RUSSIA IN WORLD WAR I
Russia was one of the main nations involved in the events of World War I. In fact, Russia was one of the main contributing nations to the causes of World War I following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. As well, Russia participated in several significant battles of the war. For example, Russian soldiers fought along the Eastern Front against others such as Austria-Hungary and Germany. During World War I, Russia was one of the Allied Powers alongside Britain and France. The war also proved impactful for Russia in that it helped lead to the events of the Russian Revolution.
RUSSIA ENTERS WORLD WAR I
World War I erupted during the summer of 1914 in an event that historians refer to as the July Crisis. In short, this crisis was caused by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to the major European powers engaging in a conflict. Prior to the start of World War I, Russia was a member nation of the Triple Entente, alongside Britain and France. At the start of the war in 1914, Russia joined Britain and France to form the Allied Powers.
The July Crisis of 1914 unfolded as a series of events following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. For instance, in the days immediately after the June 28th assassination, several prominent ministers in the Austrian government called for war to be declared against Serbia, due to its perceived role in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
Seeing that the tensions in the Balkans were rising, France and Russia reaffirmed the alliance between the two nations. They were linked by the Franco-Russian Alliance, which was an economic and military alliance. Furthermore, this was one of the foundational agreements that made up the larger Triple Entente. This alliance between France and Russia was important because it was one of the key things that caused the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to escalate into a conflict that involved most of Europe.
Russia was Serbia’s biggest ally at the time due to both nations sharing Slavic heritage. This comes from the idea of ‘Pan-Slavism’ in which the Slavic people of Eastern Europe all united nationalistically. As such, Russia sought to protect Serbia from Austria-Hungary.
Officially World War I started on July 28th when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. In response, Russia mobilized its forces further on July 30th and began to prepare for war with Austria-Hungary. Having heard of the Russian mobilization against Austria-Hungary, Wilhelm II of Germany ordered German mobilization on August 1st.
RUSSIA'S ARMY IN WORLD WAR I
At the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, Russia had approximately 5.9 million soldiers and by the end of the war 12 million Russians had served in uniform. These numbers meant that Russia had the largest fighting forces in all of World War I.
When World War I began, Russian Emperor Nicholas II made his cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army. As well, the Russia army was divided between 115 infrantry divisions as well as 38 cavalry divisions. Also, it is estimated that the Russian Amy had nearly 7,900 heavy guns, which included artillery and smaller field guns. There were only 2 army ambulances and 679 cars.
In general, the Russian Army was not prepared for the fighting of World War I. While Russia had a large population and could raise a large army with which to fight, it struggled to supply its forces. For instance, most of the European powers had undergone industrialization in the 1800s and developed the necessary factories and industrial processes to build up military equipment. However, in 1914, Russia was not industrialized in a similar fashion. In fact, Russia was primarily a rural country, that relied on subsistence agriculture. As such, Russia suffered from major supply issues during the course of World War I. For example, in some conflicts, it was reported that nearly two-thirds of Russian forces were not supplied with a rifle. Instead, unarmed Russian soldiers were instructed to run into battle behind one of their own that had a rifle. Then, when the soldier with the rifle was injured or killed, they were to pick up the rifle.
Another issue facing the Russian Army and its ability to wage war at the start of World War I, was the lack of necessary transportation routes to the front. For example, Russia was a large country, and soldiers came from across the vast regions of the country. However, Russia did not have a large enough rail network to effectively get the soldiers to the front. Essentially, this slowed the ability of the Russian Army to mobilize and made it difficult for the country to properly get soldiers and materials to battle locations.
The struggles of the Russian military in World War I were especially highlighted by their conflicts against Germany. In contrast to Russia, the German Army was highly trained and equipped throughout the war. For example, Germany had one of the most capable armies in all of Europe during World War I. As such, Russia suffered terrible losses in the conflicts that it fought against Germany. This was most evident in the Battle of Tannenberg, which saw Russia lose heavily against Germany in East Prussia.
The losses for the Russian Army became so terrible during the course of the war, that Russian soldiers lacked morale to keep fighting. In fact, this became such a problem that many soldiers began fleeing the front-lines and returning home. In response, the Russian government established several women’s battalions in hope of boosting the war effort. Women participating in the fighting of World War I was unique to Russia, but failed to boost morale. Eventually, the Russian war effort failed with the events of the Russian Revolution.
RUSSIA'S MAJOR BATTLES IN WORLD WAR I
Russia was one of the main forces that participated in the battles of World War I, but they were primarily active on the Eastern Front. In general, the landscape of Europe in World War I was divided into a few different ‘fronts’. For instance, the Western Front was located on the western-half of Europe and included a line of trenches that stretched throughout much of northern France and Belgium. Whereas the Eastern Front was along the border between Russia and Germany. At the time, Germany planned to defeat France in a quick assault, and then turn its armies to the east to attack Russia. This plan of attack was referred to as the Schlieffen Plan. It did not result in a quick German victory, and instead Europe became bogged down in trench warfare across its many fronts.
