Primary Documents - Alexander von Krobatin on the Austrian Surrender at Przemysl, March 1915
Reproduced below is Alexander von Krobatin's account of the Austrian surrender, to the Russians, of the fortress of Przemysl on 22 March 1915. Krobatin served as Austria-Hungary's Minister of War from 1912-17 and subsequently served (with varying success) as an active field commander.
Krobatin's summary is very much a human account of the Austrians' suffering during the Russian siege of the Przemysl; indeed he wonders how it was possible for the besieged men to have lasted for as long as they did.
An Account of the the Austrian Surrender of Przemysl by Alexander von Krobatin, March 1915
The garrison of the fortress held Przemysl to the very last hour that human force could do so in the military sense of the word.
General Kusmanek only surrendered when such a course was dictated by feelings of humanity and military consideration. On the day of the surrender there was not one morsel of food in the fortress, and no breakfast could be supplied to the men.
Events developed around Przemysl more quickly than was expected. The last sortie officially reported was directed towards the east, and was undertaken not with the view of effecting the relief of the fortress, but to find out if the surrounding Russian force was as strong towards Grodek and Lemberg as in the other directions, and whether the Russians had fortified their positions in the Grodek direction, as well as to the south and west of the fortress.
It was ascertained during the sorties that this was the case. The Russians, in fact, built counter-fortifications all around the fortress, even in the direction of their own territory, preparing for all eventualities.
In fact, the last reports coming from the fortress all confirmed the report that the Russians built a new fortress all around the besieged territory. The fortifications were so constructed as to constitute an impenetrable obstacle to inward attacks, just the counter-form of the fortifications and defensive works of the fortress itself. The Russian ring was constructed exclusively against Przemysl with unparalleled skill and rapidity, and with all available means of modern technik.
On the west a well-fortified defending line and on the south a large Russian army stood in the way of any attempt to relieve Przemysl. In addition, the roads leading towards Russia were well fortified, as the last sortie proved.
This was the military situation of the fortress during the last weeks.
With regard to provisions the fortress was well supplied at the outset, but the stores were consumed at the time of the first investment, which lasted until October 11th. On that date the fortress was relieved, and General Boroevic entered the fortress with his army.
The railway lines had been blown up by the retreating Russians. On the Galician roads it was impossible to transport anything at that time, and this fact obliged us to provision the army fighting to the east of Przemysl from the stores of the fortress, the army being cut off from all other points of supply.
It was thus necessary to draw provisions from the ample stores of Przemysl in the hope that as soon as the railway line was reconstructed the stores could be replaced. The railway line was reconstructed, and on October 23rd the first trains began to move towards the fortress.
At the end of ten days, however, and before the deficiencies could be made good, Przemysl was invested anew.
At this period the situation in North Poland made it necessary for us to withdraw our flank in Galicia. During the ten days at our disposal the transport of ammunition took first place. The question of provisioning the fortress appearing at that time to be a secondary matter, when eventually food supplies were dispatched to Przemysl it was too late.
During the first days of the investment, in November, General Kusmanek took stock of the available quantity of foodstuffs, and drew up a scale of rations.
He took great care that neither officers nor men should get more than the minimum of everything. For breakfast they had only tea, for their midday meal a small piece of meat and half a pound of bread, and in the evening tea again, with some bread.
To add to the meat supply thousands of horses were slaughtered, which was all the more necessary on account of the shortage in fodder. Later on this minimum was further reduced, so that the men of the garrison were on almost starvation diet for the last two months of the siege.
It has been said in some quarters that flying machines and dirigibles might have been used in bringing in supplies, but this idea was excluded from the beginning. Such flour or meat as could have been thus brought in would only have sufficed a few hundred men for a few days, and to have made any appreciable difference all the aeroplanes and dirigibles of the world would have had to have been employed daily.
The commander of the fortress vetoed the idea that certain members of the garrison should receive food by this means whilst the rest put up with the rations available in the fortress. Even the game shot by some of the officers was not allowed to be brought in, but was cooked and eaten in the hunting field. The aeroplanes only brought in letters, medicines, and material for the wireless telegraphy.
The food supply grew daily more and more scanty, until on the morning of the 22nd there was not a particle of bread in the stores, not a pound of neat or flour available, so that the commander of the fortress decided to surrender.
The sortie above referred to had no effect whatever but soon after this the Russian besieging army began a violent attack from the north and east with the object of ascertaining what powers of resistance the famished and exhausted garrison still possessed.
How our poor soldiers could bear the brunt of these attacks is a mystery, but General Tamassy's Honveds succeeded in repulsing them. These weak and famished soldiers had courage and enthusiasm enough to face the onslaught of the healthy, well-fed Russians, and succeeded in repulsing them from beneath the fortress. True, this was their last effort.
After this battle, which lasted seven hours, General Kusmanek and his staff saw that another sortie was impossible, the investing ring being too strong for even a well-fed army to break through.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. III, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
'Push' was slang signifying a large-scale attack upon enemy positions.
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