Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, May 16, 2015

100 Years Ago: The Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive & the Great Retreat Underway

In May 1915 a German/Austro-Hungarian offensive was launched against Russia that would result in the greatest victory of World War I by the Central Powers.

When: First Phase, 2 May – 22 June 1915
Where: Primarily in Poland, Starting Southeast of Kraków

For 1915 the chief of the German General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, had decided to look to the east.

  • His forces were bogged down in the west and his principal ally, Austria-Hungary, was almost "steamrollered" in the winter campaigns in Galicia.
  • For his first operation, he chose to attack over the Carpathian Mountains into Galicia against Russian forces that were still attacking.
  • Eight divisions were moved from the Western Front to form the new Eleventh Army under the command of  aggressive general August von Mackensen.  
  • Flanked by two Austrian armies, the force attacked in early May near the rail centers of Gorlice & Tarnów.

Russian Prisoners of War


The Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive succeeded beyond all expectations: one after another, Russian defensive lines were penetrated. Fortress Przemysl was recaptured, and Warsaw fell.

Then, on 9 July Russia's supreme commander, Grand Duke Nicholas ordered a scorched-earth retreat. By September, Poland and Galicia were lost and the Eastern Front was 300 miles east from its August 1914 starting point.

Greatest Victory by the Central Powers in WWI —

  • The Russian Army by the end had lost two million men killed, wounded, or captured.
  • A Symbolic Victory:  Gaining Almost All of Poland
  • A Psychological Victory:  The Russian High Command felt outmatched when facing the German Army for the rest of the war.

Possibly the worst result of the defeats — the tsar named himself commander-in-chief, leaving the tsaritsa and Gregorii Rasputin free to meddle in affairs in Petrograd.


  1. The appearance of German troops in the East paralyses the Russian, Serbian, Romanian, and Italian high commands. Illustrates what a properly trained army can do against masses with poorly trained armies.

  2. For this campaign at least, the German Army wasn't "handcuffed to a corpse." But watch out! The Brusilov offensive is coming.

  3. Great post.
    I posted some links here: