Russia and the First World War

Russia and the First World War

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Although Tsar Nicholas II described himself as a man of peace, he favoured an expanded Russian Empire. Encouraged by Vyacheslav Plehve, the Minister of the Interior, the Tsar made plans to seize Constantinople and expanded into Manchuria and Korea.

On 8th February, 1904, the Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, therefore beginning the Russo-Japanese War. The Russian Navy fought two major battles to try and relieve Port Arthur but the Russians were defeated and were forced to withdraw. In May, 1905, the Russian Navy was attacked at Tsushima. Twenty Russian ships were sunk and another five were captured. Only four Russian ships managed to reach safety at Vladivostok. (1)

Sergi Witte led the Russian delegation at the peace conference held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in August, 1905. Under the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth: (i) The Liaotung Peninsula and the South Manchurian Railway went to Japan; (ii) Russia recognized Korea as a Japanese sphere of influence; (iii) The island of Sakhalin was divided into two; (iv) The Northern Manchuria and the Chinese Eastern Railway remained under Russian control. (2)

At this time Russia and Austria-Hungary were in dispute over the area of south-eastern Europe known as the Balkans. Russia had formed a particularly close relationship with one of these nations, Serbia. This concerned Austria as there was a large Serb population within the Empire, and they feared they would start demanding to become citizens of Serbia.

The Russian government considered Germany to be the main threat to its territory. This was reinforced by Germany's decision to form the Triple Alliance. Under the terms of this military alliance, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy agreed to support each other if attacked by either France or Russia. Although Germany was ruled by the Tsar's cousin, Kaiser Wilhem II, he accepted the views of his ministers and in 1907 agreed that Russia should joined Britain and France to form the Triple Entente. (3)

Russia had made considerable economic progress during the early years of the 20th century. By 1914 Russia was was annually producing some five million tons of pig-iron, four million tons of iron and steel, forty tons of coal, ten million tons of petroleum, and was exporting about twelve million tons of grain. However, Russia still lagged a long way behind other major powers. Industry in Russia employed not much more than five per cent of the entire labour force and contributed only about one-fifth of the national income. (4)

Sergei Witte realised that because of its economic situation, Russia would lose a war with any of its rivals. Bernard Pares met Sergei Witte several times in the years leading up to the First World War: "Count Witte never swerved from his conviction, firstly, that Russia must avoid the war at all costs, and secondly, that she must work for economic friendship with France and Germany to counteract the preponderance of England." (5)

In 1913, the Tsar approved a "great army programme". This included an increase in the size of the Russian Army by nearly 500,000 men as well as an extra 11,800 officers. It is claimed that Russia had the largest army in the world. This was made up of 115 infantry and 38 cavalry divisions. The Russian estimated manpower resource included more than 25 million men of combat age. (6) However, Russia's poor roads and railways made the effective deployment of these soldiers difficult and Germany was confident in being able to deal with this threat. (7)

During the July Crisis in 1914, Sergei Witte joined forces with Pyotr Durnovo, the Minister of the Interior, and Gregory Rasputin, to urge the Tsar not to enter a war with Germany. Durnovo told the Tsar that a war with Germany would be "mutually dangerous" to both countries, no matter who won. Witte added that "there must inevitably break out in the conquered country a social revolution, which by the very nature of things, will spread to the country of the victor." (8)

In the international crisis that followed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Nicholas II accepted the advice of his foreign minister, Sergi Sazonov, and committed Russia to supporting the Triple Entente. Sazonov was of the opinion that in the event of a war, Russia's membership of the Triple Entente would enable it to make territorial gains from neighbouring countries. Sazonov was especially interested in taking Posen, Silesia, Galicia and North Bukovina. Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevitch told the Tsar: "Russia, if it did not mobilize, would face the greatest dangers and a peace bought with cowardice would unleash revolution at home." (9)

On the outbreak of the First World War General Alexander Samsonov was given command of the Russian Second Army for the invasion of East Prussia. He advanced slowly into the south western corner of the province with the intention of linking up with General Paul von Rennenkampf advancing from the north east. General Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff were sent forward to meet Samsonov's advancing troops. They made contact on 22nd August, 1914, and for six days the Russians, with their superior numbers, had a few successes. However, by 29th August, Samsanov's Second Army was surrounded. (10)

General Samsonov attempted to retreat but now in a German cordon, most of his troops were slaughtered or captured. The Battle of Tannenberg lasted three days. Only 10,000 of the 150,000 Russian soldiers managed to escape. Shocked by the disastrous outcome of the battle, Samsanov committed suicide. The Germans, who lost 20,000 men in the battle, were able to take over 92,000 Russian prisoners. On 9th September, 1914, General von Rennenkampf ordered his remaining troops to withdraw. By the end of the month the German Army had regained all the territory lost during the initial Russian onslaught. The attempted invasion of Prussia had cost Russia almost a quarter of a million men. (11)

By December, 1914, the Russian Army had 6,553,000 men. However, they only had 4,652,000 rifles. Untrained troops were ordered into battle without adequate arms or ammunition. "Untrained troops were ordered into battle without adequate arms or ammunition. And because the Russian Army had about one surgeon for every 10,000 men, many wounded of its soldiers died from wounds that would have been treated on the Western Front. With medical staff spread out across a 500 mile front, the likelihood of any Russian soldier receiving any medical treatment was close to zero". (12)

Tsar Nicholas II decided to replace Grand Duke Nikolai as supreme commander of the Russian Army fighting on the Eastern Front. He was disturbed when he received the following information from General Alexei Brusilov: "In recent battles a third of the men had no rifles. These poor devils had to wait patiently until their comrades fell before their eyes and they could pick up weapons. The army is drowning in its own blood." (13)

On 7th July, 1915, the Tsar wrote to his wife, Alexandra Fedorovna, and complained about the problems he faced fighting the war: "Again that cursed question of shortage of artillery and rifle ammunition - it stands in the way of an energetic advance. If we should have three days of serious fighting we might run out of ammunition altogether. Without new rifles it is impossible to fill up the gaps.... If we had a rest from fighting for about a month our condition would greatly improve. It is understood, of course, that what I say is strictly for you only. Please do not say a word to anyone." (14)

In 1916 two million Russian soldiers were killed or seriously wounded and a third of a million were taken prisoner. Millions of peasants were conscripted into the Tsar's armies but supplies of rifles and ammunition remained inadequate. It is estimated that one third of Russia's able-bodied men were serving in the army. The peasants were therefore unable to work on the farms producing the usual amount of food. By November, 1916, food prices were four times as high as before the war. As a result strikes for higher wages became common in Russia's cities. (15)

Lenin, leader of the Bolsheviks, was appalled by the decision of most socialists in Europe to support the war effort. Living in exile in Switzerland, Lenin devoted his energies to campaign to turn the "imperialist war into a civil war". This included the publication of his book, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Along with his close collaborators, Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, Lenin arranged for the distribution of propaganda that urged Allied troops to turn their rifles against their officers and start a socialist revolution.

General Alexei Brusilov, commander of the Russian Army in the South West, led an offensive against the Austro-Hungarian Army in June, 1916. Initially Brusilov achieved considerable success and in the first two weeks his forces advanced 80km and captured 200,000 prisoners.

The German Army sent reinforcements to help their allies and gradually the Russians were pushed back. When the offensive was called to a halt in the autumn of 1916, the Russian Army had lost almost a million men.

Nicholas II, as supreme commander of the Russian Army, was now closely linked to the country's military failures and during 1917 there was a strong decline in his support in Russia. On 13th March, 1917, the Russian Army High Command recommended that Nicholas abdicate in favour of a more popular member of the royal family. Attempts were now made to persuade Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich to accept the throne. He refused and on the 1st March, 1917, the Tsar abdicated.

A Provisional Government, headed by Prince George Lvov, was formed. Members of the Cabinet included Paul Miliukov, leader of the Cadet Party, was Foreign Minister, Alexander Guchkov, Minister of War, Alexander Kerensky, Minister of Justice, Mikhail Tereshchenko, a beet-sugar magnate from the Ukraine, became Finance Minister, Alexander Konovalov, a munitions maker, Minister of Trade and Industry, and Peter Struve, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Lvov attempted to maintain the Russian war effort but he was severely undermined by the formation of soldiers' committee that demanded "peace without annexations or indemnities". In May, 1917, Alexander Kerensky was appointed as Minister of War. He toured the Eastern Front where he made a series of emotional speeches where he appealed to the troops to continue fighting. On 18th June, Kerensky announced a new war offensive. Encouraged by the Bolsheviks, who favoured peace negotiations, there were demonstrations against Kerensky in Petrograd.

The July Offensive, led by General Alexei Brusilov, was an attack on the whole Galician sector. Initially the Russian Army made advances and on the first day of the offensive took 10,000 prisoners. However, low morale, poor supply lines and the rapid arrival of German reserves from the Western Front slowed the advance and on 16th July the offensive was brought to an end.

Soldiers on the Eastern Front were dismayed at the news and regiments began to refuse to move to the front line. There was a rapid increase in the number of men deserting and by the autumn of 1917 an estimated 2 million men had unofficially left the army.

Some of these soldiers returned to their homes and used their weapons to seize land from the nobility. Manor houses were burnt down and in some cases wealthy landowners were murdered. Kerensky and the Provisional Government issued warnings but were powerless to stop the redistribution of land in the countryside.

After the failure of the July Offensive on the Eastern Front, Kerensky replaced General Alexei Brusilov with General Lavr Kornilov, as Supreme Commander of the Russian Army. The two men soon clashed about military policy. Kornilov wanted Kerensky to restore the death-penalty for soldiers and to militarize the factories. Kerensky refused and sacked Kornilov.

Kornilov responded by sending troops under the leadership of General Krymov to take control of Petrograd. Kerensky was now in danger and so he called on the Soviets and the Red Guards to protect Petrograd. The Bolsheviks, who controlled these organizations, agreed to this request, but in a speech made by their leader, Lenin, he made clear they would be fighting against Kornilov rather than for Kerensky.

Within a few days Bolsheviks had enlisted 25,000 armed recruits to defend Petrograd. While they dug trenches and fortified the city, delegations of soldiers were sent out to talk to the advancing troops. Meetings were held and Kornilov's troops decided to refuse to attack Petrograd. General Krymov committed suicide and Kornilov was arrested and taken into custody.

Kerensky now became the new Supreme Commander of the Russian Army. His continued support for the war effort made him unpopular in Russia and on 25th September, Kerensky attempted to recover his left-wing support by forming a new coalition that included more Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. However, with the Bolsheviks controlling the Soviets, and now able to call on 25,000 armed militia, Kerensky was unable to reassert his authority.

On 25th October, Kerensky was informed that the Bolsheviks were about to seize power. He decided to leave Petrograd and try to get the support of the Russian Army on the Eastern Front. Later that day the Red Guards stormed the Winter Palace and members of the Kerensky's cabinet were arrested. After failing to rally the troops against the new government, Kerensky fled to France

Lenin, the new leader of the Russian government, immediately announced an armistice with the Central Powers. The following month, he sent Leon Trotsky, the people's commissar for foreign affairs, as head of the Russian delegation, to Brest-Litovsk to negotiate a peace deal with Germany and Austria.

Trotsky had the difficult task of trying to end Russian participation in the First World War without having to grant territory to the Central Powers. By employing delaying tactics Trotsky hoped that socialist revolutions would spread from Russia to Germany and Austria-Hungary before he had to sign the treaty.

