The First World War (2003) s01e05 Episode Script

Part 5

(Explosions and gunfire) NARRATOR: The Eastern Front was the conflict at the heart of the First World War.
A struggle which devastated the lives of Eastern Europe's peoples, as old scores were settled, new hatreds forged.
A harbinger of the Second World War.
There has never been such a war as this waged with such bestial fury This was a racial war between Teuton and Slav.
Between the Germans and Austro-Hungarians on one side, and Russia and her Slav ally Serbia on the other.
Caught between the clashing giants were Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Croatians, Jews, without statehood or voice, with no means of defence.
lt was also a war of alliances stretched to breaking point.
Germany, hands full on the Western Front, looked to Austria-Hungary to bear the brunt of a Russian attack.
But Austria-Hungary's empire was crumbling and weak.
Theirs was a partnership with different agendas, many enemies.
Germany's eastern flank bordered directly onto Russia, down what is now Poland.
To Austria-Hungary's south lay her dreaded enemy Serbia.
Around them, a ring of neutrals as yet undecided which side to join .
(Sacred singing) Russian troops are blessed before leaving for the war.
One officer presented his men with an historic opportunity.
Hey brothers our eternal enemy Germany is trying to enslave Russia our country which has long suffocated under Germany's dead weight The time has come to end their Teutonic rule Not everyone saw the conflict in such epic terms.
Russian conscript Vasily Mishnin left to fight the Germans, filled with dread.
A shiver ran through my whole body The third whistle Everybody breaks down l kiss my Nurya for the last time and all my family kiss me Nurya shouts "Why are you crying Vasyusha? You said you weren't going to cry!" The challenge to this war on the backward side of Europe was logistics.
There were vast distances to cover, from the Urals to the Alps, with desperate problems of communications and supply.
On 17 August, 1914, the Russian First Army seized the initiative and invaded Germany.
This would be a mobile war, and some units went in hard from the start.
Russian cavalry officer Vladimir Littauer had already crossed the border, scouting ahead.
Around seven o'clock in the morning our squadron reached the objective for the day a large German farm The scene on the German side of the border was frightening For miles farms haystacks and barns were burning Like every army under the sun we looted and destroyed and later hated to admit it The scope for atrocity was greatest where places suddenly changed hands, where soldiers lived off the land, where you weren't sure who the enemy was.
(Gunfire) Littauer's regiment was fired on at the village of Santopen in East Prussia.
The Russians blamed locals for directing the attack from the church tower.
Groten compltely lost his temper and shouted "They are all spies Shoot them!" In a moment they were all dead Horror stories spread, as 12-year-old German Piete Kuhr recorded in her diary.
Whole columns of East Prussian refugees came through our town Many are crying There are mothers with tiny children They say Russians tie German women who stay behind to trees set up wooden crosses in front of them and nail their little children to them When the kiddies have died before their mothers' eyes the Russians mutilate the women and kill them The German Army fell back 100 miles.
Two men took over Germany's defence in the east.
General Paul Von Hindenburg, brought out of retirement, and General Erich Ludendorff, poached from the offensive in the west.
They would, in time, become more powerful than the Kaiser.
The Germans planned to hit the Russian Second Army in these woods near the East Prussian town of Tannenberg, where, 500 years before, a Polish army had defeated a force of Teutons.
The stakes were high - Germany fighting to defend her native soil.
Julius Boldt's regiment was whisked from Western to Eastern Front.
After a 60-hour train ride a quick march for nearly four hours straight to the battlfield I had my baptim of fire Oddly enough it left me completely cold In a flash I thought of home gave one glance to heaven and then straight into the line of fire When the injured scream your heart clams up There's almost nothing left of this hospitable town What's left of the buildings is either still burning or in ruins Charred corpses lie in the streets Tannenberg stopped the Russians in their tracks, and made up for the lack of German victory in the west.
Hindenburg and Ludendorff were seen as saviours of the nation , as schoolgirl Piete wrote.
Paul von Hindenburg is mighty big and strong He has a square head with a moustache and many wrinkles in his face The people here in the east worship him Germany needed heroes.
The battle entered pan-German mythology payback for the Russian invasion, final revenge for that ancient defeat.
This massive monument was completed in 1927, a rallying symbol for Germany's ambitious right.
