The Russian high command drew attention to the turn of the Mackensen grouping to the north and guessed the enemy’s plan. In addition, they noticed the concentration of forces on the northern face of the “Polish ledge”. It became obvious that the enemy was going to encircle the Russian armies in Poland between pp. Wisla and Bug.
5 July 1915 held a meeting of the Supreme Command and Front Commanders at Sedlec. The commander of the North-Western Front, General Alekseev, reported that from day to day he was awaiting a powerful offensive by the northern grouping of German troops in the direction of the Narew River - towards the Mackensen grouping rushing to the north. Alekseev believed that the "Polish ledge" with the existing troops and in ammunition depots could not be kept. The front commander emphasized that given the current rates of production and delivery of main ammunition to the front, one cannot expect that the combat capability of the Russian army will change for the better before the spring of the 1916 of the year. “Therefore, we now have the opportunity to choose,” the general noted, “which is preferable for the Russian Headquarters: an attempt to keep Poland — with a likely prospect of catastrophe for the army or an attempt to keep the army — with the inevitable, in this case, withdrawal of all our troops from the Kingdom of Poland” .
The Russian Supreme Commander, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich fully assumed responsibility for the retreat of the Russian armies from Poland. The limit of departure indicated the front of the river. Beaver, Verkhniy Narva and further along the line Brest - Ratno (on the Pripyat River). As a result, the Russian command adopted Alekseev's plan for the preservation of the human and technical potential of the Russian army in a long retreat into the country. The previously unthinkable surrender of Warsaw has now become a dire necessity. In essence, the Russian High Command repeated the strategy of Barclay de Tolly and Kutuzov in the 1812 year, when the army was put above the territories. The commander of the North-Western Front received permission to evacuate Warsaw and fortresses that were in a dangerous position. A clear and sensible strategy helped the Russian army escape when, just after a week, on July 13, German troops resumed the offensive now in the north.
However, the organization of departure from Poland also required great skill. The withdrawal, under the pressure of two enemy attack groups, could turn into a stampede and extermination of the Russian army. It was impossible to immediately abandon the fortified positions, it was necessary to deceive the Germans, break away from them. Alekseev decided to withdraw the troops in stages, restraining the enemy in every possible way, knocking down the pace of his movement. It was necessary to evacuate the rear, warehouses, valuable materials, tools from the abandoned fortresses, people.
Meanwhile, Hindenburg and Ludendorff formed an army from the Galvitsa group - 10,5 divisions, 180 thousand bayonets and sabers with 1264 guns. The best German artilleryman Bruchmuller was preparing an artillery attack. July 13 occurred a repetition of Turtle Dove. In the area of Prasnysh, a barrage of fire and metal hit the Russian defense. On this day, according to military historians, the positions of the 2 and 11 of the Siberian divisions holding the first line of defense, the Germans 2 a million shells.
Here the 1 Army held the defense, 7 divisions of incomplete composition with 317 guns (40 shells for each). Before the German strike, a defense inspection was carried out, its findings were disappointing: bad, shallow trenches, rotten wood was used as backwaters, lack of communication between trenches, little ammunition, etc. And next to Newgeorgi Fortress, more than 1,5 thousand guns were inactive. . For the first day, the German troops advanced 5 km, but then their movement stalled.
Russian soldiers fought hard, fulfilling the installation of Alexeev "to stand up to the last." German artillery tore down the trenches, the remaining soldiers were hiding in the craters. Russian infantry turned into counterattacks, each village was turned into a strong point. So, the 2-I Siberian division managed to repel the blow of the 13-Guards of the Württemberg corps. And the Siberian 11-division in general was able to accomplish the impossible: the waves of the onset of six divisions of the German 17-th and 11-th infantry corps broke up about its position. Of the 7 battalions of the 11 Siberian Division on that day, almost six battalions were killed, but the enemy was thrown back.
Unfortunately, the exploits of the Russian soldiers of that war are almost forgotten in modern Russia. They are remembered only by experts and amateurs. stories. But about these battles it was possible to remove beautiful historical paintings that have a powerful educational effect.
