World War I: Russia


Figure 1.--Here we see what look likes a Russian cadet group , apparently a formation of boys from different schools/gymnasia with training rifles. The uniforms would be their school uniforms, noy army uniforms. I'm not sure when it was taken. We suspect just before or early in the War. Notice that the boys have four different cockades on their caps. This may represent their different schools, but I am not sure. The last boy in 4th line may be a police or gendarme recruit with breast badge and aglets. Click on the image for a full frame.

Imperial Russia used pan-Slavism much as the Soviets used Communism. Thus when the Austro-Hungarians sought to punish Serbia, Russia came to its defence. This involved Germany because the Austrians had treaty ties to the Germans. Russia had the largest army in the world and with its huge population had the capability to mobilze an immense force. The Russian army, however, was not as well trained or as well equipped as the Germans. And mobilization would take condiserble time. Bismarck had maintained treaties with the Russians, but as a result of Kaiser Wilhelm II's disatrous diplomacy, the Russians had signed a treaty with the French placing the Germans in the position of fighting a two-front war. The Russians developed two war plans known as Plan G and Plan A (also called plan 19). The Russians saw two possible alternatives. Plan G entailed a massive German invasion. The reponse was the traditional Russian strategy of sacrificing lborder territory and withdrawing into the vastness of Russia buying time to mobilize a huge conscript force. Thus using this force, the German army with streached supplie lines and facing the severe Winter weather could be defeated like Napoleon. The Germans of course chose the other alternative, they concentrated the bulk of their force in a massive western offensive, striking France through Belgium. Thus the other Russian war plan, PLan A (19) came into force. The initial Russian version of Plan A theorized the German attack west and called for only minor Russian actions in the East. The French pressured the Russians to adopt a more aggressive strategy. The modified version of Plan A is known as Plan 19. General Danilov conceived of Plan 19 (1910). It was further modified in 1912. It involved a Russian offensive drive into East Prussia and Silesia to prevent the Germans from focusing its forces on France. This was precisely what occurred. The Germans had to withdraw forces from the West. This enabled the French to stop the Germans at the Marne. The German forces under Hindenburg and Ludendorf devistated the Russians at Tannenberg and then the First and Second Battles of the Masurian Lakes.

Pan Slavism

Pan-Slavism is a rather modern concept. The first known expression of the concept was wriutings by Juraj Križanić during the mid-17th century. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th and early 19th century inspired the growth of nationalism throughout Europe. The most signnificant impact was the growth of Herman nationalism, but Slavic nationalism and the concept of pan-Slavism was another impact. Soon scholars, poets, authors, and phiosphers were writing about Slavic hitory and culture. Unlike Germany, however, there was no single shared language, although all the Slavic languages (Czech, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and Slovakian) are related. The political impact of the Pan-Slavic movement varied. The Russian monarchy was a Slavic monarchy and they thus used Pan-Slavism much as the Soviet rulers used Communism. The situation was just the oppsitie with the Austrian Empire. The Austrian monarchy was a German dynasty and Austrian Foreign Miister Count Metternich saw the various nationalities as a threat to the Austrian Empire and the pre-Napoleonic War conservitive order he sought to reconstruct at the Congress of Vienna (1815). The Austrian Empire was composed of many national groups (Germans, Italian, Hungarian, ect), but the largest group was the Slavs. This was especially the case when Austria acquired parts of Poland and began to expand into the Balkans as the power of the Ottoman Empire declined. The first Pan-Slav convention was held in Prague, Bohemia during the 1848 revolutions. Slavic nationalist sentiments increased when Serbia managed to extert its independence from the Ottomans. Groups in both Russian and Serbia stoked the intensifying national ferment during the late 19th century. Austria annexed Bosnia-Herzogvania, a province with large numbers of Slavs (1909). This intensified tension between Serbia and Austria.