A few years later, Hindenburg showed Adolf Hitler the site of Germany's historic triumph.
Today the monument lies in ruins, blown up by the Russians after the Second World War, last blow in the saga of Slav-Teuton clashes at Tannenberg.
Poland, January 1915.
The Russians were firmly dug in .
The Germans were now on the offensive, trying to dislodge them.
The village of Bolimow was in the front line.
The Germans turned to technology to give them the edge over the Russians.
Bolimow would be the test-bed for an experimental weapon .
Francis Smolinski, a civilian, raised the alarm.
I got up went outside and then I saw this something which looked like smoke I ran back home shouting "Fire!" "Fire!" Behind the Russian lines, General Basil Gourko got snippets of information that didn't add up hundreds mysteriously killed, trenches full of corpses that might not be dead.
Bodies in a state of collapse with little sign of life were lying in the wood What was the reason for this unusual occurrence? Had some of those already buried been in a state of coma and not dead at all? From this church tower, German observers watched the first major use of chemical warfare ever.
The Germans fired 18,000 tear gas shells onto the Russians.
The conventional wisdom is that the wind was blowing the wrong way, and it was too cold for the gas to work.
The Russians withstood the attack.
But there were victims, as General Gourko heard and Francis Smolinski saw.
They were carried crowded onto wagons some lying on top of others Those who could walked Their faces were pale blue They had foam at their mouths Three months later, Ypres on the Western Front wrongly earned the morbid distinction of being the site for the first gas attack.
Bolimow went unreported, never investigated.
Meanwhile Germany's main ally, Austria-Hungary, was fighting for survival.
The Russians had invaded, and were now besieging the fortress city of Przemysl.
If it fell, so might Hungary herself.
The Russians sat outside for six months, lobbing shells, waiting.
Inside, 300 Austro-Hungarians a day were dying of starvation.
Przemysl was a microcosm of the Austro-Hungarian Empire itself, a crucible of ethnic frictions.
Orders of the day had to be issued in 15 languages; Austrian patriots cheek by jowl with Russian sympathisers.
Questions of race, questions of loyalty.
Fears of the enemy within.
There's execution after execution The Austrians are hanging people by the dozen now innocent ones too March 1915.
Nikolai Myaskovsky was one of the Russians preparing for the final assault.
Instead of the total shoot-out we expected there were only a few shots of shrapnel and then we reached the fort quite easily The Austro-Hungarian garrison had fallen apart.
Przemysl surrendered to the Russians without a fight.
The first Russian train crosses the river San.
British observer Bernard Pares quickly realised how divided the Austro-Hungarians were.
The troops instead of being all Hungarians were of various nationalities The conditions of defence led to brawls and in the end open disobedience of orders Austro-Hungarian prisoners were paraded though Moscow.
A German official said, referring to Austria-Hungary, that his country was now "shackled to a corpse.
" Russians bury the German dead after yet another battle.
(Thudding) While great armies tore at one another's throats on the Eastern Front, a circle of small nations watched like vultures, waiting to see which side to join .
Forget liberal ideals and high principles.
The question was, who would offer them the most, and who would win this war? These smaller nations - ltaly, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania also had scores to settle, lands they wanted back.
The price of any alliance would be high.
Marie, Queen of Romania at her post-war coronation.
British-born as Princess of Edinburgh, Marie had effectively led Romania as Britain's loyal ally in the First World War.
She kneels before her husband King Ferdinand.
But behind closed doors, Marie called the shots.
She was instrumental in brokering the critical deal.
(Cheering) Marie had written to the Russian Tsar, cousin Nicky, and to the British King, cousin George, putting Romania's entry in the First World War out to tender.
Being neutral I get news from all sides Each tries to persuade us that defeat for them is impossible Promies and threats being dangled over our heads The Romanian government, prodded by Marie, fixed the price for entry on the Allied side: Transylvania, the Banat, and Bukovina.
She added for George V's benefit These geographical explanations must be Chinese to you but the places can be found on a map Her Prussian -born husband Ferdinand rather fancied joining Germany, but by August 1916 the Allies agreed Romania's terms in full.
In Rome, Italy's leaders had already cashed in .
lnstead of joining the Central Powers in line with pre-war treaties, Italy initially declared neutrality.
But in October 1914 Prime Minister Salandra said Italy must act for her own national good.
