STAVKA (the Rus­si­an High Com­mand) had pre­pared two plans for the even­tu­al­ity of war against the Cent­ral Powers, Plan G for Ger­many and A for Aus­tria-Hun­gary. Although the mobil­iz­a­tion of the troops sta­tioned in Rus­sia was some­what delayed by G and A’s col­lid­ing rail­way sched­ules, the Rus­si­an army even­tu­ally appeared in its deploy­ment areas faster than anti­cip­ated by the enemy.

STAVKA had estab­lished two Army Group com­mands for her west­ern forces, north respect­ively south of the BugVis­tula line. Army Group “North­w­est” was in charge of First and Second Armies, ear­marked to deploy against Ger­many while Army Group “South­w­est” com­manded Third, Fifth and Eight Armies, shar­ing the task of invad­ing Galicia, the Aus­tri­an part of former Poland.

Fourth Army was the Rus­si­an ver­sion of a “swing option”: much like Jof­fre had ori­gin­ally inten­ded for Lan­rez­ac’s Fifth Army in France, Fourth Army could be sent into action either at the Aus­tri­an front south of Lub­lin, or back up, “en ech­el­on”, First and Second Armies on their way into Ger­many.

The Rus­si­an post-1905 mod­ern­iz­a­tion pro­gram had suffered much due to arth­rit­ic Rus­si­an bur­eau­cracy; improve­ments were delayed, nev­er imple­men­ted or simply ignored; in some respects the Rus­si­an army could not meet inter­na­tion­al stand­ards.

[First and Second Armies deployed] … nine corps to Prit­twitz’ [the Ger­man C-in-C] four, and sev­en cav­alry divi­sions, includ­ing two of the Imper­i­al Guard, to his one. Rennen­kampf, com­mand­ing First Army, and Sam­sonov, com­mand­ing Second, were moreover both vet­er­ans of the Russo-Japan­ese War, in which each had com­manded a divi­sion, while Prit­twitz had no exper­i­ence of war at all. [Not true, see link above]

Their form­a­tions were very big, [Rus­si­an] divi­sions hav­ing six­teen instead of twelve bat­talions, with large masses of – admit­tedly often untrained – men to make up losses. Though they were weak­er in artil­lery, par­tic­u­larly heavy artil­lery, than their Ger­man equi­val­ents, it is untrue that they were much less well provided with shells; all armies had grossly under­es­tim­ated the expendit­ure that mod­ern battle would demand and, at an allow­ance of 700 shells per gun, the Rus­si­ans were not much worse off than the French, fight­ing at the Marne. Moreover, the Rus­si­an muni­tions industry would respond to the require­ments of war with remark­able suc­cess.

Nev­er­the­less, Russia’s forces were beset by ser­i­ous defects. The pro­por­tion of cav­alry, so much great­er than that in any oth­er army, laid a bur­den of need for fod­der on the trans­port ser­vice, itself inferi­or to the Ger­man, which the value giv­en by moun­ted troops could not jus­ti­fy; forty trains were needed to sup­ply both the four thou­sand men of a cav­alry divi­sion and the six­teen thou­sand of an infantry divi­sion.

There were human defects as well. Rus­si­an regi­ment­al officers were unmonied by defin­i­tion and often poorly edu­cated; any aspir­ing young officer whose par­ents could sup­port the cost went to the staff academy and was lost to regi­ment­al duty, without neces­sar­ily becom­ing thereby effi­cient at staff work. As Tol­stoy so mem­or­ably depicts in his account of Borodino, the Rus­si­an officer corps united two classes which scarcely knew each oth­er, a broad mass of com­pany and bat­talion com­mand­ers that took orders from a nar­row upper crust of aris­to­crat­ic place­men. The qual­it­ies of the peas­ant sol­dier – brave, loy­al and obed­i­ent – had tra­di­tion­ally com­pensated for the mis­takes and omis­sions of his super­i­ors but, face to face with the armies of coun­tries from which illit­er­acy had dis­ap­peared, as in Rus­sia it was far from doing, the Rus­si­an infan­try­man was at an increas­ing dis­ad­vant­age. He was eas­ily dis­heartened by set­back, par­tic­u­larly in the face of super­i­or artil­lery, and would sur­render eas­ily and without shame, en masse, if he felt aban­doned or betrayed. The trin­ity of Tsar, Church, and Coun­try still had power to evoke unthink­ing cour­age; but defeat, and drink, could rap­idly rot devo­tion to the regiment’s col­ours and icons. (1)