Russian Army

Russia had the largest army in the world and with its huge population had the capability to mobilze an immense force. The Russian Army in the early-19th century had been the most powerful force in Europe. The Russians had played a key role in defeating Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars The Russians had destroyed Napoleon's Grand Armee during the retreat from Moscow (1812). The Russian Army helped police the conservative regime implaced with the the Congress of Vienna. The Russians intervened to defeat the 1848 revolutions in central Europe. The Russians did not keep up Western Europe during the Industrial Revolution. This findamentally changed the ballnce of power in Europe as was first seen during the Crimean War (1853-56). Thus while massive, the Russian Army in the early 19th century no longer dominated Europe. The unification and industrialization of Germany, deamatically changed the European power ballance. Russian in the early 20th century had a rapidly growing industrial sector, but it was small in coparison to Germany. Russia did not have the ability to equip its army with modern weapons as was the case for the Germans. The Russian army was not as well trained or as well equipped as the Germans. Nor did plans exist for the rapid mobilization of reserves. Mobilization the Imperial Army would take condiserble time. The Germans had the most efficent mobilization systen in Europe and thus was prepared to strike first if the Russians begn to mobilize.

Balkans Crisis (June-July 1914)

Terroism was at the heart of World War I in a chilling reminder to our modern age. War had been brewing in Europe for decades. It was a terrorist act that was the actual catalyst. Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip (June, 28, 1914) assasinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. The Austrians were incorporating Bosnia into their Empire and had chosen the most sacred day in Serbian history, their defeat by the Ottoman Turks on the plains of Kosovo, for the Archduke's visit. The Austrians decided to punish the Serbs. The German Government (July 6) gave its support for Austro-Hungary's plan to punish the Serbs. Russia came to the defense of the Serbs--a fellow Slavic people. This brought Germany in conflict with Russia becaise the Austrians had treaty ties to the Germans.

Treaty Arrangemens

Bismarck had maintained treaties with the Russians, but as a result of Kaiser Wilhelm II's disatrous diplomacy, the Russians had signed a treaty with the French placing the Germans in the position of fighting a two-front war.

War Plans

The Russians developed two war plans known as Plan G and Plan A (also called plan 19). The Russians saw two possible alternatives. Plan G entailed a massive German invasion. The reponse was the traditional Russian strategy of sacrificing border territory and withdrawing into the vastness of Russia buying time to mobilize a huge conscript force. Thus using this force, the German army with streached supply lines and facing the severe Winter weather could be defeated like Napoleon'scGrand Armee. The initial Russian version of Plan A theorized the German attack west and called for only minor Russian actions in the East. The French pressured the Russians to adopt a more aggressive strategy. The modified version of Plan A is known as Plan 19. General Danilov conceived of Plan 19 (1910). It was further modified in 1912. It involved a Russian offensive drive into East Prussia and Silesia to prevent the Germans from focusing its forces on France. This was precisely what occurred.

Dynastic Ties

It was hoped in the early 20th century that dynastic ties could help defuse the rising nationalist tensions in Europe. There were ties in particular between the the British, German and Russian royal families. Kaiser Wilhelm II was the grandson of Queen Victoria. Her daughter Princess Victoria married the German crown prince, Prince Friederich. Tsar Nicholas II was another grandson of Victoria. His mother was a Danish princess, the sister of Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII on Britain. Tsar Nicholas fell in love with the daughter of Grand Duke Ludwig of Hessen, Princess Alice Victoria Eleanor Louisa Beatrice (Alexandra Feodorovna). Her mother was Queen Victoria's second daughter, Princess Allice. The story of Nicholas and Alexander is one of the great love stories of the 20th Century. A potential mattiage offered strong ties to both the German and English royal families, but more than anything else, it was a true love match between the two. These dynastic ties could have worked, but Kaiser Wilhelm's mercurial personality was probably the major reason that they failed. The Tsar and Kaiser exchanged letters and telegrams in an effort to prevent war (July 29 - August 1), but these efforts ultimately failed.

