Agosto 1914

L’invasione del Belgio e lo sforzo britannico

Di Alessandro Chebat

"Il 4 agosto le truppe tedesche varcarono la frontiera belga inanellando una serie di brillanti vittorie. In molti a Berlino erano certi di una vittoria rapida. Il Deutsches Heer sembrava inarrestabile, tuttavia esso non aveva calcolato la volontà di resistenza del Belgio e l’intervento britannico."

Il 4 agosto le divisioni tedesche di Otto von Emmich, comandante dell’armata della Mosa, violarono la frontiera belga per aprirsi un varco attraverso la valle dello stesso fiume e irrompere nelle pianure a Nord delle Ardenne, cogliendo così le armate francesi alle spalle. La città di Liegi con i suoi dodici forti costituiva l’unico grande ostacolo all’avanzata delle truppe di von Emmich. Le prime fortificazioni furono investite il 5 agosto. Una brigata tedesca riuscì a penetrare tra alcuni forti e a occupare la città. Tuttavia il grosso delle fortificazioni continuava a resistere, infliggendo dure perdite agli avversari. Le guarnigioni riuscirono a opporsi agli assedianti fino al 16 agosto, quando l’arrivo dei mortai da 420 mm permise ai tedeschi di aver ragione dei difensori. L’apparire delle artiglierie pesanti con i loro effetti devastanti, rappresentò la prima grande novità della guerra.

Con la caduta di Liegi aveva inizio la battaglia delle frontiere. L’esercito belga, nell’impossibilità di difendere Bruxelles, si ritirò dietro i forti di Namur e Anversa. Il 20 agosto le truppe tedesche occuparono la capitale belga e lo stesso giorno iniziò l’assedio di Namur che si sarebbe protratto fino al 25. Sia sull’ala destra che sulla sinistra le truppe alleate cedettero il passo alla superiorità tedesca. In Lorena l’offensiva francese fu arrestata dalle difese germaniche. Vistosi minacciato a Nord l’alto comando francese inviò truppe in aiuto degli esausti belgi. Queste furono però duramente battute a Charleroi e sulle Ardenne.

Nonostante le grandi vittorie la tabella di marcia dell’esercito tedesco subì dei rallentamenti che permisero alla British expeditionary force (BEF) di prendere posizione e schierarsi sul continente. Inizialmente destinata a sostenere l’offensiva francese in Alsazia e Lorena, la BEF fu dirottata nel Sud del Belgio, subendo il battesimo del fuoco a Mons, il 24 agosto, dove 70 mila inglesi si opposero a circa 150 mila tedeschi. La dura resistenza dei soldati professionisti inglesi inflisse dure perdite agli avversari permettendo al grosso dell’armata francese di ritirarsi verso la linea difensiva sulla Marna. Questo primo scontro confermò che alla lunga l’addestramento inglese non poteva avere ragione della superiorità numerica tedesca. Infatti, in caso di guerra, i piani originari inglesi prevedevano un uso intensivo della marina e l’invio di un corpo di spedizione di 100 mila uomini come appendice all’armata francese impegnata in Alsazia e Lorena. Le truppe britanniche dovevano perciò avere un ruolo di sostegno al più numeroso esercito francese. Tale impostazione risentiva del processo di europeizzazione delle forze armate inglesi nel corso dei primi anni del ‘900. La Gran Bretagna disponeva tradizionalmente di un piccolo esercito regolare, ben addestrato e in fase di ampliamento da 80 a 160 mila effettivi, più quasi 300 mila inquadrati nel Territorial Army (la riserva). Tuttavia esso rappresentava una minaccia limitata se impiegato allo stesso modo degli eserciti di leva francese e tedesco, che contavano invece su numeri molto più elevati. Perciò se da un lato, grazie al processo di europeizzazione, l’esercito si era allineato qualitativamente alle migliori truppe europee, dall’altro rimaneva quantitativamente insufficiente per reggere l’urto delle armate tedesche.

La notevole influenza del pensiero militare francese, che poneva grande enfasi nel culto dell’offensiva e nell’aggressività del soldato (élan), spinse i comandi inglesi ad abbandonare la tradizionale mobilità delle forze assicuratale dalla Royal Navy, per optare su un approccio più continentale alla guerra. Indicativa di tale situazione fu la proposta presentata da Lord Roberts al consiglio di guerra nei primi giorni del conflitto. L’ipotesi avanzata prevedeva uno sbarco di Royal marines in Belgio per investire il fianco del fronte d’attacco tedesco. La proposta fu bocciata in quanto la Gran Bretagna si era oramai impegnata a fornire sostegno all’attacco francese lungo le frontiere tedesche. Il nuovo comandante in capo, Lord Kitchener, aveva tuttavia compreso che il conflitto appena scoppiato sarebbe durato anni, ed avrebbe richiesto più dei 100.000 effettivi della BEF. Fu così varato il cosiddetto Kitchener’s army, che prevedeva la formazione di 70 divisioni su base volontaria. I primi giorni del conflitto furono caratterizzati da grande entusiasmo ed euforia per la guerra, con lunghe file agli uffici di reclutamento. Tuttavia va sottolineato come alla base di questo fenomeno vi fosse un sistema denominato Derby Scheme ideato da Lord Stanley che prevedeva l’iscrizione volontaria degli abili alle armi nelle liste di reclutamento e la loro mobilitazione solo qualora fosse ritenuta necessaria. Il sistema ebbe grande successo nel settembre del ’14, quando affluirono oltre 460 mila volontari. Tuttavia, già nello stesso mese dell’anno seguente, tale cifra si era ridotta a circa 71 mila arruolamenti. Il Derby Scheme andò definitivamente in crisi a partire dal 1916, quando gli arruolamenti crollarono fino a raggiungere la cifra di zero volontari nel luglio 1917. Di conseguenza, con il Military Service Act del 1916 si decise di introdurre la coscrizione obbligatoria. Con una miscela di volontari e di coscritti e uno sforzo senza precedenti, dagli 80 mila uomini del maggio 1914, l’esercito britannico sarebbe cresciuto fino ai quasi cinque milioni di effettivi nel 1918.

