Attack of the dead: how a hundred Russians forced the German army to flee


The battle at the Osovets fortress is one of the most famous episodes of the First World War. On August 6, 1915, 60 soldiers of the regiment of the Russian Imperial Army put the 7,000th German regiment to flight.

As often happens, modern publicists have significantly distorted the real picture of the battle. What actually happened at the Osovets fortress?

The Osovets fortress consisted of 4 forts located at the bend of the Beaver River, and interconnected by a system of trenches, dugouts and barbed wire fences. The stronghold controlled an important regional transport hub, preventing the enemy from continuing the offensive into Polish territory.

The main defensive fortifications were located on the eastern bank of the river. On the western bank, at a distance of 2-2.5 km from the fort, under the cover of fortress artillery,

After long and unsuccessful attempts to seize the fortress, stretching back from September 1914, the Germans undertook another assault with the use of gas weapons.

Waiting for a fair wind, early August morning,

The trenches of the Sosnenskaya position closest to the front died out completely. The second line of defense lost up to 60% of its personnel. One way or another, the entire garrison of Osovets was also poisoned.

On the lifeless, as it seemed to the Germans, desert, the 18th and 76th regiments of the Landwehr went on the attack. The 76th regiment moved so fast that it itself fell under the poisonous gases and, faced with machine-gun fire, was forced to return to its positions.

The 18th regiment was doing more successfully as it passed the first line of trenches and approached the bridge on the east bank. At this moment, the remnants of the Russian soldiers organized a counterattack.

The counterattack was

Indeed, in an instant, the desert landscape, covered with smog, suddenly exploded with dozens of explosions, rifle fire and a bayonet attack, which the German soldiers had never expected. German soldiers began to retreat indiscriminately. Russian soldiers regained all the lost positions.

According to Professor A.S. Khmelkov, by the way, who participated in the defense of the fortress, the decisive role in the episode

However, this historical episode is often embellished with «Russian dead heroes» who, after an attack with chlorine, spit out pieces of lungs, spat blood and shouted curses and frightened the Germans away with their appearance. Unfortunately, in reality this was impossible.

From exposure to a mixture of bromine and chlorine, a person cannot breathe, experiences convulsions and, writhing in pain, suffocates and falls

The Germans were never able to capture the fortress by force. However, on August 18, 1915, the garrison of Osovets began evacuating. On August 22, all the fortifications were blown up, and on August 25, the Germans occupied the empty redoubts. The fact is that the German troops managed to break through the Russian front in Galicia. The strategic need for the defense of Osovets disappeared.

This episode became known to the general public after Artyom Denisov’s article in the «Brother» magazine from 2011, which embellished the story with «Russians who are not taken by suffocating gas.» This is the version that spread across all social networks.

Russian soldiers were heroes and performed feats, no one argues with this. In reality, however, a choke gas attack was impossible to survive, whatever the morale.