After nine weeks of discussions without agreement, the German Army was ordered to resume its advance into Russia. On 3rd March 1918, with German troops moving towards Petrograd, Lenin ordered Trotsky to accept the terms of the Central Powers. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty resulted in the Russians surrendering the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus and Poland.

Almost 15 million served in the Russian Army during the First World War. Casualties totalled an estimated 1.8 million killed, 2.8 million wounded and 2.4 million taken prisoner.

I was staying in an Altai Cossack village on the frontier of Mongolia when the war broke out, a most verdant resting-place with a majestic fir forests, snow-crowned mountains range behind range, green and purple valleys deep in larkspur and monkshood. All the young men and women of the village were out of the grassy hills with scythes; the children gathered currants in the wood each day, and folks sat at home and sewed furs together, the pitch-boilers, and charcoal-burners worked at their black fires with barrels and scoops.

At 4 a.m. on 31st July the first telegram came through; an order to mobilize and be prepared for active service. I was awakened that morning by an unusual commotion, and, going into the village street, saw the soldier population collected in groups, talking excitedly. My peasant hostess cried out to me, "have you heard the news? There is war." A young man on a fine horse came galloping down the street, a great red flag hanging from his shoulders and flapping in the wind, and as he went he called out the news to each and every one, "War! War!"

Who was the enemy? Nobody knew. The telegram contained no indications. All the village population knew was that the same telegram had come as came ten years ago, when they were called to fight the Japanese. Rumours abounded. All the morning it was persisted that the yellow peril had matured, and that the war was with China. Russia had pushed too far into Mongolia, and China had declared war.

Then a rumour went round. "It is with England, with England." So far away these people lived they did not know that our old hostility had vanished. Only after four days did something like the truth come to us, and then nobody believed it.

"An immense war," said a peasant to me. "Thirteen powers engaged - England, France, Russia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, against Germany, Austria, Italy, Romania, Turkey.

Two days after the first telegram a second came, and this one called up every man between the ages of eighteen and forty-three.

The military campaigns had opened brilliantly by a deep break-through into East Prussia; the offensive was launched prematurely at the demand of the Allies to relieve the congested Western front. At the end of August, through lack of ordnance, General Samsonoff's army corps was surrounded near Tannenberg. The General, not wishing to survive the loss of his army, shot himself.

The offensive was successfully renewed on the Austrian front, but in February 1915 a further offensive in East Prussia ended in the disaster of Augustovo. On May 2nd, the Austro-German army broke through the South-Western Russian front. Our troops were underfed, ill-equipped, and had no ammunition, yet under these appalling conditions they fought against the best-equipped army in the world. Whole regiments were taken prisoner without having a chance to resist, owing to the lack of equipment which failed to arrive in time.

Thousands of Russian troops were sent to the front without proper equipment. They lacked everything: weapons, ammunition, boots or bedding. As many as a third of Russian soldiers were not issued with a rifle. In late 1914 Russia’s general headquarters reported that 100,000 new rifles were needed each month, but that Russian factories were capable of producing less than half this number (42,000 per month). The soldiers, however, were well armed with prayers, as Russian Orthodox bishops and priests worked diligently to bless those about to go into battle, showering them generously with holy water from a bucket....

By December, 1914, the Russian Army had 6,553,000 men. With medical staff spread out across a 500 mile front, the likelihood of any Russian soldier receiving any medical treatment was close to zero.

I saw a great deal of that long-drawn out front and of the men who, ill-armed, ill-supplied, were holding it against an enemy who, even in his anxiety to fight was no greater than the Russian's, was infinitely better equipped. I came back to Petrograd full of admiration for the Russian soldiers who were holding the front without enough weapons to go round.

Again that cursed question of shortage of artillery and rifle ammunition - it stands in the way of an energetic advance. Without new rifles, it is impossible to fill up the gaps. The army is now almost stronger than in peace time; it should be (and was at the beginning) three times as strong. This is the position we find ourselves in at present. If we had a rest from fighting for about a month, our condition would greatly improve. Please do not say a word of this to any one.

Brussilov was the ablest of the army-group commanders. His front was in good order. For that reason we were sent to it. The impression I got in April was the Russian troops, all the men and most of the officers, were magnificent material who were being wasted because of the incompetence, intrigues, and corruption of the men who governed the country.

In June Brussilov's advance showed what they could do, when they were furnished with sufficient weapons and ammunition. But that effort was wasted, too, for want of other blows to supplement it, for want of any definite plan of campaign.

The Russian officers, brutal as they often were to their men (many of them scarcely considered privates to be human), were as a rule friendly and helpful to us. They showed us all we wanted to see. They always cheerfully provided for Arthur Ransome (a fellow journalist), who could not ride owing to some disablement, a cart to get about in.

The figures are: 115 (10 killed, 34 wounded, 71 missing or in captivity) out of 829 souls mobilized. Consequently, for the village of Grushevka the losses amount to 13 per cent of the total population of 3,307 souls. Harvesting and thrashing are going on everywhere, and there is hope that the work will be finished on time in the fall. In addition to women, children, and the aged, I have working for me 36 people from the Kherson jail, and 947 Austrian war prisoners.

A wiry little little man with strong Tartar features. He wore a general's full-dress uniform with a sword and red-striped trousers. His speech was begun in a blunt soldierly manner by a declaration that he had nothing to do with politics. He had come there, he said, to tell the truth about the condition of the Russian army. Discipline had simply ceased to exist. The army was becoming nothing more than a rabble. Soldiers stole the property, not only of the State, but also of private citizens, and scoured the country plundering and terrorizing. The Russian army was becoming a greater danger to the peaceful population of the western provinces than any invading German army could be.

Towards the winter of 1916 the bloody struggles which had been waged throughout the summer and autumn drew to a close. We consolidated our position, filled in the gaps in our effective forces, and reorganized generally.

The experience gained from two years of warfare had not been acquired in vain. We had learnt a great deal, and the shortcomings for which we had paid so dearly were now discounted. A number of generals who had not kept pace with modern needs had had to give up their commands, and life had brought other more capable men to the fore. But nepotism, which permeated all spheres of Russian life, still brought unworthy men into important positions too often.

After two years of warfare, the Army was not what it had been. The majority of the original officers and men, especially the infantry, had been killed or put out of action. The new officers, hastily trained, and lacking military education and espirit de corps, could not make satisfactory instructors of the men. They found difficulty in enduring the dangers, fatigue, and privations of life at the front, and war to them meant nothing but suffering. It was impossible for them to inspire the troops and put fresh heart into their men.

Neither were the troops what they had been. The original soldiers, inured to fatigue and privation, and brave in battle, were better than ever; but there were few of them left. The new contingents were by no means satisfactory. The reserve forces were primarily fathers of families who had been dragged away from their villages, and were warriors only in spite of themselves. For they had forgotten that once upon a time they had been soldiers; they hated war, and thought only of returning to their homes as soon as possible.

We are appealing to our brother proletarians of the Austro-German coalition. The Russian Revolution will not retreat before the bayonets of conquerors and will not allow itself to be crushed by military force. But we are calling to you, throw off your yoke of your semi-autocratic rule as the Russian people have shaken off the Tsar's and then by our united efforts we will stop the horrible butchery which is disgracing humanity and is beclouding the great days of the birth of Russian freedom. Proletarians of all countries unite.

Free Russia does not aim at the domination of other nations, or at occupying by force foreign territories. Its aim is not to subjugate or humiliate anyone. In referring to the "penalties and guarantees" essential to a durable peace the Provisional Government had in view reduction of armaments, the establishment of international tribunals, etc.

Last week's ridiculous manifesto (Order No 1), issued in the name of the Council of Workmen's Deputies (the Soviet), calling on the soldiers not to obey their officers, Kerensky sharply characterized as an act of provocation. There had been a few instances of grave disturbance of discipline, but the Minister was confident that this phase would soon pass, together with the other eccentricities. He declared: "The general effect of the liberation will, I am convinced, be to give an immense uplift to the spirit of the troops, and so to shorten the war. We are for iron discipline in working hours, but out of working hours we want the soldiers to feel they are also free men."

Events have moved with dramatic quickness. Kerensky returned from the front last night and, in a stormy meeting of the Ministry, demanded dictatorial powers in order to bring the army back to discipline. The socialists disagreed. Lvov and Tereshchenko did their utmost to reconcile the diverging views. While addressing the men he was handed a telegram telling him of the disaster on the South-West Front, where the Germans have broken through. He took back the telegram to the Ministerial Council and the attitude changed. Lvov has resigned and Kerensky will be Prime Minister and Minister of War.

I am often on guard over the Russians. In the darkness one sees their forms move like stick storks, like great birds. They come close up to the wire fence and lean their faces against it. Their fingers hook round the mesh. Often many stand side by side, and breathe the wind that comes down from the moors and the forest.

They rarely speak and then only a few words. They are more human and more brotherly towards one another, it seems to me, than we are. But perhaps that is merely because they feel themselves to be more unfortunate than us. Anyway the war is over so far as they are concerned. But to wait for dysentery is not much of a life either.

A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies; a word of command might transform them into our friends. At some table a document is signed by some persons whom none of us knows, and then for years together that very crime on which formerly the world's condemnation and severest penalty fall, becomes our highest aim. Any non-commissioned officer is more of an enemy to a recruit, any schoolmaster to a pupil, then they are if they were free.

Our cooperative store has still quite a stock of goods, and the steadier peasants all belong. We have eighteen hundred members now. Each paid five roubles to buy a share. There were six thousand purchasers last year; and because we charge higher prices to outsiders than to members, so many more peasants wish to join that we are almost ready to announce a second issue of stock.

Of course, our progress has been blocked by the war and the revolution. Goods have gone up to ruinous rates. Already we are nearly out of horseshoes, axes, harrows, ploughs. Last spring we had not ploughs enough to do the needed ploughing, and that is why our crop is short. There is not enough rye in the district to take us through the winter, let alone to feed the towns. And so the town people will starve for awhile - and sooner or later, I suppose, they will finish with their wrangling, start their mills and factories, and turn out the ploughs and tools we need.

In thousands the soldiers were throwing down their guns and streaming from the front. Like plagues of locusts they came, clogging railways, highways and waterways. They swarmed down on trains, packing roofs and platforms, clinging to car-steps like clusters of grapes, sometimes evicting passengers from their berths.

The ruling-class used every device to keep those weapons in the soldiers' hands. It waved the flag and screamed "Victory and Glory." It organized Women's Battalions of Death crying "Shame on you men to let girls do your fighting." It placed machine-guns in the rear of rebelling regiments declaring certain death to those who retreated.

One of the things that strikes coldness to one's heart are the long lines of scantily clad people standing in the bitter cold waiting to buy bread, milk, sugar or tobacco. From four o'clock in the morning they begin to stand there.

The policy of the Provisional Government alternated between ineffective reforms and stern repressive measures. An edict from the Socialist Minister of Labour ordered all the Workers' Committees henceforth to meet only after working hours. Among the troops at the front, 'agitators' of opposition political parties were arrested, radical newspapers closed down, and capital punishment applied - to revolutionary propagandists. Attempts were made to disarm the Red Guard. Cossacks were spent order in the provinces.

