He experienced the horrors of two wars and during this time he also covered an immense geographical area. The trip described in this blog is an attempt to retrace his steps from Prague across the Eurasian continent to beyond Lake Baikal in Siberia. The first part of the trip will follow the precisely described route of Josef Švejk, Hašek's inspired literary creation. I left home on April 30 2010 and was back on October 29.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Carnage by Sokal

Abwehrkampf einer MG-Abteilung. Maschinengewehrabteilung II des Infanterieregiments Nr. 4
"Hoch- und  Deutschmeister" auf der Höhe Gora Sokal am Bug, 20. Juli 1915. 
Karl Friedrich Gsur.
Sokal is the first place where Švejk would have seen any fighting if he had ever got that far. In Karel Steklý´s film he actually arrives at the front and k.u.k forces are being shelled by the Russians. In this film which has been twisted towards comedy and slap-stick, Lieutenant Dub hides from the shells in a wooden shit-house. This scene has nothing to do with the novel, although some inspiration might have been drawn from Karel Vaněk´s continuation. So, with Švejk now finished, let us therefore return to what the author himself took part in and surely would have found place for in the novel. It is a tale of horror ...

From VÚA (Central War Archives), Prague. History of
the 91st regiment (author unknown).
Hašek and the 12th march batallion had arrived in Łonie near Gologory on 11 July. They had left Királyhida on 30 June and were at arrival commanded by Oberstleutnant Wenzel. Until Sambor the transport was by train. How they moved onward from Sambor to Lonie is less obvious, but we must assume that it was on foot.

In Łonie the march battalion offset the losses the 91st regiment had suffered during their advance in Galicia from early May onwards. The troops of the march battalion complemented field battalions II, III and IV of the regiment. Hašek was assigned to FBaon III, 11th company. The 91st regiment consisted of 4 battalions of which number II, III and IV were fighting on the Galician front. The 3rd field battalion was commanded by Oberleutnant Sagner and the 11th Feldkompanie by Oberleutnant Lukas.

Note the similarities with Švejk, but also how the author freely moved formations, ranks, and people around to create his plot. In the novel the number of Švejk's march battalion is unclear, and Švejk's 11th march company seems to have its number and even some of its staff borrowed from Hašek's 11th field company, post Gologory. IR 91 was part of the 17th infantry brigade (IBrig 17) which again belonged to the 9th infantry division (ID 9). To complete the army Schematismus: this division belonged to the Armeekorps XVIII which in turn was part of the k.u.k Second Army, the so-called Heeresgruppe Böhm-Ermolli.

Situation by the Bug on July 15 1915.
(from Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg).
After capturing Lemberg (now Lviv) on 22 June, Verbündete forces soon soon reached the river Bug where they consolidated their positions. But by mid-July High Command had ordered a new offensive. The objective was to cross the river Bug, recapture the parts of Galicia that were still on Russian hands and push into enemy territory before the winter set in. Böhm-Ermolli ordered the 9th infantry division (they had been fighting by Gologory) to move north behind the lines into positions by Kamionka Strumiłowa where he planned an attack across the river Bug towards Radziechów (now Radekhiv).

The division reached the area on 17 July after breaking up from Łonie  on the 13th. It was during this march they on 16 July passed Żółtańce and had a two hour Rast north of town, near the railway station. This break was however too short to provide material for the final chapter of Švejk, so it is likely that the author simply picked this spot from the map and filled in with facts (and fiction) from elsewhere. Otherwise his description of the fighting along the Bug is remarkably precise. After a few more stops the regiment arrived by Obydów on 19 July and it was from this spot they were to cross the Bug. They even started to build a bridge but were hampered by heavy rain. The attack was planned for 21 July.

In documents in the Central War Archives (Prague) Hašek is listed as Zugsordonnanz,where his duty as a messenger was to connect the squads within his company and to other units as well. This is a function he also assigned to Švejk, but at a much earlier stage. Here we have one of several indications that the author mixed a number of facts, people and experiences from this time in the 11th Field Company into Švejk's time in the 11th March Company. The 11th march company never existed, the 12th march battalion consisted of four march companies, numbered I, II, III and IV (according to Bohumil Vlček, Jaroslav Kejla).

Description of the situation by Sokal on July 20.
(from Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg).
Further north by Sokal, units from the First Army had in the meantime crossed the Bug and a bridgehead was established on the eastern bank of the river. Amtliche Berichte from Vienna show that the battle by Sokal had been raging at least since 16 July when the Bernardine monastery on the western shore of the river had fallen. On 18 July German and Austrian troops crossed the river, occupied Sokal as well as the strategically important Gora Sokal and dug themselves in around the town.

