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Chris Boonzaier

Eastern Front...

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Chris Boonzaier

The following is put together from German and Austrian sources to try and get an article about the northern sector of the Brussliow offensive (i.e. concentrating on the German sector, while still having a brief overview.)

I have used 3 sources, all seem to view the events rather differently.

Please ignore the spelling, gammer etc, this is a very rough work piece, basically just a corner stone. It would be a big help if you could

1) point out where my understanding of the events may be at fault

2) point out any leaps in logic that only I understand :blink:

Thanks

Chris

.In May 1916 the troops of the Entente were heavily engaged. On the Western front the fighting at Verdun was raging, in the Tyrol the Austro-Hungarians had thrown their best units against the Italians and trouble was brewing on the Somme.

The Austrians had withdrawn their quality troops from the Eastern Front to the Italian front without informing the Germans and now the allies, especially the Italian Govt were appealing to the Russian Tsar Nikolaus II to launch an offensive to draw in German and Austro Hungarian reserves from their respective fronts. The Tsar, as he had done in 1914 and 1915, did his best to accomodate.

The Russian high command however, complained that they lacked men and material for such an offensive. Only General Brussilow declared himself willing to undertake an offensive at short notice. Brussilow knew he could not rely on the support of his fellow Generals, he lacked both artillery and men and any succes would be due to his leadership and planning, not to any material advantage. The powerful "Brussilow" offensive would hit the Entente at a weak spots on the eastern front, in a wide area stretching from the southern part of the Pripet swamps down to Bukowina. Brussilow believed that by attacking at numerous places on this front he could keep the enemy off balance, never sure where to send their reserves. The Russians would send four armies against a weak Austro-Hungarian front strenghthened by a couple of German divisions in the North (Division Linsingen and Division Bothmer). The German troops were in a minority, it was questionable if they would able to make a major difference... in the end they did !

The offensive started on the 4th June 1916 after a short and heavy barrage. Sending shock troops out in front, followed by larger bodies of men, Brussilow helped pioneer a "Sturm" tactic that the Germans would perfect a year later. The Austrian 4th and 7th armies were swept away and within a week the Russians had forced a bulge in the Entente lines that measured 100Kms in width and 40Kms in depth. If the German 108th Division (at Luck) and General v. Bernhardi's 92nd Division with the Garde-Ulanen-Briagde (on the Sierna river) had not stood their ground the Russians would have swept into Kowel (an important Railway hub) and Wladimir-Wolynsk. To the South the Russians were swallowing a large portion of Bukovina and the Austrians were close to suffering a major defeat.

The Austrians desperately recalled units from the Italian front and a furious Kaiser was forced to send reserves earmarked for Verdun to the eastern front. The initial success of the attack came as such a suprise to the Russians that they missed a large opportunity. Their reserves had been kept to far back and they were not able to exploit their breakthrough as well as they could have. Added to that, other Russian Generals, maybe due to jealousy over Brussilows success, refused to launch already planned diversionary attacks to the North of the Prijpet swamp to draw off more German troops, in fact, the inactivity of these Generals allowed the Germans to send trrops in those sectors to the South to join those coming from the West. Days passed as Brussilow prepared his troops in front of the German positions, all the while the German reserves were flooding to the front.

With his newly arrived troops General Linsingen planned a counter attack, an attack that coincided with Brussilows..the two assaults met head on and both sides fought furiously, the battle lasting until mid July with the fronts pushing backwards and forwards between the Styr and Stochod rivers.

In v. Bernhardis sector (where the Division Rusche was fighting) a Russian breakthrough seemed eminent, but the arrival of the 107 I.D. and the 11. b.I.D. strenghthened the front. The Divisions under v.d. Marwitz then arrived on the front, and the 43rd R.D. began to methodically break through the Russian defensive lines reaching the area of Kisielin. Upon the arrival of the 22 I.D. v.d. Marwitz began a second "front" attacking southwards as well. On the 1st July German attacks pushed the Russians back between the Lipa and Polionka rivers. In the meantime the Russian right flank had strenghthened and heavy fighting took place on the Styr and Stochod lines.

As their Austro-Hungarian neighbours were giving ground, the Germans were forced to as well. By mid July they had taken up positions on the west bank of the Stochod, the Russians on the east. It was now a question of when the Russian attack on Kowel would take place as the Germans continued to rush reserves forward.

Brussilow was not to keep them waiting long, by the end of the month he was ready to strike again, this time concentrating on the flanks he planned to cross the Stochod and march on Kowel, The Tsar had ordered his Generals to cooperate with Brussilow and he now had six armies, a total of 700 000 men and large amounts of artillery...

With far more men and artillery than he had had at the outset, Brussilow changed tactics. Instead of his short barrages with suprise attacks he changed to long barrages with massed attacks. This slowed the Russians down and gave the Germans time to prepare, it would cost Brussilows men many lives.

The German divisions under Litzmann, Falkenhayn and v. Bernhardi were attacked by a force made up of the cream of the Russian infantry and elite Garde Units, the fighting was furious but they stood their ground. For all their efforts and heavy losses the Russians only gained minimal ground in the Janowka area. The Germans had managed to fight back attack after attack and bring the Russian offensive to a halt.

It did not take long for the fighting to flare up again, this time in the Swiniuchy area. With no thought to losses the Russians attacked on a front stretching from the Stochod, through Kisielin to the Lipa. Linsingen and his staff waited anxiously to see if the front would hold. It did, in the few areas where the Russians broke through they were met by rapid counter attacks. In this sector the Russians were to loose fantastic amounts of men as well, the gains also being minimal.

On other sectors of the wide offensive Brussilow was meeting with success. In Bukovina he was on the march and the Austrians could do little to stop him. Romania, until now neutral decided at this moment to enter the war. Seeing the potential of easy pickings in the Balkans she entered on the Allied side. At more or less the same time Generalfeldmarschall v. Hindenburg and General Ludendorff left the easten front and the overall command was taken by Prince Leopold von Bayern.

To help assure an easier entry into the war for Romania, Brussliow attacked again, this time he hoped, for the final time. He was sure that the front could no longer hold. The Germans had few men to spare, the battle of the Somme was raging, and a new enemy had appeared in the Balkans, surely a breakthrough was now possible....

The new offensive came as a right hook on the Northern flank as 23 Russian divisions pushed forward towards Kowel. At Sylwow where the Russians had broken through the men of the 10. Landwehr Division counter attacked and closed the gap pierced in the line. The Germans continued their forward movement and captured Swiniuchy for a second time. In the second half of September Brussilow launched more attempts in the Lucker Bogen area, these to were to fail. The Brussilow offensive ended on the 8th October 1916, the Russians having gained little ground on the German front. To the South Brussilows troops had reached the Carpathans but this hurdle proved to be to large for them.

The Germans considered the fighting around Kowel to be a tactical victory, but there was no way of denying the larger picture, the Russians had gained much ground in the South, but at a cost of 1 000 000 men dead, wounded and missing it was an expensive victory. The losses had an obvious negative effect on moral and would contribute to the troops suceptibility to talk of revolution in the coming months. For the Austro-Hungarian army it was a bitter defeat. The Germans would now have to shoulder the eastern front Burden from that point on, with Austrian units supporting them. They would fight and regain the ground lost, breaking the Russian army just one year later.

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