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The Russian offensive had barely slowed down when the Austrians themselves promptly assumed offensive operations. But here, too, it must be borne in mind that, although we used the word offensive, operations were altogether on a minor scale and restricted to local engagements. Some of the heaviest fighting of this period occurred near the town of Olyka, on the Rovno-Brest-Litovsk railroad. Just south of this place repeatea Austrian attacks were launched against a height held by the Russians, both on April 1 and 2, 1916, but they were promptly repulsed.
On April 3, 1916, another attack in that neighborhood, this time northeast of Olyka, near the villages of Bagnslavka and Bashlyki, also failed to carry the Austrians into the Russian trenches. On the same day Austrian attacks were reported northwest of Kremenets on the Ikva, along the LembergTarnopol railway and in the vicinity of Bojan. Against all of these the Russian troops successfully maintained their positions. Austrian aeroplanes continued their bombing expeditions against some of the more important places immediately to the rear of the Russian front, without, however, inflicting any very important damage.
Again a comparative lull set in. Of course, artillery duels as well as continuous fighting between scouting parties and outposts took place even during that period. But attacks in force were rare, and then restricted to local points only. The latter were made chiefly by the Austrians, but did not lead to anything of importance. The official Russian statements report such engagements on April 6, 1916, near Lake Sosno, south of Pinsk, along the upper Strypa in Galicia, and north of Bojan. On April 7, 1916, an Austrian offensive attack attempted with considerable force on the middle Strypa, east of Podgacie, in Galicia, did not even reach the first line of the Russian trenches. On April 9, 1916, the Russians captured some Austrian trenches in the region of the lower Strypa, and on April 11, 1916, repulsed Austrian attacks north and south of the railway station of Olyka. Once more comparative quiet set in along the southern part of the eastern front, broken only by engagements between outposts and by a considerable increase in aeroplane activity.
But on April 13, 1916, the Russians again began to hammer away against the Austrian lines. A violent artillery attack was launched against the Austrian positions on the lower Strypa, on the Dniester and to the northwest of Czernowitz, and the Austrians were forced to withdraw some of their advanced positions to their main position northeast of Jaslovietz. Southeast of Buczacz an Austrian counterattack failed. A height at the mouth of the Strypa, called Tomb of Popoff, fell into the hands of the Russian troops. Both Austrian and Russian aeroplanes dropped bombs, without however inflicting any serious damage, even though the Russians officially announced that as many as fifty bombs fell on Zuczka-about half a mile outside of Czernowitz-and on North Czernowitz.
On April 14, 1916, the Russian artillery attacks on the lower Strypa, along the Dniester and near Czernowitz, were repeated. Again the Russians launched attacks against the advanced Austrian trenches at the mouth of the Strypa and southeast of Buczacz. An advanced Russian position on the road between that town and Czortkov was occupied by the Austrians.
For the balance of April, 1916, comparative quiet again ruled along the southeastern front. The muddy condition of the roads made extensive movements practically impossible. Outposts engagements, artillery duels, aeroplane bombardments, isolated attacks on advanced trenches and field works, of course, continued right along. But both success and failure were only of local importance, so that the official reports in most cases did not even mention the location of these engagements.
On the last day of April, 1916, however, the army of ArchDuke Joseph Ferdinand started a new strong offensive movement north of Mouravitzy on the Ikva in Volhynia. Heavy and light artillery prepared the way for an attack in considerable force against Russian trenches which formed a salient at that point, west of the villages of Little and Great Boyarka. The Russians had to give ground, but soon afterward started a strong counterattack, supported by heavy artillery fire, and regained the lost ground, capturing some 600 officers and men. In the southern half of the eastern front, just as in the northern half, there was little change in the character of fighting with the coming of May and the improvement in the weather. Artillery duels, aeroplane attacks, scouting expeditions, and local infantry attacks of limited extent and strength were daily occurrences.
On May 1, 1916, Austro-Hungarian detachments were forced to withdraw from their advanced positions to the north of the village of Mlynow. This place is located on the Ikva River, some ten miles northwest of the fortress of Dubno. Here the Russians had made a slight gain on April 28, 1916, and when they made an attack with superior forces from their newly fortified positions, they were able to drive back the AustroHungarians still a little bit farther.