Frédéric Rousseau

Le dinamiche sociali della mobilitazione francese dell'agosto 1914

Comment les Français sont entrés dans la guerre, questo è il titolo di un'opera che per lungo tempo ha influenzato la storiografia francese sulla Grande Guerra. La tesi centrale, tutta incentrata sul mito di una partenza entusiastica, "con i fiori nelle canne dei fucili", pone l'accento sulla profondità del sentimento patriottico. Quattro decenni più tardi tale approccio risulta essere eccessivamente semplicistico, rendendo necessaria una profonda revisione.

Un fatto certamente incontestabile è che la mobilitazione delle truppe francesi conobbe un netto successo. Lo stato maggiore calcolò un tasso di renitenza alla leva del 13% tuttavia, nella realtà, esso fu inferiore all'1% e nella maggior parte dei casi si trattava di uomini che, trovandosi distanti dai distretti di leva, non avevano ancora potuto raggiungerli. A questo proposito va sottolineato che ovunque, persino nella remota Russia, la mobilitazione militare ebbe generalmente successo. Da parte sua lo stato francese riuscì a mobilitare, equipaggiare e trasportare al fronte più di due milioni di uomini. Possiamo riconoscere la prodezza dello sforzo logistico e strategico, tuttavia, al contempo, non dobbiamo ridurre tutto ciò al solo patriottismo dei mobilitati e delle loro famiglie. Siamo in grado di ricostruire e dedurre i pensieri e i sentimenti degli attori sociali, sulla base di una irreggimentazione, calata dall'alto, dei comportamenti collettivi?

Per rispondere è necessario innanzitutto riaffermare, in primo luogo, che non c'è ragione di dubitare dell'esistenza di un sentimento nazionale: come chiunque altro, ma secondo livelli di intensità molto diversi, tutti i francesi provano un senso di attaccamento alla propria patria, alla propria terra. E sebbene lo storico non abbia modo di misurare l'intensità di questo sentimento, si può ritenere che il patriottismo costituisca un elemento di spiegazione. Possono anche essere ricordati, tra gli altri, gli effetti della scuola repubblicana sull'integrazione, lo sviluppo della stampa di massa, la coscrizione obbligatoria e universale; ad essi si aggiungano poi lo shock emotivo dell'annuncio dell'invasione del paese e il convincimento generale di una guerra di breve durata. Tutto questo è vero, ma ignora i reali impulsi sociali e politici che guidano ogni società. Se si vogliono comprendere i motivi per cui gli uomini partirono per il fronte e le donne li lasciarono andare, molti altri fattori devono essere rilevati. La sociologia delle interazioni e la microsociologia in particolare ci possono aiutare in questo processo, a condizione di affacciarsi al processo di mobilitazione generale come uno scenario sociale in cui diversi attori partecipano, agiscono e interagiscono secondo i principi che governano la società. L'analisi delle testimonianze permette di osservare esattamente ciò che accade in questo inedito scenario sociale.

Innanzitutto, l'annuncio della mobilitazione generale è un'esperienza pubblica e collettiva e, pur con alcune differenze a seconda del luogo, relativamente improvvisa. Di fatto, negli ultimi giorni di luglio i cittadini hanno potuto identificare, dalle informazioni fornite loro dalla stampa, segni di crescente tensione nella situazione internazionale, compresi i preparativi dei reggimenti in servizio attivo, il richiamo dei riservisti e dei congedati come premessa ad un loro impiego effettivo. Nelle campagne allora occupate nei grandi lavori estivi la terribile notizia, annunciata dal suono delle campane delle chiese, ha scioccato la popolazione. Tuttavia ovunque, tutti insieme, vale a dire “l'uno con l'altro”, ma soprattutto, “l'uno di fronte all'altro”, come gli uomini e le donne, i genitori e i figli, sono colpiti dall'annuncio. Immediatamente, in un contesto emotivo intenso che non lascia spazio al punto di vista personale, ognuno è costretti a reagire sotto gli occhi delle proprie famiglie. In un lasso di tempo limitato, ogni uomo deve compiere ciò che pensa che tutti si aspettino da lui, in base al proprio status sociale, età e sesso. E dal momento in cui tutti sono in preda al precipitare di questo straordinario evento senza precedenti, dove ognuno assume il ruolo del coraggioso difensore della patria, da tutti proclamata in pericolo, quale altra immagine di sé stesso egli deve mostrare alla moglie, ai genitori, ai suoi vicini e ai cittadini se non quella del soldato coraggioso pronto a sacrificarsi per il suo paese? In effetti, per i milioni di persone comuni, che sanno non avere nessun controllo sugli avvenimenti in corso, "andare alla guerra o non andarci" è un interrogativo che non viene posto a priori. La decisione di arruolarsi e partire non rappresenta in alcun modo di una decisione individuale.

