Eastern Front (World War I)
|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
Ottoman Empire (1916–17)
| Russian Empire (1914–17)
Russian Republic (1917)
Russian SFSR (1918)
|Commanders and leaders|
| Paul von Hindenburg
| Tsar Nicholas II
|Casualties and losses|
| 317,100 dead & missing
On all fronts during the entire war (including Italian and Balkan fronts): 1,100,000 dead , 1,980,000 wounded, 1,800,000 P.O.W  Austria-Hungary's Eastern front 1914-1917 about 50% of total losses
unknown KIA and MIA 10,000 P.O.W
Total: more than 3,500,000 casualties
| 2,254,400 killed (on all fronts), 3,749,000 wounded, 3,343,900 P.O.W 
Total: more than 10,000,000 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 Russia prior to 1914
- 5 1915
- 6 1916
- 7 1917
- 8 1918
- 9 Role of Women on the Eastern Front
- 10 Prisoners of War in Russia
- 11 Disease on the Eastern Front
- 12 Casualties
- 13 Drawing Borders after the War
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 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 German 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 Bukovina) and in Russia (Bessarabia). 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. According to historian John Keegan, the enticements offered by the Allies were never concrete, for in secret, Russia and France agreed not to honour any conventions when the end of the war came.
The immediate reason for Russia's 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 in turn was the culmination of a series of diplomatic conflicts that took place in the decade prior to 1914, and this is fundamental to an understanding of Russia's position immediately prior to the War. According to D. C. Lieven, Russia was a formidable force that was able to back up her diplomatic policies with force. In 1870 – 1914, the four leading powers in Europe were Russia, Prussia, Austria and France, each of whom exercised a similar proportion of power at the time. One of the most significant factors in bringing Russia to the brink of war was the downfall of her economy. The 20 percent jump in defense expenditure during 1866-77and in 1871-5 forced them to change 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.
In order for the Russians to legitimise their war efforts the government constructed an image of the enemy through state instituted propaganda. Their main aim was to help overcome the legend of the “invincible” German war machine, in order to boost the morale of civilians and soldiers. Russian propaganda often took the form of showing the Germans as a civilised nation, with barbaric “inhuman” traits. Russian propaganda also exploited the image of the Russian POWs who were in the Germans camps, again in order to boost the morale of their troops, serving as encouragement to defeat the enemy and to get their fellow soldiers out of the “inhuman” German POW camps.
A key element of the Russian propaganda was the Investigate Commission formed in April 1915. It was lead by Aleksei Krivtsov and the study was tasked with the job of studying the law violations of the Central Powers and then getting this information to the Russian Public. This commission published photographs of letters that were allegedly found on fallen German soldiers. These letters document the German correspondents saying to “take no prisoners.” A museum was also set up in Petrograd, which displayed pictures that showed how “inhumanly” the Germans were treating prisoners of war.
Austria-Hungary's participation in the outbreak of World War I has been neglected by historians, as emphasis has traditionally been placed on Germany's role as the prime instigator. However, the "spark" that ignited the First World War is attributed to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip, which took place on June 28, 1914. Approximately a month later, on July 18, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This act led to a series of events that would quickly expand into the First World War; thus, the Habsburg government in Vienna initiated the pivotal decision that would begin the conflict.
The causes of the Great War have generally been defined in diplomatic terms, but certain deep-seated issues in Austria-Hungary undoubtedly contributed to the beginnings of the First World War. The Austro-Hungarian situation in the Balkans pre-1914 is a primary factor in its involvement in the war. The movement towards South Slav unity was a major problem for the Habsburg Empire, which was facing increasing nationalist pressure from its multinational populace. As Europe's third largest state, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was hardly homogeneous; comprising over fifty million people and eleven nationalities, the Empire was a conglomeration of a number of diverse cultures, languages, and peoples.
Specifically, the South Slavic people of Austria-Hungary desired to amalgamate with Serbia in an effort to official solidify their shared cultural heritage. Over seven million South Slavs lived inside the Empire, while three million lived outside it. With the growing emergence of nationalism in the twentieth century, unity of all South Slavs looked promising. This tension is exemplified by Conrad von Hötzendorf's letter to Franz Ferdinand:
The unification of the South Slav race is one of the powerful national movements which can neither be ignored nor kept down. The question can only be, whether unification will take place within the boundaries of the Monarchy - that is at the expense of Serbia's independence - or under Serbia's leadership at the expense of the Monarchy. The cost to the Monarchy would be the loss of its South Slav provinces and thus of almost its entire coastline. The loss of territory and prestige would relegate the Monarchy to the status of a small power.
The annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 by Austrian foreign minister Baron von Aehrenthal in an effort to assert domination over the Balkans inflamed Slavic nationalism and angered Serbia. Bosnia-Herzegovina became a "rallying cry" for South Slavs, with hostilities between Austria-Hungary and Serbia steadily increasing. The situation was ripe for conflict, and when Serbian Princip assassinated Austrian Ferdinand, these longstanding hostilities culminated into an all-out war.
The Allied Powers wholeheartedly supported the Slavs nationalistic fight. George Macaulay Trevelyan, a British historian, saw Serbia's war against Austria-Hungary as a "war of liberation" that would "free South Slavs from tyranny." In his own words: "If ever there was a battle for freedom, there is such a battle now going on in Southeastern Europe against Austrian and Magyar. If this war ends in the overthrow of the Magyar tyranny, an immense step forward will have been taken toward racial liberty and European peace."
Russia prior to 1914
Prior to 1914, the Russian’s lack of success in war and diplomacy in the six decades before 1914 sapped the country’s moral strength in half. The triumphs of the British and Germany in the military, in diplomatic and economic spheres put these countries in the front rank of the world's leading nations and enabled British men and Germans to feel a foot taller than the rest of mankind. This was a source of national pride, self-confidence and unity. It helped reconcile the worker to the state and the Bavarian or Scotsman to rule from Berlin or London. In the years prior to 1914 Austro- Russian co-operation was unfortunately both crucial for European peace and very difficult to maintain. Old suspicions exacerbated by the Bosnian crisis stood in the way of agreement between the two empires, as did ethnic sensitivities. Russia’s historical role as liberator of the Balkans was difficult to square with Austria’s determination to control adjacent territories in which irredentist movements would be based.  In 1913-4 Petersburg was however too concerned with its own weakness and what it saw as threats to vital Russian interests to spare much thought for Vienna’s feelings. The Russians were, with some justice, indignant that the concessions they had made after the first Balkan war in the interest of European peace had not been reciprocated by the Central Powers. This was doubly dangerous given the growing evidence flowing into Petersburg about Germany’s aggressive intentions. Both Bazarov and the agents of the Russian Secret political police in Germany reported the concern aroused in public opinion by the press war against Russia, which raged in the spring of 1914.
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. A second Russian incursion into Galicia was completely successful, with the Russians controlling almost all of that region by the end of 1914, routing four Austrian armies in the process. 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.
Russo-Turkish Offensive, Winter 1915-1916
After the Battle of Sarikamis, the Russo-Turkish front was relatively stagnant for a year, although there were local campaigns in Azerbaijan and Lake Van in April and June. The Turks were concerned with reorganizing their army, the Gallipoli Campaign, and "ethnic cleansing" in Turkish Armenia. Meanwhile, the Caucasus Army had low priority, as Russia was preoccupied with other armies on the Eastern Front. However, the appointment of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich as Viceroy and Commander in the Caucasus in September 1915 radically changed the situation of the Russo-Turkish front.
When the Allies withdrew from Gallipolli in December, the Caucasus Army's Chief of Staff General Nikolai Yudenich believed Turkish forces would take action against his army. This concern was legitimate: Bulgaria's entry into the war as Germany's ally in October caused serious alarm, as a land route from Germany to Turkey was now open and would allow for an unrestricted flow of German weapons to the Turks. A "window of opportunity" appeared that would allow the Russians to destroy the Turkish Third Army, as the British required assistance in Mesopotamia (now modern day Iraq). Britain's efforts to besiege Baghdad had been halted at Ctesiphon, and they were forced to retreat. This led to an increasing number of attacks by Turkish forces. The British requested the Russians to attack Anatolia in an attempt to distract the Turks, and Yudenich agreed. Resultantly, the offensive began on January 10, 1916.
This offensive was unanticipated by the Turks, as it was in the middle of winter. The Turkish situation was exacerbated by the Third Army's commander Kamil Pasha and Chief of Staff Major Guse absence. Coupled with an imbalance of forces - the Russians had 325 000 troops, while the Turks only 78 000 - the situation appeared grim for the Central Powers. After three months of fighting, the Russians captured the city of Trabzon on April 18, 1916.
