The Battle of Tannenberg was one of the first major battles of World War I. It took place from August 23 - 30 in 1914. It was a resounding victory for the German army and proved that they could defeat larger armies through superior tactics and training.
Why was it called the Battle of Tannenberg?
The battle actually took place closer to the city of Allenstein than to Tannenberg, but the victorious German command decided to call it the Battle of Tannenberg for propaganda reasons. During the Middle Ages the German Teutonic Knights had been defeated at Tannenberg. By naming this victory after the city, they thought that the people would see this as a return of Germany to power.
Who fought at the Battle of Tannenberg?
The Battle of Tannenberg was fought between the German Eighth Army and the Russian Second Army. There were around 166,000 German soldiers and 206,000 Russian soldiers.
Who were the leaders on each side?
The leaders of the Russian Army were Alexander Samsonov (commander of the Second Army) and Paul von Rennenkampf (commander of the First Army). Samsonov killed himself when he realized he had lost the battle. Rennenkampf was largely responsible for the Russian defeat because he did not coordinate his movements with Samsonov, leaving Samsonov to fight the Germans alone.
The leaders of the German Army were Paul von Hindenburg, Erich Ludendorff, and Max Hoffman. It was Colonel Max Hoffman who proposed the risky battle plans that helped the Germans to win the battle.
Leading up to the Battle
Before the battle, the Russian Army was invading eastern Germany with some success. The Second Army was attacking to the south-east while the First Army attacked to the north. The plan was to encircle and destroy the German Eighth Army. However, the First Army, under the command of General Rennenkampf, decided to pause for a few days. This left the Second Army exposed.
The Germans decided to take all their soldiers and attack the Russian Second Army. This left them very exposed to an attack from the north, but they decided to take the risk. They used trains to transport troops very quickly around the region. The Germans concentrated all their forces in one area and attacked the Russian Second Army on the left flank. The Germans soundly defeated the Russians and soon the Russian Second Army was in retreat.
The Germans pursued the Russian Second Army and completely destroyed it. Out of the 206,000 Russian soldiers, around 50,000 were killed or wounded. Another 100,000 were taken prisoner.
After defeating the Second Army, the Germans turned to the Russian First Army and were able to drive them from German lands. Although the Russian Army was not completely defeated, they never entered German lands again in World War I.
Interesting Facts about the Battle of Tannenberg
The Russians had to use unencrypted radio transmissions to communicate. These were easily intercepted by the Germans allowing the Germans to know exactly what the Russians were planning.
The Germans were well aware that the two Russian generals did not like each other.
Germany also sent soldiers from the western front to help fight the Russians. This likely contributed to their failure to take over France.
Although the plan to defeat the Russians was Colonel Hoffmann's, it was Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff who were considered heroes by the German press.
The land where the battle was fought is today part of Poland. The city of Allenstein is called Olsztyn.