Sometimes, things are just stated far better than I could, so I include an excerpt from G.J. Meyer’s A World Undone in order to sum up the situation in the first week of the second year of war (1915):
“Nineteen-fifteen opened repetitiously and prophetically, which is to say that it opened with lethal violence on the grand scale.
On New Year’s Day, in the English Channel, a German Submarine fired a torpedo into the hull of the British battleship Formidable and sent 546 seamen to their deaths.
On the continent the French were on the offensive, or trying to be, all along their long front: in Flanders, the Argonne, Alsace and, most bloodily of all, the Champagne region west of Verdun.
In the east, under appalling winder conditions that were causing hundreds of men nightly to freeze to death in their sleep, the Russians were slowly forcing the armies of Austria-Hungary back into the Carpathian passes that separated the plains of Galicia from the Hapsburg homeland.
Beyond Europe, on the ice-packed heights of the Caucasus Mountains, the Russians and the weather together were destroying a badly led and ill-equipped army of Turks.
There was bloodshed in Africa, in Asia, in the South Pacific, and in the South Atlantic–in improbable places all around the world.
All the belligerents were locked in a situation for which they were woefully unprepared. In the last five months of 1914 more than eight hundred thousand Germans had become casualties, and more than a hundred thousand of them were dead. The French and Austro-Hungarian casualties were in the million-man range, Russia’s total approached twice that, hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen were listed as dead or missing, and more than half of the Tommies who had come over in August were dead or injured. In every country the shock was numbing. A monument in a single Parisian church, Notre Dame des Victoires, displays the names of eighty parishioners killed in battle between August and December.
The worst of it was that this carnage had not come close to producing a decision. In every country shattered armies had to be rebuilt and expanded and sent out to do it all again.”
~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2007) 241-242.
. . . .
Meyer mentioned the Russian offensive in the Carpathians, an event which merits a bit more space here.
(Image courtesy of historynet.com)
In the earliest days of 1915, the Russians knew that their best hope for victory in WWI lay in the defeat of one of their two primary opponents, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Having been handed several disastrous defeats by the Germans already in 1914 (most notably at the Battle of Tannenberg), the Russians decided to focus on the Austro-Hungarians.
Their plan was both ambitious and dangerous: to invade the Austro-Hungarian homeland by marching straight through the Carpathian Mountains in the dead of winter.
Meanwhile, the military leader of the Austro-Hungarians, Conrad von Hötzendorf, had been bitten by the glory bug just as surely as many other military leaders of the time . . . he insatiably craved victories, and believed that the most important factor in victory was his own planning and leadership. He ordered his armies straight into the Carpathians in order to resist the Russians, and he even hoped to retake the fortress of Przemysl as a claim to glory and honor.
Unfortunately, Russian and Austro-Hungarian leaders would not nearly pay the price for their folly. That cost would have to be fronted, as usual, by the death-destined men of their armies.
“Religious souls visualize hell as a blazing inferno with burning embers and intense heat. The soldiers fighting in the Carpathian Mountains that first winter of the war know otherwise.”
—Colonel Georg Veith, Austro-Hungarian Third Army