- Eastern Front (World War I)
Infobox Military Conflict
conflict = Eastern Front
World War I
place = Central and
date = 1914 – 1918
result = Central Powers victory;
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Treaty of Bucharest
combatant1 = flag|German Empire
combatant2 = flag|Russian Empire
commander1 = flagicon|German Empire
Paul von Hindenburg
Conrad von Hötzendorf
commander2 = flagicon|Russian Empire Emperor Nicholas II
Grand Duke Nicholas
The Eastern Front was a theatre of war during
World War Iin Central and, primarily, Eastern Europe. The term is in contrast to the Western Front. Despite the geographical separation, the events in the two theatres strongly influenced each other.
The length of the front in the East was much longer than in the West. The theatre of war was roughly delimited by the
Baltic Seain the West and Moscowin the East, a distance of 1,200 kilometers, and Saint Petersburgin the North and the Black Seain the South, a distance of more than 1,600 kilometers. This had a drastic effect on the nature of the warfare. While World War I on the Western Front developed into trench warfare, the battle lines on the Eastern Front were much more fluid and trenches never truly developed. This was because the greater length of the front ensured that the density of soldiers in the line was lower so the line was easier to break. Once broken, the sparse communication networks made it difficult for the defender to rush reinforcements to the rupture in the line to mount a rapid counteroffensive and seal off a breakthrough. There was also the fact that the terrain in the Eastern European theatre was quite solid, often making it near impossible to construct anything resembling the complicated trench systems on the Western Front, which tended to have muddier and much more workable terrain. In short, on the Eastern front the side defending did not have the overwhelming advantages it had on the Western front.
Because of this, front lines in the East kept on shifting throughout the conflict, and not just near the beginning and end of the fighting, as was the case in the West. In fact the greatest advance of the whole war was made in the East by the
German Armyin the summer of 1915.
At the outbreak of the war,
CzarNicholas II appointed his cousin, Grand Duke Nicholasas commander in chief. Although not without ability, the Grand Duke had no part in formulating the war plans which led to disaster.
The war in the East began with the Russian invasion of East Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. The first effort quickly turned to a disaster following the Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914. However, the second incursion was completely successful, with the Russians controlling almost all of Galicia by the end of 1914. Under the command of Nikolay Ivanov and Aleksey Brusilov, the Russians won the
Battle of Galiciain September and began the Siege of Przemysl, the next fortress on the road towards Krakówand the Austro-Hungarian border.
This early Russian success in 1914 on the Austro-Russian border was a reason for concern to the Central Powers and caused considerable German forces to be transferred to the East to take pressure off the Austrians, leading to the creation of the new
German Ninth Army. At the end of 1914 the main focus of the fighting shifted to central part of Russian Poland, west of the river Vistula. The October Battle of the Vistula Riverand the November Battle of Łódź brought little advancement for the Germans, but at least kept the Russians at a safe distance.
The Russian and Austro-Hungarian armies continued to clash in and near the
Carpathian Mountainsthroughout the winter of 1914–1915. Przemysl fortress managed to hold out deep behind enemy lines throughout this period, with the Russians bypassing it in order to attack the Austro-Hungarian troops further to the west. They made some progress, crossing the Carpathians in February and March 1915, but then the Germans sent relief and stopped further Russian advance. In the meantime, Przemysl was almost entirely destroyed and the Siege of Przemyslended in a defeat for the Austrians.
In 1915 the German command decided to make its main effort on the Eastern Front, and accordingly transferred considerable forces there. To eliminate the Russian threat the
Central Powersbegan the campaign season of 1915 with a successful Gorlice-Tarnow Offensivein Galicia in May 1915. After the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes, the German and Austro-Hungarian troops in the Eastern Front functioned under a unified command. The offensive soon turned into a general advance and then a strategic retreat by the Russian army. By mid-1915, the Russians had been expelled from Russian Poland and hence pushed hundreds of kilometers away from the borders of the Central Powers, removing any threat of Russian invasion of Germany or Austria-Hungary. At the end of 1915 the main part of the front reached a line which in general outline did not change until the Russian collapse in 1917.
