Wastage: armies, railways, and a regime in Russia

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cape_royds
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Wastage: armies, railways, and a regime in Russia

Post by cape_royds » Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:45 am

Human Wastage


By mid-1917, the Russian Empire had called roughly 13 million men to armed service.

After about three years of war, here's how the numbers broke down. The figures given are those provided by the Russian Provisional Government to American military attaches in Russia, and cited by the report of the Root Commission:


Dead: 2 million
Disabled: 2 million
Prisoners: 2 million

Total lost: 6 million

Deployed at the fronts: 2 million
In reserve near the fronts: 1 million
In garrisons and depots: 1 million

Total on active duty: 4 million

That leaves three million men, for the exact status of whom figures were unavailable to the Russian Provisional Government in mid-1917. That sum includes a large number of men, certainly more than a million, in various stages of training.

It also of course would include a large number of men who had already deserted from the armies. Before 1917, most desertion would have occurred from the large garrison forces in the interior of the Empire, but by early 1917 there was a high rate of desertion from the frontline Russian armies. As the year progressed, mass desertion from the armies became widespread and, by early 1918, had become in effect a self-demobilization of the armies.

Note that the figure of 6 million total lost, versus 2 million deployed at the front, implies that over the course of three years of war, there was roughly a 100% annual average wastage of frontline strength.


An Unravelling Fabric

At few times during the war was the Russian Empire able to arm and supply much more than about 2 million men at the main battle fronts. This was at first due to insufficient arms and ammunition. In 1915, even the troops at the active front line lacked bullets and shells. However, by 1917 there was no longer an acute shortage of most types of weapons and ammunition. Indeed, the Russian frontline armies of 1917 were better armed and equipped than they had been at any time previously during the war. They were still markedly inferior in firepower to the German armies, but the gap, in terms of hardware, had narrowed.

The bigger problem was the insufficiency of the railway network to maintain larger forces at the fronts. This problem grew worse as the war went on. The railway network, even in the western parts of the Empire, was not very well developed to begin with. Under the pressure of war, maintenance was deferred, while everything was subjected to harder use. As a result, by the time of the March 1917 revolution, roughly half of the locomotives in the Russian Empire were out of service, and rate of breakdown was still exceeding the rate of repairs.

Understandably, most priority was given to military traffic. Deliveries to the fronts rose even as the railway network deteriorated. In this zero sum game, that meant deliveries elsewhere declined. What did that mean? It meant cities often didn't get food. It meant factories often didn't get coal or raw materials. It meant that the railway system itself often didn't get the supplies it needed to maintain its function--a vicious circle.

There was at the same time taking place a process of organizational breakdown. In the urgencies of war, especially during the big retreats of 1915, Russian armies at the front, Russian military districts in the rear, and the Russian provincial councils in regions near the frontlines, all acquired the habit of commandeering railroad resources to meet their immediate requirements. The 1915 crisis probably could not have been overcome in any other way than by the initiative of people on the spot. However, this tendency to self-manage various parts of the railroad network, and to seize whatever supplies lay to hand, gradually rendered it impossible to rationally manage the railroad system, or the imperial economy as a whole.

Worse, as the system grew less reliable, army commanders and other officials began to hoard available locomotives, cars, fuel, and so forth, in order that they might have some when they need them. The armies themselves, and the provincial administrations who tried to keep them supplied, were to some extent sabotaging the ability of the central authorities to control the system.

What did this mean for people in the towns? It meant that, by 1917, food prices had skyrocketed and many products were simply unavailable unless one had "connections." When the women at the Putilov works (munitions workers and therefore better-paid than most) demonstrated in March 1917, to protest another rise in the price of black bread, an American consular official in the city noted that black bread was the last staple food in Petrograd that was still affordable to most of the city's wage earners. All other staple foods had already become too dear.

In other words, the trends which would lead to the great famines, which mark the course of the Russian civil wars, were already gathering momentum before the March 1917 revolution.


The Pulverized Backbone of a Regime

Finally, in this discussion of the wastage of manpower, material, and organizational systems, it is worthwhile to think, at least hypothetically, of the implications of wartime human wastage for the members of a relatively small demographic slice of the Russian population: the aristocracy, and especially the minor aristocracy. For it was from this latter class that the Romanov regime recruited most of its military officers.

This class was perhaps but 1% of the population of the Empire: approx 1.8 million people, of whom maybe a quarter would be men suitable for combat service. If you could reckon one officer to 50 combat soldiers, they made up at least 2% of the frontline army (i.e. the aristocracy was relatively over-represented in the armies). The UK, for instance, could create a lot of "temporary gentlemen" to officer its expanding mass armies; Romanov Russia could not.

When one bear in mind that junior officers suffer a much higher casualty rate than the average for all other ranks, one can see that the minor aristocracy can only have been heavily over-represented among the killed and wounded--perhaps as much as 5% of the casualties, if the officer casualty rates were comparable to those experienced by some other armies.

