Page:The Bohemian Review, vol1, 1917.djvu/204

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Czechoslovak Brigade in Russian Retreat.

By Jaroslav Hašek.

I shall try to describe briefly the important part played by the Czech soldiers in the awful days of the great Russian debacle in Galicia, when our men maintained the semblance of a front, saving the adjoining Russian provinces and spoiling Mackensen’s clever plans.

It is evident now that the first wabbling of the Russian front on July 5th was connected directly with the bloody bolsheviki demonstrations in Petrograd. An appeal was issued by these fanatics to the men at the front to go on strike and leave the trenches. The appeal resulted in something like sabotage applied to war conditions. The first stage of it was that thousands of the bolsheviki soldiers maimed themselves by shooting off a finger and then going home. This strike procedure was rather pain ful to the strikers, and so on July 5th a strike of violence was inaugurated on a large part of the Galician front. Regiments that had orders to attack were held back by other regiments kept in reserve; fanatic agitation was kept up among newly arrived battalions and finally the real purpose of it all was revealed, when positions were voluntarily abandoned. It is not yet definitely known which regiment started the disgraceful rout of July. At any rate we saw revolutionary victories of June 18th and 19th thrown away. Where our heroic fellows fought to smash the militarism of Germany and Austria, there the Prussian now sings “Wacht am Rhein” and the Austrian his “Oesterreich, du edles Haus”. It is painful to think that the little cemetery of Cecova, the resting place of the boys who fell in the day of victory at Zborov and the Krasna Lipa has no doubt been carefully gone over by a sergeant and a file and that the names of our dead heroes have been copied from the crosses for use against their families in Bohemia.

We don’t grow sentimental, when we think of it. We are full of anger, terrible anger at the great loss due to traitors who work for German gold. German money is the explanation of the events of July 5th, when Austrians and Germans swept over our lines and captured the sacred ground of Cecova.

Today, when I have thought much of what happened, I do not know what to call that event which the Russians call retreat. Was it retreat or was it flight? Neither the one nor the other. It was the act of a man who abandons a place of responsibility and goes home, leaving carelessly a burning candle in a pile of straw. The phenomenon is sometimes called moral insanity.

Perhaps some day a student of psychology will be able to explain the mental processes of guards-men who left the trenches, threw away their rifles into rye fields, plundered the depots at the base of clothing, sugar and chocolate, emptied loaded trucks of munitions so that they might load them with tinned food. Think of soldiers who abandoned their stations and nonchalantly walked back in streams regardless of the fact that comrades who did not go would be soon overwhelmed by waves of Germans and Austrians, that in a few hours there would be but little islands of hopelessly outnumbered fighters, where there had been the strong Russian front. Such islands were the regiments of the first Czechoslovak brigade. They stood firm in a mighty dam and alone held back the German flood. From July 5th to July 15th Czechoslovak regiments threw back unaided the German attacks. From Ostasovce to Velke Borky, from Slachtince to Grabovka and Teklovka Bohemian bayonets held up the realization of the hastily conceived German plan to make full use of the situation and push the military lines forward into the Russian territory and at the same time get in the rear of the army holding the line between Stanislavov and the Carpathians. The whole Tarnopol front was to be stricken by panic.

“How lucky that the Bohemians were there,” said a certain newspaper. It is dangerous to rely on luck in battle, but it was more dangerous to rely on the Russian army on that awful July 5th, when a number of companies of our first regiment were sent forward for a stretch of duty in the fire trenches with a detachment of machine guns. We reached the position just as the sun was rising; there was not a muzhik in the first line, as far as our eyes could reach. I don’t know yet what became of them; probably they are included in the 42,000 prisoners that German papers brag about.

The trenches were empty, and in half an hour German artillery commenced shelling positions far back of us. We could do nothing. So a few companies of the first regiment fell back to the village Bohdanuvka with the machine guns, and when we got there we came under the fire of German machine guns. From the front trenches to Bohdanuvka is five versts. In all that space we did not see a soldier, except a few muzhiks who were asleep in the rye waiting until the Germans picked them up. And there should have been two divisions there. It was a sample of what took place on that day. On this sector the defenders went over to the enemy, soldiers of other sectors marched back in groups all night without their guns, refusing to be stopped and giving the stereotyped answer that they were going home to rest. When such news reached Russia, it was not strange that stories were told that the Czechoslovaks were surrounded and that we were cut to pieces. When the Germans had reached Zborozh, we were still near Jezerna; when the Germans were bombarding Tarnopol, our boys were

Translated from the Čechoslovan, Kieff, September 3, 1917.