Primary Documents - General von der Boeck on the Capture of Warsaw, 4 August 1915
Reproduced below is a German account of the events preceding, and during, the capture of Warsaw from Russian control on 4 August 1915. Von der Boeck's account - resolutely one-sided in its roll-call of German triumphs - portrayed the seizure of Warsaw as a necessary consequence of superior German strategy and tactics against a sluggish, beaten foe.
General von der Boeck on the Capture of Warsaw, 4 August 1915
In order to understand the significant events of the last four months on the eastern front, it will be necessary to recall briefly the military situation that obtained there during the winter of 1914-15.
As a result of the battles at Lodz and at Limanova during November and December, the Russian front in Poland and in Galicia over a stretch of almost 400 kilometres was compelled to retreat, thus shattering the Russian plan of an offensive.
During the early months of 1915, the Russians mobilized their great numerical superiority in the hope of smashing through the Carpathians into Hungary and thus, if possible, of coming to the aid of the Serbs; this plan, too, miscarried.
The time had therefore arrived for the allied Central Powers to launch a crushing blow at their mighty eastern antagonist by a combined attack of their victorious troops. The execution of this ambitious plan had been prepared with great care and secrecy by the German and the Austro-Hungarian chief command, so that the Russians were taken quite unawares when, during the early days of May, 1915, the allied Powers inaugurated a successful attack against the right flank and the rear of the invader's position on the Dunajec.
Because of this great but stubbornly contested victory of the Teuton Powers under the command of General von Mackensen (May 1st), the Russian front was pushed in many places from its position near the Hungarian border back upon the confluence of the Dunajec and the Vistula.
The immediate and energetic pursuit of the eastward retreating enemy placed those of his forces still in the Carpathians in great jeopardy. It is easy to understand, therefore, that the Russians made obstinate attempts to check the further advance of the allied [Teuton] Powers.
This resistance was broken, however, in the battle of Tarnow-Gorlice (May 13th), so that the Russians had to withdraw their right wing beyond the San, and their left wing to the vicinity of the fortress of Przemysl, which had been in their possession since March 22nd; to Przemysl, too, they withdrew the troops that had been driven in the meantime from the western ranges of the Carpathians.
After a short breathing-spell for the establishment of communications and the advance of the rearguard, the allied Powers renewed the pursuit. While the army of Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, which constituted the left wing, was pushing its way over the San, the right wing of Von Mackensen's army drove the enemy from the vicinity of Przemysl, at the same time recapturing the fortress (June 3rd).
The enemy withdrew his right wing in the direction of Lublin, his centre and his left wing, in part north-eastward, in part eastward, back upon Lemberg. Thus the situation offered a division of the Russian forces, and bore in itself the germ of the defeat of the Russians in Poland.
As a matter of course, the events in West Galicia just recounted did not remain without influence on the situation along the west bank of the Vistula. Here the Russians abandoned the positions that they had held for months on the Nida between the Vistula and Pilica, withdrawing north-easterly toward Radom. The Woyrsch army-group followed on their heels. West of Warsaw, however, the Russians still occupied very strong positions.
On the other hand, the Russian retreat had an ever increasing effect on their left wing in the eastern Carpathians, especially since the army of Von Linsingen, which faced this wing, developed considerable activity, with the result that these Russian troops were driven across the upper Dniester (June 24th).
By this success, the army group under Pflanzer-Baltin, at the extreme right wing of the allied Powers, was relieved of the pressure of continual attacks by strong Russian forces.
After the ejection of the enemy from West and Central Galicia, Mackensen's army continued its advance without a pause, again defeating the Russians at Grodek (June 10th) and shortly thereafter occupying Lemberg, the capital of Galicia (June 22nd).
While Linsingen's army and the right wing of Mackensen's army followed the rapidly retreating enemy eastward to the sector of the Zlota-Lipa and the upper Bug, the greater part of Mackensen's army turned northward in order (along with the army of Archduke Joseph Ferdinand) to remain on the heels of the main part of the Russian army, which was yielding between the Bug and the Vistula.
However, before we can follow the movements of both these armies further, it will be necessary to turn to the left wing of the German forces in the east, which had undertaken an offensive at the same time-an offensive that was related to the attack of the right wing just described in so far as both had the purpose of embracing from both sides the so-called "central-position" of the enemy in Russian Poland.
In the winter battle in the Masurian district (February 7th and 8th), Field-Marshal von Hindenburg had again trounced the Russian forces invading East Prussia so severely that since that time they had taken up a defensive position, on Russian soil, on the strongly fortified Niemen-Bobr-Narew line, venturing only occasionally to disturb our weak covering forces in this region.
One such aggression was undertaken against the border-city Memel (March 17th), resulting in a short-lived occupation of this city by the Russians. In order to punish them for this attack on an unfortified city and to prevent a repetition of similar unamiable behaviour, a special army was created in the northern part of East Prussia under the command of General von Below, which was entrusted with the task of driving out the Russian forces that had appeared north of the Niemen, as well as occupying Samogitia and Courland.