Both sides suffered huge losses. In six days, the Galvitsa army was able to advance only 7-8 kilometers. Russian divisions opposing the enemy lost up to 70% of personnel. But thanks to the resilience of Russian soldiers and the timely directives of the command, the plan to create a "Polish bag" failed. In addition, the delay of almost 10 days in the provision of additional forces of the Galvitsa army played its role. When Galvitsa's troops, with tremendous exertion of all forces and great losses, finally broke through the Russian defenses on the Narew, the Hindenburg did not transfer a single regiment to the 12 Army to develop success into strategic depth. When the necessary reinforcements of 12-th army of Galvitsa were transferred, it was already too late: Russian troops, covering themselves with rearguards and snapping counter-attacks, had already withdrawn from Poland in an organized manner.
At the same time, the 8-I German army again launched an assault on Osovets. 200 thousand shells were fired along the fortress. Germans applied and chemical weapon. But gases could only affect the advanced positions. Then chlorine crawled into the lowlands, in the valley of the river Beaver. The Russian garrison was trying to get chemical projectiles from long distances. But the defenders of the fortress adapted. Bubbles of un-poisoned air remained in the armored caps of the guns and under the arches of the casemates, and escaped in them. Waited, when the poison goes down from the hills, on which stood the fortifications. True, the terrain around them resembled a picture of Armageddon, the skeletons of the trees stood split and charred, all living things were dying around. However, the fortress lived. She answered the enemy with accurate fire. Russian soldiers went to counterattacks, destroying enemy infantry, which broke into the poisoned trench.
So, 6 August 1915, the famous "attack of the dead" occurred. After waiting for the desired wind direction, the Germans used poison gas against the defenders of the fortress - a mixture of chlorine and bromine. The gas wave of 12-15 meters in height and width of 8 km penetrated to a depth of 20 km, and there was practically no means of protection for the Russian troops at that time. Considering that the garrison defending the positions of the fortress was dead, the Germans launched an offensive. The 14 landwehr battalions went on the attack - at least seven thousand infantrymen. However, the remaining defenders of the first line, the remnants of the 13 of the 226 th Infantry Regiment of the Zemlyansky Regiment, slightly more than the 60 people, rose to meet them. Russian soldiers were like the dead. The German soldiers panicked and fled. As a result, several dozen half-dead Russian fighters, with the support of serf artillery fire, drove part of the 18 Landland Regiment to flight.
Meanwhile, on the southern face of the “Polish ledge,” Mackensen again launched an offensive and struck a more powerful blow. In submission to Mackensen, the 1 Austrian army was transferred from Poland. On July 15, the strike fist from the 4 armies (11-I German, Bug armies, 4-I and 1-I Austrian armies) launched an offensive. Mackensen hit the joint between the North-Western and South-Western fronts. Mackensen used the same tactic: to concentrate maximum artillery in one place. Russian trenches and trenches could not withstand such a fire.
Falkenhayn and Mackensen considered all Napoleonic maneuvers with strikes on the flanks and the subsequent encirclement of the enemy obsolete. German commanders believed in the concentration of fire and systematic artillery cover for the troops, in strikes in the forehead, in bold frontal onslaught. In Poland, this tactic justified itself, although Mackensen's troops moved from Galicia relatively slowly, waiting for the supply of artillery and ammunition, consistently grinding Russian positions. Railways, the farther to the east, the smaller, it was necessary to carry out the supply of carts. Two weak Russian armies, 3-i and 13-i, desperately resisted, but were forced to withdraw. Both sides suffered heavy losses.
Slowness of the enemy used Alekseev Standing in Poland against the 4 of the Russian army - the 1 of the Austro-Hungarian Army, was sent to the Mackensen group. As a result, the front of the 9 of the German army, which stood against the 2 of the Russian army, stretched out. Russian armies could retreat without much pressure from the enemy. On July 19, front commander Alekseev ordered the 2 and 4 armies to withdraw beyond the Vistula. Alekseev received permission to evacuate Warsaw. Then they began to pull back the troops on the flanks. 1-I and 12-I armies were to withdraw beyond the river. Narev, and southern 3-I and 13-I armies to Lublin and Hill.
German cavalry enters Warsaw 5 August 1915
The offensive of the German army on all fronts
18 - July 19 Germans launched attacks from all sides. In the Baltics, Hindenburg and Ludendorff organized their “offensive” at the junction of the 5 and 10 armies. This strike was a surprise for the Russian command. July 20 on the river Dubissa (Mitavo-Shavelsky region) a stubborn battle broke out. The Germanic Neman army launched its attack. The two Russian cavalry corps standing here could not withstand the blow of the enemy. The dismounted cavalry repulsed several attacks, but then began to retreat. Neman army broke through the front. After that, the German troops were divided: the northern group began to bypass the left flank of the 5 Army, the southern group - the right flank of the 10 Army. Our troops were retreating.
