The War in the East
The War in the East
World War I opened in the east as it did in the west: with massive mobilizations of men and matériel (military supplies, including guns and ammunition). The Russians, with their massive population, had millions of men in their army, but it was widely believed that Russia would be slow in getting its soldiers ready for battle. In fact, the German war plan—called the Schlieffen plan—counted on Russian sloth. The Germans expected that they could concentrate on defeating the French in the west before turning their attention eastward to the Russians. Surprisingly speedy Russian mobilization made this impossible and nearly cost Germany the territory of East Prussia. But Russian military organization and efficiency never compared to that of the Germans, and in a little over two years of warfare, the Germans had pushed Russia to the brink of defeat.
While Germany and Russia clashed in the northern half of the Eastern Front, Austria-Hungary fought a two-front war in the south. Austria-Hungary's primary concern was the border it shared with the Russian Empire; this border stretched east to west in a region known as Galicia. Russian assaults early in the war pushed Austria-Hungary back in this area, but with German support Austria-Hungary eventually regained all of the lost territory. In addition to Russia, Austria-Hungary had to deal with Serbia to its southeast, with Italy to its south, and later in the war with actions in Bulgaria and Romania. The difficulties of fighting so many opponents eventually brought about the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The Eastern Front was very different from the Western Front. On the Western Front, a clearly defined line stretching more than four hundred miles from Switzerland to the Belgian coast separated the warring armies of Germany from those of France, Belgium, and Britain. The Eastern Front was much larger and much less clearly defined. It stretched in a shifting line from the Baltic Sea south and very slightly east to Romania (and later all the way to the Romanian coast on the Black Sea). Nearly a thousand miles long, the Eastern Front crossed through Austria-Hungary and the German state of East Prussia; it had stages in the Russian provinces of Poland and Lithuania as well as in Russia itself. War on the Eastern Front never settled down into trench warfare as it did on the Western Front. Instead, the Eastern Front shifted rapidly as advancing armies made strong offensive pushes and losing armies retreated quickly instead of digging defensive trenches.
Russia Takes the Offensive
Though Germany began the military action in World War I with its advance across Belgium early in August 1914, Russia soon showed that it was capable of launching an offensive as well. The Russian army was full of contradictions: Its men were known throughout the world as some of the toughest, most determined fighters; yet its leadership was deeply troubled. Generals were divided into different political camps and often refused to speak to each other. Russian military tactics were outdated, and overall organization was so poor that men in battle often lacked supplies. It was this troubled army that in mid-August of 1914 attacked eastward into the German state of East Prussia.
Russia faced one huge geographical problem in the fight against Germany and Austria-Hungary: Poland. Poland was at that time a Russian territory. It was surrounded on the north and west by Germany and on the south by Austria-Hungary.
In military terms, it was a salient, or bulge, which would be difficult to defend. To address this problem, Russian military commander General V. A. Sukhomlinov sent the Russian First Army under General Pavel Rennenkampf (1854–1918) and the Russian Second Army under General Aleksandr Samsonov (1859–1914) to invade East Prussia, the easternmost portion of the German Empire. Rennenkampf was to drive due west toward Königsberg; Samsonov was to drive into East Prussia from the south; together, the two armies planned to crush the Germans.
At first the battle went well for the Russians. Rennenkampf crossed into East Prussia with an army that outnumbered the Germans. Though they stalled after their first day of attacks at Stallupönen, the Russians held a strong position and struck a heavy blow against the Germans in the days that followed. The German counterattack had begun badly, with one division commander attacking where he shouldn't have and with German artillery raining shells on its own soldiers. Even worse, German general Max von Prittwitz learned that Samsonov's army was moving in from the south. Von Prittwitz panicked and ordered his men to retreat. He believed that East Prussia was lost.
