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11-08-2015, 17:40

Alexis Brusilov (1853-1926)

General Alexis Brusilov was the outstanding military commander in the Russian army during World War I. Brusilov's successful offensive against the Austrians in spring and summer 1916 showed that effectively trained and well-led Russian forces could win important victories. By the time Brusilov became commander-in-chief of the army, in June 1917, his undeniable talents were no longer able to affect the course of events. Alexis Brusilov was bom on August 31, 1853, in Tiflis. He followed in the footsteps of his father, a Russian general of aristocratic lineage, by entering the army in 1872. His career centered in the cavalry, and he rose steadily. Brusilov fought with distinction in the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-1878 and subsequently commanded the Officers Cavalry School. He became a major general in 1902. In the years before the outbreak of the war, he rose to command a succession of army corps in the strategically crucial Polish portion of the Russian Empire. The talented and aggressive officer conducted a fighting retreat at the head of the Eighth Army as German forces pushed the Russians from Poland in the summer of 1915. The following spring he took charge of the Russian army's southwestern front. This placed him in command of a group of four armies containing 600,000 men. For the bulk of the war, however, the overall command of the army was in the unimaginative hands of Mikhail Alekseev. Alekseev was a competent military manager who rebuilt the army after its disastrous retreat from Poland in 1915. Nonetheless, his most notable policy was to allow Russian offensive operations to conform to the needs of his country's allies. Alekseev had agreed to an Allied plan for Russian participation in a general and coordinated offensive on the eastern and western fronts in 1916. Brusilov threw himself into preparing for the part his armies would play. Pondering the problem of breaking the enemy's defenses, he developed plans for surprise assaults at widely separate points on his front. But events in the spring altered the overall plan. The Austrian assault in the Trentino on the Italian front created an emergency in the Allied camp. Russia's partners in the war asked for quick action on the eastern front. Only Brusilov's forces were ready to advance so early in the year. The armies of the southwestern front achieved a rare success for Russian troops; Brusilov's preparation and leadership made the difference. He carefully concealed the troops with which he prepared to attack. Widely separated but well-coordinated assaults broke the Austrian lines at several points in early June. Russian infantry and artillery now cooperated in an effective fashion unseen so far in the war. As Russian forces advanced over the course of the summer, Brusilov's successes diminished German pressure at Verdun and the Somme and hindered the Austrian effort in Italy. The influence of a sweeping Russian advance in eastern Europe propelled neutral Rumania into the war on the Allied side. But Brusilov failed to get a full-scale Russian effort including other fronts that might have produced more extensive advances. Alekseev, ineffectual as usual, proved unable to get generals commanding fronts near Brusilov's neighbors to launch supporting offensives. Equally important, the Germans came to the rescue of their less skilled Austrian allies. The Russian offensive ended in September. Nonetheless, Brusilov's reputation was assured. Following the Revolution of March 1917, Brusilov, like the other ranking leaders of the army, abandoned his loyalty to the monarchy and accepted the authority of the Provisional Government. Brusilov took over as commanderin- chief from Alekseev in June, but had only a brief time in office. Largely due to the overall disintegration of the army, the July offensive ordered by Minister of War Alexander Kerensky could not repeat the success of the previous year. Brusilov went into retirement. The aging cavalryman had a final moment of prominence. The civil war following the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917 opened the way for a Polish invasion in spring 1920. Brusilov, a product of the prerevolutionary amiy, nevertheless offered his services to the Communists. He saw no combat, but his gesture was an important symbol showing how some traditional military leaders were willing to make their peace with the Russia of V. I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Brusilov died in Moscow on March 17, 1926.