In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Eastern Front (World War I)

  • Introduction
  • Dissertations
  • Official Histories
  • Origins of the War
  • Eastern Front Battles
  • Prisoners of War
  • Air Force

International Relations Eastern Front (World War I)
Graydon A. Tunstall
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0165


The eastern front can no longer be labeled the “Unknown War.” Since the Soviet archives opened in the 1990s, there has been a flood of books on the Russian army itself and its strategy and attempted reform movements before World War I, as well as military sources covering the economics of the war, the home fronts, and nationalities. For the Soviet Union, World War I receded into the background and received little if any attention as a result of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The World War became considered merely a prelude to that most significant event, the revolution. The war, until recently, had not been the subject of serious Soviet scholarly research, except briefly during the 1970s. A major problem was the lack of access to the Russian archives. Then, in the late 1990s the Great War became a more serious topic for Russian historical research and was the subject of two international conferences. For all three warring parties, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia, there were multiple works published immediately after the war. In particular, several émigré Russian officers and a few generals who remained in Russia wrote about the war there. The Austrian War Archives remained the preserve of former kaiserlich und königlich Armee (k.u.k.) officers until well after World War II; thus, the most recent books on Habsburg military history are the most important, particularly for Russian historians since the Soviet archives opened, although access to them remains problematic. For Germany, the opening of the Soviet archives revealed that documents reputedly destroyed when Potsdam was bombed during World War II had actually been transferred to the Soviet Union. A wealth of research material thus became available.

General Overviews

There were several differences between warfare on the eastern and western fronts. The most obvious would be the vast distances in the East compared to the West. The latter also had a much more developed infrastructure, while few railroads and manageable roads existed on the former. On the eastern front, horse cavalry would be deployed often, whereas the trench warfare in the West precluded its utilization. Surprise could be achieved if enough troops were deployed to launch a major offensive, and it usually proved successful on the eastern front. In addition to the problems with supply and troop movements, the enormous distances also negatively affected military communication. On the western front the Belgian fortresses fell quickly, and during 1916, Verdun became the site of major battle, whereas on the eastern front, many campaigns evolved around fortresses. On the Austro-Hungarian front, Fortress Przemyśl became the site of major battles throughout 1914 and early 1915 southwest-front combat. During the 1915 Gorlice-Tarnov Offensive, multiple Russian forts would be captured. Also, weapons were more primitive than on the sister front; that is, tanks did not become a major weapon as in the West, and airplanes deployed in the East would often be obsolete models.

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