Outbreak of World War I (August 1914)

Austria-Hungary was determined to punish Serbia for the assaination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. When Austria-Hungary with German backing declared war on Serbia, Russia was committed to defend the Serbs--fellow Slavs. Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas exchanged telegrams, but ther personal relationship could not restrain the developing tragedy. The Tsar ordered a mobilization. France also began to mobilize its troops. Russia had the largest army in Europe and once moibilized posed a forbidable danger to Germany. Germany thus felt impelled to strike at France before Russia could mobilize. Germany declaring war on Russia (August 1) and France (August 3). The strike at France followed the Schlieffen Plan which meant invading Belgium. German armies crossed the Belgian birder (Aufudy 4). This brought Britain, which had treaty obligations to Belgium, into the War. Britain may have entered the War with out Germany invasion of Belgium, but the invasion provided both the causus bellum and popular support for war. Germany's decession to support Austria's desire to punish Serbia turned a Balkans crisis into a major European war. Germany probably would have prevailed in a war with France and Russia. The invasion of Belgium provided tactical advantages, but at the cost of brining Britain and the Empire with its immenense military and material resources into the War.

German Western Offensive (August 1914)

The Germans of course chose the other alternative, they concentrated the bulk of their force in a massive western offensive, striking France through Belgium. Thus the other Russian war plan, PLan A (19) came into force. The Germans had to withdraw forces from the West. This enabled the French to stop the Germans at the Marne (September 1914).

Russian Offensive (August 1914)

A ancient Chinese writer maintained that war or won or lost before they begin. Here Kaiser Wilhelm's disastrous foreign policy doomed Germany to defeat. Had Frrance not had a treaty with Russia, the full force of the Germany Army could have been conentrated in the West and the Germans would have reached Paris in early September, probably ending the War. The Russians honored the terms of the Franco-Russian alliance and before their army was fiully mobilized struck at the Germans in the East. The general in command of the Russian troops at Tannenberg was a Baltic German, Paul von Rennenkampf. Many of the higher officials and officers in Tsarist Russia were Baltic Germans who came from Latvia and Estonia and were Russian subjects. Most of them lost their estates after the Bolshevists took over the government. The Germans were forced to weaken their western offensive to meet the Russian threat. The German forces under Hindenburg and Ludendorf devistated the Russians at Tannenberg and then the First and Second Battles of the Masurian Lakes. These were great German victories, but the result was that the French strengthen by the British were able to stop the Germans in the West.

Poland


Austrian Front: Galicia (1914)

The Eastern Front was primarily the struggle between the Russians and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. The Germans manned the nothern sector beginning in East Prussia. The Ausro-Hungarians manned the southern sector. The Russian Austrian border was primarily located in Galacia. It was here and in Poland that fighting between the Russians and Austro-Hungarians occurred. The Central Powers would emege ictorious on the Eastern Front, but in the process the Austro-Hngarian Army would be left shattered with some units near mutiny and others largely ineffectual. Austrian Chief-of-Staff Conrad von Hoetzendorf attacked north toward Warsaw. The Russians had anticipated this and concentrated four well supplied armies to oppose Hoetzendorf 39 divisions. The Russian staged a counter offensive (August 30). The Russians achieved substantial successes and Hoetzendorf ordered a general retreat (third week in September). The Austrians sustanined 130,000 casualties and had to abandon Galicia. As winter fell Mackensen probed toward Warsaw and the Russians probed into the Carpathian passes. The Germans inflicted terrible losses on the Russians further north. Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes devestated Russian armies (August and September 1914). Russia did not have the industrial capacity to properly equip its huge army. While it could deal with the Austro-Hungarian forces, the well equipped and professionally competent German military was a different matter. von Hoetzendorf was concerned about Russian forces in the Carpathian Mountains. He pleaded with the Germans to support a planned winter offensive. The Germans finally agreed. The Germans drove out of East Prussia. The Germns achieved some success. The Austrians not only failed to make any progress, but lost the Dukla Pass, a potential invasion route onto the Hungarian plains. The winter weather and notoriously eak Russian supply situation stopped the Russians ffrom moving into Hungary.

