The Western Front Awakens – The Tsar Takes Over I THE GREAT WAR – Week 58


Russia has been in deep trouble for months,
retreating and losing territory week by week and this week the Tsar himself tries to do
something about it. This week sees a full shakeup in the Russian High Command. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. The Allies had tried and failed again last
week at Gallipoli with huge casualties and the situation there was grim. The Russians
had lost even more land to the Germans, but took a load of Austrian prisoners in the south.
The war in the skies heated up in the west with bombing runs all week, the Armenian genocide
grew ever worse, and the Indian army secured its borders. To start off today, I’m not going to talk
about a country or a front, but about a man we’ve haven’t yet mentioned. On August 31st, one of the most daring and
brilliant pilots of all time, the Frenchman Adolphe Pégoud, met his fate. Pégoud was
a test pilot for Louis Blériot before the war, during which time he flew the first upside
down flight ever, was the first pilot to make a parachute jump, became the second pilot
to loop the loop, and was the first flying ace- the first to shoot down five or more
planes. He died this week when he was shot down by one of his prewar students, German
Unteroffizier Walter Kandulski. He was 26. Kandulski and his crew later dropped a wreath
for Pégoud over the French lines. We haven’t talked very much about the Western
Front over the summer, mostly because there weren’t any large offensives, and indeed
this weekend there weren’t any either, just a weeklong artillery duel. Yep, “just”, though this was a relentless
pounding of colossal proportions that never ever stopped, but there was a lot going on
behind the scenes in the planning stages at this point, which I want to take a look at.
Now, the French high command was determined to launch a major offensive this month, ideally
to break through the Germans lines, but also to try to take some of the pressure off of
the Russians, who had been retreating for four months now. But there was a lot of disagreement
in the French high command about exactly what they were going to do. General Joseph Joffre
was in favor, not of a breakthrough on a narrow front that could be fairly easily plugged,
but a wide-ranging series of multiple offensives that would support each other and cause confusion
in the German high command, foil the accurate deployment of reserves, and eventually break
the lines entirely and a decisive point. Ferdinand Foch had ideas along the lines of
the British “bite and hold” tactics, which would be much more methodical, but restrained,
and would involve a series of meticulously planned steps that would depend on the range
of the artillery. General Philippe Pétain, who was now in charge
of the Second French Army and a rising star, saw the war in simple terms of attrition.
He believed that the winner would be the last man standing, and his strategy was mostly
defensive, and was designed to conserve manpower with the occasional limited attack to avoid
large-scale losses. Thing is, none of these were really wrong,
but they didn’t really present any coherent solution, considering what the Western Front
was like by September 1915. The German lines, day by day, grew stronger, with more trenches
and more barbed wire. They now even had concrete fortifications, as well as deeper dugouts,
and self-contained defense stations. They also had an entire second trench system back
a couple of miles behind the lines that was not in allied field artillery range. It also
didn’t help that the Germans were masters of the sky, thanks to the interrupter gear
they had developed over the summer, that allowed their pilots to fire their machine guns through
their propellers. Okay, German numbers on the western front had been a bit down, since
many soldiers had been sent east to fight the Russians, and what would the French do
against the increasingly well entrenched Germans? Well, Joffre’s solution for that was to
take a page from Mackensen’s book. August von Mackensen being the German general whose
artillery had precipitated the Russian retreat in the first place. Joffre planned, to put
it simply, to blast the German positions from the face of the earth, and to do this he demanded
more and more heavy artillery, so that it would be roughly the same numbers as his field
artillery, and by this time the French had 4,646 field guns and 3,538 heavy guns. This
was Joffre’s battering ram. And they began to plan for the day when the hammer would
finally come down. And speaking of the Russian retreat, the Germans
had been forcing the Russians back in Poland and the Baltic, and driven them from Warsaw
and Kovno, and this week they were advancing toward the Niemen River and the last Russian
stronghold on it, the fortress of Grodno. On August 30th, German forces stormed the
city of Lipsk, less than 30 kilometers west of Grodno, and south of the Niemen they advanced
