September 24, 1916 - Brusilov Offensive Ends
Pictured - Dead Russian soldiers hang on barbed wire after a failed attack.
Advancing in the aftermath of a gas attack in late September, Imperial Russian soldiers were surprised to hear through their gasmasks that enemy troops were speaking Turkish. The Ottoman soldiers, recently arrived to shore up crumbling Austrian defenses, beat back the Russian soldiers after a fierce fight. After months of incredible success on the Eastern Front, the Brusilov Offensive was all but run out of steam.
Since June, the Russian Army’s Southwestern Front, brilliantly commanded by General Alexei Brusilov, had reconquered hundreds of miles of lost territory and captured thousands of enemy prisoners. Historians rightly consider the Brusilov Offensive one of the Triple Entente’s finest victories of the war. Brusilov improved Russian tactics, ditching crude frontal assaults for advanced coordination between infantry and artillery, fire-and-move, small unit tactics. He had also pioneered the use of storm troopers who sneaked into enemy lines ahead of an assault, an invention later used (and claimed) by the Germans.
Unfortunately, for all its tactical brilliance, the Brusilov Offensive left Russia drained and weary. Its production of artillery shells could not keep up with demand, and by the end of September Russian soldiers were once again going into battle without proper support. Their assaults had been daring and brave, but also costly in human lives, and reinforcements were trickling in at barely a snail’s pace.
The Russian Army had certainly given much better than it got - inflicting a staggering 1,350,000 casualties on the Central Powers, including 408,000 Austro-Hungarian prisoners - but its own losses of half a million men were casualties that the Russian Empire could no longer replace. For all its success, the Brusilov Offensives losses would play apart in the collapse of the Russian Empire the next year.