Kerensky offensive

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Kerensky offensive
Part of the Eastern Front of World War I

The Kerensky offensive and its aftermath.
Date1–19 July 1917
Result Central Powers victory
Commanders and leaders
Units involved

Southwestern Front

German Empire/Austria-Hungary/Ottoman Empire Army Group Böhm-Ermolli

900,000[1] 260,000[2]
Casualties and losses
58,329 casualties, including 6,905 killed[3]
42,726 deserters[4]
38,722 casualties[5]

The Kerensky offensive (Russian: Наступление Керенского), also called the June offensive (Russian: Июньское наступление) in Russia or the July offensive in Western historiography, took place from 1 July [O.S. 18 June] to 19 July [O.S. 6 July] 1917 and was the last Russian offensive of World War I.[a] After the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II during the February Revolution, the Russian Provisional Government pledged to fulfill Russia's existing commitments to the Triple Entente, which included launching an offensive in the spring of 1917. The operation was directed at capturing Lemberg and the rest of Galicia from Austria-Hungary.

The Southwestern Front[b] of the Russian Army was tasked with the offensive, as it was the least affected by revolutionary agitation and would be mostly fighting Austria-Hungary, which had not fully recovered from the Brusilov offensive. The main attack was launched by the Seventh Army and Eleventh Army, which made a limited advance, though the Eleventh Army's Czechoslovak brigade notably captured the town of Zborov from the Austrians. Further to the south, General Lavr Kornilov's Eighth Army was more successful, pushing back the Austrian Third Army and creating a breach along the front that was 30 kilometres (19 miles) wide, and took the towns of Kalush and Galich. Secondary attacks to assist the main offensive were also launched by the Russian Western, Northern, and Romanian Fronts in other locations.

The advance in the first days was in large part due to the volunteer shock battalions that were recruited and organized by the Provisional Government in the spring of 1917. But they were too few in number to repulse a counterattack by German reinforcements, and the regular infantry were less reliable. The Russian forces were then pushed back after 19 July, losing all of the territory they had gained. The Germans and Austrians continued advancing into Russian territory by as much as 120 kilometres (75 miles). By the time the German counter-offensive was over on 27 August, nearly all of Eastern Galicia had been retaken by the Central Powers. The retreat of the Russian army eventually stopped, and Kornilov managed to stabilize the front by mid-August, but the failure of the operation eliminated the offensive potential of the Russian Army and increased support for the Bolsheviks among the troops.

The offensive was a disaster for Kerensky and the Provisional Government, contributing to the July Days and the Kornilov Affair. General Kornilov, the leader of the most successful Eighth Army, was appointed the commander of the Southwestern Front, and then Army Supreme Commander just days after that, because Kerensky hoped he could restore discipline and order among the retreating troops. He also gained support from conservative circles, and in September they decided to launch a coup against the Petrograd Soviet. But the Kornilov coup failed when his troops refused to fight, and instead strengthened the revolutionary tendencies among soldiers. The collapse of the Provisional Government's popularity as a result of the offensive, and even more so after the Kornilov coup, was critical to the Bolsheviks increasing their influence over both the army and the Petrograd Soviet shortly before the October Revolution.


Initial planning[edit]

The British and French high commands held a conference in Chantilly, France, in November 1916 to decide on a strategic plan for the Entente war effort in 1917. The Stavka, the Russian high command, initially proposed a limited operation after having taken heavy losses in the East Prussia offensive in 1914, the Lake Naroch offensive in early 1916, and the Brusilov offensive in the summer of 1916. These offensives were all started early at the request of the Western Allies, before the Russian Imperial Army was fully ready, to alleviate the pressure against France in the West. But when Germany and Austria-Hungary were advancing on the Eastern Front in mid-1915, France and Britain did relatively little to assist Russia, waiting for months before starting their own offensive and providing too few supplies to address the Russian Army's munition shortages.[6] Therefore the Russian delegation to the conference instead proposed a Russian offensive from Romania that would invade Bulgaria from the north, and together with a pincer movement from the south by the Anglo-French army in Greece, remove Bulgaria from the war. This would also increase Russian influence in the Balkans and cut off the Ottoman Empire from the rest of the Central Powers.[7][8]

