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Tannenberg, Battle of

TANNENBERG, BATTLE OF

The Battle of Tannenberg, in August 1914, was the consequence of Russia's commitment to an immediate offensive during World War I. On the grand strategic level, the tsarist empire's major problem involved making sure its major continental ally, France, was not forced out of the war before Russia could bring its full strength to bear. That in turn justified taking strategic risks. The principal question was whether the attack should concentrate on Germany or Austria, and the Russian army seemed to have ample strength to pursue both options.

Russia's war plan against Germany involved sending two armies against the exposed province of East Prussia, defended by what seemed little more than a token force. The First Army, under General Pavel Rennenkampf, advanced west across the Niemen River; the Second Army, under General Alexander Samsonov, moved northwest from Russian Poland. Both initially achieved local successes against indecisive opposition. The Russian commanders, however, failed to coordinate their movements and to press their advantage. Poor logistics and intelligence further slowed the advance, particularly in the Second Army's sector. That gave a new German command team of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff time to develop plans already outlined by staff officers on the ground to concentrate their entire force against the Second Army.

After five days of hard fighting, between August 26 and August 30, there were 50,000 Russian casualties, and 90,000 prisoners. Samsonov committed suicide and the Germans turned on Rennenkampf, driving the First Army back over the frontier between September 7 and 14, in the Battle of the Masurian Lakes.

The Russians came closer to victory in East Prussia than is generally realized. Their failure was primarily a consequence of attempting a campaign of maneuver arguably beyond the capacity of any army under the tactical conditions of 1914. But while the losses in men and material were replaced, the blow Tannenberg inflicted on Russian national morale was never restored throughout the war.

See also: world war i

bibliography

Golovine, N. N. (1934). The Russian Campaign of 1914, tr. A. G. S. Muntz. Ft. Leavenworth, KS: The Command and General Staff School Press.

Showalter, Dennis. (1991). Tannenberg: Clash of Empires. Hamden, CT: Archon.

Dennis Showalter

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