Russian Forces, 2,500,000
Grand Duke Nicholas, Commander-in-Chief
General Yanushkevitch, Chief of Staff
Austro-German Forces, 3,000,000
General Hindenberg, Commander-in-Chief
General Ludendorf, Chief of staff Northern Army Group—General Hindenberg
Central Army Group — Prince Leopold
Southern Army Group — General Mackensen
Archduke Joseph Ferdinand
Irreparable disaster befell Russian arms in May, 1915, when a tornado of shell-fire from 3,000 heavy German guns ripped open a 40-mile gap in the Russian front, along the banks of the Dunajec and Biala Rivers, blowing General Dmitrieff's army into oblivion and compelling the entire Russian line to fall back into the far interior, with a resultant loss of 350,000 in killed and wounded and 1,250,000 prisoners. Her tremendous victory gained for Germany possession of 100,000 square miles of Russian territory, comprising all of Poland and Courland, the greater part of Galicia and several other large provinces, whose aggregate population was 20,000,000.
This disaster, which bore fruit two years later in red revolution and the quick collapse of the Russian Empire, was due primarily to Russia's inferiority in guns and lack of ammunition, which left her impotent before Germany's unparalleled concentration of artillery on the most vulnerable point in the Russian line. The European Allies for months had been endeavoring to get munitions into Russia. The only practicable route for the transport of supplies from the West was through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, past Constantinople and thence by way of the Black Sea. The failure of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns had definitely closed this route to the Allies.
One other entrance into European Russia, from Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast over 6,000 miles of Trans-Siberian Railway to Moscow and Petrograd, remained open. The Japanese had availed themselves of this route in sending $40,000,000 worth of guns and shells into Russia, but since February the Japanese had been at controversy with China and their exports of munitions were suspended while they made provision for their own needs in case war broke out with China. After the quarrel with China had been composed, Japan resumed her export of munitions, but these later supplies failed to arrive in time to save the Czar's armies. Consequently Russia for months had been without adequate military supplies.
The United States Government subsequently came to Russia's rescue by sending 20,000 American freight cars and 400 American locomotives to the port of Vladivostok in order to facilitate the shipment of guns and shells over the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Thanks to this timely aid, Russia was able to recover from her defeat and for a time resume the initiative.
Germany's Colossal Preparations Underway
The combined armies of Germany and Austria had hitherto failed, after four consecutive attempts, to break through the Russian front by way of the Warsaw salient. They now planned to launch a surprise attack in another direction, further south. Hindenberg had discovered a more vulnerable point in the Russian line, where it bent along the banks of the Dunajec and Biala Rivers, just below Tarnow in Western Galicia. This sector, some 40 miles long, was thinly held by an army of 200,000, commanded by General Dmitrieff, a Bulgarian officer in the service of Russia. Not only was this sector insufficiently covered with troops, but Dmitrieff had neglected to prepare suitable lines of defense in his rear.
Knowing these facts, the Germans decided that this was the place to launch a surprise attack which would carry ampler promise of victory than did the Warsaw sector. For weeks they were secretly engaged in bringing forward to the Dunajec sector the greatest assemblage of artillery ever known in warfare. Under cover of night, they had gradually concentrated 4,000 heavy howitzers and field guns of every caliber, together with 10,000 machine guns, in front of Dmitrieff's position. Huge ammunition depots uprose behind the German lines. Food depots were constructed, hospitals erected and an intricate telegraph system set up. Great droves of cattle were brought forward to insure an adequate supply of meat.
5,500,000 Troops in Battle Array
Finally, an army of 750,000 specially trained troops, under command of General Mackensen, was secretly massed east of Krakow, prepared at a signal to pour through the gap which the German artillery would open in the Russian line. All these extensive preparations went on unnoticed by General Dmitrieff. In May, a month made otherwise memorable by the sinking of the Lusitania and the entrance of Italy into the World War, the Germans were ready to hurl their thunderbolt at Russia. At this time the 700- mile battle front, extending from the Baltic Sea to the Carpathians, was occupied by 3,000,000 German and Austrian troops, divided into three groups of armies, all under the supreme command of Field Marshal von Hindenberg.
