Was World War I
an avoidable debacle ?
September 9 – September 14, 1914
East Prussia – Eastern Front
Russian First Army (commanded by Paul von Rennenkampf) and German Eighth Army (led by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff)
The First Battle of the Masurian Lakes was in many ways a sequel of the Battle of Tannenberg. The German Eighth Army under Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff had tasted victory and had successfully destroyed the Russian Second Army in August 1914. The Germans now turned their attention to the Russian First Army led by Paul von Rennenkampf, which had retreated to Angerburg following the previous defeat. On September 9, 1914, Rennenkampf planned an orderly retreat for his men. While two of his divisions held back the Germans, the remaining troops retreated from East Prussia by September 13, 1914. Though a successful orderly retreat, the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes was a costly battle for the Russian Army. The Russians lost over 125,000 soldiers in the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes.
Though not as resounding a triumph as the Battle of Tannenberg, the victory at First Battle of the Masurian Lakes made Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff heroes in Germany. Hindenburg assumed the position of Chief of the German General Staff in 1916. The battle caused severe damage to the Russian Army in terms of causalities and morale. The resonance of these defeats stalled further Russian onslaughts on the Eastern Front until 1915. It is also noteworthy that the victory at the Eastern Front was won at the cost of the Battle of the Marne on the Western Front. The redirection of troops from the Western Front cost Germany the unsuccessful battle at Marne.