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An earlier Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive

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  • An earlier Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive

    The Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorlice...%B3w_Offensive has been described as the decisive battle of the Eastern Front in WW1 http://www.historyofwar.org/articles...ce_tarnow.html, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=q...page&q&f=false. Launched in May 1915, the attack between Gorlice andTarnów rapidly punched a hole in the Russian front lines and almost destroyed the opposing Russian 3rd Army. The stages of the subsequent advances are shown in the attached map. The attacking forces were German 11th Army of 10 infantry divisions and the Austro-Hungarian IV Army of eight infantry and one cavalry divisions (according to Wikipedia). The German forces had been transferred from the Western Front.

    What if von Falkenhayn had decided to transfer those divisions and their artillery earlier? What if the attack had been launched exactly two months earlier on March 2nd 1915 and had achieved the same degree of surprise? One obvious problem is that the weather was probably worse in March than in May. Another is that the Western Front was perhaps less firmly fixed in February – March than in April – May. However, there was another big difference in March which was the Siege of Przemyśl http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Przemy%C5%9Bl. In March 1915, the Russian 3rd Army was besieging around 110,000 Austro-Hungarians and most of the other Russian forces had just repulsed the Austro-Hungarian relief attempts through the Carpathians, where there certainly was a great deal of snow. The OTL advance from Gorlice -Tarnów approached Przemyśl from the North. If Przemyśl can be relieved from the North by an advance during March, it will be very difficult for the Russian forces in the Carpathians to retreat both because of the snow and because they cannot pass through Przemyśl. Thus Russian loses may be even more serious in March than in May if the initial breakthrough and advance is possible. The relief of Przemyśl would also save around six Austro-Hungarian divisions.

    There are some interesting further possible consequences. We could argue that Italy entered WW1 to be on the winning side and miscalculated almost as badly as they did in WW2. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian...World_War_I%29 seems to quote Denis Mack Smith, Modern Italy: A Political History, Univ. of Michigan Press (1997), page 262, as follows:

    On February 16, 1915, despite concurrent negotiations with Austria, a courier was dispatched in great secrecy to London with the suggestion that Italy was open to a good offer from the Entente. [ ...] The final choice was aided by the arrival of news in March of Russian victories in the Carpathians. Salandra began to think that victory for the Entente was in sight, and was so anxious not to arrive too late for a share in the profits that he instructed his envoy in London to drop some demands and reach agreement quickly. [...] The Treaty of London was concluded on April 26 binding Italy to fight within one month. [...] Not until May 4 did Salandra denounce the Triple Alliance in a private note to its signatories.

    Thus, although Italy only declared war on Austria on May 23rd, it seems that the decision was taken before news of the OTL Gorlice–Tarnów battles had reached Italy. In this divergence, can we imagine that Italy decides to remain neutral until it becomes clear who is going to win? Will a subsequent Central Powers defeat of Serbia later in 1915, further convince Italy that they should wait longer? Will the ability of Austro-Hungary to rotate divisions to the peaceful Italian frontier, improve their morale to the point that any analogue of the Brusilov Offensive fails? Will that in turn, prevent Romania from joining the war? Will a neutral Italy prevent the OTL tightening of the Blockade, at least until any American Declaration of War?
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  • #2
    A World War I what if ... Cool!!! +1

    Its been a while since I read DiNardo, but I think the problem with the scenario is the availability of troops to form German 9th Army. As you say, divisions were transferred from West to East. However, if memory serves, the veteran divisions from France were only available because they were replaced by new draft divisions from Germany. Indeed, the reorganization of German divisions that would allow for the creation of the new divisions didn't begin until February.

    Further to the point, a March offensive requires movement of the veteran divisions starting as early as January. But there was no way Falkenhayn would do that because Germany was neck deep holding off the French offensive known to history as First Champagne and the Franco-British offensive known as First Artois. Although history shows the Germans were very ultimately very successful in these battles and inflicted a disproportionate number of casualties on the Allies, there was no way for Falkenhayn to know that in the middle of the battle.

    Finally, even if Falkenhayn decided to denude the west of the 10 divisions before replacements were ready, I'm not sure if the level of German artillery stocks had been brought up sufficiently to launch the early attack. What made the Germans at Gorlice-Tarnow so effective was their heavy artillery, which the Russians simply couldn't match. So without sufficient shells, I think you'd see a very different battle.

    Last edited by The Ibis; 25 Aug 14, 08:18.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Mostlyharmless View Post

      Thus, although Italy only declared war on Austria on May 23rd, it seems that the decision was taken before news of the OTL Gorlice–Tarnów battles had reached Italy. In this divergence, can we imagine that Italy decides to remain neutral until it becomes clear who is going to win? Will a subsequent Central Powers defeat of Serbia later in 1915, further convince Italy that they should wait longer? Will the ability of Austro-Hungary to rotate divisions to the peaceful Italian frontier, improve their morale to the point that any analogue of the Brusilov Offensive fails? Will that in turn, prevent Romania from joining the war? Will a neutral Italy prevent the OTL tightening of the Blockade, at least until any American Declaration of War?
      Not upto 1915 yet on my WWI reading but all those questions seem answerable as probably yes.

      If so, then without the Italian declaration of war against Austria-Hungary the Central Powers would probably have won the war?

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