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Siege of Przemyśl


Austria declared war on Russia on August 6, 1914. Two days later, the Russian Third Army advanced on Przemyśl. “Przemyśl was a major fortified city on the Austro-Hungarian border with Russia” (Source). A major fortified city that had recently updated its defenses . . . with forts that surrounded the entire city. Not to mention trenches and barbed wire.

See, the Austrians, well, underestimated the Russians. They had believed that the Serbians would be their chief opponent in this war. So, it’s fair to see that the Austrians were a bit surprised when the Russians sent two armies into East Prussia and four into Galicia (located along the northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains). The armies in Galicia easily scoring victories in early September.

As a result, the chief of the Austrian general staff, Franz Conrad von Hotzendorff set up his headquarters in Przemyśl, thinking that Galicia was crucial. At the same time, Przemyśl “became a rallying point for the Austrians” (Source).

“By mid-September Austrian troops were streaming south past Przemyśl towards the Carpathians, where a new Austrian line would soon be formed. One army corps joined the garrison of Przemyśl within the defenses of the fortress, a total of 150,000 men” (Source). But by September 18, the fortress was completely besieged. The Austrian offensive had failed. On September 24, the Russian cut off supply lines for the Austrians.

[Below:  Burial detail in Przemyśl.]

A burial detail in Przemysl

Thankfully, the blockade was short-lived, a mere 33 days. This was due to the Russian attack on Warsaw, which forced the Russians to withdraw their troops from Przemyśl. With that, the Austrians retreated to the Carpathians. The siege was lifted by October 11. “The last action of the first siege was a costly Russian assault that failed to threaten the city” (Source).

The German attack failed, forcing the Austrians back to Przemyśl. On November 9th, the siege was renewed, this time by the Russian 11th Army. But, the Austrians had more troops and supplies this time around: Some 110,000 troops with enough supplies for three months.

This siege was just a bit longer. 100 days longer, to be precise. So, after 133 days, on March 22, 1915, “after disease and starvation had taken their tool, Commander General Hermann von Kusmanek, nine generals, ninety-three staff officers, 2,500 officers, and 117,900 men all surrendered to the Russians” (Source). Additionally, the Russians scored 1,000 guns. Both of Austria’s aims had failed. One had been to relieve Przemyśl. And the other had been a coordinated effort with the Germans to capture Russian Poland.

But then, finally, on June 3, with help from the Germans, the Austrians were able to force the Russians back. The Austrians had regained Przemyśl.

[Below: Fortress around Przemyśl]

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