Monday, July 13, 2015

July 13th, 1915

- The German offensive on the Eastern Front opens today with simultaneous advances in Courland and central Poland.  While the Army of the Niemen pushes northeast in the direction of Riga against a disorganized Russian defence, the main effort is to the south, where an army group under the command of General Max von Gallwitz has been concentrated northwest of the Narew River in Poland.  Here the Germans have assembled ten and a half divisions, supported by over one thousand artillery pieces supplied with 400 000 shells, and the plan is to reproduce, on a somewhat smaller scale, the tactics of the Gorlice-Tarnow offensive.  After an overwhelming preliminary bombardment designed by Colonel Georg Brüchmuller, a rising star for his effective and innovative use of artillery, Gallwitz's force is to batter its way through the Russian line, and while a breakthrough is desirable, the primary aim is to inflict as much damage as possible on the Russian defenders opposite.

German tactics are not the only similarity with Gorlice-Tarnow, as once again Russian incompetence has a role to play.  The German attack falls on the boundary of two Russian armies - 1st and 12th - and the two commanders show a distinct unwillingness to cooperate.  Further, two corps - II Siberian and the Guards - had been removed from this front to reinforce the crumbling line in southern Poland, and reserves recently assigned to the sector were too far from the front to be of much use.  Further, the trenches themselves had been poorly sited and constructed, and secondary lines barely existed.  The seven divisions opposite the Germans had at their disposal only 377 artillery guns, which were limited to forty rounds per day due to ongoing shortages of ammunition.

Thus when the German attack is launched today, it meets with success.  The preliminary bombardment is overwhelming and crushes the Russian defenders - one Siberian division that attempts to retreat in the open loses half its strength in thirty minutes.  By the end of the day the Germans have punched a two mile gap between the Russian 1st and 12th Armies near Przasnysz, and in the confusion little effort is made by the defenders to coordinate counterattacks or deploy what reserves are available.

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