Libmonster ID: RU-14959
Author(s) of the publication: S. Bazanov

Ninety years ago, in May to September 1916, Russian troops carried out a major operation of World War I (1914 - 1918) - the offensive of the Southwestern Front.

It went down in the annals of warfare as the Brusilov Breakthrough-named so after General Brusilov, the commander. An epic event even on the scale of world history. The general, who closed his days eighty years ago, was a man of extraordinary abilities, great dedication and sense of duty.

Coat of arms of the Brusilovs.

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General Brusilov during the First World War. 1915.

Alexei Brusilov was of noble descent: many of his kin threw in their lot with the armed forces. His father (Alexei Brusilov, Senior) took part in the Patriotic War waged by Russia in 1812 against Napoleon, and was with the expeditionary corps of Russian troops in Western Europe during the 1812 - 1814 campaigns. Decorated for valor, he ended his career in the rank of lieutenant-general. For a time he saw service in Tiflis (Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia), and that's where, in 1853, a son was born to him, the hero of our story.

Alexei lost his parents at an early age (his father died in 1859, and his mother died a few months later) and was reared in his aunt's family. At age 14 he passed entrance examinations and was enlisted in Fourth Grade of the St. Petersburg-based Corps of Pages, the prestige military academy in Russia then. The young cadet got a versatile education there, something that left a tangible impress on his personality. He revealed a bent for military disciplines where he applied himself with much diligence, showing a marked preference for horsemanship and equestrian skills rather than drill. Upon graduation Alexei Brusilov, Jr., was posted to the First Squadron of the Tver Dragoons stationed in Transcaucasia. The young ensign made the grade as platoon commander and developed good personal rapport with his men, an asset that benefited him a good deal in later days. Needless to say, Brusilov adored horses and horse riding.

Ensign Brusilov had his baptism of fire during the Russia-Turkey war of 1877 - 1878 at Kars, a town in Turkey's northeast. He took part in the storming of the fortress of Ardagan, and in the battle of the Alajin Heights; he went into cavalry attacks with the sword drawn, defying aimed fire; in one of the battles his steed was shot dead under him. In 1877 Brusilov was promoted in rank for valor (few were so fortunate as to be in for brevet in just one campaign!) and had two orders decorating his chest. Most important, the raw beginner, who "had smelled no powder", became a battle-seasoned officer.

"Up until 1881 I kept toiling in the regiment," Alexei Brusilov recalled. "...Its peacetime life, with all its humdrum gossipings and squabblings, was dull, of course..." Therefore he jumped at the offer to get enrolled in the Dragoons' School just opened in St. Petersburg. The young officer displayed great diligence and industry: completing his course with grade A (excellent), Brusilov was promoted to cavalry corps captain, got another decoration and stayed on at the school as a staff instructor. In 1891, rising to a lieutenant-colonel's rank at the selfsame academy, he became head of its department charged with the training of squadron and company commanders. The young capable officer earned a good name for himself among the military of St. Petersburg: working as an instructor, he upgraded the equestrian skills of nearly all senior cavalry officers. In 1900 Brusilov became major-general and was appointed chief of the school. In this capacity he tried to do his utmost to improve the training of cadets in keeping with the requirements of contemporary warfare; the academy he was heading became a top-notch school among this country's military training and educational institutions.

Brusilov was never tired of improving his mind and background, well aware as he was that the peacetime life might end soon and that his combat skills would be needed in the battlefield. General Brusilov published several works in the Vestnik (Herald) of the Russian Mounted Troops and in the Military Review (both brought out by the Cavalry Academy) as well as in other specialist journals, where he outlined forward ideas concerning the role and combat

стр. 92


Russian infantry in attack.

engagement of the cavalry. The author laid special emphasis on its massive employment and proposed that large formations of the mounted army type should be set up.

In the spring of 1906 Gen. Brusilov was appointed head of the Second Cavalry Division of the Guards billeted in St. Petersburg, one of Russia's best and much in favor with His Majesty and court. He saw to it that commanding officers upgraded their combat readiness in tactical exercises and often supervised them in person. He, now a division commander, made a close study of the sad balance of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 - 1905 that had ended in the defeat of the Russian troops; he saw one of the causes of that defeat in the low educational fitness of the officers' corps. "As always we are able to die valiantly, but unfortunately do not always bring a palpable use to our cause by our death, for at every turn we lack knowledge and an ability to apply in practice our combat skills."

