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The battle for Schaulen, the push for Mitau and saving the bacon at Kupischki in July-August 1915

To open a map in a separate window click HERE

The Battle for Schaulen: 14th-27th of July 1915  

After the battle of Gorlice-Tarnow the Russian front line was shaky and disorganized. Gerneral Otto v. Below’s Njemen-Armee on the Northern flank of the German front line made the most of the chaos and launched an offensive that swept across the hot summer landscape like a tornado.  

Three cavalry divisions, reinforced by flying columns, threw off the chains of trench warfare and burst through the weakly defended Russian lines. The spirit of the cavalry was taken up by the accompanying infantry who could not be held back as they stormed forward in the direction of Schaulen where the mass of the Russian 5th army was to be found.

The Iron Cross 2nd class document to Leutnant d.Res Mövius, whose Landwehr-Fussartillerie-Bataillon was attached to the 3. Kavellerie Division. The award was mad in the month preceding the battle, in 1916 he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class.

It was the war of movement that the Generals had dreamed of. Through forests, around lakes, across meadows, through the wheat fields the cavalry galloped. Accompanying them were the Reitenden Abteilungen of the Feldartillerie and the infantry on wagons and automobiles.  

In a series of head on attacks and encirclements they drove the shocked enemy from the battlefield, either in confusion to towards the east or captivity in the West. The Russian high command had lost its head. The simple soldiers and Cossacks fought bravely, defending their ground, but they were left to their own defenses.  

Out on the Northern flank they faced the full force of the offensive. The Germans pushed past their flanks and caught them from behind. The attackers covered up to 52km a day held up only by fighting in the forests, the villages and at river crossings.  

By the time the advance approached Schaulen the Russians had begun to prepare their counter attack. They massed their forces to hit the wheeling German left flank at its pivot. Von Below was faster. He threw his regiments of Bavarian and Prussian infantry in a right hook that closed around the Southern Flank of the Russian units at Schaulen while the Brigade under Homeyer (Which had been in reserve) attacked Schaulen itself.  

Now the Russians fought a fighting retreat, a counter attack was no longer possible. As always they showed themselves to be the masters of the fighting retreat and von Below was not able to fully encircle the 5th Army, a portion of which escaped to the East. Only the northern extremity of the front saw the Russian troops crushed on the battlefield, here they pulled back to form a new defensive line which stretched from Mitau to Poniewiez. The German troops followed with the intention of taking Mitau but the front hardened and the offensive came to a halt.

  A German writer described the offensive as “… a whirlwind that swept the leaves from the trees”.

The push against Mitau and the battle at Kupischki: 19th of July-7th of August

Although von Below’s offensive had failed to fully encircle the 5th Army at Schaulen it had struck a very heavy blow and the Germans assumed the Russians would need some time to recover from it. Just how fast the Russians were able to recover was to be shown a week later when they poured across the Lithuanian fields at Kupischki in a counter attack.

  After the victory at Schaulen the Njemen Armee was given a new mission. It was to split up, the right wing was to move against Kowno engaging the fortress area from the North and North West. The Left wing turned to Mitau in the North. In the middle the Kavellerie Korps under Richthofen and Egon Schmettow were to collect at Poniewiez and from there move South East against Wilna and Eastwards to Duenaburg.

Left: the Iron Cross document to Oberjäger Albert Richter, Reserve Radfahr Kompanie 80. The unit fought on the extreme Southern flank as part of the Division Beckmann.

The attack on Mittau succeeded. The 6. Reserve Division and the Brigade Homeyer pushed their way over the Aa river and (along with the 8. Kavallerie Division) marched on the city. On the 1st of August the 41. Infanterie Division took the lead and fought its way into the city.  

All seemed to be going well, but then the Russians made a surprise move.  

Seeing the danger in the North the Russian High Command rushed troops into sector and massed for a counter attack. They hit at the right time and in the right place, right in the centre of the Njeman army. On the morning of the 30th of July Russian infantry drove a wedge into the gap between the two Kavallerie Korps.  

It was clear to von Below that his Cavalry (which he could not afford to waste) would not be able to contain the advancing Russians. Infantry would need to be thrown into battle and enough of them to sweep the Russians from the battlefield.  

With forced marches von Morgen’s I. Reserve Korps and the Korps “Lauenstein” were hurried forward and prepared to counter attack. They knew what was at stake and attacked with great energy on the 2nd of August when, 30km to the East of Poniewiez a bloody slogging match took place. The fight continued into the night and on the morning of the 3rd of August the Russian lines broke. They moved back slowly, fighting all the way. On the 5th of August the advance stopped at the level of Onikschty and Kwietki.  

Although the Russians had successfully interrupted the offensive of the Njemen Armee with their attack at Kupischki the German high command had reacted rapidly and was able to reestablish its front and avoid a potentially dangerous situation.

The last page of the Diary of Leutnant d.Res August Weber, 9th Kompagnie 258. Reserve Infanterie Regiment of the 78. Reserve Division.

1st of August: At Brozyszki (sp?) Digging in. In the afternoon a light wound in the thigh. Shot through, but only a flesh wound. Bandaged it and soldiered on. Feldwebel Leutnant Kloss was hit in the chest.

2nd of August: 5:30 in the morning, advancing on Subocz (sp?). 9th and 10th Kompagnies in the front line. Occupied Enemy positions to the South of Subocz.

On the 3rd of August August Weber was hit in the chest by a Russian bullet. He died in a field hospital the next day.

He had participated in the following battles with the division.

The 78th Reserve Division on the Eastern front,
4th to 22nd of Feb Winter Battle in the Masuren
23rd Feb to 6th Mar Fighting at Bobr
9th to 12th Mar Fighting at Sejny
18th Mar to 7th Apr Positional warfare between Orzyc and Szkwa
26th Apr to 7th May Advance into Litauen and Kurland
28th Apr Kielmy
30th Apr Schaulen
7th May to 13th Jul Fighting on the Dubissa and Windau
9th to 15th May Schaulen
19th to 26th May in the Rossienie area
27th to 29th May Girtakol
4th to 7th Jun Fight at Cytowiany
8th to 9th Jun Fight at Ilgize
14th to 25th Jul Battle at Schaulen
30th Jun to 7th Jul Battle at Kupischki
1st Aug on the Oszaka
2nd Aug on the Wieszynta
12th to 19th of Aug Battle by Schymanzy-Ponedeli