In September 1917, matters reached a crisis. Against the overwhelming sentiment of the country, Kerensky and the 'moderate' Socialists succeeded in establishing a Government of Coalition with the propertied classes; and as a result, the Mensheviki and Socialist Revolutionaries lost the confidence of the people for ever.

Week by week food became scarcer. The daily allowance of bread fell from a pound and a half to a pound, than three-quarters, half, and a quarter-pound. Towards the end there was a week without any bread at all. Sugar one was entitled to at the rate of two pounds a month - if one could get it at all, which was seldom. A bar of chocolate or a pound of tasteless candy cost anywhere from seven to ten roubles - at least a dollar. For milk and bread and sugar and tobacco one had to stand in queue. Coming home from an all-night meeting I have seen the tail beginning to form before dawn, mostly women, some babies in their arms.

Bloody Sunday (Answer Commentary)

1905 Russian Revolution (Answer Commentary)

Russia and the First World War (Answer Commentary)

The Life and Death of Rasputin (Answer Commentary)

The Coal Industry: 1600-1925 (Answer Commentary)

Women in the Coalmines (Answer Commentary)

Child Labour in the Collieries (Answer Commentary)

Child Labour Simulation (Teacher Notes)

The Chartists (Answer Commentary)

Women and the Chartist Movement (Answer Commentary)

Road Transport and the Industrial Revolution (Answer Commentary)

Canal Mania (Answer Commentary)

Early Development of the Railways (Answer Commentary)

Health Problems in Industrial Towns (Answer Commentary)

Public Health Reform in the 19th century (Answer Commentary)

Richard Arkwright and the Factory System (Answer Commentary)

Robert Owen and New Lanark (Answer Commentary)

James Watt and Steam Power (Answer Commentary)

The Domestic System (Answer Commentary)

The Luddites: 1775-1825 (Answer Commentary)

The Plight of the Handloom Weavers (Answer Commentary)

1832 Reform Act and the House of Lords (Answer Commentary)

Benjamin Disraeli and the 1867 Reform Act (Answer Commentary)

William Gladstone and the 1884 Reform Act (Answer Commentary)

(1) P. D. Allan, Russia and Eastern Europe (1983) page 8

(2) Rotem Kowner, Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War (2006) pages 304-306

(3) David Warnes, Russia: A Modern History (1984) page 30

(4) Lionel Kochan, Russia in Revolution (1970) pages 16-17

(5) Tsar Nicholas II, diary entry (18th September, 1911)

(6) Peter Gatrell, Government, Industry and Rearmament in Russia, 1900-1914 (2010) pages 133-134

(7) Roger Chickering, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914–1918 (2014) page 20 (6) Lionel Kochan, Russia in Revolution (1970) pages 16-17

(8) Brian York, The Soviet Union (1983) page 4

(9) Lionel Kochan, Russia in Revolution (1970) pages 175

(10) Basil Liddell Hart, History of the First World War (1970) page 24

(11) Martin Gilbert, First World War (1994) page 48

(12) Alan Woods, Tsarist Russia and the War (13 March 2015)

(13) Marie Brown, Russia and Revolution (1979) page 41

(14) Tsar Nicholas II, letter to Alexandra Fedorovna (7th July, 1915)

(15) Brian York, The Soviet Union (1983) page 4

Why Did Russia Exit World War I?

The primary reason Russia exited World War I was the successful takeover of the Russian government in 1917 by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, which is also known as the October Revolution. The Bolsheviks did not support the war effort against Germany and its allies and like most of the population wanted an end to the rising death toll, economic deprivation and food shortages that the war had brought upon the country. Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader who took control of the new government after the revolution, viewed the war as a power struggle between imperialist nations and sought to divert Russia's efforts and resources towards building the new socialist state he had just helped to create.

Prior to the October Revolution, Russia had already suffered war casualties that reached almost 5,000,000 dead, missing or taken prisoner. The military defeats were increasing, morale was low and soldiers began to mutiny. By the end of the second year of the conflict, the Russian economy was approaching collapse as a result of the increasing demands of the war. The food shortages, coupled with an alarming rate of inflation, gave rise to strikes, mass protests and riots in the months leading to the Bolsheviks' seizure of power. In March of 1918, the year following the October Revolution, the new Bolshevik government and Germany signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which officially ended Russia's participation in World War I.

Revolution In Russia 1: Understanding Influences

The First World War drained Russia, literally and metaphorically. By January 1917, after two-and-a-half years of mortal combat, six million young Russians had been killed, seriously wounded or lost in action for no territorial or strategic gain. The dream of winning Constantinople had become a nightmare of miserable defeat. Food shortages, hunger, anti-war agitation and civil unrest increased by the day across the Czar’s once-mighty Empire. On 22 February, 1917, 12,000 workers at the giant Putilov manufacturing plant in Petrograd [1] went on strike and were joined on the streets by thousands of demonstrators chanting ‘Down with the Czar’. Soldiers from the city garrison were sent out to arrest the ring-leaders and end the protest, but they refused to open fire on the angry crowds. The Czar abdicated almost immediately, allegedly because he believed that he had lost the support of his military. The event was bloodless apart from the death of several officers shot by their own men. Thus the first Russian Revolution, known as the ‘February Revolution’, ended 300 years of autocratic monarchical rule. A governing body was established in the Winter Palace in Petrograd by liberal deputies from the existing parliamentary body, the Duma, together with socialists and independents. Termed the ‘Provisional Government’, it kept Russia in the war against Germany and began formulating plans for democratic rule through an elected legislative assembly of the people. It was a beginning.

The seizure of power by Bolshevik revolutionaries on 25 October, 1917, [2] brought communism to Russia and major strife to the entire world for the greater part of the twentieth century. For readers not versed in modern Russian history it is important to note that the Bolshevik Revolution was very distinct from the revolution that had taken place eight months earlier.

During the night of October 24/25, a group of armed communists seized key areas of Petrograd, entered the Winter Palace and assumed control of the country. The coup was led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, two extreme Marxist revolutionaries who had returned to Russia earlier that year from enforced exile. This was the ‘Bolshevik Revolution’, also known as the ‘October Revolution’. Lenin and Trotsky smothered the fledgling attempt at democratic governance, took Russia out of the war with Germany and installed a ruthless communist system that suppressed Russia for the next seventy-four years.

According to received history, the February Revolution was an entirely spontaneous uprising of the people. It was not. The Putilov strike, and the city garrison’s refusal to act against the strikers, was orchestrated from abroad by well-financed agents who had been stirring unrest among the workers and soldiers with propaganda and bribery. The October Revolution was also directly influenced by the same international bankers, with vast financial and logistical support which enabled Lenin and Trotsky to seize power. What is particularly relevant to the Secret Elite narrative is the evidence of their complicity from both sides of the Atlantic. Without external intervention, the Russian Revolutions would never have taken the ruinous direction which destroyed a nation’s hope for justice and democracy. As these blogs unfold over the next weeks please bear this in mind.

Russia had been ruled by the ‘divine right’ of Czars from the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1547-1584) until the abdication of Nicholas II in February 1917. The ruling Romanovs dynasty was one of the richest families in the world, on a par with the Rothschilds. They owned huge estates with elaborate palaces, yachts, a massive collection of diamonds (amounting to 25,300 carats), emeralds, sapphires and fifty-four of the priceless jewel-encrusted Faberge eggs. [3] In May 1917, the New York Times estimated the total wealth of the dynasty to be in the region of $9,000,000,000, [4] a breath-taking sum today let alone a century ago. A significant number of upper and middle class Russians (the bourgeoisie), included merchants, government officials, lawyers, doctors and army officers who enjoyed comfortable incomes and life styles. That said, urban factory workers (the proletariat) and rural agrarian workers (the peasants) comprised the vast majority of the population of 175 million in 1914. But the war haemorrhaged both youth and loyalty. The populace survived on the edge of poverty and hunger, but did not generally support revolutionaries. [5] If radical change was required, it would have to be manufactured.

Czar Alexander II had abolished serfdom in 1861 but opposed movements for political reform. Having survived several attempts on his life, he was eventually assassinated on the streets of St Petersburg in 1881 by members of a revolutionary group, ‘People’s Will’, led by a Jew, Vera Figner. Thereafter, the Jews in the Pale of Settlement [6] were subjected to a series of terrifying pogroms (religious-ethnic massacres). Over the following decades peasants rebelled over taxes which left them debt ridden and oppressed by hopelessness. Workers went on strike for better wages and working conditions. Students demanded civil liberties for all, and even the comfortable bourgeoisie began calling for representative government. Though this clamour for social change and greater equality was apparent across Europe, the Romanovs resisted challenges to their autocratic authority with bitter determination.

In 1897, in the midst of this social unrest, a 27 year-old Marxist lawyer and intellectual Russian radical, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, was arrested by Czarist secret police (the Okhrana) for subversive activities and sentenced to three years exile in Siberia. Ulyanov was treated lightly in comparison to his older brother, Alexander, who ten years earlier plotted to assassinate Czar Alexander III and was hanged for his troubles. Vladimir Ulyanov took the alias Lenin and would go on to become the most powerful man in Russia following the October Revolution.

Born in Simbirsk (renamed Ulyanovsk in his honour in 1924), a town on the Volga some 900 kilometres east of Moscow, Lenin’s father was an inspector of the provinces schools. His mother, the daughter of a baptised Jewish doctor, Alexander Blank, [7] bought the family a farm of some two hundred acres near Samara for 7,500 roubles. The fact that Lenin had Jewish forebears would have had absolutely no relevance were it not for the fact that many consider the Bolshevik Revolution to have been a Jewish plot. We have already explained how powerful individuals within the Secret Elite who supported Zionism were behind the Balfour Declaration of 2 November, 1917 which led eventually to the creation of the state of Israel. Within 72 hours of that declaration, the men who were financed and aided by these same individuals, seized control of Russia. It does not require a great leap of imagination to consider the possibility that these two seismic events in world history were connected in some way.

In March 1919, The Times reported, ‘One of the most curious features of the Bolshevist movement is the high percentage of non-Russia elements amongst its leaders. Of the 20 or 30 leaders who provide the central machinery of the Bolshevist movement, not less than 75 per cent are Jews …’ [8] Note that The Times differentiated between Russian and Jew, as if it were not possible to be both, while the Jewish Chronicle emphasised the importance of the Jewish influence on Bolshevism: ‘There is much in the fact of Bolshevism itself, in the fact that so many Jews are Bolsheviks, in the fact that the ideals of Bolshevism at many points are consonant with the finest ideals of Judaism’. [9] Another Jewish journal, American Hebrew, reported: ‘What Jewish idealism and Jewish discontent have so powerfully contributed to produce in Russia, the same historic qualities of the Jewish mind are tending to promote in other countries … The Bolshevik revolution in Russia was the work of Jewish brains, of Jewish dissatisfaction, of Jewish planning, whose goal is to create a new order in the world. What was performed in so excellent a way in Russia, thanks to Jewish brains, and because of Jewish dissatisfaction and by Jewish planning, shall also, through the same Jewish mental and physical forces, become a reality all over the world.’ [10] It is interesting to note that in 1920, just three years after the Balfour Declaration, Jewish journals were openly discussing the primacy of Jews in creating a new world order.

