from ‘the War Illustrated Deluxe’ vol. I page 226
'Russky's Smashing Victory at Lemberg'

The Great Episodes of the War

hand-drawn illustration of fighting in the East in 1914


In the early part of the war Russia seemed to be a sleepy giant, who would be stabbed before he was fully awake. By August 15th Austria had concentrated by the frontier a force of a million men, with 2,500 guns. The Russians were in a weak position, and could not oppose their enemv. They needed nearly three more weeks to collect and array for battle all their mighty armies. The great distances from which men and supplies had to be brought by scanty means of communication prevented the Russians from defending their territory from invasion. The Austrians flung their main army of 600,000 troops far into Russian Poland, threatening an advance towards Warsaw. To stop any turning movement, there was an Austro-German force of 200,000 men on the right flank at Radom, while a southern Austrian army of 200,000 men formed the left flank at Lemberg. The idea was to conquer Poland, enlist and arm the Poles, and launch them triumphantly against their Slav kinsmen.

At first everything went according to programme. While Kluck, in France, was smashing a path to Paris by swift, terrible sledge-hammer blows, Generals Dankl and Auffenberg, with the assistance of various Austrian Grand Dukes, were sweeping through Russian territory and outdoing Kluck in the rapidity and number of their victories. But the defect of a war according to programme is that the movements are obvious, and can easily be foreseen by an opponent.

Taken at a Disadvantage

So, though the Russian commander-in-chief was taken at a disadvantage in respect to the inferior force of troops immediately at his disposal, he was able to use these troops with a complete knowledge of the enemy's intentions. According to the laws of strategy, the powerful Austrian centre advancing between the two towns of Lublin and Kholm should have attracted the Russian counter-attack.

The Russian commander, however, disregarded the scientific laws of strategy. Careless of the Moltke tradition, he looked on war as an art rather than a science—- as an art in which daring, originality, unexpectedness, and the personal ability of soldiers counted more than numbers. After General Rennenkampf had been sent on his famous raid into East Prussia, there were only two comparatively small armies available for the first counter-stroke against Austria.

General Russky was marching towards Galicia from Kiev, and General Brussilov was moving to the north of Roumania with the men of Bessarabia and Podolia. It was arranged for the two generals to proceed by separate routes and combine in Galicia, under Russky, for a surprise attack on the southern Austrian host near Lemberg. Each of the two small forces could easily have been met and defeated separately by their overwhelmingly strong enemy. But by one of the most remarkable oversights in the history of warfare, Russky and Brussilov were allowed by the Austrians to steal into Galicia by different paths and conquer a large part of the territory before battle was offered.

Austria's Host of Spies

The secrecy with which the combined Russian operation was conducted was extraordinary. It was done in the daylight, over a period of nearly two weeks—from August 17th to August 30th. The Austrians had a host of spies working with Teutonic thoroughness; they had a great screen of well-horsed, dashing cavalrymen engaged in reconnaissance work along the lines of the Russian advance; they had scouts in flying machines darting over the country. Yet the Russian operations in Austrian territory were not discovered till close on the end of August, when it was too late. Such was the incomparable skill with which General Russky and General Brussilov carried out their daring, dangerous work.

The principal credit, however, probably belongs to General Suklimov, the Russian Chief of Staff—a man great as an organiser, and greater still as a wielder of armies. With astonishing foresight, he had discerned how the situation he proposed to create in Galicia would strike the Austrian mind. The Battle of Lemberg was war in advance by thought-reading—by a practical forecast of the workings of the Teutonic intellect in its hour of triumphant self-conceit.

The Austrians were blind to everything except the "scientific" scheme of operations which they were carrying out in Russian territory. They had a strong front to the south of Warsaw, and against that front they intended to force the Russians to move. It was so simple. They had merely to advance conqueringly, in order to compel their opponent to attempt to stop them. Nothing else mattered. Cossack activity southward in Galicia was merely a feint and a vain distraction.

No Heavy Artillery Used

Meanwhile, the Cossack made the most of his opportunities. Before he crossed by the north of Roumania, and entered Galicia, he came into contact with the Austrian cavalry. The Russian rider had to screen his armies from observation, and push back the enemy as quietly and quickly as possible. No support from heavy artillery or infantry could be used, for this would disclose the secret that an important attack was being made in full force.

