Eastern Entente Grand Campaign:
The Crisis of August, 1915:
(1) I intend to include status reports and strategic and tactical reports and reflections on the grand campaign, particularly relating to specific sectors of conflict. I may add images if I can overlay useful markings. The ideas of learned TEAW colleagues are welcome.
(2) It is the close of August 1915, and the war has for a year raged with the Entente equal in combat power with the CP (Russia now comprising only 30% of total Entente strength, a diminishing proportion). The CP have lost 3.3 million men, the Western Entente 1.8 million men, and Russia 1.7 million men. Russian manpower is more that can be used with the limited funds available. VPs are about even, gain at ~170 even between the CP and the Western Entente, with Russian +52 VP gain providing an edge, at least for now, of a few hundred points.
(3) Gone are the bold and happy early days when the Russian eagle stormed into East Prussia, menaced Teutonic Thorn in Pomerania, and surged broadly across Galicia and Ruthenia through strategic Lemberg to the gates of Przemysl and deep into the Carpathians. The fighting was back and forth, but recently the pattern has shifted to show an overall trend in the struggle, and not a favorable one.
(4) Fresh Central Powers effectiveness became sharply evident with a daring Austrian summer offensive assault around Lemberg that swung east down between the Dniester and the foothills, behind Russian lines, to seize the strategic anchor town of Czernowitz and send detachments up north to harass communications with the important Pripet forts and in particular the important munitions manufactory established at the fort and rail center of Rowno. Chasing down these small forces consumed the attention of our weak second line forces on Carpathian rail line and drew forces supporting Lemberg east, which facilitated the Austrian recapture of the place with a fresh column. Though garrisoned with a tough defensive corps led by an expert on defense and the use of forts and pioneers, it was repeatedly assaulted in great force and overcome. Two Russian corps rushing back from Tarnopol to Zloczow were overcome by a large Getman column. The importance of the town of Zloczow is the rail junction and the railroad bridge crossing to the northeast toward Rowno, which makes it a good base of attack for a thrust toward the Pripet forts or to cut the rail communications between western Poland and Russia by slicing through Podlasia.
(5) Now Stavka faces at Lemberg and Zloczow two relatively fresh armies of of Austrians and Germans of 1200 and 1300 power, as well as farther west a tide of smaller detachments spreading north towards the border and ultimately the Brest-Litovsk to Warsaw railways. There are few but town garrisons and a few in their path, though they appear to be unaware of this.
(6) Our forces that could face the CP troops from Austria-Hungary (AH) are less fresh and are spread across several sectors. At and near Warsaw are Russian commands under Samsonov (3-5-2)(with well over 1000 power combined but some of these battered, having been outfought by Germans able to adeptly march to the guns in a campaign of detachments along the Silesian portion of the Polish frontier. They are enough to hold the Warsaw area and Vistula line if assured of their supply sources. However, with Lemberg retaken by the Austrians, Samsonov's rail communications with Russia through Podlasia are exposed.
(7) The major formation nearest to Samsonov is Rennenkampf's (4-2-0) army (about 1300 power) in the north facing Germans inside East Prussia where they had settled in to a war of waiting after early engagements that provided no net gain and unfavorable attriction. With the stolid Sergei Schneidemann (0-1-5) commanding two corps of 500 power dug in at forested Gumbinnen and a corps of 292 power under Aleksandr Jakovlev (3-4-3) entrenched in the moors of Goldap just to the south, 300-400 power should be free to march or entrain south to make a front, even though that is only a fraction of what is required.
(8) Next, on the other side of the CP's breach in Galicia, positioned southeast of the CP’s German spearhead at Zloczow and stretching through Ruthenia along the Carpathians to the rugged peaks past Czernowitz, lie the scattered armies under supreme commander Grand Duke Nikolaya (3-3-2). Their power may approach 2000 once those in need of rest and new drafts are renewed. They have been busy chasing down intruding Austrian and German detachments, that one that went to Rowno being approached by a cavalry corps from the north.
(9) The last force on the central front is Brusilov’s (7-7-2) army, with 90,000 fresh troops of 900 power along with two battered corps in need of supplies and replacements, thrust deep south into Hungary along the Kolomea- Debrecen railway. Inspired by the hope of breaking through to rescue our Serb brothers and build a fresh front in Hungary, Brusilov had reached Debrecen earlier in the war after some hard fighting, but been expelled by a fresh Austrian armu that had since vanished from observation. While Brusilov held Satu Mare in force, the farthest Russian advance had been on the eastern rail route along the Szames River to Nagy Banya and the depot town of Klausenburg on the frontier with Transylvania. This had reduced logistic support for the Austrians ranging in the Carpathians near the Romanian border seeking to retake Czernowitz from Suceava. The penetration of Ruthenia has disrupted Brusilov's supplies, and further efforts in this sector demand a secure line of communication as well as substantially more troops - von Bruderman is nearby with 719 power, and the two next strongest neighboring forces are about 250 power each.
(10) While control of Klausenburg has strategic value, this must be weighed against the risks of a CP stroke against the Kolomea railway or a build-up of enemy forces released from service in Serbia that could pin Brusilov and force him to fight on the defensive in an unfavorable position. Brusilov's recommendation is that any withdrawal should be complete, with rails destroyed and a long-term defensive position taken on the Lemberg-Czernowitz rail line if the advancing enemy could be taken in flank and ejected from Lemberg, or otherwise a line farther back from Czernowitz and Chotin behind the border and the Bug River (Buh). A withdrawal would make it likelier for Austrian reserves to be sent to face the Italians, who are now 100% in favor of the Entente but as yet 0% at war. Brusilov is considered the best suited to lead any substantial offensives, which might be needed to consolidate a viable defensive front, or force a decision in the Caucasus.
