Content-Base: " rzem.html" Content-Location: " rzem.html" The Capture of Przemysl, 30 March 1915

30 March 1915
The Capture of Przemysl

By Bernard Pares

The fall of Przemysl, which will now no doubt be called by its Russian na= me of Peremyshl, is in every way surprising.

= = Even a few days before, quite well-informed people had no idea that the e= nd was coming so soon. The town was a first-class fortress, whose develop= ment had been an object of special solicitude to the late Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Of course it was recogni= zed that Peremyshl was the gate of Hungary and the key to Galicia; but, = more than that, it was strengthened into a great point of debouchment for= an aggressive movement by Austro-Hungary against Russia; for the Russian= policy of Austria, like her original plan of campaign, was based on the = assumption of the offensive. It was generally understood that Peremyshl w= as garrisoned by about 50,000 men, that the garrison was exclusively Hung= arian, and that the commander. Kusmanek, was one of the few really able A= ustrian commanders in this war. The stores were said to be enough for a s= iege of three years. The circle of the forts was so extended as to make o= perations easy against any but the largest blockading force; and the aero= drome, which was well covered, gave communication with the outside world.= An air post has run almost regularly, the letters (of which I have some)= being stamped "Flieger-Post." . . . The practical difficulties offered t= o the Russians by Peremyshl were very great; for the one double railway l= ine westward runs through the town so that all military and Red Cross com= munications have been indefinitely lengthened....

= For weeks past the fortress had kept up a terrific fire which was greater= than any experienced elsewhere from Austrian artillery. Thousands of she= ll yielded only tens of wounded, and it would seem that the Austrians cou= ld have had no other object than to g et rid of their ammunition. The fire was now intensified to stupendous pr= oportions and the sortie took place; but, so far from the whole garrison = coming out, it was only a portion of it, and was driven back with the ann= ihilation of almost a whole division.

= Now followed extraordinary scenes. Austrian soldiers were seen fighting e= ach other, while the Russians looked on. Amid the chaos a small group of = staff officers appeared, casually enough, with a white flag, and announce= d surrender. Austrians were seen cutting pieces out of slaughtered horses= that lay in heaps, and showing an entire indifference to their capture. = Explosions of war material continued after the surrender.

= The greatest surprise of all was the strength of the garrison, which numb= ered not 50,000 but 130,000, which makes of Peremyshl a second Metz. Diff= erent explanations are offered; for instance, troops which had lost their= field trains and therefore their mobility are reported to have taken ref= uge in Peremyshl after Rava Russka, but surely the subsequent withdrawal = of the blockade gave them ample time for retreat. A more convincing accou= nt is that Peremyshl was full of depots, left there to be supports of a g= reat advancing field army. In any case no kind of defense can be pleaded = for the surrender of this imposing force.

= The numbers of the garrison of course reduced to one-third the time durin= g which the food supplies would last; but even so the fortress should hav= e held out for a year. The epidemic diseases within the lines supply only= a partial explanation. The troops, instead of being all Hungarians, were= of various Austrian nationalities; and there is good reason to think tha= t the conditions of defense led to feuds, brawls and, in the end, open di= sobedience of orders. This was all the more likely because, while food wa= s squandered on the officers, the rank and file and the local population = were reduced to extremes, and because the officers, to judge by the first= sortie, took but little part in the actual fighting. The wholesale slaug= hter of horses of itself robbed the army of its mobility. The fall of Pe= remyshl is the most striking example so far of the general demoralization= of the Austrian army and monarchy.

= Peremyshl, so long a formidable hindrance to the Russians, now a splendid= base for an advance into Hungary.



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