Michael McNally, Tannenberg 1914 (Osprey, 2022)
Tannenberg 1914 is another in the Osprey Campaign series (#386). As such, it follows a conventional format of assessing the opposing commanders and forces, then analysing the opposing plans before describing the campaign and its aftermath. But this was a massive, complex battle that requires deft handling by the author.
McNally circles into his subject by outlining the broad causes of WWI and the German and Russian grand strategic plans once it started. The single page, step by step chronology shows that the Germans declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914 and fought their way to Tannenberg within the month. That brings McNally to a consideration of the opposing commanders and the forces they commanded, including the orders of battle – a brief glance highlights what a titanic struggle this would be. Then we are into the respective plans for the battle. The Russians planned a double-envelopment, while the Germans opted for an ‘active defence’, but the Russians had overlooked logistical planning: the Germans had not. McNally then follows the armies on their campaigns and into battle. That included Stallupönen, on 17 August, and Gumbinnen on 20 August, after which the Germans changed strategy and field command with things looking decidedly grim.
Enter Generalmajor Erich Ludendorff. He took command and stabilised the German position, aided by staunch defending against impressive Russian numbers. The Germans also benefitted from superior aerial reconnaissance and better use of artillery to hold back the Russian advance. The Russians did not help their own cause by their forces spreading too widely, reducing cohesion. The Germans took advantage of the cracks in the Russian positions to defeat them in detail and working around their flanks until the Russians were surrounded. The destruction of the Russian army followed in what was a crushing defeat for the Tsar and a spectacular victory for the Kaiser.
Tannenberg 1914 is one of the more text heavy books in the Campaign series, but McNally has a lot to cover with this sprawling battle. He does an excellent job of it too, explaining all the operational activity while adding enough on-the-ground coverage to add flavour and human interest. McNally also carefully weaves analysis through his narrative along with nuanced character descriptions of the major players. The text is accompanied visually by uncluttered, colour maps, photographs, and ‘action’ illustrations of the usual Osprey high quality. Overall, this is a solid introduction to this pivotal Great War battle and an enjoyable read.