Aleksei Brusilov
Aleksei Alekseevich Brusilov ( – 17 March 1926) was a Russian general most noted for the development of new offensive tactics used in the 1916 offensive which would come to bear his name
Brusilov Offensive
The Brusilov Offensive , also known as the June Advance, was the Russian Empire's greatest feat of arms during World War I, and among the most lethal battles in world history. Prof. Graydon A. Tunstall of the University of South Florida called the Brusilov Offensive of 1916 the worst crisis of...

. The innovative and relatively successful tactics used were later copied by the Germans. His war memoirs were translated into English and published in 1930 as A Soldier's Notebook, 1914–1918.

Early life

Brusilov was born in Tiflis (now Tbilisi
Tbilisi is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Mt'k'vari River. The name is derived from an early Georgian form T'pilisi and it was officially known as Tiflis until 1936...

, Georgia
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

). His father was Russian, his mother, Anna Luiza Niestojemska, was Polish. Three generations of Brusilov's had served as officers in the Tsar's army, his grandfather fighting in the defense against Napoleon's invasion of 1812
French invasion of Russia
The French invasion of Russia of 1812 was a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars. It reduced the French and allied invasion forces to a tiny fraction of their initial strength and triggered a major shift in European politics as it dramatically weakened French hegemony in Europe...

. His father rose to the rank of Lieutenant General before dying of tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 in 1856. Brusilov's mother died shortly afterwards, and the young orphan was raised by relatives in Kutaisi
Kutaisi is Georgia's second largest city and the capital of the western region of Imereti. It is 221 km to the west of Tbilisi.-Geography:...


He was educated at home until at the age of 14, he joined the Imperial Corps of Pages in Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

 in 1867. At the end of his first year, a tutor remarked of Brusilov, "his nature is brisk and even playful, but he is good, straight-forward and clean-living. Of high ability, but inclined to be lazy." The description of the youth would still be true of the general, fifty years later (except, it would seem, on the issue of laziness).

In 1872, on completion of the Corps' program, he sought admission to the advanced class for top ranking students, but was unsuccessful, and instead was posted as an ensign
Ensign (rank)
Ensign is a junior rank of a commissioned officer in the armed forces of some countries, normally in the infantry or navy. As the junior officer in an infantry regiment was traditionally the carrier of the ensign flag, the rank itself acquired the name....

 to the 15th (Tver) Dragoon Regiment. Usually, graduates from the Corps of Pages sought admission to one of the Guards
Russian Guards
Guards or Guards units were and are elite military units in Imperial Russia, Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. The tradition goes back to the retinue of a knyaz of medieval Kievan Rus' and the streltsy, the Muscovite harquebusiers formed by Ivan the Terrible by 1550...

 regiments, but the Tver Dragoons were at that time stationed near Kutaisi, so the posting suited Brusilov on the basis of being near his family and being less financially draining than service in the Guards.

Russo-Turkish War

Brusilov joined the Tver Dragoons in August, 1872, and was given command of a troop
A troop is a military unit, originally a small force of cavalry, subordinate to a squadron and headed by the troop leader. In many armies a troop is the equivalent unit to the infantry section or platoon...

, but it was not long before his aptitude resulted in appointment as regimental adjutant
Adjutant is a military rank or appointment. In some armies, including most English-speaking ones, it is an officer who assists a more senior officer, while in other armies, especially Francophone ones, it is an NCO , normally corresponding roughly to a Staff Sergeant or Warrant Officer.An Adjutant...

. He was promoted to lieutenant
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

 in 1874.

Brusilov served with distinction in the Russo–Turkish War, 1877–78, being mentioned in despatches on three occasions. His unit operated on the Southern Front in the Caucasus, and took part in the assault of the fortress of Ardagan (now Ardahan
Ardahan is a city in northeastern Turkey, near the Georgian border.-Ancient and medieval:In Ancient times the region was called Gogarene, which is assumed to derive from the name of Gugars, who were a Proto-Kartvelian tribe...

, Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

), for which Brusilov was awarded the Order of Saint Stanislav
Order of Saint Stanislaus
The Order of Saint Stanislaus , also spelled Stanislas, was an Order in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and The Kingdom of Poland between 1765 and 1831 and of Russian Empire from 1831 to 1917.-History of the Order of Saint Stanislaus:Stanisław August Poniatowski, King of Poland, established the...

, 3rd Class. Later in the war, he also received the Order of Saint Anne, 3rd Class, and was promoted to the rank of Stabskapitän
Stabskapitän is a historic military rank, used in the Prussian and Russian armies. It ranked between the Premierleutnant and Hauptmann/Rittmeister in the Prussian army, and between lieutenant and captain in the Russian army...

. Towards the end of the war, he led successful attacks on Turkish positions around Kars
Kars is a city in northeast Turkey and the capital of Kars Province. The population of the city is 73,826 as of 2010.-Etymology:As Chorzene, the town appears in Roman historiography as part of ancient Armenia...

, and his membership of the Order of Saint Stanislav was elevated to 2nd Class.

The Cavalry Officer School

In 1881, Brusilov became a student at the Cavalry Officer School in St Petersburg and two years later was appointed as a riding instructor there. He spent the next thirteen years in a succession of posts at the school - Adjutant, Senior Teacher of Riding and Breaking Horses, Section Commander, Troop Commander, Squadron Commander and Assistant Chief of the School. On promotion to Major General in 1900, Brusilov was added to the list of Household Troops (officers who might be retained on official business by the Tsar). During this time, Brusilov married (1884), and the union produced a son in 1887.

In 1902, as a Lieutenant General, he took command of the school, and under his leadership, the "Horse Academy" became an acknowledged centre of excellence in preparing staff officers for the cavalry. Brusilov published a number of papers on the use of cavalry, and visited France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

 and Germany
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 to study riding tuition and stud management.

Brusilov was appointed to command the 2nd Guards Cavalry Division in 1906, but this was not a happy posting for him. The Revolution of 1905 had left St Petersburg in turmoil, and after his wife's death, he sought a posting away from the Guards and the capital.

In 1908, he was appointed to command the XIV Corps in the Warsaw Military District, where his tenure was notable for the improvements in combat training he implemented. He also remarried at this time, to Nadejda ("Hope") Jelihovski. Promoted to General of Cavalry in 1912, he became Deputy Commander-in-Chief of forces in the Warsaw Military District. The failures of the Russo-Japanese War
Russo-Japanese War
The Russo-Japanese War was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea...

 had led to allegations that Generals from immigrant families, who made a significant fraction of the Russian Army's senior ranks, were less patriotic than those who traced their origins to within Russias borders, and Brusilov would come into conflict with the Governor-General in Warsaw, Georgi Skalon
Georgi Skalon
Georgi Skalon was a Russian Empire Governor-general of Warsaw and the chief commander of Warsaw Military District from 1905-1914....

, and other "Russian-German" generals in that District. Brusilov was soon seeking another post.

In 1913, Brusilov was posted to command the XII Corps in the Kiev Military District, remarking on his departure, "I do not doubt, that my departure will produce a sensation in the troops of Warsaw region... Well! What’s done is done, and I am glad, that I have escaped cesspool of Skalon’s court atmosphere."


In July 1914, with the Russian army expanding on mobilization
Mobilization is the act of assembling and making both troops and supplies ready for war. The word mobilization was first used, in a military context, in order to describe the preparation of the Prussian army during the 1850s and 1860s. Mobilization theories and techniques have continuously changed...

, Brusilov was promoted to command 8th Army, part of South-west Front, operating in Galicia. 8th Army crushed the Austro-Hungarian forces before it, and rapidly advanced nearly 150 kilometres (93.2 mi). Reverses elsewhere along the Front, including the great defeat at Tannenberg
Battle of Tannenberg (1914)
The Battle of Tannenberg was an engagement between the Russian Empire and the German Empire in the first days of World War I. It was fought by the Russian First and Second Armies against the German Eighth Army between 23 August and 30 August 1914. The battle resulted in the almost complete...

