In the north, along the Dvina, Otto von Belov's strong 8 Army was located. She was confronted by our 12-I and 5-I armies. In the Dvina area, the Scholz army group stood against the 1 of the Russian army. The Eichhorn 10 Army was deployed in the Vilna sector against the 2 and 4 Army, the 12 Army Gallwitz against the 10 Russian Army. All these German troops constituted the Hindenburg group of troops.
Against the Russian 3 army, Baranavichy had a group of troops of Leopold of Bavaria as part of the 9 army of Prince Leopold himself and of the army group of Voersch. A group of Linsingen troops was stationed in Polesie: the army group Gronau, the Austro-Hungarian cavalry corps of Gower, a separate combined Austro-Hungarian corps of Fata and the 4-I Austro-Hungarian army of Archduke Joseph Ferdinand. They were opposed by the 3-I and 8-I Russian armies. In Galicia, there was a group of troops of Böhm-Yermoli: 1-I of the Austro-Hungarian army of General Puchallo, 2-I of the Austro-Hungarian army of Böhm-Hermoli itself, the South German army of Botmer and 7-I of the Austro-Hungarian army Pflanzer Baltin. They were opposed by the troops of 11, 7 and 9 of the Russian army.
The group of troops of Leopold of Bavaria was subordinated to Hindenburg, who was commander-in-chief in the East. The troops of Linsingen and Böhm-Yermoli, who acted against the Russian South-Western Front, were subordinate to the Austrian General Staff of the Archduke Ferdinand and Field Marshal Conrad von Götzentorf.
Thus, to the north of Pripyat, our command had for a decisive strike 106 infantry and 26 cavalry divisions against 49 infantry and 8 cavalry divisions of the enemy. South of Pripyat, in the armies of General Brusilov there were 39 infantry and 13 cavalry divisions against 38 infantry and 11 cavalry Austro-German divisions. That is, in the southern direction, the forces of the parties were almost equal.
In addition, on the southern flank of the Eastern Front against the armies of Brusilov, Austro-German troops created a powerful, deeply echeloned defense. It consisted of 3 lanes spaced 5 or more from each other. The strongest was the first of the 2 - 3 trench lines, with a total length of 1,5 - 2 km. It was based on support units, in the gaps - solid trenches, the approaches to which were shot from the flanks, at all heights - pillboxes. From some nodes, the cut-off positions went deep into, so that in the event of a breakthrough, the attackers fell into the “bag”. The trenches were with canopies, dugouts, shelters dug deep into the ground, with reinforced vaults or overlaps of logs and earth up to 2 m thick, capable of withstanding any projectiles. For machine gunners installed concrete caps. Before the trenches, wire obstacles (2 - 3 strips across 4 - 16 rows) stretched, in some sections a current was passed through them, mines were laid, land mines were installed. The two rear lanes were equipped less powerfully (1 - 2 trench lines). And between the stripes and the lines of the trenches, artificial obstacles were arranged - abutments, wolf pits, and slingshots. It is also worth considering the terrain difficult for the offensive - forests and swamps, a large number of water barriers. True, the Austro-German command believed that the Russian armies could not break through such a defense without significant reinforcement, and therefore the active operations of Brusilov’s troops came as a complete surprise to him.
Shift start operation
While our troops were preparing for a strategic offensive, a critical situation arose on the Italian front. 2 (15) May 1916. Austro-Hungarian troops delivered a powerful blow to the Italian army in the Trentino area. The troops of 1 of the Italian army, having suffered heavy losses, began to retreat, causing a threat to the encirclement of the Italian armies in the Isonzo region. This could lead to the withdrawal of Italy from the Entente camp. The Italian military-political leadership appealed to the French General Staff with a request to influence the Russian command, which would speed up the offensive of the Russian army and thereby influence the situation on the Italian front. However, the French commander-in-chief, Joffre, was indifferent to this request, since the case did not directly concern France. In addition, the hasty advance of the Russian armies could not alleviate the position of France.
Soon, the Italians directly appealed to the Russian Headquarters with urgent requests for help. Thus, 10 (23) of May 1916, military attache General K. Porro, asked Russian colonel P. Enkel, who was in Rome, to state on behalf of the Italian army commander L. Cadorna Alekseev that “a fervent request to accelerate the beginning of the Russian army’s offensive ". At the same time, the head of the Italian military mission in the Russian Empire, Colonel P. Romei, on Cadorna’s request, sent a similar request to Alekseev. 12 (25) May Romei repeated the request. Alekseev’s telegram said: “The Italian headquarters most energetically insist that the Russian army immediately launch an offensive on the Austrian front, and argues that the current lull in the actions of the Russian armies creates a very serious danger to the allies. If the energetic offensive against us of the Austrians continues, not only will any possibility of an Italian attack on the Isonzo be eliminated, but in the near future it is foreseen that we must be forced to set up this line ... ” In addition, the king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, addressed a personal telegram to Emperor Nicholas II.