Von Prittwitz's failure in East Prussia alarmed German chief of staff Helmuth Johannes von Moltke (1848–1916). After all, the German war plan depended on holding firm in the east while the war was won in the west. Von Moltke quickly fired von Prittwitz and replaced him with two men who would become key figures in the war: General Paul von Hindenburg (1847–1934) and General Erich Ludendorff (1865–1937). Ludendorff would act as the older Hindenburg's chief of staff. With Hindenburg and Ludendorff in charge, the Germans soon reversed the tide of war in the east and dealt the Russians a mighty defeat at what came to be called the Battle of Tannenberg.
The Battle of Tannenberg
Russian incompetence and German luck soon turned the early Russian triumphs into a disaster of major proportions. After his initial victory, Rennenkampf, who had driven west into East Prussia, misunderstood Germany's actions and didn't press his attack. Instead, he collected his forces for a bigger attack to come. Germany, on the other hand, anticipated Russia's actions perfectly. After all, they had heard the words of the Russians themselves. Lacking codebooks (instructions for sending coded messages), the Russians sent uncoded radio messages back and forth in the open air. The Germans thus learned that Rennenkampf would hold still while Russian general Samsonov, whose troops were driving up from the south, attempted an attack near the town of Tannenberg. Though Samsonov and his troops thought their attack would be a surprise, they soon blundered into the waiting arms of a strong German army.
The core of the Russian army moved north and struck near Tannenberg on August 26 and engaged in heavy fighting against the German forces. Meanwhile, German general von François opened a massive attack on the Russian left flank (side) and began circling around the Russian troops from the southwest; other German forces opened a hole in the Russians'
right flank. By August 29 the bulk of Samsonov's troops were completely surrounded by Germans—and then the killing began in earnest. In his Short History of World War I James Stokesbury writes, "The ten-mile-wide trap east of Tannenberg was turned into a vast abattoir [slaughterhouse] of dead and dying horses and men. Soldiers cowered under the shellfire or shot themselves or vainly dashed against the German positions." By the end of the battle the Germans had taken over ninety thousand prisoners, and the Russians had lost another fifty thousand in dead and wounded. Samsonov barely escaped capture. According to Jay Winter and Blaine Baggett, Samsonov wondered aloud to a staff officer, "The Emperor trusted me. How can I face him after such a disaster?" He then wandered into a nearby wood and shot himself to death.
Tannenberg was a great victory for the Germans, and it made the reputation of German generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who would later go on to mastermind German war efforts on the Western Front. Encouraged by their victory and now aware that the Western Front appeared to be a stalemate, the Germans hoped that they might push forward to finish the defeat of the Russians. But the proud Russians would not give up so easily.
Stung badly by Samsonov's defeat, Rennenkampf's soldiers began to withdraw to defensive positions. The Germans pressed forward, and Rennenkampf's withdrawal turned into a full-scale retreat through the difficult region known as the Masurian Lakes. The region's many lakes and lack of good roadways made travel difficult, and Rennenkampf's tired army struggled to escape. Hoping to protect the bulk of his army, Rennenkampf left two divisions to protect his retreat; though their mission was suicidal, the divisions helped prevent the annihilation of the entire Russian First Army.
Fighting the Austrians
Rennenkampf's army was not the only Russian army engaging in battle. To the south the Russians had massed four armies near an area known as the Pripet Marshes. In Galicia, Austrian general Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf had massed three armies of his own. Late in August these two armies squared off in a strange circling battle. The Russians attacked the weak side of the Austrian army; the Austrian army attacked the weak side of the Russian army. Both armies pushed forward, gaining more territory than they expected, but not in the way that they had anticipated. By the first week in September, the Russians had gained the advantage and began to push deep into Austrian territory. Soon the Russians had gained nearly a hundred miles and were at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. The Austrians had lost more than 350,000 men and fell back to the city of Kraków.
To the north of Kraków, in Poland, the Germans and Russians squared off again in battles that raged through the fall and into the winter of 1914–15. Hindenburg and Ludendorff did not expect to defeat the Russians in Poland; they merely hoped to wear them out. To their surprise, the Germans advanced nearly to the city of Warsaw before the Russians recovered and drove them back. In early November the Russians attempted an advance of their own, and their Second and Fifth armies pushed westward into the part of Poland known as Silesia. As in Tannenberg, the Germans knew well what was coming, and they nearly succeeded in encircling the Russian armies again. Through an incredible series of marches, the Russians were able to withdraw from the trap sprung by the Germans.