He called this policy Sacro Egoismo - sacred self-interest.
In practice, it meant joining the side of the highest bidder.
Few Italians wanted to fight.
But the Allies offered a chunk of Austria-Hungary, part of the Dalmatian coast, and threw in a few islands.
Without consulting Parliament Salandra accepted, landing his people with one of the harshest fronts in the entire war.
Italy's border with Austria-Hungary zigzagged for 375 miles into Europe's highest peaks.
The Austro-Hungarians had the advantage, holding the high ground along the entire front.
It was brutal terrain.
Italian Alpine troops inch up to the front line.
An officer beats out a rhythm for men hauling a field gun up the slope.
ln May 1915, Italian troops seized the mountain village of Cortina d'Ampezzo.
ln front of them, the vast Lagazuoi mountain .
(Cannon fire) By sunrise, the Italians had climbed its sheer rock face to a narrow ledge.
(Cannon fire and gunfire) They were now fighting a vertical war.
Above them, the Austro-Hungarians had fewer men, but showed a tenacity they lacked elsewhere.
(Heavy cannon fire and gunfire) Austrian Colonel Viktor Schemfil watched his men attack the Italians below.
They threw several hand grenades on the ridge which was about 100 metres below them (Explosions) Judging by the screams of the wounded and from the fact that the machine gun hasn't fired a single shot all day we must have been successful But the Italians clung on, two miles above sea level.
Each side burrowed into the mountains, and spent the next two years trying to dislodge the other.
15 men slept in this cave carved out of the rock.
Both sides worked 24-hour shifts, digging tunnels, trying to reach the enemy's position and blast the mountain under them.
(Explosion) Some went mad listening for the sound of enemy drills.
My nerves are shot to pieces I've got to calm down I've now been in the front line four months amid constant fear and torment (Explosion) Avalanches became another hazard of war (Gunfire) .
sometimes triggered by shell fire.
Austrian Eugenio Mich was caught in one that wiped out nine barrack huts, killing 272.
I stayed squashed under the debris of the beds For the first quarter of an hour I could feel 50 or so men moving around me and then one by one they fell silent and died Italy's frontier with Austria-Hungary levelled out along the Isonzo river.
Italy's first attack failed, with heavy loss of life.
But General Luigi Cadorna bloody-mindedly ordered another and another.
11 battles in all, at a cost of 300,000 lives.
They never reached their main objective the port of Trieste.
Guiseppe Cordano served in the Julian Alps in a trench system just 15 metres below the Austrian positions.
Between the two trenches it's a cataclysm The dead are scattered everywhere half buried Haversacks rifles rags of clothing and human body parts A couple of grenades fall in the middle of the dyke where some soliers are sheltering and everything is thrown up in the air Rocks fly and fall with furious destruction Laments and screams for help can be heard from everywhere but how can one move? How can one help them ? (Gunfire and screaming) I'm astride the crest and I carry on metre by metre ducking my head under shrapnel fire Ten metres in front of me Zani from Vicenza is hit in the head screams and falls down the precipice I watch his body tumbling down He was a good lad I keep going forever asking myself when my time will come ln the winter of 1914, Germany's High Command told the Kaiser they'd decided to launch the major offensive of 1915 against the Russians.
The generals ruled out total victory, but a decisive blow might force the Russians to sue for peace.
Germany moved eight divisions from the Western Front to the Eastern to try to break through the Russians at Gorlice in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.
Now German fought alongside Austrian.
Austrian Mathias Migschitz sensed the change of mood.
It sounds wonderful to hear German troops speaking Everyone is sure of victory conscious of their might You hear no melancholy talk no bleak forecasts Florence Farmborough, a British nurse with the Russian Red Cross travelled with her camera along the Eastern Front.
Her nursing team went by horse cart to Gorlice.
They had no idea a third of a million Germans and Austrians were massing to attack the town .
We have already chosen our hospital It is a well built house with several nice airy rooms We are surrounded by the Carpathians l love watching them at night when the mountains lie mysteriously quiet and passive (Shelling) Then the wounded started to arrive They came in their hundreds from all directions some able to walk others crawling dragging themselves along the ground (Shelling) As the Germans got near, Florence's team was ordered to evacuate.
