Battle of Tannenberg 1410 AD

Between the Teutonic Knights and the Polish/Lithuanian army.

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For simplicity I have referred to the Polish/Lithuanian army as the Union army. Some Sources are very hard to get hold of and I have been forced to use secondary works for some of the information. Unfortunately some do not include their sources so I have attempted not to rely on them. I have however added italicised points of information I think is worth mentioning. This is my own interpretation of the sources and the maps are a bit rough but hopefully it gets the info across!


Prelude

The Polish and Lithuanian states were united by the marriage of Jadwiga of Poland and the then Grand Duke of Lithuania. He took the Polish name Ladislaus Jagiello on his election as King of Poland in 1396. This unification created many problems for the combined State, not least with the Teutonic Order. The Teutonic Order had reached its greatest extent and was at the height of its military power.

In 1409 Samogitian tribes under the control of the Teutonic knights revolted, they appealed to their Lithuanian neighbours for help. The Lithuanian Grand Duke Witold and the Polish king Ladislaus Jagiello pledged their support. In a somewhat bizarre move Teutonic Grand Master Ulrich Von Jungingen declared war but after initial skirmishes purposed a truce until the 24 June the following year, this was accepted. Both sides spent the following 8 months gathering their forces. The Teutonic Order called upon crusaders to bolster their forces. The Union called on Russian vassals and Tatars from the South of Lithuania.

July 8 1410 The Union army crossed the borders and moved towards the Dwerca river. Advance scouts of the Union reported the Teutonic Order was drawn up on the opposite side of the river. The Union army moved North and attacked and sacked the town of Dabrowno, with the aim of pulling the Teutonic Knights away from their positions.

The Teutonic Order moved towards Dabrowno while the Union forces drew away from Dabrowno and camped near the villages of Grunwald and Tannenberg. July 14 saw both armies encamped near each other. The Teutonic Knights having marched over 20 kilometres that day camped at Grunwald. The Union forces in three camps near the village of Ulnowo. The battle would be know as Tannenberg to the Germans, Grunwald to the Polish and Zalgiris to the Lithuanians.


The Battle July 15 1410

The Forces

As with all contemporary accounts, numbers vary considerably. The Teutonic Knights range from 18,000 to 80,000 men. The Union troops from 26,000 to 163,000! The priest Anton Grabener of Lubeck wrote a report shortly after the battle to various Crown heads of Europe claiming that there were 100,000 heathen Tatars, which was why the Teutonic Knights were defeated.

I have taken the Teutonic figures from the Armies of the middle ages bk2, they seem reasonable

The Teutonic Order

Composition

 
The Polish Chronicler Jan Dlugosz, writing some 60 years after the battle, recorded that the all the banners of the Teutonic Knight units were captured at the battle. These banners were hung in the Cathedral of Krakow until at least 1603, the last recorded reference to them. Fortunately for Historians Dlugosz described them and the artist Stanislow Durink drew them in a book entitled 'Banderia Prutenorem' (Banners of Prussia). There were 52 banners in the Collection, although only 50 are believed to be unit banners, the other two being personal standards.

I have however seen other totals of the standards taken, Two of which state 39 banners were taken by the Polish, 10 by the Lithuanians and 7 were either successfully taken from the field by surviving Crusader forces or captured by the Bohemian/Russians. Unfortunately the texts do not provide their sources for this information.

Dlugosz states about a third of the Banners were borne by units comprising either 'Adventurers' (volunteers or Crusaders) or feudal vassals of the Order. I have used Crusader in the text below to differentiate between the disciplined Order Knights and the more impetuous volunteers. All bar one of the remaining banners were a mix of Brethren Knights, Mercenaries and men at arms. The Banner of the Grand Marshal of Prussia was comprised entirely of Brethren Knights. The Teutonic cavalry probably numbered over 20,000.

Information on the infantry is less clear, although several sources state the figures, 6,000 well armed men and 5,000 servants trained for war (these apparently better armed than their Polish counterparts). The well armed men were likely the Order's own Infantry and that of mercenary contingents, probably a mix of spearmen and crossbowmen.

There are references to Genoese crossbowmen and English Longbowmen but again no source is quoted.

The 5,000 servants may well have been levies from conquered lands or German Colonists. Servant is a very loose word used in sources for many different things and may well have been meant to represent those infantry with feudal obligations rather than the 'professionals' of the order.

The Teutonic Knights had a considerable artillery train, some 100 pieces.

It is possible, given the probable rapid advance of the Order the previous day that these were very light artillery pieces. A recent Polish theory however is that these artillery pieces were infact handgunners.


