Primary Documents - General von Cramon on the Brusilov Offensive, June 1916
The Brusilov Offensive of June 1916, overseen by able Russian commander Alexei Brusilov, achieved stunning - and, for most observers surprising - initial success. The offensive began in spectacular fashion, demolishing the Austrian Fourth and Seventh Armies. The Austrians lost a staggering 1.5 million men (including 400,000 taken prisoner) and ceded some 25,000 square kilometres of ground.
With the launch of the Brusilov Offensive any hopes the Austrians harboured of bringing about victory in the east were extinguished. Austrian attacks in Italy ceased; and Romania finally entered the war with the Allies. But for the failure of Alexei Evert to join the attack against German forces in the north (as planned), the overall success of the Brusilov Offensive would probably have been assured. As it was the Offensive gummed up in Brusilov's need to save the Allies' latest ally - Romania - from a German invasion.
Reproduced below is the official report of the German military liaison with the Austrian forces, General von Cramon.
Click here to read Brusilov's official statement during the first flush of the offensive's initial success. Click here to read a Hungarian account of Russian incursion into Hungarian territory during the offensive; click here to read a similar Austrian account; click here for a Polish landowner's account.
General von Cramon on the Brusilov Offensive
On the 4th of June the great Russian attack began.
It was stated on good authority that a decision was to be fought for in the East. Verdun, and particularly Tyrol, had forced upon the Entente the beginning of the fighting some weeks earlier than was expected.
Events crowded on events. On the northern wing the positions west of Rovno were lost. The report that Russian attacks had been repulsed followed hard on the news of the defeat. Our reserves had been used up with astonishing rapidity, but ineffectually.
The ceaseless torrent poured westward. Lutsk with its notorious bridgehead fell. The Russian stood on the western bank of the Styr, and before him were only the shattered remnants of divisions.
On the southern wing a Russian attack pierced the front between the Dniester and the Pruth; whereupon one part withdrew to the west, the other crossed the Pruth.
In the centre of the front the Army of the South alone maintained its ground.
Already on June 7th the Austrian Headquarters declared that the situation could not be maintained with the help of Austro-Hungarian troops alone.
"After the experiences of the Fifth and the Sixth Armies, it is quite impossible to make any prediction regarding the Fourth Army."
It had broken asunder west of Lutsk; the way to Vladimir-Volynsk was open. The Russian, however, did not pursue. Whether he overlooked the extent of his success - something that has happened to the attacker on every front - whether he was anxious about his northern flank, or whether he did not have forces sufficient to continue the pursuit, these facts cannot be determined here.
The point is that he missed his opportunity, wavered between taking the direction toward Lemberg or Kovel, and lost precious time.
Army headquarters did not consider a suspension of the offensive in Italy. It invoked German aid, pointing out that the Russian attack appeared to be directed exclusively against the Austrian front, and that the German front contiguous to it on the north could spare troops.
The high German command did not concur in this view. It maintained that it was engaged in waging heavy battles on the western front and, as could be shown, no Russian divisions had been removed from the German front in the East. The Austrian army headquarters should therefore relieve the situation, for which it was responsible, with its own troops.
The situation became graver, the call for aid more urgent, and the German high command, with a heavy heart and "with a temporary suspension and limitation of the aims on the Western front," was compelled to give up several divisions.
On June 8th the respective chiefs of staff of the two armies met in Berlin. It was decided to relieve the situation by a counter-attack from the direction of Kovel. Germany supplied several additional divisions. From the Italian front the first troops moved to the East on June 11th. General Linsingen was put in command also of the Austrian Fourth Army. Archduke Joseph Ferdinand was replaced by General Tersztyansky.
After the surprising success of his first attack the Russian now began to bring the weight of his numerical preponderance to bear in the South. Ceaselessly his transport wagons rolled toward the Austro-Hungarian front.
Several attacking groups were formed: against Kovel from the south and southeast, and against Lemberg from three concentric directions and south of the Dniester. The Austrian army headquarters still refused to believe in the necessity for the absolute termination of hostilities in Italy. The order to this effect, indeed, was not given until June 18th. A proud hope was thus relinquished. The Eastern front now became a source of solicitude to all.
The counter-attack made from the direction of Kovel succeeded, toward the end of June, in compressing somewhat the Russian offensive circle west of Lutsk, but soon came to a standstill. The Russian again "had the floor."
In the beginning of July he penetrated the Styr circle, northwest of Rovno and forced the defender back behind the Stokhod. The German high command had been opposed to a voluntary evacuation. This, now enforced by the enemy, cost many lives. The Russians were not successful in proceeding farther, that is, across the Stokhod toward Kovel. The front remained intact, even though it wavered at times.
It was a mistake on the part of the Russian leaders to make their attack in the direction of Kovel directly against the point of greatest resistance. In the direction of Lemberg a success west of the Styr would have been certain; against Kovel effective resistance would have sufficed.
The attack on Lemberg was made from three directions: west of the Styr; on both sides of the railroad via Brody; and north of the railroad via Tarnopol.
As already stated, the territory affording the most effective direction for the thrust - that lying west of the Styr - was not supplied with troops sufficient to secure more than a partial success; the attack stopped at the Lipa. On both sides of the railroad through Brody the Austro-Hungarian First and Second Army, by the end of July, had been forced back westwardly over Brody and beyond.
North of the Tarnopol railroad the Russian attack, at the beginning of August, had advanced beyond the upper Sereth. German troops had to assist in guarding Lemberg.
In the centre of the front the Army of the South held well. It bent back its wings so as not to lose touch, and projected forward as a last bastion eastwardly into the ranks of the on-storming Russians. Both leaders and troops acquitted themselves admirably. Finally they also had to give up their positions; voluntarily they withdrew behind the Zlota-Lipa.
South of the Dniester the westwardly retreating part of the Seventh Army was becoming more and more demoralized. A counter-attack by German troops on the north wing in the direction of Obertyn was indeed successful, but could not change the situation.
The defence had to be transferred back west of Stanislau, because demoralized detachments, yielding to every attack, exposed the flanks and rear of bravely struggling troops. The valuable oil district of Boryslaw was seriously menaced.
And now the Russian repeated his mistake of relinquishing his attack on the position offering the weakest resistance and diverting it against parts of the front more strongly defended. He transferred part of his forces northwardly across the Dniester and attacked the Army of the South.
The divisions of the Seventh Army retreating across the Pruth toward the southwest and south, had fallen back into the Carpathian Mountains. The Russian was undecided as to where he should bring the greatest pressure of his pursuit to bear. Finally the pressure which he brought to bear against the Carpathians became so strong and the danger of an invasion of Hungary with its resultant effect on Rumania so urgent, that German and Austro-Hungarian reinforcements had to be employed in counter-attacks.
These troops took the passes of the Carpathians firmly in hand, compelled the Russians also to send forces into the mountains, and so relieved the Stanislau front.
The Russian massed attack, the main features of which have been described in the foregoing, did not make any further notable progress. It succeeded in reaching neither Kovel nor Lemberg. The defence, however, had been successful only because 20 German divisions in all had been brought here, notwithstanding the fact that the Battle of the Somme had been raging since July 1st on the Western front.
The resources of the Central Powers had been taxed to the utmost. The Russian attack was checked just at the right moment: the Rumanians arrived too late.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
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