The Siege and Capture of the Fortress of Przemysl

Russian Army, 100,000 General Selivanoff Austrian Army, 120,000 General Kusmanek The most spectacular victory in the Eastern theater of war during the year 1915 was the Russian capture of the town and fortress of Przemysl, in Galicia.

The Russians had laid siege to this fortress in September, 1914, but the investment had been broken on October 15th, and additional Austrian troops had been rushed to the defense of the town.

After the fall of the fortress towns of Jaroslav and Chyrow, the Russians were enabled to renew the siege on November 12, 1914. The fortress was then defended by a garrison of 120,000 men, under command of General von Kusmanek, and the Russian besieging force of 100,000 was directed by General Selivanoff.

General Selivanoff, not caring to risk a ground siege with his 6-inch guns, had gradually closed in upon Przemysl on all sides by underground operations. With so large a garrison to feed, it was obvious that the fortress must eventually surrender unless the Russian siege circle could be pierced.

Foreseeing this peril, General von Kusmanek, in November and December, had sent out sorties to break through the Russian line, but without success. Two Austro-Hungarian armies at this time were attempting to cross the Carpathians and hasten to the relief of Przemysl, but being held in check by the armies of Brusiloff and Ivanoff, the fortress was doomed.

The pressure around Przemysl tightened during January and February. On March 13th, the Russians broke through the outer line of defense at Malkovise and assaulted the inner line.

By March 19, 1915, the luckless garrison were at the point of starvation; even the last of their horses had been devoured. Emboldened by hunger, a force of 30,000 Hungarians marched out from the forts with the desperate resolve to raid the Russian food base at Mosciska, 20 miles away.

Their route led them past the strongest of all the Russian artillery positions. When the Hungarians reached this position, they were annihilated by a tempest of shells, machine-gun fire and rifle bullets. The slaughter was almost complete, only 4,000 surviving the massacre.

Seeing that surrender was inevitable, General Kusmanek ordered the destruction of the munitions within the fort, and the demolition of all bridges.

On March 22, 1914 the formal capitulation took place. In all, 120,000 prisoners fell to the Russians, including nine generals, 93 superior officers, 2,500 subalterns and 117,000 soldiers, besides 1,000 pieces of ordnance.

The capture of Przemysl deprived Austria of four army corps and released Selivanoff's army of 100,000 for service elsewhere along the Russian line.

Third Austrian Army Stopped in Dukla Pass

The Third Austrian Army, commanded by General Boehm-Ermolli, in the meantime, had been endeavoring to force the Dukla and Lupkow Passes of the Carpathians. Boehm-Ermolli did succeed in penetrating part way through the Lupkow Pass, forcing General Brusiloif to fall back from Baligrod, but General Dmitrieff had come to Brusiloff's assistance and the Austrian armies were finally stopped. The Russians thus secured control of the southern ends of the Dukla Passes.

For a month or more, General Brusiloff strove mightily to gain control of the Eastern passes as well, but he could not dislodge the Austrians from the heights. In one flanking movement, on February 7, 1915, the Russians took 17,000 prisoners. The Austrian invasion, however, had failed to attain its major purposes, namely, to expel the Russians from Bukowina and to relieve the besieged garrison at Przemysl.