Russia has been on the back foot since Germany launched the Gorlice-Tarnów offensive in May. Hindenburg and Ludendorff, the Eastern Front commanders, had been saying that they could knock Russia out of the war if Germany’s reserves were given to them. Falkenhayn, the overall German commander, was sceptical of their claims. He suspected that Russia could not be defeated in one single campaign, as the Russians could always retreat into their vast interior and raise new armies to replace ones that were destroyed. He nevertheless agreed to the offensive partly because of the prestige Hindenburg and Ludendorff enjoyed thanks to earlier victories, partly because he hoped that a big victory against Russia would impress still neutral Romania and Bulgaria.
The summer long offensives have been very successful. Austro-Hungarian forces have regained lost territories in Galicia while German forces have thrown the Russians out of Poland and advanced into the ancient territories of the Russian empire. In an effort to avoid the complete destruction of their army, the Russian commanders have ordered a retreat to the east.
Attempting to emulate the tactics that defeated Napoleon in 1812, Russian generals have ordered a scorched earth policy, directing their men to destroy anything that might be of use to the enemy. In many areas this has been used as an excuse to destroy the property of Russia’s maligned Jewish minority, who now are somewhat grateful to the deliverance the German advance affords them.
The Eastern Front now stabilises, as the German advances stretch their supply lines and the difficult autumn weather makes it harder for them to press on. Events seem to have proved Falkenhayn correct. The Russians have suffered great losses but their armies remain in the field. They are still capable of putting up a tough fight on occasion, as the Austro-Hungarians discovered at Rovno and the Germans at Vilna. And the Russians have no intention of surrendering or seeking a separate peace, with the Tsar taking personal command of the army underlining the Russians’ commitment to the war.
Still, the Russians have been dealt a hammer blow, losing many men and being obliged to surrender vast tracts of territory. And Falkenhayn’s aim of impressing the Balkan neutrals has been achieved. The Bulgarians have reached a secret agreement with Germany and Austria-Hungary, promising to join in a German-led assault on Serbia.
image source (Wikipedia)