After the battle of Gorlice-Tarnow the
Russian front line was shaky and disorganized. Gerneral Otto v. Below’s
Njemen-Armee on the Northern flank of the German front line made the most of
the chaos and launched an offensive that swept across the hot summer landscape
like a tornado.
Three cavalry divisions, reinforced by
flying columns, threw off the chains of trench warfare and burst through the
weakly defended Russian lines. The spirit of the cavalry was taken up by the
accompanying infantry who could not be held back as they stormed forward in the
direction of Schaulen where the mass of the Russian 5th army was to
The Iron Cross 2nd class document to Leutnant d.Res Mövius, whose Landwehr-Fussartillerie-Bataillon was attached to the 3. Kavellerie Division. The award was mad in the month preceding the battle, in 1916 he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class.
It was the war of movement that the
Generals had dreamed of. Through forests, around lakes, across meadows, through
the wheat fields the cavalry galloped. Accompanying them were the Reitenden
Abteilungen of the Feldartillerie and the infantry on wagons and automobiles.
In a series of head on attacks and
encirclements they drove the shocked enemy from the battlefield, either in
confusion to towards the east or captivity in the West. The Russian high
command had lost its head. The simple soldiers and Cossacks fought bravely,
defending their ground, but they were left to their own defenses.
Out on the Northern flank they faced the
full force of the offensive. The Germans pushed past their flanks and caught
them from behind. The attackers covered up to 52km a day held up only by
fighting in the forests, the villages and at river crossings.
By the time the advance approached Schaulen
the Russians had begun to prepare their counter attack. They massed their
forces to hit the wheeling German left flank at its pivot. Von Below was
faster. He threw his regiments of Bavarian and Prussian infantry in a right hook
that closed around the Southern Flank of the Russian units at Schaulen while
the Brigade under Homeyer (Which had been in reserve) attacked Schaulen itself.
Now the Russians fought a fighting retreat,
a counter attack was no longer possible. As always they showed themselves to be
the masters of the fighting retreat and von Below was not able to fully
encircle the 5th Army, a portion of which escaped to the East. Only
the northern extremity of the front saw the Russian troops crushed on the
battlefield, here they pulled back to form a new defensive line which stretched
from Mitau to Poniewiez. The German troops followed with the intention of
taking Mitau but the front hardened and the offensive came to a halt.
A German writer described the offensive as “…
a whirlwind that swept the leaves from the trees”.
The push against Mitau and the battle at
Kupischki: 19th of July-7th of
Although von Below’s offensive had failed
to fully encircle the 5th Army at Schaulen it had struck a very
heavy blow and the Germans assumed the Russians would need some time to recover
from it. Just how fast the Russians were able to recover was to be shown a week
later when they poured across the Lithuanian fields at Kupischki in a counter attack.
After the victory at Schaulen the Njemen
Armee was given a new mission. It was to split up, the right wing was to move
against Kowno engaging the fortress area from the North and North West. The Left wing turned to Mitau in
the North. In the middle the Kavellerie Korps under Richthofen and Egon Schmettow
were to collect at Poniewiez and from there move South East against Wilna and
Eastwards to Duenaburg.
Left: the Iron Cross document to Oberjäger
Albert Richter, Reserve
Radfahr Kompanie 80. The unit fought on the extreme Southern flank as part of the Division Beckmann.
The attack on Mittau succeeded. The 6.
Reserve Division and the Brigade Homeyer pushed their way over the Aa river and
(along with the 8. Kavallerie Division) marched on the city. On the 1st
of August the 41. Infanterie Division took the lead and fought its way into the
All seemed to be going well, but then the
Russians made a surprise move.
Seeing the danger in the North the Russian
High Command rushed troops into sector and massed for a counter attack. They
hit at the right time and in the right place, right in the centre of the Njeman
army. On the morning of the 30th of July Russian infantry drove a
wedge into the gap between the two Kavallerie Korps.
It was clear to von Below that his Cavalry
(which he could not afford to waste) would not be able to contain the advancing
Russians. Infantry would need to be thrown into battle and enough of them to
sweep the Russians from the battlefield.
With forced marches von Morgen’s I. Reserve
Korps and the Korps “Lauenstein” were hurried forward and prepared to counter
attack. They knew what was at stake and attacked with great energy on the 2nd
of August when, 30km to the East of Poniewiez a bloody slogging match took
place. The fight continued into the night and on the morning of the 3rd
of August the Russian lines broke. They moved back slowly, fighting all the
way. On the 5th of August the advance stopped at the level of Onikschty
Although the Russians had successfully
interrupted the offensive of the Njemen Armee with their attack at Kupischki
the German high command had reacted rapidly and was able to reestablish its
front and avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
The last page of the Diary of Leutnant d.Res August Weber, 9th Kompagnie 258. Reserve Infanterie Regiment of the 78. Reserve Division.
1st of August: At Brozyszki (sp?) Digging in. In the afternoon a light wound in the thigh. Shot through, but only a flesh wound. Bandaged it and soldiered on. Feldwebel Leutnant Kloss was hit in the chest.
2nd of August: 5:30 in the morning, advancing on Subocz (sp?). 9th and 10th Kompagnies in the front line. Occupied Enemy positions to the South of Subocz.
On the 3rd of August August Weber was hit in the chest by a Russian bullet. He died in a field hospital the next day.
He had participated in the following battles with the division.
The 78th Reserve Division on the
4th to 22nd of Feb
Winter Battle in the Masuren
23rd Feb to 6th Mar
Fighting at Bobr
9th to 12th Mar
Fighting at Sejny
18th Mar to 7th Apr
Positional warfare between Orzyc and Szkwa
26th Apr to 7th May
Advance into Litauen and Kurland
28th Apr Kielmy
30th Apr Schaulen
7th May to 13th Jul
Fighting on the Dubissa and Windau
9th to 15th May
19th to 26th May in
the Rossienie area
27th to 29th May
4th to 7th Jun Fight
8th to 9th Jun Fight
14th to 25th Jul
Battle at Schaulen
30th Jun to 7th Jul
Battle at Kupischki
1st Aug on the Oszaka
2nd Aug on the Wieszynta
12th to 19th of Aug
Battle by Schymanzy-Ponedeli