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BATTLE OF THE SAN
When the Austro-German armies reached the line of the San on May 14, 1915, the battle for mid-Galicia was over, and a fresh chapter of the campaign opened with the battle of the San, which might more fittingly be described as the battle for Przemysl. The position of Ivanoff's right has been shown; his right center lay west of the Lower San; the center east of the river covered Przemysl; his left center extended along the Upper Dniester, while his left, under Lechitsky, was keeping Von Pflanzer-Baltin employed. Von Mackensen's "phalanx" was slowly coming into action again, directing its course toward the Russian center. The "phalanx" was compelled to travel slowly, for it carried about 2,000 pieces of artillery with ample munitions, and the railroads had been wrecked by the retreating Russians. What has been described by military writers as "Von Mackensen's phalanx" was a concentration of troops along the lines on which the strongest resistance was expected or where the quickest advance was intended. No special group of forces appear to have been set apart for that purpose; there was very little shifting about or regrouping necessary during the campaign, and so well was the plan arranged that the concentrations occurred almost automatically wherever and whenever they were most needed. The infantry marched in successive lines or echelons, about forty yards apart, while in the ranks the men were allowed about four feet elbow room apiece. For frontal attacks this might be considered fairly close formation, but Von Mackensen calculated more upon the disintegrating effect of his artillery to first demoralize the enemy and wreck his position, after which the infantry came into play to complete the destruction. Without an overwhelming supply of artillery the "phalanx" plan would have been unworkable—machine guns would exact too heavy a sacrifice of life.
Ivanoff's chief object for the moment was to hold the enemy in check long enough to allow Przemysl to be cleared of ammunitions and supplies, and to withdraw the troops in possession of the place. Already, on May 14, 1915, the German troops of Von Mackensen's army had occupied Jaroslav, only twenty-two miles north of the fortress. Ivanoff had concentrated his strongest forces on the line between Sieniava, north of Przevorsk, and Sambor, thirty miles southeast of Przemysl. Here he had deployed the three armies which had held the entire front from the Biala to Uzsok in the beginning of May, 1915, nearly twice as long as the line they were now guarding. These were to fight a holding battle on the center while he adopted a series of vigorous counterthrusts on his right and left wings. By the retirement of the center Ewarts had been compelled to fall back from the Nida to the Vistula with Woyrsch's Austrian army against him. When Ewarts dropped behind Kielce in Russian Poland, Woyrsch seized the junction of the branch line to Ostroviecs in front of the Russian line. Ivanoff decided to venture a counterattack which would at the same time relieve the pressure on his center and also check the move on Josefov, dangerously near to the Warsaw-Ivangorod-Lublin line. The result of this plan was the brilliant surprise attack on the Austrians and Germans previously described. Along the San the troops just south of Ewarts delivered a fierce attack and drove the Archduke Ferdinand back to Tarnobrzeg on the Vistula. Ivanoff next drew as many reenforcements from that flank to strengthen his center as was compatible with safety. What had happened meanwhile on Ivanoff's extreme left—in eastern Galicia and the Bukowina—has already been stated. These counterattacks may be regarded as merely efforts to gain time, but the hour of another great battle was at hand.
The battle of the San, one of the greatest of the war, opened on May 15, 1915. Jaroslav was in German hands; the Fourth Austro-Hungarian Army (Archduke Joseph Ferdinand) reached the western side of the San on the 14th; by the 16th the Austro-German armies held almost the entire left bank of the river from Rudnik to Jaroslav, about forty miles. They crossed at several points on the same day and enlarged their hold on the right bank between Jaroslav and Lezachow near Sieniava, which they captured. A German division arrived at Lubaczovka, due north of Jaroslav, and half of the Germanic circle around Przemysl was now drawn. The German plan was an advance in force from the Sieniava-Jaroslav front against the Przemysl-Lemberg railway, the most vulnerable point of the Russian line of retreat from the fortress. Fifteen bridges were accordingly erected over the San in that sector between May 20-24, 1915, across which the German battering ram was to advance on Przemysl. South of the town mounted patrols came into touch with Russian cavalry; four Austro-Hungarian and one German army corps were standing prepared between Dobromil and Sambor; Sambor was occupied by them. The Russians held the left bank close to the river from Sieniava to Jaroslav, and northward of the former and to the west as far as Tarnobrzeg. From Jaroslav their front ran in almost a straight line for thirty miles southeastward to the outer and northern forts around Przemysl, described nearly a complete circle around the western and southern forts to Mosciska on the east, thence south to Sambor, and from Sambor to Stryj. From Stryj eastward to the Bukowina the line remained unaltered. In that region Lechitsky and Von Pflanzer-Baltin had been conducting a campaign all by themselves; they were now resting, waiting, watching.
While great Germanic preparations for the capture of Przemysl were proceeding north of the town, the battle opened on Saturday, May 15, 1915, in the south, against the Russian front between Novemiasto and Sambor. Here the Austro-German troops were thrown against Hussakow and Krukenice to hack their way through trenches and barbed-wire entanglements in order to reach the Przemysl-Lemberg railway and thereby complete the circle. "At the cost of enormous sacrifices the enemy succeeded in capturing the trenches of our two battalions."
But on May 17, 1915, these trenches near Hussakow were recaptured by the Russians. The Austrians returned to the charge, however, and by May 19 were within six miles of Mosciska. By May 21 they had overcome the main Russian defenses to the east of Przemysl and were threatening the garrison's line—their only line—of retreat to Grodek, for other Germanic forces were advancing upon Mosciska from the north.
On May 21, 1915, the Russians opened a sudden counteroffensive along the whole line in a desperate effort to save, not the fortress, but the garrison. The Austrians had destroyed most of the forts before they surrendered the town on March 22; and forts cannot be built or reconstructed in a few weeks. Besides, the Austrians knew the ground too well. Von Mackensen's "phalanx" was meanwhile advancing against the Jaroslav-Przemysl front with Von Bojna's corps on his right; Boehm-Ermolli deserted the passes which had so long occupied him and was now pressing against the south of the town while Von Marwitz on his right attempted to seize the railway between Sambor and Dobromil. Von Linsingen was forging ahead toward Stryj and the Dniester; he had finally worked through the ill-fated Koziova positions, and was now able to rest his right upon Halicz. From there his connection with Von Pflanzer-Baltin had been broken by Lechitsky, and was not repaired till June 6, 1915.
The Russian counteroffensive was a homeopathic remedy, on the principle of "like curing like:" an enveloping movement against being enveloped themselves at Przemysl; but the case was hopeless. Yet they met with some successes of a temporary nature. Between the Vistula and the San they captured some towns and villages; they also got very close to Radava, north of Jaroslav, and forced the Austro-German troops to fall back on to the left bank of the river on a considerable line of front north of Sieniava, where they captured many prisoners and guns.
The counteroffensive reached its zenith on May 27, 1915, when Irmanow's Caucasian Corps stormed Sieniava and captured something like 7,000 men, six big guns, and six pieces of field artillery. Von Mackensen resumed the offensive on May 24, by advancing due east of Jaroslav, capturing Drohojow, Ostrov, Vysocko, Makovisko and Vietlin all in one day. Radymno was occupied by the Austro-Hungarians under General Arz von Straussenburg, still further narrowing the circle and compelling the Russians to fall beyond the San. On the twenty-fifth the Austrians followed them over, captured the bridgehead of Zagrody, the village of Nienovice and the Heights of Horodysko, while Von Mackensen's troops farther north captured Height 241. South of the village of Naklo, between Przemysl and Mosciska, a hill 650 feet high was violently attacked; it commanded the only line of retreat from the fortress still left open. To the south of the town the Russian counteroffensive tried to outflank the Austrian troops which had approached close to the fortress and the railroad to Lemberg. With the assistance of strong reenforcements the Russians were able to check the advance here and make 2,200 prisoners, besides capturing ammunitions and machine guns.
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RECAPTURE OF PRZEMYSL
The counteroffensive ended—of necessity—on May 24, 1915. The Russians could still offer an effective resistance between Krukienice and Mosciska, but the pressure of continuous attack against their positions around Hussakow grew fiercer every hour. The enemy was knocking at the outer ring of the forts; from the west the heaviest cannons were pouring shot and shell with such violence that the fall of Przemysl could no longer be prevented. Most of the troops had already been withdrawn, as well as the supplies and munitions; only a small garrison remained behind to man the guns of the forts to the last moment; the little avenue to safety on the east was still open.
On May 30, 1915, the Austrian batteries began their deadly work on the Grodek line near Medyka. The exit was under fire; since May 17, Przemysl had been invested from three sides, and the fourth was all but closed. From the northern side, guarded by the Bavarians under General Kneusel, twenty-one centimeter Krupp howitzers bombarded the Russian positions round Korienice and Mackovice, drawing ever nearer the forts commanding the road and railway to Radymno. The Tenth Austro-Hungarian Army Corps, approaching from Krasiczyn, endeavored to rush some of the outer works, but paid heavily for the venture. They settled down before the forts of Pralkovice, Lipnik, Helicha and Grochovce, and those round Tatarovka mountain. General Artamoff, the Russian commander of Przemysl, had laboriously reconstructed some of the old Austrian forts and equipped them with Russian 12-centimeter howitzers. As the Austrians had brought only their 15-centimeter howitzers, they were obliged to wait until their 30.5 batteries arrived before they could undertake any serious attack.
