While much is known of Russia’s involvement in World War II, the country’s impact on WW1 is less well known. While the conflict took place between 1914 – 1918, Russia of course had concerns closer to home but prior to 1917, the country had a major part to play in the global battle.
The assassination of Archduke Frank Ferdinand in Sarajevo led to a chain of events that saw the war get underway in July of 1914. Russia’s involvement in these early exchanges centred around their attack on Germany in what was East Prussia. The Russian first army marched straight into the heart of German territory while the country’s second army moved to head off Germany’s eighth army’s retreat. This was, initially a successful joint mission which led to plans to March on Berlin.
The tide turns
Early successes turned to disaster for Russia at the Battle of Tannenberg. After heavy losses, Germany turned from a defensive position into one last desperate attempt at attack. The plan worked and Russia suffered a devastating defeat which saw them driven out of Prussia completely.
Meanwhile, in Austria-Hungary, Russia was enjoying greater success which ultimately led to the capture of the capital Galicia. From there, the Southern Russia army began to proceed with its plans and push on towards Poland.
Effects back home
Meanwhile, back in Russia, the turmoil that eventually led to the events of October 1917 was beginning to unravel.
Nicholas II was spurred on by a romantic vision to lead his own army and that misguided notion saw him leave and spend an undue amount of time at the Eastern Front. In turn, that left Alexandra with more control back home and this is where she was falling under the hypnotic spell of Rasputin.
While one of Rasputin’s more astute pieces of advice suggested that Russia should withdraw from WW1, with Nicholas away, he was left free to exert the kind of influence that brought disrepute crashing down onto the Romanov’s.
The final conflict
Russia’s last great contribution to World War 1 came in May 1916 with a vast line of operations from Pinsk in Belorussia right down to the German border with Southern Romania. The Russian army inflicted heavy losses on the enemy but the line of resistance held.
Back in Russia, the domestic troubles were rapidly coming to a conclusion with unrest becoming widespread amongst the people. Clearly the country had issues closer to home and its involvement in World War 1 was largely at an end.
Like any country’s story, the one of Russia in WW1 was a sad and devastating one. At the end of the conflict, they had suffered heavy losses with claims of up to two and a half million fatalities being recorded.
Russia in WW1 was an economic tragedy too with millions of rubles in war debt crippling the nation that left a legacy for many years to come. Clearly, the period from 1914 – 1918 was pivotal for Russia for more than one reason alone.