- from The Great War vol. 6, edited by H.W. Wilson, Chapter 109
- 'The Renewed Russian Offensive and
- the Fall of Erzerum'
- by F. A. McKenzie, author of " From Tokyo to Tiflis."
The War in the Transcaucasus
Opening of Russia's 1916 CampaignOperations in Armenia and Persia Brilliantly Planned and Splendidly ExecutedRussia's Use of Her Admirable Roads and RailwaysErzerum, the Metz of East Turkey, DescribedOver-confidence Proves the Undoing of the TurksRapidity and Force of the Grand Duke's BlowsHow the Tsar's Troops Endured Bitter Cold and Heavy Snows on High Mountain Roads Storming the Turks' Carefully-Prepared PositionsThe Big Fight at Keupri Koui on January 16th Russians by a Clever Move Separate Tenth Turkish Corps from ErzerumUnexpected Russian Advance Takes Place to the SouthThe "Miracle" of the Ascent of Karga Bazar on the Night of January 25thRussians Twelve Miles from Erzerum on February 9thFight for the Surrounding Forts, February nth to 15thThe Assault on the Main Fortress, February 10th Official Statement of Russia's Captures at Fallen ErzerumThe Enormous Strategical and Political Importance of the Capture of ErzerumRussian Troops Advancing through Stricken Armenia Find Evidence of Turkish AtrocitiesTerrible Retreat of the Turks in Storm and FrostRussian Advance from Many PointsCapture of Mush and BitlisBy the End of March. 1916, the Position of the Russians in Asiatic Turkey and in Persia is Extremely FavourableEffect of Russian Triumphs throughout TurkeySituation along the European FrontOur Ambassador to Russia Sounds the Note of Closer Alliance between Britain and RussiaRussia Equipped with Men and Munitions Significance of Reassembly of the Duma. February 22nd, 1916 General Alexeieff's Plans on Western FrontTsar's Visits to his Troops and Commencement of the Russian Offensive.
The Russian campaign in Armenia and Persia at the beginning of 1916 was brilliantly planned and splendidly executed, and must rank among the boldest operations of the war.
When the Grand Duke Nicholas was transferred by the Tsar from the supreme command of the western armies to the Caucasus, many regarded this step as virtually relegating the great Russian Prince to obscurity. The Grand Duke himself evidently did not see it in this light. In cooperation with his Chief of Staff, General Yanushkevitch, he planned what must have seemed, before it was attempted, a desperate and almost hopeless venture. He sent for troops from Siberia, picked men who had learned their soldiering under some of the most severe climatic conditions known. These Siberian troops are inured to hardship. They live largely in the open, and they work for many months in each year in a climate so cold that most soldiers would be unable to face it. Their very horses are trained never to enter a stable even in the bitterest weather. The Grand Duke was able to back these soldiers with an ample supply of mobile artillery, including powerful siege-mortars, with abundance of shells. His original plan of campaign, prepared with the utmost secrecy, was to advance along the whole front, from the Black Sea to Lake Van, and to send out simultaneously numerous columns over a wide area, all converging on Erzerum, the great Turkish fortress in Armenia, or guarding the flanks of other columns centring on it.
It is difficult for those unacquainted with the country to realise what such an advance implied. The admirable roads and splendid railways construe Led by the Russians in days of peace made it comparatively easy to bring forces to Kars, to Batum, and to the Caucasian border. But here the real difficulties began. The shortest road from Erzeram to Kars was about one hundred and thirty miles long, with inadequate paths buried in deep snows, maintaining a general level of from 4000 to 5000 feet above the sea, The whole district was subject to fierce blizzards. Time after time the troops would be compelled to haul their guns and munition trains many thousands of feet up ice-covered mountain sides. In January the normal temperature was twenty to twenty-five degrees below zero, and at times the cold increased to forty degrees below. Even the most hardened troops, accustomed to Siberian weather, might well shrink before this.
Nor was the road undefended. The Turks had along this route an army originally estimated at 250,000 men. There is reason to believe, however, that this force had been considerably weakened in order to meet the attempted British advance towards Bagdad. The Russians from the north and the British from the south were each very materially helping one another by causing a division of the enemy forces.
