The military industry was gaining momentum (slowly, as it will turn out later, too slowly - especially in the part of the shells), but then, in the spring, this was not yet noticeable, and the artillerymen of the warring parties exchanged equal blows. The brave Yudenich near Sarykamysh turned the Turkish army to dust, and the future campaign was supposed to be carried out offensively: the great Prince Nikolai Nikolayevich resembling a purebred Arabian horse, thin, tall, with a small dry head, aimed the army at Budapest, and Emperor Nicholas II cherished a different, lofty plan . According to his plan, the time has come for the Bosphorus landing; and now, that spring, the landing units concentrated around the Black Sea, and the regimental banners in the covers, resembling Easter candles, were waiting in the wings: some more and they would bloom with a holy flame on the walls of the city of St. Constantine, heralding the beginning of some new, unprecedented empire.
The historian Anton Kersnovsky wrote: “At the insistence of the Sovereign, at the end of March and at the beginning of April, the V Caucasian Corps (arrows and plastuns) concentrated in the Black Sea ports and the II Army Corps was expected here. The operation was to be led by the commander of the 7th Army, General Nikitin. "Never before has Russian troops had to accomplish a greater and more important task than what stood up in those April days of 1915 in front of the Black Sea sailors, plastunas and young regiments of the Caucasian riflemen." It is difficult to say (given the tough defense of the Turks in the Dardanelles) about the unequivocal possibility of the success of this landing, however, the military literature of that time indicated a clear weakness of the Bosphorus fortifications: “recent work to correct the fortifications, due to their short duration and lack of modern weapons, cannot be considered sufficient both to secure from an attack on Constantinople from the sea, and to counteract a breakthrough through the Bosphorus, with proper artillery training, a strong fleetsupported by the landing. "
However, the Germans did not lose pace: having been cruelly deceived with Schlieffen’s “infallible” plan in the West, they wanted to take their position in the East, save the already swinging Austro-Hungarian ally, destroy the Russian troops and impose peace.
Not along the “Astrakhan – Arkhangelsk” line, as their strategists would dream a decade later, but at least some acceptable world. The old Germans were realists, they understood that time is working against them, and it is necessary to turn against the economy, the fate and the incalculable power of the coalition what they can do best: operational maneuvering parts, the power of a fist, courage and literacy of commanders. Troops were being transferred from the Western Front (secretly even for the Austrian allies). The phalanx was led by proven commanders: the old “death hussar” Mackensen, the Austrian General Boroevich (who later, during the revolution, would remain loyal to the emperor Charles and would offer to move the troops to rebellious Vienna). It was decided to strike a blow at Gorlitsa and on the Danube; having broken the extended right flank of the 3 Army, go to the rear of the Russian armies of the South-Western Front, bogged down in the Carpathians, and destroy them. The Carpathians were supposed to be the grave for the Russian army, and Russia, having lost its armed forces, was to make peace. The offensive was scheduled for early May 1915.
Commander-in-chief Nikolai Nikolayevich did not unravel the direction of the strike, the warning of the British (masters of espionage) was ignored: Russian troops continued their attacks in the Carpathians when an offensive force of unprecedented strength began on their flank. The attacking German units shot down the troops of General Radko-Dmitriev's 3 Army, its units suffered huge losses. In the Carpathian battles, General Kornilov was captured.
The motto of the Betting becomes the slogan “Not one step back”: the bloodless shelves are repeatedly put under the blow of superior enemy forces, without having the opportunity for maneuver, only forward - with bayonets at the ready, into clubs of breaks, from which few return back.
In those dark days, the V Caucasian Corps was redeployed to the rescue of the 3 Army, which did not see the dome of Hagia Sophia. May 22 left Przemysl, June 9 - Lviv (for the capture of which General Ruzsky received the Orders of St. George of the 4th and 3rd degrees at the same time in 1914).
In the fire of heavy artillery, in clouds of gas, the thinnest golden image of Russian Constantinople disperses: the Bosphorus landing is recognized as impossible, it is canceled.
