June 1916

Brusilov Offensive

By Wojciech Łysek

“The time has come for the elimination of our wicked enemy. All armies of our front shall participate in the attack. It is my uncrushable hope that our iron army will gain complete victory”

An appeal issued on 3 June by the Southwestern Front leadership.

 

Austro-Hungary, when preparing spring offensive against Italy (the so-called Asiago Offensive, also known as Strafexpedition), decided to move select units together with heavy artillery from the Eastern Front. Germans also sent some of their divisions to the Western Front, where at that time the fighting in Verdun was still in progress. Russians with the aid of military intelligence and aerial pictures found that the Central Powers had withdrawn the most valuable units from the Eastern Front without leaving sufficient reserves at the sencond line.

After fights in 1915 in Galicia, the Russians became reassured that the Austro-Hungarian forces could be beaten. The great offensive of the Triple Entente at three fronts was to be launched on the 1st of July 1916. At first, the Russians planned to attack a part of the front staffed by Germans, near Vilnius. Ultimately, however, they came back to the initial plans of attacking the wicker enemy - Austria-Hungary.

The commander of the Eight Army, general Brusilov, put forward that the attack should be carried out by the troops of the Southwestern Front. Commanders of the units operating north to Polesia were sceptical about that idea. Despite this reluctance, Brusilov tried to persuade them of the rightness of his concept. In March of 1916 he was appointed as the commander of the Southwestern Front. The facts that weighed in Russians’ favour were the Central States’ dismissive attitude and Russian ability to maintain the date and place of the planned attack in secret.

At the end of May 1916, Italians found themselves in a difficult position after  the Battle of Asiago (15 May - 10 June 1916). They made an appeal to the French leadership and also directly to the Russians with a desperate request for help. As a consequence, Stavka (the General Headquarters of the High Command) decided to start the offensive earlier. On the first day, Austrians thought that the enemy forces were relatively small and that losses caused by Russian artillery fire were mariginal. In accordance with the reports coming to the Austrian command, by the evening of 4 June several dozen soldiers were killed and 400 wounded.

On that day, the Austro-Hungarian aircrafts bombarder Russian command posts in order to disorganize the Russian offensive. However, the effectiveness of this move was not significant. The Russians in turn used mine-throwers to destroy barbered wire. In several places of the front the Austro-Hungarian troops might have used gas, but due to changes of the wind direction, the Russian troops did not suffer serious damage.

The account of losses of the 5 June was shattering the 4th Austro-Hungarian Army. Two divisions had been smashed and reserve units had been broken up in different parts of the frontline.  The prospects for keeping the defence line loooked dim. The following day, i.e. 6 June, brought shortage of ammunition. But it was 7 June that appeared to be catastrophic. The units making the most strenuous efforst as a result of the offensive that had been going on three days then began to withdraw. The atmosphere of defeatism was spreading among the Austro-Hungarian soldiers. The misconducted staff changes in the Austro-Hungarian army also played in favour of the Russians. Archiduke Joseph Ferdinand was one of the dismissed, and the position of the commander of the 4th Army he had held was given to general Karl Tersztyanszki. Clumsily conducted personnel reshuffles aggravated chaos in the Austro-Hungarian ranks. 

Between 4 and 7 June at Lutsk (Lat. Luceoria) , the Austro-Hungarians losses amounted to 82 thousand soldiers. The Russians took over 66 cannons and 159 machine guns, as well as a large number of rifles and amunition depots. On the other hand, the Russian army suffered losses amounting to over 6 thousand killed and 26 thousand wounded. More than one thousand soldiers were missing.

The ease with which the Russians succeeded was clearly visible in the first week of fighting, when they even did not have to use their all powers. Lutsk, chosen as a place for headquarters, appeared to be too close to the frontline, which proved to be yet another unfavourable condition to the Austrians. The Russians, however, did not take advantage of the disastrous situation in which the units of the Central Powers had found themselves. On the Southwestern Front all reserves were used up and the Russians did not manifest increased activity north of the Pripyat River. As a consequence, the balance of power was not weighted too heavily towards the Russian army. The troops of the Western and Northern Fronts, although twice the size of the enemy army, remained passive. This inaction resulted from scepticism of the tactical units’ generals towards Brusilov’s ideas.

