France and England were going to "fight to the last Russian soldier"
In the first two campaigns, the operations of the Entente armies were not adequately coordinated. The overall strategic plan of the coalition was missing. Coordinated and one-time attacks on the Central Powers failed. Most often, the cooperation was that Russia responded to requests for support, delaying the troops of Germany and Austria-Hungary. In general, the Entente powers fought against the common enemy more or less separately. In contrast to the Entente, the actions of the German bloc were in the nature of deeply thought-out enterprises of a general nature.
The military leaders of the Allied Powers were aware of all the weakness of this disunity. Therefore, they wanted to correct this mistake, to develop a unified strategic plan. The first inter-allied conference was held on June 24 (July 7) 1915. Representatives of the main commands of the Entente countries agreed that assistance should be rendered to the allied army that would be attacked by the armed forces of the Central Powers. However, this principle was not implemented. In the summer and autumn of 1915, the Russian army alone resisted the onslaught of the main Austro-German forces, the Anglo-French troops did not provide it with real support. In the autumn, the Serbian army was defeated, and the Anglo-French command spent more time in disputes than taking steps to rescue an ally.
23-26 November (6-9 December) 1915 was the second inter-allied conference held in Chantilly. This conference has been prepared more carefully. At the beginning of October, the French General Staff informed the Russian Supreme Commander a program for its implementation. The proposals of the French were presented in two documents: "Note for the conference" and "Action Plan proposed by the French coalition." The essence of the proposals of the French command was as follows: 1) to continue the struggle to deplete Germany, leading it with high intensity; 2) this task must be accomplished by those armies that have excessive human resources (England and Italy) or unlimited (Russia); 3) The French army remains in strategic reserve for a future decisive offensive.
Thus, the French, as well as the Germans, offered to fight to deplete enemy resources. The emphasis was on human resources. It was believed that Russia has "unlimited" human resources (the allies were going to "fight to the last Russian soldier"). It was also proposed to use the armies of England and Italy.
Russian Stake in November 1915 sent a draft joint action plan to the Allies. The author of the plan was General Alekseev. The Russian command offered to deliver a powerful triple blow to the Central Powers: the Russian army struck from the South-Western front, the Anglo-French army from the Salonika front, the Italian army from the Isonzo region. The general offensive was developed in the direction of Budapest. Thus, Russia offered to disable the “weak links” of the German bloc - Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. In addition, on the side of the Entente in this case would have to act Greece and Romania. It was possible to restore the Serbian front. As a result, it was possible to proceed to the gradual encirclement of the German Empire. The Russian command also offered to deliver a concentric blow to Mosul by the forces of the Caucasian army and British troops in order to defeat the Turkish army and reliably provide the Suez Canal and India from sabotage of Ottoman troops.
Thus, the Russian command offered one joint strategic operation to deal with Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, and another operation with the Ottoman Empire. Russian project was very reasonable. Indeed, the allies of Germany were weak, and they could be “knocked out”, and then collapse with all their might on the Second Reich.
At the first meeting of the November 23 conference (December 6), General Zhilinsky, on behalf of Stavka, put forward two proposals: 1) to launch the offensive of the Allied armies simultaneously to ensure consistency of actions; 2) if one of the allied armies is attacked by the enemy, the other armies, even if they are not fully prepared, should immediately go on the offensive in order to prevent its defeat.
However, these proposals were strongly opposed. The French representative, General Joffre, said that the preparation of an offensive in the Western European theater would require a long time, so it was impossible to establish a single start date for the operations of all the allied armies. The Italian representative, General Porro, supported Joffra, saying that the Italian army by the spring of 1916 would not be ready to conduct active offensive actions.
Thus, it became clear that the Western powers want the brunt of the new military campaign to be placed on the Russian army, as in 1915. This was noted by the Russian representative. “It’s probably not important: you can’t rely on Italy as an active factor in a war,” wrote Zhilinsky. “But the main thing is that in Joffre himself I noticed a desire that next spring Russia will be the first to launch an offensive, and I’m afraid that he would not wait then, so that if he was slow, he would not stretch the gap between armies. You can always find a lot of pretexts for a delay. ”
As a result, the Allies could not come to a single point of view. They all pulled the blanket over themselves. General Joffre declared that France had already suffered heavy losses, it lacked manpower, so it should avoid serious losses and conduct only defensive actions, thereby diverting German divisions from other fronts. In his opinion, Russia, Britain and Italy were to wage an active struggle against the German bloc. However, England itself has always sought to fight with someone else’s hands and was not going to intensify the fight against Germany. Italy’s military capabilities were limited. It turned out that the Russian Empire had to pay for everything.
The conference made only general decisions. The need was recognized to begin preparations for the concerted offensive of all the allied armies in the three main theaters: French, Russian and Italian. Before the start of the decisive offensive, it was proposed to intensively carry out the exhaustion of forces by opponents by those powers that still had “excess” human resources. The Allies agreed to provide all-round assistance to the power to be attacked. Balkan theater recognized as secondary. The expeditionary corps in Gallipoli decided to evacuate immediately. Anglo-French troops in Thessaloniki remained.
