1812 – Russia’s War Machine I

Apart from the Romanovs, the greatest beneficiaries of eighteenth-century Russia’s growing wealth were the small group of families who dominated court, government and army in this era and formed the empire’s aristocratic elite. Some of these families were older than the Romanovs, others were of much more recent origin, but by Alexander I’s reign they formed a single aristocratic elite, united by wealth and a web of marriages. Their riches, social status and positions in government gave them great power. Their patron–client networks stretched throughout Russia’s government and armed forces. The Romanovs themselves came from this aristocratic milieu. Their imperial status had subsequently raised them far above mere aristocrats, and the monarchs were determined to preserve their autonomy and never allow themselves to be captured by any aristocratic clique. Nevertheless, like other European monarchs they regarded these aristocratic magnates as their natural allies and companions, as bulwarks of the natural order and hierarchy of a well-run society.

The aristocracy used a number of crafty ways to preserve their power. In the eighteenth century they enlisted their sons in Guards regiments in childhood. By the time they reached their twenties, these sprigs of the aristocracy used their years of ‘seniority’ and the privileged status of the Guards to jump into colonelcies in line regiments. Catherine the Great’s son, Paul I, who reigned from 1796 to 1801, stopped this trick but very many of the aristocrats in senior posts in 1812–14 had benefited from it. Even more significant was the use made by the aristocracy of positions at court. Though mostly honorific, these positions allowed young gentlemen of the bedchamber (Kammerjunker) and lords in waiting (Kammerherr) to transfer into senior positions in government of supposedly equivalent rank.

In the context of eighteenth-century Europe there was nothing particularly surprising about this. Young British aristocrats bought their way rapidly up the military hierarchy, sat in Parliament for their fathers’ pocket boroughs and sometimes inherited peerages at a tender age. Unlike the English, Russian aristocrats did not control government through their domination of Parliament. A monarch who bungled policy or annoyed the Petersburg elite too deeply could be overthrown and murdered, however. Paul I once remarked that there were no Grands Seigneurs in Russia save men who were talking to the emperor and even their status lasted only as long as the emperor deigned to continue the conversation. He was half correct: Russian magnates were more subservient and less autonomous than their equivalents in London or Vienna. But he was also half wrong and paid for his miscalculation with his life in 1801, when he was murdered by members of the aristocracy, outraged by his arbitrary behaviour, led by the governor-general of Petersburg, Count Peter von der Pahlen.

The Russian aristocracy and gentry made up the core of the empire’s ruling elite and officer corps. But the Romanovs ruled over a multi-ethnic empire. They allied themselves to their empire’s non-Russian aristocracies and drew them into their court and service. The most successful non-Russian aristocrats were the German landowning class in the Baltic provinces. By one conservative estimate 7 per cent of all Russian generals in 1812 were Baltic German nobles. The Balts partly owed their success to the fact that, thanks to the Lutheran Church and the eighteenth-century Enlightenment in northern Europe, they were much better educated than the average Russian provincial noble.

There was nothing unusual at the time in an empire being ruled by diverse and alien elites. In its heyday, the Ottoman ruling elite was made up of converted Christian slaves. The Ching and Mughal empires were run by elites who came from beyond the borders of China or the subcontinent. By these standards, the empire of the Romanovs was very Russian. Even by European standards the Russian state was not unique. Very many of the Austrian Empire’s leading soldiers and statesmen came from outside the Habsburgs’ own territories. None of Prussia’s three greatest heroes in 1812–14 – Blücher, Scharnhorst or Gneisenau – was born a Prussian subject or began his career in the Prussian army.

It is true that there were probably more outsiders in the Russian army than in Austria or Prussia. European immigrants also stood out more sharply in Petersburg than in Berlin or Vienna. In the eighteenth century many European soldiers and officials had entered Russian service in search of better pay and career prospects. In Alexander’s reign they were joined by refugees fleeing the French Revolution or Napoleon. Above all, European immigrants filled the gap created by the slow development of professional education or a professional middle class in Russia. Doctors were one such group. Even in 1812 there were barely 800 doctors in the Russian army, many of them of German origin. Military engineers were also in short supply. In the eighteenth century Russian engineers had been the younger brothers of the artillery and came under its jurisdiction. Though they gained their independence under Alexander, there were still too few trained engineer officers trying to fulfil too diverse a range of duties and Russia remained in search of foreign experts whom it might lure into its service. On the eve of 1812 the two most senior Russian military engineers were the Dutchman Peter van Suchtelen and the German Karl Oppermann.

An even more important nest of foreigners was the quartermaster-general’s department, which provided the army’s general staff officers. Almost one in five of the ‘Russian’ staff officers at the battle of Borodino were not even subjects of the tsar. Fewer than half had Slav surnames. The general staff was partly descended from the bureau of cartography, a very specialized department which required a high level of mathematical skill. This ensured that it would be packed with foreigners and non-Russians. As armies grew in size and complexity in the Napoleonic era, the role of staffs became crucial. This made it all the more galling for many Russians that so large a proportion of their staff officers had non-Russian names. In addition, Napoleon’s invasion in 1812 set off a wave of xenophobia in Russia, which sometimes targeted ‘foreigners’ in the Russian army, without making much distinction between genuine foreigners and subjects of the tsar who were not ethnic Russians. Without its non-Russian staff officers the empire could never have triumphed in 1812–14, however. Moreover, most of these men were totally loyal to the Russian state, and their families usually in time assimilated into Russian society. These foreign engineers and staff officers also helped to train new generations of young Russian officers to take their places.

For the tsarist state, as for all the other great powers, the great challenge of the Napoleonic era was to mobilize resources for war. There were four key elements to what one might describe as the sinews of Russian power. They were people, horses, military industry and finance. Unless the basic strengths and limitations of each of these four elements is grasped it is not possible to understand how Russia fought these wars or why she won them.

Manpower was any state’s most obvious resource. At the death of Catherine II in 1797 the population of the Russian empire was roughly 40 million. This compared with 29 million French subjects on the eve of the Revolution and perhaps 22 million inhabitants of the Habsburgs’ lands at that time. The Prussian population was only 10.7 million even in 1806. The United Kingdom stood somewhere between Prussia and the larger continental powers. Its population, including the Irish, was roughly 15 million in 1815, though Indian manpower was just becoming a factor in British global might. By European standards, therefore, the Russian population was large but it was not yet vastly greater than that of its Old Regime rivals and it was much smaller than the human resources controlled by Napoleon. In 1812 the French Empire, in other words all territories directly ruled from Paris, had a population of 43.7 million. But Napoleon was also King of Italy, which had a population of 6.5 million, and Protector of the 14 million inhabitants of the Confederation of the Rhine. Some other territories were also his to command: most notably from the Russian perspective the Duchy of Warsaw, whose population of 3.8 million made a disproportionate contribution to his war effort in 1812–14. A mere listing of these numbers says something about the challenge faced by Russia in these years.

From the state’s perspective the great point about mobilizing the Russian population was that it was not merely numerous but also cheap. A private in Wellington’s army scarcely lived the life of a prince but his annual pay was eleven times that of his Russian equivalent even if the latter was paid in silver kopeks. In reality the Russian private in 1812 was far more likely to be paid in depreciating paper currency worth one-quarter of its face value. Comparisons of prices and incomes are always problematic because it is often unclear whether the Russian rubles cited are silver or paper, and in any case the cost of living differed greatly between Russia and foreign countries, above all Britain. A more realistic comparison is the fact that even in peacetime a British soldier received not just bread but also rice, meat, peas and cheese. A Russian private was given nothing but flour and groats, though in wartime these were supplemented by meat and vodka. The soldiers boiled their groats into a porridge which was their staple diet.

A Russian regiment was also sometimes provided not with uniforms and boots but with cloth and leather from which it made its own clothing and footwear. Powder, lead and paper were also delivered to the regiments for them to turn into cartridges. Nor was it just soldiers whose labour was used for free by the state. A small minority of conscripts were sent not to the army but to the mines. More importantly, when Peter the Great first established the ironworks which were the basis of Russian military industry he assigned whole villages to work in them in perpetuity. He did the same with some of the cloth factories set up to clothe his army. This assigned labour was all the cheaper because the workers’ families retained their farms, from which they were expected to feed themselves.

So long as all European armies were made up of long-serving professionals the Russian military system competed excellently. The system of annual recruit levies allowed the Russian army to be the largest and cheapest in Europe without putting unbearable pressure on the population. Between 1793 and 1815, however, changes began to occur, first in France and later in Prussia, which put a question mark against its long-term viability. Revolutionary France began to conscript whole ‘classes’ of young men in the expectation that once the war was over they would return to civilian life as citizens of the new republic. In 1798 this system was made permanent by the so-called Loi Jourdain, which established a norm of six years’ service. A state which conscripted an entire age group for a limited period could put more men in the ranks than Russia. In time it would also have a trained reserve of still relatively young men who had completed their military service. If Russia tried to copy this system its army would cease to be a separate estate of the realm and the whole nature of the tsarist state and society would have to change. A citizen army was barely compatible with a society based on serfdom. The army would become less reliable as a force to suppress internal rebellion. Noble landowners would face the prospect of a horde of young men returning to the countryside who (if existing laws remained) were no longer serfs and who had been trained in arms.

In fact the Napoleonic challenge came and went too quickly for the full implications of this threat to materialize. Temporary expedients sufficed to overcome the emergency. In 1807 and again in 1812–14 the regime raised a large hostilities-only militia despite the fears of some of its own leaders that this would be useless in military terms and might turn into a dangerous threat to the social order. When the idea of a militia was first mooted in the winter of 1806–7, Prince I. V. Lopukhin, one of Alexander’s most senior advisers, warned him that ‘at present in Russia the weakening of ties of subordination to the landowners is more dangerous than foreign invasion’. The emperor was willing to take this risk and his judgement proved correct. The mobilization of Russian manpower through a big increase in the regular army and the summoning of the militia just sufficed to defeat Napoleon without requiring fundamental changes in the Russian political order.

Next only to men as a military resource came horses, with which Russia was better endowed than any other country on earth. Immense herds dwelt in the steppe lands of southern Russia and Siberia. These horses were strong, swift and exceptionally resilient. They were also very cheap. One historian of the Russian horse industry calls these steppe horses ‘a huge and inexhaustible reserve’. The closest the Russian cavalry came to pure steppe horses was in its Cossack, Bashkir and Kalmyk irregular regiments. The Don Cossack horse was ugly, small, fast and very easy to manoeuvre. It could travel great distances in atrocious weather and across difficult terrain for days on end and with minimal forage in a way that was impossible for regular cavalry. At home the Cossack horse was always out to grass. In winter it would dig out a little trench with its front hoofs to expose roots and grasses hidden under the ice and snow. Cossacks provided their own horses when they joined the army, though in 1812–14 the government did subsidize them for animals lost on campaign. Superb as scouts and capable of finding their way across any terrain even in the dark, the Cossacks also spared the Russian regular light cavalry many of the duties which exhausted their equivalents in other armies: but the Russian hussar, lancer and mounted jaeger regiments also themselves had strong, resilient, cheap and speedy horses with a healthy admixture of steppe blood.

Traditionally the medium (dragoon) and heavy (cuirassier) horses had been a much bigger problem. In fact on the eve of the Seven Years War Russia had possessed no viable cuirassier regiments and even her dragoons had been in very poor shape. By 1812, however, much had changed, above all because of the huge expansion of the Russian horse-studs industry in the last decades of the eighteenth century. Two hundred and fifty private studs existed by 1800, almost all of which had been created in the last forty years. They provided some of the dragoon and most of the cuirassier horses. British officers who served alongside the Russians in 1812–14 agreed that the heavy cavalry was, in the words of Sir Charles Stewart, ‘undoubtedly very fine’. Sir Robert Wilson wrote that the Russian heavy cavalry ‘horses are matchless for an union of size, strength, activity and hardiness; whilst formed with the bulk of the British cart-horse, they have so much blood as never to be coarse, and withal are so supple as naturally to adapt themselves to the manege, and receive the highest degree of dressing’.