The Russian high command's proposal was rejected by the Western Allies, which had already decided that Russia would launch an offensive in coordination with their efforts in the West, initially set for February 1917.[6][7] But at a meeting of the Stavka on 30–31 December 1916 involving Emperor Nicholas II, who had assumed the post of Supreme Commander himself, the generals told him that the Russian Army would not be ready for an offensive by the requested date. On 1 February 1917, at a conference with French, British, and Italian delegations in Petrograd, it was agreed by Entente military leaders that an offensive in the West would start in April and the Russians would begin about one month later, giving them more time.[7][8] The Petrograd conference also resulted in the Western Allies promising to provide Russia with supplies, including heavy artillery, aircraft, and railway rolling stock.[8] On 6 February, Nicholas accepted the suggestion of his chief of staff, General Mikhail Alekseyev, that the offensive would be conducted by the Southwestern Front with the focus on capturing Lemberg and the region of Galicia. Their main opponent there would be the Austro-Hungarian Army,[7] which still had not fully recovered from its losses in the Brusilov offensive the previous summer.[9] These plans were concluded by the Russian high command just before the outbreak of the February Revolution.[7]

February Revolution[edit]

Protests and riots that broke out in Petrograd in March [O.S. February] 1917 caused a series of events that led to the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II, becoming known as the February Revolution. Russia experienced a decline in grain production since the start of the war in 1914, which, combined with the demands of the army and problems with the rail system, caused shortages in Petrograd and other cities. Furthermore, the government's inability to finance the war effort led to a large deficit, which was partly covered by printing money, and the resulting inflation caused food prices to more than triple by the start of 1917. On 8 March [O.S. 23 February], women that worked in factories began marching on International Women's Day to demand bread. They were joined by male factory workers, and soon after that the crowds began also making political demands.[10] The initial marches were endorsed by revolutionary workers' committees, who began organizing more protests. As the protests became violent the emperor sent a telegram from his wartime headquarters ordering the use of force to end the unrest. After police were attacked on 10 March, the Petrograd Military District commander, General Sergei Khabarov, gave soldiers permission to shoot at rioters. The next day, 11 March, the troops killed people in the crowds, but several units refused to fire on protestors. Some of them joined the protestors and over next two days the demonstrations grew beyond what the government could control, and they were also now armed with weapons from the rebellious units of the garrison. By 12 March the remaining police and loyal troops were overwhelmed and the Council of Ministers resigned as Petrograd was taken over by the uprising. Out of the protests emerged two new political forces that both met at the Tauride Palace: the Petrograd Soviet, a workers' and soldiers' council led by socialist parties, and a Provisional Government that was formed by the liberal parties of the State Duma. These two shared political authority in what became known as dual power.[11]

The Provisional Government asked Nicholas to abdicate, but the most important factor in him making that decision was his chief of staff at the Stavka, General Alekseyev, who had the support of all of the senior army generals. Alekseyev, once he realized the liberal parties in the Duma would form a pro-war government, initially asked him to form a constitutional monarchy with the revolutionaries that could focus on restoring national unity and leading Russia to victory in the war. The main concern of the generals at the Stavka was the end the domestic unrest so that Russia could return to the war effort. After meeting with representatives of the Provisional Government, the generals persuaded Nicholas abdicate on 15 March [O.S. 2 March] 1917, which was demanded by the revolutionaries in Petrograd.[12][13] Before he abdicated the emperor approved Prince Georgy Lvov to lead the Provisional Government, which consisted mostly of liberals and a few socialists, though it had no control over the revolutionary mobs in Petrograd without cooperation from the Soviet.[14]

