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The brief halt at the end of 1914 and the beginning of 1915 was only a shortlived respite from high-intensity campaigning. Despite the terrible losses of the first six months of the war, the Russian high command continued to think in offensive terms. The only question was the proper theater. Russia enjoyed an overall numerical advantage on the Eastern Front: almost one hundred Russian divisions against around eighty-five German and Austrian .1 While this was not overwhelming, the extended length of the front gave Russia the potential to choose a point at which to mass superior force. This opportunity was, however, squandered. A dispute over the proper point of maximum effort—against Germany in the north or against Austria -Hungary in the Carpathians—led Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich and Stavka to make precisely the same mistake as at the beginning of the war: failing to impose clear priorities on Russia’s commanders and thereby splitting resources between the two theaters, providing adequate support for neither. Stavka made East Prussia the main theater, but failed to ensure that Ivanov, commander of the Southwestern Front, subordinated his own goals and priorities to Russia’s overall grand strategy. In January 1915, unlike at the outbreak of war, the Russians even lacked the excuse that the plight of their French ally mandated an offensive against Germany. Russia had a free choice at the beginning of 1915, but its high command failed to choose. Russian indecision allowed the Central Powers to carry out dangerous offensives of their own. 6 The Masurian Lakes and the Carpathians, Winter 1914–1915 126 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 126 At Stavka, Quartermaster-General Danilov believed Russia lacked the resources to launch two major offensives, particularly before newly trained recruits and stocks of ammunition arrived, and so had to choose its priorities carefully. In mid-January 1915 he proposed two options: to attack directly west out of the Polish salient toward Berlin, or instead to strike at East Prussia. Since a move directly on Berlin was too vulnerable to counterattacks on its flanks, he advocated clearing East Prussia prior to a subsequent attack on Berlin itself. Chief of Staff Yanushkevich agreed. The next question was how to attack East Prussia. On its eastern frontier, north of the Masurian Lakes, the Russian Tenth Army under Faddei Sivers possessed twice as many divisions as the eight facing it in the German Eighth Army, but German positions were well-fortified and Sivers lacked the heavy artillery and ammunition to grind through them. Prospects looked better on the northern face of the Polish salient, where an Russian offensive might advance either directly north into East Prussia or northwest along the Vistula. Ruzskii, commander of the Northwestern Front, argued that available manpower should be employed to create a new Twelfth Army, based south of East Prussia along the line of Russian fortifications on the Biebrza and Narew Rivers to attack northwest into the southern face of East Prussia at Mława. By attacking on a broad front stretching from the Russian fortress at Modlin east to the Masurian Lakes, Ruzskii’s plan repeated the concept of Samsonov’s invasion in 1914. Like Samsonov’s doomed offensive , Ruzskii’s attack offered the tantalizing hope of cutting through to the Baltic Sea and clearing all territory east of the Vistula from German control . After a Stavka conference at Siedlce on 17 January, Ruzskii received Grand Duke Nikolai’s approval to proceed with this plan. The grand duke transferred Pavel Pleve, a General Staff officer with combat experience in the Russo-Turkish and Russo-Japanese Wars, to command of the new Twelfth Army from the Fifth, replacing him as Fifth Army commander with Aleksei Churin. The start date for the new invasion of East Prussia was set as 23 February.2 Lack of clear strategic direction meant that Russian efforts and resources were divided, for this emphasis on the Northwestern Front sat poorly with those who saw Austria-Hungary as the more vulnerable target. Ivanov, commanding the Southwestern Front, had a quite different view of Russia ’s proper priorities and prepared his own offensive to knock Austria from the war. He considered and rejected attacking either west in Poland THE MASURIAN LAKES AND THE CARPATHIANS 127 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 127 along the Vistula or alternatively south into Bukovina, where the AustroRussian border met Romania. Together with...


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MARC Record
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