If there was a problem with the Russian cuirassier horse it was perhaps that it was too precious, at least in the eyes of Alexander I. Even officially these heavy cavalry horses cost two and a half times as much as a hussar’s mount, and the horses of the Guards cuirassiers – in other words the Chevaliers Gardes and Horse Guard regiments – cost a great deal more. Their feeding and upkeep were more expensive than that of the light cavalry horses and, as usual with larger mounts, they had less endurance and toughness. Since they came from studs they were also much harder to replace. Perhaps for these reasons, in 1813–14 the Russian cuirassiers were often kept in reserve and saw limited action. Alexander was furious when on one occasion an Austrian general used them for outpost duty and allowed them to sustain unnecessary casualties.

Russian military industry could usually rely on domestic sources for its raw materials with some key exceptions. Much saltpetre needed to be imported from overseas and so too did lead, which became an expensive and dangerous weakness in 1807–12 when the Continental System hamstrung Russian overseas trade. Wool for the army’s uniforms was also a problem, because Russia only produced four-fifths of the required amount. There were also not enough wool factories to meet military demand as the army expanded after 1807. The truly crucial raw materials were iron, copper and wood, however, and these Russia had in abundance. At the beginning of Alexander’s reign Russia was still the world’s leading iron producer and stood second only to Britain in copper. Peter the Great had established the first major Russian ironworks to exploit the enormous resources of iron ore and timber in the Urals region, on the borders of Europe and Siberia. Though Russian metallurgical technology was beginning to fall well behind Britain, it was still more than adequate to cover military needs in 1807–14. The Ural region was far from the main arms-manufacturing centres in Petersburg and in the city of Tula, 194 kilometres south of Moscow, but efficient waterways linked the three areas. Nevertheless, any arms or ammunition produced in the Urals works would not reach armies deployed in Russia’s western borderlands for over a year.

Arms production fell into two main categories: artillery and handheld weapons. The great majority of Russian iron cannon were manufactured in the Alexander Artillery Works in Petrozavodsk, a small town in Olonets province north-east of Petersburg. They were above all designed for fortresses and for the siege train. Most of the field artillery came from the St Petersburg arsenal: it produced 1,255 new guns between 1803 and 1818. The technology of production was up to date in both works. In the Petersburg Arsenal a steam-powered generator was introduced in 1811 which drove all its lathes and its drilling machinery. A smaller number of guns were produced and repaired in the big depots and workshops in Briansk, a city near the border of Russia and Belorussia. Russian guns and carriages were up to the best international standards once Aleksei Arakcheev’s reforms of the artillery were completed by 1805. The number of types of gun was reduced, equipment was standardized and lightened, and careful thought went into matching weapons and equipment to the tactical tasks they were intended to fulfil. The only possible weakness was the Russian howitzers, which could not be elevated to the same degree as the French model and therefore could not always reach their targets when engaged in duels with their French counterparts. On the other hand, thanks to the lightness of their carriages and the quality of their horses the Russian horse artillery was the most mobile and flexible on the battlefield by 1812–14.

The Russian Army of 1812

The Russian Army of 1812

Russian Artillery of the Napoleonic War

1812 – Russia’s War Machine II

The situation as regards handheld firearms was much less satisfactory. Muskets were produced in three places: the Izhevsk works in Viatka province near the Urals turned out roughly 10 per cent of all firearms manufactured in 1812–14: many fewer were produced at the Sestroretsk works 35 kilometres from Petersburg, though Sestroretsk did play a bigger role in repairing existing weapons; the city of Tula was therefore by far the most important source of muskets in 1812–14.

The Tula state arms factory had been founded by Peter the Great in 1712 but production was shared between it and private workshops. In 1812, though the state factory produced most of the new muskets, six private entrepreneurs also supplied a great many. These entrepreneurs did not themselves own factories, however. They met state orders partly from their own rather small workshops but mostly by subcontracting the orders to a large number of master craftsmen and artisans who worked from their own homes. The war ministry complained that this wasted time, transport and fuel. The state factory was itself mostly just a collection of smallish workshops with production often by hand. The labour force was divided into five crafts: each craft was responsible for one aspect of production (gun barrels, wooden stocks, firing mechanisms, cold steel weapons, all other musket parts). Producing the barrels was the most complicated part of the operation and caused most of the delays, partly because skilled labour was in short supply.

The biggest problem both in the factory and the private workshops was out-of-date technology and inadequate machine tools. Steam-powered machinery was only introduced at the very end of the Napoleonic Wars and in any case proved a failure, in part because it required wood for fuel, which was extremely expensive in the Tula region. Water provided the traditional source of power and much more efficient machinery was introduced in 1813 which greatly reduced the consumption of water and allowed power-based production to continue right through the week. Even after the arrival of this machinery, however, shortage of water meant that all power ceased for a few weeks in the spring. In 1813, too, power-driven drills for boring the musket barrels were introduced: previously this whole job had been done by hand by 500 men, which was a serious brake on production. A Russian observer who had visited equivalent workshops in England noted that every stage in production there had its own appropriate machine tools. In Tula, on the contrary, many specialist tools, especially hammers and drills, were not available: in particular, it was almost impossible to acquire good steel machine tools. Russian craftsmen were sometimes left with little more than planes and chisels.

Given the problems it faced, the Russian arms industry performed miracles in the Napoleonic era. Despite the enormous expansion of the armed forces in these years and heavy loss of weapons in 1812–14, the great majority of Russian soldiers did receive firearms and most of them were made in Tula. These muskets cost one-quarter of their English equivalents. On the other hand, without the 101,000 muskets imported from Britain in 1812–13 it would have been impossible to arm the reserve units which reinforced the field army in 1813. Moreover, the problems of Russian machine tools and the tremendous pressures for speed and quantity made it inevitable that some of these muskets would be sub-standard. One British source was very critical of the quality of Tula muskets in 1808, for example. On the other hand, a French test of muskets’ firing mechanisms concluded that the Russian models were somewhat more reliable than their own, though much less so than the British and Austrian ones. The basic point was that all European muskets of this era were thoroughly unreliable and imperfect weapons. The Russian ones were undoubtedly worse than the British, and probably often worse than those of the other major armies too. Moreover, despite heroic levels of production in 1812–14 the Russian arms industry could never supply enough new-model muskets to ensure that all soldiers in a battalion had one type and calibre of firearm, though once again Russia’s was an extreme example of a problem common to all the continental armies.

Perhaps the quality of their firearms did exert some influence on Russian tactics. It would have been an optimistic Russian general who believed that men armed with these weapons could emulate Wellington’s infantry by deploying in two ranks and repelling advancing columns by their musketry. The shortcomings of the Russian musket were possibly an additional reason for the infantry to fight in dense formations supported by the largest ratio of artillery to foot-soldiers of any European army. However, although the deficiencies of the Russian musket may perhaps have influenced the way the army fought, they certainly did not undermine its viability on the battlefield. The Napoleonic era was still a far cry from the Crimean War, by which time the Industrial Revolution was beginning to transform armaments and the superiority of British and French rifled muskets over Russian smoothbores made life impossible for the Russian infantry.

The fourth and final element in Russian power was fiscal, in other words revenue. Being a great power in eighteenth-century Europe was very expensive and the costs escalated with every war. Military expenditure could cause not just fiscal but also political crisis within a state. The most famous example of this was the collapse of the Bourbon regime in France in 1789, brought on by bankruptcy as a result of the costs of intervention in the American War of Independence. Financial crisis also undermined other great powers. In the midst of the Seven Years War, for example, it forced the Habsburgs substantially to reduce the size of their army.

The impact of finance on diplomatic and military policy continued in the Napoleonic era. In 1805–6 Prussian policy was undermined by lack of funds to keep the army mobilized and therefore a constant threat to Napoleon. Similarly, in 1809 Austria was faced with the choice of either fighting Napoleon immediately or reducing the size of its army, since the state could not afford the current level of military expenditure. The Austrians chose to fight, were defeated, and were then lumbered with a war indemnity which crippled their military potential for years to come. An even more crushing indemnity was imposed on Prussia in 1807. In 1789 Russia had a higher level of debt than Austria or Prussia. Inevitably the wars of 1798–1814 greatly increased that debt. Unlike the Austrians or Prussians, in 1807 Russia did not have to pay an indemnity after being defeated by Napoleon. Had it lost in 1812, however, the story would have been very different.

Even without the burdens of a war indemnity Russia suffered financial crisis in 1807–14. Ever since Catherine II’s first war with the Ottomans (1768–74) expenditure had regularly exceeded revenue. The state initially covered the deficit in part by borrowing from Dutch bankers. By the end of the eighteenth century this was no longer possible: interest payments had become a serious burden on the treasury. In any case the Netherlands had been overrun by France and its financial markets were closed to foreign powers. Even before 1800 most of the deficit had been covered by printing paper rubles. By 1796 the paper ruble was worth only two-thirds of its silver equivalent. Constant war after 1805 caused expenditure to rocket. The only way to cover the cost was by printing more and more paper rubles. By 1812 the paper currency was worth roughly one-quarter of its ‘real’ (i.e. silver) value. Inflation caused a sharp rise in state expenditure, not least as regards military arms, equipment and victuals. To increase revenue rapidly enough to match costs was impossible. Meanwhile the finance ministry lived in constant dread of runaway inflation and the complete collapse in trust in the paper currency. Even without this, dependence on depreciating paper currency had serious risks for the Russian army’s ability to operate abroad. Some food and equipment had to be purchased in the theatre of operations, above all when operating on the territory of one’s allies, but no foreigner would willingly accept paper rubles in return for goods and services.

At the death of Catherine II in 1796 Russian annual revenue amounted to 73 million rubles or £11.7 million; if collection costs are included this sinks to £8.93 million, or indeed lower if the depreciating value of the paper ruble is taken into account. Austrian and Prussian revenues were of similar order: in 1800, for example, Prussian gross revenue was £8.65 million: in 1788 Austrian gross revenue had been £8.75 million. Even in 1789, with her finances in deep crisis, French royal revenue at 475 million francs or £19 million was much higher. Britain was in another league again: the new taxes introduced in 1797–9 raised her annual revenue from £23 million to £35 million.

If Russia nevertheless remained a formidable great power, that was because crude comparisons of revenue across Europe have many flaws. In addition, as we have seen in this chapter, the price of all key military resources was far cheaper in Russia than, for example, in Britain. Even in peacetime, the state barely paid at all for some services and goods. It even succeeded in palming off on the peasantry part of the cost of feeding most of the army, which was quartered in the villages for most of the year. In 1812 this principle was taken to an extreme, with massive requisitioning and even greater voluntary contributions. One vital reason why Russia had been victorious at limited cost in the eighteenth century was that it had fought almost all its wars on enemy territory and, to a considerable extent, at foreign expense. This happened too in 1813–14.

In 1812–14 the Russian Empire defeated Napoleon by a narrow margin and by straining to breaking point almost every sinew of its power. Even so, on its own Russia could never have destroyed Napoleon’s empire. For this a European grand alliance was needed. Creating, sustaining and to some extent leading this grand alliance was Alexander I’s greatest achievement. Many obstacles lay in Alexander’s path. To understand why this was the case and how these difficulties were overcome requires some knowledge of how international relations worked in this era.

