At the Eastern front, the Austrian-Hungarian army was in a catastrophic situation. A gigantic Russian army was besieging the mighty fortress Przemysl in Galicia. By May 1915 Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary.
Soon murderous battles were raging at the Isonzo river and in the Dolomite mountains.
A hard time for Austria-Hungary
It was a hard time also for Joscha Csabany. He took care of the Csabany family estate in Hungary, now turned into a convalescent home and field hospital. From early morning to late at night, he did his utmost to keep the family estate going to make it easier for those who fought at the front. Everything had long since been subordinated to the war. The letters of his relatives and friends gave him strength. He prayed with them for Matthias and all the others at the front.
“More and more injured men are being brought to us,” he wrote to his sister Lottie. “Our house is bursting at the seams, and my heart grows heavy when I see these poor fellows. The officer in charge here is a good man, everyone gets something decent to eat, no matter if officer or staff.” To Marie, he wrote: “You, Kathi, and Walther, the war is stealing your youth. I would have loved to dance with you at your graduation party, and I often imagine how we are doing this when this terrible war is over. It helps keeping my spirits up.”
Thinking about one another
Some time later he got a letter from Marie with a photo showing the three of them. Kathi was already in the car behind the wheel, Marie and Walther were loading parcels. They all sent their love. “You need not worry about us so much,” Marie wrote. “Certainly, our world will never be the same again, but this whole pomp has never meant anything to us. Do you remember the woman we met some years ago at Mount Petersberg, the one with the unspeakable hat who thought she could turn up her nose upon us? Now she is glad that she is getting something to eat from us. Kathi and Walter have grown up with other values, real values, their wealth is being decent human beings, and we will not lose our values so long as we give each other strength.”
Battles in the Carpathians 1915
The biggest part of the Austro-Hungarian troops, reinforced by German regiments, fought in the icy winter in the Carpathian Mountains. However, they were badly equipped and hardly prepared for such a war. There were only a few fortified roads and railroad lines, scarce food and shelter from the icy cold for man and animal. Moreover, the supplies of ammunition and food arrived late if at all.
“Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are fighting in the icy Carpathian winter,” Joscha wrote. “Papa has mobilized all the tailoring companies Mama has worked with, they are now producing warm clothes on his account. So we can at least help protect some poor guys out there against the cold, but it is getting harder and harder to get stuff. We have rented a truck and drive clothes and other supplies to the front ourselves, that’s the only way.
A devastating defeat
After three months of failed offensives and counter-offensives, Austria-Hungary had lost some 800,000 men. By the end of February, the defense of Przemysl had become hopeless. For this reason, emperor Franz Joseph approved an honorable surrender. There was only time left to destroy all weapons, fortifications and all war material, then the commander went with 120,000 soldiers into Russian captivity. “I do not know what to say to all the peasants who have lost or missed a loved one,” Joscha wrote to Marie. “Many feel all abandoned, sometimes all I can do is to be with them.”
Marie did not find words to comfort him. Meanwhile more and more people were realizing that there would be no quick victory, no matter what the war propaganda kept promising. “Troops are being moved, some far east, and many families do not know where their loved ones are,” she wrote. “Letters often take weeks to arrive. In this terrible uncertainty, it will give them some comfort that there are people like you far to the east who are helping to the best of their ability.”
Counter-attack and advance to the east
In the East of the German Empire Hindenburg’s troops had stopped the Russian advance, in the winter battler at the Masurian lakes in February 1915 they had driven the Russians out of the country. But it was obvious to the German High Command that the Austro-Hungarian army was no longer able to hold the front in Galicia. For this reason, the German Chief of General Staff Falkenhayn suggested to his Austrian colleague Conrad von Hötzendorf a combined well-planned advance in Galicia.
At Gorlice-Tarnów, early May 1915, the combined German and Austrian-Hungarian armies achieved a remarkable breakthrough. By mid-May, German troops reached the San river, on June 4th, Przemysl was re-conquered. Then, on June 22, Austro-Hungarian troops marched into Lemberg.
Now the military leaders would not content themselves with one well-planned blow. The Russian army was at least as exhausted by the Carpathian winter as the Austrian-Hungarian troops. For this reason, they decided to push the offensive as far as possible into enemy territory. In the north and east, German forces invaded Warsaw, Kaunas, Brest-Litovsk, and Vilna in August and September. Russian-Poland, Lithuania, Kurland, and Western Ukraine fell to the German Reich; only in September did the advance come to a halt just outside Riga. Millions of people were on the run. In the conquered territories in the East, a new military state was established under the command of General Ludendorff – the Land Ober Ost.