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Allan, Miguel Serrano, Sean Ellis and Jonathan Noble by
Occurred from August 26 – 30, 1914 in East Prussia It was between General Alexander Samsonov and General Paul Rennenkampf’s Russian First and Second Armies and General Paul Von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff’s German Eighth Army. The Russians intended to surround and capture the German army or at least drive them from East Prussia. General Alexander Samsonov General Paul von Rennenkampf General Erich Ludendorff General Paul von Hindenburg
A map showing where each side was situated and movements as of August 17.
Commanders clashed over how to fight the war and many officers were lazy, having gotten their positions through wealth and social status. Difficult terrain. Dense forests, lakes and marshlands had to be crossed. There were also few roads and railroads from the south. Their supply service couldn’t provide for all and was confused, losing rations or sending them to the wrong unit. Communication and intelligence was limited and not ciphered. This resulted in the Russians not knowing anything of the plans and movements of the enemy, although the enemy knew everything about them by intercepting their messages. The leaders of the Tannenburg Russian offensive – General Samsonov and General Rennenkampf – had problems with eccentricity, with Rennenkampf holding a vendetta against Samsonov for complaining of Rennenkampf’s conduct at the Battle of Mukden in 1905. From the start the Russian armies involved had numerous problems, including:
An aerial photo showing some of Tannenburg’s dense forestry and hilly terrain. Where in Tannenburg this photo was taken is unknown.
This order for a retreat had him dismissed, bringing in General Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff to replace him. Upon Hindenburg‘s arrival on August 23rd, he reversed Prittwitz‘s order of retreat and moved forward to meet samsonov‘s troops. When faced with the Russian Second Army, the General of the German Eighth Army (General Prittwitz) ordered a retreat for fear of being surrounded. General Maximilian Prittwitz The original commander of the German troops in Tannenberg General Paul von Hindenburg General Erich Ludendorff
A map showing the situation on August 23 and each side’s movements since August 20.
Hoffman knew of Rennenkampf’s vendetta against Samsonov, which would keep Rennenkampf from coming to Samsanov’s aid if he had a justifiable cause not to. He used this to his advantage, proposing a ploy where calvary troops would be employed to Samsonov’s position (Vistula) to confuse him. German troops were then set into position: - General Hermann von Francois’ troops were sent to the far southwest by rail to meet the left wing of Samsonov’s army - Two of Hindenburg’s corps were to await orders to move south by foot to engage Samsonov’s right wing. - A fourth corps was to remain at Vistula to meet Samsonov’s army as it moved north.
General Hermann von Francois was given a direct order by Hindenburg’s Chief of Staff Erich Ludendorff to initiate his attack on Samsonov’s left wing. He refused this order, choosing instead to wait until his artillery was ready. Ludendorff and Colonel Hoffman (Prittwitz’s deputy chief of operations) then travelled to see Francois and repeated the order. Francois reluctantly agreed to begin the attack, although complaining of a lack of shells. Colonel Maximilian Hoffman General Hermann von Francois
Whilst returning from the meeting with Francois, Hoffman was given two intelligence intercepts that had been transmitted between Rennenkampf and Samsonov out in the clear, not ciphered. The first message revealed the distance between the two Russian armies and further detailed the Russian First Army’s marching plans. The second message provided detailed plans for Samsonov’s intended pursuit of the German forces. These intercepted messages were significant, allowing the German forces to be one step ahead of Samsonov’s and Rennenkampf’s armies and thus eliminate them.
A map showing the situation on the evening of August 26 and each side’s movements since August 23.
Ignoring warnings of a massed German advance moving south, overall commander Yakov Zhilinksi directed – via an unciphered communication - Rennenkampf’s First Army to the west of Konigsberg on 26 August, increasing the distance between Rennenkampf and the struggling Samsonov. Hoffman and Ludendorff intercepted this unciphered communication and seen that Samsonov would have no support from Rennenkampf, so they took advantage of the opportunity. Given the grudges held by Rennenkampf against Samsonov – they had phyisically fought before – he did not feel inclined to come to Samsonov’s assistance.
This retreat was too late, as many of Samsonov’s forces threw down their weapons and ran right into the encircling German forces. Counterattacks from the Russian border were weak and insufficient. Of Samsonov’s original 150,00 troops, 95,000 were captured, 30,000 were killed or wounded and only 10,000 escaped. The German forces suffered less than 20,000 casualties. Samsonov went into the surrounding forests with his aides and shot himself to avoid having to report the disaster to the Tsar, Nicholas II. On August 28, Samsonov finally became aware of his fate. Critically short on supplies and with a ruined communication system, his forces dispersed and he ordered a general withdrawal that evening. Some Russian soldiers threw down their weapons and surrendered
A map showing the situation on August 29 and each side’s operations since August 27. This map is evidence of the fact that German forces were actually able to surround and eliminate Samsonov’s army.
The lustre of the German victory had Ludendorff and Hoffman feted as heroes in Germany. The scale of the Russian defeat (the Russians lost a total of 250,000 men) in Tannenburg shocked Russia’s allies, making them wonder if it signalled the defeat of the Russian army. Such was not the case, as shown by lesser scale German victories and the fact that Russia’s sheer weight of its army guaranteed its survival. A picture of what was the Tannenberg Monument celebrating the German success in Tannenberg. All that is left of it today is whatever was buried.
Tannenburg was a significant battle as it was one of the greatest German victories and served as a great propaganda piece to encourage the German people and do the opposite for the Allies. With poor communication, personal vendettas, disorganization and difficult terrain, the cause for Russia’s failure in Tannenburg is pretty clear. The effect of this failure, as mentioned above, was the encouragement of the German people and discouragement of the Allies.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/AV_Samsonov.jpg http://www.firstworldwar.com/photos/graphics/gw_rennenkampf_01.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-2005-0828- 525,_Erich_Ludendorff.jpg http://www.reedline.com/Workout/images/Von_Prittwitz.jpg http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/tannenberg.htm http://www.lsg.musin.de/geschichte/geschichte/lkg/hindenburg.jpg Information Images - 1914 – 1917: The Eastern Front [Book 6] - FirstWorldWar.com “Battles – The Battle of Tannenberg” http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/tannenberg.htm http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/tannenberg.htm - Spartacus Educational “Battle of Tannenberg” http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWtannenberg.htm http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWtannenberg.htm - History Learning Site “The Battle of Tannenberg” http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/battle_of_tannenberg.htm http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/battle_of_tannenberg.htm - BBC “Battle of Tannenberg: 26-30 August 1914” http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/battle_tannenberg.shtml http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/battle_tannenberg.shtml