In 1914 Russia had an alliance with Serbia and so when Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Russia mobilised their army. Germany declared war on Russia on 1st August 1914. Many Russians were hungry, poor and desperate for something to change; this was only increased by the First World War. Eventually the public turned against their Tsar, Nicholas II, and focus changed from the Great War to Revolution.
The Battle of Tannenberg
The Battle of Tannenberg, starting on 26th August 1914, was one of the largest battles on the Eastern Front during the First World War. It was fought in the German village Tannenberg, (now north-eastern Poland) and was a serious defeat for Russia.
Two Russian armies commanded by General Paul von Rennenkampf (Pavel Karlovich Rennenkampf) and General Alexander Samsonov invaded East Prussia, Germany, at the end of August 1914. One problem these two armies faced was poor communication. Not only was it extremely difficult to contact all the soldiers, as there was so many spread out so far, but also they were not careful enough with their radio communications! The Germans were able to listen in to the radio messages from each General, Rennenkampf stating that he was staying put and Samsonov that he was advancing.
Samsonov’s route to invasion was difficult. The terrain was tough, his men were hungry and tired, and the Germans were expecting them! On 26th August the Russian army was surrounded and confused. On 29th August Samsonov realised the hopelessness of the situation and took his own life. By the 30th his army no longer existed. The aftermath of this battle divided the nation.
There had been a revolution in Russia in 1905 and the country had not yet fully recovered from this when the Great War broke out in 1914. The early loses at the Battle of Tannenberg and also the First Battle of Masurian Lakes (around 125,000 casualties) increased tensions at home. The public began to mistrust their leaders again, even accusing Tsarina Alexandra, wife to Tsar Nicholas, of being a German spy!
With more money and men leaving the country, troubles and riots increased on the home front. In early 1917, a revolution overthrew Tsar Nicholas, however the new government continued the war. There was a second revolution in October of the same year which brought the Bolshevik Party to Power. The Bolsheviks agreed a ceasefire with Germany and signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918.
Nikolai Gumilev (1886-1921)
Nikolai was a Russian poet born in 1886 who fought at the front during the First World War as a volunteer. He was credited for his bravery and received two medals, including the distinguished Cross of St. George. In 1916 he published a book of poems entitled Kolchan meaning ‘The Quiver’ which included a poem he wrote and published in 1914, War. In August 1921, Nikolai was executed for acting against the Revolution and the Bolsheviks, even though there was no proof that he even disliked them! Nikolai was married to Anna Akhmatova, who is often regarded as one of the greatest female poets in Russian literature. During the First World War she wrote about the impact of the Great War, Russia’s own difficulties and the Russian Revolution. Anna and Nikolai divorced in 1918.