These batteries came on the scene about May 25, 1915, it took five days' preparation, and the final bombardment began on the 30th. It was an ironical circumstance that the Austrians and Germans were in numerous places sheltering themselves behind the very earthworks which the Russians had constructed when they were besieging the place two months earlier. There had been no time to destroy them on the retreat.
The northern sector of the outer ring of forts fell on May 30, 1915, when the Bavarians captured the Russian positions near Orzechovce. A terrific bombardment was directed against the entire northern and northwestern front; great columns of infantry were pushed forward to finish the cannons' work—still the Russians hung on, ever bent on doing all possible damage to the enemy.
During the night of May 30-31, 1915, the enemy succeeded in approaching within 200 paces, and at some points even in gaining a footing in the precincts of Fort No.7, around which raged an obstinate battle that lasted until two in the afternoon of the 31st, when he was repulsed after suffering enormous losses. The remnants of the enemy who had entered Fort No.7, numbering 23 officers and 600 men, were taken prisoners.
Since the 20th of May, 1915, the clearing of the road had been going on; Von Mackensen battering the western forts and the river line as far as Jaroslav, and Boehm-Ermolli struggling to force the southern corner to get within range of the Lemberg railway. On his right, Von Marwitz had become stuck in the marshes of the Dniester between Droholycz and Komarno. The Bavarians on the north again let fly their big guns against the forts round Dunkoviczki on May 31, 1915. At four in the afternoon they ceased fire; the forts and defenses were crumpled up into a shapeless mass of wreckage. Now Prussian, Bavarian and Austrian regiments rushed forward to storm what was left. They still found some Russians there, severely mauled by the bombardment; but they could no longer present a front. They retreated behind the ring. The Tenth Austro-Hungarian Army Corps now made another attempt on Pralkovice and Lipnik. Von Mackensen's men captured two trenches near Fort No. 11—"they had to pay a heavy price in blood for every yard of their advance." Heavy batteries are also spitting fire against Forts Nos. 10 and 12. When the curtain of night fell over the scene of carnage and destruction, two breaches had been made in the outer ring of the forts.
June 2, 1915, dawned—a bright, warm summer's day; the sun rose and smiled as impassively over the Galician mountains, and valleys, and plains as it had smiled through countless ages before the genius of man had invented even the division of time. From all sides of the doomed fortress eager, determined men were advancing; Fort No. 10 was captured at noon by the Twenty-second Bavarian Infantry Regiment; later in the day the Prussian Grenadier Guards took possession of Fort No. 12; during the night the besieger's troops marched into the village of Zuravica, within the outer ring. Austrian troops had broken through from the southwest and also penetrated the inner circle.
June 3, 1915, dawned and again the sun smiles over Galicia and sees the same iron belt of machinelike men still nearer the fortress; but the haggard defenders, where are they? Gone! Flown! They have vanished during the night. Austrians and Bavarians march into the town early in the morning. The only enemies they meet are the dead.
Przemysl has fallen again—fallen before twenty times as powerful a blow as that which struck it down seventy-two days earlier.
Before proceeding with the progress of Von Mackensen and his mighty "phalanx," let us briefly trace the progress of Von Linsingen, whom we left on the road to Stryj and the Dniester, or rather, attempting to force that road. While the forts of Przemysl were being smashed in the north, Von Linsingen was pounding and demolishing the Russian positions between Uliczna and Bolechov. Heavy mortars and howitzers were at the same time being placed into position in front of the Russian trenches between Holobutow and Stryj.
On May 31, 1915, they began to roar, and before long the trenches were completely pulverized—the very trenches that thousands of Germans and Austrians had died in vain attempts to carry by assault. The Thirty-eighth Hungarian Honved Division were sent to finish the work of clearance and take possession of Stryj. The entire Russian line withdrew to the Dniester, step by step, ever fighting their favorite rear guard actions, killing and capturing thousands of their enemies. They retired behind the Dniester, but maintained their hold on any useful strategical position south of the river, so far as was possible without imperiling the continuity of their line.
We must also consider two more Austro-German sectors in order to bring the combatants stationed there into line with the Germanic advance—the Uzsok Pass and the Bukowina-cum-Eastern Galicia sectors. In the former the army of Von Szurmay stood beside that of Von Linsingen opposite the Ninth Russian Army. Von Szurmay led his men out of the pass and advanced northward on May 12, after the fall of Sanok had forced the Russians away from their positions in the vicinity of it. Their line of retreat was threatened by the Austrian approach to Sambor.
On May 16, 1915, Von Szurmay moved across the upper Stryj near Turka and passed along secondary roads in the direction of the oil districts of Schodnica, Drohobycz and Boryslav, arriving on May 16-17, 1915. Von Linsingen's troops had started their advance on the same day as those of Von Szurmay, when the Russians found Koziowa had to retire for the purpose of keeping in touch with their line: the same pressure that Sambor exerted on the Uzsok. Here again the Russians adopted rearguard tactics and considerable fighting occurred during their retreat to Stryj and Bolechow, both of which were eventually captured by Von Linsingen.
In Eastern Galicia and the Bukowina matters had come almost to a standstill between Lechitsky and Von Pflanzer-Baltin about the middle of May, 1915. When the former had cut the latter's connection with the main line, the brigade of General von Blum and other adjoining German troops on the extreme right of Von Linsingen tried hard to relieve the pressure of Lechitsky on the Austrian forces. Not till after the fall of Przemysl was the connection restored, when the Russians had to fall back from Kalusz and Nadvorna; on June 9 they evacuated Obertzn, Horodenka, Kocman and Sniatyn. Lechitsky was also compelled to withdraw from the Bukowina between Zaleszczyki, Onut, and Czernowitz, where the Austrians were moving along the Dniester in the north, the Pruth in the south, and over the hills in the center against the village of Szubraniec. Here the Russians once more inflicted severe losses on the Austrians, but being in danger from a flanking movement by the Forty-second Croatian Infantry through the Dniester forests, they retired from the Bukowina on to Russian territory on June 12, 1915.
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CAPTURE OF LEMBERG
The capture of Przemysl and of Stryj terminates the second stage of the Austro-German offensive in Galicia. The third stage may be described as the battle for Lemberg, or Lwow. Lemberg is the ancient capital of Galicia, and formerly bore the name of Lwow. The Austrians many years ago had changed it to "Lemberg." When the Russians captured the town on September 3, 1914, they had given it back the old Slavonic name, which, however, was destined soon to be transformed back again into the more pronounceable appellation of "Lemberg."
It is estimated that between April 28, 1915, and the recapture of Przemysl the Russian forces in Galicia had been diminished by at least a quarter of a million casualties. The heaviest losses occurred among Dmitrieff's troops in the first days of May, 1915, but in the battles on the San, at the close of the month, the forces of Von Mackensen's "phalanx" were also greatly reduced. Along the entire Galician front, it is computed that quite 600,000 Austro-German troops were put out of action.
While the fight for Przemysl was in full swing an important event of the war occurred—Italy joined the enemies of Austria on May 3, 1915; the Dual Monarchy had now to defend her western frontier as well. Dankl and Von Bojna were transferred to the Italian front with a considerable portion of their Galician troops. A general redistribution of units was effected among the Austrian and German armies. The army of the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand was held along the lower San as far as Sieniava. Von Mackensen was advancing east of Jaroslav along the railway toward Rawa-Ruska. Boehm-Ermolli was fighting on the road to Lemberg from Mosciska. An army under Count Bothmer was operating near the Dniester marshes, beyond which, farther south, a group of armies under Von Linsingen (mainly German) had forced the passage of the Dniester at Zuravno, and was trying to advance on Lemberg and catch Ivanoff's main forces on the flank. This last movement, if successful, would be the most effective method of crushing the retreating Russian armies: being thus outflanked, some of their lines of retreat would be cut and a dissolution of a large portion of the retiring forces could hardly have been avoided. However, all attempts in this direction failed. The Russians gradually rolled up their line on the Dniester from west to east, keeping step with the retreat of the armies which were facing west. With strong reenforcements from Kiev and Odessa Brussilov commanded the Dniester front under the direction of General Ivanoff. If only the ponderous advance of Von Mackensen could have been arrested, Brussilov would have had little difficulty in sweeping Von Linsingen back to the Carpathian barrier. A somewhat similar condition existed in the north, where the Austrians were at the mercy of Ivanoff's strong right wing.