In 1916 the Russians attempted a large counteroffensive under the leadership of General Aleksey Brusilov (the
Brusilov Offensive). The attack, aimed against the part of the front held by Austro-Hungarians, was initially a spectacular success largely because of its use of storm troopers. However, a successful counterattackby German units halted the Russian assault.
By 1917, the Russian economy finally neared collapse under the strain of the war effort. While the equipment of the Russian armies actually improved due to the expansion of the war industry, the food shortages in the major urban centres brought about civil unrest which led to the abdication of the Tsar and the
February Revolution. The large war casualties also created disaffection and mutinous attitudes in the army, which was fueled by Bolshevikagitators and the Russian Provisional Government’s new liberalization policies towards the army (stripping officers of their mandate by giving wide sweeping powers to “soldier committees”, the abolition of the death penalty). The very last offensive undertaken by the Russian Army in the war was the brief and unsuccessful Kerensky Offensivein July 1917.
On November 29, 1917, the Communist
Bolshevikstook power under their leader Vladimir Lenin. Lenin’s new Bolshevik government tried to end the war but the Germans demanded enormous concessions. Finally, in March, 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovskwas signed and the Eastern Front ceased to be a war zone. The Germans were able to transfer some of their divisions to the West, in order to mount an offensive in France in 1918. However, by then the arrival of American units in Europe was sufficient to offset the German advantage. Even after the Russian collapse, about a million German soldiers remained tied up in the East until the end of the war, attempting to run a short-lived addition to the German Empire in Europe. In the end, Germany and Austria would lose all their captured lands, and more, under various treaties (such as the Treaty of Versailles) signed after the armistice in 1918.Germany ended up losing the war.
Also, in the night of 14 August 1916, Romania entered the war on the side of the Entente, and had a successful offensive until September. After that it started to suffer great losses and several defeats from German-Austrian-Bulgarian-Ottoman forces, as the Romanian Army was poorly equipped and their Russian allies offered little support on the front.
The Russian casualties in the First World War are difficult to estimate, due to poor quality of available statistics. Some official Russian sources list 775,400 battlefield fatalities. More recent Russian estimates give 900,000 battlefield deaths and 400,000 dead from combat wounds, or a total of 1.3 million dead. This is about equal to casualties suffered by France and Austria-Hungary and about one-third less than those suffered by Germany.
Cornish gives a total of 2,006,000 military dead (700,000 killed in action, 970,000 died of wounds, 155,000 died of disease and 181,000 POWs died). So Russian losses were similar to the British Empire, 5% of the male population in the 15 to 49 age group. He says civilian casualties were five to six hundred thousand in the first two years, and were then not kept, so a total of "over 1,500,000" is not unlikely. He has over five million men "passing into captivity", the majority during 1915.
When Russia withdrew from the war, 3.9 million Russian POWs were in German and Austrian hands. This by far exceeded the total number of prisoners of war (1.3 million) lost by the armies of Britain, France and Germany combined. Only the
Austro-Hungarian Army, with 2.2 million POWs, even came close.
*"The Russian Army and the First World War" by Nik Cornish (2006, Spellmount, Stroud UK) ISBN 1-86227-288-3
*"The Eastern Front 1914-1917" by Norman Stone (1998, Penguin Books) ISBN 0-14-026725-5
World War I
* [http://www.flickr.com/photos/65817306@N00/sets/486575/ WWI Eastern Front Foto] .
* [http://www.flickr.com/photos/65817306@N00/sets/1219581/ WWI Eastern Front Part II]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/withrussianarmy101knoxuoft With the Russian army, 1914-1917] by
* [http://www.archive.org/details/warandrevolution009671mbp War And Revolution In Russia 1914-1917] by Vasily Gourko.
* [http://globus.tut.by/type_tno_graves_nem.htm WWI German Military Cemeteries in Belarus] modern photos by Andrey Dybowski (rus).
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