Rodzianko on shortages in the army (1914)

Mikhail Rodzianko was the president of the State Duma from March 1911 and the February Revolution. In the following extract from his memoirs, written after he emigrated to Serbia, Rodzianko recalls some of the problems the Russian military faced in the first months of World War I, such as supplying the army and treating the wounded:

“Soon after the first battles, shocking reports came from the front of the incompetency of the sanitary department, of its inability to handle the wounded at the front. There was great confusion. Freight trains came to Moscow filled with wounded, lying on the bare floor without even straw, in many cases without clothing, poorly bandaged and unfed.

At this time my wife was the patroness of the Elizabeth Society [Red Cross organization] and it was reported to her that such trains passed the field units of her society, stopping sometimes at the stations, but that those in charge would not allow the sisters to enter the cars. There was a certain amount of undesirable rivalry between the Ministry of War and the Red Cross. Each acted independently of the other and there was no coordination. The War Department was particularly weak in first aid. Though it had neither carts, horses, nor first aid material, it allowed no other organization on the field.

There seemed no other course than to bring the state of affairs to the attention of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich. I wrote him a letter in which I told him that patriotic enthusiasm had called forth a number of volunteer sanitary organisations, but that they could do nothing because of Evdokimov, the head of the sanitary division of the Ministry of War…

I went also to see the old Empress, Marie Fedorovna, who lived on Elagin Island. When I told her the situation she was horrified. “Tell me, what should be done?” asked the Empress. I advised her to send a telegram to Nicholas Nicholaevich urging him to command Evdokimov to put things in order and to allow the Red Cross to go to work. She asked me to write such a telegram in her name.

As a result of these efforts there came a telegram, followed by a letter from the Grand Duke, stating that he agreed with the president of the Duma and that he would take the necessary measures… Grand Duke Nicholas wrote to me that he had long before insisted on the removal of Evdokimov, but that it could not be done because he had the protection of Sukhomlinov and the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna…

Soon after my arrival at Warsaw in November 1914, I had a call from Vyrubov, a representative of the Zemstvo Union, who asked me to go with him to the Warsaw-Vienna station, where there ‘were about 18,000 men, wounded in the battles near Lodz and Berezina. There I saw a frightful scene. On the floor, without even a bedding of straw, in mud and slush, lay innumerable wounded, whose pitiful groans and cries filled the air. “For God’s sake, get them to attend to us. No one has looked after our wounds for five days.”

It should be said that after these bloody battles the wounded were thrown into freight cars without order, and thrown out at this station without attention. The only medical aid they received was from Warsaw doctors and nurses, about fifteen in all, belonging to a Polish organisation which volunteered its services. … I do not know their names, but with all my soul I hope that the hearty thanks of a Russian may reach them, as well as my highest respect and praise…

While at Warsaw, I asked permission of Nicholaevich to go to Headquarters. I wished to tell him what I had seen and heard at Warsaw. General Ruzski had complained to me of lack of ammunition and the few equipments of the men. There was a great shortage of boots. In the Carpathians, the soldiers fought barefooted… The Grand Duke stated that he was obliged to stop fighting temporarily for lack of ammunition and boots. “You have influence”, he said. “You are trusted. Try and get boots for the army, as soon as possible.”