Alexander I understood the power of regimental solidarity and tried to preserve it by ensuring that as far as possible officers remained within a single regiment until they reached senior rank. Sometimes this was a losing battle since officers could have strong personal motivation for transfer. Relatives liked to serve together. A more senior brother or an uncle in the regiment could provide important patronage. Especially in wartime, the good of the service sometimes required transferring officers to fill vacancies in other regiments. So too did the great expansion of the army in Alexander’s reign. Seventeen new regiments were founded between 1801 and 1807 alone: experienced officers needed to be found for them. In these circumstances it is surprising that more than half of all officers between the rank of ensign and captain had served in only one regiment, as had a great many majors. Particularly in older regiments such as the Grenadiers, the Briansk or Kursk infantry regiments, or the Pskov Dragoons the number of officers up to the rank of major who had spent their whole lives in the regiments was extremely high. As one might expect, the Preobrazhensky Guards, the senior regiment in the Russian army, was the extreme case, with almost all the officers spending their whole careers in the regiment. Add to this the fact that the overwhelming majority of Russian officers were bachelors and the strength of their commitment to their regiments becomes evident.

Nevertheless, the greatest bearers of regimental loyalty and tradition were the non-commissioned officers. In the regiments newly formed in Alexander’s reign, the senior NCOs arrived when the regiment was created and served in it for the rest of their careers. Old regiments would have a strong cadre of NCOs who had served in the unit for twenty years or more. In a handful of extreme cases such as the Briansk Infantry and Narva Dragoons every single sergeant-major, sergeant and corporal had spent his entire military life in the regiment. In the Russian army there was usually a clear distinction between the sergeant-majors (fel’dfebeli in the infantry and vakhmistry in the cavalry) on the one hand, and the ten times more numerous sergeants and corporals (unterofitsery) on the other. The sergeants and corporals were mostly peasants. They gained their NCO status as veterans who had shown themselves to be reliable, sober and skilled in peacetime, and courageous on the battlefield. Like the conscript body as a whole, the great majority of them were illiterate.

The sergeant-majors on the other hand were in the great majority of cases literate, though particularly in wartime some illiterate sergeants who had shown courage and leadership might be promoted to sergeant-major. Many were the sons of priests, but above all of the deacons and other junior clergy who were required to assist at Orthodox services. Most sons of the clergy were literate and the church could never find employment for all of them. They filled a key gap in the army as NCOs. But the biggest source of sergeant-majors were soldiers’ sons, who were counted as hereditary members of the military estate. The state set up compulsory special schools for these boys: almost 17,000 boys were attending these schools in 1800. In 1805 alone 1,893 soldiers’ sons entered the army. The education provided by the schools was rudimentary and the discipline was brutal but they did train many drummers and other musicians for the army, as well as some regimental clerks. Above all, however, they produced literate NCOs, imbued with military discipline and values from an early age. As befitted the senior NCO of the Russian army’s senior regiment, the regimental sergeant-major of the Preobrazhenskys in 1807, Fedor Karneev, was the model professional soldier: a soldier’s son with twenty-four years’ service in the regiment, an unblemished record, and a military cross for courage in action.

Although the fundamental elements of the Russian army were immensely strong, there were important weaknesses in its tactics and training in 1805. With the exception of its light cavalry, this made it on the whole inferior to the French. The main reason for this was that the French army had been in almost constant combat with the forces of other great powers between 1792 and 1805. With the exception of the Italian and Swiss campaigns of 1799–1800, in which only a relatively small minority of regiments participated, the Russian army lacked any comparable wartime experience. In its absence, parade-ground values dominated training, reaching absurd levels of pedantry and obsession at times. Partly as a result, Russian musketry was inferior to French, as was the troops’ skill at skirmishing. The Russians’ use of massed bayonet attacks to drive off skirmishers was costly and ineffective. In 1805–6 Russian artillery batteries were often poorly shielded against the fire of enemy skirmishers.

The army’s worst problems revolved around coordination above the level of the regiment. In 1805 there were no permanent units of more than regimental size. At Austerlitz, Russian and Austrian columns put together at the last moment manoeuvred far less effectively than the permanent French divisions. In 1806 the Russians created their own divisions but coordination on the battlefield remained a weakness. The Russian cavalry would have been hard pressed to emulate Murat’s massed charge at Eylau. The Russian artillery certainly could not have matched the impressive concentration and mobility of Senarmont’s batteries at Friedland.

Most important, however, were weaknesses in the army’s high command, meaning the senior generals and, above all, the supreme commanders. At this level the Russians were bound to be inferior to the French. No one could match a monarch who was also a military genius. Although the Russian military performance was hampered by rivalry among its generals, French marshals cooperated no better in Napoleon’s absence. When Alexander seized effective command from Kutuzov before Austerlitz the result was a disaster. Thoroughly chastened, Alexander kept away from the battlefield in 1806–7. This solved one problem but created another. In the absence of the monarch the top leader needed to be a figure who could command obedience both by his reputation and by being unequivocally senior to all the other generals. By late 1806, however, all the great leaders of Catherine’s wars were dead. Mikhail Kutuzov was the best of the remaining bunch but he had been out of favour since Austerlitz. Alexander therefore appointed Field-Marshal Mikhail Kamensky to command the army on the grounds of his seniority, experience and relatively good military record. When he reached the army Kamensky’s confused and even senile behaviour quickly horrified his subordinates. As one young general, Count Johann von Lieven, asked on the eve of the first serious battles with the French: ‘Is this lunatic to command us against Napoleon?’

The Sukhoi Su-34 (Su-27IB)

In Soviet and Russian habit, bomber aircraft have been divided into two basic categories. Tactical, or so-called Frontal, bombers were tasked with attacking targets located in the operational-tactical depth of a Front, in other words at ranges beyond the reach of fighter- bombers. Strategic bombers, classed as long-range and, later, intercontinental, were designed to attack targets beyond the boundaries of one or more theatres of military operations. The ‘frontal’ bomber of the 1970s was the Su-24, whose nominated successor is the Su-34. As with ‘Ilya Muromets’, Su-34 betrays some peculiarly Russian characteristics. The robust undercarriage allows the use of unsurfaced runways. The elegant nose section contains a side-by-side cabin for the two crew members; the cabin is armoured, with up to 17mm of titanium to give protection against conventional antiaircraft fire at low levels. Similar armour protection is also disposed around the fuel tanks and engines. In a unique provision for long-range flight, the cabin is of such dimensions that the crew can walk about upright inside it; it is equipped with a toilet, and with a level of pressurisation that allows the crew to work unmasked.

The Su-34 long-range fighter-bomber (istrebitel bombardirovshchik) is a sophisticated derivative of the Su-27. Carrying an 8 tonne warload, it has a combat radius of 1,130km at low level and a maximum unrefuelled ferry range of 4,500km. Practical maximum range with one air-to-air refuelling is a staggering 7,000km. 

Due to its carefully shaped nose, which blends elegantly (and quite stealthily) into the canard foreplane and wing leading edge, the Su-34 has acquired the unofficial nickname of ‘Platypus’. Armament on 10 external stores pylons (under each intake duct, on each wingtip, three under each wing) can be Kh-31A/P (AS-17 ‘Krypton’) ASMs under ducts, R-73A (AA-11 ‘Archer’) AAMs on wingtips; a 500kg laser-guided bomb inboard, TV/laser-guided Kh-29 (AS-14 ‘Kedge’) ASM on central pylon and RVV-AE (R-77; AA-12 ‘Adder’) AAM outboard under each wing. 

The Su-34 was supposed to replace all in-service Su-24s by 2005, although this timetable now appears highly unlikely; reconnaissance and EW versions are reportedly under development. Its side-by-side cockpit has formed the basis of the proposed Su-30-2 long-range interceptor and the Su-33KUB carrier combat trainer. From 2005 it is intended to fit Su-34 with AL-41F engines equipped with thrust vectoring. 

Compared with the Su-27, the Su-34 possesses a completely new and wider front fuselage containing two seats side by side; wing extensions taken forward as chines to blend with the dielectric nose housing nav/attack and terrain-following/avoidance radar; deep fairing behind wide humped canopy; small foreplanes; louvres on engine air intake ducts reconfigured; new landing gear; broader-chord and thicker tailfins, containing fuel; no ventral fins; and a longer, larger diameter tailcone. This has been raised and now extends as a spine above the rear fuselage to blend into the rear of the cockpit fairing. It houses at its tip a rearward-facing radar to detect aircraft approaching from the rear. The landing gear is retractable tricycle type; strengthened twin nosewheel unit with KN-27 wheels, tyre size 680x260mm, farther forward than on Su-27 and retracting rearward; main units have small tandem KT-206 wheels with tyres size 950x400mm, carried on links fore and aft. Twin cruciform brake-chutes repositioned in spine to rear of spine/fairing juncture. 

The power plant is two Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F turbofans; each 74.5kN (16,755 lb st) dry and 122.6kN (27,557 lb st) with afterburning. Later, two AL-31FM or AL-35F turbofans, each 125.5-137.3kN (28,220-30,865 lb st) with afterburning. Additional fuel is housed in the tailfins. Retractable flight refuelling probe beneath port windscreen. 

Accommodation for the two crew is side by side on K-36DM zero/zero ejection seats. Access to the cockpit is via a built-in extending ladder to a door in the nosewheel bay. The area is protected with 17mm of titanium armour (the total weight of armour plating to protect the cabin, engine bays and fuel tank area is 1,480kg). The dual-control cabin is uniquely spacious for an aircraft in this class, and is designed to ensure maximum crew comfort and efficiency on extended missions. Cabin height and layout allows the crew to stand at full height and move around freely, to visit their toilet and galley installed inside the deep fuselage section aft of the cockpit. At altitudes up to 10,000m the cabin is pressurised to 2,400m, which allows the crew to operate unmasked. The avionic suite includes Leninetz multifunction phased-array radar with high resolution; and a rearward-facing radar in tailcone. Instrumentation is by MFDs. There is a self- defence internal ECM fit. Su-34’s armament consists of one 30mm GSh-301 gun, as in the Su-27. Twelve pylons for high-precision self- homing and guided ASMs and KAB-500 laser-guided bombs with ranges of 135 n miles (250km; 155 miles); R-73 (AA-11 ‘Archer’) and RVV-AE (R-77; AA-12 ‘Adder’) AAMs. Believed to be the principal platform for Vympel’s rearward-firing R-73.

Su-34M modernised version will feature a new electro-optical infrared targeting pod, a Kopyo-DL rearward facing radar that can warn the pilots if missiles are approaching, combined with automatic deployment of countermeasures and jamming.

The Russian Air Force Su-34 modernization program, also referred to as Su-34M, is aimed at making the Su-34 platform more survivable in the 2020s environment. So far, the development effort focuses on the Tarantul electronic warfare (EW) system that will render the aircraft or a group of aircraft immune to detection by hostile radars as well as improved performance avionics that could help improve flight qualities. Another item that may be integrated into the Su-34M is a laser jamming system to blind infrared guided missiles and electro-optical sighting systems. The Su-34M weapon system may include a new modification of the Kh-35 anti-ship missile (Kh-35UE) and a new generation of aero ballistic missiles. The modernization program is slated to begin before the end of 2018 with the Su-34M cleared out for operational deployment by 2020.

