Memoirs & Diaries - Austrian Account of the Brusilov Offensive, June 1916

Austro-Hungarian commander Karl von Pflanzer-Baltin An anonymous Austrian account of Russian incursions into Hungarian territory during the June 1916 Brusilov Offensive led by Alexei Brusilov

Even the fatal day of June 4th was still meant to be at Czernovitz a day of festivities.  The town was beflagged as "an Imperial Eagle in Iron" (ein Reichsaar in Eisen) was unveiled at the Rathaus "in memory of the time of Russian invasion" (zur Erinnerung an die Russenzeit).  The wide town-square was filled with people, and General von Pflanzer-Baltin himself was expected.

But then in the afternoon, whilst the artillery fire in the north, in the direction of Okna and Dobronovtse, was getting louder and louder, a dispatch-rider arrived with the following message, which was read out to the expectant crowds in the square: "His Excellency General von Pflanzer-Baltin is prevented from taking part in the festivities of to-day, and gives notice of his absence."

Six days later crowds were again filling the town square - no longer to "commemorate" the Russian occupation of Czernovitz.

On Saturday, June 10th, at 6 p.m., military transports began to traverse the main streets of the town, moving from the direction of the bridgehead of Zhuchka towards Starozhyniets.  It was an interminable chain of all kinds of vehicles, from huge, heavy motor lorries down to light gigs driven by army officers.  The waves of war were rolling through the city.

As if at a given sign the town square filled with people.  Frightened, searching eyes were asking for an explanation.  Terrifying news began to circulate, the excited imagination of the crowd was at work.

Mysterious information was passed from mouth to mouth, yet no one knew anything definite.  A fever got hold of the town.  With bags, boxes and baskets people were hurrying to the railway station.

"Is an evacuation-train leaving, and when?" they were asking with the persistence of desperation.  The hours were moving slowly, and the night came over the city, full of despondency and gloom.

And still the endless military transports were traversing the streets.  But no longer was any notice taken of them.  The guns were playing, the excitement was growing.  At 7 p.m. the civilian authorities received the order of evacuation.  Everything was to be ready for the train at 6 a.m. which, besides Government property, was to carry off the railway employees and their families.

The coffee-houses were filling with people.  All Government officials put on their uniforms, all Government authorities, even the police, granted leave to their employees, demanding no more than a show of the performance of official duties.  The town corporation paid out to its officers two months' salaries and sent them off to Sutchava, where all the evacuated Government authorities were going.

No official was, however, to leave the Bukovina without permission.

Suddenly - no one knows how - the news spread that the army group of General Papp had evacuated its positions and was retreating.  Even the hour of the event was known.

The information was correct.  The greatest optimists now gave up all hope.  The safety of the Bukovina was closely connected with the name of General Papp.

The grey dawn found the city in full flight.  The streets were filled with crowds, the tramcars were carrying wounded soldiers, as at the order of the army command the evacuation of the military hospitals had been started.  The square before the railway station was closely packed with people, but the police were admitting only railway officials.

The women were begging, crying, lifting up their children.  They had to wait - that train was not meant for them.

At 8 a.m. the first evacuation train left the city.  The next was due at noon, or at 3 p.m.  Many people preferred to fly by foot, as the prices of cabs and cars had risen to an incredible height.

The artillery fire was drawing closer and closer, and above the heads of the crowd appeared a Russian aviator.  Their hearts were shaking with fear.

The prices of goods in the town were falling rapidly.  Tobacco and cigarettes, which previously were hardly to be had anywhere, were offered at half-price without any restrictions.  Women from the suburbs who, not knowing what had happened, had brought their vegetables to the market, were selling them for a third of the usual price, only to be able to return to their homes and children.

For the merchants in Czernovitz the evacuation was a catastrophe.  As they had been supplying the army with goods, they had gathered stores valued at millions of crowns.  None of them could be carried away; only Government property was being removed.

The news that the town would soon come under fire led to a sheer panic.  The crowd in front of the station was seized with frenzy.  Against the resistance of the officials it forced its way into the station and invaded a half-empty military train.

The same happened in the case of the next train, and to all the following ones.  In the course of Sunday 6 to 8,000 people left Czernovitz.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

An "incendiary shell" is an artillery shell packed with highly flammable material, such as magnesium and phosphorous, intended to start and spread fire when detonated.

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