Eastern Front (World War I)
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2012)|
|Part of World War I|
Clockwise from top left: Carpathian Mountains, 1915; German soldiers in Kiev, March 1918; the russian ship Slava, October 1917; Russian infantry, 1914; Romanian infantry.
| German Empire
| Russian Empire (1914–17)
Russian Republic (1917)
Russian SFSR (1918)
|Commanders and leaders|
| Paul von Hindenburg
|| Tsar Nicholas II
|Casualties and losses|
| 800,000 dead & missing
1,150,000 dead & missing , 3,200,000 wounded, 2,200,000 P.O.W 
Total: 7,350,000 casualties
| 2,200,000 killed & missing (including deserters)
Total: 8,918,288 casualties
During World War I, the Eastern Front (sometimes called the "Second Fatherland War" in Russian sources) was a theatre of operations that encompassed at its greatest extent the entire frontier between the Russian Empire and Romania on one side and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria and Germany on the other. It stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, included most of Eastern Europe and stretched deep into Central Europe as well.
The term contrasts with "Western Front". Despite the geographical separation, events in all the European theaters strongly influenced one another. In 1914, the Russians' invasion of Galicia relieved the pressure on the Serbian Front, and in 1916, the Brusilov Offensive was intended to do the same for the Italian Front. Ultimately, both times the Russians ignored the German forces to their north, which resulted in them over-stretching their supply lines, then suffering further defeats against superior German artillery.
- 1 Geography
- 2 Propaganda
- 3 Initial Situation in Belligerent Countries
- 4 1914
- 5 1915
- 6 1916
- 7 1917
- 8 1918
- 9 Role of Women on the Eastern Front
- 10 Disease on the Eastern Front
- 11 Casualties
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 External links
The front in the east was much longer than that in the west. The theater of war was roughly delimited by the Baltic Sea in the west and Minsk in the east, and Saint Petersburg in the north and the Black Sea in the south, a distance of more than 1,600 kilometres (990 mi). This had a drastic effect on the nature of the warfare.
While World War I on the Western Front developed into trench warfare, the battle lines on the Eastern Front were much more fluid and trenches never truly developed. This was because the greater length of the front ensured that the density of soldiers in the line was lower so the line was easier to break. Once broken, the sparse communication networks made it difficult for the defender to rush reinforcements to the rupture in the line, mounting rapid counteroffensives to seal off any breakthrough.
Propaganda was a key component of the culture of World War One. It was most commonly deployed through the state-controlled media to glorify the homeland and demonize the enemy. Propaganda often took the form of images which portrayed stereotypes from folklore about the enemy or from glorified moments from the nation's history. In the eastern front, propaganda took many forms such as opera, film, spy fiction, theater, spectacle, war novels and graphic art. Across the eastern front the amount of propaganda used in each country varied from state to state. Propaganda took many forms within each country and was distributed by many different groups. Most commonly the state produced propaganda, but other groups, such as anti-war organizations, also generated propaganda.
Initial Situation in Belligerent Countries
Prior to the outbreak of war, German strategy was based almost entirely on the Schlieffen Plan. With the Franco-Russian Agreement in place, Germany knew that war with either of these combatants would result in war with the other, which meant that there would be war in both the west and the east. Therefore, the German General Staff, Alfred von Schlieffen, planned a quick, all-out ground war on the western front to take France and, upon victory, Germany would turn its attention to Russia in the east. However, for this plan to be successful, von Schlieffen knew that Germany would need, at the very least, British neutrality. If Germany could assure British neutrality if she invaded France, she believed she would be able to defeat France quickly enough to prepare to defend herself against any Russian retaliation. Von Schlieffen believed Russia would not be ready or willing to move against and attack Germany due to the huge losses of military equipment that Russia suffered in the Russo-Japanese war. However, Germany’s foreign policy at the time was not guided towards gaining the support of Britain. A German-British naval arms race would inevitably prove to be detrimental to gaining British support. Moreover, General von Moltke the Younger recognized that the German navy was preparing itself to attack Britain, but due to an institutional oversight that made it impossible to coordinate the army and navy, the General had no direct influence or control over the German navy. This meant that the General who needed British support could not stop the Germany navy from attacking Britain. Von Moltke’s inability to ensure British neutrality would prove to be particularly devastating to Germany’s plan to quickly defeat France and focus its military force toward an eastern front.
Conversely, the German navy believed it could be victorious over Britain with Russian neutrality, something which von Moltke knew would not be possible.
