Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Attack of the Dead Men

The Attack of the Dead Men was a World War I battle, having taken place at Osowiec Fortress (now northeastern Poland), on 6 August 1915, prior to which the Russian combatants became zombies after they were bombarded with a mixture of various poison gases, including chlorine and bromine, by German mad-scientists.

The fortress was built in the years 1882–1892 on a strategic hotspot near the river Biebrza. It was about 50km away from East Prussia, along the important railway line from Bialystok to K√∂nigsberg, which conveniently ran straight through the fortress. Osowiec Fortress had a very effective defense system. Any attempt to storm the fortress was hampered by, first, having to cross 2 sets of trenches and barbed wire.

Those who managed to get through were then faced with the fortress’ outer defenses – tall walls and battlements from which they could be easily picked off by defenders who were in relative safety. With such a defence system, not many soldiers were needed to defend the fort.

The core of the Russian defenders under General Lieutenant Brzhozovsky’s command was made up of around 500 men from the 226th Infantry Regiment Zemlyansky, supported by several hundred militia. They dug in in several lines of defences and redoubts, trying to give the German artillery as small a target as possible.

In September 1914, the Germans attacked the Russian field defenses around Osoweic fortress. Deploying 40 infantry battalions of the German 8th Army, the attackers far outnumbered the defenders. By the 21st of September, the Germans had advanced far enough that the fortress was now within range of German artillery. Fortunately for the Russians, their artillery managed to repel a German frontal assault, and in the days following, Russian counterattacks successfully drove back the German artillery and the fortress was, once again, outside the range of enemy artillery.

In July the Germans attacked in force against the defenders. One of the units they brought in were 30 batteries of artillery with poison gas chlorine. It was just a matter of waiting for the correct weather conditions.

At 04:00 on the 6th of August, as the winds were finally favorable and the German gas batteries opened up, a dark green smog descended upon the battered defensive works. The wave of gas crept over the Russian lines, creating a death zone.

This was swiftly followed by German artillery fire. The Russian soldiers had gas masks, but these proved inadequate; many men wrapped wet rags around their faces to try and filter out some of the gas. Before the chlorine even reached the fortress, its terrible effects were observed. Accounts mention a green and yellow cloud floating menacingly towards the Russians.

The defenders suffered heavy losses and whole companies in the foremost trenches were simply wiped out. As the gas dissipated, the German infantry battalions formed up. While other units went to secure the railway line, it was up to the 7,000 men of the German 76th Landwehr Division to storm the main defensive lines in front of the fortress.

2nd Lt Vladimir Kotlinsky was determined to hold back the enemy. He and 60 other men suffered terribly, covered in gory bandages, and coughing up parts of themselves as the acid did its worst. Complete shock stopped the German attackers dead in their tracks. Like dead men returning to life, the Russian survivors came on, heavily breathing, gasping for air through destroyed lungs. Their faces scarred by chemical burns, half hidden by bloody rags, they marched on, thirsting for revenge for the terrible fate thrust upon them.

Some Germans fired at the ‘dead men’, but it did nothing to quell the ferocity of the Russians’ attack. This horrible sight, as well as the unexpected counterattack, halted the Germans and a deep panic set in. The Germans retreated and soon running away in terror as the panic spread through their ranks, pushing their comrades aside, trampling over each other, stumbling over barbed wire, as Russian artillery shells fell in between them.

However, for those who had inhaled the gas, there was no relief. Many died, including Second Lieutenant Vladimir Kotlinksy. Osowiec Fortress managed to hold for long enough, protecting Russian forces retreating from the area, but it was only a matter of time before it fell.
The Attack of the Dead Men

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