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The First World War in Eastern Europe

By Edited Aug 1, 2015 0 0

The First World War that began in 1914 was a war that involved Russia, which ensured a second front for Germany in Eastern Europe. This was exactly what France had hoped for, as the Russians had plenty of soldiers in their army. The war in Eastern Europe would not be so decisive in this war, but would still include millions of soldiers from both the German and Russian armies. 

The war in the east began quicker than Germany might have expected as the Russian army advanced into East Prussia. The Germans had to re-enforce the front to make sure that the Russian advance was to be halted. At the Battle of the Marne Germany’s own advance in the west was halted which ensured that France remained in the war. 

Two battles in 1914 would tip the war in the east in Germany’s favor. The first of these was the Battle of Tannenburg where the Russian Second Army was surrounded. It was here that hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers were lost in battle. German reinforcements sent to Tannenburg had helped the French in the west, but aside from that it was a crushing defeat for the Russian army.

A second battle at the Battle of the Masurian Lakes would finish off the rest of the Russian army in East Prussia. During this battle the Russian First Army withdrew from East Prussia which ensured that thousands of Russian troops were salvaged, as a semblance of the Russian First Army remained. However, despite this over hundred thousand Russian troops were lost in the battle.

Such defeats for the Russians highlighted that their own army needed to be re-organized if they were to match the German army on the eastern front. Germany’s army now had a clear path to advance in Eastern Europe during 1915, and they occupied Warsaw, much of modern day Poland as well as Baltic states such as Lithuania and Latvia.

Despite their set-backs, by 1916 the Russians had begun to regroup. The army was better equipped, and generals such as Brusilov were now ready to begin new Russian advances in Eastern Europe. Brusilov’s advances were at first very effective as the Austro-Hungarian armies fell back. During the advance Romania joined on Russia’s side, before German reinforcements began to halt the advance and defeated Romania.

By 1917 victory for the Russians seemed increasingly unlikely. They had lost millions of soldiers, and the Germans had advanced further into Eastern Europe. The Russian army’s loyalty to the monarchy was therefore increasingly undermined.

In February protests in Petrograd began to call for the abdication of the Tsar. Russian troops sent to Petrograd began to defect and joined the protestors. As such, the Tsar abdicated from the throne and in the months that followed Lenin’s Bolsheviks would begin to promise the Russians peace, bread and land. However, Kerensky was not about to pull Russia out of the war.

In October the Bolsheviks seized the Winter Palace. This Bolshevik coup ensured that peace talks with the Germans could begin. As civil war emerged in Russia the Germans continued to advance in 1917 up to Riga on the Baltic Sea. The Bolsheviks were therefore inclined to surrender territory to Germany to bring the war to a close. As such, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of 1918 ended the war in the east which ceded much of the Baltic to Germany.

Germany’s victory on the eastern front could not be repeated in France. American neutrality in the war had ended in 1917, and so they would join the Entente. In 1918 the Entente would advance towards the Hindenburg Line after their decisive victories such as the Battle of Amiens. As such, Germany still lost the war

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