guard is sent by the garrison and such is not at the proper level. When examining the warehouse with ammo and pyroxylin checkers, the sentry turned out to be asleep.

All warehouses are located in the center of the village of Rasskazovo… “

Soon, the withdrawal of unused gas shells from the units began. In the period from August 18th to August 22th, 25 shells of the Belgorod battery were put into storage. On September 12th, at the request of the head of the Lifshits department “…should chemical shells and cylinders be left at the 2nd combat stage…”, Kasinov replied that such “…should not be left at the site… “. On September 16th, in response to a request for instructions from the liquidated 6th combat stage “…what to do with the remaining artillery supply property…”, Lifshits orders “…All the remaining artillery property should be handed over to the Tambov Artillery Warehouse at the delivery lists…”. The 5th department of the Main Artillery Directorate (GAU) ordered the Artillery supply of the Tambov troops “….the chemical shells released to you along with GAU No. 89232/1911 and the cylinders with chemical gases along with No. 1916 should be sent: the first-to the Shuisky Artillery Warehouse, and the cylinders to the Warehouse of the Ochakovo u. S. of the Moscow-Kiev-Voronezh railway 11 miles from Moscow. About the reception of the said property in warehouses at the same time an order is made to Mokartu…”

Unfortunately, it was not possible to identify documents clarifying the further fate of chemical munitions. Probably, the order of the GAU was fulfilled and the gas shells and cylinders were sent to the specified addresses. At least, there are no further references to them.

In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about the “prohibition” of gas means, which thesis is repeatedly found in numerous discussions of the Tambov uprising.

Indeed, before the outbreak of the First World War, agreements and conventions were signed prescribing “not to use projectiles with the sole purpose of spreading suffocating or harmful gases”. However, all these agreements were instantly forgotten as soon as the development of the military situation promised to achieve success as a result of the use of suffocating means. All the “high contracting parties”, rolling up their sleeves, immediately set up the industrial production of toxic gases, which they poisoned each other with passion, worthy of better use. Thus, by the end of the First World War, there was a situation when chemical agents that were prohibited ” de jure “were” de facto ” widely used. “…Gas was a terrible weapon, but it was constantly used in France since 1915 and was still considered as a natural application to war… ” – wrote in 1919 the British officer Huddleston Williamson, an employee of the military mission at Gen. Denikin.

As a “natural application to war”, it was also considered by the Tambov command, being on a par with other types of weapons, which were widely used in the suppression of the “Antonovschina”. Much is known about the widespread use of airplanes, armored trains and armored cars, which played a major role in the defeat of the armed forces of the rebels. However, there were other units in the Tambov troops that fought with more “exotic” weapons. The flamethrower platoon and the Heavy Special Purpose Artillery (TAON) mortar platoon were part of the 6th combat stage. Soldiers of the 8th aeronautical detachment have repeatedly lifted their balloons into the air to a height of 300-500m over Injavino. Radio stations were widely used to provide communication. All this suggests that the army used the weapons that it owned. Suffocating gases were just one of these weapons.

This is the story of “Tambov gases”.

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