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Great Retreat
Part of the Eastern Front during World War I
Russian withdrawal in 1915.
Date August 17 - September 14, 1915
Location Galicia and Poland
Result Russian retreat from Galicia and Poland
Russia Russia German Empire Germany

The Great Retreat was a Russian retreat from Galicia and Poland during World War I.



During this period, the buildup of forces generally favored the Central Powers. Four new German armies, the Eleventh, Twelfth, Army of the Niemen and Army Bug, were being formed up, dramatically shifting the balance of power in the area, with thirteen Central armies facing nine Russian. Under pressure from the Kaiser, Falkenhayn gave in to Hindenburg and Ludendorff's insistence that the offensive be continued.

Stavka decided to start a strategic retreat in order to gain time needed for the massive buildup of war industries at home.


After the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive in early June 1915, Mackensen's armies crossed the San River and captured Przemyśl. On 22 June, the Russians left the Galician capital of Lvov. Between June 23 and 27 the Germans crossed the Dniester. In early July Mackensen had to stop his offensive due to Russian counterattacks.

On 13 July, the Central Powers' armies opened a new offensive across the entire front. Outnumbered and still off-balance due to the earlier actions, the southern end of the Russian line collapsed and started moving northward, retreating to the Ivangorod-Lublin-Chełm line.

German Cavalry entering Warsaw on August 5, 1915

More worryingly, the German Tenth and Niemen armies pressed through on the extreme north end of the line, once again leading to the possibility of an encirclement of an entire Russian army.

By 13 July, the entire southern wing had been pushed back another 100 miles to the Western Bug, leaving only a small portion of Poland in Russian hands, anchored on Warsaw and the Ivangorod fortress. On 22 July armies of Central Powers crossed the Vistula river. On August, the Russian Fourth army left the Ivangorod fortress. With the continuing Russian retreat, Warsaw became isolated, and the German XII Army (under Gallwitz) seized the opportunity and conquered it on August 4–5.

Poniatowski Bridge in Warsaw after being blown up by the retreating Russian Army in 1915.

New attacks by the German Eight, Tenth and Twelfth armies moving south out of Prussia soon caused even this front to collapse, sending the entire northern end of the Russian lines streaming backward, eventually forming a line running north-south at about the pre-war eastern Prussian border.

The Germans, after having received considerable reinforcements, took Brest-Litovsk on August 25. On September 19, Hindenburg's forces captured Vilna.


At this point, the German advance was finally halted. The frontline was going from the Baltic Sea to the Romanian border by the Riga-Jakobstadt-Dvinsk-Baranovichi-Pinsk-Dubno-Ternopil line.

On August 21, 1915, Tsar Nicholas II dismissed Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich and took direct control of the army. This was to have disastrous consequences on the future of the Russian Empire.

Further reading

  • Johnson, Douglas Wilson (1916). "The Great Russian Retreat". Geographical Review 1 (2): 85–109. doi:10.2307/207761.  


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