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Russia Stems The Tide – Winter Is Coming I THE GREAT WAR Week 66

Russia Stems The Tide – Winter Is Coming I THE GREAT WAR Week 66

For months, the Germans had been grinding
up the Russians in the northeast, taking towns and fortresses and hundreds of thousands of
prisoners, but the Russians have new tactics to stop the Germans, and this week, Russia
finally stems the tide. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week 300,000 Bulgarians invaded Serbia
from the east as the simultaneous Austro-German invasion from the north continued. The Italians
began a third battle at the Isonzo River, the Germans used phosgene gas in Champagne, and far to the north German forces were threatening Riga. We haven’t looked much at the Northeastern
Front the past few weeks, so let’s go there first today. After the German army had taken Vilna in September
they had repeatedly tried to advance on Riga, but had not been able to, but perhaps more
important than Riga was Dvinsk. Actually, not even perhaps, the huge strategic importance
of Dvinsk was well understood by both German Field Marshal von Hindenburg and Russian General
Russki. If the Russian line was broken there with sufficient width, it would lay open the
way to Petrograd, Smolensk, and Moscow. The Germans had been banging their heads against
Dvinsk for weeks, but even though their war machine was mighty, Russki had been reinforced
from Petrograd and the Russian interior and the Russian High Command had sent him all
available guns and munitions, for Dvinsk could not fall. Now, the Dvina River and the local
lakes and marshes provide excellent natural defenses, but Russki had his men do something
really novel here that stopped the Germans: his men dug crescent shaped trenches with
the points facing the enemy. In order to find a place big enough for a strong attack, the
Germans had to frontally attack the main part of the trench, but when they did so, Russian
machine guns at the crescent tips just mowed them down. Also, the trenches were very narrow
and dug very very deep, so the fearsome German artillery was finally stymied. Now, you might be thinking, the Germans aren’t
stupid, why would they continue to frontally assault the Russian crescent trenches? Well,
they didn’t know they were doing that. The Russians had advance trenches connected to
the crescent that were manned with relatively small forces, whose job it was to offer just
enough resistance to draw in a good sized force of Germans. Then they would retreat
to the crescent, the Germans would follow and be slaughtered, and just as this happened
the Russian artillery would strike behind the German forces to prevent any reinforcements
from coming. It was brilliant, and Hindenburg had become convinced by this time that he
would not take Dvinsk before the Russian winter came, so he had been peeling off his troops
toward Riga and launched a triple pronged attack there from the south, west, and southwest.
This was repulsed by Russian machine guns and the big guns of the Russian navy in the
Gulf of Riga. The Germans were finally being forced to withdraw, and the Great Bear was,
for the time being, safe. But one country that was anything but safe
at the moment was Serbia, where the triple invasion by Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, and
Germany continued. By October 24th, the Bulgarian army advancing
in Serbia into Macedonia had driven a wedge between the French and Serbian armies. Hey,
here’s a quote I found in the old book “The Story of the Great War” about the fighting
between Serbs and Bulgarians near Pirot: “Here artillery played not so important
a part. Both Bulgars and Serbs, primitive, rugged fighters, threw military science to
the wind and plunged into battle face to face and breast to breast… in some struggles
the men lost their guns, they picked up the boulders that lay about them thickly and hurled
them at their enemies or they gripped each other with their hands and fought as animals
fight. Quarter was neither asked nor given. Witnesses state that in neither of the two
Balkan wars was there such ferocious fighting, such awful slaughter, as during the encounters
between the Serbians and Bulgarians along this section of the frontier… whole companies
and even battalions were hemmed in against the rock walls and then exterminated to the
last man. But finally numbers began to show the advantage,
and the Serbians were obliged to retire from ridge to ridge. Village after village was
taken and burned.” Serbia was being invaded by something like
700,000 men, and the situation was dire. And while the situation further south at Gallipoli
was perhaps not as dire as that of Serbia, it remained grim. Charles Monro was the new British commander
at Gallipoli, where up to 300 sick soldiers were being evacuated daily. Ammunition was
so low that artillery was allowed two rounds per gun per day. On the 28th, Munro got a