Rabbi Stephen Wise later commented on the Russian situation: ‘Some call it Marxism I call it Judaism.’ [11] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a victim of the communist regime who spent many years exiled in Siberia and was a later recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was emphatic that Jews were not involved in the first revolution: ‘The February Revolution was not made by the Jews for the Russians it was certainly carried out by the Russians themselves … We were ourselves the authors of this shipwreck.’ [12] Solzhenitsyn, however, added: ‘In the course of the summer and autumn of 1917, the Zionist movement continued to gather strength in Russia: in September it had 300,000 adherents. Less known is that Orthodox Jewish organisations enjoyed great popularity in 1917, yielding only to the Zionists and surpassing the socialist parties.’ [13] He observed: ‘There are many Jewish authors who to this very day either deny the support of Jews for Bolshevism, or even reject it angrily, or else…only speak defensively about it… These Jewish renegades were for several years leaders at the centre of the Bolshevik Party, at the head of the Red Army (Trotsky), of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, of the two capitals, of the Comintern …’ [14] Given the repression of the Jews in Russia, it is hardly surprising that they swelled the numbers of active revolutionaries during this period. They had suffered the horror of the pogroms. They had nursed a genuine resentment for Czarist repression. They were determined to change the world.

The relationship between Jews and revolutionaries was explained by Theodor Herzl, one of the fathers of the Zionist movement in a pamphlet, De Judenstat, addressed to the Rothschilds: ‘When we sink, we become a revolutionary proletariat, the subordinate officers of all revolutionary parties, and at the same time, when we rise, there rises also our terrible power of the purse’. [15] On Herzl’s death, his successor as president of the World Zionist Organisation was the Russian born David Wolfsohn. In his closing speech at the International Zionist Congress at The Hague in 1907, Wolfsohn pleaded for greater unity among the Jews and said that eventually ‘they must conquer the world’. [16] He did not expand on the role that Jewish Bolshevik revolutionaries might play in this Jewish global aspiration, but from his position it seems apparent that political Zionism and the future ‘homeland’ certainly would. [17] Wolfsohn’s successor as president of the Zionist organisation in 1911 was Otto Warburg, a noted scientist and relative of the Warburg banking family which features heavily in this book. Warburg later spoke of the ‘brilliant prospects of Palestine’ and how an extensive Jewish colonisation would ‘expand into neighbouring countries’. [18]

A report in 1919 from the British Secret Service revealed: ‘There is now definite evidence that Bolshevism is an international movement controlled by Jews communications are passing between the leaders in America, France, Russia and England, with a view toward concerted action.’ [19] Hilaire Belloc, Anglo-French writer, philosopher and one time Liberal MP at Westminster, wrote: ‘As for anyone who does not know that the present revolutionary movement is Jewish in Russia, I can only say that he must be a man who is taken in by the suppression of our despicable Press. [20] Contemporary commentators failed to link the Balfour Declaration and the Russian Revolution in October/November 1917, despite their links to Zionism and the ‘concerted action’ from both sides of the Atlantic. It should not be seen as a criticism it was a fact.


The front in the east was much longer than that in the west. The theater of war was roughly delimited by the Baltic Sea in the west and Minsk in the east, and Saint Petersburg in the north and the Black Sea in the south, a distance of more than 1,600 kilometres (990 mi). This had a drastic effect on the nature of the warfare.

While the war on the Western Front developed into trench warfare, the battle lines on the Eastern Front were much more fluid and trenches never truly developed. This was because the greater length of the front ensured that the density of soldiers in the line was lower so the line was easier to break. Once broken, the sparse communication networks made it difficult for the defender to rush reinforcements to the rupture in the line, mounting rapid counteroffensives to seal off any breakthrough.

Propaganda was a key component of the culture of World War I. It was often shown through state-controlled media, and helped to bolster Nationalism and Patriotism within countries. On the Eastern Front, propaganda took many forms such as opera, film, spy fiction, theater, spectacle, war novels and graphic art. Across the Eastern Front the amount of propaganda used in each country varied from state to state. Propaganda took many forms within each country and was distributed by many different groups. Most commonly the state produced propaganda, but other groups, such as anti-war organizations, also generated propaganda. [23]

Germany Edit

Prior to the outbreak of war, German strategy was based almost entirely on the so-called Schlieffen Plan. With the Franco-Russian Agreement in place, Germany knew that war with either of these combatants would result in war with the other, which meant that there would be war in both the west and the east. Therefore, the German General Staff, under Alfred von Schlieffen and then Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, planned a quick, all-out ground war on the Western Front to take France and, upon victory, Germany would turn its attention to Russia in the east.

Schlieffen believed Russia would not be ready or willing to move against and attack Germany due to the huge losses of military equipment that Russia had suffered in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–1905, its low population density and lack of railroads.

Conversely, the German Navy believed it could be victorious over Britain with Russian neutrality, something which Moltke knew would not be possible.

Romania Edit

In the immediate years preceding the First World War, the Kingdom of Romania was involved in the Second Balkan War on the side of Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and the Ottoman Empire against Bulgaria. The Treaty of Bucharest, signed on August 10, 1913, ended the Balkan conflict and added 6,960 square kilometers to Romania's territory. [24] Although militarized, Romania decided upon a policy of neutrality at the start of the First World War, mainly due to having territorial interests in both Austria-Hungary (Transylvania and Bukovina) and in Russia (Bessarabia). Strong cultural influences also affected Romanian leanings, however. King Carol I, as a Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, favoured his Germanic roots, while the Romanian people, influenced by their Orthodox church and Latin-based language, were inclined to join France. Perhaps King Carol's attempts at joining the war on the side of the Central powers would have been fruitful had he not died in 1914, but Romanian disenchantment with Austria-Hungary had already influenced public and political opinion. French endorsement of Romanian action against Bulgaria, and support of the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest was particularly effective at inclining Romania towards the Entente. Furthermore, Russian courting of Romanian sympathies, exemplified by the visit of the Tsar to Constanța on June 14, 1914, signaled in a new era of positive relations between the two countries. [25] Nevertheless, King Ferdinand I of Romania maintained a policy of neutrality, intending to gain the most for Romania by negotiating between competing powers. The result of the negotiations with the Entente was the Treaty of Bucharest (1916), which stipulated the conditions under which Romania agreed to join the war on the side of the Entente, particularly territorial promises in Austria-Hungary: Transylvania, Crișana and Maramureș, the whole Banat and most of Bukovina. According to historian John Keegan, these enticements offered by the Allies were never concrete, for in secret, Russia and France agreed not to honor any conventions when the end of the war came. [26]

Russia Edit

The immediate reason for Russia's involvement in the First World War was a direct result of the decisions made by the statesmen and generals during July 1914. The July crisis was the culmination of a series of diplomatic conflicts that took place in the decades prior to 1914, and this is fundamental to an understanding of Russia's position immediately prior to the War. According to D. C. Lieven, Russia was formidable and was able to back up her diplomatic policies with force. One of the most significant factors in bringing Russia to the brink of war was the downfall of her economy. [27] The 20 percent jump in defense expenditure during 1866–77 and in 1871-5 forced them to change their position within Europe and shift the balance of power out of her favour. [28] At the time, Russian infrastructure was backward and the Russian government had to invest far more than its European rivals in structural changes. In addition there were overwhelming burdens of defense, which would ultimately result in an economic downfall for the Russians. This was a major strain on the Russian population, but also served as a direct threat to military expenditure. [29] Thus the only way the Russians could sustain the strains of European war would be to place more emphasis on foreign investment from the French who essentially came to Russia's aid for industrial change. [30] The Franco-Russian Alliance allowed for the Russian defense to grow and aid the European balance of power during the growth of the German Empire's might. Nevertheless, one of the key factors was that of the Russian foreign policy between 1890 and 1914.

Russian propaganda Edit

In order for the Russians to legitimize their war efforts, the government constructed an image of the enemy through state-instituted propaganda. Their main aim was to help overcome the legend of the "invincible" German war machine, in order to boost the morale of civilians and soldiers. Russian propaganda often took the form of showing the Germans as a civilized nation, with barbaric "inhuman" traits. Russian propaganda also exploited the image of the Russian POWs who were in the German camps, again in order to boost the morale of their troops, serving as encouragement to defeat the enemy and to get their fellow soldiers out of German POW camps that were perceived as inhumane. [31]

An element of the Russian propaganda was the Investigate Commission formed in April 1915. It was led by Aleksei Krivtsov, and the study was tasked with the job of studying the legal violations committed by of the Central Powers and then getting this information to the Russian public. This commission published photographs of letters that were allegedly found on fallen German soldiers. These letters document the German correspondents saying to "take no prisoners." A museum was also set up in Petrograd, which displayed pictures that showed how "inhumanly" the Germans were treating prisoners of war. [31]

Austria-Hungary Edit

Austria-Hungary's participation in the outbreak of World War I has been neglected by historians, as emphasis has traditionally been placed on Germany's role as the prime instigator. [32] However, the "spark" that ignited the First World War is attributed to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip, which took place on June 28, 1914. Approximately a month later, on July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This act led to a series of events that would quickly expand into the First World War thus, the Habsburg government in Vienna initiated the pivotal decision that would begin the conflict. [32]

The causes of the Great War have generally been defined in diplomatic terms, but certain deep-seated issues in Austria-Hungary undoubtedly contributed to the beginnings of the First World War. [33] The Austro-Hungarian situation in the Balkans pre-1914 is a primary factor in its involvement in the war. The movement towards South Slav unity was a major problem for the Habsburg Empire, which was facing increasing nationalist pressure from its multinational populace. As Europe's third largest state, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was hardly homogeneous comprising over fifty million people and eleven nationalities, the Empire was a conglomeration of a number of diverse cultures, languages, and peoples. [34]

Specifically, the South Slavic people of Austria-Hungary desired to amalgamate with Serbia in an effort to officially solidify their shared cultural heritage. Over seven million South Slavs lived inside the Empire, while three million lived outside it. [35] With the growing emergence of nationalism in the twentieth century, unity of all South Slavs looked promising. This tension is exemplified by Conrad von Hötzendorf's letter to Franz Ferdinand:

The unification of the South Slav race is one of the powerful national movements which can neither be ignored nor kept down. The question can only be, whether unification will take place within the boundaries of the Monarchy – that is at the expense of Serbia's independence – or under Serbia's leadership at the expense of the Monarchy. The cost to the Monarchy would be the loss of its South Slav provinces and thus of almost its entire coastline. The loss of territory and prestige would relegate the Monarchy to the status of a small power. [36]

The annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 by Austrian foreign minister Baron von Aehrenthal in an effort to assert domination over the Balkans inflamed Slavic nationalism and angered Serbia. Bosnia-Herzegovina became a "rallying cry" for South Slavs, with hostilities between Austria-Hungary and Serbia steadily increasing. [37] The situation was ripe for conflict, and when the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austrian imperial heir, Franz Ferdinand, these longstanding hostilities culminated into an all-out war.

