More Defeats for the Russians;

British and French Plan New Offensive

Special to The Great War Project

(18-21 September) This is a moment in the war a century ago when fighting picks up on both the Eastern and Western Fronts.

In the east, the Russian army continues to suffer defeat after defeat.

German troops occupying Vilna, provide food for the children, date uncertain. Deutsche Truppen in Wilna (Litauen), ab 18. September 1915: Soldaten verteilen Essen an Wilnaer Kinder. Amateurfoto, aus Fotoalbum, um 1916.

German troops occupying Vilna, provide food for the children, 18 September 1915.

On September 18th a century ago, a serious Russian reversal, “when German forces entered Vilna,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “the largest city in Russian Lithuania, taking 22,000 Russian soldiers captive.”

But the German victory at Vilna comes “at a heavy price,” writes war historian John Keegan. The Germans face terrible weather conditions, rains so heavy, “the advance came to a halt.”

At this moment in 1915, the Russians lose most of the territory of Russian Poland.

But still “the territory of historic Russia remained intact, and so too did the substance of the Tsar’s army.”

But Russian losses are enormous, “nearly a million dead, wounded, and missing while three-quarters of a million prisoners had been captured by the enemy.”

Still despite these reversals, “nevertheless the Russian army remained undefeated,” reports Keegan. “Shell output was increasing – to 220,000 rounds a month in September – and its reserves of manpower still amounted to tens of millions.”

Keegan writes, “Russia would be able to fight on.”

On the Western Front, it is obvious that preparations are underway for another British and French offensive against the Germans.

It is the French who push for an urgent attack, overcoming initial British resistance to the idea. According to Keegan, the French want urgent action “both to sustain pressure on the Germans and deter the diversion of troops to other theaters.”

Allied troops prepare for new offensive on Western Front, place and date uncertain.

Allied troops prepare for new offensive on Western Front, place and date uncertain.

In discussions with the French, the British realize that an autumn offensive would be “a test of confidence.” The British withdraw their opposition, and preparations begin for a large-scale attack on the Western Front.

“Practical difficulties nevertheless persisted,” writes Keegan. “Roads had to be built, stores dumped, battery positions dug.”

The date of the opening of this offensive is first designated for the end of August, then postponed to September 8th. Then because a lengthy bombardment is deemed necessary, it is postponed once more, until September 25th.

“The Germans profited from the delay,” reports Keegan, “and the undisguised signs of impending attack, to strengthen the positions of their line against which they detected” preparations for the offensive.

The Germans complete the construction of a second line and in between, they place concrete machine-gun posts. “Despite the enormous labor entailed,” Keegan writes, “the system was complete by the autumn, forming a defensive belt up to three miles deep.”

“The German positions in the Western Front were becoming impregnable.”

The start of the French-British offensive is set to begin on  September 25th at the small northern French town of Loos.