All Or Nothing – Winter Offensive In The Carpathians I THE GREAT WAR Week 27


The New Year has begun the same way the last
one ended, with thousands upon thousands of men dying, and the war seems only to expand.
As the year changed from old to new we saw an entire army destroyed, many of its soldiers
freezing to death in the mountains of the Caucasus, and now, weeks later, we see something
else; that no matter how the war changes many military leaders were unwilling or incapable
of learning from the mistakes of others, and just made the same ones again. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. When we left off, the Germans were successful
in Southeast Africa but would in future resort to guerilla warfare, the British were successful
in the Middle East, but were bombed by Zeppelin at home. The French had some minor successes
on the Western Front, and the Turks were defeated again by the Russians, who had also made an
advance in northwest Poland. Geography cannot help but play a large part
in war. You use different troops and maneuvers on a large flat plain then you do in a dense
forest. I’d like to start off today by looking at some European geography for a minute; specifically,
the Carpathian Mountains. We’re looking at a barrier about 100km wide
with a median elevation of over 1,000 meters. That’s a formidable natural barrier for
any army to get through, and even in the main passes of the Carpathians there were only
a handful of poorly constructed roads and railway lines. It’s always cold and damp
up there, but once the snows come in November, they remain there till the spring, with occasionally
sudden rises in temperature that cause large scale flooding. Mountain warfare has a whole series of other
unique difficulties- troops obviously have to be specially trained and equipped, maintaining
supply lines and maneuvering can be real problems, artillery often has to be left behind since
it’s so heavy and the ground uneven. Stuff like that. Stuff that should deter large-scale
military operations. In winter. Well, that setting was where this week, on
January 23rd, the Austro-Hungarian army launched an offensive against the Russians. This was
the brainchild of Austro-Hungarian Army Chief of Staff Conrad von Hotzendorf, who believed
that Austria now needed a major victory over Russia to show her strength so that neutral
countries like Italy and Romania wouldn’t enter the war against her. This makes sense,
I suppose, because the Imperial army had suffered some seriously embarrassing defeats so far
during the war, and the second invasion of Serbia in November and December had ended
in humiliation so Austria-Hungary didn’t have a whole lot of military prestige left. Also, a whole Austrian army, well over 100,000
strong, was surrounded and under siege at Przemysl and all of the Habsburg gang thought
that losing that army might in fact lose the whole war, so the offensive had breaking the
siege as a main objective. The basic plans called for the Third Army
to attack along a front of over 150km in the Northern Carpathians, while simultaneously,
the newly created Southern Army- which included three German divisions- would attack the Russians’
extreme left flank. The element of surprise was supposed to be a big factor in a quick
success. I think we can also agree that luck was going to have to be a big factor too. The combined offensive forces were about 175,000
men, and right away they proved incapable of accomplishing their initial tasks, which
were to take and secure the communications and railroads around the towns Lisko, Sanok
and Medzilaborce, and I’m sorry if I’m mangling those names. That’s not to say that there wasn’t some
progress and positive results, because there were initially, as the Austrians advanced
against a numerically inferior foe, and by the 26th, the third army’s actual front
extended for over 100km from the Dukla to Uszok passes. Conrad’s army managed to capture
the Uszok pass that day, which had been held by the Russians since the beginning of the
year, but that same day the Russians began to launch massive counter attacks, and as
the week ended, a sudden and severe change in the weather began to seriously mess with
the Austrian plans. But plans, especially war plans, have a way
of going wrong, and this was also the case this week in the North Sea. Last month, German ships under the command
of Franz von Hipper had bombarded the British coast and successfully escaped back to Germany.
Since that day- Britain had been clamoring for revenge against the German navy, when
the first civilians were killed in Britain by enemy forces for over 200 years-nd on January
24th, they got it. Von Hipper set out to attack the British fishing
fleet at Dogger Bank, whom he suspected of gathering intelligence on German fleet movement,
but the British had intercepted and decoded German radio traffic about the raid, and Vice
Admiral David Beatty led his battle cruiser squadron out to trap von Hipper. The Germans
were outnumbered and surprised, though they managed to make it back to port with only
the loss of the armored cruiser Blucher, coincidentally the last armored cruiser the Germans built. See, there was a signaling mix-up and the
British fleet broke off pursuit of the German fleet to sink Blucher, so the opportunity
to do huge damage to the German navy was lost, but with only 15 British sailors lost against
nearly 1,000 Germans this was a big morale boost for the British, and the Kaiser was
so angry that Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, commander of the German High Seas Fleet, was
replaced by Admiral Hugo von Pohl. Here’s something else, the Germans realized
that the British appearance at dawn at Dogger Bank was suspiciously coincidental, but they
did not believe that their radio codes had been cracked, and instead thought that an
enemy agent must have provided intelligence about their plans. The Germans were fighting on land as well
this week, in a series of battles with the French on the Western Front. At the beginning of the week there was heavy
fighting in Alsace and the Argonne, but it was indecisive. The Germans were repulsed
at Ypres the 25th and the French lost ground at Craonne the same day. On the 27th the French
were also finally losing ground in the Argonne, but pushing forward in Vosges, and at the
end of the week, on the 29th, yet another German attempt to cross the Aisne River was
foiled. One thing that I haven’t had a chance to mention that I’ll throw in here which
was a big improvement for the French this winter and spring was the issuance of new
uniforms. The new light blue uniforms were far less visible on the battlefield. Any little
advantage, you know? Here’s also a little anecdote from this
week in the west about a character who would play a larger part in a different world war. On January 29th, during the fighting in the
Argonne, a German Lieutenant named Erwin Rommel led his platoon out to capture some French
blockhouses. He crawled through the French wire and shouted for his men to follow, but
they didn’t. So he crawled back and told the commander of the leading platoon, “Obey
my orders instantly or I shoot you.” Then the whole company followed him out, and they
took the blockhouses. For this action, Rommel won the Iron Cross, First Class and it soon
became a saying in his regiment, “where Rommel is, there is the front.” The fronts in the west were pretty easy to
spot without Rommel, though; you just had to look for the endless lines of trenches.
There was another region, though, whose fronts were not nearly so obvious: that in the Middle
East and the Caucasus. By this time the Ottoman 3rd army, destroyed
at Sarikamis, numbered fewer than 13,000 effective soldiers and maybe 20,000 total, but there
was still plenty of action going on in other parts of the Ottoman Empire. On January 23rd,
two Ottoman divisions were defeated at Khorsan. A few days later, Ottoman assaults were renewed
but on January 27th, the Russians took Gorness and actually captured the Turkish staff. Thing
were still looking pretty grim for the Turks. And here are a few notes of interest from
around the world. The French took Bertua in Cameroon this week. They also decided on the
26th to participate with the British in an attack on the Dardanelles that was still in
the planning stages. On the 27th, Britain loaned five million pounds to Romania. Also
this week, Britain offers Greece concessions in Asia Minor if Greece will help out in Serbia;
a few days later the Greek government says no. And that was this week. The Austrians, Germans,
and Russians clashing in the Carpathians, the Russians still beating the Turks further
south, the German fleet turning tail and running home in the north, and the French and Germans
banging heads again and again on the Western Front. Another winter assault in the mountains; that’s
what we’re seeing on the Eastern Front. Had Conrad not paid attention to what just
happened to the Turks in their mountain assault? Or did he think the situation was so desperate
that it didn’t matter? It certainly seemed that neither he, nor many of the other leaders
were learning from others’ mistakes. The Turks failed to make coordinated attacks and
lost again and again. The British navy kept letting the Germans get away even though they
cracked their radio codes and knew where they were going to go. And it’s painfully obvious
what the result of not learning from mistakes is in modern war; it’s tens of thousands
of dead soldiers, many of whose loss of life was completely avoidable if only their leaders
had been paying attention. This was not the first time that Konrad von
Hötzendorf had lead the Austro-Hungarian Army into disaster. Check out our episode
about the Battle of Galicia right here where Hötzendorf’s plans failed dramatically. Don’t forget to subscribe if you like our
channel and if you are thirsty for more facts about World War 1, follow us on Twitter. See you next week.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. Love the show! Keep up the good work! =) One question though : since there was so much trenches build in WW 1, are any of them left today? Or atleast any traces? Thanks!