telegram from Lord Kitchener asking to know as soon as possible if Munro thought they
should stay there or leave. He asked each of his commanders if they were up for a new
offensive, and they all said the men were not capable of more than 24 hours sustained
battle. So on October 31st, Monro wrote back to Kitchener and recommended withdrawal, but
that didn’t happen. By this time at Gallipoli, around half of
the 100,000 or so troops were unfit for duty because of illness, and you really couldn’t
ignore the approach of winter. They were going to need huge storage depots in case of a long
spell of bad weather, piers would have to be re-built to withstand winter storms, winter
uniforms issued, and proper dugouts or somewhere for the troops to live. The former commander there, General Sir Ian
Hamilton, who had been wrong so many times about so many things, would never again hold
active command. Thing is, when you think about it, Hamilton’s tasks at Gallipoli were pretty
nearly impossible from the get-go, considering the terrain, the opposition, the restricted
amount of both troops and artillery he had, but what was a likely failure had been really
turned into disaster by Hamilton. His blind optimism, his ridiculously complicated plans,
his refusal to report the seriousness of the situation there to Kitchener was gasoline
on the fire. Even so, had he been a brilliant general he would likely have made only minor
tactical gains. Monro was a different kind of man. A practical
soldier who had served on the army staff in the Boer War, had then been the Commandant
of the school of Musketry at Hythe- seriously, musketry- and made major general in 1911.
In 1914 and 1915 he had served first as a divisional commander on the western front,
then promoted to Corps commander, and finally to general of the newly formed third army.
At Gallipoli, he was very aware that part of Hamilton’s failure was because of his
disinclination to say anything unpleasant to Kitchener and he resolved to be blunt.
But still the men remained. If it was a war of attrition, then it was mostly attrition
by illness at this point, since the fighting was pretty much over. A real war of attrition was going on, though,
over on the Western Front. The French offensive in Champagne was now
over a month old, and the French casualties were tremendous both at Champagne and at Artois,
at this point over 150,000 men. French General Joseph Joffre had actually abandoned the idea
of a breakthrough in early October and intentionally pursued a war of attrition since the Germans
were outnumbered two to one, but their defenses were formidable. The death toll mounted day
by day. A side note, on October 27th, Britain’s
King George visited the French armies there. The following day he was thrown from his horse
and injured fairly seriously. And another side note, this one from the Italian
front, where the Third Battle of the Isonzo River was in full swing. On the Isonzo front there was an epidemic
of cholera, which forced the Italian commanders to often isolate entire units. Paratyphoid
was also epidemic. One soldier who was afflicted was Private Benito Mussolini, the socialist
editor and future leader of Italy. He wrote in his diary, “Rain and Lice, these are
the two enemies of the Italian soldier. The cannon comes after.” Now, his trenches were
on Mount Nero, 6,000 feet above sea level, and he also pointed out in his diary that
his army “doesn’t take fortresses by force, they must take the whole mountains.” This
was a pretty good observation. The casualties were piling up as aside from the main attack
on Görz (Gorizia), there were Italian offensives spread out along the whole line, which diluted
and blunted the effect of the attack. The Austrians held the high ground. And the week ends, with ongoing French and
Italian efforts producing thousands of fresh corpses, the Serbs and Bulgarians fighting
like demons, and the Russians brilliantly stopping the Germans. I do wonder what would’ve happened if the
Germans had broken through at Dvinsk; could they have reached Petrograd before the winter?
This is a good time to look at all the war zones, because last year we saw the wasteful
death, disease, and misery that came from being unprepared for winter campaigns on all
European fronts; whole armies obliterated- hundreds of thousands of men freezing or starving
to death in the ice and snow. Let’s hope at least some of the leaders have learned
from the past, for this is the plain truth: winter is coming. And we all remember how little Hötzendorf
sent his army through the Carpathian mountains in Winter and on cardboard soles where they
would be eaten by wolves. If you want to find out why he did that, check out our episode
right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Marp
Blarp – if you want to support our show financially visit our Patreon page where you can do just
that at get cool perks in return. Check out our Instagram page for more historical
pictures of World War 1 and don’t forget to subscribe.

