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The Secret History of a
Great Debacle





London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne



In undertaking this book the author makes no
pretension to write a history of the war. She has
sought, rather, to place before the reader a record
of the feeHngs and impressions which agitated
Russian Society during the first year of the war —
for Russia the most anxious period of the whole
campaign. Into this recital the Princess has
focused sufficient of political events and of the
actual situation at the Front to supply a clearly
defined view of the period from July, 19 14, to the
last days of 1915.

In a communication to the publishers, the
author expressed the hope that the book may
" prove interesting from the psychological point of
view, especially if taken in connection with the
development of Russia after peace has been con-
cluded, and the new orientation that its politics
are bound to take in the immediate as well as in
the distant future. It is with this intention,''
she added, " that I am writing, and also because
I feel that it may help to explain some other momen-
tous events which I foresee, and of which it seems
to me that the dawn is at hand."



When it is stated that the MS. for this book
was delivered to the pubhshers at intervals extend-
ing from July, 1915, to January, 1916, the pre-
science displayed in the concluding sentence of the
preceding paragraph will be appreciated. This
insight is strikingly manifested throughout the
book, particularly in the social and political refer-

The inner workings against which Russia had
to fight at the very time that she was waging
material war against the German, the elements
which culminated later in revolution, the struggle
of aspiration with atrophy are given in their true
proportion, and the inexplicable peace into which
Russia was beguiled after setting her house in order
is made more intelligible.



1. The Pivot of Circumstance .'

2. How Russia Mobilised .

3. Press ; Police; Panic.

4. The Horror of Tannenberg

5. Behind the Scenes

6. The German Advance .

7. Letters from the Galician Front

8. Przemysl

9. The Great Retreat

10. Pandemonium in Moscow

11. Apprehension in Petrograd .

12. Fall of Kovno

13. The Tsar takes Command

14. The Duma and the Crisis














15. M. Kerensky Outlines a Policy

16. The Truth about the Jews

17. A Wave of Reorganisation

18. The Moscow Congress .

19. The Treason of Bulgaria

20. Russia at Bay.

Index ....




As this Hook is in great demand, it
is respectl'ully requested that it may be
returned to the Library as soon as read
in order to faeihtate other Subscribers
getting it witliout undue delay.

The Pivot of Circumstance

The 28th of June, 1914, was a Sunday, a day when
newspapers in Russia are usually scarce of news, and weary
members of the staff are able to seek a few hours' repose
from their duties, which in summer are most tedious. I
was hoping to enjoy a quiet evening at home, when I was
startled by the telephone bell. My editor rung me up
to tell of the tragedy which had taken place that same
afternoon at Sarajevo, news of which had just reached him.

To say that I was stunned is saying little. I had known
intimately Count and Countess Chotek, the parents of the
unfortunate Duchess of Hohenberg. Fortune had trans-
formed Sophy Chotek from a lady-in-waiting on the haughty
Archduchess Isabella of Austria into the consort of the heir-
presumptive to the Habsburg monarchy. I had seen lier
as a small child, and later on as a girl just out of her 'teens,
in her mother's house in Brussels, where her father was
Austrian Minister. I had entirely lost sight of her in after
years ; yet at that moment the image of the bright and
happy child, with laughing blue eyes and golden hair, rose
up before me, whence my thoughts flew to her orphaned
children — to the brutally tragic ending of her many ambi-
tions on their behalf. No one could have for^sQen the strange

I 8

^ /. /...j.Ijlussia's -Pecline and Fall

'freak b! clestiny wHicK was to associate her name with one
of the greatest dramas history will ever have to record,
to which her assassination was to make a fitting pro-
logue. In Petersburg, where they looked upon Sophy
Chotek's husband as the head of the war party in Austria,
the news of his murder was received with horror. At the
same time there was a certain relief, inasmuch as everybody
thought it was going to put an end to a systematically
aggressive policy which had caused much apprehension
in Russia during the last Balkan crisis. In the month of
June, 1914, Russian society dreaded war above everything
else ; and was more intent upon avoiding a conflict than
upon any prospect of winning laurels. Strange as it may
seem now, it is an undoubted fact that at the time the
Emperor William was not half so much dreaded as the
Archduke Francis Ferdinand, who was supposed to be a
rabid Russophobe, whilst the Head of the Hohenzollern
dynasty was credited with much wisdom, as well as with
a sincere desire to uphold the peace he had succeeded in
preserving during the twenty-five years of his reign.

