Tsar’s Army in Disarray; Talk of Mutiny Spreads.
Germany’s Leaders: We Do Not Lust for Territory.
Pro-German Bomber Targets U.S. Senate.
Special to The Great War Project
(Editor’s note: This blog will take a short break. It will return in about ten day’s time.)
(30 June-4 July) On the Eastern Front, the Russian army continues to fall back under ceaseless German attack.
One of the most important targets in the East European territory of Galicia (today’s Poland and Ukraine) is the city of Lemberg, today’s Ukrainian city of Lviv.
Facing a weak army of Austria-Hungary several months earlier, the Russian army takes Lemberg, precipitating a rout of Austrian forces and a near collapse of the Austrian army.
Germany rushes reinforcements from the Western Front to the East to rescue the Austrian forces. But now the tide is turning.
The Russians are in disarray, and German troops are sweeping eastward.
In mid-June, Polish cavalry fighting on the Austrian side deal the Russians a severe blow. The Polish forces are fueled by the Poles’ desire to carve out an independent natiton as the war delivers up much of Polish territory occupied for many years by the Russians.
By late June in 1915, almost precisely a century ago, the Austrian army retakes Lemberg, and according to historian Martin Gilbert, “is poised to cross into Russian territory.”
One of the Austrian soldiers is the painter Oscar Kokoschka, who reaches Lemberg in late June. He writes to a friend: “Ordered to Russia! No trenches, but reconnaissance, thank God, and – the wonderful thing about Russia – the chance of an Iron Cross.”
Kokoschka describes the destruction: “All along the way, many villages destroyed by gunfire, cemeteries, all the famous battlefields, cholera…”
Now the Russian army is undermined by disillusionment with the war, and with good reason. “For the troops,” writes historian Adam Hochschild, “rifles remained in short supply, and some infantry units moved up to the front carrying only axes.”
“Here and there,” Hochschild reports, “Russian soldiers began talking of mutiny.” In areas where trench warfare leads to deadlock, slowly but steadily the Russians begin to fraternize with the Austro-Hungarians, “visiting the enemy trenches, trading caps and helmets, and posing for photographs.”
“In a desperate attempt to keep the troops disciplined, the Russian army’s high command legalized flogging.”
Should Russia collapse completely, Hochschild observes, “it would mean that the full weight of German manpower and munitions would fall on allied forces in the West.”
So the Germans and the Austrians seek to hold their armies together by using the rhetoric of what they call “an honorable and defensive war,” writes historian Alexander Watson.
Now, a year into the war, with hundreds of thousands dead and the British blockade of Germany beginning to take its toll on its civilian population, the Germans tell themselves they are the victims. “Leaders, politicians, clergymen, academics and newspapers,” writes Watson, “had mobilized their peoples for a struggle against criminal regicide and a perfidious international conspiracy.”
“Great principals were at stake,” Watson writes of how Germany portrayed its enemies. “In East Prussia and Galicia, the brutality and barbarism of Cossack hordes had exposed the bloody threat posed to European civilization by the Tsar’s ‘Asiatic’ Empire.
“In the West selfish English materialism and perverse French individualism challenged what German intellectuals claimed to be the purer, heroic communality of their own culture.”
“Above all,” observes Watson, the Germans held that their war is purely defensive.
“We are not incited by lust for conquest,” the Kaiser proclaimed. “We are inspired by the unyielding determination to keep for ourselves and all future generations the place which God has given us.”
In the United States on July 2nd a century ago, a bomb explodes in the U.S. Senate under the Senate’s telephone switchboard, according to an official Senate history.
No one is hurt. The Senate is in recess. The bomber, who flees, is identified as Erich Muenter, a former professor of German at Harvard. A letter from Muenter is published in the Washington Evening Star after the blast. In it the bomber expresses the hope that the bombing “makes enough noise to be heard above the voices that clamor for war.”
“The former German professor was particularly angry with American financiers,” according to the Senate’s history, “who were aiding Great Britain against Germany in World War I, despite this country’s official neutrality in that conflict.”
The following morning, Muenter arrives in New York City. He goes to the home of banker J.P. Morgan on Long Island, whom he blames for financing Britain’s munitions purchases. When Morgan opens the door, Muenter shoots him.
Morgan survives; his wounds are superficial.
Muenter is soon captured. He commits suicide in jail.