Reader Comments

  1. Question for out of the trenches.  Why did the UK stick with the Gallipoli campaign for so long?  Was it arrogance/pride or lack of understanding of what was really happening by the top brass?

  2. Its a shame Robb Stark wasnt in WW1 his military genius probably would have won battles without terrible casualties #GoT#Winteriscoming

  3. Caught up! 127 episodes, 1 year 3 months in 6 days. It just keeps on getting crazier. Great job and keep up the good work. I hope you guys do something like this for WWII.

  4. ° ¸. ¸    :.  . • ○ °   .   . .   ¸ .   °  ¸. ● ¸ . …somewhere   ° °  ¸. ● ¸ .   ° :.   . • °   .   :. . ¸ . ● ¸       ° .   ° :.  . • ○    .  °  . ● ¸ .    ° .  • ○ °   .      ° :.  . • ○    .  °  ¸….Way up high… ● ¸     ° °  . ¸.     ° . .    ¸ .   °  ¸. ● ¸ . … in the Universe…   °   ° .   . • °   .  * :. . ¸ . ● ¸       ° .    ° . .   ° :.  . • ○  ° :.  . • ○ ° :.  . •
    …an alien is masturbating…

  5. +The Great War what if germany launched a attack at france from the south using the northern plains of italy so they could bypass belgian neutrality. you said before the war italy was part of the central powers alliance so surely italy would let the german army pass through and britain would not get involved in the war
    thx p.s pls answer my question cause it got me wondering for days

  6. Another episode hi lighting the continual slaughter and careless sacrifice of young lives for very little gain. Unfortunately it still happens today

  7. Seeing how much Hotzendorf wanted war and how much he was held down by Franz Ferdinand, how credible would it be to assume, that Austria-Hungary, or better Hotzendorf plotted to kill Ferdinand to get an excuse to attack Serbia? Facts are Ferdinand was not liked in Schönbrünn, and Serbia had somewhere around 13-14 times smaller population that the Empire, so no one on his right mind would want a war against such an enemy, there is absolutely no way, Ferdinands death was ordered by Serbian Government.

  8. Great War guys,
    tells us more about how you decided to walk with this for 4 years and how that's affecting you.
    Hearing Indie's thoughts would be great!
    Thanks for that and all your work.

  9. The Gallipoli offensive's are really starting to feel like the siege of Przemysl. A stagnant theater that taunts the military hierarchy that still clings to the idea of a heroic push.
    The difficulties of the Italian front are quite hard to imagine; fighting on top of mountains, insane. If the team ever gets enough funding to visit locations during the war I hope they visit the Italian fronts.

  10. It is utterly amazing how stupidly military leaders can get carried away with their own sense of grand optimism.
    1 Napoleon underestimated the Russians and the Russian winter. FAILURE.
    2 The Kaiser's generals underestimated the Russians and the Russian winter. FAILURE
    3 Hitler underestimated the Russians and the Russian winter. FAILURE.

  11. After the start of unrestricted submarine warfare, how did Germany keep affected countries from turning against it?

  12. Guys, i really, really like your show (this why i watched the whole series in about a month), but please please stop one thing:
    At every end of a video Indy usually say something about how brutal war is (which should be pointed out by far more documentations) …. and after that he announces "This awesome episode here".
    Which is kind of ridiculous.
    Please change the tone of that indy. It feels really akward.

  13. I don't know how to describe it, but I've watched every single episode and this one was especially well executed, the first half is electrifying, and the facts are narrated in a great way in the whole episode

  14. Allright, finally caught up with the present (- 100 years of course), after watching all previous episode in just over a week. Crazy thing: didn't find any part of it boring or repetitive! Good work!
    One thing I would very much like to see is a special about artillery, seeing as it is such an important part of the fighting. Things like what makes a field gun a field gun, and a heavy gun a heavy gun, as well as how artillery evolved throughout the course of the war. Also differences between the different nations' artillery pieces.
    Again; fantastic show, about an extremely interesting piece of history, that most of us unfortunately know far too little about! Already looking forward to September 2039!:-D

  15. 1,357,000 , to 1,397,800, wiki figures of french army kias,a generation of young whippersnappers ,20 years later,they thought the maginot line would keep the germans out,,baaad mistake

  16. Indy and the guys, how is the on site trips going?  Any plans for summer of 2016?  We maybe in France/Germany/Belgium next summer.  Thanks

  17. Smolensk is the gate to Russia. And that's because this city was established between two great rivers: Dvina and Dnieper Who have control Smolensk, this one have control over the most easy way to get Moscow and to the heart of Russia.

  18. Woah. I never knew Hindenburg played such a critical point in World War 1. Sucks bad because he basically sealed the fate of Germany when he appointed Hitler as chancellor.

  19. The First World War was a waste of young men not only on the allies side but on both sides the war to end all wars never came true all those that gave there lives and for what

  20. At around 5:20 that looks like the Greek destroyer Keravnos. Were Greek ships actively helping with the transport of Entente troops at Gallipoli while Greece was still neutral, or was this photo taken later in the war?

  21. "Winter is coming!"

    We can only hope fewer commanders 'Hotzendorf' their winter campaigns (though i'm sure they likely will)

  22. There's a bit of a greenish tint in the desk scenes with Indy. Might want to tweak this a bit during colour correction.

  23. The fact that Germany was stopped is actualy a good thing for her . Because (of course) winter is coming !
    I suppose the best option for Germany is to entranch and hold what she gained until spring …But that may have created an eastern stalmate …

  24. Starting from 3:30 – had it been British/French/German forces fighting against anyone else the narrative would be sometnig like this (changes indicated by this signs [ ] ): "(…) [Like heroic warriors of ancient times fighters on both sides] plunged into battle face to face and breast to breast…
    (…)they gripped each other with their hands and fought [still]."
    But here fighting sides are "primitive", "Balkan" Slavs, who are fighting like "animals". It kind reminds me of western European narrative about Yogoslav Wars, especially about 1991-1995 period of them.