Erzerum, at which the Russians were aiming, has been well termed the Metz of East Turkey. Standing some 6,000 feet above the sea level, it is guarded by the slopes of mountains from 10,000 to 12,000 feet in height. A town of some 50,000 inhabitants, it has for centuries been the great trade centre of Armenia, owing to its commanding position and to its situation as the junction of various important routes. The Turks had long recognised that, in the fight between them and Russia, Erzerum would be a vital point. In 1900, German military engineers began modernising the old forts, and in 1916 there were at least eighteen strong fortresses built on the granite hills, three of them new works, fortresses which should have made Erzerum impregnable. The Deve Boyun Mountains, which guarded the north-east route from the Caucasus, were supposed to be specially strongly fortified, and it was claimed that this mountain position was defended by nearly three hundred Krupp guns of heavy calibre and one hundred mortars, besides four hundred pieces of older type. Here again, however, most of the armament existed only on paper. Immediately fronting Erzerum, along the main route where the attack must be made, was another group of forts, also supposed to be splendidly armed. A German commander, Posselt Pasha, was responsible for the defence of the city.
Over-confidence helped to the undoing of the Turks. Many of the guns which were supposed to defend the position had been removed, probably to the south against the British forces. Others were evidently none too modern and in none too good condition. The Turks were doubtless suffering, in common with the rest of the Turkish Army at that time, from inadequate food. They did not believe that the Russian armies could cross the mountains in any strength, and so did not prepare against such a move. But the factors which really overthrew them were the rapidity and force of the Russian blows. The Russian Commander-in-Chief first succeeded in producing a feeling among the Turks that there was no special reason to fear him. Then by a series of brilliant moves he caused such confusion among the Turkish Staff that it was unable to fathom his plans. The Russian armies advanced in such a way that they might be going to make their main blow at any one of a dozen points. When they struck at the Turkish centre and broke it, they followed up their first success with a rapidity rarely equalled in the history of war. The Turks had never time to recover, never time to reorganise their schemes of defence, never time to strike a counter-blow. Kiamil Pasha, at the last moment, ordered the Tenth Corps on the Turkish left and the Ninth on the right to close in and help in the defence of Erzerum. The Russians had anticipated such moves, and fresh Russian forces were ready to meet them and check them, while the main body pressed on to Erzerum. The Russians deceived, outplayed, and overwhelmed their opponents at every turn.
In the middle of January the Russians, who had been greatly hampered by the heavy snowsnow which often came up to a man's waist attacked a strong Turkish position, the village of Azankai, seventeen miles off Kara Urgan, and stormed an important mountain ridge, some 9,000 feet high. This fortified position of Azankai was typical of others. Here on the heights overhanging the roads was a labyrinth formed of several tiers of trenches for infantry and artillery positions. They were dominated by a trench linked to them. All these works were carefully masked, and joined up by sheltered galleries. The Turks held the Russians up for three days there, but at the end of the third day the position was in the Russian hands. From here they aimed straight at the Turkish centre. The Russian artillery overwhelmed the Turkish fire. The Russian infantry went forward with amazing dash, and all opposition broke down before it. Russian cavalry completed the work of the infantry, and cut down the retiring Turks by the hundred.
Now followed an advance which future generations may rank beside Napoleon's passage of the Alps. Blizzards, bitter cold, heavy snows, failed to stop the Russians. The high mountain roads were in such a condition that it was impossible for horses or oxen to drag the great guns, so the Russian soldiers themselves pulled them along. Time after time they were confronted by strong, carefully prepared Turkish positions. These they swept through, one after another.
On January 16th there came a big fight at Keupri Keui, where three Turkish divisions tried finally to hold back the triumphant Russians. Two days later they had reached Hassankale, a little over twenty miles from Erzerum. The Cossacks swept the Turks out of the place by one impetuous rush, and pursued them into the fire zone of the Erzerum forts, slaying large numbers before they could get away. Observers there at the time described the place as covered with the enemy's dead, and with the bodies of the horses and mules used in their transport service by the Turks. Three days later the Russian howitzers had come up and opened a deadly fire on the supposedly impregnable defences of the Deve Boyun Mountains. It must have seemed to the Turks that magic aided the Russians in getting their heavy pieces in such amazing fashion over the great mountain line.