At the Northern end of the line, in East Prussia, and prepared to undertake a raid into Courland, there was an army group commanded by General von Below, under Hindenberg"s immediate observation. In the center of the long battle line, along the Polish border, was a group of armies directed by Prince Leopold of Bavaria. Southward, in Western Galicia, an army group led by General Mackensen was acting in co-operation with the armies of Archduke Frederick of Austria. The Russian trenches were held by some 2,500,000 troops, many thousands of whom lacked rifles and all of whom were in need of ammunition. The supreme commander was the Grand Duke Nicholas, uncle of the Czar. The three principal Russian Army groups were commanded by General Alexeieff in the North, General Ivanoff in the Center and General Brusiloff in the South. At the beginning of the great battle, only the troops in the Galician sector were fully engaged.
Battle of the Dunajec Opens
On THE morning of May 2, 1915, the roar of 4,000 howitzers and field guns announced that the battle had begun. In the space of four hours, 700,000 shells were hurled at the Russian line, obliterating the trenches on a 40-mile front and blowing the greater part of Dmitrieff's army into eternity. Everything within the range of shell-fire was swept away—trees, wire emplacements, horses, vehicles and 150,000 men. Many who retreated from this inferno were caught in a cascade of shell-fire that fell upon the terrain at the rear of the main position.
General Brusiloff's Army Escapes Capture
A mere remnant of Dmitrieff's army effected their escape from the slaughter pen at Gorlice, retreating in confusion toward the Wisloka River. Mackensen's Phalanx of shock troops quickly pushed through the gap in the line and, separating into two columns began a wide enveloping movement in conjunction with the army of Boehm-Ermolli They planned to capture, not only the remnant of Dmitrieff's army, but the whole of General Brusiloff's army on the right. Dmitrieff's shattered army defeated this scissor-like movement by the stubbornness of its resistance, fighting rear-guard actions as it retreated, and enabling General Brusiloff to escape from the trap set for him. The Bavarian and Hungarian Armies, under General von Emmich and General Marting, strove mightily to reach the Western passes of the Carpathians before Brusiloff could effect his withdrawal, but he managed to elude them, though with a loss of 30,000 men.
The Battle on the Wisloka River
A New Russian line was formed on May 5, 1915, along the banks of the Wisloka River, and reinforcements were sent to the armies of General Dmitrieff and Ewerts. The German siege guns were again trained on the luckless Russians, who had but little artillery and less ammunition, to sustain the attack. Nothing daunted, General Ivanoff's Caucasian Corps, 50,000 strong, with their daggers and bayonets only, charged full upon the powerful German batteries, capturing one of them and taking 7,000 prisoners. After five days of savage fighting, the line swaying backward and forward across the river, the German artillery fire prevailed, and the brave Cossacks were forced to retreat with a loss of 20,000 men.
With the fall of Jaslo, on May 7, 1915, before the assault of General Mackensen, the whole defense of the Russians on the Wisloka collapsed and the Russians began a general retreat to a new position behind the San River, which they reached on May 12, 1915. In their retreat, the Russians had lost most of their artillery, but they had taken a toll of 130,000 dead or prisoners from the Germans, while their own losses were not less than 100,000.
Germans Retake Przemysl
Mackensen's army reached the San River on May 14, 1915, and two days later they forced a passage of the river at Jaroslav, compelling a further retirement of the Russian Army in that sector to the Grodak Lakes west of Lemberg. The Germans now aimed at cutting the line to the Przemysl. While Mackensen's army was seeking to envelop Przemysl from the North, the Austro-Hungarian armies in Galicia had crossed the San River and advanced north to complete the encirclement. On May 15, 1915, the Austro-German troops, by enormous sacrifices, hacked their way through the Russian trenches and barbed wire entanglements in their effort to reach the railway.
