The Fall of the Fortress of Przemsyl
The fall of Przemsyl capped a dismal performance by the Austrian army in the fall of 1914 and winter of 1915 and was a devastating blow to the Austrian war effort. The fortress was a modernized system of detached forts that aided in guarding the 300-mile Austro-Russian border and a linchpin in Austrian defensive strategy.
March 22, 1915
Strategic Position of Przemsyl
During August of 1914, the Austrian military implemented Plan R and threw the whole of its Eastern strength across the frontier. Commanded by Count Conrad, the Austrian army was fragmented along ethnic lines, poorly trained, and was only superior to the Russians in artillery capability.
In the resulting offensive, the Austrian armies were routed and defeated at the Battle of Lemberg. On September 11, 1914 Conrad ordered a general retreat and by September 14, his command had disintegrated. The garrison at Przemsyl was left surrounded behind enemy lines and the Russian army began a siege on September 16, 1914. The defeat at Lemberg left the German southern flank and Silesia wide open.
Realignment in Russian troop concentrations allowed a temporary lifting of the siege.
Aerial Photo of One of the Forts
The Austrians were able to reclaim Przemsyl on October 9, 1914 when the Russians began moving troops towards Warsaw. Conrad pushed on and attacked Ivangorad on October 22, but was forced to retreat on October 26. The retreat once again left Przemsyl and its garrison besieged. The Russians surrounded the fortress and waited for famine to take effect. The fortress was only rationed for three months.
Damaged Fort Up-Close
Conrad's forces attacked Russians positions on December 3 and by December 10, 1914 had pushed the Russian forces back forty miles. The Austrian gains prevented a Russian march on Budapest and established a new position along the Carpathians. A fair amount of this success owed to the presence of German troops in the Austrian attack. According to historian John Keegan, this was the last independent action by an Austrian army and all future actions were with German help or under German supervision.
The Austrians launched counteroffensives around the Carpathians on January 23 and February 27, 1915. These two attacks were beaten back by the Russians and resulted in the loss of over 90,000 soldiers.  These two offensives were designed to relieve Przemsyl and their failure lowered the morale of the fortress garrison and allowed for Russian counterattacks in March. After one last sortie against the Russians and the detonation of the fortress supplies, Przemsyl surrendered on March 22, 1915.
Russian Troops Entering Przemsyl
Upon surrender, the Russians took 120, 000 Austrian soldiers and officers into captivity and had soundly defeated the Austrian army. The Russian siege army was free for future offensive operations.
By Matt Church
 Keegan, p. 171.
Churchill, Winston, The Unknown War. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1931.
Clark, Alan, Suicide of the Empires: The Battles on the Eastern Front 1914-18. New
York: American Heritage Press, 1971
Keegan, John, The First World War. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.
Stone, Norman, The Eastern Front 1914-1917. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975
Photos by Tony Langley
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