Late in 1908 Alexei Brusilov took over command of the Fourteenth Army Corps stationed at Lublin, Poland, and soon after he was promoted to lieutenant-general. While there he would oversee training exercises, and he obliged officers to make communications on topical theoretical points. He arranged games in which officers could show their map-reading mastery and better their battle training. He often oversaw exercises at the platoon, regiment and division levels, and was personally in charge of corps exercises simulating, as much closely as possible, battlefield conditions. The army corps under his command learned new tactical methods that came up during the Russo-Japanese war, namely night fighting, sudden thrusts into the enemy flank and rear, and attacks supported by artillery fire from concealed positions. Like Alexander Suvorov, the Great Russian warlord of the 18th century, Brusilov staked on initiative and high combat morale. In so doing Gen. Brusilov succeeded in improving the combat readiness of his corps within a relatively short stretch of time.

In May 1912 Gen. Brusilov was appointed assistant commander of the Warsaw Military District, and in December of the same year he was promoted to the rank of full, four-star general of the mounted troops. For all his brilliant career, Brusilov felt ill at ease in the headquarters a battlefield officer that he was; that is why he filed a request to the War Minister Vladimir Sukhomlinov to post him back to the troops. Shortly afterwards Gen. Brusilov assumed command of the Twelfth Army Corps (Kiev Military District), one of the best and largest in the Russian army, both in strength and in firepower. Again and again, his overriding concern centered on battle training and combat readiness of the units and formations under him.

With the outbreak of the First World War (1914) General Brusilov took over the Eighth Army deployed on the left flank of the Southwestern Front as far as the border of Romania and confronting the troops of Austria-Hungary. His army's objective was to occupy Eastern Galicia (part of Western Ukraine). As Russian troops moved into this territory, the general issued an order urging servicemen to be friendly to the local population, the Galicians, as blood kinsfolk of the Russians.

Moving ahead on a forced march of 150 kilometers, the Brusilov men approached the ancient Slav town of Galic". Meanwhile the neighbors, the Third Army, were not doing just as fine, and Gen. Brusilov decided to lend a helping

стр. 93


Conference in the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief on April 1, 1916. Sitting-third to the right, Gen. Brusilov, fourth-Emperor Nikolai (Nicholas) II.

Storming of the Kremlin in the autumn of 1917 as pictured by Konstantin Yuon in 1947.

hand: leaving one of his corps at Galic as a covering force, he led the rest toward Lvov so as to envelop it from the south. Covering over 50 kilometers, he engaged Austrian-Hungarian units on the river Gnilaya Lipa and compelled them to retreat; this retreat turned into a panicky flight. The Brusilov Eighth and the Third Army joined hands and developed a thrust towards Lvov. The attack was so impetuous that the enemy had to fall back and leave Lvov to avoid encirclement. The advancing units captured GaliC, too, clearing the way for our troops. Such was the victorious culmination of the GaliC-Lvov operation of the left wing of the Southwestern Front, which was a component part of the Galician Battle, one of the biggest in World War I. Gen. Brusilov was awarded with the topmost awards of Russia, the Orders of St. George, 4th and 3rd Class.

In May 1915, however, the enemy struck at the right flank of the Southwestern Front, and the Brusilov Army had to draw back in heavy fighting. The retreat was orderly, under the cover of strong rearguards. Retreating, the Brusilov forces destroyed bridges, railways and ferry crossings on a wide scale that had no precedent in the history of warfare. All that combined to slow down the pace of the En offensive. Counterstriking, Russian troops cap-

стр. 94


tured many PWs and managed to recover Lutsk and keep Rovno in hand.

General Brusilov made the best of the tactics he had been inculcating on his men in peacetime: namely wide maneuver, flanking attack and envelopment, forward thrust and, if need be, stiff deliberate defense and orderly retreat. Thus the 8th Army showed it could cope with any contingency. Just as the legendary Suvorov before him, General Brusilov was like a father to his men and gained great popularity among the rank and file. His order of the day, dated December 6, 1914, is eloquent enough-it dealt with the supply of hot food to the troops. "Chiefs whose soldiers go hungry should be dismissed immediately." The army commander issued many orders like this throughout the war.

Gen. Brusilov recalled: "Quite unexpectedly, in mid-March 1916, I received a coded cable from the General Headquarters... which said I was chosen as ...Commander-in-Chief of the southwestern Front..." That ushered in a new period in the general's life. In keeping with the general plan of the campaign for 1916, his front was to sustain the defense and get ready for a strike after the neighboring Western Front had been engaged in action. Yet Gen. Brusilov insisted: his armies could and should act on the offensive. History knows but of few generals who would stake their prestige and career that way by assuming new main responsibilities. Emperor Nikolai (Nicholas) II, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, voiced no objections but warned to go-ahead general had to rely on his own forces.

