For more than 18 months, the Russians have been defending Osowiec,
a Fortress in the middle of marshes.
There was no way around it.
Since the very beginning of the war,
the fortress was a thorn in Germans’ side.
Bombardments followed by assaults. Assaults—by bombardments.
But the Russians held their ground.
In August 1915, the Germans decided to make the final attempt to capture it.
Stand up, your Honor!
Sir, we must flee! They will start shooting now!
Fall back! Bombardment! Everyone to the trenches!
Lads, fall back!
The German attack failed again.
For its decisive onslaught on Osowiec,
the Germans deployed the 11th Landwehr Division.
Squad, line up! Get the gas masks!
Thank you Herr Hauser. We appreciate your help.
Take a rest. Have a bite to eat.
Hey, cook, feed Herr Hauser! And we unload the cargo.
Start unloading! Hurry up!
Here is the pea soup, Herr Hauser.
Thank you very much.
Just put a mask on, you’ll look better in it.
Get off! Leave me alone!
With this mask on you remind me of my uncle Willy.
It’s hard to tell where his head is, or where his arse is, too.
He just shaved his eyebrows off!
All, step back!
Red Cross’ envoy Hauser
didn’t know that in his supplies, along with medicines and gas masks,
were canisters of poisonous gas.
For 3 months, the Germans used chlorine in battle,
but they never did at Osowiec.
Sir Major, I saw that your soldiers are preparing a chemical weapon.
It’s very dangerous!
What’s dangerous are the Russian machine-guns.
But gas is a double-edged sword. It can hurt your men too.
As a Red Cross envoy…
I know. You’d like fewer casualties.
But we are at war. And someone will die anyway.
It could be the Russians or ours. I prefer Russians.
But using it is inhumane!
You Swiss are too humanitarian.
When you pass through Hell, you’d better not stop.
If you worry about humaneness, better help us gather our wounded in the field.
Today we have plenty.
The German Major was right— the casualties were high on both sides.
After every clash, dozens were left on the battlefield.
That’s why sometimes a ceasefire was called.
So that at nightfall, funeral teams could start to collect the injured
and bury the dead.
Herr Hauser, what’s there?
Leave them! Come warm by the fire. It’s pretty cold at night.
They brought Osipov. Looks alive.
The bandages are still wet.
Let’s go, pal.
You saved my life, Osipov.
I don’t know how to thank you!
You saved mine too, sir.
So we’re even!
Here, take this.
Now that’s the stuff, your Honor. That’s the stuff!
How you managed to survive?
A German saved me.
I was buried under the bodies of Germans, could barely breathe.
When the night fell, I crawled back.
Well the main thing is you’re alive!
As I was crawling back, I nearly shit my pants from horror!
Saw one, so scary!
The eyes! The face in a mask!
A pure demon!
Like this one?
Is it bad?
I should go, Arkhip. I should go.
Sub-lieutenant Kotlinskyi graduated from Military-topographic academy with honors.
He was well aware of specifics of warfare.
And gas masks in the enemies’ trenches could only mean one thing.
A chemical attack.
Bloody hell, it blew the dust!
Did the wind change, pal?
Yeah, blows hard from the West, sir.
I have an order!
I won’t give them a single ration!
Well I didn’t make that up myself.
I said go away!
And where to? I have an order to fulfill.
Well what have we got?
They sent for all personnel, and now they want all the dead men’s rations back.
Call all the men here, please.
What about the rations?
Leave it be, we have more important things!
What can be more important than rations?
Leave it all here at my order and responsibility.
Come with me.
It seems we have to die tomorrow.
They will poison us. With gas.
What kinda gas, sir?
If it’s as poisonous as Yatsko’s,
we’ll be fine, we can withstand it!
He’s been trying to poison us every night!
My stomach is sick!
Problem is, boys, I don’t know what gas is it.
I only know it’s scary.
And we have no protection against it.
Are they really gonna try and break again?
Nah, they won’t come here again…
Our fortress is a thorn in their side.
So how are they going to poison us?
We should withdraw to the fortress.
Where are you going, old man?
To put some clean clothes on. Just in case.
So he’s preparing to go die!
But if I don’t want to die, brothers?
Who will bother asking if you want or not?
Well if they order, then of course…
But I really don’t want to die, sir.
Is there really no protection against this gas?
Prepare some wet bandages for your face.
Here you go.
Make it two layers.
It must be denser.
Put the masks on!
But there are no living there!
Osowiec Fortress was never taken by an assault.
Russian troops withdrew several weeks later,
when the theatre of war changed and made defense pointless.
Sub-lieutenant Kotlinskyi was gravely wounded during that battle.
The counterattack of what was left
of the 13th company of the 226th Infantry Regiment Zemlyansky
became known as the “Attack of the Dead Men”.
Only ten years later chemical weapons were forbidden by the Geneva Convention.
And 3 years after that, Fritz Haber, the creator of modern chemical weapons,
received a Nobel Prize.
You honor, may I look through you binoculars?
I might die tomorrow and never get to look.
Here you go.
Arkhip. Do you think dying is scary?
It depends, your honor.
Take your binoculars, look this way—
and death seems close. And scary.
Turn them— and it is far, far away.
Tiny and not that frightening.