As winter came to the Eastern Front, the Russians settled in to defend their territory. But the Germans were not yet done for the year: They planned a joint attack with the Austrians to begin in January and February. In this effort the Austrians failed to gain any ground with their attacks launched from Galicia, and they actually lost their fortress in Przemy´sl and surrendered some 100,000 men. The Germans attacked in the bitter cold of winter in the Winter Battle of Masuria. Though the Russians lost some 200,000 men, the remaining soldiers did not give up.
The Winter Battle of Masuria ended the first stage of war on the Eastern Front. It was a stage in which little went according to plan. The Russian armies had performed poorly and had taken astonishing losses in life and in supplies, and yet they had gained territory to the south and given little ground elsewhere. The Germans had begun with a real scare and then achieved some stunning victories; yet they had little to show for their efforts. And the Austrians had proven themselves incapable of waging war without German assistance. In battles to come, Austrian leaders would step aside as the Germans took over the Austro-Hungarian war effort.
War in Serbia
Given the concentration of fighting in France, Austria, and East Prussia, it was easy to forget that World War I started when a Serbian-backed terrorist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, in Sarajevo. The Austrians did not forget, however. They wanted to punish the Serbs for their aggression and began attacks on Serbia early in August 1914. The largely Austrian army of three hundred thousand men led by General Oscar Potiorek crossed into Serbia on August 12, 1914, confident that they would quickly defeat the outnumbered Serb forces. But the Serbians had two things in their favor: the terrain and the quality of their soldiers. Austrians crossing into Serbia had to struggle across three wild rivers and were then confronted with the rough, wooded terrain and undeveloped roadways of the Serb interior. Then they had to fight a small but tough Serbian army of two hundred thousand men led by Field Marshal Radomir Putnik. Within two weeks the Serbs had driven the Austrians back across their border.
Potiorek and the Austrian army pushed into Serbia again on September 8, and this time they held onto territory just inside Serbia. The Austrians launched a third offensive in November, and the Serbs—losing men to war and to an out-break of typhus—gave up their capital of Belgrade and dropped back into the mountains south and east of the city. Then, just when it looked like the Austrians would conquer the small nation, the Serbs drove the Austrians back down out of the mountains and out of Belgrade. According to James Stokesbury, the Austrians had lost nearly half of the 450,000 men they eventually put into the fight against Serbia and the Serbs lost just under half of the 400,000 men they tapped to fight in the conflict. As the winter snows set in, nothing was decided.
Making Serbia Pay
German military commanders took control of Austro-Hungarian war plans in 1915, and they set their sights on defeating Serbia. Part of their plan was to draw Bulgaria, which lay to the east of Serbia, into the war. Germany promised Bulgaria land that Bulgaria wanted in exchange for assistance with the Central Powers war effort, and on September 6, 1915, Bulgarian king Ferdinand I joined the Central Powers alliance and promised to join in a major attack against the Serbs. On October 5 the Central Powers began to attack Serbia on several fronts. From the north, the Austrians launched a massive artillery barrage and then marched on the capital of Belgrade. From the east, Bulgarians swept into the country and cut off major rail lines to the Serb-friendly port of Salonika, Greece (now known as Thessalonoki). Then, the Austrians entered Montenegro, to Serbia's west. The Central Powers had virtually surrounded the northern half of Serbia.
Through October and November the Central Powers drove the poorly armed and poorly supplied Serbians south and west out of their country. French troops tried to come to Serbia's aid, but they were little help. As the cold, wintry weather of November arrived, Serbian troops were forced to retreat out of their country and into neighboring Albania. Serbia had been lost, but German commanders would not allow their armies to push into Albania and Greece (on Serbia's southern border) to gain access to the port of Salonika because they feared that they could not keep the troops supplied. The French reinforced the area, and both sides settled in and prepared to fight again another day. That day would not come until near the end of the war.