A year before the Sarajevo tragedy, the Tsar had visited
Berlin on the occasion of the marriage of the Princess
Victoria Louise of Prussia, the only daughter of the German
Emperor and Empress, with the only son and heir of the
Duke of Cumberland, and of the pretty Princess Thyra of
Denmark. King George of England and Queen Mary
also attended these nuptials, and this meeting of the three
most powerful sovereigns in Europe had been marked by
great cordiality. On his return to his own capital the Tsar
appeared to be quite delighted with the very warm welcome
he had received in BerUn, and more inclined than ever
before toward the establishment of more intimate relations
than those already existing between Russia and Germany.
WilHam II. had shown himself very wise during the world-
crisis at the period of the two Balkan wars. He had
given what appeared to be sincere proofs of his desire to

The Pivot of Circumstance 3

use his authority to remove the difficult situation which
circumstances, even more than the ill-will of men, had
created. His conduct in that respect won him the esteem
of Europe for the spirit of restraint which had characterised
his whole conduct.

Archduke Francis Ferdinand, on the contrary, was
credited with strongly warhke leanings, and was supposed
to be eager for military laurels.

For some considerable time his position had not been
very secure among the upper classes in Austria. Society/
could not forgive his marriage ; furthermore, it was dreaded
that, once he became master, he would raise his morganatic
wife to the throne as, at least, a Queen of Hungary— even,
perhaps, put on her head the Imperial crown of the Austrian
Empire, to which he stood the undoubted heir. A military
success, Francis Ferdinand firmly believed, would wipe
away all this feeling and make his social stability unassail-
able. He had never made a secret of his antipathy to
Russia, where the aggressive tone of Austrian policy
on the Balkan question was ascribed to the Archduke as
well as the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was
supposed in Petersburg that the accession to the throne
of Archduke Francis Ferdinand would mean a renewal
of anti-Russian activity on the part of those who con-
trolled foreign affairs at the Ball Platz : it was not remark-
able, therefore, that when the news of the abominable
crime that took his Hfe and that of his wife, the Duchess of
Hohenberg, reached Russia, a certain feehng of rehef was
mixed with detestation for the foul deed. Official Russia
began to breathe more freely than for some time at the
thought of the removal from the political scene of Europe
of such a dangerous element as the personal feelings of the
Archduke towards the Tsar's dominions.

The day following Francis Ferdinand's assassination,
one of the principal organs of the Russian press, com-
menting upon the event, expressed itself in the following

4 Russia's Decline and Fall

terms, which will convey better than words of mine the
general impression this stupendous event produced in
Russia : "In the presence of the catastrophes which have
accumulated upon the head of the unfortunate Emperor
Francis Joseph," it wrote, " Russia can only feel the deepest,
the most sincere regret and commiseration. But at the
same time it is impossible to allow our thoughts to rest
exclusively on the tragic position of the old monarch ;
we must also acknowledge that we find ourselves in the
presence of an event of the greatest political importance.
The heir of the Emperor Francis Joseph, who was considered
to be such an enemy of peace, and whose possible advent
to the throne was viewed with such apprehension by all
the partisans of civilisation and progress, and with such
joy by the upholders of mihtarism, has been killed. The
Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Esta, whose future accession
to the monarchy of the Habsburgs was generally supposed
to open for it a new era of war — ^war with Russia, war with
the rest of Europe — is dead. In his person has fallen —
unfortunately for us under a blow dealt by the hand of a
Slav — a prince who was suspected to carry in his breast
the spark that was to set fire to a general conflagration of
the whole world ; by his death has been removed from this
scene the only active pefsonaHty, the only real strong
character that the Austrian Empire possessed. Whilst
we are full of sympathy for the sorrow of the old man
who thus, for the second time, tragically loses the heir to
his Empire, we cannot close our eyes to the significance of
the event that has just taken place. Austria, at this
moment, when she is standing before the open graves of
the two victims of this dastardly crime, is also undergoing
a trial such as rarely occurs to a nation. The most elemen-
tary feelings of international courtesy forbid us to enlarge
to-day on this point. But what we can, and what we must
say, is that fate is putting at last before Austria the oppor-
tunity to redeem many of her past sins — sins of the last ten