Gen. Brusilov's master plan came as a radical departure from the conventional offensive tactics. "The attack should be mounted at one sector of the front where the maximum strength of troops and artillery should be concentrated." Such was the copybook practice. But according to Gen. Brusilov, in that case the attack could succeed only if En defenses were not strong enough, and he suggested a four-prong strike (with units of the 8th Army advancing towards Lutsk, those of the 11th Army-toward Zolochev, of the 7th Army-toward Stanislaw and 9th Army-toward Kolomya in Western Ukraine). The aim was to make a clear sweep of the enemy and prevent him from deploying forces in the reserve. The En units wedged in between the onslaught zones would have to leave their positions or risk being rapped in "bags". The Austrian-Hungarian Front vis-a-vis the Russian Southwestern Front would inevitably collapse. Such was the scheme of the shrewd strategist.

The Austrian-Hungarians had a slight edge over the Russian troops in firepower; both sides, however, were about equal in overall strength. The enemy built a series of fortified defense belts 5 to 10 km apart, each composed of two or three lines of trenches with numerous pockets of resistance. Well aware of the immense difficulties of the forthcoming operation, General Brusilov took pains to prepare it meticulously. The En positions were surveyed in detail by army and aviation reconnaissance (by aerial photography, too); General Konstantin Velichko of the Corps of Engineers and his men carried out a vast amount of fortification works at breakthrough points; attack units advanced thither in concealed movement-their men were well-trained in breaching obstacles. Each infantry company was reinforced with assault groups, the forerunners of the present SWAT force. Preparation of artillery fire was planned thoroughly, too (the very term was born in those days!), and many other things besides.

D-day, H-hour: May 22, 1916... 05:00 a.m. The artillery guns of the Southwestern Front opened massive fire on the enemy at the four breakthrough sectors. Shocked and dumfounded, En soldiers tried to make use of the short 15-minute lulls in the barrage by scrambling out of their trenches in a bid to stop the onslaught of the Russian infantry. But the Russian artillery resumed fire time and again, every fifteen minutes. That was a deliberate tactic aimed at misleading the enemy about the exact moment and place of the attack-a tactic that saved many lives of our soldiers. The Ninth Russian Army moved first, to be followed by the Eighth Army which, overcoming the En fortifications, proceeding in hot pursuit of the enemy retreating in haste toward Lutsk; soon after, the Russian seized this town. The Brusilov men pushed ahead in other directions, too. In the three days of fighting they breached the enemy rear to 25 - 35 km in depth, and captured a large number of personnel and much of war materiel.

The General Headquarters decided to reinforce the Southwestern Front with fresh troops from its reserve so as to exploit the initial success. Gen. Brusilov issued instructions to step up the thrust. He assigned the key role to the 8th Army-it was to press ahead toward Kovel, a strategic railroad hub in the Western Ukraine, with the aim of pooling the forces of the Southwestern and Western Fronts and crushing the enemy. However, General Alexei Evert, Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the Western Front, put off the offensive of the Third Army on the flank of the Western Front since, as he argued, the deployment of his forces had not been completed yet.

The enemy capitalized on such procrastination and delivered a strong counterblow at Lutsk on June 3, 1916. But he failed to exploit the success because our men and officers offered strong and spirited resistance (8th and 11th Armies). Meanwhile the Ninth Russian Army engaged on the left flank of the Southwestern Front crossed the river Pruth and seized the town of Chernovitsi, the capital of Northern Bukovina (now a regional center in Ukraine); pursuing the enemy, its units broke through to the river Seret. But then a spell of bad rainy weather set in, and Gen. Brusilov halted the offensive.

His forces had gained success almost everywhere, moving ahead to 60 km and seizing nearly 200 thousand prisoners as well as a large number of artillery pieces, machine-guns and other kinds of hardware. This victory had worldwide repercussions. Yet its mastermind maintained it was too early to cast the balance, and together with his chief of staff General Vladislav Klembovsky he was preparing the next stage of the offensive. Finally, he

стр. 95


One of the posters. Artist, Ye. Cheptsov. 1916.

cabled to the army commanders: "Tomorrow June 21 at breakday armies of the front attack the enemy..."

Hostilities were resumed then and there. After three days of heavy fighting the Eighth Army and the Third Army assigned to Brusilov from the Western Front (this army fought on the right flank) forced the enemy into disorderly retreat. On the left flank the Ninth Army seized the town of Deliatin, while the Seventh Army in the center fought its way to the town of Galic. But the attempt to cross the r. Stokhod on the move and capture Kovel in pursuit of the enemy miscarried: the enemy had destroyed the crossings beforehand and, counterattacking, forbade the Russians from crossing this waterway. Artillery support and additional reserves were needed for the purpose.

Alexei Kaledin (subsequently one of the leaders of the White Movement) and Alexei Brusilov. 1916.

Late in June the General Headquarters realized at long last: that the fate of the 1916 campaign at the East European theater of operations was forged by the Southwestern Front. In a rather belated move, this front was reinforced with the newly raised Special Task Army that took positions between the 3rd and 8th Armies. For their immediate objective these three armies had, as before, to cross the Stokhod and capture the Kovel district; besides, they were to take the town of Vladimir- Volynsky farther west. The l lth Army was to move toward Brody and Lvov, and the 7th and 9th Armies were to seize the Galic-Stanislaw line.