General characteristics

    Crew: 2

    Length: 23.34 m (76 ft 7 in)

    Wingspan: 14.7 m (48 ft 3 in)

    Height: 6.09 m (20 ft 0 in)

    Wing area: 62.04 m2 (667.8 sq ft)

    Airfoil: 5%

    Empty weight: 22,500 kg (49,604 lb)

    Gross weight: 39,000 kg (85,980 lb)

    Max takeoff weight: 45,100 kg (99,428 lb)

    Fuel capacity: 12,100 kg (26,676 lb) internals

    Powerplant: 2 × Saturn AL-31FM1 afterburning turbofan engines, 132 kN (30,000 lbf) with afterburner


    Maximum speed: 2,000 km/h (1,200 mph, 1,100 kn) / M1.8 at high altitude

                1,400 km/h (870 mph; 760 kn) / M1.2 at low altitude

    Combat range: 1,100 km (680 mi, 590 nmi) (standard 8,000 kg weapons load), 1,000+ km (max 12,000 kg weapons load)

    Ferry range: 4,000 km (2,500 mi, 2,200 nmi)

    Service ceiling: 15,000 m (49,000 ft)

    g limits: +9

    Thrust/weight: 0.68


    Guns: 1 × 30 mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-1 autocannon with 180 rounds

    Hardpoints: 12 × on wing and fuselage with a capacity of 10,000kg (21,600lb),with provisions to carry combinations of:


            B-8 rocket pods for 20 × S-8KOM/OM/BM

            B-13 rocket pods for 5 × S-13T/OF

            O-25 rocket pods for 1 × S-25OFM-PU



            Air-to-air missiles:

                2 × R-27R/ER/T/ET

                2 × R-73

                2 × R-77

            Air-to-surface missiles:






            Anti-ship missiles:



                P-800 Oniks weight of 1500 kg with a range of up to 300 km and a speed in the range of numbers M = 2.2–3.0. Officially not in service.


            Anti-radiation missiles:




            Cruise missiles:





            KAB-500KR TV-guided bomb

            KAB-500L laser-guided bomb

            KAB-500OD guided bomb

            KAB-500S-E satellite-guided bomb

            KAB-1500KR TV-guided bomb

            KAB-1500L laser-guided bomb

            OFAB-250-270 bomb

            OFAB-100-120 bomb

            FAB-500T general-purpose bomb

            2 × BETAB-500SHP

            P-50T bomb

            ODAB-500PM bomb

            RBK-500 cluster bomb

            SPBE-D bomb


    V004 passive electronically scanned array radar

    Khibiny electronic countermeasures system

    SAP-14 electronic coutermeasures system

    SAP-518 electronic coutermeasures system

    UKR-RT SIGINT radio surveillance system

    L150 Pastel radar warning receiver

Peter’s Triumph: Battle of Poltava


After the worst of the cold spell was over the Swedes attempted to capture the hilltop fort of Veprik. The first attempt was repelled with 400 Swedes killed and another 600 wounded. The casualties were heaviest among the officers, and Field Marshal Rehnskiöld was among the wounded. Veprik surrendered to the Swedes on the night of 7–8 January 1709.

Leaving Field Marshal Rehnskiöld in charge of the winter camp, Karl XII carried out a merciless winter campaign against the Russians, capturing several towns and—taking a page from Peter—laying waste the countryside to provide more security for the Swedish encampment. In a lightning raid on Menshikov’s headquarters, Karl XII nearly captured the Russian general, who managed to flee, but the raid killed 400 of his men while only two Swedes were killed. An early thaw began in mid-February, turning the ground to mud. Campaigning for both Russians and Swedes was impossible.

Rumors from the north reported that a large Russian army was now heading for Poland. This, combined with the fact that the king of Poland and General Krassow would probably not arrive, prompted Count Karl Piper to recommend a retreat to Poland. The advice was rejected by Karl XII. He had in effect decided to move the Swedish camp to new positions between the Psiol and Vorksla rivers. The main army went into quarters in March and April along the Vorksla, two miles south of Poltava, a fortress that commanded the road to Moscow.

The Swedes began a siege of Poltava on 1 May but made little headway. The siege followed what may have been a peace feeler by Peter the Great in the guise of a prisoner exchange. The message was carried by Erik Johan Eh -ren roos, who had been captured at Lesnaya. The message was simply that Peter was inclined to make peace but would not give up St. Petersburg. The reply was sent back by Ehrenroos on 1 May and it ignored the peace offering.

Karl XII’s search for allies had meantime proved fruitless. The Khan of the Crimean Tartars was ready to provide support, but he was a vassal of the sultan in Constantinople who had decided not to get involved and forbade the Khan from doing so. The rebellion by the Zaporozhian Cossacks was put down by the Russians in May 1709.

The Russians were eager to prevent the Swedes from capturing the Poltava fort because its vast stores of supplies would provide those sorely needed by Karl XII’s men. They made an unsuccessful attempt to force their way across the Vorskla River. At a Russian war council it was decided to cross the river far enough from Poltava to avoid the Swedish defenses, and the spot selected was Petrovka. The operation was given urgency by a message from the fort’s commandant that he would not be able to hold out much longer. The Swedes were, however, aware of the Russian plan and their own plan called for allowing a large portion—but not all—of the enemy army to cross before attacking.


The Swedish king had received a foot wound on 17 June from a musket fired from an island in the river while he was reconnoitering the bank. The wound was sustained around 0800 hours but the king continued his rounds before returning to his headquarters around 1100 hours where he fainted while trying to get off his horse. The musket ball struck the heel of his left foot and traveled the length of his sole before it exited.

Rehnskiöld, with ten cavalry and eight infantry regiments, had been given the mission to execute the agreed upon plan against the Russian crossing. The king would remain at Poltava but would join the field marshal to take part in the battle as soon as the situation at Poltava allowed. This was before he was wounded.

After he was wounded but still able to issue orders, he left it up to his field marshal whether or not to fight at Petrovka. The field marshal consulted his senior commanders and all agreed not to fight the battle, not only because of the king being wounded but also because the Russians were already well entrenched. Some historians have criticized the field marshal’s decision and claimed the failure not to attack the Russians at Petrovka contributed to the disaster that followed. While he was recovering from his wound, Karl XII received definite word that neither Stanislaw nor General Krassow was coming, since they were fully engaged in Poland.

The Russians began building a second fortified camp just north of Poltava. It was fortified on three sides while the side facing the river was left open as no threat there existed. It was a strong camp but had the disadvantage that if forced to retreat the Russians would have to retrace their steps back to Vorskla since only one track led directly to the river from the encampment. A battle had become inevitable after the Russians brought their main army across, and neither side had good withdrawal routes, being virtually surrounded by rivers.

The Russian camp was built in the form of a quadrilateral, with strong redoubts that would channel the attacks and keep the attacking columns in a deadly crossfire as long as possible. The southern side was difficult to attack because of ravines and woods. The western side faced an open plain with a forest behind it. Between this forest and the one on the south side was a piece of open ground. The Russians built six redoubts and were in the process of building four more when the battle started.

The Swedish strength consisted of 8,200 infantry, 7,800 cavalry, 1,000 irregular Wallachians, 1,300 siege-work troops with 2 guns, a baggage train protected by 2,000 cavalry and 28 guns, an unknown number of Zaporozhian Cossacks, and 1,800 cavalry along the lower Vorskla. The Russian forces consisted of 25,500 infantry with 73 pieces of artillery, 9,000 cavalry with 13 pieces of artillery, a redoubt force of 4,000 infantry with 16 artillery pieces, vthe Poltava garrison of 4,000 infantry with 28 cannons, an outpost at Yakovtsi with 2,000 troops equally divided between infantry and cavalry, and an unknown number of Cossacks.

The appalling picture painted by the above order of battle is not only in the fact that the Swedes were heavily outnumbered in infantry, but that they had no artillery placed to assist in the battle. Of their 30 pieces, two were with the besiegers of Poltava and the other 28 were with the baggage train! The Russians, on the other hand, had 130 artillery pieces.

The Swedes were outnumbered almost 3 to 1, the enemy had complete dominance in artillery, and the Swedes were going against a well entrenched foe which normally requires a superiority of 3 to 1. Only an unabashed believer in miracles could expect the Swedes to prevail under these circumstances. Since the king had decided to be carried onto the battlefield on a litter, he failed to appoint a single overall battle commander, and the orders were issued in such a hurry that by the time they got to battalion and company level there was not enough time to become familiar with them. Finally, the personality and tactical eye of the king was not present to give his troops the morale lift they sorely needed.

The Swedes had expected to launch a surprise attack at first light on June 28, and for that purpose some of the troop movements took place shielded by the woods to their rear. However, the Russians learned about the Swedish plans and moved strong cavalry forces behind their redoubts. When the Swedes realized that their surprise had been discovered they hurried their preparations. Orders went out to change from a line formation to a column in approaching the enemy positions. This caused further confusion. The Russian artillery had already opened fire on the Swedes. Rehnskiöld commanded the Swedish right and Roos the center, while Lewenhaupt commanded the left.

The Swedes easily captured the first two redoubts but bitter fighting ensued for the rest, and the attackers were severely mauled. The dust raised by the cavalry and the smoke from artillery and muskets ruined visibility. One part of the Swedish army under General Roos became separated from the rest, attacked and surrounded by cavalry, and relief forces were unable to break through. Having failed to take all the T-shaped redoubts the Swedes began to withdraw.

The Russians now came out of their entrenchments and prepared to attack. The Swedes decided to take the initiative with their own attack. The king, who was consulted, suggested that it was best to first get rid of the enemy cavalry. This was probably the best thing to do in this impossible situation, but when Rehnskiöld told him it was impossible the king is alleged to have muttered, “Well, you must do as you will.”

The Swedes thereupon launched an infantry attack while posting their cavalry in the rear. The depleted Swedish infantry lines—no more than 4,000 strong—faced 18,000 Russian infantry supported by over 70 field guns. The Cossacks were asked to bring their 28 guns forward but it was too late.

The Swedish right drove the Russians back and captured some field guns which they turned against their enemy. However, a gap had developed between some of the regiments, and Russian infantry poured into that gap. Panic began to set in among the Swedish infantry, and Lewenhaupt’s attempt to halt the stampede failed. Rehnskiöld, who tried to come to Lewenhaupt’s aid, was captured. Most of the Swedish infantry which had crossed the field against the Russian lines was destroyed.

Roos, who had earlier become separated from the main Swedish army after he lost 1,100 men in attacking the redoubts, withdrew to the south, not knowing where the main army was. He was pounced upon by Russian cavalry and infantry and forced to surrender his remnants.

The battle was over but the killing continued. With Rehnskiöld and Piper captured, Lewenhaupt was left in command. Karl XII was in the middle of the debacle and tried his best to stem the stampede, but his feeble voice could not be heard above the din. The murderous fire was like a great scythe bringing down men, horses, and trees. Twenty-one of the king’s twenty-four litter-carriers were killed, and the litter was finally shattered. It looked like the king would be captured but an officer stopped, dismounted, and lifted Karl into the saddle, only to have the horse shot from under him. Another horse was provided but now his wound was fully reopened and bleeding profusely.

The Swedish cavalry, which was basically intact, covered the remnants of the infantry in their withdrawal to the camp at Pushkarivka. The reserve regiments, artillery, and Mazeppa’s Cossacks were placed in defensive positions around the camp. The two infantry regiments besieging Poltava managed to fight their way through the Russian lines to the camp. Most of the defeated army had reached the camp by noon. The Swedes had left some ten thousand on the battlefield, 6,901 dead and 2,760 prisoners. The Russian losses were relatively light: 1,345 killed and 3,290 wounded. It was almost the exact opposite of previous Swedish-Russian encounters.