The archduke's front was smashed at Rudnik early in June, 1915; his forces were driven back a day's march and lost 4,000 men in prisoners, besides many guns. The Second, Third and Fourth Tyrolese regiments were almost annihilated. German troops were hurried to the rescue. Boehm-Ermolli also got into serious difficulties at Mosciska, where the Russians held him up for a week with a furious battle. Ivanoff was scoring points against all his individual opponents excepting only Von Mackensen. The "phalanx," always kept up to full strength by a continuous influx of reserves and provided with millions of high-explosive shells, not only pursued its irresistible course eastward, but had to turn now right, now left, to help Austrian and German commanders out of trouble. Heavy howitzers lumbered along the way to Rawa-Ruska—not to Lemberg, but to the north of it, on the flank of the Russian army still holding the Lower San. This army had therefore to retire northward to the river line of the Tanev stream, cautiously followed by the archduke's forces. The "phalanx" had again saved them from disaster. Similarly, at Mosciska, when Boehm-Ermolli tried to storm the Russian position by mass attacks, his infantry was driven back with such terrible punishment that they could not be induced to make another advance. There was nothing to be done here, but wait till Von Mackensen turned the flank of the Russian position for them, which he did in one of the most stubborn conflicts of the war—the battle of the Lubaczovka, a tributary of the San between Rawa-Ruska and Lemberg. Never were the fighting abilities of Slav and Teuton more severely tested. For over a week the struggle raged; a half million men were brought up in groups and flung against the Russian front. Shell, shrapnel, bullets and asphyxiating bombs finally wore down the Russian resistance.
Incapacitated by physical exhaustion and outnumbered by three to one, the Russian infantry gave way on June 13, 1915. The "phalanx" drove into their ranks and advanced rapidly in a northerly direction on its great flanking movement. But the Russian spirit was not broken, for at this critical moment General Polodchenko rode out with three regiments of cavalry—the Don Cossacks, the Chernigov Hussars, and the Kimburn Dragoons. They dashed into the unbroken lines of the triumphant German infantry like a living hurricane, sabered the enemy, and put thousands on the run. Swerving aside, they next charged deep into the German rear, mauled the reserves into confusion, hacked their way out again and captured several machine guns. The most remarkable feature about this extraordinary exploit was the fact that the losses sustained by the cavalry amounted only to 200 killed and wounded. The effect on the "phalanx," however, was such that no more attacks were made that day, and the Russians were able to retire to the hills near Rawa-Ruska. Ivanoff was now compelled to draw reenforcements from other parts of the line to strengthen his front at Rawa-Ruska. This meant weakening Ewarts's against the archduke and Brussilov against Boehm-Ermolli. The downfall of the Dunajec-Biala front had been attributed by the Russian War Staff to overconfidence or neglect on the part of General Dmitrieff, who was subsequently relieved of his command and replaced by General Lesch. At an official inquiry Dmitrieff was exonerated and reinstated on the reasonable ground that, whatever precautions of defense he might have taken, they would have proved ineffective against the preponderance of the German artillery.
After the battle of Lubaczow the Russian line drew back about twenty miles. For the defense of Lemberg the front ran in a concave form from along the River Tanev, five miles from Rawa-Ruska, down to Grodek and Kolodruby; then eastward behind the Dniester to Zuravno and Halicz. The marshes of the Dniester, then swollen by heavy rains, formed a good natural defense; the intrenchments on the hills north of Grodek to Rawa-Ruska protected the approaches to Lemberg from that direction. The weakest spot lay around Janov, fifteen miles north of Grodek, where the level ground would permit the easy transport of heavy artillery. This position had been fortified with trenches and wire entanglements. Here also were concentrated the troops withdrawn from other parts of the line, and four armored trains with quick-firing guns from the depot at Rovno. General Ivanoff had no intention of making any decisive stand against the "phalanx"; neither did he think of risking his armies in a battle for Lemberg. That town was certainly of great military and political importance—worth a dozen Przemysls—and worth fighting for. But for that he would need artillery in enormous quantity. Von Mackensen carried 2,500 guns with him, as well as siege trains of heavy howitzers. Ivanoff possessed none of these, and could therefore hope only to fight rear-guard actions while retiring before Von Mackensen. In any other part of the Galician line except the center he had little to fear. We left Von Linsingen forcing the Dniester at Zuravno. He got the bulk of his army across, the main advance commanded by Von Bothmer, who captured the northern heights and penetrated the forests near the Stryj-Tarnopol railway. They were less than fifty miles from Lemberg.
The "retreating" Brussilov suddenly turned round and fell on Von Bothmer's advance. The fight lasted three days, with the result that the Austro-Germans were obliged to fall back across the Dniester, leaving behind 2,000 killed and wounded, besides 17 guns, 78 machine guns, 348 officers and 15,430 men as prisoners, June 8-10, 1915.
On June 11, 1915, however, the Germans renewed the attack on Zuravno, recaptured the town, and on June 12 were five miles north of it. By June 13 they had made ten miles, when Brussilov lashed out again. Within two days the Germans were back on the Dniester. Von Mackensen had meanwhile concentrated a new series of heavy batteries around Jaroslav and formed a new "phalanx" (with reenforcements) west of the San between Piskorovice and Radymno. Another attempt was preparing to break through Ivanoff's right wing.
A violent bombardment began on June 12, 1915, and Austro-Hungarian troops crossed the river and occupied both Sieniava and Piskorovice. Next day the advance spread along the whole line, extending from Tarnoviec on the Zlota to the Radymno-Javorov road, pressing north and eastward against the Russian front. Pivoting on Sieniava, Von Mackensen swung his right toward Mosciska, which Von Marwitz captured on June 14, 1915. The same night the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand's entire army was slowly wheeling from the San toward the Tanev, facing due north.
On June 16, 1915, the left of this line was already inside the borders of Russian Poland, and its right wing along the entire Tanev front. By June 16 numerous towns and villages were taken by the Germans. The Wolff Telegraphic Bureau announced that Von Mackensen's army had captured 40,000 men and 69 machine guns, which undoubtedly referred to all the Galician groups, for on June 12, 1915, Von Mackensen had "replaced" the Archduke Frederick as generalissimo of the Austro-Hungarian armies. The "phalanx" was pressing against Rawa-Ruska, Magierow, and Janov; Boehm-Ermolli against Grodek, part of which he captured by a midnight assault on June 16. In five weeks the Russian line or front in Galicia had shrunk from 300 miles to about 100. Before Dunajec, when it was united with the northern groups, it had represented the longest battle line in the history of the world.
The Russians began to evacuate Lemberg about June 17, 1915, the day Von Mackensen's right entered Javorov. On the 19th his advance guard was approaching Rawa-Ruska. Boehm-Ermolli was meanwhile undergoing severe punishment near Komarno, where an Austrian advance force endeavored to get through the Grodek Lakes. The Russian artillery drove them back; for three days there were furious bayonet and cavalry charges and countercharges; despite the most terrific bombardments the Austrian attacks were broken by the desperate Russians. On this occasion, at least, the Russians were well supplied with shells hurriedly sent by rail from Kiev, which enabled them to repulse the Austrians on the lakes. Boehm-Ermolli is said to have lost half of his effectives in his attempt to penetrate through Grodek and Dornfeld, fifteen miles south of Lemberg.
Von Mackensen again came to the rescue by making a great turning movement in the district of Zolkiev, about sixteen miles north of Lemberg, and attacking the Russian positions about Janov, forcing the Russians over the hills and the Rawa-Ruska railway to Zolkiev. His left wing, resting on Lubaczov, swung northward in a wheeling movement to envelop Rawa-Ruska. But the Russians intercepted the move; ferocious encounters and Cossack charges threw the Germans back to their pivot with heavy losses on both sides. Von Mackensen's center, however, was too strong, and Ivanoff desired no pitched battle—the only way to check its advance. He therefore fell back between Rawa-Ruska and Lemberg, yielding the former to Von Mackensen and the latter to Boehm-Ermolli, who was able to lead his battered troops into the town on June 22, 1915, without further resistance. Brussilov now had to withdraw from the Dniester. As at Przemysl, the Russian garrison departed with all stores and baggage before the victors arrived. Lemberg had been in Russian possession for 293 days.
A German attack near Rawa-Ruska was repulsed by the Russians on June 25, 1915. For two days the "phalanx" rested to replenish its stock of shells; when these had arrived along the Przemysl line, Von Mackensen turned northward in the direction of Kholm on the Lublin-Brest-Litovsk railway. On his left marched the Austro-Hungarian army of the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand. These two armies drop out of the Galician campaign at this stage and become part of the great German offensive against the Polish salient. The gigantic enveloping movement had failed in the south; it was now to be attempted against the Russian line in front of Warsaw, conducted by Von Hindenburg and Von Gallwitz in the northern sector, and by Von Mackensen, assisted by General Woyrsch and Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, in the southern. These operations are described in the pages following.
More than three-fourths of Galicia had now been reconquered, and it was left to the Austrians and the Germans to complete the conquest. The campaign was one of the greatest operations of the war. An English military writer thus describes the achievement: "Only a most magnificent army organization and a most careful preparation, extending to infinite detail, could execute a plan of such magnitude at the speed at which it was done by the Austrian and German armies in May, 1915."
Not yet, however, were the Russian armies destroyed; to the German War Staff it was not now a question of taking or retaking territory, but of striking a final and decisive blow at the vitals of Russia. The continuous series of reverses suffered by Boehm-Ermolli and Von Linsingen exerted an important effect on the end of the Galician campaign: it frustrated the plan of eliminating the Russian forces. The battle lines in France and Flanders could wait a while till the Russian power was annihilated.
