Conrad hints, in his memoirs—and other writers have gone further—that the railway-technicians behaved incompetently. This was unfair: the railway-technicians had simply behaved according to a plan that Conrad had prescribed for them. II Army did, in fact arrive in Galicia on schedule—about the 24th day of mobilisation—although with a few exceptions that had nothing to do with the technicians. On the other hand, the technicians failed in so far as they did not respond to the crisis with any imagination. A more rapid despatch of II Army could, probably, have been attained. But the technicians behaved with incurable routine-mindedness, impenetrable smugness. They exaggerated the difficulties of their task—made out, for instance, that they had over 11,000 transports to cater for, where the true figure for the Russian front was less than 2,000, the technicians having increased it by including return of empty trains from Galicia and small-scale suburban movements in Lwów, Cracow and elsewhere. In the same way, they demanded great reserves of rolling-stock which were never used—suspending the country’s commercial life for three or four weeks just the same. They acted according to out-of-date ideas of what the railways could do. No military train had more than fifty carriages, the lines’ capacity being supposedly capable of only this. In practice, the great Nordbahn from Vienna to the north and Cracow usually took a hundred-waggon trains. The military failed to use with any intensity the line between Budapest and Przemyśl, supposing it to be a poor, mountain railway, not a double-tracked line capable of taking quite fast and heavy trains on most sections. On the contrary, the technicians behaved as if the railways of the Monarchy were primitive affairs, mismanaged by civilians who needed a dose of military efficiency. They behaved with a crazy caution that ruled out improvisation. In order to preserve ‘a uniform pattern’ in the movement of mobilisation-trains, all of these were told to go at ‘maximum parallel graphic’—meaning the maximum speed of the slowest train on the worst line, with only minor variations. The average speed of Austro-Hungarian mobilisation-trains was therefore less than that of a bicycle. Moreover, troop-trains were arbitrarily halted for six hours every day for ‘feeding-pauses’, despite their having field-kitchens with them in the trains. Since stations with the necessary equipment did not regularly occur on the lines, this meant that troops would travel for hours without being fed, then to be given two square meals, more or less in succession, in the middle of the night. Journeys lasted for an astonishing time. III Army command, for instance, left Bratislava at 6 a.m. on 5th August, and arrived in Sambor at the same hour on 10th August—a performance of which a healthy walker would have been capable. IV Army Command took forty hours travelling between Vienna and the San—three times as long as usual. Yet all this was maintained with a contempt for civilians and a stupefying assertion of the superior virtues of the military. The railway-technicians often talked of their great clockwork; but it was a machine that owed something to the cuckoo.
Just the same, the blame for difficulties in mobilisation lies mainly with Conrad. He had sanctioned the original plan, by which the corps of II Army were scheduled to arrive in Galicia only by the 24th day of mobilisation. It was he, also, who sanctioned the change of plan, by which these corps were told to go south. The most important effect of this was not the delay in going north again; it was rather that, to let the movement to the south go on, the first day of the general mobilisation, of the rest of the army corps, against Russia, had been postponed to 4th August. This meant that the 24th day of mobilisation, on which the corps of II Army were supposed to arrive in Galicia, would not be until 28th August—indeed, before 11th August there seems to have been astonishingly little movement at all on the lines to Galicia. The main forces for Galicia would not be able to collect before the 15th–19th days of mobilisation—now, between 19th and 23rd August. IV Army, for instance, had collected fifty-seven battalions and thirty-nine batteries on 13th August, and its full force—120 battalions and sixty-three batteries—only by 23rd August. This was a peculiar method of exploiting the supposedly slow mobilisation of the Russian army. Besides, the troops of II Army were not able, after all, to leave entirely as scheduled. The Balkan commander, Potiorek, had decided to attack Serbia, and began—with Conrad’s support—in mid-August. The offensive came across difficult country in the western part of Serbia; the Austrians were inexperienced, out-numbered; the Serbians knew the country well and had a row of victories behind them. The Austrians advanced confidently, regarding the Serbs much as the British regarded the Turks later on, as upstart monkeys who needed to be taught a lesson in western warfare. Putnik, the Serbian commander, behaved sensibly—letting the Austrians advance some way until they were beset by supply problems, then attacking their flank, and driving them back to the border. Potiorek turned to II Army, the divisions of which were strung out along the rivers to the north. Conrad gave him one of its corps—8.—and allowed a second—4.—to be dragged into the Balkan action. In this way, only two of II Army’s corps left as intended for Galicia, beginning on 18th August; one corps did not go at all; and the other, 4., left only beginning on 24th August, ran into difficulties on the Hungarian railways, and reached Galicia only in the first week of September.
