Russian cavalry in combined operations



The following story recounts an action in which Austro-Hungarian trrops are defending against a Russian attack, early in the war in 1914. The account comes from The Project Gutenberg EBook of "Four Weeks in the Trenches", by Fritz Kreisler.

The whole book can be downloaded in .txt format here, or you can download the illustrated version here. I would thoroughly recommend the book; the writing style makes for compelling reading. If you are interested in learning more about, or discussing, the Great War on the Eastern front, you can join Warchron, a discussion forum specialising in this topic. 

"Suddenly, at about ten o'clock, a dull thud sounded somewhere far away from us, and simultaneously we saw a small white round cloud about half a mile ahead of us where the shrapnel had exploded. The battle had begun. Other shots followed shortly, exploding here and there, but doing no harm. The Russian gunners evidently were trying to locate and draw an answer from our batteries. These, however, remained mute, not caring to reveal their position. For a long time the Russians fired at random, mostly at too short a range to do any harm, but slowly the harmless-looking white clouds came nearer, until a shell, whining as it whizzed past us, burst about a hundred yards behind our trench. A second shell followed, exploding almost at the same place. At the same time, we noticed a faint spinning noise above us. Soaring high above our position, looking like a speck in the firmament, flew a Russian aeroplane, watching the effect of the shells and presumably directing the fire of the Russian artillery. This explained its sudden accuracy. One of our aeroplanes rose, giving chase to the enemy, and simultaneously our batteries got into action. The Russians kept up a sharply concentrated, well-directed fire against our center, our gunners responding gallantly, and the spirited artillery duel which ensued grew in intensity until the entrails of the earth seemed fairly to shake with the thunder.

"By one o'clock the incessant roaring, crashing, and splintering of bursting shells had become almost unendurable to our nerves, which were already strained to the snapping-point by the lack of action and the expectancy. Suddenly there appeared a thin dark line on the horizon which moved rapidly towards us, looking not unlike a huge running bird with immense outstretched wings. We looked through our field glasses; there could be no doubt,--it was Russian cavalry, swooping down upon us with incredible impetus and swiftness. I quickly glanced at our colonel. He stared open-mouthed. This was, indeed, good fortune for us,--too good to believe. No cavalry attack could stand before well-disciplined infantry, providing the latter keep cool and well composed, calmly waiting until the riders come sufficiently close to take sure aim.

"There was action for us at last. At a sharp word of command, our men scrambled out of the trenches for better view and aim, shouting with joy as they did so. What a change had come over us all! My heart beat with wild exultation. I glanced at my men. They were all eagerness and determination, hand at the trigger, eyes on the approaching enemy, every muscle strained, yet calm, their bronzed faces hardened into immobility, waiting for the command to fire. Every subaltern officer's eye hung on our colonel, who stood about thirty yards ahead of us on a little hill, his figure well defined in the sunlight, motionless, the very picture of calm assurance and proud bearing. He scanned the horizon with his glasses. Shrapnel was hailing around him, but he seemed utterly unaware of it; for that matter we had all forgotten it, though it kept up its terrible uproar, spitting here and there destruction into our midst.

"By this time the avalanche of tramping horses had come perceptibly nearer. Soon they would sweep by the bundle of hay which marked the carefully measured range within which our fire was terribly effective. Suddenly the mad stampede came to an abrupt standstill, and then the Cossacks scattered precipitately to the right and left, only to disclose in their rear the advancing Russian infantry, the movements of which it had been their endeavor to veil.

"The infantry moved forward in loose lines, endlessly rolling on like shallow waves overtaking each other, one line running forward, then suddenly disappearing by throwing itself down and opening fire on us to cover the advance of the other line, and so on, while their artillery kept up a hellish uproar spreading destruction through our lines. Simultaneously a Russian aeroplane swept down upon us with a noise like an angered bird of prey and pelted us with bombs, the effects of which, however, were more moral than actual, for we had regained the security of the trenches and opened fire on the approaching enemy, who in spite of heavy losses advanced steadily until he reached our wire entanglements. There he was greeted by a deadly fire from our machine guns. The first Russian lines were mowed down as if by a gigantic scythe, and so were the reserves as they tried to advance. The first attack had collapsed. After a short time, however, they came on again, this time more cautiously, armed with nippers to cut the barbed wire and using the bodies of their own fallen comrades as a rampart. Again they were repulsed. Once more their cavalry executed a feigned attack under cover of which the Russian infantry rallied, strongly reinforced by reserves, and more determined than ever.

"Supported by heavy artillery fire their lines rolled endlessly on and hurled themselves against the barbed-wire fences. For a short time it almost seemed, as if they would break through by sheer weight of numbers. At that critical moment, however, our reserves succeeded in executing a flanking movement. Surprised and caught in a deadly cross-fire, the Russian line wavered and finally they fled in disorder."

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