100 years ago, 4 June 1916, began the offensive of the Russian armies of the Southwestern Front against the Austro-German forces. This operation went into history as Brusilovsky breakthrough, and also known as the Lutsk Breakthrough and the 4-I Galician Battle. This battle was the most memorable for Russia in the First World War, as the Russian troops in Galicia under the command of General Alexei Brusilov broke through the defenses of the Austro-German forces and rapidly went forward. In the first days of the operation, the account of the prisoners went to tens of thousands. There was an opportunity to withdraw the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the war. After the hard failures of the 1915 campaign of the year, this operation temporarily reinforced the morale of the army. The operation of the Russian troops continued from May 22 (June 4) until the end of August 1916.
Successful actions of the South-Western Front were not supported by other fronts. The stake was unable to organize the interaction of the fronts. Also, command errors at the command level of the Southwestern Front and the command of the front armies affected. As a result, the Lutsk breakthrough did not lead to the fall of the enemy front and a major strategic success leading to victory in the war. However, the operation in Galicia was of great importance. The Austro-Germans lost 1916 in May-August to 1,5 million people, out of them up to 400 thousand prisoners (although Russian troops suffered heavy losses only in May-June 600 thousand people). The forces of the Austro-Hungarian military machine, which had already suffered a terrible defeat during the 1914 campaign and was able to more or less recover in 1915, were finally undermined. Until the end of the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was no longer able to conduct active hostilities without the support of the German troops. In the Habsburg monarchy itself the processes of disintegration sharply intensified.
To stop the advance of the Russian army, the German command had to redeploy 11 divisions from the Western front to the Eastern, and withdraw the 6 divisions from the Italian front to the Austrians. This contributed to the weakening of the pressure of the German army in the Verdun area and the overall victory of the Allied forces in the Battle of Verdun. The Austrian command was forced to stop the Trentino operation and significantly strengthen the army group in Galicia. The operation of the South-Western Front was a major achievement of military art, proving the possibility of breaking through the enemy’s strong positional defense. Romania, which is in 1914-1915. she waited, waiting for the major success of one of the parties in the Great War, and was on the side of the Entente, which sprayed the forces of the Central Powers. The Lutsk breakthrough, along with the Battle of Verdun and the battle on the Somme, marked the beginning of a strategic turning point in the course of World War in favor of the Entente, forcing the Central Powers to switch to a strategic defense in 1917.
As a result, this battle will be included in the official historiography as “Brusilov's Breakthrough” - this was a unique case when the battle was called not by geographical (for example, the Battle of Kalka, the Battle of Kulikovo or Erzerumskaya operation) or another accompanying attribute, but by the name of the commander. Although contemporaries knew the operation as the Lutsk breakthrough and the 4 battle for Galicia, which corresponded to the historical tradition of giving the name to the battle at the battlefield. However, the press, mostly liberal, began to praise Brusilov, just as they did not praise other successful commanders of the Great War (like Yudenich, who in the Caucasus had inflicted severe defeats on the Turkish army several times). In Soviet historiography, given the fact that Brusilov switched to the side of the Reds, this name was fixed.
1916 campaign plan
In accordance with the decision of the conference of the Entente powers in Chantilly (March 1916) on the general offensive of the Allied armies in the summer of 1916, the Russian Stavka decided to launch an offensive on the Eastern Front in June. In their calculations, the Russian Headquarters proceeded from the correlation of forces on the Eastern Front. On the part of Russia there were three fronts: Northern, Western and South-Western. The northern front of Kuropatkin (Chief of Staff Sivers) covered the St. Petersburg sector and consisted of the 12, 5 and 6 armies. The headquarters of the front was located in Pskov. They were opposed by the 8-I German army and part of the army group Scholz. The western front of Evert defended the Moscow direction. It consisted of 1-I, 2-I, 10-I and 3-I armies (in May 4-I army was attached). The front headquarters is in Minsk. The Russian troops were opposed by a part of the army group of Scholz, 10, and 12, and 9, and part of the army group of Linsingen. The southwestern front of Brusilov covered the Kiev area and included 8, 11, 7 and 9 armies. The headquarters of the front - Berdichev. Against these troops, the army group Linsingen, the army group Böhm-Yermoli, the Southern Army and the 7-I Austro-Hungarian Army acted. According to Alekseev, on the three Russian fronts there were more than 1,7 million bayonets and sabers against more than 1 million people from the enemy. The Northern and Western fronts had an especially great advantage: 1,2 million against 620 thousand Germans. The South-Western Front possessed 500 thousand people against 440 thousand Austro-Germans.
Thus, according to the Russian command in the northern sector of the front, Russian troops had double superiority over the enemy. This advantage could be seriously increased after the acquisition of parts to the regular strength and the transfer of reserves. Therefore, Alekseev proposed to launch a decisive offensive in the sector just north of Polesie, by the forces of the Northern and Western fronts. The strike groups of the two fronts were to advance in the general direction of Vilna. The South-Western Front had a defensive mission. Brusilov was only to prepare for a strike from the Rovno area in the direction of Kovel, if the offensive was successful in the north.