, forced 8th Army to retire in conformance with the general Russian withdrawal. For his victories, Brusilov was awarded the Order of Saint George 4th, and then 3rd Class. By a quirk of fate, several future White Army commanders held senior posts in 8th Army at this time—Brusilov's Quartermaster general
Quartermaster general
A Quartermaster general is the staff officer in charge of supplies for a whole army.- The United Kingdom :In the United Kingdom, the Quartermaster-General to the Forces is one of the most senior generals in the British Army...

 was Anton Denikin
Anton Ivanovich Denikin
Anton Ivanovich Denikin was Lieutenant General of the Imperial Russian Army and one of the foremost generals of the White movement in the Russian Civil War.- Childhood :...

, while Alexey Kaledin commanded the 12th Cavalry Division and Lavr Kornilov was in command of 48th Infantry Division.

In the early part of 1915, Brusilov again advanced, penetrating the Carpathian
Carpathian may refer to:*Carpathian Mountains of Central and Eastern Europe*Carpathian Convention on sustainable development in that region*Carpathian Shepherd Dog, a Romanian sheep dog*Subcarpathian Voivodeship, an administrative division of Poland...

 passes and entering the Hungarian plain. At this time, Nikolai II visited 8th Army and Brusilov was promoted to the rank of General-Adjutant (in the Imperial Russian Army this was a "four-star" General rank).

Once again, fortunes on other fronts would determine his actions and the Austrian-German breakthrough at Gorlice-Tarnów
Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive
The Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive during World War I started as a minor German offensive to relieve Russian pressure on the Austro-Hungarians to their south on the Eastern Front, but resulted in the total collapse of the Russian lines and their retreat far into Russia...

 forced Brusilov to conform to the general retirement. By September, 8th Army had withdrawn 180 kilometres (111.8 mi) to the Tarnopol region.

The Brusilov Offensive

On 29 March 1916, Brusilov was given command of Southwest Front, and managed to secure a certain degree of freedom of action. Previous Russian offensives demonstrated a tendency to assault smaller and smaller sections of front with increasing density of artillery and manpower to achieve a breakthrough. The narrow frontage of these attacks made counterattacks straightforward for German forces, and this approach met with repeated failure for the Russians.

Brusilov decided to distribute his attack over the entirety of Southwest Front. He hoped to disorganize the enemy over such a large area that some point would fatally give way. He decided not to waste resources by saturation bombardment of worthless areas, but to use interdiction fire against command posts, road networks, and other vital targets to degrade German command and control over the whole front. The noted German artillery commander, Georg Bruchmüller
Georg Bruchmüller
Georg Bruchmüller , nicknamed Durchbruchmüller, was a German artillery officer who had great influence in the development of modern artillery tactics...

, having served opposite Brusilov's Front at this time, would learn from and adapt these tactics when planning the preparatory bombardment for Operation Michael
Operation Michael
Operation Michael was a First World War German military operation that began the Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. It was launched from the Hindenburg Line, in the vicinity of Saint-Quentin, France...

 on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

 in 1918. Brusilov was not even concerned with securing a great local advantage in manpower, permitting Divisions under his command to be transferred to other Fronts (so long as they attacked in support of his offensive).

Brusilov's new techniques were, by First World War standards, highly successful and over the next three months, Southwest Front advanced an average of more than 30 kilometers along a front of more than 400 kilometres (248.5 mi), taking 400,000 Austro-Hungarian prisoners in the process. However, the planned supporting attack from West Front (the Army group
Army group
An army group is a military organization consisting of several field armies, which is self-sufficient for indefinite periods. It is usually responsible for a particular geographic area...

 to Brusilov's north) was not delivered, and Germany was able to transfer 17 Divisions from France and Belgium to halt the Russian advance.