While one Russian army under Generals Lastouchkin and Voro-beioff was then directed against Deve Boyun, a second army, under General Shevalsky, swept down on Erzerum from the north. It found itself opposed by the Turks, who held a number of fortified heights situated in lofty mountain positions. The Russians themselves paid warm tribute to the courage of the defence at this point. It needed some days' fighting before the Turks were driven out, mainly by a series of night bayonet attacks. The Tenth Turkish Corps which, as previously stated, had been brought up from the Turkish left, confronted the Russians here. The Russians, by a clever move, cut the Tenth Turkish Corps in two, and forced themselves between part of this corps and Erzerum, thus preventing it from sharing in the defence.
While these movements were going on to the north and northeast, a still more unexpected Russian advance was taking place to the south. The Turkish Staff was convinced that danger was least of all to be feared from this quarter, for the whole district to the south is covered with mountains rising to a height of 10,000 feet, and is without any roads. So confident were the Turks that they had left the defence of this region to Kurds. The Russians determined to attempt the "impossible," and accomplished it. Despite almost incredible hardships, a considerable Russian force struck through, and by February 12th was outflanking the main southern defence of Erzerum, Fort Palandeuken.
To the north-east, Russian troops began to ascend the great mountain, Karga Bazar, on the night of January 26th. There was a blinding snowstorm, and it was bitterly cold. "By a kind of miracle," wrote one Russian correspondent (the whole storming of Erzerum was a miracle),. "they even dragged up, not machine-guns, but field-guns. Camels transported shells for the guns, together with cartridges and food. On these 'inaccessible' heights also arrived the flying Red Cross detachments and the tea- vans of the Municipal Unions."
By the night of February nth the Russians were holding a number of important positions, forming a kind of arc, about twelve miles from the city of Erzerum itself. But the Turks still held the town and the great fortress immediately protecting it. For the Russians to subdue the fortress by the ordinary method of siege attack would have been, in a climate like that of Erzerum, almost impossible. Storms and snows must in the end have wiped out the Russian armies as they waited in their unprotected positions around the Turkish front. The Russian commanders had resolved on another course. They were to take the city by storm. On the night of February nth an advance was made from Karga Bazar. The Russians, advancing in three columns and dragging their guns and machine-guns with them, reached the edge of the mountainous plateau, slid down the snowy slopes, and attacked a series of stone and snow trenches. Thence the Russians pushed on with the utmost resolution. The Russian batteries planted on the heights of Karga Bazar covered the Russian assaults with sustained artillery fire. At various points the Russians, by successfully manoeuvring, so isolated important Turkish positions that it was impossible to hold them. Fort after fort was assaulted and taken. Fort Tafta was stormed in the darkness. The Russian force moved through the deep snow in silence. Its approach was unseen, and the men fell upon a Turkish garrison and bayoneted it without firing a shot.
The main fight for the surrounding forts lasted for five days, February nth to 15th. Day after day, assault after assault was made. The resistance was desperate and sustained. Several Turkish regiments were annihilated. Other regiments were made prisoners en bloc. Some Turkish army corps of three divisions (40,000 men) were reduced to between 3,000 and 5,000 men. All the remainder had been slain in the fighting, fallen into Russian hands, or perished from exposure. The Russians were the first to admit the resolution and the courage of the enemy. "During the five days' assault the fortress was defended by the Turks with a stubbornness to which the enormous quantity of killed and frozen corpses gives testimony. The fortifications were full of Turkish dead," the Russian official account declared.
The assault on the main fortress was made on February 16th. Here the fighting was of a fierceness even beyond that already known. Whole regiments were wiped out. The works were blocked with the dead. The wounded were quickly frozen to death if not promptly attended to. The Turks had prepared their positions carefully. The Russians had to fight at many points through barbed-wire entanglements and over tremendous obstacles. The Headquarters Staff of Erzerum was mainly German, and while the assault on the fortress was in progress the Germans were the first to abandon the position, causing panic and disorder among the already demoralised Turkish troops.
The road to the West was open to the Turks, and those who could escape fled along it, quickly pursued by the Russian cavalry. The first report that reached Europe was that 100,000 men and 1,000 guns had been captured. This was an exaggeration. According to the official statement, the Russians captured 235 officers and 12,753 uninjured men, besides sick and wounded; 323 guns, nine standards, a vast supply of stores, and a very considerable quantity of ammunition. The Russians noted among the stores many evidences of German organisation, particularly an admirable Rontgen ray apparatus in perfect order.