on the Grodno-Vilnius railway. On the 31st came the first reports that the devastating
German heavy artillery had been brought up and was shelling the fortress from the west.
There was not much hope left for the Russians there, for at every point those guns had been
brought to bear, they had blasted their war to the goal, no matter how strong or modern
the defenses. Indeed, Grodno fell to Field Marshal’s army on September 2nd, after they
forced a crossing of the Niemen River. The four historic Russian frontier fortresses-
Kovno, Novo-Georgievsk, Brest-Litovsk, and Grodno- had now all fallen, and the Germans
set their sights on Vilnius, the most important of the Western cities of the Russian Empire
since Warsaw had fallen, but the Russians had, by abandoning the entire Polish salient,
shortened their front from a thousand to six hundred miles which of course gave them a
much better economy of force, so they could now send reserves to the Baltic and the center,
and to even counter attack, as they did at Lutsk on the 1st, taking 7,000 German prisoners,
and also in south Galicia, where on August 30th they took 4,000 prisoners and 30 big
guns. But the demoralization of the Russian army
after the months of retreat and loss was undeniable, and there had been rumors about changes in
the Russian leadership for weeks, and this week those rumors became fact. The Grand Duke Nikolai was dismissed as commander
of the Russian armies this week and would be replaced by Tsar Nicholas himself. He would
be more the new head in name, though, and the man who would really direct the armies
was the new Chief of Staff of Stavka, General Mikhail Alekseyev, but the Tsar’s future,
as the now personal leader, was now really tightly bound to the successes and failures
of his armies. Those armies were now divided up on three fronts; the north, now once again
under General Nikolai Russki, the west under General Alexei Evert, and the southwest under
Nikolai Ivanov. The Grand Duke Nikolai, after his removal from office, was appointed Viceroy
of the Caucasus on the 3rd. Minister of War Alexei Polivanov, who was very much against
the Tsar taking personal control, announced this week that Russia would raise another
two million men, and in a related note, German General Hans Hartwig von Beseler was appointed
the governor general of the formerly Russian territories of Poland, now in German hands. And this week we also saw once again that
it was indeed a world war. In Northwest India, the Indian army again
defeated the Bunerwal tribesmen, this time at the Malandri Pass on August 28th. After
two more skirmishes during the week, they were finally scattered on September 2nd. And
in German East Africa, British mounted infantry beat the enemy near Maktan. Further north
on the Italian front, the Italians took Monte Cista the 28th, but unsuccessfully assaulted
the bridgehead of Tolmino September 2nd. And that brings us to the end of the week
of a war fought on three continents by soldiers from five. The Russians radically change their
high command even as they finally have some success counter attacking, but lose their
last great European fortress to the Germans. Plans are being hatched on the Western front
as the artillery pounds away, and the first flying ace dies. It’s true what I said earlier; that setbacks
to the Russian armies would now reflect upon the Tsar himself, which is why the cabinet
nearly unanimously opposed it. It would be a few days before it was all official, but
still, the Tsar was not a military strategist. Having said that, the man he replaced, his
cousin Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich, had never commanded in the field before the war
broke out and he was suddenly given command of the largest army ever put in the field
in history up to that point. Okay, he didn’t’ do that badly, all things considered, but
you would think the Russians would want a real field leader in command. You’d be wrong,
though, since Russia continually moved incompetent officers up through the ranks in a system
riddled with nepotism, patronage, and political intrigue, and it reflected in the field. We’ve
seen so many Russian failures that could have been prevented that have resulted in hundreds
of thousands of needless deaths, but all too often the feeling of the Russian leadership
was, “so what? It’s only men.” The Czar was probably one of the most interesting
figures of Russian history. We dedicated a whole episode to his life and actions during
World War 1. You can check that out right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week is James
The Pony Theorist. James’ contribution on Patreon meant that we could improve our digital
map and our animations. If you want to help making our show better, check out our Patreon
page. And for more in depths discussions on our
episodes, you can subscribe to our ever growing Great War subreddit. See you next time!