(11) Russian strategy has always recognized that space can be traded for time or other strategic advantages. Losing ground is unpopular, but yielding space early in a war is not new. Russia has a great deal of space. Pre-war planning has considered that the Polish salient in particular might need to be abandoned as unsound. This can involve loss of prestige, national morale, garrisons, and industrial and manpower resources, but against a strong offensive those would be lost in any event, and armies as well. Russia's relative strength has declined, and therefore circumstances require this be planned and prepared for quick execution. It would permit a shorter front from Lithuania to the Romanian frontier that would free up forces to renew reserves. It would also allow the CP a shorter front. We may hope that their troops released might be sent to other fronts of this war, where the British, French and Italians can afford to bear a fuller share of war's burdens commensurate with their greater financial and industrial resources.
What major external factors have acted to shift the correlation of forces, and how did Russia respond?
(12) The Ottoman early entry into the war immediately shifted our disposition of forces. At that time fresh infantry and artillery formations were still being raised, and others recalled from the East, which could be sent to reinforce the modest garrisons and hold if feasible. The opposition seemed relatively limited, so it was thought to reinforce the Caucasus to seek a quick result on the frontiers and gain some victories and objectives to aid the Entente's credibility. General Illarion Vorontsov-Dashkov(4-1-4) was summoned to receive a promotion to full army and theatre commander against the Turks, joined by several other generals and some forces from the west including specialist troops.
(13) Our increased forces were soon met with further Turks flocking to their banners against us. We again increased strength somewhat further, and just a month ago seemed to be making good progress. Yet more Turks appeared. The situation seems to be one of relative parity, but we bear in mind that Turkish manpower and other resources are modest yet we are their only opponent in the field. We must consider whether to advance against the Turks, or to assume a defensive position and free some troops from the front line or reduce the need for replacements by not raising replacements for the regional divisions in the Caucasus. The Imperial Army has well over 200,000 men facing the Turks, but currently depleted in power, so needs some time to recover. But we must decide then how to handle this front.Reinforce, stalemate, or draw down and risk lost territory?
(14) Another factor, and a highly critical one, is finance. Unlike its allies, Russia is not awash in funds. Our available manpower fluctuates generally around 1000, but without inflationary printing of rubles we cannot afford to raise full replacements for intensive campaigning, raise new units, and spend to keep pace with research. Replacing expensive artillery units is a serious challenge – it is even harder to find funds for aviation and logistics units. Though we need cash, our western allies send us Engagement Points. We have more of those than we can spend, given our resources.
(15) We should not fail to note that our uncommunicative but enthusiastic allies have made matters worse for us by luring Italian favor with promises of Austro-Hungarian territory. Italy is not yet engaged in the war, yet already CP morale has stiffened by +5 and greatly increased the Austrian population's dedication to the Triple Alliance. Stronger Austrian will to fight is already evident.
(16) At the beginning of this year, Russian morale was the highest, but while it has eroded through the 90s, more quickly this summer, CP morale that had sagged to the high 80s like that of the Western Entente has now swiftly rebounded to 105, well above any in the Entente. The adverse effect in the East has been almost immediate in recent engagements. We can only hope that the Italians do their part and tie up 20 AH divisions and also draw Bulgarian attention.
(17) After a bitter year of war, Bulgarian intervention and Austrian reinforcements finally forced the Serb field armies permanently away from Belgrade. Belgrade was necessarily left to its fate and endured many assaults. It just fell. The Serbs now hope to hold on to the depot at Skopje and the town of Monastir near the Greek border, or retire into Greece if feasible to continue the war from there. Greece at present has been only lightly engaged other than the seemingly easy Bulgarian seizure of the port of Salonika.
RUSSIAN STRATEGIC OVERVIEW:
Stavka's war plan was first to drive back the Austrians while also engaging the Germans strongly enough to tie them down and indirectly help the French. This seemed effective. The second stage plan was to try to break the Austrians to help the beleaguered Serbs. The Austrians were hit hard, but have recovered with German reinforcements making a major impact. Despite superior reserves of manpower, it appears the balance of forces has become adverse because we are not able even to refill our vacant ranks, much less raise new formations other than some key specialists funded by the dangerous tonic of monetary expansion.
From Russia’s perspective, France and Britain seem more lightly, or at least less bloodily, engaged than Russia and the Serbs. Italy has not engaged yet at all. If we can engage more cautiously and reduce losses, we can build up our forces. Not pressing the Germans and Austrian may also encourage them to shift strength to the west, where the wealthier members of the Entente have a depth of resources to contest them.
Russia can absorb more loss of manpower, but its financial resources are a key constraint on replacing losses in the field. A strategy that seeks or unintentionally degrades into adverse attrition is a losing strategy if it permanently depresses troop strength in the field. Russia needs to occupy the attention of Central Powers forces, but as quietly as possible. Russia should focus most on defense where that allows great economies of force, such as the Caucasus and the Carpathians.
To retake Lemberg would be expensive so not an object in view. The salient that is western Poland is not an area where static defense is economical because the enemy can outflank our positions with maneuver, particularly with the CP having both Lemberg and the initiative for an expected invasion of Podlasia. We have strategic room to fall back through Podlasia to the line of forts, rivers and marshes from Lithuania through the Pripet and to the Austrian and Romanian border at Chotin and Czernowitz.
Strategic Features of the Military Frontiers in the East
- East Prussia
- West Poland Salient
- Ruthenia and Carpathia
To be transcribed from notes