Attack of the Dead Men

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Attack of the Dead Men
Part of the Eastern Front of World War I
DateAugust 6, 1915
Osowiec Fortress, Osowiec-Twierdza, Russian Empire (now Poland)

Pyrrhic Russian victory

  • German forces routed
  • Russian evacuation on August 18
German Empire Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Paul von Hindenburg Vladimir Karpovich Kotlinsky 
14 battalions, 7,000-8,000 men 900 men, 500 soldiers + 400 militia (60-100 in the counter attack)
Casualties and losses
Unknown Heavy
Lieutenant Vladimir Karpovich Kotlinsky, commandant of the Osowiec fortress during the attack

The Attack of the Dead Men was a battle of World War I that took place at Osowiec Fortress, in northeast Poland, on August 6, 1915. The incident got its name from the bloodied, zombie-like appearance of the Russian combatants after they were bombarded with a mixture of poison gases, chlorine and bromine, by the Germans.


The Germans launched a full frontal offensive on Osowiec Fortress at the beginning of July; the attack included 14 battalions of infantry, one battalion of sappers, 24–30 heavy siege guns, and 30 batteries of artillery equipped with poison gases led by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg. Russian defenses were manned by 500 soldiers of the 226th Infantry Regiment Zemlyansky, and 400 militia.

The Germans waited until 4 a.m. on 6 August for favorable wind conditions, when the attack opened with regular artillery bombardment combined with chlorine gas. "The gas caused the grass to turn black and leaves to turn yellow, and the dead birds, frogs and other animals and insects were lying everywhere. Terrain looked like Hell."[1] The Russians either had no gas masks, or had poorly made ones, and most soldiers used their undershirts as masks, with many soaking them in water or urine.[2] Sub-Lieutenant Vladimir Kotlinsky, the highest ranking Russian soldier to survive the initial attack, rallied the other surviving soldiers, and they elected to charge the advancing German lines.[2]

Over twelve battalions of the 11th Landwehr Division, making up more than 7000 men, advanced after the bombardment expecting little resistance. They were met at the first defense line by a counter-charge made up of the surviving soldiers of the 13th Company of the 226th Infantry Regiment. The Germans became panicked by the appearance of the Russians, who were coughing up blood and bits of their own lungs, as the hydrochloric acid formed by the mix of the chlorine gas and the moisture in their lungs had begun to dissolve their flesh. The Germans retreated, running so fast they ran into their own traps.[2] The five remaining Russian guns subsequently opened fire on the fleeing Germans.[3][4][5][6][7] Kotlinsky died later that evening.

The Russians did not hold the area for much longer.[citation needed] The Germans threatened to encircle the fortress with the capture of Kovno and Novogeorgiesk. The Russians demolished much of the fortress and withdrew on 18 August.[4][5]


Swedish metal band Sabaton released a song about the incident, titled "The Attack of the Dead Men", on their 2019 album The Great War.[8]

Russian metal band Aria released a song about the event, titled Атака Мертвецов (The Attack of the Dead Men), on their album Через все времена (Through All Times).


  1. ^ Regarding the gas attack of the 6 August 1915, historians' accounts conflict in some details. Chlorine gas was used according to some authors (Kauffman & Kauffman, 2016 ; Buttar, 2017), whereas a mixture of chlorine and bromine was used according to other authors (Cherkasov et al., 2011 ; Khmelkov, 1939). The gas was contained in artillery shells according to one source (Kauffman & Kauffman, 2016), whereas the gas was contained in cylinders according to other sources (Buttar, 2017; Cherkasov et al., 2011; Khmelkov, 1939).
  2. ^ a b c Allan, Laura. "'The Attack Of The Dead Men' Is One Of The Most Horrifying Battles You've Never Heard Of".
  3. ^ Petrone, Karen (2015). "7. 'Now Russia returns its history to itself': Russia celebrates the centenary of the First World War". In Ziino, Bart (ed.). Remembering the First World War. London: Routledge. p. 135.
  4. ^ a b Kauffman & Kauffman, 2016, pp. 112–113
  5. ^ a b Kauffman & Kauffman, 2016, p. 225
  6. ^ Buttar, Prit (2017). Germany Ascendant: The Eastern Front 1915. Oxford, England: Osprey Publishing. p. 318.
  7. ^ Cherkasov, Alexander А.; Ryabtsev, Alexander А.; Menjkovsky, Vyacheslav I. (15 December 2011). "«Dead Men Attack» (Osovets, 1915): Archive Sources Approach" (PDF). European Researcher, series A. 2 (12): 1577–1582. Available at: European Researcher (Sochi, Russian Federation)
  8. ^ "The Attack Of The Dead Men - Lyrics". Sabaton.