The Allied Powers wholeheartedly supported the Slavs' nationalistic fight. George Macaulay Trevelyan, a British historian, saw Serbia's war against Austria-Hungary as a "war of liberation" that would "free South Slavs from tyranny." [38] In his own words: "If ever there was a battle for freedom, there is such a battle now going on in Southeastern Europe against Austrian and Magyar. If this war ends in the overthrow of the Magyar tyranny, an immense step forward will have been taken toward racial liberty and European peace." [39]

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. The triumphs of Britain and Germany in the martial, diplomatic and economic spheres put these countries in the front rank of the world's leading nations. [40] 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 both crucial for European peace and 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. [41] In 1913–1914 Saint Petersburg was 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. [42]

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. [43]

The Russian military was the largest in the world consisting of 1.4 million men prior to the war. They could also mobilize up to 5 million men, but only had 4.6 million rifles to give them. It also had poor leadership. [ citation needed ]

The Empires Clash Edit

The war in the east began with the Russian invasion of East Prussia on 17 August 1914 and the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. [44] The first effort quickly turned to a defeat following the Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914. [45] 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, Nikolai Ruzsky 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. [46]

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. [47] 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. [48]

The Russian and Austro-Hungarian armies continued to clash along the Carpathian Front 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 Carpathian Mountains in February and March 1915, but then the German relief helped the Austrians stop further Russian advances. In the meantime, Przemysl was almost entirely destroyed and the Siege of Przemysl ended in a defeat for the Austrians. [49] [50]

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–Tarnów Offensive in Galicia in May 1915.

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 a corresponding 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 the buildup of Russian war industries increase production of war material and improve the supply situation.

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 Riga–Jakobstadt–Dünaburg–Baranovichi–Pinsk–Dubno–Tarnopol. The general outline of this front line did not change until the Russian collapse in 1917.

Russo-Turkish offensive, winter 1915–1916 Edit

After the Battle of Sarikamish, the Russo-Turkish front quickly turned in favor of Russian forces. The Turks were concerned with reorganizing their army and committing the Armenian genocide. [51] Meanwhile, 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 revived the situation of the Russo-Turkish front.

When the Allies withdrew from Gallipoli 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. [51] 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 in an attempt to distract the Turks, and Yudenich agreed. The resulting offensive began on January 10, 1916. [52]

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. [52] After three months of fighting, the Russians captured the city of Trabzon on April 18, 1916.

Allied 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

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 Aleksei 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. [53]

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. Most importantly innovative new tactics similar to those independently invented by Erwin Rommel were used to perform quick and effective close-range surprise attacks that allowed a steady advance. [54] The Russian Eighth Army overwhelmed the Austrian Fourth and pushed on to Lutsk, advancing forty miles beyond the starting position. Over a million Austrians were lost, with over 500,000 men killed or taken prisoner by mid-June. [54]

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. [21] : 52 Although it cost the Russians half a million casualties, the offensive successfully diverted substantial forces of the Central Powers from the Western front, and persuaded Romania to join the war, diverting even more Central Powers forces to the East. [55]

Romania enters the war Edit

It is no exaggeration to say that Roumania 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 hesitate to think what the effect will be on the fortunes of the campaign. … and yet no one seems to have thought it his particular duty to prepare a plan.

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. [57] Playing on Romanian anti-Hungarian sentiment the Allies promised the Austria-Hungarian territory of Ardeal (Transylvania) to Romania. Transylvanian demographics strongly favoured the Romanians. Romania succumbed to Allied enticement on August 18, 1916. [58] Nine days later, on August 27, Romanian troops marched into 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 though his successor appointed him to command the combined Central Powers forces against Romania, along with General August von Mackensen. Kaiser Wilhelm II immediately replaced Falkenhayn with Paul von Hindenburg. [59] Von Hindenburg's deputy, the more adept Erich Ludendorff, was given effective control of the army and ordered to advance on Romania. On September 3, the first troops of the Central Powers marched into Romanian territory. Simultaneously, the Bulgarian Air Force commenced an incessant bombing of Bucharest. [60] 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.

The entrance of Romania into the war was disconcerting for von Hindenburg. On September 15, 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 forces against Rumania." [62] Fortunately for the Central Powers, the quantity and quality of the Romanian Army was overestimated. Although numbering 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 Austro-Hungarian troops advanced from the north, while Bulgarian-Turkish-German 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. [63] By the middle of November the German force passed through the Carpathians, suffering significant casualties due to determined Romanian resistance. By December 5, Bulgarian troops had crossed the Danube and were 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. [64] Eventually, the Romanian forces were pushed back behind the Siret in northern Moldavia. They received help from the Allies, notably from France which sent a military mission of more than a thousand officers, health and support staff.

Aftermath of 1916 Edit

By January 1917, the ranks of the Romanian army had been significantly thinned. Roughly 150,000 Romanian soldiers had been taken prisoner, 200,000 men were dead or wounded, and lost two thirds of their country, including the capital. [65] Importantly, the Ploiești 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.

Russia – the February Revolution Edit

The Russian February 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. [66] 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, February 23, 1917/March 8, 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, [67] after working long hours in miserable conditions to feed their families because their menfolk were fighting at the front. They were not alone in demanding change more than 150,000 men and women took to the streets to protest the next day.

By Saturday, February 25, the city of Petrograd was essentially shut down. No one was allowed to work or wanted to work. [68] Even though there were a few incidents of police and soldiers firing into the crowds, those groups soon mutinied and joined the protesters. [69] Tsar Nicholas II, who was not in Petrograd during the revolution, heard reports of the protests but chose not to take them seriously. By March 1, it was obvious to everyone except the czar himself, that his rule was over. On March 2 it was made official. [70]

Romania – the Summer Campaign and aftermath Edit

In early July 1917, on the Romanian front, a relatively small area, there was one of the largest concentrations of combat forces and means known during the conflagration: nine armies, 80 infantry divisions with 974 battalions, 19 cavalry divisions with 550 squadrons and 923 artillery batteries, whose effectives numbered some 800,000 men, with about one million in their immediate reserve. The three great battles, decisive for the Romanian nation's destiny, delivered at Mărăști, Mărășești and Oituz represented a turning point in the world war on the Eastern front. These battles, named by the localities and zones where they took place, were fought approximately on the front alignment stabilized in early 1917, which the conflicting sides had thoroughly consolidated for half a year. [71]

Between late July and early September, the Romanian Army fought the battles of Mărăști, Mărășești and Oituz, managing to stop the German-Austro-Hungarian advance, inflicting heavy losses in the process and winning the most important Allied victories on the Eastern Front in 1917.

As a result of these operations, the remaining Romanian territories remained unoccupied, tying down nearly 1,000,000 Central Powers troops and prompting The Times to describe the Romanian front as "The only point of light in the East".

On May 7, 1918, in light of the existing politico-military situation, Romania was forced to conclude the Treaty of Bucharest with the Central Powers, imposing harsh conditions on the country but recognizing its union with Bessarabia. Alexandru Marghiloman became the new German-sponsored Prime Minister. King Ferdinand, however, refused to sign the treaty.

The Germans were able to repair the oil fields around Ploiești and by the end of the war had pumped a million tons of oil. They also requisitioned two million tons of grain from Romanian farmers. These materials were vital in keeping Germany in the war to the end of 1918. [72]

Russia – the October Revolution Edit

By September 1917, just months after the February Revolution, Lenin believed the Russian people were ready for another revolution, this time on Marxist principles. [73] On October 10, 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. Troops who were loyal to the Bolsheviks took control of the telegraph stations, power stations, strategic bridges, post offices, train stations, and state banks. [74]

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. [75] On October 24, 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 November 7, 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. [75] Lenin announced that the new regime would end the war, abolish all private land ownership, and create a system for workers' control over the factories.

On 7 November 1917, the Communist 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 the same time the Central Powers concluded a military treaty with Ukraine which was losing ground in the fight with invading Bolshevik forces. [76] 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. Finland declared itself independent 6 December 1917, and this was accepted by Lenin a month later. The Finnish Parliament elected a German prince as King of Finland. However, the Socialists (The Reds) and the Whites in Finland fell into war with each other in January 1918. The Reds wanted Finland to be a Soviet republic, and was aided by Russian forces still in Finland. The Whites of Finland were led by General Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, a Finnish baron who had been in the Tsars service since he was 15 years old. The Whites were also offered help by a German Expeditionary Corps led by the German General Goltz. Though Mannerheim never accepted the offer, the German corps landed in Finland in April 1918.

Formation of the Red Army Edit

After the disintegration of the Russian imperial army and navy in 1917, the Council of People's Commissars headed by Leon Trotsky set about creating a new army. By a decree on 28 January 1918 the council created the Workers' and Peoples' Red Army it began recruitment on a voluntary basis, but on 22 April, the Soviet government made serving in the army compulsory for anyone who did not employ hired labor. While the majority of the army was made up of workers and peasants, many of the Red Army's officers had served a similar function in the imperial army before its collapse. [77]

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) Edit

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 obsolete before the end of the year, it did provide some relief to the Bolsheviks, who were embroiled in a civil war, and affirmed the independence of Ukraine. However, Estonia and Latvia 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.

With the end of the Eastern Front, the Germans were able to transfer substantial forces to the west in order to mount an offensive in France in the spring of 1918. [ citation needed ]

This offensive on the Western Front failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough, and the arrival of more and more American units in Europe was sufficient to offset the German 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 a short-lived addition to the German Empire in Europe. In the end, Germany and Austria lost all their captured lands, and more, under various treaties (such as the Treaty of Versailles) signed after the armistice in 1918. [ citation needed ]

In comparison to the attention directed to the role played by women on the Western Front during the First World War, the role of women in the east has garnered limited scholarly focus. It is estimated that 20 percent of the Russian industrial working class was conscripted into the army therefore, women's share of industrial jobs increased dramatically. There were percentage increases in every industry, but the most noticeable increase happened in industrial labour, which increased from 31.4 percent in 1913 to 45 percent in 1918. [78]

Women also fought on the Eastern Front. In the later stages of Russia's participation in the war, Russia began forming all-woman combat units, the Women's Battalions, in part to fight plummeting morale among male soldiers by demonstrating Russian women's willingness to fight. In Romania, Ecaterina Teodoroiu actively fought in the Romanian Army and is remembered today as a national hero.