The capture of Erzerum came as a surprise, not only to the world at large, but even to most Russians. It had seemed impossible that such a thing could be done, and those most familiar with the tremendous difficulties of the undertaking had been most doubtful of its possible success. The "impossible" had been accomplished. The Russian General Staff was careful that the Germans should be fully informed of what had taken place. Circulars printed in German, giving a full account of. the capture and its significance, were scattered by aeroplanes over the German lines. In many cases the Russians stuck up big notice-boards opposite the trenches, "Erzerum kaput" (Erzerum finished). The usual response of the Germans was to open a tremendous burst of fire on the notice-boards.
The Turkish Headquarters attempted to minimise the victory. It stated in an official communiqué that the retreat of the Turkish army from Erzerum towards positions in the west had been attained without loss, and that the Turks abandoned in the fortress only fifty old guns, which they could not remove. But the Turkish communiques had recently been too much even for some Germans, and the distinguished German war critic, Major Moraht, in a significant article in the "Berliner Tageblatt," advised Turkey not to be afraid to tell the truth when she had defeats, but openly to admit them. " Our people are united by so many interests with Turkey that they should have the right to be told the truth. No one can say otherwise than that the Grand Duke conducted his operations ably," added Major Moraht. "The Russian conquest of Erzerum is, of course, of importance both strategically and politically." He consoled his readers by recalling that the geographical difficulties of advance in the territories of the Armenian Taurus were almost unconquerable, and that defeat might bring about a flaming-up of fanatical Mohammedan war forces. " History has often shown that only after bitter experiences does the Moslem become conscious of his strength."
The capture of Erzerum was of enormous strategical significance, largely because it opened up a very considerable area of country to the Russians. This one point protected Western Armenia and Anatolia from invasion. It commanded all the best roads of Transcaucasia and of the interior of Asia Minor. With Erzerum in their possession, the Russians were now in a position to move forward quickly, and they did so.
The Russian armies found plenty to inflame their zeal in the country through which they were now advancing. The Christian population of Armenia had for centuries suffered cruelly from Turkish oppression. Earlier in the present war the Turks had carried out a massacre of the Armenians on the most tremendous scale, murdering, outraging, and torturing innocent and unarmed people to an extent rarely equalled in the history of the modern world. As the Russian troops now arrived in district after district, they met with hideous evidences of how the Turks had wreaked their vengeancevillages forsaken, homesteads burnt, and bodies of country folk lying stark and mutilated by the roadside. The survivors related narratives of young girls and women outraged, of children slain, of old people murdered, and of the women folk of the nation carried off to be sold as slaves. One Armenian priest, who escaped from the Turkish lines, told how the Turks had sought to wreak their vengeance after their defeats in the field by wholesale massacre of the Armenians in the Mush vilayet. He declared that 13,000 Armenians had been slaughtered before his eyes at Mush alone; and two hundred Armenians, including two of the priest's own children, had been driven into a caravanserai, and there burnt to death. The priest declared that quite 200.000 people in that province had been slaughtered by the Turks. After making all allowances for exaggeration in the priest's statement, it was obvious that the Christians all around had been murdered wholesale, often in forms horrible beyond words.
Enver Pasha was attempting the relief of the Erzerum garrison with a hastily collected force, including, as was stated, a certain number of Germans. But while it was yet a hundred miles away, the fate of Erzerum was sealed. and his new force was confronted by the quickly retreating fugitives. The Turks hastening away from Erzerum suffered heavily. The pursuit of them by the Russians was to some extent checked by very severe weather, Trebizond and Bagdad deep snow, which made roads almost threatened impassable, and heavy frosts. But if this rendered it difficult for the Russians to advance, it made it equally difficult for the Turks to carry on their retreat. Large numbers of Turkish troops, caught in the storms and heavy frosts, were frozen to death. The Turks abandoned guns, ammunition, and anything that kept them from escaping more quickly. Nine out of ten in many a battalion were lost, and the remnants that finally escaped the frosts and the Cossacks were little more than a ragged, broken band.
