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“In comparison I can recall the early Galician days when unimagined numbers of wounded, both our own and Austrian, flooded Lemberg in a few days, and there were countless casualties. In spite of the numbers of wounded here I have not seen any congestion, and I find all the clearing stations cleared within a few hours after every fight, the wounded passing to base hospitals and being evacuated into the interior of Russia with great promptness.
"Owing to the few good roads and the distance from the railway of much of the fighting, in many places the wounded have been obliged to make trips of two or three days in peasants' carts before reaching the railways.
"Finally, the morale of the army has reached an unexampled pitch. In the hospitals which I inspected with the general many of the wounded, even those near death, called for news of the front, asking if the trenches were taken, and saying they were willing to die if the Germans were only beaten. Such sentiments typify the extent to which this conflict is now rooted in the hearts of the Russian army and people."
RUSSIAN MARCH — OFFENSIVE
EGINNING with March 1, 1916, active campaigning was
renewed along the eastern front. Climatic conditions, of course, made any extensive movements impossible as yet. But from here and there reports came of local attacks, of more frequent clashes between patrols, and of renewed artillery activity. Some of these occurred in the Bukowina, in Bessarabia, and in Galicia, others in the neighborhood of Baranovitchy, north of the Pripet Marshes, and, later, toward the middle of March, 1916, fighting took place at the northernmost point of the line, near Lake Babit.
It was not until March 17, 1916, however, that it became more apparent what was the purpose of the many encounters between Russian and German patrols that had been officially reported with considerable regularity since the beginning of March. On March 17, 1916, both the German and Austro-Hungarian official statements reported increased Russian artillery fire all along the line. On the following day, March 18, 1916, the Russians started a series of violent attacks. The first of these was launched in the sector south of Dvinsk. This is the region covered with a number of small marshy lakes that had seen a great deal of the most desperate fighting in 1915. With great violence Russian infantry was thrown against the German lines that ran from Lake Drisyiaty south to the town of Postavy; another attack of equal strength developed still further south along both banks of Lake Narotch. But the German lines not only held, but threw back the attacking forces with heavy losses which, according to the German official statement of that day were claimed to have numbered at Lake Narotch alone more than 9,000 in dead.
In spite of these heavy losses and of the determined German resistance, the Russians repeated the attack with even increased force on March 19, 1916. At Lake Drisviaty, in the neighborhood of Postavy and between Lake Vishnieff and Lake Narotch attack after attack was launched with the greatest abandon. This time the Germans not only repulsed all these attacks, but promptly launched a counterattack near Vidzy, a little country town on the Vilna-Dvinsk post road, capturing thereby some 300 men. The German official statement claimed that these prisoners belonged to seven different Russian regiments, giving thereby an indication of the comparatively large masses of troops employed on the Russian side.
Again on March 30, 1916, new attacks were launched in the same locality. At one point the Germans were forced to withdraw a narrow salient which protruded to a considerable distance just south of Lake Narotch. Russian machine guns had been placed in such positions that they enfiladed the salient in three directions and made it untenable. The German line here was withdrawn a few hundred feet toward the heights of Blisuiki. During the night of March 20, 1916, especially violent attacks were again launched against the German lines between Postavy and Vileity, a small village to the northwest of that town. There the Russians succeeded in gaining a foothold in the German trenches. During the afternoon the Russians attempted to extend this success. With renewed violence they trained their guns on the German positions. In order to throw back a strong German counterattack, a curtain of fire was laid before the trenches stormed earlier in the day. At the same time German artillery strongly supported the attack of their infantry. On both sides the gunfire became so violent that single shots could not be distinguished any longer. Shrapnel exploded without cessation and rifle fire became so rapid that it sounded hardly less loudly than the gunfire. Late in the afternoon the Germans succeeded in retaking the trenches which they had lost in the morning, capturing at that time the Russian victors of the morning to the number of 600.
On the same day, March 21, 1916, the Russians extended the sphere of their attack. At the same time that they were hammering away at the German lines south of Dvinsk other attacks were launched all along the northern front. In the Riga region, near the village of Plakanen, as well as in the district south of Dahlen Island, heavy engagements were fought. Farther south, between Friedrichstadt and Jacobstadt, on the south bank of the Dvina River the Russians captured a village and wood east of Augustinhof.
