Eastern Front
Part of World War I
Eastern Front (World War I).jpg
Clockwise from top left: Carpathian Mountains, 1915; German soldiers in Kiev, March 1918; the russian ship Slava, October 1917; Russian infantry, 1914; Romanian infantry.
Date 17 August 1914 – 3 March 1918
(3 years, 6 months and 2 weeks)
Location Central and Eastern Europe
Result Central Powers victory
Flag of the German Empire.svg Germany
Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918).svg Austria-Hungary
Flag of Bulgaria.svg Bulgaria (1916–17)
Flag of the Ottoman Empire.svg Ottoman Empire (1916–17)
Flag of Russia.svg Russian Empire (1914–17)
Flag of Russia.svg Russian Republic (1917)
Flag of Romania.svg Romania (1916–17)

Flag of Russian SFSR (1918-1937).svg Russian SFSR (1918)

Commanders and leaders
Flag of the German Empire.svg Paul von Hindenburg

Flag of the German Empire.svg Erich Ludendorff
Flag of the German Empire.svg Leopold of Bavaria
Flag of the German Empire.svg Max Hoffmann
Flag of the German Empire.svg August von Mackensen
Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918).svg Conrad von Hötzendorf
Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918).svg Arthur Arz von Straußenburg
Flag of Bulgaria.svg Nikola Zhekov

Flag of Russia.svg Nicholas II

Flag of Russia.svg Grand Duke Nicholas
Flag of Russia.svg Mikhail Alekseyev
Flag of Russia.svg Aleksei Brusilov
Flag of Russia.svg Alexander Samsonov  
Flag of Russia.svg Lavr Kornilov
Flag of Russia.svg Nikolay Dukhonin
Flag of Romania.svg Constantin Prezan

Flag of Russian SFSR (1918-1937).svg Nikolai Krylenko

Casualties and losses
Flag of the German Empire.svg 317,100 dead & missing
Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918).svg On all fronts during the entire war (including Italian and Balkan fronts): 1,100,000 dead , 1,980,000 wounded, 1,800,000 P.O.W Austria-Hungary's Eastern front 1914-1917 about 50% of total losses

Flag of the Ottoman Empire.svg unknown KIA and MIA 10,000 P.O.W

Total: more than 3,500,000 casualties

Flag of Russia.svg 2,254,400 killed (on all fronts), 3,749,000 wounded, 3,343,900 P.O.W
Flag of Romania.svg 659,800 casualties

Total: more than 10,000,000 casualties

During World War I, the Eastern Front (sometimes called the "Second Fatherland War" in Russian sources) was a theatre of operations that encompassed at its greatest extent the entire frontier between the Russian Empire and Romania on one side and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria and Germany on the other. It stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, included most of Eastern Europe and stretched deep into Central Europe as well.

The term contrasts with "Western Front". Despite the geographical separation, events in all the European theaters strongly influenced one another. In 1914, the Russians' invasion of Galicia relieved the pressure on the Serbian Front, and in 1916, the Brusilov Offensive was intended to do the same for the Italian Front. Ultimately, both times the Russians ignored the German forces to their north, which resulted in them over-stretching their supply lines, then suffering further defeats against superior German artillery.

Russia prior to 1914[edit | edit source]

Prior to 1914, the Russian’s lack of success in war and diplomacy in the six decades before 1914 sapped the country’s moral strength in half. The triumphs of the British and Germany in the military, in diplomatic and economic spheres put these countries in the front rank of the world's leading nations and enabled British men and Germans to feel a foot taller than the rest of mankind. This was a source of national pride, self-confidence and unity. It helped reconcile the worker to the state and the Bavarian or Scotsman to rule from Berlin or London. In the years prior to 1914 Austro-Russian co-operation was unfortunately both crucial for European peace and very difficult to maintain. Old suspicions exacerbated by the Bosnian crisis stood in the way of agreement between the two empires, as did ethnic sensitivities. Russia’s historical role as liberator of the Balkans was difficult to square with Austria’s determination to control adjacent territories in which irredentist movements would be based. In 1913-4 Petersburg was however too concerned with its own weakness and what it saw as threats to vital Russian interests to spare much thought for Vienna’s feelings. The Russians were, with some justice, indignant that the concessions they had made after the first Balkan war in the interest of European peace had not been reciprocated by the Central Powers. This was doubly dangerous given the growing evidence flowing into Petersburg about Germany’s aggressive intentions. Both Bazarov and the agents of the Russian Secret political police in Germany reported the concern aroused in public opinion by the press war against Russia, which raged in the spring of 1914.

