Russia Fails In The Mountains – Basra Falls I THE GREAT WAR – Week 38

Russia Fails In The Mountains – Basra Falls I THE GREAT WAR – Week 38


To be a commander during wartime requires
certain skills and attributes, as you may imagine, and one of those must of necessity
be a belief in your own abilities and a belief that your forces can accomplish their tasks,
especially on the battlefield. But what happens when that belief is at odds with reality?
When your belief in your abilities becomes overinflated and ignores the basic facts of
war? You’ll see this week. I’m Indy Neidell; this is the Great war. Last week we saw the German army finally reinforce
the desperate Austrians and hold off the Russians in the Carpathian Mountains, the Russians
were victorious, though, in Armenia, the French gained some ground, Italy raised its voice,
and the South Africans were on the move. Here’s what followed. On the Western Front, this was a week of aerial
bombardment. Ostend was bombed by 15 allied planes on the 15th. The same day a French
airship bombed Freiburg and the next day Strasbourg. And on the opposing side there was a Zeppelin
raid on East Anglia and a German airplane bombed Faversham and Sittingbourne. But the men in the trenches were going nowhere.
Actually, in the East it seemed to be the same story for once. There was heavy fighting throughout the week
as the Russians repeatedly tried and failed to take the Uszok Pass in the Carpathian Mountains.
Now, just a couple of weeks ago it looked like the Russians were going to smash the
Austro-Hungarian army, break through the mountains, and overrun the Hungarian plains below, but
at the eleventh hour the Austrians had been reinforced by the newly formed German Beskidenkorps,
troops specially trained to fight in the snowy mountains, and the Russian breakthrough had
been prevented, at least for the moment. But even though the Russians couldn’t take the
pass, they still made progress elsewhere this week in the mountains, southwest of the Rostoki
Pass, and were still threatening as the week ended. The Austro-Hungarian Imperial army was now
playing defense, but for nearly three months it had mounted offensive after offensive against
the Russians high in the frozen mountains. These offensives were the brainchild of army
chief of staff Conrad von Hotzendorf, but were so incredibly badly conceived that they
brought the entire Imperial army to the brink of destruction. The Austrians had neither
the men, the equipment, the training, nor the strategy to maintain even a single offensive
against Russian mountain troops from Siberia, let alone three. The biggest objective of those offensives
had been to free the trapped Austrian garrison at the fortress of Przemysl, a symbol of Hapsburg
military might, but Conrad’s troops never stood a chance of achieving this. The fortress
had surrendered to the Russians nearly a month ago, over 120,000 prisoners of war, but the
Austrian army had taken over 800,000 casualties in its attempts to break them out. If you
can somehow justify that, then tell me how, because I can’t.
I think the real lasting tragedy from Conrad’s machinations was the mental and physical trauma
caused on both sides by what was the first example of “total warfare” fought in mountains.
This was in many ways the Stalingrad of WWI. But people weren’t just being killed by
the enemy; we had a situation where, I’m not kidding, upwards of 100,000 people froze
to death in the mountains. The White Death. I’ve talked a lot about it over the past
few months, but Conrad’s complete obliviousness to the reality of the offensives was staggering.
And it had a price, other than the loss of most of his troops; on April 13th, Conrad
agreed to put his Austro-Hungarian 3rd and 4th Armies under the direct command of German
army chief of staff Erich von Falkenhayn. He couldn’t really do worse than Conrad,
and the timing was appropriate in other ways too, for the Russian counter offensive was
now developing some of the many logistical problems that had befallen Austria. When they
were in the lower mountains they had had shorter supply routes and fairly good railroad connections,
but as they pushed the Austrians back, they began to deploy troops in inhospitable terrain;
regions that seriously limited mobility and overextended supply lines. It might have been a blow to Conrad’s prestige
to give up direct command of his troops, but it did free him up to deal with other matters,
such as the Italian question. Last week, Italy had responded to Austrian
offers of territory in exchange for Italian neutrality with a huge list of other territorial
acquisitions and demands that Austria would have to agree to to preserve that neutrality.
This week, the court at Vienna declared those proposals unacceptable. Italy then turned
