A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

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

XI THE RETREAT OF RUSSIA, 1915

BY the beginning of 1915 Russia was in a pitiable state for waging modern war. Of the great horde of 6,250,000 men nominally with the colours at least a third could not be supplied with rifles. Of the remainder many were armed with Japanese, Mexican, or captured Austrian weapons, the diversity of which seriously complicated the supply of ammunition. The number of guns per battery had been reduced by a quarter, but even so shells were ludicrously insufficient. Commanders were threatened with court martial if they used more than three shells per day per gun. Nor could the situation be remedied for many months. The careless, sloppy, if not corrupt, methods in vogue, both with Staff officers and in government departments, could not be eradicated. The common way of dealing with an unpleasant fact was to deny its existence. General Knox, the British attaché, found all his requests for information met by evasion or lies. It was really unfortunate that their Austrian enemies were themselves so wretchedly dejected and demoralized. Had they appeared more formidable, the Russian armies might possibly have stood on a general defensive during this critical year, and have avoided great evils. Even a purely defensive task would have been hard enough, for they had to guard 800 miles, in many parts of which no continuous defences had been dug.

As we have already shown, it was only the plight of Austria-Hungary which compelled Falkenhayn most reluctantly to turn his reinforcements east. Even after Hindenburg had gained so signal a success in the Masurian 'Winter battle', which cost the Russians 200,000 men and, what was worse, 300 of their precious guns; even after the Grand Duke had made a last desperate attempt to smash his way into Silesia in February, Falkenhayn still hoped to bring back to France sufficient troops to break up the English by one great blow.

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