As stated above, Russian forces participated in many battles of World War I. Some of the most significant battles of World War I that Russia participated in included:
As stated above, Russian forces participated in many battles of World War I. Some of the most significant battles of World War I that Russia participated in included:
- Battle of Galicia
- Battle of Tannenberg
- Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive
From the outset of World War I, conflict between Austria-Hungary and Russia was guaranteed. This was due to several factors, but mostly because of the relationship between Russia and Serbia. For example, after Austria-Hungary threatened Serbia with an ultimatum, Russia was the European nation that came to Serbia’s defense. As a result, when World War I began in 1914, the Eastern Front, which was along Austria-Hungary’s eastern border with Russia, was a site of several significant conflicts including the Battle of Galicia.
The Battle of Galicia, which is also known as the Battle of Lemberg, was a conflict that occurred between Austria-Hungary and Russia. It took place during the early weeks and months of World War I, from August 23rd until September 11th, 1914. Historians consider the Battle of Galicia to be one of the most significant battles of World War I along the Eastern Front. During the battle, the Austro-Hungarian First, Second and Fourth Armies faced off against the Russian Third, Fourth and Eighth Armies. During the overall Battle of Galicia, these armies assaulted and defended against one another in a series of smaller conflicts, which included: Battle of Kraśnik, Battle of Komarów, Battle of Gnila Lipa, and the Battle of Rawa. In all, the Battle of Galicia was a failure for the Austro-Hungarians and was an important Russian victory on the Eastern Front. For example, in the Battle of Rawa, which took place from September 3rd to the 11th in 1914, the Austro-Hungarian forces on the Eastern Front were forced into a retreat and pushed back. Meanwhile, Russia was able to advance its forces forward and captured significant amounts of territory around the city of Lemberg. The Battle of Galicia also saw heavy losses for both sides. For instance, historians estimate that Austria-Hungary suffered as many as 450,000 casualties in the Battle of Galicia. This includes as many as 100,000 deaths for Austria-Hungary as well. For their part, it is estimated that Russia suffered upwards of 300,000 casualties in the battle.
The next major conflict on the Eastern Front was the Battle of Tannenberg. The Battle of Tannenberg took place from August 26th to August 30th in 1914 and was fought between Germany and Russia. The battle took place in East Prussia on the eastern half of the German Empire. In general, the Battle of Tannenberg was one of the most significant battles of World War I, and an important victory for the German Army. At the same time it was a devastating loss for Russia. More specifically, the German Eighth Army, which was commanded by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, was able to surprise attack and overwhelm the Russia forces that had attempted to invade East Prussia. The Russian forces were divided into two armies – the First Army commanded by Paul von Rennenkampf and the Second Army, which was commanded by Alexander Samsonov. During the Russian attack into East Prussia, Rennenkampf’s army advanced northeast while Samsonov’s army advanced southwest. This was problematic, as the two were unable to communicate effectively. As such, the German command used this to its advantage and on the 26th of August the German Eighth Army began its surprise attack against Samsonov’s forces. During the battle, Samsonov and the Russian Second Army were effectively surrounded and bombarded with German artillery fire. Although Samsonov tried to order a retreat, the German attack proved to be too much for the Russian forces and led to the Battle of Tannenberg being a major defeat for Russia. In fact, of Samsonov’s Second Army, 92,000 were captured, 78,000 were killed and only about 10,000 escaped. Furthermore, Samsonov killed himself after realizing that his army was destroyed. As well, Rennenkampf’s army failed to assist Samsonov’s due to a failure in communication, and were eventually forced out of East Prussia. The Russian failure at the Battle of Tannenberg was so devastating the Russian Army that it did not invade Germany again for the rest of World War I.
Another important conflict involving Austria-Hungary on the Eastern Front was the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive. This was a major military offensive carried out by the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary against Russia. The Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive took place from May 2nd to June 22nd in 1915 and occurred along the eastern border of Austria-Hungary. In general, the offensive was a major victory for Germany and Austria-Hungary. In fact, Germany was the major contributor to the success of the offensive for the Central Powers. At the time, Germany held a large superiority to Russia in the form of artillery technology, and was able to use its artillery to overwhelm the Russia forces on the Eastern Front. The Austro-Hungarian forces, under the command of General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, were able to push through the Russian defenses and caused the Russians to fall back in retreat. In fact, the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive led to an event that historians refer to as the ‘Great Retreat’. This saw the Russian Army retreat out of the territory that they had previously captured in the Battle of Galicia. Regardless, the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive was a major victory for the Central Powers.
