- from the Sphere, July 10th 1915
- 'Four Days Under Russian Fire'
- by an Austrian Artillery Officer
Personal Account by an Austrian Officer
a Russian artillery emplacement
Four Days Under Russian Fire
It is so difficult and rare a matter to obtain any personal narratives giving first-hand impressions of the fighting on the eastern front that we give this letter from a young Austrian artillery officer as taking one a little closer to the actual happenings on this gigantic battle-line. The reports from the East are apt to have such a cosmic character that any more precise information is welcome. This account will further serve to describe the two pictures of the Austrian artillery at work on a preceding page. This young Austrian writes as follows to his aunt :
"At the moment I am out of action lying in a peasant's cottage, taking fifteen drops of opium every two hours and listening to the whistling of the bullets. Taking advantage of this opportunity I will sketch a few of the last days of my battle life.
" 'Hallo ! Battery 2 ! Here, division station !' 'Here, third officer, Battery 2.' 'Herr Lieutenant is to come immediately to the colonel!'
"No luck! I had just made my last sardine box protection with great trouble and difficulty and wanted to hide myself in it, but the ways of fate are incalculable! I had to stand up, creep out of my covering, and run to the colonel.
"My dissatisfaction was soon over. I had to go with him three kilometres to reconnoitre the position of the enemy again. It was a difficult job; very hilly, through the forest, with the enemy shooting at us. Horses sink up to their hocks in the morass, but in return for it a position from which we could see everything, look right down into the centre of the Russians. It was impossible for the army to get there ; but my ambition awoke, and I reported that I could bring a battery train there. I obtained permission from his Excellency X for a half company and my two guns, ammunition waggon, and limbers, and in an hour I was on the spot.
"Once there it was indescribable. Almost in line with our infantry the result was miraculous. I quite destroyed a Russian battery; the infantry shot very well had a new target every quarter of an hour. The Russians grew to hate me, and their whole artillery shot at me. I deceived them by pretending to be out of action and ceasing fire, but the moment they left off, thinking I was already done for, I let loose a murderous fire. Three times I averted a close attack. The Russians wished to drive me out as it was a splendid position, and each time directed the attack against me. On the third day his Excellency X came to me and stayed a night and a day with me. In the darkness and mist the Russians tried to storm us. The infantry was already only 400 paces away when I received an order from his Excellency that he did not want to sacrifice me, and that I must save my gun team. But I pleaded that the guns might remain and that we might stay till the last man. Then a colonel of the artillery staff sat down by one of the guns, my sub-lieutenant by another, while I as commander of the gun team was behind them. We were loaded with shrapnel, and awaited the Russians. But there was a terrible confusion in front of us, and as there was a danger of our shooting our own troops we did not fire.
"In the meanwhile his Excellency X had sent his last reserve to our rescue, and they captured a whole Russian battalion. After this attack had been averted there were two night attacks. Finding that my guns were very dangerous to them the Russians proceeded to subject us to a bombardment. We stood as firm as the oldest.
"At last, on the fourth day, they brought their heavy mortars against us. They were splendidly aimed, but the holy saints guarded us. The shells all burst within a space of about 100 square metres where my guns were standing, killing five men and four horses. Two shells fell exactly on the guns, but did not explode. A gun shield was completely pierced, the wheels of the ammunition carts shot to pieces but after four days we were able to carry off one gun with whole skins. A shell burst in my observation stand. A captain of the General Staff sitting near me was killed, and a first lieutenant of the General Staff was severely wounded. The battle is still going on. The Russians are showing themselves very obstinate, continuing to persist in the face of slaughter. .
"Enough for to-day. I hear I am mentioned for distinction. In the meantime I have a little picric-acid poisoning from one of the shells and a thorough chill. Otherwise we live rather well."
a Russian artillery unit
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