The Germans destroyed Russian 2nd army at the battle of Tannenberg but the Austrians were defeated in Galicia and their fortress Przemysl was sieged. On the Eastern front the whole balance of the war was even but if taking the battle of Marnne on the Western into account it leaned toward the Allied.
Moltke jr. was fired replaced by Falkenhayn who valued the Western front more. However, the war on the Western turned still with trench line established. He had to do something on the Eastern. 9th army commanded by Mackenzen was newly built with 1st reserve corps and newly organised corps.
Hindenburg was appointed commander of armies in the East given both 8th army and 9th. Ludendorff was successively his chief of staff. On the Eastern front too, the line was drawn up but not so clearly. At some places the distance between two lines of trench was more than 5 miles. Cavalry charge was sometimes successful but usually failed to penetrate because reinforcement by the reserve was rapid enough. Reconnaissance from the air could easily find out the column of the enemy troops and the assembled point for charge.
On the Russian side Jilinsky was replaced by Ruzski, the victor in Galicia. There still was factional conflict among officers and unified command on both fronts was impossible.
In October the Central took offensive. The Russians refitted their armies withdrawing behind their fortresses and Warsaw. Ludendorff tried to take Warsaw passing through Lodz. However, due to the reconnaissance to find reinforced Russian armies assembled there, he also withdrew.
The Austrians also took haughty line against Russians in Galicia. They left Carpathian mountains and reach the San with successful access to Przemysl. Russian 8th army commanded by Brusilov counter-attacked and repulsed the Austrians with Prezmysl left alone.
Battle of Lodz
On the opposite side the Russians had also an offensive plan to invade into Silesia. For the sake of the offensive they had to transport the troops under the South-West front into the line with the North-West. But, Russian command did not work well and lacked communication with each front as always. Moreover, the Vistula over flooded during autumn rainy season. All delayed to early November to finish.
Ludendorff had a different idea from before. He decided to go alone this time while losing credit for Austrians. He transported all 9th army by train to Thoern in five days. He would advance toward south east.
The Russians finished their deployment to march into Silesia up until the first week of November. From north 2nd army(Scheidemann) 5th(Plehve) 4th(Evert) 9th(Lechitski) were in line side by side numbering 800 thousand strong in total.
Except these armies 1st(Rennenkapf) and 10th(Pflug) guarded for the flank of attacking troops in the north and 3rd(Redke-Dimtriev) in the south.
The original plan of Lundedorff was to bring the special force about between Russian 1st and 2nd, then to change the course to the south and to take the back of Russian 2nd probably in the south of Lodz. 25th reserve corps (Scheffer) and 3rd guard division were appointed as special force to turn Russian flank. However, Germans had inferior number of divisions 15 to 24 around Lodz.
On 11 November German offensive began. German three corps in all attacked Siberian 5th corps (Sidorin) located in the far south on the left wing of 1st army. Meanwhile, two third of Siberian 5th were taken prisoners. But Ruzski did not think it serious, but rather of a feint ascribing this failure to the weakness of second line corps.
Ruzski ordered to invade into Silesia. No Russian officers took this order but thought the situation around Lodz was in danger. After 15 November Russian 2nd army and 5th tried to concentrate in Lodz in no relation with Ruzski. Rodz with population 500 thousand was centred in Poland west and industrial city. In Lodz, the centre of Russian logistics all railways of Poland were relayed.
Until 18 November all 2nd army and 5th army covered western perimeter of Lodz and finished to retreat.
Ludendorff misunderstood the situation as the Russians retreated to somewhere behind. He asked the special force to advance rapidly and to take Russian flank. German 25th Reserve corps and 3rd guard Div. turned the east of the city Lodz and appeared behind it.
However, Rennenkampf, commander of 1st army was different from the time of Tannenberg. He sent special troops, later called Lowitz contingent, to succour. At the same time 5th army also sent rescue troops from south.
This time the Germans were enveloped. But what happened next was presumably impossible to predict. The Russians began to prepare 500 rolling stocks for the captured Germans and a victory party for defensive war.
Sequentially the German reserves were to show incredible tenacity to fight. This 25th reserve corps were all recruited from the volunteers as had the same character as “innocent death” corps which fought in the first battle of Ypre so hard.
Between 22 November and 24, the life and death struggle to escape the envelopment took place. Scheffer, commander of 25th reserve corps did not sleep a minute for 72 hours. 3rd guard Div. worked as rear guard and its artillery battalion was annihilated. They fled away successfully in the end. Lowitz contingent occupied Prtzetsuni hill but did not move from there. After that the commander told that there were no orders to attack. The battle between the German special force and Russian 2nd was engaged heavily for two days. The contingent of 5th army from south was hesitant to attack because they found out too many Germans that in truth were Russian prisoners. On 24 November, Scheffer met again with 9th army.
