Aleksandr Vasilevsky - Biography - World War I and Civil War

World War I and Civil War

After completing his studies in the seminary and spending a few years working as a teacher, Vasilevsky intended to become an agronomist or a surveyor, but the outbreak of the First World War changed his plans. According to his own words, he was "overwhelmed with patriotic feelings" and decided to become a soldier instead. Vasilevsky took his exams in January 1915 and entered the Alexander Military Law Academy in February. As he recalls, "I did not decide to become an officer to start a military career. I still wanted to be an agronomist and work in some remote corner of Russia after the war. I could not suppose that my country would change, and I would." After four months of courses that he later considered to be completely outdated, theoretical, and inappropriate for modern warfare, he was sent to the front with the rank of praporshchik, the highest non-commissioned rank in the Russian infantry, in May 1915.

From June to September, Vasilevsky was assigned to a series of reserve regiments, and finally arrived at the front in September as a half-company commander (polurotny) in the 409th Novokhopersky regiment, 109th division, 9th Army. In the spring of 1916, Vasilevsky took command of a company, which eventually became one of the most recognized in the regiment. In May 1916, he led his men during the Brusilov offensive, becoming a battalion commander after heavy casualties among officers, and gaining the rank of captain by age 22.

In November 1917, just after the Russian Revolution, Vasilevsky decided to end his military career. As he wrote in his memoirs, "There was a time when I led soldiers to battle, thinking I was doing my duty as a Russian patriot. However, I understood that we have been cheated, that people needed peace.... Therefore, my military career had to end. With no remorse, I could go back to my favorite occupation, working in the field." He travelled from Romania, where his unit was deployed in 1917, back to his own village.

In December 1917, while back at home, Vasilevsky learned that the men of the 409th regiment, which had been relocated to Ukraine, had elected him as their commander (at the start of the Russian Revolution, commanders were elected by their own men). However, the local military authorities recommended that he decline the proposal because of the heavy fighting taking place in Ukraine between pro-Soviet forces and the pro-independence Ukrainian government (the Central Rada). He followed this advice and became a drill instructor in his own Kineshma uezd. He retired in September 1918 and became a school teacher in the Tula Oblast.

In April 1919, Vasilevsky was again conscripted into the Red Army and sent to command a company fighting against peasant uprisings and assisting in the emergency Soviet policy of prodrazvyorstka, which required peasants to surrender agricultural surplus for a fixed price. Later that year, Vasilevsky took command of a new reserve battalion, and, in October 1919, of a regiment. However, his regiment never took part in the battles of the Russian Civil War, as Anton Denikin's troops never got close to Tula. In December 1919, Vasilevsky was sent to the Western front as a deputy regimental commander, participating in the Polish-Soviet War.

As deputy regimental commander of the 427th regiment, 32nd brigade, 11th division, Vasilevsky participated at the battle of Berezina, pulling back as the Polish forces had been slowly but steadily advancing eastward, and in the subsequent counterattack that began on May 14, 1920, breaking through Polish lines before being stopped by cavalry counterattacks. Later, starting from July 4, 1920, he took part at the Soviet offensive towards Wilno, advancing to Neman river despite heavy Polish resistance and German fortifications erected in the region during World War I. Vasilevsky's regiment arrived near Wilno by mid-July and stayed there on a garrison duty until the Treaty of Riga.

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