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As 1917 opened, despite all Russia had lost over two and a half years of war, there were grounds for hope. Russia’s economy had shifted to a modern war footing, and the terrible shortage of rifles and ammunition that had crippled Russian armies in 1915 was a distant memory. An ambitious production program for 1917 promised to bolster Russia’s inadequate stocks of heavy artillery. Though manpower was running short, all countries at war encountered similar difficulties. Quite quickly, though, the strains of war shattered Russia’s tenuous domestic peace. Even while Russian units at the front still fought effectively, the tsar’s regime collapsed from within in March 1917. Though the provisional government that replaced Nicholas continued to fight, political and social turmoil destroyed the Russian army. In a series of failed offensives and ineffective defensive operations, Russia ’s war machine rotted away until the entire structure crumbled. In November 1917, Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik party seized power. Though Russia would not know peace until four more years of bloody civil war had passed, imperial Russia’s war ended with the end of imperial Russia itself. In the relative calm that ended 1916, Tsar Nicholas and Stavka had reason to be cautiously optimistic. Russia enjoyed a substantial advantage in manpower . In spite of the losses the Russians had suffered and ongoing difficulties in finding able-bodied men, the Russians deployed some 158 divi12 The Collapse, 1917 272 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:44 AM Page 272 sions on the Eastern Front consisting of approximately 2,350 battalions, compared to 1,900 battalions for the Central Powers. While outclassed in heavy artillery, Russia did outgun its enemies in field artillery.1 There were tantalizing possibilities for a separate peace with the exhausted Habsburg Empire, allowing Russian strength to focus on the Germans. A separate peace might even create the conditions for a more general settlement that would leave the Russian Empire and the Romanov dynasty intact. While Russian society was certainly suffering, it was hardly alone; Austria -Hungary in particular was showing signs of wavering. The Allied blockade of the Central Powers was particularly hard on Austria, for that regime’s internal divisions made rational management difficult. The dual monarchy’s Hungarian half produced food surpluses, while its Austrian half went hungry. The Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, old and exhausted, died on 21 November 1916, passing the throne to his grand-nephew Karl. This brought a whole host of alterations in Habsburg leadership: Karl took over as commander in chief and secretly explored with France conditions for a separate peace, fearing that German victory would transform Austria into a satellite and destroy it as a great power as surely as Allied victory. The new foreign minister, Ottokar Czernin, shared Karl’s sense of the need for peace, but was less willing to act unilaterally. He hoped instead for a general peace involving the Germans and the Entente. Karl commissioned his brother-in-law Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, an officer in the Belgian army, to approach the Entente secretly. The effort dissolved in misunderstanding , and ultimately became a deep embarrassment for the Habsburgs when revealed by the French in spring 1918. Finally, Chief of Staff Conrad lost his long death grip on the Habsburg military, replaced by Arthur Arz von Straussenburg at the beginning of March 1917. Russia could be heartened by improved inter-Allied cooperation. In mid-November 1916, Allied conferences at Chantilly and Paris discussed coordinated strategy for spring 1917, driven by French commander in chief Joffre’s insistence that the Allies had to take the offensive in order to maintain initiative. The question for 1917 became whether to focus on a single theater, the Balkans, or instead a general offensive against the Central Powers . A Russian-backed proposal suggested an offensive to crush Bulgaria in a pincer movement by Russian and Romanian forces from the north and British and French forces attacking out of Thessaloniki from the south. Alekseev felt this coordinated Balkan attack would sever the connection THE COLLAPSE, 1917 273 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:44 AM Page 273 between the Ottoman Empire and the Central Powers. The British and French, controlling vital flows of war materiel to Russia, won the day for their preference: an offensive by all allies against Germany and AustriaHungary as early as February 1917, coordinated to prevent superior German staff work and railroad networks from shifting...


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