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. I noticed that a lot of the Russian generals you mentioned today died between 1918-1920. Where there any events in post WWI Russia that lead to their demise? Or was coincidence that these older men died in a short period of time?

    Another great video. Thanks for all of your hard work!

  2. This documentary is extremely precious and we all appreciate the work you put into it. I would be thrilled to see an WW2 documentary though.

  3. I have a question.

    So from this point onward the military of the Russian kingdom would be (not directly) controlled by the Tsar. So that should mean that any Russian losses and wins would be the Tsar's responsibility.

    Did this decision play a role in the Tsar's overthrow by the Communists? If Russia lost a lot of fights under the Tsar's command, the citizens would think the Tsar is horrible.

  4. I just found out WW1 ended on my birthday, which is also George Patton 's birthday. My birthday in history, screwing Germany since 1885.

  5. hello indy and florian,i hope you will consider doing a special about the camera and newsreel photographers of the war, who undoubtedly had to be heroic in the trenches and other places. what was it like to move a film camera of those days about? and so on.

  6. Question: You've mentioned multiple instances where, in addition to taking prisoners of war, armies were also able to capture artillery and weapons. During the war, which one was considered a bigger tactical advantage to capture?

  7. Could you do a video or just mention in you're QNA videos about the Lithuanians ?
    I find they're position during that period (1917-1919) very interesting because they :
    1.Had to fight on THREE FRONTS
    2.Had not many experienced officers
    3.Didn't have enough weapons to fight ( or counter ) the enemy
    4.Didn't have enough experienced NCO's

    AND SOMEHOW SURVIVED THE WAR !?

  8. So by assuming personal command, Tsar Nicholas tied his reputation and that of the Romanov monarchy with the performance of the army. No wonder he got shot in a basement.

  9. Question for out of the trenches .
    Were there any resistance from the Armenians in eastern anatolia , did other groups suffer genocide themselves and what was the role of the other groups (ethnic minorities in the ottoman empire) in the war ?

  10. FINALLY…I have caught up…Found this freakin awesome channel about 6-8 weeks ago and have been binge watching episodes…ThankYou for this fantastic series.

  11. Adolphe Pegoud was so popular in pre-war France that a Parisian tobacconist introduced a line of cigarettes named after him.

  12. Once again, another superb episode. You are capturing the essence of the 1915 situation: no country had expected to be still fighting at this time. Even with Germany gaining ground in Russia, it seemed it was not breaking down the Tsar's empire, and credibility of all militaries, with their governmental counterparts, was no doubt straining patience. Mounting notification of kin that had perished, and by this time no doubt, someone on every street on the homefront had gotten the unbelievable news…..and now more and more families get the news. Defense might not "win", but it becomes easier to "not lose".

  13. This is indeed a Great show though I have a question:
    What was the situation in the Southeast Asian nations during the war? Yes we know that there were some actions concerning the Japanese and Imperial British aggressions against the German Colonies namely the actions of the Australians and the famous Siege of Tsingtao but what of the other nations in the vicinity such as Siam/Thailand, the Philippines, the French Indochina, the Dutch East Indies the British Malaya etc. Did they even had any contributions during the war at all?

  14. This past spring I listened to a series on WW1 done by Dan Carlin, 6 episodes 3-4 hours each. When I came upon this channel a little over a week ago I started binge watching the episodes to get caught up, and have just now gotten through all the episodes.
    Having listened to Dan's series and now this series what strikes me the most it how utterly pointless the war was. I have often heard that the veterans of the war "fought for our freedoms" I'm skeptical of that claim. Do the Germans & Austrians claim any different regarding their WW1 veterans? Was the world a more free after the war? I'll likely need to wait till after the 3rd week of November 2018 for episodes on this.
    A question for right now is, was there any diplomatic efforts to end the war or did they all think they could just continue slaughtering men by the thousands.
    The slaughter on this scale is hard to comprehend. I live in Canada, in the past few years occasionally some Canadian soldiers would be killed and wounded in the conflict in Afghanistan, usually fewer than 5. The media would wail about the tragic lose for weeks, in WW1 casualties like that would be cause to celebrate.
    Keep up the good work, looking forward to the rest of it.