No immediate pursuit was launched by the Russians, as their troops were almost as confused as the Swedes, and Peter wanted to celebrate the victory. The Swedish army had been defeated but it had not surrendered. About 16,000 Swedes gathered at Pushkarivka to join the approximately 6,000 Cossacks already there.

Future plans had to be laid and they boiled down to a retreat to Poland to join Stanislaw and Krassow by one of several routes known to the Cossacks. The first leg of the retreat was a withdrawal to Perevolotjna, at the junction of the Vorskla and Dnieper rivers. The route would then go north to the Vorskla fords, cross the river and move south along the Dnieper to the Khan’s dominions and join the king at Ochakov on the Black Sea from where the entire army would return to Poland. The baggage was sent ahead and the infantry and cavalry followed under the command of General Kreutz. Horses were gathered for the infantry to increase the speed. The march continued through the heat of the day of 28 June and through most of the night. The whole army arrived safely at Perevolotjna on 30 June.

The first order of business was to get the Cossacks, starting with the leadership, across the Dnieper to safety since the Russians would not show them any mercy. To do otherwise would be a stain on Swedish honor. Second, the wounded king had to be spirited away to safety in Turkey, despite his own arguments to stay with the army. Lewenhaupt chose to remain with the army after he gave the king his word that he would continue the fight; but he chose his words carefully. The Cossack leaders were moved across the river on 30 June, followed by the king and his group the following day.

General Menshikov appeared with 6,000 dragoons and 2,000 Cossacks early on 1 July and asked for a parley. Kreutz was sent to find out what terms the Russians were offering. He came back stating that Menshikov offered normal surrender terms. Lewenhaupt consulted his colonels and they asked what the king’s last order had been. Lewenhaupt gave a rather evasive answer that he had only asked the army to “defend itself as long as it could.” Lewenhaupt directed the colonels to poll the soldiers if they were willing to fight. This was contrary to all Swedish army practice. The answer from the soldiers was that they would fight if the others did.

The surrender—termed by some as shameful—took place at 1100 hours on 1 July: 1,161 officers and 13,138 non-commissioned officers and men filed into Meshikov’s camp and laid down their arms. Englund gives higher figures for the Swedes who were surrendered (see below). Only few ever saw their homeland again. It should be noted that several of the Swedish regiments had seen little action, particularly the cavalry which was virtually intact. The Swedes actually outnumbered Menshikov’s tired troops, and an inspiring and resolute combat leader would have opted for a daring attack rather than captivity. Lewenhaupt was no such leader. The 5,000 Cossacks who had remained with Lewenhaupt were not included in the capitulation, and most grabbed horses and rode away, but some were caught, tortured in the most brutal manner, and killed.

Englund gives precise and startling figures of the losses sustained by the Swedish army—which had numbered 49,500 the previous summer. He notes that almost exactly 20,000 entered captivity and when the roughly 2,800 taken prisoner during the battle are added, he arrives at a grand total of about 23,000 prisoners.

Karl XII reached the Bug River on 7 July and entered the Ottoman Empire on 10 July, eventually joined by about 1,800 of his troops. They were granted asylum and treated as welcomed guests. The last action was that of the rearguard on the other side of the Bug when it was caught by Russian cavalry. The 300 Swedes surrendered, but an equal number of Cossacks fought to the last man.


It is not surprising that the consequences of a battle historians have long considered one of most decisive in history would be great and long-lasting. Here we will only deal with the immediate effects.

The results of the battle shocked Europe; in a matter of days the whole political situation on the continent had been changed. However, the Great Northern War dragged on, inconclusively, for another decade, which caused great fiscal strain and disaffection in war-weary Sweden.

The scavengers moved in to carve up the carcass of the Swedish Empire. Denmark seized Schleswig, Bremen, and Verden, but turned some of those territories over to Hannover in order to gain its alliance. Danish forces also invaded southern Sweden but were defeated by General Magnus Stenbock in the Battle of Helsingborg in February 1710, forcing them to withdraw across the Sound. Stenbock then proceeded to Germany where he defeated the Danish army at the Battle of Gadebusch in 1712. He was thereafter set upon by much stronger allied forces and compelled to surrender in 1713. Russia occupied Poland, Karelia, Livonia, Estonia, and Ingria. Augustus (who was reinstated as King of Poland), moved against Pomerania with a Saxon-Polish army but was stopped. The Saxons and Russians were also repulsed from Stralsund in 1713. A Russian fleet defeated a Swedish squadron in the Gulf of Finland in the Battle of Hangö in 1714. However, they did not yet feel strong enough to offer an open challenge to the Swedish navy. There were still some teeth left in the old lion.

Karl XII stayed in exile for four years, trying to convince the sultan to attack Russia. He had some success as Turkey entered the war in October 1710 and moved an army of 200,000 under Grand Vizier Baltaji Mehmet to the Russian frontier. This move by the Ottoman Empire was also encouraged by the French.

An overconfident Tsar Peter invaded Moldavia with 60,000 men, was outmaneuvered by the Turks, and driven back to the Pruth River where his starving army was surrounded in July 1711. Peter had never been in greater peril; however, luck was with him. Rather than forcing Peter to surrender Mehmet entered into negotiations which led to the Treaty of Pruth on 21 July 1711. Among the terms of the treaty was a promise by Peter to withdraw from Poland, stay out of Polish internal affairs, and provide Karl XII a safe passage back to Sweden. Forcing Peter to surrender on the Pruth would have had unimaginable historical consequences.

Karl XII was bitterly disappointed, and stayed in Turkey for the next three years. He wisely did not believe Peter the Great would keep his promise of safe passage any more than he did regarding the Polish provisions. The Swedish king kept insisting that his host should renew the war. Karl was finally placed under house arrest after a fierce hand-to-hand struggle on 1 February 1713. He remained under virtual arrest until he departed the following year. While General Sparre and 1,200 Swedes who had been in Turkey took a separate route, Karl XII in the company of two aides made the dangerous journey, incognito, across the unfriendly states of Europe to enter Stralsund on 11 November 1714.

Will and Ariel Durant present a different version of these events. They write that Karl XII was encouraged to return by the Turks who gave him gifts, money, and a military escort. If Karl was given a military escort, it could only have been as far as the border with the Holy Roman Empire in Hungary. For the rest of the journey through Hungary, Austria, and into Germany southeast of Nuremberg, the king probably traveled incognito. Karl XII stayed in Stralsund helping to fight off a siege, but headed back to Sweden in December 1715 after an absence of more than 15 years.

Galicia 1914 Part I

The German VIII Army in East Prussia had won, at least partly because sense had been imposed on it. The army was small enough to be controlled. The invasion-routes, the lines of retreat, and the possible areas of riposte had been clearly marked-out; there was a railway-system that allowed transport at least of François’s corps; and in any case there were seven other armies in the west to pick up the pieces if things went wrong. The Austro-Hungarian army in Galicia did not have these advantages. The theatre of operations was the sprawling, flat land of southern Poland, with neither railway-lines nor roads prominent—hundreds of featureless miles, dominated either by dust or by mud. Neither Russians nor Austrians had their plans made for them.

On the Austrian side, men felt—characteristically—that something must be done, but they did not perceive quite what might be done. They knew that Austria-Hungary must do something to take the load from Germany’s shoulders when war broke out. The Austro-Hungarian General Staff agreed that, in the event of two-front war, Germany’s most sensible course would be to concentrate against France in the first round; consequently, Austria-Hungary would have to undertake a large part of the work in the east, until German troops could come from France. There were plans for an offensive against Russia, in which the German VIII Army might co-operate. Two factors spoke for this offensive: first, the exposed nature of the Russian position in Poland, which jutted out between the two Central Powers, and where large numbers of Russian troops might be surrounded, and second, the calculation that Russian mobilisation would be slow, slow enough, in the first period, to offset any numerical inferiority of the Central Powers in the longer term. Formally, the Austro-Hungarian plan before 1914 was therefore for a full-scale offensive against Russia; formally, too, there was an undertaking on the Germans’ part that VIII Army would, if possible, contribute a parallel offensive from East Prussia. The Austro-Hungarian chief of staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf, dreamt of expelling the Russians from Poland, and was confident enough, when war broke out, to appoint an Austro-Hungarian governor of Warsaw.

But in Vienna there was always a large gap—perhaps larger than anywhere else—between ideals and reality. The Austro-Hungary army was not strong enough for the rôle cast for it by Conrad. It had steadily declined in relative weight. In the 1880s, Austro-Hungarian planners had supposed that their thirty-two infantry divisions would have to encounter twenty-nine Russian ones. The proportions then changed, and by 1914 the Austro-Hungarians could foresee that about fifty Russian divisions would be mustered against their own forty. The Habsburg Monarchy could not stand the strain of an arms-race; more and more, it became a system of institutionalised escapism, and the chief benefit that it conferred on its subjects was to exempt them from reality. Universal military liability was never seriously asserted: the Hungarians would not give money for it, the military authorities themselves shrank from its consequences, and the people very often expressed their view of it by the simplest method—running away, as Hitler did. Formally, universal conscription was introduced in1868, but money and will were so far lacking that only about one in five of the liable young men ever reached the colours, the rest being exempted under one heading or other, even sometimes by lot-drawing. Even that fifth frequently did not have to serve the full three years prescribed by law, for many were ‘sent on permanent leave’ after two years. The army became so limited in size that many units were amalgamated—resulting in the curious, though not unique, twist that the Austro-Hungarian field army of 1914 contained fewer infantry battalions than the army that had been defeated in 1866, despite a population-increase, since then, of nearly twenty millions. After 1906, there were attempts at reform. But they simply broke into the never-never world of Habsburg politics: Hungarian obstruction, threats of abdication, followed more prosaically by jugglings of half-percentages and promises of petty payments to nationalist blackmailers, until a few coppers rattled through the machine to reward the soldiers for trying. As war approached, the Austro-Hungarian army was less and less capable of sustaining it.

The chief problem was that Austria-Hungary, too, would have to face a two-front war, with means even less adequate than Germany’s. Her forty-eight infantry divisions must take on not only the fifty that Russia could send against them, but also the eleven infantry divisions of the Serbian army. The Serbian problem was difficult to deal with. If Austria-Hungary tried to defeat Serbia in the first period of the war, she would have to assemble some twenty divisions, to be occupied no doubt for a month. This would leave less than thirty for the Russian front—not enough to take advantage even of the very first period of the war, when Russian mobilisation had not yet told to its full extent. It might be better to leave a minimal defensive force against Serbia, and concentrate the rest against Russia, and this, formally, was the Austro-Hungarian plan for war: seven divisions against Serbia, the rest for Russia. In the early period of war, these latter would have superiority—enough at any rate to hold the Russians off while Germany defeated the French. Moltke approved of these plans, and promised support from East Prussia.

