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December 01, 1972 - Image 5

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Michigan Daily, 1972-12-01

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Friday, December 1,1X72

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

r-age Nve

Friday, ~ecember i; 1 ~72 THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Debacle

in

the

East:

Anew

try

at

War

and

AUGUST 1914, by Alexander
-Solzhenitsyln. Translated by Mi-
chael Glenny. Farrar, Straus
and Giroux, 622 pages. $10.
By O. M. PEARL
THE BATTLE of Tannenburg
has its singular fascination
both as a disaster virtually le-
thal to Russian war-power and
as a repeat and reversal of the
earlier battle which crushed the
Teutonic Order 500 years before.
In the last days of August, 1914,
the Russian army lost 310,000
men, 650 guns, an incalculably
large proportion of Russian
transport and materiel, the best
units of the Russian army, and
an irreplaceable cadre of train-
ed officers and non-commission-
ed personnel.
From the formation of the
Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892,
the attention of French and Rus-
sian General Staffs was directed
to plans to meet the eventual
conflict with the Austro-German
alignment. The problem was one
of opposing sufficient threat and
force to the Central , Powers in
order to prevent what seemed
likely-the concentration of Ger-
man arms against East or West
consecutively, which could crush
them in separate operations. The
incalculables in the over-all ap-
praisal were one negative-Italy
-with her ' lukewarm affiance-
ment with the Central Powers,
and one possible affirmative-
Britain-who would not be likely
to look on passively while Germ-
any gained an unassailable no-
sition . on the Continent. The
prime problem was to meet the
immediate offensive which Ger-
many and Austria could be ex-.
pected to mount against East or
West, or both. Germany's cen-
tral position and her efficiency
in mobilization n e c e s s itated
prompt, even over-hasty counter-
ing moves by the East-West al-
lies. Under these constraints, the
French got Russia to agree to
launch offensive operations on
the fourteenth, day of mobiliza-
tion, although twenty-eight days
was the optimistic estimate for
the period of mustering of Rus-
sian forces. In the Staff Confer-
ence of 1911, the French signal-
ed their ability and intent to
launch an offensive on the twelfth
day of mobilization with 1,300,000
men; in 1913, this figure was con-
firmed and the Russian staff
promised an offensive with 800,-
000 men as soon as possible after
the fifteenth day of mobilization.
Russia was reluctant, partly due
to the fact that reform of the
Russian military system was un-
der way, and could not be com-
pleted until 1916. Hope was that
the confrontation would not oc-
cur before that time.
HE ASSASSINATION of Franz
t Ferdinand on the 28th of
June, 1914, lit the fuse which ig-
nited the Balkan powder-keg, and
led in quick succession to Rus-
sian mobilization (ordered, July
31) followed by Turkish mobiliza-
tion, the German ultimatum to

and invasion of Belgium, French
offensive action, and the entry of
Britain into the war.
With the opening movements
in the West, it became obvious
that the main thrust of Germany
was against France. Grand Duke
Nikolai and General Yanushke-
vich ordered offensive operations
against East Prussia. At the mo-
ment of action (August 17, north,
20, south), accordingly, Russia
launched her offensive with total
effectives variously estimated at
from 400 to 640 thousand, in-
stead of 800,000, and with her to-
tal forces divided between two
fronts -German and Austrian.
Let Solzhenitsyn explain how this
came about, through the bad
judgment of Suzhomlinov, Mini-

railway track. So this alternative
was chosen, and Palitsyn made
his defense plans accordingly: a
chain of fortresses on the line
Kovno-Grodno-Osovets-Noro-Geor-
gievsk (a strategy which was
n o w affecting Vorotyntsev's
horse, as it felt the going getting
heavier and heavier on the sandy
tracks; it was for exactly this
reason that the region had been
left without a single metaled
road).
At this point Sukhomlinov, with
the irresponsible ignorance so
easily mistaken for decisiveness,
had come to the General Staff
and "reconciled" the contending
factions. "We shall," he declared,
"advance on Germany and Aus-
tria simultaneously!" Of the

