The Lake Naroch Offensive was a failed Russian campaign on the Eastern Front of World War One. The offensive was launched at the request of French Marshal Joseph Joffre and was intended to relieve pressure on the French forces fighting on the Western front. It failed due to the lack of adequate reconnaissance. The Russian artillery failed to destroy the heavy fortified German position, and so General Alexei Evert ordered a suspension of offensive operations.
Russian resolve would be tested in the early part of 1916. When the German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn launched his devastating attack at Verdun on the Western Front, the French were soon vehemently demanding that the Russians should launch an offensive on the Eastern Front in order to relieve some of the pressure. Nicholas II simply passed on the responsibility to his subordinates on the North and West Fronts. It was decided to attack the Germans in the Belarus area, in what would become known as the Battle of Lake Naroch, with an ambitious pincer movement.
The German advanced positions in the north threatened Petrograd, the Russian capital, and had brought the productive Baltic States under enemy occupation, where General Erich Ludendorff had created a full-blown occupation economy. In an anticipation of what Hitler would less imaginatively attempt after 1941, he divided the region into six administrative areas, under a German military governor, and set about harnessing its agricultural and industrial resources to the German war effort.
After an artillery barrage, the Russian infantry attacked in massed waves, while there was also an attempt further north to clear the Germans back from the vital port of Riga. The Russian gunners had none of the skills required to draw up a complex gun program, spot the fall of shot or communicate the necessary corrections to their batteries. The result was that some 100,000 Russian casualties were suffered over the two attacks, for minimal gain. All in all, the attacks failed in their primary aim to reduce the pressure on the French.
Lake Naroch paralyzed much of the Russian army for the rest of the war. Neither Evert nor Alexei Kuropatkin believed any more in the possibility of breaking through at all; indeed, Kuropatkin resigned. Evert stayed at his post, though having lost his faith in his troops, his guns, and his positions. Both of the fronts against Germany were now beset by crippling feelings of inferiority. Now the Russians would have no stomach for attack. It was only the emergence of a general whose common sense amounted to brilliance, and who selected a group of staff-officers who were almost a kernel of the Red Army, that gave the Russian army a great rôle in 1916. That general was Aleksei Brusilov.
By the time the offensive ended, Russian losses totalled 100,000, including 12,000 men who had died of exposure in the harsh late-winter weather. In April a counterattack by the Germans, who had lost 20,000, recovered all the ground the Russians had gained. The prospect of another offensive did not appeal to many of the Russian generals.