The Union Army

Composition

The Polish forces

A figure of 18,000 Knights, 11,000 mounted retainers and 4,000 infantry is usually given for the Polish Contingent. This would make the Polish army unusually Knight heavy. The Polish General Levy usually required each Knight to be accompanied by multiple mounted retainers (see Polish pages). This may be due to confusion on the part of the sources, 11,000 is coincidentally the number of Lithuanians most often quoted. Alternatively the Levy raised may have been exceptional and as a result there were insufficient mounted retainers, this would also explain the references to the multitude of ill-equipped Polish infantry, they being brought instead of the retainers. Personally I feel that the figure given by several modern Historians that the total number of Polish knights and retainers was no more than 20,000 to be reasonable. There were 3 Banners of Bohemian and Moldavian free 'lances', probably cavalry but may have included infantry. The Polish forces apparently deployed in a total of 50 Banners, this included the infantry.


Lithuanian Forces

Around 15,000 Lithuanian cavalry, 3,000 Tatar light horse and 3 Banners of Russian vassals from Smolensk. There was also around 16 Lithuanian artillery pieces and some Infantry possibly supplied by the rebelling Samogitians. See Lithuanian pages for composition of Lithuanian cavalry (See Lithuanian pages). The Lithuanians apparently deployed in 40 banners, including the Russians but not the Tatars.


Lay of the Land

The area surrounding the villages was a mix of open space, marsh and woods. The area near the lake of Lubien was very wooded and had large areas of marsh lands around the rivers that flowed in to it.

Deployment

The Teutonic Knights deployed between the villages of Tannenberg and Lodwigowo. Tannenberg anchored the rear of the Order's left flank and the right by Lodwigowo and the near by marshes. Infantry and artillery formed the front rank. The Knights formed two ranks behind the infantry. The right flank was commanded by marshal Konrad Von Lichtenstein. The left by Marshal Fridrich Wallenrod. Hochmeister Von Jungingen directed the battle from behind the centre. A reserve of some 16 squadrons were deployed some distance behind the centre, near the village of Grunwald.

The Union deployment is less clear in the sources. What is clear is that the Lithuanians under Witold deployed on the Union right flank, the Tatars on the far right. The Russian Banners forming the join between the Lithuanians and the Polish. The Lithuanian deployment was in multiple lines. The majority of the Polish Cavalry formed the Left flank and centre under the Chamberlain of Krakow and like their adversaries were in two to three lines. There appear to have been at least two reserves of Knights behind the main battle line. One to the rear of the far left and another in the centre. In addition to this the Polish had place several banners in the woods near to the lake along with their infantry. Ladislaus Jagiello and his personal guard, including a contingent of Lithuanians deployed in the open near these concealed units.


The Opening Phase

The battle began shortly after 9am with the light horse of both sides skirmishing in the middle and the Orders cannon started a bombardment of the Union troops. The fire was singularly ineffective, possibly due to damp powder. There having been a heavy storm in the early hours.

The Lithuanian forces then launched a charge against the infantry and cannons to their front. The cannons were quickly over run, more surprisingly the Order infantry also crumpled under the attack. Their line breaking almost immediately. All sources agree that Von Jungingen committed the entirety of Von Wallenrod Knights to stem the rout. Some sources recording that the Knights charged through their own infantry, inflicting more casualties than the pursuing Lithuanians.

The Tatar light horse either broke and ran or faked a rout. Either way at least one banner, probably more, of Crusader Knights pursued the Tatars away from the main battle and towards the Tatar camp. Von Wallenrod's command engaged the main line of the Lithuanians and was slowly pushing them back. At this stage Witold committed his reserves, apparently stabilising the position. At the same time as Von Wallenrod was engaging the Lithuanians Von Jungingen had ordered a general advance against the Polish line. The collision of the charging Knights was apparently heard for miles. Neither The Polish or the Teutonic Knights were able to make headway and the fight became a slogging match. At this stage the two sides front lines were heavily engaged but each had further lines and reserves uncommitted

Map One, Opening Phase


The Middle Phase

Von Wallenrod committed part of his second line to the fight with the Lithuanians. The added pressure started to force the Lithuanians even further backwards. Witold and his Lithuanians then either broke in rout or feigned a rout (see notes ). Witold and the majority of the Lithuanians fled backwards towards the woods near the Lake, others fled into the marshes around the Marozka river. Those that fled into the marshes appear to have continued their flight, some apparently reaching Polish and Lithuanian territory, spreading the word that the battle had been lost and the Duke and King killed. The Order banners who were in combat with the Lithuanians pursued them in their flight.