In the meantime the enemy command had massed large forces which offered stiff resistance to our advancing troops that could gain but partial success only. Gen. Brusilov had lost every hope of support for the offensive from the Northern and Western Fronts, for he did not deem it possible to achieve appreciable strategic results by relying on his own forces alone. He recalled: "Therefore I continued fighting at the front not as intensively as before, trying to spare manpower as much as possible and engaging it only with the aim of pinning down the largest possible strength of enemy troops, thus helping our allies indirectly like this." Still and all, the Russian troops cleared from the enemy Brody, Galic, Stanislaw, and all of Northern Bukovina; by mid-September 1916 the front stabilized along the line of the r. Stokhod and the towns of Kiselin, Zolochev, Galic, Stanislaw, Deliatin and Vorokhta. The offensive operation of the armies of the Southwestern Front was up. The general who masterminded it was awarded a St. George Sword of honor decorated with diamonds (he got this award still at the height of fighting, on June 20, 1916).

стр. 96


One of the posters of 1916. Artist, unknown.

Campaign of 1916 at the East-European theater of hostilities. Red arrows in the middle show the strikes of the Russian armies during the Brusilov breakthrough; blue ones - En counterblows.

According to the Russian General Headquarters, the enemy lost 1.5 million men and officers in killed, wounded and prisoners; the casualty list of the Southwestern front was but a third of this number (our front assuming the offensive, mind you!). The Russian war booty included nearly 600 artillery pieces, 1,800 machine-guns and up to 500 bomb- and mine-throwers. The world witnessed a major feat in the art of warfare and a new tactic of breaking a positional, trench front-a sudden strike at several sectors simultaneously and outflanking, when the enemy had to beat a retreat or risk encirclement, and all that with no significant superiority in strength and firepower. Incidentally, this tactic was employed by the Anglo-American command in Operation "Overlord" (invasion of Normandy in June 1944) which came as a complete surprise to the German Nazi troops. Our allies landed in four districts on Normandy's coast and, in 2 - 6 days of fighting, joined into a common bridgehead and smashed the German defenses.

Gen. Brusilov ought to have been satisfied with the results of the summer offensive of 1916. However, he felt

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It is here, next to the Smolensk Cathedral of the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow, that General Brusilov was laid to rest.

sad that the General Headquarters missed the favorable chance of inflicting a decisive defeat on the enemy. As he saw it, timely support for his armies on the part of the Russian and Entente fronts might have paved the way for a defeat of Germany and her allies by the close of 1916.

During the February Revolution of 1917 Gen. Brusilov and other prominent army commanders pressed Emperor Nikolai II to abdicate, which he did. In March 1917 the staff of the Southwestern Front took an oath of allegiance to the Provisional Government, and the first words of that oath were uttered by Alexei Brusilov. When the matter of the new Supreme Commander-in-Chief came up, everybody agreed on General Brusilov who, as Mikhail Rodzianko, President of the State Duma (Parliament) put it, was the only one who combined "the brilliant strategic gifts ... with the broad understanding of the current situation and presence of mind... This is Brusilov," Rodzianko stressed. General Brusilov, who enjoyed immense popularity in Russia as a talented army commander and man of savory reputation, assumed the topmost military post on the 22nd of May 1917, a memorable date to him as an anniversary of the famous breakthrough. This is how he defined his own role: "I am the chief of the revolutionary army appointed to this responsible post by the revolutionary people and the Provisional Government... I have been the first to side with the people, I am and shall be serving my people, and I shall never break from it."

But because of his differences with the new premier of the Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky, concerning the tightening of discipline in the ranks, Brusilov was replaced two months after by General Lavr Kornilov (subsequently one of the organizers of the White Guards Movement against the Bolsheviks) as Supreme Commander-in-Chief and summoned to Petrograd (as St. Petersburg was named for a while) as a government adviser. Shortly afterwards the general moved to Moscow and took lodgings in the inner city. During an armed uprising in Moscow that followed in the wake of the Bolshevist coup of October (November) 1917 in Petrograd-when the Red Guards were clashing in Moscow with the supporters of the deposed Provisional Government, an artillery shell splinter hit into the general's flat and wounded him in the leg. The convalescence period took quite some time. Thereupon, in the spring of 1920, he joined the War History Commission set up by the All-Russia Chief Staff for reviewing the experience of World War I. Later on General Brusilov headed a Special Administration under the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and assumed responsible positions in the Red Army's High Command. Alexei Brusilov died of heart failure on March 17, 1926, and was buried with full military honors as general on the grounds of the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow. General Brusilov lives on in popular memory as a man who personified the flower of the Russian arms at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.


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