(The WAR to DECEMBER 1916 – continued)

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The WAR to DECEMBER 1916 (8 of 11)

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Russians, Bulgarians, and Jews in Lithuania in 1915

The French and British had hoped that offensives in the west would remove German pressure from the Russians, but this did not happen. Germany and Austria-Hungary drove the Russians from Lithuania and Poland, the Russians burning crops, killing cattle and leaving their wounded without medical attention as they retreated. The Russians suffered from shortages of supplies, including boots and ammunition, and only a third of its infantry had rifles, with other frontline soldiers waiting for the rifle of someone who had fallen in battle.

The Russian army was less devoted to hygiene than were the Germans, their delousing program breaking down and typhus and cholera spreading wherever they went. A huge army of refugees moved ahead of the advancing Germans. Jews suffered again, this time in Lithuania, where they were again accused of supporting Germany, and they were accused of waiting for the arrival of German troops. Again there was widespread looting of Jewish shops and homes, with the Russian Cossacks, traditionally anti-Semitic, driving more Jews into seeking escape.

By the end of September, the front line in the east was between Riga on the Baltic Sea in Latvia and Czernowitz at the borders of Romania and the Ukraine, with the Germans in possession of the Russian empire's frontier fortresses. Hungry refugees packed into Russian towns and cities already short of food.

In various Russian cities, food riots erupted. The Russians had lost so many men and such large amounts of supplies that they were now precluded from playing a decisive role in the war. But Nicholas remained unaware. At the end of the year he still foresaw a military victory, and he chose to make that victory certain by taking personal command of his armies.

Meanwhile, impressed by the success of Germany and Austria-Hungary on the Eastern Front, Bulgaria entered the war on their side, Germany having promising Bulgaria land at the expense of Bulgaria's old rival from the wars of 1913: Serbia.

In October 1915, Serbia's soldiers and civilians were already suffering from an outbreak of typhus when Bulgaria and a combined force from Germany and Austria-Hungary attacked. That month a British and French force landed in Salonika (Salonica) – at the invitation of Greece – but they were unable to rescue the Serbs. The Serbs were suffering more than they had in 1914 when they had driven Austria-Hungary's forces out of Serbia. They would have been better off had the Russians not intervened on their behalf. It had brought Germany into the war, and the German army was too much for the Serbs. Surviving Serb soldiers took refuge in Montenegro, Albania and on the Greek island of Corfu. And the British and French retreated back to Salonika.


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