The summer operations of the German army on the Eastern front, designed to lead to the encirclement and defeat of the main forces of the Russian army in Poland, did not justify the hopes of the German command. The Russian command quite successfully carried out a strategic withdrawal of troops. The head of the German General Staff Falkenhayn (Falkenhayn) acknowledged that the summer operations had not reached their goal. Hindenburg agreed with him. He wrote: “The operation in the east, despite the excellent holding of the Narev strike, did not lead to the destruction of the enemy. The Russians, as was to be expected, escaped from the ticks and achieved frontal departure in the direction desired for them. ”
The German High Command came to the conclusion that the new large offensive operations on the Eastern Front are unlikely to lead to success. The end results of the campaign in Eastern European theater were far from meeting the strategic goals for which it was launched. However, the loss of the Russian part of the Baltic States, Poland and Galicia, as well as the weakening of the Russian army, were a good result. The victories of the German army made a strong impression on the public of the Central Powers and the world community. The ousting of Russian troops from Galicia strengthened the position of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Bulgaria decided to side with Germany and Austria-Hungary.
In Berlin, they considered that Russia was disabled for some time. From August 1915, the German High Command again turned its attention to the Western Front. The 1915 campaign was to be completed by the Austro-Hungarian troops and the command of the German armies in the East. In this case, Falkenhayn believed that the time for major operations was lost. However, the command of the German Eastern Front held a different opinion.
Hindenburg believed that the Russians after the retreat from Poland had the opportunity to regroup and send large units against the left wing of the German army. The only way to thwart a possible Russian offensive, he considered conducting a new major operation. A decisive blow, in his opinion, had to be delivered in the Kovno area, where the Russian front was the weakest.
In the end, Falkenhain gave way to the insistent demands of the Hindenburg. 15 (28) of August 1915 to the command of the Eastern Front were sent directives in which it was stated to conduct offensive operations north of the Upper Neman and east of the Middle with the aim of defeating the Russian armies. The command of the Eastern Front was to find such a line that could be defended by the least possible amount of forces.
3 (16) August 1915 in Volkovysk, the supreme commander held a meeting of members of the Stavka and the North-Western Front. It was decided to divide the North-Western Front into two fronts - the Northern and Western. The northern front was headed by N. V. Ruzsky, the Western - by M. V. Alekseev. The northern front was supposed to cover the road to Petrograd from East Prussia and from the Baltic Sea. At the same time, the troops of the Northern Front were to go as soon as possible to a decisive offensive in order to push the enemy as far as possible to the west. The main task of the Western Front was to cover the Moscow direction.
During this period, as a result of public criticism and palace intrigues, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich was removed from the post of Supreme Commander. The Supreme was taken by Emperor Nicholas II himself. Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich was transferred to the Caucasus commander in chief. The chief of staff of the Supreme Commander was M. V. Alekseev, who actually concentrated the supreme command of the army in his hands. The Western Front was headed by A.E. Evert.
By September, the front finally began to arrive in more ammunition. Russian industry increased production, the production of shells increased to 1 million per month. This was not enough, but the Russian artillery could already respond. However, the situation was still difficult. Russian armies suffered heavy losses, morale dropped after the retreat. The officer and non-commissioned officers corps suffered greatly. Personnel part of the army was povbit. Replenishments did not have the experience that the personnel units had. In order to replenish the troops, the militia units that guarded the rear had to be transformed into army units. But these parts were much weaker than personnel, were undecided and were easier to decompose. Reduced artillery park. Many guns were shot down in battles, abandoned, lost during the flight or captured by the Germans.