The Chantilly Conference was a step forward in developing a common strategy. However, a single strategic plan could not be adopted. It was obvious that the Western allies wanted to entrust Russia with the mission of fighting the main forces of the Austro-German army. The plan of the Russian Bet was practically not considered. Britain and France did not want to strengthen Russia's geopolitical and military positions in the Balkans and in the Middle East. In addition, the French and the British considered the French front to be the main one and did not want to weaken it in the interests of other directions.
18 (31) January 1916 Mr. Alekseev wrote to Zhilinsky in a letter: “The conclusion that France, which has 2,2 million fighters, must be passive, and England, Italy and Russia must“ exhaust ”Germany - biased and does not fit with the rude opinion of Joffre that one France is fighting. I think that a calm but impressive remarks, decisive in tone, on all such antics and absurdities are strategically absolutely necessary. But they really need us - in words they can brave, but in fact they will not decide on such behavior. For everything we get, they will take off our last shirt. This is not a service, but a very good deal. But the benefits should be at least slightly reciprocal, not one-sided. ”
Petersburg continued its efforts to achieve coordination of the strategic efforts of the Entente powers. In particular, the Russian Stavka insisted on the implementation of the French proposal to establish a permanent or temporary council to coordinate the plans of the Entente powers. The problem of the Entente was the lack of deeply thought-out enterprises of general importance, all operations of the Allies were in the nature of private strikes, unrelated commonality of design, or the time when some attacked, others were inactive. The idea of creating a single supreme council was correct. However, it could not be implemented. England and Italy categorically refused to participate in such a council.
The next conference was planned for February 20 (March 1) 1916 in Chantilly. Prior to its commencement, a memorandum of the French General Staff was sent out. The French offered to launch a general concentric offensive on all fronts no later than 1 in July of 1916. Anglo-French troops, who had strong means to destroy the fortifications of the enemy, were to play a decisive role in this offensive. Therefore, it was proposed to start the advance of the armies of Italy and Russia earlier than the advance of the armies of England and France, in order to cause the transfer of free reserves of Germany to the Eastern Front.
Thus, France offered to strike a joint blow not at the weak, but at the strongest link of the enemy, at Germany. The allies themselves were going to launch an offensive allegedly in early July, while Russia and Italy were offered to launch an offensive earlier by about two weeks in order to draw off enemy reserves. In England and France, the Germans were confident that the Germans would move east again. So let them go deeper and get stuck in the huge Russian empire and with its “unlimited” human resources.
It is clear that the proposals of the French command met with objections from the Russian Headquarters. She rightly believed that the German army, much earlier than the Allies, would go on the offensive and thwart all their plans. You can not give the initiative to the enemy, who is the first to go on the offensive and destroy all the plans of the allies. 9 (22) February 1916 Mr. Alekseev telegraphed to Zhilinsky: “The enemy will not cope with Joffre, whether he finished training or not, he attacks himself as soon as the climatic conditions and the condition of the roads allow it.”
The Russian command believed that the interests of the Eastern Front insistently demanded a transition to the offensive as soon as possible. “We will go on the offensive,” wrote Alekseev to Zhilinsky 9 (22) of February, “as soon as the condition of the roads allows, for only by this way can the disorder be brought into the thoughts of the Germans. With the front in 1200 versts, the poverty of heavy artillery, it’s easy to find vulnerabilities in us - the passive seat should always end unprofitable for us. ”
The opinion of the Russian command was soon confirmed. The Germans were already prepared for the battle of Verdun. 8 (21) February 1916. German troops, after long artillery preparation, launched an offensive. At the same time, the Austro-Hungarian troops attacked the Italians in Trentino. The Allies again found themselves in a difficult situation and began to ask for help from Russia.
February 19 (March 3) the French handed Alekseev a lengthy letter in which they expressed their opinion on the role of Russia in the current situation. The French believed that the Verdun operation was the beginning of Germany’s decisive offensive on the Western Front. Russia was offered to shackle the enemy with his active actions, depriving him of his freedom of maneuver. Joffre asked, "so that the Russian army immediately began preparing the offensive ...".
In addition, France wanted to speed up the performance of Romania on the side of the Entente, which was to divert the forces of the German bloc from the Western Front. In this matter, special hopes were also pinned on Russia. According to the French plan, supported by Bucharest, Russia was to concentrate 250-thousand in Bessarabia. army, which would serve as a guarantee of the security of Romania in its performance against the Central Powers. Then the Russian army was to move to Dobrudja and from there attack the German-Bulgarian troops. In Paris, it was believed that this would reliably provide the southern border of Romania, would allow to direct all the efforts of the Romanian army in the direction of Transylvania and Bucovina (which they dreamed of in Bucharest) and at the same time facilitate the transition to active actions of the Thessaloniki Front.