In the immediate years preceding the First World War, the kingdom of Romania was involved in the Second Balkan War on the side of Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and the Ottoman empire against Bulgaria. The Treaty of Bucharest, signed on August 10, 1913, ended the Balkan conflict and added 139,713 square kilometers to Romania’s territory. Although militarized, Romania decided upon a policy of neutrality at the start of the First World War, mainly due to having territorial interests in both Austria-Hungary (Transylvania) and in Russia (Moldova). Strong cultural influences also affected Romanian leanings, however. King Carol I, as a Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, favoured his Germanic roots, while the Romanian people, influenced by their Latin based language, were inclined to join France. Perhaps King Carol’s attempts at joining the war on the side of the Central powers would have been fruitful had he not died in 1914, but Romanian disenchantment with Austria-Hungary had already influenced public and political opinion. French endorsement of Romanian action against Bulgaria, and support of the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest was particularly effective at inclining Romania towards the Entente. Furthermore, Russian courting of Romanian sympathies, exemplified by the visit of the Tsar to Constanta on June 14, 1914, signaled in a new era of positive relations between the two countries. Nevertheless, King Ferdinand I of Romania maintained a policy of neutrality, intending to gain the most for Romania by negotiating between competing powers.
Russia’s immediate reason for its involvement in the First World War was a direct result of the decisions made by the statesmen and generals during July 1914. The July crisis was the series of diplomatic conflicts that took place in the decade prior to 1914, thus to understanding the position Russia was in prior to the War. According to D. C. Lieven, Russia was a formidable force that was able to back up her diplomatic policies by force. In 1870 – 1914, the four leading powers were, Russia, Prussia, Austria and France; each of whom had equal amounts of power of Europe at the time. One of the biggest factors for Russia entering into a position of war was the downfall of her economy. The 20 percent jump in defense expenditure during 1866-77 and in 1871-5 forced them to changed their respective position within Europe and shift the balance of power out of her favour. At the time Russian infrastructure was backward and the Russian government had to invest far more that its European rivals in structural changes plus the overwhelming burdens of defense would ultimately result in an economic downfall for the Russians. This essentially was a major strain on the Russian population, but also served as a direct threat to military expenditure. Thus the only way the Russians could sustain the strains of European war, would be to place more emphasis on foreign investment from the French who essentially came to Russia aid for industrial change. The Franco- Russian Alliance allowed for the Russian Defense to grow and aid the European balance of power during the growth of the German Empires might. In 1914 Germany was the most powerful state in all of Europe, nevertheless one of the key factors was that of the Russian foreign policy between 1890 and 1914.
At the outbreak of the war, Tsar Nicholas II appointed his cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas, as Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Russian Army. On mobilization, the Russian army totaled some 1.2 million men under arms, including 70 infantry  and 24 cavalry divisions with nearly 7,900 guns (7,100 field guns, 540 field howitzers, and 257 heavy guns).
Divisions were allocated as follows: 35 infantry and 10.5 cavalry divisions to operate against Germany; 46 infantry and 18.5 cavalry divisions to operate against Austria-Hungary; 19.5 infantry and 5.5 cavalry divisions for the defence of the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea littorals; and 17 infantry and 3.5 cavalry divisions which were to be transported in from Siberia and Turkestan.
First combat (August 1914)
The war in the east began with the Russian invasion of East Prussia on 17 August 1914 and the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. The first effort quickly turned to a defeat following the Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914. The second incursion was completely successful, with the Russians controlling almost all of Galicia by the end of 1914. Under the command of Nikolai Ivanov and Aleksei Brusilov, the Russians won the Battle of Galicia in September and began the Siege of Przemyśl, the next fortress on the road towards Kraków.
This early Russian success in 1914 on the Austro-Russian border was a reason for concern to the Central Powers and caused considerable German forces to be transferred to the East to take pressure off the Austrians, leading to the creation of the new German Ninth Army. At the end of 1914, the main focus of the fighting shifted to central part of Russian Poland, west of the river Vistula. The October Battle of the Vistula River and the November Battle of Łódź brought little advancement for the Germans, but at least kept the Russians at a safe distance.
The Russian and Austro-Hungarian armies continued to clash in and near the Carpathian Mountains throughout the winter of 1914–1915. Przemysl fortress managed to hold out deep behind enemy lines throughout this period, with the Russians bypassing it in order to attack the Austro-Hungarian troops further to the west. They made some progress, crossing the Carpathians in February and March 1915, but then the Germans sent relief and stopped further Russian advance. In the meantime, Przemysl was almost entirely destroyed and the Siege of Przemysl ended in a defeat for the Austrians.
