In 1914-18, as a lieutenant, I fought for the first two years against the Russians, after a brief contact with the
French and Belgians at Namur in August, 1914. In our very first attack on the Russian front, we quickly realized that here we were meeting essentially different soldiers from the French and Belgian - hardly visible, entrenched with consummate skill, and resolute! We suffered considerable losses.
In those days it was the Russian Imperial Army. Hard, but good-natured on the whole, they had the habit of setting fire on military principle to towns and villages, in East Prussia when they were forced to withdraw, just as they always did thereafter in their own country. When the red glow from the burning villages lit up the horizon at evening, we knew that the Russians were leaving. Curiously, the population did not seem to complain. That was the Russian way, and had been so for centuries.
When I referred to the bulk of the Russian Army good-natured, I am speaking of their European troops. The much harder Asiatic troops, the Siberian corps, were cruel in their behaviour. So, also, were the Cossacks. Eastern Germany had plenty to suffer on this score in 1914.
Even in 1914-18 the greater hardness of war conditions in the East had its effect on our own troops. Men preferred to be sent to the Western rather than the Eastern front. In the West it was a war of material and mass artillery - Verdun, the Somme, and so on. These factors were paramount, and very gruelling to endure, but at least we were dealing with Western adversaries. In the East there was not so much shell-fire, but the fighting was more dogged, as the human type was much harder. Night fighting, hand-to-hand fighting, fighting in the forests, were particularly fostered by the Russians. In that war there was a saying current among German soldiers: 'In the East the gallant Army is fighting; in the West the Fire Brigade is standing by.'
The Red Army of 1941-45 was far harder than the Tsar's Army, for they were fighting fanatically for an idea. That increased their doggedness, and in turn made our own troops hard, for in the East the maxim held good -
'You or I'. Discipline in the Red Army was far more rigorous than in the Tsar's Army. These are examples of
the sort of order that we used to intercept - and they were blindly obeyed.
Wherever Russians have appeared in the history of war, the fight was hard, ruthless, and involved heavy losses. Where the Russian makes a stand or defends himself, he is hard to defeat, and it costs a lot of bloodshed. As a child of nature he works with the simplest expedients. As all have to obey blindly, and the Slav-Asiatic character only understands the absolute, disobedience is non-existent. The Russians commanders can make incredible demands on their men in every way and there is no murmuring, no complaint.