[Germany and Austria-Hungary, late summer 1914] According to Germany’s war strategy, the bulk of the troops were marching through Belgium and Luxemburg against France. Confident that they could defeat France while Russia was still mobilizing its troops, the German High Command had deployed only two armies to defend Germany’s Eastern border.
Hindenburg – a national hero
But already in the middle of August, two Russians armies invaded East Prussia and defeated German troops at Gumbinnen on August 20. The commanding general considered retreat. Now the Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke appointed General Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg as commander on the Eastern front with Erich Ludendorff as his staff-officer, the latter had just led the German troops at Liege in Belgium.
The Russians failed to encode their radio messages, so Hindenburg and Ludendorff knew about their plans. On August 26, they attacked the Russian second army by surprise near the village of Tannenberg. After three days of battle, the Russians had lost almost the entire Second Army, its commanding general shot himself. A bit later, in September at the Masurian Lakes, Hindenburg and Ludendorff defeated the First Russian Army as well.
The “Battle of Tannenberg”, as Hindenburg named it in vengeful remembrance of the village where in 1410 the Poles had defeated the Teutonic Knights, was a great victory for the German troops, and it brought high prestige to Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Particularly Hindenburg became a national hero.
The Austrian-Hungarian army, however, suffered terrible losses. Their campaign to conquer Serbia ended in disaster, in Galicia the gigantic Russian army overran them, conquered the capital Lemberg and besieged the fortress of Przemysl.
Joscha Csbany was shaken. “Our army hast lost almost 1,3 million,” he wrote, “I hear and read it, yet everything in me struggles to suppress it is too hard to bear. So many men have been killed. Among them many officers, now we have hardly anyone left who could lead our multinational troops Thousands have been taken prisoners by the Russians. Russia is gigantic – who knows where they are, and if we ever will see them again.”
For Papa too it is a heavy blow, he served in Galicia and Mama visited him. Now the Russians are there. We often talk on the phone, he is staying with friends and well taken care of. He is incredible. My boy, you just have to believe that we will make it through all these hardships, he keeps telling me. If you mother and I had lost hope back then, you and your sister would not walk the earth today.”
The picture is from the German Wikipedia, public domain section.