The Battle of Kraevski
The Allies had occupied positions on the line for the purpose of protecting the concentration of the Oi Division between Sviyagino and Spasskoe. The English and French battalions, some Czecho-Slovak troops and Kalmikov’s detachment were under the command of French Lt. Colonel Pichon. The enemy, 5000 strong, gradually had advanced toward these Allied first lines. Kalmikov’s unit, which had been on the right wing on the 20th, was surrounded by the enemy. After a great effort, the Cossacks managed an escape in the direction of the railway. The enemy, encouraged by this drive, came closer to the Allied lines. Again they managed to drive the Allies back.
During the predicament Pichon told Ward: “It is bad. Kalmikov and the Cossacks are in the high point in touch with us. The Czecho-Slovak 5th Battalion is on the right guarding the road to Sviyagino yet we do not know where the enemy is lurking.”
When Pichon learned that numbers of the enemy had penetrated the wide spaces between the sentries, he realized it must have taken a concentrated effort to perform this feat. While most of the Allied troops slept in camps the usual sentries had been posted but they were too widely spaced to note that the “slippery” Bolsheviks were sneaking between them through the grass in the dead of night. When the alarm finally been sounded Kalmikov discovered that about thirty of his men were already dead or wounded. The intruders had also captured his machine guns.
When this new reached General Oi, the latter decided to go to Pichon’s assistance without waiting for a planned concentration of the troops at Sviyangino. He gave orders for the advance of the battalion to the first line. Colonel Inagaki took command at that location.
The Combat of Kraeviski, as it was officially designated by the Japanese, began on August 23, 1918._ On that day, at 12:30 pm, Otani sent a secret message to Styer. It stated that the army would commence its movements on August 27th and would attack the enemy on the 28th. It was then that the commanding officer of the AEFS was directed to have the American troops arrive at Sviyagino no later than the morning of the 26th to familiarize themselves with the terrain before the battle of the 28th started. Colonel Morrow was asked to consult with Otani that afternoon at 4 pm regarding railroad cars and other matters. Styer went to work on the arrangements. On the afternoon of the 23rd he made this memorandum: “We have at present 24 cars and still need 82. . .three passenger cars, two second class and three locomotives. The Station Master at Vladivostok has already received the order for 82 cars, but up to now we have not received them. The Regiment will be entirely ready to leave when the cars, passenger coaches and locomotives mentioned above shall have been received.”
That same night Otani received another secret message from Oi and advised Styer that the Commander of the Japanese division at the front had given him a resume of the situation regarding the enemy. The 12th Division was to move with a large force. Oi was to remain in Vladivostok. Only General Inagaki and his aids-de-camp Colonel Hyari and Major Hasinuma were to leave at 10 pm that day “to transport the American Army we will try to send quickly tomorrow if you agree. The Commander-in-Chief regrets exceedingly that this battle will be so soon, contrary to our plans. The Commander-in-Chief is very sorry. Consequently, the Commander-in-Chief believes you will understand our reason for changing our plan.”
It was in accordance with these Japanese instructions that the American Command prepared to move three trains requested. In addition, the following were made ready: ten day’s additional field rations, 5,000,000 of small ammunition (in addition to that carried by the soldiers), combat wagons and a field bakery with personnel. Detachments guarding the railway were directed to join the regiment for duty.
Because of the change in plans, the Japanese requested that the Americans go to the front at once. Thus it was that the part of the 27th Infantry not already on its way to Sviyagino entrained and left Vladivostok with Morrow on the evening of the 24th. General Oi also ordered the detachments from Spasskoe to go to Sviyangino. These various forces reached the front after the Combat of Kraevski was over and the enemy was in retreat northward.
When one considers the fact that Styer was informed shortly after noon on the 23rd and Ward was not notified until late that night one must conclude that the Japanese had full intention of attacking before the other Allies could reach their appointed destination. However, the British Colonel was unaware of this. Upon receipt of word from Oi he had set his watch for 1 am. Inagaki was due at 2 am and the Japanese were supposed to start the attack at 3 am. Dukoveskoie was the site this attack. It was but four miles away. The British were destined to be among those in reserve.
