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Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915 (Modern War Studies) [Paperback]

Graydon A. Tunstall
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

15 April 2012 Modern War Studies
The Carpathian campaign of 1915, described by some as the "Stalingrad of the First World War," engaged the million-man armies of Austria-Hungary and Russia in fierce winter combat that drove them to the brink of annihilation. Habsburg forces fought to rescue 130,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers trapped by Russian troops in Fortress Przemysl, but the campaign was waged under such adverse circumstances that it produced six times as many casualties as the number besieged. It remains one of the least understood and most devastating chapters of the war-a horrific episode only glimpsed previously but now vividly restored to the annals of history by Graydon Tunstall. The campaign, consisting of three separate and ultimately doomed offensives, was the first example of "total war" conducted in a mountainous terrain, and it prepared the way for the great battle of Gorlice-Tarnow. Habsburg troops under Conrad von Htzendorf faced those of General Nikolai Ivanov, which together totaled more than two million soldiers. None of the participants were psychologically or materially prepared to engage in prolonged winter mountain warfare, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers suffered from frostbite or succumbed to the "White Death." Tunstall reconstructs the brutal environment-heavy snow, ice, dense fog, frigid winds-to depict fighting in which a man lasted on average between five to six weeks before he was killed, wounded, captured, or committed suicide. Meanwhile, soldiers warmed rifles over fires to make them operable and slaughtered thousands of horses just to ward off starvation. This riveting depiction of the Carpathian Winter War is the first book-length account of that vicious campaign, as well as the first English-language account of Eastern Front military operations in World War I in more than thirty years. Based on exhaustive research in Vienna's and Budapest's War Archives, Tunstall's gripping narrative incorporates material drawn from eyewitness accounts, personal diaries, army logbooks, and correspondence among members of the high command. As Tunstall shows, the roots of the Habsburg collapse in Russia in 1916 lay squarely in the winter campaign of 1915. Packed with insights from previously unexploited primary sources, his book provides an engrossing read-and the definitive account of the Carpathian Winter War.

Frequently Bought Together

Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915 (Modern War Studies) + The Brusilov Offensive (Twentieth- Century Battles) + Breakthrough: The Gorlice-Tarnow Campaign, 1915 (War, Technology, and History)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas; Reprint edition (15 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700618589
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700618583
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 715,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"With bold, powerful brush strokes, Tunstall paints a picture of horrendous death in the Carpathian Mountains. Austria-Hungary and Russia each lost about one million men, making the battle more costly than the better known ones of Verdun and the Somme 1916. Meticulously researched and well written, this is military history at its finest. A must read." Holger H. Herwig, author of The Marne, 1914 "Snow falls on the mountains, wolves howl in the distance, and two doomed armies learn the truth of the old adage, 'there is no enemy more formidable than nature'. An essential book for all World War I libraries." Robert M. Citino, author of The German Way of War" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Graydon A. Tunstall teaches history at the University of South Florida and is executive director of the Phi Alpha Theta history honor society. He is author of World War I and its Effects upon World History, Planning for War against Russia and Serbia: Austro-Hungarian and German Military Strategies, 1871-1914, and a forthcoming volume on Fortress Przemysl. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting book on a forgotten battle 16 Feb 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book makes up a lack. Before I have read it, I have never heard about this battlescene. The author shows us the military operations and the cruel winter weather circumstances using logbooks, maps and photos.
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An informative but not very well written book 25 Oct 2010
By Daniel Carey - Published on Amazon.com
Blood on the Snow is an informative book about a part of World War I that is absent from most histories in English. However, the book is not very well written. Concepts, people, military organizations and such are mentioned with no explanation, background or connection to each other. Other times the same, or nearly the same, sentence appears 10-15 pages apart, as if the author cut and pasted it from one page to another. In my opinion, each page in the book needs at least 10-15 more sentences to more fully flesh things out. The first chapter where the author explains fighting prior to the winter battles is the worst. That time period deserves its own book. After that it does get better, but not by a lot. Occasionally I was confused but eventually figured out what the author was trying to get across. The other reviews of this book give plenty of examples of the quality of writing. How an editor let this get to print, I don't know. Perhaps the editor was the problem. It is not an easy book to read because of the quality of writing.