Le partenze avvengono nell'ambito di una serie di "amorevoli pressioni" esercitate da differenti ambienti e cerchie sociali. Ciò innesca non solo una serie di costrizioni e doveri nei confronti dei propri cari e conoscenti, bensì anche di sé stessi: quando suona l'ora, occorre "fare il proprio dovere" di uomo virile e di cittadino valoroso; mostrare un atteggiamento che disonorerebbe la sua comunità o il suo lignaggio è semplicemente inconcepibile. Il carattere imperioso e inevitabile dell'ordine di mobilitazione è inoltre rinforzata dalla fitta maglia disciplinare che le autorità dispiegano nei luoghi strategici della mobilitazione, grazie alle numerose autorità periferiche di cui dispongono quali le municipalità, la gendarmeria, l'esercito, così come gli insegnanti, i preti di campagna e città e i notabili locali. Infine, la mobilitazione si svolge dietro la minaccia di gravi sanzioni volte a prevenire e punire qualsiasi eventuale resistenza alla chiamata alle armi. Questa serie di elementi non esauriscono certamente l'argomento ma sono sufficienti a rimettere in causa la tesi mono-causale e lacunosa del consenso patriottico.

Bibliografia:

Jean-Jacques Becker, 1914: Comment les Français sont entrés dans la guerre, contribution à l’étude de l’opinion publique, printemps-été 1914, Paris, Presses de la fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1977.

Yves Pourcher, «Les clichés de la Grande Guerre: entre histoire et fiction», in Jules Maurin, Jean-Charles Jauffret (dir.), La Grande guerre 1914-1918, 80 ans d’historiographie et de représentations, Montpellier, Université Paul Valéry/ESID, 2002, p. 365-392.

Jules Maurin, Armée, guerre, société. Soldats languedociens (1889-1919), Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2013 (1982), préface d’André Loez et Nicolas Offenstadt.

Frederic Rousseau

La mobilisation française d’août 1914 comme scène sociale

Comment les Français sont entrés dans la guerre, tel est le titre d’un ouvrage qui a durablement marqué l’historiographie française de la Grande Guerre. Sa thèse centrale, tout en remettant en cause le mythe d’un départ enthousiaste, « la fleur au fusil », met l’accent sur la profondeur du sentiment patriotique. Quatre décennies plus tard, cette explication paraît quelque peu simpliste et doit être fortement nuancée.

Fait incontestable : la mobilisation des troupes françaises  connaît un franc succès. Alors que l’état-major tablait sur un taux d’insoumission de 13%, celui-ci fut en réalité inférieur à 1%, et encore, dans la plupart des cas s’agissait-il d’hommes ne pouvant rejoindre dans les délais pour cause d’éloignement géographique. Soulignons à ce propos que partout, jusqu’en Russie profonde, les mobilisations militaires ont été, globalement, des réussites. L’État français réussit quant à lui à mobiliser, à équiper et à transporter sur le front plus de deux millions d’hommes. Si l’on peut saluer l’exploit logistique et stratégique, il semble néanmoins difficile de réduire celui-ci au seul patriotisme des mobilisés et de leurs familles. Peut-on déduire les pensées et les sentiments des acteurs sociaux du simple enregistrement surplombant des comportements collectifs ?

Pour répondre, il est nécessaire de réaffirmer en premier lieu qu’il n’y a pas de raison de douter de l’existence du sentiment national : comme tout un chacun, mais selon des niveaux d’intensité fort divers, tous les Français éprouvent un certain degré d’attachement à leur pays, à leur patrie. Et bien que l’historien ne dispose d’aucun moyen de mesurer l’intensité de ce sentiment, on peut effectivement considérer que le patriotisme constitue un élément d’explication. Peuvent d’ailleurs être évoqués, en autres, les effets intégrateurs de l’école républicaine, de la presse de masse, de la conscription obligatoire et universelle ; s’y ajoutent le choc émotionnel provoqué par l’annonce de l’invasion du pays et la croyance en une guerre courte. Tout ceci est exact mais ignore les ressorts proprement sociaux et politiques qui animent toute société. Si l’on veut comprendre pourquoi les hommes partent et pourquoi les femmes les laissent partir, bien d’autres facteurs sont à relever. La sociologie des interactions et la microsociologie notamment, peuvent nous aider dans cette démarche, à condition d’aborder la séquence de la mobilisation générale comme une scène sociale sur laquelle les différents acteurs sont en présence, agissent et interagissent selon les normes régissant la société. L’analyse des témoignages permet d’observer précisément ce qui se passe sur cette scène sociale inédite.

Avant tout, l’annonce de la mobilisation générale est une expérience publique, collective et avec quelques nuances selon les lieux, relativement soudaine. De facto plus exposés aux informations distillées par la presse, les citadins ont pu dans les derniers jours de juillet repérer les indices d’une tension croissante de la situation internationale, notamment les préparatifs des régiments d’active, les rappels des réservistes et des permissionnaires, prémisses à leur mouvement anticipé. Dans les campagnes alors occupées aux grands travaux estivaux, la terrible nouvelle transmise par les tocsins des églises pétrifie la population. Mais partout, c’est tous ensemble, c’est-à-dire les uns avec les autres, mais plus encore, les uns devant les autres, que les hommes comme les femmes, les parents comme les enfants, sont touchés et affectés par l’annonce. Aussitôt, dans un contexte émotionnel intense ne laissant aucun espace de délibération personnelle, chacun se voit contraint de réagir sous les yeux de ses proches. En quelques instants seulement, chaque homme doit faire ce qu’il pense que chacun et chacune attend de lui, compte tenu de son statut social, de son âge, de son sexe. Or, au moment où tout le monde est saisi par cet événement hors norme, inédit, où tout le monde endosse les habits des courageux défenseurs de la patrie proclamée en danger, quelle autre figure montrer à sa femme, à ses parents, à ses voisins et à ses concitoyens que celle du brave soldat dévoué à sa patrie ? En fait, pour les millions de gens ordinaires qui savent n’avoir aucune prise sur les événements, aller à la guerre ou n’y pas aller, est une question qui ne se pose pas. Partir ne relève aucunement d’une décision individuelle. Les départs s’effectuent sous l’affectueuse pression exercée par les différents entourages. Cela génère un faisceau de contraintes et de devoirs à l’égard de ses proches et connaissances, bien sûr, mais aussi de soi-même : quand sonne l’heure, il s’agit de « faire son devoir » d’homme viril et de citoyen valeureux ; faire montre d’une attitude qui déshonorerait sa communauté ou sa lignée est tout simplement inenvisageable. Le caractère impérieux et incontournable de l’ordre de mobilisation est en outre renforcé par le maillage disciplinaire que les autorités déploient aux lieux stratégiques de la mobilisation grâce à leurs nombreux relais locaux que sont les municipalités, la gendarmerie, l’armée, ainsi que les instituteurs, les prêtres et les pasteurs, les notables. Enfin, l’appel à la mobilisation est assorti de menaces de graves sanctions à l’égard de tout réfractaire éventuel. Ces différents éléments n’épuisent certainement pas le sujet mais suffisent à remettre en cause la thèse mono-causale et  fallacieuse du consentement patriotique.

