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Battle of Bolimov


Fought between the German Ninth Army led by August von Mackensen and the Russian Second Army led by Smirnov, the Battle of Bolimov began on January 31, 1915 as an attack against Warsaw. However, the battle itself took place in a small town to the west of Warsaw, in Bolimov.

The Germans chose Bolimov because they hoped “to draw Russian attention towards Warsaw and away from East Prussia, where large [German] armies were gathering in preparation for the attack” (Source). Overall, their decision had mixed results.

For starters, part of the German Ninth Army had already moved on to new positions, wanting to protect their right flank from the upcoming offensive. The rest of the army, then, was left to launch the attack against the Polish at Bolimon, on the Rawka River (a tributary of the Vistula).

Bolimov is, clearly, not one of the most remembered battles of WWI. And it certainly was not one of the most successful battles of the war, either. In fact, Bolimov is remembered mainly for the “first extensive use of poison gas” (Source). This, however, was also only partially successful.

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See, the Germans had fired 18,000 gas shells of xylyl bromide (tear gas). Following this, General Hoffman climbed a Bolimov church tower, eager to watch the results of the attack. Admittedly, it was mostly experimental in nature, but the Germans probably didn’t plan on it being quite so unsuccessful.

For one, they hadn’t taken into account the freezing temperatures of Poland in late January. The freezing temperatures didn’t allow the gases to vaporize.

Secondly, the Germans weren’t prepared for the gases to be blown back over their own lines. In this case, they were probably grateful that thanks to the freezing temperatures, the gases fell harmlessly to the ground. It seems that the Russian didn’t even realize the Germans released a new weapon.

Now, the gas attack itself may have been a failure, but their attempt to draw the Russians away from Warsaw wasn’t.

At first, the German attack was called off because of their failure. The Russians, however, “launched a number of heavy frontal counterattacks by some 11 divisions (led by Vasily Gurko)” (Source). The Germans responded with ease, and the Russians, in turn, suffered as many as 40,000 casualties with the return fire.

So, it was a German victory, after all, gas attack or no.

They wouldn’t attempt another gas attack until April, when the weather had a bit of a chance to warm up some. And the Second Battle of Ypres is more wildly remembered. 

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Battle of Łódź

The Battle of Łódź began on November 11th, as the newly formed German 9th Army, under the command of General August von Mackensen, was sent to attack the Russian armies, in part to prevent a Russian attack on Central Germany and in part to bring aid to the Austrians.

Meanwhile, the Russian 1st Army, under the command of Paul von Rennekampf, was advancing “in conjunction with the Second Army, and was [spreading] on a long line facing East Prussia” (Source). They intended to attack the German Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth German armies west into the industrial region of Silesia.

But the Germans had long since been intercepting Russian plans via radio transmissions. So, to counter the Russian’s counterattack, the German Generals Paul von Hiddenburg and Erich Ludendorff planned to attack right between the Russian First and Second armies met.

Initially, the Germans were very successful. Not only did they crush the First and nearly surround the Second, but they also managed to take some 12,000 Russian prisoners. The Germans pushed the Russians back 50 miles.

But as the week wore on, the Germans’ luck waned while the Russians’ seemed to pick up. On the 14th, the Russians began their advance on Silesia. “But, by the 16th, the Russian general staff, realizing the dangerous position of the First and Second Armies, halted the offensive” (Source). But, of course, the Russians weren’t merely giving up.

No actually, the Russians instead brought in back up. On November 18th, the Second Army was joined by the Russian 5th Army. But, by the time they hit the German flank, the weather was appalling, “with temperatures plummeting down to -12C” (Source).

[Below: Germans marching into Poland]

In the ensuing battle, the Russians drove the Germans back some 30 miles in just one day. Before too long, they completely enveloped the Germans in Łódź. Meanwhile, the Germans that were struggling to escape to the north were cut off just north of the city. Captured German prisoners were rapidly “pouring into Warsaw, including men of the Prussian Guards.” (Source). Worse met, many of these men were suffering severely from frostbit, many of the maimed and disabled. By December 6th, the Russians had completely evacuated Łódź and many parts of western Poland.

But the Germans fought back and throughout the next week, neither side was able to take the advantage, despite all of the Russian advances. “While the battle was technically a Russian victory, the Germans achieved their aim, and the Russians withdrew, never again to come so close to German soil” (Source).

All in all, the Germans took some 136,000 prisoners but suffered 35,000 casualties of their own. Meanwhile, the Russians suffered 90,000 casualties. Additionally, General von Rennenkampf was “relieved of his command of the First Army” (Source).

[Below: Łódź in Russian Poland]

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