Back at camp Colonel Ward began to pace the field at precisely 1 am. He was and heard no activity. At 1:45 he deemed it necessary to rouse the Japanese who were to meet him at 2 am before the attack for 3 am. The Japanese officers seemed unmoved. He explained the impossibility of rousing all the detachments and completing a four mile march in the night in a matter of minutes. The Czecho-Slovaks were asleep and the Cossacks were curled up with their horses, deaf to any words of warning. In spite of his tensions, Ward felt the incredibility of it all. “What a lunatic war this is.”
But to Ward orders were orders. He assembled his men and Captain Clark had the 25th Middlesex, transport and all, ready to march twenty-five minutes after orders were given. The British advanced along the railway. A mile and a half alo remonition concerning the Japanese had been well founded. He recalled Balsaar’s warnings. Still it was galling after getting the British troops out to learn that they were not to take part in the battle. But the situation might change. Ward instructed Capt. Bath to move forward and to support him if necessary.
Other troops had been issued directives. The Japanese field and heavy artillery and the mountain guns of the Czecho-Slovaks near the railroad bridge of Dukoveskoie were to prepare to attack. The second company of engineers accompanied this artillery as did a Czecho-Slovak battalion which had been guarding the railroad station at Sviyagino and also the 5th Czech Regiment, less one battalion. This left the remaining British, French and Japanese troops and Kalmikov’s detachment to constitute the general reserve which had been ordered to assemble at 3 am.
To the north of Dukoveskoie the three battalions of the Japanese infantry under Brigadier Commander Mihara had constituted the main early attacking force on the first line. After the infantry attack began the enemy was pushed back to the stream east of Dukoveskoie. This occurred at dawn at a time when all of the Allied forces were advancing. The river was crossed north of Dukoveskoie and a hand-to-hand engagement took place.
The Japanese reported: “The Japanese troops rushed forward without loss of time and drove back the enemy. . .with the help of hand grenades. At this moment Captain Consmi met a glorious death, being hit by an enemy grenade.”
At the spot where the British had been ordered to meet for a rendezvous, Ward was busy or heard but Ward gave the order to his men to load and to be prepared for action. At that moment one of his men discharged his rifle.
Padley recalled the incident well. “It was before daybreak and we were at the outskirts of the village of Dukoveskoie when the rifle was discharged. In his book Ward reports a second shot but I know positively there was no second shot. It was just that one. The Colonel who had a pretty good platform voice could have been heard a half mile away, ‘Who’s the B…….. foot that did that?’ “
Within half a minute the night calm was broken by the firing of hundreds of rifles. The battle had begun. The enemy attacked Dukoveskoie from the west side of the tracks.
During a lull, Ward took his bearings. His area had been plowed by shells from end to end. The first one had piched just under a peasant’s cottage. The cottage and its occupants were destroyed. A heavy purple pall hung over everything. Had the British been on that particular spot they would have suffered a similar fate.
In the growing light, with the aid of his glasses, Ward was able to make out the scheme of advance. He saw a continuous line from one mile on the left of the railway extending for some miles to the right. A space of about 100 yards on each side of the line was unoccupied.
It is doubtful if the Bolsheviks were aware that such an Allied army was now in Siberia. There was much fear among the partisans and not too much resistance. Those who could, simply made off. When the attack was mounted the Bolshevik armored train came into view. There was some machine gun fire from the Allied side.
The British had heard that the Japanese took no prisoners. The latter had bayoneted the engine driver, who, rumor had it, had been pressed into service.
By 8 am some of the first line troops had reached the hill to the south of Kraevski and were assembled. “The troops of the Japanese infantry company sent to cut the retreat from Kraevski suffered under a violent fire from an armored train while they were crossing marshy ground. Forty men were put out of action, but the company pressed on and cut the railroad, capturing two armored trains. The enemy, thus broken, retired. The Allied armies took up the pursuit of them which was pressed on the 25th.”
Padley remarked that he felt Ward’s description in the latter’s book read more like a comic opera than a true account of the battle. The Colonel described how he went prancing along the track taking a pot shot “with Lance-Corporal’s rifle.” The lieutenant recalled that Ward had several hundred men moving en masse down a railroad track. “We made a pretty good target, however poor the gunnery,” he stated.
“Therefore Dwight and I took it upon ourselves to put the men in extended order on either side of the track. We knew it was much safer that way although moving through the muskeg retarded our speed. The Colonel with a few bold spirits, including Captain Clark, who should have known better, continued on down the track. The next day we were reprimanded for re-forming the men. Perhaps we should have taken the high road and let the enemy gunners get their bag.”_
“There, at the side of the road,” Padley recalled, “was a man with a coil of wire, telephone wire perhaps, turned around his arm. He was prone on the track in his blood soaked shirt. Around the armored truck were a dozen other corpses, dead some ten hours. Their glassy eyes stared into the sun. The whole thing was beastly. I wish I could erase it from my memory.”