Alekseev believed that it was necessary to seize the strategic initiative and not let the enemy go first to the offensive. He believed that after the failure at Verdun, the Germans would again pay attention to the Oriental Theater and go on a decisive offensive as soon as the weather permits. As a result, the Russian army had to either give the initiative to the enemy and prepare for defense, or preempt him and attack. At the same time, Alekseev noted the negative consequences of a defensive strategy: our forces were stretched on the 1200 kilometer front (the Anglo-French defended the entire 700 km and could concentrate more forces and assets without fear of enemy attacks); the underdeveloped network of communications did not allow for the quick transfer of reserves in the required quantity. According to Alekseev, it was necessary to launch an offensive in May, which would preempt the actions of the enemy.
However, the March failure (the Naroch operation) had a catastrophic effect on the commanders-in-chief of the Northern and Western fronts - Aleksey Kuropatkin and Aleksey Evert. Any decisive offensive seemed unthinkable to them. At the April meeting at the 1 General Headquarters (14), generals Kuropatkin and Evert spoke in favor of complete passivity, and, with the technical condition of our army, our offensive, in their opinion, would end in failure. However, the new commander-in-chief of the Southwestern Front, Alexey Brusilov, believed in Russian troops and demanded an offensive task for his front, vouching for victory.
According to the plan approved by the 11 (24) rate in April, the main attack was delivered by the troops of the Western Front in the Vilnius direction. Auxiliary strikes inflicted the Northern Front from the Dvinsk area on Novo-Aleksandrovsk and further on Vilna, and the South-Western Front - on the Lutsk direction. Due to the difficult situation on the Italian front, where the Austro-Hungarian troops launched the Trentino operation in May 1916 and threatened to break through the front and remove Italy from the Entente camp, the Allies urged Russia to speed up the start of the offensive in order to pull the enemy’s forces off the Italian directions. As a result, the Russian Stavka decided to launch an offensive earlier than the scheduled date.
Thus, instead of the two main attacks by the forces of the Northern and Western fronts, it was decided to deliver a decisive blow by the forces of only one - the Western front. The northern front supported this offensive with an auxiliary strike. The task of the South-Western Front, which was supposed to deliver an auxiliary strike on Lutsk and thereby facilitate the actions of the troops of the Western Front in the main direction, changed significantly.
The offensive operation was different in that it did not provide for the depth of the operation. The troops had to break through the enemy’s defenses and inflict damage, the development of the operation was not envisaged. It was believed that after overcoming the first defense zone, a second operation would be prepared and carried out to break through the second zone. The Russian high command, taking into account French and own experience, did not believe in the possibility of breaking through the enemy defenses with one blow. To break the second line of defense required a new operation.
Preparation of the operation
After the Stake accepted the plan of operation on the 1916 campaign, the fronts began to prepare a strategic offensive. April and most of May were in preparation for a resolute offensive. As noted by the military historian A. A. Kersnovsky: “The collections of the Northern Front were baggy. Kuropatkin hesitated, doubted, losing his spirit. In all his orders, there was an unreasonable fear of the landing of the German landing force in Livonia — to the rear of the Northern Front. ” As a result, Kuropatkin asked for reinforcements all the time and all the troops (in general, 6 infantry and 2 cavalry divisions) sent to guard the Baltic Sea coast. Thereby he weakened the shock group, which was supposed to support the main blow of the Western Front.
A similar situation was on the western front of Evert, whose troops were to play a major role in the operation. Evert could not be blamed for bad work, he did titanic paperwork, literally bombarded the troops with countless orders, instructions, instructions, trying to provide for virtually every little thing. The command of the Russian Western Front was guided by the experience of the French Front, but it could not create its own, find a way out of the strategic impasse of a positional war. As a result, behind the bustle of the headquarters of the Western Front, there was a lack of confidence in the forces and the troops felt it. Evert concentrated the 12 corps of the 2 and 4 armies of the Smirnov and Ragoza corps - 480 thousand soldiers against 80 thousand Germans in the Molodechno district of Molodechno for the strike on Vilna. In addition, behind them in the second line, the Reserve Headquarters had 4 Corps (including 1 and 2 Guards, Guards Cavalry Corps). However, this seemed to the commander-in-chief enough. And the closer the start date of the onset of the May 18 was approaching, the more Evert's spirit fell. At the last moment, when the operation was already prepared, he suddenly changed the whole plan and instead of hitting Vilno, he chose the attack on Baranavichy, transferring the headquarters of the 4 Army to a new direction. On the preparation of a new strike, he demanded a delay - from May 18 to May 31. And then he asked for a new postponement - until June 4. This irritated even calm Alekseev and he ordered to attack.
Best of all, preparation for the offensive was conducted on the South-Western Front. When commander-in-chief Ivanov surrendered the front to Brusilov, he described his armies as "incapable", and called the attack in Galicia and Volyn "hopeless." However, Brusilov was able to reverse this unfavorable tendency and instill confidence in the forces of the troops. However, Kaledin and Sakharov (8-I and 11-I armies) did not expect anything good from the operation, Shcherbachov and Lechitsky (7-I and 9-I armies) showed skepticism. However, everyone energetically set to work.