Moreover, three-week fights provided a sufficient amount of time for the Germans to draft in the units from other fronts. When the second phase of the Brusilov offensive was launched in early July, this time these were Russians who had to face new challenges - the enemy troops not demoralised by earlier failures.

The Brusilov offensive led the Russian army one step closer to the victory. On 8 June the Russians took Lutsk and crossed the Styr River. Bukovina was taken and a "route" through the Carpathians was opened. The Germans feared that Austria-Hungary could make separate peace with Russia. Due to failures, the Danube monarchy became completely dependent upon German military support. The situation was so acute that at the end of July 1916 the German troops sent to Volyn were joined by Turkish corps.

Battering of the 4th and 7th Austro-Hungarian Armies after conquering Lutsk created a breach in that part of the front. The opportunity, however, was not exploited, since the German corps led by general Alexander von Linsingen organised a counterattack. The unit removed the precarious breach by 25 June. In the following days, the Germans were assured that they did not have to expect any hazard north of Polesia. This sense of security allowed them to throw the reserves in the vicinity of the Stokhid River, which was possible as a result of passivity at the Southwestern and Northern fronts.  

In the following weeks, the pace of Brusilov offensive decreased. There is no doubt that the Russian attack of the city of Kowel in the Volyn region, constituting an important traffic junction with two railways crossing, was a failure. Eventually, on 10 August Brusilov gave an order to move to the so-called “active defensive”, which completed the operation. Although the victory was incomplete, it must be noted that for the third time during the First World War, the Eastern Front was breached and the trench warfare interrupted. The Front moved 70-75 km westwards in Volyn and 120 km westwards in Pokuttya, thus having been lengthened from 500 to 660 km and consuming reserves of the Russian army.

The offensive Brusilov eased the Austrian pressure on the Italian army and accelerated the decision of Romania to enter the war. Austria-Hungary lost more than 600 thousand soldiers, 580 cannons, and 1800 machine guns. Nationality problems in the Danube monarchy were also aggrevated. The victory did not cause widespread enthusiasm among the Russians. A great number of victims and the lack of significant, enduring conquests proved to be difficult to handle for the society that was falling deeper and depper into chaos, anarchy, and, finally, in revolution.

Alessandro Chebat

L'offensiva di Brusilov

L’offensiva di Brusilov fu il massimo sforzo delle armate russe nella grande guerra. L’attacco giunse quasi a scardinare l’intero fronte orientale, tuttavia le perdite russe furono talmente elevate da innescare quelle forze centrifughe che avrebbero generato la rivoluzione d’Ottobre

Quando Falkenhain concentrò i suoi sforzi contro la Francia dando inizio alla battaglia di Verdun, egli lasciava ad est una Russia fortemente indebolita dai duri scontri del 1914 e 1915. A corto di rifornimenti e logorato da perdite durissime, agli occhi del generale tedesco l’impero zarista non poteva più rappresentare un pericolo. 

Tale conclusione, tuttavia, peccava di eccessivo ottimismo; nei primi mesi del 1916 le armate zariste in prima linea erano già state riportate alla forza normale di due milioni di unità, scarsamente equipaggiate ma che rappresentavano comunque una forza d’urto considerevole. Gli ufficiali erano saliti dai 40 mila del 1915 agli 80 mila del 1916. Discreta anche la quantità dei proiettili d’artiglieria, circa un migliaio per ogni pezzo.

Già in marzo i russi raccolsero le richieste di  aiuto francesi, scatenando un’offensiva presso il lago Narocz, sia per attenuare la pressione su Verdun che per scongiurare la minaccia di una penetrazione tedesca verso Pietrogrado. Pur risolvendosi in un fallimento l’attacco dimostrò la combattività della Russia e il suo essere un avversario ancora temibile. L’alto comando russo (Stavka) pianificò un nuovo sforzo offensivo in luglio, questa volta più a sud contro le truppe austro-ungariche, nei confronti delle quali le armate russe, generalmente, avevano riscosso maggiori successi. Al comando delle operazioni fu posto il generale Aleksej Brusilov. Egli schierò forze modeste - 38 divisioni russe contro le 37 schierate dagli imperi centrali - celando i propri movimenti e spostando l’artiglieria e le truppe il più vicino possibile alle postazioni avversarie, così da ridurre il balzo tra i due schieramenti e poter contare su un adeguato sostegno di fuoco.