RUSSIA HOME FRONT IN WORLD WAR I
World War I was a devastating event not only for the soldiers on the front lines but also for the people on the home front. This was especially true in Russia, which suffered terribly during the course of World War I. However, Russians were already suffering before the start of the war, and only struggled further due to the economic and societal losses of the conflict. For example, at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Russian economy was largely based on subsistence agriculture. This means that most people in Russian society were working on a daily basis in harvesting food for their own consumption. This was a massive issue for a country such as Russia, which had a population of over 173 million people in 1914. As such, Russians had little extra food production to help develop other industries. As well, Russia was struggling with widespread poverty and the lingering class divisions between the peasants and the land-owning nobility. This was due to Russia’s reliance on feudalistic systems, which other parts of Europe had abandoned much earlier. For example, France underwent the French Revolution in the late 18th century. Regardless, all of this combined to create a Russian society that was rural, based on agriculture, and overwhelmingly poor.
The events of World War I only made the situation worse for Russian citizens on the home front. For example, millions of Russian men (and sometimes Russian women) were transported to the major battles of the Eastern Front. This impacted Russian families who counted upon their family members to assist with harvest and farming. In fact, support for the war was quite low among Russian farmers, who resented the idea of their young people being sent off to fight. The support for the war decreased even more as Russia suffered heavy losses in battles such as the Battle of Tannenberg. Morale for the overall war became so bad that it led to mutinies by Russian soldiers, with many of them returning home from the front lines of the Eastern Front.
All of this combined to set the stage for the most significant event on the home front of Russia during World War I – the Russian Revolution. At the outbreak of World War I, Russia was ruled by a monarch, referred to as ‘Tsar’. In fact, the ruler of Russia was Tsar Nicolas II. He was related to other European monarchs of the time, including: George V in England and Wilhelm II in Germany. However, Nicholas II was widely unpopular at the time due to the poverty and issues with Russia’s participation in World War I. As well, other parts of the world had revolted against their monarchs (French Revolution and American Revolution), which created a climate open to the idea of change in Russia.
The Russian Revolution was a widespread series of protests and political uprisings that in the end of the Russian monarchy and the transformation of Russia into a communist state. In 1917, a Marxist revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin, led a series of revolts against Tsar Nicholas II. Soon, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were imprisoned and Lenin along with his Marxist followers (Bolsheviks) assumed power over Russia. The Russian Revolution was a major historical event, and saw much bloodshed throughout Russia during the timeframe of World War I. With that said, the revolution continued in the years after the end of the war, and eventually resulted in the establishment of the Soviet Union.
However, the Russian Revolution was a vitally important event in the history of Russia during World War I, because it ultimately led to Russia’s removal from fighting. For instance, after rising to power, Vladimir Lenin worked quickly to sign a peace treaty with Germany and the other Central Powers. A central promise that Lenin made was that he would end the war with Germany. As such, on March 3rd in 1918, the Bolshevik-led government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire). This effectively ended Russia’s participation in World War I. However, it also had other impacts on the home front for Russian citizens. For example, as part of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Russia was made to give up large sections of its own territory to Germany. As such, many Russian came under the control of Germany as a result.
The final significant aspect of the home front for Russia, was the role of propaganda. All of the nations in World War I used propaganda to some degree, and this was no different for Russia. While he was still in power, Tsar Nicholas II and his government issued different kinds of propaganda posters to increase support for the Russian war effort. They did this by creating patriotic or nationalistic slogans and images, and distributing them across the nation. For example, the Tsarist government issued propaganda that worked to recruit soldiers for the war, ration certain items and to demonize the enemy. Russian citizens on the home front were subjected to constant messaging to ensure they supported the war effort and to maintain the push towards victory.
SIGNIFICANCE OF WORLD WAR I FOR RUSSIA
World War I was a highly important event in the history of Russia. First, and foremost, over 12 million Russian soldiers served during World War I. As well, approximately 1.8 million Russian soldiers died as a result of military action during the war. In fact, Russia suffered the worst losses in all of World War I.
Second, the terrible losses suffered by Russia were characteristic of the overall nature of the fighting in World War I. As well, Russian armies fought in some of the largest and most significant battles of the Eastern Front.
Beyond this, World War I was highly significant for the country of Russia due to the outcome of the war and the result for the country and government. As stated above, Russia underwent the Russian Revolution during the timeframe of World War I. This was a major historical event, not only for Russia but also for the rest of the world. For instance, the Russian Revolution ended the Tsarist government in Russia and resulted in the country accepting defeat in World War I. This had a major impact on the war effort for the other Allied Powers and changed the nature of the war throughout 1917 and 1918.
However, the Russian Revolution was also significant as an event in world history due to it being the first rise of communism in the world. For example, after communism first emerged in Russia, it went on to have a significant impact on the rest of the world throughout the 20th century. For example, communism spread to other countries and led to the events of the Cold War. Today, communism remains relevant due to communist governments in North Korea and Cuba.
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