On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia (respectively in response to Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia) after refusing to restrict general mobilization. II. Nicholas delayed this war as best he could and tried to negotiate with the Kaiser to the end. But he had to carry out his “Schlieffen plan” quickly – a general mobilization in Russia was an obstacle to this, to quickly seize France until Russia came to its senses.
And it started. Despite the fact that many people talked about the impending war, both in Europe and in Russia, intellectuals at the time agreed that it was impossible. After all, this is a nightmare and horror, and people have become much more civilized. There had not been a single world war until then, and therefore it seemed that there could not be. As a result, however, as many as 38 countries were included.
At first, “progressive” society, both in European countries and in Russia, greeted the war with great enthusiasm. There were, of course, marginal Tolstoys, but very few. Russian Social Democrats from Lenin to Plekhanov also welcomed the war because they hoped it would help transform Russia.
True, Plekhanov was immature for Lenin’s slogan of “turning the imperialist war into a civil war” and “the defeat of his government”, but he also hoped for democratization as a result of the war.
European countries were almost immediately struck by a militaristic—sorry, patriotic—excitement. People took to the streets in festive crowds – cheerful and cheerful. There was almost no opposition anywhere, all parties rallied around their government. Volunteers were drawn to recruitment stations. For example, Max Weber (who is related to Protestant ethics) was very upset that he was not taken to the front because of his age. Hearing the mobilization decree at the outbreak of war with Russia in Munich, the young Adolf Hitler “knelt down on his knees, not ashamed of his feelings, and thanked the Lord with all his heart for the mercy he had shown me. To live in such a fateful time.” And the pacifist Stefan Zweig seemed to give up on his own convictions: “Hundreds of thousands of people felt what they should have felt more in peacetime: that they formed a single whole.” In short, cheers to victory. Quick and easy.
Women rushed to the front to replace their husbands who had gone to war, to work as nurses or in factories. Not to mention raising money.
Russian society also welcomed the war with a popular uproar. Except, perhaps, the peasants, who made up at least 13 million of the 15 million mobilized during the war years. They didn’t know where Serbia was, we stood up for us.
They do not understand why it is necessary to fight for the straits of the Black Sea, where grain exports are critical for Russia, for Turkish Anatolia and Polish Austro-Hungarian lands. It must be. But the bright Petersburg (soon to be renamed Petrograd, in Russian style, due to patriotic feelings) rejoiced and threw the caps in the air. However, patriotic enthusiasm passed through the provinces among the local narrow-minded and more or less developed inhabitants, not to mention the local elite. Donations were collected everywhere, there were many volunteers to go to war. At least 96% of those subject to conscription in the early days of the war appeared at mobilization points. The future “proletarian poet” Vladimir Mayakovsky also passionately rushed to the front, but was not taken for his unreliability. Saved for “ROSTA windows”.
The patriotic and chauvinistic newspapers that were published wrote that the spiritually resurrected Russian people craved only German blood. And all Germans and Austrians, even Russian subjects, were summoned to be expelled. Lectures were given in university auditoriums on the “religious meaning of the war against Germany” and its victory would bring the destruction of Christianity, as German culture was supposedly anti-Christian.
Chauvinism was at its peak and frenzy with the Germans, as was often the case in the “critical days” of the Empire, so did the Jews. The pogroms came in waves, both Jewish and German.
I must say that in all European capitals they expected the war to last no more than 3-4 months and to end before winter. Military plans for this period were calculated. Russia was no exception. The resource of his army was calculated to be no more than six months. Most military strategists believed that no more would be needed.
The Russian army was in a rather satisfactory condition. In terms of level and equipment, it was approximately equal to the army of Austria-Hungary or France (of course, much more numerous). It was still inferior to the German army, but then we still had strong allies.
Based on the lessons of the Russo-Japanese War, some reforms were made, technical equipment was improved, although the quality of operational management did not improve much. Russia received military aviation (263 aircraft). Machine guns (Maxim) were quite sufficient, but the Russians were much inferior in artillery to the German army. After the first year of the war, the shortage of small arms and ammunition began to show its effects. But here the deliveries from America (Winchester rifles, Colt-Browning machine guns), France (Hotchkiss and Shosh machine guns), Great Britain (Lewis machine guns) helped a lot.
By the spring of 1915, the Russian army was largely exhausted. A series of setbacks followed ahead. Problems started with military supplies and logistics in general. The original plan of the war (aiming at the rapid defeat of Austria-Hungary) must be changed on the go, assist the French and launch an initially unintended offensive against the Germans in the northwest. Russia did not suffer the war on several fronts.
Since the spring of 1915, the mood of Russian society began to change dramatically. No trace of the original ascent remains. And as the purely domestic difficulties increased (despite the introduction of a dry law, unlike the European powers, the card system was never implemented in the country), so did dissatisfaction with the actions of the authorities.
As the time for the next redistribution of peasant shares approached, peasants began to flock to the house (perhaps this was the main factor in the division that began in the troops). Against this background, inter-elite opposition revived.
However, in 1916 – the beginning of 1917, mainly the country had already coped with the consequences of the failures of 1915. Frontline supply began to improve. The “Brusilovsky breakthrough” in 1916 may well be for the Russian Empire as the Battle of Kursk was for the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War. And by 1917, Russia overall was close to winning the war with its European allies. However, unrest in the ruling elite on the verge of betrayal, endless intrigues at the court, and finally, the weakness and indecision of the emperor himself and his inability to mobilize units loyal to him during the protests in Petrograd (in fact, they overlapped). betrayal of the generals) led to the fall of the monarchy. The February revolution was greeted by “progressive society”, including the highest nobility, at first in the same way as the beginning of the First World War – with great enthusiasm and emotional upsurge. Ah, if they only knew what awaited them. And if they had known that in August 1914…
But even if they knew, I think they would still be drawn to war. Because it’s the Russian destiny…
The author expresses his personal opinion, which may not coincide with the editors’ position.