The idea of Brusilov, which was the basis of the offensive plan of the front, was completely new and seemed adventurous. Before the outbreak of war, the best form of an offensive was considered to bypass one or two flanks of the enemy with the aim of his environment. This forced the enemy to retreat or lead to a complete or partial environment. Positional warfare with a solid, well prepared for defense front, buried this method. Now we had to break through the defenses of the enemy with a powerful frontal strike and suffer huge losses. Having fully taken into account the experience of the failed offensive and attempts to break through the positional front on the French and Russian fronts, the commander in chief refused to concentrate the strike force in one place, which was always detected by the enemy in advance, and demanded that the offensive be prepared on the entire front in order to deceive the enemy. Brusilov ordered each army and some corps to select a breakthrough site and immediately proceed to engineering work to get closer to the enemy. For the same reason, artillery preparation was reduced to ensure a surprise strike. Each commander had to attack in the direction that he chooses. As a result, the front delivered not one concentrated strike, but launched 20-30 attacks in various places. The Austro-German command was deprived of the opportunity to determine the place of the main attack and to concentrate here artillery, additional troops and reserves.
This method of breaking through the enemy front had not only advantages, but also serious shortcomings. In the direction of the main attack, it was impossible to concentrate such amount of forces and means that allowed the first success to be developed. Brusilov himself understood this well. “Each course of action,” he wrote, “has its opposite side, and I thought that it was necessary to choose the plan of action that would be most beneficial for a given case, and not blindly emulate the Germans.” “... It can easily be,” he noted, “that we may get a little success at the site of the main attack, or not have it at all, but since the enemy is attacked by us, then greater success may be where we currently do not expect it” . These bold ideas embarrassed the supreme command. Alekseev tried to object, but as usual without special energy, in the end, having received a rebuff from his subordinate, resigned himself.
The main role of General Brusilov took his right flank - Kaledin's 8 Army, as adjacent to the Western Front, which was to deliver the main blow to the enemy. Brusilov remembered all the time that he was solving an auxiliary task, that the role of his front was secondary and subordinated his calculations to the plan worked out at GHQ. As a result, the main direction of the South-Western Front - Lvivske, on which the 11-i army was located, was sacrificed. A third of the infantry (8 divisions from 13) and half of the heavy artillery (38,5 batteries from 19) of the entire front were sent to the 39 Army. Army Kaledin pointed direction Kovel-Brest. Kaledin himself decided to deliver the main blow with his left flank on the Lutsk direction, well-trained troops of the 8 and 40 buildings.
In the 11 Army, General Sakharov outlined a breakthrough from Tarnopol in the area of his left-flank 6 Corps. The 7 Army of General Shcherbachev, against which the strongest section of the Austro-German front was located, was the weakest and consisted of only 7 divisions. Therefore, Shcherbachev decided to break through the enemy defenses there, de it was the easiest, in the area of the left-flank 2 corps of Yazlovets. In the 9 Army, Lechitsky decided to first smash the enemy in Bukovina, therefore he delivered a blow with his left flank — the reinforced 11 corps, in a southwesterly direction, towards the Carpathians. Then, having secured the left flank, he planned to transfer the blow to the right flank, to Zadnestrovie.
Thus, the South-Western Front planned four battles, not counting the distraction and auxiliary actions of other corps. Each commander chose the direction for his strike, regardless of his neighbors. All four armies struck their left flanks. Especially bad was the fact that the 8-i and 11-i army acted in inconsistency. Sakharov's 11 Army, in theory, was to activate its right flank, contributing to the main attack of the 8 Army in Lutsk. Instead, Sakharov directed all his efforts to the left flank, while the right-flank 17 corps had the task only to demonstrate the offensive. With normal coordination between 8 and 11 AMs, a breakthrough of the enemy front could be more impressive.
However, the headquarters of the South-Western Front did not set out to bind together the actions of four armies, or at least two - 8 and 11. After all, the main battle in the south-western strategic direction was not at all part of the calculations of the Russian Stavka, even as a plan “B”, if the offensive of the Western Front fails. The main role in the strategic offensive was assigned to the Western Front. Front Brusilov had only to "demonstrate." Therefore, Brusilov planned several battles, hoping to divert and forge the Austro-German forces with numerous blows. The development of the offensive, in the event of a breakthrough of the enemy defenses, was simply not envisaged, except for the Lutsk sector in the 8 Army, and depending on the success of the Western Front. In reserve, Brusilov had only one building.
The preparation itself for breaking through the enemy defense was carried out by Brusilov's armies perfectly. The headquarters of the 8th Army well organized the "fire fist", carefully prepared the infantry assault headquarters of the 7th Army. Our aviation photographed enemy positions all over the front of the South German army. Based on these images, the headquarters of the 7th Army made detailed plans, where it brought all the fortifications, communications, and machine gun nests. In the rear of the 7th Army, even educational camps were erected, where they reproduced the sections of the enemy defense planned for the assault. The troops were prepared in such a way as to then feel in enemy positions, as at home. Huge earthworks were carried out, etc.
Source: Zayonchkovsky A. World War 1914-1918.
To be continued ...