From that day, the Great Retreat begins, and almost until the winter frost of 1915, the Russian strategy will be subordinated to the will of the attacking enemy. General Andrei Zayonchikovsky notes in his book “The First World War”: “The strategic thought of the Russian high command, as far as it was manifested in the 1915 summer campaign of the year, was distinguished by primitiveness and vagueness. She lived fantasy, but not specific content. On the one hand, the prospect of operations in the direction of Berlin, but necessarily through East Prussia, on the other - thrust into Hungary, towards Budapest. The fascination with the idea of invading Hungary is knocking the real ground out from under the Russian high command and depriving him of a sense of reality. It does not part with this desire on the eve of Mackensen's stunning blow. Having come under this blow, it is immediately lost and opposes to him the absurd desire not to yield to a single step of the conquered territory. In fact, the South-Western Front is forced to launch a continuous retreat from 2 in May until September, and it has never been possible to organize a skilled counterstrike. ”
... I would like to take a closer look, yet take a closer look at these generals, who are commanding during the Great Retreat. Here is the impressionable Radko-Dmitriev, experiencing his ambiguous "Bulgarian", talented Brusilov, the dashing cavalryman Keller: they stand out, they are bright. But many, many others merge into some kind of gray sunset shadow, where the limp Ivanov is almost homogeneous to General Bobyr, who in August 1915 will surrender the fortress of Novogeorgievsk to the Germans, will run to the enemy and will capitulate to the fighting units from captivity. They are supposedly stately, these “gray generals”, they are marked by orders, they are, no matter how bitter it is to say, flesh and blood of a kind of “protective conservatism” of the times of Alexander III and Pobedonostsev. They will not allow any indiscretions, they do not smoke a rooster, like Suvorov; they will not be called "old satyrs" like Kutuzov; they have no dubious adventures, like Skobelev. However, there is no other in them either: sacrificial heroism, chivalry, courage to make decisions; and the sad columns of soldiers of their defeated armies wander into captivity, because they did not know how to dispose, dead soldiers lay in the ground, who were ordered to rise again and again in senseless attacks. Something everlasting babya is heard in the lamentations of these generals, something infant we see in their colorful ribbons ...
And when they were required to simply follow the oath - in February 1917 of the year - they betrayed their sovereign.
Later, in Paris, pondering the reasons for the defeat of brilliant Russian troops, Anton Kersnovsky remarked bitterly: “Zhilinsky, Ruzsky, Ivanov and Evert could destroy any army, nullify any victory, turn into a catastrophe the smallest failure. It was impossible to wish for the best targets, the best straw stuffed felling for Hindenburg - and the Prussian field marshal built his amazing career on these Russian insignificants, passing over their heads, as if facing a bridge to heights of honor and power. Worst of all was the fact that, at the same time, a shadow was cast on the impeccable reputation that Russian troops have enjoyed in the world for centuries. Russia will never forgive this disgrace to its unworthy commanders. Our victories were battalion commander victories. Our defeats were the defeats of the commanders-in-chief. That is the reason for the desperate situation in which all Russia's participation in the World War has elapsed. ”
... It cannot be said that the allies did not try to help the Russian army. No, not at all: smeared with clay, wearing helmets-pots, with primitive gas masks on their side, they got up to attack under the unprecedented rumble of cannonade, and on the point of the breakthrough they went "bullet" by General Peten. These battles will go into history like the second battle of Artois. It lasted from 9 May to 18 June 1915 of the year, but its volleys were not at all like the victorious salutes of guns thirty years later: 2 100 thousands of shells were wasted; the French advanced 4 kilometers deep into the German positions, the British - 900 meters. Pull the troops from the Eastern Front to the Western failed. In May, the hapless descendants of Roman legionaries declared “Forward, Italy!”, But their attacking regiments failed to advance into Austrian territory; the units that retired to the new front replaced the Germans from the Western Front, and the entry of the Italians into the war further complicated the position of the Russian army. Fyodor Stepun writes about those days in the book “Notes of an ensign-artilleryman”: “I now think and remember the war that we fought before 20 on April (dates are old-style) as the most peaceful and comfortable life. All this was, it turns out, a complete picnic, and there was no war in all of this, as I now understand.