Brusilov would be awarded the Sword of Saint George with Diamonds for his greatest victory, one of only eight Russian commanders to receive this rare award during the First World War.

On 18 June 1916, an article "Hero of the Hour in Russia, Described Intimately by One Who Knows Him Well" by Brusilov's brother-in-law, Charles Johnson, appeared in the New York Times.

Brusilov's main ideas

  • To increase the points of sally thereby preventing a concentration of the enemy's strategic reserve. The enemy is to be confused by several points of attack.
  • To make the width of attack wide, greater than 30 kilometers.
  • To limit the duration of bombardment, less than 5 hours.
  • To advance artillery in secrecy and to cooperate with the infantry.
  • To advance strategic reserve beforehand and to join with the storm troops after a breach of the enemy's front trench has been achieved. Not to avail cavalry.
  • To get the trench lines as close as possible to the enemy's before the battle.

1917 and Revolution

With the onset of revolution in Russia, Brusilov argued for the Tsar's abdication. When approached by Stavka
Stavka was the term used to refer to a command element of the armed forces from the time of the Kievan Rus′, more formally during the history of Imperial Russia as administrative staff and General Headquarters during late 19th Century Imperial Russian armed forces and those of the Soviet Union...

 for his opinion on the need for the abdication he replied, "... For the moment the only thing that matters is to stabilise our position to allow the continuation of the war with the external enemy... to abdicate in favour of Tsarevich Mikhail Alexandrovich and a council of regents... It is necessary to hurry, the faster to extinguish the flames [of revolution], otherwise we face innumerable catastrophic consequences."

In May 1917, Brusilov was appointed Commander in Chief of the Russian Army.

Throughout this period, Brusilov proved sympathetic to revolutionary aspirations, but his primary concern was that the war first needed to be won. In particular he asserted that until peace was achieved, the full authority of the central government must be respected, and that the army should maintain the full rigour of its disciplinary code. In a telegram to the Minister of War, Alexander Kerensky
Alexander Kerensky
Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky was a major political leader before and during the Russian Revolutions of 1917.Kerensky served as the second Prime Minister of the Russian Provisional Government until Vladimir Lenin was elected by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets following the October Revolution...

, he wrote, "... only the application of capital punishment will stop the decomposition of army and will save freedom and our homeland".

This politically unpopular stand, together with the failure of the Kerensky Offensive
Kerensky Offensive
The Kerensky Offensive was the last Russian offensive in World War I. It took place in July 1917.- Background :...

 in July 1917, led to Brusilov's replacement as Commander in Chief by his former deputy, Lavr Kornilov
Lavr Kornilov
Lavr Georgiyevich Kornilov was a military intelligence officer, explorer, and general in the Imperial Russian Army during World War I and the ensuing Russian Civil War...

. Brusilov moved to Moscow and remained there at the disposal of the Provisional Government. When fighting broke out in Moscow following the October Revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

, Brusilov was severely wounded in the foot by a splinter of a shell that hit his bathroom.

Soviet Russia

Brusilov was torn by conflicting loyalties in the Revolution, and the Civil War that followed. His former soldiers were largely serving in the newly formed Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

, and he concurred with the need for radical change, but as a conservative, patriot and monarchist his personal values were more in tune with those of the White
White movement
The White movement and its military arm the White Army - known as the White Guard or the Whites - was a loose confederation of Anti-Communist forces.The movement comprised one of the politico-military Russian forces who fought...


Initially, Brusilov served on a special commission to determine the size and structure of the Red Army. Later, he led cavalry recruit training and became Inspector of Cavalry. He retired in 1924, but continued to carry out commissions for the Revolutionary Military Council
Revolutionary Military Council
Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic or Revvoyensoviet Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic or Revvoyensoviet Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic or Revvoyensoviet (Революционный Военный Совет, Revolyutsionny Voyenny Sovyet; Реввоенсовет, Revvoyensovyet; also...