These plans took account of everything, except the facts. War was not at all likely to begin with a joint Russo-Serbian declaration of war. On the contrary, it was much more likely that Austria-Hungary would first go to war with Serbia, and that Russia would intervene only later on Serbia’s side. If it came to an Austro-Serbian war, then a substantial part of the Austro-Hungarian army would have to go south—about twenty divisions were foreseen—while the rest of the army was not mobilised. If Russia then came into the war, the rest of the army would indeed be mobilised, but, with less than thirty divisions, it would not suffice for the great offensive that Conrad had promised Moltke. Troops would have to be brought back from Serbia. But two things counted against this: first, the relative poverty of the railway-links between south and north-east, second the inadvisability of suspending a campaign against Serbia in the middle. Before 1914, men did not make up their minds as to how this case—which Conrad none the less described to Moltke as ‘the most difficult, but also the most probable’—might be dealt with. Formally, there was an undertaking that all would be subordinated to the offensive against Russia, but within the General Staff there were serious misgivings. It might look, at the least, peculiar for a Great Power to begin a European war with an extra-tour in the Balkans; but maybe the discrepancy between Austrian means and Austrian pretensions left little choice. Certainly, by the spring of 1914, Conrad was clearly a prey to doubt. Despite his protestations to the Germans, his staff was busied with means by which the forces against Serbia could be strengthened at the expense of those against Russia; and in March, Conrad sketched a deployment-plan for the troops in Galicia that could only mean almost complete abandonment of any schemes for offensive action there. Instead of drawing the troops up in the north-eastern part of Galicia, close to the border with Russia, he suggested unloading them far to the south, on the rivers San and Dniester. This occurred in response to alarms (well-founded) as to the speed of Russian mobilisation and the size of the Russian forces. But characteristically Conrad shrank from formal alteration of the plan, such that the great offensive against Russia was still its main object. Before 1914, the Austro-Hungarian General Staff had thus, in effect, failed to decide which of the two fronts would be treated as more important. This was to happen as circumstances dictated.

Guaranteeing this flexibility on the ground was difficult, for the railway-technicians had to work out ways by which parts of the army could be treated separately, once mobilisation began. The greater part of the army (‘A-Staffel’) would obviously have to be reserved for the Russian front, whether or no war broke out with Russia, and a lesser part, Minimalgruppe Balkan, would have to be reserved for Serbia, whether for offensive or defensive purposes. The third part of the army (the twelve divisions of ‘B-Staffel’) would be directed against Serbia or Russia as circumstances dictated. If Serbia alone went to war, it would go south; if Russia and Serbia jointly intervened, it would probably go north-east, but even for this case Conrad seems to have wanted flexibility. The railway-planners were told to work out a method by which the mobilisation of these various groups could proceed separately. They found an obvious one: the troops of ‘A-Staffel’ should be sent first to Galicia, those of ‘B-Staffel’ only afterwards, so that people would have a chance to make up their minds what was to be done with them. The result was a serious delay in the mobilisation-programme against Russia. Although good railways stood at the disposal of the troops of ‘B-Staffel’, they would not, even at the best of times, be able to reach Galicia until the period between the 21st and 25th days of mobilisation, whereas the others would be there a week before. Still, this method seemed to make it possible for ‘B-Staffel’ to make an independent movement, if this appeared to be necessary, without disrupting the mobilisation against Russia or Serbia; and the railway-planners were pleased with their performance. ‘B-Staffel’ could either go south against Serbia, or be pulled out of a Serbian campaign, or be sent direct to Galicia, and the necessary flexibility had thus been attained.

When war began there was a great muddle on the Austro-Hungarian side; and it was not much cleared up by the explanations that were offered, which were, first, that there had been no muddle at all and then that it was the Germans’ fault. On 25th July the Serbians rejected the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum, and Austria-Hungary mobilised half of her army, declaring war on 28th. The seven corps of ‘B-Staffel’ and the Balkan group were to move south; a further one was also mobilised, although it was part of the Galician group, and the railway-planners were told to send it to the Balkans, although Conrad told everyone that it had been mobilised only as protection against Italy, or perhaps revolt in Bohemia. According to Conrad, the bulk of this force was due to be turned against Russia if she intervened. But he could hardly divert troops from the Serbian theatre merely because Russia threatened to intervene; and, according to him, it was not until the very end of the month that Russia’s intention of intervening became clear. Late in the evening of 31st July, accordingly, Conrad tried—by his own account—to turn the bulk of his southern forces against Russia. But he was told by his chief railway-expert, Straub, that this could not be done. So many troop-transports had already left for the Serbian theatre that to turn them about would cause chaos, in the middle of mobilisation against Russia. There was nothing for it but to have these troops (by now, more or less identical with II Army) continue their journey to Serbia. They could de-train there, and be transported back to the north-east, for their Russian campaign, once the lines there had been cleared, i.e. after completion of the mobilisation of the rest of the army against Russia. Conrad had, in other words, lost his chance to send ‘B-Staffel’ direct to Galicia because the Germans had failed to extract ‘clarity’ about the attitude of Russia before these troops had begun their journey south.

Conrad goes on to state that, even with this Balkan trip, the troops of II Army arrived hardly a moment later in Galicia than they would have done had they gone there directly; indeed, this was the railway-experts’ reason for allowing the Army to make its peregrinations in the first place. This was, odd as it may appear, true enough. According to the mobilisation-programme, the troops of ‘B-Staffel’ were supposed to follow those of ‘A-Staffel’ to Galicia. These latter were mobilised only in response to Russian mobilisation, on 31st July, and, if the railway-programme were adhered to, they were due to arrive in Galicia between the 15th and 20th days, the ‘B-Staffel’ troops only in the course of the next four or five days. The ‘B-Staffel’ troops would therefore have to wait in any event before going to Galicia, and it was, from the railwaymen’s viewpoint, more or Jess unimportant whether they spent their waiting-time in barracks or in trains and tents on the Serbian border. Had it not been for activities on the part of the local Balkan commander, Potiorek, most of ‘B-Staffel’ would in fact have arrived in Galicia on schedule, though only because that schedule was in any case preposterously long.

However, Conrad’s own explanation was a dangerously misleading one, for it did not reveal the real causes of the initial disaster that Austria-Hungary met. There was, in the first place, something unreal in Conrad’s constant asseveration that he did not know what Russia’s attitude would be, at least until 31st July. On the contrary, Russia made her attitude plain enough from the beginning. Even before the ultimatum had been presented, she warned that she could not be indifferent to the fate of Serbia. On 25th July, the Council of Ministers instructed the war minister to proceed with ‘the period preparatory to war’, and over the next few days a stream of reports from consuls and businessmen reached Vienna to the effect that substantial troop-movements were taking place within Russia. On 28th July the Russians announced that they would mobilise partially against Austria-Hungary; there was talk of general mobilisation a day later; and on 29th July Conrad himself drafted a document, for presentation to the Emperor Franz Joseph, to the effect that European war was imminent. He himself says in his memoirs that ‘31st July brought clarity’ to Russia’s attitude—not, in other words, 31st July, on which day Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian general mobilisation was formally an announced to the world. Russia’s attitude was really quite clear all along, and Krobatin, the Austro-Hungarian war minister, announced as much when he remarked to the Council of Ministers later on that ‘no-one was ever really under any illusion as to the likelihood of Russian intervention’. Whether Conrad thought it likely or not, he behaved at least fool-hardily in arranging for the transport of ‘B-Staffel’ against Serbia until 31st July.

The documents make plain what Conrad and his apologists concealed: that Conrad had in effect decided to pursue his war with Serbia despite the obviousness of Russian intervention; and this had much more to do with the initial disaster than any difficulties with the railways. The diary of his chief railway-expert, Straub, makes plain what happened. On 30th July, Conrad told him that, with Russian intervention round the corner, he would have to mobilise the rest of the army, ‘A-Staffel’, to go to Galicia. According to the plan, ‘B-Staffel’ should also go to Galicia to meet Russian intervention. But Conrad said he wanted it to go on to Serbia, and asked Straub if he could arrange for simultaneous movement of ‘A-Staffel’ to Galicia and of ‘B-Staffel’ to Serbia. Straub said that this would be extraordinarily difficult, for ‘none of the prepared variants covered this new case’. Success could not be guaranteed, but he would do his best. However, to enable him to do his best, he would have to have a few days’ grace before the mobilisation of ‘A-Staffel’ began. Mobilisation against Russia was proclaimed on 31st July. But, to give Straub his few days’ grace, ‘the first day of mobilisation’ was named as 4th August. What this meant in practice was that not a man would have to report to the colours before 5th August, since the first day of mobilisation was given to the men to arrange their own affairs.4 A grotesque situation resulted. Many men were full of patriotic zeal, and reported at once to their units, instead of waiting until 5th August. They were told to go away again—not the last dampener to patriotic emotion that Austrian soldiers were to receive. Meanwhile, Straub used his few days’ grace to develop a new programme, permitting separate despatch of ‘A-Staffel’ and ‘B-Staffel’. Conrad held to this programme although news built up throughout 30th and 31st July of an impending European war, and he did not learn until late in the evening of 31st July that, independent of his will, technical railway factors had now intervened to make any further change impossible. While still in the belief that the programme could be changed, and while knowing all of the factors that could make change desirable (Russian and German mobilisation having been proclaimed at noon) Conrad persisted in sending orders to the units of ‘B-Staffel that their mobilisation was to go on as it had been begun, and added for the benefit of II Army Command in Budapest that ‘for all troops mobilised before 28th July the instructions of the war ministry and the General Staff will, despite the intervention of Russia, remain in force’. In other words, the despatch of II Army against Serbia had nothing very much to do with railway-necessities; indeed, the railwaymen had protested against it. It was Conrad’s own strategy that dictated its course.

In the early evening of 31st July Conrad seems to have had second thoughts. On the face of things, it was absurd for Austria-Hungary to begin European war by launching half of her army against an insignificant Balkan state. Moltke, when he heard of the plan, protested energetically. A series of messages came from Berlin—Moltke, several times; Bethmann Hollweg; Jagow; and finally the German Kaiser himself, in a telegram to Franz Joseph, saying ‘in this gigantic struggle it is vital for Austria not to split her forces by going against Serbia’. Within the Monarchy, there were also alarms. Tisza, the powerful Prime Minister of Hungary, had been told on 28th July by his representative in Vienna what Conrad’s plan was: to ignore Russia and strike down Serbia ‘with rapid blows’. He saw through the technical obfuscation with which Conrad decked out his plan, and protested that, if too few troops were placed against Russia, there could be a defeat that would attract a Romanian declaration of war. He tried to persuade Conrad to send another two corps against Russia. These pressures brought Conrad round. After receiving the text of the Kaiser’s telegram, he telephoned Straub, summoned him back to the office, and asked him how he would react, ‘if the prevailing Balkan mobilisation were to be transformed into a Russian one’, in other words, if ‘B-Staffel’ were to go after all to Galicia.

Straub was aghast. He had been told the day before to improvise a plan, despite his own protests, by which precisely this was not to happen. The orders had been sent out; any countermanding of them would swamp the telegraph-lines, and in any case the troops had begun to move against Serbia—by the late evening of 31st July, 132 troop-trains. To stop this movement now, Straub said, would mean ‘a mess… chaos on the railway-lines for which I can take no responsibility’. There was no way of improvising yet again movement, direct, of the transported parts of II Army to Galicia, as some officers suggested. Of course, the trains that had left could simply be directed back to their depots. But this was not done for revealing reasons—‘We feared moral, political and disciplinary damage; the men’s confidence in their leaders professional competence would have suffered’. Indeed it would, if troop-trains that had left, Prague, Leitmeritz, Budapest a few days before, to flowers and bands, steamed back again in the middle of mobilisation. The satirical journals of Prague and Budapest would have had a field-day; the old saying, ‘L’Autriche est toujours en retard d’une armée, d’une année et d’une idée’ being once more triumphantly borne out. But in any case, as Straub and his assistants pointed out, even if this were done it would not advance by a minute the time of II Army’s arrival in Galicia. The mobilisation-schedules had been so arranged that the corps of II Army would, as ‘echelon B’, take the railways to Galicia only after all the other corps had gone to the Russian front. Even if the trains were now taken back, these troops would simply have to kick their heels in the depots of Prague and Budapest. It would simplify the railwaymen’s problem, they said, if these heels were kicked on the Danube instead. On 1st August Conrad therefore decreed that II Army, with a few omissions, should go first to the Balkans, wait there for ten days, and start back to Galicia when ‘A-Staffel’ had already finished its deployment to the north-east—i.e. around 18th August. As a consolation, the corps might be used ‘for demonstrative purposes’ in the south against the Serbians, over the river. Embarrassment was such that the Balkan commander, Potiorek, was told nothing of all this until 6th August. With justice, he recorded: ‘How the supreme command could arrive at such a radical change in its decisions is a mystery to me. It reveals much as to the functioning of the machine.’