I nuovi appelli all’offensiva lanciati da francesi e italiani (impegnati ad arginare la Strafexpedition), unitamente al trasferimento di alcune delle migliori divisioni austriache in Trentino, spinsero Brusilov ad accelerare i tempi dell’attacco. Il 5 giugno dopo un breve ma violentissimo bombardamento di artiglieria, che distrusse le difese austriache e scompaginò le fanteria (alcuni reparti austro-ungarici di etnia slava si arresero in massa), le truppe d’assalto russe si lanciarono all’attacco: in due giorni esse si erano già aperte un varco, largo 20 chilometri e profondo 75, tra la IV e la II armata austriaca, conquistando l’importante città di Lutsk. Successivamente, dopo la conquista di Czernowitz, il punto più meridionale del fronte austriaco, la penetrazione russa raggiunse circa 100 chilometri.

Dopo questo avvio spettacoloso e inaspettato l’offensiva di Brusilov rallentò di fronte mancato sostegno da parte delle altre armate russe e degli alleati e la maggiore capacità di resistenza offerta dalle truppe tedesche. Per il resto dell’offensiva i russi abbandonarono gli elaborati preparativi di Brusilov (che comunque richiedevano truppe ben addestrate), optando per un approccio più tradizionale, fatto di vigorosi attacchi frontali sostenuti dall’artiglieria. I progressi in questa fase furono più lenti e infine arrestati.

L’arida logica dei numeri assegnerebbe la vittoria ai russi: essi avevano conquistato la Bucovina e buona parte della Galizia orientale, catturando 400 mila prigionieri e infliggendo perdite pari a 600 mila morti e feriti. Circa la metà dell’esercito austro-ungarico era distrutto, subendo un colpo dal quale non si sarebbe più ripreso. Tuttavia le armate zariste avevano pagato la vittoria a caro prezzo - circa un milione di soldati tra morti feriti e dispersi - mentre la combattività delle truppe era ormai minata soprattutto nel morale oltre che nel materiale. Inoltre l’obbiettivo principale, cioè la sconfitta dei tedeschi, fallì completamente e in molti a Pietrogrado iniziarono a mettere in dubbio la possibilità di una vittoria sul fronte orientale.

Ciononostante i risvolti indiretti dell’offensiva di Brusilov furono molti. La Romania, di fronte alla travolgente avanzata russa, entrò in guerra a fianco degli alleati, Falkenhain fu costretto ad arrestare gli sforzi su Verdun rassegnando le dimissioni, mentre Conrad sospese l’offensiva in Trentino. Risultati notevoli, in sintesi il più grande successo alleato dopo la battaglia della Marna, che tuttavia non poteva compensare i sacrifici subiti: la rivoluzione era ormai alle porte.

Link

Divulgazione:

http://www.lagrandeguerra.net/ggfronteorientale.html

http://www.worldwar1.com/tlbruoff.htm

Approfondimento:

http://www.icsm.it/articoli/ri/luck.html

http://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/brusilov.htm (EN)

Letture:

Martin Gilbert, La grande storia della prima guerra mondiale, Mondadori, 1998

Basil H. Liddell Hart, La prima guerra mondiale 1914-1918, BUR, 1999

Timothy Bowling, The Brusilov offensive, Indiana university press, 2008

Alessandro Chebat

The Brusilov Offensive

The Brusilov offensive was the Russian Army’s greatest feat during the Great War. The attack almost succeeded in dismantling the entire eastern front, although Russian losses were so high as to trigger the centrifugal forces which were behind the October Revolution.

When Falkenhayn concentrated his efforts against France, starting the Battle of Verdun, he left a Russia severely weakened by the fierce fighting in 1914 and 1915 to the east. In the view of the German general, the Tsarist Empire could no longer be dangerous because short of supplies and decimated by heavy losses. 