Twenty miles farther north, in the vicinity of Olyka, the little town about halfway between the fortress of Lutsk and Rovno, on the railway line connecting these two points, the Russian forces reported slight progress on May 2, 1916. Northwest of Kremenets, in the Ikva section, Austro-Hungarian engineers succeeded in exploding mines in front of the Russian trenches. But the Russians themselves promptly utilized this accomplishment by rushing out of their trenches and making an advanced trench of their own out of the mine craters dug for them by their enemies.
Two days later, on May 4, 1916, the Russians were able to improve still more their new positions southeast of Olyka station, and to gain some more ground there. Repeated Austro Hungarian counterattacks were repulsed. The same fate was suffered by determined infantry attacks on the Russian trenches in the region of the Tarnopol-Pezerna railway, in spite of the fact that these attacks were made in considerable force and were supported by strong artillery and rifle fire. Later the same day an engagement between reconnoitering detachments in the same region, southwest of Tarnopol, resulted in the capture of one Russian officer and 100 men by their Austro-Hungarian opponents.
Minor engagements between scouting parties and outposts were the rule of the day on May 5, 1916. These were especially frequent in the region of Tzartorysk on the Styr, just south of the Kovel-Kieff railway and south of Olyka station where Austro-Hungarian troops were forced to evacuate the woods east of the village of Jeruistche. A slight gain was made on May 6, 1916, by Russian troops in Galicia, on the lower Strypa River, north of the village of Jaslovietz.
Extensive mining operations, which, of course, were carried on at all times at many places, culminated successfully for the Russians in the region northwest of Kremenets on the Ikva and south of Zboroff on the Tarnopol-Lemberg railway. In the latter place Russian troops crept through a mine crater toward a point where Austro-Hungarian engineering troops were preparing additional mines and dispersed the working parties by a shower of hand grenades.
Throughout the balance of May operations along the southern part of the eastern front consisted of continued artillery duels, of frequent aeroplane attacks, and of a series of unimportant though bitterly contested minor engagements at many points, most of which had no relation to each other, and were either attacks on enemy trenches or attempts at repulsing such attacks. Equally continuous, of course, also were scouting expeditions and mining operations. None of these operations, however, yielded any noticeable results for either side, and the story of one is practically the story of all. The result of the artillery duels frequently was the destruction of some advanced trenches, while occasionally a munitions or supply transport was caught, or an exposed battery silenced. Mining operations sometimes would also lead to the destruction of isolated trenches, and thus change slightly the location of the line. But what one side gained on a given day was often lost again the next day, and the net result left both Germans and Russians at the end of May practically where they had been at the beginning. Most of these minor engagements occurred in regions that had seen a great deal of fighting before. Again and again there appear in the official reports suck well-k.down names as Tzartorysk,
Kolki, Olyka, Kremenets, Novo Alecinez, Styr River, Ikva River, Strypa River. Inch by inch almost this ground, long ago drenched with the blood of brave men, was fought over and over again—and a gain of a few hundred feet was considered, indeed, a gain.
THAW AND SPRING FLOODS
ITH the coming of thaw and the resulting spring floods
roads along the eastern front, not any too good under the most favorable climatic conditions, had become little else than rivers of mud. Many of them, it is true, had been considerably improved during the long winter months, especially on the German-Austrian side of the line. But in many instances this improvement consisted simply of covering them with planks in order to make it possible to move transports without having wheels sink into the mud up to the axles. When the creeks and rivers along the line were now suddenly transformed by the melting snows into streams and torrents, much of this improvement was carried away and many roads not only sank back into their former impossible state, but, becoming thoroughly soaked and saturated with water in many places became impassable even for infantry. Movements of large masses soon were out of the question. To shift artillery, especially of the heavier kind, as quickly as an offensive movement required, and to keep both guns and men sufficiently supplied with munitions, were out of the question. The natural result, therefore, of these conditions was the prompt cessation of the Russian offensive which had been started in March, 1916, just before the breaking up of a severe winter.
However, this did not mean everywhere a return to the trench warfare, such as had been carried on all winter, although in many parts of the front activities on both sides amounted to little more. At other points, however, offensive movements were kept up,