Subsequently, these trenches were recovered by the Russians, but on May 19, 1915, the Austrians regained them and two days later were threatening the Russian line of retreat. Boehm-Ermolli meanwhile was approaching the town from the south and other German- Austrian armies were pressing in from the West. The Russians, on May 24, 1915, in the hope of saving the garrison at Przemysl, launched a counter-offensive. Its chief incident was the storming of Sieniava by Ivanoff's corps on May 27, 1915 and the capture of 7,000 prisoners.
Przemysl was now invested on three sides, shells were cascading in the town, and the Germans had all but closed the sole avenue of Russian escape. But in the night the Russian garrison quietly withdrew, leaving a few gunners behind to protect their retreat. On June 2, 1915, the Germans swarmed into Przemysl, finding their prey gone. The Germans paid dearly for their victory, losing in all their campaigns in Galicia 600,000 troops in killed or captive. The Russian losses were 300,000.
Russians Hit Back Hard
Though forced into a general retreat, the Russians still were hitting back hard at the Huns. General Ewerts had smashed Archduke Joseph's army at Rudnik, almost annihilating three Austrian regiments and taking 4,000 prisoners. General Boehm- Ermolli's army was badly mauled on the road from Moscika to Lemberg after failing to storm the Russian positions by mass attacks. General von Linsengen, crossing the Dniester at Zuravno, was balked in his attempt to flank Brusiloff's army. Mackensen's army alone, with its 4,000 heavy guns, was able to batter the Russian line.
Cossack Heroism in Battle of Lubaczovka
On June 7, 1915, was begun one of the most spectacular battles of the retreat. Between Rawa-Ruska and Lemberg, on the line of the Lubaczovka River, General Mackensen with 500,000 men assaulted the Russian front. The battle raged furiously for a week, but finally on June 15, 1915, the incessant shell-fire and asphyxiating bombs opened a gap in the Russian line, through which the German Phalanx poured in great flanking movement. In this crisis, three regiments of Cossack cavalry, under General Polodchenko, charged like a whirlwind against the German masses, sabering them right and left and putting thousands to rout. Then, swerving to the rear, they put the German Reserves to confusion, capturing many machine guns, and sabering their way back to their own lines. In this daring exploit, the Cossacks lost only 200 in killed and wounded. It seemed to have weakened Mackensen's nerve; at any rate, General Ivanoff was enabled without molestation to withdraw his army 20 miles behind the Dniester River to a fortified position.
Evacuation of Lemberg
Lacking heavy artillery, and with less than half their infantry supplied with rifles and ammunition, the Russians could not hope much longer to stay the German-Austrian advance. General Ivanoff wisely decided to evacuate Lemberg on June 17, 1915, taking with him all his stores and baggage. General Boehm-Ermolli led his battered Austrian corps into the town on June 22, 1915, meeting with no resistances. General Ivanoff gradually withdrew to the line of the Bug River, with Boehm-Ermolli in pursuit. Southeast of Lemberg, Ivanoff turned upon him, annihilating one of his divisions of 25,000 men.
The Russians finally retreated behind the Sereth River, leaving the Germans in possession of Galicia. All the territory which Russia had gained in an eight months' campaign had been recovered by the Teutons in eight weeks. The Russians had lost nearly 800,000 men; one whole army had been destroyed, and their grip on Austria had been removed. The Teutonic Allies lost nearly 1,000,000 men in these engagements along the whole battle line.
Battle of Krasnik
Meanwhile, the German-Austrian advance into Poland was progressing. At Krasnik, on July 2d, the army of Archduke Joseph of Austria, while advancing toward Lublin, was halted by a Russian Army under General Loishche. Three days later, the Archduke fell back upon an intrenched position north of the town, losing 15,000 men. The Russian losses were 8,000. The army of General Mackensen also was stopped near Krastnostav on July 7, 1915.
