Things have not been going well for the Russian army. Since the Germans launched the Gorlice-Tarnów offensive in May the enemy has inflicted a series of defeats. Russian forces are retreating eastwards, abandoning Poland to the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. The Galician territories conquered last year have also been lost and the enemy is now pressing into the ancient territory of Russia itself.
Desperate times require desperate measures. Up to now Tsar Nicholas has left command of the army to the professional soldiers, but now he decides that a change is required at the top. He removes Grand Duke Nicholas, his cousin, from command of the armies facing Germany and Austria-Hungary, sending him off to lead in the Caucasus. The Tsar then makes the momentous decision to take command of the army himself. He leaves St. Petersburg and establishes himself at Mogilev, the headquarters of Stavka, the Russian general staff. General Mikhail Alexeev, a career soldier, is appointed as his chief of staff.
The Tsar’s ministers plead with him not to take command of the army, and with good reason. The Tsar has never evinced any great aptitude for matters martial and his personality does not suit him to military command. But Nicholas will not be dissuaded. In this time of crisis he feels that it is his duty to place himself at the head of his men. He hopes also that by doing so he will restore the morale of the battered army.