On March 13, 1915, the Russians stormed and captured the village of Malkovise, on the northeast, breaking through the outer line of the defense. From this position they began to bombard parts of the inner ring. About the beginning of the third week in March, 1915, a new spirit of activity appeared to seize the beleaguered garrison: they commenced a terrific cannonade which, however, elicited no response. It was but the energy of despair: they were firing to get rid of their ammunition, hoping at the same time to hit something or somebody. The end was at hand.
On March 18, 1915, a Petrograd "official" laconically reports that: "In the Przemysl sector the fortress guns continue to fire more than a thousand heavy projectiles daily, but our troops besieging the fortress lose only about ten men every day." It is also on March 18 that General von Kusmanek issued the following manifesto to the defenders of Przemysl:—"Heroes, I announce to you my last summons. The honor of our country and our army demands it. I shall lead you to pierce with your points of steel the iron circles of the enemy, and then march ever farther onward, sparing no efforts, until we rejoin our army, which, after heavy fighting, is now near us."
Just before the surrender two Austrian officers escaped from the fortress in an aeroplane. These reported concerning the last days of the siege:
"On the 18th of March the last provisions had been dealt out and at the same time the last attempt at breaking through the line of the besiegers had been ordered. This was carried out on the night of the 19th of March. It was shattered, however, against the unbreakable manifold ring of the Russian inclosing lines and against the superior forces which were brought in time to the threatened points. Our men were so weakened by their long fasting that it took them fully seven hours to make the march of seven kilometers, and even in this short stretch many of them had to lie down from exhaustion, yet they fought well and were bravely led by their officers.
"In spite of all this," Captain Lehmann, one of the escaped officers, reported, "the heroic garrison fought on, after their last sortie, for fully forty-eight hours, against assaults of the Russians which now set in with terrific violence. The men of the fortress were fully informed of the situation by an announcement of the commander. They knew that the provisions were at an end and this very knowledge spurred them on to make their last sacrifice. Practically all the nations of the monarchy were represented in the fortress. Tyrolese Landsturm held the south, Hungarians the west, Ruthenians and Poles the north, and lower Austrians the east. To this last battle the troops marched out singing, striving thus to master their weakness. On this occasion the above mentioned notice had fallen into the hands of the Russians and the prospect had thus been opened to them to seize the fortress with little effort. For two days and nights all the works of Przemysl were taken under, an uninterrupted terrible artillery fire, including that of modern howitzers of all calibers, up to eighteen centimeters. Then followed an assault at night on the east front, which, however, was again bloodily repelled."
Starvation is conducive neither to good feeling nor heroism, especially when it is superimposed upon an unbroken series of more or less disastrous experiences. Misfortune and the so-called "tradition of defeat" had dogged the steps of Austria's troops from the beginning of the war; unlucky generals—Dankl, Auffenberg, and others—had been relieved of their commands and replaced by "new blood"—Boehm-Ermolli, Boroyevitch von Bojna, and Von Pflanzer-Baltin. Of these three, two had as yet failed in carrying to success the German plans which had taken the place of those of their own strategists. Hence it is not at all improbable that the reports of dissensions among the garrison, which leaked out at the time, were substantially accurate. That jealousies broke out among the numerous races forming the Austrian Army—especially between the Slavonic and Germanic elements—is supported by strong evidence. The sentiments of the Slav subjects of Austria leaned more toward Russia than the empire of which they formed a considerable portion, while there was never any love lost between them and the Magyars. However that may be, the Slav regiments were reported to have refused obedience to the general's order for the last sortie, which was eventually undertaken by a force composed of the Twenty-third Hungarian Honved Division, a regiment of Hussars, and a Landwehr brigade, altogether about 30,000 men. Everything depended upon the venture, for not only were all their food supplies used up, but they had already eaten most of their horses. Instead, therefore, of making southward to where their comrades were fighting hard to tear themselves away from the Carpathian passes, the sortie turned toward the east, in the direction of Mosciska, twenty miles off, which was supposed to be the Russian supply base. This attempted foraging expedition—for it was nothing else—can only be defended on the broad general principle that it is better to do something than nothing as a last resort. Supplies were essential before any more could be undertaken to cut a passage through the strong double set of Russian lines that lay between the Carpathians and Przemysl; but that these supplies were stored at Mosciska was a pure speculation. Further, considering that the whole country was in their opponents' hands, a strength of 30,000 men was insufficient to attempt so hazardous an adventure. Even if they succeeded in breaking through, their return to the fortress was not assured. In that case, if they could not get back, they would have to go forward: eastward lay Lemberg, held by the Russians; northward was the Russian frontier, and southward stood the Russian forces holding the passes. Thus, in any case, however successful the expedition might prove, it meant breaking at least twice through lines which the enemy had spent months in strengthening or fortifying. Undeterred by the almost certain possibility of failure, the expedition of the "forlorn hope" set out across the plain of the San—and speedily came to grief. They had to pass by the strongest Russian artillery position, which was stationed in the low hollow through which the railway runs to Lemberg. Here a terrific hail of shells burst over their heads; rattle of machine guns and rifle fire tore great holes in their ranks; the stoutest courage and bravest hearts were unavailing against an enemy who could not be reached nor even seen. The number of killed and wounded in that fatal sortie has not been made public; that it was an enormous figure is certain. The Russians took 4,000 prisoners of those who survived the ordeal, and captured the forts on the western side directly after the struggling remnants had regained their starting place. General von Kusmanek issued his manifesto in the morning, and by the same night the sortie ended in disaster. Like the misdirected charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava in 1854, it was "brilliant, but it wasn't war."
One more attempt was made on Saturday, March 20, 1915, toward Oikovice, but it was easily frustrated by the vigilant Russians. On Sunday and Monday, the 21st and 22d of March, a number of explosions were heard in and around Przemysl. The Austrians were destroying everything possible previous to surrendering. Large quantities of explosives were thrown in the river; all kinds of arms were destroyed or rendered useless; three bridges were crippled; the few remaining horses were shot, and a railway bridge over the Wiar, which possessed no strategic value, was also destroyed. These tactics of destroying approaches naturally isolated the town more than ever, and made it exceedingly difficult afterward to convey food supplies to the starving population.
On Monday morning, March 22, 1915, the Austrian chief of staff appeared outside the lines of Przemysl under a flag of truce. He was blindfolded, driven by automobile to Russian headquarters, and ushered into the presence of General Selivanoff. When the bandage had been removed from his eyes, the Austrian officer handed over a letter of capitulation from General von Kusmanek, which ran as follows:
"In consequence of the exhaustion of provisions and stores, and in compliance with instructions received from my supreme chief, I am compelled to surrender the Imperial and Royal Fortress of Przemysl to the Imperial Russian Army."
The Russians took charge without any triumphal display. Some officers were sent to receive the surrender and take stock of the spoils. General von Kusmanek himself supplied the inventory, in which were listed 9 generals, 93 superior officers, 2,500 "Offiziere und Beamten" (subalterns and officials), and 117,000 rank and file, besides 1,000 pieces of ordnance, mostly useless, and a large quantity of shells and rifle cartridges.
General Artamoff was appointed military governor and to superintend the process of dispatching the prisoners into Russian territory, which was carried out at the rate of 10,000 a day. Extensive arrangements were set on foot to supply the inhabitants with food, drink, and other necessaries of life. As the Russians had not bombarded the town, its natural and artificial beauties had suffered no damage beyond that which the Austrians had themselves inflicted; only the outskirts and the fortifications had been injured by fire and explosion.
Thus fell, on March 22, 1915, Przemysl, "by its own momentum like an overripe fruit," and with a garrison twice as large as would have been adequate to defend it. To Austria the blow was a severe one, for it cost her about four army corps; the immediate advantage it brought to the Russians was the release of Selivanoff's army of 100,000 men, who were urgently required elsewhere. It was only a week earlier that the commander in chief of all the Austro-Hungarian armies, the Archduke Frederick, had granted an interview to an American journalist (Dr. J. T. Roche), in the course of which he stated: "We have only recently reached the point where we are really prepared to carry on a campaign as it should be carried under modern conditions of warfare. Now that our organization has been completed and all branches of the service are working harmoniously, we entertain no doubts as to our ability to hold the enemy at all points and to drive him back from that section of Galicia which is still in his possession."
* * * * *
NEW RUSSIAN OFFENSIVE—AUSTRO-GERMAN COUNTEROFFENSIVE
Three days before the fall of Przemysl the Russians abandoned the defensive and commenced a vigorous attack on the Carpathian front. Active preparations for the advance had been completed when the capitulation of the fortress was to be expected any hour. Having so far held the Germanic armies in check, it was necessary for the Russians to regain complete control of the Carpathians and the passes before the snow should begin to melt, especially if they decided on an invasion of Hungary. On the other hand, before any offensive could be undertaken against the Germans in Poland, or the Austrians at Cracow, it was imperative to secure the southern flank in Galicia. They had by this time partially grasped one particular feature of German strategy, namely, to parry a blow from one direction by striking in another. A further consideration may have been the absolute certainty that Germany would dispatch more reenforcements to the aid of her ally. Selivanoff's siege army was distributed between Dmitrieff, Brussilov, and Ivanoff, but they could not be employed to full advantage owing to the restricted area presented by the Germanic front. Being largely composed of siege artillery as well as cavalry, a considerable portion of Selivanoff's army was unsuited for mountain warfare. Cavalry were converted into infantry, but could not be supplied with the necessary equipment; they had no bayonets, and most of the fighting was hand-to-hand.
