Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes
|Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes|
|Part of the Eastern Front during World War I|
Eastern Front, February 7–18, 1915
|German Empire||Russian Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
Paul von Hindenburg|
Otto von Below
Hermann von Eichhorn
Georg von der Marwitz
Thadeus von Sievers
|100,000 (Initially)||220,000 (Initially)|
|Casualties and losses|
14 guns destroyed
185-300 guns lost
The Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes, also known as the Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes, was the northern part of the Central Powers' offensive on the Eastern Front in the winter of 1915. The offensive was intended to advance beyond the Vistula River and perhaps knock Russia out of the war.
The Central Powers planned four offensives on their Eastern Front in early 1915. The Germans, led by Paul von Hindenburg, would attack eastward from their front line in western Poland, which had been occupied after the Battle of Łódź in 1914, toward the Vistula River and also in East Prussia in the vicinity of the Masurian Lakes (site of the 1914 Battle of the Masurian Lakes). The Austro-Hungarians would emerge from the Carpathian Mountain passes to attack the Russians by driving toward Lemberg. They would be led by General Alexander von Linsingen. Further south General Borojevic von Bojna would attempt to relieve the besieged fortress at Przemysl.
According to Prit Buttar, "It was with considerable reluctance that Falkenhayn agreed to the deployment of four additional corps on the Eastern Front in early 1915. Whilst he remained convinced of the primacy of the Western Front, the failure to win a decisive victory there left him unable to counter the arguments of Hindenburg and Ludendorff...might be able to inflict a sufficiently heavy defeat upon Russia to end the conflict in the east." Ludendorff wrote, "It was agreed with OHL to use the four corps to strike against the enemy forces deployed against Eighth Army as soon as they arrived. The experiences of Tannenberg and the Battle of the Masurian Lakes had shown that a great and swift victory in battle could be achieved if the enemy were attacked from two sides." Ludendorff's target for the German attack was the Russian Tenth Army, with a northern thrust from Tilsit through Wladislawow to Kalvarija, and a southern thrust from the Spirding-See near Bialla to Raigrod and then to Augustowo. The Russians were to be held in position by a frontal attack, and if successful, Ludendorff planned further attacks on Osowiec and Grodno.
The German northern thrust was to be made by the newly formed Tenth Army, under the command of Eichhorn, with the XXI Corps, XXXIX Reserve Corps, and XXXVIII Reserve Corps deployed from the Niemen River to Insterburg. Landwehr formations were held in reserve. The German southern thrust was to be made by Below's Eighth Army, with the XL Reserve Corps deployed west of Johannisburg, and the XX Corps at Ortelsburg. The Russian Tenth Army consisted of the III Corps opposite Eichhorn, and the III Siberian Corps opposite Below, while the XX Corps and XXVI Corps held the center.
German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn strongly believed that the war would be won on the Western Front. Nonetheless, he sent four additional army corps to Paul von Hindenburg, commander of their Eastern Front. By February 1915, thirty-six percent of the German field army was in the east.
German Ninth Army attacked from Silesia into Poland at the end of January; they released tear gas, which stopped their assault by blowing back on the attackers. The Russians counterattacked with eleven divisions under a single corps commander, losing 40,000 men in three days. In East Prussia, further Russian incursions were blocked by trench lines extending between the Masurian Lakes; they were held by the German Eighth Army, commanded by General Otto von Below. The Eighth Army was reinforced by some of the newly arrived corps, while the rest of them became the German Tenth Army, commanded by Colonel-General Hermann von Eichhorn, which was formed on the German left. The Tenth Army was to be one wing of a pincers intended to surround their opponents: General Sievers' Russian Tenth Army. A new Russian Twelfth Army under General Pavel Plehve was assembling in Poland roughly 100 km (62 mi) to the southwest.
