Famous Battles in History Tannenberg in World War I

About the famous battle of Tannerberg between the Germans and the Russians in World War I.



Wanting to please his hard-pressed French allies, Czar Nicholas II of Russia ordered an immediate offensive against Germany in August, 1914, at the outbreak of W.W. I. The Russian army had only begun mobilizing and was unprepared for this premature attack.

The Russian objective was East Prussia, which was to be attacked from the west and from Russian Poland to the south. The southern army was commanded by Gen. Alexander Samsonov, who had never before commanded an army in combat. Samsonov marched his ill-prepared 2nd (Warsaw) Army north to the frontier and, on Aug. 22, invaded Germany near the village of Tannenberg.

At this point, German Generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff wheeled their entire army from northeast Prussia to the south. They concentrated their forces on both Russian flanks, while allowing the enemy center to bulge forward. The Germans were aided by the Russian practice of sending radio messages uncoded. German intelligence knew the location of Russian units better than Samsonov did. By Aug. 24, even Samsonov realized something was wrong on his flanks and slowed his advance. But his superior, General Zhilinsky, ordered him to quit "acting the coward and resume the offensive."

On Aug. 26, the Germans counterattacked with an assault on the Russian east flank, which was routed, giving the Germans an open road into the Russian rear. In the next two days, German attacks also wiped out the Russian west flank. With both flanks crushed, the overextended Russian center was caught in the mouth of the German army, with the jaws slamming shut behind it. The Russian 2nd Army disintegrated. Retreat was impossible, because the Germans had formed a line across the Russian rear. Having lost any semblance of control over his army, the despondent Samsonov walked off into the woods and shot himself. The Germans had won a total victory.

Russian losses were 92,000 captured and 30,000 killed or missing. German casualties were 13,000 killed and wounded. Tannenberg ensured the eventual defeat of Russia and precipitated the Russian Revolution. Thus Czar Nicholas II paid for his rash decision with his throne and his life. The German victory was offset by their defeat at the Battle of the Marne in France, at about the same time.

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