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Brusilov offensive

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Brusilov offensive
(Брусиловский прорыв)
Part of the Eastern Front of World War I

Russian general Aleksei Brusilov, 1916
Date4 June – 20 September 1916
(3 months and 16 days)
Galicia, present-day western Ukraine.
Result See Aftermath and Legacy section
 Russian Empire  Austria-Hungary
 German Empire
 Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Russian Empire Aleksei Brusilov
Russian Empire Alexey Kaledin
Russian Empire Vladimir Sakharov
Russian Empire Dmitry Shcherbachev
Russian Empire Mikhail Diterikhs
Austria-Hungary Conrad von Hötzendorf
Austria-Hungary Joseph Ferdinand
Austria-Hungary Eduard von Böhm
German Empire Alexander von Linsingen
German Empire Felix von Bothmer
Initial: 40+ Infantry divisions (573,000 men)
15 cavalry divisions (60,000 men)
Russian Empire 1,732,000 in 61 divisions
39 infantry divisions (437,000 men)
10 cavalry divisions (30,000 men)
1,061,000 in 54 Austrian divisions and 24 German divisions
Casualties and losses

440,000 dead or wounded
60,000 prisoners
500,000[1]–1,000,000 total casualties[2]

Total: 500,000–1,000,000 casualties

200,000–567,000 dead or wounded
400,000–408,000 prisoners
600,000–975,000 all casualties
German Empire
148,000[3]–350,000 all casualties[2][1]
Ottoman Empire:
12,000 all casualties[4]

Total: 760,000–1,337,000 casualties[5]

The Brusilov offensive (Russian: Брусиловский прорыв Brusilovskiĭ proryv, literally: "Brusilov's breakthrough"), also known as the "June advance",[6] of June to September 1916 was the Russian Empire's greatest feat of arms during World War I, and among the most lethal offensives in world history. The historian Graydon Tunstall called the Brusilov offensive the worst crisis of World War I for Austria-Hungary and the Triple Entente's greatest victory, but it came at a tremendous loss of life.[7] The heavy casualties eliminated the offensive power of the Imperial Russian Army and contributed to Russia's collapse the next year.

The offensive involved a major Russian attack against the armies of the Central Powers on the Eastern Front. Launched on 4 June 1916, it lasted until late September. It took place in an area of present-day western Ukraine, in the general vicinity of the towns of Lviv, Kovel, and Lutsk. The offensive takes its name after the commander in charge of the Southwestern Front of the Imperial Russian Army, General Aleksei Brusilov.


Under the terms of their Chantilly Agreement of December 1915, Russia, France, Britain and Italy committed to simultaneous attacks against the Central Powers in the summer of 1916. Russia felt obliged to lend troops to fight in France and Salonika (against her own wishes), and to attack on the Eastern Front, in the hope of obtaining munitions from Britain and France.[8]

In March 1916 the Russians initiated the disastrous Lake Naroch offensive in the Vilnius area, during which the Germans suffered only one-fifth as many casualties as the Russians. This offensive took place at French request – General Joseph Joffre had hoped that the Germans would transfer more units to the East after the Battle of Verdun began in February 1916.[9]

At a war council held with senior commanders and the tsar in April 1916, General Aleksei Brusilov presented a plan to the Stavka (the Russian high command), proposing a massive offensive by his Southwestern Front against the Austro-Hungarian forces in Galicia. Brusilov's plan aimed to take some of the pressure off French and British armies in France and the Italian Army along the Isonzo Front and, if possible, to knock Austria-Hungary out of the war.[10] As the Austrian army was heavily engaged in Italy, the Russian army enjoyed a significant numerical advantage in the Galician sector.