The leaders of the Provisional Government wanted to continue the war against the Central Powers along side the Entente, and in April 1917 this led to a political crisis.[15] The workers and soldiers in Petrograd wanted to end the war, though the Petrograd Soviet initially did not address the subject and focused on ending the monarchy.[14] Whether or not the war should continue was not one of the main topics in Russian politics during the events of March 1917,[16] but this changed by April, when the Soviet declared that it wanted peace "without annexations or reparations," but also stating that the revolution could not retreat in the face of foreign conquest.[17] Prince Lvov addressed this with a declaration stating that Russia was fighting the war to establish peace and self-determination for all nations. The Soviet's Executive Committee wanted the declaration to be sent to the other Allies, and when it was, Pavel Milyukov, the new government's minister of foreign affairs, added a private note which said that Russia still wanted to gain Constantinople and the Bosporus straits after the victory, as had been promised by the Entente earlier. This note was revealed to the public on 20 April 1917, and it caused large protests against the government. The more radical Bolshevik faction took advantage of the crisis to agitate for the overthrow of the Provisional Government, but the Soviet Executive Committee opposed this and worked to prevent another uprising. The April crisis led to the resignation of several ministers and a coalition agreement between Lvov and the Soviet, while Alexander Kerensky was appointed the Minister of War.[15] Kerensky was among those who supported continuing the war and wanted to proceed with Russia's earlier agreement to go on the offensive.[18]


Army democratization[edit]

In the weeks after the tsar's abdication the Russian Army began experiencing a rapid decline in discipline and willingness to continue the war. The immediate effect of the loss of the monarchy and the weakness of the Provisional Government was to undermine the authority of the officer corps over the enlisted troops.[19] The day before the abdication, the Petrograd Soviet issued its Order No. 1 to the troops, with the goal of preventing officers in Petrograd from using the garrison against the revolution and to make officers treat soldiers with more respect. But it eventually reached the soldiers at the front, and was interpreted by many soldiers to mean that they no longer had to obey their officers and could elect their own commanders. On 17 March 1917 the Soviet, together with the State Duma, tried to fix this situation by issuing Order No. 2, which stated that soldiers must still obey orders on military matters, but it was ineffective at restoring discipline.[20] Although incidents of violence between soldiers and officers were not common, the officers now depended on the cooperation of the elected soldiers' committees.[16] The committees were formed to manage the relationship between the officer corps and the enlisted troops, functioning as a soviet at the battalion level and higher, and tended to be dominated by praporshchiks (warrant officers) and NCOs. Members of the prewar officer corps, who often were members of the nobility, looked at the soldiers' committees with contempt, while those who had been promoted into officer ranks or volunteered during the war were able to mediate between these two groups. The Stavka, the high command, initially refused to cooperate with the committees, but front line officers did so because it was necessary.[21]

The Russian officer corps itself was divided between prewar career officers, student volunteers and reservists, and a large number of mobilized civilians who went through accelerated training. The prewar officers included both aristocrats and peasants; the graduates of cadet schools and junker schools; guards and general staff officers and junior officers in the provinces. Each of the groups had their own views, and the conditions of war led to many officers being either weeded out or promoted. After the revolution, many regiment or division commanders were forced to step down because they were seen as counter-revolutionary and they left the front for their own safety, while those who remained pledged loyalty to the revolution and worked with the soldiers' committees to get things done. Officers had to show their enthusiasm for the revolutionary changes and use persuasion to convince soldiers to follow their orders. Those with a middle class professional or student background were most likely to sympathize with the revolution and work with the committees; they tended to support War Minister Kerensky, were pro-war and patriotic, and made preparations for the June offensive. The enlisted soldiers were mostly peasants, and they were patriotic but wanted to fight defensively and establish peace.[22] Among the professional officers, some of them were monarchists (either constitutional or absolutist), while many welcomed the removal of Nicholas II and supported the pro-war leaders of the Provisional Government.[23]