The Pivot of Circumstance 5

years. The misfortune that has befallen her yesterday
brings to her the psychological moment to change the
course of her hitherto aggressive policy, and to soften the
spirit of mihtarism which has lately distinguished her whole

" For the sake of the peace and of the prosperity of
Europe we allow ourselves to express the wish that this
fearful' drama, which has added another bloody page to the
history of the Habsburg dynasty, will mark the opening
of a new period in the existence of Austria, and that both
she and the rest of Europe will enter an era of peace and
security such as has not been enjoyed lately."

These words truly express the feehngs of Russian society
after the murder of the Archduke. Everybody deplored
it, but everybody beHeved that his death had removed the
greatest danger to the peace of Europe. No one gave a
single thought to the possibility that it might bring about
the dreaded storm. At the Russian Court the assassination
of Francis Ferdinand produced an impression of sincere
horror. The Tsar conveyed at once his condolences to
Francis Joseph, expressed his deepest sympathy with the
bereaved monarch, as well as his consternation and indigna-
tion at the crime. At the funeral service which was cele-
brated in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine, in
Petersburg, for the repose of the souls of the murdered
Archduke and of his unfortunate consort, the Emperor
Nicholas was represented by one of his uncles, who, with
other members of the Imperial family, all donned Austrian
uniform. Indeed, it seemed at first as if this unexpected
catastrophe would draw the Romanoff and the Habsburg
dynasties into a closer union. It is quite certain that, at
the particular moment I am referring to, no one either at
the Russian Foreign Office or at the War Office, nor in the
select circles of Petersburg society, suspected that it would
prove just the one spark which was going to set ablaze a
general conflagration. '

6 Russia's Decline and Fall

Almost immediately after the Sarajevo tragedy, strikes
of unusual magnitude broke out in Petersburg, and com-
pletely absorbed the attention of the public. About 300,000
workmen left their employers in the lurch and stopped
working. They openly declared that by doing so they
wanted to protest against the aggressive policy which the
government had lately inaugurated in regard to Germany.
This point deserves to be particularly noticed if one wants
to form an exact and true opinion as to the poUtical situa-
tion in Russia at the beginning of this eventful month of
July, 19 14. Russia then did not desire war, and far
from wishing to assume a hostile attitude in regard to any
of her neighbours, and especially in regard to Germany, she
was sincerely desirous of getting into closer business and
industrial relations with the latter country. She was, indeed,
looking very much askance at every manifestation of French
Chauvinism, as well as at the visit of M. Poincar^ to Tsar-
skoye Selo. She feared the activity of the Southern Ally
might bring international complications. When an English
squadron, commanded by Rear- Admiral Beatty, had visited
Russian shores only a month before, it had an enthusiastic
reception, and an extraordinary enthusiasm had greeted
its appearance in Baltic waters. But when the French
President arrived a considerable coolness had been exhibited
on the part of the population of the capital ; and the man
in the street, who had been very much to the front during
the visit of the British Fleet, took absolutely no part in
the welcome extended to M. Poincare by official circles.
I go even further and say that the articles which the French
press published on that momentous occasion were viewed
with distinct disfavour. Whilst society, or at least that
part of it not Unked with Court circles, or in governmental
spheres, abstained carefully from any manifestations that
might have been construed as an acquiescence in a policy
that it condemned in petto, the workmen in the factories
declared loudly that the arrival of the French President

The Pivot of Circumstance 7

constituted a menace to a peace which was essential to the
country ; they at least meant to show the distrust it inspired
in them. They did so by going on strike, and inducing
other industrial centres in Russia to follow their example.
For three successive days processions of workmen paraded
the streets ; the newspapers had to cease publication owing
to the absence of compositors and printers ; the tramcars
stopped running, or were stormed by the crowds,* who
smashed the windows, and general disorders took place
everywhere in the capital. But as soon as the President
had sailed away things returned to the normal, and order
was immediately restored without the intervention of the
police, who — having been prevented by " superior orders"
to resort to extreme measures during the visit of M. Poin-
care — were preparing to interfere with energy against
strikers so soon as he had taken his leave. The police,
however, were spared that trouble, because the workmen
returned to their various factories a few hours later.