Despite the obstinate resistance of Russian forces hurriedly summoned to this region, Von Below's army accomplished its task in the course of a few months; supported by our marines, it occupied the Baltic ports Libau and Windau and forced the Russians back in the direction of Dunaburg, Friedrichstadt, and Riga.
Eichhorn's army assumed the defence of East Prussia against the fortress of Kovno and the Russian troops still stationed west of the Niemen. In order effectively to oppose invasion of the southern boundary of East and West Prussia from the strongly fortified river-line Bobr-Narew, and at the same time to carry out the planned offensive against the right wing of the "central position" in Russian Poland, two new armies were created in North Poland in the end of June under Generals von Gallwitz and von Scholtz.
In close cooperation, both these armies then drove the strong Russian forces opposing them back upon the Bobr-Narew line and then advanced to the attack of this line from NovoGeorgiewsk to Lomza. After they had occupied the fortresses of Ostrolenka and Rozan and Pultusk, they crossed the Narew at several points; then they broke the resistance of the strong Russian troops opposing them on the left bank, and resumed their advance between the Narew and the Bug, in a south-easterly direction.
In the early days of August, the fortress of Lomza was taken, and the fortress of NovoGeorgiewsk surrounded and besieged.
Let us return now to the right wing, to Mackensen's army, which we left pursuing its way northward after the crossing of the San and the capture of Lemberg, following up the retreat of the main Russian forces between the Bug and the Vistula.
Naturally, the Russians resisted this pursuit most obstinately, summoning fresh troops for the purpose; failure to check the triumphant advance of the armies of the allied Central Powers meant that the Russian position along the fortified Vistula line would prove untenable.
During the month of July, therefore, severe engagements developed south of the line Cholm-Lublin, ultimately terminating in favour of the [Teuton] Allies. After the army of Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, fighting on the left wing of the Mackensen army-group, had succeeded in breaking the desperate resistance of the Russians in the vicinity of Krasnik, the right wing advanced between the Bug and along both banks of the Wieprz, so that by the end of July the stretch of the vital railway line, Kiev-Ivangorod-Warsaw, between Cholm and Lublin, had fallen into the possession of this army-group.
This strong pressure from the south was not without its effect upon the Russian forces still battling along the left bank of the Vistula. T heir left wing forthwith withdrew between the Vistula and the Pilica mainly in the direction of the fortress Ivangorod, energetically followed by the troops under Woyrsch.
While the right wing of this army-division, consisting of Austro-Hungarian troops, turned toward Ivangorod, General Woyrsch himself, with his Silesian Landwehr, effected the crossing of the Vistula below the fortress, where, despite strenuous counter-attacks by the Russians, he succeeded in maintaining himself in a hurriedly improvised bridgehead-like position. This success was of great moment for the later operations along the right bank of the Vistula.
North of the Pilica also, fighting continually, the Russians withdrew toward Warsaw, and finally, after they had been compelled to abandon the Blonie position they had so long held (August 3rd), they sought shelter behind the outer fortifications of Warsaw, the evacuation of which, first by the civilian population, and then by the greater part of the garrison, had already been ordered by the Russian High Command.
In the meantime, Mackensen's army had continued its pursuit of the Russians between the Bug and the Vistula. Its right wing, which touched the Bug, had already won a safe crossing of this river at Vladimir-Volynski, and it fought its way against strong opposition through the narrows between the lakes northeast of Leczna, reaching the line Vlodava-Parczev; at the former point a second crossing of the Bug was won and made tenable.
On the left wing of Mackensen's army-group, the army under Archduke Joseph Ferdinand defeated the strong Russian forces opposing it at Lubartov and drove them northward across the lower Wieprz.
This uninterrupted pursuit of the Russians between the Bug and the Vistula on the part of Mackensen's army-group, together with the advance of the right wing of Hindenburg's army-group (the armies of von Scholtz and von Gallwitz) against the lower Bug, described above, as well as the pressure of those forces of the allied Central Powers still on the left bank of the Vistula, made the situation of the Russians in their central position in Russian Poland untenable, so that only a speeding up of the retreat they had already inaugurated could save them from worse, as the events which now followed blow on blow clearly demonstrate.
On August 4th, the army-group under Prince Leopold of Bavaria captured and penetrated the outer and inner fortifications of Warsaw and occupied the city with the exception of the suburb of Praga on the right bank of the Vistula, whence the Russian rearguard still bombarded Warsaw.
Simultaneously the Austro-Hungarian troops under General von Kovess captured and occupied the fortress of Ivangorod and soon established on the right bank of the Vistula a junction with the left wing of Mackensen's army-group.
By the occupation of both these Vistula strongholds the long series of successes achieved by the allied Powers since the early clays of May, on the Dunajec in Galicia, in South and North Poland, and in the Baltic Provinces, were fittingly crowned.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. III, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
A "red cap" was a British military policeman.
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