After the fall of Lemberg, Ivanoff withdrew the main body of his troops toward the river line of the Bug, Boehm-Ermolli following up behind. Again that unfortunate general was roughly handled—another of his divisions was annihilated southeast of Lemberg in a rear-guard action. Von Linsingen directed his efforts against the Gnila Lipa and Halicz, while Von Pflatzer-Baltin still operated on the Dniester. For many months the Russians and Austrians faced each other in eastern Galicia; they were still skirmishing at the end of the year. Both Russia and Austria had more important matters on hand elsewhere: the former against Germany in the north, and the latter with her new enemy—Italy. Galicia became a side issue.
The Galician campaign will rank as one of the most instructive episodes in military history, an example of unparalleled calculation, scientific strategy, and admirable heroism, involving, it is computed, the terrible sacrifice of at least a million human lives.
PART IV—RUSSO-GERMAN CAMPAIGN
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WINTER BATTLES OF THE MAZURIAN LAKES
The battle known in the German official accounts as the "Winter Battle in Mazurian Land" is sometimes described as the "Nine Days' Battle." In this sense it is to be considered as beginning on the 7th of February, 1915, and ending on the 16th, when the German Great Headquarters reported that the Tenth Russian Army, consisting of at least eleven infantry and several cavalry divisions, had been driven out of its strongly fortified positions to the east of the Mazurian Lake district, forced across the border, and, having been almost completely surrounded, had been crushingly defeated. In fact, however, fighting continued as part of the same action until the 21st of February, 1915, when the pursuit of the defeated army ended.
The forces engaged in this titanic conflict were the Russian Tenth Army, consisting, according to the Russian version, of four corps, under General Baron Sievers, and the German East Prussian armies, under General van Eichhorn, operating on the north on the line Insterburg-Loetzen, and General van Buelow on the line Loetzen-Johannisburg to the south of Van Eichhorn. Sources favorable to the Allies represent the strength of General Sievers's army as 120,000 men. They assert that the total German force consisted of nine corps, over 300,000 men. These are said to have included the Twenty-first Corps, which had been with the Crown Prince of Bavaria in the west; three reserve corps, also from the west; the Thirty-eighth and Fortieth Corps, new formations, from the interior of Germany; the equivalent of three corps from other sections of the eastern front; and a reserve corps of the Guard. The German official description of the battle credits the Russians with having had in this sector of the battle front in East Prussia at the beginning of February six to eight army corps, or about 200,000 men.
For months the heavy fighting in the east had centered on other sections of the immense battle line, running from the Baltic to the Carpathians. The second general Russian offensive, the great forward thrust of the Grand Duke Nicholas toward Cracow in the direction of Berlin, aimed through the center of the German defense, had been met, and the German counterthrust toward Warsaw had come to a standstill in the mud of Poland and before the stone-wall defensive of the Russians on the Bsura and the Rawka. Attacks launched by the Russians against the East Prussian frontier, centering at Lyck, in January, 1915, seemed to forebode a fresh Russian offensive intended to sweep back the German armies in this section whose position on the Russian right wing was a continual threat to the communications of the Russian commander in chief.
The Germans, disposing of comparatively weak forces, estimated at three army corps, were compelled to yield a strip of East Prussian territory, and had fallen back to positions of considerable natural strength formed by the chain of Mazurian Lakes and the line of the Angerapp River. They reported their forces standing on the defensive here as 50 per cent Landwehr, 25 per cent Landsturm, and only 25 per cent other troops not of the reserve. Repeated attempts of the Russians to gain possession of these fortified positions had, however, broken down. They had been directed especially against the bridgehead of Darkehmen and the right wing of the German forces in the Paprodtk Hills. Wading up to their shoulders in icy water, the hardy troops of the Third Siberian Corps had attempted in vain to cross the Nietlitz Swamp, between the lakes to the east of Lyck.
At the beginning of February, 1915, finally Von Hindenburg had been able to obtain fresh German forces and to put them in position for an encircling movement against the Russians lying just to the east of the lakes, from near Tilsit to Johannisburg. With the greatest secrecy the reenforcements, hidden from observation by their fortified positions, and the border forces maintaining the defense, were gathered behind the two German wings. The Russians apparently gained an inkling of the big move that was impending about the time the advance against their wings was under way. The first news of the opening of the battle came to the public in a Russian official announcement of the 9th of February, 1915, to the effect that on the 7th the Germans had undertaken the offensive with considerable force in the Goldap-Johannisburg sector. The northern group of Germans began its movement somewhat later from the direction of Tilsit.
Extensive preparations had been made by the German leaders to meet the difficulties of a winter campaign under unfavorable weather conditions. Thousands of sleighs and hundreds of thousands of sleigh runners (on which to drag cannon and wagons), held in readiness, were a part of these preparations for a rapid advance. Deep snow covered the plain, and the lakes were thickly covered with ice. On the 5th of February, 1915, a fresh snowstorm set in, accompanied by an icy wind, which heaped the snow in deep drifts and made tremendously difficult travel on the roads and railways, completely shutting off motor traffic.
The Germans on the south, in order to come into contact with the main Russian forces, had to cross the Johannisburg Forest and the Pisseck River, which flows out of the southernmost of the chain of lakes. The attacking columns made their way through the snow-clad forests with all possible speed, forcing their way through barriers of felled trees and driving the Russians from the river crossings.
Throughout the 8th of February, 1915, the marching columns moved through whirling snow clouds, the Germans driving their men forward relentlessly, so that, in spite of the drifted snow which filled the roads, certain troops covered on this day a distance of forty kilometers. The Germans under General von Falck took Snopken by storm; those under General von Litzmann crossed the Pisseck near Wrobeln. The immediate objectives of these columns were Johannisburg and Biala, where strong Russian forces were posted.
On the 9th the southern column, under Von Litzmann, was attacked on its right flank by Russians coming from Kolna, to the south of them. The German troops repelled the attack, taking 2,500 prisoners, eight cannon, and twelve machine guns. General Saleck took Johannisburg, and Biala was cleared of the Russians. The advance of these southern columns continued rapidly toward Lyck.
The German left wing at the same time fell overwhelmingly on the northern end of the Russian line. On the 9th they took the fortified Russian positions stretching from Spullen to the Schorell Forest and nearly to the Russian border. They had here hard work to force their way through wire entanglements of great strength. Having noticed signs of a retreat on the part of their opponents, these German forces had on the preceding day begun the attack without waiting for the whole of their artillery to come up. The Russians retreated toward the southeast.
Swinging forward toward the Russian border, the German left wing now exerted itself to the utmost to execute the sweeping encircling movement for which the strategy of Von Hindenburg had become famous. The Russian right wing had been turned and was being pressed continually toward the southeast. The German troops rushed forward in forced marches, ignoring the difficulties which nature put in their way. By the 10th of February these columns reached the Pillkallen-Wladislawow line, and by the 11th the main highway from Gumbinnen to Wilkowyszki. The right wing, up to the capture of Stallupohnen, had taken some 4,000 prisoners, four machine guns, and eleven ammunition wagons. The center of this army, at the capture of Eydtkuhnen, Wirballen, and Kibarty, took 10,000 prisoners, six cannon, eight machine guns, numerous baggage wagons, including eighty field kitchens, three military trains and other rolling stock, a large number of gift packages intended for the Russian troops, and, of chief interest to the fighting men, a whole day's provisions.
On the afternoon of February 10 some one and a half Russian divisions had come to a halt in these three neighboring villages: Eydtkuhnen, Kibarty, and Wirballen. Although it was known that the Germans were approaching, it was apparently regarded by the Russians as impossible that pursuers would be able to come up with them in the raging snowstorm. So certain were they of their security that no outposts were put on guard. Only thus could it happen that the Germans, who had not allowed the forces of nature to stop their advance, arrived right at the Russian position on the same day, though with infantry alone and merely a few guns, everything else having been left behind, stuck in the snowdrifts.
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THE RUSSIANS OUT OF GERMANY
It was evening when the Germans made their surprise attack on Eydtkuhnen and midnight when they fell upon Wirballen. On the roadway stood two Russian batteries with twelve guns and a considerable number of ammunition wagons. The German infantry approached without firing a shot until they were within fifty yards. Then all the horses were shot down and the guns and ammunition seized. The men of the battery fled. In both these towns there was street fighting in the night, lit up by burning houses which had been fired by the Russians in their retreat.
One of the captured trains was the hospital train of the czar. This was utilized as headquarters for the night by the staff of General von Lauenstein.