British nursing efforts were not limited to the Western Front. Nicknamed the "Gray partridges" in reference to their dark gray overcoats, Scottish volunteer nurses arrived in Romania in 1916 under the leadership of Elsie Inglis. In addition to nursing injured personnel, Scottish nurses manned transport vehicles and acted as regimental cooks. [79] The "Gray Partridges" were well respected by Romanian, Serbian and Russian troops and as a result, the Romanian press went as far as to characterize them as "healthy, masculine, and tanned women." As a testament to her abilities, Elsie Inglis and her volunteers were entrusted to turn an abandoned building in the city of Galati into an operational hospital, which they did in a little more than a day. [80] Yvonne Fitzroy's published journal, "With the Scottish Nurses in Roumania," provides an excellent first hand account of Scottish nursing activities in the Eastern Front. [81]

During World War I, approximately 200,000 German soldiers and 2.5 million soldiers from the Austro-Hungarian army entered Russian captivity. During the 1914 Russian campaign the Russians began taking thousands of Austrian prisoners. As a result, the Russian authorities made emergency facilities in Kyiv, Penza, Kazan, and later Turkestan to hold the Austrian prisoners of war. As the war continued Russia began to detain soldiers from Germany as well as a growing number from the Austro-Hungarian army. The Tsarist state saw the large population of POWs as a workforce that could benefit the war economy in Russia. Many POWs were employed as farm laborers and miners in Donbas and Krivoi Rog. However, the majority of POWs were employed as laborers constructing canals and building railroads. The living and working environments for these POWs was bleak. There was a shortage of food, clean drinking water and proper medical care. During the summer months malaria was a major problem, and the malnutrition among the POWs led to many cases of scurvy. While working on the Murmansk rail building project over 25,000 POWs died. Information about the bleak conditions of the labor camps reached the German and Austro-Hungarian governments. They began to complain about the treatment of POWs. The Tsarist authorities initially refused to acknowledge the German and Habsburg governments. They rejected their claims because Russian POWs were working on railway construction in Serbia. However, they slowly agreed to stop using prison labor. [82] Life in the camps was extremely rough for the men who resided in them. The Tsarist government could not provide adequate supplies for the men living in their POW camps. The Russian government's inability to supply the POWs in their camps with supplies was due to inadequate resources and bureaucratic rivalries. However, the conditions in the POW camps varied some were more bearable than others. [82]

Disease played a critical role in the loss of life on the Eastern Front. In the East, disease accounted for approximately four times the number of deaths caused by direct combat, in contrast to the three to one ratio in the West. [83] Malaria, cholera, and dysentery contributed to the epidemiological crisis on the Eastern Front however, typhus fever, transmitted by pathogenic lice and previously unknown to German medical officers before the outbreak of the war, was the most deadly. There was a direct correlation between the environmental conditions of the East and the prevalence of disease. With cities excessively crowded by refugees fleeing their native countries, unsanitary medical conditions created a suitable environment for diseases to spread. Primitive hygienic conditions, along with general lack of knowledge about proper medical care was evident in the German-occupied Ober Ost. [84]

Ultimately, a large scale sanitation program was put into effect. This program, named Sanititätswesen (Medical Affairs), was responsible for ensuring proper hygienic procedures were being carried out in Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Quarantine centers were built, and diseased neighbourhoods were isolated from the rest of the population. Delousing stations were prevalent in the countryside and in cities to prevent the spread of typhus fever, with mass numbers of natives being forced to take part in this process at military bathhouses. A "sanitary police" was also introduced to confirm the cleanliness of homes, and any home deemed unfit would be boarded up with a warning sign. [84] Dogs and cats were also killed for fear of possible infection.

To avoid the spread of disease, prostitution became regulated. Prostitutes were required to register for a permit, and authorities demanded mandatory medical examinations for all prostitutes, estimating that seventy percent of prostitutes carried a venereal disease. [84] Military brothels were introduced to combat disease the city of Kowno emphasized proper educational use of contraceptives such as condoms, encouraged proper cleansing of the genital area after intercourse, and gave instructions on treatment in the case of infection. [84]

The Russian casualties in the First World War are difficult to estimate, due to the poor quality of available statistics.

Cornish gives a total of 2,006,000 military dead (700,000 killed in action, 970,000 died of wounds, 155,000 died of disease and 181,000 died while POWs). This measure of Russian losses is similar to that of the British Empire, 5% of the male population in the 15 to 49 age group. He says civilian casualties were five to six hundred thousand in the first two years, and were then not kept, so a total of over 1,500,000 is not unlikely. He has over five million men passing into captivity, the majority during 1915. [85]

When Russia withdrew from the war, 2,500,000 Russian POWs were in German and Austrian hands. This by far exceeded the total number of prisoners of war (1,880,000) lost by the armies of Britain, France and Germany combined. Only the Austro-Hungarian Army, with 2,200,000 POWs, came even close. [86]

Austria Edit

The empire of Austria lost approximately 60% of its territory as a result of the war, and evolved into a smaller state with a small homogeneous population of 6.5 million people. With the loss Vienna was now an imperial capital without an empire to support it. The states that were formed around Austria feared the return of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and put measures into place to prevent it from re-forming. [87]

Czechoslovakia Edit

Czechoslovakia was created through the merging of the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, previously under Austrian rule, united with Slovakia and Ruthenia, which were part of Hungary. Although these groups had many differences between them, they believed that together they would create a stronger state. The new country was a multi-ethnic state. The population consisted of Czechs (51%), Slovaks (16%), Germans (22%), Hungarians (5%) and Rusyns (4%), with other ethnic groups making up 2%. [88] Many of the Germans, Hungarians, Ruthenians and Poles [89] and some Slovaks, felt oppressed because the political elite did not generally allow political autonomy for minority ethnic groups. The state proclaimed the official ideology that there are no Czechs and Slovaks, but only one nation of Czechoslovaks (see Czechoslovakism), to the disagreement of Slovaks and other ethnic groups. Once a unified Czechoslovakia was restored after World War II the conflict between the Czechs and the Slovaks surfaced again.

Hungary Edit

After the war Hungary was severely disrupted by the loss of 72% of its territory, 64% of its population and most of its natural resources. The loss of territory was similar to that of Austria after the breaking up the Austria-Hungary territory. They lost the territories of Transylvania, Slovakia, Croatia, Slavonia, Syrmia, and Banat. [87]

Italy Edit

Italy incorporated the regions of Trieste and South Tyrol from Austria.

Poland Edit

The creation of a free and Independent Poland was one of Wilson's fourteen points. At the end of the 18th century the state of Poland was broken apart by Prussia, Russia, and Austria. During the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, the Commission on Polish Affairs was created which recommended there be a passageway across West Prussia and Posen, in order to give Poland access to the Baltic through the port of Danzig at the mouth of the Vistula River. The creation of the state of Poland would cut off 1.5 million Germans in East Prussia from the rest of Germany. Poland also received Upper Silesia. British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon proposed Poland's eastern border with Russia. Neither the Soviet Russians nor the Polish were happy with the demarcation of the border. [87]

Romania Edit

The state of Romania was enlarged greatly after the war. As a result of the Paris peace conference Romania kept the Dobrudja and Transylvania. Between the states of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Romania an alliance named the Little Entente was formed. They worked together on matters of foreign policy in order to prevent a Habsburg restoration. [87]

Yugoslavia Edit

Initially Yugoslavia began as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The name was changed to Yugoslavia in 1929. The State secured its territory at the Paris peace talks after the end of the war. The state suffered from many internal problems because of the many diverse cultures and languages within the state. Yugoslavia was divided on national, linguistic, economic, and religious lines. [87]

Date Conflict Combatant 1 Combatant 2 Result
907 Rus'–Byzantine War (907) Kievan Rus' Byzantine Empire Victory [1]
920–1036 Rus'-Pechenegs' campaigns Kievan Rus' Pechenegs Different results. Eventually victory.
941 Rus'–Byzantine War (941) Kievan Rus' Byzantine Empire Defeat
944/945 Rus'–Byzantine War (944/945) Kievan Rus' Byzantine Empire Victory [2]
964–965 Sviatoslav's campaign against Khazars Kievan Rus' Khazar Khaganate Victory. Destruction of the Khazar Khaganate.
967/968–971 Sviatoslav's invasion of Bulgaria Kievan Rus' Byzantine Empire Defeat
981 Vladimir the Great's campaign on Cherven Cities Kievan Rus' Duchy of Poland Victory
985 Vladimir the Great's campaign against Volga Bulgaria Kievan Rus' Volga Bulgaria Military victory, then agreement.
987 Rus'–Byzantine War (987) Kievan Rus' Byzantine Empire Military victory. Agreement. Baptism of Vladimir and further Christianization of Kievan Rus'.
1022 Yaroslav the Wise's attack on Brest Kievan Rus' Duchy of Poland Defeat
1024 Rus'–Byzantine War (1024) Kievan Rus' Byzantine Empire Defeat
1030 Yaroslav the Wise's campaign against Chud Kievan Rus' Chud Victory. Estonian tribes start pay tribute to Rus.
1030–1031 Yaroslav the Wise's campaign on Cherven Cities Kievan Rus' Duchy of Poland Victory
1043 Rus'–Byzantine War (1043) Kievan Rus' Byzantine Empire Defeat
1055–1223 Rus'-Cumans' campaigns Kievan Rus' Cumans Different results. Mostly victories.
1061 Sosols raid against Pskov Kievan Rus' Sosols Defeat. Yaroslav the Wise's conquests in Estonia are lost.
1147 Bolesław IV the Curly's raid on Old Prussians Bolesław IV the Curly
  • Capture of the Grand Prince
  • Creation of a buffer state
  • Kazan releases all ethnic Christian Russians enslaved in the past four decades
  • Novgorod is integrated into the Grand Principality in 1478
  • End of Mongol rule
  • End of the Principality of Tver
  • The Kazan Khan is imprisoned and replaced by his half-brother
  • Treaty of Constantinople (1570)
  • The burning of Moscow by the Crimean Tatars in 1571
  • The defeat of the Crimean Tatars by the Russians at the Battle of Molodi in 1572
  • Preservation of independence of Russia and its conquests in the Volga region
  • Russia preserve independence
  • Russia lost Smolensk
  • Vladislav Zhigimondovich remained a contender for the Russian throne
  • Russian government forced to accept some Bashkir demands
  • Crushing of the rebellion
  • Russian invasion of Khanate of Khiva repelled
  • Crimea
    victory defeat
  • pro-Russian Bashkirs
  • Crushing of the rebellion
  • Establishment of Orenburg
  • Russian annexation of Central Asia
  • Crushing of the rebellion
  • Crushing of the rebellion

Polish legions
German legion
Viennese legion
Italian legion

The Russian Origins of the First World War

The catastrophe of the First World War, and the destruction, revolution, and enduring hostilities it wrought, make the issue of its origins a perennial puzzle. Since World War II, Germany has been viewed as the primary culprit. Now, in a major reinterpretation of the conflict, Sean McMeekin rejects the standard notions of the war&rsquos beginning as either a Germano-Austrian preemptive strike or a &ldquotragedy of miscalculation.&rdquo Instead, he proposes that the key to the outbreak of violence lies in St. Petersburg.

It was Russian statesmen who unleashed the war through conscious policy decisions based on imperial ambitions in the Near East. Unlike their civilian counterparts in Berlin, who would have preferred to localize the Austro-Serbian conflict, Russian leaders desired a more general war so long as British participation was assured. The war of 1914 was launched at a propitious moment for harnessing the might of Britain and France to neutralize the German threat to Russia&rsquos goal: partitioning the Ottoman Empire to ensure control of the Straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

Nearly a century has passed since the guns fell silent on the western front. But in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire, World War I smolders still. Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Jews, and other regional antagonists continue fighting over the last scraps of the Ottoman inheritance. As we seek to make sense of these conflicts, McMeekin&rsquos powerful exposé of Russia&rsquos aims in the First World War will illuminate our understanding of the twentieth century.

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Awards & Accolades

  • Longlist, 2012 Lionel Gelber Prize, Lionel Gelber Foundation, Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, and Foreign Policy
  • 2011 Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr. Book Prize, World War One Historical Association

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Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Rounding out our blog posts for Pride Month is an excerpt from Heather Love&rsquos Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History, which looks at the cost of gay assimilation into mainstream culture and makes an effort to value aspects of historical gay experience that now threaten to disappear. Queers face a strange choice: is it better to move on toward a brighter future or to hang back and cling to the past? &hellip

Russia in World War I: Was victory ‘stolen’ by a stab in the back?

&ldquoIn autumn of 1915, the Germans were halted at distant frontiers. They were not close to Moscow or Petrograd &hellip As far as those people who are able to think strategically, or one might say historically, it was already clear by the end of 1915 that we were winning the war! The question remained when would it be over and at what price? . Germany was doomed,&rdquo said Vladimir Lavrov, senior research associate of the Institute of Russian History, (link in Russian).

