Southwestern Front Offensive 1916
Southwestern Front Offensive (1916)
(also Brusilov Breakthrough, Brusilov Offensive), during World War I, an offensive operation of the Russian Army on the Southwestern Front (commander, General A. A. Brusilov; chief of staff, General V. N. Klembovskii) from May 22 (June 4) to late August (early September). In accordance with the decisions of the conference of the Entente powers held in Chantilly in March 1916, the Russian command planned to launch a major offensive on all three fronts in mid-June. On Apr. 11 (24), 1916, a directive from General Headquarters stated that the main strike was to be delivered by the forces of the Western Front from the Molodechno area toward Vil’na (Vilnius); auxiliary strikes were to be made by the Northern Front from the Dvinsk (Daugavpils) region toward the southwest and by the Southwestern Front from the Rovno area toward Lutsk. In May the Allies, in view of the severe defeat of the Italian Army in the Trentino, asked Russia to advance the beginning of the offensive, and General Headquarters decided to launch the offensive two weeks earlier than planned.
Instead of striking a ramming blow in one direction, as was usually practiced by both sides during the war, the command of the Southwestern Front decided to strike simultaneous strong blows by each army (the Eighth, Eleventh, Seventh, and Ninth) of the front in order to tie down the enemy’s reserves; the main blow was to be struck at the right wing of the front by forces of the Eighth Army. The Southwestern Front enjoyed a slight superiority over the Austro-Hungarian armies (the Fourth, First, Second, Southern, and Seventh) in men (573,000 infantrymen against 448,000) and light artillery (1,770 guns against 1,301), but it was inferior in heavy artillery (168 guns against 545).
The offensive was painstakingly prepared. Reconnaissance (including aerial reconnaissance) was intensified, a detailed plan of artillery preparations was drawn up, and close coordination was established between the infantry and the artillery. Troops were trained in the storming of strongly fortified positions, and engineering staging areas were equipped for the concentrated deployment of troops in several echelons before the attack.
The offensive commenced along the entire front on May 22 (June 4) after an artillery barrage that lasted from six to eight hours (Eleventh and Ninth armies), to 29 hours (Eighth Army), and 46 hours (Seventh Army). Advancing toward Lutsk, General A. M. Kaledin’s Eighth Army achieved the greatest success. After breaking through the front in the 16-km Nosovichi-Koryto sector (the Lutsk Breakthrough), it occupied Lutsk on May 25 (June 7); by June 2 (15) it had defeated the Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army of Archduke Joseph Ferdinand and advanced 65 km. However, after having exhausted its own and the front’s reserves, the Eighth Army then met with stubborn resistance in the Kiselin area from German troops that had been transferred from France and from other sectors of the front. From June 3 to June 22 (June 16 to July 5) the Eighth Army repulsed the counterattacks of the German army groups of Generals G. von der Marwitz, E. von Falkenhayn, and F. von Bernhardi.
On June 11 (24), General L. P. Lesh’s Third Army was transferred from the Western Front to the Southwestern Front. An attempt by the Third and Eighth armies to force the Stokhod River and capture Kowel (Kove’) failed because the German command had moved large forces there and organized a strong defense. At the center of the front, General V. V. Sakharov’s Eleventh Army broke through the front at Sopanov in May, and General D. G. Shcherbachev’s Seventh Army broke through at Iazlovets. However, the offensive was stalled by counterattacks delivered by General E. Böhm-Ermolli’s army group and General F. von Bothmer’s Southern Army. General P. A. Lechitskii’s Ninth Army broke through the front in the 11-km Onut-Dobronouts sector and routed the Austro-Hungarian Seventh Army of General Pflanzer-Baltin. It captured Czernowitz (Chernovitsy) on June 5 (18), cleared all of Bucovina in June and July, and dug in on the Stanislav-Deliatin-Kimpolung front on July 31 (August 13).
The Southwestern Front Offensive did not receive timely support from the other fronts, and General Headquarters proved unable to ensure coordinated actions of the fronts. The offensive launched twice by the Western Front—on June 2 (15) and June 20–26 (July 3–9)—and the June 20–26 (July 3–9) offensive of the Northern Front ended in total failure. General Headquarters charged the Southwestern Front with delivering the main strike and transferred to the front its entire reserve—General V. M. Bezobrazov’s Special Army (three corps)—but the decision came too late. In July and August forces of the Third, Eighth, and Special armies fought bitter battles on the Stokhod River, trying unsuccessfully to break through the enemy’s front toward Kowel, until heavy losses forced the offensive to a halt.
Although General Headquarters did not take advantage of the initial success of the Southwestern Front offensive to bring about a decisive result along the entire front, the offensive nevertheless was of great strategic importance. Between May and August the enemy lost up to 1.5 million men, including more than 400,000 taken prisoner. The Russian forces lost about 500,000 men, captured 581 guns, approximately 1,800 machine guns, and about 450 bomb throwers and mortars. The Austro-Hungarian forces were so weakened that they could not conduct active operations for the remainder of the war. The offensive greatly aided Italy and France, because the enemy was forced to halt the offensive in the Trentino and relax the pressure on Verdun. The Austro-German command transferred 30½ infantry divisons and 3½ cavalry divisions to the Eastern Front. Influenced by the results of the offensive, Rumania entered the war on the side of the Entente.
The Southwestern Front offensive, carried out under the command of General Brusilov, represented a major achievement of the Russian art of war; it initiated a new tactic of breaking through a positional front that was more successful than any other used at the time. Together with the battles of the Somme, it heralded a turning point in the war in favor of the Entente.
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Mirovaia voina 1914–1918: “Lulskii proryv.” Moscow, 1924.
Vetoshnikov, L. V. Brusilovskii proryv. Moscow, 1940.
Brusilov, A. A. Moi vospominaniia. Moscow, 1963.
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