February 22, 1915: The Second Battle of Masurian Lakes

The German Chief of Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, remained convinced that if the Central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary et. al.) were to win the war, they would have to defeat the Entente forces on the Western Front. Nevertheless, Germany also fielded significant armies on the Eastern front in order to combat the Russian forces. The main commander of these German armies, Paul von Hindenburg, pressed Falkenhayn for both permission and the reinforcements to launch another offensive against the Russians. Though he refused for some time, Falkenhayn eventually gave in, reasoning that German aggression on the Eastern front was necessary in order to win over potential allies in the Balkans.

Hindenburg mounted his offensive near the site of the previous year’s victory, near the Masurian Lakes. In essence, he intended to flood the Russian northern flank, and surround and/or roll up as much of the Russian line as he could. The main objective, however, remained the creation of a genuine breakthrough which would allow the German forces as much room as they liked to maneuver through Russia and force their surrender.

Attacks began on February 7 in the midst of a snowstorm. Caught completely by surprise, the Russians quickly fell back up and down the line, desperate to avoid capture. Within a week, elements of the German army had advanced more than 70 miles.

 

The Russians had a huge supply of men from which to draw, however, and the Germans were eventually stopped short of their goal of total victory. Nevertheless, Hindenburg had accomplished a great deal: with an attacking force of around 100,000 men, he had attacked Russian forces totaling over 220,000 and had inflicted more than 200,000 casualties (killed, wounded, and captured). Hindenburg’s losses had been very light (just over 16,000), in comparison.

At this point, the Germans had clearly demonstrated that they were more than a match for the Russians. The Entente could only hope that the Russian armies would at least be able to tie up large numbers of the German troops, for clearly, the Russians had a long way to go before they could hope to launch successful attacks on the Germans.

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