This is an important story that needs to be told. The Austro-Hungarians floundered badly as Conrad, the chief of their General Staff, ordered repeated offensives in horrible winter conditions. These were poorly prepared, poorly supported frontal attacks carried out in mountainous terrain against an enemy that was often numerically superior. The result was tremendous suffering and high losses in personnel. Conrad might appear incompetent, but worse, the author explains he was a man of obsessions, and he was obsessed with relieving the trapped fortress of Przemysl. If not he felt the Austro-Hungarian empire would suffer a severe blow. In the end, as Tunstall explains, over 800,000 men were lost in the Carpathains trying unsuccessfully to rescue the 120,000 men in fortress, which eventually fell to the Russians. The severe blow to the empire were the losses from Conrad's offensives and subsequent Russian gains, not the loss of the fortress.

I am rather in awe of the soldiers who fought in such horrible conditions, poorly supported by their higher command, who tried mightily to carry out their orders to attack, and somehow hung on to prevent a Russian breakthrough. The author brings out how they fought the weather as well as the Russians.

The author uses primary documents from the Austrian and Hungarian archives to tell the story. He also uses first person accounts of the fighting. Overall it is a well researched book.

In conclusion I would have liked to have given this more than three stars. It is certainly not a one or a five star book, like others have given it. I learned a good deal about a campaign I had known little about, but hard work to read the book through to the end.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pointless book about a pointless campaign 17 Jan 2012
By T. Kunikov - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Tackling a campaign that few know about by providing incoherent chronology and descriptions is utterly futile. But in the end, that is what 'Blood on the Snow' offers. I received this book months ago and finally found myself getting around to reading it. Within the first few dozen pages I couldn't understand how something of this limited quality could have been published. I'm glad to see I'm not alone in feeling this is a waste of paper, time, and money. Not only is there no real coherence to this campaign, the repetitive nature of the narrative is beyond mind numbing. There are only so many times I want to be told that it is cold, soldiers are miserable and regularly committing suicide, and that there aren't enough men, artillery, or supplies. No thought was given to the actual narrative or complimentary tables and maps. This type of military history should have included force breakdowns, orders of battle, for both sides, and organization and equipment tables, but you'll find none of that here. This text encompasses little aside from troop movements that readers will find themselves hard pressed to follow due to the above reasons. Avoid this like the Austro-Hungarians should have avoided this campaign.
50 of 65 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment 22 May 2010
By DenverH3 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book, Blood on the Snow - the Carpathian Winter War of 1915, is the worst military history I have read in the past ten years. Because of the high quality of their other military histories, I am surprised that it was published by the University Press of Kansas.

The text is disorganized, repetitive and poorly written. Nothing suggests that it was edited. There are interesting facts presented, but not in an organized manner. Paragraphs routinely include unrelated thoughts, and often have a single unrelated declarative sentence dropped in. Frequently there is a statement that some unit "must" do something without any explanation of who or what decided it "must" be done.

The text combines a description of troop movements with thematic explanations of Austro-Hungarian failure. The description of troop movements is almost impossible to follow. The explanations of Austro-Hungarian failure (horrible weather, disorganization, inadequate supply, loss of trained officers and others) are presented primarily as conclusions and repeated frequently without much analysis.

Some more specific criticisms follow. These are taken from the beginning of the book because I lost interest in detailed reading rapidly.

The units of the Austro-Hungarian forces are poorly described. The author refers to them as "Hapsburg" or "Austro-Hungarian" or by an ethnic name such as "Hungarian" or "Bosnian-Herzegovinian" without explanation of whether they all mean the same or not. Nothing in the book explains how the units of the Austro-Hungarian forces were actually named.

Similarly, Austro-Hungarian forces are frequently described in a way that does not describe their size. On page 13 "March Brigades" are described in a way that credits each of them with approximately 115,000 troops. Whatever they were, they clearly were not conventional "brigades" by size and the difference is left unexplained..

On pages 28 and 29, the author identifies "Army Group Pflanzer-Baltin", without any further indication of its size. On page 37 the "Army Group" is described as containing 4 1/2 divisions. On the following page 38, it is 4 divisions. In the Austro-Hungarian forces of the time "Army Group" may have had a definition different than it common usage in WWII, but the author offers no explanation for this small an organization being called an Army Group.

On page 46, a German contingent is described as "two- and three-quarter German infantry and one cavalry division". The following parenthetical list names "half the 3rd Garde Division" and two infantry divisions and a cavalry division. There may be a reason for counting half the 3rd Garde Division as three-quarters of an infantry division, but no explanation is given.