During the battle it was constantly below minus 10 degree in centigrade. Roads were frozen into ice and snow mixed with rain fell. 25th reserve corps took 16 thousand prisoners back. with the killed 35 hundred and 15 hundred injured.
This has surely shown the glory of German reserves. But originally it was not easy for inferior number of attackers to envelope the superior. The operational plan of Ludendorff was a failure in the first place. He had to wait for the reinforcement to come. Though, his temper disliked to wait.
It was not clear whether this tactics, close envelopment, was effective in railway age. Ludendorff was rather the old type of a man who was stick to Schlieffen or Clauzewitz’ military school. They only appreciated two ways for any battles, envelopment and break through. It seemed that Ludendorff prefered envelopment tactics.
However, it is also noticed that he was so flexible that he could order to retreat even at the time 25th reserve corps seemed impossible to escape. It is mentally easier for the commander to ask the enveloped troops to fight to death.
Literally they did not fight to death but surrender choosing an appropriate timing. This happened when German 6th army was enveloped by Soviet armies in Stalingrade in 1943, which decided the course of the Second World War.
The Russians faced another problem, shortage of everything.
Their infantry was not equipped with rifles and ammunitions. Artillery lacked shells not saying of weather proof clothing and shoes. When faced with the battle provoked by the Germans they found out those limits. No one told of the offensive to Silesia again. Ruzski ordered to leave Lodz and withdraw behind the Vistula.
Winter Campaign in Carpathians
In winter of 1914 the Central and Russia were active on the eastern front. Falkenhayn insisted on difficulty by the cold but was soft without persistence like before. Conrad, Austrian chief of general staff rebuffed that due to shortage of foods to succour Przemysl was a must. Foods remained there would run out in March, 1915.
Ludendorff was negative because he appreciated the operation in East Prussia more. However, he sent two and half divisions to the Austrians for reconciliation, which was later called “Suede Armee”(Army of South).
Austrians’ offensive started on 23 January, 1915. This was “a cruel folly”according to the official historians in Austria. Those who bivouacked were sometimes found to be frozen to death. Firing was impossible because visuality was zero due to the clouds hanging over. All mountain area was covered by snow two metres deep.
Austrians’ speed to advance was 1 Km a day. Russians also did not understand when or how they were attacked. There were small fights on the southern slopes of Carpathian mountains. Each failed to focus on the enemy because of low visuality The battle itself was dwindling down by late February. Austrians lost 800 thousand out of whom three quarters were injured based on self-application.
This time Falkenhayn took a resolute attitude not to help Austrians saying “I predicted a lot”. So, became it impossible to evacuate Przemysl. The garrisons there offered to surrender on 22 March, 1915. Kusmaneck, commander and his troops, 120 thousand tried to sortie once before for appearance but were obedient to their victor. According to a British observer ranks looked haggard losing spirit but officers were well-fed enjoying long-term looseness with aggressive type of women.
Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes
Ludendorff also started his own offensive in Masuria, East Prussia. His target was Russian 10th army(Sievers). German attacking forces consisted of newly organised 10th army(Eichhorn) and 8th army(Below). This time Germans enjoyed numerical superiority for the first time.
Russian 10th army was left alone seemingly on the quiet front along the eastern border of East Prussia given second line troops. This battle happened next to the latter half of Tannenberg in the same place. But, it was in winter. It snowed heavily with blizzard. The ground was frozen and visuality was almost zero. The German had excellent optical apparatus and prearranged planning. The Russians had neither.
Ludendorff took pincer action by one army turning Masurian lakes from the north and another from the south. Ruzski lacked imagination that the Germans were able to carry two armies by train even in winter season. All attacks took Russians by surprise.
German 10th army attacked Siberian 3rd corps(Yepachin) and forced them to retreat outside East Prussia. Russian defence was inadequate, so their only way to fight was to flee away. Moreover, Yepatchin could not understand German tactics of pincer action. He as a top runner fled into fortress Kovno with 10th army’s flank open.
Russian 20th corps(Bulgakov) in the centre and 16th reserve corps in the left were also taken by surprise. But Germans were unable to advance rapidly because of weather. 16th reserve corps successfully retreated to fortress Osowiec near to them but 20th corps in the centre were really encircled by German pincers. The whole second line two divisions were captured. That was all. Ludendorff tried to take Osowiec but failed with heavy casualties.
After this battle Grand duke Nicholas scolded his commanders to fail to understand the excellent railway network in East Prussia which enabled Germans to move quickly. He was quite right. It seemed consequently that Russians gave up to cut into East Prussia, and prefered rather to put more pressure on Austrians.
Faced with Grand duke’s determination Ruzski’s nerves broke down and was replaced by Alexeyev, chief of staff for South West front.