Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17, Prit Buttar

Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17, Prit Buttar


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Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17, Prit Buttar

Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17, Prit Buttar

The central part of the Russian campaign of 1916, the Brusilov offensive, is fairly well covered in English language histories of the war, but largely in isolation. It is sometimes connected to the unsuccessful attacks elsewhere on the Russian front, but rarely to the wider military, political or social background in Russia.

This book fills that gap. The Russian army of 1916 was largely shaped by the political establishment at St Petersburg, where Tsar Nicholas II had taken over as commander in chief. We examine the abilities of his war minister and other senior appointees, and the problems that came from having the Tsar in control of senior appointments (this especially affected the elite Guards units, commanded by one of the Tsar's appointees, and subjected to ineffective and outdated training as a result). The book draws us into the world of Tsarist Russia, and its dysfunctional army, putting it in the top rank of books of its type. The almost as dysfunctional relationship between the Germans and Austro-Hungarians is also covered.

The fighting itself is covered in some detail, allowing us to understand the reasons for Brusilov's unexpected successes, and the reasons that his advance eventually came to a halt. The attack failed to live up to its early promise, and cost the Russian army a vast number of casualties. It also tempted the Romanians to enter the war, a disaster for all involved. The text is supported by a good selection of maps, which help illustrate the progress of the campaign in largely unfamiliar areas. Overall this is an excellent book which really brings this part of the First World War to life.

Chapters
1 - The Fruits of War: The Occupied Territories and the Opposing Armies
2 - The Winter Battles
3 - Lake Naroch
4 - The Quiet Front
5 - Brusilov's Offensive Begins
6 - The Growing Crisis
7 - Dealing with Success and Failure
8 - Now or Never
9 - Kovel and Stanislau
10 - The Advent of Romania
11 - The New Front: Romania's Gamble
12 - Autumn
13 - Bucharest and Beyond
14 - The Cracks in the Edifice

Author: Prit Buttar
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 496
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2016



Book Review: Russia’s Last Gasp

Observers often complain that World War I histories concentrate on the Western Front to the exclusion of fighting elsewhere. Such big-name scholars as John Keegan, Norman Stone and Dominic Lieven have answered the call, but their efforts pale in comparison to those of British amateur historian Prit Buttar. Russia’s Last Gasp is the third of his exhaustively researched and lucidly written four-volume series on the Eastern Front, which spans nearly 2,000 pages.

The two fronts differed not in the nature of combat (trench warfare was also standard in the East) but in infrastructure, described as primitive at best in the East. Buttar does not quarrel with the description of the Russian soldier in 1914 as poorly trained, pitifully undersupplied and badly led. By 1916, however, industry was making reasonable quantities of weapons supply had improved from disastrous to barely adequate and many senior generals had achieved basic competence. The German army was better, but the Russians were no longer pushovers.

Buttar focuses much of his narrative on the fairly well known Brusilov Offensive, launched in June 1916 to relieve pressure on France and then defend Verdun. An imaginative strategist, Aleksey Brusilov rejected the traditional prolonged artillery barrage and general advance against defenders who knew what was coming. Concealing preparations, he began with a short, targeted barrage and sent his best units against the weak points of an Austro-Hungarian army far less formidable than that of Germany.

The first weeks recorded impressive advances and a haul of prisoners. This surprised Russia’s high command no less than the enemy. Both sides knew what they had to do, but as usual the Germans worked faster, sending forces and hectoring Austria to transfer units back from Italy. Beset by repeated delays, the wider Russian offensive fell back on traditional tactics and was the usual bloody failure. Brusilov received some reinforcements but his targeted offensive petered out in the fall. Perhaps its sole accomplishment was to persuade Romania to enter the war on Russia’s side, but German forces quickly crushed the former.

Buffs of the Eastern Front will devour Buttar’s nuts-and-bolts account of the fighting. While observing the academic tradition of listing every commander and unit name in an operation, the author breaks it up with vivid anecdotes and astute observations.


Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17, Prit Buttar - History

By Christopher Miskimon

Heavy fighting raged between German and Russian forces in March 1916 near Lake Naroch in modern-day Belarus. A Russian offensive, which would last for 12 days, was underway to relieve pressure on French forces on the Western Front. On the night of March 22, German Lieutenant Hans Kondruss of the 75th Reserve Infantry Division was at his place on the front lines when a heavy Russian bombardment began at about 11 pm. A half hour later the fire grew even heavier, made bitterly worse by the inclusion of friendly fire. A German officer mistakenly believed an area still in German hands had been overrun. It was a frightening experience, for the Russian shells were often duds, lessening the impact of the barrage. Yet the incoming German rounds were much more reliable. Their position, the Friemel Heights, shook with the power of the incoming gunfire.
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Suddenly Kondruss’s companion fell to the ground. A hole the size of a bean pierced his skull near his eyes. A fist-sized hole gaped in the back of his head, blood and brain matter dripping from it horrifically. Kondruss slumped next to him for a few minutes in shock. One of his comrades even thought he also was hit. The day went on until finally the barrage stopped at dusk, about 5 pm. More than 100 Germans in Kondruss’s sector were dead and many machine guns had been knocked out. Frantically they tried to shore up their defenses, awaiting the Russian infantry. Shockingly, none came. Kondruss later learned from prisoners that the Russians had seen Germans moving in the trench and decided to attack at dawn.

The Germans used the time to their advantage, repairing three machine guns and bringing up replacements. A new officer arrived to take command but he soon fell wounded to a burst of shrapnel, leaving Kondruss in command. At 7 am shouts were heard repeatedly from the Russian lines. They were advancing. It seemed like thousands were charging, but they were not firing and the artillery had slackened. Kondruss was able to stand on a parapet and watch the enemy approaching. He ordered his men to wait until the Russians were 400 meters away and then open fire. The cries of “Urra!” came closer. The German lieutenant gave the order to fire, and machine guns chattered and rifles cracked. The Russian chanting changed to screams of pain and fear as bullets tore into their ranks. More Russians followed, rank after rank in numbers Kondruss could not begin to count. The Germans kept firing until finally the Russian attack broke down and the survivors fled back to their lines, cannon fire chasing them all the way. For now, it was over. The 75th Reserve had held the line.

The Russians would launch a much larger offensive, known as the Brusilov Offensive, against the Central Powers in June 1916. Unlike the unsuccessful Lake Naroch Offensive, this effort was highly successful and resulted in the collapse of Austria-Hungary’s military leadership. In the wake of the offensive, the Germans directed their ally’s military forces.

The Eastern Front in World War I was a much more fluid theater, far too large for a manned trench system the size of the one on the Western Front. Trenches were valuable in the defense, but in the east armies could maneuver. Just as the fighting in France was causing exhaustion among the combatants, it was taking its toll to the east as well. The Russian factories were increasing production, but the first rumblings of revolt were beginning to be heard. The Central Powers, though more often victorious in the field, were straining to fight on both fronts along with diversions to southern Europe and the Middle East. It was a wide-ranging campaign, one that is expertly recounted in Russia’s Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17.

This is the third volume in a four-part series on the Great War’s Eastern Front, a part of the war relatively unknown in the Western world. The author is an acknowledged expert on the subject, and this shows through in the clear writing, flowing narrative, and exhaustive detail. The depth of research is impressive, all the more so since scant material is available in English about the Eastern Front. It is a dramatic account, which gives the reader a complete picture of the fighting that tore Eastern Europe apart both physically and politically as Russia broke under the pressure. The final book is expected in 2017 and will cover the turbulent period through 1921.

(Prit Buttar, Osprey Publishing, Oxford UK, 2016, 496 pp., maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, index, $30.00, hardcover)


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People who bought this also bought

Pride and Prejudice

Outlander (Outlander, #1)

Devil in Winter (Wallflower.

Jane Eyre

Gone with the Wind

The Duke and I (Bridgertons.

Persuasion

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A Kingdom of Dreams (Westmo.

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Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916–17 Paperback – Illustrated, 24 August 2017

The Brusilov offensive in 1916 was as successful of any other incomplete victory in World War I--and one of the few major offensives by the Russian Army.

This book puts that offensive into a context--what transpired before, the offensive itself, and what happened afterwards. Previous Russian efforts--even before 1916--had often been disastrous (think the German army's decisive defeat of two whole Russian armies, with the fight at Tannenbeg typifying the poor performances, under the command of Hindenberg and Ludendorf. After that major defeat, Russian forces often floundered, while taking extremely large casualties.