Galicia 1914 Part II

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.

Galicia 1914 Part III

This subtraction of strength on the eastern side allowed Conrad to hope for victory on the northern one. Here there was, in Conrad’s words, ‘a happy beginning’. The three corps of the Russian IV Army advanced onto Austrian territory. Their cavalry-screen failed to reconnoitre; the army’s passage was obscured by woods, hills, and marshy country; one of its corps, 14., was stretched out over twenty miles. Its two divisions ran, in a tactically disadvantageous way, into five Austrian divisions of I Army, lost liaison with Russian groups further west, and on 23rd August one of the divisions lost half of its strength. Disorderly attempts were made to restore the position, a further division receiving contradictory orders from different corps commands, losing 1,500 men in one regiment, 900 in another. The Austrians took first the eastern flank, then the western flank, of the Russian IV Army, and by 25th August, having lost 6,000 men as prisoners and twenty-eight guns, the army retired to the Kraśnik positions south of Lublin. This gave misplaced confidence to Conrad. More importantly, it caused trouble among the Russian commanders. IV Army commander, Salza, and a corps commander, Geysmans, complained at the behaviour of 14. corps commander, Voyshin-Murdas-Zhilinski, whom Yanushkevitch dismissed. Ivanov intervened to dismiss Salza and Geysmans for daring to complain about Voyshin. General Evert was summoned from Siberia to take over IV Army; Voyshin was given Geysmans’s corps—by no means the last time such phenomena occurred. In the confusions, Ivanov supposed that he would have to fall back a long way, ordering IV Army to protect ‘the sector Drogiczyn—Brest-Litovsk’. He also demanded from Stavka that the new IX Army should be used on the Austro-Hungarian front. Stavka felt there was an emergency, that Austrian cavalry could even ride up to raid the rear of the north-western front; IX Army was therefore diverted against the Austrians—in succession the Guard Corps, 18th Corps, 3rd Caucasus Corps as well as three reserve divisions and more cavalry. These were due to arrive by the end of August. In the meantime, a series of flanking operations pushed the Russians back towards Lublin, and the railheads at which these new troops could arrive. Now, the natural forces of 1914–18 began to tell. The Austrians outran their supply-lines, could not bring in reserves as quickly as the Russians, exhausted themselves in marching, and fought a purely frontal battle. By 1st September, they had fifteen and a half infantry and four cavalry divisions in the area; the Russians, with their new forces, having twenty-six and a half infantry and nine and a half cavalry divisions.

Both sides looked to armies further east—the Russian IV appealing to its neighbour, V (Plehve), with four corps, and the Austrian I appealing in turn to IV (Auffenberg), also with four corps. Plehve was ‘to collect his corps and strike against the flank and rear of the enemy attacking IV Army’. These corps were strung out on a long front, moving south across Russian territory. They were to be diverted towards the south-west, with poor liaison to either side, and a gap of thirty miles to one neighbour, fifty miles to the other. As they moved south-west, they collided with Austro-Hungarian corps moving due north, of a strength the Russians had not been led to expect: 144 battalions and 526 guns on the Russian side, 156 and 470 on the Austro-Hungarian. Neither commander quite appreciated the extent of the flanking manoeuvres being carried out. On 26th August, there was a first collision: a Russian corps, marching south-west, brushed past an Austrian one marching north, and suffered from Austrian artillery; one of its divisions had marched for several days, had only four-fifths of its strength, and 120 rounds per gun. It retired in bewilderment and the left wing of the Austrian IV Army advanced to Zamość, between the two Russian armies, on 27th August. But further east it was the Russians who had the advantage. Their two central corps came up against Austro-Hungarian flanks; on 27th August an Austro-Hungarian cavalry division, acting with more bravura than sense, was broken up and fled to the south. In the night of 27th–28th August, the same fate overtook an isolated infantry division (near Laszczów) which lost almost all of its guns and 4,000 men as prisoners. In the centre, near the town of Komarów, a ‘soldiers’ battle’ developed, frontal attacks being exchanged.

These engagements pinned the two central corps of Plehve’s army. His right-hand group had also been forced back—divided, now, between IV and V Armies, tired and confused to the point of losing the cross-roads at Krasnostaw and allowing the left-hand Austro-Hungarian corps to threaten Plehve’s centre. No doubt the reinforcements due to arrive from IX Army in this area would help; but in the meantime the Russian situation would be difficult. It was further endangered by events on the other flank, to the east. This flank was ‘in the air’—unconnected with III Army, operating some way to the east under Ruzski’s prudent control. It contained one corps, the commander of which had been given control of the two central corps, and spent his time with them; its chief of staff, Stremoukhov, had no plan and no way of communicating it, had he had one. The divisions marched south-west. The Austrian commander recognised this: that if he attacked them in flank, he would be able to surround Plehve’s forces. He asked Conrad for permission to use the left-hand corps of the Austrian III Army, which was then thirty miles away. Conrad knew that safety in the east might depend on this corps’s remaining under III Army command. But Auffenberg’s entreaties swung him the other way: he sanctioned use of this corps, 14., under Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, by Auffenberg. The corps moved towards the Russian left on 28th August, and on the 29th and 30th did well against disorganised Russian divisions—taking a third of their troops prisoner, and sixty guns. This brought the right of Auffenberg’s army far into the rear of the two central corps of Plehve’s—separated only by two days’ march from the left of the army, near Zamość. An encirclement of the Russian V Army seemed possible. But Plehve did not behave as Samsonov had done— advancing into an enemy ring. On the contrary, he gave orders for retreat. In any case the Austrians did not act with Prussian resolution. The two flanking groups did not appreciate what they had achieved, and were tired. The left-hand group, under Archduke Peter Ferdinand, dimly appreciated the strength of Russian reinforcements building up to its left; the right-hand one, under his brother Joseph Ferdinand, noted Cossack divisions in the great spaces to the east. Neither dared move too far forward. On 30th and 31st August first one, then the other, pulled back; and the central corps of Plehve’s army withdrew to the north. This battle—Zamość-Komarów—was an Austrian victory. IV Army took 20,000 prisoners and nearly 100 guns; Plehve’s army had lost forty per cent of its complement. Auffenberg and Soós, his chief of staff, said they had won a great victory; there must now be a pursuit into Russian Poland. For the moment, Ivanov and Alexeyev almost agreed with this.

In response to the increasingly menacing news from the northern sector, Ivanov and Alexeyev spurred on their III and VIII Armies, to advance with all speed from eastern Galicia. They were to move north-west, to the direct help of Plehve. But Ruzski behaved with almost psychotic prudence. His army had crossed the border on 2th–21st August, and moved slowly forward thereafter, expecting that most Austrian troops would be concentrated against it. Indeed, the close concentration and slow advance of these four corps were such that Brudermann felt he had only ‘an isolated corps’ to deal with, advancing ahead of the main Russian force; with Conrad’s encouragement, he marched his troops against it. East and south-east of Lwów, there was, between 26th and 28th August, a first collision, on the river Zlóta Lipa. It was a disaster for the Austrians. With 91 battalions and 300 guns to 192 and 685, they advanced in close order, down hills and across rivers, against the four Russian corps. The break-down of their attacks was followed by Russian counter-attacks, and losses of up to two-thirds in many of Brudermann’s eight divisions. Many of the Austrians fled in panic as far back as Lwów; and III Army could not restore the situation easily, since its left-hand corps, the Archduke’s 14., had already been detached to help IV Army.

A swift follow-up by Ruzski would have helped Plehve at once, and Ivanov ordered him again and again to swing III Army to the north-west. Ruzski would not do this—his right-hand corps delayed, to Plehve inexplicably, and the other three did not much better, since Ruzski had exaggerated the strength of the Austrians who had attacked him, and even managed to congratulate his own commanders on ‘a fine defensive success’. He did not even notice the Austro-Hungarian retreat until 28th August, worried endlessly for his southern flank, and was maybe more concerned to capture Lwów than to help Plehve. Ivanov protested; but as Golovin said, he was like a pianist with a badly-tuned instrument-never knowing quite what sound would result when he touched a chord. Ruzski’s headquarters, as Ivanov and later commanders discovered, had a habit of making everything sound like a dirge. The Austrian III Army was able to withdraw in some order, to the river Gnila Lipa. Here it received reinforcements from the Balkans, while the command of II Army arrived to take over the southern sector of the line. By 30th August the Austrians, here, had increased to fourteen infantry divisions and 828 guns—though still facing a considerable superiority—twenty-two infantry divisions and 1,304 guns. Brudermann had told Conrad that he had had to face greatly superior numbers—at least 400,000 men. But since the Russians did not follow up, Conrad disbelieved him. The commander of II Army was told to attack the Russians; and on 29th–30th August, on the Gnila Lipa, there was a repeat performance of the Zlóta Lipa action—tired Austro-Hungarian troops stumbling forward with inadequate artillery preparation against an enemy nearly double their numbers. There was a further disaster, and this time it reached such dimensions—20,000 men and seventy guns captured—that even Conrad could judge he was facing an immeasurably superior enemy. On the other hand, on 30th August, he believed he had won a great victory on the northern side. He decided that he must let the Russian III and VIII Armies advance, if necessary as far as Lwów, and then turn his IV Army from the north into their open flank.

This decision belongs, as the Austro-Hungarian official historians said, ‘to the most finely-balanced of the world war’. In real terms, it was almost lunatic. IV Army had been exhausted by a fortnight’s marching and heavy fighting. III Army had been badly beaten already. But Conrad was not a man to take such things into account. He had learned that VIII Army in East Prussia had won a great victory; he must emulate the feat, perhaps exploit it for his own ends. III and II Armies would retire west of Lwów to a good line on the river Wereszyca, and when the Russians had followed, IV Army would intervene on their flank, by marching south-east across Rawa Ruska. Orders for this went out on 1st September. Meanwhile, Ruzski advanced towards Lwów, spent two days reconnoitring its empty and ancient forts, and finally made a ceremonial entry on 3rd September. Now, belatedly, he responded to suggestions that he might help V Army; the incessant proddings of Ivanov were reinforced by religious literature from Stavka, which made Ruzski transport one of his corps to his northern flank, and orientate the march of III Army towards the north-west. In this way, he met head-on the Austrian IV Army, marching south-east. These troops were exhausted, and had suffered heavy loss; they could no longer be moved around in Conrad’s fashion like so many coloured pins on a staff-map. After a few tactical successes of no great importance, they became locked west of Lwów in a frontal battle of no issue. By a curious twist, the out-flanking effect sought by Conrad was to some extent achieved further south, by III, and particularly by II Army—now reinforced by 4. Corps from the Balkans. Between 7th and 9th September the Austrians here won some considerable tactical successes, which encouraged Conrad to go on trying up to the last moment.

