Ars Bellica

Battles In Brief

Battle of Limanowa

1 to 13 December 1914

The opponents

Hötzendorf Conrad von Franz, baron, then count, Austrian field marshal ( Penzing , Vienna, 1852 - Mergentheim 1925 )

Appointed Chief of General Staff in 1906, reorganized the army and the school of war; stalwart of a preventive war against Italy and Serbia, in order to repress the irredentist aspirations, was removed from office after the request of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Aehrenthal, contrary to its policy. Recalled in 1912, during the First World War, he was head of the Austrian forces. Almost always at odds with the German General Staff, against the opinion of the general E. Falkenhayn in carried out the offensive of 1916 in Trentino, with serious damage to the operations on the Russian front. Fired fro this role, was invested, in 1917, the command of Army Group of Tyrol, and planned the following year, the Battle of the Piave, which resolved in an austrian failure, marking its collapse. He wrote a memoir: Aus meiner Dienstzeit, 1906-18 (1921-25).

Josef Roth, Austrian General (Trieste 1859 - Vienna 1927)

Commander of the Military Academy in Wiener-Neustadt (1910-14), in 1914 he had the command of an infantry division. He distinguished himself in the battle of Limanowa-Lapanów (5-7 December 1914), where resticted the Russian advance; then participated in the Battle of Gorlice (1915), where took the formidable Russian positions of Tarnów, and participated in the attack against Przemysl and Lviv. In 1916 he was entrusted with the defense of the Trentino region, especially the area of the Dolomites.

Radko Dimitriev ( Gradets , September 24, 1859 - Pyatigorsk, October 18, 1918 )

Bulgarian general was Chief of General Staff of the Bulgarian Army from 1 January 1904 to 28 March 1907 and was then general of the Russian army during the First World War (1914-1918).

Born in the Ottoman Empire, in the village of Gradets (Sliven), but raised by his grandmother in Kotel, Dimitriev in 1881 was promoted to lieutenant and became captain in 1884 after graduating from the Academy of St. Petersburg. In 1895 he took part in the Serbian-Bulgarian war, as one of the commanders of the West Corps. He fought in the victorious battles Slivnica (17-19 November) and Pirot (26-27 November). During the First World War (1914-1918) Radko Dimitriev served in the Russian army as commander of the 3rd army in Galicia, with which he took aside the 23 August to 11 September 1914 at the victorious battle against the Austro-Hungarian Galicia. Since September 24, 1914 to March 22, 1915 commanded the victorious siege of Przemysl against the Austro-Hungarians.

Reappointed at the end of 1916, under the command of the 12th Army on the front line, in the summer of 1917, Alekseev replaced him with Ruszky, as Dimitriev had shown weakness and indulgence with the committees of soldiers that had sprung up everywhere after the February Revolution (1917). Dimitriev once discharged, went with his family in the resort town of Pyatigorsk in the Caucasus, but October 18, 1918 he was shot together with 100 other officers in the massacre perpetrated by the Red Guards.

The genesis

The winter of the first year of the war on the eastern front was opened by the German troops that went into the heart of Russian Poland, and the Russian ones penetrated even deeper in Austrian Galicia. As the Germans were advancing in the Polish provinces of the Tsarist Empire, the local population was raging against the Jews, who have lived in these lands for centuries. Shops, homes and synagogues were ransacked. In the area occupied by the Russian divisions, as reported to the French ambassador in Moscow, Paleologue, every day the Jews were hanged, accused of alliances with the Germans. Even the 250,000 Jews that had been serving in the Russian army were not enough to overcome prejudice. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced to flee from their homes in Lódz, Piotrków, Bialystok, Grodno, and in dozens of other towns and villages. They set out, bring with them the just what a little cart could contain, and headed east, they take refuge in the deep Russia, away from the fanaticism of the areas where the war was raging. On the eastern front the victims were even more numerous than on the western. On October 12, Stanley Washburn, special correspondent of the "Times", following the Russian army, at the military hospital in Rovno wrote: "Wandering through the endless aisles crowded with wounded, I am gradually more and more surprised at what mutilation a man can suffer and, at the same time, how he can recover with medical care today. The human body is so delicate that it is hard to believe that it can endure such terrible offenses and bounce back like new. There was a soldier at which a bullet had pierced his skull. They medicated the wound and two weeks after the man was almost right". Others, struck in the stomach, bladder or lung cancer, " could heal as if taking a shot was the most normal thing in this world".