The Fall of Przasnysz
For a week, or more, comparative quiet prevailed along the entire Eastern front. Then, on July 13, 1915, the army of General Gallwitz, supported by the army of General von Scholtz, launched a sudden assault on Przasnysz, now a mass of ruins. In the sector north of the city, the Russians had constructed a strong system of fortified positions. For miles in either direction there extended a series of parallel trenches, with bombproof dugouts deep underground. Millions of bags of sand were used as breastworks and in front of this barrier were piled hundreds of thousands of tree trunks. In addition there were many lines of barb-wire entanglements.
Instead of attacking the position from the front, General Gallwitz aimed simultaneous thrusts at the two flanks, preceded by a heavy bombardment of the whole line of trenches. The plan succeeded, and the Russian defenders barely had time to evacuate their trenches before the German pincers closed in upon Przasnysz. The Russians then fell back to the Narew River line, the last refuge in the Warsaw salient, closely pursued by the Germans.
Germans Capture Courland
The entire Russian line, from Courland to the Polish frontier, was now being assaulted. General von Below, on July 17, 1915, in far away Courland, had defeated the Russians at Alt-Auz. On the same day General von Woyrsch, in his advance on Ivangorod, pursued a Russian Army across the Ilzanka, while General Mackensen had compelled the Russians to evacuate Krastovor. Farther to the east, the Austro-Hungarian troops had crossed the Bug and Wolica Rivers. Archduke Joseph, on July 16, 1915, made ten separate assaults on the Krasnik-Lublin line, but was repulsed. The Russians, on July 19, 1915, retreated along the whole front from the Vistula to the Bug. One by one the defensive fortresses were falling.
National Call to Prayer
ON July 21, 1915, the bells in all the churches throughout Russia clanged a call to prayer for 24 hours' continual service of intercession for victory. Hour after hour, in spite of the heat, the people stood wedged in the churches while the priests and choirs chanted their litanies.
Lublin and Ivangorod Fall
While Russia was praying for deliverance from the Huns, the iron circle was closing in upon Warsaw. Lublin, Zamost and Nistau successively were captured. On July 28, 1915, General Woyrsch's army crossed the Vistula and threatened the Warsaw-Ivangorod Railroad. Four days later 100,000 Germans occupied the right bank of the Vistula. Ivangorod surrendered after a violent bombardment on August 4, 1915.
Evacuation of Warsaw
Rather than risk the bombardment of the city, the Grand Duke Nicholas wisely decided upon the evacuation of Warsaw. Lack of ammunition was also another deciding factor in the retreat. Before quitting the city on August 3 and August 4, 1915, however, the Russians had stripped it bare of all metals, such as church bells and machinery, that might possibly be of service to the Germans. All the crops in the surrounding fields had also been destroyed. At 3 o'clock on the morning of August 5, 1915, the last of the Russian troops had departed, after blowing up the bridges. Three hours later, the army of Prince Leopold of Austria occupied the city. He found it practically deserted. The citizens, to the number of 500,000, had fled into Russia, leaving behind in Warsaw a sprinkling of Poles and Jews.
In the campaign which ended in the capture of Warsaw, 5,500,000 troops were engaged. The losses totaled 1,500,000, about equally divided between the two combatant forces.
The Great Russian Retreat from Warsaw
After the evacuation of Warsaw, the Russian Armies fell back to a new line of defences, girdled by fortresses, stretching from Kovno in the North to the Roumanian border. The rupture of the Warsaw salient at its apex compelled the retirement of the Russian Armies from Russian-Poland. How to save his retreating armies from capture or annihilation was the problem which Grand Duke Nicholas had to face. His retreat was a masterpiece of strategy.
The whole Eastern war front, at first 700 miles long, was gradually shortened to 600 miles by the end of October. At the north of the line, from the Gulf of Riga to Novo Georgievsk, Field Marshal Hindenberg with four German armies, faced General Alexeieff with a group of Russian Armies. In the center of the Eastern battle-front, Prince Leopold's armies faced the Russian group directed by General Ewerts. At the Southern end of the line, the armies of General Macken- sen and General Ivanoff were in opposition. The Germans and Austrians were well supplied with cannon and ammunition, while the Russian supplies failed during critical periods.
