from ‘the Graphic’, January 16th 1916
'As Warsaw Sees the War'
by Edward Weryho

on the Russian Front in Poland in 1914

Russian troops in Warsaw, end of 1914


The Russo-Japanese War brought important changes in Russian military policy. These changes were applied not only to the internal organisation of the Army, but they altered the whole future defensive and offensive plans. It was natural that these alterations should be most striking in those parts of the Eastern Empire which were exposed directly to her powerful neighbours, Germany and Austria. All these alterations were performed gradually and secretly. Until 1910 the former first line of defence of Russia remained the same as it had been during many a year before the Japanese War. This line extended many hundred miles along the River Biebrza (with fortress Osowiec), the River Narev (with fortresses Lomza, Ostroleka, Rozany, Pultusk), along the River Bug (with fortress Zegrzyn), the River Vistula (with fortresses Novogeorgevsk, Warsaw and Deblin or Ivangrod); from Deblin the line of defence turns sharply eastwards along the River Wieprz to the very powerful fortress of Brzesc Litevski, on a little river which is a tributary of the Bug.

Like Belgium, Russia at the outbreak of war was still in a state of reorganisation of her first line of defence. The General Staff in Petrograd came to the conclusion that the only possible defence was behind the river system of the Vistula. This had a decisive influence on the translocation of the Russian Army in Poland and on its system of fortifications. In 1910 the permanent Russian Army on the left side of the Vistula and the right side of the Narev was reduced from 83,000 to 27,000; in Warsaw alone the garrison was reduced from 30,000 to 10,000 men. It was quite, clear that Russia had decided to make this part of the country the future theatre of her military operations in case of war with her neighbours. Warsaw complicated this plan. The capital of Poland, the third city in the Empire as regards population, must have great political importance, and yet it is a town lying on the left side of the Vistula without any natural line of defence.

But the General Staff was determined to make alterations in accordance with its strategical views. The fortress of Warsaw was dismantled It is very strange that the British Press is so little acquainted with this fact. Even the most responsible leading papers in England not only write about Warsaw as a fortress, not only mark it as such on their maps, but even publish plans of fortifications which, it is true, were in existence several years ago, but which do not exist any more, as they were blown up long before the outbreak of the present war by the Russian military authorities.

Warsaw at the present moment is an undefended city. The Russians intended to give up Warsaw and to fight from behind the rivers.

At the beginning of the present war Russian officials actually withdrew en masse from the left bank of the Vistula, and, moreover, they evacuated the capital of Poland. Preparations were even made to blow up the bridges between Warsaw and Praga. But the heroic defence of Belgium gave sufficient time to mobilise a powerful army in Russia, and consequently to send it to the left (western) bank of the Vistula. The Russians made it their prime object to defend Warsaw. It was the personal desire of the Commander-in-Chief himself. The attitude of the Polish population created a deep friendship between Poles and Russians; the Grand Duke Nicholas replied to this attitude with his Manifesto, and, in spite of the plans of the General Staff, gave orders that a town dear to Polish hearts should be offended at any cost.

The only defences which now exist around Warsaw are the deep trenches abandoned by the Germans during their furious but unsuccessful attack. The present actual defence of Warsaw, however, is a bayonet in the Russian soldier's hand. The General Staff paid dearly for having demolished the forts. It had to throw into the breach two splendid Siberian regiments, which were almost entirely destroyed, but which with superhuman effort and by the sacrifice of their own lives saved the capital of Poland from the Huns.

The Eastern cannot be compared with the Western theatre of war. The General Staff in Paris hardly expected to fight in Champagne; it was protected by French fortresses and by the neutrality of Belgium; but the General Staff in Petrograd always realised that the future theatre of war would be Western Poland, where the Russian Army could possess all advantages. The historical tradition of Russia is to fight the enemy on her own territory. Such a war was waged with Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, and such a war was also waged with Napoleon.

The occupation of Polish towns by Germans is a terrible disaster for the inhabitants. The population is deprived of all means of livelihood, and my information from Lodz proves that the inhabitants are in a state of destitution and starvation. Notwithstanding the terrible eventuality of the occupation of Warsaw, Poles have from the beginning been prepared to make the largest sacrifices; their spirit will not be broken by any temporary successes of the Kaiser's savage hordes, as they believe that the cause of the Triple Entente is pure and noble. The inhabitants of Warsaw, together with all inhabitants of Poland, spare no effort to help the Russian Army, and the Army is itself enthusiastic for Poland. This enthusiasm clearly explains why the Army fights so fiercely in defence of Warsaw.

Edward Weryho

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