Bibliographie

Jean-Jacques Becker, 1914 : Comment les Français sont entrés dans la guerre, contribution à l’étude de l’opinion publique, printemps-été 1914, Paris, Presses de la fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1977.

Yves Pourcher, « Les clichés de la Grande Guerre : entre histoire et fiction », in Jules Maurin, Jean-Charles Jauffret (dir.), La Grande guerre 1914-1918, 80 ans d’historiographie et de représentations, Montpellier, Université Paul Valéry/ESID, 2002, p. 365-392.

Jules Maurin, Armée, guerre, société. Soldats languedociens (1889-1919), Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2013 (1982), préface d’André Loez et Nicolas Offenstadt.

Frederic Rousseau

The social dynamics of French mobilization of August 1914

Comment les Français sont entrés dans la guerre (How the French entered the war) is the title of a work that has long influenced French historical accounts of the Great War. The central thesis, focussed on the myth of an enthusiastic departure, “with flowers in the barrels of the guns,” places emphasis on the depth of patriotic sentiment. In retrospect, four decades later, this approach was excessively simplistic, requiring serious revision.

The success of French mobilization is indisputable. The Chief of Staff of the French Army calculated a rate of 13% of draft dodgers; however, in reality, it was less than 1%. In most cases, these were men who, being far from the recruiting zones, had not yet been able to reach them. Everywhere, even in remote Russia, the military mobilization was generally successful. For its part, the French state managed to mobilize, equip and transport more than two million men to the front. We can recognize the prodigious logistical and strategic effort; meanwhile, we must not reduce all that only to the patriotism of mobilized soldiers and their families. Can we reconstruct and infer the thoughts and feelings of social actors based on a regimentation of collective behaviour imposed from above?

To answer this, we must reaffirm, first, that there is no reason to doubt the existence of a nationalist sentiment. The French, like any others, but with very different levels of intensity, have a sense of attachment to their homeland, to their own land. And although the historian has no way of measuring the intensity of this feeling, patriotism certainly constitutes an element of explanation. We should also mention the effects of the republican school on this integration, the development of mass media and universal compulsory conscription. The emotional shock of the invasion news and the general conviction that the war would end quickly constitute additional factors. All of this is true, but ignores the real social and political impulses that guide society. If we wish to understand the reasons why men left for the front and women allowed them to go, many other factors must be analysed. The sociology of interactions, and microsociology in particular, can help us in this process of addressing general mobilization as a social scenario in which different actors participate, act and interact according to the principles that govern society. The analysis of testimonies reveals exactly what happens in this unusual social scenario.

The announcement of general mobilization was also a public and collective experience and, with some exceptions based on location, relatively unexpected. In the last days of July, city-dwellers were able to identify signs of increasing international tension from the news provided to them by the media, including the preparations of active regiments and the recalls of reservists and those on leave as a precursor to their effective deployment. In the countryside, then busy with intense summer work, the terrible news announced by the tolling of the church bells shook the population. Men and women, parents and children everywhere, all together, “one next to the other”, “one in front of the other”, were struck by the announcement. Immediately, in an intense emotional context that left no space for personal points of view, everyone was forced to react under the eyes of their own families. Very soon, every man would have to accomplish what he thought everyone expected of him, based on his social status, age and sex. From the moment when a man becomes involved into this extraordinary unprecedented event requiring that everyone assumes the role of courageous defender of the homeland, proclaimed in danger by everyone, what other image of oneself must he show to his wife, parents, neighbours and fellow citizens if not that of the brave soldier ready to sacrifice himself for his country? For millions of common people, who knew they had no control over the events in course, "going to war or not going" was not a question. The decision to enlist and leave did not represent in any way an individual decision.

Departures took place in the context of "emotional pressure" exercised in different environments and social circles. This triggered not only a series of limits and duties regarding their loved ones and peers, but also themselves. When the time comes, one must "do his duty" as a virile man and courageous citizen. Having an attitude that would dishonour their community or their lineage was simply inconceivable. The imperious and inevitable nature of the mobilization order was also reinforced by a dense disciplinary network established by the authorities in strategic locations of the mobilization. This network was formed of the many peripheral authorities available, such as the municipality, police, army, teachers, companies, preachers, and local authorities. The mobilization took place under the threat of serious sanctions intended to prevent and punish any resistance to the call to arms. These arguments are certainly not exhaustive, but are sufficient to question the monocausal and incomplete thesis of patriotic consensus.