Fall of Forts Kovno and Novo Georgievsk
Hindenberg launched his first attack on the strong Kovno Fort on August 8th, at the same time sending out two columns of troops to cut the Warsaw-Petrograd Railway and seize Lomza. Kovno, with its eleven outlying fortresses, held out until August 18, 1915, when it surrendered under circumstance implying treachery. Indeed, the commander at Kovno, was afterward courtmartialed for treason. The fort yielded the Germans 400 guns and 4,000 prisoners. Two days later, Novo Georgievsk, then in flames from the bombardment, surrendered with 700 guns and 85,000 prisoners. Emperor William and the German General Staff graced the occasion with their presence. The fall of Kovno rendered necessary the withdrawal of all Russian forces along the Niemen sector. Their retreat to Vilna was safely affected.
Fort Grodno Evacuated
Grodno, the last stronghold on the Niemen, was invested on August 31, 1915. The Germans had brought up their heaviest siege guns for this purpose and a terrific bombardment followed for two days. The Russians quietly evacuated the fort on the night of September 1, 1915. When Hindenberg's army entered the fort on the following day, they found the place vacated.
Czar Nicholas Takes Command of Army
Grand Duke Nicholas, though he had outgeneralled Hindenberg and Mackensen repeatedly, was now deposed as chief commander of the Army and appointed Viceroy of the Caucasus. The first murmurings of red revolution were heard in Russia and Czar Nicholas thought that, by taking chief command himself, he might be able to restore the weakening morale of the Army and the nation. Accordingly, by Imperial ukase, dated September 5, 1915, the Czar assumed personal direction of the Armies of Russia, naming General Alexeieff as his Chief of Staff.
Germans Called to the Balkans
The Balkan situation now claimed the attention of the German high command and the pursuit of the Russians was abandoned. General Mackensen, with four German armies, withdrew from the line and started for the Danube front. The German line was reorganized into four army groups : One, under Hindenberg, occupying a front extending from Riga to the Niemen; a second, under Prince Leopold of Bavaria, from the Niemen to Pinsk; a third, under Linsengen, from Pinsk to Rovno, and a fourth, under the Archduke Frederick, from Rovno to Bukowina.
Brusiloff’s Victory at Tarnopol
Under the Czar's leadership, the morale of the Army seemed to improve and ammunition now began to flow to the armies. General Brusiloff, on September 8th, smashed a German column near Tarnopol, capturing many guns and 17,000 prisoners.
Vilna Also Taken
The investment of Vilna began on Sept. 15th, with the bitterest fighting of the whole retreat. Enveloped on three sides with its path of escape occupied by massed cavalry, the Army of Occupation fought its way out to the great chagrin of General Eichhorn, the "conqueror," who forthwith occupied the city on September 18, 1915.
Attack on Riga Fails
A joint naval and land attack on Riga was launched by the Germans, but their attempted landing at Pernau was blocked. The attempt to bombard Riga was repulsed by the Russian Baltic Fleet, the Germans suffering heavy losses. Brest-Litovsk, Lutsk and Dubna fell to the Germans in quick succession.
Retreat Ends at Last
By The end of September, the Russians were able to establish a strong line from Riga to Dvinsk along the River Dvina. This line was protected at Riga by the guns of the fleet, and at Dvinsk by the Petrograd Railway. Repeated attempts were made to pierce the new line at Dvinsk, but without success and the Germans suffered heavily in each attempt. The German advance had been finally stopped. Although several minor engagements were fought along the line during November, no battles of importance resulted.
Russians Lose 1,300,000 Men in 1915
During the retreat, the Russians lost 1,250,000 in prisoners and 350,000 in dead and wounded, besides thousands of field guns. They had surrendered 100,000 square miles of territory of the Germans, including all of Poland, but they still were unconquered and their army was intact.
Outnumbered, outgunned and victims of basest treachery, the Russian soldiers had given a good account of themselves. The German losses also approximated 1,000,000 on the Eastern front, in prisoners and casualties during the year 1915.