Great masses of Germanic reserves were concentrating in northern Hungary, into which the Russians had driven a thin wedge south of Dukla, where they held an isolated outpost near Bartfeld. To leave this position undeveloped meant compulsory withdrawal or disaster. With the continual influx of reenforcements on both sides, the struggle for the main passes gradually develops into an ever-expanding and unbroken battle front: all the gaps are being filled up. From Dukla westward to the Dunajec-Biala line and the Carpathian foothills a new link is formed by the Fourth Austrian Army, commanded by the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, with two and a half army corps and one German division. In the Central Carpathians a fifth army, under the command of the Austrian General von Bojna, appears between the forces of Boehm-Ermolli and those of Von Linsingen. Right away eastward the purely Austrian army of Von Pflanzer-Baltin was holding the Pruth Valley. The Germanic chain was complete, with every link welded together.
When the Russian offensive opened on March 19, 1915, the entire battle line still rested on the northern side of the Carpathians, and here the struggle was resumed. The Russian grand attack was directed between the Lupkow and Uzsok passes, where great forces of the enemy, concentrated for the purpose of relieving Przemysl, were stationed. In the western sector, facing Dmitrieff, the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand held the roads leading from Novy-Sacz and Grybow to Tarnow, covering Cracow; and from south of the range the two roads diverging from Zboro to Gorlice and Jaslo were in Russian possession, though the Austrians held their junction at Zboro, eight miles north of Bartfeld. Of the actual fighting that took place in this region very few details were published by the Russian official communique. One of these documents, dated April 18, 1915, announced that on March 23, "our troops had already begun their principal attack in the direction of Baligrod, enveloping the enemy positions from the west of the Lupkow Pass and on the east near the sources of the San. The enemy opposed the most desperate resistance to the offensive of our troops. They had brought up every available man on the front from the direction of Bartfeld as far as the Uzsok Pass, including even German troops and numerous cavalrymen fighting on foot. The effectives on this front exceeded 300 battalions. Moreover, our troops had to overcome great natural difficulties at every step. In the course of the day, March 23, 1915, we captured more than 4,000 prisoners, a gun, and several dozen machine guns."
On March 24, 1915, the battle was in full progress: "Especially severe is the fighting for the crest of the mountain south of Jasliska and to the west of the Lupkow Pass. The forests which cover these mountains offer special facilities for the construction of strong fortifications." March 25: "The woods in the Lupkow region are a perfect entanglement of barbed wire... surrounded by several layers of trenches, strengthened by deep ditches and palisades. On this day our troops carried by assault a very important Austrian position on the great crest of the Beskid Mountains." The Russian captures for the day amounted to 100 officers, 5,600 men, and a number of machine guns. Advancing from Jasliska the Russians seriously threatened the Austro-German position in the Laborcza Valley, to which strong reenforcements were sent on March 25. With terrific violence the battle raged till far into the night of the 27th, the Russians forcing their way to within seven miles of the Hungarian frontier.
In eight days they had taken nearly 10,000 prisoners. By the night of March 28, 1915, the entire line of sixty miles from Dukla to Uzsok was ablaze—the storm was spreading eastward. Like huge ant hills the mountains swarmed with gray and bluish specks—each a human being—some to the waist in snow, stabbing and hacking at each other ferociously with bayonet, sword, or lance, others pouring deadly fire from rifle, revolver, machine gun, and heavy artillery. Over rocks slippery with blood, through cruel barbed-wire entanglements and into crowded trenches the human masses dash and scramble. Here, with heavy toll, they advanced; there, and with costlier sacrifice, they were driven back. Fiery Magyars, mechanical Teutons and stolid muzhiks mixed together in an indescribable hellbroth of combative fury and destructive passion. Screaming shells and spattered shrapnel rent the rocks and tore men in pieces by the thousand. Round the Lupkow Pass the Russians steadily carved their way forward, and at the close of the day, March 29, 1915, they had taken 76 officers, 5,384 men, 1 trench mortar, and 21 machine guns. Along the Baligrod-Cisna road the fighting proceeded, up to March 30, by day and night.
Gradually the Russians pushed toward Dvernik and Ustrzyki south of Lutoviska, threatening the Austrian position in the Uzsok and lines of communications to the south. German reserves were hurried up from the base at Ungvar, but could not prevent the capture of 80 Austrian officers, over 5,000 men, 14 machine guns, and 4 pieces of cannon. Ivanoff had been careful to hold his portion of Selivanoff's army in reserve; their presence turned the scale.
On the day and night of March 31, 1915, the Russians stormed and carried the Austrian positions 4,000 feet high up on the Poloniny range during a heavy snowstorm. So deep was the snow in places that movement was impossible; the trampling of the charging battalions rushing down over the slopes dislodged avalanches of snow, overwhelming both attackers and defenders. By April 1, 1915, the Russians approached Volosate, only twelve miles from the rear of the Uzsok Pass, from which they were now separated by a low ridge. Holding full possession of the Poloniny range farther west, they commanded the road from Dvernik to Vetlina. From the north other Russian columns captured Michova on the Smolnik-Cisna railroad, crossed the Carpathians, and penetrated into the Virava Valley. Occupying the entire loop of the Sanok-Homona railway north and south of Lupkow, and Mezo-Laborcz toward Dukla, the Russians now threatened the Austrian mountain positions between Lupkow and the Vetlina-Zboj road from the western flank as well. Violent winter storms raged across the Carpathians on April 2 and 3, 1915; nature spread a great white pall over the scenes of carnage. While the elements were battling, the weary human fighting machine rested and bound its wounds. But not for long. Scarcely had the last howls of the blizzard faded away when the machine was again set in motion.
South of Dukla and Lupkow and north of Uzsok fighting was resumed with intense vigor. Painfully digging through the snowdrifts the Austrians retired from the Smolnik-Kalnica line, now no longer tenable. Storm hampered the pursuing enemy, who captured the Cisna railway station on April 4, 1915, with all its rolling stock and large stores of munitions.
On April 6, 1915, a Russian communique announced that "during the period from March 20 to April 3, 1915, we took prisoners in the Carpathians, on the front from Baligrod to Uzsok, 378 officers, 11 doctors, and 33,155 men. We captured 17 guns and 101 machine guns. Of these captives 117 officers, 16,928 men, 8 guns, and 59 machine guns were taken on a front of fifteen versts (10 miles)."
The Russians again advanced along their whole front on April 4, 1915; forcing their way along the Rostoki stream, they carried the village of Rostoki Gorne with the bayonet and penetrated the snow-bound Rostoki Pass. Their first line arrived at a Hungarian village called Orosz-Russka, five miles from Nagy Polena, at the foot of the pass. The Austrians attempted to drive them back, but they held their ground.
While fortune was steadily following the efforts of the czar's troops in the Lupkow-Uzsok sector, the German War Staff were preparing their plans for the great decisive blow that was soon to be struck. South of the Carpathians, barely thirty miles away, formidable reenforcements were collecting; they arrived from the East Prussian front, from Poland, and even from the west, where they had faced the French and British. There were also new formations fresh from Germany. General von der Marwitz arrived in the Laborcza Valley with a whole German army corps. These gigantic preparations were not unknown to the Russians; they, also, strained every nerve to throw all available reenforcements behind and into the battle line, strengthening every position except one. South of the Lupkow the Germanic forces opened their counteroffensive on April 6, 1915. Official reports on the first day's fighting differ somewhat. The Russians admit a slight German advance, but assert that they were able to withstand all further attacks. The Germans, on the other hand, claim great successes and the capture of 6,000 Russian prisoners.
The Germanic armies in this case, however, certainly did advance, for the Russians withdrew from the Virava Valley, which they had entered four days earlier. The first object of the counteroffensive was to save the Austrians who were holding the frontier south of Lupkow from being enveloped and cut off. But on April 9, 1915, the Russians again moved forward, and recovered part of the Virava Valley. By this day the whole mountain crest from Dukla to Uzsok, a distance of over seventy miles, had been conquered by the Russians. By the same night they had repulsed a counterattack near the Rostoki and captured a battalion of Austrian infantry. The Russian report sums up thus: "We seized Height 909 (909 meters=3,030 feet) with the result that the enemy was repulsed along the entire length of the principal chain of the Carpathians in the region of our offensive."
For the next three days Brussilov attempted to work his way to the rear of the Uzsok position with his right wing from the Laborcz and Ung valleys, while simultaneously continuing his frontal attacks against Boehm-Ermolli and Von Bojna. Cutting through snow sometimes more than six feet deep, the Russians approached at several points within a distance of three miles from the Uzsok Valley. But the Austrians still held the Opolonek mountain group in force. Severe fighting then developed northwest of the Uzsok on the slopes between Bukoviec and Beniova; the Russians captured the village of Wysocko Nizne to the northeast, which commands the only roads connecting the Munkacz-Stryj and the Uzsok-Turka lines. Though both sides claimed local successes, they appear to have fought each other to a deadlock, for very little fighting occurred in this zone after April 14, 1915. Henceforth Brussilov directed his main efforts to the Virava and Cisna-Rostoki sector. From here and Volosate, where there had been continuous fighting since the early days of April, the Russians strove desperately for possession of the Uzsok. They were now only two or three days' march from the Hungarian plains.