General Alekseev, regarding the Italians' requests as the result of the confusion of the highest Italian command, believed that the immediate offensive of the Russian army would upset the plans for a concerted Allied offensive. He also noted that the Italians did not take into account the fact that even with the full success of the Russian offensive, the Austrians could not quickly transfer troops from the Italian front to Galicia because of the weakness of the railway network. “To draw us into the immediate attack without proper preparation,” Alekseev noted, “means to bring further disorder into the general plan of the allies and to doom our actions to failure.”
Nevertheless, the Russian Headquarters once again decided to help the allies. 11 (24) of May 1916, commander of the Southwestern Front, General Brusilov, received a telegram from General Head Alekseyev, Chief of Staff, in which, on behalf of the Supreme Commander Nicholas II, the possibility of an offensive in the near future was raised due to the need to withdraw some enemy forces from the Italian front, where the Italian army suffered a heavy defeat from the Austrians. At the same time, Alekseev, the commander-in-chief of the Northern and Western fronts, pointed out the need to speed up preparations for the offensive in order to be able to begin military operations earlier than the intended date, if the situation demands it.
In response, Brusilov announced the readiness of all armies of the front to attack 19 May (1 June), provided that the Western Front under the command of Evert also launched an offensive at the same time in order to chain the troops against him. Brusilov also asked to send one army corps to his disposal, to transfer the 33 Morty Division from the Northern Front, to additionally allocate shells for heavy artillery and 20 million rifle cartridges. The chief of staff of the headquarters of the Supreme Commander Alekseev promised to transfer the 33 Mortar Division to the South-Western Front, and to allocate 10 million of cartridges. But he refused to strengthen the front with one body and in additional shells for heavy artillery. At the same time, Alekseev still noted that the South-Western Front would carry out an "auxiliary attack". It was also recommended to strengthen the attack of the 8-th army not to launch the offensive by the other armies of the front.
Alekseev's words caused Brusilov to be perplexed, who asked us to strengthen the Southwestern front at least a little, given the correlation of forces on the Northern and Western fronts that was much more advantageous for us. Brusilov also rejected Alekseev’s proposal to strike with the 8 Army alone, as this contradicted the basic idea of his plan: “I consider it necessary to produce private attacks by all the army simultaneously with the main attack of the 8 Army in order to pin down the enemy and prevent it from strengthening against the 8 Army.
Soon, more soberly assessing the situation, the Headquarters satisfied Brusilov’s request to transfer another corps to the South-Western Front. 18 (31) of May Alekseev informed Brusilov that the 5 of the Siberian Corps had been handed over to him. On the same day, a directive was issued on the transition of the Russian army to the offensive. The decision taken at the Mogilev meeting of 1 (14) of April was upheld, but some changes were made to it. The western front still delivered the main blow. An auxiliary but strong blow was to be delivered by the South-Western Front. The northern front was tasked to divert the enemy’s attention with demonstrative actions, especially in the Riga region, and to take decisive action in a favorable environment. The northern front was also to provide reliable protection of the Petersburg, Polotsk directions and the right flank of the Western front. The South-Western Front was to go on the offensive on May 22 (June 4), the Western Front on May 28-29 (June 10-11) 1916.
Commander-in-Chief of the Southwestern Front Alexey Brusilov
At dawn 22 May (4 June) the thunder of two thousand guns announced the beginning of the Russian offensive. This morning, our 11-I army of Sakharov and 9-I Amiya Lechitsky attacked. 23 of May (5 of June) went on the attack of the regiment of 8-th army of Kaledin, and 24 of May (6 of June) - of the 7-th army of Shcherbachev, who conducted a more thorough artillery preparation. The fire of the Russian artillery was very effective, which was the result of a thorough preliminary preparation of the operation. Passages were made in the wire obstacles, and the trenches of the first and part of the second lines were destroyed. The greatest success was achieved in the zone of the 8 th army of Kaledin. By the end of the first day of the offensive, Kaledin's regiment broke through the first line of defense of the enemy and began his pursuit.
Kaledin's right-flank 8-Army attacked 23 in May (5 in June). General Alexey Kaledin brought into battle 12 infantry and 7 cavalry divisions 170; there were a number of axes with 582 guns against 12 infantry and 4 cavalry divisions of the enemy - 160 thousands of soldiers and 766 guns (the Linsingen division of the drawers and the GnUMX squadrons of the enemy; 4 thousand soldiers and 4 guns; the Linsingen group and the GnUMX divisions of the enemy; 5 thousand soldiers and 15 guns; the Linsingen group and the GnUMX divisions of the enemy; 23 thousand soldiers and 26 guns; the Linsingen group and the GnUMX divisions of the enemy; 46 thousand soldiers and 8 guns; the Linsingen group and the GnUMX divisions of the enemy; XNUMX, thousand soldiers and XNUMX guns; the Linsingen group and the GnUMX divisions; XNUMX, thousand soldiers and XNUMX guns army). Difficult terrain - solid swamps, prevented the offensive and did not allow the Russian army to use the powerful cavalry fist - XNUMX th cavalry corps of General Gillenschmidt and XNUMX th Vellyashev cavalry (XNUMX thousand sabers). Although originally, Brusilov wanted to take Kovel, an important knot of enemy communications in the rear, with a swift cast of cavalry. However, the difficult conditions of the area, the location in Polesie of strong buildings Gower and Fata made this plan impossible. Therefore, General Gillenschmidt chose XNUMX-XNUMX in May to attack together with the troops of General Istomin's XNUMX Corps. Thus, the right wing of the XNUMX Army could not make deep coverage in the direction of Kovel. However, the enemy troops were shocked and suffered heavy losses.
