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

Saturday, July 1, 2017

100 Years Ago: The Kerensky Offensive Is Launched

Kerensky Visiting the Troops Before the Offensive

The Kerensky Offensive, after Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky, the Provisional Government's minister of war at the time, was the last Russian First World War offensive. It is, however, also called the Second Brusilov Offensive in some sources, after Russia's principal field commander, Alexei Brusilov. This operation was aimed not only at holding the Central Powers on the Eastern Front in coordination with the Allied forces in the west, but also at raising the morale of the Russian Army and the people's faith in the [new] government.

Some Details

Galicia, Central Europe, either side of Dniester River

1 July 1917—3 August 1917

Russian: VII, VIII, and XI Armies
German Army South,
Austro-Hungarian III and VII Armies

Russian: Aleksei Brusilov
German: Max Hoffmann and Felix Graf von Bothmer

Russian: Unknown
AH/German: 60,000

Notable for:
— First major Russian attack after the Tsar Nicholas II's abdication
— Defeat began the disintegration of Russian Army
— Triggered series of events culminating in the October Revolution

Despite its initial success, the desperate offensive ended as a catastrophe. Not only did it fail to achieve any of its goals, it also gave an unrecoverable blow to the Russian military and further undermined the Provisional Government's prestige, widening the gap between the ruling elite and general public. The event contributed to subsequent domestic unrest that eventually led to the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks.

Dead Russian on the Wire After the Initial Assault

The failure of the July 1917 offensive was a particular disappointment for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. He had embraced the Provisional Government. Possibly this was naive on his part, but he had steered America into the war only after Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and, then, found himself aligned with whatever emerged—which turned out to be the Provisional Government. The roots of Wilson's predicament went back to events of five years earlier. In the 1912 presidential campaign Socialist Eugene Debs, Bull Moose candidate Theodore Roosevelt, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson, all espousing some form of progressive reform, garnered 75 percent of the vote. Wilson's formula of Progressivism that set him apart from his competitors had a strong dose of "bringing democracy to the world" ("making the world safe for democracy" in the 1917 formulation), rejecting monarchy and dictatorship in all forms, implying a particular abhorrence of tsarist autocracy. It must have been utterly unthinkable for Woodrow Wilson to join an alliance that included the most prominent anti-progressive on the planet. The Tsar's abdication and the emergence of Russia's Provisional Government solved his dilemma. He could now help win the war in the name of democracy and earn a place at a new-world-shaping peace conference, all without rubbing elbows with an autocrat.

Sadly, the Provisional Government, embraced by Woodrow Wilson, and especially its leading figure, Alexander Kerensky, quickly proved inadequate to the moment. The Kerenesky Offensive would clarify this. Within a year, Wilson would be ordering American troops to Archangel, Murmansk, and Siberia, presumably to help make the world safe for democracy.


  1. What a doomed offensive. Morale had already collapsed.

  2. I had a professor who was at Stanford when Kerensky was there. He said Kerensky often walked the campus and enjoyed talking with students about whatever. Imagine being able to speak with one of the Great War's "names!" Unfortunately, this professor wasn't particularly interested in Kerensky or that period of history so he only spoke with him once or twice.