Bibliography

Jean-Jacques Becker, 1914: Comment les Français sont entrés dans la guerre, contribution à l’étude de l’opinion publique, printemps-été 1914, Paris, Presses de la fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1977.
Yves Pourcher, «Les clichés de la Grande Guerre: entre histoire et fiction», in Jules Maurin, Jean-Charles Jauffret (dir.), La Grande guerre 1914-1918, 80 ans d’historiographie et de représentations, Montpellier, Université Paul Valéry/ESID, 2002, p. 365-392.
Jules Maurin, Armée, guerre, société. Soldats languedociens (1889-1919), Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2013 (1982), préface d’André Loez et Nicolas Offenstadt.

Wojciech Łysek

Historyczny rewanż – bitwa pod Tannenbergiem

Rosjanie wkroczyli do Prus Wschodnich w sierpniu 1914, by uratować Francję. Ich przegrana pod Tannenbergiem została okrzyknięta rewanżem za porażkę pod Grunwaldem z 1410 roku. Niemcy realizowali odwrócony planu Schlieffena. Zamiast zwycięstwa nad Francją, zbliżano się do pokonania rozległego Imperium Rosyjskiemu.

 

Zgodnie z planem Schlieffena na wschodzie pozostała 8 Armia dowodzona przez Maxa von Prittwitza. Francuzi nakłaniali Petersburg do wystąpienia. Dlatego, mimo nie osiągnięcia gotowości bojowej, Rosjanie skierowali wojsko w stronę Prus.

Kampanię rozpoczęła 17 sierpnia, wkraczając od strony Wilna, 1 Armia pod dowództwem gen. Pawła von Rennenkampfa. Nie ufano mu ze względu na niemieckie pochodzenie. 2 Armią mobilizowano na południu, stąd nazwa „warszawska”. Kierował nią pracujący w administracji wojskowej gen. Aleksander Samsonow. Obaj dowódcy nienawidzili się od wojny rosyjsko-japońskiej. Łączyła ich niechęć do dowódcy frontu Jakowa Żylińskiego dla którego byli tchórzami. Zgodnie z rosyjskimi planami o sukcesie miała przesądzić współpraca tych trzech osób.

Armia „wileńska” wygrała potyczkę 21 sierpnia pod Gąbinem. Nie podążyła jednak za Niemcami, gdyż brakowało jej żywności i amunicji. 2 Armia pozostawała bierna, gdyż Samsonow nie znał, pochodzących z różnych okręgów, podkomendnych. Ofensywie nie sprzyjało ukształtowanie terenu.

Zaniedbano rozpoznanie strefy przygranicznej, którą Prusacy pozbawili wszelkich dóbr. Składającej się z tubylców 8 Armii działalność utrudniało 800 tysięcy migrantów. Prittwitz po potyczce pod Gąbinem zadecydował wycofać się na linię Wisły. Zaniepokoiło to przełożonych, którzy wobec zagrożenia kolebki pruskiej państwowości zastąpili go Paulem von Hindenburgiem i zdecydowali się przerzucić na wschód dwa korpusy z Francji. Spór historyków o wagę tego wydarzenia trwa do dziś.

Między 21 a 22 sierpnia, ponaglana przez Żylińskiego, 2 Armia wkroczyła do Prus. Ze względu na rozstaw osi nie skorzystała z sieci kolejowej. Samsonow skorygował plan kierując forsownym marszem jednostki na zachód, by okrążyć Niemców. Szwankowała łączność i zaopatrzenie. Z trudnością opanowano Olsztyn, gdzie miało nastąpić połączenie rosyjskich wojsk.

W 8 Armii zdolnościami wykazał się szef operacyjny, który zarządził dyslokację wojsk bliżej armii „warszawskiej”. Decyzję zatwierdził Hindenburg. Przewaga Rosjan (15 dywizji wobec 9) skłaniała do próby realizacji ryzykownego planu pokonania dwóch armii w osobnych bitwach. 1 Armia mogła zaatakować od tyłu, jednak Rennenkampf był przekonany, że Niemcy wycofują się do Królewca lub za Wisłę.

Na rozciągnięte na przestrzeni blisko 100 kilometrów i rozczłonkowane jednostki rosyjskie czekali zdyscyplinowani i lepiej wyposażeni Niemcy. Dlatego 24 i 25 sierpnia odparli napastników. Sytuację Rosjan komplikowała 80 kilometrowa luka między 2 a 1 Armią. Samsonow na wieść o wycofywaniu się XX Korpusu, rozkazał kontynuować zachodni kierunek marszu. Postępowanie Niemców wynikało z niepojawienia się jadących spod Gąbina I Korpusu i 3 Dywizji Rezerwowej.

Mimo ryzyka, Hindenburg z Ludendorffem zdecydowali się użyć XX Korpus (zabezpieczającego przed Rennenkampfem) przeciw Samsonowowi. Utwierdzała w tym jedna z wielu przechwyconych nieszyfrowanych depesz (Luddendorff uważał, że nasłuch przesądził o zwycięstwie). Informowano w niej (26 sierpnia) o zachodnim kierunku marszu 1 Armii. Niemcy zyskiwali 2-3 dni.

Asymetria informacji oraz przybyłe spod Gubina jednostki zadecydowały 26 i 27 sierpnia o przełamaniu na skrzydłach 2 Armii. Tymczasem Samsonow nie wycofał pozostających w środku oddziałów, przypieczętowując los Rosjan, których Niemcy okrążyli. Przełomowy okazał się 28 sierpnia, gdy atakujące w centrum jednostki zmuszono do odwrotu. Wykazał się przy tym dowódca XVII korpusu gen. August von Mackensen. Dopiero 29 sierpnia Samsonow uświadomił sobie dramatyczne położenie. Niedługo potem zmarł z powodu zawału lub popełnił samobójstwo. Jego żołnierzom pozostało próbować wydostać się z okrążenia. Do 31 sierpnia Niemcy wzięli od 90 do 120 tysięcy jeńców, w tym 11 generałów. Zginęło bądź odniosło rany 40-50 tysięcy Rosjan. Straty niemieckie szacuje się na 10-15 tysięcy.

