World War I’s Largest Offensive

The Brusilov Offensive by the numbers

Grant Piper
6 min readAug 16, 2022


Russian infantry (Public domain)

On June 4th, 1916, a massive artillery barrage split the calmness of the morning. Thousands of guns opened up along a massive front, heralding the opening of the Great War’s largest offensive. The Imperial Russian Army mobilized 1.5 million troops to punch through the Austro-Hungarian lines and capture the cities of Kovel and Lviv (in present day Ukraine). The goal was to destroy the Austro-Hungarian armies in this sector and force Germany’s immense armies to pivot back east.

The offensive was designed to help relieve the pressure on the French at the fortress of Verdun, which was under incessant German assault. Relieving the pressure at Verdun would allow the French to regroup and avert a growing mutiny that threatened the entire war effort.

General Aleksei Brusilov, for whom the famous offensive is named, was given the green light to launch his assault on June 4th, but he was denied simultaneous assaults from other theaters. Brusilov would have to endure the coming fight on his own.

The Forces Engaged

On the Allied side, Russia mobilized a full 61 divisions. There were 46 infantry divisions committed to the fight and 15 cavalry divisions. The total troops committed totaled 1.7 million.

The Central Powers fielded 54 divisions commanded by the Austrians and 24 divisions commanded by the Germans. The Central Powers had over 1 million men on the front during the summer of 1916.

The total number of forces that were about to clash numbered 2.8 million total, along with thousands of heavy guns, thousands of machine guns, and an untold number of horses. (There were nearly 100,000 cavalry forces involved in this campaign which likely puts the number of horses near 250,000 or more.)

The Opening Salvo

At first, it looked as though the Russian offensive was going to be a stunning success. The first week of the offensive pushed the Austro-Hungarian armies from their trenches under withering artillery. General Brusilov drew up novel new strategies that had his armies advance under the cover of close-in artillery. The massive divisions would not assault the heavily defended trenches until they…



Grant Piper

Thought provoking articles, when time and payouts permit it.