First combat (August 1914)[edit | edit source]

Hindenburg at Tannenberg

An engagement in Hungary

The war in the east began with the Russian invasion of East Prussia on 17 August 1914 and the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. The first effort quickly turned to a defeat following the Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914. A second Russian incursion into Galicia was completely successful, with the Russians controlling almost all of that region by the end of 1914, routing four Austrian armies in the process. Under the command of Nikolai Ivanov and Aleksei Brusilov, the Russians won the Battle of Galicia in September and began the Siege of Przemyśl, the next fortress on the road towards Kraków.

This early Russian success in 1914 on the Austro-Russian border was a reason for concern to the Central Powers and caused considerable German forces to be transferred to the East to take pressure off the Austrians, leading to the creation of the new German Ninth Army. At the end of 1914, the main focus of the fighting shifted to central part of Russian Poland, west of the river Vistula. The October Battle of the Vistula River and the November Battle of Łódź brought little advancement for the Germans, but at least kept the Russians at a safe distance.

The Russian and Austro-Hungarian armies continued to clash in and near the Carpathian Mountains throughout the winter of 1914–1915. Przemysl fortress managed to hold out deep behind enemy lines throughout this period, with the Russians bypassing it in order to attack the Austro-Hungarian troops further to the west. They made some progress, crossing the Carpathians in February and March 1915, but then the Germans sent relief and stopped further Russian advance. In the meantime, Przemysl was almost entirely destroyed and the Siege of Przemysl ended in a defeat for the Austrians.

1915[edit | edit source]

In 1915 the German command decided to make its main effort on the Eastern Front, and accordingly transferred considerable forces there. To eliminate the Russian threat the Central Powers began the campaign season of 1915 with the successful Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive in Galicia in May 1915.

Russian troops going to the front: Support for the imperial guard being hurried into the fighting line

After the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes, the German and Austro-Hungarian troops in the Eastern Front functioned under a unified command. The offensive soon turned into a general advance and then a strategic retreat by the Russian army. The cause of the reverses suffered by the Russian army was not so much errors in the tactical sphere, as the deficiency in technical equipment, particularly in artillery and ammunition as well as the corruption and incompetence of the Russian officers. Only by 1916 did buildup of Russian war industries increase production of war material and improve the supply situation.

Chernivtsi, western Ukraine, during Habsburg rule, c. 1915

By mid-1915, the Russians had been expelled from Russian Poland and hence pushed hundreds of kilometers away from the borders of the Central Powers, removing the threat of Russian invasion of Germany or Austria-Hungary. At the end of 1915 German-Austrian advance was stopped on the line RigaJakobstadtDünaburgBaranovichiPinskDubnoTernopil. The general outline of this front line did not change until the Russian collapse in 1917.

Russo-Turkish Offensive, Winter 1915-1916[edit | edit source]

After the Battle of Sarikamis, the Russo-Turkish front was relatively stagnant for a year, although there were local campaigns in Azerbaijan and Lake Van in April and June. The Turks were concerned with reorganizing their army, the Gallipoli Campaign, and "ethnic cleansing" in Turkish Armenia. Meanwhile, the Caucasus Army had low priority, as Russia was preoccupied with other armies on the Eastern Front. However, the appointment of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich as Viceroy and Commander in the Caucasus in September 1915 radically changed the situation of the Russo-Turkish front.