Brusilov entered to command the Russian forces, facing both German and Austro-Hungarian forces. The latter did not fare very well. But Brusilov even tested German troops. Brusilov used a more imaginative approach than prior Russian generals. For one thing, he used artillery much more effectively he worked to coordinate operations. The Russian forces actually advanced significantly. The book gives the reader a sense of the good, the bad, and the ugly commanders of the various forces.

As seemed inevitable in WWI, the offensive finally ground down and attrition took place. The book also described the larger combat situation in the area, including the foolish entrance of Romania into the war. And, of course, the Russian problems waging war were a part of the picture leading to the Bolsheviks taking power.

A well done work, with much detail to guide the reader not familiar with the subject. The book is more functionally written than elegant. But thne writing style serves the purpose.

Part Three of Dr. Buttar's excellent Trilogy of the Eastern Front during the First World War easily holds with its two preceding companions. The story of the War in the East is, in the end, the story of how Tsarist Russia finally came to an end and RUSSIA's LAST GASP magnificently chronicles all the internal contradictions of the Romanov state in the final months before the abdication of Nicholas II. Dr. Buttar gives thorough examination to previously ignored campaigns such as the Austrian "Black-Yellow" Offensive, that largely failed, and the Russian "Brusilov Offensive," that, initially at least, succeeded spectacularly. It was the chronic strain of the latter, however, once the Brusilov attacks lost impetus, and the Austrians and their German allies regained the initiative, Russian forces were spent.

Defeat at the Front, misery at home and the Romanov's held Court at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg all but oblivious to the crisis that was set to consume the Dynasty and eventually result in the execution of the Tsar himself, along with his family. That is for a succeeding volume from Dr, Buttar I anticipate a release this September. That is then. For RUSSIA'S LAST GASP, however, again, it is a superlative piece of World War I History and this Trilogy will be readily counted among other great authors such as Norman Stone or Sir John Keegan.

I highly recommend this volume as well as the previous two. All are fantastic reads.


Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916–17 (PB) [Buttar]

In Russia's Last Gasp, now in paperback, Prit Buttar looks at one of the bloodiest campaigns launched in the history of warfare--the Brusilov Offensive, sometimes known as the June Advance. With British, French and German forces locked in a stalemate in the trenches of the Western Front, an attack was launched by the massed Russian armies to the east. The assault was intended to knock Austria-Hungary out of the war and divert German troops from the Western Front, easing the pressure on Russia's allies. Russia's dismal military performance in the preceding years was forgotten, as the Brusilov Offensive was quickly characterized by innovative tactics. Most impressive of all was the Russian use of shock troops, a strategy that German armies would later use to great effect in the final years of the war.

Drawing on first-hand accounts and detailed archival research Buttar gives a dramatic retelling of final years of the war on the Eastern Front, with the Russian Army claiming military success at a cost so high that it was never able to recover.


Contents

Buttar studied medicine at Oxford University and London University. Ώ] ΐ] Buttar served in the British Army as a surgeon ΐ] and medical officer for five years. He later worked in Bristol as a general practitioner (GP). He currently works as a GP in Abingdon-on-Thames and serves on the GP's Committee of the British Medical Association. He is Chairman of the Oxfordshire Local Medical Committee. Ώ] Α]

Buttar's first book, Battleground Prussia, was inspired by one of his patients. The 83-year-old patient recalled stories about her life as a nurse in East Prussia and escape from the Prussian army Α] near the end of World War II. Buttar spent 8 years writing the book. Β] His second book, Between Giants, is a study of the Battle for the Baltics in WWII, and explores the experiences of people from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Α]

His third book, Collision of Empires, is a study of World War I on the Eastern Front. It is the first of a four volume series. Γ] Before writing the book, Buttar spent a year studying archives in Berlin, Vienna, and Freiberg. With the help of another historian, the multi-lingual Buttar was able to translate the German archives. Δ] The second book of the series, Germany Ascendant: The Eastern Front 1915, was released in 2015. Ε]


Russia’s Last Gasp, The Eastern Front 1916 – 17

“Russia’s Last Gasp, The Eastern Front 1916 – 17” by Prit Buttar is a considerable book, running to 472 pages, and follows on from the author’s previous Great War books “Collision of Empires, the war on the Eastern front in 1914” and “Germany Ascendant, the Eastern Front 1915”. As trilogies go it is an epic, covering all of human ambition and emotion, folly and courage. This book stands alone but it is hard to see why any reader wouldn’t follow through and read all of them, and the hopefully soon to be published final volume(s) covering the end of the war. Do not let the size fool you, this is an easy read and interesting from cover to cover.