from the central powers and began offering terms to the Entente, who agreed to negotiate.
Now, Italy had 800,000 men in its army, and if it joined the war it could send them against
Austria in yet another front. What would Conrad do in that case? New fronts were still springing into being,
and the war was still growing larger and larger in scale. It was fairly obvious to all by now that there
would soon be a new front at the Dardanelles, the gateway to the Black Sea. The Turks were
building their defenses like crazy as the allied forces gathered in Egypt and the Aegean
Islands. An easy victory at Gallipoli was seen by most of the allied command as a foregone
conclusion, but on April 12th, there was one warning note by Maurice Hankey, on the British
War Council, who wrote to Prime Minister Asquith that the military landings on Gallipoli were
entirely based upon “the supposed shortage of shells and inferior fighting qualities
of the Turkish armies.” The Ottoman forces had, it is true, suffered
defeat after defeat, and actually, this same week there was a sort of confirmation of the
prevailing attitude, as Ottoman forces attacked the British in Mesopotamia. The Battle of Shaiba was a series of engagements
fought between April 11th and 14th when Turkish and Arab forces descended on Basra. There
were preliminary bombardments on Qurna and Shaiba the 11th, but the main thrust of the
attack was to outflank the British on the 13th across the floods that separate Basra
from Shaiba. This was unsuccessful, even though the attackers had the advantage in numbers.
But they were routed the 14th suffering heavy losses. Now, General Sir John Nixon had become commander
in chief of British forces in Mesopotamia a few weeks before this attack, and he was
charged by his superior, General Sir Beauchamp Duff, Indian Army Commander in Chief, with
not only securing Basra and the British oil fields, but also of mounting a “forward
defense”, which basically meant organizing a campaign toward Baghdad. London had no knowledge
of this plan and actually had specifically said no advance beyond Basra would be sanctioned.
So one hand really didn’t know what the other hand was getting up to and a Mesopotamian
campaign was now in the cards. And a rather more sinister campaign was growing
this week in Anatolia. Last week, Armenians had begun to be deported
from their homes. Now, on April 15th, the Armenian community formally appealed to the
German ambassador in Istanbul for official German protection. This was denied by Berlin,
who did not wish to offend the Ottoman government. Meanwhile, thousands of women, old men, and
children began to be deported across the mountains southward to Cilicia and Syria. This week,
on April 12th, there are widespread attacks and looting of Armenian villages in Bitlis
and Erzerum, and on the 15th, Armenian refugees arrive in Van from the surrounding area claiming
that 80 villages in the province have been attacked and over 20,000 Armenians have been
killed in the past three days. And that’s where we stand. Bombs raining
from the British and German skies, the Russians failing at the Uszok Pass, the Ottomans losing
in Mesopotamia, but building up near their capital, and the Italians now considering
turning from their former allies and joining the Entente. Hubris. During war. The belief that many of
the leaders of this war had that they were infallible. That their decisions and actions
were correct, simply because they were THEIR actions and decisions. It was not possible
for them to be wrong, and if their actions proved disastrous for their nations or armies,
then it was not their fault, no matter how much reality screamed at them that it was,
time and again. Whether it was Conrad performing human sacrifice on a gargantuan scale, closing
in on a million causalities in almost comical repeated attempts to rescue a fraction of
that number of men, whether it was Winston Churchill, already parceling out lands in
the Middle East because a great victory at Gallipoli was a foregone conclusion since,
of course, the Turks couldn’t fight, or whether it was Enver Pasha, whose guiding
hand led Ottoman forces to complete destruction in the Caucasus during the winter, and who
not only refused to shoulder any of the blame for his catastrophic defeat, but laid it at
the feet of the convenient scapegoat, the Armenians, it was the same thing, a foolish,
no- a STUPID belief in one’s own infallibility, and it would inevitably lead down the same
path- millions of men dead for vanity. If you want to find out more about Conrad
von Hötzendorf’s hybris and the reason why the Ottoman Army was seen as weak by Churchill
check out our episode from January 8 right here: Our Patreon supporter of the week is Walt
Schnabel – if you want to find out more about supporting our show, check out our Patreon
page. And if you like what you saw, please subscribe.