  15. + The Great War.
    Thanks for the incredible job you are doing here! I really enjoy watching your videos. Greetings from the neutral Netherlands.

  16. Hello. I'm a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. I've been watching your videos since almost the beginning. I just wanted to tell you all that it's refreshing seeing people as passionate about history as I am. I get to learn more about a conflict mostly overlooked in my curriculum due to the US Navy's limited role in the conflict. As a future officer, I have already learned several lessons on leadership from this series and I expect to learn more. Fair winds and following seas guys.

  17. crazy to think coming from a family tree of Italian immigrants to America just prior to ww1 had they not left when they did it's likely I wouldn't exist fucking time eh

  18. Thank you for mentioning the Tolmino bridgehead, on the Isonzo front.
    Recently I read the diary of a Hungarian medical officer of the 37. Infantry Rgt., who fought at the Tolmino area from the spring of 1915. http://nagyhaboru.blog.hu/tags/dr._kem%C3%A9ny_gyula
    There were a lot of terrible areas to fight in, but high up in the Alps is another level of terriible.
    Fighting for the Krn peak, just an example, around 2000-3000 meters high, in pure rocky areas. nearly impossible to dig in due to the rocks, and the high explosive artillery shells breaking off shards from the same rocks causing enormous casualties on both sides.
    Rain, wind, cold. Fighting, crawling, dying, in soaking wet wool tunics, forget proper cold weather equipment. Advancing at 45 degree vertical inclinations, in the dark, under fire. Better not be afraid of heights.
    A man slips, into the abyss, sweaping with him many others.

    The dead are impossible to remove. Hanging in barbed wire, piling up in the trenches. Trying to recover them is near suicidal. They, the ones whos war is over forever and very few remember, are often ''built' into the defensive works…
    Pure madness.

    Truly eye opening, your video series. Which made me read even more on WW1.
    I had two great-grandfathers fight on the Italian front for the King and Country, with the Austro-Hungaian armies. Somehow they made it out alive, and that is why I can write this.

  19. where can i download the subtitle on this show? i am not english native speaker. so subtitle will help me much. thank you very much.

  20. Where do you guys get the thumb nails for you videos, because they are really cool. The one for this video reminded me of a scene from Paths of Glory, Coincidentally that movies about WW1 as well.

  21. I've discovered your channel about two weeks ago. Had some catching up to do… Now I'm level with you 😉 Waiting for your next one. Keep up the good job, team, it's fascinating !

  22. I'm hoping this little tidbit of the war gets at least a mention in one way or another, but I found out some time ago about the Austro-Hungarians soldiers in Palestine that were sent to help the Ottomans in 1915. It's relatively unknown and rather unimportant, but their story is a nice break from the usual daily carnage on other fronts.

    Basically, a number of Artillery units of the Imperial and Royal Army, mostly Hungarians but still quite varied, were sent in Palestine to help the Ottomans on that front. Since they were all support units (Artillery, Medical troops, military advisors and even a Brass Band), they were mostly stationed in the rear. Still, their presence was fondly remembered by the locals since the Austro-Hungarians shared their supplies with them during bouts of famine, their medical staff spent a lot of time treating sick locals and the aforementioned band often organised concerts. It's quite surprising to think that they remained there through the entire war and it's a nice change of pace seeing that much sympathy towards civilians in a war-torn region. Apparently, the local Arabs and Jews grew very fond of them and the Ottomans grew to like them as well, finding them a lot more pleasant than the German contingent that grew in influence.

    I just find it such a nice story and find it quite sad that it's practically forgotten outside of the region.

  23. spent the last week catching up with all 109 episodes, absolutely fantastic series. quality and highly educational. great stuff, keep it up

  24. I just watched every single video of the 'This week 100 years ago' playlist.
    I think I know more about the first year of The Great War then my history teacher

  25. Could you please update the map so that we can see how many land the german army already conquered in the east? So could you mark this new territory in the colour of the german empre?