Russia in Retreat
Though Russia was able to bring more soldiers into battle than any other army, it had little else going for it. Its economy had been troubled in peacetime, and the demands of war were stretching it to the breaking point. Soldiers couldn't get enough guns or ammunition; civilians couldn't get enough bread or fuel. Soldiers complained that they were sent into war at an unfair disadvantage; civilians in some parts of the country began to speak of revolution. To make matters worse, the ruling family of Czar Nicholas was racked with problems as the czar's powerful wife fell under the influence of a mystic named Rasputin (see sidebar on pp. 98–99). In the midst of this crisis, the Germans decided it was time to deal Russia a final blow.
German chief of staff Erich von Falkenhayn had masterminded the defeat of Serbia and wanted to expand the Central Powers victories in the east by driving the Russians out of Austria. If all went well, his soldiers could drive Russia out of Poland as well. The first major attack in this offensive began from Gorlice, just inside the Austro-Hungarian border, in May of 1915. Writes James Stokesbury in his Short History of World War I: "The attack opened on May 2, with a tremendous artillery barrage of an intensity previously unknown on the Eastern Front. The Russians were absolutely pulverized, troops driven crazy by the shellfire, units panicking, whole mobs of men wiped out or rushing to the rear. Within two days the Russian 3rd Army was completely annihilated, [German general August von] Mackensen had taken more than 100,000 prisoners, and his soldiers were into the open country and rolling to the northeast." One Russian commander, quoted in Martin Gilbert's The First World War, reported that his army
had been "bled to death." Within a few weeks the Russians were driven north and west out of Austro-Hungarian territory.
Facing a weakened and retreating enemy, Mackensen was ready to push on. In July he turned his forces north and began pushing up the Vistula River and then turned east toward the Russian city of Brest-Litovsk. At the same time, German forces began pushing south out of East Prussia, heading for Warsaw. Russian commander Grand Duke Nicholas, a cousin of the czar, wisely saw that the Germans were preparing to surround the Russian forces, and wanting to avoid another disaster like Tannenberg, he ordered a massive Russian retreat from the Polish salient. By the middle of August, the Germans had pressured Russia back hundreds of miles, and they saw no need to stop. They continued to drive on, pushing the Russians back another hundred miles.
For the Russians, 1915 had been a disaster. They had lost the Russian territory of Poland, and it had cost them nearly two million men, almost half as prisoners. Czar Nicholas
needed a scapegoat for this great disaster, and he found one in his cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas. The czar sacked his cousin and put himself in supreme command of the Russian military. This was perhaps the greatest disaster of all. Not only did Czar Nicholas lack the military experience that was needed for this position, but he also left domestic affairs nearly entirely in the hands of his wife, Alexandra, and her conniving advisor, Rasputin. The only refuge that Russia could take at the end of 1915 was that the sheer length of its defensive front made any attack difficult. It was not much to cling to.
Russia's Last Gasp: The Brusilov Offensive
With the czar in command of the military and after a winter spent rebuilding the Russian armed forces, the Russians had high hopes for a better year in 1916. Though they did not fare well in a series of battles in the north, they had a new commander in the south who promised to bring a change to Russia's fortunes. General Aleksey Brusilov (1853–1926) had studied the disappointing Russian performances in previous battles and proposed a solution: He would attack quickly over a wide front and thus keep the Austrians and Germans from bringing in their reserves. The Brusilov Offensive, as this attack was called, began on June 4 south of the Pripet Marshes. Following a very short artillery attack, the Russian Eighth Army stormed forward. The Austrians were taken entirely by surprise, and they surrendered in great numbers. Other Russian armies staged similar quick strikes all along the front to the south. The results were impressive—Russian soldiers gained forty miles in some spots, sixty miles in others. The Russians took 400,000 Austrian prisoners and killed or wounded another 200,000; they inflicted nearly 350,000 casualties on the Germans as well.
