Monday, 14 May 2018
Russia’s Last Gasp – The Eastern Front 1916-1917 - Prit Buttar
Author: Prit Buttar
Russia’s Last Gasp is the third of four books relating to the tumultuous fighting on the Eastern Front during World War 1. Focussing on the last year of Russia’s formal engagement in the war and the last year of the Czar’s reign, it relates both the zenith and nadir of Russian fortunes as well as the secondary and tertiary effects thereof on the region. The recognition of a Polish State by the Central Powers and the effective use of fire and movement in the destruction of Romania as an Entente ally serve as two of the more notable events covered by Buttar. Most telling however, is the use of new tactics by the Russians in their Brusilov campaign which, but for a disastrous lack of cooperation and coordination amongst the Russian commanders, came within an ace of collapsing the Astro-Hungarian Empire.
Once again, the author is insightful, entertaining and comprehensive in his analysis and presentation. He masterfully deconstructs the Gordion Knot of political, operational and personality threads to present the reader with a logical rendition of the significant events and facts while ensuring the complexity of the environment is appreciated. Buttar has a gift for being able to convey a sense of the horror’s experienced by the soldiers at the coal face of combat; a skill that is often lost when authors relate battles in terms of numbers lost and ground gained.
His discussion of the Brusilov campaign is more interesting for the analysis of the planning and tactical changes that Brusilov developed to break the Austro-Hungarians. Taking advantage of lessons learned, Brusilov undertook to adjust the use of artillery as well as the methods of the infantry attack. These changes enabled the Russians to break through defensive lines that had proven impenetrable in the past. Once again Austro-Hungary teetered on the brink of collapse and it was only the Germans ability to rapidly shift reinforcements south that prevented collapse.
The Romanian campaign is very interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the unique joint operations between the Austro-Hungarians, Germans, Turks and Bulgarians against the Romanians (who were, in effect, left to their own devices by the Allied forces). Senior command of all of the forces was retained by Germans (von Falkenhayn out of Hungary and von Mackensen from Bulgaria). Their coordination and cooperation stood in marked contrast to the Allied forces available (Russia in the North and the British and French in Salonika). Buttar has done an admirable job at analysis and provision of lessons learned.