If Russia, after three years of war, had suffered 6 million killed, maimed or taken prisoner, that might mean that between 200,000 to 300,000 members of the aristocracy had been wasted by the war.

Hypothetically, by mid-1917 nearly half of the regime's potential supply of loyal military officers might have already been lost. That would presumably include the bravest and most self-sacrificing among them. The casualty toll of the Great War, heavy for the Russian people as a whole, was a catastrophe for Russia's traditional ruling class.

This partly explains why the armies simply started to distintegrate in 1917-18. The junior leadership had wasted away in both quantity and in quality, and the regime did not have a broad enough political base to maintain that leadership element.

Finally, when the Romanovs faced a direct political challenge in 1917, one should not be surprised that the regime itself was hardly able to physically assert its power. The human basis of the regime--the sort of people who would really kill and die for the Romanovs--had already been decimated by the Central Powers on the battlefield.

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lpetrich
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Post by lpetrich » Wed Mar 22, 2017 1:18 am

Very interesting. It shows what bad shape Russia was in by then.

Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated last spring (Mar 15, 1917), because the war effort had been going so badly. However, Alexander Kerensky's Provisional Government kept the war going, and that could well have been its undoing.

Also some time in 1917, the German authorities let Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin return home from his Switzerland exile. Lenin’s long train ride into history quotes Winston Churchill:
Full allowance must be made for the desperate tasks to which the German war leaders were already committed… Nevertheless it was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia.
From the article:
In Lenin on the Train, Catherine Merridale gives us a detailed look at the famous train journey from Zurich to Petrograd. We read that Lenin’s ‘sealed truck’ was actually no more than a series of carriages with locked doors; the Bolshevik and his wife, along with a handful of other exiled socialists, travelled through Germany eagerly looking out of the windows. The carriages were far from being hermetically sealed, even though the lawyerly Lenin had insisted on the train being granted extraterritorial rights, heightening its estrangement in popular imagination.
After crossing Germany, Lenin and his comrades went to Sweden, then to Finland, and finally to Petrograd, Russia, arriving at Finland Station.

When he arrived, he promised peace, land, and bread, and he got a lot of support from people discontented by the Provisional Government's keeping the war going despite continuing military and economic failure. He and his fellow Bolsheviks took over on November 7 of that year, ousting the Provisional Government.

It was called the October Revolution, however, because it was on October 25 in the Julian calendar, which Russia continued to use, because of the Eastern Orthodox Churches' quarrel with the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope claims to be leader of all of the Christian Churches because he believes himself to be Jesus Christ's current successor, while the Eastern Orthodox churches consider him the Patriarch of the Western Church, with no more status than that, as far as I can tell.

However, the Godless Communists who took over were not as bothered by Pope Gregory XIII being to them the moral equivalent of a big drug dealer, and they soon fixed Russia's calendar.

Early in 1918, Lenin made peace with the Central Powers in the form of the Brest-Litovsk treaty. It essentially gave Poland and the Baltic states to Germany and western and central Ukraine to Austria.

But the Bolsheviks' opponents had not given up, and the Bolsheviks then fought them in the Russian Civil War, a war that lasted until 1921.

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Post by DMB » Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:18 pm

It really failed to help the Central Powers win the war because America had already come in and that really made all the difference. In addition, the British blockade was reducing the Central Powers to near-starvation.

I was recently reading Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel (translated by Michael Hofmann). It's a very straightforward account of the war in the west from a German POV by someone who fought throughout the war and was the youngest person to receive the Pour le Mérite. Towards the end there is an account of when Junger and his men took over a British trench. The British were forced to flee leaving everything behind. The Germans fell on what the British would have thought of as ordinary food but which was by then a tremendous luxury to them. They had become so unused to eggs that they just immediately sucked them all in their raw state. They even revelled in the British jam.

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Hermit
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Post by Hermit » Wed Mar 22, 2017 4:21 pm

The Russian exit probably only helped prolong the war.

All Quiet on the Western Front is another truly remarqueable account by a participant. The film version is good too, though I don't know what the remake is like.

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Post by MattShizzle » Wed Mar 22, 2017 5:18 pm

[quote=""Hermit""]
All Quiet on the Western Front is another truly remarqueable account by a participant. [/quote]

I see what you did there...

cape_royds
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Post by cape_royds » Thu Mar 23, 2017 6:56 pm

[quote=""lpetrich""]Some time in 1917, the German authorities let Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin return home from his Switzerland exile. Lenin’s long train ride into history quotes Winston Churchill:
Full allowance must be made for the desperate tasks to which the German war leaders were already committed… Nevertheless it was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia.
[/quote]

By 1917 all of the great powers had their busy spooks doling out bagfuls of slush money to all sorts of political exiles, saboteurs, agitators and subversives--anything, anything at all, to try to damage their enemies' war effort. Hard-pressed governments were tantalized by the fantasy of huge payoffs from relatively small investments.