Kilka dni później rozpoczęła się wymierzona przeciw armii „wileńskiej” bitwa w rejonie Wielkich Jezior Mazurskich. Zrezygnowani Rosjanie, po dezercji Rennenkampfa, przegrali. Straty sięgnęły 75 tysięcy rannych i 45 tysięcy zniewolonych. Niemieckie nie przekroczyły 9 tysięcy żołnierzy. W sumie nieudolność carskich generałów oznaczała utratę 200 tysięcy ludzi.

Rozliczenia po porażce dotknęły uwięzionego gen. Leonida Artamonowa i przeniesienie Żylińskiego. Kozłem ofiarnym uznano rozstrzelanego za szpiegostwo płk Siergieja Miasojedowa. Rozgoryczenie kontrastowało z lipcowym entuzjazmem. Społeczeństwo obwiniało Francuzów za upokarzającą klęskę z trzykrotnie słabszym przeciwnikiem.

Odmiennie reagowali Niemcy. W narodowej świadomości Tannenberg stał się przykładem obrony haimatu oraz rewanżem za Grunwald w 1410 roku. Odżył mit wojny z barbarzyńskimi Słowianami. Narodził się kult Hindenburga, którego w listopadzie mianowano feldmarszałkiem.

Dla upamiętnienia tryumfu wydrukowano pocztówki, a w 1927 otwarto Tannenberg-Denkmal. Monumentalne mauzoleum w okolicach Olsztynka umacniało niemiecką tożsamość Mazurów. Wysadzono je w 1945 r., gdy inwazja Armii Czerwonej zakończyła niemieckie panowanie.

Link

www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFGDZuepy_w (EN) – film dokumentalny „World War I: Battle of Tannenberg”;
www.youtube.com/watch?v=JidDI60nBqw (EN) – „The Battle of Tannenberg” [w:] “World War I in Colour” (2003), TV Mini-Series, zob. więcej: www.imdb.com/title/tt0481303/;

Museum

tannenberg-nationaldenkmal.andreasspringer.de (EN) – portal Tannenberg National Monument;

Readings

Jacek Domański, Włodzimierz Wilczek, Tannenberg 1914, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo „Militaria”, 2005;
Dennis Showalter E., Tannenberg. Zderzenie imperiów, Warszawa, Książka i Wiedza, tłum. Rafał Dymek, 2005;
Piotr Szlanta, Tannenberg 1914, Warszawa, Dom Wydawniczy Bellona, 2005.

Wojciech Łysek

Avenging History. The Battle of Tannenberg

In August 1914, to save France, the Russians entered the territory of East Prussia. Their defeat at Tannenberg was hailed as the revenge for the lost battle of Grunwald in 1410. The Germans were executing the Schlieffen plan in reverse. Instead of achieving victory over France, they were close to defeating the vast Russian Empire.

 

In line with the Schlieffen plan, the 8th Army under Max von Prittwitz’s command remained in the east. The French were leaning on Saint Petersburg to rise up. The Russians, therefore, directed their army against Prussia before reaching full combat readiness.

The campaign began on 17 August when the 1st Army, under General Paul von Rennenkampf’s command, entered from the direction of Vilnius. He was mistrusted because of his German descent. The 2nd Army was being mobilised in the south, hence its name–the “Warsaw” Army. It was led by General Alexander Samsonov who was working in the military administration. Since the Russo-Japanese War there was a great deal of animosity between both commanders. What they had in common, however, was their dislike of Yakov Zhilinskiy, the front-line commander who saw them both as cowards. The success of the Russian plans was dependent upon the cooperation of these three players.

On 21 August, the “Vilnius” Army won the Battle of Gumbinnen. It did not, however, pursue the Germans due to the short supply of food and ammunition. The 2nd Army remained inactive because Samsonov did not know his subordinates, as they came from different regions. The topography was not favourable to the offensive.

The border zone, which the Prussian army left completely depleted, was not appropriately surveyed. The operations of the 8th Army, which was made up of local soldiers, was hampered by some 800,000 migrants. Following the Battle of Gumbinnen, Prittwitz made the decision to retreat to the Vistula River. His superiors, alarmed by the threat to the cradle of the Prussian statehood, replaced him with Paul von Hindenburg and decided to move two corps from France to the east. Historians are still unable to agree on the significance of that event.

Urged by Zhilinskiy, the 2nd Army entered Prussia between 21 and 22 August. However, as Russian trains operated on a different rail gauge, the army could not use the railway network. Samsonov corrected his plan by directing the units to the west to encircle the Germans. Communications and supplies were defective. It was difficult to take Olsztyn, the town where the Russian armies were due to join forces.

The Chief of Operations in the 8th Army proved his talents by ordering the relocation of the army closer to the “Warsaw” Army. Hindenburg approved this decision. The Russian army numerical superiority, (outnumbering the Germans 15 divisions to 9) persuaded to attempt the risky plan to defeat the two armies in separate battles. It was possible that the 1st Army might attack from the rear but Rennenkampf was convinced that the Germans were retreating to Königsberg or beyond the Vistula River.

The Russian units, fragmented and stretched over an area of nearly 100 kilometres, were faced the disciplined and better equipped German army which, on 24 and 25 August, repelled the aggressors. The Russian position was further compromised by the 80 kilometre wide gap between the 1st and 2nd Army. Samsonov, informed of the retreat of the XX Corps, ordered his army to continue its march in the westerly direction. The Germans’ actions were prompted by the fact that the I Corps and the 3rd Reserve Division travelling from Gumbinnen did not arrive.