Ten days later, from the front of Galicia, Washburn sent to the "Times" his testimony of the battlefield: "All around the craters from shells are scattered in every direction the fragments of blue cloth uniforms Austrian; on the battlefield, you can still see the stumps of his arms, one leg tucked into a boot and other macabre pieces of soldiers, respectful of the rules, they held the position under a rain of bombs and grenades". The place where until recently they were fighting, Washburn saw a wooden crucifix. An arm of the Christ had been "removed from a piece of shrapnel". Nailed to the cross was a tablet, crudely engraved with the inscription: "Here lie the bodies of 121 Austrian soldiers and of 4 Russian soldiers". On October 17, in southern Poland, German troops, attacked by Russian forces far more numerous, were forced to withdraw. Some units even came back to 100 kilometers.

The Russians were now in a position from which they could threaten the industrial heart of Germany, namely Silesia. Showing great logistics skill, Ludendorff and Hoffmann moved the 9th German Army, which was deployed in the north-east - between Posen and Krakow -, placing it in the southeast, between Posen and Thorn, in order to blight the Russian city of Lódz and compel Czarist troops , who at that time were about to break into Silesia, to defend the city. It was at this stage that the Polish forces, deployed with the Austrian army, went, for the first time, in the battlefield against the Russians. On November 18, the German troops, with the new deployment, began the encirclement maneuver in the city of Lodz: the 150,000 Russian soldiers who defended the fortress were attacked by 250,000 Germans. When the highest-ranking Russian general ordered a retreat to avoid total encirclement, the uncle of the Czar, Grand Duke Nicholas, commander in chief of the Russian troops, gave the countermand.

The Battle of Lódz was gigantic. There was a moment in which three German divisions themselves ran the risk of being encircled. However, they freed from the trap set by the Russians, bringing 16,000 enemy soldiers captured earlier, and 64 heavy guns. The release operation cost the lives of 1500 German soldiers. German reinforcements, quickly called from the western front, arrived too late to take advantage of the Russian defeat. Germany was thrilled at the prospect of a victory even more overwhelming than that of Tannenberg, but failed to achieve it. "The huge mass who had tried to dismiss withdrew only for a short distance and then stopped, motionless", wrote one historian. "The energies of both armies waned, burned from defeats, battles and difficulties of the marshland. The cold became more intense, and a chill wind blew at night the temperature dropped to 10-12 degrees below zero. The impending winter spread its mantle paralyzing the activities of the Germans and the Russians".

Due to the victory in Lodz, Hindenburg was appointed Field Marshal. Further south, the British military officier, in the wake of the Russian army, Colonel Knox, was not in a "positive mood" and November 25 he wrote in his diary: "I fear that Russia has lost sight of the need to quickly fill the gaps left by huge losses caused by modern warfare: if we have to move forward in the winter, our losses will be multiplied by three". The winter added to those fears that other fighters have had to deal with. "At night we lost several men in the trenches for freezing, noted Knox. The diary of an Austrian officer taken prisoner revealed that in our company have died of cold in one night an officer and six men". The Russians had received orders to give hot tea for the soldiers, but their official Knox said: "These orders are easy to make, but difficult to execute, when not a day passes without someoneof soldiers in charge of bringing the food to the officers in the trenches being wounded". On the Austrian front, Russian troops penetrated for a short time in Austrian Silesia and for the second time in Hungary. General Conrad, aware that the ethnic minorities of the Empire wanted to take advantage of the weakness of Austria, proposed November 26 to impose martial law in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. The proposal was however rejected by Francis Joseph, who was convinced that the war would not upset his multi-ethnic empire. But every time he conceived a military plan, Conrad was forced to take into account that not always the slaves units - even if they were formed by Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes and Croats - have undertaken to fund the fight against the Russians. In Vienna, November 28, briefly spread panic when began to circulate the news that the Russian troops were at 13 kilometers from Krakow, Habsburg Poland's capital.