A resume of the battle indicated that the enemy had 8,000 men. He left 300 dead on the battlefield. The total dead and wounded of the Japanese forces was estimated at 150. Losses of the Allied troops were not high but no detailed report of them had been received just after the battle. The principal booty consisted of two armored trains, two field guns, four machine guns, ten kilometers of telegraph wire plus a quantity of rifles, ammunition, etc.
By the evening of the 26th the Allies reached their objective – the hill. The enemy was retreating toward Ussuri Station. The Allied troops in the vicinity of the railway also proceeded toward Ussuri.
Later a communique from Gen. Nakajima to General Headquarters in Vladivostok stated that the Japanese had obtained information from prisoners. “Among three of them, two were farmers from around Ussuri Station and the third one was on his way. All three had been forcibly drafted. During the combat at Kraevski they deserted as soon as they saw Japanese troops. The following is their statement: (a) The draft of men between 18 and 20 was carried out in the Ussuri region on the 1st of August. These men were enlisted under the threat of death if they refused. (b) Equipment – the Bolsheviki sent them to Iman and gave them arms, etc. These prisoners were enrolled in the 1st Company of the 6th Peasant Battalion. Every man in this company had a Russian rifle and from 100 to 120 rounds of ammunition. (c) Re the Combat of Kraevski – the commander-in-chief of the Maritime Province is Sakovitch. The troops around Kraevski were under the command of a Czech named Rinder. The troops which participated in this action consisted of seven or eight battalions, each company having a machine gun. The battalion to which these prisoners belonged was stationed at Antonovka; it had four pieces of artillery. The Bolsheviki were said to have eight armored trains, five of which had been seen by these prisoners; two trains have been captured by the Japanese. They saw one or two aeroplanes over Ussuri Station. (d) The monthly pay of the soldier according to rule is 150 rubles per month, but they received on 17 rubles. The drafted men are forced to fight under threat of death. The rumor regarding the arrival of Allied troops which had been current for a long time was verified only after the Combat of Kraevski.”
Railroad employees along the line were interrogated as to the strength of the retreating enemy. On August 26th they reported that there were some 4,000 infantry, two squadrons of cavalry and 19 pieces of artillery. There were also some armored trains and ammunition cars. During his retreat the enemy was said to be destroying the railroad and pillaging widely. He continued retreating until the 27th. On that date the Japanese infantry entered Ussuri Station where it immediately occupied the railway bridge which was not yet destroyed. The railway bridges that were destroyed by the enemy included one north of Kraevski, one north of Shmakovka and the Kaoul bridge. It was estimated that the work of repairing these bridges would require several days.
According to a Russian who had talked to the enemy, the latter had no information until August 27th of the existence of a Japanese army at the front. He stated that “The Bolsheviks were greatly surprised by the attack of the Allied army and his retreat was carried out in indescribable disorder.”
Toward the end of August there was a great deal of activity all along the line. Echelon No. 1 of the Chinese troops arrived at Nikolsk on the 25th and left for Evguenievka on the 26th. Echelon No. 2 was expected to follow a day later. Echelon No. 3 had arrived at Harbin by the 26th and Nos. 4 and 5 were en route thereto. The Allied commander was expected to give the Chinese echelons necessary orders at the Nikolsk Station.
Two American echelons, two Japanese and two of Czecho-Slovaks with automobiles had left Vladivostok on the 25th. There were also orders to send four additional Japanese echelons.
At Evaguenievka there were four locomotives. One was said to be filled with Kalmikov troops, two with Japanese and one with Americans.
Although there was no unusual delay with regard to trains, there was considerable concern to keep them moving. Part of this concern was caused by a strike at one of the mines. The reserve supply of coal for the railroad was 1,800,000 poods_ as of August 26th. As the requirements were estimated at 30,000 poods per day, there was some concern as to the duration of the strike.
More sidings were deemed necessary at various stations so that war material could be adequately handled.
It seemed to observers that the whole of Russia’s people was anxious to use the railroads in all directions.
Appendix #21, translated for General Headquarters, Vladivostok