At many other points, along the entire eastern front from Lake Narotch south attacks developed. In most of these the Russians assumed the initiative. But here and there near Tverietch, just south of Vidzy; along Lake Miadziol, just north of Lake Narotch, and around Lake Narotch itself—the Germans attempted a series of counterattacks which, however, yielded no tangible results. All in all, the day's fighting made little change in the respective positions and the losses in men were about evenly divided.
The violence and energy with which the Russian attacks during March were executed may readily be seen from reports of special correspondents, who were behind the German lines at that pe
riod. Their collective testimony also tends to confirm the German claims that very large Russian forces were used and that their losses were immense.
"From Riga to the Rumanian border," says one of these eyewitnesses, “thundered the crashing of guns.
About seventy miles northeast of Mitau, a chain of lakes runs through the wooded, swampy country, narrow, long bodies of water follow the course of Mjadsjolke River, a natural trench in a region that is otherwise a very difficult territory by nature. In the south the chain is closed by Lake Narotch, a large secluded body of water of some thirty-five square miles, through which now runs the front. In the north of this chain of lakes, near the village of Postavy, a thundering of guns commenced on the morning of March 18, 1916, such as the eastern front had hardly ever heard before. Russian drum fire! From out of the woods, across the ice and snow water of the swamps, line after line came storming against the German trenches. ... On the same day, farther south, between Lakes Narotch and Vishnieff another Russian attack was launched.... The losses of the Russians are immense. More than 5,000 dead and wounded must be lying before our positions only about ten miles wide. During the night a lull came. But with the break of dawn the drum fire broke out once more, and again the waves of infantry rolled up against our positions. ... During the night from March 19 to March 20, 1916, the drum fire of the Russian guns increased to veritable fury. As if the entire supply of ammunition collected throughout the winter months were to be used up all at once, shells continuously shrieked and howled through the darkness: 50,000 hits were counted in one single sector.
Another correspondent writes: "The numbers of the Russians are immense. They have about sixty infantry divisions ready. Their losses are in proportion and were estimated on a front of about ninety miles to have been near to 80,000 men. For instance, against one German cavalry brigade there were thrown seven regiments with a very narrow front, but eight lines deep. Four times they came rushing on against the German barbedwire obstacles without being able to break through, but losing
some 3,000 men just the same. On March, 24, 1916, 6,000 Russian shells were counted in a small sector on the Dvinsk front."
In the latter sector and to the north of it, heavy fighting had developed on March 22 and 23, 1916. Especially around Jacob stadt, attack followed attack, both sides taking turns in assuming the offensive. The Russian attacks were particularly violent during the evening and night of March 22, 1916, and in some places resulted in the temporary invasion of the German firstline trenches. Especially hard was fighting along the JacobstadtMitau railroad. Between Dvinsk and Lake Drisviaty a violent artillery and rifle duel was kept up almost continuously, resulting at one point, just below Dvinsk near Shishkovo, in the breaking up of a German attack. South of the lake, at the village of Mintsiouny, however, a German attack succeeded and drove the Russians out of some trenches which they had gained only the day before. Here, too, both artillery and rifle fire of great violence carried death into both the Russian and German ranks. At Vidzy, a few miles farther south, the Russians stormed four times in quick succession against the German positions. Northwest of Postavy another Russian attack failed, the Germans capturing over 900 men and officers at that particular point. On the other hand, a German attack still farther south and northwest of Lake Narotch was repulsed and the Russians made slight gains in the face of a most violent fire. Near the south shore of Lake Narotch a German attack supported by asphyxiating gas forced back the Russians on a very narrow front for a very short distance. From Lake Narotch down to the Pripet Marshes the Russians maintained a lively cannonade at many points without, however, making any attacks in force.
During March 23, 1916, a determined Russian attack against the bridgehead at Jacobstadt broke down under the heavy German gunfire. During the night repeated Russian attacks to the north of the Jacobstadt-Mitau railroad a surprise attack southwest of Dvinsk and violent attacks along the Dvinsk-Vidzy sector suffered the same fate, although in some instances the Russian troops succeeded in coming right up to the German