Over a stretch of front nearly two hundred miles long, Brusilov's armies reclaimed much of the land Russia had lost the previous year. Brusilov would have loved to go further, to once again advance beyond the Carpathian Mountains, but he could not. Losses in battle had weakened Brusilov's Southwest Army Group (as his four armies were called), and supplies were running low. Perhaps more importantly, the German army was bringing reinforcements into place to stop the Russian advance. By October the front stabilized in a line running from the Pripet Marshes south to Stanislau and the Carpathian Mountains. Events on the domestic front in Russia would make this the last of the great Russian military efforts.
Russia's Long Decline
When Czar Nicholas took control of the military at the beginning of 1916, he set in motion a series of events that eventually led to revolution in Russia, and thus to Russia's withdrawal from the war. For thirty years Russia had been torn by the difficulty of industrialization and rapid population growth. Huge rural populations hated their near slavery to local landowners, and masses of urban workers chafed under miserable working conditions. While the masses lived in poverty, a wealthy class of nobles enjoyed great luxury and privilege. At the top of this class were the czar and his wife, who kept themselves at a distance from society and solved most social problems with force.
In taking command of the military, Czar Nicholas left his wife, Alexandra, in charge of the civil government. Under her guidance, conditions within Russia only grew worse. Alexandra's primary advisor was the mysterious Rasputin, a holy man and mystic who most historians believe was a fraud. Taking Rasputin's advice, Alexandra ordered ever more brutal crackdowns on civil protest. Aristocrats within the government, fearful that Russia could not go on much longer, planned the assassination of Rasputin late in 1916, but even his death was not enough to forestall the disintegration of the empire. As 1917 dawned, Russia was in trouble.
Revolution in Russia
Conditions only worsened in Russia in 1917. Food grew scarce, and prices climbed dramatically. Many Russians faced starvation. Workers staged massive protests and strikes in the major cities of Petrograd and Moscow. The government ordered its loyal mounted troops, the Cossacks, to break up the protests, but neither the Cossacks nor members of the army were willing to repress the people any longer. In fact, many men from the army "switched sides," joining with the people in their protest against the government. The soldiers had demands of their own: They wanted food and an end to the war. By mid-March of 1917 the people of Russia were in all-out revolt against the government.
Convinced by his generals that there was nothing he could do to stop the revolution, Czar Nicholas abdicated (gave up the throne) on March 15. His replacement, his brother
Grand Duke Michael, quickly appointed a provisional (temporary) government. The provisional government tried to bring peace and reform to the country, but it was unwilling to do the one thing that might save it: end the war. And so the revolt continued. Peasants took over land for themselves, and soldiers by the thousands deserted the army. The peasants, workers, and soldiers were all encouraged in their actions by a group of radicals known as "soviets," which literally stood for representatives of the workers. The most radical of the "soviets" were known as Bolsheviks, and they took the revolution to the next stage in the fall of 1917.
The Russian provisional government sealed its fate in the summer of 1917 with an ill-advised military offensive. The Russians attacked again in Galicia and after some small gains were driven decisively back. The Russian offensive had two results: It furthered the disintegration of the military, and it spurred the Bolsheviks to action. In the north, German forces overran the Russian province of Latvia and controlled access to the Baltic Sea. In the cities of Petrograd and Moscow in early November of 1917, Bolshevik leaders Vladimir Ilich Lenin and Leon Trotsky masterminded a swift action that put control of the government in their hands. The Russian Revolution was over, and the Bolsheviks—who promised to end the war and put control of Russian land and industry into the hands of the people—had won.
One of the first actions of the new Russian government was to ask Germany for an armistice, a truce ending the war. Negotiator Trotsky asked that his country, Russia, pay no price for its defeat, but the Germans set a high price on the deal: They wanted independence for many of the states and provinces within the Russian Empire, including Finland, Poland, the Baltic States, and several others. The Germans' request would have ended Russian control over Eastern Europe. The Bolsheviks refused but soon found themselves backed into a corner. The Germans told them they could either give in to German demands or keep on fighting. When the Germans launched further military attacks all along the Russian frontier, the Russians finally gave in. Granting independence to many Russian states and turning over massive amounts of war supplies, Trotsky signed the treaty ending Russia's involvement in the war on March 3, 1918.