Between April 17 and 20, 1915, a vigorous Austrian counterattack failed to check the Russian advance. Between Telepovce and Zuella, two villages south of the Lupkow, the Russians noiselessly approached the Austrian barbed-wire entanglements, broke through, and after a brief bayonet encounter gained possession of two heights and captured the village of Nagy Polena, a little farther to the east. During the night of April 16-17, 1915, the Russians took prisoners 24 officers, 1,116 men, and 3 machine guns.
On April 18, 1915, the Austrians directed several fierce attacks against the heights south of Telepovce, but were compelled to evacuate the approaches to their positions. Here, also, an Austrian battalion was cut off and forced to surrender. Meanwhile the fighting was gradually decreasing in intensity; the great Carpathian campaign had reached the end of another chapter. The Austro-German offensive had failed in its purpose. From Uzsok eastward there had been but little fighting after the Russian recapture of Stanislawow.
* * * * *
CAMPAIGN IN GALICIA AND BUKOWINA—BATTLE OF THE DUNAJEC
While the struggle for the passes was raging in the central Carpathians an interesting campaign was being conducted in Eastern Galicia and the Bukowina between Von Pflanzer-Baltin and Lechitsky. There we left the Russians in possession of Stanislawow, which they had reoccupied on March 4, 1915. Two days before, an Austrian detachment of infantry and two divisions of cavalry attempted a raid into Russian territory near the Bessarabian frontier. Within forty-eight hours they were hurled back. Beyond local skirmishes and maneuvering for positions, nothing of importance happened from March 4 till the 15th, when the Russians attacked the main Austrian forces southeast of Czernowitz. Crossing the River Pruth opposite Ludihorecza, which lies about 600 feet high, and where the Czernowitz waterworks are situated, the Russians occupied the place and threatened the Austrian position in the town, around which pressed laborers were digging trenches night and day for the defenders. Along the line between Sadagora and Old Zuczka the Russians had been settled for over six months. The Austrians attacked this position on March 21, 1915, with the aid of reenforcements and compelled the Russians to evacuate Sadagora. While falling back in the south the Russians endeavored to advance in the north, from the direction of Czerniavka, and outflank the Austrians. Violent fighting raged for several days, especially northeast from Czernowitz to beyond Rarancze, with the result that the Russians were compelled to withdraw toward Bojan, near their own frontier, on March 27. Three days later some Hungarian Honved battalions, who had penetrated into Russian territory near Szylowce, were surrounded by Cossacks and severely handled. Besides many killed and wounded the Austrians lost over 1,000 prisoners, and by April 2, 1915, the Russians had thrown the remainder back across their borders. On April 10, 1915, the Russians withdrew from Boyan, but returned on the 14th. Here, at the close of April, they concentrated large reenforcements and recovered most of the ground they had lost since the middle of March.
Some twenty miles northwest of Czernowitz, sheltered in a loop of the Dniester, lies an important fortified town called Zaleszczyki. It had a population of over 76,000, and is a station on the branch line connecting Czortkow junction with the Kolomca-Czernowitz railway. From the dense forests east of the town an Austrian column commanded by Count von Bissingen had attempted during the night of March 22-23, 1915, to turn the adjacent Russian positions, held by Cossacks and Siberian fusiliers. A furious fight developed, and the Austro-Hungarian column, which included some of the finest troops, was repulsed with heavy loss. Two other attempts were made here, on April 10 and 17, 1915. On the latter date a detachment of Tyrolese sharpshooters were trapped in the wire entanglements and annihilated.
One more battle on a big scale remains to be chronicled from the far eastern sector; it may also serve to illustrate the wide divergence that not infrequently exists between official communiques recording the same event. Early in April, 1915, a Russian force threw a bridge across the Dniester near the village of Filipkowu and moved along the road running from Uscie Biskupie via Okna and Kuczurmik on to Czernowitz, the intention being to turn the Austrian positions south of Zaleszczyki from the rear. We will let the rival communiques relate what happened:
Austrian Version Russian Version Annihilated two battalions Annihilated two battalions of Russian infantry belonging of the Honveds; captured 21 to the Alexander Regiment; officers, over 1,000 rank and took 1,400 prisoners, and file, and 8 machine guns. drove Russians back beyond the Dniester.
The curtain was about to rise for the next act, wherein will be played one of the most terrific reversals of fortune ever produced in military history.
For quite a month it had been an open secret that considerable masses of German troops were being transported to the Carpathian front. What was not known, however, was the magnitude or the plan of these preparations. Never was a greater concentration of men and machinery more silently and more speedily accomplished. All along the south of the range, on the great Hungarian plains, there assembled a gigantic host of numerous nationalities. But it was away to the west, in that narrow bottle neck where the Dunajec flows from the Polish frontier down to the Tarnow Pass, that the mighty thunderbolt had been forged. Thousands of heavy guns were here planted in position, and millions of shells conveyed thither under cover of night. Countless trains carried war materials, tents, pontoons, cattle, provisions, etc. Finally the troops arrived—from the different fronts where they could be spared, and new levies from Germany and Austria-Hungary. Smoothly and silently men and machines dropped into their respective places: All was ready; not a detail had been overlooked; German organization had done its part. The commander was Von Mackensen, nominally Commander of the Eleventh German Army, but in reality supreme director of the whole campaign.
During April, 1915, a number of changes had taken place among the commanding officers of the Austro-German armies; the new dispositions of groups along the battle line differ considerably from those which obtained during the fighting for the passes. The line was now enormously strengthened, and more compact. This applies only to the Germanic side; there is little change on the Russian. At this stage the Russian front on the west of Galicia extended from Opatovie on the Polish frontier along the Dunajec, Biala, and Ropa Rivers by Tarnow, Ciezkovice, and Gorlice down to Zboro in Hungary; from here it runs eastward past Sztropko, Krasnilbrod, Virava, and Nagy Polena to the Uzsok Pass, a distance of about 120 miles. Ewarts commanded the army on the Nida; the Dunajec-Biala line was still held by Dmitrieff, Commander in Chief of the Eighth Russian Army; Brussilov still commanded the main army of the Carpathians, and Lechitsky in the Bukowina in the place of Alexeieff, who had succeeded General Russky in the northern group. The whole southern group, from the Nida to the Sereth inclusive, was under the supreme command of General Ivanoff. Facing Dmitrieff on the Dunajec front stood now the Fourth Austro-Hungarian Army under the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, about five army corps, including a German cavalry division under General von Besser; then the Ninth and Fourteenth Austrian Army Corps; to their right, several Tyrolese regiments; the Sixth Austro-Hungarian Army Corps of General Arz von Straussenburg, with the Prussian Guards on his left and Bavarian troops under Von Emmich on his right; the Eleventh German Army Corps under Von Mackensen; the Third Austro-Hungarian Army under General Boroyevitch von Bojna; the Tenth Army Corps under General Martiny. This formidable combination now confronted the Dunajec-Biala positions, which Dmitrieff had held without exertion for four months. Only a mile or two away he still inspected his trenches and conducted his minor operations, totally unconscious of the brewing storm specially directed against him. The Laborza district was held by the Archduke Joseph with the Seventh Army Corps; on his left stood a German corps under Von Marwitz, and on his right the Tenth Army Corps, north of Bartfeld, with some additional forces in between. Around the Lupkow and Uzsok passes the Second Austro-Hungarian Army under Boehm-Ermolli was stationed where it had been since February, 1915. Next, on the right, the Austro-Hungarian army corps under Von Goglia; in the Uzsok lay an army under Von Szurmay, nearly all Magyars, of whom the chief commander was Von Linsingen. Farther eastward stood a Prussian corps, embodying a division of Prussian Guards and other regiments commanded by General Bothmer, a Bavarian, who had been reenforced with a Hungarian division under Bartheldy; then followed the corps of Generals Hofmann and Fleischman, composed of all Austrian nationalities, intrenched in the mountain valleys. More German troops held the next sector, and, finally, came Von Pflanzer-Baltin's army groups in the Bukowina and Eastern Galicia. Against this huge iron ring of at least twenty-four Germanic corps (about 2,000,000 men) and a great store of reserves, the Russians could not muster more than about fourteen of their own corps. As has already been pointed out, the greatest disparity of strength existed on the Dunajec line, where Dmitrieff stood opposed to about half of the enemy's entire force with only five corps of Russian troops. The Austro-German forces, moreover, were infinitely better equipped with munitions and heavy artillery. The lack of big guns was undoubtedly the reason why the Russians had not attempted an invasion of Hungary. Hence they stuck to the mountain passes where their opponents were unable to carry their artillery, although they were amply supplied with the same. It is true that the Russians could have produced an equal—or even greater—number of men, but they had not the arms and accouterments.
