The Przemyśl Fortress

Muzeum Narodowe Ziemi PrzemyskiejExhibition at: Main Building, 1, Berek Joselewicz Square, 3rd floor

The Przemyśl Fortress Exhibition is the first presentation to show as a whole the history of Przemyśl Fortress, one on the outstanding strongholds of the WW1.

The exhibition narrates the building Przemyśl fortifications beginning from the 1850s till 1914, and the history of fights for the fortress from September 26, 1914 till the end of the 3rd siege i. e. June 6, 1915.

Establishing the fortress in Przemyśl was one of the most important events in the history of the Przemyśl City. Decision to build the stronghold influenced development of the city in the 2nd half of the 19th c. Przemyśl formerly small and backward town, became Galicia’s (after Lviv and Cracow) most important city. Aside from rapidly developing industrial entities, connected with building fortress, in Przemyśl flourished cultural and scientific life.

A visitor when visiting the exhibition can make an amazing voyage trough time into Austrian Imperial-Royal Przemyśl of the turn of the 19th century, and to get acquainted with fights for Przemyśl Fortress and the then people whose anonymous graves are widespread throughout the nearby war cemeteries.

The exhibition shows the stages of building fortress, and its history and military activities on the background of historical events in Europe, as follows:

  • Building fortress in the years 1854-1914
  • Everyday life in the fortress prior to the outbreak of WW1
  • Air forces in Przemyśl Fortress (field airports in Hureczko, Żurawica and Buszkowice villages, and activity of Russian air forces over Przemyśl)
  • 1st siege: September 26, 1914 – October 11, 1914
  • 2nd siege: 5 November 1914 – 22 March 1915
  • Everyday life in the fortress in the course of fights
  • Russian occupation: March 22, 1915 – May 31, 1915
  • 3rd siege: May 18, 1915 – June 3, 1915

Exhibition embraces militaria, photographs, archival papers, items of everyday use and other mementos concerning emergence and history of Przemyśl Fortress, and bloody fights for it.

Exhibition consists of some hundreds of items, especially noteworthy are:

  • Austro-Hungarian cannon M.75 on casemate gun-carrier that belonged to the equipment of the No 1 Salis Soglio Fort, East of Siedliska Village
  • Molnár Archive (some documentation of the 23rd Honvéd (Hungarian) Division
  • Models of planes: Aviatik B.I „Durch" and Mora - Saulnier H

Besides, the viewer can see – in an artificial dugout – what difficult conditions Austrian soldiers lived in during the sieges; also one can see films made in 1915 showing unique scenes from Przemyśl in the time of fights.

Exhibition curator - Jacek Błoński
Arrangement - Firma Projekt Plus Paweł Wałek
Producer - Iza Wałek

The exhibition financed by: Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, Marshal of the Podkarpackie Voivodeship, Major of Przemyśl City and Fortress Communes Association of Przemyśl Fortress. Co-organizer: Hungarian Military Museum in Budapest.

Sponsors: Przemyśl County, Polish Oil and Gas Company in Warsaw (Sanok City Department), „FOOD-INN" Wojciech Domaradzki Ltd., Piotr Tomański, Rem II Ltd., Maciej Lewicki, AMA 3 Repair Works &Building Company, Andrzej Parol, Sadaro Carpets &Floor coverings Co, Waldemar Rowiński, Irena & Krzysztof Dominiakowie Galicyjska Pizzeria Ltd.

Museum bookshop offers for sale folders and posters on Przemyśl Fortress Exhibition.

Some words on the history of Przemyśl Fortress

Przemyśl Fortress in a unique complex of 19th c.-military buildings on European scope. Being built in a few stages it was very important defense element of Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the early 20th century it was one of Europe’s biggest strongholds. It was named “The Verdun of the East front”. In the WW1, in the years 1914-1915 Przemyśl Fortress was the place where bloody fights took place. On March 22, the day of capitulation, the forts got destroyed. Building the fortress in the 2nd half of the 19th century durably influenced Przemyśl and its neighborhood. That way Przemyśl City and its environs now are interesting attraction for historians, tourists and people who love local history and military landscapes full of picturesque ruins of forts.

History of building Przemyśl Fortress

The first works to build Przemyśl Fortress started in 1854 with a plan to establish 42 outworks. As the result of the détente between Austria and Russia in 1855, the works stopped. In 1873 Przemyśl, besides Cracow became the 1st class fortress, and the most important square of arms in Galicia. In 1878 building works started anew and were being continued till the outbreak of the WW1. Reinforcements of the fortress consisted of the outer ring with the circumference of 45 km (15 main forts and 24 auxiliary forts) and inner ring with the circumference of 15 km with 18 forts. Between the rings there were supporting line forts. Building the fortress enhanced industrial devolvement of the city; therefore in Przemyśl there flourished handcraft and trade, brick factories, cement plants, saw mills were established, and fort roads were made.

1st siege September 17, 1914 – October 9, 1914

On September 17 the first Cossack patrols around the fortress were noticed. The first shot was fired on September 18 at 5:13 from the forts of the Siedliska Fortification Group. On September 27 Russians submitted a proposition of surrender yet it was rejected. Through over one month the Russian army was intensifying the shelling of the fortress, directed mainly towards Siedliska Fortification Group. Also, the Northern part of the outer ring was under shelling, the heaviest shelling being made towards fort XI Duńkowiczki and XIa Cegielnia (Brick plant). The offensive intensified on October 5, the day when Russians attacked Siedliska Fortification Group. Two days later Russians attacked the entire fortress and entered fort I/1 Łysiczka after heavy losses. Next day Russian troops began to withdraw from the fortress.

2nd siege November 5 – March 22, 1915

After unsuccessful attempt to conquer the Fortress (1st siege) Russians attacked again, decided to surround the forts. General Kusmanek, the last commander of the Fortress, came to a decision that there be made sorties out of fortress in order to bind Russian military units. Such sorties were executed on November 11, 14, 16, 20 and 30. The sortie towards Bircza city ended with a small success as circa 130 Russians were taken prisoner. The subsequent ones were made on December 9-10, 15-18, 27-28. The largest sortie, carried out between 15 and 18 December 1914, led to breaking through the Russian positions and enabled the units of the fortress to reach the area around Bircza (about 25 km southwest of Przemyśl). Unfortunately, the lack of progress of the Austro-Hungarian Field Army in the Carpathians and Russians’ counterattack forced Austro-Hungarian troops to retreat to the fortress. In winter 1915 illnesses were disseminating in the Fortress, and hunger began. In February Russians started to attack again with the aim to take any foothold; in March 1915 the situation was really tragic. Not only food shortage was getting worse but also soldiers’ morale collapsed. On March 19 the last sortie in order to break through the Russian positions took place, and failed. Exhaustion of soldiers, hunger and illness as well as the lack of any hope for relief, led to the surrender of the fortress to the Russians on March 22, 1915. 9 generals, and over 2,500 officers and more than 117,000 soldiers were captured by the Russians.

Recapturing the fortress: May 15 – June 3, 1915.

After the Gorlice Battle the front shifted East. Austro-Hungarian regiments reached Fort VII Prałkowce as soon as May 16, alas Russians put up resistance, and it got impossible to take the fort. At the next attempt on May 30, caliber 30,5 mortars were used and thus Austro-Hungarian troops attacked from the west whereas Bavarian Infantry Division attacked from the North. As support was used battery of Big Bertha howitzers, caliber 420 mm. At the end of May began artillery firing towards forts at the northern reinforcements. The Przemyśl Fortress that way ended its participation in WW1. Three days after in Przemyśl took place parade of victorious troops of Austro-Hungary and German Empire.