Winding Down the War in the East
Russia was not the only country tiring of war in 1917. Austria-Hungary, too, was reeling from the difficulties of waging war. Austria-Hungary's problems were compounded by the death of Emperor Franz Josef on November 21, 1916. The aging emperor had been able to hold together the diverse mix of peoples that made up his empire, and he had stood up to the strength of the Germans. His successor, Charles I, was not able to do either. Charles largely handed over control of the weakened Austro-Hungarian military to the Germans, and he could do nothing to quell demands for an end to the war, which were coming from various ethnic groups within his empire. Charles feared that the empire his great-uncle had built was about to collapse.
The southern end of the Eastern Front, in Bulgaria, had been quiet for some time. A small force of Allied troops monitored
events from the Greek city of Salonika, but until 1917 the Allies had been unable to persuade Greece to join their side and wage war on the Central Powers in Bulgaria. By mid-1917 the Greek king, Constantine, was pushed aside; a new government took power and declared war on the Central Powers. Declaring war was one thing, but waging it was another. The Greeks were not willing to pour soldiers into a war against German-backed forces in Bulgaria, so they waited for the Allies, especially the French, to send troops to the region.
By late summer of 1918, a mixed force of some 700,000 men led by French general Franchet d'Esperey began an attack on Bulgaria. Beginning on September 14, the Allies attacked along what was known as the Salonika Front. For several weeks they drove back the mixed Bulgarian and German forces. Bulgarian commanders asked their German bosses to surrender but were told to fight on; in some cases, whole Bulgarian regiments mutinied or surrendered anyway. By late September the Allies—including Greek, French, Serb, British, and Moroccan troops—occupied Bulgaria and Macedonia and were prepared to march into Serbia. On September 28 the Bulgarian government signed an armistice agreement, ending Bulgaria's part in the war. Bulgaria was the first of the Central Powers to surrender, and others were soon to follow.
German military advisors fleeing Bulgaria told the German leadership that their army could not continue in the east. Germany had sent most of its soldiers west to fight against the growing Allied onslaught on the Western Front, and now all of southern Europe seemed ready to collapse. Another German ally, Turkey, surrendered to the Allies on September 30, giving the Allies more strength in the area. Austria-Hungary seemed ready to fragment into a dozen pieces.
Austro-Hungarian Collapse and the End of the War in the East
Austria-Hungary controlled many provinces that had long desired to be independent. Those desires only grew with the war. Poles within Austria-Hungary wanted to combine lands once held by Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary into a new country called Poland. Czechs, too, wanted a country of their own. The various Slavic groups—Bosnians, Herzegovinians, Serbians—hoped to join in a Yugoslav nation. With its army collapsing in Italy and its diplomats frantically trying to make peace with the Allies, Austria-Hungary fell apart in the fall of 1918. The Czechoslovaks declared independence on October 21; the Yugoslavs followed suit on October 29. In the days that followed, Austria and Hungary actually seceded from the empire that had borne their names. According to James Stokesbury, "When the imperial government managed at last to sign an armistice with the Allies on November 3, it signed for an empire which in fact no longer existed."
The collapse of Austria-Hungary, along with the surrender of the rest of the Central Powers, posed an enormous problem for the lone remaining Central Powers combatant, Germany. Not only was Germany being hammered by the American-backed Allied powers in the west, but now it stood alone against the world. On November 11, realizing that the war could not go on, a new German government surrendered to the Allies and ended World War I. The peace negotiations still to come would radically reshape the map of eastern Europe.
For More Information
Bosco, Peter. World War I. New York: Facts on File, 1991.
Clare, John D., ed. First World War. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1995.
"The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century." [Online] http://www.pbs.org/greatwar. (accessed October 2000.)
Kent, Zachary. World War I: "The War to End Wars." Hillside, NJ: Enslow, 1994.