  25. Benny Mussolini was quite an opportunist in the beginning of his rise. He started as a socialist then completely flipped to be a rightist nationalist militarist. Quite a keen sense of the winds.

  26. Russia accepted negotiations in 1917 due to Revolution and Civil War which freed up to 50 German Divisions for an offensive in the West 1918.

    Germany was confident of victory and it's offensive ended in disaster as all operations failed and the Allies launched the inevitable counter attacks which overwhelmed Germany's armies forcing Germany beyond the "Hindenburg Line"

    Negotiations soon followed as 4 year's of blockade had brought Germany's home front to near collapse and it's armies were collapsing in the Western Front.

  27. winter is coming and unlike the game of thrones one this winter arrives on time and comes with death in its wind.

  28. Considering the tremendous numbers of men lost from week to week and month to month during WWI, I'm curious what was being reported to the civilian populations of the participating countries. Pure BS propaganda? Watered down numbers? Or was there a total blackout on news of the front(s)? Or was the news of several thousand casualties in a single day commonplace, mundane news to them?

  29. Wintehs Coomin -Ned Stark. Of course the leaders didn't learn anything. If they had an inclination of learning and adapting, the war wouldn't have lasted 4 years

  30. 4:15 "…Village after village was taken and burned." I don't get it. Why the villages were burned? They were the only reason for which we entered the war…

  31. I like how you've been improving your maps that now show Frontline, armies, and troop movements. makes it easier to know what's going on.

  32. I always found it ironic that both Hitler & Mussolini served and suffered as common soldiers in WW1 but had no reservations on sending millions to die and suffer as common soldiers in WW2

  33. +The Great War Thank you for the informative video series regarding World War I. Keep up the good work, best regards from Serbia.

  34. Interesting tactic about Russian crescent shaped trenches!
    Also what's not mentioned about cutting off a large attacking force with a curtain of artillery fire behind them is not just reinforcements can't be brought up. NITHER CAN FRESH DRINKING WATER AND MORE AMMUNITION WHICH VITAL FOR ATTACKING TROOPS. Most people don't know this is what caused most casualties on the British at the Somme. ACCURATELY PLACED GERMAN ARTILLERY.
    1st placed behind the waves of attackers. Then later a 2nd barrage right on top of them. They couldn't go back as the 1st barrage was kept up behind them. If they advanced they got shot to pieces by machine gun fire. If they stayed in position they would be blasted to bits and run low on ammo and tire from lack of water in the hot weather. yes machine guns fire was important but it's actually the artillery fire that inflicts most casualties.

  35. Hamilton was a war hero to the Germans. The Germans truly thought he was on their side with the moves he made.

  36. Why a frontal attack on a fixed defense? Because every military academy in the world taught it. The only people who knew better were busy decomposing in no man's land.

  37. You have to admit it – the Serbians take a lot of beating in every war they join, but still manage to end up in the winning alliance acting like they actually did something to win.

  38. If World War One were to be summed up in two Game of Thrones quotes: “Winter is coming” and “Valar Morghulis.”

  39. Perhaps someone already wrote this but Dvinsk in moderns days is Daugpils and Dvina is Daugava in Latvian. It's not a complain for a author of The Great War

  40. Why isn't Josef Joffre held in the same league as Hotzendorf, Cadorna, Haig and Enver Pasha? His "battles of attrition" just seem as disastrous as the Somme.

  41. You guys deserve every subscriber you have and then some. Absolute top class work. Great writing and production quality. I guess you can't go wrong with people named Spartacus and Indiana. Oh and thumbs up to Marp Blarp as well!

  42. Mackensen's mighty moustache and eyebrows are moved to south; Russia stops the Germans, Serbia collaps. Coincidence? I don't think so…

  43. Since Indy is baffled by the "School of Musketry" every time he says it, I just want to point out that is was just used to refer to infantry small arms (as well as a rifle length, the longest one). They were once all "Muskets" and changing names requires the Subcommittee on Naming Committee Meeting Planning to arrange a meeting to discuss the proposal to begin planning a meeting to examine the naming of weaponry in a general sense within the army, but not navy, as per changing general terminology within the Anglo-sphere… they just kept the school name the same.

    I believe it's currently called the Small Arms Corps School. Guess they finally found a space in their calendar with all the Committee members, though I'm going to guess not until after the Second World War.

  44. Clarification here – the river Dvina and the city of Dvinsk don't exist. Well, they do, except nobody has used those names for about a century. Those are the river Daugava and the city of Daugavpils in modern Latvia. Dvina and Dvinsk were Russian names because, apparently, they can't pronounce the names Latvians have called those places for centuries if not millennia.

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