The Lake Naroch Offensive in 1916 was an unsuccessful Russian offensive on the Eastern Front in World War I. It was launched at the request of Marshal Joseph Joffre and intended to relieve the German pressure on French forces. Due to lack of reconnaissance, Russian artillery support failed to overcome and neutralise the well-fortified German defenses and artillery positions, leading to costly and unproductive direct attacks, hindered by the weather. On 30 March General Evert ordered to stop the offensive.
Under the terms of the Chantilly Agreement of December 1915 Russia, France, Great Britain and Italy were committed to simultaneous attacks against the Central Powers in the summer of 1916. Russia felt the need to lend troops to fight in France and Salonika (against her own wishes), and to attack on the Eastern Front, in the hope of obtaining munitions from Britain and France.
The Lake Naroch Offensive was launched at the request of France, in the hope that the Germans would transfer more units to the East after their attack on Verdun. Nicholas II acceded to the French request, choosing the Lake Narach area in what is now the Republic of Belarus because there the Imperial Russian Army had a significant numerical superiority over the German forces under the command of General Eichhorn.
The Russian Second Army was made up of 16 infantry and 4 cavalry divisions, 253 battalions, 133 squadrons and had 887 artillery pieces, whereas the German forces numbered 9 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions, 89 battalions, 72 squadrons and 720 guns of various calibres.
The Russian initial artillery bombardment was quite long (it lasted two days), but inaccurate, leaving most of the German artillery intact, and the Russian troops, who made the mistake of crossing no man's land in groups rather than scattered about, were easy targets for German machine guns. The attackers gained 10 kilometers, but did not inflict any serious damage to the German defences — which were well-organized and fortified — although the Russians greatly outnumbered their adversaries.
The territory gained by the Russians was lost to subsequent German counterattacks. A secondary attack mounted near Riga on 21 March had no better luck.
The whole operation turned out to be an utter failure, as it abated the Russians' morale without providing any help to the French, and has become a shining example of the use of a widely known World War I method of war, the human wave attack. Huge masses of people were continuously sent into the battle over and over again in the same place of the enemy front. Eventually, the attack on the German positions was brought to a halt because, as General Evert noted in his order issued on 30 March, it had not led to "decisive results" and "the onset of warm weather and abundant rains" had turned much of the area into swamps.
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