are the facts of this suicidal en-
deavor. Add to this a jumbled
and inadequate supply and trans-
port system, forced marches by
hungry men, marches and coun-
termarches with no apparent or
actual reason, and you behold a
mass of men - not an army -
thrust into utter destruction.
The aimless movements of the
XIII Army Corps were typical of
the campaign. In Gruenfliess For-
est, the XIII marched to Omulef-
offen, about ten miles by line of
march northward of the frontier.
Retracing the way to Kaltenborn,
passed the day before, underfed
men had to push gun carriages
to help half-starved horses move
the guns through sand. After ten
miles, the column stopped, re-
mained still for a time, then re-
versed direction and marched
back to Omulefoffen to prepare
supper, and find sleep at dawn's
light. Up again without adequate
rest, they prepared to march out
once more by yesterday's route.
After a morning's wait in in-
creasing heat, changed orders di-
rected to form on a third route
out of the village.
"Once more a whole hour was
spent in redeployment.
"They set off. The day was un-
bearably hot, and feet and wheels
dragged in the sand more than
ever. This time the road was
narrower and in a much worse
state, the bridges along it were
all blown up, and the strength of
the Russian troops was drained
away as they made detours, each
time hauling themselves up the
steep embankments onto the road
again. The latest novelty was
that the Germans had filled all
the wells near the road with
earth, refuse, and timber, so
there was nowhere to get water
except from the lake, and for
that there was no time to spare.
"Today no gunfire was heard
from any direction. There was no
trace of a German-no soldiers,
no civilians, not even old men
and women. It seemed as if the
rest of the Russian army had
va'nished and the only living thing
was their division being driven
along an unknown, deserted, for-
saken road. There were not even
any Cossacks to reconnoiter
ahead.
"Even the stupidest illiterate
soldier realized tha this officers
had blundered hopelessly.
"It was now the twelfth of Aug-
ust, the fourteenth day of their
uninterrupted march."
ON THE GERMAN side, plan-
ning and action were of a di-
metrically different quality. Von
Prittwitz, initially commanding
in East Prussia, suffered a re-
verse at Gumbinnen through un-
derestimate of Russian man-
power and rifle capability. Over-
cautious at first, von Prittwitz
considered retirement even be-
hind the Vistula, but Rennen-
kampf, his Russian opponent,
failed completely to follow up the
advantage gained. The entire
campaign began to take a shape
-or a formlessness on the Rus-
sian side-which baffled the Ger-
man command. What could the
Russians intend by such incred-
ibly uporthodox strategy and tac-
tics-moving where they should
not and standing still where they
should move-altogether counter

to military theory and obvious op-
portunity?
Von Prittwitz disengaged in the
North without any interference,
indeed without being perceived in
his withdrawal. Russian quies-
cence in the North, and seeming-
ly rash and pointless movement
in the South, caused von Pritt-
witz to pluck up courage and plan
attack on the Second Army of
Samsonov in the oSuth.
Having successfully pulled his
three army corps away from
Hennenkampf in the space of
three days, von Prittwitz decided
not to retreat across the Vistula
but to regroup and wheel his
forces to the right and strike at
the left flank of Samsonov's army
approaching from the south. For

them: all they had to do was give
the necessary orders to stage the
Cannae of the twentieth century.
General Samsonov, meanwhile,
was in increasing distress from
strain and ill-health (in fact, he
had been called to duty from
sick-leave, rather than from "a
comfortable post in the Farthest
Asia", as Solzhenitsyn states).
In addition, accused of coward-
ice and harassed by Zhilinsky,
who insisted on a course which
would have frontally assaulted
German forces and, if success-
ful, rolled them back, instead of
cutting them off from the Vis-
tula, Samsonov resisted. Unable
to act counter to Zhilinsky's or-
ders, he compromised and made
the fatal attempt to fulfill the

start withdrawing diagonally to
the southeast, but then it was
immediately confronted by the
three - mile - long Lake Plaut-
zig, whose two long arms were
flung out as though to stop their
progress and whose blue depths
glittered with the sinister warn-
ing: "No road!" Beyond the tip
of the left-hand arm was stretch-
ed the seven-foot-wide causeway
of Schlage M, and from there
ran a string of, minor lakes suc-
ceeded by a further hostile
stretch of Prussian water block-
ing the corps' route, the two-mile
expanse of Lake Maransen. Hav-
ing paid dearly for the crossing
of Schlage M, which had at least
enabled it to break out to the
southeast, the corps was again

The wicked Hun

ster of War, and Zhilinsky, Chief
of Staff and later commander of
operations in East Prussia:
(According to her treaty with
France, Russia was free to
choose her own personal axes of
advance. Years of consideration
were given to the two most ob-
vious alternatives: an advance
directed against Austria, or an
advance directed against Ger-
many. The Austrian frontier
would require large forces and
offered little hope of success,
whereas the Prussian lakes were
highly suitable for defense and
an obstacle to advance. To pene-
trate Germany would require
large forces and offered little
hope of success, whereas attack-
ing Austria was likely to be very,
rewarding; the destruction of her
army and probably of the state
itself would produce a shift in
the balance of power of half of
Europe. Meanwhile, Russia could
defend herself against Germany
with a minimum expenditure of
force, thanks to the lack of roads
in her frontier territories and,
above all, to her broad-gauge

available alternatives, he made
the worst possible choice: to at-
tack both at once. The following
year Zhilinsky, who replaced
him, made a personal commit-
ment to the French, which was
also binding on Russia even
though it exceeded her treaty
obligations, that the Russians
would definitely advance on Ger-
mrany as well as on Austria-eith-
er into Prussia, or toward Berlin.
And now, of course, Russia was
in honor bound not to disappoint
her allies.)
rHE CAMPAIGN in East Prus-
sia proceeded as might have
been foretold from symptoms of
this sort. Changes of plan-too
late to be implemented; direc-
tives taking no account of actual-
ities of transport, terrain, or even
objective; attempts by Zhilinsky,
over-all commander, to order
tactical as well as strategic dis-
positions, often with entire mis-
information or misconception of
the placement of his forces, and
in utter ignorance of the enemy's
strength or movements - these

_ _.

