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Battle of Tannenberg (overlay map)

The Battle of Tannenberg of 1914 was a decisive conflict between Russia and Germany in the first days of World War I, fought by the Russian 1st and 2nd Armies and the German Eighth Army between August 17 and September 2, 1914.

The Russian army used radio to transmit their attack plan, but they did not encrypt the messages, believing that the Germans would not have access to Russian translators. However, the Germans easily intercepted the transmissions, and were expecting the Russians' every move at Tannenberg.

The Russian armies crossed into East Prussia with K÷nigsberg as their goal. At first, the battle appeared to go well for the Russians, with a German counterattack repulsed on August 20. The German theatre commander, General Maximilian von Prittwitz, was sacked when he attempted to completely abandon East Prussia to the Russians.

While replacements taken from the western front were in transit, the 8th Army's Chief of Operations, Max Hoffmann, redeployed the German forces. Hoffmann's plan left a screening force to delay the Russian 1st Army (under General Paul von Rennenkampf) which was approaching from the east, and set a trap for the Russian 2nd Army (under General Alexander Samsonov) which was moving up from the south.

The German field commander, General Hermann von Francois, allowed the 2nd Army to advance, and then cut them off from their already tenuous supply route. This forced massive surrenders, and saw the almost complete destruction of the 2nd Army near Frogenau. General Erich Ludendorff, the chief of staff for the new theatre commander Field-Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, dated the official dispatch reporting the victory from the nearby village of Tannenberg (Stębark), and the battle is thus known to history by the latter name. Ludendorff chose Tannenberg as a way to exact revenge for the defeat of the Teutonic knights at at the Battle of Grunwald.

Rather than report the loss of his army to the Tsar, Samsonov committed suicide by shooting himself in the head on August 29, 1914.

The German victory compelled Rennenkampf to withdraw his army from East Prussia, and thus cleared German territory of invaders. The Russians remained on the defensive along the German front for the rest of the war.

Interestingly, an ancestor of Hindenburg had fallen at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410.