Russian Stake actively objected. Alekseev considered the French plan an adventure. In a difficult situation, Russia offered to single out 250 thousand soldiers (a noticeable part of the army) and add 1200 to the 600 versts of the front. Alekseev wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sazonov: “Our allies are persistently pursuing the idea for themselves - and they realize that only success at the main theater, that is, on its French front, gives victory, and therefore there, on 700 kilometers, have about 2 million The French and 40 divisions of the Belgians and the British; they are stingy with all sorts of selections for secondary theaters. We are warmly advised to loosen our Western Front on 6-7 corps — the ways to Petrograd, Moscow and Kiev — and take upon our shoulders a new, complex operation on the Balkans before weakening the Germans and Austrians and before the conviction that the allies will be able to start any serious actions from Thessaloniki, for which there is no hope. ”
It turned out that the Anglo-French allies proposed that the Russian Stavka weaken the main line on the 6-7 cases and send them to a separate, remote and complex theater of operations. In Romania, the problems of supplying the army increased sharply. At the same time, success on the Romanian front could not lead to a radical turn during the war. Russia was deprived of the opportunity to gather at the front against Germany and Austria-Hungary the necessary forces to repel a possible enemy strike on key sectors (Petrograd, Moscow and Kiev) or the decisive offensive of the Russian army in the spring and summer of 1916. Moreover, it was doubtful that the Romanian army could divert significant forces of the Austro-German army and facilitate the future offensive of the South-Western Front of the Russian army.
The French were told that Russia would not be distracted by a secondary theater and disperse forces. At the same time, the Headquarters, going to meet the Allies, decided to help and begin a separate offensive operation in March before the start of a general decisive offensive, which was scheduled for May. The aim of the operation was to divert the Germans from Verdun and thereby alleviate the situation of the French army. 11 (24) February, a meeting was held at GHQ, at which they decided to launch a decisive offensive, gathering large forces at the point of impact. 3 (15) of March Alekseev issued a directive on which the front commanders were to complete preparations for the offensive of 5 (18) of March. The Western Front was to launch the 5 (18) march in March, the Northern - 6 (19) in March 1916.
5 (18) March, the Naroch operation began, but it did not lead to success. Deficiencies in the management of troops, the lack of heavy artillery and ammunition, the thaw that had begun thwarted the offensive. However, the operation had benefits for the Allies. The German command was forced to redeploy more 4 divisions from the Western Front. “... The last Russian offensive,” General Joffre noted, “forced the Germans, who had only minor general reserves, to bring in all these reserves and, in addition, to attract patrol troops and redeploy whole divisions taken from other sectors.” This was a significant help to France. Germany was forced to temporarily suspend their stubborn attacks.
The fighting at Verdun forced the Allies to postpone the conference from February 20 to February 28 (March 12) 1916. The Allies offered: 1) the French army had to defend its territory by any means so that the German offensive would break up into an organized defense; 2) England had to concentrate most of its forces on the French front and for this purpose transfer all divisions to France as soon as possible, except for those that had to be left on the British Isles and other theaters; 3) Russia was offered to exert strong pressure on the enemy in order to prevent him from transferring troops from the Eastern Front to the Western Front, to fetter him, and also to prepare for a decisive offensive; 4) Italy had to demonstratively prepare for an offensive, not allowing the enemy to withdraw troops from its front; prepare a real offensive operation, starting it as the climatic conditions will allow; to be active in the Balkans (in Albania) to keep Austro-Hungarian troops there.
The February 28 military meeting was held as planned. The general offensive was postponed to May 1916. It was decided that the Russian army would begin in late April - the first half of May, and in two weeks - the rest of the Entente armies. Given that the Russian army planned to conduct a separate operation in March to support the allies, Zhilinsky insisted that if it developed into a decisive offensive and caused a large influx of enemy troops, the allies would speed up their entry not to leave the Russians alone, like This happened in 1915. After the controversy, the Allies agreed.
Thus, it was possible to achieve a decision on the start of a general offensive on the main fronts. However, it was not possible to achieve full unity of views. The French, under the pressure of circumstances (the Battle of Verdun) were much kinder. The British did not directly refuse the general offensive in May, but spoke about it with restraint. Italy was even colder and set conditions. In particular, the Italians requested heavy artillery.
14-15 (27-28) March March 1916 was held in Paris, the military-political conference of the Entente powers. The conference confirmed the decisions made at Chantilly. Much attention has been paid to economic issues. In particular, a number of decisions were made on mutual assistance. weapons, food and economic blockade of Germany.
Thus, the winter 1915-1916's. Allies spent on it to agree on a plan for the upcoming campaign. Time spent a lot, but the goal is not fully achieved. The decision was too general. France and Britain continued to pursue the narrow goals of creating a more favorable situation on the Western Front, to the detriment of their common and personal gain. They wanted to put the burden of war on Russia, hoping for its “unlimited” human resources and huge spaces where the Germans would be stuck. As a result, Germany retained a strategic initiative and was the first to deal a decisive blow to France. The Allies again asked Russia for help.
- Alexander Samsonov
- Articles from this series:
- 1916 Campaign
The strategy of the Entente and the Central Powers on 1916 year
"The French Armed Forces will bleed to death in any case - will she keep Verdun or not"
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