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The Battle of Grunwald – 1410

June 7, 2010 1 comment

WORK IN PROGRESS

Year 1226, the Polish Duke of Mazowsze, Konrad Mazowiecki invited the Palestine – based Teutonic Order into the lands of Chelmno, on the river Wisla (Vistula), expecting the Order’s help in their struggles against pagan Prussians.

Grand Master Hermann von Salza had brought his first German knights to Poland that same year, with the presumed intention of staying a year or two. Nearly two hundred years later they owned most of the Baltic coast, including the lands of Latvia and Estonia, and showed every intention of soon controlling Lithuania, Poland and Russia.

The Poles had provided a formidable army of 18000 knights, 11000 retainers and 4000 foot soldiers, to which must be added 11000 Lithuanian knights and foot soldiers, 1100 Tartars and about 6000 Bohemians, Russians, Moravians and Moldavians who came to help the Polish-Lithuanian State. But only a precious few were heavy cavalry. Most of the Lithuanian and Polish foot soldiers were armed with clubs, and their equipment was inferior to that of the Crusaders.

The Crusaders could assemble that day 21000 excellent heavy cavalrymen, 6000 massively armed infantry, and 5000 servants trained in battle, and better-armed than most of the Lithuanian and Polish foot soldiers.


Most of these Crusaders would be Teutonic Knights/Germans, but from all Western Europe knights had come to help their brothers against the “pagan” Lithuanians (some of them were indeed still pagans), and the Poles who dared to support the pagans instead of the Christians. English, French, Hungarians, Austrians, Bavarians, Thuringians, Bohemians, Luxembourgians, Flamands, Dutch and even some Poles would help the Teutonic Knights, but the Grand Master had expected more help from western Europe. The Crusaders had 100 cannons capable of throwing balls larger than a head, while the Polish-Lithuanians had only 16 cannons.

Although outnumbered in bodies, (more than 50000 Poles, Lithuanians and Allies to 32000 Crusaders – mostly Germans), the Crusaders were vastly superior in armour, horses, and experience and in battlefield leadership. This was going to be one of the most decisive battles of the world, and of all times – an immense clash of arms which would determine the history of Eastern Europe and the destiny of the two emerging nations, Lithuania and Poland.

In the early morning of July 15, 1410, both armies met in the area of approximately 4 km2 (1.5 sq mi) between the villages of Grunwald, Tannenberg (Stębark) and Ludwigsdorf (Łodwigowo). Both armies were formed in opposing lines along a northeast–southwest axis. The Polish–Lithuanian army was positioned in front and east of the villages of Ludwigsdorf and Tannenberg. Polish heavy cavalry formed the left flank, Lithuanian light cavalry formed the right flank, while various mercenary troops were in the middle. Their men were organized in three lines of wedge-shaped formations about 20 men deep. The opposing forces of the Teutonic Knights concentrated their elite heavy cavalry, commanded by Grand Marshal Frederic von Wallenrode, against the Lithuanians. The Knights, who were the first to organize their army for the battle, hoped to provoke Poles or Lithuanians to attack first. Their troops, wearing heavy armor, had to stand in scorching sun for several hours waiting for an attack. One chronicle suggested that they had dug pits that an attacking army would fall into. They also attempted to use field artillery, but a light rain dampened their powder and only two cannon shots were fired. As Jogaila delayed, Grand Master sent messengers with two swords to “assist Jogaila and Vytautas in battle”. The swords were meant as an insult and provocation. Known as the Grunwald Swords, they became one of the national symbols of Poland.


Battle begins: Polish–Teutonic fight

Vytautas, supported by a few Polish banners, started an assault on the left flank of the Teutonic forces. After more than an hour of heavy fighting, the Lithuanian light cavalry started a full retreat. Jan Długosz described this development as a complete annihilation of the entire Lithuanian army. According to him, the Knights assumed that the victory was theirs, broke their formation for disorganized pursuit of the retreating Lithuanians, and gathered much loot before returning to the battlefield to face the Polish troops. He made no mention of the Lithuanians that returned to the battlefield. Thus Długosz portrayed the battle as single-handed Polish victory. This one-sided view has been challenged by modern historians. They proposed that the retreat was a planned strategic maneuver, borrowed from the Golden Horde. The same false retreat was used in the Battle of the Vorskla River of 1399, where the Lithuanian army was dealt a crushing defeat and Vytautas personally barely escaped alive. This theory is supported by a German letter, discovered and published by Swedish historian Sven Ekdahl in 1963. The letter cautions the new Grand Master to look out for false retreats as it happened in the Great Battle.Stephen Turnbull asserted that the Lithuanian retreat did not quite fit the tried formula of a false retreat. A false retreat was usually staged by one or two units (as opposed to almost an entire army) and was swiftly followed by a counterattack (whereas the Lithuanians returned late in the battle).