Despite the risk, Hindenburg and Ludendorff decided to use the XX Corps (meant to defend against Rennenkampf) against Samsonov. The plan was further reinforced by one of many intercepted unencrypted Russian messages (Luddendorff believed the victory was determined by audio surveillance) which (on 26 August) contained information about the 1st Army’s march in the westerly direction. The Germans gained 2-3 days.

The mismatch of information and the arrival of the units from Gumbinnen determined the break through on the flanks of the 2nd Army on 26 and 27 August. In the meantime, Samsonov failed to withdraw the units remaining in the middle, thus sealing the fate of the Russians, who were now surrounded by the Germans. The breakthrough came on 28 August when the units advancing in the middle were forced to retreat. The commander of the XVII Corps, General August von Mackensen, particularly distinguished himself during that operation. It was not until 29 August that Samsonov became aware of the severity of his position. He died shortly afterwards either from a heart attack or suicide. All that his soldiers could do was to try to break through the encirclement. By 31 August, the Germans captured between 90,000 and 120,000 prisoners, including 11 generals. Forty to fifty thousand Russians were either killed or wounded. The German losses are estimated to be around 10,000-15,000.

The battle of the Masurian Lakes against the “Vilnius” Army began a few days later. The Russians, disheartened with Rennenkampf’s desertion, lost the battle. Their losses reached 75,000 wounded and 45,000 captured soldiers. The Germans lost just under 9,000 soldiers. Ultimately, the incompetence of the imperial Russian generals led to the total loss of 200,000 people.

The reckoning after the defeat led to Leonid Artamonov’s imprisonment and Zhilinskiy’s transfer. Colonel Sergey Myasoyedov became a scapegoat and was shot for espionage. The disillusionment sharply contrasted with the enthusiasm felt in July. The humiliating defeat by a three times weaker opponent was blamed on the French.

The reaction in Germany was quite different. In the national consciousness, Tannenberg became an example of the defence of heimat and avenging the battle of Grunwald of 1410. The myth of the war against the barbaric Slavs was resurrected. Hindenburg became a national hero and was appointed Field Marshall in November.

Postcards were printed to commemorate the triumph and the Tannenberg Memorial was opened in 1927. The monumental mausoleum in the vicinity of Olsztynek reinforced the German ancestry of the Masurian population. The mausoleum was blown up in 1945 when the advance of the Red Army ended the German occupation.

Links

Disclosure

www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFGDZuepy_w (EN) – a documentary: ”World War I: Battle of Tannenberg”;
www.youtube.com/watch?v=JidDI60nBqw (EN) – “The Battle of Tannenberg” [w:] “World War I in Colour” (2003), TV Mini-Series, see more: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0481303/;

Museums

http://tannenberg-nationaldenkmal.andreasspringer.de/ (EN) – portal Tannenberg National Monument;

Literature

Jacek Domański, Włodzimierz Wilczek, Tannenberg 1914, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo „Militaria”, 2005;
Dennis Showalter E., Tannenberg. Zderzenie imperiów, Warszawa, Książka i Wiedza, tłum. Rafał Dymek, 2005;
Piotr Szlanta, Tannenberg 1914, Warszawa, Dom Wydawniczy Bellona, 2005.

 

Helena Trnkova

Raymond Poincaré (Bar-le-Duc 1860 – Paris 1934)

Avocat de formation, Poincaré embrasse rapidement une carrière politique devenant conseiller général et député à 27 ans, puis ministre. Reçu à l'Académie française en 1909, il arrive au sommet de sa carrière lors des temps troublés qui précèdent la Première Guerre mondiale. Président du Conseil 1912-1913, il est un des engénieurs de la Triple-Entente. Populaire pour son patriotisme et son énergie, cet originaire de Lorriane est élu Président de la République le 17 février 1914. Cinq mois plus tard, la crise de juillet éclate. Poincoré effectue encore un voyage officielle en Russie ; à son retour la situation attaint son paroxysme : le 3 août l'Empire allemand déclare la guerre à la France, rapidement l'Europe est en guerre. A l'incitation des ministres, Poincaré prépare un communiqué officiel. Le message présidentiel est contresigné par le gouvernement responsable après une examination soigneuse. Il est présenté le 4 août d'abord au Sénat puis à l'Assemblée et suscite de vifs applaudissements. Il devient emblematique de la constitition de « l'Union sacrée». Au moment, cette sorte d'unanimité dans la crise semble transcendre la société. Mais pour combien de temps ?

Poincaré quitte l'Elysée en 1920, il forme toutefois quatre cabinets consécutifs. Il se retire définitivement de la vie politique en 1929 en se consacrant à la rédaction de ses mémoires. Il décède en 1934, la Chambre déclarant que « le président Poincaré a bien mérité de la patrie ».

“Messieurs,

“La France vient d'être l'objet d'une agression brutale et préméditée, qui est un insolent défi au droit des gens. Avant qu'une déclaration de guerre nous en eût été adressée, avant même que l'ambassadeur d'Allemagne eût demandé ses passeports notre territoire a été violé. L'empire d'Allemagne n'a fait hier soir que donner tardivement le nom véritable à un état de fait qu'il avait déjà créé.

“Depuis plus de quarante ans, les Français, dans un sincère amour de la paix, ont refoulé au fond de leur cœur le désir des réparations légitimes.

“Ils ont donné au monde l'exemple d'une grande nation qui, définitivement relevée de la défaite par la volonté, la patience et le travail, n'a usé de sa force renouvelée et rajeunie que dans l'intérêt du progrès et pour le bien de l'humanité.

