Battle of Tannenberg
Russia suffered a major loss in the Battle of Tannenberg, losing control of its Second Army on August 1914 due to clever planning by German soldiers. The invasion was still in the beginning stages and hadn’t really got off the ground, and proved to be one of many failed efforts due to poor planning on Russia’s side.
The two-pronged attack by General Samsonov and General Rennenkampf included a southwest and northeast attack with the First and Second Army. By surrounding the much smaller German Eighth Army controlled by General Prittwitz, they could get a decided advantage in the entire area. An attack in both the front and rear would have been devastating to the Eighth Army, which was considered to be outmanned 4-1.
General Pritwitz had already been previously defeated by General Rennenkampf at the Battle of Gumbinnen, and was a bit wary of facing another defeat against an even larger oncoming force. His retreat immediately reached Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, who dismissed him and put in place more aggressive leaders on the field.
The order was put in place but had not yet been executed, so when new commander Paul von Hindenburg organized a new attack, they did so with confidence due to the plan put in place by Colonel Maximilian Hoffman, Prittwitz’s deputy Chief of Operations.
The Germans set a trap for the Russian army, and was also helped by the wireless intercepts of two major intelligence transmissions between Rennenkampf and Samsonov. This sealed the deal for the German Army, as the battle was theirs to lose at this point.
Why Was the Battle of Tannenberg Fought?
In the early beginnings of World War I, positioning was everything. East Prussia was considered a major vulnerability in Russian territory. It’s also important to note that the Russians were reliant on the railways to transport their armies, with one of the two main ones being in Prussia. The railway in Prussia could only go as far as the German border using railways, but had a major strategical advantage. By using the railways effectively, the Russian Army could take out the Germans in a pincer formation.
Who Was Affected?
Russia suffered a major blow with this loss, and it blew a hole in their strategy. With Germany occupying Prussia, they had access and full control of the railways deep in Russian territory. With the Germany Army garrisoned in Prussia, the only thing the Eighth Army had to do was hold back any attacks until the War on other fronts was decided.
Names to Remember
General Aleksandr Vassilievich Samsonov was born in 1859 and a well-known general of the Imperial Russian Army. He obtained command of the Second Army in the invasion of East Prussia. The General and his army fought well at the beginning parts of the battle until the Germans surrounded Samsonov between Allenstein and Willenberg.
General Rennenkampf was also a Russian general and born in 1854. He served and fought in the Imperial Russian Army for over 40 years, and was a big part of the Russo-Japanese War. After being in command of the Russian First Army, he invaded East Prussia by advancing northeast. His lack of communication with the General Samsonov’s Second Army during the Battle of Tannenberg led to a decisive loss. His career ended in 1917 after the February Revolution when he was imprisoned for embezzlement and mismanagement.
General Prittwitz was born in 1848, and later served as the commander of the German Eighth Army. Prittwitz was considered a careful leader, and ordered a withdrawal of his forces to the River Vistula. The strategy kept the First and Second Army from attempting to encircle the much smaller Prittwitz force, but it also led to the Eight Army abandoning East Prussia defenses.
Here are some important things to remember about the Battle of Tannenberg.
- General Prittwitz was dismissed for ordering his Army to abandon East Prussia
- East Prussia was home to one of the few major railways that was perfect for wartime movement
- A wireless communication interception by Germany all but guaranteed their victory
If General Prittwitz was allowed to go through with this command for withdrawing the German forces, Russia would have surely taken control of Prussia and the railways. Helmuth von Moltke the Younger made a decision that gave the Germans a huge victory in the early beginnings of World War 1.