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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

29/6/1917 The guns fire for Kerensky’s great offensive

Some thought that Russia’s revolution would mean that it would have to drop out of the war. Kerensky, the war minister, hopes to prove them wrong. He has ordered a great offensive against the Germans, with the aim being to capture the Austro-Hungarian city of Lemberg (known to the Russians as Lvov) and show the world what revolutionary Russia is capable of.

The offensive is taking place under the direction of Brusilov, the army’s new commander. Brusilov was one of the few generals who supported the revolution. Initially he was an enthusiastic supporter of Kerensky’s offensive, but he has begun to have doubts. Since he took over as army commander he has seen for himself how discipline has broken down. Officers are unable to make their men obey orders. The rebellious character of the men means that officers are now fearful of being lynched if they try to impose their will. Many officers have fled their posts. Many of their men have followed suit, deserting en masse and either heading home or living as brigands in rear areas.

There are also shocking reports of fraternisation between Russian troops and their German enemies. This seems to be encouraged by German commanders, who want to convince Russian soldiers that the war was forced on Germany by the elites of Russia and other Allied countries.

As preparations continue for the offensive rebelliousness in the army increases. A mutinous mood manifests. As units are moved up the front so many men desert that some lose three quarters of their strength. Soldiers are defiant towards their officers, declaring that the only authority they recognise is that of Lenin, the Bolshevik leader.

All this leads Brusilov towards the conclusion that the offensive will be a disaster. But when he puts his concerns to Kerensky he is ignored. Kerensky is adamant that the great revolutionary offensive must go ahead. And so today the artillery bombardment of the German positions begins.

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Kerensky addresses soldiers (Wikipedia)

21/6/1917 The Women’s Battalion of Death

Russia has seen many great changes since the start of its revolution. Many of the traditional structures of society have now being completely overturned. These changes to the established order are affecting not just relations between the social classes but between the sexes, with the rights of women now being asserted in a previously undreamt of manner.

One strange new development is the encroachment of women into the traditionally male sphere of the army. In Petrograd Kerensky has authorised the formation of an all-woman combat unit, the Women’s Battalion of Death. They are led by Maria Bochkareva, who has been serving in the Russian army since the war’s outbreak, earning the respect of her male colleagues by her bravery in combat.

Today Kerensky reviews the Women’s Battalion as they prepare to depart for the front to take part in the offensive Brusilov is planning. Kerensky hopes that the women’s example will encourage their male comrades to give their all in this great democratic offensive.

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The Women’s Battalion of Death & Emmeline Pankhurst (Wikipedia)

4/6/1917 Brusilov takes over the Russian army

The Russian army has a new chief of staff, General Alexei Brusilov. Brusilov’s offensive last year shook the Austro-Hungarians, though it ultimately ended in failure (arguably as a result of decisions by Brusilov’s superiors). Kerensky, the war minister, picked Brusilov to lead the army because he is one of the few generals with some successes to his name. He is also one of few senior Russian generals who are enthusiastic supporters of the Revolution. He had become disillusioned with the Tsarist order and felt that the country needed radical change in order to join the modern world.

Brusilov arrives today at Stavka, the army general staff headquarters at Mogilev. He does not receive a warm welcome. He is not well liked by his fellow generals, partly for his republican views and partly because his successes have shown up their failures.

Brusilov’s job now is to prepare the Russian army for the great offensive that Kerensky has ordered. He is confident that the new order in the Russia will fire up the zeal of the soldiers to fight for their motherland.

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Alexei Brusilov (Wikipedia)