And the wounded? They shouted to us when they saw us leaving called out to us in piteous language to stop We had to wrench our skirts from their clinging hands Caught by surprise and low on shells, the Russians retreated.
lnfantryman Myaskovsky wrote to his friend the composer Sergei Prokofiev My dearest Serezhenka we're in a state of unstoppable panicked retreat Our troops are melting away like snow Only 600 to 700 survived out of a 3000-strong regiment in one day alone! The Russian Army fled, but not towards the negotiating table.
They scorched the earth.
Vasily Mishnin retreated through the village of Dombrovo.
The locals received us well But in the evening when the Cossacks arrived and began to drive them out with cruelty then there were tears and grief and cursing of the war The Russians were looking for scapegoats, and the Jews of Eastern Europe fitted the bill.
They didn't look Russian, and their language, Yiddish, sounded suspiciously like German.
ln 1914, there were four million Jews in the Russian Empire.
Battered by pogroms and denied rights allowed the Tsar's other minorities, Jews were forced to live in specified areas known as the Pale of Settlement.
And even though 650,000 Jews served in the Army, many Russian officers and men saw Jews as dirty, half-human creatures.
1st April 1915 The Russkies make fun of the Jews saying they can munch their matzos for now but when Passover's finihed they'll sort them out Send them to Siberia Helena Jabloñska lived at number 20 Franciszek Street in the heart of old Przemysl.
A third of the town's population were Jews.
They had been safe enough there under the Austro-Hungarians, but now Helena watched the Russians root them out within days of taking over.
Tuesday 30th March Jews are treated with no mercy They cut the beard and sideburns off the old rabbi from Bircza then strapped him to a horse and dragged him away They beat his wife Jews are not allowed to own any shops Saturday 17th April The Cossacks waited till the Jews went off to pray then set upon them with whips taking them from synagogues streets and doorsteps Many hundreds of Jews What'll they do with them? Some of the older weaker ones couldn't keep up and were whipped The roundup will go on till they've caught the lot Such lamenting and despair Some hide in cellars but the Russians will find them No-one knows how many Jews were killed in Eastern Europe during the First World War.
600,000 were uprooted, of whom 200,000 never returned home.
After their experiences under the Russians, many Jews looked to the Germans for better treatment.
German officers enter the main Jewish street of Mlawa, north of Warsaw.
The Germans tried to win the support of Jews in Eastern Europe by promising them liberation from the Russian yoke.
Meanwhile, the assimilated Jews of Germany showed their patriotism by joining up.
Emma and Fritz Schlesinger see their friend Ludwig Bornstein off to the front one of 100,000 Jews who fought for the Kaiser.
German-Jewish soldiers mark Hanukkah - the Festival of Lights - in 1916.
12,000 were killed in the war Nearly 30,000 received decorations But while Jews were tolerated within the German Army, many soldiers despised them.
Ernst Nopper passed columns of refugees forced out of their homes by the Russians, and now returning.
I couldn't bear to watch as a Polish family struggled on foot while the entire lazy Jewih population travelled on carts I hauled a Jew off and gave his arse a good kicking before making the three Pols with all their baggage climb up onto the cart I let everyone know that I would have all the Jews shot if they didn't let the Pols continue on their journey The breakthrough continued through the summer.
This was the greatest victory of the Central Powers in the war, seizing present day Poland, Lithuania, parts of Belarus and the Ukraine.
As the Germans advanced, they entered a world half destroyed.
German troops convert Russian railway lines to the narrower German gauge.
Rebuilding the communication system became a key task, rich in symbolic meaning.
Germany aimed to recast Poland as an independent state, but under her wing.
Advancing troops saw themselves as bringing civilising order and discipline.
That which seemed forever lost was created anew by the German battalions of Kultur the German spirit blows through the poor land and new life rises up out of the ruins But that's not how it worked out, however keen the Germans were to present a caring image to their newsreel audiences.
American woman Laura de Turczynowicz lived in the occupied town of Suwalki near the Lithuanian border.
To her, the rebuilt railways and roads weren't bridges between cultures.
They were Germany's means of whipping war booty back home.
Furniture was carted daily to East Prussia The woods were cut down every agricultural implement taken every woman outraged All Poland was to be emptied and carted away beaten into the bargain and made to pay such terrible contributions! Faced with a chronic labour shortage, and with little love for Slav or Russian, the German Army began transporting men to the west for forced labour.
The American Red Cross distributes food aid to starving Polish peasants.