The battle

On 1 December, the Group of General Roth (XIV Corps) arrived in the area between Chabówka and Mszana, on the railway foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, in the valley of Raba: that was to be his home base for the offensive on Limanowa. Conrad had asked Hindenburg, at the end of November, a German division of reinforcement, but the 47th reserve Division, which had been sent, was still being transferred. The date for the attack was decided on December 3rd, and were confirmed the tasks already established in general. The general Roth touched the main task, ie the outflank the left wing of Radko Dimitriev; Boroevic in turn would have to take the offensive from the front of the Carpathians towards Galicia, to oblige the whole purpose of the Eighth Army and prevent the Russian Brusilov to bring aid to the Third Army to Limanowa. This initial plan was changed significantly over the course of the campaign.

On December 3, the Fourth Army began an offensive against the Austro-Hungarian Third Army in Russia. On the same day the troops were forced to evacuate Radko Dimitriev Timbark, about ten kilometers from Limanowa, the Austrian cavalry went to Lososina until Limanowa, penetrating in the day. On day 4 it moved to Bochnia and Neu Sandec. While the enveloping group of general Roth gained discrete initial successes, the right wing and the center of the Russian Third Army remained inactive until the morning of 4. In the afternoon, once accentuated the threat of winding from the south-west, it also participated in the violent battle. On 5 December, having now revealed the aim of the Austrian offensive, the Russians took the first important countermeasures, starting reinforcements to Bochnia and Neu Sandec, at the same time the general Brusilov executed the transfer of the VIII Corps from the wing left to the right of his Eighth Army, directing it towards the gap created between the Third and Fourth Austrian Army: very sensitive direction for the enemy, as threatening to bring down the VIII Corps on the Roth Group and paralyze, thus, the enveloping branch of the fourth Army.

The 6 and 7 December were days of uncertainty and bloody struggles, the Russian Third Army, under the initial pressure of Roth Group, had to retract its left wing facing south, so that the whole army was now deployed at right angles. Seeing threatened his XIV Corps, Conrad thought to avert the danger by ordering an immediate retrat to the third Army offensive in the Carpathians, and the First Army, sending reinforcements to the Fourth, beyond the Vistula. On the 9th, the battle continued undecided, while at the dawn of 10 Austrians were very unpleasantly surprised by a major attempt offensive opponent between the Vistula and the way Lapanów-Mukowcka.

On that occasion we saw the great effectiveness of artillery bombardment which crushed the Russian attack. However, the Austrian Fourth Army seemed unable to restrain, in the short term, the forces that were facing it, and Conrad, while continuing the Roth Group's enveloping maneuver, did strengthen the deployment of Archduke Joseph Ferdinand with the XVIII Corps, based the First Army of General Dankl. But those days it was fighting another crucial part of this challenge. In the days between the 7th and December 10th the Austrian forces of the Third Army repelled the entire Russian Eighth Army across the board, through the passes of the Carpathians. So, on December 10, the troops of Boroevic were also left to Ladomérmezö, a few kilometers from the Dukla pass on the road Stropko-Dukla; on the right wing, the Krautwald Group gained field in the valley of Laborcza.