In 1915 the German command decided to make its main effort on the Eastern Front, and accordingly transferred considerable forces there. To eliminate the Russian threat the Central Powers began the campaign season of 1915 with the successful Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive in Galicia in May 1915.
After the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes, the German and Austro-Hungarian troops in the Eastern Front functioned under a unified command. The offensive soon turned into a general advance and then a strategic retreat by the Russian army. The cause of the reverses suffered by the Russian army was not so much errors in the tactical sphere, as the deficiency in technical equipment, particularly in artillery and ammunition as well as the corruption and incompetence of the Russian officers. Only by 1916 did buildup of Russian war industries increase production of war material and improve the supply situation.
By mid-1915, the Russians had been expelled from Russian Poland and hence pushed hundreds of kilometers away from the borders of the Central Powers, removing the threat of Russian invasion of Germany or Austria-Hungary. At the end of 1915 German-Austrian advance was stopped on the line Riga–Jakobstadt–Dünaburg–Baranovichi–Pinsk–Dubno–Ternopil. The general outline of this front line did not change until the Russian collapse in 1917.
By June 1916 there were 140 Russian infantry divisions against 105 Austro-German infantry divisions and 40 Russian cavalry divisions against 22 Austro-German. The mobilization of industry and increase of imports enabled the Russian army to resume the offensive. A large attack on the southwestern front under the leadership of General Aleksey Brusilov (the Brusilov Offensive) started in June. The attack, aimed against the part of the front held by Austro-Hungarians, was initially a spectacular success.
The Russian army advanced to a depth of 50–70 kilometres (31–43 mi), capturing several hundred thousand prisoners and several hundred guns. The arrival of important enemy reinforcements from the west, the defeat of the Romanians, and failure of Russia's western allies to shake German defenses, brought the Russian advance to an end in September.
On 27 August 1916, Romania entered the war on the side of the Entente and had a successful offensive until September. After that it started to suffer great losses and several defeats from German-Austrian-Bulgarian-Ottoman forces, as the Romanian Army was poorly equipped and their Russian allies offered little support on the front.
By 1917, the Russian economy finally neared collapse under the strain of the war effort. While the equipment of the Russian armies actually improved due to the expansion of the war industry, the food shortages in the major urban centres brought about civil unrest, which escalated into the February Revolution that forced the Tsar to abdicate.
The large war casualties also created disaffection and mutinous attitudes in the army, which was fueled by Bolshevik agitators and the Russian Provisional Government’s new liberalization policies towards the army (stripping officers of their mandate by giving wide sweeping powers to "soldier committees", the abolition of the death penalty). The very last offensive undertaken by the Russian Army in the war was the brief and unsuccessful Kerensky Offensive in July 1917.
Throughout 1917 the German army remained largely on the defensive on the Eastern Front. The only major offensive operation was the seizure of Riga, one of the largest cities in the Russian Empire, in early September, followed by amphibious landings on Estonian islands in the course of Operation Albion during October. These operations brought German forces to within less than 500 km of the Russian capital in St. Petersburg, contributing to the chaotic political situation there.
On 7 November 1917, the Communist Bolsheviks took power under their leader Vladimir Lenin. Lenin’s new Bolshevik government tried to end the war, with a ceasefire being declared on December 15, 1917 along lines agreed in November. At the same time Bolsheviks launched a full-scale military offensive against its opponents (separatist governments of Ukraine and Don Region). During the peace negotiations between Soviets and Central Powers, the Germans demanded enormous concessions, eventually resulting in the failure of the long-drawn-out peace negotiations on February 17, 1918. At same time the Central Powers concluded military treaty with Ukraine which was losing ground in the fight with invading Bolshevik forces.
The war resumed with 52 German divisions crossing the November ceasefire line and a new offensive along the whole front. Encountering little resistance, the German army moved eastward along the Russian railways: in 124 hours they advanced 150 miles. The capital of Ukraine, Kiev, was captured on March 2 despite having been taken by the Bolsheviks only a month earlier.