Hindenburg decided to strike in the Vilna area. On the front of Dvinsk - the northern part of Polesie, the Germans deployed the Lauenstein Army Group (from the Nemansky Army), 370, 10, and 8 Army with a length of 12 km. Total Germans assembled 41,5 infantry and 6 cavalry divisions. The main blow was to be inflicted by the 10 Army under the command of General Eichhorn from the Kovno region, bypassing Vilna from the north and further to the south-east. The German command planned to bypass Vilna from the north and surround the forces of 10 of the Russian army of General Radkevich concentrated in dense grouping to the north-west of Vilna. Lauenstein's army group was to attack Dvinsk, providing the main attack from the north. The 8-I and 12-I armies were given the task of shackling the main forces of the Western Front with demonstrative actions on Lida and Baranavichy. In addition, from the south, from Brest, the Mackensen, 11 and Bug armies were to go on the offensive. With the success of the first phase of the operation, the German armies planned to break through to Minsk and take the main forces of the Western Front into the ring.
German troops delivered the main blow to the junction of two Russian fronts: the Northern and Western. Here the Russian front was the weakest. The gap between the left-handed 5-th army of the Northern Front and the right-flank 10-th army of the Western Front was covered by cavalry units of Kaznakov and Tyulin. This made it easier for the Germans to advance.
August 27 (September 8) German troops launched an offensive. Near Brest, Mackensen's troops violently attacked parts of the 3 and 4 of the Russian armies. The enemy attacked our troops and under Vilna. The fighting was fierce, some parts were killed almost entirely. Thus, the German division of volunteer students attacked the Russian defense. She went on the attack as at the beginning of the war, in full growth with songs. The Germans violently took the advanced Russian position. But there was almost no further attack. German youths were shot. The German command threw new forces into battle. In this offensive suffered heavy losses and the Finnish brigade, which the Germans were preparing for action in Finland, but thrown into battle in Lithuania. Both sides suffered heavy losses, but the Russian troops near Brest and Vilna held the front.
However, the 10 and Neman armies advanced successfully. To the north of Vilna, the 10-I German army piled on the right flank of the 10-Russian and began to press it to the south. Further north, the right-flank units of the Nemansky army (the Lowenstein group), by taking demonstrative actions to bind the 5 of the Russian army, forced the 3 body to withdraw to Dvinsk. The headquarters of the 5 Army, fearing for its left flank, ordered the Kaznakov detachment to retreat to the northeast. Tyulin's equestrian detachment was left alone. During the day our troops fought off the onslaught of the superior forces of the enemy, and then began to retreat to the south-east. By the morning of August 28 (September 10), a gap had been formed between the flanks of the Northern and Western fronts in the Sventsyan region.
Ludendorff was already waiting for this, having prepared a large mass of cavalry and infantry. Now the German cavalry surged in the gap, and behind it came the infantry: the 6 Cavalry Corps Garnier and the 1 Army Eben. Having overturned the Tyulin detachment and, continuing to push it eastward, the German divisions swept the right flank of the 10 of the Russian army. In the resulting breach the German command threw all the strategic cavalry.
The 9 Cavalry Division, carrying out the task of covering the offensive from the east, moved north to act against the Kaznakov detachment together with the Bavarian Cavalry Division of the Nemansky Army. The German cavalry reached the Sventsyan region, broke through deep into the Russian rear and immediately seized Deep Station, crowding the small Russian equestrian detachment Potapov. The Germans intercepted the railway to Polotsk. The remaining three cavalry divisions of the cavalry corps of Garnier made a deep raid into the Russian rear. The 3 Cavalry Division entered the Krivichi, Vileyka and Molodechno area. 1-I and 4-I cavalry divisions went to the region Smorgoni and north-west, breaking the rail link Vilna, Molodechno. Separate German units, rapidly advancing, spread over a large area, came to the approaches to Borisov. Horse rangers appeared in 25 km east of Minsk and blew up the Smolensk railroad.
Countermeasures of the Russian command
The whole Russian front could fall apart. However, the Russian command responded quickly. The commander of the Western Front, Evert, in a report to Alekseev, drew attention to the danger of the situation and proposed to form strong reserves and transfer them to the right flank of the 10 Army. However, there were no free strong reserves, and the extended position of the 1, 2, 4 and 3 armies of the front did not allow them to withdraw significant connections to the reserve. Evert suggested leaving the 10 army in place, and taking the rest of the front armies back. As a result, it was possible to allocate one corps from each army to the reserve, concentrating it in the area of Lida, Novogrudok, Baranavichy and launch a counterattack. Alekseev supported these proposals. But expressed the idea of creating a new army. In the evening of August 29 (September 11), the Headquarters ordered the deployment of a new 2 Army. Two of the strongest corps were thrown into the Western Front reserve and transferred to one cavalry division.