8 Army Commander Alexey Kaledin
In the direction of Kovel, the 30 corps of General Zayonchkovsky and the 39 corps of General Stelnitsky attacked. In the course of fierce three-day battles, they threw the left flank of the 4 of the Austro-Hungarian Army across the Styr river, the 2 of the Austro-Hungarian corps. In these battles in the 39-corps, the 407-th Saransk infantry regiment, who captured the 3300 man, was particularly distinguished. Thus, if on the Kovel direction our troops achieved only tactical success, then on Lutsk there was a decisive victory.
The brilliant breakthrough of 40 Corps of General Koshtalinsky in the battles of 23-24 in May defeated the center of the 4 of the Austro-Hungarian Army - the 10 of the Army Corps. At the same time, Bulatov's 8 Corps (he temporarily replaced Dragomirov) completely smashed the right-flank consolidated corps. In the 2 th rifle division of General Belozor, the 5 and 6 regiments were especially notable, opening the way for the 40 corps to Olyka and Lutsk. In Denikin’s 4 Rifle Division, the first failure of all six lines of enemy positions was the 3 Battalion of the 13 Rifle Regiment, Captain Timanovsky, the future commander of the Markov Division. Archduke Joseph Ferdinand withdrew his defeated 4 Army for Styr, and here on May 25 (June 7) she was finally defeated. On this day, our 14-Infantry Division forced Styr, and Denikin’s iron arrows stormed into Lutsk.
At the same time, the left flank of the 8 Army - Fedotov's 32 Corps, fought hard with the left wing of the Austro-Hungarian 1 on the Reek Ikve River. Kaledin strengthened the 32 Corps with its only reserve - the 14 Army Corps. 25 May our troops crossed the river Ikwa.
Thus, in the battle of Lutsk 23-25 in May, the troops of the 8 army achieved a serious victory. Our troops took 45 ths prisoners, 66 guns, 71 mortars and bombers and 150 machine guns. The 40 corps captured most of the booty - half of the prisoners and two third guns. Linsingen Group lost more than half of its membership.
Describing the situation of that time, the quarter-general of the 8 Army, Major-General N. N. Stogov noted: “... The defeat of the Austrians in the Kovel and Vladimir-Volyn areas was revealed in its entirety. The mass readings of the prisoners paint a hopeless picture of the Austrian retreat: a crowd of unarmed Austrians of various parts fled in panic through Lutsk, throwing everything in their path. Many prisoners showed that they were ordered to throw everything in order to facilitate retreat, except weapons... The demoralization was also seized by the officers of the defeated Austrian regiments: many prisoners claimed that the officers were almost the first to go to the rear, leaving the soldiers in the care of non-commissioned officers. The usual picture of the malnutrition and fatigue of the troops during the withdrawal unfolded to the full extent. ”
However, there were drawbacks. The right flank of the 8 Army (46 Army and 4 Cavalry Corps) could not complete the task. The headquarters of the 8 Army was poorly versed in the situation, otherwise it was not he who strengthened his left flank (32 corps), but his center, the most successful 40 corps to develop the offensive. In addition, in the center it was necessary to concentrate most of the cavalry, the Austrians retreated in panic, and throwing our cavalry into the breached gap would lead to the capture of most of the artillery (most of the guns the Austrians took out) and capture the headquarters of the 4 of the Austrian army. But most of the cavalry fumbled in the Kovel marshes and could not shake the fruits of the breakthrough of our infantry. On the Lutsk direction there was only one 12-I cavalry division, but it remained behind the 8-corps. Kaledin forbade her to pursue a defeated enemy. In general, Kaledin did not realize the full significance of the victory and restrained the troops who were rushing forward, who felt the taste of victory, did not pursue the enemy, trimmed his corps, waited for further instructions from the front headquarters.
In turn, the headquarters of the Southwestern Front at the beginning of the Lutsk breakthrough did not realize the significance of this victory. Brusilov, bound by the instructions of the Stavka, was waiting for success on the Kovel direction to help the strike of the Western Front. 26 May Brusilov ordered Kaledin to hold the victorious 40 and 8 corps, trimming them with the flanks of the army. And the Stavka was looking not at the South-Western Front, but at the Western Front of Evert. Although, if the Headquarters had in time reinforced the South-Western Front with several corps that were inactive on the Western and Northern fronts, then Brusilov’s army could crush the entire Austrian front, which led to a strategic turning point in the entire war.
To be continued ...