It was wild, stirring, versatile work, that suited the Cossack better than it would have suited any other large body of horsemen. Far in advance of the foot soldiers and big guns, he kept up a continual skirmish with every kind of Austrian arm—cavalry scout, infantryman, and gunner, in fortified places, by river passages, and other points of importance. Helped only by his own light horse artillery, the Cossack fought in every manner practised by modern armies. He dismounted and carried positions with the bayonet; he charged with his lance; he entrenched and displayed his marksmanship. Except that he did not use siege-guns, he proved himself a master of all trades in war.

The Cossack's Box of Tricks

His famous box of tricks was emptied on the heads of the Austrians. He fell dead in heaps, his dead horse beside him; suddenly came to life, and shot the enemy who wanted to search his corpse. Another time, a herd of little Cossack horses would stampede, and the riderless animals would sweep towards some guarded hostile position. Even little Cossack horses are useful to Austrian soldiers; they can be sold for good money to Galician farmers. But just before the animals were caught, grey figures swung from beneath them, carbine in hand, and fired. It was like a circus performance, but deadly effective. And when it came to a straightforward charge with sabre against sabre, the Austrian cavalry had to give way.

Some of the Austrian officers, however, were peculiarly tricky. An instance occurred in the Russian advance at Tarnopol, a town near the Galician border. Overcoming the first line of defence, the Russians swept on to meet the main body of their enemies. They passed an Austrian officer who was sitting on the earth bandaging his leg. Of course they did not hurt this wounded man. But their attack failed; it failed repeatedly. No matter in what manner they tried to approach the enemy, he was prepared, and mowed them down with a well-directed fire.

Returning over the ground after one of these reverses, a Russian officer noticed a wire running along the earth. He found it led to a field telephone, by which the pretended wounded Austrian was still sitting, giving notice of all the Russian movements. When the bandage round the man's leg was removed, it was seen that his limb was quite sound.

In spite of the continual skirmishing, drawing nearer and nearer, no alarm was felt by the Austrians until General Brussilov's army, after capturing and crossing river after river in Eastern Galicia, approached the muddy Lipa, by the fortress town of Halicz, sixty miles south of Lemberg. By this time the two Russian forces had met and combined. On August 30th, the left wing, under Brussilov, rested near the river valley at Halicz, while the right wing, under Russkv, extended to the Galician border. The Austrians then used the thirty forts at Halicz as a pivot for a smashing flank attack on Brussilov.

A Terrible Battle

But Brussilov did not wait to be attacked. Two weeks of continual successful skirmishing had enabled him to judge the warlike qualities of his men. He flung them on the enemy's line; they broke it, killed and wounded 20,000 Austrians, then stormed the forts, and captured Halcz in a terrible battle that lasted till September 1st. The Austrians fought well and bravely. Unlike the Germans, they faced the bayonet with determination, and used the steel themselves in some gallant charges. What told was the superior physique of the Russian trooper. He wore down the Austrian, and in bayonet fights and rifle fire showed such ascendency that the great rout of a whole Empire began almost as soon as the first battle was fully joined.

In the meantime, General Russky, who was directing the whole operations, swept from the north on another mass of Austrians at Zlocgow, killed three of their generals and thousands of their men, and pursued the rest to the outer forts of Lemberg. On September 2nd, Russky drew up his troops within cannon shot of the fortressed capital of Galicia. And such was the demoralisation of the Austrian army of 200,000, that I.emberg was captured the next day, together with the entire artillery of the Austrian force.

Back to the Russian Fold

The heavy Russian artillery smashed the forts and opened the road to the Russian infantrymen, and after a little fierce street fighting, the victorious troops marched in, and as they passed the townspeople threw flowers upon them from the upper windows of the houses. For the Lemberger, like most of the people of Eastern Galicia, is a Russian. That is why Brussilov was able to work his way through the country so swiftly and secretly, with priests coming in processions with banners to meet him at every village. Eastern Galicia is an ancient Russian Duchy, torn from the ancestors of the Tsar by his enemies. It is the Alsace-Lorraine of Russia, peopled by a Slav race, with the same language, religion, and customs as the Russian Empire, to which it has been so swiftly and unexpectedly united.


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