General Alexei Evert, commander of the Russian Western Army Group based in Smolensk, favored a defensive strategy and opposed Brusilov's proposed offensive. Emperor Nicholas II had taken personal command of the Imperial Russian army in September 1915. Evert was a strong supporter of Nicholas and the Romanovs, but the Emperor approved Brusilov's plan. The offensive aimed to capture the cities of Kovel and Lviv (in present-day western Ukraine); the Central Powers had recovered both these cities in 1915. Although the Stavka had approved Brusilov's plan, his request for supporting offensives by the neighboring fronts (the Western under Evert and Northern under Aleksey Kuropatkin) was denied.[11]

Russian preparations

Mounting pressure from the western Allies caused the Russians to hurry their preparations. Brusilov amassed four armies totaling 40 infantry divisions and 15 cavalry divisions. He faced 39 Austrian infantry divisions and 10 cavalry divisions, formed in a row of three defensive lines, as well as German reinforcements that were later brought up.[12] Deception efforts on the Russian side were intended to conceal the point of attack.[13] They included false radio traffic, false orders sent by messengers who were intended to be captured, and equipment displays including dummy artillery.[12][13] Brusilov, knowing he would not receive significant reinforcements, moved his reserves up to the front line. He used them to dig entrenchments about 300 m × 90 m (328 yd × 98 yd) along the front line. These provided shelter for the troops and hindered observation by the Austrians.[12] The Russians secretly sapped trenches, and in some places tunnelled, to within 91 m (100 yd) of the Austrian lines and at some points as close as 69 m (75 yd). Brusilov prepared for a surprise assault along 480 km (300 mi) of front. Stavka urged Brusilov to shorten his attacking front considerably, to allow for a much heavier concentration of Russian troops but Brusilov insisted on his plan and Stavka relented.


On 4 June 1916, the Russians opened the offensive with a massive, accurate but brief artillery barrage against the Austro-Hungarian lines, with the key factor of this effective bombardment being its brevity and accuracy. This was in contrast to the usual, protracted barrages at the time that gave the defenders time to bring up reserves and evacuate forward trenches while damaging the battlefield so badly that it was hard for attackers to advance. The initial attack was successful, and the Austro-Hungarian lines were broken, enabling three of Brusilov's four armies to advance on a wide front (see: Battle of Kostiuchnówka).

The success of the breakthrough was helped in large part by Brusilov's innovation to attack weak points along the Austrian lines to effect a breakthrough, which the main Russian army could then exploit.


Attack of Russian cavalry (1916)
Attack of Russian cavalry (1916)

On 8 June forces of the Southwestern Front took Lutsk. The Austrian commander, Archduke Josef Ferdinand, barely escaped the city before the Russians entered, a testament to the speed of the Russian advance. By now the Austrians were in full retreat and the Russians had taken over 200,000 prisoners. Brusilov's forces were becoming overextended and he made it clear that further success of the operation depended on Evert launching his part of the offensive. Evert, however, continued to delay, which gave the German high command time to send reinforcements to the Eastern Front.

In a meeting held on the same day Lutsk fell, German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn persuaded his Austrian counterpart Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf to pull troops away from the Italian Front to counter the Russians in Galicia. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, Germany's commander in the East (Oberkommando-Ost), was again able to capitalize on good railroads to bring German reinforcements to the front.

On 11 June, while pursuing the Austro-Hungarian Army in Bukovina, Russian forces inadvertently crossed into Romanian territory, where they overwhelmed the border guard at Mamornița and had a cavalry patrol disarmed and interned at Herța. Having no intention to force the hand of the Romanian Government, the Russians quickly left Romanian territory.[14][15]

Finally, on 18 June a weak and poorly prepared offensive commenced under Evert. On 24 July Alexander von Linsingen counterattacked the Russians south of Kovel and temporarily checked them. On 28 July Brusilov resumed his own offensive, and although his armies were short on supplies he reached the Carpathian Mountains by 20 September. The Russian high command started transferring troops from Evert's front to reinforce Brusilov, a transfer Brusilov strongly opposed because more troops only served to clutter his front.


