Brusilov Offensive

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Brusilov Offensive
(Брусиловский прорыв)
Part of the Eastern Front during World War I
The Eastern Front before and during the Brusilov Offensive.
Date June 4 – September 20, 1916
Location Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria
Result Russian victory
 Russian Empire  Austria-Hungary
 German Empire
 Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Russian Empire Aleksei Brusilov
Russian Empire Alexey Kaledin
Russian Empire Vladimir Sakharov
Russian Empire Dmitry Shcherbachev

Austria-Hungary Conrad von Hötzendorf
Austria-Hungary Joseph Ferdinand
Austria-Hungary Eduard von Böhm

German Empire Alexander von Linsingen
German Empire Felix von Bothmer
Ottoman Empire Yakup Pasha
40+ Infantry divisions (573,000 men)
15 cavalry divisions (60,000 men)
39 infantry divisions (437,000 men)
10 Cavalry divisions (30,000 men)
Casualties and losses
modern Russian estimate: 1,446,334 total casualties[1] modern Western estimate: 1,400,000 total casualties[2] Austria-Hungary - 639,331 KIA, MIA, WIA [3] German Empire: 140,000 KIA, MIA, WIA [4] Total: 780,000 casualties ; another estimate: 750,000 total casualties[5]

The Brusilov Offensive (Russian: Брусиловский прорыв Brusilovskiĭ proryv), also known as the June Advance,[6] was the Russian Empire's greatest feat of arms during World War I, and among the most lethal offensives in world history. Historian Graydon Tunstall called the Brusilov Offensive of 1916 the worst crisis of World War I for Austria-Hungary and the Triple Entente's greatest victory, but it came at a tremendous loss of life.[7]

It was a major offensive against the armies of the Central Powers on the Eastern Front, launched on June 4, 1916, and lasting until late September. It took place in what is today the Ukraine, in the general vicinity of the towns of Lviv, Kovel, and Lutsk. The offensive was named after the Russian commander in charge of the Southwestern Front, General Aleksei Brusilov.


Under the terms of the Chantilly Agreement of December 1915, Russia, France, Britain and Italy committed to simultaneous attacks against the Central Powers in the summer of 1916. Russia felt obliged to lend troops to fight in France and Salonika (against her own wishes), and to attack on the Eastern Front, in the hope of obtaining munitions from Britain and France.[8]

The Russians also initiated the disastrous Lake Naroch Offensive in the Vilno area, during which the Germans suffered only one-fifth as many casualties as the Russians. This offensive took place at French request, in the hope that the Germans would transfer more units to the East after their attack on Verdun.[9]

General Aleksei Brusilov presented his plan to the Stavka, the Russian high command, proposing a massive offensive by his Southwestern Front against the Austro-Hungarian forces in Galicia. Brusilov's plan aimed to take some of the pressure off French and British armies in France and the Italian Army along the Isonzo Front and, if possible, to knock Austria-Hungary out of the war. As the Austrian army was heavily engaged in Italy, the Russian army enjoyed a significant numerical advantage on the galician front.

Russian plan[edit]

Gen. Alexei Evert, commander of the Russian Western Army Group, favored a defensive strategy and was opposed to Brusilov's offensive. Tsar Nicholas II had taken personal command of the army in September 1915. Evert was a strong supporter of Nicholas and the Romanovs, but the Tsar approved Brusilov's plan.

The objectives were to be the cities of Kovel and Lviv, which had been lost to the Central Powers the previous year. Although Stavka had approved Brusilov's plan, his request for supporting offensives by neighboring fronts was effectively denied.


Mounting pressure from the western Allies caused the Russians to hurry their preparations. Brusilov amassed four armies totaling 40 infantry divisions and 15 cavalry divisions. He faced 39 Austrian infantry divisions and 10 cavalry divisions, formed in a row of three defensive lines, although later German reinforcements were brought up.[10]

Brusilov, knowing he would not receive significant reinforcements, moved his reserves up to the front line. He used them to dig entrenchments about 300 meters long and 90 meters wide all along the front line. These provided shelter for the troops and hindered observation by the Austrians.[10]

The Russians secretly crept to within 100 yards (91 m) of the Austrian lines and at some points as close as 75 yards (69 m). Brusilov prepared for a surprise assault along a 300-mile (480 km) front. The Stavka urged Brusilov to considerably shorten his attacking front to allow for a much heavier concentration of Russian troops. Brusilov, however, insisted on his plan and the Stavka relented.


The Russian general Aleksei Brusilov, 1916.

On June 4 the Russians opened the offensive with a massive, accurate but brief artillery barrage against the Austro-Hungarian lines, with the key factor of this effective bombardment being its brevity and accuracy. This was in contrast to the customary, protracted barrages at the time that gave the defenders time to bring up reserves and evacuate forward trenches, while damaging the battlefield so badly that it was hard for attackers to advance. The initial attack was successful and the Austro-Hungarian lines were broken, enabling three of Brusilov's four armies to advance on a wide front (see: Battle of Kostiuchnówka).

The success of the breakthrough was helped in large part by Brusilov's innovation of shock troops to attack weak points along the Austrian lines to effect a breakthrough, which the main Russian army could then exploit. Brusilov's tactical innovations laid the foundation for the German infiltration tactics used later in the Western Front.