In the autumn of 1915, the German offensive on the Eastern Front (known in Russia as the &ldquoGreat Retreat&rdquo) grounded to a halt, and Berlin&rsquos strategy of a quick victory was derailed both in France and Russia, the historian underlined.

Betraying Russian national interests

The interpretation of Russia being cheated of victory is shared not only by some historians, but also on the highest political level.

“…This victory was stolen from the country," said President Vladimir Putin a few years ago

&ldquo&hellipThis victory was stolen from the country. It was stolen by those who called for the defeat of their own Fatherland, own army, who sowed discord and aspired to grab power, betraying the country&rsquos national interests,&rdquo said President Vladimir Putin five years ago on the occasion of the centenary of World War I&rsquos commencement. The majority of Russians (40 percent) also think the country was on the path to winning the war, according to the survey.

Putin clearly blamed the Bolsheviks, who in October 1917 overthrew the Provisional Government that had been established after the abdication of Nicholas II in February that same year. The Bolsheviks came to power promising to end the war, which they did in March 1918, concluding a peace with Germany. The war finally ended for all combatants in November when Germany and Austria-Hungary acknowledged defeat.

German &lsquorain of metal&rsquo

The &ldquostolen victory&rdquo narrative might look surprising. The war started as a disaster for Russia. In 1914, two of its armies in Eastern Prussia suffered a humiliating defeat, and then 1915 witnessed the Great Retreat when the country lost vast territories in the West. One of the reasons for this debacle was the lack of weapons and ammunition, especially cannon shells, as the Russian economy could not provide the necessary war supplies.

Russian soldiers collect their dead from the battlefield during World War I

&ldquoThe Germans are plowing battlefields with a rain of metal, as well as the trenches, often burying the defendants alive. They spend metal we &ndash human lives. They advance boosted by success, while we incur heavy casualties, spilling blood fighting and retreating,&rdquo summed up one Russian general in mid 1915 in a letter to Defense Minister Aleksei Polivanov (link in Russian).

Russia overcame the crisis

By early 1917, however, Russia in many respects was in a different situation than at the war&rsquos beginning.

In 1916, Russian industry overcame the deficit of war supplies

&ldquoThe Russian military-industrial sector began to rise. &hellip In 1916, Russian industry overcame that crisis [the deficit of war supplies] but did it unevenly. &hellip By the end of 1916, a program of new factory building was adopted,&rdquo argues historian Vasiliy Tsvetkov.

Moreover, according to some estimates, Russia spent 20-23 percent of its GDP on the war effort, while the UK spent 37 percent. So, there was potential for Russia to expand production.

Russia also launched a massive operation in 1916 against Austria-Hungary - the Brusilov Offensive. Although successful, Russian generals were unable to convert it into a game changer on the Eastern Front.

Russia&rsquos exhaustion

Nevertheless, many historians say that the expansion of the Russian military economy, as well as General Brusilov&rsquos success on the battlefield, were not enough to win the war.

General Alexey Brusilov (1853-1926) headed a successful offensive operation in the South-Western Front in 1916

&ldquoThere&rsquos a viewpoint in historiography that the Brusilov Offensive led to Russia&rsquos exhaustion because the number of casualties and the amount of resources expended was high,&rdquo argues Alexander Shubin, a professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities and a senior research associate at the Institute of World History.

The historian also mentions that by 1917 the economy was able to meet the needs of the army, but the cost was too great, undermining the rest of the economy.

&ldquoOne might say that by 1917 the strain of the war created those setbacks and failures that led to the February social explosion. The strain was so strong that even before the Revolution there were problems in Donbass [the main coal-producing region], and the disorganization of transportation led to a situation where even the capital city was badly supplied. The strain was so great that the country&rsquos archaic social-political system could not cope with it.&rdquo

&lsquoFatal mistake&rsquo

Even if the February Revolution never had happened, there could be no hope for a decisive blow against Germany because Russian troops rarely were successful against the Germans in World War I. Moreover, the latter would have come to the rescue of its ally, Austria-Hungary, if Russia had been victorious on the battlefield against that Central European empire. Thus, we can also conclude that there was no chance for advance in this direction .

Russian prisoners of war taken by Germany

The country could not wait until the Allies might win either. &ldquoThe Entente wished Russia to distract the Central Powers, and so the Allies pushed Russia hard to fight.&rdquo It was also not wise to expect help from the United States, which entered the war in April 1917 but only arrived on the front by mid-1918, underlines Alexander Shubin.

According to historian Boris Sokolov, &ldquoBy the end of 1916 Russia could no longer fight, but those who came to power in February 1917 did not realize it.&rdquo

Until the very end the Provisional Government tried to carry on with the war in line with its obligations to the Allies. This was the "fatal mistake&rdquo that led to the Bolshevik Revolution in October.

Do you know how Russian soldiers lived on the front lines of WWI? See some rare photos here .

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

A Brief History of the Amber Room

While many Americans associate amber with the casing for dinosaur DNA in 1993's Jurassic Park, the stone has enthralled Europeans, and especially Russians, for centuries because of the golden, jewel-encrusted Amber Room, which was made of several tons of the gemstone. A gift to Peter the Great in 1716 celebrating peace between Russia and Prussia, the room's fate became anything but peaceful: Nazis looted it during World War II, and in the final months of the war, the amber panels, which had been packed away in crates, disappeared. A replica was completed in 2003, but the contents of the original, dubbed "the Eighth Wonder of the World," have remained missing for decades.

Related Content

Construction of the Amber Room began in 1701. It was originally installed at Charlottenburg Palace, home of Friedrich I, the first King of Prussia. Truly an international collaboration, the room was designed by German baroque sculptor Andreas Schlüter and constructed by the Danish amber craftsman Gottfried Wolfram. Peter the Great admired the room on a visit, and in 1716 the King of Prussia—then Frederick William I—presented it to the Peter as a gift, cementing a Prussian-Russian alliance against Sweden.

The Amber Room was shipped to Russia in 18 large boxes and installed in the Winter House in St. Petersburg as a part of a European art collection. In 1755, Czarina Elizabeth ordered the room to be moved to the Catherine Palace in Pushkin, named Tsarskoye Selo, or "Czar's Village." Italian designer Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli redesigned the room to fit into its new, larger space using additional amber shipped from Berlin.

After other 18th-century renovations, the room covered about 180 square feet and glowed with six tons of amber and other semi-precious stones. The amber panels were backed with gold leaf, and historians estimate that, at the time, the room was worth $142 million in today's dollars. Over time, the Amber Room was used as a private meditation chamber for Czarina Elizabeth, a gathering room for Catherine the Great and a trophy space for amber connoisseur Alexander II.

On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler initiated Operation Barbarossa, which launched three million German soldiers into the Soviet Union. The invasion led to the looting of tens of thousands of art treasures, including the illustrious Amber Room, which the Nazis believed was made by Germans and, most certainly, made for Germans.

As the forces moved into Pushkin, officials and curators of the Catherine Palace attempted to disassemble and hide the Amber Room. When the dry amber began to crumble, the officials instead tried hiding the room behind thin wallpaper. But the ruse didn't fool the German soldiers, who tore down the Amber Room within 36 hours, packed it up in 27 crates and shipped it to Königsberg, Germany (present-day Kaliningrad). The room was reinstalled in Königsberg's castle museum on the Baltic Coast.

The museum's director, Alfred Rohde, was an amber aficionado and studied the room's panel history while it was on display for the next two years. In late 1943, with the end of the war in sight, Rohde was advised to dismantle the Amber Room and crate it away. In August of the following year, allied bombing raids destroyed the city and turned the castle museum into ruins. And with that, the trail of the Amber Room was lost.

Conspiracies, Curses and Construction

It seems hard to believe that crates of several tons of amber could go missing, and many historians have tried to solve the mystery. The most basic theory is that the crates were destroyed by the bombings of 1944. Others believe that the amber is still in Kaliningrad, while some say it was loaded onto a ship and can be found somewhere at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. In 1997, a group of German art detectives got a tip that someone was trying to hawk a piece of the Amber Room. They raided the office of the seller's lawyer and found one of the room's mosaic panels in Bremen, but the seller was the son of a deceased soldier and had no idea as to the panel's origin. One of the more extreme theories is that Stalin actually had a second Amber Room and the Germans stole a fake.

Another bizarre aspect of this story is the "Amber Room Curse." Many people connected to the room have met untimely ends. Take Rohde and his wife, for example, who died of typhus while the KGB was investigating the room. Or General Gusev, a Russian intelligence officer who died in a car crash after he talked to a journalist about the Amber Room. Or, most disturbing of all, Amber Room hunter and former German soldier Georg Stein, who in 1987 was murdered in a Bavarian forest.

The history of the new Amber Room, at least, is known for sure. The reconstruction began in 1979 at Tsarskoye Selo and was completed 25 years—and $11 million—later. Dedicated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the new room marked the 300-year anniversary of St. Petersburg in a unifying ceremony that echoed the peaceful sentiment behind the original. The room remains on display to the public at the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve outside of St. Petersburg.

The Revolutionary Movement in Russia during the FWW

During the war years, the Russian Revolution, an event of great historical significance took place. Certain aspects and events of Russian history—Russian colonial empire, the autocratic nature of her political system, the backwardness of her economy, her defeat at the hands of Japan, the role played by her in the European conflicts, particularly in the Balkans.

In the nineteenth century, there were various reform and revolutionary movements expressing discontent among the Russian peasantry who continued to live in misery even after serfdom was abolished in 1861.

Vast estates were owned by the Russian nobility and the Church, and there were millions of peasants without any landholdings of their own. The industrial workers, a new class that had emerged with the beginning of industrialisation, also lived in conditions of misery.

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While the common people were obviously opposed to the existing system in Russia, the middle classes and the intellectuals were also united in their opposition to the autocratic political system and were thus drawn to the revolutionary movement along with the peasants and workers.

Since the last quarter of the nineteenth century, socialist ideas had begun to spread in Russia and a number of socialist groups had been formed. In 1898, the various socialist groups joined together to form the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, popularly known as Lenin, was the leader of the left-wing section of the party.

In 1903, this section secured a majority in the party and came to be known as Bolsheviks, while the minority section was known as the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks, while defining their final goal as the establishment of socialism, proposed their immediate tasks as the overthrow of the autocratic rule of the Czar and the establishment of a republic, ending the oppression of the non-Russian nationalities of the Russian empire and granting them the right of self-determination, introduction of an eight-hour working day and abolition of inequalities in land and the end of all feudal oppressions of the peasantry.

There was a revolution in Russia in 1905, which forced Nicholas II, the reigning Czar, to agree for the establishment of a parliament, called the Duma, along with other democratic rights of the people. During this period, a new form of workers’ organisation had come into being, called the Soviet.

It was a body of workers’ representatives set up for the purpose of conducting strikes. Later, Soviets of peasants were also formed—followed by Soviets of soldiers—and these sprang up all over the country. The Soviets were later to play a crucial role in the history of the Russian Revolution.

The February Revolution:

The Revolution of 1905 had not ended the autocracy in Russia. Though the Duma existed, the power in Russia was wielded by the Czar, the nobility and the corrupt bureaucracy. Russia’s imperial ambitions led her to the war but the inefficient and corrupt Russian government was incapable of carrying on a modern war.