WRT to the Russian Empire, the Central Powers' main focus was on fostering secessionist movements. The Germans were handing out the most money to Ukrainian nationalists such as Petlyura, and also quite a bit to Finnish nationalists, principally Mannerheim. The Austro-Hungarians had taken on Polish nationalists as their proteges, including Pilsudski. The Turks were sponsoring the Emir of Bokhara and other notables in Turkic inhabited regions of the Russian Empire.

Of course all that paled beside the chestfuls of gold and shiploads of weapons that the British were giving to the Hejazi rebels against the Turks, or to the big money that the Entente were handing to subversives from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, such as Tomas Masaryk.

Everyone will probably note the roll-call of familiar names.

All in all, 1917 was a heady year for the spooks, and not all that bad a time for many political exiles. Somebody, somewhere, was going to be waving an envelope in front of you. If nothing else, you might get an upgrade on your Zurich boarding house.

One can imagine Lenin's amusement. In talks with German officials, it was easy for the aristocratic Ulyanov to play up as one of the boys, talking horses and hounds in his flawless German.

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DMB
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Post by DMB » Sun Mar 26, 2017 10:06 pm

[quote=""Hermit""]
All Quiet on the Western Front is another truly remarqueable account by a participant. The film version is good too, though I don't know what the remake is like.[/quote]

There are differences between Storm of Steel and All Quiet on the Western Front. SoS is a factual account of the whole war by a participant. It is nothing like British accounts like Goodbye to all That in being pretty well totally unemotional. AQOTWF is a novel and a fairly emotional anti-war polemic.

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MattShizzle
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Post by MattShizzle » Sun Mar 26, 2017 11:43 pm

I wonder how much of it was based on things that really happened - Remarque did actually serve (and was wounded) on the Western Front.

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DMB
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Post by DMB » Mon Mar 27, 2017 5:32 am

[quote=""MattShizzle""]I wonder how much of it was based on things that really happened - Remarque did actually serve (and was wounded) on the Western Front.[/quote]

I imagine it was based on his experience. But it is a lot more like the writings of Barbusse, Graves, Sassoon, Manning and Brittain in being anti-war.

SoS is neither pro-war nor anti-war. It is surprisingly unemotional.

The war had transformed those writers into pacifists, but Junger went on to serve in WW2.

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Post by cape_royds » Sat Apr 01, 2017 12:34 am

That leaves three million men, for the exact status of whom figures were unavailable to the Russian Provisional Government in mid-1917. That sum includes a large number of men, certainly more than a million, in various stages of training.
I've been trying to track down some more precise figures for this large "Other" category.

According to figures given to Gen. Judson, the US military attache, by the French attache, in mid-1917, there were 1.5 million Russian soldiers "in a state of desertion." i.e. that's after the Provisional Gov't took over, but before the Kerensky Offensive--after which desertion soared.

Also according to Judson, another million deserted from the front by the time of the Dec. 1917 ceasefire arranged by the Bolsheviks, and then another million from the front by the time of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. At that point, little remained of the armies in frontline and main reserve.

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Provisional Government = Imaginary Government

Post by cape_royds » Mon Apr 03, 2017 7:08 pm

Wading through Papers

For the past few months, I've spent some time reading from the volumes of documents from the Great War in the series Foreign Relations of the United States, particularly the four volumes dealing specifically with Russia 1917-19. I'm using hardcopy, but they're also freely available online.

When I first picked up one of these books, I didn't expect to find much of special interest, but I was wrong. Even after the documents had been selected and edited for official publication, what the USG put in the public domain, when they printed this stuff in the 1930's, is often fascinating. I began browsing at random; I'm now reading straight through.

Obviously, this isn't an ideal lens through which to look at events in Russia at that time, but at least the people who wrote this correspondence were English-speakers who were close to the events. One could do worse, in terms of sources.



Patterns in the Data

As I went through many telegrams and dispatches, from numerous officials in several parts of the Russian Empire, it's easy to detect some patterns.

One obvious thing is that the Provisional Government was never much of a government. They didn't take power, and then lose it. They never had real power.

At no point did either Prince Lvov or Kerensky ever have effective command over the armed forces. e.g. they never had command of the Baltic Fleet, they never had command of the armies on the northern part of the front, and they only had intermittent command over the southern part of the front and parts of the Black Sea Fleet.

When the Root Mission arrived in Vladivostok in May 1917, they were greeted by the local soviet.
Elihu Root wrote:It appeared that the Provisional Government, established in Petrograd upon the downfall of the autocracy in the revolution of March 1917, had not succeeded in fact to the centralized power of the old bureaucratic government, but that extraordinary decentralization had followed the revolution....This condition existed all over Russia. Pubic civil affairs and military affairs as well were being directed by tens of thousands of separate committees, having no established relations with each other and practically acknowledging little or no right of control on the part of the Petrograd government.
"Soviet" is the Russian word for, "committee." As I mentioned in the OP, ad hoc committees to manage crisis were already emerging during 1915. The process continued and spread. I might say that the March Revolution in Petrograd was an inflection point on the curve of sovietization--that point being where sovietization happened in the Imperial capital city. These soviets, however, were not necessarily Bolshevist.

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