The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Southern Front

II. Denikin’s Offensive (May 15-August 1919)

ORDER No.105

By the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs to the Armies of the Southern Front, June 5, 1919, No.105, Kharkov

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters

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Our Southern front is at present experiencing a grave crisis. There can be no doubt that this crisis will be overcome and that, as a result, we shall emerge stronger than before, just as we emerged from previous crises. We need only evaluate clearly and distinctly the causes of our setbacks and take measures to eliminate them radically.

One of the most important reasons for our failures is the absolutely impermissible, and in many cases criminal, attitude of the responsible workers in the army, both commanders and commissars, towards the question of operational reports.

Operational reports should give a clear and distinct picture of the military actions of every unit, its strengths and weaknesses in battle, its casualties, its actual defeats and actual victories, its losses and its trophies.

To ensure this, the greatest Conscientiousness and strict checking of all information is required. Inmost cases nothingof the sort obtains. Operational reports are written in accordance with a set pattern, unworthy of a revolutionary army, in order to conceal and cover up one’s failures and exaggerate one’s successes.

When our units capture some locality, this never happens, if the reports are to be believed, otherwise than after a fierce battle. Yet this ‘battle’ is, more often than not, an affair of aimless and fruitless shooting, that is, of squandering of car tridges and shells. Such reports never permit us to judge whether the advancing unit kept contact with the retreating enemy, whether it really pursued him, or else, keeping a res pectful distance, just took over the locality which had already been abandoned by the enemy. Yet this is extremely important. The weak side of our forces or, more correctly, of their com manders and commissars, is that, when the enemy retreats,

they do not show the necessary energy in pursuing, disrupting and destroying him. Commanders and commissars too often rest satisfied with occupying without a battle a locality that the enemy has abandoned. In their operational reports, this fact is hidden behind splendid phrases about the taking of villages and towns by battle, with never a mention of the number of casual ties suffered on either side,

When our units retreat, this happens, if one is to be believe these same reports, only as a result of the onslaught of superior enemy forces and, again, never without a battle. Yet what is often hidden under these phrases is the sad reality of a panicky abandonment of their positions by large units at the sight of isolated mounted patrols, or even just under the influence of panic and provocational rumours about the enemy’s approach. ‘They carried out a fighting retreat’ often means that they retreated shooting in all directions so as to deafen their own panic – that is, that there was a senseless squandering of ammunition.

A phrase often recurs in these reports to the effect that, in the course of clashes with superior enemy forces, regiments lost a half or three-quarters of their personnel. In most cases this means that the regiment ran away. The operational report is silent as to how many were killed, how many wounded, how many taken prisoner, how many missing. This information cannot always, of course, be given with accuracy. But it would be possible to provide at least an approximate picture of the losses suffered: all that is needed to do that is to possess the desire to tell the truth. That desire is frequently not present. On the contrary, we have not a few gentlemen who consider it their task to compose a report in such a way as to conceal from higher authority the disgrace of a senseless retreat before a weaker enemy.

Boasting about colossal, innumerable trophies is widely in vogue. When checked on, it often turns out that by trophies captured from the enemy are meant guns from which the breechblocks have been removed, machine-guns that have been made unusable, and broken-down carts which the enemy deliberately left behind when he took his well-timed departure. Detailed information about so-called trophies is hardly ever received,

The situation is even worse where material losses are concerned. Such facts are almost always left unreported, and come to light only later, when the supply officer has to ask for replacements of the equipment that has been lost.

What are the results of this sort of conduct? The results cannot be described otherwise than as disastrous. The com manders and commissars develop a psychology of official well being, that is, of concern that everything should be kept dark. This is the despicable psychology of old-time civil servants, and not that of revolutionary warriors who must boldly face not only the enemy but also the most cruel truth. Commanders and comnussars who see the shortcomings and weaknesses of their units and frankly admit them will unfailingly take steps to eliminate these weak sides. Commanders and comniissars who conceal cases of desertion or panicky retreat like a secret disease merely drive this disease inward and completely ruin their units.

Furthermore, false reports foster delusions at higher levels. Divisional headquarters does not know what has actually hap pened in the sector held by a certain regiment. Army headquar ters receives false operational reports from divisions, At front headquarters they do not know exactly what the situation is in the armies. Consequently, the command is left in the dark. When the moment of trial comes, the false picture of well-being collapses into dust, and the front experiences a very grave crisis.

The great revolutionary Ferdinand Lassalle once said that every revolutionary activity requires above all that one should ‘say what is’, that is, should tell the truth, This is also required in every military activity. Complete truthfulness and precision in reports is the duty of every soldier.

This we must now secure, at any cost.

I order the Revolutionary War Council of the Southern front and the Revolutionary War Councils of the Armies of the Southern Front immediately to take steps to subject all reports to the strictest checking and to punish severely all counterfeiters who engage in criminal forgery instead of honest reporting. We must teach and compel cominanders and commissars to call a battle a battle, a panic a panic, a feat of arms a feat of arms, and cowardice cowardice. They must report with as much accuracy as possible the actual number of casualties, that is, the number of dead and wounded, the number of men taken prisoner, and the number of those who fled in panic – adding whether or not they came back. If a commander writes untruth fully about ‘superior enemy forces’, the commissar must not dare to sign the false report. But if he does sign it, then both commander and commissar are to be court-martialled. If an infantry regiment abandons its position at the sight of a Cossack patrol, then write: ‘A thousand riflemen fled shamefully before thirty Cossacks.’ If there was ‘a fierce exchange of shots’, then write whether this was really firing at the enemy or just firing into the air. If a unit lost to the enemy some carts, machine-guns or pieces of artillery, then frankly admit this disgraceful fact. If a unit captured military stores from the enemy, then don’t boast, don’t exaggerate, but say how much was captured, in what state it was, and what the circumstances were.

Bragging, frivolous evasiveness and plain lying must all be ruthlessly eliminated from operational reports. This elimina tion is to be effected in two ways. On the one hand, explain the importance and necessity of truth in military matters: on the other, denounce and brand the braggarts, boasters and liars. There is no place for them in the ranks of a revolutionary army, and still less in the post of commander or commissar.

This order must be passed down through the Revolutionary War Councils of the Armies for personal signature by comman ders and comrnissars, right down to the level, inclusive, of commanders and commissars of individual units. These last must assemble the commanders subordinate to them, either all together or in groups, depending on circumstances, in order to read and explain this order to them.

Responsibility for the strictest implementation of the princi ples set forth in this order is placed on the Revolutionary War Councils of the Armies.

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