Meanwhile, the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand proceeded to a further reorganization of its Fourth Army, as the Group of General Roth, who possessed less than 9 infantry divisions and 3 cavalry divisions, actually had their units reduced to a number of soldiers much lower than normal. The infantry divisions had not more than 2 or 3,000 rifles, in one case even down to 900: such was the terrible attrition where the bloody battle winter incessantly subjected the troops. The new distribution of forces assigned approximately 4 infantry divisions and 3 cavalry to Roth Group, about 3 infantry divisions to the Ljubicic Group and other 3 to the Kritek Group. In the night between 10 and 11 December, the Russian VIII Corps went so far as to Limanowa, but was pulled back. The Krautwald Group (reinforced by a division), although it has now reached near Neu Sandec, was not able to occupy that important strategical location node, whereas the Austrian IX Corps, arrived near Gorlice. Despite the looming threat of surrounding for the VIII Russian Corps and the south wing of the Third Army, the Russians continued to put up a fierce resistance in front of Neu Sandec.

Meanwhile, the VII Corps of the Third Army took possession of the Austrian Dukla Pass and the Krautwald Group was very successful in Laborcza valley, occupying Mezölaborcz and pushing forward the cavalry until the Beskid Pass. Although the Austrian III Corps had failed to complete the enveloping maneuver, the general strategic situation had become so aggravated by the Russians who, on the 12th, withdrew their VIII Corps, broken by the enemy attack from Rajbrot to the Dunajec. At this point, the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand gave to keep up the pressure on the front Wisznic , entrusting to the right wing of the Roth Group the task of eruption south of Limanowa of Neu Sandec, to break down the resistance of the Russian Third Army.

So it happened, and on the 12th was took the decision. General Roth, and his subordinate General Arz, broke through the inner wings of the Third and Eighth Russian Army at Neu Sandec and Limanowa. That day also the Austrian Third Army gained remarkable successes: Neu Sandec, Florynka on upper Biala, Ropa and Gorlice fell into their hands. So the troops of Boroevic , leading over the Beskids, threatening to break into Galicia and to push a wedge between the inner wings of Radko Dimitriev and Brusilov, surrounding one and overpowering it.

At that moment it would have been necessary to inflict a decisive defeat to the Russians, that the entire Fourth Army vigorously resumed the offensive in order to transform the retreat towards the Dunajec of the right wing of the Eighth Army in a total route. Just then, however, came out the pernicious effects of the inadequacy of the railways system, so the Austro-Hungarian troops, exhausted by the long struggle, by the winter and delayed by local counter-attacks of the Russians in retreat, failed to finish the encirclement of the enemy.

The order of battle

Russian Empire:

  • 3rd Army. Commander: Radko Dimitriev
  • XI Corps
  • IX Corps

Austro-Hungarian Empire

  • 4th Army. Commander: Joseph Ferdinand of Habsburg-Tuscany
  • XIV Corps: Conrad von Hötzendorf, Joseph Roth
  • 47 German division of the Reserve
  • IX Corps

The aftermath

At Limanowa, in a battle that lasted seven days, the 4th Austrian army defeated the Russians and then drove back them toward the east. The 3rd Austrian army drove the Russians out from the city of Bartfeld, in northern Hungary, walked away from the Carpathians and in two weeks recaptured the strategic pass of Dukla. The Habsburg Empire was no longer threatened. Russia went in search of more troops and asked guns and ammunition to Britain. These aid was granted, but only upon payment: within two years, Britain sold to Russians among a thousand airplanes and aircraft engines, 250 heavy guns, 27,000 machine guns, a million rifles, 8 million grenades, 64,000 tons of iron and steel, 200,000 tons of explosives and 2 and a half billion bullets.

But despite the help of allies Tsarist armies would not have ever gone so deep into Habsburg territory or would threaten East Prussia and Silesia. Their crisis of supplies would have blocked for months and left unaided when the following spring Falkenhayn decided to go on the offensive. The war of movement on the eastern front was not yet over, but for the Russians the offensives opportunity had passed.