3/9/1917 Germany strikes at Riga

Germany has launched a new offensive against Russia, hoping to seize the port of Riga and threaten Petrograd itself. The attack is commanded by General Hutier, who is applying a new tactical approach partly based on the infiltration tactics used by the Russians in the Brusilov Offensive last year.

Hutier’s attack begins with a short but devastating bombardment, designed primarily to stun the Russian defenders. The main assault is then undertaken by lightly armed and fast moving stormtroopers who press forward quickly, leaving any enemy strong points to be mopped up by followup troops.

The Russian army has been in poor shape for some time but even so the offensive succeeds beyond the dreams of the Germans. The attack only began on the 1st but the Russians have already abandoned Riga, desperately retreating to avoid encirclement by the Germans.

image sources:

Oskar von Hutier (Wikipedia)

map (Wikipedia: Schlacht um Riga (1917))

3/8/1917 Kerensky shuts down the Finnish parliament but loses Czernowitz to Austria #1917Live

Kerensky has been emboldened by the recent failure of radicals to overthrow the Provisional Government. Now the Russian Prime Minister flexes his muscles, arranging for loyal troops to shut down Finland’s parliament, the Sejm. The Sejm had a socialist majority following elections earlier this year and it recently passed a resolution declaring Finland’s effective independence from Russia. This unilateral separation is unacceptable to Kerensky (and to many on both right and left in Russia); his shutting down of the unruly Finnish parliament is widely supported in Russia. Even in Finland many conservatives support the measure, fearing that without the link to Russia the Finnish socialists would be uncontrollable.
Kerensky finds it harder to bend the army to his will. He has appointed Kornilov as its commander in chief and accepted his demands for the reintroduction of the death penalty for desertion. But Kornilov’s attempts at repression are a failure. The army continues to disintegrate and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians continue their advance that began with their counter-attacks against Kerensky’s offensive. Now they recover the Galician town of Czernowitz, captured by the Russians in Brusilov’s offensive last year. The Russian army looks increasingly unable to prevent further advances by the enemy.

image sources:

The Eastern Front (Wikipedia)

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary salutes the liberators of Czernowitz (Wikipedia)

31/7/1917 Kerensky replaces Brusilov with Kornilov as army commander #1917Live

Something has gone very wrong with the Russian army. The recent offensive in Galicia has been a disaster, leading to a breakdown in discipline and a surge in desertions. Now the Germans and Austro-Hungarians are attacking in their turn and making great gains.

The offensive had been the brain child of Kerensky, then the war minister and now Prime Minister. Two days ago he met senior generals at the army headquarters in Mogilev, where they blamed the Revolution for the army’s plight. Denikin is particularly scathing of interference in the army’s affairs by the Petrograd Soviet and the invitation to insubordination he sees in its order that army units should elect soldiers’ committees and disobey orders that conflict with its own resolutions.

Now Kerensky decides that something will have to be done about the army. He dismisses Brusilov, thereby deflecting the blame for the offensive’s failure from himself. Brusilov’s replacement as commander in chief is Kornilov. Kornilov’s appointment is greeted with delight by those who feel that the Revolution has gone too far and that order needs to be restored. They hope that he will not merely restore order within the army but within society at large.

image source:

Lavr Kornilov (Spartacus International)

19/7/1917 Kerensky’s star rises as that of the Bolsheviks falls

In Petrograd the excitement of the last few days is fast abating. The radicals seeking to overthrow the Provisional Government have been dispersed. The Bolsheviks are blamed for inciting all the trouble, with Lenin, their leader, apparently revealed as a German agent. With their headquarters seized by the authorities Bolshevik leaders go on the run; those who fail to escape the dragnet find themselves imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Kerensky, the defence minister now deems it safe to return to the city (from which he fled when the trouble started). He is greeted with a guard of honour and presents himself as the national hero who has saved Petrograd by summoning the loyalist troops that quelled the revolt.

However, not everything is going Kerensky’s way. The great offensive he insisted the army stage against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians has been a disaster. Now the Germans are staging a counter-offensive in strength. The Russians are reeling from the onslaught, seemingly unable to offer meaningful resistance. It now looks as though Kerensky’s offensive has broken the Russian army.

image sources:

Alexander Kerensky (Wikipedia)

Russians attacked by German cavalry (Metropostcard: The Eastern Front  1917-1919)

6/7/1917 Finland declares independence from Russia #1917Live

At the front, any hopes that the Kerensky Offensive will lead to a great victory are rapidly unravelling. Although the Russians are pushing back the Austro-Hungarians, the main effort against the Germans is coming badly unstuck and the stresses of battle are hastening the Russian army’s disintegration.

This reverse is not the only crisis facing the Provisional Government. Aside from the increasingly chaotic situation in the heart of the country, Russia is increasingly beset by separatist movements on the periphery. The Rada in Ukraine has already declared autonomy. Now the parliament of Finland goes one step further, today declaring independence for what had hitherto been a self-governing part of the Russian empire.

The Finnish declaration causes consternation in Petrograd. Both the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet are opposed to Finland’s unilateral declaration of independence. The Soviets resolve to persuade the Finns to revoke their declaration but the Provisional Government adopts a more forceful position, preparing to use force if necessary to keep Finland in the empire.

image source:

The Grand Duchy of Finland (Wikipedia)

3/7/1917 The Kerensky Offensive comes unstuck #1917Live

Russia’s Kerensky Offensive (named after the War Minister) started well. After a heavy artillery bombardment the infantry went forward to find the enemy trenches largely abandoned. But the Germans had not run away; forewarned of the offensive they had just retreated to their second line trenches. Once the Russians found themselves facing the main enemy defence lines the Russian advance stalled. The assault troops have mostly not been as well trained as those who tool part in Brusilov‘s offensive last year. More crucially they have lost any commitment to the war and are extremely loth to put themselves at risk of death.

Some units continue to press on. The Women’s Battalion of Death penetrates the German second line of defence, as do some other specially trained assault units. But without the support of the rest of the army they are unable to hold their positions. When the Germans begin to counterattack the Russian army starts to collapse, with officers powerless to stop their men retreating and risking their lives if they even try.

image source:

Still image from the film Battalion (Wargaming Miscellany)

1/7/1917 The Kerensky Offensive: Russia attacks

Kerensky, Russia’s war minister, has ordered a great offensive against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. Brusilov, the new army commander, presided over the preparations but he has become increasingly concerned that the Russian army is in no fit state for such an undertaking. Nevertheless, Kerensky has insisted that the offensive go ahead.

After two days of artillery bombardment today the infantry attack. Their target is the Galician city of Lemberg, known to the Russians as Lvov, which was occupied in 1914 but then recaptured by the enemy the following year. Initial progress is good, particularly against the Austro-Hungarians. The assault troops find the enemy trenches largely abandoned. It appears that the Teutons have been scared away by the artillery. The Russians press on.

But the Germans have not collapsed. Fraternisation between German and Russian troops meant they were fore-warned of the offensive. They have withdrawn to positions further to the rear and left the Russian artillery to pound their empty frontline trenches. Now they are waiting for the Russian infantry.

image source:

The Eastern Front, summer 1917 (Wikipedia) (Lemberg is shown as the target of the two converging black arrows)