The national unification of Italy came about not least of all from the conflict with the Habsburg Monarchy. The Triple Alliance concluded in 1882 between the Apennine Kingdom, Germany and Austria-Hungary had little effect on the fundamental mistrust between Vienna and Rome. The latent tension in bilateral relations meant that a true ‘brotherhood in arms’ alongside the Hohenzollern Empire was out of the question.
Generally speaking, the turn of the year 1918/19 meant further escalations of violence for the Central-Eastern European macro-region. This was caused by three key factors: firstly, the conflicts between the successor states of the Habsburg Empire and the connected battles between the Hungarian Councils and the neighbouring states; secondly, Poland’s territorial claims and those of its antagonists; and thirdly, the advance of the Red Army into the former German-Austrian occupied territories.
Neither Germany, nor Austria-Hungary nor Russia managed to create any kind of stable order for a shorter or longer period of time in the conquered territories, nor did they manage to bond with the local population for any longer period of time. This applied in varying grades of intensity and forms for nearly all territories concerned, with Poland, the Ukraine and the Baltic States leading the way.
Unlike the interim government that had been in office since the ‘February Revolution’, the Bolsheviks under Vladimir I. Lenin advocated an end to the ‘Imperial War’, and so managed not least of all to speak to battle-weary soldiers and large parts of the population. After the ‘October Revolution’ the new Soviet government under Lenin immediately sought to conclude a ceasefire.
Despite their defeats in 1915 the Tsarist Army still managed to deal considerable blows to the Central Powers. General Aleksei Brusilov destroyed entire Austro-Hungarian armies in June 1916, although the offensive was by no means an operation that decisively turned the course of war. The temporary government that followed the downfall of the Tsar in spring 1917 tried once more to succeed on the battlefields, yet just caused yet more destabilisation within Russia.
At the beginning of May 1915, the Russian front began to totter as a result of the German-Austrian breakthrough near Tarnów-Gorlice. Galicia, which had been occupied by the troops of Tsar Nicholas II, was reclaimed after just a few weeks. The ensuing forays by the German High Command in the East led to the conquest of Russian Poland and parts of the Baltic States.
In the whole of Europe the military commanders preferred an offensive strategy, but after only a few months it became apparent that their attacks had failed nearly everywhere. Thus in the West trench and static warfare began. In the East the opening military campaigns turned out to be quite different right from the start.
The armies of the belligerent powers often viewed the population that still lived near the frontlines as an unwanted nuisance. The increasing nervousness and intensified ‘Russophile’ image of the enemy in the wake of the commencment of hostilities thus took its toll on the civilian population on the Eastern Front, too. There were several orders that decreed ‘ruthless actions’ towards ‘suspects and possible traitors’. Whoever was not ‘massacred and without mercy’ on the spot faced a policy of rigorous deportation.
Added to ‘effective killing’ there were the demographic consequences in the East, the consequences of industrial ‘machine warfare’ with hitherto unknown effects of mass mobilisation. This was reflected in long lists of troops both deceased and wounded, and prisoners of war. The mobile warfare also affected the civilians of these simply vast theatres of war, the various bases and the occupied areas.
The war in the Eastern Europe was time and again characterised by considerable territorial gains. This, despite the fact that large-scale military operations were impeded not only by the geography, climate and vastness of the country, but also by the rudimentary motorisation, poor road network and problems with replenishment, supplies and communication.