To this lit­any a failed artil­lery policy and com­mu­nic­a­tion prob­lems might be added. Rus­si­an artil­lery officers ten­ded to view the main task of heavy guns in defend­ing the chain of fort­resses which secured the Rus­si­an bor­der peri­met­er and were very much averse of schlep­ping big guns over a bat­tle­field. Thus, Rus­si­an armies were chiefly equipped with small and medi­um cal­ibre guns, of less­er fire­power and dimin­ished range. As in the nav­al gun race, light­er guns became the vic­tims of the enemy’s heav­ier ones; for lack of range unable to return the fire. Radio com­mu­nic­a­tions suffered from a lack of trained cipher clerks, which forced the radio­men to trans­mit many mes­sage en clair, espe­cially in the heat of battle.

Ini­tial Deploy­ment

In the event of August 1914, Fourth Army marched south, to the Aus­tri­an bor­der, and Army Group North­w­est dis­patched First and Second Armies to East Prus­sia. The plan envi­sioned a two-pronged manœuvre of envel­op­ing 8th Army. STAVKA dir­ec­ted Rennen­kampf to attack north of the lakes and the Angerapp River east of Königs­berg and to pro­ceed along the Balt­ic Sea Coast in west­erly dir­ec­tion. Sam­sonov was ordered to invade from the south-east – from the dir­ec­tion of Warsaw - and to march in north-west­erly dir­ec­tion until he would meet Rennen­kampf, com­ing from the oth­er dir­ec­tion, some­where on the Vis­tula, per­haps in the vicin­ity of Mari­en­wer­der or Mari­en­burg. The defend­ers would be sur­roun­ded and once the Vis­tula was gained, the way into West Prus­sia and Silesia lay open.

The plan had two weak­nesses: it was obvi­ous, as a tarantula on the cheese­cake, and it depended upon close coöper­a­tion and com­mu­nic­a­tion of the two armies, con­duct neither Rennen­kampf nor Sam­sonov were renowned for. The Ger­man Gen­er­al Staff had actu­ally based pre-war games upon the premise of such a two-pronged attack and had estab­lished that the cor­rect counter-strategy was to delay one prong while attack­ing the oth­er. Such a strategy neces­sit­ated rap­id troop move­ments between the two sides of the Lake­land, the north-east­ern part around Ins­ter­burg and Gumbinnen, and the south-west­ern side from Allen­stein in the centre of the province to Thorn on the Vis­tula. A dir­ect rail­way was built tra­vers­ing the Lake­land for this exact pur­pose, run­ning along a line Gumbinnen – Ins­ter­burg – Allen­stein – Osterode – Deutsch-Eylau – Thorn.

The map below shows the early stage of the East Prus­si­an cam­paign. The Rus­si­ans appeared three weeks earli­er than anti­cip­ated, Rennenkampf’s van­guard cross­ing the bor­der and recon­noitring in west­erly dir­ec­tion on August 15. Two days later, his III, IV and XX Corps marched on Gumbinnen, eighty miles east of Königs­berg. They were screened by his 1st Cav­alry Divi­sion on their south­ern flank and the Guards Cav­alry Corps on the north­ern one. Their count­ing on stra­tegic sur­prise, how­ever, was nul­li­fied as early as August 9 on account of the Ger­man 2nd Air­craft Observ­er Bat­talion and the ser­vices of two diri­gibles sta­tioned at Königs­berg and Posen. They informed Prit­twitz of the Rus­si­an pres­ence, but what worked for the Ger­mans failed, inex­plic­ably, for the Rus­si­ans: their cav­alry could not find any trace of the enemy, and Rennenkampf’s aer­i­al recon­nais­sance unit, con­sist­ing of a fleet of 244 air­craft, mys­ter­i­ously failed to spot a single Ger­man unit.