  2. Your videos are awesome.) Could you tell about Osoviec defence in one of your videos? From Russia with love.)

  3. Germany should have only invaded Russia and left the Western countries alone. Europe would have looked so much better without Russia on the map

  4. Is it okay if everytime he said "Blucher", I imagined the sound of carriage horses freaking out in a fearful panic?

  5. Im telling you, there were so many lessons to be learned from the American civil war that were ignored. You know, the first modern war ever fought. At least as trench warfare is concerned. The Battle of the Ditch for one. Robert E Lee was a brilliant general but only in a defensive status. So many lessons that could have saved so many lives in WWI.

  6. Indie, you are saying that military leaders were incapable of learning from the mistakes of others. But at that time did they have reliable means of communication to follow an immediate war progress of other countries? For example were Austrians aware of the way Pasha has screwed up in the mountains if it happened only about a month ago? I mean, in the beginning of the war German generals were not informed about the progress of their colleagues on different fronts – obviously with those lags in communication within one country there were bound to be even bigger ones on a global scale.

  7. I wish that when I was a child in school, the teacher would have had just turned this channel on and left the room, so I could have actually learned something about history. All cynicism aside, the technology wasn't there yet and they did what they could with what they had.

    Thank you for a wonderful channel, I'm on episode 43, 160ish more to go and you keep making them. Do you accept contributions ?