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918)
With the German army just 85 miles (137 km) from the Russian capital Petrograd (St. Petersburg) on March 3, 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed and the Eastern Front ceased to be a war zone. While the treaty was practically obsolete before the end of the year, it did provide some relief to the Bolsheviks, who were embroiled in a civil war, and affirmed the independence of Ukraine. However, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania were intended to become a United Baltic Duchy to be ruled by German princes and German nobility as fiefdoms under the German Kaiser. Finland's sovereignty had been declared already in December 1917, and accepted by most nations, including France and the Soviet Union, but not by the United Kingdom and the United States. The Germans were able to transfer substantial forces to the west in order to mount an offensive in France in the spring of 1918.
This offensive on the Western front failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough, and the arrival of more and more American units in Europe was sufficient to offset the German advantage. Even after the Russian collapse, about a million German soldiers remained tied up in the east until the end of the war, attempting to run a short-lived addition to the German Empire in Europe. In the end, Germany and Austria lost all their captured lands, and more, under various treaties (such as the Treaty of Versailles) signed after the armistice in 1918.
Role of Women on the Eastern Front
In comparison to the attention directed to the role played by women on the Western front during the First World War, the role of women in the East has garnered limited scholarly focus. It is estimated that 20 percent of the Russian industrial working class was conscripted into the army; therefore, women's share of industrial jobs increased dramatically. There were percentage increases in every industry, but the most noticeable increase happened in industrial labour, which increased from 31.4 percent in 1913 to 45 percent in 1918.
British nursing efforts were not limited to the Western Front. Nicknamed the "Gray partridges" in reference to their dark gray overcoats, Scottish volunteer nurses arrived in Romania in 1916 under the leadership of Elsie Inglis. In addition to nursing injured personnel, Scottish nurses manned transport vehicles and acted as regimental cooks. The "Gray Partridges" were well respected by Romanian, Serbian and Russian troops and as a result, the Romanian press went as far as to characterize them as "healthy, masculine, and tanned women." As a testament to her abilities, Elsie Inglis and her volunteers were entrusted to turn an abandoned building in the city of Galati into an operational hospital, which they did in a little more than a day. Yvonne Fitzroy's published journal, "With the Scottish Nurses in Roumania," provides an excellent first hand account Scottish nursing activities in the Eastern Front.
Disease on the Eastern Front
Disease played a critical role in the loss of life on the Eastern Front. In the East, disease accounted for approximately four times the amount of deaths caused by direct combat, in contrast to the three to one ratio in the West. Malaria, cholera, and dysentery contributed to the epidemiological crisis on the Eastern Front; however, typhoid spotted fever, transmitted by pathogenic lice and previously unknown to German medical officers before the outbreak of the war, was the most deadly. There was a direct correlation between the environmental conditions of the East and the prevalence of disease. With cities excessively crowded by refugees fleeing their native countries, unsanitary medical conditions created a suitable environment for diseases to spread. Primitive hygienic conditions, along with general lack of knowledge about proper medical care was evident in the German occupied Ober Ost.
Ultimately, a large scale sanitation program was put into effect. This program, named Santitätswesen (Medical Affairs), was responsible for ensuring proper hygienic procedures were being carried out in Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Quarantine centers were built, and diseased neighbourhoods were isolated from the rest of the population. Delousing stations were prevalent in the countryside and in cities to prevent the spread of typhoid spotted fever, with mass numbers of natives being forced to take part in this process at military bathhouses. A "sanitary police" was also introduced to confirm the cleanliness of homes, and any home deemed unfit would be boarded up with a warning sign. Dogs and cats were also killed for fear of possible infection.
To avoid the spread of disease, prostitution became regulated. Prostitutes were required to register for a permit, and authorities demanded mandatory medical examinations for all prostitutes, estimating that seventy percent of prostitutes carried a venereal disease. Military brothels were introduced to combat disease; the city of Kowno emphasized proper educational use of contraceptives such condoms, encouraged proper cleansing of the genital area after intercourse, and gave instructions on treatment in the case of infection.
The Russian casualties in the First World War are difficult to estimate, due to the poor quality of available statistics.
Cornish gives a total of 2,006,000 military dead (700,000 killed in action, 970,000 died of wounds, 155,000 died of disease and 181,000 died while POWs). This measure of Russian losses is similar to that of the British Empire, 5% of the male population in the 15 to 49 age group. He says civilian casualties were five to six hundred thousand in the first two years, and were then not kept, so a total of over 1,500,000 is not unlikely. He has over five million men passing into captivity, the majority during 1915.