Speaking from safe knowledge after the event, it is possible to indicate with moderate accuracy at least one of the ingenious stratagems adopted by the Germans to disguise their tremendous preparations against the Dunajec line. For months the fighting in this region had never been severe. When, therefore, local attacks and counterattacks on a small scale started on the Biala, as far back as April 4, 1915, Dmitrieff and his staff regarded this activity on the Austrians part as merely a continuation of the sporadic assaults they had grown accustomed to. Besides holding his own, Dmitrieff had on several occasions been able to assist Brussilov on his left. Until the big German drive commenced they had only been opposed to three Austro-German army corps and a Prussian division; now there were twelve corps on their front, supplied with enormous resources of artillery, shells, and cavalry. Most serious of all, Dmitrieff had neglected to construct second and third lines to which he could retire in an emergency. Of the rivers that lay behind him—the Wisloka, the Wistok, and the San—the first would be useful to cover Brussilov's position at the western passes, but beyond that he could not retreat without imperiling the whole Carpathian right flank. It was on this very calculation that the German plan—simple but effective—was based. The Russian grip on the Carpathians could only be released either by forcing a clear road through any pass into Galicia, or by turning one of the extreme flanks. Had the Austrians succeeded in breaking through as far as Jaslo, Dmitrieff would have been cut off and Brussilov forced to withdraw—followed by the whole line. The same result would follow if a thrust from the Bukowina succeeded in recapturing Lemberg. Both methods had been attempted, and both had failed. Germany's overwhelming superiority in artillery could not be effectively displayed in mountain warfare, but Dmitrieff's position on the Dunajec offered an easy avenue of approach.
At the eleventh hour Dmitrieff grasped the situation and applied to Ivanoff for reenforcements. Owing to some blunder the appeal never reached the Russian chief, and Dmitrieff had to do the best he could. Nothing now could save his small force from those grim lines of gaping muzzles turned against his positions. The overture began on April 28, 1915, with an advance on the Upper Biala toward Gorlice, by Von Mackensen's right. Here some minor attacks had been previously made, and the gradually increasing pressure did not at first reveal the intent or magnitude of the movement behind it. Meanwhile the German troops about Ciezkovice and Senkova—respectively northwest and southeast of Gorlice—were moving by night nearer to the battle line. The Russian front line extended from Ciezkovice in a southeasterly direction. Hence it soon became clear that Gorlice itself was to be the main objective of the attack. A Russian official announcement of May 2, 1915, boldly states:
"During the nights of April 30 to May 1 strong Austrian forces opened an offensive in the region of Ciezkovice. Our fire forced the enemy to intrench 600 paces in front of our trenches." Furthermore, the Germans at the same time had directed artillery fire and bayonet attacks against various points on the Rava, Pilica, Nida, and the Dunajec. These, however, were merely movements aiming at diversion, meant to mask the intentions of the main attack and to mislead the Russians. On the evening of May 1, 1915, the German batteries began experimenting against the Russian positions. This was kept up all night while the engineers attempted to destroy the first line of the Russian wire entanglements. During the same night the Austrians dragged several heavy howitzers across the road from Gladyszow to Malastow, and got them into position without the knowledge of the Russians. In the morning of May 2, 1915, the great batteries began to roar against the Russian line—a fire such as had perhaps never been witnessed before. A spectator thus describes the scene: "In one part the whole area was covered with shells till trenches and men were leveled out of existence." It was reported that 700,000 shells had been fired in the space of four hours, for which period this preliminary bombardment lasted. The Russian line was turned into a spluttering chaos of earth, stones, trees, and human bodies. The German and Austrian batteries then proceeded to extend the range, and poured a hurricane or shells behind the enemy's front line. This has the effect of doubly isolating that line, by which the survivors of the first bombardment cannot retreat, neither can reenforcements be sent to them, for no living being could pass through the fire curtain. Now is the time for the attacker's infantry to charge. Along the greater part of the Ciezkovice-Walastow line this stage was reached by ten o'clock in the morning or May 2, 1915.
A German writer tells us that "in this part or the front infantry fighting has given place for the time being to the action of our heavy artillery, which is subjecting to a terrible fire the positions of the enemy. These positions had been carefully reconnoitered during the lull in the fighting which prevailed during the last few months. Only after all cover is destroyed, the enemy's infantry killed or forced to retire, we take up the attack against the positions; the elan of our first attack now usually leads to a favorable result."
At Ciezkovice the Germans pushed bridges across the Biala under cover of a furious cannonade. Troops were thrown over, and after a very short struggle the village was taken. The huge oil tanks soon were in flames and Ciezkovice a heap of smoldering ruins. The Russian defense crumpled up like smoke; their position blown out of existence. Their guns were toys compared with those or the Germans and Austrians. North of Ciezkovice the Prussian Guard and other German troops under General von Francois fell upon the Russians and forced them to retire toward the Olpiny-Biecz line. The ground of the Russian positions on Mount Viatrovka and Mount Pustki in front of Biecz had been "prepared" by 21-centimeter (7-inch) Krupp howitzers and the giant Austrian 30.5-centimeter (10-inch) howitzers from the Skoda-Werke at Pilsen. The shells of the latter weigh nearly half a ton, and their impact is so terrific that they throw the earth up 100 feet high. Whatever had remained of the town of Gorlice in the shape of buildings or human beings was meanwhile being wiped out by a merciless spray of shells. Being the center or an important oil district, Gorlice possessed oil wells, great refineries, and a sulphuric-acid factory. As the flames spread from building to building, streets pouring with burning oil, huge columns of fire stretching heavenward from the oil wells in full blaze, and, over all, the pitiless hail of iron and explosives pouring upon them, the horror of the situation in which the soldiers and civilians found themselves may be faintly imagined. Gorlice was an inferno in a few hours. When the German infantry dashed into the town they found the Russians still in possession. Fighting hand to hand, contesting every step, the Russians were slowly driven out.
We have mentioned that German troops were moving on Senkova, southeast of Gorlice, by night. During the last two days of April the Bavarians captured the Russian position in the Senkova valley. A further move was made here during the night of May 1-2, 1915, preparatory to dislodging the Russians from the ground they still held. At seven o'clock in the morning the big howitzers started to "prepare" that ground. By ten o'clock it was deemed that every living thing had perished, when the "fire curtain" was drawn behind the Russian position. Infantry were then thrown forward—some Bavarian regiments. To their intense astonishment they were received with a most murderous fire from Russian rifles, and machine guns. The first attack failed and many were killed, few getting beyond the wire entanglements. Cautiously other troops advanced to the battered Russian trenches cut off from the rear by the artillery screen behind. Yet here again they met with strenuous resistance in the Zamczysko group of hills. The Austrian artillery shelled the heights, and the Bavarians finally took possession. The Tenth Austrian Army Corps had meanwhile conquered the Magora of Malastow and the majority of the heights in the Ostra Gora group. On Sunday, May 2, 1915, the Austro-German armies pierced the Dunajec-Biala line in several places, and by nightfall the Russians were retreating to their last hope—the line of the Wisloka. The operations round Gorlice on that day resulted in breaking the Russian defenses to a depth of over two miles on a front of ten or eleven miles. Mr. Stanley Washburn wrote from the battle field at the time: "The Germans had shot their last bolt, a bolt forged from every resource in men and munitions that they could muster after months of preparation." Of the Russian army he said, "it was outclassed in everything except bravery, and neither the German nor any other army can claim superiority in that respect."
With the center literally cut away, the keystone of the Russian line had been pulled out, and nothing remained but to retire. Ten miles north of Ciezkovice lies the triangle formed by the confluence of the Dunajec and Biala rivers and the Zakliczyn-Gromnik road. Within this triangle, commanding the banks of both rivers up to the Cracow-Tarnow line, the Russians held the three hills marked 402, 419, and 269 which figures express their height in meters.
During February and March, 1915, the Austrians attempted to dislodge the enemy, but without success. It was now necessary to take those positions before advance could be made against Tarnow, and the Fourth Austro-Hungarian Army, commanded by the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, undertook the task. At six A. M. on May 2 the Austrian artillery opened fire against Hill 419 from Mount Val (also within the triangle), and the opposite bank of the Dunajec. After three hours' bombardment some regiments of Tyrolese fusiliers, who had crossed the valley between Mt. Val and 419 and had taken up positions at the foot of the latter, about 400 yards from the Russian trenches, were ordered to charge. Dashing up the open, steep slope the fusiliers were suddenly enfiladed from their right by a spray of machine gun and rifle fire, killing many and driving back the survivors. Next day Hill 419 was again fiercely shelled, this time with deadly effectiveness; but even then the Russians still clung to their battered ground.
The Austrians now charged the trenches on Hill 412, whence the fusiliers had been ambushed the previous day. A desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which they had to force their way step by step, finally gave the position to the attackers. The few Russians still left on 419 could not hold out after the loss of 412. They retired northward on to Height 269, but subsequently followed the general retreat of the line. Still farther north, almost at the right flank of Dmitrieff's line, the Austrians effected a crossing of the Dunajec opposite Otfinow, thus breaking the connection between the West Galician Army of Dmitrieff, and the neighboring Russian Army on the Nida—the left wing of the northern groups commanded by Alexeieff.
Just below Tarnow, however, the Russians still held out; losing the three hills had not quite broken their defense on the Biala. The right wing of Von Mackensen's army, which had smashed the Russian front around Gorlice, rapidly moved east in an almost straight line to reach the Dukla Pass and cut off the retreat of the Russian troops stationed south of the range between Zboro and Nagy Polena, in northwest Hungary. The left wing, on the other hand, advanced in a northeasterly direction, ever widening the breach made in the enemy's domain. This clever move brought the Germans to the rear of Tarnow and onto the lines of communications of the Russians holding it. It also prevented reenforcements from reaching the truncated end of Dmitrieff's right—or what had been his right—wing. By pushing on to Dembica and Rzeszow, along which route assistance could otherwise have been sent to the Russians, Von Mackensen opened a wide triangle into Western Galicia, by drawing an almost horizontal line from Gorlice to Radymno, between Jaroslav and Przemysl, and from there perpendicular down to the Uzsok Pass.