Only two of II Army’s corps arrived, even by 28th August, in Galicia. But there were further delays in the assembly of the other three armies. Conrad had decreed that their troops should be unloaded at stations on the San and Dniester—clearly intending á purely defensive action, while the other armies defeated Serbia. On 31st July, he returned to his old plan, of attacking from Galicia. But the unloading-points could not, now, be altered. The original unloading-points for IV Army had been Lwów, Gliniany and other stations quite close to the Russian border. They had been altered to become Jaroslau, Przemyśl, and stations on the river San. The army’s forces had been supposed to reach these advanced unloading-points between the 12th and 18th days of mobilisation. Instead, these days found them far to the rear. 2. Corps’s three divisions, for instance, arrived on 12th, 16th, and 20th August at Jaroslau on the San, not at Zolkiew, near Lwów; 6. Corps unloaded two divisions at Przemyśl, not Lwów, on 17th August, and another on 20th August. In the same way, the corps of III Army were unloaded at Stryj and Sambor, on the Dniester—even in some cases at Chyrów, far in the rear, and Varannó, on the Hungarian side of the Carpathians. Since Conrad had now returned to his scheme of an attack from Galicia, these troops were set to march forward, up to a hundred miles that they could quite easily have covered by rail. Far from taking advantage of Russian unreadiness, the Austrians fought the opening battles some way inside their own territory; and the full-scale engagements in Galicia did not even begin until long after decisive events were under way on the French and East Prussian fronts.
The army’s deployment did not offer much promise of success. Supply-lines functioned inefficiently: the station-master at Podborze in Austrian Silesia broke down, reversed all his signals, held up eight troop trains for several hours, and shot himself in the subsequent investigation. Austro-Hungarian infantry tended to fire at Austro-Hungarian aircraft, such that IV Army had to issue an order, several times repeated, that no aircraft should be fired on—three Austro-Hungarian planes having been already shot down by the army. Staff-work was not efficient, the telephones at times close to breakdown from the volume of talk, de-coding of important messages, even in army headquarters, sometimes taking fifteen hours. There were actions on the frontier, to which commanders reacted with exaggeration—expecting their men to die a hero’s death for the sake of some customs-post or other. In this first period, the major activity was an Austro-Hungarian cavalry raid—ten divisions, drawn up in a semi-circle, riding off into the unknown. There were engagements, of a romantic, old-fashioned sort: the largest of them on 20th August at Jaroslawice, where two cavalry divisions wheeled around and sabred each other, the commanders having tacitly agreed to behave as if the twentieth century had not happened. This went on until a Russian infantry unit arrived to spoil the performance. In any case, the Austrians could not ride far, because they had insisted on using a saddle that only well-prepared horses could use. It was designed to give the rider a fine seat on parade, but, with the requisitioned horses, turned out to rub the skin from their backs in hot weather. Many Austrian cavalrymen arrived back on foot, leading their mounts. In any case, the supplying of these horses soon broke down. ‘By the third week of August, almost half of the horses were out of action, and the other half very nearly so’. The main effect of these cavalry battles was to draw in infantry units that would best have been spared for more serious business.
