Book Review
German vs Russian
German Infantryman versus Russian Infantryman 1914-15
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by: Colin Key [ COLINEDM ]


Osprey Publishing continues their Combat series with their 11th volume, titled German Infantryman versus Russian Infantryman 1914-15. This book examines battles between German and Russian forces during the first six months of the First World War, and the troops that fought them.

    The bitter battles between Imperial Germany and Tsarist Russia on the Eastern front were every bit as grueling as the more well-know campaigns in the West. At the heart of the struggle between these two European giants was the small-unit fighting between German and Russian infantrymen, and this book provides key insights into the tactics, organization and combat experiences of both sides on the early-war battlefields of East Prussia, Poland and Lithuania. Robert Forczyk analyzes three vicious clashes at Gumbinnen, Göritten and Mahartse, revealing that the Russians could surprise the Germans with a tenacious and effective combat performance despite the shattering early loss at Tannenberg.

Written by Robert Forczyck and illustrated by Adam Hookand, this book is an 80 page softcover with numerous period back and white photographs, five two-page colour plates and four colour battle maps. This work is available in Paperback, eBook (ePub), and eBook (PDF).


While the battles of the Western Front are well known and there is a plethora of information available through dozens, if not hundreds, of books, the Eastern Front, especially in the early years of the war, is not covered in nearly as much detail. Russia initiated General Mobilization on July 31, 1914 in response to the Austro-Hungarian mobilization against Serbia brought on by the crisis resulting from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The next day, Imperial Germany declared war on Russia.

Germany’s main war effort was centered on the Western Front against France, England and their allies, so they only deployed one army to defend East Prussia. Commanded by Generaloberst Maximilian von Prittwitz, 8. Armee could field 218,000 troops once fully mobilized, a total of 57 divisions including 12 Reserve and 20 Landwehr (Territorial Army). Outnumbered by the Russians, the German high command adopted a ‘win-hold-win’ strategy for the Eastern front. The aim of this was to hold off the Russian armies until the campaign in the West was decided and reinforcements moved to the East to mount a counteroffensive.

1914-15 German Infantryman versus Russian Infantryman is told through 8 chapters and sections in 80 pages:
    The Opposing Sides
      Operational doctrine
      Recruitment and motivation
      Uniforms, equipment and rations
      Leadership and communications
      Tactics, weapons and training

    Gumbinnen 20 August 1914
    Göritten 7 November 1914
    Mahartse 16 February 1915
      Mobility, firepower and the defense
      Morale and replacements
      Command and control

    Unit Organizations

The text is well written and organized, starting off with the situation at the outbreak of the war, and the German high commands calculated gamble that a single army group could hold off the Russian ‘steamroller’ until the Western Front could be decided and troops moved to the East. The book then moves onto the operational doctrine of each side, including the fact that much of the German doctrine was based more on anti-Slavic racial bias as opposed to hard facts. This would lead to some unpleasant surprises for the Germans.

The differences in the recruitment and motivation of the opposing forces are examined as well, with each side having their preferred areas of conscription for the regular infantrymen based on what they believed were desirable attributes in a soldier. The book then moves on to the uniforms, equipment and rations of the opposing forces, followed by leadership and communications and then the tactics, weapons and training.

The next 35 pages are devoted to discussion of battles at Gumbinnen, Göritten and Mahartse, starting with the lead up to each battle followed by a detailed discussion of the battle. The text is interspersed with profiles of senior officers, maps, photographs and personal accounts of the battle from both sides.

A Russian officer recounted his experience in one attack:
    But here, and we began the ascent up from the river and immediately [we came under fire] and there were killed and wounded…Screams and moans from the seriously wounded sharply violated the discipline of the silent attack…The Germans took us in a crossfire: their guns were arranged in a horseshoe…our attack finally stopped!...And it seemed that our goal – their trenches – was so close! We could clearly hear their voices…

The text is well supported by photographs, artwork, and graphics. The photos are a mix of Russian and German, from both before and during the war, including staged scenes, in-action shots, and situations casual and formal.

Most pages feature a black and white photograph to support the text, along with a few coloured prints, and I believe most readers will be seeing these for the first time.

Maps orient and demonstrate each of the battles to the reader, and are keyed to the flow of the battle with a timeline of major events and a description of the battlefield conditions

Four full colour two-page illustrations enhance this book.

    Ryadavoy (Private), 105th Infantry Regiment Orenburg, Göritten , 7 November 1914: presented with 10 articles of uniform and kit.

    Gefreiter, Reserve –Infantry-Regiment Nr. 1 Göritten , 7 November 1914: presented with 12 articles of uniform and kit.

    Two-page battle scene: The slaughter at Mattischkehmen from German and Russian views, showing German infantry being cut down as they advance across open ground, and Russian infantry pouring fire into the advancing Germans

    Two-page battle scene: Assaulting Mahartse, Russian infantry outflanking the German held village of Mahartse .

An interesting examination of a theatre of the First World War that has not enjoyed the extensive coverage lavished on the more well known battles of the Western Front.

We thank Osprey Publishing for providing this book for review. Please tell them and retailers that you saw it here, on - ARMORAMA.
Highs: Good discussion of the opposing forces and the battles, lots of photographs.
Lows: None that I can think of.
Verdict: Interesting reading about a more obscure battleground of WWI.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 9781472806543
  Suggested Retail: US18.95/UK11.99/CAN22.50
  PUBLISHED: Apr 29, 2015

About Colin Key (ColinEdm)

Colin started modelling with cars and planes as a young child then moved into armour by rebuilding his older brothers motorized Tamiya Tiger II and winning a model contest with it at age 12. He continued modelling into his teens until university and other distractions got in the way, resuming the...

Copyright ©2021 text by Colin Key [ COLINEDM ]. All rights reserved.


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