Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Brusilov Offensive by Timothy Dowling

To begin, I am in complete agreement with the author that the Eastern Front of WWI, for the most part, is simply missing from English literature. While we have an abundance of studies about the Western Front, from all sides, the Russian experience in WWI is relatively unknown. And this is a nation that went to war with the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Turkish Empires. It's true enough that the Russian officer Corps was a hindrance to the army, but due to the casualties the officer corps sustained throughout the first year of war many of the new officers rose from the ranks or were composed of non-nobles. This in and of itself spelled a change for Russia in the grand scheme of things and goes a long way to explain why so many units eventually allied with the Bolsheviks, or other revolutionary parties, during the Revolution.

The most interesting section of the book was the titled Brusilov Offensive and the eventual role Romania's entry into the war plays. I had heard of this successful offensive before but what it could have accomplished did not register with me until I read through this book. Although in all honesty Brusilov's plan was simply to attack and give the Habsburg empire as many casualties as he could, what his offensive could have accomplished in more idealistic terms, which the author outlines later in the text, had never crossed my mind. I won't lie, a large part of the book is units attacking, retreating, defending, etc. So many units that you'll undoubtedly lose track of many of them. I also couldn't understand why the author regularly referred to the area of Bukovina as "the Bukovina" rather than simply Bukovina, which is how I have always seen it in written. But, aside from these two caveats, one of which you'll deal with in any military history of WWI, the research was impressive as was the atmosphere (usually frustration at the ignorance and ineptitude of one general or another) the author was able to create. There is some context describing how this offensive affected the mood of the Army (casualties were not small and the gains were limited compared to what they could have been) but I hoped for more context when dealing with how the Army treated the Bolshevik-agitators it eventually had to deal with, etc. In the end this work represents a fine addition to WWI literature and the Eastern Front of the First World War.

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