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Liveblogging World War I: August 25, 1914: Samsonov

NewImageFrom Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August:*

On August 23, the day Ludendorff and Hindenburg arrived in the East, the Russian VIth and XIIIth corps on the right of General Martos captured more villages; General Scholtz, still alone except for some support from the Vistula garrison behind him, backed up a little farther. Ignoring Rennenkampf’s inactivity in the north, Jilinsky continued to rain orders on Samsonov. The Germans on his front were hastily retreating, he told Samsonov, “leaving only insignificant forces facing you. You are therefore to execute a most energetic offensive.… You are to attack and intercept the enemy retiring before General Rennenkampf’s army in order to cut off his retreat from the Vistula.”

This was, of course, the original design, but it was predicated on Rennenkampf’s holding the Germans occupied in the north. In fact, on that date Rennenkampf was no longer in contact with the enemy. He began to advance again on August 23 but in the wrong direction. Instead of moving crabwise to the south to link up with Samsonov in front of the lakes, he moved straight west to mask Königsberg, fearful that François would attack his flank if he turned south. Although it was a movement with no relevance at all to the original design, Jilinsky did nothing to alter it. Operating like Rennenkampf in a complete fog as to the German movements, he assumed they were doing what the Russians had planned on their doing—retreating to the Vistula. Accordingly, he continued to push Samsonov forward....

Scholtz, facing overwhelming numbers, withdrew for some ten miles, establishing his headquarters for the night in the village of Tannenberg. Still harried by Jilinsky who insisted that he must move on to the agreed line where he could cut off the enemy’s “retreat,” Samsonov issued orders to all his corps—the XXIIIrd on the left, the XVth and XIIIth in the center, the VIth on the right—giving their dispositions and lines of march for the following day.... Samsonov’s orders were issued by wireless in clear....

That evening, Hoffmann wrote later, “was the most difficult of the whole battle.” While the staff was debating, a signal corps officer brought in an intercept of Samsonov’s orders for the next day, August 25. Although this assistance from the enemy did not reveal Rennenkampf’s intentions which were the crucial question, it did show the Germans where they might expect to meet Samsonov’s forces. That helped. The Eighth Army made up its mind to throw all its strength into battle against Samsonov. Orders went out to Mackensen and von Below to turn their backs on Rennenkampf and march south at once.

On August 25 the burning of Louvain began...