This conclusion was, however, too optimistic; in the first months of 1916 the Tsarist forces on the frontline had already reached two million units, poorly equipped but still capable of considerable impact. The number of officers had increased from 40,000 in 1915 to 80,000 in 1916. They could also count on a fair amount of artillery shells, about a thousand for each piece.

In March, the Russians accepted the French requests for help, launching an offensive at Lake Narocz, both to lessen the pressure at Verdun and to avert the threat of a German offensive towards Petersburg. Although the attack failed, it demonstrated that Russia was still a formidable opponent full of fighting spirit. The Russian high command (Stavka) planned a new offensive in July, this time further to the south and against the Austro-Hungarian troops, against which the Russian armies had generally had greater success. General Aleksej Brusilov commanded the operation, deploying limited forces (38 Russian divisions against 37 of the Central Powers), concealing their movements and moving artillery and troops as close as possible to the enemy positions, so as to reduce the distance between the two sides and rely on adequate artillery support.

The new requests for an offensive from the French and Italian (Strafexpedition began in May), together with the transfer of some of the best Austrian divisions to Trentino, pushed Brusilov to speed up the attack. On 5th June after a brief but violent artillery bombardment that destroyed the Austrian defenses and threw the infantry into chaos (some Austro-Hungarian divisions of Slavic ethnicity surrendered en masse), the Russian assault troops launched their attack: in two days they had made a breach 20 km wide and 75 km deep between the 4th and 2nd Austrian army, capturing the important city of Lutsk. Later, after capturing Czernowitz, the southern most point of the Austrian lines, the Russian advance had reached 100 kilometres.

After this unexpected and spectacular start the Brusilov offensive slowed down due to the lack of support from other Russian armies and from their allies and because of greater resistance from the German troops. For the rest of the offensive the Russians abandoned Brusilov’s elaborate plans opting for a more traditional approach, consisting in vigorous frontal attacks supported by artillery. Progress in this phase was slower and finally ceased altogether.

The arid logic of numbers would award victory to the Russians: they had conquered Bukovina and most of eastern Galicia, capturing 400,000 prisoners and inflicting losses of 600,000 dead and wounded. About half of the Austro-Hungarian Army was destroyed, suffering a blow from which it would never recover. However, the Tsarist armies had paid dearly for the victory - about one million dead, wounded and missing - and the fighting spirit of the troops was now undermined both from a moral and material viewpoint. Moreover, the main objective, namely the defeat of the Germans, failed completely and many in Petersburg began to question hopes of victory.

However, the indirect implications of the Brusilov offensive were many. Romania, in the face of the overwhelming Russian advance, joined the war alongside the Allies; Falkenhayn was forced to stop his efforts at Verdun and resign; Conrad interrupted the offensive in Trentino. Remarkable results, the greatest Allied success after the Battle of the Marne, which, however, did not compensate for the sacrifices involved: the revolution was just around the corner.

Link

Info:

http://www.lagrandeguerra.net/ggfronteorientale.html

http://www.worldwar1.com/tlbruoff.htm

Further details:

http://www.icsm.it/articoli/ri/luck.html

http://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/brusilov.htm (EN)

Readings:

Martin Gilbert, La grande storia della prima guerra mondiale, Mondadori, 1998

Basil H. Liddell Hart, La prima guerra mondiale 1914-1918, BUR, 1999

Timothy Bowling, The Brusilov offensive, Indiana university press, 2008

 

Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener

(Ballylongford-Listowel, 24 giugno 1850 – mare delle Isole Orcadi, 5 giugno 1916)