100 thoughts on “Russia Fails In The Mountains – Basra Falls I THE GREAT WAR – Week 38

  1. "When your belief and your abilities becomes over inflated and ignores the basic facts of war."

    Instantly knew this was mainly in reference to Conrad Hotzendorf.

  2. "Millions of men dead for vanity" Other than the numbers, that could be said of most wars in human history. Sadly.

  3. Such a fantastic channel and so well delivered. Thank you for your unparalleled work here. I''m watching each and every episode. The emotion shown by the host in this episode brought on by his understanding the pure tragedy of the situation is just…striking. Steadily portraying these hard facts….just to be engulfed in the history of The Great War- I can see that it can be hard on our host. Kudos to you sir.

  4. Were there any good generals at all in the whole war? I mean, so far as I am in your series now, I just heart about bad decision and terrible commanders from all sides. So, now for real, was there any good general at all? if yes, who?

  5. Germany not wanting to offend the Ottomans while they commit atrocities (though its not genocide just Machtergreifung). Kinda repeats itself right now doesn't it?

  6. Great episode, powerful message delivered at the end with such a spirit of honest truth, that it rings home in a way that would be lost otherwise. For although the words alone are strong it is your deliverance of the message which purveys its true power to the viewer. It is a message that needs to be told, so as to prevent its lesson from being forgotten, so that the lives' of so many is not in vain completely, so that their death may have the purpose of preventing such a thoughtless waste of life from repeating itself again. It is for this act of telling the message that I thank you and hope that more will continue to here your message too.
    Thank you Indiana Neidell, as well as the rest of the crew, and all those that bring this show to life.

  7. I think, the only way you can justify taking 800,000 casualties to free the 120,000 troops trapped is by going off of the same thing as 'no man gets left behind'. I know back then war was completely different to modern day, where men could be left behind, and regularly would be because there was so many of them on the battlefield, but i think that's the only way you can come close to justifying it…And that he was like 'oh look my dicks bigger then yours' sort of thing where he wanted the fortress….Unless the man himself can come back from the dead and prove me wrong im convinced thats what he was thinking

  8. at this point, im watching because i am curious as to whether conrad von clusterfuck ends up making 1 good decision in this war

  9. Von Hotzendorf ugh why didn't his staff just shoot him i mean the guy deserves it and they should have just let the you know what never mind heres what i personally think is that Austria Hungary should have gotten invaded by Germany i mean if you think about it whats stopping them like they could have easily invaded Austria Hungary before the assassination of their king or what ever and it would have totally taken them by surprise and i think austrians would have not cared probably or maybe they would but then again not like they could defend themselves

  10. TBH, I would say the German Generals were for the most part actually that good and didnt suffer from Hubris at least on the tactical and operational level.

    Though strategically, geopolitically, and diplomatically the General Staff and Kaiser dropped the ball

  11. Why do you sometimes call Austria-Hungary Austrians and sometimes call the land hungary. It's making me confused..,, please answer

  12. it is really baffling how Austria&Hungary even lasted with Conrad even had the nerve to not resign after one, even two losses full of failure and mess, but he didnt resign in 1915… same with the Ottomans and Pasha, which is AMAZING. i literally facepalmed in the video about the assasination of ferdinand and in the ten first weeks of the war. who kow the great war is so great for humor…

  13. This comment is about the precedent episode about the Armenian genocide. Thank you all for doing this video. Thank you for bringing this thuth that the turks deny until today. We all know that the War itself was a genocide but at least all the countries accepted what they have done to each other and appologize to each other. So thank you again.
    It is understandable that the comment had been disabled.

  14. After almost two years, you would have thought the Turkish internet squad would have downvoted this episode out for the portrayal of the beginnings of the Armenian Genocide.

    Perhaps Turks are averse to history channels for some reason……………………….

  15. Just a side note–I had to look up "hybris" because I've never seen it spelled that way. The more common spelling is "hubris." Was there a deeper meaning or implication by using this spelling?

  16. So looked up Conrad von Hyperdead and found this: According to British historian Cyril Falls, Conrad von Hötzendorf was probably the best strategist of the war, and his plans were brilliant in conception. The German generals on the Eastern Front basing most of their successful offensives on Conrad's plans (Cyril Falls, "The Great War", p. 36). Can you explain whre Falls got this idea from Indy, because it absolutely baffled me.

  17. Not at all relevant to the current video but I notice that the comments section is disabled on that Armenian Genocide video.

    Gee, I wonder why.

  18. I'll take a stab: Conrad justified it by arguing that his people had invested so much in Pryszmel, that losing it would cause so much discontent at home that it would ruin his recruiting plans if he lost it. Flimsy, I know…but that's the best argument I've heard.

  19. lol, just think what if Austria Hungary gave into Itallian Demands, Italy would have not taken arms against them and they might have still been in existence. But then again Italy could have turn around once they realize there was no victory for the Alliance from the Entrant..

  20. This episode I found particularly emotive. The way Indy uses the repetition of, 'I cant, I cant', when attempting to justify Austro-Hungarian casualties really tugged on the heart string.

  21. Maybe a toplist would serve about the most idiot military leaders in history, I wonder if Konrad would not be in the top 5

  22. Conrad was so incredibly stupid I can't imagine how such an incompetent man could keep his command.

  23. Now, a really pathetic part of how Austria Hungary handled all this is, that Germany has just created a force speciallized in combat in snowy mountains, a nation that has no such conditions, and the Austrians had no freaking clue of what a mountain was even though it conposed an entire frontier of their own empire.