Performing the instructions of the Stavka, Evert set the following tasks: 1) the commander of the 10 army was to concentrate all army reserves and the 3 th guards infantry division sent to the army behind his right flank, to launch a counterattack and drop the enemy to Wilcomyr; 2) the troops of the 1, 2, 4 and 3 armies on the night of August 30 (September 12) were to withdraw to two transitions to a new reinforced position; 3) simultaneously with the withdrawal of the army allocated troops to the reserve front: 1-I and 2-I armies - in two corps, 3-I and 4-I armies - in one corps, these corps concentrated in areas Oshmyany, Lida, Novogrudok and Baranovichi ; 4) reserve corps were to arrive in designated areas on September 2 (15); 5) the commander of the 2 Army immediately sent Oranovsky's cavalry corps to the Sventsyan area with a common task, interacting with the horse units of Tyulin and Kaznakov, to delay the enemy’s offensive and cover up communications; 6) when withdrawing, our troops had to leave the rear guard and cavalry and in every possible way delay the movement of the enemy, destroy bridges, crossings, spoil the roads and highways, etc.
Thus, the Russian command at this time responded quickly and correctly. The troops of the Western Front were relegated to occupy a more concentrated location. Large reserves (6 Army and 1 Cavalry Corps) were allocated from the central and left-flank armies, of which they formed a new army to cover the Sventsian and Dvinsk areas. However, the Germans were closer to the area of deployment of the new Russian army than the reserve corps, who needed to march to the right flank of the front 100-200 kilometers.
Despite the measures taken, the threat of the enemy troops entering the rear of the entire Vilna group of troops of the Western Front was great. Evert raised the question of a deeper withdrawal of the armies of the Western Front, including 10. The bid has agreed. The Bet Directive from 4 (17) of September allowed the troops of the 10, 1, 4 and 3 armies to withdraw to the line of Mihalishki, Oshmyany, Novogrudok, Baranovichi. It was pointed out that it was necessary to establish a direct connection with the Northern Front, for this it was necessary to occupy the area of Sventsyan, Mihalishki. 2-I army under the command of General Smirnov was to complete the concentration and go on the offensive.
Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the Western Front, Alexei Ermolaevich Evert
5 (18) September 1915. The troops of the 2 Army Smirnov launched an offensive in the northern direction in order to restore the position at the junction of the western and northern fronts. As a result of two-day battles, the 2-I army entered the line Upper Viliya, Molodechno and Smarhoń.
The offensive of the 2 Army ensured the successful withdrawal of the troops of the rest of the armies of the Western Front. The withdrawal of the front troops was carried out without difficulty. German troops could not have any impact on the departing Russian troops and prevent the Russian occupation of the new defensive line. Thus, the Russian army seized the initiative from the enemy and made him defend.
True, the offensive of the 2 Army developed slowly and depended on the arrival of new corps. Her corps engaged in battle as they entered the Sola, Smorgon, Molodechno line. First came the 36 and 27 of the corps, then the 4 of the Siberian (on the left flank), and finally the 14 of the corps, on the right flank. German troops at the turn of the river Viliya offered stubborn resistance.
There was no hope for the quick success of the 2 Army. Therefore, Evert 11 (24) of September suggested in the report to Alekseev to develop the offensive by the forces of the 2 Army and form another army grouping. Allocate the 20, 1, 2 Siberian corps from the front, assigning the headquarters of the 1 army to control them and concentrate this strike group on the Deep, Dokshitsy line. 12 (25) September Bid endorsed Evert's bids.
Thus, in order to cover the Polotsk area and establish a strong connection between the Western and Northern fronts, the 1 th army was deployed. It included the 20, 1 and 2 Siberian corps.
To be continued ...