After the February Revolution, the demoralization that affected the Petrograd garrison began spreading among units outside of the capital.[24] Political agitators from outside the army traveled to the front to give speeches to the troops, which in some instances included trying to pit the soldiers against the officers.[21] The Bolsheviks were among those who sent agitators, and used reserve units to spread their newspapers among the army.[25] There were also reports of Russian soldiers talking and sharing food and alcohol with the Germans and Austrians, who took the opportunity to spread propaganda among them after they became aware of the revolutionary developments in Russia. Almost every corps at the front line experienced refusal by some soldiers that were in reserve to move up to the front, though the vast majority of these situations were resolved by negotiation with the soldiers' committees and officers. There were some occasions in which officers were murdered by their troops, and these incidents happened most often in the reserve units further away from the front. Desertion from the front line slightly decreased after the Revolution, but became more common among the rear-echelon and reserve units. Part of the reason for this was that officers and soldiers with common experience at the front got along better, while the members of training or reserve units had less bonds between them.[26]


General Brusilov with War Minister Kerensky.

Kerensky, as well as the Stavka and the Ministry of War, were determined to continue with the planned offensive in Galicia. In addition to their obligations to the Entente, they also thought it could restore national unity and military discipline.[25][26] Despite its previous casualties, the Russian Army was still an effective force at the start of 1917. The Stavka estimated in April that the army had 7,060,700 soldiers, the largest army Russia ever fielded up to that point. Replacements for the losses of earlier years were being trained and many of its supply shortages had been resolved, in part because of more Allied assistance being shipped to the port of Arkhangelsk.[24][27] However, the political developments of the Revolution and the creation of soldiers' committees undermined their plans for the offensive.[26] General Alekseyev, who became the army supreme commander after the Revolution, told his French counterpart Robert Nivelle in March that the offensive would have to be delayed until June, because of low morale, logistical issues, and problems caused by bad weather.[24] Alekseyev was also told by Alexander Guchkov, who was briefly the Minister of War before Kerensky replaced him, that the Petrograd Soviet had the real power and the Provisional Government existed as long as the Soviet allowed it. Therefore, Alekseyev had the French and Belgian representatives at the Stavka arranged for visits by socialists in their governments to get the Soviet to support continuing the war.[28] The Soviet was divided on the issue, and avoided making a clear policy about the war until after the offensive happened.[29]

Towards the end of March 1917, the commanders of Russia's three main army groups were ordered to give a report on the situation in their units. Generals Nikolai Ruzsky of the Northern Front and Vladimir Smirnov of the Western Front both answered that their troops were not in a condition to go on the attack, while General Aleksei Brusilov at the Southwestern Front was the only one who was optimistic and said that his armies were ready for an offensive.[30] In May 1917, Kerensky went on a tour of the front lines to give patriotic speeches to the troops, and during the tour he spent a lot of time together with Brusilov. The two of them got along well and agreed on many of the issues facing Russia at that time. They were also well received by the soldiers, and Kerensky's speeches helped raise enthusiasm for the offensive. At the same time, General Alekseyev had been critical of Kerensky and the policies of the Provisional Government. On 4 June 1917 he was relieved of command and replaced by Brusilov as the head of the army.[31] Kerensky's speaking tour, along with the work of the officers that cooperated with the soldiers' committees, was able to win over enough of the infantry units that were needed for the offensive. The lack of discipline was more common among the infantry, while the cavalry and artillery were often willing to put down mutinies by the former. In general, while the infantry soldiers were more divided, the Provisional Government still had significant support among the cavalry and artillery, the Cossacks, officer cadets, and volunteers of new infantry units called the "battalions of death," or shock battalions.[26][32]

One of the measures taken by Brusilov and the Provisional Government in the spring of 1917 to deal with the discipline problems was to create "volunteer, revolutionary battalions for the training of shock groups." Based on shock detachments formed by Brusilov in 1916 for infiltration and reconnaissance, they were expanded by him and by General Lavr Kornilov in early 1917, which was eventually approved by Kerensky.[33][34] Brusilov sent recruiters to places as far away as Petrograd and Moscow to find volunteers.[34] These units were recruited from the best soldiers and officers of regular infantry regiments, as well as from civilian volunteers.[26][34] But this also made the regular infantry less reliable.[35] Between March and November 1917 there were 600,000 volunteers for the shock battalions.[26] These included a Women's Battalion, which the Provisional Government also hoped to use to shame the infantry that did not want to fight.[35]