I

48

r:3
TeV isc o nt iH omurs
-9
IN
il ............. .',. ,.,..
-4 :4
Anyone already interested in illuminated manuscripts need only be told
I that the great one known as THE VISCONTI HOURS, extended near the
end of the 14th century, has been published in facsimile by George Bra
I ziller He successfully combines the beauty of the original, quality of repro-
duction and the scholarship of the accompanyig text.
s ti
sPri e r:r sifs re t r x 4a

Top: The Russians had no short-
age of troops. .
Right: GeneraT Ludendorff con-
siders how to win the war.
-and this was the third Rus-
sian enigma[-the southern Rus-
sian army was attempting neith-
er to probe the opposing army
corps commanded by von Scholtz
(who was near the Polish fron-
tier in a guarding position, like
a diagonally placed shield) nor to
outflank it, nor even to attack
it head-on, butewas calmly
marching forward into empty
territory past von Scholtz, ex-
posing its flank to him as it did
so.
L UDENDORFF and von Hin-
Sdenburg were placed in com-
mandein astePrussia, but the
plans they formulated had al-
ready been envisaged and par-
tially executed by von Prittwitz.
At this point, the Russians pro-
duced their fourth enigma: un-
ciphered radio mesages! Several
of these were handed to Luden-
dorff as he arrived, and as he
was continuing his journey by
car, a courier in another car ov-
ertook him and handed him a
further sheaf of intercepted Rus-
sian signals sent between head-
quarters of Second Army and its
corps headquarters, also a dozen
radio messages from First Army
sent on August 11 giving the pre-
cise dispositions of the corps,
their objectives and intentions,
and revealing the depth of their
ignorance about the enemy, and
finally the complete text of a
message sent on the morning of
the twelfth containing the entire
set of orders for the redeploy-
ment of Second Army. It was
clear that First Army was going
to be no hindrance to the Ger-
mans while they attacked Second
Army.
But was all this part of a plan
of deception? No, the informa-
tion was confirmed by reports
from aerial reconnaissance, from
lookout posts, from auxiliary vol-
unteers, and from telephone calfs
made by local inhabitants. In all
military history there can never
have been such a well-marked
map, such clear information
about the enemy. For the Ger-
mans, what might have been a
different campaign in a country
dotted with lakes and enclosed
by forests of sixty-foot-high pine
trees promised to be as simple as
an exercise on a training ground.
All four enigmas turned out to
have a single solution: the Rus-
sians were incapable of coordi-
nating the movements of large
masses. Therefore, it was safe to
run the risk of being outflanked
and to turn the pincer movement
into an encirclement. The map
itself spoke, positively shouted at

Peace
could not have made the attempt
had there been the order and the
will. Artillery and machine guns
had exhausted their ammunition
or been abandoned, rifles thrown
away, supply and transport de-
stroyed or captured - there
were no longer means to resist.
Colonel Vorotyntsev, the fic-
tional roving eye over the whole
battle - field, makes his way to
the Grand Duke's headquarters.
The somber report he there gives
of the malicious rivalry, lying,
incompetency, cowardice, and
stupidity of most of the com-
manders is received almost pass-
ively. He perceives that there
will be no just reckoning with
the cowards and fools, and it is
this realization that kills his
faith and hope in a Russia cap-
able of regeneration.
As a way of testing the grand-
duke's reactions, Vrotyntsev
listed the names of the brave
regiments that had been annihi-
lated at Usdau by Artamonov's
act of criminal foolishness, tak-
ing care to mention the Yenisei
regiment at whose head the
grand-duke himself had so re-
cently led the ceremonial parade
at Peterhof.
At this, the commander-in-
chief said: "Of course, there will
be the most rigorous inquiry. But
he is a brave general and a deep-
ly religious man."
At this moment his interest in
Vorotyntsev's story, all his symi-
pathetic attention, seemed to un-
dergo an eclipse by a vaporous
cloud of grand-ducal solemnity.
Vorotyntsev fell silent. If the
order to retreat from Usdau was
not absoulte folly, if it was not a
crime to pull back troops who
after hours of bombardment had
spontaneously gone over to the
attack, if the decision to cause a
thoroughly battle-worthy corps to
w i t h d r a w twenty - five miles,
thereby destroying an army, wa$
not treachery; if all this was not
good reason to call Artamonov to
account and tear the general's
epaulettes from his shoulders-
what was the point of mobilizing
an army at all? What, indeed,
was the point of declaring war?
With this sobering vignette, the
book ends.
SOLZHENITSYN'S n a rrative
has merit, in the pictorial
and vivid quality of certain sec-
tions of the panorama displayed.
One strength is the clarity of the
translation, which seems acur-
ately to transfer the vital and
colloquial style at which Solzhen-
itsyn professedly aims. The vices
of over-elaboration and turgidity
Solzhebitsyn avoids in the main,
except in passages of polemical
disparagement of the most inept
of the Czarist functionaries. The
initial seventy five pages are
heavy going and bear on the ce-
tral subject with insufficient fo-
cus. A notable defect, attribu-
table to translator or publisher,
is the failure to apprise the read-
er of the discrepancy between
the Russian and the Western cal-
endar. For example, the men
(noted in the first excerpt above)
who have marched for fourteen
days on the tenth of August
(Russian date; p. 137) appear at
first glance to have begun their
movement one day before the
order for general mobilization
(July 31, Western). Mention of
the 13/14 day lag in the Russian
calendar which distinguished it
from the Western between 1900
and 1917, would have avoided this
mental shock.
The book as a whole is not well
ordered. In fact, it is as disor-
dered as was the Russilan army,
and one disjunct part is as un-
able to communicate with anoth-

