Transcript

Galicia: despatch on fighting
Catalogue reference: WO 106/1559


SECRET.
From the Military Attaché, Warsaw, to the Right Hon. Sir G. Buchanan,
G.C.V.O., G.C.M.G., &c.
Warsaw, 3rd November, 1914.
Sir,
     I have the honour to send you some notes on the general situation as requested by your letter of the 20th October which reached me yesterday. I have not sent any information lately partly because I understood from a Foreign Office telegram some 6 weeks ago that military information was not required and partly because it is only on rare occasions that I can send letters safely from the front.
     In despatch B of the 10th October I gave a brief account of the German advance from the line Bendin-Chenstokhov to the Vistula. This movement was a belated attempt to relieve Russian pressure on Austria. When it was commenced, at the beginning of October, there was no Russian infantry on the left bank of the Vistula.
     There can be no doubt that the Russian armies were detained too long in Galicia. The Austrians decamped rapidly and the Russians were so retarded by difficulties of supply that their counter-stroke lost much of its effect.
     It is said that the Grand Duke wished to withdraw earlier but was opposed by Ivanoff on the ground that reports pointed to the concentration of the Austrian main body south of Przemysl. So they remained for weeks, few of the troops being actively engaged and hundreds of the horses dying of starvation.
     At length the 4th army was withdrawn. When the German advance from the line Bendin-Chenstokhov necessitated a rapid change of front the question arose whether it would be possible to carry out the movement on the left bank of the Vistula, and, moreover, at a distance from that river sufficiently great for it to be safe to offer battle. The General Officer Commanding the 9th army suggested taking his four corps across the Vistula at Sandomir and offering battle on the line Ostroviets-Opatov. Ivanoff insisted on the whole movement being carried out in rear of the river. This was the safer course, but it necessitated the abandonment of all trans-Vistula Poland to the enemy, brought great hardships on the troops who were forced to retire on a narrow front and on the few roads of the Lublin Government where the supply arrangements were quite inadequate, entailed the probability of great loss in the eventual forcing of the river, and, worst of all, caused delay in the attainment of our eventual object.
     The German advance was delayed as much as possible by seven divisions of cavalry, and two weak detachments of infantry were pushed forward in support. Of the latter, the 75th Division at Radom delayed the enemy for 36 hours, but the Guard Rifle Brigade at Opatov was severely handled on the 4th October, losing half its strength, nine guns and 21 machine guns.
     By the 7th October the Germans supported by Austrians on the right had reached the left bank of the Vistula from Sandomir to Warsaw. The only permanent bridges are at Warsaw and Ivangorod and the Russians had destroyed all the temporary bridges except one at Ivangorod and another at Novo-Alexandria. The approaches to Warsaw had been defended by hastily constructed entrenchments, those to Ivangorod were covered by a fort on the left bank that dates from 1888, and to Novo-Alexandria by defences constructed by working parties of the Opolchenie. The whole bank from Ivangorod to Novo-Alexandria was protected by an almost continuous line of trenches.
     A brigade of the Grenadier Corps retired somewhat precipitately from the bridge head at Novo-Alexandria. An artillery duel continued for some days across the river from south of Ivangorod to Zavikhost, the fire of the German heavy guns severing railway communication between Ivangorod and Novo-Alexandria.
     The German troops concentrated to the north against the Warsaw bridge head, their place being taken gradually by the 1st, 5th and 10th Austrian Corps, together with Landwehr divisions. Warsaw was soon in considerable danger, the menace reaching its height on the 11th of October when the enemy's advanced troops were within 7 versts (4 1/2 miles) of the city. The Russians were, however, able to concentrate troops quickly by means of their strategic railways, while the Germans had to carry out their lateral movement by road. Several Russian corps were transferred for the frontier of East Prussia, while the Moscow railway brought every day 30 to 40 trains of Siberian troops. Scheidemann, who was in command, was able after a series of hard-fought battles to drive the enemy back to a safe distance.