Reluctant to feed conquered populations, the German Army became increasingly obsessed with cataloguing them.
Everyone over ten was to be documented, and nearly two million photo passes were issued.
The Germans also began to view the east as a place of disease, and started large-scale disinfecting programmes.
On 17 October 1915, the German field medical commander ordered that all railway crossings on the eastern border be sealed off.
Everyone crossing the frontier had to be deloused before setting foot on German soil.
Winter 1915.
The racial war of Teuton versus Slav neared its peak.
German and Austro-Hungarian forces moved south to destroy Serbia.
This would win control of the Balkans final revenge for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
And they had a new ally Bulgaria - tempted by Germany's military muscle, and certain this was the winning side.
The bait dangled before Bulgarian leader Ferdinand was the promise of vast swathes of Serbia.
Born in Vienna, Ferdinand had few sympathies for his Slav neighbours.
The purpose of my life is the destruction of Serbia On 6 October 1915, a joint German/Austro-Hungarian force invaded Serbia, taking the capital in just two days.
The Bulgarian Army then entered from the south-east.
The Serbs' only way out of their country was into Albania, but that lay across treacherous mountain ranges.
As their enemies' claws closed around them, the Serbian Army slipped away.
And the people fled with them.
Serbian photographer Rista Marjanovic documented his nation's exodus.
One of the refugees was 12-year-old Katarina Kostic.
We spent the nights in the open beside a fire which would scorch one side of your body while the other froze One morning a woman refugee woke up and happily announced that she'd had something soft beneath her head that night To our horror the soft thing turned out to be a human corpse One soldier threw away his rifle to carry an old woman who had collapsed.
She gestured towards the sound of the enemy closing in, and handed him back his weapon.
They halted here on the Field of Blackbirds in Kosovo.
The Serb nation drew breath while its leaders met in the town of Prizrend.
The choices were grim battle it out, surrender, or survive to fight another day.
Journalist Gordon Gordon-Smith watched the debate inside the town seminary.
The final councils did not last long On November 24 the supreme resolution was taken The King Army and Government would refuse to treat with the enemy and would leave for Albania Hundreds of thousands of troops and civilians set off into the mountains.
Their plan, to reach the Mediterranean and sail to safety.
This epic retreat shaped modern Serbian self-perception, taking its place in national myth alongside the 1389 defeat by the Turks on the same Field of Blackbirds still an open wound today.
A Serbian film directed by a veteran of the march reconstructed its agony.
The further we went the worse it got You didn't hear the usual - men swearing officers yelling orders This huge funeral procession of the state of Serbia endured the pain in silence Who tramped behind me? Who in front? Where was my company? All too soon we fell apart Now it was every man for himself We staggered up mountains then clambered down avoiding quagmires from which the hands reached out of poor people who'd got stuck We stumbled, running out of strength, but could not turn back We had to move on The survivors gathered on the island of Corfu.
Exhaustion, starvation, and disease continued to take their toll.
Half the army - over 200,000 men - had died on the march.
No-one knows how many civilians.
But Serbia's death rate was the highest of the First World War.
There was no question who was winning the titanic struggle of Teuton versus Slav.
The Central Powers were now the masters of the Eastern Front.
Columns of Russian prisoners became a familiar sight.
The street was full of them thousands driven along like dogs taunted beaten if they fell down kicked until they either got up or lay still for ever Kaiser Wilhelm even suggested that 90,000 Russian prisoners be driven onto a barren peninsula along the Baltic shore and starved to death.
The German and Austro-Hungarian High Commands meet in the Tyrol.
But behind the mutual congratulation, the partnership is rotten to the core.
Practising his handshake, Archduke Frederick, the Austrian Commander in Chief waits to meet one of the world's most powerful men the German Kaiser.
War has exposed their differences, not bound them closer.
Germany thought the Austro-Hungarian Empire a shambles.
She wondered whether to take the whole lot into the German Reich.
Austria-Hungary found Germany arrogant and domineering.
The Austrian Chief of Staff, on the left, called the Germans "our secret enemies".
In time, the Austrians would even send secret peace feelers to the Allies.
But they could never break away from Germany.
lt was alliances on both sides that would keep the war going.
ln the next episode of The First World War the horrors of Verdun and the Somme as both sides try to break the deadlock on the Western Front.