From the beginning, the Austro-Hungarian forces in Galicia were bedevilled, not only by delays, but also by a fundamental uncertainty as to what they were meant to achieve. They were supposed to attack. But attack from the semi-circle of Galicia was difficult—if Conrad attacked on the western side, his eastern flank would be increasingly bared; yet if the attack went to the east, it would run into all manner of difficulties. Railways were few; roads, on the Russian side, few; the Germans far away; the attackers maybe exposed to some Russian stroke against their communications to the west. In July 1914, Conrad opted for the western attack. His I and IV Armies, drawn up east of Cracow and on the San, were not too far from the Russian border, concentrated before the other armies, and could move north against a flank with German troops not too distant. This was a good enough plan. Conrad did not, however, allot enough force for it. In the first place, because of subtractions to the Balkan front, thirty-seven, and not forty, infantry divisions would now assemble in Galicia; and some of these would arrive only late—four only by 28th August, two others only by 4th September, at that, at stations some way behind the front line. Up to 28th August, Conrad had, in effect, only thirty-one infantry divisions in the area, although Landsturm formations could, despite their weakness, at least swell the numbers involved. Moreover, the concentration was not great enough for Conrad’s purposes. I Army, in the west, had three army corps; IV Army, to its right, had three, to which a fourth was attached from the Balkans—these two to form the attacking force, going north. The eastern side was protected by III Army, marching forward to Lwów, and the nucleus of II Army, collecting on the Dniester (at Stanislav). Together, they had, at the outset, four corps, to which two were to come from the Balkans. Conrad later made out, again, that technical, railway-factors had determined this, since the corps could only be delivered to the front in this way. But there was not much in this explanation. The deployment reflected Conrad’s irresolution, not ‘railway-necessities’. The difficulty was that, as the Austro-Hungarian attack developed to the north, its eastern flank would be increasingly bared. Coverage for that flank would be essential for the attack to succeed. Yet troops were not sufficient to achieve both coverage for the flank and sufficient strength for the front of attack. Conrad compromised—gave troops that were not sufficient for coverage, but that also weakened too far the front of attack. Having gone this far, Conrad found that III and II Armies, on the defensive, eastern side, had four army corps, with another due to come in. To leave them far to the rear was thought to be impossible. They too must march forward to engage the Russians. On 18th August these corps were marched forward to Lwów and towns to the south-east of it: taking, inevitably, up to eight days in covering seventy miles or so. Conrad told them to wage ‘an active defensive’—they could not do nothing, but quite what they were to do remained imprecise. Brudermann, commanding III Army, was full of fight. He would advance boldly against the Russians in eastern Galicia. Conrad let him do so, subsequently blaming him for disobedience. Indeed, he later made out that intelligence-services had failed to reveal the true strength of Russian forces in this area. There was, again, nothing substantial in this explanation—the intelligence-maps of IV Army showed, on 10th August, six Russian corps (7. to 12. inclusive) at Kazatin, Zhmerinka and Dubno; on 13th August the maps showed, rightly, 21. Corps as well; and by 14th August the Austrian high command was already reporting to its liaison officer with the Germans in East Prussia a commendably accurate picture of Russian deployment—at Dubno, the Russian 11. Corps; over the eastern Galician border, ‘certainly’ 7.8. and 12. Corps and ‘probably’ 9.10. and 21. The only corps missed out was 24. which arrived from Bessarabia only some time later. In this way, Austro-Hungarian intelligence itself showed that the four corps of Brudermann’s group would be taking on seven Russian corps, a force double their size. Moreover, instead of waiting—as the German VIII Army did in East Prussia—Brudermann’s group was advancing into the path of these Russian forces, many of the divisions already exhausted by various peregrinations before they even joined battle.
This had been allowed by Conrad for the sake of his attack to the north. His I and I V Armies were ready before III, and advanced towards the border from 19th August. Confidence seems to have been astonishingly high. A governor-general of Warsaw—Count Collard—was appointed; IV Army command issued instructions for severe treatment of the Russian population, excepting Jews; a warning was even issued to the troops that cholera had broken out ‘in distant parts of Russia’, and troops must therefore do without alcohol, which would weaken resistance to the disease. The German VIII Army was also asked to co-operate, by launching an attack on the northern flank of the Polish salient over the Narev—an attack that, in Prittwitz’s circumstances, could only be lunatic, but regarded by Conrad—or so he later alleged—as an indispensable part of his plan.
