The opening of the Great War on the Eastern Front is a classic case of total victory being hauled from impending defeat. At the outbreak of war two huge Russian armies the First commanded by General Rennenkampf and the Second by General Samsov invaded the German heartland of East Prussia after mobilising much more rapidly than had been anticipated. They inflicted a signal defeat on the German Eighth Army of General von Prittwitz at Gumbinnen. In panic Prittwitz proposed to abandon East Prussia but he was sacked and replaced by the legendary duo of Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff. In addition the Germans withdrew three whole Corps from their unfolding attack on France - thereby probably saving Paris - to meet the Russian threat. By the time they arrived in Prussia a battle plan had been drawn up by General Hoffmann which when implemented led to the total defeat of Samonsov at Tannenberg and the General’s own suicide and to the routing of Rennenkampf at the Masurian Lakes. Germany was temporarily saved but the Russians suffered a demoralisation from which they never recovered. In this masterly and detailed account former Russian general turned military historian Nicholas Golovine blames the disaster on poor Russian co-ordination the impossibility of maintaining supplies to such vast numbers stretched over such an immense area plus the initiative wrested by the German High Command. Long unavailable this is a classic account of one of the great turning points of world history.
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