The war exposed the bankruptcy of the existing system in Russia, aggravated the crisis of the autocratic system and, ultimately, brought about its downfall. The Russian soldiers, 12 million of whom had been mobilised, were ill-equipped and ill-fed.

The Russian army suffered heavy losses during the war. The war had further worsened the already poor state of the Russian economy, further adding to the growing unrest. The country, including the capital city of Petrograd (formerly St Petersburg, later Leningrad, and now again St Petersburg) with its population of two million, was facing prospects of starvation.

There were long queues for bread which was in short supply. From the beginning of the year 1917, there was a spate of strikes, which took the form of a general strike. The demand for ending the war and the rule of the Czar grew and on 12 March many regiments of the army joined the striking workers, freed political prisoners and arrested Czarist generals and ministers.

By the evening Petrograd had passed into the control of insurgent workers and soldiers. These events of 12 March 1917 marked what has been called the February Revolution (because, according to the Old Russian calendar, the date was 27 February).

The Czar, who had been away from the capital, had ordered the suppression of the insurgents and the dissolution of the Duma. However, the Duma decided to take over power in its own hands and on 15 March announced the formation of a Provisional Government.

That very day, the Czar was forced to abdicate and his autocratic rule came to an end. A few months later, in September 1917, Russia was proclaimed a republic. The end of the Czarist autocracy was welcomed the world over. But the Provisional Government failed to .solve any of the problems that had led to the collapse of the Czarist government. The policy of pursuing the war was continued and nothing was done to solve the land problem.

The Bolsheviks were the only party which had a clear- cut programme. As we have seen earlier that two Russian socialists— Lenin and Martov—had drafted a part of the Second International’s resolution which called upon workers to utilise the crisis, created by the immanent danger of the war, if it broke out, and overthrow the system which had led to the war.

The Bolsheviks were consistent in their opposition to the war. There were five Bolshevik members of the Duma. They opposed the war when it broke out. They were arrested and exiled. When the February Revolution took place, Lenin was in Zurich, Switzerland. He called it only the initial, but by no means the complete victory, and declared:

Only a workers’ government that relies, first, on the overwhelming majority of the peasant population, the farm labourers and poor peasants and, second, on an alliance with the revolutionary workers of all countries in the war, can give the people peace, bread and full freedom.

The October Revolution:

At the time of the February Revolution, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies had been formed and it became the most important force in the fast-changing situation. On his arrival in Petrograd in April 1917, Lenin addressed the people with the following appeal:

The people need peace: the people need bread the people need land. And they give you—war, hunger, no bread they leave the landlords on the land.

He gave the call: “No support for the Provisional Government, All Power to the Soviets.” At this time there was another threat to the Provisional Government. General Kornilov had risen in revolt in an effort to establish his dictatorship.

However, the attempt was thwarted by the workers and soldiers who rose up to defend the Revolution. At this time, the Provisional Government was headed by Aleksander Kerensky, who held liberal and democratic views.

He, however, failed to make any departure from the policies which had been pursued by the Russian government since the outbreak of the war, and proved himself to be totally ineffective. He was totally lacking in support.

In October, the Bolsheviks made careful preparations for an uprising. The All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies had been convened on 25 October. The uprising to overthrow the Provisional Government had been timed to coincide with the Congress.

The uprising began in the early hours of 25 October in Petrograd and within a few hours, almost every strategic point in the city was occupied by the revolutionary soldiers and workers under the guidance of the Bolsheviks. At 10 a.m. Lenin’s address, “To the Citizens of Russia”, was broadcast. He said,

The Provisional Government has been deposed…. The cause for which the people have fought, namely the immediate offer of a democratic peace, the abolition of landed proprietorship, workers’ control over production, and the establishment of Soviet power—this cause has been secured.

The date of this event was 25 October according to the Old Russian calendar hence it is called the October Revolution. It actually happened on 7 November. At 10.40 p.m. the meeting, of the All- Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies began.

At about the same time, the assault on the Winter Palace, the headquarters of the Provisional Government, started. At 1.50 a.m. on the next day (26 October according to the old calendar), the Winter Palace had been occupied and the members of the Provisional Government put under arrest.

The head of the Government, Kerensky, had, however, escaped. At 9 p.m. the second session of the Congress of Soviets started. According to the eye-witness account of John Reed, an American journalist, Lenin was received with a “long-rolling ovation” as he stood up. As the ovation finished he said simply, “We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order!”

The first act of the new government was the adoption of the Decree on Peace (adopted at 11 p.m.). It expressed the resolve of the government to immediately enter into negotiations to conclude a peace without annexations or reparations. The workers of Germany, France and Britain, the Decree said,

will understand the duty imposed upon them to liberate humanity from the horrors and consequences of war, and that these workers, by decisive, energetic and continued action, will help us to bring to a successful conclusion the cause of peace—and at the same time, the cause of the liberation of the exploited working masses from all slavery and all exploitation.

As a consequence of such a policy, Russia withdrew from the war even at the cost of losing many of her territories which Germany had made a condition for agreeing to peace.

The second step taken by the revolutionary government, headed by Lenin, was the Decree on Land, which was adopted at 2 a.m. on 27 October (9 November). This Decree abolished private property in land and declared land to be the property of the entire nation.

Soon it renounced unilaterally all the unequal treaties which the Czarist government had imposed on countries such as China, Iran and Afghanistan. The right of all peoples to equality and self- determination was proclaimed.

Civil War and Foreign Intervention:

The uprising in Petrograd, which led to the establishment of the Bolshevik government, was followed by similar uprisings in other parts of the former Russian empire, and by February 1918, the new government had established its authority throughout the country. Soon, however, Russia was involved in a civil war.

The forces loyal to the old regime, known as the White Russians, had organised themselves to overthrow the revolution. The Allied powers—Britain, France, USA, Japan and others—also started their military interventions in Russia, to bring Russia back to the war, to exploit her resources for the war and to aid the counter-revolutionary forces. The civil war and foreign military interventions, however, ended by 1920.

The dynasty of the Czar was the first to fall during the First World War. Two other imperial dynasties—the German and the Austro- Hungarian—fell before the war was over. Another—that of the Ottoman Sultans—fell soon after the war.

The significance of the October Revolution extended beyond the boundaries of Russia. Soviet Russia, later the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, became a major influence in the subsequent history of the world.

Hitler’s Insane Invasion of Russia Forever Changed World History

What would have happened if Hitler had not invaded Russia? The dynamics of the Third Reich and Hitler meant that Germany would not remain passive.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Smashing Russia would also be the apocalyptic climax for what Hitler saw as an inevitable showdown with the cradle of communism. Or, he could have turned towards the Mediterranean and the Middle East

One of the most momentous decisions in history was Adolf Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

Operation Barbarossa transformed Nazi Germany's war from a one-front struggle, against a weakened Britain and a still-neutral United States, into a two-front conflict. The Eastern Front absorbed as much as three-quarters of the German army and inflicted two-thirds of German casualties.

So what would have happened if Hitler had not invaded Russia? The dynamics of the Third Reich and Hitler meant that Germany would not remain passive. In fact, it is hard to imagine Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union not at war, though the question is when this would have happened.

One possibility was invading Britain in 1941, and thus either ending the European war or freeing up the Third Reich to fight a later one-front war in the East. Thus Operation Sealion, the proposed 1940 amphibious assault on southern England, would merely have been postponed a year. The problem is that the Kreigsmarine—the German navy—would still have been badly outnumbered by the Royal Navy, even with the addition of the new battleship Bismarck. The British would have enjoyed an additional year to reinforce the Royal Air Force and to rebuild the divisions battered during the Fall of France. Britain would also have been receiving Lend-Lease from the United States, which by September 1941 was almost a belligerent power that escorted convoys in the North Atlantic. A few months later, America did formally enter the conflict despite the Japanese advance in the Pacific, the United States would certainly have concentrated its growing strength on keeping Britain unconquered and in the war.

A more likely possibility is that Hitler could have chosen to move south instead of east. With most of Western Europe under his control after the summer of 1940, and Eastern Europe either subdued or allied with Germany, Hitler had a choice by mid-1941. He could either follow his instincts and ideology and move against the Soviet Union, with its rich resources and open spaces for Nazi colonists. Smashing Russia would also be the apocalyptic climax for what Hitler saw as an inevitable showdown with the cradle of communism.

Or, he could have turned towards the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as his naval chief Admiral Erich Raeder preferred. In the real World War Two, Rommel's North African campaign was a sideshow to the main event in Russia. In the alternate scenario, North Africa becomes the main event.

One possibility would be to pressure Franco to drop Spanish neutrality and allow German troops to enter Spain and capture Gibraltar, thus sealing off the direct route from Britain to the Mediterranean (if Franco was stubborn, another possibility would be to invade Spain and then take Gibraltar anyway.) Another option would be to reinforce Rommel's Afrika Korps, drive across Libya and Egypt to capture the Suez Canal (which Rommel almost did in July 1942.) From there the Germans could advance on Middle Eastern oil fields, or should Germany attack Russia in 1942, move through the Caucuses in a pincer operation that would squeeze Russia from the west and south. Meanwhile, steel and other resources would have been switched from building tanks and other land armaments to building massive numbers of U-boats that would have strangled Britain's maritime lifeline.

Would this alternative German strategy have worked? A German Mediterranean option would have been very different than invading the Soviet Union. Instead of a huge Axis land army of 3 million men, the Mediterranean would have been a contest of ships and aircraft, supporting relatively small numbers of ground troops through the vast distances of the Middle East. With the Soviet Union remaining neutral (and continuing to ship resources to Germany under the Nazi-Soviet Pact,) Germany would have been able to concentrate the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean. German aircraft mauled the Royal Navy in 1941–42, even while supporting the campaign in Russia. The full weight of the Luftwaffe would have been devastating.

On the other hand, the logistics of a Middle Eastern offensive would have been daunting, due to the great distances and lack of Italian shipping capacity to transport fuel. Germany had an efficient air force and navy, but it was primarily a continental power whose strength rested on its army. Assuming that America entered the war in December 1941, then it is possible that the focal point of the European theater in 1942 would have been German–Italian air and naval forces supporting a reinforced Afrika Korps, versus British and American land, air, and naval forces defending or counterattacking in the Near East.

Which in turn raises another question: what if Hitler didn't cancel Operation Barbarossa, but rather postponed it until the summer of 1942? Assuming the Axis were successful in the Middle East, the Soviets would have faced a German–Italian expeditionary force advancing north through the Caucasus (perhaps Turkey would have joined the rising Axis tide.) Another year would also have given Germany more time to loot and exploit the resources of conquered Western Europe.

On the other hand, the Red Army in June of 1941 was caught terribly off-balance, still reeling and reorganizing from Stalin's purges. The extra year would have given the Soviets time to finish regrouping the Red Army as well as absorbing formidable new equipment such as the T-34 tank and Katyusha rocket launcher. Delaying Barbarossa until 1942, assuming Britain hadn't surrendered, would have meant that Germany would begin its attack on Russia while still needing to bolster its western defenses against the inevitable Anglo-American counterattack.

Superior German tactical and operational skills, as well as greater combat experience, would have given the Wehrmacht the edge in the opening days of Barbarossa 1942. Yet the catastrophic losses the Red Army suffered in 1941 would probably have been lower, leading to the possibility that Barbarossa delayed would have been a gift to the Soviets.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This article first appeared in 2016 and is reprinted due to reader interest.

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