The Russian plans soon became apparent. A big advance was being conducted, not from one point, but from many. On the Black Sea, Russian troops, aided by Russian gunboats, were making constant demonstrations in the direction of Trebizond. From Erzerum one Russian army corps was striking directly to Sivas. Another Russian army corps, advancing in Persia, captured Kermanshah, and from there moved to take Bagdad in the rear. Another great force pushed down from Erzerum southwards in the direction of Mosul and the Euphrates Valley. On February 18th this force captured Mush, seventy miles from Erzerum. By the beginning of March it reached and captured the very important position of Bitlis, one hundred and twenty miles away. Bitlis was a well planned and strongly defended mountain position, armed with heavy modern guns, and occupied by a considerable garrison. The Russian army moved forward at night-time during a fierce storm. Following the plan it had previously adopted, it came on in silence, without firing a shot,
stormed the place, and took it with the bayonet. Scenes of terrible slaughter followed. The Russian troops knew well the story of Bitlis. They knew that here, in June, 1915, 15,000 Armenians, unarmed and helpless, had been tortured and done to death by the Turks. The Armenians were now amply avenged. Bitlis gave the Russians an entry into the main road down the river valley to the plains of Mesopotamia, and it gave them the whole Van region, cutting in two the Turkish forces operating in the Mush region and in the region of Lake Urmia.
The Russians in Armenia and Persia, in pushing forward as they were doing, were showing in the best way possible their co-operation with their ally, Great Britain, for every mile they advanced brought them nearer to Kut-el-Amara. where General Townshend's first Indo-British force, that had sought to reach Bagdad from the south, was surrounded, and unable to advance or retreat.
By the latter part of March, 1916, the position of the Russians in Asiatic Turkey and in Persia was extremely favourable. The enemy had brought up strong forces, but despite repeated endeavours had been unable to stay the Russian advance. In Persia, Russian forces occupied Ispahan, the southern capital, thus finally defeating efforts that had been made by Germany to make the Shah their tool, and to use Persia in their campaign to win over the Mohammedan world. On the coast ol Asia Minor their armies were steadily advancing until they were actually threatening Trebizond, which was now within two days' march of them. The army that had moved westwards from Erzerum towards Sivas was progressing in a way that would eventually threaten Constantinople, and the Turks were busy building strong defensive works from Sivas to Shabin-Karahissar to check it. The army moving southwards that had seized Bitlis had now reached Khizan, thirty miles farther south. Thence it was aiming at Sert, when the rich Euphrates Valley would be open to it.
The effect of these Russian triumphs was markedly felt throughout Turkey. The mass of the Turkish people had never been more than half-hearted in the war against the Allies. The Turkish troops against the British in the Dardanelles, for example, had displayed great courage but little venom, and had sought in many ways during armistices, and when our wounded fell into their hands, to show that, though fighting us, they fought as a matter of State policy, without individual ill-will. The steady progress of the Russians in Asiatic Turkey was only one of many indications to the Turkish people that the war was going ill. Throughout the country the people were starving. Constantinople itself was almost in a state of famine. The Young Turk Party under Enver Pasha, who had brought the nation to this pass, found their influence daily weakening, while the Old Turks, traditionally friendly to Britain, grew in strength.
The Turkish Army in general, and Turkish officers in particular, disliked the dominance of the German officers over them, even while they were half-unwillingly forced to recognise their military efficiency. The Turkish people saw German officials daily acquiring more and more power throughout the land. Enver Pasha and his supporters were, however, in control of the Army, and it would take much to turn the Army against them. But day by day it grew more evident that Turkey was fighting, so far as the mass of her people was concerned, not only without enthusiasm, but with a stubborn conviction that the nation had made a great mistake in coming in on the German side. However much the original policy of despatching an allied army to Salonika may be open to question, it is undoubtedly true that the menace of the large allied force there, holding as it did an almost impregnable position, increased the Turkish uneasiness. It seemed more and more certain that Rumania would throw in her lot with the Allies, that Greece might follow suit, and even possible that Bulgaria might, late in the day, completely reverse her position. To the Turkish nation as a Whole the spring days of 1916 were gloomy indeed.
While these important movements were proceeding in Persia and Asiatic Turkey, the situation was rapidly developing along the European front. The Russians had no delusions about the plans of the enemy. They believed that Germany intended, as soon as weather conditions permitted in the spring, to launch an immense offensive against Russia, with the aim of crushing the new armies, occupying either Petrograd, Moscow, or Odessa, and bringing about a decision in the east before turning her full forces on the west. Even the sustained and costly German attack upon Verdun did not shake the belief of Russia that the real spring campaign would be in the east. "Verdun is an interlude. The main German armies are being concentrated along our lines, and they will attempt to repeat Von Hindenburg's old drive,"
Russian publicists declared. All along the German eastern front there Were movements, and spies brought in at every point, from Riga to the Carpathians, tales of new troops' being drilled and prepared, with a rigidity and severe discipline which even German drill masters had not reached before.
