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The Great Retreat

In May 1915 the Central Powers (Germany and Austria) launched a massive offensive, breaking through the Russian lines right across the Eastern Front and forcing the Tsar's armies into headlong retreat. There was confusion and panic. Troops destroyed buildings, bridges, military stores and crops to prevent them falling to the enemy. This often broke down into pillaging, especially of Jewish property. Soldiers and civilians (many of them Jews from the Pale of Settlement) moved eastwards on the roads towards Moscow.

The summer months of unending retreat dealt a crippling blow to the troops' morale. Rumours quickly spread among their ranks about treason at the court. The German background of the Empress and other government figures gave credibility to such conspiracy theories. For many soldiers this was the vital psychological moment of the revolution - the moment when their loyalty to the monarchy ended. A million men surrendered to the German and Austrian forces during the retreat.

In a desperate attempt to restore morale and discipline the Tsar took over the Supreme Command. If the soldiers would not fight for 'Russia', then perhaps they would fight for him. It was the worst decision of his reign. Nicholas would now take all the blame for the reverses at the Front.

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