the Brussilow offensive is no easy task. For my purposes I have simply
concentrated on the actions of the Heeresgruppe Linsingen between the Styr and Stochod and the defensive battle at Kowel (click HERE) as these
are the actions most often found on Iron Cross documents and in the Militärpaß.
A map of
the area in which the German troops at Kowel fought can be found at the bottom
of the page.
Links to Iron Cross documents and descriptions of the fighting are to be found at the bottom of the page.
showing the full length of the Brussilow offensive in the opening stages can be
found HERE. A map of the offensive in its closing stages can be found HERE.
between the Styr and Stochod
of June to the 15th of June 1916
1916, the troops of the Entente were heavily engaged. On the Western front the
fighting at Verdun was raging, in the Tyrol the
Austro-Hungarians had thrown their best units against the Italians and trouble
was brewing on the Somme.
The Austrians had withdrawn their quality troops
from the Eastern front to the Italian front without informing the Germans and
now the allies, especially the Italian Govt were appealing to the Russian Tsar
Nicholas II to launch an offensive to draw in German and Austro Hungarian
reserves from their respective fronts. The Tsar, as he had done in 1914 and
1915, did his best to accommodate.
Left: General Alexei Alexejewitsch Brussilow
The Russian high command however, complained that they lacked men and material
for such an offensive. Only General Brussilow declared himself willing to
undertake an offensive at short notice. Brussilow knew he could not rely on the
support of his fellow Generals, he lacked both artillery and men and any
success would be due to his leadership and planning, not to any material
advantage. The powerful "Brussilow" offensive would hit the Entente
at a weak spots on the eastern front, in a wide area stretching from the
southern part of the Pripjet swamps down to Bukowina. Brussilow believed that
by attacking at numerous places on this front he could keep the enemy off
balance, never sure where to send their reserves. The Russians would send four
armies against a weak Austro-Hungarian front strengthened by a handful of
German divisions in the North (part of the Heeresgruppe Linsingen). The German
troops were small in numbers, and it was considered doubtful that they could
stop the massive Russian Offensive. In the end the Germans were good for a big
surprise, they were able to stabilise the front and shore up their tottering
offensive started on the 4th of June 1916 (Later to be known as “The glorious 4th
of June” by the Russians) after a short and heavy barrage. Sending shock troops
out in front, followed by larger bodies of men, Brussilow used a crude version
of the assault tactics that the Germans would soon perfect. The Austrian 4th
and 7th armies were swept away and within a week the Russians had forced a
bulge in the lines of the Central Powers that measured 100 km in width and 40 km
in depth. If the German 108th Division (at Luck) and General v. Bernhardi's
92nd Division with the Garde-Ulanen-Briagde (on the Sierna river) had not stood
their ground the Russians would have swept into Kowel (an important Railway
hub) and Wladimir-Wolynsk. To the South the Russians were swallowing a large
portion of Bukovina and the Austrians were
close to suffering a disastrous defeat.
The Austrians desperately recalled units from the Italian front and a furious
Falkenhayn was forced to send reserves earmarked for Verdun to the eastern front. The initial
success of the attack came as such a surprise to the Russians that they missed
a large opportunity. Their reserves had been kept to far back and they were not
able to exploit their breakthrough as well as they could have. Added to that other
Russian Generals, maybe due to jealousy over Brussilows success, refused to
launch already planned diversionary attacks to the North of the Prijpet swamp
to draw off more German troops. In fact, the inactivity of these Generals
allowed the Germans to send troops in those sectors to the South to join those
coming from the West. Days passed as Brussilow prepared his troops in front of
the German positions for a new assault. All the while the German reserves were
flooding to the front.
With his newly arrived troops General Linsingen planned a counter attack to
squeeze out the newly created “Lucker Bogen” (Luck salient named after the town
Luck). It was meant to be a major blow to the Russians and “to teach them that
they should stay in their trenches" (a direct quote from the Prussian War
Minister). The counter attack coincided with Brussilows new push on which
started on the 14th of June. Heeresgruppe Linsingen attacked on the
16th and the two assaults met head on.
rest of the month of June both sides fought furiously pushing each other
backwards and forwards over the battle ground between the Styr
and Stochod rivers. In v. Bernhardi's sector where the Division Rusche was
fighting (Later became 92. I.D.) a Russian breakthrough seemed eminent, but the
arrival of the 107. I.D. and the 11. b.I.D. strengthened the front. New
Divisions under v.d. Marwitz then arrived on the front, and the 43. R.D. began
to methodically break through the Russian defensive lines reaching the area of
Kisielin. Upon the arrival of the 22 I.D. v.d. Marwitz began a new push
attacking southwards as well.
On the 1st July German attacks pushed the Russians
back between the Lipa and Polionka rivers. In the meantime the Russian right
flank had strengthened and heavy fighting took place on the Styr
and Stochod lines once again.
Above: A map showing the main sector mentioned in the text.
To see a Bavarian officers description of the eerie battlefield between the Styr and Stochod click HERE