Early Deploy­ment and Rus­si­an Plan

The most import­ant inform­a­tion for Prit­twitz was that Second Army seemed to be late. The Ger­man staff began to believe that they might have a shot at Rennen­kampf first and Sam­sonov later.

Geo­graphy was to dis­rupt the smooth onset of the Rus­si­an com­bined offens­ive in space. Less excus­ably, timid­ity and incom­pet­ence were to dis­joint it in time. In short, the Rus­si­ans repeated the mis­take, so often made before by armies appar­ently enjoy­ing an incon­test­able superi­or­ity in num­bers, the mis­take made by the Spartans at Leuctra, by Dari­us at Gaugamela, by Hook­er at Chan­cel­lors­ville, of expos­ing them­selves to defeat in detail: that is, of allow­ing a weak­er enemy to con­cen­trate at first against one part of the army, then against the oth­er, and so beat both.

The way in which geo­graphy worked to favour the Ger­mans’ detailed achieve­ment is the more eas­ily explained. Though east­ern East Prus­sia does indeed offer a rel­at­ively level path of advance to an invader from Rus­sia, the chain of lakes that feeds the River Angerapp also poses a sig­ni­fic­ant bar­ri­er. There are ways through, par­tic­u­larly at Lötzen, but that place was for­ti­fied in 1914.

As a res­ult, a water bar­ri­er nearly fifty miles long from north to south con­fron­ted the inner wings of First and Second Army, so tend­ing to drive them apart. Stra­tegic­ally, the easi­er option was to pass north and south of the Angerapp pos­i­tion rather than to force it front­ally, and that was what the com­mand­er of the North-West­ern Front, Gen­er­al Yakov Zhil­in­sky, decided to dir­ect Rennen­kampf and Sam­sonov to do.

He was aware of the oppor­tun­ity such a sep­ar­a­tion offered to the Ger­mans and accord­ingly took care to provide for the pro­tec­tion of his two armies’ flanks. How­ever, the meas­ures taken enlargened the danger, since he allowed Rennen­kampf to strengthen his flank on the Balt­ic coast, which was not at risk, and Sam­sonov to detach troops to pro­tect his con­nec­tion with Warsaw, equally not threatened, while arran­ging for one corps of Second Army [II Corps] to stand immob­ile in the gap sep­ar­at­ing it from First. The res­ult of these dis­pos­i­tions was a diver­sion of effort which left both armies con­sid­er­ably weakened to under­take the main task. Hav­ing com­menced the deploy­ment with a superi­or­ity of nine­teen divi­sions against nine, Rennen­kampf and Sam­sonov actu­ally marched to the attack with only six­teen between them.

Worse, crit­ic­ally worse, the two armies arrived at their start lines five days apart in time. First Army crossed the East Prus­si­an fron­ti­er on 15 August, a very cred­it­able achieve­ment giv­en that the French and Ger­mans were then still com­plet­ing their con­cen­tra­tion in the west, but Second not until 20 August. As the two were sep­ar­ated in space by fifty miles of Lake­land, three days in march­ing time, neither would be able to come rap­idly to the other’s assist­ance if it ran into trouble which, unbe­knownst either to Rennen­kampf or Sam­sonov, was the way they were head­ing. (2)

The avi­at­ors’ intel­li­gence ini­tially paid off for Prit­twitz. When Rennen­kampf began offens­ive oper­a­tions on August 17, Prit­twitz knew that Sam­sonov was late and thus could moment­ar­ily afford to keep most of 8th Army in the north-east. A Rus­si­an probe which showed up at the small town of Stal­lupoen­en, ten miles east of Gumbinnen, was quickly checked, but when Prit­twitz ordered a counter-attack of Gen­er­al Her­rmann von François’ I Corps on August 20, the Rus­si­ans had already pre­pared an entrenched pos­i­tion near Gumbinnen. I Corps was, as was the whole 8th Army, com­posed of East Prus­si­an men defend­ing their home­land, and their aggress­ive­ness in assault­ing a for­ti­fied Rus­si­an pos­i­tion cost them dearly.

