Tannenberg Day 2

Special to The Great War Project

(27 August) The battle that has emerged on the Eastern Front not far from the medieval German village of Tannenberg in East Prussia (now in northern Poland) is a vivid example of what kind of war this is turning out to be.

Russian troops in the fight for East Prussia, August 1914

Russian troops in the fight for East Prussia, August 1914

Communications and intelligence – determining where the enemy is and how that information can be gathered and shared effectively on the battlefield – are crucial components of this war.

The Russians are coming up short on both counts.

In this second day of the battle of Tannenberg, it’s not going well for the Russians.

Russian prisoners-of-war at Battle of Tannenberg, August 1914.

Russian prisoners-of-war at Battle of Tannenberg, August 1914.

German maneuvers split the Russian forces into two weaker prongs. Yesterday, Germany’s army to the west of the Russians moved, “striking through a disordered and bewildered Russian left, and cutting its communications,” according to historian Norman Stone.

On this day a century ago Russia’s forces to the east fall victim to entrapment, the Russian troops “running short of everything, their commanders quite baffled as to what was happening.”

In the days just before Tannenberg, it appears that the Russians can seize Konigsberg, the capital of East Prussia hundreds of miles to the north.

But a key bit of intelligence falls into the hands of the German command.

The complete Russian orders for the siege of Konigsberg. The Russians are still some distance from that city, and the Germans have the time and battlefield intelligence to attack the Russians further south.

That intelligence reverses the German fortune, effectively eliminating strengths the Russians might possess. Indeed looking at these events on this day a century ago, the Battle of Tannenberg could very well inflict a serious blow to the overall Russian fight with Germany.

On the Western Front, Russia’s allies – France and Britain – are “utterly ignorant of and amazingly complacent about events” in East Prussia.

Indeed just a few days earlier, The Times in London tells its readers “In the East, all continues to go well.”

Tannenberg is emerging as a crucial battle, a collision “between the most professional army in Europe and the most careless,” writes historian Max Hastings, listing the Russian shortcomings in reconnaissance, logistics, medical facilities, concentration of force, “and common prudence.”