From Uzsok to the Lupkow westward stood the Second Austro-Hungarian Army under Boehm-Ermolli on the north of the Carpathians. To his left, southwest of the Magora of Malastow, and adjoining the formidable Germanic array facing the Dunajec-Biala line lay the Third Austro-Hungarian Army under General Boroyevitch von Bojna. These two armies, it will be remembered, took part in the first offensive in January, and had been there ever since. Both of these armies now began to advance into the triangle, and the brilliant simplicity of Von Mackensen's geometrical strategy becomes clear. Let one imagine Galicia as a big stone jar with a narrow neck lying on the table before him, neck pointing toward the left hand, and he will obtain an approximately accurate idea of the topographical conditions. That side of the jar resting on the table represents the Carpathian range, solid indeed, but with numerous openings: these are the passes. The upper side of the jar represents the Russian frontier, across which the invaders had swarmed in and taken possession of the whole inside, lining themselves right along the mouths of the passes at the bottom and across the neck upwards.
For months the Austrians vainly endeavored to force an entrance through the thickest walls—from the lower edge, and from the base or bottom of the jar (the Bukowina), apparently overlooking the rather obvious proposition that the cork was the softest part and that was Dmitrieff's Dunajec-Biala line. Here at least no mountain range stood in the way. It may also be regarded as a mathematical axiom that, given sufficient artillery power, the strongest defense the wit of man could devise can be smashed. What Mackensen did, thererore, was to blow a hole through the cork, push in a pair of scissors up to the rivet, meanwhile opening the blades to an angle of about forty-five degrees. From the lower or southern shoulder of the jar the Third Austro-Hungarian Army pushes forward inside, supported on its right by Boehm-Ermolli, who had been just inside a long time, but could get no farther. They began to shepherd the Russian troops around and in the western passes toward the lower double-edged blade of Von Mackensen's terrible scissors. The Russian retreat to the Wisloka was a serious disaster for Dmitrieff; he had been caught napping, and had to pay dearly in men and guns for not having created a row of alternative positions. His force had been a cover for Brussilov's operations on both sides of the western passes as well as for the whole Russian line in the Carpathians. Now that Von Mackensen had pried the lid off, Brussilov's men in the south encountered enormous difficulties in extricating themselves from the Carpathian foothills, suddenly transformed from comparative strongholds into death-traps and no longer tenable. They suffered severely, especially the Forty-eighth Division.
Besides the menace from the northwest of Von Mackensen's swiftly approaching right, a third blade was gradually growing on the deadly scissors, in the shape of Boehm-Ermolli's and Von Bojna's forces, threatening to grind them between two relentless jaws of steel. It is Sunday, the second day of May, 1915; to all intents and purposes the battle of the Dunajec, as such, was over, and the initial aim of the Germanic offensive has been attained. The Russian line was pierced and its defense shattered. Von Mackensen's "Phalanx" was advancing two mighty tentacles guided by a master mind, remorselessly probing for the enemy's strongest points. Its formation comprised, in the northeastern tentacle, the Sixth Austro-Hungarian Army Corps and the Prussian Guards; in the southern, the Bavarians under Von Emmich and the Tenth Austro-Hungarian Army Corps under General Martiny.
On May 3, 1915, Dmitrieff's troops were falling back farther every hour, continuously fighting rear-guard actions and compelling the pursuers to conquer every foot of ground. There was a powerful reason for this stubborn retirement: it was to gain time for Brussilov to get his men out of their perilous positions and to join the main line again with Dmitrieff's receding ranks. If this could be effected, the fatal gap between them—made by Von Mackensen's battering-ram—would be repaired, and they could once more present a united front to the enemy. It was mentioned a little farther back that the Austrians had pierced the Dunajec line at Otfinow, north of Tarnow, by which was cut in two the hitherto unbroken Russian battle front, from the Baltic to the Rumanian frontier (900 miles); the "scissors" at Gorlice had made it three; if Boehm-Ermolli's drive from the Uzsok upward along the "triangle line" to Jaroslav succeeds, there will be four separate pieces of Russian front. But from Tarnow southward to Tuchow, a small twenty-mile salient on the Biala, the Russians are still in possession on May 4, 1915, defying the Fourth Austro-Hungarian Army.
* * * * *
It is a matter for speculation whether the numerous successes achieved by the Russians against the Austrians and Germans in Galicia and the Carpathians during the first seven months of the war had begotten a spirit of overconfidence among the Russian commanders, or whether it was not in their power to have made more effective preparations than they had done. We have seen that Dmitrieff had not provided himself with those necessary safety exits which were now so badly needed. As no artificially prepared defenses were at hand, natural ones had to be found. The first defense was irretrievably lost; the second line was a vague, undefined terrain extending across the hills between Biala in the west and the River Wisloka in the east. Between Tuchow and Olpiny, the Mountain Dobrotyn formed one of the chief defensive positions, being 1,800 feet high and thickly covered with woods.
Southward, the Lipie Mountain, about 1,400 feet, formed another strong point. Just below Biecz, close to the road and railroad leading to Gorlice, a mountain of 1,225 feet, called Wilszak, is the strategical key to the valley of the lower Ropa. Between Biecz and Bednarka, the line of defense followed the heights of the Kobylanka, Tatarovka, Lysa Gora, and of the Rekaw; hence to the east, as the last defense of the Jaslo-Zmigrod road, lay the intrenched positions on the Ostra Gora, well within Brussilov's sector. Southward of the Gorlice-Zmigrod line lay the mountain group of the Valkova, nearly 2,800 feet high, the last defense of the line of retreat for the Russian forces from Zboro.
The Wisloka was the third line of defense, only a river, and without intrenchments. From Dembica to Zmigrod it runs roughly parallel with the Dunajec-Biala line; its winding course separates it in places from fifteen to thirty-five miles from the latter river. Strong hopes were entertained that the Russians would be able to stem the Germanic torrent by a firm stand on the Wisloka.
A fierce battle raged on the third and fourth of May, 1915, for the possession of the wooded hills between the Biala and the Wisloka. The Prussian Guard stormed Lipie Mountain and captured it on the third; on the fourth they took Olpiny, Szczerzyny and the neighboring hills at the point of the bayonet.
The Thirty-ninth Hungarian Division, now incorporated in the Eleventh German Army under the direct command of Von Mackensen himself, had advanced from Grybow via Gorlice on the Biecz railway line, and were making a strong attack on the Russian positions on Wilczak Mountain with a tremendous concentration of artillery. It seems the Russians simply refused to be blown out of their trenches, for it required seven separate attacks to drive them out. That accomplished, the fate of Biecz was decided and the road to Jaslo—the "key" to the Wisloka line of defense—was practically open to General Arz von Straussenburg. Lying at the head of the main roads leading into Hungary through the Tilicz, Dukla, and Lupkow passes, Jaslo is the most important railway junction in the whole region between Tarnow and Przemysl. It was at Jaslo that Dmitrieff had held his headquarters for four months.
Just south of him, barely fifteen miles away, General von Emmich and General Martiny, with the "Bayonet Bavarians" and the Tenth Austro-Hungarian Army Corps, went pounding and slashing a passage along the Bednarka-Zmigrod road and the auxiliary road from Malastow to Krempna. They were striving hard to reach the western passes before Brussilov had time to withdraw. He began that operation on the fourth. On the same night Von Emmich and Martiny reached Krempna, and the last line of retreat for the Russians around Zboro was imperiled. They have yet to cross the range from Hungary back into Galicia. So subtly potent and effective was the pressure on a flank that the whole line—be it hundreds of miles long—is more or less influenced thereby, as witness:
On the same night, May 4, 1915, the retreat spread like a contagion to the entire west Galician front, compelling the Russians to evacuate northern Hungary up to the Lupkow Pass; in that pass itself preparations are afoot to abandon the hard-earned position. It is not fear, nor the precaution of cowardice that prompted this wholesale removal of fighting men: the inexorable laws of geometry demanded it. The enemy was at Krempna; as the crow flies the distance from Krempna to the northern debouchment of Lupkow is eighty miles; yet Lupkow was threatened, for the "line" or "front" is pierced—the vital artery of the defense is severed. The strength of a chain is precisely that of its weakest link.
The course of events become complex; fighting, advancing and retreating occurred over a widespread area. Apparently disconnected movements by the Austro-Germans or the Russians fall into their proper places in accordance with the general scheme or objective either side may have in view. It is necessary to follow the scattered operations separately. We will therefore return now to the Tarnow-Tucho sector, where we left a small Russian force holding the last remnant of the Dunajec-Biala front. Tarnow had been the supply base for that front, and great stores of provisions and munitions still remained in the town. These the Russians succeeded in removing entirely. The main forces had already withdrawn in perfect order and fallen back beyond the Wisloka. During the night of May 4-5, 1915, two regiments of the Ninth Austro-Hungarian Army Corps crossed the Biala near Tuchow and moved northward in the direction of the road leading from Tarnow to Pilzno, along which the remainder of the garrison would have to pass in order to retreat. On the hills west of Pilzno the Russians still held a position to protect that road. By the morning of the sixth everything had gone eastward, and the Austrians had surrounded the town.
The small cavalry detachment that had been left behind as rear guard cut through the Austrian lines and rejoined the main forces on the Wisloka. The Austrians had been bombarding Tarno for months with their heaviest artillery, destroying parts of the cathedral and the famous old town hall in the process.
