Austrians also came from the Tyrol and the Balkans, and Ludendorff was sent to restore confidence in the command. Kovel was the southern key to Brest-Litovsk; the northern flank could look after itself since Ewarts was making little progress, and Bothmer had barred the way for the time to the other essential points at Lemberg and Stanislau.
The unexpectedly rapid fall of Kovno and Grodno had enabled the Germans to threaten the envelopment of Ewarts' army both on the south and the north, on the Niemen towards Mosty and Lida and farther north towards Vilna. The struggle for Vilna was decided at Meiszagola, a village about fifteen miles north-west of the old Lithuanian capital.
They were thus also close to Molodetchno on the railway along which Ewarts was falling back from Skidel, Mosty, and Lida; and control of that junction would have put two Russian armies at their mercy. Just in time Ruszky was restored to the command of the northern group of Russian armies, and the victor of Rawa Ruska and Prasnysz was not doomed now to break his uniform record of success.
But the counter-offensive was spent by the end of the month, and early in July the Russians resumed their advance. North of the Pripet Ewarts was no more successful than he had been in June; German divisions were made of sterner stuff than the Austrian, and Hindenburg knew well enough what was at stake.
On May 14, 1915, Ivanoff's right was being forced toward the Vistula in the vicinity of Opatow. This right wing was the army under General Ewarts, which since December, 1914, had been stationed in strongly fortified positions on the Nida in Russian Poland.
By the time the retreating Russians had reached the Wisloka they had to some extent recovered from the first shock of surprise, and were better able to attempt a determined stand against the overwhelming onrush of the Austro-Germanic troops. Ivanoff hurriedly sent reenforcements for Dmitrieff and Ewarts which included the Caucasian Corps of General Irmanoff from the Bzura front.
Their defeat east of Vilna enabled Ewarts to escape from the encirclement threatened by the advance from Kovno and Grodno; and although he had to leave Lida and was subsequently pushed behind the junction of Baranowitchi, thus surrendering to the Germans the control of the railway from Vilna to that point, it remained in Russian hands to Rovno.
Its loss was perhaps inevitable after the fall of Kovno, but it completed the destruction of the base of the triangle and involved the withdrawal of the whole Russian line beyond the Pripet marshes which would break its continuity; and there was cold comfort in the fact that Ewarts got away with most of his troops and stores and that a Russian mine, exploded two days after their departure, destroyed a thousand Germans and set a precedent for similar machinations on their part when they retreated in the West.
Along the San the troops just south of Ewarts delivered a fierce attack and drove the Archduke Ferdinand back to Tarnobrzeg on the Vistula. Ivanoff next drew as many reenforcements from that flank to strengthen his center as was compatible with safety. What had happened meanwhile on Ivanoff's extreme left in eastern Galicia and the Bukowina has already been stated.
By the retirement of the center Ewarts had been compelled to fall back from the Nida to the Vistula with Woyrsch's Austrian army against him. When Ewarts dropped behind Kielce in Russian Poland, Woyrsch seized the junction of the branch line to Ostroviecs in front of the Russian line.