By the 12th of February, 1915, the German troops of the left wing, sweeping down from the north and pressing the Russians back from village to village, were entirely on Russian soil. Wizwiny, Kalwarja, and Mariampol were occupied on this day. The number of guns taken by these troops had been increased by seventeen, according to German reports. The German Headquarters Staff declared that by this time the Russian Seventy-third and Fifty-sixth Divisions had been as good as annihilated, and the Twenty-seventh division nearly destroyed. The Russians lying before the Angerapp line and the defenses of Loetzen had in the meantime also begun to retreat toward the east. German troops, consisting chiefly of reserves of the Landwehr and Landsturm which up to this time had been held back within the German fortified line, now advanced to attack the yielding army, whose long marching column could be observed by the German flyers. While General von Eichhorn's troops, coming from the neighborhood of Tilsit and making their way through snow and ice, were advancing upon Suwalki and Sejny, and the German right wing was fighting its way through Grajewo, toward Augustowo, the center of the troops of General von Buelow for several days fought the Russians in furious battle in the vicinity of Lyck. From all sides the Germans were closing in. To protect the withdrawal of this main army to Suwalki and Augustowo, the Russians endeavored by all means to hold the narrows of the lakes before Lyck, where they were favored by the nature of the ground and aided by strong defensive works, for the most part well provided with wire entanglements. The best of the Russian troops, Siberian regiments, here fought with great energy under a determined leadership, and the Russians, in fact, at some places took the offensive. By the 12th of February, 1915, however, the Germans had taken these positions and the Russians had withdrawn to the narrow passages among the lakes before Lyck. The battles around this town were carried on under the eye of the German Emperor. The German soldiers were still occupied in hunting through the houses for scattered Russians as the emperor stepped from his motor car. He was received with hurrahs, and the soldiers surrounded him, singing "Deutschland, Deutschland ueber Alles." The emperor, standing amid the blackened ruins of burned homes, delivered a short address to the soldiers gathered about him, giving special recognition to Infantry Regiment No. 33, an East Prussian unit which had especially distinguished itself and suffered great losses. On the same day the Germans advanced beyond Lyck, and by the 15th of February no Russian remained on German soil.
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TIGHTENING OF THE NET—REPORT OF THE BOOTY
The Russian right, retiring to avoid envelopment, sought the natural line of retreat along the railway to Kovno. In executing this movement it turned toward the northeast, and exceeding in speed of movement the corps to the south of it, the Twentieth, under the command of General Bulgakov, the latter was left out of the line. In consequence its right wing was turned and it was pressed down toward the south with the enemy on three sides of it. It speedily became a broken force in the forest north of Suwalki. The Russians endeavored to reach the protection of their great fortress of Grodno. It was the task of the German division coming down from the north in forced marches to cut off this way of escape and prevent the Russians coming out of the forest toward the southeast.
The march of these German troops carried them through great woodlands, amid frozen lakes, when suddenly a thaw set in. The sleighs which had been used had to be abandoned and wagons requisitioned on the spot wherever possible.
An officer with these troops relates that infantrymen were sent forward on wagons, and on the night following the 15th of February took Sopozkin, to the east of Augustowo, on the line of the Russian retreat, capturing the baggage of an entire Russian army corps. "The morning," he writes, "presented to us a unique picture. Hundreds of vehicles, baggage carts, machine guns, ammunition, provision and ambulance wagons stood in a vast disorder in the market place of the town and in the street. In between were hundreds of horses, some harnessed, some loose, dead Russians, dead horses, bellowing cattle, and sounding over it all the words of command of our troops endeavoring to create order in this mad mix-up, and to take care of the rich booty. Many an interesting find did we make—'mementos' which the Russians had taken with them from Prussia and which now were to find their way back."
A German commander tells how, in their efforts to cut off the Russian retreat, the artillery were compelled to cross many brooks running through deep gullies, so that it was necessary frequently to lower guns and wagons by means of ropes on one side and pull them up on the other.
One of the German leaders, describing this encircling movement to the southeast from the north in which he played a part, says: "The roads and the weather were beyond all description—twelve to fifteen degrees Reaumur, with a cutting wind and driving snow, with nothing to eat, as the field kitchens on these roads could not follow. During pauses in the march one could but lean against the wall of a miserable house or lie down in the burned-out ruins, without straw to lie on and no covering. Men and horses sank to their hips in the snow, and so we worked our way forward, usually only about two kilometers an hour. Wagons and horses that upset had to be shoveled out of the drifts. It was a terrible sight, but we got through. We had to go on without regard for anything, and the example of the higher officers did much."
Two Russian corps from the southern wing of the army retreating by the Suwalki-Sejny causeway and by the Ossowetz Railway, according to accounts from Russian sources, made their way out of the trap under heavy rear-guard fighting.
The escaped portions of the Russian army crossed the Bobr toward Grodno. From the direction of this Russian stronghold a desperate effort was made to relieve the four corps which were endeavoring to escape toward the fortress from the forest southeast of Augustowo into which they had been pressed by the Germans from the west and north. On the 21st of February came the final act in the great drama. The German troops pushed forward at their best speed from all directions toward the forest. The help that had been intended for them came too late. Concerning the captures of this day, the German Great Headquarters reported: "On the 21st of February the remnants of the Tenth Army laid down their arms in the forest of Augustowo after all attempts of the Russian commander of this army, General Sievers, to cut a way out for the encircled four divisions by means of those parts of his army which remained to him after escaping over the Bobr to Grodno failed with extremely heavy losses."
Summarizing the results of the entire battle in an announcement of the 22d of February, the German Great Headquarters said: "The pursuit after the winter battle in Mazurian Land is ended. In cleaning up the forests to the northwest of Grodno, and in the battles reported during the last few days in the region of the Bobr and the Narew, there have been captured to date one commanding general, two division commanders, four other generals, and in the neighborhood of 40,000 men, seventy-five cannon, a quantity of machine guns, whose number is not yet determined, and much other war material.
"The total booty of the winter battle in Mazurian Land, therefore, up to to-day rises to seven generals, more than 100,000 men, more than 150 cannon, and material of all sorts, inclusive of machine guns, which cannot yet be approximately estimated. Heavy guns and ammunition were in many cases buried by the enemy or sunk in the lakes; thus eight heavy guns were yesterday dug out or hauled out of the water near Loetzen and Lake Widmin.
"The Tenth Russian Army of General Baron Sievers may, therefore, now be considered as completely annihilated."
This summary was corrected in a later announcement, which stated that the number of guns taken as booty in the pursuit after the winter battle in Mazurian Land had risen to 300, including eighteen heavy guns. This was published on the 23d of February. In an announcement of the 26th of February the Great Headquarters amplified its account of the victory with this statement:
"In the Russian official report the extent of the disaster in the winter battle of Mazurian Land is either concealed or an attempt is made to obscure it. It is unnecessary to go further into these denials. As evidence of the extent of the defeat, the following list of the positions held by the captured generals, however, may serve:
"Of the Twentieth Army Corps: the commanding general, the commander of the artillery, the commander of the Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth Infantry Divisions, and of the First Brigade of Infantry of the Twenty-ninth Infantry Division. The commander of this latter division succumbed to his wounds soon after being made prisoner.
"Of the Third Army Corps: the commander of the Twenty-seventh Infantry Division and the commander of the artillery and of the Second Infantry Brigade of this division.
"Of the Fifty-third Reserve Division: the division commander and the commander of the First Infantry Brigade.
"Of the First Siberian Cossack Division: a brigade commander."
This brought the total of Russian generals captured up to eleven.
This account of one of the greatest battles of the European War is necessarily based to a large extent on reports of the Germans, owing to the fact that material from this source is virtually the only official account available of the operation as a whole. The Russian General Staff has contented itself with the following announcement, made public on February 21, 1915:
"When the Germans, after a series of extraordinary obstinate and persistent attacks which caused them heavy losses, had recognized the impossibility of pressing in our front on the left bank of the Vistula, they turned at the end of January to the execution of a new plan. After the creation or several new corps in the interior of the country, and the bringing up of troops from their west front, the Germans threw important forces into East Prussia. The transportation of troops was made easier by the extraordinarily developed net of railways which Germany has at its disposal.
"The task of the new troops sent to East Prussia was to defeat our Tenth Army, which held strongly constructed positions along the Angerapp. To assure the success of the undertaking the Germans brought a portion of their forces from the Bzura and Rawka fronts to the right bank of the Vistula. A movement of the Germans in East Prussia already became noticeable on the 4th of February, 1915. But the extent of this movement could only be recognized a few days later. As our leaders, because of the lack of railroad lines, could not collect the necessary forces on the East Prussian front with the necessary speed to meet the hostile attack adequately, they decided to take back the above-mentioned army of East Prussia to the border. In this movement of the right wing the Tenth Army, which was pressed by heavy hostile forces and threatened with being surrounded from the right, was forced to make a rapid change of alignment in the direction of Kovno. In this rapid movement a corps was separated from the rest of the army. The other corps which continued the battle obstinately without interruption, slowly drew back in the prescribed direction, bravely repelling the enemy and inflicting upon him heavy losses. Our troops overcame unbelievable difficulties, which were caused by the snow which filled all roads. As the streets were impassable, automobiles could not run. Trains were delayed and frequently failed to arrive at their destination. Our corps which formed the left wing of the Tenth Army held the enemy, while drawing back step for step for nine days on a stretch of territory which ordinarily is covered in four days. On the 19th of February these corps withdrawing by way of Augustowo left the battle field and took the position assigned to them. Further battles developed in the region before Ossowetz, on the roads from Lomza to Jedwabno and to the north of Radislow, also halfway between Plozk and Plonsk. These battles were in places very intense."
An English authority says: "The chief Russian loss was in General Bulgakov's Twentieth Corps, which the German staff asserted they had completely destroyed. But during the fortnight which ended on Saturday the 20th, at least half of that corps and more than two-thirds of its guns safely made their way through the Augustowo and Suwalki woods to the position which had been prepared for the Russian defense. The total Russian losses may have been 80 guns and 30,000 men; they were no more. The two southern corps, in spite of their stubborn action at Lyck, crossed the woods between Augustowo and Ossowetz without serious disaster."