When the Allies withdrew from Gallipolli in December, the Caucasus Army's Chief of Staff General Nikolai Yudenich believed Turkish forces would take action against his army. This concern was legitimate: Bulgaria's entry into the war as Germany's ally in October caused serious alarm, as a land route from Germany to Turkey was now open and would allow for an unrestricted flow of German weapons to the Turks. A "window of opportunity" appeared that would allow the Russians to destroy the Turkish Third Army, as the British required assistance in Mesopotamia (now modern day Iraq). Britain's efforts to besiege Baghdad had been halted at Ctesiphon, and they were forced to retreat. This led to an increasing number of attacks by Turkish forces. The British requested the Russians to attack Anatolia in an attempt to distract the Turks, and Yudenich agreed. Resultantly, the offensive began on January 10, 1916.

This offensive was unanticipated by the Turks, as it was in the middle of winter. The Turkish situation was exacerbated by the Third Army's commander Kamil Pasha and Chief of Staff Major Guse absence. Coupled with an imbalance of forces - the Russians had 325 000 troops, while the Turks only 78 000 - the situation appeared grim for the Central Powers. After three months of fighting, the Russians captured the city of Trabzon on April 18, 1916.

1916[edit | edit source]

World War I poster from Russia

The operations in 1916 were dictated by an urgent need to force Germany to transfer forces from its Western to Eastern fronts, to relieve the pressure on the French at the Battle of Verdun. This was to be accomplished by a series of Russian offensives which would force the Germans to deploy additional forces to counter them. The first such operation was the Lake Naroch Offensive in March–April 1916, which ended in failure.

Brusilov Offensive[edit | edit source]

The Italian operations during 1916 had one extraordinarily positive result: Austrian divisions were pulled away from the Russian southern front. This allowed the Russian forces to organize a counter-offensive. The Brusilov Offensive was a large tactical assault carried out by Russian forces against Austro-Hungarian forces in Galicia. General Alexei Brusilov believed victory against the Central Powers was possible if close attention was paid to preparation. Brusilov suggested that the Russians should attack on a wide front, and to position their trenches a mere seventy-five yard away from Austrian trenches.

Brusilov's plan worked impeccably. The Russians outnumbered the Austrians 200,000 to 150,000, and held a considerable advantage in guns, with 904 large guns to 600. The Russian Eighth Army overwhelmed the Austrian Fourth Army and pushed on to Lutsk, advancing forty miles beyond the starting position. A large number of Austrians were lost, with over 100,000 men killed or taken prisoner by mid-June.

Although the Brusilov Offensive was initially successful, it slowed down considerably. An inadequate number of troops and poorly maintained supply lines hindered Brusilov's ability to follow up on the initial victories in June. The Brusilov Offensive is considered to be the greatest Russian victory of the First World War. Although it cost the Russians a million casualties, the offensive successfully diverted substantial forces of the Central Powers from the Western front, and pulled Romania into the war.

Romania Enters the War[edit | edit source]

Rumania may be the turning point of the campaign. If the Germans fail there it will be the greatest disaster inflicted upon them. Afterwards it will only be a question of time. But should Germany succeed, I hesistate to think what the effect will be on the fortunes of our campaign....and yet no one seems to have thought it his particular duty to prepare a plan... - Lloyd George

British poster, welcoming Romania's decision to join the Entente

Up until 1916, the Romanians followed the tides of war with interest, while attempting to situate themselves in the most advantageous position. French and Russian diplomats had begun courting the Romanians early on, but persuasion tactics gradually intensified. For King Ferdinand to commit his force of half a million men, he expected the Allies to offer a substantial incentive. Playing on Romanian anti-Hungarian sentiment and the constant objective of territorial expansion, the Allies promised the territory of Ardeal (Transylvania) to Romania. Romania succumbed to Allied enticement on 18 August 1916. Nine days later, on 27 August Romanian troops marched into the Austria-Hungarian territory of Transylvania.