  26. If defensive is king in world war one, then artillery is emperor.

    The Russian army not only suffered from nepotism and political games. It also suffered from a very old view of war and armies, where a "lord" would lead his men. While the High Command of Germany, for instance, would move divisions from one army to the other if needs changed at the various fronts, the Russian generals held very dearly to the recources that were given to them, as there was no guarantee that they would be "given back". As such, neighbouring armies seldomly "shared" their recources and units with each other and rather guarded them enviously wich of course is a disaster when you are trying to win a war.

  27. One week and I've already watched 109 episodes of this channel.

    (Apparently, this channel is spreading in the MLP fandom. I came from there.)

  28. One week and I've already watched 109 episodes of this channel.

    (Apparently, this channel is spreading in the MLP fandom. I came from there.)

  29. So, you said that there were soldiers fighting from 5 continents. Was South America the continent which you left off? If so, why did the war not necessarily impact South America in the same way it did the rest of the world?

  30. Why didn't they bring the powerful guns further up to bomb the enemy's artillery batteries and have other batteries and trench mortars bombing the enemy trench and then advancing infantry forward

  31. It almost seems sad that the Germans lost. They did such a good job! They sort of deserved to win at this point.

  32. So, considering the efficiency and popularity of artillery, did any of those men had any form of ear protection? I mean if not, then in this case most of those guys grew deaf really quickly.

    Was it like,

    -Ok John, fire it.
    -???
    -Ok this one is done change him.

  33. 1:08
    Are you certain he was the first flying ace? What is the source for this? The book "Fighter Combat – Tactics and Maneuvering" by Robert L. Shaw on the first page of Chapter 2 lists "Captain Oswald Boelcke" of the German Air Service in WW1 as "probably the world's first ace." I'd love to know who the first ace really was.

    By the way, you can find this book in the first page of a simple internet search.

  34. I swear I have the worst ADHD possible, yet I somehow always remember to watch these videos before bed. You guys have managed to keep my attention all the way to week 58, something not many would be able to do lol. Bravo on a well put together and intriguing series.

  35. I find it interesting, and sad, that all those russian generals died around the time of the revolution… I wonder if they died as loyalists in the fighting that took place in the years after the revolution.

  36. Were their any battles during the war where the British and French fought side by side? Or were they always separated to their own sectors of the front?

  37. Hey guys, this question doesn't relate to this video specifically, but to the war as a whole. Is it true that the British officer corps had a higher casualty rate than the common soldier, and that British officers were instructed not to duck? And that 60 British generals died in the war fighting with their men? Just watched a video on it and figured I'd come to the comments section of this channel to see if I can find any history buffs to enlighten me on the truthfulness/ or lack thereof this topic.

  38. This series is brilliantly done. Your videos, and TV5's documentary "Apocalypse: Verdun" are some of the few tools I've found to effectively convey the veritable horror of this conflict, the inhumanity and grotesque scale of the enormities in caused. Keep up the good work!

    On a side note, this has to be the most productive, interesting and respectful comment sections I've seen anywhere on the net!

  39. This time around Indy seems to have calmed down a bit when talking about the needless deaths. I guess they all realized it wasn't good for his heart to get that bright red at every video's ending…

  40. What did Indian army's battle at Peshwar had to do with WW1? Were they connected to the great war directly? @The Great War

  41. Long time watcher, love your work- quick production question- what are the soundtracks you use in the background during your videos?Specifically @6:50 but also generally as well?

  42. This all babble is only underlining the well known but often forgotten fact: land warfare is backward, man costly, slow motion and not near as decisive as that in sea and that based on industrial capacity. At the end it was sea power and lack of food which gave the victory to Allied.

  43. you know that moment when you are playing a hard game and a friend comes up and says "you are doing it wrong, give me the controller" and then he procedes to loose just like you did? thats what i feel happens with all these comander changes

  44. WW1 Generals: Hmmm… I’ve been throwing men at the enemy for a year now and they just keep dying……
    let’s do it one more time!
    This time will be different, this time the same exact strategy will work. This time won’t be like the last time I said “this time”

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