The battle of Tannenberg was the first of two major German victories that defeated the Russian invasion of East Prussia at the start of the First World War, and which saw the near total destruction of the Russian Second Army as well as securing the fame of Ludendorff and Hindenburg, who would go on to be the dominate figures in Germany from 1916-18.
We start with a brief background history, going back to the unification of Germany and the changing relationship between the newly united country and Russia, which went from being a key ally to potential rival. We then look at the opposing commanders, where we are reminded that the Russian commanders were actually more experienced than their German opponents – Rennenkampf and Samsonov had both performed well at senior level during the war against Japan in 1904-5, while the German commanders hadn’t seen action since the Franco-Prussian War, more than forty years before the events of 1914.
The campaign section fills most of the book, and covers the entire campaign from the initial Russian invasion of East Prussia, through the battles of Stalluponen and Gumbinnen and on to Tannenberg itself and its aftermath. This section makes it clear that the Germans didn’t have it all their own way – the Russians were fearsome fighters when on the defensive, and had the numbers to cause great difficulties for the Germans. On the German side some of the biggest problems came from their own commanders, with several, most notably General Francois, more than willing to at least partly ignore their orders. However it was the Russian failings that led to the eventual German victory.
This is a good account of this part of the East Prussian campaign of 1914, getting us to the half-way point in the fighting, and demonstrating how the Germans got into a position to win this first victory.
Origins of the Campaign
Author: Michael McNally