“Lord Kitchner wants you” fu probabilmente il manifesto propagandistico per antonomasia durante il Primo conflitto mondiale. Esso ritraeva il Segretario di Stato alla Guerra Lord Kitchener - con il cappello da Field Marshall, i caratteristici lunghi baffi, lo sguardo severo e il dito puntato – nell’atto di invitare lo spettatore ad arruolarsi nell’esercito britannico. Esso divenne una delle icone della Grande Guerra, ripreso in tutte le nazioni belligeranti persino durante la seconda guerra mondiale. L’immagine, opera dell’illustratore Alfred Leete, apparve per la prima volta sul London Opinion il 5 settembre 1914: il successo fu tale che essa fu subito riprodotta su cartoline, per poi venire utilizzata esclusivamente come manifesto di propaganda del Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. Oltre alla bravura dell’artista la fama di questo celebre manifesto è tuttavia in larga parte da attribuire al soggetto, Lord Kitchener. La sua immagine fisica suscitò grande emozione nel pubblico britannico; egli appariva come una figura dalla volontà assoluta e di potere, un emblema della mascolinità britannica. In un impero oramai in declino e percepito come in pericolo, Kitchener rappresentava la sicurezza e la capacità sopravvivenza del potere britannico con la forza della volontà individuale.

Horatio Herbert Kitchener nacque a Ballylongford, in Irlanda, figlio del Tenente Colonnello Henry Horatio Kitchener, ufficiale dell’esercito e proprietario terriero.

Appartenente alla borghesia protestante irlandese fu avviato fin da giovane alla vita militare entrando nella Royal Military Academy di Woolwich. A 20 anni ebbe la sua prima esperienza di guerra servendo come volontario in un ospedale da campo nel conflitto Franco-Prussiano del 1870. Nel 1871 entrò nei Royal Engineers prestando servizio in Palestina, Egitto e a Cipro. La svolta nella carriera di Kitchener fu nel 1885, con la morte del generale Charles George Gordon nell’assedio di Khartoum, durante la guerra Mahdista. Chiamato a riorganizzare l’esercito egiziano, si distinse per le straordinarie capacità organizzative e per diverse intuizioni quali l’uso massiccio delle nuove mitragliatrici Maxim. Con la vittoria nella battaglia di Omdurman, nel 1898, che di fatto chiuse il decennale conflitto in Sudan, fu fatto Barone dalla regina Vittoria.

Chiusa con successo l’esperienza in Sudan, fu chiamato in Sud Africa, dove infuriava il conflitto anglo-boero. Anche qui Kitchener si mise in luce come grande organizzatore della logistica e dell’addestramento tattico delle truppe. Più fonti attribuiscono a lui l’istituzione dei campi di concentramento per i civili Boeri, così da fiaccare l’ostinata resistenza dei guerriglieri Afrikaner. Nel 1902, dopo la fine della Guerra Boera, fu nominato Comandante in Capo dell'Esercito Reale Indiano, fallendo tuttavia nel tentativo di farsi nominare Viceré dell’India. Nel 1911 fu comunque promosso ad Agente britannico e Console Generale in Egitto.

Allo scoppio della Grande Guerra il Primo Ministro H.H. Asquith lo richiamò in patria, ben conscio delle capacità organizzative del Maresciallo, nominandolo Segretario di Stato alla Guerra. Unico a prevedere che il conflitto sarebbe durato a lungo -  perlomeno 3 anni - Kitchener intraprese una vasta riforma del piccolo esercito inglese, in quel momento una forza in grado di compiere solamente operazioni di “polizia coloniale” e assolutamente inadeguato a confrontarsi con i grandi eserciti dell’Europa continentale.

L’importanza di Kitchener nel formare il primo grande esercito di massa della storia inglese fu tale che esso prese il nome di Kitchener’s Army. La chiamata alle armi ad agosto e settembre del 1914, fruttò alla nuova armata oltre 700 mila volontari. I mesi successivi videro una drastica riduzione delle reclute, tuttavia l’afflusso fu tale da permettere a Kitchener di dare vita ad uno strumento militare senza precedenti per l’Inghilterra: sei armate composte da sei divisioni l’una, ognuna con un forte supporto di artiglieria ed armi automatiche, tanto che queste ultime nel corso della guerra sarebbero passate da 52 per ogni divisione nel 1915 a 400 nel 1918. La British Expeditionary Force che nell’estate del 1914 era composta da un’unica armata di cinque divisioni (aumentata poi a due armate e 16 divisioni entro la fine dell’anno con l’impiego dei reparti territoriali), nell’estate del 1916 era salita a cinque armate e 60 divisioni, per un totale di circa 2 milioni di uomini schierati in Francia.