On May 7 the Russians withdrew from the Pilzno district, and the Dunajec-Biala Russian front had ceased to exist. From the hour that the Austro-Germans had broken through the line at Ciezkovice, on May 2, 1915, the Russian retreat on the Wisloka had begun. Yielding to the terrible pressure the line had increasingly lost its shape as the various component parts fell back, though it gradually resumed the form of a front on the Wisloka banks, where most determined fighting continued for five days.
The Russians lost much of their artillery; they had to reverse the customary military practice of an army in retreat. If the retreating army is well equipped with artillery and munitions, its guns cover the retreat and are sacrificed to save the men. During their retreat the Russians had often to sacrifice men in order to save their guns for a coming greater battle at some more important strategic point. Many prisoners fell to the Germanic armies; according to their own official reports they took 30,000 in the fighting of May 2-4, 1915. What the Austro-German side lost in that time was not made public.
* * * * *
AUSTRO-GERMAN RECONQUEST OF WESTERN GALICIA
By the time the retreating Russians had reached the Wisloka they had to some extent recovered from the first shock of surprise, and were better able to attempt a determined stand against the overwhelming onrush of the Austro-Germanic troops. Ivanoff hurriedly sent reenforcements for Dmitrieff and Ewarts which included the Caucasian Corps of General Irmanoff from the Bzura front. The heavy German guns belched forth with terrible effect, and the Russians could not reply at the same weight or distance. Bayonets against artillery means giving odds away, but the attempt was made. With a savage fury that seems to belong only to Slavs and Mohammedans—fatalists—the Russians hurled themselves against the powerful batteries and got to close quarters with the enemy. For nearly twenty minutes a wild, surging sea of clashing steel—bayonets, swords, lances and Circassian daggers—wielded by fiery mountaineers and steady, cool, well-disciplined Teutons, roared and flowed around the big guns, which towered over the lashing waves like islands in a stormy ocean. A railway collision would seem mild compared with the impact of 18,000 desperate armed men against a much greater number of equally desperate and equally brave, highly-trained fighters. But machinery, numbers and skillful tactics will overcome mere physical courage. The Russian avalanche was thrown back with terrific slaughter; the Caucasian Corps alone lost over 10,000 men, for which, it is estimated, they killed and wounded quite as many. More remarkable still was the fact that they captured a big battery and carried off 7,000 prisoners. For five days the storm raged backward and forward across the river; during the more violent bombardments the Russians left their trenches to be battered out of shape and withdrew into their shelter dugouts; when the enemy infantry advanced to take possession, the Russians had returned to face the charge. Whereas cool, machinelike precision marks the German soldier in battle as on the parade ground, an imperturbable obstinacy and total disregard of mortal danger characterizes the Russian.
During the night of May 6-7, 1915, the Austrians sent two regiments across the Wisloka, north and south of Brzoctek, about midway between Pilzno and Jaslo, under cover of artillery posted on a 400-foot hill near Przeczyca on the opposite bank, i.e., the left. Austrian engineers constructed a bridge across the river, and on the morning of May 7 the Austrian advance guard were in possession of the hills north of the town. Infantry were then thrown across to storm Brzostek. Here, again, they met with resolute opposition from the Russian rear guards covering the retreat of the main armies, which had already fallen back from the Wisloka. Desperate bayonet fighting ensued in the streets, each of which had to be cleared separately to dislodge the Russians—the civilians meanwhile looking out of their windows watching the animated scenes below. Hungarian troops in overwhelming masses poured across the river and finally captured the town. Once more on the backward move, the Russians established themselves along the western and southern fringe of the forests by Januszkovice, only eight miles away, and prepared to make another stand. More fighting occurred here, and during May 7 and 8, 1915, the Russians fell back farther toward Frysztak, on the river Wistok.
We left Von Emmich and General Martiny with the Bavarians and the Tenth Austro-Hungarian Army Corps on their arrival at Krempna on the night of the 4th, during which time the Russians were making desperate efforts to evacuate northern Hungary and the western passes. The main forces of Von Mackensen's "phalanx" were meanwhile pushing on toward Jaslo, still in Russian possession. On the hills west of the Wisloka the Russian rear guards had intrenched themselves and held their positions till nightfall on May 5, 1915, all with the object of delaying the Germanic advance sufficiently for their comrades to clear the passes. Then they fell back again and made a stand near Tarnoviec, about six or seven miles east of Jaslo, where they dominated an important strategic position. Between them and Jaslo two railways ran along the valley of the River Jasliska, forming a serious obstacle to Von Mackensen's advance so long as the Russians could hold it. It was imperative that they should be cleared out, but the task of carrying it through was a difficult one. The undertaking fell to the Hungarian troops of the Thirty-ninth Honved Division, who advanced to the attack again and again only to be driven back each time by the Russian fire from the heights. Big howitzers were called into play and soon demolished the positions.
The Russians retired east of the Wistok, followed by Von Mackensen's Austro-Hungarian corps, while the Prussian Guards moved on toward Frysztak, where the Russian troops from the Tarnow sector had taken up positions after the retreat from Brzostek.
On May 7, 1915, the Prussian Guards had passed over the railway at Krosno, and at night fell upon the Russian lines east of the Wistok. Particularly fierce encounters took place near Odrzykon and Korczina, ten to fourteen miles southeast of Frysztak. A little farther westward Van Mackensen delivered his main attack against the railway crossing at Jaslo, which fell on the same day, May 7. The Russians retreated in confusion with Von Mackensen close upon their heels. The whole defense on the Wisloka collapsed, and nothing apparently could now save the Dukla and those troops struggling through to escape from the net that was gradually being tightened around them. Meanwhile, General Ewarts's Army of the Nida, which formed the connecting link between the Russian northern and southern armies, had fallen back above Tarnow to the River Czarna in order to keep in touch and conformity with Dmitrieff's shrinking line, which was now actually broken by the Wisloka failure. The Russian position was extremely critical, for it seemed that the German general would roll up the two halves and thereby inflict a crushing and decisive defeat. General Ivanoff appears to have recognized Van Mackensen's intentions in time to devise measures to counteract the peril and save his left (Brussilov's army) from disaster. By pushing forward strong columns from Sanok on the Upper San to impose a temporary check upon the advancing tide, he gained a brief respite for the troops entangled in the passes. To that sector we will now turn to review the course of events.
On May 4, 1915, the Russians began to evacuate the positions they held south of the range when Von Mackensen's extreme right approached Krempna. Forging along at high speed the Germans and Austrians occupied the towns of Dukla and Tylava, and arrived at Rymanow—still farther east—on the following day. The town of Dukla lies some fifteen miles due north of the Galician debouchment of the pass of that name, and Rymanow is about another fifteen miles east of that. Hence the German strategic plan was to draw a barrier line across the north of the Carpathians and hem the Russians in between that barrier and the Austro-Hungarian armies of Boehm-Ermolli and Von Bojna. It must distinctly be borne in mind that these two forces are also north of the passes: that of Von Bojna being stationed at the elbow where the Germanic line turned from the Carpathians almost due north along the Dunajec-Biala front, or across the neck of our hypothetical jar. The Dukla and Lupkow passes were still in Russian hands; these were the only two that the Germanic offensives of January, February, and March, 1915, had failed to capture; all the others, from Rostoki eastward, were held by the Austrians and Germans. It was through the Dukla and Lupkow that the Russians obtained their foothold in northern Hungary, and it was the only way open to them now to get back again. Around the Laborcza district stood the Seventh Austro-Hungarian Army Corps under the command of the Archduke Joseph, who now began to harass them, aided by the German "Beskid Corps" under General von Marwitz. This was the only section in the range where the Russians held both sides. Boehm-Ermolli had forced the Rostoki and Uzsok, but hitherto had been unable to get very far from their northern exits—not beyond Baligrod. During the fighting on the Dunajec these three armies merely marked time; it was their object to keep the Russians in Hungary and in the two passes until Von Mackensen had thrown the right of his "phalanx" across their only avenue of escape. That time was now rapidly approaching, and Von Bojna was gradually squeezing Brussilov from the west, while Boehm-Ermolli was following from the east and south. It appears that the commanders of the Twelfth Russian Army Corps and the Third Russian Army, which stood on Hungarian soil from Zboro to Nagy Polena, did not grasp the full significance to them of the Dunajec catastrophe.
Germanic troops were building a wall against their exits before they had seriously thought of withdrawing. Escape was impossible for many of them; some had managed to get across the Dukla in time, while those left behind would either have to surrender or fight their way through the lines across their path in the north. At the same time they would have Von Bojna and Boehm-Ermolli on their tracks. To make matters worse, they were also being pressed severely from the Hungarian plains by the troops which hitherto stood inactive. The Second Austro-Hungarian Army (Boehm-Ermolli) was fighting on both sides of the range. Through Rostoki they attempted to separate the Russians around Zboro from those situated farther east at Nagy Polena. We have stated elsewhere that the Forty-eighth Division was severely handled. They were surrounded in the Dukla by an overwhelming superior force, but General Korniloff, the commander, with a desperate effort and no little skill, succeeded in hacking his way through the enemy's lines and bringing a large portion of his force safely out of the trap. Inch by inch the Russian rear guards retreated, fighting tooth and nail to hold the pass while their comrades escaped. No less brave were the repeated charges made by the Austrians—clambering over rocks, around narrow pathways hanging high in the air, dizzy precipices and mountain torrents underneath. On Varentyzow Mountain, especially, a fierce hand-to-hand battle was fought between Hungarians and Cossacks, the latter finally withdrawing in perfect order. To conduct a successful retreat in the face of disaster is a no less difficult military achievement than the gaining of a decisive victory, and Brussilov's retreat from the passes deserves to rank as a masterly example of skillful tactics.