By mid-after­noon, I Corps had come to a halt. Its neigh­bour­ing corps, XVII, com­manded by the fam­ous Life Guard Hus­sar, von Mack­ensen, who was encour­aged by early reports of its suc­cess, was mean­while attack­ing north-east­wards into the Rus­si­ans’ flank.

It did so without recon­nais­sance which would have revealed that, on its front as on that of von François, the Rus­si­ans were entrenched. From their pos­i­tions they poured a dev­ast­at­ing fire into the advan­cing Ger­man infantry who, when also bom­barded in error by their own artil­lery, broke and ran to the rear. By late after­noon the situ­ation on the front of XVII Corps was even worse than that on the front of I Corps and the Battle of Gumbinnen was threat­en­ing to turn from a tac­tic­al reverse to a stra­tegic cata­strophe.

To the right of XVII Corps, I Reserve, under von Bülow, counter-attacked to pro­tect Mackensen’s flank against a Rus­si­an advance. At Eight Army headquar­ters, how­ever, even the news of that suc­cess could not stay the onset of pan­ic. There Prit­twitz was yield­ing to the belief that East Prus­sia must be aban­doned and the whole of his army retreat bey­ond the Vis­tula. (3)

The big red arrow on the map above shows the inten­ded retire­ment to the west, bey­ond the Vis­tula, that Prit­twitz thought unavoid­able. The bold blue arrows in squares DE 3 – 4 sym­bol­ize Rennenkampf’s III, IV and XX Corps, mov­ing west­ward, into the dir­ec­tion of the for­ti­fied zone of Königs­berg. At its south­ern flank, First Army is pro­tec­ted by 1st Cav­alry Divi­sion and in the north by the Guard Cav­alry Corps. Squares BCD 1 – 2 show Second Army, com­posed of I, XXIII, XV, XIII and VI Corps, plus 15th, 6th and 4th Cav­alry Divi­sions. Samsonov’s II Corps is loc­ated in the geo­graph­ic­al middle of the Lake­land, square DE 2, in the act of being trans­ferred to Rennen­kampf on August 21. It is on the way north-west, to join First Army at Anger­burg.

At OHL [Supreme Com­mand] Moltke balked at the very thought of with­draw­ing 8th Army behind the Vis­tula. But for the mar­gins of the oper­a­tion­al plan being too nar­row, Moltke had no troops avail­able for an imme­di­ate rein­force­ment. To make the situ­ation worse, the men of 8th Army had their roots and fam­il­ies in East Prus­sia; an order to retreat might cause a revolt. Moltke decided that a new broom was needed on the East­ern front. Two brooms, actu­ally.

Moltke decided first that a dir­ect­or of oper­a­tions of the first qual­ity must be sent instantly to the east to take charge. He chose Ludendorff, who had twice so bril­liantly resolved crises in Bel­gi­um. He next determ­ined to dis­pose of Prit­twitz alto­geth­er, judging his declared inten­tion to retire behind the Vis­tula, even if sub­sequently recon­sidered, to be evid­ence of broken will.

In his place he pro­moted Paul von Beneckendorff and Hinden­burg, a retired officer noted for his stead­i­ness of char­ac­ter if not bril­liance of mind. As a lieu­ten­ant in the 3rd Foot Guards, Hinden­burg had been wounded at König­grätz in 1866 and fought in the Franco-Prus­si­an War. He claimed kins­men among the Teuton­ic Knights who had won East Prus­sia from the hea­then in the north­ern cru­sades, had served on the Great Gen­er­al Staff and even­tu­ally com­manded a corps.