Più modesto fu il contributo di Kitchener nella conduzione della guerra. Persuaso dell’impossibilità di cogliere una rapida vittoria sul fronte occidentale, il 16 maggio 1915 comunicò a French che non avrebbe inviato ulteriori truppe in Francia fino a quando non ci fossero chiari segni di cedimento delle linee tedesche. Tuttavia di fronte alle pressioni di Joffre, alla fine di maggio autorizzò l’invio di due ulteriori divisioni. Nelle intenzioni di Kitchener le nuove armate in corso di formazione avrebbero dovuto essere risparmiate per assestare un colpo decisivo e ben pianificato nel 1917, e solo dopo una lenta opera di logoramento delle forze tedesche.

Nel tentativo di uscire dall’impasse dei campi di battaglia europei, nel 1915 sostenne la sfortunata campagna dei Dardanelli, fallita sia per l’inaspettata resistenza turca sia per la pessima conduzione e il discontinuo supporto all’impresa. Con il fallimento degli sbarchi a Gallipoli, Kitchener fu costretto ad acconsentire l’invio di sempre più numerose truppe inglesi sul continente europeo, soprattutto a causa delle pressioni francesi e degli ambienti politico-militari in patria, convinti di dover concentrare tutti i propri sforzi sul fronte occidentale. "Purtroppo dobbiamo fare la guerra come dobbiamo, e non come vorremmo", affermò di fronte alla commissione dei Dardanelli il 20 agosto 1915.  Nel dicembre dello stesso anno, dopo una serie di inconcludenti battaglie sul fronte occidentale - malgrado il rafforzamento dell’esercito - e lo scandalo delle munizioni, Kitchener prese la decisione di sostituire il generale John French, dimostratosi in più occasioni completamente inadeguato allo scopo, con Douglas Haig.

Pur godendo del supporto dell’opinione pubblica, durante la guerra i rapporti con politici e militari peggiorarono repentinamente, a causa soprattutto dei tentativi di Kitchener di dare una svolta alla guerra cercando soluzioni alternative alle terribili battaglie d’attrito del fronte occidentale. Nel maggio 1916 lo zar Nicola II richiese la sua consulenza per riorganizzare il proprio esercito. Il 5 giungo dello stesso anno Kitchener si imbarcò per la Russia sull’incrociatore HMS Hampshire. Durante la traversata la nave su cui viaggiava colpì una mina posata da un sommergibile tedesco: Kitchener e altri 642 uomini dell’equipaggio morirono nel naufragio e il suo corpo non fu mai ritrovato.

Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener

(Ballylongford-Listowel, 24 June 1850 – sea off the Orkney Islands, 5 June 1916)

“Lord Kitchener wants you” was probably the propaganda poster par excellence of the First World War. It depicted the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener – in a Field Marshal cap, with his characteristic long moustache and harsh stare, pointing his finger at the viewer – inviting him to enlist in the British army. It became one of the iconic images of the Great War, and was even taken up again by all the countries that fought in World War II. The image, the work of illustrator Alfred Leete, appeared for the first time in the 5 September 1914 issue of the London Opinion: it was so successful that it was immediately reproduced on postcards before being used exclusively as a propaganda poster by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. As well as to the talent of the artist, the fame of this celebrated poster is to be ascribed to a large degree to the subject, Lord Kitchener. His physical image stirred great emotion amongst the British public; he appeared as a figure of absolute will and power, an emblem of British masculinity. In an empire now in decline and perceived as in danger, Kitchener represented the safety and the ability of British power to survive with the strength of individual will.

Horatio Herbert Kitchener was born in Ballylongford, Ireland, the son of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Horatio Kitchener, an army officer and landowner.

