East Prussian Operation of 1914

East Prussian Operation of 1914

 

an offensive operation of the Russian armies of the Northwestern Front, under the command of General la. G. Zhilinskii, from August 4 (17) to September 2 (15) at the beginning of World War I. At the request of France, the offensive was undertaken before the Russian armies were fully mobilized and concentrated in order to thwart the offensive of Germany’s main forces against France. The immediate aim of the East Prussian Operation was the capture of East Prussia with the view to a subsequent invasion into the depths of Germany. The Russian supreme command set the task of routing the German Eighth Army in East Prussia (14½ infantry divisions and one cavalry division and nearly 1,000 guns; first commanded by General M. Prittwitz and from August 10 [23], by General P. Hindenburg) with the forces of the Russian First Army (6½ infantry and 5½ cavalry divisions and 492 guns; commanded by General P. K. Rennenkampf) and of the Second Army (12½ infantry and three cavalry divisions and 720 guns; commanded by General A. V. Samsonov), which were advancing in a turning movement around the Masurian Lakes from the north and the west. The offensive of the Russian First Army was launched on August 4 (17). Despite Rennenkampf s inadequate leadership, the Russian troops defeated the German troops on August 4 (17) and 7 (20) at Stalliiponen and Gumbinnen; however, the First Army was subsequently idle on August 8-9 (21-22). Its further advance proceeded slowly and was directed toward Königsberg rather than toward linking up with the Second Army. Taking advantage of the gap between the Russian armies and informed of their plan of action from intercepted Russian radio messages, the German command directed almost all the forces of the Eighth Army against the Russian Second Army, which had crossed the border on August 7 (20). The successful offensive of the Russian armies compelled the German command to transfer two corps and one cavalry division from the Western Front to East Prussia, which eased the situation of the French troops in the decisive days of the Battle of the Marne. In battles fought on August 13-17 (26-30) the Germans repulsed the flank corps and encircled and destroyed the central group of the Second Army (about five divisions) east of Neidenburg. The remaining forces of the Second Army retreated to the Narew River. Between August 27 (September 9) and September 2 (15) the German troops threw back the Russian First Army beyond the Neman River. The defeat of the Russian armies in East Prussia (a loss of 245,000 men, including 135,000 prisoners) despite the courage of the troops, who were thrown into the offensive without enough preparation, were undermanned and poorly equipped, and had no organized rears, was a result of Zhilinskii’s inadequate leadership, as well as of a virtual betrayal on the part of Rennenkampf.

REFERENCES

Vostochno-Prusskaia operatsiia. Moscow, 1939. (Collection of documents.)
Khramov, F. Vostochno-Prusskaia operatsiia 1914. Moscow, 1940. Kolenkovskii, A. Manevrennyi period pervoi mirovoi imperialistic he skoi voiny 1914 g. Moscow, 1940.
Zaionchkovskii, A. M. Mirovaia voina 1914-1918 gg., 3rd ed., vol. I. Moscow, 1938.
Ludendorff, E. Moi vospominaniia o voine 1914-1918 gg., vol. 1. Moscow, 1923. (Translated from German.)
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