Cavalry, Spies and Cossacks I THE GREAT WAR Week 47

Cavalry, Spies and Cossacks I THE GREAT WAR Week 47


This week the war seemed almost like a romantic
novel of war instead of an actual one, with spies, Cossacks, cavalry charges, and aerial
bombardments, but don’t kid yourself, for the reality was the ending of two great battles
that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and saw over a million men in action. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week a British pilot blew up a zeppelin
and became a national hero, the French made some gains in the west, the Italians in the
south, and on the eastern front, the Austro-Germans forces pushed the Russians back beyond the
Dniester River but would lose a huge number of prisoners. Here’s what came next. There was some big news on the Western Front
this week, as the Second Battle of Artois came to an end. This was a French offensive that had been
ongoing since May 8th. That’s right, six weeks. But that’s what battles were becoming
in this war- endless campaigns in a war of attrition. On the 18th, after severe hand-to-hand
combat, small advances, and equally small retreats, and 18,000 casualties, French General
Ferdinand Foch called off the offensive, though it wouldn’t be formally suspended till the
25th by General Joseph Joffre. On the 18th, the French had been again fighting against
German troops positioned on reverse slopes that were invisible to ground observation,
as well as uncut barbed wire, and most of all alert defenders. See, a big French assault had actually gone
into action two days before on the 16th. It was preceded by a six day, wide ranging artillery
barrage that tried to conceal the upcoming assault by changing targets. It was intense
but just never was enough, and even though an intense barrage could damage or even destroy
the German defenses, they could never fool the Germans into not knowing where the next
hammer was going to fall, and when the assault finally went through the French casualties
were tremendous. For the six weeks of the Second Battle of Artois, the French casualties
were over 100,000. The British had suffered just over 25,000 during this same time at
their battles at Festubert and Aubers Ridge, while the total German losses were just under
75,000. France took over 100,000 casualties. It was
bleeding dry, but the failures of the spring offensives still did not convince Joffre that
the general situation of the war had changed. He believed that they had to keep pounding
the Germans on the west to help Russia in the east, and that Gallipoli was a wasteful
and costly distraction. He was determined that France would not let Russia down. And that might have been good news to Russia,
because if you were Russia at this point, you would seriously want someone to distract
the Germans. German and Austro-Hungarian forces had been
hammering the Russians back, back, back in the ongoing Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive for seven
weeks now, even longer than the Battle of Artois, and I’m not kidding, we’re talking
forces and losses here of over a million men on all sides combined. On the 15th, actually,
Russia released a report that claimed to have taken 40,000 Austro-Hungarian prisoners in
just the past 18 days and inflicted casualties on the empire of up to 150,000 men in that
period. That’s only one part of this massive operation. And the Russians weren’t even
the ones winning. This week on the Eastern Front saw the Battle
of Lubaczovka as German General August Von Mackensen’s irresistible phalanx, with over
2,000 big guns plowed into the Russians. The battle lasted for a week, as half a million
men were brought up and thrown at the Russians as the pounding German artillery slowly wore
them down. Finally, outnumbered 3-1 and physically exhausted, the Russian infantry broke on June
13th. Mackensen’s phalanx drove right through them but if you think the Russian spirit was
broken by this, then you are very much mistaken. Here’s a story of heroes: Just as the Russian infantry broke, Russian
General Polodchenko rode out with three cavalry regiments- the Don Cossacks, the Kimburn Dragoons,
and the Chernigov Hussars. The German infantry lines were triumphantly advancing until these
three regiments just dove into them, sabres flashing, and put thousands of Germans on
the run. Then they charged through into the German rear and hacked their way through the
reserves, capturing several machine guns, and hacked their way out again. Here’s the
thing: during that whole charge, in and out, they only suffered 200 casualties, but shook
up the Germans so much that Mackensen called the attack off and the Russians could withdraw
to the hills near Rawa-Ruska. The Russians now prepared to defend Lemberg, capital of
Galicia, which they had held since last September. This week seems to have all the classical
elements of an old war movie: Cossacks, cavalry charges, and even spy rings. The Germans had established a spy ring of
seven agents in British ports, but on June 15th Colonel Francois Cartier, the head of
French military cryptography gave British intelligence intercepted German wireless messages
that identified these agents. They were all arrested and several were executed in the
Tower of London. By this time, German espionage was at a dead end, and most of it was being
carried out by citizens of neutral nations, for example a Peruvian and a Norwegian were
executed after being captured as German spies. There were other scattered notes from the
fronts this week. On the 15th, French airmen bombed Karlsruhe and actually the French army
gained ground this week north of Arras and in the Vosges, the week was fairly quiet at
Gallipoli, and on the newest front, the Italian one, the Italians captured the heights on
the left bank of the Isonzo River on the 17th, and the following day Austrian warships raid
the Italian Adriatic coast. You can see that that front is starting to heat up. And in Eastern Anatolia, the Ottoman crackdown
on Armenians continued. What had now become the Armenian Genocide
had been condemned worldwide, but still it continued. This week saw the Kemakh massacre,
which lasted several days beginning June 10th, and saw up to 25,000 people killed. That figure
was according to the Daily Mail newspaper. Also, on June 13th, the Ottoman Ministry of
War ordered the seizure of all domestic animals belonging to Armenians. And now we reach the end of the week, with
gigantic battles being fought and finished on both the eastern and western fronts, with
minor action on the Italian one and in Eastern France. Think of the numbers. The French lost 100,000
men over the course of a few weeks, and for what? Physically, just about nothing. The
trench lines changed a bit, but not that much. But Joffre believed he had to keep attacking
the Germans to prevent them from sending more troops to the east to fight the Russians.
He may well have been right. And Mackensen attacking with half a million troops- half
a million! And still not getting the big breakthrough, as the Russians are saved at the last minute
by a cavalry charge that could have come straight out of Hollywood. And the Russians, fighting
unbelievably well given their circumstances. Heck, other than Mackensen they were more
than holding their own. Boehm-Ermolli’s Austrians were limping by now, Archduke Joseph
Ferdinand’s troops weren’t faring much better, but Mackensen’s goliath kept saving
their bacon, but at a huge cost in young men’s lives. And think of the Russian soldiers,
many of whom couldn’t get a rifle until someone died and they could take it. Imagine
that, being basically unarmed against 500,000 German soldiers. That guy’s a hero right
there, but these romantic Hollywood stories of cavalry charges and spy rings exposed are
just what all movies are: fantasy. And the reality of millions of men in the field, with
machine guns and heavy artillery is that for every romantic hero’s death recorded and
celebrated, there were 100,000 more deaths, nameless, faceless, and above all, tragic.
This was Modern War. Another story of modern war which has been
told and romanticized throughout history is that of the Lusitania which sank of the coast
of Ireland hit by a German U-Boat while Mackensen was starting his surprise offensive in the
East. Check out how that went right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week – and probably
commenter of the month – is JahnTrawn. If you want to see more special episodes on more
exotic topics, help us reach our next milestone on Patreon. For more cool historical pictures, you can
follow us on Instagram. See you next week.

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