It was no part of the plan of General Alexeieff and the Russian General Staff to wait until the Germans were ready, and to let them strike a blow when they pleased. The Russians, adopting the German plan of anticipating the enemy's movement, resolved to hurl their troops upon the enemy before their plans were complete. Simultaneously with these military advances, internal and international developments occurred which must not be passed over without notice.
In the autumn of 1915 there had been an active, quietly-conducted campaign in certain circles in Russia depreciating Britain. This movement, doubtless engineered and organised by German agents, took the form of vague whispered charges that Britain was not doing all she ought in the war. She was leaving, so it was said, the main fighting and the main suffering to Russia and to France, while she remained comparatively quiet. When, at the beginning of the war, the British and French armies were endangered, Russia, by a bold and costly offensive in Eastern Prussia, had created a diversion. When, in the summer of 1915, Russia was in desperate straits, Britain had remained quiet.
Suspicions and rumours such as these, carefully fostered, were not without their effect in some small circles. Correspondents, returning to London from Petrograd, warned our people that where, fifteen months before, there had been nothing but burning enthusiasm for Britain, a certain coldness had now arisen. The British official methods of secrecy in war had done great harm. The Russian people did not know what we were actually doing, because they had no means of knowing. The work of the British Navy had been veiled in darkness. The real labours of our armies had only been partly revealed, and then in a way which officials who did not understand the art of publicity thought proper, rather than in a way which would make people really understand. The British Government saw that the situation was one that might develop unfavourably for us, and steps were taken to remedy it.
Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador to Russia, took occasion at the annual dinner of the new English Club at Petrograd, in January, 1916, to sound the note of closer alliance and still greater co-operation between Britain and Russia. The Russo-British Alliance was, he indicated, to be no mere temporary arrangement for the duration of the war, but was to continue indefinitely. Germany was to be rendered harmless. That was not all. The German commercial exploitation of Russia was not to be renewed, and Britain would have to learn so to adapt her commercial methods that she would oust Germany from the extremely valuable and growing Russian markets. In short, a permanent alliance, commercial as well as political, was the ideal to which the Ambassador pointed.
Sir George Buchanan's strong position in Russia ensured instant attention to such a speech. Our Minister was an Ambassador of the old type, the representative of his country, not merely a mouthpiece of the Government, but one who by his strong personality created an atmosphere favourable to his nation. There was much favourable comment on his words. The British Government invited a number of representative Russian journalists to see for themselves what this country was actually doing. This did much good. The presence of British submarines and submarine officers, of a British Naval Air Service Contingent in Russia, and of numerous British Red Cross parties, also helped to dissipate misunderstanding. The early months of 1916 were marked by a notable increase in Russo-British cordiality and mutual understanding.
The Russian Minister of War was able to declare to a representative of the Paris "Journal," in February, 1916, that the shortage of munitions, which had brought about the retreat of the Russian armies in the summer of 1915, Was now absolutely a thing of the past. Immense efforts and rigorous and inflexible measures had been required; there had been an absolute revolution, an absolute transformation of industrial activity and almost of national customs. "Now," he declared, "we can look to the future with confidence." Great masses of men had been mobilised, the number of military depots had been doubled, and a permanent reserve of 1,500,000 recruits was being maintained in order to fill up gaps in the front line by despatching fully trained men.
During these trying months the Russian nation was passing through a period of profound growth. The temporary movements in internal politics, the triumph or disgrace of particular Ministers, were of minor import. The Russian people were more and more understanding that the Government of a nation was the business not of bureaucrats but of the nation itself. "Things can never be the same again," men said to one another. The position of the Tsar, so far from being weakened, was strengthened. Never had he so surely held the hearts of his people as then. A great change was coming over the Army. The older type of Russian professional officer had been largely killed or disabled in the fierce earlier fighting. His place had been taken by professional and business men. This helped to break down the rigidity of much of the old military system. The great burst of enthusiastic self-sacrifice that was witnessed at the beginning of the war was making itself felt not only in the Army but in the civil life of the nation. Russia had suffered much, Russia had paid heavily, but it now became more and more evident that Russia was gaining much in this war, and was realising more and more through it the oneness of her peoples and the greatness of her national life.