For three weeks we were in continuous, insane battles. The infantry was melting like a wax candle among the fires of hell. In such conditions, and our artillery work became incredibly difficult. We occupied the most risky positions all the time.
All observation points were in the infantry trenches themselves or ahead of them.
All the time we were dealing with a huge amount of heavy and heaviest artillery. All the time against us were the Germans (the most radically different from the Austrians). All the time the team worked with great self-sacrifice, and with all this, thank God, our losses are essentially insignificant. There were amazing moments in greatness and in the gloom of their mood, truly apocalyptic minutes. ”
The downcast commander of the Southwestern Front, Ivanov, is retreating, he is already thinking about the defense of Kiev, but the German strategists have a different idea: to cut the Polish bag from both sides (this was the name of Russian Poland, surrounded on three sides by the enemy’s territories). A new blow is applied above, and it has all the same unbreakable strength. In the south, Mackensen operates, in the north everything is not so simple: Hindenburg, already luminous, but not yet as dazzling as a year later, has his own plan, which he advances to the chief of the general staff Falkengain. As a result, the northern strike is inflicted by “spread fingers”, which helps General Alekseev to bring eight armies out of the intended environment. Anton Kersnovsky notes: “To our happiness, Falkenhain did not have enough authority to force Hindenburg to accept his plan. The Kaiser hesitated, sparing the pride of both his chief of staff and the savior of East Prussia. It was decided to conduct simultaneously in the north two "main blows" - the Xth army on Kovno - Vilna - Minsk and the XIIth army on Pultusk - Sedlets, towards Mackensen. Thus, the enemy scattered his efforts, we received two strong blows, but it was better than getting one deadly. ”
18 – July 19 the enemy attacks from all sides. On August 5, Warsaw was abandoned and Russian troops are moving to the left bank of the Vistula. Captures Novogeorgievsk, where General Alekseev for some reason leaves a significant force. However, even with such a week-end defense, as noted by General Zayonchkovsky, Novogeorgievsk performs "its maneuverable task of ensuring the withdrawal of the left-bank group of troops." The crime of Bobyr is a dark spot on the garrison’s reputation, but, nevertheless, in the surrendered fortress there were officers and soldiers who continued the battle. The German generals, led by the Kaiser, who entered the fortress, saw “half-destroyed buildings, and among them were the bodies of Russian soldiers, who continued to fight after breaking through the outer defensive line, along with the corpses of horses. Peering out of curiosity into a wooden wooden hut miraculously preserved during the shelling, the victors discovered an improvised church — the sad result of the former temple splendor — and only then noticed the many fresh grave mounds around. In one of them, temple utensils, crosses and icons in expensive salaries were buried forever - the soldiers on the eve of the fall of the fortress immersed them in a coffin and hid them in a grave, so as not to leave the enemy. The names of the last defenders of Novogeorgievsk on unsightly wood crosses were not inscribed in haste ”(I. M. Afanasenko, Y. A. Bakhurin“ Port Arthur on the Vistula ”).
The line of defense bends and breaks: running, losing his head, the commandant of the Kovno fortress, General Grigoriev, fell to the glorious Osovets. The Russian army is resisting, but the troops have already had a breakdown, they are still rising into a bayonet attack, but more and more often they wander, like pedestrians, passing through the distant Russian forests.
Commander-in-chief Nikolai Nikolayevich loses the “nerve of war”, the Baranovichi rate then calls to stand to the last, then retreat, wherever they look, to prepare positions behind Tula and Kursk.
