On 1 August 1914 for reasons still debated today, the German Empire declared war on the Russian Empire to set off World War I. I’ve written about some of the battles between the Germans and Russians early in WWI here.
With the war on the Western Front stalemating, Paul von Hindenburg, Commander-in-Chief of the German armies in the East, and his Chief of Staff, Erich Ludendorff, came up with a plan. The idea was to decisively defeat the Russians in East Prussia, so that overwhelming power could then be transferred to the Western Front. The battle that ensued was called the Second / Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes.
On 7 February 1915, Hindenburg attacked attacked in the south lakes in a blizzard. He quickly pushed the Russians back by 70 miles and out of most of east Prussia. Two days later he attacked in the north lakes and had the Russians on the run. However, one corps of the Russians fell back into the primeval forests around Augustow (present day Poland) and held on for another 10 days before surrendering. This delay allowed three other corps to escape the German encirclement. Shortly thereafter, the Russians counter-attacked and ended the German initiative. The Russians took a horrendous number of casualties and captured, but their willingness to take great pain had stopped a total rout.
Hindenburg was a viewed as the savior of East Prussia to a weary German nation, but his grand plan of delivering a crushing blow that would remove the need for heavy forces in the east had not been completed. In the south, near the Carpathian mountains, the offensive had stalled early. The Germans had to continue on two fronts for most of the remainder of the war. Hindenburg’s great rival, Falkenhayn, the German Chief of Staff, was against the plan, but had to concede under a withering attack on his reputation by Hindenburg himself. Eventually, Hindenburg would ascend to take Falkenhayn’s place, with Ludendorff becoming the Quartermaster General.
Motorcycle Ride Recommendation
I have had a great ride in this area, but I was loster than Cooter Brown somewhere west-northwest of Suwalki, near the Russian border, in the area that Hindenburg’s northern prong would have attacked through on 9 February 1915. A buddy and I spent 3 hours riding through some beautiful country on a Sunday morning, but I can’t tell you where exactly. However, when we did find ourselves again, we travelled through the Augustow area, then west through the middle of the Masurian Lakes on the way to Olsztyn and can highly recommend it as well. Here’s a map of where I think we traveled. As they say, that was when the road-trip ended and the adventure began.