The endgame


Following the failed siege of Limanowa, General Orlov’s Russian Army Corps VIII gradually retreated from Neu Sandez because the Hadfy Group, having bypassed Limanowa, and the Szurmay Group, arriving from the Carpathians, were threatening Russian units with encirclement. On 12 December, two Hungarian divisions, arriving from opposite directions but equally triumphant, extended hands to each other at Neu Sandez Bridge.

By 14 December, the Russians’ fate had also been sealed in the north, ahead of Cracow ; Austrian troops had occupied Bochnia and the German 47th Division took Rajbrot, forcing the entire Russian frontline to pull backwards. Slowly but steadily, the “Russian Steamroller” was beginning to roll back…

The Battle of Limanowa was a turning-point of fighting in Galicia. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had reined in, and even pushed back the front, thus saving Cracow from occupation and preventing enemy forces’ advancement towards Vienna and Budapest. In the aftermath of the battle, General Brusilov relieved both General Orlov, commander of Army Corps VIII, and Lieutenant-General Belkovych, leader of the 15th Army Division, of their duties due to their grave errors of strategic judgement. These mistakes, however, allowed Austro-Hungarian defeders’ heroic efforts to become the most important prerequisite of victory instead of purposeless blood sacrifice. In fairness, though, the Monarchy’s military leadership also made a number of mistakes; of the pieces of news arriving, they only counted with information that reinfoced their own concepts and, for a long time, failed to consider accounts of Russian advancement. As a result, they forced their own men, first and foremost Hungarians, to make unnecessary blood sacrifices.

Their extraordinary courage fascinated many. Paul von Hindenburg, the German commander of the Eastern Front, had asked the Monarchy’s chief of staff to detach an additional couple of army corps to the front. In defence of other nations’ men, Conrad said: “They’re all the same.” “You should regret having failed to notice that the Hungarians are the best”, Hindenburg replied curtly.