“Depuis que l'ultimatum de l'Autriche a ouvert une crise menaçante pour l'Europe entière, la France s'est attachée à suivre et à recommander partout une politique de prudence, de sagesse et de modération. On ne peut lui imputer aucun acte, aucun geste, aucun mot qui n'ait été pacifique et conciliant. À l'heure des premiers combats, elle a le droit de se rendre solennellement cette justice qu'elle a fait, jusqu'au dernier moment, des efforts suprêmes pour conjurer la guerre qui vient d'éclater et dont l'empire d'Allemagne supportera, devant l'histoire, l'écrasante responsabilité.

(...)

“Mais la France veillait. Aussi attentive que pacifique, elle s'était préparée; et nos ennemis vont rencontrer sur leur chemin nos vaillantes troupes de couverture, qui sont à leurs postes de bataille et à l'abri desquelles s'achèvera méthodiquement la mobilisation de toutes nos forces nationales. Notre belle et courageuse armée, que la France accompagne aujourd'hui de sa pensée maternelle, s'est levée toute frémissante pour défendre l'honneur du drapeau et le sol de la patrie.

“Le Président de la République, interprète de l'unanimité du pays, exprime à nos troupes de terre et de mer l'admiration et la confiance de tous les Français.

“Étroitement unie en un même sentiment, la nation persévèrera dans le sang-froid dont elle a donné, depuis l'ouverture de la crise, la preuve quotidienne. Elle saura, comme toujours, concilier les plus généreux élans et les ardeurs les plus enthousiastes avec cette maîtrise de soi qui est le signe des énergies durables et la meilleure garantie de la victoire.

(...)

“Dans la guerre qui s'engage, la France aura pour elle le droit, dont les peuples, non plus que les individus, ne sauraient impunément méconnaître l'éternelle puissance morale. Elle sera héroïquement défendue par tous ses fils, dont rien de brisera devant l'ennemi l'union sacrée et qui sont aujourd'hui fraternellement assemblés dans une même indignation contre l'agresseur et dans une même foi patriotique.

“Haut les couers et vive la France !”

Bibliographie:

Poincaré, Raymond, Au service de la France, neuf années de souvenirs, Volume IV : L'Union sacrée 1914, Paris, Librérie Plon, 1927.

Link:

http://www.larousse.fr/encyclopedie/personnage/Raymond_Poincar%C3%A9/138547

 

Helena Trnkova

Raymond Poincaré (Bar-le-Duc 1860 - Paris 1934)

A lawyer by training, Poincaré quickly embraced a political career, becoming a general counsel and deputy at the age of 27, and then a minister. Received into the Académie française in 1909, he reached the peak of his career during the troubled times before the First World War. Prime Minister from 1912-1913, he was one of the engineers of the Triple Entente. Popular for his patriotism and energy, he was elected President of the Republic on 17 February, 1914. That same summer, he had to face the July crisis. Returning from an official visit to Russia on 29 July, he found an alarming situation: on August 3rd the German Empire declared war on France and then launched military operations in Belgium; and the United Kingdom went to war. At the incentive of ministers, Poincaré prepared an official statement. After careful examination, the presidential message was countersigned by the responsible government. Presented on August 4th, firstly in the Senate  and then in the Assembly, it was met with great applause and became emblematic of the constitution of the "Sacred Union". Poincaré left the Elysée in 1920, but then formed four consecutive cabinets. He definitively retired from politics in 1929, dedicating himself to writing his memoirs. He died in 1934, the Chamber declaring that "President Poincaré has deserved well of the fatherland."

"Gentlemen,

“France has been the subject of a brutal and premeditated assault, which is an insolent challenge to the law of nations. Before any declaration of war had been sent to us, even before the German Ambassador had asked for his passports, our territory has been violated. The German empire has waited till yesterday evening to give at this late stage the true name to a state of things which it had already created.

"For more than forty years, the French, in sincere love of peace, have buried at the bottom of their heart the desire for legitimate reparation.

"They have given to the world an example of a great nation which, definitely raised from defeat by the exercise of will, patience and labour, has only used its renewed and rejuvenated strength  in the interest of progress and for the good of humanity.

"Since the ultimatum of Austria opened a crisis which threatened the whole of Europe, France has persisted in following and in recommending on all sides a policy of prudence, wisdom and moderation. To her there can be imputed no act, no movement, no word which has not been peaceful and conciliatory. At the hour when the struggle is beginning, she has the right, in justice to herself, of solemnly declaring that she has made, up to the last moment, supreme efforts to avert the war now about to break out, the crushing responsibility which the German empire will have to bear before history.

(...)

"But France was watching. As attentive as she is peaceful, she had prepared; and our enemies will encounter on their way our brave troops, who are at their battle stations and under whose shelter the mobilisation of all our national forces will methodically be completed. Our fine and courageous army, which France today accompanies with her maternal thought, has risen, eager to defend the honour of the flag and the soil of the country.

"The President of the Republic, interpreting the unanimous feeling of the country, expresses to our troops by land and sea the admiration and confidence of every Frenchman.

"Closely united in a common feeling, the nation will persevere with the cool self-restraint of which, since the beginning of the crisis, she has given daily proof. Now, as always, she will know how to harmonise the most noble daring and most ardent enthusiasm with that self-control which is the sign of enduring energy and is the best guarantee of victory.

(...)

In the war which is beginning, France will have Right on her side, the eternal power of which cannot with impunity be disregarded by nations any more than by individuals. She will be heroically defended by all her sons; nothing will break their sacred union before the enemy; today they are joined together as brothers in a common indignation against the aggressor, and in a common patriotic faith.

"Let us lift our hearts and Vive La France!"

 

Bibliography:

Poincaré, Raymond, Au service de la France, neuf années de souvenirs, Volume IV : L'Union sacrée 1914, Paris, Librérie Plon, 1927.

Link:

http://www.larousse.fr/encyclopedie/personnage/Raymond_Poincar%C3%A9/138547