Brusilov Offensive

Brusilov Offensive
By Euronews
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1916: June 4

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As the Battle of Verdun dragged on, France asked its allies to launch offensives that would draw German resources away from the gruelling conflict. While the British were planning the Battle of the Somme, the Russians moved more quickly, organising a disastrous attack at Lake Narocz in March 1916, where they lost around 100,000 men. Despite this failure the Russians quickly began planning another diversionary attack in the northern region of the Eastern Front, near Vilna. It was during these new preparations that Russian commander Alexei Brusilov proposed that he mount an attack with the Southwestern army. The other generals had little confidence in the offensive but believed it would at least serve as a diversion from other campaigns.

On June 4 Brusilov’s men began an effective bombardment of the Austo-Hungarian front line, demolishing their numerical advantage. Over two days the Russian troops swept forward at a rapid pace, advancing 75 kilometres over a 20-kilometre front. In this short time the Austro-Hungarians had suffered 130,000 casualties and 200,000 men had been taken prisoner.

In response to the deteriorating situation the Austrian commander Conrad von Hotzendorff called on his German counterpart for reinforcements, saying they were facing “the greatest crisis of the war so far”. Four German divisions were released from the west to assist their Austro-Hungarian allies, forcing the Germans to abandon plans for a 2016 Western Front assault.

Despite the initial run of success, by September Brusilov’s men were running out of resources and were reaching breaking point. The operation was closed down on September 20. The surprise offensive had cost the Austro-Hungarians an astonishing 1.5 million men, of which 400,000 were taken prisoner.

The Brusilov Offensive was the biggest and most successful Allied battle of World War I and although Russia’s exit from the war in 1917 caused its success to be somewhat forgotten, the campaign had a significant effect on the war, limiting the irreversibly damaged Austro-Hungarian military to holding trenches while the Germans fought the rest of the war virtually alone.

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