The reassembly of the Duma, on February 22nd, 1916, was a significant evidence of the new developments of Russian national aspirations. The spirit in which the Duma of 1916 went to work was very different from the spirit with which the first Duma attempted to bring about revolutionary changes in Russia. The Tsar visited the Assembly on the opening day, and after addressing the members in the most friendly fashion, remained some time in the rooms of the President. All the Progressive and Central parties united in a declaration criticising the Government for not having more efficiently employed all the resources of the nation in the war, and urging it to use' to better advantage the public enthusiasm and the public strength to bring the war to a successful end. The declaration of the Progressive groups, representing as they did the majority of the Duma, was of undeniable significance. It was proof that the nation was speaking, apart from officialism, and its voice declared for waging the war to the end. The influence of the Progressive groups was soon to be felt in yet more powerful fashion.
A few days after the opening of the Duma, M. Sazonoff, the Foreign Minister, in a great speech, voiced Ruisia's reply to Sir George Buchanan's message:
"I am happy once more to note that the fatal misunderstandings which so long obscured our relations with Britain have now been finally dispersed."
The plan of General Alexeieff on the Russian western front was the same as that of the Grand Duke Nicholas in the Caucasusto keep the enemy guessing, to harass him in every possible way, and to keep him Keeping the foe In under constant apprehension of advances suspense all along his line, in order that when the right moment came a more effective attack could be launched against him. The policy of guerilla warfare, which had marked the closing weeks of 1915, was bound in the end to grow into something more. The one question was when and how the Russians would move.
The German armies occupying the long line from the Gulf of Riga southwards had endeavoured to protect themselves by a very thorough system of entrenchments, less elaborate naturally than that on the French front, for there had been less time to build it, but surprisingly complete when the length of the front and the time available were considered. Concrete trenches, warm, movable houses for the troops, elaborate machine-gun positions, and splendidly placed artillery faced the Russians. The Central Powers had largely concentrated their forces on two areas. A great Austro-German army occupied the country below Pinsk, with a view to advance in springtime, as soon as the weather made it possible, to Kieff and Odessa. An immense German army under Marshal von Hindenburg was being accumulated around Dvinsk to attack Petrograd. Between these two groups were the almost impassable Pinsk Marshes.
In February there were growing signs that either side might attempt to strike a blow before the spring thaw came on. The Russian Emperor visited his northern and western fronts, inspected the troops, and warmly congratulated them on their appearance and on then-work. Violent artillery duels broke out on either side along the Vilna-Dvinsk- Riga fronts. It is probable that the Russians were at this time largely influenced by a desire to help the French, who were just then being heavily attacked at Verdun. The artillery duels were followed by infantry advances, and at point after point great bodies of Russians were constantly flung upon the German lines. The extent of this offensive may be judged by one significant sentence in the German official report that the Russians "employed against the German lines north- west of Jacobstadt such masses of men and ammunition as have not hitherto been known in the eastern theatre of war."
The idea that the Russians were attempting an immense diversion, knowing that such a diversion must of necessity be very costly for them, is strengthened when the weather conditions are remembered. The great spring thaw was nearly due. Once the thaw set in, the movement of troops on either side would be virtually impossible. The Russians could not hope at this time to launch their really big advance, and they knew it. What they could hope to do was to keep the Germans fully employed, to prevent any movement of German troops from the east to the west, and possibly to make some gains in position. A month at the most was available for them.
That month was used to the full. In the Dvinsk region attack and counter-attack followed each other in rapid succession. The movement of the Russian troops seemed to indicate that they were attempting to recapture Vilna, and the Germans hastily set about fortifying this place. The fighting was specially notable in revealing the great excellence of the Russian artillery and the abundant supply of munitions for the Russian guns. In the south the Russian armies moved in the direction of Czernovitz, manoeuvring there for position. Before, however, a real decision could be had by either side, the spring thaw set in. The ice-bound rivers broke up, the countryside became a quagmire, and the movements of armies were necessarily suspended for a few weeks. Throughout the nation there was confident hope that immediately the effects of the spring thaws were over, and it was possible to move troops again, the war would take on a fresh aspect.
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