Toukhatchevsky's plan was to launch a decisive attack from the south, and then to capture Kronstadt by a massive simultaneous assault from three different directions.
On 16th. March, the Southern Group opened its artillery barrage at 14.20 hrs. At 17.00 hrs. the Northern Group also started shelling Kronstadt. The Kronstadt guns answered back. The bombardment lasted four hours. Aircraft then bombed the city, with a view to creating panic among the civilian population. In the evening, the artillery bombardment ceased. The Kronstadt searchlights swept over the ice looking for the invaders.
Towards midnight, the Government troops had taken up their position and started to advance. At 2:45 a.m., the Northern Force had occupied Fort 7, abandoned by the Kronstadt defenders. At 4:30 a.m., Government troops attacked Forts 4 and 6, but suffered very heavy losses from the Kronstadt artillery. At 6:40 a.m., Government officer cadets finally captured Fort 6.
At 5:00 a.m., the Southern Force launched an attack on the forts facing them. The defenders, overwhelmed, fell back towards the city. A fierce and bloody battle then broke out in the streets. Machine guns were used, at very close range. The sailors defended each house, each attic, each shed. In the town itself, they were reinforced by the workers' militias. The attacking troops were, for a few hours, thrown back towards the forts and suburbs. The sailors reoccupied the Mechanical Institute, which had been captured early by the 80th government Brigade.
The street fighting was terrible. Red Army soldiers were losing their officers, Red Army men and defending troops were mixing in indescribable confusion. No one quite knew who was on which side. The civilian population of the town tried to fraternise with the Government troops, despite the shooting. Leaflets of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee were still being distributed. To the bitter end the sailors were trying to fraternise.
Throughout 17th. March the fighting raged on. By the evening the Northern Group had occupied most of the forts. Street fighting continued throughout the night and well into the following morning. One by one the last forts--Milioutine, Constantine and Obroutchev--fell. Even after the last one had been occupied, isolated groups of defenders were still desperately fighting back with machine guns. Near the Tolbukhin light house, a final group of 150 sailors put up a desperate resistance.
Figures Issued by the Military Health Authorities of the Petrograd District--and relating to the period between 3rd. and 21st. March--spoke of 4,127 wounded and 527 killed. These figures do not include the drowned, or the numerous wounded left to die on the ice. (11) Nor do they include the victims of the Revolutionary Tribunals.
We do not even have approximate figures as to the losses on the Kronstadt side. They were enormous, even without the reprisal massacres that later took place. Perhaps one day the archives of the Tcheka and of the Revolutionary Tribunals will reveal the full and terrible truth.
This is what Poukhov, 'official' Stalinist historian of the revolt, says on the matter: 'While steps were being taken to re-establish normal life, and as the struggle against rebel remnants was being pursued, the Revolutionary Tribunals of the Petrograd Military District were carrying out their work in many areas'.....' Severe proletarian justice was being meted out to all traitors to the Cause '.....' The sentences were given much publicity in the press and played a great educational role'. These quotations from official sources refute Trotskyist lies that 'the fortress was surrounded and captured with insignificant losses.'(12)
In the night of 17th-18th March, part of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee left Kronstadt. Some 8,000 people (some sailors and the most active part of the civilian population), moved towards Finland and permanent exile. When the Red Army--defenders of the 'soviet' power--finally entered Kronstadt, they did not re-establish the Kronstadt soviet. Its functions were taken over by the Political Section of the Secretariat of the new Assistant Commander of the Fortress.
The whole Red Fleet was profoundly reorganised. Thousands of Baltic sailors were sent to serve in the Black Sea, in the Caspian and in Siberian naval stations. According to Poukhov: 'the less reliable elements, those infected with the Kronstadt spirit, were transferred. Many only went reluctantly. This measure contributed to the purification of an unhealthy atmosphere'.
In April, the new Naval Command started an individual check. 'A special commission dismissed 15,000 sailors in "non essential" (i.e., non specialised) categories V, G, and D--as well as sailors not considered reliable from a political point of view'.
After the physical annihilation of Kronstadt, its very spirit had to be eradicated from the Fleet.
On to What they said at the time