Romania's entry into the war provoked major strategic changes for the Germans. In September 1916, German troops were mobilized to the Eastern Front. Additionally, the German Chief of the General Staff, General Erich Von Falkenhayn was forced to resign from office. Kaiser Wilhelm II immediately replaced Falkenhayn with Paul von Hindenburg. Von Hindenburg's deputy, the more adept Erich Ludendorff, was given effective control of the army and ordered to advance on Romania. On 3 September, the first troops of the Central Powers marched into Romanian territory. Simultaneously, the Bulgarian air force commenced an incessant bombing of Bucharest. In an attempt to relieve some pressure, French and British forces launched a new offensive known as the Battle of the Somme, while the Brusilov Offensive continued in the East.

It is certain that so relatively small a state as Rumania had never before been given a role so important, and, indeed, so decisive for the history of the world at so favorable a moment. Never before had two great Powers like Germany and Austria found themselves so much at the mercy of the military resources of a country which had scarcely one twentieth of the population of the two great states. Judging by the military situation, it was to be expected that Rumania had only to advance where she wished to decide the world war in favor of those Powers which had been hurling themselves at us in vain for years. Thus everything seemed to depend on whether Rumania was ready to make any sort of use of her momentary advantage. -Paul Von Hindeburg

The entrance of Romania into the war was disconcerting for Von Hidenburg. On 15 September Paul von Hindenburg issued the following order, stating that: "The main task of the Armies is now to hold fast all positions on the Western, Eastern, Italian and Macedonian Fronts, and to employ all other available forced against Roumania." Fortunately for the Central Powers, the quantity and quality of the Romanian army was overestimated. Although numbering at half a million men, the Romanian army suffered from poor training and a lack of appropriate equipment.

The initial success of the Romanian army in Austria-Hungarian territory was quickly undermined by the Central powers. German and Austrian troops advanced from the north, while Bulgarian forces marched into Romania from the south. Although thought to be a tactical blunder by contemporaries, the Romanians opted to mount operations in both directions. By the middle of November the German force passed through the Carpathians, a mountain chain believed to be impregnable if defended. By 5 December Bulgarian troops had crossed the Danube and was approaching the capital, Bucharest. At the same time as the Austro-Hungarian troops moved east, and as the Bulgarians marched north, the Turks had sent in two army divisions by sea to the Dobruja from the east. Eventually, the Romanian forces were pushed back behind the Seret in northern Moldova.

Aftermath of 1916[edit | edit source]

By January 1917, the Romanian army had been decimated. Roughly 150,000 Romanian soldiers had been taken prisoner, 200,000 men were dead or wounded, and lost almost the whole of their country. Importantly, the Ploesti oilfields, the only significant source of oil in Europe west of the Black Sea, had been destroyed before they were abandoned to the Central Powers.

Enticing Romania into the First World War proved to be more of a hindrance than an advantage to the Allies forces. The swift defeat of Romania forced Russia to commit significant resources and troops to rescue Romania from total collapse. Furthermore, it allowed the Germans to extract a million tons of oil and to collect two million tons of grain.

1917[edit | edit source]

Russia - The February Revolution

The February Russian Revolution aimed to topple the Russian monarchy and resulted in the creation of the Provisional Government. The revolution was a turning point in Russian history, and its significance and influence can still be felt in many countries today. Although many Russians wanted a revolution, no one had expected it to happen when it did - let alone how it did.

On International Women's Day, Thursday, 23 February 1917, as many as 90,000 female workers in the city of Petrograd left their factory jobs and marched through the streets, shouting "Bread", "Down with the autocracy!" and "Stop the War!" These women were tired, hungry, and angry, after working long hours in miserable conditions to feed their families because their menfolk were fighting at the front. They wanted change; they demanded change; and evidently they were not the only ones as more than 150,000 men and women took to the streets to protest the next day.

By Saturday, 25 February, the city of Petrograd was essentially shut down. No one was allowed to work or wanted to work. Even though there were a few incidents of police and soldiers firing into the crowds, those groups soon mutinied and joined the protesters. Tsar Nicholas II, who was not in Petrograd during the revolution, heard reports of the protests but chose not to take them seriously. By 1 March, it was obvious to everyone except the tsar himself that his rule was over. On 2 March it was made official.