This book does exactly what it says on the tin, setting out the position at the start of the year, explaining what happened, why it happened and what the effects of this were. Buttar takes up the story at the beginning of 1916 with both sides having had their triumphs and failures in the preceding seventeen months as the front line ebbed and flowed. Both sides began the year optimistically, the Central Powers because they had plans to knock France, and then Britain, out of the war at Verdun while the Russians hoped that Italy’s entry into the war would draw sufficient Austrian divisions to that front to allow them to prosper in their planned offensives.

Buttar covers the various successes and failures of the Brusilov Offensive, the Austro-Hungarian campaigns and the German drive into Romania at the end of the year. With the ebb and flow of the Austrian army on the Italian Front and the need to support both Turkey and Bulgaria it becomes increasingly clear that far from her allies propping up Germany, German strength is dissipated supporting them. The book ends in early 1917 with (SPOILER ALERT) continuing stalemate as the war lurched on despite the best efforts of the generals on both sides.

The author covers the battles and campaigns of the period in great detail as well as delving into the political machinations of the various countries and alliances. Buttar even covers the abortive peace negotiations with the US presidential involvement. This is not a book which simply narrates the events, the author has command of his subject and can explain it in a clear, concise way. My one gripe is that the maps are not always of the same quality as the writing and the book could do with a few more.

At four hundred and seventy two pages including index this is a comprehensive work covering the Eastern Front during the climactic period of the war. It is an essential read for any gamer with an interest in the period, while remaining accessible enough for the more casual reader. I cannot recommend this book, and its companions, too highly. Prit Buttar has recently retired from his day job and it is to be hoped that this will free him up to write many, many more books.


Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17, Prit Buttar - History

Despite the increasingly futile, bloody struggles for territory that had characterised the Eastern Front the previous year, the German and Austro-Hungarian commands held high hopes for 1916. After the success of the 1915 Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive, which had driven Russia out of Galicia and Poland, Germany was free to renew its efforts in the west. Austria-Hungary, meanwhile, turned its attention to defeating Italy.

In an attempt to relieve pressure on their British and French allies at the Somme and Verdun, Russia launched one of the bloodiest campaigns in the history of warfare. General Brusilov's June advance was quickly characterised by innovative tactics, including the use of shock troops - a tactic that German armies would later adapt to great effect. The momentum continued with Romania's entry into the war and the declaration by the Central Powers of a Kingdom of Poland - two events which would radically transform the borders of post-war Europe.

Drawing on first-hand accounts and archival research, internationally renowned historian Prit Buttar presents a dramatic account of an explosive year on the Eastern Front, one that gave Russia its greatest success on the battlefield but plunged the nation into revolution at home.

Prit Buttar studied medicine at Oxford and London before joining the British Army as a doctor. After leaving the army, he has worked as a GP, first near Bristol and now in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. He is extensively involved in medical politics, both at local and national level, and served on the GPs' Committee of the British Medical Association. He appears from time to time on local and national TV and radio, speaking on a variety of medical issues. He contributes regularly to the medical press. An established expert on the Eastern Front in 20th century military history, his previous books include the critically acclaimed Battleground Prussia: The Assault on Germany's Eastern Front 1944-45 (Osprey 2010) and Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II (Osprey 2013). Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17 is the third book in a four-volume series, the definitive study of the First World War on the Eastern Front.


Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17

In Russia's Last Gasp, Prit Buttar looks at one of the bloodiest campaigns launched in the history of warfare-the Brusilov Offensive, sometimes known as the June Advance. With British, French, and German forces locked in a stalemate in the trenches of the Western Front, an attack was launched by the massed Russian armies to the east. The assault was intended to knock Austria-Hungary out of the war and divert German troops from the Western Front, easing the pressure on Russia's allies. Russia's dismal military performance in the preceding years was forgotten, as the Brusilov Offensive was quickly characterized by innovative tactics. Most impressive of all was the Russian use of shock troops, a strategy that German armies would later use to great effect in the final years of the war.

Drawing on first-hand accounts and detailed archival research, Buttar gives a dramatic retelling of final years of the war on the Eastern Front, with the Russian Army claiming military success at a cost so high that it was never able to recover.


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