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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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First Battle of Masurian Lakes

A very short article about an early WWI battle, but since there is a 2nd Battle of Masurian Lakes, it seemed important to include the first.

After their victory over the Russian 2nd Army at Tannenberg, the German 8th Army, under the command of Paul von Hindenburg, turned their attention to defeating the Russian 1st, under the command of Paul von Rennenkampf.

Their plan was to completely surround the Russians. The Russians lines went “from the Baltic Sea coast on the north to the Russian/German border on the south. The southern half of the line fell along the Masurian Lakes, where the Russian line ended on the north side of a large lake, and continued on the south side with two reserve divisions. Further south, an isolated army corps held the line near the border” (Source). Hindenburg – with the aid of Erich Ludendorff – would attack the two isolated armies.

To start off with, the Hindenburg ordered his troops to advance through a gap between Konigsberg and the Masurian Lakes. However, the Russian 2nd Army received word of their advance, and Rennenkampf ordered his men to retreat to a better position. Following this, a preliminary attack began on January 7th, launched from either side of the two lakes. They hoped to push the Russians back towards the coast, likely making it easier on the Germans. Unfortunately, they outnumbered by 3-to-1.

The official offensive started two days later, on September 9th, with the Germans attacking these two armies. In response, Rennenkampf ordered his men to retreat all while preparing for a counterattack.

“The Germans, despite, now outnumbering the Russians, were unable to encircle them in the broken terrain of the Masurian Lake lands, and Rennenkampf was able to extract his army intact, and even launch his own counterattack on 25 September which regained much of the land lost during the battle” – during the Battle of Niemen (Source). While this may have been true, the Russians did, in fact, lose the battle of Masurian Lakes – and this after their loss at Tannenburg.

Worse yet, the Russians had lost any footing they yet had in East Prussia. With all these losses, the Russian army group commander, Yakov Zhilinski, was dismissed. Hindenburg, meanwhile, was hailed a hero back in Germany after back-to-back victories against the Russians.

It may seem like a relatively small battle, yet casualties were high. The Russians suffered 125,000 losses and the Germans 40,000. Additionally, some 5,000 Russian soldiers were taken as German POW’s.

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The Battle of Tannenberg

On August 26, 1914, the Battle of Tannenberg began in East Prussia in the city of Allenstein – the first battle of WWI to take place on the Eastern Front. The German 8th Army, commanded by Generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, encircled the Russian 2nd and 1st Armies, under the command of Generals Aleksandr Samsonov and P.K. Rennenkampf, respectively.

Previously, Russia had entered into German territory by splitting up. Gen. Samsonov led the 2nd Army around the Southwestern corner of Prussia, while Gen. Rennenkampf led the 1st Army into Northeast Prussia. Their plan was to join forces again in an attack against General Prittwitz’s 8th Germany army. According to their intel, the bulk of Germany’s armies were currently busy fighting in France; the two Russian armies should have no trouble taking out the outnumbered German army.

But, it was a minor Russian victory at the Battle of Gumbinnen six days earlier, that was Rennenkampf’s undoing.

After his victory, Rennenkampf decided to take a moment to regroup his troops. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, The German chief of general staff, Helmuth von Moltke, had replaced the commanders of the 8th army with two generals of some stature.

And now, the Russian generals were “separated by the great Masurian Lakes” with no effective way to “communicate with each other as to their movements” (Source). And, the Germans were planning a phenomenal attack, prepared by Colonel Maximilian Hoffman.

His plan was, firstly, to confuse Gen. Rennenkampf by sending cavalry troops “as a screen to Vistula” (Source). Then, he would send Gen. Hermann von Francois’s I Corps to Southwest Prussia to head off General Samsonov on his left wing, while two more corps would move into the right. Finally, a fourth corps would wait in Vistula to meet Gen. Samsonov head on.

Admittedly, “Ludendorff succumbed to his nerves initially, delaying the start of the German attack by one day,” (Source). But, then, on the 26th, Hoffman was given two intelligence reports. They gave him everything he needed to know. Most importantly, that the Germans need not fear a combined attack from the Russians.

[Below: German intelligence]

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It was with this information that “the Germans were able to take Samsonov’s army by surprise with the force of their attack near the village of Tannenberg” (Source).

The one day delay on the German side had allowed Samsonov’s army enough time to advance deeply into the German lines. But he underestimated the true strength of the German armies. Samsonov’s own armies had been overstrung; in great need of food and sleep.

This worked out to the German’s advantage. The Russian 1st Army, under Samsonov, had “blundered into an ambush” (Source). They were surrounded by Germans.

“After three days of battering by German artillery, Samsonov’s troops began their retreat; more German forces cut off their path and a massive slaughter ensued” (Source).

In all, some 92,000 Russians were captured at Tannenberg and another 50,000 were killed. Only about 10,000 of Samsonov’s men were able to escape. The Germans, meanwhile, “suffered fewer than 20,000 casualties and, in addition to prisoners, captured over 500 guns. Sixty trains were required to transport captured equipment to Germany” (Source).

Humiliated about reporting the disaster to the Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, Samsonov shot himself in the forest. His body was found by German search parties and he was given a military burial.

[Below: Allenstein]

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