In the event, he had to retreat. Now, on the eastern side, he had built up at least equality of forces with the Russian III and VIII Armies. But he had done so, inevitably, at the expense of his northern side. His I Army had arrived before Lublin by 1st September, but it had to face a constant inflow of Russian reserves, as IX Army arrived to buttress this front. IV Army alone rose from six and a half to fourteen divisions, facing the Austrians’ thirteen; and the only fresh force on which the Austrians could count was a weak German Landwehr Corps which had just marched 200 miles from Silesia, had only eight machine-guns, one aeroplane, no field-kitchens. The Austrians had now 558 guns, the Russians 900. As new Russian troops arrived, they pressed the Austrians back towards Krasnik, with a series of embarrassments on the flanks. Worse still, the Russian V Army—reported to have been destroyed—recovered quickly enough, and sent two further corps against the Austrian northern side. Against them, the Austrian IV Army had left a single corps, such that, on this northern side, there were twenty-six and a half Russian divisions to fifteen and a half Austrian ones; and the other two corps of the reviving V Army moved into the rear of Auffenberg’s forces attacking III Army at Rawa Ruska. The northern side began to crumble. To defend Auffenberg’s rear, there was only one corps—again, Archduke Joseph Ferdinand’s. It had lost all but 10,000 of its 50,000 men, and was rudely pushed aside by the reviving Russian divisions—one regiment, with Franz Ferdinand’s military secretary at its head, being cut to pieces in a marsh. Further west, I Army’s front also collapsed. At Sukhodoly, an Austrian corps lost two-thirds of its guns and men as it stood up to the attack of three Russian corps. On the left, the Russians attacked along the Vistula, and broke up the Germans’ Landwehrkorps on 8th September, which lost 8,000 men and fell back over the Vistula. By 9th September, the Russians were threatening Conrad’s western communications his line of retreat towards the Germans

Conrad appealed to the Germans for help. He was told that, for the moment, nothing could be done—the Kaiser remarking, ‘You surely can’t ask any more of VIII Army than it has already achieved’. Stubbornly, he urged the troops of III and II Armies into a further attack over the Wereszyca—even, uniquely, turning up himself, with the nominal commander-in-chief, Archduke Friedrich, to watch the armies’ doings. By 11th September, with Russian cavalry raiding even the headquarters of his divisions, Conrad elected to retreat. The retreat itself was extremely disorderly. Nothing had been prepared in anticipation of it—it was thought that preparations for retreat would demoralise the troops still attacking on the eastern side. Consequently, the few roads were taken up with two-way traffic—men and guns moving west, hospital-carts and munitions-carts moving up to the front. A steady downpour went on, turning the roads into marshes. Inside the San fortress of Przemyśl, narrow streets were blocked by military carts, standing axle-to-axle. The only thing that saved Conrad from even greater collapse was the sluggardly Russian advance. Ivanov took the view that ‘the Austrians’ retreat will secure for our army the chance of an essential break in operations’. Rest-days were lavishly distributed. Ruzski ordered fortification of Lwów. Cavalry, unfamiliar with the terrain, caused some panic in the Austro-Hungarian baggage-trains, but was less effective in this than men had hoped. With some speed, Conrad withdrew his stricken armies to the San, then to the rivers east of Cracow—the Dunajec and Biala, which were reached in mid-September. Both armies were exhausted. The Austro-Hungarians had suffered casualties of nearly fifty per cent—400,000, of which the Russians took 100,000, with 300 guns; the Russians had lost 250,000 men, 40,000 as prisoners, with 100 guns. Conrad could now only wait for German help; and the two operations of August-September 1914 now came together in their consequences, if not their course, as Ludendorff himself arrived to discuss matters.

German 1914 Military Evaluation of Imperial Russia

Clockwise from top left: soldiers stationed in the Carpathian Mountains, 1915; German soldiers in Kiev, March 1918; the Russian ship Slava, October 1917; Russian infantry, 1914; Romanian infantry

German 1914 Evaluation of Russian Training

The German army published a final evaluation of Russian training on 25 March 1914. European armies strove to conduct their summer training at Major Training Areas (MTA). The German MTAs were the best of any army: each corps had its own MTA, generally about 8 x 8km in size (64 square km), which allowed live-fire with minimum safety restrictions and manoeuvre for large (brigade- and division-sized) units. Russian MTAs were of widely varying size, but often considerably smaller than the German. Finding suitable areas in Russia’s vast swamps and forests was not easy. So while the Russian artillery MTA at Rembertow, near Warsaw, was 57 square km, where seventy batteries exercised at once (still pretty crowded), the X Corps MTA was only 12 square km, in which two infantry divisions and two artillery brigades tried to manoeuvre simultaneously – a virtual impossibility. The Wilna MTA was only 3 square km. The Russian war ministry had been trying to increase the size of the MTA since 1911, to no effect.

Russian infantry training was centralised at the regimental level; the regimental commander specified the training schedules for the battalions and companies. Every company conducted the same training at the same time. The company commander had very little influence on training, and therefore had little enthusiasm for it. This did not trouble him, for professional satisfaction and pride in personal accomplishments were unknown to Russian officers. Such stereotyped training and over-centralisation were ill-suited to developing a sense of personal responsibility, independence and initiative. The consequences were plain in larger exercises and later in combat.

The time available for field training at the MTA was poorly used. The duty day began late and training lasted only about two hours. Training was always conducted in the same spot directly behind the tents, with no attempt being made to find different terrain or to gradually increase the difficulty of the marches.

Artillery batteries were to live-fire fifteen times at the MTA. Due to the shortage of firing positions and inadequate training facilities they were rarely able to do so. In one case, during eight weeks at the MTA a battery fired seven times. Since each battery of eight guns was only allocated 600 shells, the fire mission was always terminated when the battery had adjusted on to the target: the battery had only one opportunity each year to fire for effect.

Kaiser Wilhelm is always criticised for conducting cavalry charges during the Kaisermanöver. He was not alone. In the 1913 manoeuvre of the Guard Corps, a cavalry brigade conducted a charge against the fully deployed enemy advanced guard and, ‘aided by the favourable terrain’, overran the infantry and penetrated as far as the ‘surprised’ artillery. On the other hand, the intelligence report noted that the charge against such strong unbroken infantry could just as well have ended in failure.

In any case, the 1913 Guard Corps exercise was ‘canned’: the tactical course of the exercise was established in advance and the leaders were not required to arrive at independent decisions. Reconnaissance was poor. The senior leadership was unequal to the requirements of their positions, was unable to co-ordinate unit operations and movement, to correctly evaluate the situation or to write effective orders. It also showed a serious lack of initiative.

The infantry attack at this exercise showed serious deficiencies in conducting the fire fight, moving reinforcements forward, gaining fire superiority and making the assault. Use of the terrain was good, but reconnaissance often failed completely.

The Guard Cavalry Division exercise was a pure parade manoeuvre. The intelligence report guessed that its purpose was to allow Grand Duke Nicholas, the presumptive commander-in-chief, the opportunity to show himself to his French guests at the head of a mass of cavalry.

The field training exercise at Krasnoje Selo, the imperial headquarters, constituted the highest level of training in the Russian army. It had been well known for decades that the point of the exercise was always to attack or defend the high ground in the manoeuvre area. Leaders at all levels displayed an indifference towards the conduct of the manoeuvre, as well as complete passivity and lack of initiative. Movements were executed slowly, probably because of late receipt of orders. Meeting engagements were seldom practised, and when they were, the leadership showed itself to be incapable of acting decisively in uncertain situations, but continually waited for further reports and information and finally slid into a passive defence.

The Russian defence was built around the counter-attack, with half the forces holding a thin front while the other half held in reserve. Preference for the defence was natural for the Russians – the product of their national character and years of practice.

Units also deployed on too broad a front. While the doctrinal divisional frontage in the attack was 3km, one division in the attack deployed on a 9–10km front. At another point, a regiment in the attack spread out on a 2.5km front. This was also true in the defence: in one over-extended position, 1.5km of front was held by twelve guns and an infantry company.

The German intelligence report clearly believed that, unit for unit, the German army was massively superior to the Russian. This was the sole consolation that the Germans would have in the east. The war there would not be fought under conditions of numerical parity: the Russians would begin with at least a 2:1 superiority and would bring up wave after wave of reinforcements.

But the real Achilles heel of the Central Powers was the Austrian army. Bad as the Russians were, the Austrians were probably worse. Whatever masterpieces the Germans could contrive from their superior manoeuvrability and combat power, they would at best balance out Austrian defeats. The Austrians would be outnumbered by the Russians, had inferior equipment (and less of it) and many of the minorities were unreliable. Unit for unit, they were probably inferior to the Russians.

German 1914 Evaluation of Russia’s Readiness for War

In February 1914 the 1st (Russian) Department issued a special intelligence estimate, Die Kriegsbereitschaft Russlands (Russian Military Readiness). This was a warning to the German army that, whatever the Russian deficiencies, the Russians were not to be taken lightly. Quantity had a quality of its own. The estimate listed seven pages of improvements in the Russian army since the Russo-Japanese War. All the material deficiencies caused by the war had been made up by 1911. The military budget had increased from 351 million roubles in 1903 to 518 million in 1908, to 635 million in 1913. The transportation budget had increased from 542 million roubles in 1908 to 649 million in 1913. The size of the army had been increased by six corps. The units deployed on the border had been strengthened (infantry companies up from 116 men to 158), permitting quicker combat-readiness. The number of officers had increased, and their pay and training improved.

Cadres had been created in the interior to facilitate the mobilisation of reserve units. Refresher training for reservists had increased from 320,000 men in 1911 to 368,000 in 1912, 422,349 in 1913 and 490,000 scheduled for 1914. The refresher training period had been increased from four to six weeks.

The rail net had been developed through incremental upgrades and not through new railway construction. Existing track and installations had been improved. The quantity of rolling stock had been increased, as had the quantity of fuel. More personnel had been added. District rail committees provided for better use of the rail net.

The speed of mobilisation had increased greatly. The 1910 reform, which provided for territorial mobilisation, improved radio, telegraph and telephone nets and practice mobilisations, contributed to the fact that the line troops were now ready to move on the fifth day of mobilisation, the reserve troops by the eighth day, which was as fast as the Germans and the French; only the greater distances that the Russians had to move those troops made the deployment slower.

The speed of the mobilisation was further accelerated by the official introduction of a ‘period preparatory to war’ (Kriegsvorbereitungsperiode) in 1913. This was in fact a secret mobilisation. These alert measures included the disguised call-up of reservists, horse purchases and the uploading of ammunition, rations and animal fodder. German intelligence was especially sensitive to the Russian use of secret mobilisation because it had detected unmistakable signs that the Russians had conducted one such during the Balkan crisis in the winter of 1912/13. At that time the Russians had retained conscripts in the army who ought to have been discharged, while simultaneously calling up the next conscript class, which increased the peacetime strength of the Russian army by 400,000 men. The Russians had also conducted an unusual number of practice mobilisations and reserve exercises, prepared the railway system for troop movements and massed troops on the Austrian border. Both in 1912/13 and in 1914 the German general staff would exercise great restraint in the face of the secret Russian mobilisation. Nevertheless, the Russian army was obviously trying to steal a march on the Germans – an enormously destabilising factor in times of international tension.

In summary, the estimate said that Russian readiness had made ‘immense progress’ and had reached hitherto unattained levels. In some areas Russian readiness exceeded that of the other Great Powers, including Germany; in particular the higher state of readiness in the winter, the frequent practice mobilisations and ‘the extraordinary increase in the speed of mobilization provided by the “period preparatory to war”’.

There is no evidence, as has often been contended, that the Germans expected that the Russians would not be ready to attack until the thirtieth or even the forty-fifth day of mobilisation, and that this would have given them time to implement the Schlieffen plan. From 1909 onwards, the German intelligence estimates warned in ever more emphatic terms that the Russians were getting stronger and their mobilisation and deployment were getting faster. From all the evidence, it appears that the Germans thought the Russians would attack by the twentieth day of mobilisation at the latest.