In 1914, the center of gravity of the war had been on the Western Front, now it shifted to the Eastern. 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..
Already in August 1914, Great Britain had established a naval blockade, cutting off Germany from imports of all kinds. In early November 1914, Britain declared the Northern Sea to be a war zone. To the Germans, it was a blatant attempt to starve a people including women and children, into surrender. In fact, a naval blockade violated accepted internal law, and many neutrals, among them U.S. President Wilson, did not approve.
The only way Germany could impose a blockade on Britain was through the new submarines, the U-boats. The German admiralty was convinced that the submarine could bring the British to an early peace. So they declared, on February 4, 1915, the waters around the British Isles as a war zone in which every ship would be attacked without warning. This meant that most crews and passengers would not survive.
Britain armed its merchant ships. Merchant ships began travelling in convoys, escorted by destroyers. German U-boats sunk several commercial and passenger vessels, including several U.S. ships. Tensions arose between the USA and Germany, and Germany lost many sympathies among the neutrals.
By May, then they were terrible headlines. The British ocean liner Lusitania had been hit by a German U-boat torpedo and sunk, only 761 passengers had survived.
There had been warnings. In late April and early May, 1915, several New York newspapers published a warning by the Imperial German embassy in Washington that passengers on British or Allied ships in war zones were liable to destruction in those waters and did so at their own risk. This warning appeared next to an advertisement for Lusitania’s return voyage. The ship’s passengers and crew were worried, but nonetheless, the Lusitania had left New York on May 1, 1915, with 1,959 people aboard.
As she steamed across the ocean, the British Admiralty had been tracking the movements of the German U-20 and given several warning messages to the Captain, he took precautions. On the morning of May 7, again warnings to all ships were sent: “U-boats active in southern part of Irish Channel. Last heard of twenty miles south of Coningbeg Light Vessel”.
Outrage against Germany
In the early afternoon of May 7, the German U-20 spotted the Lusitania, and got in firing distance. At 2:12 p.m. the Lusitania was hit by an exploding torpedo on its starboard side. A larger explosion followed the torpedo blast. Within 20 minutes, the Lusitania sank. Of her 1,959 passengers and crew, 1.198 people had perished, among them 128 Americans.
Soon after the catastrophe, questions were raised, even more when it came out that the Lusitania was carrying war supplies for Britain. Had the captain and the Admiralty done enough to keep the Lusitania safe? Had one risked the passengers’ lives?
Above all, the loss of so many lives caused outrage against Germany. The United States launched a protest, Germany apologized and pledged to end unrestricted submarine warfare. American public opinion began to shift away from neutrality and turned against Germany. If more American died, the US would interfere.
That was the drastic title of a new book, urging the United States to prepare themselves for a sudden attack. There was a war raging in Europe, with mighty fleets and lethal submarines, gigantic armies were destroying one another, military leaders sent hundreds of thousands of men into their certain death. What would happen if a naval and military power armed to a maximum and determined to destroy its enemies would attack the USA? What if an enemy U-boat suddenly appeared before the East coast?
The USA had only a small army and navy, and were hardly prepared. Indeed, “preparedness” for war became a big issue. Especially in Eastern cities, a new Preparedness Movement proclaiming that the U.S. needed to immediately build up strong naval and land forces for defensive purposes.
Roosevelt opts for intervention
It was definitely not enough for former President Theodore Roosevelt. On the contrary, he heaped scorn on President Wilson for his failure to take sides in the World War. Interventionists, like former president Theodore Roosevelt, rallied to shape public opinion. “Preparedness against war does not invariably avert war, any more than a fire department in a city will invariably prevent a fire, and there are well-meaning, foolish people who point out this fact as offering an excuse for unpreparedness.”