4.6 The Eastern Front and Russian Revolution

The Great War

Things were different in the East, however. In contrast to the essentially static nature of trench warfare on the Western Front, the Russian, German, and Austrian armies in the East were highly mobile, sometimes crossing hundreds of miles in an attempt to outflank their enemies. The Russian army fought effectively in the early years of the war, especially against Austrian forces, which it consistently defeated. While Russian soldiers were also the match of Germans, however, Russia was hampered by its inadequate industrial base and by its lack of rail lines and cars. The Germans were able to outmaneuver the Russians, often surrounding Russian armies one by one and defeating them. A brilliant Russian general oversaw a major offensive in 1916 that crippled Austrian forces, but did not force Austria out of the war. In the aftermath, a lack of support and coordination from the other Russian generals ultimately checked the offensive.

"Russian Revolutionaries in Petrograd." February 1917.
“Russian Revolutionaries in Petrograd.” February 1917. State Museum of Political History in Russia. Wikimedia. December 18, 2009.

By late 1916 the war had grown increasingly desperate for Russia. The Tsar’s government was teetering and morale was low. Russia began as an ally to France and Great Britain, but they still were not as modernized as their allies to the West. So their battle plans involved, not superior technology, but throwing the one supply they did have, men, at the war front. The hope was that their overwhelming numbers would win the Eastern Front for them. This will lead to great resentment and ultimately to revolution.

Key Takeaways

As you read and watch the video clips that follow, consider these questions:

  • How did losses during the war lead to the revolution in Russia? How did it affect the final outcome of that internal struggle?
  • Recount the story of the Russian Revolution from the abdication of the Tsar until the end of the civil war. How do these events help explain Russia today?
  • How did the national revolutions in Austria and Germany differ from the one in Russia? What accounts for the differences? What long-term consequences did they have for European affairs?

The home front was in dire straits, with serious food shortages, and there were inadequate munitions (especially for artillery) making it to the front. Thus, the German armies steadily pushed into Russian territory. A furious defense by the Russian forces checked the German advance in the winter of 1916 – 1917, but the war was deeply unpopular on the home front and increasing numbers of soldiers deserted rather than face the Germans. It was in this context of imminent defeat that a popular revolution overthrew the Tsarist state.


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PPSC HIS 1320: Western Civilization: 1650-Present by Wayne Artis, Sarah Clay, and Kim Fujikawa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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