Von Wallenrod and the remaining Banners of the second line instead of joining the pursuit deployed for an attack on the right wing of the Polish force. They were joined by the rallied Banner/s that had pursued the Tatars. An immediate crisis was averted by the heroic actions of the three Russian Banners and several Lithuanian ones. These Banners managed a fighting withdrawal which stabilised the right wing, leaving their position almost 90 degrees from their starting position. One of the Russian Banners was annihilated performing this manoeuvre. Their actions allowed the Chamberlain of Krakow time to re-deploy part of his support lines and the King to move up some of the reserves.

As Chamberlain of Krakow attempted to prevent the encirclement of his right, he and his personal Banner were attacked by a German Banner. He and his standard bearer ,Marcin of Wrocimowic were wounded in the attack and the standard captured by the Teutonic knights. The Chamberlain's Standard was the principal standard of the army, it being a larger version of the King's standard (see Polish standards). With its fall the Teutonic knights thought the Polish king had been killed and surged forward believing the battle won. Polish reserve banners of the second line countercharged and successfully rescued the Chamberlain, Marcin and recaptured the standard. See Notes on this incident.

Those Banners pursuing the Lithuanians began to rally and rejoin the main battle line, except the Crusader banners. Their added numbers began to tell and the Polish line came under increasing pressure. King Jagiello released the last of the reserves, one group joining the fighting on the right, the other marching on the Teutonic knights far right and centre. The battle lines once again stabilised. The armies respective rights each under pressure.

Map 2, Middle Phase


The final Phases

The Crusader Banners pursuing the Lithuanians reached the edges of the woods when they were hit in the flanks by the hidden Polish Knights and counter charged by the now rallying Lithuanian cavalry. The Crusader Banners being driven into the marshes and wiped out.

Von Jungingen seeing the weakness in the Polish right took the 16 reserve Banners and deployed them ready to support those attacks. One of these banners managed to hook around the Polish line. This Banner passed near King Jagiello and his escorts position, forcing the King's banners to be furled to prevent detection. One of the German Knights apparently noticed the King and broke off to attack him. There appears to have been a duel of sorts between the King and this Knight. This either caused a lull or coincided with a lull in the battle, according to one source caused by a brief cloud burst. Both sides re-ordering their ranks for the climax of the battle. Witold used the lull to decisive effect, rallying his dispersed Lithuanians and moving them around to the Teutonic Knights rear. The fighting began in earnest with Jagiello launching the Polish infantry into the tightly packed Knights. The infantry were apparently highly effective and caused numerous casualties.

At this stage Von Jungingen appeared to have realised the precarious of his situation and ordered a fighting withdrawal. Witold and his Lithuanians launched their attacks on the Teutonic knights rear. Almost simultaneously the Polish centre broke through the Teutonic Knights line. The Teutonic Order now found themselves in two groups, each surrounded.

Map 3, End phases


The fight degenerated into a slaughter, all resistance collapsing with the death of the Hochmeister Von Jungingen, pulled from his horse by the Polish infantry and killed. The Order records they lost 18,000 men killed and the Polish claim a further 14,000 captured. Polish and Lithuanians are estimated to have lost 5,000 killed and a further 8,000 wounded.


Notes

The Lithuanian retreat.

There are varying accounts of exactly what happened. Jan Dlugosz actually describes it as a rout. He also makes no mention of a Lithuanian attack on the rear of the Teutonic Knights, claiming the Lithuanians were completely dispersed. Other sources however say it was a feigned retreat. The most convincing argument for it being a tactical ploy is in a letter written to the Hochmeister of the Order, sometime between 1413 and 1417. It appears to be based on eye witness accounts or possibly by a participant but is unfortunately unsigned. The letter essentially warns against pursuing Lithuanians too vigorously and out of formation as it might precipitate a disaster such as Tannenberg.

Any one with a good grasp of German can find an analysis of the various theories and a picture of the letter at, Grunwald

The Fight for the Standard

Some historians believe this event never occurred, believing it to be a heroic invention of the chroniclers of the time, similar events appearing in other battles. The sources however appear to show that the Teutonic Knights believed some significant event happened at this stage of the battle. The fall or capture of the Principal standard usually meant the end of a battle as it would normally be beside the King. The sources all seem to agree that the Order knights began to sing 'Christ ist erstanden' (Christ has Risen) and redoubled their efforts against the Union army at this point. The song appears to have been used as a sign of victory by the Order. The capture of the Krakow Standard seems a likely reason behind the increased efforts of the Order Knights.

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Copyright 2002 Matthew Haywood

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