He had left the army in 1911, aged sixty-four, but applied for reappoint­ment at the war’s out­break. When the call from Moltke came, he had been out of ser­vice so long that he was obliged to report for duty in the old blue uni­form that had pre­ceded the issue of field-grey. He and Ludendorff, unalike as they were, the one a back­woods worthy, the oth­er a bour­geois tech­no­crat, were to unite from the start in what Hinden­burg him­self called “a happy mar­riage.” Their qual­it­ies, nat­ur­al author­ity in Hinden­burg, ruth­less intel­lect in Ludendorff, com­ple­men­ted each other’s per­fectly and were to make them one of the most effect­ive mil­it­ary part­ner­ships in his­tory. (4)

On August 23, Hinden­burg and Ludendorff arrived at Ras­ten­burg whith­er the HQ of 8th Army had been moved, and summoned the staff for a con­fer­ence the very next day. The dis­cus­sion began with an ana­lys­is of the situ­ation by Gen­er­al Scholtz, com­mand­er of XX Corps which was, at the moment, the sole Ger­man unit oppos­ing the slowly advan­cing Sam­sonov in the south. Stra­tegic­ally, the new­comers in com­mand were much aided by a res­ol­u­tion Prit­twitz had enacted
just before he was relieved of duty. Dur­ing his years at the Staff Academy, Prit­twitz had par­ti­cip­ated in the afore­men­tioned war games and hence was famil­i­ar with the East Prus­si­an counter-strategy, which called to defeat the Rus­si­ans “in detail”. Prit­twitz had decided that, after the tie at Gumbinnen, as he saw it, Rennen­kampf could be coun­ted as checked, and that First Army would typ­ic­ally need a few days to regroup and redeploy. If he acted fast, he might beat Sam­sonov in the south before Rennen­kampf, in the east, resumed the offens­ive. Ably assisted by his Chief of Staff, Col­on­el Max Hoff­mann, he ordered von François’s I Corps from Königs­berg whith­er it had retired, and von Mackensen’s XVII Corps, at the moment south-west of Gumbinnen, to entrain south­ward to meet Sam­sonov.

These move­ments are indic­ated on the map below by the thin dashed lines and bold red arrows, show­ing the early stages of the Ger­man move­ments. I Corps retired to Königs­berg in order to board the coastal rail­way line while XVII and I Reserve tra­versed first west­ward, then south-west, into the dir­ec­tion of Allen­stein. Scholtz’s II Corps was already in the vicin­ity, around the small towns of Hohen­stein and Tannen­berg.

Thus, Hinden­burg and Ludendorff did not have to design a new plan, whose devel­op­ment might have cost pre­cious time but were able to adopt Prittwitz’s strategy, which they pur­sued at best speed. To their aid came a few monu­ment­al errors in the Rus­si­an dis­pos­i­tions, chiefly by Rennen­kampf. When First Army’s for­ward recon­nais­sance units, after the four days of the Battle of Gumbinnen, repor­ted that the pres­ence of Ger­man troops facing them was thin­ning out, Rennen­kampf assumed that 8th Army had retreated to the for­ti­fied zone of Königs­berg. Such a move might be reas­on­able, at some level, since it would com­pel First Army to a lengthy siege, which might give the Ger­mans time enough to send rein­force­ments from the West­ern Front. Thus, Rennen­kampf stopped the pur­suit of I and XVII Corps, con­sol­id­ated his ter­rit­ori­al gains, and ini­ti­ated pre­par­a­tions for the upcom­ing siege.

He repor­ted his decision to STAVKA and asked for assist­ance with the invest­ment of Königs­berg, for which his troops, lack­ing heavy artil­lery, were ill pre­pared. But since the delay meant that he was, for the time being, incap­able of keep­ing touch with the rest of the Ger­man army, he pro­posed to Zhil­in­sky to send Sam­sonov in the dir­ec­tion of the Vis­tula, i.e. north-west. Once First Army had reduced Königs­berg, the planned envel­op­ment of 8th Army could be react­iv­ated. Army Group North­w­est fol­lowed Rennenkampf’s sug­ges­tion and Sam­sonov was ordered to pro­ceed in north-west­ern dir­ec­tion, to the Vis­tula, but away from First Army.

