Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The Results of the Offensives and Territorial Gains

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.

Besides prisoners of war, the front areas between the Baltic States and the Black Sea as well as in the hinterlands of the Hohenzollern, Habsburg and Tsarist Empires were marked by forced migration. In Russian Poland alone 750,000 people were forced to resettle by the Tsarist Army. Similar deportations were organised by the Russian forces in 1914 during their opening offensive in East Prussia, though ‘only’ 13,600 people were affected by this. However, most people were not forcibly deported, or taken to particular locations or detained, but left their home territory ‘of their own devices’ because of the fighting. Around 500,000 people were affected in Prussia, who were, however, mostly able to return to their homes soon after with the advancing Central Powers.

The same happened to hundreds of thousands of people who had left the battle zones of Galicia, though they were forced to find shelter in the hinterlands due to the continuous threat on the north-western border of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The Russian ‘Brusilov Offensive’ in particular unleashed another exodus which caused the Imperial authorities to wait for a while with repatriation. The results of this decision were seen later after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy when there were still 310,000 ‘non-German’ refugees on the territory of what became the Republic of Austria.

In particular the Empire of Tsar Nicholas II was affected by permanent uprooting of large segments of the population due to the advance of the Hohenzollern army into Poland and the Baltic States. The responsible authorities in St. Petersburg talked about three million ‘people  without a homeland’ at the end of 1915, and just before the February Revolution even about five to six million people, thus some five percent of the entire population.

Subsequently the German and Austro-Hungarian troops must have felt confirmed in their belief that the conquered territories were but deserted wasteland. In the end the population density was vastly depleted by the fighting. For example, Lithuania lost a quarter of its pre-war population, the Kurland even lost more than half.


Gatrell, Peter: A Whole Empire Walking. Refugees in Russia during World War I, Bloomington/Indianapolis 1999

Mentzel, Walter: Kriegsflüchtlinge in Cisleithanien im Ersten Weltkrieg, Diss. Wien 1997

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Violence in war

    Violence was a universal social phenomenon during the First World War. Soldiers, civilians, men, women, children and old persons were all confronted by it in one form or another. The way it was experienced differed. It was practised and suffered, it had mental and physical manifestations, it took place at a structural and an individual level, and it was felt directly and indirectly.

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    Mechanical warfare

    In the years and decades before the First World War there were many innovations in arms technology with the result that the entire war machinery and with it the strategic and tactical considerations had to be fundamentally rethought. The artillery, with its powerful arsenal of guns, mortars and howitzers, epitomised the dominance of “fire power”. It was the prototype of industrialised mechanical and mass warfare and responsible for a larger number of casualties than any other type of weapon.

  • Object

    Flight and deportation

    Millions of people fled during the war from the fighting and the marauding soldiers. The situation was particularly dramatic in ethnically heterogeneous regions on the eastern front. Apart from the invaders, local soldiers also attacked minorities. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were deported far away from the front and behind the lines, in some cases because they were seen as untrustworthy “internal enemies” and in others to exploit them as forced labourers.

  • Object

    Prisoners of war

    In May 1916, Anton Baumgartner sent a POW postcard to his son Otto in Novo Nikolayevsk POW camp in Siberia (now Novosibirsk). Otto Baumgartner is only one of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who fell into enemy hands during the First World War. One in thirteen German soldiers, one in ten French and Italian, one in five Russian and almost one in three Austro-Hungarian soldiers ended up in captivity.

  • Person

    Aleksei Alexeevich Brussilov

    Aleksei Alexeevich Brusilov was a general of the Russian Army and in 1916 assumed supreme command over the South West Front. He gave his name to the Brusilov offensive, which he led and which marked Russia's greatest military success in the First World War.