The operations in 1916 were dictated by an urgent need to force Germany to transfer forces from its Western to Eastern fronts, to relieve the pressure on the French at the Battle of Verdun. This was to be accomplished by a series of Russian offensives which would force the Germans to deploy additional forces to counter them. The first such operation was the Lake Naroch Offensive in March–April 1916, which ended in failure.
The Italian operations during 1916 had one extraordinarily positive result: Austrian divisions were pulled away from the Russian southern front. This allowed the Russian forces to organize a counter-offensive. The Brusilov Offensive was a large tactical assault carried out by Russian forces against Austro-Hungarian forces in Galicia. General Alexei Brusilov believed victory against the Central Powers was possible if close attention was paid to preparation. Brusilov suggested that the Russians should attack on a wide front, and to position their trenches a mere seventy-five yard away from Austrian trenches.
Brusilov's plan worked impeccably. The Russians outnumbered the Austrians 200,000 to 150,000, and held a considerable advantage in guns, with 904 large guns to 600. The Russian Eighth Army overwhelmed the Austrian Fourth and pushed on to Lutsk, advancing forty miles beyond the starting position. A large number of Austrians were lost, with over 100,000 men killed or taken prisoner by mid-June.
Although the Brusilov Offensive was initially successful, it slowed down considerably. An inadequate number of troops and poorly maintained supply lines hindered Brusilov's ability to follow up on the initial victories in June. The Brusilov Offensive is considered to be the greatest Russian victory of the First World War.:52 Although it cost the Russians a million casualties, the offensive successfully diverted substantial forces of the Central Powers from the Western front, and pulled Romania into the war.
Romania Enters the War
Rumania may be the turning point of the campaign. If the Germans fail there it will be the greatest disaster inflicted upon them. Afterwards it will only be a question of time. But should Germany succeed, I hesistate to think what the effect will be on the fortunes of our campaign....and yet no one seems to have thought it his particular duty to prepare a plan... - Lloyd George
Up until 1916, the Romanians followed the tides of war with interest, while attempting to situate themselves in the most advantageous position. French and Russian diplomats had begun courting the Romanians early on, but persuasion tactics gradually intensified. For King Ferdinand to commit his force of half a million men, he expected the Allies to offer a substantial incentive. Playing on Romanian anti-Hungarian sentiment and the constant objective of territorial expansion, the Allies promised the territory of Ardeal (Transylvania) to Romania. Romania succumbed to Allied enticement on August 18, 1916. Nine days later, on August 27, Romanian troops marched into the Austria-Hungarian territory of Transylvania.
Romania's entry into the war provoked major strategic changes for the Germans. In September 1916, German troops were mobilized to the Eastern Front. Additionally, the German Chief of the General Staff, General Erich Von Falkenhayn was forced to resign from office. Kaiser Wilhelm II immediately replaced Falkenhayn with Paul von Hindenburg. Von Hindenburg's deputy, the more adept Erich Ludendorff, was given effective control of the army and ordered to advance on Romania. On September 3, the first troops of the Central Powers marched into Romanian territory. Simultaneously, the Bulgarian air force commenced an incessant bombing of Bucharest. In an attempt to relieve some pressure, French and British forces launched a new offensive known as the Battle of the Somme, while the Brusilov Offensive continued in the East.
It is certain that so relatively small a state as Rumania had never before been given a role so important, and, indeed, so decisive for the history of the world at so favorable a moment. Never before had two great Powers like Germany and Austria found themselves so much at the mercy of the military resources of a country which had scarcely one twentieth of the population of the two great states. Judging by the military situation, it was to be expected that Rumania had only to advance where she wished to decide the world war in favor of those Powers which had been hurling themselves at us in vain for years. Thus everything seemed to depend on whether Rumania was ready to make any sort of use of her momentary advantage. -Paul Von Hindeburg
The entrance of Romania into the war was disconcerting for Von Hidenburg. On September 15, Paul von Hindenburg issued the following order, stating that: "The main task of the Armies is now to hold fast all positions on the Western, Eastern, Italian and Macedonian Fronts, and to employ all other available forced against Roumania." Fortunately for the Central Powers, the quantity and quality of the Romanian army was overestimated. Although numbering at half a million men, the Romanian army suffered from poor training and a lack of appropriate equipment.
The initial success of the Romanian army in Austria-Hungarian territory was quickly undermined by the Central powers. German and Austrian troops advanced from the north, while Bulgarian forces marched into Romania from the south. Although thought to be a tactical blunder by contemporaries, the Romanians opted to mount operations in both directions. By the middle of November the German force passed through the Carpathians, a mountain chain believed to be impregnable if defended. By December 5, Bulgarian troops had crossed the Danube and was approaching the capital, Bucharest. At the same time as the Austro-Hungarian troops moved east, and as the Bulgarians marched north, the Turks had sent in two army divisions by sea to the Dobruja from the east. Eventually, the Romanian forces were pushed back behind the Seret in northern Moldova.