  8. This channel should do more wars in this like this. I know I'd love to see the U.S. Civil War, WWII & Vietnam week by week, never mind centennials.
    Unluckily for me I found this recently so have 2 years worth to back-watch until I'm up to date. But I love this channel! Who ever though of it is brilliant, but this could be expanded SO much with other wars.

  9. I am a big WW1 buff, so why am I only now finding out about this awesome series?!?!?! I love Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, but this is something else!!

  10. My father was there in Przemyśl during that siege, as a 14-year-old civilian. He had fled there from Lemberg just ahead of the Russian advance. You don't have an episode specifically devoted to that siege, do you?

  11. 9:20 You assume almost instantaneous accurate and thorough transmission of knowledge in 1915 during the fog of war. That's completely absurd.

  12. I think Conrad took schnapps for breakfast, lunch and dinner!! When watching this I feel a sudden, loving attachment to my Mountain Equipment coat! There's something extra brutal about war in cold weather especially when you only have summer uniform? Didn't the Austrians even wear cardboard shoes? Today in Manchester UK it's -1 overnight and even with proper clothes like the ME jacket as explained above it feels really, really cold so imagine-30 in the Carpathian Mountains with summer kit? And the threat of being killed doesn't help either!! Whichever side your allegiance is you have to respect all the men participating in these battles? Lest we forget..

  13. its one thing for ancient tribes to attack another in the name of survival because the other doesnt want to share the necessities of life, but for largely self sufficient countries sacrificing millions upon million of lives is simply beyond the most stupidest, idiotic thing imaginable, just listen again to the opening quote of this episode, this is a truly brilliant series but makes u wonder if life was kind of wasted on mankind, the australian aborigines are the ultimate example of how people can exist together, for 40000 years, at one with nature ( they had a few 'border' skirmishes im sure but as for men with fancy uniforms and even fancier moustaches sending masses of young men to non stop bloodbathes is another thing) im sure this war was nothing but chivalry and time out from fox hunting

  14. Mongols got through the Carpathians without much hassle to kick Hungary's butt. Then again, that's not surprising to those who managed to successfully invade Russia in winter.

  15. Hötzendorf: "Gentlemen, having failed twice to defeat little Serbia, I've decided that we will instead battle Russia, in winter, through almost impassable mountain passes."
    Troops: "Is this guy on our side? If so, can we bribe him to switch sides?"

  16. I must say that this channel is by far the best documentary on WWI I have ever watched in terms of grounds covered, objectivity and, yes, presentation style (great job on the studio set and old-school map). Indy somehow makes it fun to learn more about WWI without losing seriouness, which too often happens in YouTube "documentaries". I cannot congratulate you guys enough for the terrific work. Keep it up!

  17. I would like to point out that there has not been any mention of Canada's involvement so far although it automatically joined the war together with the British in August1914 (although I think no battle occured until later).

  18. The difficulties of fighting in the mountains should have warned the Austrians off, but unfortunately, Conrad Von Hotzendorf doesn't live in Should Land.

  19. at soissons the argone somme ect. what were the tactical movements of the armies? were they fighting in the city of soissons, ect? or in trenches near it? were trenches elaborate ALL along the western front?
    sorry for the dumb questions 🙁

  20. Whenever I hear that Conrad is leading an attack, I automatically assume it failed.
    All of the WW1 generals on both sides were incompetent. But Austrian Army Chief of Staff Conrad von Hotzendof 'takes the cake'. He was a vehement imperialist for Austria, and 'Austrian greatness'.
    One of his colleagues described Conrad as "the most dangerous kind of officer…both stupid and intensely energetic".

  21. Anytime u hear "the brainchild of von Hotzendorf", it's uh oh, here comes another rolling cluster, make sure the hospitals are ready

  22. if this austrian army was surrounded and besieged at przemysl for so long, how were they supplied with food, ammunition etc. ?

  23. Why did I never come across this channel, I'm 23 years old and am fascinated by this amazing job, it's a crime you don't have more viewers.

  24. Damn Germany! Can't they pick competent allies for once? In both world wars their allies were totally rubbish, resulting in germans fighting other countries battles…

  25. I really like how you try to pronounce different names and cities according to the linguistic accuracy of the country they are associated with. Nice work with Medzilaborce, I live in close vicinity and am pleased to say hats down, the way you uttered it was almost like a native 🙂

  26. When he said that the Austrians were going to launch an attack in the carpathians I never thought they would get somewhere.

  27. 4:42 I assume all of England's coasts look that steep and is why no one in their right mind decided on an assault of Britain

  28. Ayyyy im from Sanok. If you go into the Carpathian mountains you can still find Austro Hungarian grave yards and what is left of their trenches.

  29. In the last clip showing dead Turkish soldiers, it looks like many of them were stripped for clothes and boots probably by the living to keep warm. Very sad to see so many lives thrown away.

  30. Hint to belligerents: If you have the slightest suspicion that your communication code has been cracked, it probably has.

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