One of the largest cavalry skirmishes of the age, the Battle of Tannenberg featured the combined forces of the Poles and Lithuanians against the Order of the Teutonic Knights. The Poles and Lithuanians brought to the field an enormous army that included Moravian, Wallachian, Tatar and Czech fighters, while the Knights were primarily aided by German mercenaries. Despite initial success, the Knights were ultimately defeated, resulting in the loss of its impetus as a crusading force. When German armies defeated the Russians at Tannenberg in 1914, it was portrayed as revenge for the defeat of the order five hundred years earlier.
In one of the largest cavalry battles of the age, the combined forces of the Poles and Lithuanians defeated the Order of the Teutonic Knights (see Knightly Orders). The Poles and Lithuanians, recently united politically, brought to the field an enormous army, perhaps 100,000 strong, including Moravian, Wallachian, Tatar, and Czech mercenaries and the clever military tactician and future leader of the Hussites, Jan Zizka. The Knights’ forces, estimated at eighty-three thousand, were supplemented primarily by German mercenaries. Although both sides brought crossbowmen and cannon, the battle essentially involved squadrons of light horse supported by reserves of mailed knights. Despite initial success, the Knights were ultimately defeated; their losses included the entire high command as well as the bulk of the field army.
The defeat was a great blow to the military might and prestige of the order, which lost its impetus as a crusading force. The image of Tannenberg, however, long remained in the German consciousness. When German armies defeated the Russians at Tannenberg in 1914, the high command portrayed it as revenge for the defeat of the order five hundred years earlier.
The Reader’s Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.