Retreat of Lithuanian light cavalry

Battle continues: Polish–Teutonic fight

While Lithuanians were retreating, heavy fighting began between Polish and Teutonic forces. Teutonic forces, commanded by Grand Komtur Kuno von Lichtenstein, concentrated on the Polish right flank. Six of von Walenrode banners did not pursue the retreating Lithuanians and joined the attack on the right flank. A particularly high-value target was the royal banner of Kraków. It seemed that the Knights were gaining upper hand and at one point the royal standard-bearer Marcin of Wrocimowice lost the banner. However, it was soon recaptured and fighting continued. Jogaila deployed his reserves – the second line of his army. Then Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen personally led 16 banners, almost a third of the original Teutonic strength, to the right Polish flank and Jogaila deployed his last reserves, the third line of his army. The melee reached the Polish command and one Knight, identified as Lupold or Diepold of Kökeritz, charged directly against King Jogaila. His secretary Zbigniew Oleśnicki saved king’s life, gaining royal favor and becoming one of the most influential people in Poland.

Right-flank Polish–Lithuanian assault

Battle continues: Polish–Teutonic fight

While Lithuanians were retreating, heavy fighting began between Polish and Teutonic forces. Teutonic forces, commanded by Grand Komtur Kuno von Lichtenstein, concentrated on the Polish right flank. Six of von Walenrode banners did not pursue the retreating Lithuanians and joined the attack on the right flank. A particularly high-value target was the royal banner of Kraków. It seemed that the Knights were gaining upper hand and at one point the royal standard-bearer Marcin of Wrocimowice lost the banner. However, it was soon recaptured and fighting continued. Jogaila deployed his reserves – the second line of his army. Then Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen personally led 16 banners, almost a third of the original Teutonic strength, to the right Polish flank and Jogaila deployed his last reserves, the third line of his army. The melee reached the Polish command and one Knight, identified as Lupold or Diepold of Kökeritz, charged directly against King Jogaila. His secretary Zbigniew Oleśnicki saved king’s life, gaining royal favor and becoming one of the most influential people in Poland.

Polish heavy cavalry break-through

Battle ends: Teutonic Knights defeated

At that time, the reorganized Lithuanians returned to the battle, attacking von Jungingen from the rear. The Teutonic forces were by then becoming outnumbered by the mass of Polish knights and the advancing Lithuanian cavalry. As von Jungingen attempted to break through the Lithuanian lines, he was killed. According to Cronica conflictus, Dobiesław of Oleśnica thrust a lance through Grand Master’s neck, while Długosz presented Mszczuj of Skrzynno as the killer. Surrounded and leaderless, the Teutonic Knights began to retreat. Part of the routed units retreated towards their camp. However, the camp followers turned against their masters and joined the manhunt. The Knights attempted to built a wagon fort: the camp was surrounded by wagons serving as an improvised fortification. However, the defense was soon broken and the camp was looted. According to Cronica conflictus, more Knights died in the camp than in the battlefield.[60] The battle lasted for about ten hours.[29]

The Teutonic Knights attributed the defeat to a treason, committed by Nikolaus von Renys (Mikołaj of Ryńsk), commander of the Culm (Chełmno) banner, for which he was beheaded without a trial. He was the founder and leader of the Lizard Union, a group of Knights sympathetic to Poland. According the Knights, von Renys lowered his banner, which was taken as a signal of surrender and began the panicked retreat. This myth that the Knights were “stabbed in the back” was mirrored in the post-World War I stab-in-the-back legend and preoccupied German historiography until 1945.

The defeat of the Teutonic Knights was resounding. About 8,000 Teuton soldiers were killed and an additional 14,000 were taken captive. According to Teutonic payroll records, only 1,427 men reported back to Marienburg to claim their pay. Of 1,200 men sent from Danzig, only 300 returned. Some 200 of the approximately 250 brothers of the Order were killed, including much of the Teutonic leadership – Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen, Grand Marshal Friedrich von Wallenrode, Grand Komtur Kuno von Lichtenstein, Grand Treasurer Thomas von Merheim, Marshal of Supply Forces Albrecht von Schwartzburg, and a numbers of komturs.[66] Markward von Salzbach, Komtur of Brandenburg (Ushakovo), and Heinrich Schaumburg, voigt of Sambia, were executed by order of Vytautas after the battle.[64] Body of von Jungingen and other highest officials were transported to Marienburg Castle for burial on July 19. The rest of the dead were gathered in several mass graves. The highest ranking Teutonic official to escape from the battle was Werner von Tettinger, Komtur of Elbing (Elbląg).

In the battle, both Polish and Lithuanian forces had taken several thousand captives. Among those taken captive were Dukes Konrad VII of Oels (Oleśnica) and Casimir V of Pomerania.[68] Most of the commoners and mercenaries were released shortly after the battle on the condition that they would report to Kraków on November 11, 1410. Only those that were expected to pay ransom remained in captivity. For instance, one of the mercenaries named Holbracht von Loym had to pay sixty times the number of 150 Prague groschen, that is over 30 kilograms of silver.

Sources: Wikipedia and other historical websites…