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BATTLES OF PRZASNYSZ—BEFORE MLAWA
The shattering of the Tenth Russian Army in the "winter battle" of the Mazurian Lakes was part of a greater conflict which in February, 1915, extended far down the armies on the right flank of the great Russian battle line which ran from the Baltic to the Dniester. A "new gigantic plan" of the Slavs was involved. As interpreted by the German General Staff it meant that while the extreme northern wing of the Russian armies was to sweep westward through the projecting section of Germany, East Prussia, along the Baltic another Russian army was to advance in force from the south against the corner formed by West Prussia and the Vistula. With vast masses of cavalry in the van, it was to break through the boundary between Mlawa and Thorn, and pushing northward, come into the rear of those German forces which were facing eastward against the attack aimed at East Prussia from the northeast. For operations in this section the Russians had favorable railway connections. Two railways terminating at Ostrolenka permitted the rapid unloading of large masses of troops at this point, and the line Warsaw-Mlawa-Soldau led straight into the territory aimed at by such an invasion. It seemed easily credible that the Russian commander in chief did, as reported, give orders that Mlawa should be taken be the cost what it might.
The northern Russian armies based upon the fortresses of Kovno and Grodno on the Niemen had not fully started on their part of this great, well-planned undertaking when the German counteroffensive was suddenly launched with tremendous strength from the Tilsit-Insterburg-Mazurian Lakes line. The disaster which followed, and which banished all hope of an advance of the Russians on this wing, has been described on a preceding page. While the Germans, using to the best advantage their net of railroads for the swift accumulation of troops, had gathered large forces on the Mazurian Lakes line, they had at the same time strengthened the troops standing on the southern boundary of West and East Prussia. An artillery officer, General von Gallwitz, was placed in command of this army with orders to protect the right flank of the German armies attacking in Mazurian Land, and to prevent the expected Russian attempt at invasion in his own sector of the front.
While the "winter battle" was raging to the east of him, Von Gallwitz in the characteristic German fashion of defense by a strong offensive moved forward up the right bank of the Vistula to Plozk. A cavalry division and regiments of the Guard at Sierpe and Racionz, February 12-18, 1915, won well-earned laurels for themselves by driving an enemy of superior strength before them. At Dobrin, according to German report, they took 2,500 prisoners.
General von Gallwitz's plan, however, was of more ambitious scope. It was his intention, by encircling the Russians in the territory before him from both wings, to sweep clear of enemies the entire stretch of country in the Polish triangle between the Vistula and the Orczy rivers. The right wing of his troops that had come down the bank of the Vistula was to swing to the eastward in behind the Russians. German troops which had arrived at Willenberg inside of the East Prussian boundary, one of the German concentration points on the line of railroad lying behind their front, on the other hand, received orders to descend the valley of the Orczy and to come in behind the Russian right flank from the east. These troops, making a wide detour, swept past Przasnysz on the east, and swinging round to the south of the city attacked the Russians holding the place from this direction. The Germans had understood that only small Russian forces were in the city. Anticipating the German movement, however, a Russian division, as the Germans learned later, had hastened to Przasnysz. The Russians also had collected large forces on the Narew, and were hurrying them toward Przasnysz on roads covering a wide front. Two full Russian corps from this line were flung upon the German left wing.
The forces of Von Gallwitz which had carried out the encircling movement from the east and south of Przasnysz now found themselves caught between two Russian armies. However, they were unwilling to relinquish the booty which they had planned to seize. A part of the German forces was disposed in a half circle as a defense against the Russians coming up from the south, and a division of reserves, February 24, stormed Przasnysz. The German Great Headquarters announced that the Germans captured 10,000 prisoners, including 57 officers, and took 36 cannon, 14 machine guns, and much war material of various sorts. However, the Russian troops were now pressing forward from the south with irresistible force. The Germans, in consequence, slowly fell back, fighting under great difficulties, and moving northward toward their defensive lines, carrying with them their prisoners and booty.
The Russian General Staff on the first of March, 1915, devoted an explicit account to the fighting about Przasnysz which differs but slightly from the narrative by the German Great Headquarters which has in general been followed in the preceding description. Both sides apparently considered the operation of special importance, and as reflecting credit upon their respective troops. The Russian story emphasizes the attacks made by their force on the line Lyssakowo-Chainovo simultaneously from north and south, that is, both in the flank and in the rear of the Germans to the west of Przasnysz. They represent their troops in the city as having consisted of only a brigade of infantry and some insignificant cavalry units. On the 25th of February, when the Germans had established themselves in the town, the Russians, according to their account, were pressing their enemies hard upon a long front from Krasnoseltz through Vengerzinovo, Kolatschkowo to Voliaverlowska.
On the evening of this day they drove the Germans into positions close to the city. The Thirty-sixth German Reserve Division on the same evening is said to have met serious disaster after a determined resistance at the crossings of the Anetz. On the evening of the next day the Russians began to reenter Przasnysz, but did not completely occupy the town until the night after the 27th. "The Germans," the Russian account continues, "hereupon began a disorderly retreat, endeavoring to withdraw in the direction of Mlawa-Chorgele. Regardless of the exhaustion consequent upon the marching they had undergone and four days of battle, our troops energetically took up the pursuit of the enemy. On the 28th of February they inflicted serious losses upon his rear guard. In these battles we seized a large amount of booty. The total number of prisoners amounts to at least 10,000." The Russians maintain that they had defeated no less than two German army corps and thrown them back to the border.
On the 12th of March, 1915, the German Great Headquarters protested against this version of the affair, and pointed to the fact that within a few days their troops were again threatening Przasnysz, and that since giving up the city they had captured on the battle fields between the Vistula and the Orczy no less than 11,460 Russians.
The city of Przasnysz itself suffered heavily in these attacks and counterattacks. For days and nights it had lain under bombardment and repeatedly fierce, hand-to-hand combats had been fought in its streets. Most of the houses of the place were left mere heaps of smoking ruins.
From the German point of view this offensive just north of the Vistula which included the temporary capture of Przasnysz was a success, especially in this, that it had prevented the big Russian forward movement against the West Prussian boundary which the impending great Russian offensive had foreboded. It had been impossible for the Russians seriously to endanger the German flank in this section, while the Germans had struck to the east in the "winter battle," and had definitely spoiled the Russian appetite for invasion from the Kovno-Grodno line.
As though determined to avenge their defeat to the east of the lakes, the Russians now continued to direct a series of fierce attacks in the direction of Mlawa, intending apparently to break through the German line of defense between Soldau and Neidenburg. It was said that the Russians believed General von Hindenburg in person to be in charge of the German forces in this sector. In consequence the German troops for the most part were forced to stand upon the defensive. In the beginning of March the Russian attacks increased steadily in violence. They broke against the German positions to the east and south of Mlawa, according to German reports, with enormous losses. At Demsk, to the east of Mlawa, long rows of white stones mark common graves of masses of Russians who perished before the German barbed-wire entanglements. The Germans point to these as dumb witnesses of the disaster that overtook forty-eight Russian companies that assaulted ten German ones. The cold weather at this time had made possible the swampy regions in which the Orczy rises, and had enabled the Russians to approach close to the German line of defense.
The Russian attack at this point in the night of the 7th of March, 1915, was typical of the fighting on this line in these weeks. After a thousand shells from the Russian heavy guns had descended upon and behind Demsk, a seemingly ceaseless series of infantry attacks set in. They were carried close up to the lines of wire of the German defense. Enough light, however, was shed by the searchlights and light balls shot from pistols to enable the Germans to direct a destructive infantry and machine-gun fire on the approaching lines. Those of the Russians who did not fall, fled to the next depression in the ground. There they were held by the beams of the searchlights until daybreak. Then they surrendered to the German patrols. Of another attack a few kilometers farther to the north, at Kapusnik, the Germans reported that after the enemy had penetrated into their trenches and had been driven out in a desperate bayonet fight, they buried 906 Russians and 164 Germans.
On the 8th of March, 1915, General von Gallwitz again tried an offensive with fresh forces which he had gathered. It was thwarted, however, on the 12th, to the north of Przasnysz. The Germans estimated the Russian forces which here were brought up for the counterattack at some ten army corps and seven cavalry divisions. The Russians in advancing this time, instead of directing their thrust at Mlawa, pushed northeastward of Przasnysz along the rivers Orczy and Omulew. In this sector the Germans counted from the 13th to the 23d of March forty-six serious assaults, twenty-five in the daytime and twenty-one at night. With special fury the battles raged in the neighborhood of Jednorozez. This attempt to break into Prussia was also unsuccessful, and in the last week of March the Russian attacks slackened, quiet ensuing for the weeks following Easter.
For six weeks the armies had struggled back and forth in this bloody angle, fighting in cold and wet, amid snow and icy rains. The Germans asserted that in these six weeks the troops of General von Gallwitz had captured 43,000 Russians and slain some 25,000. They estimated the total losses of the enemy in this sector during the period at 100,000. Countless graves scattered about the land, and the ruins of cities and villages were left to keep awake the memory of some of the fiercest fighting of the war in the east.
