It is a fact of the First World War that the Germans adapted to the fighting tactics needed for the conflict slightly (but noticeably) faster than the rest of the belligerents. As a result, the more backward the tactics of their opponent, the greater the victories the Germans achieved over them. Thus, when Germany, the most advanced military force, went up against Russia, the least advanced military force, things went poorly for the Russians very often, despite their numerical advantages. Though often outnumbered 3-1 or more, the German generals on the Eastern Front (headed up by Hindenburg, Ludendorf, and Hoffman) won smashing victories, not only stopping the Russian campaigns but, incredibly, even managed to launch their own campaigns into Russian-held territory.

There was ONE negative consequence to these victories which the Germans could not foresee, however: Their allies, Austia-Hungary, looked upon the German victories over the Russians and decided that they, too, were capable of such successes.

The Austrians took several assumptions into their resulting campaign in Poland:
1- That the capabilities of their military forces and leaders were equal to those of Germany
2- That German campaigns had significantly weakened the Russians on the Austro-Hungarian front
3- That the Russians would not attack on the Galician Front

Each of these assumptions were false:
1) War-mongering bureaucrats and military high commanders had pressured their Emperor Franz Joseph into the war partially out of fear that Austria-Hungary might seem week in the eyes of neighboring countries. One of the ironies of WWI is that while Austria-Hungary hoped to use the conflict to demonstrate their strength, it instead exposed that they were, indeed, weak and decayed (especially their military, which was quite un-modernized).
2) The Germans had indeed taken a fearful toll on the Russian, but with respect to the massive size of the total Russian army, there was still far and away more than enough troop strength left to meet the Austro-Hungarian advance.
3) Far from allowing the Galician front to remain quiet, the Russians saw the Austro-Hungarian Polish campaign as an opportunity to strike where the Austro-Hungarians must surely be weakened.

(Image via “A Diary of the Great War“)

Though in many ways the resulting battle of Limanowa (December 1-13 1914) was inconclusive, resulting mostly in huge casualty lists (42,000 dead Russians and Austro-Hungarians), the battle was also a huge defeat for the Austro-Hungarians in the sense that they had once again failed to accomplish what they had set out to do in their military campaigns. Though this was in large part the fault of Austrian military leader Conrad von Hötzendorf, who continuously instigated woefully over-ambitious military campaigns, it was also the result of another in a steady stream of poor military performances by the Austro-Hungarian forces.

Victory in WWI would often depend upon assessing and adapting to poor conditions, both strategically and tactically, and there was no nation more traditionally entrenched in 1914 than Austria-Hungary.

For more on the battle of Limanowa, the blog Ars Bellica wrote a fabulous description.


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