Olsztyn, Poland (1914 AD)
The Battle of Tannenberg was one of the few truly great German victories of the First World War. More importantly for the Germans, it was one of the few battles of the war that did not also drain the victor of manpower through the loss of major casualties. This was due in large part to the fact that it took place at the very outset of the conflict, before the hellish trenchlines were established. Although Tannenberg was not the decisive engagement of the Eastern Front, the lopsided victory essentially gave the Germans the initiative against Russia for the rest of the war, and ultimately was a contributing factor to the Russian Revolution of 1917.
While World War I usually conjures up images of the endless carnage of the muddy trenches of the Western Front, it was in the east where the first major blows were struck. Following the Austrian declaration of war against Serbia, Russia came to Serbia’s aid and immediately began to mobilize massive armies in Eastern Europe. Germany in turn came in on the side of Austria and began to send a large force to its ally’s assistance.
In August, barely a few weeks after the start of the war, Russia invaded East Prussia intent on delivering a quick knock-out blow to the Germans. However, the Russian army, while far larger than the forece available to the Germans, was poorly equipped, poorly trained and poorly led. Moreover, the Russian commanding generals were at great odds with each other and did not effectively coordinate their forces.
As the Russians advanced on Konigsberg, the Germans fell back in a feint. While they were doing this, they learned of the Russian battle plans and troop movements thanks to intercepted telegraph messages. Because of this the Germans were able to completely outmaneuver the Russians, who effectively marched headlong into a trap.
When the two sides met at the end of the August, the two Russian invasion armies were two far apart to edffectively aid each other. In most areas, superior German military capabilities kept the Russians from advancing. On the southern end of the battle line, the Russian second army was forced into a pocket at Tannenberg, where they were quickly surrounded. Within a few days they were forced to surrender, losing nearly two hundred thousand of their best soldiers within the first month of the war. By far the greatest German victory of World War I, this hobbled the Russians on the Eastern Front for the duration of the conflict.
The Battle of Tannenberg was actually fought near the city of Olsztyn, but was named Tannenberg for propaganda purposes. Because it was fight between the Russians and Germans, the site is not well commemorated by modern Poland except for its historical significance. The battlefield can still be visited, though it is not well marked.
The Tannenberg battlefield is located on the outskirts of Olsztyn, approximately 120 miles north of Warsaw. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.poland.travel.en (official tourism website of Poland).
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