er as were the Russians. Pos-
sibly an index of persons and of
army units (with page referen-
ces and dates) might enable a
persevering and conscientious
reader to construct order out of
chaos. Even so, the basic de-
fect would not be repaired. The
personages are in too many in-
stances presented in shallow re-
lief and the tricks of superficial
characterization do .not conceal
themselves. Often only the de-
fects of personalities are high-
lighted. For example, although
Samsonov is in general sympa-
thetically viewed, Solzhenitsyn
does not inform us that he was,
from the beginning, a sick man,
recalled from sick leave--facts
which largely mitigate his er-
rors, though not the errors of
the High Command which ap-
pointed him.
IN AUGUST 1914, Solzhenitsyn
has moved away from his
prime source of strength as a
writer-his own life and times.
August does not strike with the
impact of remembered and for-
malized anguish that gives pow-
er to many pasages and person-
ages in One Day, Cancer Ward,
First Circle. The attitudes as-
sumed in August lack the subtle-
ty and irony of the symbolism in
the earlier works-even granted
that these, even at their best,
are often overburdened. Solzhen-
itsyn himself says (as quoted on

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original strategic plan of cutting
to the westward of the German
armies. The compromise was
fatal, for it spread and divided
Samsonov's units, and the situa-
tion quickly deteriorated into ir-
retrievable chaos. The unlucky
and ill-led XIII Corps was typi-
cal.
. As late as the morning of Au-
gust 13, the progress of.XIII
Corps could have been regarded
as a purposeful advance, but
during the half day's inactivity
spent without firing or moving on
the Griesslinnen Heights, there
came a moment when the corps
imperceptibly degenerated into
something about as useful as a
heap of junk. At all events, it
should have moved-either to
support Martos's nearby XV
Corps (from whom an officer
came requesting help) or at least
to escape by withdrawing south-
ward without delay while the
narrow isthmus between the
lakes was still open. But
throughout theDay of the As-
sumption Klyuex dithered until
evening, and he was still in the
same place when night fell.
After the almost pointless sac-
r-if ice of two battalions and a
regiment in rear-guard action,
while the main body of XIII
C o r p s did nothing, General
Klyuev and the survivors found
themselves trapped. If it had
been purposely handicapped in

faced with only one possible loop-
hole - the bridge and dam at
Schwedrich, which it had to pass
in a thin, single file. Once over
that,. it was not free to follow its
first diagonal line of march but
was penned into a north-south
corridor between two stretches
of water: behind it was the chain
of lakes which it had just cross-
ed, north of it was Lake Lans-
ker, three miles long, and a
string of small lakes linked by
the marshy river Alle. Having
negotiated this second obstacle,
the corps would find itself head-
ing into yet a third watery em-
brace - two more miles of the
vastly ramified, many - armed
L a k e Omulefoffen. Prevented
from moving in the direction in
which it wanted to go, it had no
alternative but to push due south,
getting entangled with the neigh-
boring XV Corps, and then move
along roads that might already
have been cut by the enemy.
Even after looping around Lake
Omulefoffen, it would come up
against the limitless expanse of
the Grunfliess Forest at a point
where the only good, straight
road in the area - the Grun-
fliess - Kaltenborn road - .cut
straight across its route at a
right angle,so that the corps
was obliged to cross the forest
by winding woodland paths.
In its retreat from ,Allenstein
the wretched XIII Corps, which

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