The strike gave rise to much comment, and many who
had not shared the enthusiasm which at one time had really
existed in Russia with regard to the French alHance,
found in the industrial upheaval a support for their oft-
expressed opinion that France, in order to satisfy her desire
for revenge against Prussia, was doing her best to draw-
Russia into a war with Germany. Moreover, said these
strikers, France wanted formidable increases to the forces
of the Russian Army and Navy, and consequently was
trying to lay upon Russian shoulders burdens which would
ultimately encumber very heavily her economic existence.
These people made too much, perhaps, of the protestation
of the Russian workmen ; certainly they talked about it
far too openly.

The German Ambassador, Count von Pourtales, an
amiable though not at all a far-seeing man, honestly believed
that all these protestations tended to prove that Russia
was rising up in arms against its government, and that we

8 Russia's Decline and Fall

were on the eve of a new revolution, certain to break out
should any international complications arise. If what I
have been told from reliable sources is true, it seems that
he wrote in that same sense to his government, thereby
encouraging it in an aggressive policy, directed not only
against France, but also against Russia.

When M. Poincare had started on his return journey
to France, no one in Petersburg yet suspected that we were
standing on the threshold of serious poHtical developments,
and all who, for some reason or other, had delayed departure
from the capital, prepared to leave it for a short or a long
holiday, according to circumstances. Journalists, whom
the visit of the President had kept busy, were beginning to
breathe again, and to dream of green fields and pastures,
and had almost forgotten the tragedy of Sarajevo. The
Austrian Government had not allowed the matter to rest,
but had been pursuing their own advantage with unflagging
energy, till, suddenly, in the midst of the general quietude,
there burst upon the world, Hke a thunderbolt, the news
that the Vienna cabinet had sent an ultimatum to
Serbia, to which she requested a reply within forty-eight

At first no one would believe the news ; then, when it
was estabHshed, no one woudd admit that it could possibly
be construed as a first step towards a general war of all the
great powers of the Continent. It seemed so utterly im-
possible to think that Germany, and especially the Emperor
WiUiam, could encourage the ministers of old, weak,
tottering Francis Joseph in such a mad course of action.
When it became known that the Serbian Government,
in its desire to preserve the peace of the world, had decided
to satisfy nearly all the demands which Austria had addressed
to her, no one doubted but that a conflict was safely evaded,
and the demands about to be settled in some way or other,
either directly between Vienna and Belgrade, or else
through the mediation of Europe, and especially of the

The Pivot of Circumstance 9

Emperor William of Germany, about whose pacific disposi-
tion no one at that time entertained the slightest fear,
would restore the equilibrium.

All these hopes were about to be dashed to the ground.
It soon became evident, even to the most optimistic, that
the whole incident of the Austrian ultimatum had been
carried through in order to find a pretext to enable Germany
to declare war upon both Russia and France. The Emperor
William suddenly appeared before the eyes of the startled
world in quite a new and different fight; and even those
who had steadily refused ^to believe in the danger that
others, more shrewd, had seen looming on the horizon, were
obliged to admit that it was imminent. People had hardly
realised that the only thing to do was to get ready to face
events unflinchingly, when the fury of Armageddon burst

How Russia Mobilised.