Rennenkampf’s pro­pos­i­tion was risky in itself – what if the siege failed? But what tran­spired in the event was worse. On the morn­ing of August 25, First Army’s radio traffic with STAVKA and Army Group North­w­est, which included the siege plan, was inter­cep­ted and deciphered by Ludendorff’s radio mon­it­ors. Moreover, the mes­sages yiel­ded the price­less inform­a­tion that First Army would halt and thus be unable to sup­port Second Army in case it headed into trouble.

Rennenkampf’s decision to halt allowed Hinden­burg and Ludendorff to con­cen­trate against Second Army. They could afford to leave Königs­berg essen­tially unpro­tec­ted except for its entrenched gar­ris­on and a weak screen of 1st Cav­alry Divi­sion [see map above, the red dots, C 3 – 4, west of Rennen­kampf]. Now the rail­ways came into play. The exist­ence of two lines allowed 8th Army to route parts of XVII and I Reserve Corps south­ward, via the Ins­ter­burg-Allen­stein line tra­vers­ing East Prus­sia, and to con­vey I Corps by the coastal rail­way to Elbing, and then route them via Mari­en­burg and Deutsch-Eylau to Seeben, into a pos­i­tion oppos­ite the left flank of Samsonov’s I Corps which stood between Soldau and Usdau. Ludendorff even ordered the small Vis­tula gar­ris­on from Thorn to meet François’s I Corps near Lauten­burg [Map above, square B 1]. By August 26, XVII Corps stood at Bis­chof­stein [Map above, C 3], and I Reserve between Allen­stein and See­burg [Map above, C 2 – 3], oppos­ing Samsonov’s north­ern­most unit, VI Corps at Bar­tels­dorf. The main body of Second Army still stood south of Allen­stein [XIII, XV and XXIII Corps, Map above, BC 1 – 2].

The tac­tic­al situ­ation on the map above depicts the advant­age the Ger­mans earned by the flex­ib­il­ity of their troop move­ments, which, in addi­tion, almost com­pletely evaded Rus­si­an detec­tion. There were hardly any Ger­man troops left in the north-east, vis-a-vis Rennen­kampf – except for the very light screen of 1st Cav­alry – and the Rus­si­an II Corps, now detached to First Army’s south­ern flank, lingers in a com­pletely uncon­tested area. Except for her cav­alry, First Army remained almost sta­tion­ary; by August 26 it had moved barely ten miles west – cau­tiously – through empty land. Second Army was still mov­ing north-west but was spread­ing all over the Lake­land, from Zielun, 15th Cav­alry in the south-west, to Sens­burg, 4th Cav­alry, in the north-east. This was when Hinden­burg ...

… was passed the tran­script of a com­plete Rus­si­an First Army order for an advance to the siege of Königs­berg which revealed that it would halt some dis­tance from the city on 26 August, well short of any pos­i­tion from which it could come to Second Army’s assist­ance in the battle he planned to unleash.

Fur­nished with this assur­ance, he met von François, whose corps was just begin­ning to arrive at Samsonov’s flank, in con­fid­ent mood. Dis­tance was work­ing for him, the dis­tance sep­ar­at­ing Sam­sonov and Rennenkampf’s armies, and so now too was time, the self-imposed delay in Rennenkampf’s advance which, had it been pressed, would have put the First Army well behind the Lake­land zone in pos­i­tions from which it could have marched south to Samsonov’s assist­ance. (5)

Hinden­burg and Ludendorff’s plan were suc­cess­ive attacks into Second Army’s right flank, that is, to attack from Allen­stein in south-west­ern dir­ec­tion. François’s I Corps was to begin the offens­ive on August 25.

Then François, whose stub­born aggress­ive­ness could take a wil­fully unco­oper­at­ive form, inter­rup­ted the smooth unrolling of a plan that should have brought his I Corps, XVII and XX suc­cess­ively into action against Samsonov’s flanks. Claim­ing that he was await­ing the arrival of his artil­lery by train, he was slow off the mark to attack on 25 August, and slow again the next day.