But in early May 1917, Brusilov told Alekseyev that the situation on the Southwestern Front had changed from his earlier report, and that logistical problems would make an offensive difficult. Later that month, at a conference of the Stavka, all front commanders reached the conclusion that an offensive was necessary to assist the Western Allies, despite all of the army's problems. France, Britain, and Italy pressured the Provisional Government to take offensive action, and according to foreign minister Mikhail Tereshchenko, they threatened to withhold loans that Russia needed to avoid bankruptcy if there was no Russian offensive. Kerensky also thought that a Russian military success would persuade the other Allies to seek peace on the terms in his government's earlier declaration calling for self-determination for all nations. So he saw Russian military action as an extension of his diplomacy to end the war on renegotiated terms. There was also the belief in the Provisional Government that if the army remained idle, it was more likely to disintegrate, and that it gave them an excuse to send the rebellious Petrograd garrison to the front line.[36] The United States sent a delegation to Russia led by Elihu Root, who told Tereshchenko that the offensive should be postponed to give Russia time to recover from political unrest, and that Russia nominally being at war with Germany was enough assistance to the Allies, keeping German divisions on the Eastern Front. But the other countries had more influence in Russia than the U.S., and the delegation arrived when the decision had already been made.[37]

In June, Kerensky made an effort to increase political backing for the offensive. To democratize the army as the Soviet wanted, he issued the declaration of soldiers' rights, which stated that soldiers could be members of political organizations and could express their opinions openly. But this meant that officers were prevented from stopping political agitation that spread anti-war sentiment among the troops. Kerensky obtained the support of the Petrograd Soviet, and the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies that convened in the second half of that month also voted in favor of a resolution that allowed him to go on the offensive. The Congress passed a ambiguously-worded resolution on 25 June 1917 stating that the army should be capable of both defensive and offensive operations, which was meant to be interpreted as an approval for the offensive. Kerensky gave the order to the Stavka to begin the attack, in accordance with Alekseyev's plan that he had prepared for Tsar Nicholas II. The stand of the Congress was clarified when the Petrograd Soviet's newspaper, Izvestia, called on soldiers to go on the offensive against the Central Powers to prevent the disintegration of the army, put Russia in a better negotiating position to end the war, and defend the territory of the country. The Bolsheviks voted against it during the Congress, along with some far-left deputies from the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, calling it part of an "imperialistic war."[1][37]

The Germans were fully aware of the Russian offensive plan, from a combination of reports from deserters and aerial reconnaissance, and after defeating the French offensive in the West, the Army Supreme Command (OHL) sent six divisions from there to the Eastern Front. German quartermaster-general Erich Ludendorff intended to not only stop the Russian offensive but to launch a counteroffensive into Russian territory.[1][38]

Order of battle[edit]


Armies from north to south:[3][38][39]

The Special Army was also part of the Southwestern Front, but did not participate in the offensive.[2]

Central Powers[edit]

Armies from north to south:[38][40]


Initial advance[edit]

Map of the offensive and Central Powers counteroffensive.

The preliminary artillery barrage began on 29 June [O.S. 16 June] 1917, when Kerensky arrived in Tarnopol and officially ordered the offensive.[41] The Russian objective was to capture the city of Lemberg (Lvov) while advancing from two directions: the Eleventh Army from the north, aiming to capture Zolochev before advancing southwards toward Lemberg, and the Seventh Army from the south, to capture the Berezhany railway junction before continuing north to the main target. Further to the south was this theater, the Eighth Army was tasked with a supporting attack on the towns of Kalush and Galich, and the railways in that area.[40] Opposite of the Eleventh Army was the Austrian Second Army, and opposite of the Seventh Army was the German-commanded South Army, the latter including German, Austrian, and Ottoman divisions. The Eighth Army was faced by the Austrian Third Army.[38]

