The Fifth Bloodiest: The Gorlice-Tarnòw Offensive
Many Americans are completely unaware of this bloody battle, which resulted in a strong victory for the Central Powers, and a defeat for Russia and its allies. In early 1915, responding to cries from help from Austria-Hungary, Germany sent eight divisions to the Eastern Front, under the command of Hans von Seeckt. This began a period of significant successes for the Central Powers. In early May, the Gorlice-Tarnòw Offensive began. The Germans and Austro-Hungarians gathered outside Krakow, under the command of August von Mackensen.
The Offensive began on May 2, with heavy artillery fire. By May 3, the combined German and Austro-Hungarian force had taken some 17,000 Russian prisoners. By the 10th of May, in retreat, the Russian troops, originally numbering around 250,000, now numbered only 40,000. Within only days, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians had accomplished their goals, but chose to keep moving forward.
The Russians sent additional divisions to maintain control of the Carpathian Mountains; however, these divisions were so quickly defeated that they were, in essence, simply wiped off of the map. The Germans and Austro-Hungarians continued their advance, securing the Carpathian Mountains. The Germans continued, retaking Galicia in early June 2015. Galicia was home to many oil fields, providing an essential resource for the German navy.
The Gorlice-Tarnòw Offensive continued until June 22, 1915. For the Central Powers, this was an unbelievable success. They made huge gains, at a low cost. In total, the Central Powers sustained fewer than 90,000 casualties, including injuries, fatalities, and soldiers captured. The costs to the Russians have been estimated at nearly 8 times that figure, including some 250,000 Russian prisoners. The Gorlice-Tarnòw Offensive began a period on the Eastern Front known as the Great Retreat. By the end of the Great Retreat in September 1915, the front line had moved significantly further East, with the Central Powers making immense gains.