A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

III TANNENBERG AND LEMBERG

I

IN March 1914 an article, generally attributed to Sukhomlinov, the War Minister, appeared in a Russian paper saying boastfully: 'The army is not only large but excellently equipped. Russia has always fought on foreign soil and has always been victorious. Russia is no longer on the defensive, Russia is ready.' In reality the army which went out to war was more curiously compounded of good and bad elements than even most human products.

Its Commander-in-Chief, the Grand Duke Nicholas, an uncle of the Tsar, was the austere, reserved and very capable general whose strategical capacity and iron determination have received many tributes of respect and even admiration from his enemies. His great hold over the army, which he maintained in comparatively strict discipline, made him unpopular in Court circles, especially with the jealous and neurotic Tsarina, who was constantly moving her husband's feeble mind against him. Among the higher command there were Russky and Alexeiev, who were among the most scientific soldiers in Europe, Brussilov and the Bulgarian Dmitriev, unsurpassed fighting leaders; there were others, of whom we shall see examples in the East Prussian campaign, of almost incredible inefficiency and carelessness. The Staffs seem on the whole to have been bad, partly because of the prevalence of social influence in planting unsuitable young aristocrats, partly because officers went to the Staff College too young and had little or no regimental experience.1 The technical

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1
Practically all the higher commands down to and including that of a regiment were ear-marked for them. This discouraged regimental officers and increased their natural laziness. A good picture of the slackness and slovenly organization of the General Staff at Petrograd is given by Sir S. J. Hoare, The Fourth Seal ( 1930), pp. 49, 50. During May 1916 there were fifteen public holidays during which the office was completely closed. See also Gen. A. A. Brussilov, A Soldier's Notebook, 1914-18 ( 1930), pp. 23-5.

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