The battle of Gnila Lipa, 26-30 August 1914, saw the Austrian plans for an invasion of Russian Poland across the Galician border begin to unravel. The Austrian plan had been based on two misconceptions. The first was that they could mobilise their troops quicker than the Russians. This might have been true a few years earlier, but in 1914 the Russians were ready much sooner than anyone had expected.
The second misconception was a failure to read Russian intentions properly. The Austrians expected the Russians to concentrate their armies around Lublin, half way into Russian Poland, and attack west of the Austrian fortresses of Lemberg and Przemysl. The main Austrian offensive would be launched on this front, to disrupt the Russian concentration and possibly even to meet up with a German advance from East Prussia.
The actual Russian attack came from the east. The Russian Third Army (General Nikolai Ruzski) attacked north east of Lemberg, while the Eighth Army (General Aleksei Brusilov) had travelled up the railway from the Black Sea port of Odessa to attack across the eastern border. Eight Russian army corps were preparing to attack the three corps of the Austrian Third Army (General Brudermann). The Austrian Second Army was in transit across the Empire, having initially been sent to the Serbian front, before being ordered back to Galicia.
The fighting took place along the northern back of the Dniester. The Gnila Lipa and Zlota Lipa rivers are northern tributaries of the Dniester, with the Zlota Lipe furthest to the east. On 25 August the Austrians received reports than a small number of Russian units had crossed the eastern border and were heading towards Tarnopol
The two armies clashed on 26 August. Three Austrian corps (XII, III and XI) moved east towards the Zlota Lipa. As they encountered the lead Russian troops, the Austrians launched a series of unsuccessful attacks against what they believed were smaller Russian units. Instead they were facing the powerful vanguard of two armies contained eight corps. By the end of the day the Austrians were in headlong retreat – two divisions reached Lemberg, 25 miles to the rear.
On 27 August the Austrian commander in chief, General Conrad von Hötzendorf, ordered the third army to form a new line on the Gnila-Lipa. The Russians, expected to encounter the main Austro-Hungarian army at any moment, advanced slowly and carefully westwards, giving the Austrians the time they needed to create their new line.
Even so, the Austrians were badly outnumbered. 115 Austrian battalions with 376 guns faced 292 Russian battalions and 750 guns. The Russians attacked on 30 August, and pushed the Austrians back in chaos. This time the Austrians didn’t stop until they were west of Lemberg. The fortress of Lemberg fell on 3 September.
There was now a real risk that the Austrian armies further north west would be cut off by a Russian advance west from Lemberg. This danger was averted, but a second Russian victory, at Rava Ruska, forced a general retreat back to the line of the Carpathians.