When Russia withdrew from the war, 2,500,000 Russian POWs were in German and Austrian hands. This by far exceeded the total number of prisoners of war (1,880,000) lost by the armies of Britain, France and Germany combined. Only the Austro-Hungarian Army, with 2,200,000 POWs, came even close.
- "Г.Ф.Кривошеев (под редакцией). Россия и СССР в войнах XX века: Потери вооруженных сил". Lib.ru. Retrieved 2014-03-01.
- Yanikdag, Yucel (2013). Healing the Nation: Prisoners of War, Medicine and Nationalism in Turkey, 1914-1939. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 18. ISBN 9780748665785.
- "The Great War . Resources . WWI Casualties and Deaths". PBS. Retrieved 2012-11-03.
- Moore, Colleen M. (2009). "Demonstrations and Lamentations: Urban and Rural Responses to War in Russia in 1914". The Historian 71 (3): 555–575 [p. 563]. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.2009.00245.x.
- Tunstall, G. A. (2008). "Austria-Hungary and the Brusilov Offensive of 1916". The Historian (journal) (70): 30–53.
- Golovin, Nicholas (1935). "Brusilov's Offensive: The Galician Battle of 1916". The Slavonic and East European Review 13 (39): 571–96.
- Roshwald, Aviel; Stites, Richard, eds. (1999). European Culture in the Great War:The Arts, Entertainment and Propaganda 1914-1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 6,349–358.
- Miller, William (1922). The Balkans: Roumania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro. London: T. Fisher Unwin Ltd. p. 474.
- Hitchins, Keith (1994). Rumania:1866-1947. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 153–4.
- Lieven 1983, p. 5.
- Lieven 1983, p. 8.
- Lieven 1983, p. 27.
- Lieven 1983, p. 28.
- Ellis, John; Cox, Michael (2001). World War I Data Book: The Essential Facts and Figures for All the Combatants. Aurum Press Ltd. p. 166. ISBN 9781854107664.
- Gilbert, Martin (1994). The First World War: A Complete History. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 080501540X.
- "Battle of Tannenberg (World War I)". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2014-03-05.
- Marshall, Samuel Lyman Atwood (2001). World War I. New York: American Heritage. pp. 113–114. ISBN 0618056866. Retrieved 2014-03-05.
- Dupuy 1967, p. 31.
- Dupuy 1967, p. 3.
- Dupuy 1967, pp. 15-16.
- Women at the Gates: Gender and Industry in Stalin's Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2002. pp. 10–11.
- Potarnichile gri. Spitalele Femeilor Scotiene in Romania (1916-1917). Târgovişte: Cetatea de Scaun. 2012. p. 18.
- Potarnichile gri. Spitalele Femeilor Scotiene in Romania (1916-1917). Târgovişte: Cetatea de Scaun. 2012. pp. 65–6.
- With the Scottish Nurses in Roumania. London: John Murray. 1918.
- Liulevicius 2000, p. 22.
- Liulevicius 2000, p. 81.
- Cornish, Nik (2006). The Russian Army and the First World War. Stroud: Tempus. ISBN 1-86227-288-3.
- "WWI Casualties and Deaths". PBS. Retrieved 2014-03-07.
- Dupuy, Trevor Nevitt; Onacewicz, Wlodzimiez (1967). Triumphs and Tragedies in the East, 1915-1917. The Military History of World War I 4. New York: Franklin Watts. p. 31. LCCN 6710130.
- A. Zaitsov (1933). "armed forces". In Malevskiī-Malevīch, Petr Nīkolaevīch. Russia U.S.S.R. : a complete handbook. New York: William Farquhar Payson. JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/2601821.
- Lieven, Dominic (1983). Russia and the Origins of the First World War. New York: St Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312696115.
- Liulevicius, Vejas Gabriel (2000). War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-66157-9.
- Stone, Norman (2004). Eastern Front 1914–1917. Penguin Global. ISBN 0-14-026725-5.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eastern Front theatre of World War I.|
- WWI Eastern Front Foto.
- WWI Eastern Front Part II
- With the Russian army, 1914–1917 by Alfred Knox
- War And Revolution In Russia 1914–1917 by General Basil Gourko.
- WWI German Military Cemeteries in Belarus modern photos by Andrey Dybowski (rus).
- Der Vormarsch der Flieger Abteilung 27 in der Ukraine (The advance of Flight Squadron 27 in the Ukraine). This portfolio, comprising 263 photographs mounted on 48 pages, is a photo-documentary of the German occupation and military advances through the southern Ukraine in the spring and summer of 1918.