At least for the attack on I and IV Armies, Conrad was running into roughly equal forces, such that tactical factors might give him some chance of success. In practice, Russian miscalculations gave him a rather better chance in this than perhaps he deserved. The Russians performed almost in reverse what Conrad had done—running head-on into his attack on the northern side, failing at the outset to use their superiority on the eastern side. No one man had dominated planning on the Russian side as Conrad had dominated it on the Austrian. The armies in Galicia adopted in essence two plans—one by Alexeyev, for a stroke against the Austrian railways leading to Cracow, and one by the General Staff, under Danilov, for an attack along the Carpathians from the eastern border of Galicia. These plans had been originally based on a supposition, at the time correct, that the Austro-Hungarian armies would be concentrated in north-eastern and eastern Galicia. Alexeyev’s attack would cut their communications; Danilov’s would bind them in eastern Galicia, and prevent them from disturbing operations against the Germans. In practice, Danilov, once in Stavka, had decided to give backing to Alexeyev’s scheme as well as his own, because it would cover the concentration of the new IX Army being assembled around Warsaw. These two, almost irreconcilable, schemes were adopted and dressed up, in orders issued by Stavka, as a plan for ‘double envelopment’ of the Austro-Hungarian army. In practice, the risk was not as great as it might have been, because mobilisation went faster than planned. Conrad later claims to have been surprised by this; but he had been warned, in spring 1914, that it might occur. By the plan of 1912, the Russian army was supposed to have, against the Austrians, thirty-six and a half divisions by the 25th day of mobilisation, forty and a half by the 30th, forty-two and a half by the 35th and forty-six and a half by the 40th.13 In 1914, thirty-five infantry and twelve and a half cavalry divisions were ready by the 18th day of mobilisation (the Austrians at that time had less than thirty) including both III and VIII Armies, on the eastern border of Galicia. By the 25th day, five more divisions had arrived; by the 30th another five, and six cavalry divisions—making in all forty-five infantry divisions. As well, IX Army was diverted late in August from Warsaw to the Austro-Hungarian front, such that by the 30th day of mobilisation, the Russian armies operating on the Austrian front contained fifty-three and a half infantry divisions and eighteen cavalry divisions; the Austrians presenting by then thirty-seven infantry divisions and some Landsturm brigades, with two German Landwehr divisions, and ten cavalry divisions. If there was to be a competition in blundering, the Russians could therefore afford it much more easily than the Austrians—the more so as each of their divisions was stronger than an Austro-Hungarian division, generally by twelve guns, or twenty-five per cent.
To start with, Russian blundering mattered more. IV Army, to the west, and V Army on its left, were set to advance south against the Austrians’ I and IV Armies, advancing north. Here, there was a rough equality of numbers—three corps each in the Russian IV and the Austrian I, four each in the Russian V and the Austrian IV, roughly 350,000 men on either side. Further east, where the Russian III and VIII Armies were to operate against the Austro-Hungarian III, there was a substantial Russian superiority. For various reasons, this did not tell in the opening round. Russian planners had supposed that the bulk of Austrian troops would be here, not further west. There were strong indications, quite early on, that this was not so, that the main Austro-Hungarian concentration was further west; indeed, on 22nd August Yanushkevitch suggested to Alexeyev that this was the case, that the attack of his IV and V Armies ‘no longer corresponds to circumstances’, and that III and VIII Armies should move forward more quickly. The next day he said ‘the Austrians may have collected troops further west than we have so far supposed’—characteristically adding that he had no proposals to make. But it was one thing for Stavka, even Ivanov and Alexeyev, commanding the army group, to come to recognitions of this kind; it was a different matter altogether for the army commanders on the spot. There were, at the time, only nine Austrian divisions in the path of the twenty-two of the Russian III and VIII Armies; but Ruzski, commanding III Army, behaved with the utmost caution. He acted as if old suppositions held good—that the Austrians would concentrate thirty divisions in eastern Galicia by the 15th day of mobilisation. He kept his four corps bunched together by Beresteczko, announced that VIII Army was not ready for battle, advanced even on Russian territory at a rate of five miles a day, and crossed the border only on 20–21st August. As in East Prussia, staff-work was inadequately done. In Cholm, headquarters of the army group, Ivanov and Alexeyev quarrelled as to who should open telegrams first; two copies of each were prepared, for commander and chief of staff; each then wrote different orders in consequence. In III Army command, matters were strained between Ruzski, a Sukhomlinovite, and his chief of staff Dragomirov, who also quarrelled with the operations-chief, Bonch-Bruyevitch. Not until 26th August did the considerable Russian superiority on this side become effective, even then only because Brudermann advanced into it, and it was less effective, on 26th August, than it could have been.