Sievers warned the Northwest Front commander, General Nikolai Ruzsky, that they were likely to be attacked, but was ignored. On February 7, despite a heavy snowstorm, the left wing of Below's Eighth Army launched a surprise attack against Sievers, whose trenches were shallow, disconnected ditches, with little or no barbed wire because the first shipments had not arrived until December 1914. The following day, the German Tenth Army also drove forward. Snow, with drifts as high as a man, slowed German progress down the roads for the first two days; off the roads, the ground was too boggy for fighting. Despite these formidable obstacles, the German pincers advanced 120 km (75 mi) in a week, inflicting severe casualties on the Russians.
Sievers' ordered Evgeny Radkevich's III Siberian Corps to pull back to Lyck, where it would form a new defensive line with the XXVI Corps. Nikolai Epanchin's III Corps, which had already lost most of its equipment, withdrew to Kovno and Olita, where they no longer became a factor in the battle. Pavel Bulgakov's XX Corps now faced the German XXI Corps and XXXIX Reserve Corps on its northern flank. According to Buttar, "Whilst the German advance might have been aided by the snow trampled by the retreating Russians, it was only possible at all because of the food abandoned by the retreating Tenth Army; the movements of German supply columns were as restricted by the weather as everyone else." Heavy snow fell on 11 February as temperatures dropped to -15°C. On 12 February, Otto von Lauenstein's XXXIX Reserve Corps captured Eydtkuhnen and Wirballen. On 14 February, the German Tenth Army's XXI Corps, under the command of Fritz von Below, cut the road connecting Augustowo to Sejny. Lyck was also captured by the Germans on 14 February. The Russian XXVI, XX, and III Siberian Corps were now in danger of being encircled. However, on 15 February, the weather changed to rain, and a thaw, turning the roads into knee-deep mud. On 16 February, the Germans reached Augustowo, and Georg von der Marwitz's XXXVIII Corps captured Suwalki. Eichhorn's Tenth Army was now to the north of Augustowo, while Below's Eighth Army was to the west. Karl Litzmann's XL Reserve Corps were ordered over the Augustów Canal on 17 February, the III Siberian Corps abandoned their defensive positions, while Bulgakov's XX Corps, isolated, attempted to retreat to the east. According to Buttar, "Meanwhile, unaware of XX Corps' positions, Radkevich ordered what remained of his XXVI Corps to fight its way down the road from Augustowo towards Lipsk and on to Grodno, while III Siberian Corps pulled back to the south over the Bobr." By 19 February the Russian XX Corps was encircled, and Bulgakov was captured on 21 February.
The heroic stand of the Russian 20th Corps provided the time required for the rest of the Russian Tenth Army to form a new defensive position. On February 22, the day after the surrender of the 20th Corps, Plehve's Russian Twelfth Army counterattacked, which checked further German advances and brought the battle to an end. One source gives Russian losses as 92,000 prisoners and 300 guns, while another gives 56,000 men and 185 guns. The Germans lost 7,500 men and 14 guns.
The Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes gave the Germans a toehold in Russia; however, the Russians blocked further advances. In the following weeks, the Germans drove the Russians out of their remaining small enclaves in East Prussia.
According to Buttar, "For Hindenburg and Ludendorff, the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes - known in Germany as the Winter Battle of Masuria - was undoubtedly a victory, but it fell short of what had been intended. Much of Sievers' Tenth Army escaped the German attempts to create an encirclement to rival Tannenberg, albeit with substantial losses." Yuri Danilov, the Russian quartermaster general, stated, "This offensive by the German Eighth and Tenth Armies in February 1915 was definitely a great success for our enemies. Our Tenth Army was forced to withdraw from the territory of East Prussia, this time permanently. Once more, we suffered very severe losses of men and military material, in addition to which we suffered a substantial blow to our prestige in East Prussia for the third time. Our plan to secure this province in order to anchor our right flank and to advance on the lower Vistula was rendered impossible by the German tactical victory."
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- The Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes, 1915