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Brusilov Offensive

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Brusilov Offensive
ConflictWorld War I
Date4 June-20 September, 1916
PlaceLutsk & Kovel, Galicia
FrontEastern Front
ResultRussian victory
Combatants
Russia Austria-Hungary
Germany
Commanders
Aleksei Brusilov Conrad von Hötzendorf
Alexander von Linsingen
Strength
40 Infantry Divisions
15 Cavalry divisions
38 Austro divisions
2 German divisions
11 Cavalry divisions
Casualties
1,412,000 1,500,000

The Brusilov Offensive was the greatest Russian feat of arms during World War I. It was a major offensive against the armies of the Central Powers on the Eastern Front, launched on June 41916 and lasting until early August. It took place in what today is Ukraine, in the general vicinity of towns Kovel and Lutsk. The offensive is named after the Russian commander in charge, Aleksei Brusilov.

Contents

Causes

Early in 1916 France called upon the Russians to help relieve pressure on Verdun by attacking the Germans on the Eastern Front, hoping Germany would transfer more units to the East to cope with the Russian attack.. The Russians answered with the disastrous Battle of Lake Naroch. The following summer, the British called upon the Russians again to help relieve pressure on their front. This time General Aleksei Brusilov, the new southeast front commander, headed the call. The main purpose of Brusilov's operation was to take the pressure off French and British armies in France and the Italian army along the Isonzo Front. The French were still fighting at Verdun, the British faced a German offensive along the Somme and the Italians were under pressure from the Austrian Trentino offensive.

The Russian Plan

General Alexei Evert, commander of the Russian Western Army Group, favored a defensive strategy and was opposed to Brusilov's offensive. Tsar Nicholas II had taken personal command of the army in 1915. Evert was a strong supporter of Nicholas and the Romanovs, but the Tsar approved Brusilov's plan. The objectives were the cities of Kovel and Lemberg which had been lost to the Central Powers in the previous year. Evert was to launch an offensive in conjunction with Brusilov towards Vilna.

Preparations

Pressure from the French at Verdun caused the Russians to hurry their preparations. Brusilov amassed four armies totaling 40 infantry divisions and 15 cavalry divisions. He faced 38 infantry divisions (2 of them German) and 11 cavalry divisions formed in a row of three defensive lines. The Russians secretly crept to within 100 yards of the Austrian lines and at some points as close as 75 yards. Brusilov prepared for a massive surprise assault along a 300 mile front.

The Breakthrough

On June 4 the Russians opened a massive and accurate artillery barrage against the Austro-Hungarian lines. The initial attack was successful and the Austro-Hungarian lines were broken, enabling 3 of Brusilov's 4 armies to advance on a wide front. Success of the breakthrough was helped in large part by Brusilov's innovation of shock troops to attack weak points along the Austrian lines to effect a breakthrough which the main Russian army could then exploit.

The Battle

On June 8 Brusilov took Lutsk. The Austrian Archduke Frederick Josef barely managed to escape the city before the Russians entered. By now the Austrians were in full retreat and the Russians had taken over 200,000 prisoners. Brusilov's supplies were stretched thin and he depended on Evert to launch his part of the offensive. Yet Evert continued to delay. Evert's delays allowed time for the German high command to send reinforcements to the Eastern Front. In a meeting the same day Lutsk fell, The German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn persuaded Austrian Field Marshall Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf to pull reinforcements away from the Italian Front to counter the Russians in Galicia. Paul von Hindenburg was again able to capitalize on good railroads to bring German reinforcements east. At long last on June 18 a weak and poorly prepared offensive commenced under Evert. On July 24 Alexander von Linsingen counterattacked the Russians south of Kovel and temporarily checked the Russians. On July 28 Brusilov resumed his own offensive, though short on supplies he reached the Carpathian Mountains by September 20. The Russian high command started transferring troops from Evert's front to reinforce Brusilov. Brusilov strongly opposed this transfer because more troops only served to clutter Brusilov's front. All forces involved were becoming spent and the offensive finally died down in late September and ended as Russian forces had to be transferred to help Romania which entered the war at the time and was being overrun by German forces.

Results

The operation succeeded in its basic purpose, as Germany had to terminate its attack on Verdun and transfer considerable forces to the East. It also broke the back of the Austro-Hungarian army which lost 1.5 million men (including 400,000 POWs). This weakening of Austro-Hungarian power convinced Romania to enter the war on the side of the Entente. It also put an end to attacks by Austria-Hungary on the front with Italy.

Russian casualties were also considerable, numbering more than half a million. However, given the large manpower resources of the Russian army, this was quite acceptable from the military standpoint. The operation was the high point of the Russian effort during World War I. Thereafter the effectiveness of the Russian army started to decline, due to deteriorating economic and political situation at home. The heavy casualties also exacerbated tensions on the home front.

The operation was marked by a considerable improvement in the quality of Russian tactics. Brusilov used smaller specialized units of soldiers to attack weak points in the Austro-Hungarian trench lines and blow open holes for the rest of the Russian Army to advance into. These shock tactics were a remarkable departure from the "human wave" tactics that were prevalent until that point during World War One. Shock tactics would later play a large role in the early German blitzkrieg offensives during World War II.

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