Battle of Kowel
The Battle of Kowel took place during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, from 24 July to 8 August 1916. It began with an Austrian
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...

 counter-attack by Alexander von Linsingen
Alexander von Linsingen
Alexander Adolf August Karl von Linsingen was one of the best German field commanders during World War I.Linsingen joined the Prussian Army in 1868 and rose to Corps Commander in 1909. He was one of the very few top German generals not to have served on the general staff.At the beginning of World...

 south of Kowel, a city located in the Volyn Oblast
Volyn Oblast
Volyn Oblast is an oblast in north-western Ukraine. Its administrative center is Lutsk. Kovel is the westernmost town and the last station in Ukraine of the rail line running from Kiev to Warsaw.-History:...

Oblast is a type of administrative division in Slavic countries, including some countries of the former Soviet Union. The word "oblast" is a loanword in English, but it is nevertheless often translated as "area", "zone", "province", or "region"...

), in north-western Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

. Linsingen intended to halt the Russian offensive under the command of General Aleksei Alekseevich Brusilov.


The Brusilov offensive began on 4 June 1916, it was the greatest Russian
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 feat of arms during World War I, and among the most lethal battles in world history
Most lethal battles in world history
The following is a list of the casualty count in battles in world history. The list includes both sieges and civilian casualties during the battles. Large battle casualty counts are almost impossible to calculate precisely...

. It was a major offensive against the armies of the Central Powers
Central Powers
The Central Powers were one of the two warring factions in World War I , composed of the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria...

 on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War I)
The Eastern Front was a theatre of war during World War I in Central and, primarily, Eastern Europe. The term is in contrast to the Western Front. Despite the geographical separation, the events in the two theatres strongly influenced each other...

. Mounting pressure from the western Allies caused the Russians to hurry their preparations. Brusilov amassed four armies totalling 40 infantry divisions and 15 cavalry divisions. He faced 39 Austrian infantry divisions and 10 cavalry divisions formed in a row of three defensive lines, although later German reinforcements were brought up.

The breakthrough came when, on 4 June, the Russians opened the offensive with a massive, accurate, but brief artillery barrage against the Austro-Hungarian lines. On 8 June, Russian forces of the South-western Front took Lutsk
Lutsk is a city located by the Styr River in northwestern Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Volyn Oblast and the administrative center of the surrounding Lutskyi Raion within the oblast...

. By now the Austrians were in full retreat and the Russians had taken over 200,000 prisoners, however Brusilov's forces were becoming overextended. In a meeting held on the same day Lutsk fell, German Chief of Staff Erich von 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:...

 persuaded Austrian 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...

 Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf
Franz Graf Conrad von Hötzendorf
Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf was an Austrian soldier and Chief of the General Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Army at the outbreak of World War I.-Early life and military career:...

 to redeploy troops from the Italian Front to counter the Russians in Galicia. General Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

 was again able to capitalize on good railroads to bring German reinforcements east. At last, on 18 June, a weak and poorly prepared offensive commenced under Alexei Evert
Alexei Evert
Alexei Evert was a Russian Imperial General in World War I, notable for his role as commander of the Russian Western Army Group in the Brusilov Offensive....

, and on 24 July Alexander von Linsingen commenced his own counter-attack. Brusilov and Russian Tsar Nicholas II
Nicholas II of Russia
Nicholas II was the last Emperor of Russia, Grand Prince of Finland, and titular King of Poland. His official short title was Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias and he is known as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church.Nicholas II ruled from 1894 until...

 ordered other Russian commanders to commence their own attacks, however high casualties and internal rivalry meant that this did not occur.

The battle

The Tsar had provided large amounts of artillery and shells for Brusilov's army, however this had repercussions for the Russians as Brusilov reverted to the tactic of extensive barrages followed by waves of advancing soldiers, a tactic that had proved unsuccessful since 1915 with German commanders observing the new similarities between Kowel and 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...


The German commander, Linsingen, sought to check the Russian army under the command of General Brusilov. The Russian force of 29 Infantry and 12 Cavalry divisions faced only 12 Austrian divisions, however the ineffective barrage and the tactic of using 'waves' of attacking soldiers resulting in significant Russian casualties and the stalling of the Brusilov offensive.


The 500,000 Russian casualties during the offensive, culminating in the battle of Kowel "finished Russia as an active participant in the war" with its consumption of men and resources. The battle also had a far reaching impact on Austria, as it illustrated the country's reliance on Germany as well as deprived the nation of large numbers of fighting men. Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

, relying on a Russian success during the conflict, was overrun by Germany and Bulgaria shortly after Russia's defeat. With the armed forces of both Germany and Austria-Hungary losing confidence in their monarchs as a result of the engagement, and with its effective removal of Russia from the war, the battle of Kowel remains one of the most influential of the war.
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