The Russian command had to take emergency measures, search for reserves, and throw them towards the enemy. There were fierce battles. Some settlements changed hands several times. The stubborn battle was under Shawlyami (Šiauliai), 10 days fought for Mitava. German troops nevertheless took both cities, but then their offensive stalled. The Russians were able to close the gap. Reach the Russian rear of the Neman army failed. However, the Germans were able to significantly expand the Baltic springboard.
And in the old direction of the main blow of the German army, things were not going in the most brilliant way. Osovetskaya fortress continued to hold. 12-I army of Galvitsa suffered serious losses - a third of the composition. The Germans, following the retreating Russian troops, reached the Narew line, but could not break through any further. As a result, the German bet agreed to shift the onset of offensive to the Baltic States. Hindenburg wanted to strike two blows: on Riga and on the Russian rears in the direction of Vilna - Minsk.
The Neman army of General Scholz launched a decisive offensive at the end of July. Russian troops began to retreat to the Zapadnaya Dvina to Riga, Yakobstadt and Dvinsk. On August 20, the Germans occupied Mitawa, and in early September they began to push the Russians to the Western Dvina. However, the Russian command carried out a regrouping of forces. The 12-I Russian army was deployed to the Riga region, which was able to keep a wide left bank bridgehead at Riga and a small bridgehead at Jacobstadt. The offensive of the German troops 9 - September 11 and on Dvinsk failed. In the Dvinsk area, the 5-I Russian army, acting against the flanks of the Neman and 10-German armies, retained in its hands a bridgehead on the left bank of the river at Dvinsk.
Thus, heavy battles were already on the entire North-Western Front. But the Germans failed to create a major breach and break through to our rear. The Russian armies retreated from one position to another and fought desperately, although they suffered heavy losses. In some cases, our units had to reject the enemy with bayonet attacks, since there were no projectiles. So, on the site of the 2 Army on the Vistula stood the Grenadier Corps.
Near Lublin and Holm, our troops, from their last strength, restrained the onslaught of the Mackensen strike force. The Bug army was able to break through the battle formations of the 3rd Russian army at the Hill and began to go deep into the rear of the North-Western Front. The advanced parts began to force the Bug. The enemy was able to delay the Russian aviation. Only one squadron with several machines on August 1-2 made the impossible. Pilots made several sorties a day. They bombed the crossings and beat the Germans with machine guns. Russian pilots prevented large forces from crossing the river. And then the Russian infantry came and counterattacked the German troops who managed to cross into the river. The Germans were not allowed to force the Bug on the move.
However, German troops were able to approach the key railways of the north and south: Warsaw-Vilna and Warsaw-Minsk. 2 August Alekseev ordered to clean the left bank of the Vistula. 4-5 August, the Russians left Warsaw. Our troops quietly retreated to the right bank of the Vistula River. The Germans believed that Warsaw would be defended to the last, so they were in no hurry.
7 August The Russian front, coming out from under enemy flank attacks, retired to the Osovets-Lomza-Brok-Hungrov-Sedlets-Lyubartov-Kovel line. Russian troops significantly reduced the front and did not let the army of Galvitsa, which was energetically advancing on Pultusk and further south, reach our flank and rear.
The front approached the line of Russian border fortresses. In the XIX century, they were the basis of long-term defense in the western strategic direction. But the development of artillery and engineering troops dramatically weakened their power. As a result, the Russian fortresses, besides perhaps the Osovetskoy fortress, as earlier the Belgian and French strongholds, did not justify the hopes placed on them. True, a large role in this was played by the mistakes of command. Thus, the criminal behavior of the commandant of the Kovno fortress (General Grigoriev) transferred the fortress of August 22 into the hands of the Germans. Usually in Russia they turned a blind eye to the mistakes of the leadership, but this time the case was blatant and found by the gendarmerie in the Vilnius hotel "Bristol" Grigoriev was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The largest unexpected and shameful loss was the surrender of the colossal fortress Novogeorgiyevsk 20 August.
Destroyed casemates Osovets. German photo, August-September 1915
To be continued ...