On May 8, 1915, the Third Russian Army and the Forty-eighth Division had reunited with Brussilov's main army in the neighborhood of Sanok, twenty miles north of the Lupkow. When the commanders of a retreating army lose their heads the rank and file will inevitably become demoralized and panic-stricken. The retreat became a rout, and the possibility of making a stand, and to some extent retrieving the lost fortune of war, was extremely remote. A deeper motive than the mere reconquering of Galicia lay behind Von Mackensen's plan—he aimed at nothing less than the complete overthrow and destruction of the Russian armies. It was a gigantic effort of the Germanic powers to eliminate at least one of their most dangerous enemies. Once that was accomplished it would release some millions of troops whose services were needed in the western theatre of war. The original plan had fallen through of crushing Russia quickly at the beginning of the war, before she would have had time to get ready, and then to turn against France in full force. The Austro-German Galician campaign was planned and undertaken with that specific object, and now, although defeated and in full retreat, the Russian troops still formed an army in being, and not a fugitive, defenseless rabble. So long as an army is not captured or annihilated, it can be reorganized and again put in the field. It is on this consideration that so much importance attaches to the handling of an army in retreat. The Russians did not, of course, run away; on the contrary, they fought desperately and stubbornly throughout the retreat, for their pursuers did not average more than six miles per day—a fact which testifies to the steady and orderly character of the Russian retirement. They suffered from the consequences of inadequate preparation and lack of foresight on the part of their leaders.
The Russian troops on the Lower Wisloka held their positions longest, but they also fell back about May 8, 1915, and for the next two days engaged the enemy near some villages southwest of Sanok. Here a strong force had collected, which not only offered a powerful resistance, but even attempted a counterattack against their pursuers. Over a front of 145 miles, extending from Szczucin near the Vistula north of Tarnow, down almost to the Uzsok Pass, a fierce battle progressed between May 8 and 10, 1915. In the region of Frysztak, where the Russian line was weakest, the main German offensive was developing its strongest attack. Reenforcements were on the way, but could not arrive in time. For the moment disaster was averted by an aggressive Russian counteroffensive halfway between Krosno and Sanok, from the Besko-Jacmierz front, by which move sufficient time was gained to enable the main forces to retreat. The Russian defense in the Vistok Valley collapsed on May 10, 1915; the German center had almost arrived within striking distance of the important railway line from Tarnow via Dembica and Rzeszow to Jaroslav north of Przemysl. At Sanok the battered remnants of the Russian troops who had escaped from the passes maintained themselves with the greatest difficulty. Heavy German artillery followed the Bavarians to Rymanow, five miles from the Russian line at Besko, and were now playing fiercely upon the positions west of Sanok. The Tenth Austro-Hungarian Army Corps as well as the Seventh were making their presence felt from the southwest against Odrzechova and from the south, whence Von Marwitz with the German Beskid Corps was rapidly advancing. To the southeast, Boehm-Ermolli was battering the Baligrod-Lutoviska front, almost in the same position he occupied at the end of January in the first attempt to relieve Przemysl.
The battle was practically over by the night of May 10, 1915; the Russians could hold out no longer against the ever-increasing flood of Austrians and Germans pouring across every road and pathway against their doomed line. Blasted and scorched by artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire; standing against incessant bayonet and cavalry charges; harassed by the Austrians from the south, the Russians were indeed in sore straits. Yet they had fought well; in the losing game they were playing they were exhausting their enemies as well as themselves in men and munitions—factors which are bound to tell in a long, drawn-out war. Above all, they still remained an army: they had not yet found their Sedan. No alternative lay before them—or rather behind them—other than retreat to the next possible line of defense—toward Przemysl.
Between May 11-12, 1915, the Germanic troops occupied the districts of Sendziszow, Rzeszow, Dynow, Sanok, Lisko, Lancut, and Dubiecko. Przevorsk was deserted by the Russians on the 13th. The Seventh Russian Railway Battalion, under Captain Ratloff, brought up the rear of the retreat to the Dembica-Jaroslav line. From Rzeszow onward this battalion were employed in destroying stations, plants, tunnels, culverts, rolling stock, and railway bridges, to hamper as much as possible the German advance. It took the Austro-Hungarian engineers between two and three weeks to repair the road and put it into sufficient working order to transport their heavy siege artillery. With uninterrupted labor and the most strenuous exertions they could only reconstruct about four miles per day. Repairs and renovations other than those of the railway system were necessary. The wounded had to be sent back to hospital, and fresh troops had to be brought up to fill the gaps torn in the Austro-German ranks during all the severe fighting since May 2, 1915. It is not known exactly what the series of victories cost the Germanic armies in casualties, but it is known that their successes were dearly bought. One fairly competent authority places the loss at between 120,000 to 130,000. From May 2 to May 12, 1915, the forces of Von Mackensen, the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, and Boroyevitch von Boyna claim to have captured 103,500 men, 69 guns, and 255 machine guns. A retreating army must inevitably lose many of their number as prisoners, besides their wounded must also be abandoned. Furthermore, the Russian line of retreat led through rough and mountainous country, where large bodies of troops could not be kept in touch with each other. Thus it frequently happened that isolated detachments were captured en bloc without being able to offer any resistance. In the neighborhood of Sanok and the watering places of Rymanow and Ivonicz some of the biggest Russian base hospitals were situated. These, of course, could not have been evacuated in time, and the patients consequently swelled the number of prisoners. Most of the guns captured by the Austro-Germans were those of the Russian troops whose retreat from northern Hungary and the passes had been intercepted.
They often sacrificed large bodies of troops to save their guns. The lack of artillery was the main cause of their defeat; what little they could save from the wreck was therefore husbanded with jealous care. The German staff accurately calculated on the preponderance of heavy artillery, and that Russia would be compelled to bow low before the superior blast of cannon fire. Though it involved the sacrifice of many miles of territory, it was now the Russian object to draw the enemy's line out to the fullest extent. After the retreat from the Wistok the Russian Generalissimo, Grand Duke Nicholas, was concerned only to save the most for his country at the greatest expense to her enemies. It meant continual retreat on a gigantic scale. Przemysl, captured ten weeks ago, lay behind Ivanoff's line, and Lemberg was but sixty miles beyond. Two hundred miles northward the Germans were hammering at the gates of Warsaw. A retreat such as the grand duke contemplated might involve the loss of all three of these places, but it would stretch the Germanic lines enormously and enable the Allies in the west to strike with better effect. No territorial considerations must stand in the way against the safety of the Russian armies. It was the same policy that had crippled Napoleon in 1812.
* * * * *
CAMPAIGN IN EASTERN GALICIA AND THE BUKOWINA
In order to keep the narrative abreast of the steadily advancing Austro-German line, we must change occasionally from one sector to another to watch the progress of operations over the huge battle field. In accordance with the details laid down in the great strategic plan, each of the different Germanic forces had a distinct task to perform. Turning then to eastern Galicia and the Bukowina, we find that on May 1, 1915, the Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies were facing each other along almost the same front where we left them in the middle of March. That front extended to the north of Nadvorna and Kolomea, by Ottynia across to Niczviska on the Dniester, and from there eastward along the river toward Chotin on the Russian frontier of Bessarabia.
By the beginning of May, 1915, the spring floods had subsided, when operations became again possible. General Lechitsky, on the Russian side, probably aimed at recovering the Pruth Valley, while the Austrian commander, General von Pflanzer-Baltin, directed his efforts to establishing himself on the northern bank of the Dniester. He would then be able to advance in line with the Germanic front that was pressing on from the west, and northward from the Carpathian range between Uzsok and the Jablonitza passes; otherwise his force would lag behind in the great drive, a mere stationary pivot. At that time he held about sixty miles of the Odessa-Stanislau railroad (which runs through the valley via Czernovice and Kolomea) with the Russians only twenty miles north of the line. If that position could be taken the Austrians would have the South Russian line of communications in their hands, for it was along this line that supplies and reenforcements were being transported to Ivanoff's front on the Wisloka from the military centers at Kiev and Sebastopol. Thus the railway was of tremendous importance to both belligerents. What it meant to the Austrians has been stated; to the Russians its possession offered the only opportunity for a counteroffensive in the east that could possibly affect the course of the main operations on the Wisloka, San, and later the Przemysl lines. But however successful such a counteroffensive might prove, it could not have exerted any immediate influence on the western front. With the Transylvania Carpathians protecting the Austro-German eastern flank, there would still be little hope of checking the enemy's advance on Lemberg even if Lechitsky succeeded in reconquering the whole of the Bukowina and that part of eastern Galicia south of the Dniester. Every strategic consideration, therefore, pointed to the Dniester line as the key to the situation for the Austrian side, and Von Pflanzer-Baltin decided to stake all on the attempt.