On 1 July [O.S. 18 June], the Seventh and Eleventh Armies commenced their attack. Their shock battalions breached the defenses for several miles along the Zborov–Berezhany sector, and by 2 July had taken several lines of trenches. The Eleventh Army had pushed back the Austrian Second, and advanced an average of two miles into their territory along the front, but the Seventh Army further to the south had a much slower advance, primarily facing the German troops of the South Army. The Russian attack on the first day captured over 18,000 men.[40][38] But, after the first couple of days, the shock troops that had been chosen to lead the attack had been weakened, and the regular infantry were not as reliable. After this there was a break in major fighting for three days, but it resumed on 6 July near Koniukhy, though by this time German reinforcements had reached the Eleventh Army's sector. There were heavy losses for the Eleventh Army, and its advance was halted. After the initial advance, many soldiers believed they had done their job and did not want to continue. The Eleventh Army's reserve, the 1st Guards Corps, refused to fight, having received revolutionary soldiers from Petrograd as reinforcements. The Seventh Army's advance stopped after 2 July, and it was ordered to simply cover the flank of the Eleventh. Besides having to face German troops, the sector covered by the Seventh Army also included difficult terrain, while the Eleventh Army was operating on open plains. The fighting on 6 July marked the end of the offensive for the Eleventh and Seventh Armies, at which point their troops stayed in the positions they had gained.[42]

The Battle of Zborov in the Eleventh Army's sector became notable for the advance of the Czechoslovak Brigade against the Austrian 19th Infantry Division, which mostly consisted of ethnic Czechs. The successful Czechoslovak attack caused the division to withdraw from the town, and, together with Russian assistance, threatened a breakthrough on this part of the front before reinforcements were used to strengthen that area. Although it was a small battle, it became well known in Czech and Slovak history, as part of their independence struggle from the Habsburg monarchy.[38]

Kornilov's attack[edit]

Lavr Kornilov with his troops in 1917.

Around the time the attack in the north slowed down, on 6 July 1917, Kornilov's Russian Eighth Army began shelling the Austrian positions in their sector near Stanislau. The Russians had a geographic advantage, with their positions being higher up than the Austrians, who had also not completed their defenses in this area. The Eighth Army then launched its own attack against Austrian Third Army, led by Karl Tersztyánszky von Nádas, but it failed to break through on 7 July. The initial infantry attack at several locations did not make much progress, but two days of an artillery barrage weakened the Austrian defenses, and a renewed assault led to the capture of Stanislau on 8 July. The defenses beyond the city, along the road from Stanislau to the Russian objective of Kalush, had not been prepared by Nádas or other senior officers. The Austrian positions here collapsed and Kornilov's troops advanced six miles toward Kalusz. Kornilov's success was more than taking territory, as the German high command had to delay their plans for their own counteroffensive in the South Army's sector to the north. Instead, the divisions they intended to use for that were diverted to shore up the Austrian Third Army. The fighting paused on 10 July as the Russians brought more ammunition and artillery to their new positions, but Nádas was relieved of command by Karl Křitek.[1][42][43]

The advance of the Eighth Army resumed late on 10 July, and they captured Galich, a bridgehead on the Dniester river, and the following day Kalush, the headquarters of the Third Army. Kornilov's men had advanced 15–20 miles and captured 10,000 troops.[42][43] However, the Russian advance was halted, including by a German reinforcements to strengthen the Austrians and by problems caused by bad weather in the area of the Lomnitsa river that destroyed the bridges they had built. This marked the end of the Eighth Army's advance, which had been the most successful, and on 20 July Kornilov, to whom the success was attributed, was named the commander of the Southwestern Front in the place of General Aleksei Gutor. His promotion was requested to Kerensky by Boris Savinkov, a Provisional Government commissar to the Southwestern Front, who believed the Kornilov could restore the power of the army and save Russia. Kerensky approved this request, and it was accepted by the supreme commander, Brusilov.[3]

Supporting operations[edit]