Macdonald, Lyn. 1914–1918: Voices and Images of the Great War. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
Sommerville, Donald. World War I: History of Warfare. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1999.
Stewart, Gail. World War One. San Diego, CA: Lucent, 1991.
"World War I: Trenches on the Web." [Online] http://www.worldwar1.com. (accessed October 2000.)
Gilbert, Martin. The First World War: A Complete History. New York: Henry Holt, 1994.
Heyman, Neil M. World War I. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.
Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
Stokesbury, James L. A Short History of World War I. New York: William Morrow, 1981.
Winter, J. M. The Experience of World War I. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Winter, Jay, and Blain Baggett. The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century. New York: Penguin Studio, 1996.
Romania's Short War
Romania—which was roughly bounded by the Russian Empire on the north, the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the west, Bulgaria to the south, and the Black Sea to the east—had spent the early years of the war avoiding any involvement. Their king, Carol I, was German born, but most of the government and the people supported the Russians. The Allies eventually earned Romania's support by promising that the Romanians would receive large chunks of Austro-Hungarian Transylvania as their reward for attacking Bulgaria. The Romanians signed on with the Allies in the early fall of 1916, confident that they could join in the advances of the Brusilov Offensive. They were sadly mistaken.
No sooner had Romania joined the Allied war effort than the Brusilov Offensive stalled and the Germans and Austrians began to advance. Romania ignored Allied requests to attack Bulgaria and marched west on Austria-Hungary instead. They met strong German and Austrian armies led by Von Falkenhayn, were stopped dead, and then began to collapse back in retreat. Then the Bulgarian army attacked from the south. Together the Germans, Austrians, and Bulgarians ransacked the country, taking between 300,000 and 400,000 Romanian casualties and capturing Romanian oil fields and the capital. By January of 1917 Romania was no longer capable of waging war.
The "Evil Monk" Rasputin
The utter collapse of Russian leadership during World War I had many causes; not least among these causes was the influence of a man known as the "evil monk," Grigory Rasputin. Rasputin, as he was most often called, was born a peasant in 1871 (some sources say 1869 or 1872) in the Russian province of Siberia. During his youth Rasputin became known for his drunkenness and his sexual appetite. In his twenties he joined a religious sect that preached that only sin could drive away sin; a fabulous sinner himself, Rasputin became a monk and traveled Russia sinning and preaching.
This strange holy man gained a reputation among some of the nobles in Russia; he was skilled at spinning stories and plotting to gain the attention of the powerful. Rasputin was soon recommended to the most powerful people in all of Russia: Czar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra. Rasputin promised to solve the czar and czarina's biggest problem, the hemophilia, or "bleeding disease," of their son, Alexis, the heir to the throne. (The blood of a hemophiliac does not clot properly, and thus the smallest of cuts could potentially cause the person to bleed to death.) For reasons that cannot be explained by science, Rasputin seemed to be able to stop Alexis's bleeding. For this reason he became a close confidant of the ruling family.
Rasputin's influence on the czar and czarina soon extended beyond his supposed medical powers. A notorious plotter, Rasputin influenced political decisions and conspired to fill government positions with his supporters. People within the ruling class of Russia, including the czar's family, grew to hate Rasputin and the influence he had on the czar. When the czar took over command of the Russian military in 1915, he left the government in the hands of his wife. With Alexandra making all political decisions, Rasputin's power only increased. He fired people he did not like, and he increased his drunken, lecherous ways.
Leading nobles within Russia decided that their troubled country would be better off without Rasputin. Early in 1916, they invited Rasputin to a party and fed him poison—but the poison was not strong enough to kill the durable monk. Determined to be rid of Rasputin, the nobles shot him, beat him, and shot him again. Still he would not die. Finally they wrapped his half-dead body in a carpet and dumped him into an icy river. The coroner's report revealed that Rasputin finally died from drowning. Rasputin was dead, but even though the nobles had succeeded in killing him, they could not halt the collapse of the Russian royal family.