A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 173

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TOPOGRAPHY OF THE DISTRICT


tlic Russian armies quietly to complete their mobilisation behind the frontier forces and along the middle Vistula, and then, when the}^ had their full forces available, move forward on a broad front, with the advantage of superior numbers at every point. But to wait for weeks to complete the concentration of an army of four or five millions would have been to allow Germany to put forth its full force for the attack on ITance. In their loyalty to the alliance the Russians therefore decided to take very serious risks, and to begin offensive operations against Austria and Germany before even their mobilisation w<is complete. To follow the campaign in Eastern .Europe it is ngeessar^^ ha\'e a clear idea of the regions in which tlie armies were to operate. Even in 1914 Russia presented obstacles to an invad- ing army scarcely less formidable than those which Napoleon encountered in 1812, Her vast leAritoiies, and the ease with which the country could be laid waste before *an advancing army, still made Russia comparatively secure against foreign invasion. The frontier towards Germany and Austria was some 1,500 miles long, and the greater part of this extended line was the frontier of Russian Poland, that province which projected like huge wedge between Prussia in the north and Austria in the south. But its frontier was entirely an artificial boundary. No mountains, no rivers, separated Russian Poland from Prussia. The boundary was a purely artificial one defended only by po.sts set up along it at intervals for custom house purposes. Russi^ui Ikiland was a huge plain watered by the Vistula and its tribu- tary streams. To the north, East Prussia interposed between the province and the Baltic. The border district betw^een the Narev River and the frontier line was a region of marshy forests; then insid(? the German frontier line lay the region of the Masurian Lakes, This is a land of innumerable lakes and pools, with iielts and clumps of fir and beech woods occupying much of the land between their swampy margins. Near the coast of East Prussia, where the Vistula flows into the Baltic, stands the old German fortress of Konigsberg. The distance from the frontier of Russian Poland to Berlin was only about five hundred miles. In the early days of the war it was believed that the Russians might be at the gates of Berlin within a month. But before Russia could advance into

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