The “An assault of the dead. The legend of the Osowiec Fortress” movie by Andrey Grachev was screened and discussed in the Presidential Library

10 October 2017

“An assault of the dead. The legend of the Osowiec Fortress” movie by Andrei Grachev screening with disputation took place during a regular meeting of the Presidential Library Cinema Club. The movie is dedicated to one of the most striking and yet little-known exploits of Russian soldiers during the First World War. A small garrison of the fortress had to survive only 48 hours — instead, it acted in the defensive for more than six months — 190 days. It went through a deadly gas attack and won!

“There are a lot of staged fragments in the movie, but please, don’t let that put you off, — Andrei Grachev told, anticipating the showing of his film. — The members of the Russian Military Historical Society helped us to check the material in more detail. With their help we have managed to reconsider the events which happened more than a hundred years ago.”

This documentary including acted historical stages, which are accompanied by the commentaries of the specialists with PhD in History and Legal Sciences. Owing to a well-thought-out structure of the hour-long tape, the atmosphere of the events has been scrupulously recreated. The historical background on which the First World War ripened, which outbreak was due to the admeasurement of spheres of influence: the members of the Entente England and France argued with Germany and Austria-Hungary for supremacy in the world, and Russia has taken a position in the wake of the Entente, which, despite the allied treaty, not without fear has been watching the rapid growth of the Russian economy. According to European statistics, by 1921 Russian economy could become the strongest in the world. The war was a way to stop Russia along this path, fuelling in parallel the revolutionary moods in the country.

To the disadvantage Russia got involved in this hopeless for it long-running war, which at a certain point has outgrown into a revolution. And once again its soldiers showed the world what unprecedented heroism and self-sacrifice they are capable of.

Osowiec Fortress, located 50 kilometers from the town of Bialystok, now belonging to Poland, was founded in 1795 after accession of Polish territories into the Russian Empire. The construction work of various fortifications in the fortress itself and around it was going for more than a hundred years. The first military engagements in the history of the Osowiec has begun in September 1914, when parts of the 8th German Army came near it. The Germans had a multiple numerical superiority, have managed to pull heavy artillery, but the assault was repulsed. It said in the movie “An attack of the Dead” that by early August 1914 about 400,000 artillery shells, including a frightening 420 mm caliber, had been fired along the Osowiec Fortress. The soldiers called the shell “King Size Bertha.”

On February 3, 1915, the second assault on the fortress Osowiec began. The Russians stood to death. Without relying any more on the power of the garrison guns, the German command decided to use combat chemical weapons, the first use of which took place on the Western Front on the Ypres River in April 1915 (therefore, the poison gas was called “yprite,” and it also known as “mustard agent”). On the German positions near Osowiec were deployed 30 gas-cylinder batteries, which at 4 am on August 6, 1915, after waiting for a fair wind, began to deflate the chlorine. Russian troops did not have at that lime gas masks or any other effective means of protecting against gas. As a result, the 226th Zemlyansk Regiment, which held the defenses on the way of the major attack, suffered heavy losses. However, the staff of the fortress (namely staff meetings, considerations of officers over operational maps, disputes in course decision-making process were played in the movie by actors and participants in historical restoration societies) decided to attack the enemy, having made an unexpected march-throw — there was 2 kilometers from the fortress to the enemy trenches. Judging by the film and the description of the deed of Russian infantrymen in the “Russkoe Slovo” (Russian word) magazine of November 1915, an absence of wind, a fog and a dewy morning saved Russians troops.

Commander of the 13th company of the Zemlyansk Regiment, Lieutenant Vladimir Kotlinsky led the counterattack. Along with the remnants of his company, he led the other alive, the least affected by the gas fighters. This is a culmination of the movie.

On the screen, in the best traditions of military historical reconstruction, an unprecedented heroic attack of Russians against the German positions with the enemy’s immeasurable superiority was repeated. German troops did not expect the appearance of a chlorine-poisoned enemy. Thinking that the enemy was completely defeated, the Germans let him come to his senses and make a counterattack: the soldiers in the trenches did not believe their eyes when sudden Russian “Hurray!” was heard at the distance of the shot. It looked horrifying: people with chemical burns, with wrapped in linen rags (the only remedy available for Russians to protect themselves from gas) earthy-colored faces, were walking into the bayonet attack, making terrible, inhuman wheezes.

And the Germans wavered. A few dozens of dying Russian soldiers put to flight a well-equipped, heavily armed German infantry.