The First Battle of the Masurian Lakes was a German offensive in the Eastern Front 4–13 September 1914, during the second month of World War I. It took place only days after the Battle of Tannenberg where the German Eighth Army encircled and destroyed the Russian Second Army. Using the rapid movements aided by the East Prussian railway network, the Eighth Army reformed in front of the spread-out Russian First Army and pushed them back across their entire front, eventually ejecting it from Germany. Further progress was hampered by the arrival of the Russian Tenth Army on the Germans' right flank.
|First Battle of the Masurian Lakes|
|Part of the Eastern Front of World War I|
Eastern Front to 26 September 1914.
|German Empire||Russian Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
Paul von Hindenburg|
August von Mackensen
|Paul von Rennenkampf|
Total 244,391 men|
400 machine guns
Total 553,937 men|
960 machine guns:
395 machine guns
565 machine guns
|Casualties and losses|
10,000 killed, wounded and missing
40 000 killed and wounded
70,000 killed and wounded,
about 60 000 died,wounded and prisoners
Headquarters of the Russian NW front: 100,000 men, including 50,000 prisoners
By the conclusion of the battle, the Germans had destroyed the Second Army and shattered the First in a series of actions over only a few weeks. This pushed the Russians so off-balance that they were unable to mount any serious operations on the German front until the spring of 1915. At that time the Germans launched the Gorlice–Tarnów offensive which pushed the Russian forces deep into Russia.
The Russian offensive in East Prussia had started well enough, with General Paul von Rennenkampf's First Army (Army of the Neman) forcing the Eighth Army westward from the border towards Königsberg. Meanwhile, the Russian Second Army invaded from the south, hoping to cut the Germans off in the area around the city. The lack of railways and logistical problems meant they made slow progress even though they faced only a single German army corps.
During their advance Yakov Zhilinsky, Chief of Staff of the Imperial Russian Army, made a strategic mistake by separating two large Russian armies and urging them to move rapidly over a marginally trafficable terrain in response to the requests of the French for an early offensive. As a result, the armies approached in a poorly coordinated manner, being isolated from each other by terrain obstacles, and before the logistical base could be established, the troops were worn down by a rapid march and had to face fresh German troops.
The Germans developed a plan to rapidly move their forces to surround the Second Army as it moved northward over some particularly hilly terrain. The danger was that the First Army would turn to their aid, thereby flanking the German forces. However, the Russians broadcast their daily marching orders "in the clear" on the radio, and the Germans learned that the First Army was continuing to move away from the Second. Using railways in the area, the German forces maneuvered and eventually surrounded and destroyed the Second Army at the Battle of Tannenberg between 26 and 30 August 1914.
According to Prit Buttar, "as the magnitude of the disaster that had befallen Samsonov's army became clear, Rennenkampf ordered his men to pull back from their most advanced positions. First Army took up a line running from the Deime valley in the north, through Wehlau and Nordenberg, to the northern shore of the Mauer-See, immediately to the west of Angerburg." His reserve divisions formed the new XXVI Corps on his northern flank. Between Wehlau and Nordenburg were his III and IV Corps. The II Corps was placed opposite the German garrison in Lötzen. In addition, Rennenkampf received 5 newly formed reserve divisions (54th, 57th, 68th, 72th, 76th). The total strength of the First Army was more than 300,000 men, including 50,000 in reserve (garrisons of fortresses in the rear of the First Army). The Tenth Army filled the gap with what was left of the Second Army. The Tenth Army was newly formed, and consisted of the XXII Corps from Finland, the III Siberian Corps, the I Turkestan Corps, and the II Caucasian Corps, with the XXII Corps opposite Lyck, and the III Siberian Corps to their south. Two corps were kept in reserve. The total strength of the Tenth Army was 250,000 men In the reserve of the Tenth Army there were garrisons of fortresses with more than 37,000 men.
On 31 August, Hindenburg received the following orders, "XI Corps, Guards Reserve Corps, and 8th Cavalry Division are placed at your disposal. Their transport has begun. The first task of Eighth Army is to clear East Prussia of Rennenkampf's army. When the situation in East Prussia has been restored you are to contemplate employing Eighth Army in the direction of Warsaw." Hindenburg and Ludendorff placed their Guards Reserve Corps, I Reserve Corps, XI Corps and the XX Corps on the Russian northern flank. Their XVII Corps was deployed at Lötzen, and their I Corps around Lyck. The total strength of the Eighth Army was 244,391 men, including troops against the Second Russian Army.
On 4 September, Hans von der Goltz's East Prussian Army of the South, attacked Mława, which was captured by the 1st Landwehr Division, and 35th Reserve Infantry Division, on 5 Sept. On 6 September, the I Corps advanced on Arys, and its 2nd Infantry Division captured Nikolaiken, while its 1st Infantry Division captured Johannisburg, and its 3rd Reserve Infantry Division captured Biała Piska on 7 September. The 1st Infantry division reached Arys on 9 September, and then Ranten. In support of I Corps, the German XVII Corps reached Kruglanken on 9 September. On 10 September, the 3rd Reserve Infantry Division was near Lyck. While the German I Corps attempted to turn the Russian left flank, the other 4 German corps to the north put pressure on the Russian III and IV Corps, as the Russians fought a defensive action. The Russian commander of the XXII Corps sent a message stating, "I cannot carry out my orders to march against the flank of the Hindenburg Army, as I was attacked at Lyck and beaten." Rennenkampf was forced to retreat to the east.
The Russian IV Corps then launched a surprise attack to the German center, but the attack faltered, and the Russians continued their retreat east. On 11 September, the German I Corps had reached Goldap and ordered to cut off the Russian retreat. By then the German XVII Corps had cut the road between Angerburg and Goldap. On 12 September, I Corps reached Pillupönenn and the 35th Infantry Division had reached Tollmingkehmen.
The battle had turned decisively in the Germans' favor. By 11 September the Russians had been pushed back to a line running from Insterburg to Angerburg in the north, with a huge flanking maneuver developing to the south. It was at this point that the threat of encirclement appeared possible. Rennenkampf ordered a general retreat toward the Russian border, which happened rapidly under the protection of a strong rear guard. It was this speed that enabled the retreating Russian troops to escape the trap Hindenburg had planned for them. The German commander had ordered his wings to quicken their march as much as possible, but a trivial accident—a rumor of a Russian counterattack—cost the Germans half a day's march, allowing the Russians to escape to the east. These reached Gumbinnen the next day, and Stallupönen on the 13th. The remains of the First Army retreated to the safety of their own border forts. Likewise, the Tenth Army was forced back into Russia. German casualties were about 10,000 (according to German official data, the losses of the 8th Army for the whole of September 1914 amounted to: 1,552 KIA, 10,412 WIA, 1,552 MIA, total 13,516 ), Russians 100,000-125,000.
On 11 September, Grand Duke Nikolai dismissed Yakov Zhilinsky as the commander of the Russian Northwestern Front, replacing him with Nikolai Ruzsky. The Grand Duke then ordered the Fifth Army from Galicia to a position north of Warsaw.
On 14 September, the last of the Russian army had retreated over the frontier, as the German 1st Infantry Division reached Wyłkowyszki, within Russian territory, and the German 3rd Reserve Infantry Division had reached Suvalki.
The German advantage was bought at a cost: the newly arrived corps had been sent from the Western front and their absence would be felt in the upcoming Battle of the Marne. Much of the territory taken by the Germans would later be lost to a Russian counterattack during 25–28 September.
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