Aftermath of 1916
By January 1917, the Romanian army had been decimated. Roughly 150,000 Romanian soldiers had been taken prisoner, 200,000 men were dead or wounded, and lost almost the whole of their country. Importantly, the Ploesti oilfields, the only significant source of oil in Europe west of the Black Sea, had been destroyed before they were abandoned to the Central Powers.
Enticing Romania into the First World War proved to be more of a hindrance than an advantage to the Allies forces. The swift defeat of Romania forced Russia to commit significant resources and troops to rescue Romania from total collapse. Furthermore, it allowed the Germans to extract a million tons of oil and to collect two million tons of grain.
Russia - The February Revolution
The February Russian Revolution aimed to topple the Russian monarchy and resulted in the creation of the Provisional Government. The revolution was a turning point in Russian history, and its significance and influence can still be felt in many countries today. Although many Russians wanted a revolution, no one had expected it to happen when it did - let alone how it did.
On International Women's Day, Thursday, February 23, 1917, as many as 90,000 female workers in the city of Petrograd left their factory jobs and marched through the streets, shouting "Bread", "Down with the autocracy!" and "Stop the War!" These women were tired, hungry, and angry, after working long hours in miserable conditions to feed their families because their menfolk were fighting at the front. They wanted change; they demanded change; and evidently they were not the only ones as more than 150,000 men and women took to the streets to protest the next day.
By Saturday, February 25, the city of Petrograd was essentially shut down. No one was allowed to work or wanted to work. Even though there were a few incidents of police and soldiers firing into the crowds, those groups soon mutinied and joined the protesters. Czar Nicholas II, who was not in Petrograd during the revolution, heard reports of the protests but chose not to take them seriously. By March 1, it was obvious to everyone except the czar himself that his rule was over. On March 2 it was made official.
Russia - The October Revolution
By September 1917, just months after the February revolution, Lenin believed the Russian people were ready for another revolution, this time on Marxist principles. On October 10, at a secret meeting of the Bolshevik party leaders, Lenin used all his power to convince the others that it was time for armed insurrection. After 24 hours of debate, a vote was taken the following morning: the result was ten to two in favour of a revolution. Troops who were loyal to the Bolsheviks took control of the telegraph stations, power stations, strategic bridges, post offices, train stations, and state banks, without gunfire or any resistance.
Petrograd was officially in the hands of the Bolsheviks, who greatly increased their organization in factory groups and in many barracks throughout Petrograd. They concentrated on devising a plan for overturning the Provisional Government, with a coup d’état. On October 24, Lenin emerged from hiding in a suburb, entered the city, set up his headquarters at the Smolny Institute and worked to complete his three-phase plan. With the main bridges and the main railways secured, only the Winter Palace, and with it the Provisional Government, remained to be taken. On the evening of November 7, the troops that were loyal to the Bolsheviks infiltrated the Winter Palace. After an almost bloodless coup, the Bolsheviks were the new leaders of Russia. Lenin announced that the new regime would end the war, abolish all private land ownership, and would create a system for workers' control over the factories.
On 7 November 1917, the Communists 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: Ukraine and separatist governments in the 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 a military treaty with Ukraine which was losing ground in the fight with invading Bolshevik forces.  The Russian Civil War, which started just after November 1917, would tear apart Russia for three years. As a result of the events during 1917, many groups opposed to Lenin’s Bolsheviks had formed. With the fall of Nicholas II, many parts of the Russian Empire took the opportunity to declare their independence, one of which was Finland, which did so in December 1917; however, Finland too collapsed into a civil war. There, a group led by Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, who later became known as "the German," aided the “Whites”. They even contemplated putting a German prince in power in Finland once the “Whites” had won. With German help, the Finnish Whites pushed the Finnish-Russian border to the southern part of Karelian Isthmus, thus placing Saint Petersburg within artillery range.