On June 8 forces of the Southwestern Front took Lutsk. The Austrian commander, Archduke Josef Ferdinand, barely managed to escape the city before the Russians entered, a testament to the speed of the Russian advance. By now the Austrians were in full retreat and the Russians had taken over 200,000 prisoners. Brusilov's forces were becoming overextended and he made it clear that further success of the operation depended on Evert launching his part of the offensive. Evert, however, continued to delay, which gave the German high command time to send reinforcements to the Eastern Front.

In a meeting held on the same day Lutsk fell, German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn persuaded his Austrian counterpart Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf to pull troops away from the Italian Front to counter the Russians in Galicia. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, Germany's commander in the East (Oberkommando-Ost), was again able to capitalize on good railroads to bring German reinforcements to the front.

Finally, on June 18 a weak and poorly prepared offensive commenced under Evert. On July 24 Alexander von Linsingen counterattacked the Russians south of Kovel and temporarily checked them. On July 28 Brusilov resumed his own offensive, and although his armies were short on supplies he reached the Carpathian Mountains by September 20. The Russian high command started transferring troops from Evert's front to reinforce Brusilov, a transfer Brusilov strongly opposed because more troops only served to clutter his front.

All forces involved were reaching exhaustion and the offensive finally died down in late September and ended as Russian troops had to be transferred to help Romania, which was being overrun by Austro-Hungarian, German and Bulgarian forces. Romania had been inspired to join the war by Russia's initial success against Austro-Hungarian troops; however, they were quickly defeated and as a result enemy forces moved closer to Russia and opened a new front for Russian forces.

International reactions[edit]

On 18 June 1916, an article entitled "Hero of the Hour in Russia, Described Intimately by One Who Knows Him Well"[11] by Brusilov's brother-in-law, Charles Johnson, appeared in the New York Times.


Russian infantry

Brusilov's operation achieved its original goal of forcing Germany to halt its attack on Verdun and transfer considerable forces to the East. It also broke the back of the Austro-Hungarian army, which suffered the majority of the casualties. Afterward, the Austro-Hungarian army increasingly had to rely on the support of the German army for its military successes. On the other hand, the German army did not suffer much from the operation and retained most of its offensive power afterward.

The early success of the offensive convinced Romania to enter the war on the side of the Entente, though that turned out to be a bad decision since it led to the failure of the 1916 campaign. Russian casualties were considerable, numbering up to one million. The Brusilov Offensive is listed among the most lethal offensives in world history.

The Brusilov Offensive was the high point of the Russian effort during World War I, and was a manifestation of good leadership and planning on the part of the Imperial Russian Army. However, it also proved tremendously costly for the Imperial army, and after the offensive, it was no longer able to launch another one on the same scale. Many historians contend that the casualties that the Russian army suffered in this campaign contributed significantly to its collapse the following year.[12]

The operation was marked by a considerable improvement in the quality of Russian tactics. Brusilov used smaller, specialized units to attack weak points in the Austro-Hungarian trench lines and blow open holes for the rest of the army to advance into. These were a remarkable departure from the human wave attacks that had dominated the strategy of all the major armies until that point during World War I. However, after the first weeks, the Russian army turned to more conventional tactics that were to prove costly and undecisive.

The irony was that the Russians themselves did not realize the potential of the tactics that Brusilov had devised. Similar tactics were beginning to be used on the Western Front by the French and Germans - who utilized "storm troopers" to great effect in the 1918 offensive - and slightly later the British, although given the higher force-space ratio in the West, much greater concentration of artillery fire was needed to make progress.

Shock tactics were later to play a large role in the early German blitzkrieg offensives of World War II and the later attacks by the Soviet Union and the Western Allies to defeat Germany, and continued until the Korean War and the First Indochina War, which spelled the end of the era of mass trench warfare in all but a few nations, mostly in Africa[citation needed].


  1. ^ Нелипович С.Г. Брусиловский прорыв,2006, стр. 45
  2. ^ Spencer C. Tucker,Priscilla Mary Roberts, The Encyclopedia of World War I: A Political, Social, and Military History, 2005, p. 382
  3. ^ Osterreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg 1914-1918. Bd. VI. Wien, 1936. Bl. 2
  4. ^ Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918. Bd. 11. S. 394, 407.
  5. ^ Spencer C. Tucker,Priscilla Mary Roberts, The Encyclopedia of World War I: A Political, Social, and Military History, 2005, p. 382
  6. ^ Biography of one of the participants (Russian)
  7. ^ Tunstall, Graydon A. (2008). "Austria-Hungary and the Brusilov Offensive of 1916". The Historian 70 (1): 30–53 [p. 52]. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.2008.00202.x. 
  8. ^ Stone 1998, p221, 252
  9. ^ Keegan 2000, p325
  10. ^ a b Dowling, Timothy C. (2008). The Brusilov Offensive. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-0-253-35130-2. 
  11. ^ Brusiloff, Hero of the Hour in Russia, Described Intimately by One Who Knows Him Well, Charles Johnston, New York Times, 18 June 1916, accessed 8 February 2010
  12. ^ Defeat and Disarmament, Joe Dixon


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