Seventy when retired in 1924, he lived in his shared apartment with his sickly wife and another couple. He died in Moscow from congestive heart failure, and was given an honorable state funeral, buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery
Novodevichy Cemetery
Novodevichy Cemetery is the most famous cemetery in Moscow, Russia. It is next to the 16th-century Novodevichy Convent, which is the city's third most popular tourist site. It should not be confused with the Novodevichy Cemetery in Saint Petersburg....

, by representatives from the 'new Russia' (the bolsheviks), and the 'old Russia' (the clergy, the middle and upper class).


According to the assessment of British Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

 Bernard Law Montgomery
Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC , nicknamed "Monty" and the "Spartan General" was a British Army officer. He saw action in the First World War, when he was seriously wounded, and during the Second World War he commanded the 8th Army from...

, Brusilov was one of the seven outstanding fighting commanders of World War I (the others being Falkenhayn
Erich von Falkenhayn
Erich von Falkenhayn was a German soldier and Chief of the General Staff during World War I. He became a military writer after World War I.-Early life:...

, Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg...

, Mustapha Kemal
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was an Ottoman and Turkish army officer, revolutionary statesman, writer, and the first President of Turkey. He is credited with being the founder of the Republic of Turkey....

, Plumer
Herbert Plumer, 1st Viscount Plumer
Field Marshal Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer, 1st Viscount Plumer, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE was a British colonial official and soldier born in Torquay who commanded the British Second Army in World War I and later served as High Commissioner of the British Mandate for Palestine.-Military...

, Monash
John Monash
General Sir John Monash GCMG, KCB, VD was a civil engineer who became the Australian military commander in the First World War. He commanded the 13th Infantry Brigade before the War and then became commander of the 4th Brigade in Egypt shortly after the outbreak of the War with whom he took part...

 and Allenby
Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby
Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby GCB, GCMG, GCVO was a British soldier and administrator most famous for his role during the First World War, in which he led the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in the conquest of Palestine and Syria in 1917 and 1918.Allenby, nicknamed...


Honours and awards

  • Order of St. Anna
    Order of St. Anna
    The Order of St. Anna ) is a Holstein and then Russian Imperial order of chivalry established by Karl Friedrich, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp on 14 February 1735, in honour of his wife Anna Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great of Russia...

    , Class 3 (1878) and Class 1 (1909)
  • Order of Saint Stanislaus
    Order of Saint Stanislaus
    The Order of Saint Stanislaus , also spelled Stanislas, was an Order in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and The Kingdom of Poland between 1765 and 1831 and of Russian Empire from 1831 to 1917.-History of the Order of Saint Stanislaus:Stanisław August Poniatowski, King of Poland, established the...

     Class 3, with swords and bow (1878), Class 2 with Swords (1878) and Class 1 (1903)
  • Order of St. Vladimir
    Order of St. Vladimir
    The Cross of Saint Vladimir was an Imperial Russian Order established in 1782 by Empress Catherine II in memory of the deeds of Saint Vladimir, the Grand Prince and the Baptizer of the Kievan Rus....

     Class 1 (1912)
  • Order of St. George
    Order of St. George
    The Military Order of the Holy Great-Martyr and the Triumphant George The Military Order of the Holy Great-Martyr and the Triumphant George The Military Order of the Holy Great-Martyr and the Triumphant George (also known as Order of St. George the Triumphant, Russian: Военный орден Св...

    , Class 4 (23/08/1914) and Class 3 (09/18/1914)
  • Golden St. George weapons "For bravery", with diamonds
    Gold Sword for Bravery
    The Gold Sword for Bravery was a Russian Empire award for bravery. It was set up with two grades on 27 July 1720 by Peter the Great, reclassified as a public order in 1807 and abolished in 1917. From 1913 to 1917 it was renamed the St George Sword and considered as one of the grades of the Order...

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