On May, 6, 1915, the machine was set in motion by a violent bombardment. By the 8th the Austrians captured the bridgehead of Zaleszczyki; on the 9th the Russians drove them out again, capturing 500 men, 3 big guns, 1 field gun, and a number of machine guns. On May 10 the Russians took the initiative and attacked a front of about forty miles, along the entire Dniester line from west of Niczviska to Uscie Biskupic, crossed into the Bukowina and advanced to within five miles of Czernowitz from the east. A little stream and a village both named Onut are situated southwest of Uscie Biskupic. Here a detachment of Don Cossacks distinguished themselves on May 10, 1915. Advancing toward the Austrian wire entanglements in face of a terrific fusilade, they cut a passage through in front of the Austrian's fortified positions. Before the latter realized what was happening the Cossacks were on top of them, and in a few minutes a ferocious bayonet struggle had cleared out three lines of trenches. Russian cavalry poured in after them, hacking the Austrian's rear, and compelling them to evacuate the entire district. The Cossacks charged into the hurriedly retreating masses—on horse and on foot, with saber, lance, and bayonet, capturing 4,000 prisoners, a battery of machine guns, several caissons and searchlight apparati.
The entire northern bank of the Dniester was in Russian possession by the night of May 10, 1915; several desperate counterattacks attempted by the Austrians on the 11th completely failed to recover the lost ground. Two days later a Russian official reported: "In this operation the Austrian units which led the offensive were repulsed near Chocimierz with heavy losses. Our artillery annihilated two entire battalions and a third surrendered. Near Horodenka the enemy gave way about seven o'clock in the evening of the same day and began a disorderly retreat. We again captured several thousand prisoners, guns, and some fifty ammunition caissons." Being a junction of six roads and a railway station on the curved line from Kolomea to Zaleszczyki, Horodenka is considered to be the most important strategic point along the Dniester-Czernowitz front. It was undoubtedly a severe blow to the Austrians.
During the night of May 11, 1915, and the next day they evacuated a front of about eighty-eight miles, and retired south of the Pruth. General Mishtchenko led his Cossacks on the Austrian trail, taking several towns on their way to Nadvorna, which they captured after a fierce fight. From here they took possession of part of the railway line from Delatyn to Kolomea, and completely severed the connection between Von Pflanzer-Baltin's forces and those of Von Linsingen lying along the north of the range. Larger bodies of Russian troops were on the way to Kolomea; on May 13, 1915, they stormed and carried some strongly fortified Austrian positions eight miles north of the town, in front of which the Austrians had placed reenforcements and all their last reserves. By dint of great efforts they held their position here, but from May 9 to May 14, 1915, the Russians drove them back elsewhere on a front of over sixty miles for a distance of about twenty miles, also capturing some 20,000 prisoners with many guns and valuable stores of munitions. About the middle of May matters quieted down in the eastern sector; the only fighting of importance consisted of severe artillery combats around Czernowitz and Kolomea. The issue of the conflict hung in the west with Von Mackensen's armies; fighting in the Bukowina at this stage became an unnecessary expenditure of strength and energy. The fate of eastern Galicia was being decided 140 miles away, on the banks of the River San, to which region we will now direct the reader's attention.
* * * * *
RUSSIAN CHANGE OF FRONT—RETREAT TO THE SAN
After the Russian troops retreated from the Lower Wisloka northward toward the confluence of that river with the Vistula they held the two important bridgeheads of Sandomierz and Rozvadov.
On May 14, 1915, Ivanoff's right was being forced toward the Vistula in the vicinity of Opatow. This right wing was the army under General Ewarts, which since December, 1914, had been stationed in strongly fortified positions on the Nida in Russian Poland. The front extended across the frontier into western Galicia and joined on to the right wing of Dmitrieff's Dunajec-Biala front, which was shattered between Otfinow and Gorlice. The retreat of Dmitrieff's army was in an easterly direction along Tarnow, Pilzno, Dembica, Rzeszow, and Lancut to Przevorsk on the San; from the region of Gorlice and Ciezkovice along Biecz, Jaslo, Frysztak, Krosno to Dynow, Dubiecko, and Sanok, the latter also on the San. The troops that Brussilov extricated from the passes and those with which he held the northern part of the western Carpathians against Boehm-Ermolli were now likewise concentrated on the San. A glance at the map will show that the Russian front on the San from Przevorsk down to Sanok forms a shield between the Germanic advance and the two towns of Jaroslav and Przemysl. It will also be observed that General Ewarts's forces about Rozvadov are on the west side of the San, that is to say, nearer toward the advancing Austrians under the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand.
The retreat in Galicia necessitated modifications in the Russian front in Poland on the way to Warsaw. The line south of the Pilica had to be withdrawn and positions on the Nida abandoned to conform with the retreating line in Galicia. New positions were taken up along Radom and across the Kamienna River. The pivot or hinge from which the line was drawn back was the town of Ivanlodz, about fifty-five miles southwest of Warsaw. North of Ivanlodz the front remained unaltered. While this line shifting was in progress (in Poland) the German troops hung closely to the heels of the retiring Russians, evidently mistaking the motive behind the change of position. Mr. Stanley Washburn thus summarizes the results of these retreating battles:
"Regarding the movement as a whole, suffice it to say that in the two weeks following the change of line one (Russian) army inflicted upon the enemy a loss of nearly 30,000 in killed, wounded, and prisoners. The Russian losses were comparatively trifling." The Austro-German forces were following up leisurely the retreating Russian corps, not expecting any serious fighting to occur until the lines behind the Kamienna were reached.
Instead of that, however, on May 15, 1915, the Russian commander suddenly halted the main body of his troops in front of his fortified positions on a line extending from Brody by Opatow toward Klimontow. Between May 15-17, 1915, a battle developed on this front, which is the more notable as it is one of the few in this war fought in the open without trenches. To quote Mr. Washburn: "In any other war it would have been called a good-sized action, as from first to last more than 100,000 men and perhaps 350 to 400 guns were engaged."
The Austro-Germans came on in four groups. The Third German Landwehr was moving from the southwest by Wierzbnik against Ilza, slightly to the north of Lubienia. Next to it, coming from the direction of Kielce, was the German Division of General Bredow, supported by the Eighty-fourth Austrian Regiment. This body was advancing against Ostroviec, the terminus of a railway which runs from the district of Lodz to the southeast by Tomaszow and Opoczno, and crosses the Ivangorod-Olkusz line halfway between Kielce and Radom. Farther to the south three Austro-Hungarian divisions were also advancing—namely, the Twenty-fifth Austrian Division against Lagow, and the Fourth Austrian Landwehr Division, supported by the Forty-first Honved Division, against Ivaniska; they moved along roads converging on Opatow. The Twenty-fifth Austrian Division, commanded by the Archduke Peter Ferdinand, was composed of crack regiments, the Fourth Hoch and Deutschmeisters of Vienna, and the Twenty-fifth, Seventeenth, and Tenth Jaeger battalions. The Russians were outnumbered about 40 per cent. The supposedly demoralized Russians were not expected to give any battle short of their fortified line, to which they were thought to be retiring in hot haste. The Russian general selected the Austrians on whom to spring his first surprise, but commenced by making a feint against the German corps, driving in their advanced guards by vigorous attacks which caused the whole force to halt and begin deployment for an engagement.
This occurred on May 15, 1915. On the same day, with all his available strength, he swung furiously with Opatow as an axis from both north and south, catching in bayonet charge the Twenty-fifth Division on the road between Lagow and Opatow. Simultaneously another portion of his command swept up on the Fourth Division coming from Ivaniska to Opatow. "In the meantime a strong force of Cossacks had ridden round the Austrians and actually hit their line of communications at the exact time that the infantry fell on the main column with a bayonet charge, delivered with an impetuosity and fury that simply crumpled up the entire Austrian formation. The Fourth Division was meeting a similar fate farther south, and the two were thrown together in a helpless mass, losing between 3,000 and 4,000 casualties and nearly 3,000 in prisoners, besides a large number of machine guns and the bulk of their baggage. The remainder, supported by the Forty-first Honved Division, which had been hurried up, managed to squeeze themselves out of their predicament by falling back on Uszachow, and the whole retired to Lagow, beyond which the Russians were not permitted to pursue them, lest they should break the symmetry of their own line." It is admitted by the Austrians themselves that their losses were very severe in this battle. An Austrian source at the time stated that on May 16, 1915, not a single officer and only twenty-six men were left of the entire Fourth Company, First Battalion of the Tenth Austrian Infantry Regiment. By the 17th of May the Austrians had withdrawn more than twelve miles from the scene of the disaster.
During the following night, May 25, 1915, an Austrian division was moving from the line of advance of General Bredow's troops along the Lagow-Opatow road where it is separated by a spur of the Lysa Gora, the highest mountain group in Russian Poland. The Russians, elated over their recent victory, crossed the mountains by a forced march, and fell on the right flank of the German formation, while other troops opened a general frontal attack against it. Bredow was compelled to fall back in haste in the direction of Bodzentyn and to call for assistance from the adjoining Fourth German Landwehr Division. The sudden withdrawal of that division had the effect of weakening the German line southwest of Radom near the Radom-Kielce and the Konsk-Ostroviec railway crossings. The opportunity of thinning the enemy's line in that sector was too good to be lost, for a Russian communique of May 17, 1915, states that "near Gielniow, Ruski-Brod, and Suchedniov our sudden counterattacks inflicted severe losses on the enemy's advance guards." Having thus checked the German advance for the time being, the Russians ceased from further troubling to await developments on the San.