     Meanwhile the change of front, a remarkable performance considering the weather and the roads, was completed and the 4th 5th and 9th armies were aligned successively along the right bank from Gora-Kalvaria to Sandomir.
     From the 14th these armies commenced to cross to the left bank, the 5th and 4th leading on the line Gora Kalvaria-Kozenitsze. In this operation the 3rd Caucasian corps lost heavily.
     By the 20th the enemy had been driven back from Warsaw, and it was known that he was preparing to retreat all along the line.
     The Guard crossed at Ivangorod on the 21st and 22nd and was followed at Novo-Alexandria by the 25th corps on the night of the 22nd-23rd and by the 14th corps, also at Novo-Alexandria, on the night of the 23rd-24th.
     It is difficult to ascertain to what extent the Germans were punished in their retirement from before Warsaw. The Military Governor here says that they retired in panic, abandoning transport and in many cases guns and machine guns. He estimates that their promenade cost them from 60,00[0] to 70,000 men killed, wounded and prisoners. I believe this is an exaggeration. No estimate places the number of prisoners at a larger figure than 4,000. I think that the Germans retired rapidly but in complete order, without serious damage from the overwhelming mass of Russian cavalry on their northern flank.
     I crossed with the Guards corps at Ivangored. The difficulty of the marshy and wooded country through which we debouched, the fine fight put up by the Austrian rearguard which gave the corps commander an exaggerated opinion of their strength, together with misunderstandings with the IIIrd Caucasian corps on our right, caused progress to be slow. The corps staff only reached Zvolen on the 27th. The Guards Corps lost 2,700 men in four days' fighting. On the left the 25th corps had an equal number of casualties in a single reserve division. from the 26th large parties of Hungarians and Slovaks surrendered, and by the following night the Guard, 25th and 14th corps had taken about 12,000 prisoners. All local reports agree regarding the contrast between the disorganization of the Austrian rear services and the order which reigns in the German army. Hundreds of wounded Austrians were found at Zvolen who had not been fed for days or had their wounds looked to.
     In spite of their faulty organization, the Austrians, as the Germans, were punished less than they should have been. The Russian armies are now advancing west on a wide front, but their want of mobility has robbed them of the brilliant success that at one time seemed probable.
     The operations on the Eydtkuhnen-Suwalki line seem to have developed since the Russian victory at Augustovo into a war of position. Rennenkampf's army was very nearly cut off in its retirement from East Prussia. He lost 20,000 men and 120 guns.
     The Russians consider the Austrian army broken, for they have captured 200,000 prisoners and 1,000 guns. On the other hand they think Austria has still 16 regular and five or six reserve corps in the field, though, of course, they are all of a lower establishment or filled by older classes of reservists. Brousilov on our extreme left has large Austrian forces opposed to him, and Radko-Dmitriev is making little progress south of Sandomir.
     Probably a Russian corps is more than a match for an Austrian corps, but a wide margin of strength is necessary in fighting against German troops.
     There are thus about 40 corps on the western frontier and from 20 to 25 divisions of cavalry, the distribution of which is not accurately known. Several, possibly 10, of the corps contain 3rd divisions.
     The armies are grouped in two fronts; the area of operations being divided for the present by the Pilitsa, a stream which joins the Vistula half way between Warsaw and Ivangorod. The "north-west front" (10th, 1st and 2nd armies) is directed by General Ruzski, who has succeeded Jilinski. His Chief of Staff is General Oranovski. The "south-west front" is still commanded by General Ivanov, with General Alexyeev as Chief of Staff.
     The XIIIth and XVth Army Corps, which were destroyed north of Neidenburg, are re-forming at Gomel (in Central Russia.)
     The 6th army, based on Petrograd, consists entirely of 2nd line troops. It is commanded by General van der Fliet and its task is the defence of the Finland and Baltic coast.
     The 8th army - for the defence of the Black Sea littoral - is based on Odessa and commanded by General Nikitin. It also contains only reserve troops.



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