The Caucasus


Austrian Front (1915)

1915: The Germans in the face of Austrian failures took over command of the Eastern Front. German units were used to support the faltering Austrians. The Austrians with German reinforcements launched a new offensive (May 1). The attack focused on Gorlice and was a great success. They moved 200 miles forward in only 2 weeks, shattering the Russian Southern Front. The Russians were forced to retreat and Warsaw fell (August 1915). This left the Germans and Austrians in c ontrol of Poland. The Germans to the north continued the attack with little support from the Austrians. General Max von Gallwitz' new Twelfth Army drove into the Courland in the direction of toward Riga (September). The attack shatered the Russian northern front. Major Russian strong ponts fell (Novo-Georgiesk and Brest-Litovsk). The Russians managed to form a new line. After the battle-field didastrs, Tsar Nicholas decided to personally take personal command of the army. This of course meant that he would assume responsibility for any further defeats and management of the war. The decision which would have grave consequences. By the end of the the year, the Central Powers, mostly by German force of arms had seized Poland, Lithuania and Latvia from the Russins. The Russians had lost 2 million men, half of them tajken prisoner. Even in victory, the Germans and Austrians had lost 1 million men. It was in 1915 that the Allies launched the Galipoli offensive to open a supply route to Russia. It failed. Had the Allies broken through the course of the war in the east my have been very different.

Tsar's Personal Command


Galipoli

The Australians were used along with New Zealand, British, and French troops in the costly Gallipoli campaign (1915). The concept was to releave the Russians who at the time were ill equipped and suffering enormous losses. The Australians 4 1/2 months of training near Cairo, the Australians were transported by ship to Turkey. They were deploye on the Gallipoli peninsula, together with New Zealand units. The landings were made at ANZAC Cove (April 25, 1915). They gained the steep slopes above the beach. Then the capaign became an Allied effort to break out and a Ottomon attemp to elinate the Allied beachhead. The fighting turned into a costly stalemate continued throughout the remainder of 1915. Finally the Allies withdrew (December 19-20). The Allies might have done this earlier, but a withdrawing force was very vulnerable. The Allies executed a successful deception campaign and managd to evacuate with minimal casualties.

Russian Navy


Summer Offendive (1916)

1916: The battered Russians were first to strike in 1916. Russian General Alexi Brusilov, one of thevmore competent Russian commanders, Some Allied aid had reached the Russians. Brusilov employed new tactics including shock troops and open order formations. Brusilov commanded four armies (7th, 8th, 9th, and 11th) which he used to asttack the Astrians in Galacia (JUne 4). The Russians drove deep into the Austrian lines. After two months the Austro-Hungarian Army on the eastern front was near collsapse. The major imediment to Brusilov was the suupply situatuon. It is at this time that the Romanians entered the War. There goal was to take Transylvania. A Central Power counter-offensive, however, shattered the Romanian Army. This gave the Cetral Powers possession of important resources (coal and whear), but it also meant an additional 200 miles of front for their already badly streached forces. The High Command ordered Brusilov to continue his summer offensive, despite the heavy casualties sustained. Brusilov resumed the offensive (September). The same successes were not achieved and casualties were very high. Bukovina and Galicia were now in Russian hands. Russian industry was, however, proving increasing unable to supply the Army. The terrible losses began to affect discipline in the Army. (Similar problems were being expeenced with other armies, esecially the Austro-Hungarians abd French). Emperor Karl who replaced Franz Josef on the Austro-Hungarian throne set peace feelers to the Allies, seeing that the Army and this the Empire itself was desintegrating. The Germans upon learning of this essentially took control of the Austo-Hungarian Army.

Home Front


Germany and Lennin


Tsar's Abdication

Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, 1917, in favor of his brother Michael. No fool, Michael renounced his claim the next day. After the abdication, the royal family first remained in Czarskoe Selo then, by decision of the interim government, were transported to Siberia. The Bolshevik government in April 1918 decided to move the Imperial family to Ekaterinburg in the Urals. Here Lenin ordered them to be shot on July 17, 1918. The bodies were hidden and have only recently been found and identified. They were given a Christian burial in 199?.

