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The opposing powers had already suffered casualties on a scale previously unimaginable by October 1914. On both the Western and Eastern fronts elaborate war...

The opposing powers had already suffered casualties on a scale previously unimaginable by October 1914. On both the Western and Eastern fronts elaborate war plans lay in ruins and had been discarded in favour of desperate improvisation. In the West this soon resulted in the remorseless world of the trenches; in the East all eyes were focused on the old, beleaguered Austro-Hungarian fortress of Przemysl. The great siege that unfolded at Przemysl was the longest of the Great War. In the defence of the fortress and the struggle to relieve it Austria-Hungary suffered some 800,000 casualties.

Almost unknown in the West, this battle was one of the great turning points of the conflict. If the Russians had broken through in the Fall of 1914, they could have invaded Central Europe and probably knocked Austria out of the war. But by the time the fortress fell in March 1915, the Russian’s strength was so sapped they could go no further.

In The Fortress: The Siege of Przemysl and the Making of Europe’s Bloodlands (Basic Books, 2020), Professor Alexander Watson, Professor of History at the University of London, prize-winning author of Ring of Steel, has written one of the great epics of the First World War. Comparable to Stalingrad in 1942-3, Przemysl shaped the course of Europe’s future. This book, described by Sir Christopher Clark, Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, as a ‘splendid book’, is a must read for both layman and scholar alike. It is based upon voluminous archival research and is without a doubt the definitive treatment of the subject.


Charles Coutinho Ph. D. of the Royal Historical Society, received his doctorate from New York University. His area of specialization is 19th and 20th-century European, American diplomatic and political history. He has written recently for Chatham House’s International Affairs.