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FIGHTING BEFORE THE NIEMEN AND BOBR—BOMBARDMENT OF OSSOWETZ
The winter battles of the Mazurian Lakes had forced the armies at the northern end of the Russian right flank back into their great fortresses Kovno and Grodno, and behind the line of the Niemen and the Bobr. A great forest region lies to the east and north of Grodno, and between the Niemen and the cities of Augustowo and Suwalki which the Germans, after their successful offensive, used as bases for their operations. A strip of country including these forests, and running parallel to the Niemen was a sort of no-man's land in the spring of 1915. Movements of troops in the heavily wooded country were difficult to observe, and the conditions lent themselves to surprise attacks. This resulted in a warfare of alternate thrusts by Russians and Germans aimed now at this point, now at that, in the disputed territory. Several actions during the spring stand out beyond the rest in importance, both because of the numbers engaged and their effects. In what follows will be described a typical offensive movement in this district undertaken by the Russians, and the way it was met by the Germans.
A new Russian Tenth Army had been organized by the end of February, 1915, with Grodno for its base. General Sievers, his chief of staff, and the general in command of the Third Russian Army Corps had been demoted from their commands, and three new army corps (Two, Three, and Fifteen) had been brought to Grodno. The ranks of the remaining corps that had suffered in the "winter battle" had been filled up with fresh recruits. Hardly had the German pursuit in the forest of Augustowo come to an end when the freshly strengthened Russians moved forward from their defensive lines in a counterattack. The Germans had been engaged in the task of gathering and carting away their enormous booty which lay scattered about the forest. They now drew back from in front of the Russian fortified lines to prepare positions close to Augustowo, and on a line running roughly north and south from this place, with the forest in front of them.
The Third Russian Army Corps advanced from Simno toward Lozdsisjo, their Second Army Corps from Grodno by way of Kopiewo and Sejny toward Krasnopol and other Russian corps advanced through the forest of Augustowo. Here they soon struck strong German resistance, and for several days vainly attacked German fortified positions.
On the 9th of March, 1915, a German offensive began against the Russian Third Corps which held the right wing of the advancing army. When this corps suddenly found itself threatened in the flank from the north and in danger of being surrounded it hastily began to retreat toward the east and southeast, leaving several hundred prisoners and several machine guns in the hands of the Germans. This withdrawal exposed the right flank of the adjoining Second Army Corps, which by this time, March 9, 1915, had reached Berzniki and Giby. The German attack was now continued against this corps. It was cold weather, the thermometer was considerably below the freezing point, and the roads were slippery with ice, so that dozens of horses fell, completely exhausted, and the infantry could march only two or three kilometers an hour.
On March 9 and 10, 1915, the battle flamed up at Sejny and Berzniki, the Russian corps, which had developed its front toward the west, being forced to swing about and face the north, whence the Germans were driving down upon it. At Berzniki two Russian regiments made up entirely of young troops were, according to the German account, completely annihilated, and the commanders of the regiments captured. It seemed as though the leader of the Russian armies saw approaching a repetition of the encircling movements that had proved fatal to the Russians in the Mazurian "winter battle," for on the 10th of March he gave orders for the withdrawal of his entire army. The German airmen on this day reported the Russian columns on the march through the forest in full retreat toward Grodno all along the line from Giby to Sztabiz, far to the south.
On the 11th of March, 1915, the German troops vigorously pushed the pursuit. They occupied Makarze, Froncki, and Giby. On the same night a German cavalry division took Kopciovo by assault. At this place alone they counted 300 dead Russians, and more than 5,000 prisoners, 12 machine guns, and 3 cannon, fell into the hands of the Germans.
The threatened envelopment of this Russian army was typical of the method employed by the leaders under Von Hindenburg in local operations, as it was of German method in general when applied to operations extending over the entire field of action. It could be applied with special success where the German information service was superior to that of the Russians, as it usually was, and the movements of German troops were facilitated by good railway connections. In the Augustowo forests, however, rapidity of movement had to be achieved by the legs of the German soldiers to a large extent, and on this they prided themselves not a little. The operation just described was regarded by the German Great Headquarters as being of great significance, valuable for its moral effect in establishing in the German troops a sense of superiority, and confidence in their leadership, and for its infliction of material losses of considerable moment on the Russians.
The Russians likewise claimed advantages from their forward thrust from Grodno. As represented by the Russian General Staff the withdrawal of the Germans from a front close to the line of the fortress in the first place was not a voluntary one, as it is pictured in the German account, but was forced by the strong pressure exerted by the Russian attacks following upon their retreat after the "winter battle." Thus they report the complete defeat of two German army corps, resulting in the seizure by the Russians of Height 100.3, which they described as dominating the entire region of the operations before Grodno. "In this battle," says the Russian report of March 5, 1915, "we took 1,000 prisoners and six cannon and a machine gun. Height 100.3 was defended by the Twenty-first Corps, the best of them all which lost during the battle 12,000 to 15,000 soldiers, as can be estimated from the dead left behind. After the shattering of the German counterattack at Height 100.3 the operations of the enemy became entirely passive. We, on the other hand, took village after village, and everywhere made prisoners."
The fortress of Ossowetz on the Bobr River proved inconquerable by the 42-centimeter mortars which had worked such terrific effects on the forts of Belgium and France. It was continually under German artillery fire through the months of February and March, 1915, without suffering appreciable damage. The great mortars were brought up within range of the fortress with much difficulty, owing to the fact that the place is almost completely surrounded by swamps. The Germans apparently had counted seriously at first on making a breach in the Russian defensive lines at this place. After persistent attempts to make an impression on the fortress with their heaviest guns they were obliged, however, to content themselves with keeping the garrison in check so as to forestall offensive moves.
A German artillery officer who took part in the bombardment relates that the chief obstacle to the pressing home of an attack were several heavily armored batteries which lay concealed outside the visible works of the fortress itself in the broad strip of swampland surrounding it. These were built deep into the ground, protected by thick earthworks, and very effectively screened from observation. They were a constant menace and apparently could not be destroyed by the German fire. Even though the main fort itself had been destroyed they would have prevented the approach of the enemy's troops, for they commanded the only causeway leading through the swamps to the fortress and would have blown to pieces any infantry that ventured to push along this road.
Furthermore, even the intense cold did not make the swamp passable except by the roadway because warm springs here and there prevented the ice from freezing sufficiently strong to bear the troops. The German gunners noted too that their shots fell practically without effect, plunging quietly into the mud to a great depth so that they did not even throw up earth or mud.
The result was that the 42-centimeter monsters were hastily withdrawn after a few trial shots and the bombardment was continued with a battery of 28-centimeter coast defense guns, an Austrian motor battery, a 30.5-centimeter mortar and some other heavy batteries. The fire rose to considerable intensity in the last days of February and the first days of March.
On the 3d of March the Russians in their official report dwelt on the fierceness of the bombardment and its ineffectiveness. On the 16th they reported that the Germans were pushing several of their batteries up into closer range, as they had recognized the uselessness of shooting from a greater distance and on the 18th they stated that the fire was falling off. On the 22d, finally, they reported that beginning with the 21st the Germans had been withdrawing their heavy batteries. They added that a 42-centimeter mortar had been damaged by the Russian fire, and that "not a single shot of these mortars has reached the fortress, not a redoubt has been penetrated. The superiority of the artillery fire evidently rests with us. The German attack was not only far removed from placing the fortifications of Ossowetz in a critical position, it did not even succeed in driving our infantry out of the field works."
On the 27th of March there was a resumption of the bombardment on a small scale and another effort began on April 11 with some heavy guns, ending in an attempted advance which was repulsed without difficulty by the Russians.
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RUSSIAN RAID ON MEMEL
An event in which no great number of troops were concerned, but which is of importance, because of the feeling which it aroused in Germany and because it was the first of a series of operations in what was practically a new theatre of the war was the Russian invasion of the very northernmost tip of East Prussia. On Thursday, the 18th of March, 1915, the Russians coming simultaneously from the north and the east across the border of Courland, moved on the Prussian city of Memel in several columns. Their troops included seven battalions of militia with six or eight guns of an old model, several squadrons of mounted men, two companies of marines, a battalion of a reserve regiment, and border defense troops from Riga and Libau, a total of some 6,000 to 10,000 men. The German Landsturm troops at the Prussian boundary fell back on Memel, not being in sufficient force to resist the advance. They were finally driven through the city and across the narrow strip of water known as the Kurische Haff to the dunes along the shore of the Baltic. The Russians burned down numerous buildings along the roads on which they approached, according to the German report, inflicting heavy damage on fifteen villages. A considerable number of the inhabitants, including women and children, were removed to Russia, and a number of civilians were killed. The troops entered the city on the evening of March 18 and took the mayor and three other men of the town as hostages. Apparently the Russian commander made some efforts to restrain his men, but plundering of stores and dwellings nevertheless occurred. On the 20th of March, 1915, the city was for a time cleared of Russian troops, but on Sunday, the 21st, other soldiers entered the town from the north. These were met by German patrols, which were followed by stronger German forces that had come up from the south to drive back the invaders. Street fighting followed, and the Russians were finally thrown out, losing about 150 dead.