Russia Cracks

It was Russia not Austria-Hungary, however, that was the first country to crack. the Russian Army's officer corps themselves demoralized began loosing control of their men. It was increasingly clear that the Russians could not match the well-equipped anf competent German Army. But even when fighting the Austrians, the Russians had sustained terrible casualties. The Tsar's personal command had changed nothing. Front line units began ignoring orders from the High Command (March). Communists infiltrating in the Army exagerated reports of revolts in Petrograd.

Tsar Abdigates (March 1917)

The Revolution of 1905 following the disaterous Russo-Japanese War had shaken the Tsarist Empire to the core. Tsar Nicholas had been forced to grant a constitution. This created a duma or parliament. The Tsar was back in control (1907). The Tsarist state was irevocably weakened. The shooting of striking gold miners at the Lena field in Siberia resulted in a new wave of unrest (1912). Thus Tsarist Russia was in no condition to enter a general European war (1914). The War was a disaster for Russia. The country was unprepared and the result was huge casualties. Russia suffered more casualties than any other country. Dusruptions in the economy and the advance og=f German forces resulted in shortages including severe shortages and bread lines in the major cities. As a result, the Tsarist Government collapsed with relatively little resistance when riots broke out in St. Persburg. Army revolts forced the Tsar to abdicate. Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, 1917, in favor of his brother Michael. No fool, Michael renounced his claim the next day. Italy

Provisional Government (March 1917)

The abdication of the Tsar left the Duma in control of Russia. The Duma was dominated by liberal politicans. Defense Minister Alexander Kerensky formnmed a provisional government. The Provisional Government, however, was hampered by thev Petrograd Council (Soviet) of Soldiers and Workers's Deputies. And here radical elements including the Bolshevils had considerable influence. The Provisional Government also honored commitments to the Allies. Kerensky tried to keep Russia in the War. He gave Brusilov command of another offensive against the German Southern Army in Galicia. This time Brusilov made little progress. He drove through mutinous Austrian units, but was stopped at great cost by German units commanded by Hoffman and Hutier. The Germans after stopping the Russians, launched a major offensive. This was the stroke that shattered the Russian Army. It's collapse paved the way for the Bolsheviks to seize power.

Root Commission (June 1917)

Elihu Root (1845-1937) was President Roosevelt's second secretary of state and a respected figure in the Republican Party. After the outbreak of World War I he criticised President Wilson's policy of neutrality. He was an importahnt contender for the 1916 Republican presidential nomination. After entering the War, the United tates was concerned about Russia which was an importabt part of the Allied war effort. American officials were not only concerned about Russia quitting the War, but the possibility that the Russians could join the Central Powers. President Wilson asked Root to head a commission to Russia and determine how the United states could aid the new Provisional Government which had replaced the Tsaris regimes. It was an arduous assignment for the 72-year old Root. The Commision had quite an eclectic composition. The Commission consisted of labor leader James Duncan, socialist Charles Edward Russell, General Hugh L. Scott, Admiral James H. Glennon, New York financeer Samuel R. Bertron, John Mott, and Charles Richard Crane. They traveled to Vladivostok where American supplies were being delivered. The Commission was given the Tsar's train o travel over the country. Root was not impressed by ehat he saw in Russia which was beginnining to desintegrate under relentless German pressure. His conclusion that the Russians "are sincerely, kindly, good people but confused and dazed." He made it clear that while the United States was prepared to grant war loans, this would only be done if Russia remained in the War.

German Offensive (1917)

The Germans after stopping the Russians, launched a major offensive. This was the stroke that shattered the Russian Army. It shattered as Russia began to descend into civil war.

