from ‘1917 Illustrated - The Book of the Year’
'Russian Retirement and Its Sequel'

A Record of Notable Achievements and Events

the Kaiser in Riga


July - September 1917

On July 1st, the anniversary of the opening of the Battle of the Somme, General Brussiloff launched a bold attack against the German front from the middle Stokhod down to the Bukovina frontier. The centre of the offensive was the twenty miles on either side of the fortified position of Brzezany. The village of Konuichy was taken and the woods beyond were entered by the Russian troops. A Finland division and the Siberian Army Corps distinguished themselves in this attack. The captures included 10,000 men, seven guns and numerous smaller pieces.

On July 2nd, the Russians had to bear the brunt of the counter-attacks of the German army, but in spite of this they were able to make some progress and increased the number of prisoners taken to 18,000. In an abortive struggle near Kovil, they lost heavily. The followings days saw the offensive developed further south. On July 7th, General Korniloff commenced an attack in the Stanislau region. The enemy's front was pierced near Halicz, which important bridgehead fell into Russian hands on July 10th. In three days fighting Korniloff's army had advanced to a depth of fifteen miles on a front of thirty miles; and had captured 10,000 prisoners, eighty guns and a considerable quantity of stores. At the moment events seemed to point conclusively to the speedy fall of Lemberg, the key to the military problems of the Eastern front. That Brusiloff had confidence in the situation is evidenced by his cheery message to General Sir William Robertson, in reply to his congratulations from the British Command Between July 1st and 13th, the Russians had taken in prisoners 834 officers and 35,800 men, and had captured nearly one hundred guns and over 400 machine guns.

The news of the success of the Russian offensive was still fresh in the minds of the public, when dark rumours spread from the battle fronts of disaffection behind the Russian lines. A German rally on June 15th had brought Brusiloff's forces to a stand at the river Lomnitza. The following days saw the positions on the river abandoned, and the entry of the Germans into Kalusch. Then came the news of a general rout and the falling back of the whole Russian line. The captures of the previous weeks were abandoned and both Tarnopol and Stanislau were left to the mercies of the German tide of invasion. Reports of mutiny among the Russian troops were prevalent in the middle of July. An impassioned appeal for discipline by M. Kerensky, who had succeeded Prince Lvoff as head of the Russian Provisional Government on July 22nd, restored confidence to the ranks, but the movement eastward, could not be stayed. An advance in Rumania towards Kezdi-Vasaihily was recorded on July 27th, but this gleam of hope was dispelled during the following days by the news of a general retirement of the Russian forces in Bukovina. On August 3rd the fall of Czernovitz was announced and Rumania was thrown open to the invaders from another quarter.

The Fall of Riga

At the Moscow Conference General Korniloff had uttered grave warning to the effect that if the Russian army did not help him to hold the shore of the Gulf of Riga, the road to Petrograd would be opened wide. Whilst he was speaking, the Germans were preparing their attack. Great naval activity started in the Gulf of Riga on September 1st. On the same day, after a strong artillery preparation, the German land forces crossed the River Dvina in the region of Uxkull, south-east of Riga, occupied Kupfer-Mammer, and developed their success in a northerly direction. The next day the enemy assumed the offensive in the region of the Mitau road. Towards the evening they succeeded in penetrating the Russian positions on the river Jagel, in the region of Melmager-Skripto. Some Russian detachments left their position and retired to the north. This caused a general order to be given to abandon the Riga region, and the Germans were left in possession. The city was evacuated on Monday, September 3rd, after it had been shelled by the Germans for a few hours.

Later details of the fall indicated that although some Russian detachments had fled before the on coming enemy, others of the Russian troops behaved with great gallantry. They fought well, but were finally compelled to retreat owing to the superior numbers of the enemy's forces, and his preponderance in artillery. The Petrograd reports mentioned that the fortifications and bridges of the town were blown up before the retirement.

Once in possession of the town, German submarines entered the Gulf of Riga, and commenced shelling the villages along the shore. Meanwhile the Russian army fell back north, and was followed by a rapid advance of the Germans. On September 4th, the Russians had retired beyond the Livonian River Aa. The Germans claimed thousands of prisoners and much booty, including large coastal guns of 30.5 centimetres. No further advance of the enemy was recorded until September 23rd, when news came to hand of the fall of Jakobstadt, south of Riga.

The Korniloff Revolt

The fall of Riga was followed in Russia by startling developments. A plot to overthrow the Revolution was hatched at the Headquarters of General Korniloff, who sent an ultimatum to Kerensky, calling upon the Government to lay down its authority and demanding that civil and military power should be invested in his hands. An attempt was made to placate Kerensky by offering him the post of Minister of Justice in the new Government.

After consulting with his friends, Kerensky gave Lvoff, Korniloffs messenger, a decisive refusal. Immediate action was taken to meet the new situation. Korniloff was denounced as a traitor to the Revolution and deprived of his command. Kerensky then assumed the office of Commander-in-Chief; with General Alexeieff as his Chief of Staff. For some days a report was current that Korniloff was marching with his army on Petrograd to forcibly depose Kerensky. This was followed by news of the complete collapse of the revolt. Certain Generals were recalled and rumour stated that Korniloff himself had been placed under arrest.

Meantime the Provisional Government had resigned in order to give Kerensky a free hand to deal with the situation. The revolt had placed him in a position of extreme difficulty, even although he had retained the support of the political parties sympathetic with the revolution and the bulk of the army. By his steadfast purpose and decision the country was saved from civil war, but the Soviet and the Cadets used the opportunity to press their particular claims in an extreme form. Each party was strongly antagonistic to the other, and each put the blame for the anarchy that prevailed in the country on the shoulders of the other.

Two far-reaching decisions emerged from the turmoil, (1) A Council or Directorate of five was charged with the Government for the time being, and (2) Russia was proclaimed a Republican State. In the Council the party of Cadets was represented, but Kerensky alone remained of the Socialists.


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