Within the borders of Russia itself, those who opposed the Bolsheviks looked to the western powers for help. This was for their own benefit, the western powers wanted to re-establish an Eastern Front so that the German Army would be split once again, thus relieving the problems that were being experienced on the Western Front. The old army was an instrument of class oppression of the working people led by the bourgeoisie. The workers and the peasants which essentially made up the base of the Red Army joined the ranks, it required organization and standing on the platform of Soviet power, thus the search for a compulsory military training system. One of the main objectives of Socialism is to simply deliver mankind from the burden of barbarity of bloody clashes between nations. This was the Russian thought process to rid the world’s capitalistic powers of their power and thus transferring it to the working classes.
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 already been declared 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.
Prisoners of War in Russia
During World War One, approximately 200,000 German soldiers and 2.5 million soldiers from the Austro-Hungarian army entered Russian captivity. During the 1914 Russian campaign the Russians began taking thousands of Austrian Prisoners. As a result the Russian Authorities made emergency facilities in Kiev, Penza, Kazan, and later Turkestan to hold the Austrian prisoners of war. As the war continued Russia began to detain soldiers from Germany as well as a growing number from the Austro-Hungarian army. The Tsarist state saw the large population of POWs as workforce that could benefit the war economy in Russia. Many POWs were employed as farm laborers and miners in Donbas and Krivoi Rog. However, the majority of POWs were employed as laborers constructing canals and building rail roads. The living and working environments for these POWs was bleak. There was a shortage of food, clean drinking water, and proper medical care. During the summer months malaria was a major problem and the malnutrition among the POWs led to many cases of scurvy. While working on the Murmansk rail building project over 25, 000 POWs died. Information about the bleak conditions of the labor camps reached the German and Austro-Hungarian governments. They began to complain about the treatment of POWs. The Tsarist authorities initially refused to acknowledge the German and Habsburg governments. They rejected their claims because Russian POW’s were working on railway construction in Serbia. However, they slowly agreed to stop using prison labor. Life in the camps was extremely rough for the men who resided in them. The Tsarist government could not provided adequate supplies for the men living in their POW camps. The Russian governments inability to supply the POWs in their camp with supplies was due to inadequate resources and bureaucratic rivalries. However, the condition in the POW camps varied, some condition were more bearable then others.
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.
Drawing Borders after the War
The creation of a free and Independent Poland was one of Wilson’s fourteen points. At the end of the 18th century the state of Poland was broken apart by Prussia, Russia, and Austria. A commission on Polish Affairs was created which recommended there be a passageway across West Prussia and Posen, in order to give Poland access to the Baltic through the port of Danzig at the mouth of the Vistula River. The creation of the state of Poland would cut off 1.5 million Germans in East Prussia from the rest of Germany. Poland also received Upper Silesia. Englishman Lord Curzon established Poland’s eastern border with Russia after the war. Neither the Russians nor the Polish were happy with the demarcation of the border and they went to war over the dispute.
Czechoslovakia was created through the merging of the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, previously under Austrian rule, united with Slovakia and Ruthenia, which were part of Hungary. Although these groups had many differences between them, they believed that together they would create a stronger state. The new country was a multi-ethnic state. The population consisted of Czechs (51%), Slovaks (16%), Germans (22%), Hungarians (5%) and Rusyns (4%). Many of the Germans, Hungarians, Ruthenians and Poles and some Slovaks, felt oppressed because the political elite did not generally allow political autonomy for minority ethnic groups. The state proclaimed the official ideology that there are no Czechs and Slovaks, but only one nation of Czechoslovaks (see Czechoslovakism), to the disagreement of Slovaks and other ethnic groups. Once a unified Czechoslovakia was restored after World War II the conflict between the Czechs and the Slovaks surfaced again.
Initially Yugoslavia began as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The name was changed to Yugoslavia in 1929. The State secured its territory at the Paris peace talks after the end of the war. The state suffered from many internal problems because of the many diverse cultures and languages within the state. Yugoslavia was divided on national, linguistic, economic, and religious lines.
The state of Romania was enlarged greatly after the war. As a result of the Paris peace conference Romania kept the Dobrudja and Transylvania. Between the states of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Romania an alliance was formed. They worked together on matters of foreign policy in order to prevent a Habsburg restoration.
The state of Austria lost a lot of its territory as a result of the war. Austria evolved into a smaller state with a small homogenous population of 6.5 million people. The states that were formed around Austria feared the return of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and put measures into place to prevent it from re-forming.
After the war Hungary lost 65 percent of its pre-war territory. The loss of territory was similar to that of Austria after the breaking up the Austria-Hungary territory. They lost the territories of Transylvania, Slovakia, Croatia, Slavonia, Syrmia, and Banat.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eastern Front theatre of World War I.|
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- 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.