Ludendorff arrived to ener­gize the offens­ive, with char­ac­ter­ist­ic effect, but François’s hes­it­a­tion had mean­while had a desir­able if unin­ten­ded res­ult. Unop­posed in force to his front, Sam­sonov had thrust his centre for­ward, towards the Vis­tula against which he hoped to pin the Ger­mans, thus expos­ing length­en­ing flanks both to François, now to his south, and to Mack­ensen and Scholtz, who were march­ing XVII and XX Corps down from the north. On 27 August François redis­covered his bite, and pushed his men on. Sam­sonov, dis­reg­ard­ing the danger to his rear, pressed on as well. On 28 August his lead­ing troops sav­aged a mis­cel­laneous col­lec­tion of Ger­man troops they found in their path and broke through almost to open coun­try, with the Vis­tula bey­ond.

Ludendorff, seized by a fit of his nerves his stol­id appear­ance belied, ordered François to detach a divi­sion to the broken units’ assist­ance. François, cre­at­ively unco­oper­at­ive on this occa­sion, did not obey but drove every bat­talion he had east­ward at best speed. With the weight of Samsonov’s army mov­ing west­ward by dif­fer­ent routes, there was little to oppose them. On the morn­ing of 29 August, his lead­ing infantry reached Wil­len­berg, just inside East Prus­sia from Rus­si­an ter­rit­ory, and met Ger­man troops com­ing the oth­er way [see map below]. They belonged to Mackensen’s XVII Corps, vet­er­ans of the fight­ing south of the Mas­uri­an Lakes, who had been attack­ing south­ward since the pre­vi­ous day. Con­tact between the claws of the two pin­cers – the units were the 151st Erm­land Infantry of I Corps and the 5th Blucher Hus­sars of XVII – announced that Sam­sonov was sur­roun­ded. (6)

The map above por­trays the situ­ation on August 30. I Corps had begun its move at Seeben and marched east via Nieden­burg, to Wil­len­burg. Since Sam­sonov was march­ing in the oppos­ite dir­ec­tion, north-west, none of his units encountered I Corps, and Second Army remained obli­vi­ous of the Ger­mans’ pres­ence in their rear. After I and XVII Corps had met at Wil­len­burg, Scholtz’s XX Corps closed the trap on the west­ern side. Except for VI Corps which escaped by retir­ing in south-east­ern dir­ec­tion over the Rus­si­an bor­der, the whole of Second Army was caught in a huge pock­et east of the towns of Hohen­stein and Tannen­berg.

Situ­ation August 30, 1914
Vic­toryy aac­counced

The bag amoun­ted to approx­im­ately 50,000 Rus­si­an cas­u­al­ties and 92,000 pris­on­ers, com­pared with losses of about 30,000 killed, wounded or missed on the Ger­man side. These num­bers made the Battle of Tannen­berg, as it was named accord­ing to Hindenburg’s wishes, a most par­tic­u­lar event com­pared to the battles on the West­ern front which fre­quently caused whole­sale destruc­tion but so far had rarely yiel­ded sig­ni­fic­ant num­bers of pris­on­ers. For the moment, the danger to East Prus­sia and Silesia was aver­ted, and Hinden­burg and Ludendorff hailed as the saviours of the nation.

Russ­is­che Gefan­gene und Beute
The Gen­er­als of 8th Army

Rennen­kampf, how­ever, proved a tough­er cus­tom­er than Sam­sonov. When the Ger­mans, now rein­forced by the arrival of IX and the Guard Reserve Corps from France, attemp­ted to repeat the encirc­ling manœuvre against First Army, Rennen­kampf man­aged to evade the Ger­man pin­cers adroitly in what was called the First Battle of the Mas­uri­an Lakes. On 13 Septem­ber he was safely back in Rus­si­an ter­rit­ory, regrouped, and, rein­forced by a new Rus­si­an army, the Tenth, con­duc­ted a coun­ter­of­fens­ive which suc­ceeded in re-estab­lish­ing a Rus­si­an line near the Angerapp River, which was held until Feb­ru­ary 1915.


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] Kee­gan, John, The First World War, Vin­tage Books 2000, ISBN 0−375−40052−4361, pp. 140 – 41, 142 – 44, 145, 145 – 46, 148, 148 – 49

(© John Vin­cent Pal­at­ine 2015/19)

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