Already on February 13, 1921 a telegram from Helsingfors, dated February 11, appeared in the Paris newspaper Le Matin, reporting that a sailors’ revolt against the Soviet power had broken out at Kronstadt. The French counter-intelligence service [sic] had only slightly anticipated events. Within a few days the events expected, and undoubtedly also prepared, by the French counter-intelligence service actually began. White-Guard leaflets appeared in Kronstadt and Petrograd. In the course of arrests some notorious spies were detained. At the same time the Right SRs began an intense agitation among the workers, exploiting the difficult situation where food and fuel were concerned. On February 28 disturbances began on the vessel Petropavlovsk, continued on March 1. The same resolution was passed by a general meeting. On the morning of March 2 the group of the former General Kozlovsky (commanding the artillery) already appeared openly on the scene.
Ex-General Kozlovsky, together with three officers whose names have not yet been established, came out openly as mutineers. Under their leadership the commissar of the Baltic Fleet, Comrade Kuzmin, was arrested, along with the chairman of the Kronstadt Soviet, Comrade Vasilyev, and a number of other officials. Thus, the significance of recent events was made quite clear. Behind the SRs, this time too, stood a Tsarist General.
In view of all this, the Council of Labour and Defence decrees that:
1. The fullest account of the Kronstadt events is given by Paul Avrich, in Kronstadt (1970). – B.P. [See also [1b]Note 1b]
1b. The disturbances at Kronstadt began on February 28, 1921. On March 1 a meeting was held at Kronstadt which was attended by between twelve and fourteen thousand Red Army men, sailors and workers. Present at this meeting were the Chairman of the All-Russia CEC, Comrade Kalinin, and the Commissar of the Baltic Fleet, Comrade Kuzmin, who had both come specially to Kronstadt.
Under the influence of anti-Communist agitation, a resolution was adopted which had been moved by a sailor named Petrichenko, from the Petropavlovsk: this included demands for freely-elected soviets, legalising of the socialist parties and the anarchists, abolition of the Political Sections and the Special Assignment Troops, removal of roadblock detachments, restoration of freedom of trade, and release of political prisoners. [1c]
On March 2 a meeting of delegates from all the units formed a Revolutionary Committee with as chairman Petrichenko, who had seized power in the town. That day can be regarded as the beginning of the open mutiny.
The situation of the mutineers, who had made themselves masters of a first-class naval fortress which occupied the approaches to Leningrad for naval vessels, was a very favourable one. Their total numbers amounted to 15,000, and they had at their disposal heavy artillery machine-guns, depth-charge guns and so on. The bulk of them were sailors: the military garrison and the civil population remained passive.
The Red command was taken by surprise by this mutiny, and at first also temporised, counting on a change in the attitude of the mutineers. For several days no active measures were taken by either side.
The situation altered with the arrival in Leningrad [SW], at about 13 hours on March 5, of Comrade Trotsky [1d], accompanied by Comrades S.S. Kamenev, Lebedev and Tukhachevsky. At 14 hours on that day an address to ‘the garrison and inhabitants of Kronstadt and the mutinous forts’ was issued, categorically demanding that they lay down their arms. Comrade Tukhachevsky was appointed commander of the forces operating against Kronstadt, and the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic ordered him to suppress the revolt in the shortest possible time.
At 5 o’clock on March 8 the general onslaught on Kronstadt began. The attack was made by two groups; the southern group advancing along the line Oranienbaum-Kronstadt, and the northern, advancing along the line Sestrovetsk-Kronstadt. The southern group’s attack ended in failure: a section of the troops went over to the mutineers, and though another section, including Special Assignment Troops and cadets, broke into the town, they had to retreat under the pressure of the mutineers’ superiority in numbers. The northern group’s attack failed similarly.
Between March 9 and 16 no operations took place. During this period the Red command was busy taking resolute measures to strengthen its forces with new units made up of Communists and cadets. The heavy artillery and sapper units were also strengthened. Three hundred delegates from the Tenth Party Congress came to join the troops. Intense political work went on in the units.
On their part, the mutineers’ forces were added to by renegades and recruits from the population, and by March 16 they numbered 16,500 bayonets.
On March 15 the order was given for the fortress to be taken by a swift onslaught during the night of March 16-17. After artillery preparation which was started at 14 hours on March 16, the advance of the Red forces across the ice towards Kronstadt began during the night of March 17. After a fierce struggle they broke into the town, where street fighting started. The mutineers defended themselves desperately, having to be dislodged from each separate building. After ceaseless fighting, by dawn on March 18 the whole town was in the hands of the Red troops. By that time the dreadnought Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol had surrendered. Some of the mutineers fled to Finland. (See the annexe to Map No.1).
1c. The full text of the resolution is given in Avrich, op. cit., on pp.72-74. The ‘roadblock detachments’ were deployed to guard the approaches to towns and confiscate the bags of food which townspeople tried to bring in from the countryside, contrary to the pre-NEP laws against private trade.
[1d] This contradicts Trotsky’s statements that he did not go to Petrograd at this time: ‘I continued to remain in Moscow and took no part, direct or indirect, in the military operations’ (More on the Suppression of Kronstadt, July 6, 1938).
2. The role played in the revolt by General A.N. Kozlovsky, commanding the artillery of Kronstadt fortress, has certainly been exaggerated in Soviet accounts, but Francis Wyndham goes too far in the opposite direction when he writes of ‘a mythical General Kozlovsky’! (F. Wyndham and D. King, Trotsky, A Documentary, 1972, p.84) Kozlovsky’s actual activities are described by Avrich, op. cit., pp.99-102, 138-139.
Last updated on: 28.12.2006