On other parts of the Eastern Front, the supporting attacks by the other army groups had fared worse. The Western Front, led by Anton Denikin, started the offensive on 20 July, and had some initial success from the shock battalions and other reliable units, but they were stopped by German reinforcements. The Northern Front attacked on 21 July with the Fifth Army, but only two of its six divisions were willing to attack, while the Twelfth Army refused to advance at all. The Romanian Front had was the most successful campaign, where Russian and Romanian armies advanced together. The effect of seeing the Romanian Army advance and the use of shock units to stop mutinies behind the front line contributed to the willingness of Russian soldiers to fight in this area, despite the presence of the same discipline problems that affected the rest of the Russian Army. However, the Romanian Front's advance was ordered to stop by Kerensky when the main offensive back north ended.[3]

German counteroffensive[edit]

The Germans launched their counteroffensive against the Southwestern Front on 19 July. The initial attack fell on the Eleventh Army, which began retreating despite its numerical superiority over the German force. The most reliable units had suffered the majority of the casualties, and the ones that were left were unwilling to fight. By the end of 21 July, the Eleventh Army had abandoned its positions, and on 22 July the Seventh Army was also hit by the German counterattack. The Russian Seventh and Eleventh Armies were in full retreat, which turned into a rout, while the remaining resistance there to the Germans came from officers and NCOs. By 23 July, the Eighth Army was forced to withdraw because its flank was exposed. When the German counteroffensive was over on 27 August, the Russian army had fallen back to the original Austrian-Russian border, by as much as 120 kilometres (75 miles).[3][1]


As many Russian units disintegrated during the retreat, some soldiers committed crimes against the local population in the area near the front, causing Kornilov and Savinkov to ask the Provisional Government to restore the death penalty in the army.[3] At a meeting of senior commanders at the Stavka on 29 July 1917, Kerensky was criticized for all of the policies that the Provisional Government implemented in the army since the February Revolution, and he agreed on the necessity of restoring order among the troops. On 31 July, he appointed Kornilov to replace Brusilov as the Supreme Commander, because Kornilov had always opposed the revolutionary changes.[44] Kornilov was also recommended to Kerensky by Boris Savinkov. Furthermore, Kerensky approved their request to restore the death penalty, to impose limitations on soldiers' committees, and effectively cancel his Declaration of Soldiers' Rights from earlier. In this he was supported by the Petrograd Soviet Executive Committee, which declared that those who disobeyed orders from the Provisional Government were "traitors and cowards." Ordinary soldiers saw this as the leadership siding with the counter-revolutionary officers against them, and they started becoming disillusioned with both the Provisional Government and the moderate members of the Soviet.[3]

The month of July also saw a series of protests in Petrograd known as the July Days. The possibility of being sent to the front for the summer offensive, and therefore removed from the center of power, caused the revolutionary soldiers of the Petrograd garrison to stage protests against the government. The arrival in Petrograd of rebellious troops and deserters from other fronts caused agitation, as they advocated for all power to be given to the Soviet. Initially they were peaceful, and both the Soviet and Bolshevik Party leaders talked the radicals out of staging a coup against the Provisional Government. Vladimir Lenin thought that the government still had significant support and an early uprising could be crushed. However, the Bolshevik organization in Petrograd was taken over by the radicals. On 16 July, some of the troops started a violent protest against the offensive and the government, calling on workers to join them. Within days, they brought the city to a standstill. The rioters surrounded the Tauride Palace, but the leaders of the Soviet refused their demands, while Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders were reluctant to get involved. Regardless, the Bolsheviks were accused of being the instigators and had to flee the capital when the Provisional Government brought loyal troops into the city to end the protests.[42][45][46] Also, on 7 July, Kerensky became the head of government when Prince Georgy Lvov resigned, which was unrelated to either the offensive or the July Days but had to do with several ministers resigning in protest of the government's decision to grant autonomy to Ukraine.[47]