  24. My admittedly darkest humor almost wants a counter at the bottom of the screen. Guess how many people Konrad H gets killed this week?
    Yes, it's evil, but it is hard to believe someone that incompetent was allowed to stay in command. After a while the numbers kind of blur together. Maybe it is because they were so high there is a numbing effect.

  25. If there's one thing I'll never forget after finishing this series, it's Conrad von Hotzendorf's name. Thanks for the constant reminder of his fuck ups, Indy!

  26. Finally. Speaking plainly about the insane idiocy of von Hötzendorf and Pasha. Elite spoiled children.

  27. What actually happened to all those Austrian soldiers who deserted on the Russian front? Did they mostly go to Russian imprisonment and die/return to Austria after war or did some of them stay in Eastern Europe for the rest of their life?

  28. I think the size of the mustache is directly linked to the idiocy of the bearer, the bigger the 'tache the more idiot the person who wears it!!!

  29. Indy's passionate speech at the end moved me. It's easy to view WW1 as a series of events and numbers, simply because of its gargantuan scale. Thank you for humanizing the Great War, and for presenting it so informatively.

  30. I know we ''should'' view try to view history unbiased as posible, but it doesn't really work like that, we will feel pity for those who fell victim to the man's pride and greed, we will feel angered and frustated upon seeing such atrocities because we are humans and we feel compassion for each other. This is why history is so amazing, because from her we can try and learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. Amazing video Indy, you're trully a great professor.

  31. why was the German army so effective?  Did they understand modern war before other nations?  Their tech wasn't that superior at this point – better training? better generals?

  32. I love how heated Indy has been getting these last few episodes. Adds a certain passion, a critical human element sadly absent in most history programs. Well done.

  33. I think conrad's stupidness could partially have been calculated: let the fighting men of possible rebel provinces die so that they won't have the strength to rebel. Think about it, either way if they won or not civil war was on the horizon for the empire so either patriotic fever breaks out with a victory to unify the empire, or in defeat only more loyal troops remain to dominate the disloyal provinces.

  34. A wonderful note at the end there. Recognising von Hotzendörf, Churchill and Pasha for what they were. Terrible military leaders who contributed to the deaths of millions, all for their own personal glories.

  35. I dont know why Austria didnt aggreed Italis demands.With Italy neighbooring France they could Easely win the war.

  36. I like to think that Indi filmed every episode back to back and aged 20 years in a matter of weeks. That's how much it physically hurts him to talk about The Great War for so long.

  37. You guys talked a lot about the middle east in the episode but didn’t even mentioned the battle of dilman in Perisa…

  38. Hi, I'm curious. Why didn't the Russian's go around the Carpathian mountains to take the Germans and Austrian troops from behind?

  39. “Logic would dictate that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one”
    Vulcan Proverb

  40. I do not think Churchill's plan were such a mistake. It was just a sound idea who did not turn out as expected.
    After all, it could end the war with one offensive, so the risk was worh taking

  41. man, was Italy really so desirable an ally? O.o I always have been taught that through out the whole WWI and WWII Italy was one of the weakest countries!

  42. Whenever I hear "brainchild of von Hotzendorf" I just know that a bunch of fuckers are gonna die at this dumbasses hands

  43. My great grandfather fought for the austro-hungarian army in Galicia and Carpathian mountains, miraculously he managed to survive the war and i remember saying him that it was total madness…

  44. These evil men seem like they had Narcissistic Personality Disorder….like my ex-GF !! ha !!! They are NEVER wrong.

  45. You series is fantastic…I have been watching the BBC The Great War over and over and it is great to hear your analysis…well done.

  46. Just makes me think of how many times bad deeds done by Austria have became Germanys fault. WW1, Adolf Hitler.. etc. and still today everyone think Austria is cute little mountain country done nothing bad to anybody ever 😀

  47. I know this is off topic, but while paying attention at Indy's words I couldn't help but manage to hear the Witcher 3 soundtrack at 7:52 , more exactly the Velen theme.
    Nice to hear The Great War is into Witcher.

  48. 5:00 What would he do? Probably f*ck things up, as was usual for him. Seriously, the guy wasn't competent enough to command the army's janitorial staff, much less the actual army.

  49. The best Generals of United Kingdom, French Republic and Russian Empire were Conrad Hötzendorf and Enver Pasha.

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