Russian commander Brusilov however soon recognized the vulnerability of the enemy bridgehead and ordered counter-attacks to destroy it.  Gora Sokal (trigonometrie 234, 237 and 254) was recaptured by the Russians on July 20, and Paul Puhallo, commander of the First Army, realized how serious the situation was and asked for assistance that same day. This was to provide decisive for the fate of IR91. With the the rest of the 9th infantry division (IR11, IR73, IR102) they were ordered northwards to strengthen the bridgehead and General Böhm-Ermolli had to abandon his plans for an offensive towards Radziechów. Instead the Second Army was left to "clean up" the area west of the river Bug.

The situation in Sokal on July 23,
 the day the 91st regiment arrived.
At 4:30 in the morning of 21 July the 91st regiment left their quarters near Obydów where they had spent the last two days. Another two days of arduous marching awaited them. They marched through Mosty Wielkie where they met Reichsdeutsche units, an event which might have inspired Hašek's description of German troops in Švejk. The weather was very warm those days after weeks of heavy rain. In the evening of the 22nd they arrived in the Sokal area and on 23 July Hašek's III. battalion was amongst those who replaced German troops south of Sokal by Poturcyza.

With the newly arrived reinforcements, a renewed attempt to capture Gora Sokal was planned, and it duly started in the afternoon of 25 July. Heavy fighting continued for the next few days and the losses were terrible on both sides. In name lists, around half the names on the 11th Field Company have been ticket off as either verwundet, vermisst or gefallen. Amongst the casualties were three out of the four company squad leaders (Zugsführer), only Kadett Hans Bigler came through it unhurt. The 91st regiment managed to reach Kote 234 on the 26th, but Russian counter-attacks pushed them back and 28 and 29 July were black days. The numerical superiority of the enemy started to count. IR 4 (Hoch und Deutschmeister) had to give up Kote 254 and IR 91 had to withdraw to a new line of defence further north by Babiniec. The k.u.k forces were in a desperate situation. Losses were huge, half the 91st regiment were either killed, wounded or missing. Fortunately for them the Russians unexpectedly  started to withdraw on  31 July.

Sokal and surroundings on a k.u.k military map from
1910. The contested Kote is 254 clearly visible.
The Russian pull-out had little to do with the achievements of the Austro-Hungarian forces by Sokal. The foe was still controlling Kote 254, but events further north dictated the outcome. German forces had broken through (general Linsingen), and the Russians decided to withdraw to the river Ługa for fear of being outflanked.

Several of the officers who later lent their names to characters in Švejk were present at Sokal: Oberleutnant Rudolf Lukas, Stabsfeldwebel Jan Vaněk, Kadett Hans Bigler, Oberstleutnant Franz Wenzel, Hauptmann Vinzenz Sagner. Some of them had striking similarities with their counter-parts in the novel, and they may or may not have been pleased when their names appeared in Švejk! Another vaguely obscured real-life model was Feldkurat Jan Evangelista Eybl, called Ibl in the novel.

According to "Gefechtsberichte" in Vienna's Kriegsarchiv, Oblt. Wenzel during the battle on July 27 disappeared and "took up position" in the reserve by the 4th batallion. This left the 2nd batallion without a commander, and Oberleutnant Peregrin Baudisch was left with the task. Sagner and Baudisch were both given credit in the same battle report that was issued a few weeks later. There was even talk of taking Wenzel and the IR91 commander, Oberst Steinsberg, to court after the battle. Their behaviour could at best be deemed incompetent, but cowardice is an expression that might be apt under these circumstances.

In the evening of 2 August IR 91 moved to Żdżary 15km to the north and spent nearly four weeks in the reserve there. Hašek was from 1 August promoted to Gefreiter (lance corporal). On August 18 he and many others were decorated for bravery demonstrated during the battle by Sokal. According to Jan Morávek (Večerní České Slovo, September 1924) he had together with Vaněk captured 300 Russians. These were men who were glad to leave the war behind anyway, so at best Hašek “guided” them into captivity.

This story has later proved to be rather unsolid. His "Belohnungsantrag" was investigated in 2014 and tells a different story. He was decorated for his effort in delivering orders and reports, as well as having voluntarily undertaken risky reconnaisance duties. Moreover his encouraging of fellow soldiers is mentioned. This happened on 25 July by Poturzyce. It should also be noted that the diary of Vaněk doesn't mention the deed (which he was supposed to have taken part in).

  • Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg, Band II, Teil I
  • Das Infanterieregiment Nr. 91 am Vormarsch in Galizien. Type-written document from the Central War Archives (VÚA). Prague.
  • Jaroslav Hašek v revolučním Rusku. Jaroslav Křížek.
  • ÖSTA

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