Russian deportations

From 27 June to 3 July 1916, Brusilov carried out, on his own initiative, the deportation of 13,000 German civilians from the Volhynian areas that had been conquered during the offensive.[16]



Russian infantry
Russian infantry

Brusilov's operation achieved its original goal of forcing Germany to halt its attack on Verdun and transfer considerable forces to the East. Afterward, the Austro-Hungarian army increasingly had to rely on the support of the German army for its military successes. On the other hand, the German army did not suffer much from the operation and retained most of its offensive power afterward. The early success of the offensive convinced Romania to enter the war on the side of the Entente, which led to the failure of the 1916 campaign. The Brusilov Offensive was the high point of the Russian effort during World War I, and was a manifestation of good leadership and planning on the part of the Imperial Russian Army coupled with great skill of the lower ranks. According to John Keegan, "the Brusilov Offensive was, on the scale by which success was measured in the foot-by-foot fighting of the First World War, the greatest victory seen on any front since the trench lines had been dug on the Aisne two years before".[17]

The Brusilov offensive commanded by Brusilov himself went very well, but the overall campaign, for which Brusilov's part was only supposed to be a distraction, because of Evert's failures, became tremendously costly for the Imperial army, and after the offensive, it was no longer able to launch another on the same scale. Many historians contend that the casualties that the Russian army suffered in this campaign contributed significantly to its collapse the following year.[18] The operation was marked by a considerable improvement in the quality of Russian tactics. Brusilov used smaller, specialized units to attack weak points in the Austro-Hungarian trench lines and blow open holes for the rest of the army to advance into. These were a remarkable departure from the human wave attacks that had dominated the strategy of all the major armies until that point during World War I. Evert used conventional tactics that were to prove costly and indecisive, thereby costing Russia its chance for a victory in 1916.

The irony was that other Russian commanders did not realize the potential of the tactics that Brusilov had devised. Similar tactics were proposed separately by French, Germans and British on the Western Front and employed at the Battle of Verdun earlier in the year. The tactics would henceforth be used to an even greater degree by the Germans, who used stormtroopers and infiltration tactics to great effect in the 1918 Spring Offensive.[19]


Russian casualties were considerable, numbering between 500,000[1] and 1,000,000.[20] Austria-Hungary and Germany lost from 616,000[21] to 975,000 and from 148,000[3] to 350,000,[22] respectively, making a total of 764,000 to 1,337,000 casualties. The Brusilov offensive is considered as one of the most lethal offensives in world history.


  1. ^ a b c Мерников А. Г., Спектор А.А. Всемирная история войн. — Минск., 2005. - стр. 428
  2. ^ a b Keegan 2000, p. 435.
  3. ^ a b Haeften 1936, p. 566.
  4. ^ Turkey In The First World War: Galicia Archived 20 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Turkish losses for September were: unknown on the action of September 2. 7,000 on the actions of September 16/17. 5,000 on the actions of September 30.
  5. ^ "ГПИБ | Ветошников Л. В. Брусиловский прорыв : оперативно-стратегический очерк. - М., 1940".
  6. ^ Biography of one of the participants (in Russian)
  7. ^ Tunstall 2008, pp. 30–53.
  8. ^ Stone 1998, pp. 221, 252.
  9. ^ Keegan 2000, p. 325.
  10. ^ Tucker 2011, p. 428.
  11. ^ Onacewicz, Wlodzimierz (1985). Empires by Conquest: 1905-1945. Fairfax, VA: Hero Books. p. 74. ISBN 978-9-1597-9040-6 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ a b c Dowling 2008, pp. 43–46.
  13. ^ a b Buttar 2016, p. 131.
  14. ^ Leonard Arthur Magnus, K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company Limited, 1917, Roumania's Cause & Ideals, pp. 118-119
  15. ^ Glenn E. Torrey, Center for Romanian Studies, 1998, Romania and World War I, p. 113
  16. ^ Lohr 2003, p. 137.
  17. ^ Keegan 2000, p. 306.
  18. ^ Defeat and Disarmament, Joe Dixon
  19. ^ Edmonds 1995, p. 489.
  20. ^ Keegan 2000, p. 425.
  21. ^ Glaise-Horstenau 1934, p. 218.
  22. ^ Keegan 2000.


Further reading Australian commander's offensive: Origins of the "Blitzkrieg" warfare.

External links

This page was last edited on 21 July 2021, at 11:47
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