On page 47, what appears to be the same organization is, in two adjacent paragraphs, called "Hungarian Group Szurmay", "Corps Szurmay" and "Army Group Szurmay". These may all mean the same, but using three different names for the same unit is not explained.

Frequently units are just described as "units" without any indication of size. That a "unit" has been reduced to 300 men doesn't tell the reader much if the nominal size of the unit is undisclosed. That an Austro-Hungarian regiment faced five Russian "units" is similarly uninformative.

On page 47 there is a reference to a "cannon regiment" being "in repair' for days. I would expect anyone reading this to have a guess what a cannon regiment is, but I don't know precisely what it was in the Austro-Hungarian Army and the author doesn't bother to explain. Similarly we know generally what repair is, but what does it mean here? Were all of the unit's cannons being repaired at one time? Was the unit withdrawn from deployment for general maintenance and repair? The author provides no details, just an almost random thought with no explanation.

Several of the maps in the book are of little help in understanding anything. I found no references in text to any map and often had to flip from map to map trying to find one that appeared to bear some relation to the textual description. Maps on pages 26 and 39 are both identified as showing the situation in December, 1914. The armies shown on the two maps are not the same and there is at least 150 miles between the positions of the Russian 8th Army on the two maps. In the map on page 39 the Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies are shown as separated by about 50 miles. Both maps could be accurate, but the text provides no obvious explanation for the differences between them and front lines fifty miles apart seems suspicious.

The author begins by stating the Carpathian Campaign is little known. Admittedly, I knew little of it. Unfortunately, his book did very little to increase my knowledge.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A lot of snow 17 Oct 2010
By Strv 74 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have finally finished this one. It took some efforts. It is very hard to write a good book about warfare on army and army corps level without getting boring and confusing. This author has unfortunately not done a very good job this time.

Writing military history at the operational level demands a lot of research but also a lot of afterthought from the author. Even if he understands the battle completely he has to present it to the readers so they will get the same or close to the same level of understanding. To do this he must think very hard at how he will present his story. Here is what this author did not do in this book.

- the background of this part of the first world war was very rudimentary. I guess if you were born in Austria and had your history studies in their schools this would not be a problem but for everyone else the situation of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1915 is not an everyday subject

- there must be a back-ground into the Austro-Hungarian army that fought the battles. Here you are just thrown in to the story and things are very confusing. How many knows what a "march battalion" is? Were the artillery only organized in batteries and not battalions and regiments? Why the mix-up of regiments and brigades in divisions? A chapter on the Austro-Hungarian army would have set the ground perfectly for the rest of the book

- maps...they are small and dark. Even worse, a lot of locations have different names today. I who have the opportunity to travel in the region and have been there did not recognize myself. There are numerous locations mentioned in the text that you can not find in the maps

- Fortress Przemysl with a garrison of 120 000 soldiers? Most people think of a fortress as a reinforced castle or something from the medieval times. I have been to Przemysl and the town has today about 70 000 inhabitants. I think that a lot would have been won if this fortress would have been explained in a little better detail and with a map

- Huge mistake is to describe the battles almost exclusively from the Austro-Hungarian side. What about the Russians? Was it impossible to find information on them or did the author deliberately exclude them from the story?

The writing style is not very easy. I don't know how many times the word "frostbite" appears but after a while you begin to freeze yourself. Almost every page tells you how many froze to death or suffered from frostbite. I think most readers got the message by page 50 and did not need to be reminded constantly.

One other tool than would have made this book easier to get thorough is to mix the story from the army and army corps level with real eye witness stories from the combatants point of view. There is very little of this and you simply do not get a feeling for how they managed. Apart from the fact that they were freezing...Maybe it is hard to find eye witness stories from this part of the war but it is essential for a book like this.

Why two stars? Well I do know more about this campaign now than before. There are facts listed in the book that are useful and lets face it, this could be the only book on the subject in English so I think two stars are motivated. You just have to be a stubborn reader to get through.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A hodgepodge of ideas, thoughts and information 14 Dec 2010
By Bubalis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book has to go back to the publisher and reworked so that people can actually understand what the author is trying to present. I read the first two chapters and stopped. Terms such as "March Battalions" are never explained. There is absolutely no description of the Armies involved, the men, weapons, training and organization are a black hole. Confusing and disorganized, the writing is a struggle to read. The author may know the facts but hasn't a clue as how to present it in a coherent and legible fashion. Someday I might try to finish it, but let's hope something better on this subject matter is published before resorting to that.
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