Russia - The October Revolution

By September 1917, just months after the February revolution, Lenin believed the Russian people were ready for another revolution, this time on Marxist principles. On 10 October, at a secret meeting of the Bolshevik party leaders, Lenin used all his power to convince the others that it was time for armed insurrection. After 24 hours of debate, a vote was taken the following morning: the result was ten to two in favour of a revolution. Troops who were loyal to the Bolsheviks took control of the telegraph stations, power stations, strategic bridges, post offices, train stations, and state banks, without gunfire or any resistance.

Petrograd was officially in the hands of the Bolsheviks, who greatly increased their organization in factory groups and in many barracks throughout Petrograd. They concentrated on devising a plan for overturning the Provisional Government, with a coup d’état. On 24 October, Lenin emerged from hiding in a suburb, entered the city, set up his headquarters at the Smolny Institute and worked to complete his three-phase plan. With the main bridges and the main railways secured, only the Winter Palace, and with it the Provisional Government, remained to be taken. On the evening of 7 November, the troops that were loyal to the Bolsheviks infiltrated the Winter Palace. After an almost bloodless coup, the Bolsheviks were the new leaders of Russia. Lenin announced that the new regime would end the war, abolish all private land ownership, and would create a system for workers' control over the factories.

1918[edit | edit source]

On 7 November 1917, the Communists Bolsheviks took power under their leader Vladimir Lenin. Lenin’s new Bolshevik government tried to end the war, with a ceasefire being declared on 15 December 1917 along lines agreed in November. At the same time Bolsheviks launched a full-scale military offensive against its opponents: Ukraine and separatist governments in the Don region. During the peace negotiations between Soviets and Central Powers, the Germans demanded enormous concessions, eventually resulting in the failure of the long-drawn-out peace negotiations on 17 February 1918. At same time the Central Powers concluded a military treaty with Ukraine which was losing ground in the fight with invading Bolshevik forces.  The Russian Civil War, which started just after November 1917, would tear apart Russia for three years. As a result of the events during 1917, many groups opposed to Lenin’s Bolsheviks had formed. With the fall of Nicholas II, many parts of the Russian Empire took the opportunity to declare their independence, one of which was Finland, which did so in December 1917; however, Finland too collapsed into a civil war. There, a group led by Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, who later became known as "the German," aided the “Whites”. They even contemplated putting a German prince in power in Finland once the “Whites” had won. With German help, the Finnish Whites pushed the Finnish-Russian border to the southern part of Karelian Isthmus, thus placing Saint Petersburg within artillery range.

Within the borders of Russia itself, those who opposed the Bolsheviks looked to the western powers for help. This was for their own benefit, the western powers wanted to re-establish an Eastern Front so that the German Army would be split once again, thus relieving the problems that were being experienced on the Western Front. The old army was an instrument of class oppression of the working people led by the bourgeoisie. The workers and the peasants which essentially made up the base of the Red Army joined the ranks, it required organization and standing on the platform of Soviet power, thus the search for a compulsory military training system. One of the main objectives of Socialism is to simply deliver mankind from the burden of barbarity of bloody clashes between nations. This was the Russian thought process to rid the world’s capitalistic powers of their power and thus transferring it to the working class.

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918)[edit | edit source]

Territory lost by Russia under the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

With the German army just 85 miles (137 km) from the Russian capital Petrograd (St. Petersburg) on 3 March 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed and the Eastern Front ceased to be a war zone. While the treaty was practically harsh, it did provide some relief to the Bolsheviks, who were embroiled in a civil war, and affirmed the independence of Ukraine. However, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania were intended to become a United Baltic Duchy to be ruled by German princes and German nobility as fiefdoms under the German Kaiser. Finland's sovereignty had already been declared in December 1917, and accepted by most nations, including France and the Soviet Union, but not by the United Kingdom and the United States. The Germans were able to transfer substantial forces to the west in order to mount an offensive in France in the spring of 1918.

This offensive on the Western front allowed the Germans to achieve a decisive breakthrough, and the withdrawl of Russia was sufficient to give the Germans a significant advantage. Even after the Russian collapse, about a million German soldiers remained tied up in the east until the end of the war, attempting to run an addition to the German Empire in Europe.

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