When all the signs that heralded the storm are remem-
bered, one can but wonder at the bHndness of the Russian
public. Whether it was due to the conviction, which
prevailed everywhere, that Germany would succeed in
putting an end to the vagaries of Austria, it is difficult to
judge ; but even when the famous ultimatum was sent to
Belgrade, people smilingly declared that it was very ridi-
culous of the cabinet at Vienna to venture on such a step.
It was known by Austrian diplomatists, said even well-
informed Russians, that the ultimatum could not lead to
anything, because Russia would put her foot down on any
attempt to crush Serbia, and would be backed by Ger-
many. On every side regrets were heard that the Emperor
William happened to be away on Norwegian seas, far from
the centre of events, but no serious person believed that war
was at hand ; and few at the Foreign Office thought a crisis,
to say nothing of war, was imminent. The general opti-
mism was so great- that it was only on the 24th of July
(July nth Russian calendar) that the Russian Ambassador
in Vienna, M. Schebeko, received orders to return to his
post — he had been absent on a hoHday, — and that M.
Sverbeew, his Berlin colleague, was told to hurry back to
the German capital, and see what could be done there to
bring Ball Platz to its senses.

On the other hand, the spirit of confidence which seemed
prevalent in the soul of M. Sazonov was not shared in
military circles, especially among the immediate surround-


How Russia Mobilised n

ings of the Grand Duke Nicholas. The latter had long been
the leader of the extreme Chauvinist party that clamoured
for war with Germany, the successes of which would do
away, in its opinion, with certain unpleasant remembrances
that still existed concerning the Japanese campaign. Not
one of the Chauvinists considered whether Russia had got
over the reverses in the Far East in 1904, or could face
another war, with the sHghtest chance of success, with a
much more dangerous foe. The War Party had tried with
all its might to cause the Russian Government, during the
two Balkan wars, to support by its influence and its arms
the Bulgarians and Serbs against Turkey. They were
at the bottom of the strong manifestations which took place
in 1912 and 1913 in Petersburg against Austria, the here-
ditary enemy of the Slavs in Turkey, and, indeed, throughout
the Balkan Peninsula. At the time, however, the head of
the Russian Cabinet was still M. Kokovtsov. With all
his faults and inexperience of diplomacy, M. Kokovtsov
possessed sufficient common sense, and knowledge of the
resources of his country, to apply all his energy to warding
off such a calamity as war. The consequences he realised,
if others did not, would be far more stupendous than could
be foreseen or expected. He was seconded by M. Sazonov,
who shared his opinion on that point. To these two is
owed the signing of the Bucharest treaty, after which the
world thought it could breathe freely ^igain.

In 1914 things were different. The President of the
Council, M. Kokovtsov, had been replaced by M. Goremykin,
full of the best intentions, but an old man of 76 was not
strong enough to show independence of character in
presence of people like the Grand Duke. He was overawed
by the explosions of frantic and entirely artificial enthusiasm
which roused unruly elements in the capital into manifesta-
tions which were both unreasonable and unhealthy, and
which were then certainly not in accord with the intentions
of the government.

12 Russia's Decline and Fall

The War Party failed totally to appreciate the magnitude
of the danger. It did not know, what all those behind the
scenes in Berlin were aware of, that the text of the Austrian
ultimatum was very well known at Wilhelmstrasse ;
that it had partly been written there, and that it was only
through the pressure exercised upon him by von Tschirsky,
the German Ambassador at the Vienna Court, that Count
Berchtold presented the ultimatum without softening its
tone, as he had first intended to do. When the Russian
Government became acquainted with its exact terms
it did nothing better than ask the Austrian Cabinet to grant
Serbia some extension of time for her reply, and at the same
time to suggest a conference on the whole matter. This
alone was an undignified act on the part of a strong country.
It ought to have known that a conference would be refused ;
both in Vienna and in Berlin they were determined to make
the ultimatum a pretext for drawing the sword, coute que
cotite. In that sense, the pistol shot which destroyed two
lives at Sarajevo proved the best friend the ambitious
and aggressive designs of the Emperor William could have
found. It furnished him with the pretext he required to
throw of£ his cloak of peacemaker, a garment which he had
worn from the day he succeeded to the throne of his grand-

Had Russia possessed diplomats equal in wiHness to
the Teuton they would have been able at once to grasp
what the ultimatum launched by Count Berchtold really

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Online LibraryCatherine RadziwillRussia's decline and fall, the secret history of the great debacle → online text (page 1 of 20)