Written in Blood: The Battles for Fortress Przemysl in WWI

Written in Blood: The Battles for Fortress Przemysl in WWI

Written in Blood: The Battles for Fortress Przemysl in WWI

Written in Blood: The Battles for Fortress Przemysl in WWI

Synopsis

Bloodier than Verdun, the battles for Fortress Przemyl were pivotal to victory on the Eastern Front during the early years of World War I. Control of the fortress changed hands three times during the fall of 1914. In 1915, the Austro-Hungarian armies launched three major offensives to penetrate the Russian encirclement and relieve the 120,000 trapped in the besieged fortress. Drawing on myriad sources, historian Graydon A. Tunstall tells of the impossible conditions facing the garrison: starvation, "horse-meat" diets, deplorable medical care, prostitution, alcoholism, dismal morale, and a failed breakout attempt. By the time the fortress finally fell to the Russians on March 22, 1915, the Hapsburg Army had sustained 800,000 casualties; the Russians, over a million. The fortress, however, had served its purpose. Tunstall argues that the besieged garrison kept the Russian army from advancing farther and obliterating the already weakening Austro-Hungarian forces at the outset of the War to End All Wars.

Excerpt

In the event of war, Austria-Hungary—with its precarious location in Central Europe—had to defend its interests on multiple fronts and against multiple opponents. Constructing fortresses was a necessity to hold or delay enemy invasions, particularly because of the Dual Monarchy’s extended frontiers; however, sufficient funds rarely became available for such construction. in a two- or three-front war against numerically superior enemies, fortresses enabled Habsburg war planners to spare troops to deploy on all fronts. As field armies used interior lines to defeat one enemy at a time, fortresses assumed an important role in Austro-Hungarian as well as German military planning— strategic and operational.

The numerically inferior Habsburg army could not compete against potential enemy troop numbers; therefore, fortresses had to be erected to compensate for its lack of mobile forces. the defense of the Galician frontier depended largely on the neighboring Carpathian Mountains because fortifications could not secure the bow-shaped, extended terrain. This led to the necessity of fortifying the open frontiers against Russia, which had become a European great power and eventually a potential enemy of the Dual Monarchy over their Balkan Peninsula competition. Repeatedly, however, financial problems intervened, because Vienna had fallen into enormous debt and bankruptcy after the Napoleonic Wars. Fortress Przemyśl would soon serve as the first line of defense against a tsarist invasion of Galicia. Because the Russian army had many light infantry and cavalry units, this made it increasingly important to protect Habsburg rear echelon connections in that province. the . . .

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