Belonging to the Irish Protestant upper class, Kitchener was prepared from an early age for military life and entered the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. Aged 20 he had his first experience of war when he served as a volunteer in a field hospital in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. In 1871 he joined the Royal Engineers, serving in Palestine, Egypt and Cyprus. The turning point in Kitchener’s career came in 1885 with the death of General Charles George Gordon in the siege of Khartoum during the Mahdist War. Called to re-organise the Egyptian Army, he distinguished himself for his outstanding organisational abilities and his various intuitions, such as the wide-scale use of the new Maxim machine guns. After winning the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, which in fact ended the decade-long conflict in Sudan, he was made an Earl by Queen Victoria.

Once his experience in Sudan came to a successful end, he was called to war-raved South Africa, where the Anglo-Boer conflict was being waged. Here too Kitchener drew attention to himself as a great organiser of logistics and tactical troop training. Several sources ascribe him with the institution of concentration camps for Boer civilians as a means of weakening the stubborn resistance of the Afrikaans guerrillas. In 1902, after the end of the Boer War, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army in India, though he failed in his attempt to get himself appointed Viceroy of India. In 1911 he was however promoted to British Agent and Consul-General in Egypt.

At the outbreak of the Great War, Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, well aware of the Field Marshal’s organisational abilities, called him back home and appointed him Secretary of State for War. Being the only one to predict a long war - which would last at least 3 years - Kitchener carried out an extensive reform of the small regular British Army, which at the time was a force able to carry out “colonial policing” operations only and was totally inadequate to hold its ground against the great armies of Continental Europe.

Kitchener’s importance in forming the first mass-citizen army in British history was so great that it was named Kitchener’s Army. The call to arms in August and September 1914 supplied the new Army with over 700 thousand volunteers. The following months saw a drastic reduction in new recruits, however the influx was sufficient to enable Kitchener to create a military instrument unprecedented for Britain: six Armies each made up of six divisions, all well supported by artillery and automatic weapons, which in fact over the course of the war were to increase from 52 for each division in 1915 to 400 in 1918. The British Expeditionary Force, which in the summer of 1914 comprised a single Army of five divisions (subsequently increased to two Armies and 16 divisions by the end of the year with the use of the Territorial Force), in the summer of 1916 had increased to five Armies and 60 divisions, giving a total of around 2 million men deployed in France.

Kitchener’s contribution to the war process was more modest. Persuaded that it was impossible to gain a rapid victory on the western front, on 16 May 1915 he informed French that he would send no reinforcements to France until there were clear signs of the German lines being broken. However under pressure from Joffre, at the end of May he authorised the dispatch of a further two divisions. In Kitchener’s intentions, the New Armies being formed should have been conserved in order to strike a decisive, well-planned blow in 1917, and only after slowly exhausting the German forces.

In an attempt to break the stalemate of the European battlefields, in 1915 he supported the unfortunate Dardanelles campaign, which failed both because of unexpected resistance from the Turks and poor management of the campaign along with inconsistent support for the endeavour. When the landing at Gallipoli failed, Kitchener was forced to consent to increasingly larger numbers of British troops being sent to the European continent, especially due to pressure from the French and political and military spheres at home, who were convinced that all their efforts had to be concentrated on the western front. "Unfortunately we have to make war as we must, and not as we should like", he told the Dardanelles Committee on 20 August 1915. In December of the same year, after a series of inconclusive battles on the western front – despite the army being reinforced – and the Shell Crisis, Kitchener made the decision to replace General John French, who had proven on several occasions to be completely inadequate for the job, with Douglas Haig.

Although he enjoyed the support of public opinion, during the war his relations with politicians and the military suddenly deteriorated, primarily because of Kitchener’s attempts to turn the war around by looking for alternative solutions to the terrible battles of attrition on the western front. In May 1916 Tsar Nicholas II asked him for advice on the reorganisation of his own army. On 5 June of the same year Kitchener set off for Russia on the cruiser HMS Hampshire. During the voyage the ship on which he was sailing struck a mine laid by a German submarine: Kitchener and another 642 crew died when the ship sank and his body was never found.

Biographies

Aleksei Brusilov

Aleksei Brusilov was born in August 1853 in Tbilisi. He joined the ranks of the Russian army in August 1871, obtaining the officer rank during the Russo-Turkish war in the years 1877-1878. In the years 1914-1918 he was initially a commander of the... Read all