The offensive also began Kornilov's rise to power, as he had been its most effective commander and managed to stabilize the front after the rout of the other two armies. He attended the Moscow State Conference in mid-August 1917, where he received the support of right-wing industrialists and politicians that were secretly wanted to remove the Provisional Government from power. Kornilov and some other generals at the Stavka used loyal units to try to remove the Soviet from Petrograd, but this backfired when the troops mostly refused to comply. On 14 September 1917, Kornilov and the other rebel generals were placed under arrest. The crisis led the Soviet to ask the Bolsheviks for help, releasing their leaders that had been imprisoned after the July Days, and arming 25,000 Bolshevik Red Guards. They also invited radical Baltic Fleet sailors into Petrograd for security. The soldiers distrusted Kerensky because of his lenient treatment of Kornilov and his conspirators, and many of the troops refused to take orders from the high command, which could now only rely on a few reliable units. The Bolsheviks took this opportunity to spread within army units all across the front line, whereas before their influence had been mostly limited to the Northern Front near the capital, and to obtain the majority of seats in the Petrograd Soviet, shortly before the October Revolution. The Kerensky offensive led to the Kornilov crisis, which itself greatly contributed to the Bolsheviks overthrowing the Provisional Government on 7 November [O.S. 25 October] 1917.[4][48][49]


  1. ^ The offensive began in June by the calendar that was used in Russia at the time and in July by the Western calendar.
  2. ^ A front is the Russian equivalent of an army group.


  1. ^ a b c d e Stevenson 2017, pp. 158–170.
  2. ^ a b Heenan 1987, pp. 18–19.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Heenan 1987, pp. 117–124.
  4. ^ a b Heenan 1987, pp. 126–128.
  5. ^ Feldman 1968, p. 542.
  6. ^ a b Heenan 1987, pp. 1–3.
  7. ^ a b c d e Stevenson 2017, pp. 145–146.
  8. ^ a b c Stevenson 2017, pp. 109–110.
  9. ^ Bilton 2014, p. 112.
  10. ^ Stevenson 2017, pp. 91–94.
  11. ^ Stevenson 2017, pp. 95–101.
  12. ^ Stevenson 2017, pp. 104–108.
  13. ^ Reese 2019, pp. 365–366.
  14. ^ a b Stevenson 2017, p. 111.
  15. ^ a b Beevor 2022, pp. 53–56.
  16. ^ a b Stevenson 2017, pp. 112–114.
  17. ^ Heenan 1987, pp. 36–37.
  18. ^ Beevor 2022, pp. 57–60.
  19. ^ Reese 2019, pp. 363–364.
  20. ^ Reese 2019, pp. 370–372.
  21. ^ a b Reese 2019, pp. 394–400.
  22. ^ Wildman 1992, pp. 77–79.
  23. ^ Wildman 1992, pp. 82–85.
  24. ^ a b c Stevenson 2017, pp. 147–148.
  25. ^ a b Beevor 2022, pp. 61–62.
  26. ^ a b c d e f Reese 2019, pp. 401–404.
  27. ^ Reese 2019, p. 326.
  28. ^ Heenan 1987, pp. 39–40.
  29. ^ Heenan 1987, p. 35.
  30. ^ Cockfield 2019, pp. 247–248.
  31. ^ Cockfield 2019, pp. 253–254.
  32. ^ Reese 2019, pp. 405–406.
  33. ^ Katkov 1980, pp. 30–31.
  34. ^ a b c Cockfield 2019, p. 250.
  35. ^ a b Beevor 2022, p. 63.
  36. ^ Heenan 1987, pp. 49–54.
  37. ^ a b Heenan 1987, pp. 55–56.
  38. ^ a b c d e f Buttar 2017, pp. 153–163.
  39. ^ Heenan 1987, pp. 68–71.
  40. ^ a b c Heenan 1987, pp. 109–111.
  41. ^ Heenan 1987, p. 60.
  42. ^ a b c d Heenan 1987, pp. 114–116.
  43. ^ a b Buttar 2017, pp. 164–170.
  44. ^ Kenez 1971, pp. 28–30.
  45. ^ Heenan 1987, pp. 112–113.
  46. ^ Buttar 2017, pp. 193–198.
  47. ^ Beevor 2022, pp. 74.
  48. ^ Buttar 2017, pp. 199–203.
  49. ^ Ferro 1971, pp. 505–508.


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