The Russians were pursued on March 22 and 23, 1915, and in passing through Polangen, close to the shore of the Baltic, came under the fire of German cruisers. They lost some 500 prisoners, 3 guns, 3 machine guns, and ammunition wagons. With the German troops which cleared the Russians out of Memel was the son of the emperor, Prince Joachim of Prussia.
Concerning this raid the following official announcement was made by the Germans on March 18, 1915: "Russian militia troops have gained a cheap success in the northernmost corner of East Prussia in the direction of Memel. They have plundered and burned villages and farms. As a penalty, we have ordered the cities occupied by us in Russian territory to pay considerable sums in damages. For every village or farm burned down by these hordes on German soil three villages or farms of the territory occupied by us in Russia will be given over to the flames. Each act of damage in Memel will be answered by the burning of Russian Government buildings in Suwalki and other capitals of governments."
To this the following Russian official reply was made on March 21, 1915: "The official communique of the German Great Headquarters of the 18th of March concerning the movement of Russian troops against Memel contains a threat of reprisals to be exacted on Russian villages and cities held by the enemy on account of the losses which might be suffered by the population in the neighborhood of Memel. The Russian General Staff gives public notice that Memel was openly defended by hostile troops, and that battle was offered in the streets. Since the civil population took part in this fight our troops were compelled to reply with corresponding measures. If, therefore, the German troops should carry out their threat against the peaceful inhabitants of the Russian territory which they hold, such acts should be considered not as reprisals but as independent acts. Responsibility for this, as well as for the consequences, would rest upon the Germans."
The move against Memel was apparently part of a Russian operation which was intended also to strike at the city of Tilsit. The German Great Headquarters reported that for operations intended to seize the northern regions of East Prussia a so-called Riga-Shavli army group had been formed under the command of General Apuchtin. While portions of these troops were active in Memel on March 18, 1915, the fourteen German Landsturm companies holding Tauroggen, just to the north of the East Prussian boundary, were attacked by superior forces and practically surrounded. They fought their way through to Langszargen with some difficulty, and were being pressed back on the road to Tilsit when on March 23 German reenforcements came up and General von Pappritz, leading the Germans, went over to the offensive.
A heavy thaw made movement of troops anywhere except on the main roads extremely difficult. Guns were left stuck in the mud, and the infantry waded to the knee in water, and sometimes to the waist. It is reported that one of the horses of the artillery literally was drowned on the road. Germans attacked Tauroggen, where the enemy had intrenched himself, under an artillery fire directed from the church tower of the place. On the 28th the town was taken, after a difficult crossing of the Jura River in front of it, on the ice. The Germans then exulted in the fact that not a Russian was left on German soil.
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GERMAN INVASION OF COURLAND—CAPTURE OF LIBAU
On the 20th of April, 1915, an announcement was made by the German Great Headquarters which took the Russians and the world in general more or less by surprise. It gave the first glimpse to the public of a group of operations which caused no little speculation in the minds of strategists. It read:
"The advance troops of our forces operating in northwestern Russia yesterday reached on a broad front the railway running from Dunaburg (Dvinsk) to Libau. Thus far the Russian troops present in that region, including also the remnants of those which took part in the raid against Memel, have attempted no serious resistance anywhere. Fighting is now in progress near Shavli."
The advance into Courland here announced had been made by the German troops at high speed. The forces were under the command of General von Lauenstein. They had begun to move early on the 27th of April, in three columns. One of these crossed the Niemen at Schmalleningken, forming the right wing of the troops engaged in the movement. The columns of the left wing broke out of East Prussia at its northernmost point, and moved along the dunes of the Baltic. On the second day of the forward march it was learned by the leaders of the advancing troops that the Russians had hastily left their position at Skawdwile, on the main road from Tilsit to Mitau, to escape being surrounded on their left flank, and had withdrawn to Shavli by way of Heilmy. On the third day the German right column crossed the Windawski Canal under the enemy's fire, and on the afternoon of the 30th of April this column entered Shavli, which had been set on fire by the Russians.
The Germans had now crossed at several points the Libau-Dunaburg railway. They were in Telsche and Trischki. Their cavalry pushed ahead at full speed with orders to destroy the railways wherever it found them. On the road to Mitau they captured Russian machine guns, ammunition wagons, and baggage, and broke up the railway tracks to the southwest and northwest of Shavli. The Russians who had been taken by surprise by this movement had apparently only weak forces in Courland, and these had retired while reenforcements were being rushed up by railway. The German infantry, upon the receipt of reports that the Russians were moving up by rail from Kovno on their right flank, was ordered to stop its advance and prepare to hold the Dubissa line, taking up a front running a little east of south. Cavalry moving forward in the center of the German advance on the 3d of May, 1915, got within two kilometers of Mitau, going beyond Gruenhof and capturing 2,000 Russians. At Skaisgiry on the day before 1,000 prisoners had been taken, and Janischki and Shagory had been occupied far beyond the Libau-Dunaburg railway. By this time Russian reenforcements were arriving at Mitau in huge numbers. The German cavalry ultimately fell back after indicting all possible damage to the communications in their reach.
The Germans prided themselves a good deal on the marching of their troops in this swift advance. They pointed out that the roads were in extremely bad condition, the bridges for the most destroyed, and the population to a large extent hostile. A military correspondent figured that for a daily march of fifty kilometers, such as was frequently made in Courland, 62,000 steps of an average of eighty centimeters were required. This for a day's march of from nine to ten hours gives an average of five to six kilometers per hour, some 6,000 to 7,000 steps. That makes in the neighborhood of 100 steps per minute, which the correspondent regarded as a considerable accomplishment when allowance is made for the fact that this was kept up hour after hour in full marching equipment.
The column coming from Memel, directed along the Baltic shores, had been steadily moving on Libau. In preparation for the land attack German naval vessels on the 29th of April had bombarded the forts defending the town. On the 6th of May the Russians themselves blew up one of the forts on the eastern front. The shore batteries were soon after silenced by German fire. The German troops advancing from the land side took the forts on the south almost without opposition. Russian troops which had been unloaded at Mitau and sent forward toward the southwest were unable to come up in time to offer any obstacles to the German advance, and on the 8th of May, at six o'clock in the morning, the German soldiers marched into Libau, where they took about 1,500 prisoners, twelve guns, and a number of machine guns.
The Germans immediately turned the metal-working plants of the city to their uses in the manufacture of chains, barbed wire, etc. They also found here a large supply of tools for intrenching work. Most of the Russians of the city had fled. One motive for the German advance into Courland advanced by their enemies was that it was an attempt to include a rich section of country in foraging operations, and it is a fact that the German authorities gave expression to their satisfaction at seizing a region that was of considerable economic value. It is apparent, however, in regarding these operations in the retrospect that they had no small bearing on the German plan of campaign as a whole. It was at the time that the inroad into Courland was started that the signal was about to be given for the great onslaught far to the south on the Dunajec, as described in the account of the Austro-Russian campaign. As the vast campaign along the whole eastern front developed, it became more and more apparent that the position of the German troops in Courland placed them advantageously for taking the Russian line of defenses, of which the fortress of Kovno represented the northern end in the flank in this carrying out of an important part of the vast encircling movement which took all Poland in its grasp. They were a constant threat to the all-important Vilna-Petrograd Railway.
In hostile and neutral countries the Courland invasion provoked comment indicating astonishment at the resources of the Teutonic powers in being able to extend their lines while already fully engaged on an enormous front.
The Russians, awakening from their first astonishment, made vigorous attempts to obtain permanent possession of the Dubissa line. Along this line the German troops were for a time forced to yield ground and to go into the defensive and to resist heavy Russian attacks. Shavli was given up under Russian pressure. By May 14, all the territory east of the Dubissa and Windau (Vindowa) was reported free of Germans.
Especially noteworthy among the struggles for the Dubissa was the fight at Rossiennie, a town which was of special importance because of its command of the roads centering in it. On the 22d of May, 1915, an attack was delivered against this place by the First Caucasian Rifle Brigade with artillery and assisted by the Fifteenth Cavalry Division. On the 23d the German cavalry which had resisted their crossing the river drew back, and the Russians here crossed the Dubissa, approaching Rossiennie from the north. The Germans during the night moved the greater part of their troops around the western wing of their opponents and placed them in position for attack.
At daybreak heavy artillery fire was poured upon the Russians from the German position to the north of Rossiennie, while at the same time the German infantry fell upon the Russian flank and rolled it up, with the result that the Russians were compelled to recross the Dubissa. In the crossing numerous wounded were drowned in the river. The Germans took 2,500 prisoners and fifteen machine guns. Similar counterattacks were delivered by the Germans on the River Wenta. Then, on the 5th of June, 1915, a general offensive was entered upon by the whole German line on orders from the General Staff, which carried it beyond the Dubissa, and after heavy fighting finally secured for the Germans the Windawski Canal, which they had had to relinquish before. Their troops now slowly pushed their way back toward Shavli until the city came within reach of their heavy guns, and took Kuze, twelve kilometers to the northwest of Shavli on the railway. On the 14th of June, 1915, this series of operations came to a temporary halt. German official reports pointed to the fact that among 14,000 prisoners which they had taken there were only a few officers, and that with these not a single cannon was captured. They regarded it as showing that the Russians were getting very cautious in the use of their artillery and were short of officers.