He, this powerful, stately, tall general is confused, he himself does not know what he needs, as he once did in a Paris store, where he was seen by young Louis Ferdinand Céline, who later described this meeting. “Among our customers there was one very high-ranking person, he was real, it seems, even his family, the uncle of the Tsar, it was Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich. His appearance was memorable ... at least two meters tall. It was this giant that finally lost the war, destroying the Russian army. Oh! I could tell them in 1910 that he would lose everything ... He never knew what he wanted ... ” However, at the same time, Nikolai Nikolayevich stubbornly rested, someone gives him the idea to repeat the flight of the population of Moscow from the French in 1812. And here they wander, slaughtering front-line roads, poor hungry crowds of “refugees” driven from small towns and shops, these are not heroic inhabitants who lit their city of forty-forty for World War II, but simply miserable confused people going somewhere far away to the side east dawn. And in the rear, espionage grows, rumors of a “treason of the empress” ring out with a mosquito squeal, frenzied crowds rob and burn German shops. In a diary for 1 June 1915, the well-known publicist and theorist of monarchism Lev Tikhomirov writes: “In Moscow, I had to endure terrible days, the likes of which I had not seen in my life. I'm talking about the German pogrom. It was done with a frenzy of energy. Windows were knocked out, all goods were destroyed, thrown into the street, torn, chopped with crowbars and axes. When the regular detachments were removed, different faces began to pounce on the piles of the pacified, women and others began to pull away. Immediately the robbery came, especially when drunk people appeared. Drunkenness began with the defeat of German wine warehouses. At Schuster in the cellars went knee-deep in vodka. Of course, they started drinking, drinking and public. There are several such warehouses. In the morning of May 21, our Masha, going to the Smolensky market, saw along Novinsky Boulevard and the market a lot of sleeping drunk people, near which there were bottles. Including the policeman was lying around. ”
And at the front, the troops retreated, but more and more — a hundred, another, and then a thousand, ten thousand — to the other side of the front, to the West, into captivity. Kersnovsky writes: “The physically and morally exhausted fighters, having lost faith in their own strength, began to surrender to tens of thousands. If June was a month of bloody losses, then August 1915 of the year can be called a month of mass surrender. ”
At this moment there is a change of commanders-in-chief: Nicholas II led the army at the moment of the deepest fall and defeat. Then the king will be addressed a lot of reproaches, including the fair ones - for insufficient control over the situation in the rear, departure from the capital, where the sedition has become more serious. However, at that moment, when a short, fine colonel appeared in the headquarters with a boy in a soldier's overcoat, when the cleverest and heartless as a machine, our Alekseev began to “embroider” the intricate control of the fronts, it became clear that the retreat was complete. In September, the Germans stopped in the course of the battle of Vilna, the Headquarters captured the situation and stopped the withdrawal of troops. The German command soberly assesses its forces and moves on to positional battles.
The great retreat ended: it cost the Russian army huge losses. “Remember all the slain, Russia, // Always come to your kingdom,” writes the poet Ivan Savin. But the historian Anton Kersnovsky, writing about the sad results of the retreat, writes: “In the bloodless ranks of the Russian army in mid-September, only 870 000 fighters were counted - one and a half times smaller than the peace composition. Spring and summer of 1915 cost us 2 500 000 people. 2 600 guns were lost: 900 - in field battles, 1700 - in the fortresses of Novogeorgievsk and Kovno. Poland, Lithuania and Kurland were lost, the entire strategic railway network was lost. Responsibility for the catastrophe falls primarily on the Stake. Perseverance - the strategy “Not one step back!” - resulted in a retreat not on a “step”, but on whole 500 versts and with the defeat of all armed force ”.
Then there will be a slow recovery of Russian power, a victorious Brusilovsky breakthrough, a new plan for the Bosphorus landing (it will be canceled by the February revolution already), an almost guaranteed victory, about which Churchill will colorfully write.
But I want to dwell on another: this tragic and beautiful moment, when in August (as it will be later, in 1991), one era ends and another begins. The great retreat will complete the old empire, and the emperor at the head of the bleeding army will join it, with soldiers: alive and dead, with the righteous, martyrs and martyrs, icons and belltowers, with the heir, the queen and the princesses, he will enter the Stations of the Cross, along against which all these Germans are small are unnecessary and unnecessary ...