What Was the Battle of Tannenberg?

The German army captured 92,000 Russian soldiers as war prisoners during the Battle of Tannenberg.
The German army captured 92,000 Russian soldiers as war prisoners during the Battle of Tannenberg.

The Battle of Tannenberg is famous for being one of the first main events of World War I. Under the command of General P.K. Rennenkampf and General A.V. Samsonov, two Russian armies attacked Germany’s eastern border from Tannenberg, present-day northeastern Poland. The Germans were busy celebrating their successful invasion of Luxemburg and Belgium and were planning to swiftly invade France. The Russians attacked Germany with a smart strategy, following which the first Russian army attacked Germany from the northeast, while the second Russian army invaded from the southwest to trap and destroy the German forces.

Counter Attack

To their surprise, Germany encountered the Russian army with great fury using fast troops movements through railways. With time, Germany successfully counter-attacked both Russian armies and turned it into a nightmare for Russia. Russia’s poor war strategy resulted as one of the worst defeats to Russia, where Germans damaged both Russian armies to the point where the second Russian army was completely destroyed and its General committed suicide. Russia faced heavy causalities and material losses including a sizeable number of guns and ammunition.

It was a smart move by Russia to attack Germany while it was mainly busy dealing with Luxemburg, Belgium, and France on its western front. Swiftly attacking Germany from two fronts could have resulted in a disaster for the German army, but because of numerous poor tactical and strategic flaws, it resulted in a great victory for German forces.

Errors in Strategy

The biggest mistake Russians made in this battle was appointing General Rennenkampf and General Samsonv, knowing that they both hated each other. There were no proper means of communication and cooperation between the two Russian armies as they were attacking from different fronts. Russian agencies failed badly in decoding and intercepting German Wireless communication. Another major mistake the Russians made was sending just two armies out of six available armies to attack Germany. In spite of attacking Germans utilizing the most of those six armies, Russia reserved four of its armies to handle much less threatening forces of Austria and Hungry.

On the other hand, the German army appointed two new commanders for the Eighth Army to face Russians on Eastern Front, General P.V. Hidenburg, and General Erich Ludendorff. It was a risky move as both of them were unfamiliar with the majority of the staff. On the contrary, both of the commanders acted quickly to pass orders and keep the army intact and well-prepared for the upcoming war. The Battle of Tannenberg brought great honor and appreciation for them as they displayed a great piece of war strategy, which successfully destroyed Russia’s second army and forced the first Russian army to retreat.

Losses and Casualties

It is estimated that the Russian second army suffered around 170,000 causalities in this battle out of which around 80,000 were killed. Moreover, the Germans captured 92,000 Russian soldiers as war prisoners. Russia also faced huge arms and ammunition loss including around 400 big guns in the Battle of Tannenberg.


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