Bolshevik Revolution (1917)

The first Communist state was of course the Soviet Union. The Revolution was a reaction to the huge losses, government incompetence, and privations of World War I (1914-18), in which the Russian people, suffered greviously. The Bolsheviks emerged victorious against a democratic Provisional Government (1917). The Russian Revolution is often described as a result of social forces that had been developing for centuries. A strong case can be made for the Revolution as a coupd'état that may have never occurred without the leadership of Lenin. [Pipes] The Germans allowed Lenin who was in Switzerland to cross their territory in a sealed railway car. Hecarrived in Petrograd (April 1917). His demands for "peace, land, and bread" resonated with the Russian people, especially the Petrigrad Soviet with was not faorably disposed toward the liberal duma and Kerensky Government. Lenin and his allies demanded "all power to the Soviets". As the situation in Petrograd deteriorated, General Kornilov attempted to seize power. This backfired when his troops mutinied. The Bolsheviks then moved on the Provisional Government (November 7). They arrested members if the Provisional Government they could find and seized power in the name of the Soviets.

Treaty of Brest Litovsk (1918)

The poorly organized and led Russian Army suffered enormous losses. The Russian tied down large German armies in the Eastern Front, making it impossible for the Germans to concentrate their strength against the French and British on the Western Front. The Russians finally cracked in 1917. Revolution broke out in Russia. The Bolsheviks seized control of the Russian government in November 1917. The Russian Army had collapsed in front of the Germans. The Russian people were starving as deperate. The Bolsheviks who had pledged bread and peace had no alternative but to seek terms. The Germans were thus able to force a humiliating peace on the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks had to ceede the Ukraine, its Polish territories, the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), and Finland. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed in 1918 between the new Soviet government and the Central Powers. Russia gave up land for peace. This thus allowed the Russians to withdraw from the war, although at enormous cost. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty was after the collapse of the German Western Front in 1918 was annulled by the terms of the Armistice betwewwn Germany and he Western Allies.

German Western Offensive (1918)

With victory in the East, the Germans could concentrate their forces on a final massive offensive in the West. Here there was a chance for success. Much had changed on the Western front after 4 years of war. The French Army at been devestated at Verdun and poor treatment by the High Command . While incapable of offensive operation, Petain and other commanders had restored discipline so that they would effectively fight on the defense. The British had learned from the dissaster on the Somme. They had made major changes in tactics and built an effective conscript army. They had also developed new weapons, especially tanks. And because of the Kaiser's decession to institute unconditional submarine warfare, the Americans had entered the War and a substantial new army had joined the British and French in the Western Front trenches.

Civil War (1918-21)

The abdication of the Tsar and subequent Civil War led to distructive fighting between Reds and Whites (1918-22). Foreign governments intervened to assist the Whites. The Red Army fought to retain the old Rusian imperial borders, but lost Finland, the Baltics Republic and large areas of White Russia to Poland. The Bolshevicks did succeed in the Russian hearland. The old Imperial Army was shatered by the Germans. Many soldiers mutinied and killed their officers. People's Commisar for War Leon Trotsky organized a new Red Army, recruiting massive numbers of peasants and workers. The Red Army without trained officers performed poorly in the early phases of the fighting. Leon Trotsky played a msajor role in fashioning the Red Army into an effective fighting force. The Bolshevicks attached political officers to all Red Army units to keep warch over the officers (many who had been in the old Imperial Army) and explain Communism to the largely illiterate peasant recruits. The Bolshevicks were especially concerned with the younger generation, untained by the Tsarist past and capitalism. The War and the Civil War affected agricultual production. Food shortsages were widespread. Large numbers of children orphaned in the fighting were psarticuilsrly at risk. As in Europe, American food again played a role in saving millions of children.

Sources

Pipes, Richard. VIXI: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger (Yale University Press: 2003), 264p. ("VIXI is Latin for "I lived." His parents managed to excape fom NAZI-occupied Poland. Most of their family perished in the gas chambers. Some describe him as the intelectual archetct of America's victory in the Cold War.)






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Created: 6:10 PM 2/19/2006
Last updated: 9:35 AM 8/18/2012