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The Battle of Grunwald (Battle of Grünfelde, Battle of Tannenberg : German, Battle of Zalgiris : Lithuanian) was fought on July 15, 1410 between the Knights of the Order of Teutonic Knights and the commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania. One of the most important battles in European history and especially in that of the eastern Baltic, the Battle of Grunwald would reshape an entire region and would help to give rise to the new Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as well as the later rise of Prussia, who, at least in name, rose from the ashes of the Teutonic Order.


The location of the battle is held as the town of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in what was once East Prussia and is now part of northeastern Poland. The Teutonic Order, originally brought into the Baltic region at the behest of the king of Poland to convert and pacify the pagan tribes of area, had permanently settled in the region and made war against most all of its neighbors. With the conversion of Lithuania to Catholicism and the subsequent unification of the Polish and Lithuanian lands under King Wladyslaw II the Order had lost their mandate to pacify the region, as no real official pagan lands were left in the area, and the stage was set towards a final showdown between the Teutonic Order and a Polish-Lithuania commonwealth that had grown to fear their northern neighbors.

The stage for the battle was actually set the previous year, when some Samogitian tribes revolted against the Order’s control. The tribes requested assistance from the Lithuanian Grand Duke Witold and, through him, the Polish king, Wladyslaw, in defending their lands from the Teutonic forces. The preliminary war lasted only a few skirmishes though, with the Teutonic Order’s Grand Master, Ulrich von Jungingen, calling for a truce until June 24th of 1410. The two sides now backed off as agreed, but both began to muster their strength and the field was set for the final showdown in between Poland and the Order, for dominance over the Baltic region.

Opening Movements

The Polish-Lithuanian forces began their 1410 offensive with a feint towards Marienburg (now Malbork). Driving towards the Dwerca River, the Polish forces had learned that the Order had arranged their forces on the other side of the river. In response to the fortified position of the Teutonic Order, the Polish led alliance’s forces (hereafter simply the alliance) moved directly north and sacked the town of Dabrowno. The alliance now moved towards the town of Grunwald, while the Order responded predictably and followed. By July 14, the two armies where camped mere kilometers away; the order stopping at Grunwald after a 20 kilometer, one day, march, the alliance in three camps near Ulnowo. The opponents were arranged and ready, and the next day would bring one of the most important battles of its time.

Troop Deployments

Between the two towns, the lay of the land contained open space, marshes and wooded areas. Both sides used at least one of these areas to their advantage as they arranged their forces. The Order stretched its lines from the Grunwald, where to town itself became the bulwark for the left flank, to Lodwigowo, where both the town itself and the nearby marshes formed another bulwark. Along their line, they deployed in several ranks, with infantry, archers and what artillery the Order had forming the front rank and the knights themselves forming two ranks behind this foot soldiers. As well, a reserve force of some 16 units was deployed near Grunwald and behind the center of the Order’s forces. Among the commanders; the left was commanded by Marshal Freidrich Wallenrod, the right by Marshal Konrad von Lichtenstein and the center by Hochmeister von Jungingen.

The alliance force’s deployments are only known in more general terms, but we do know that the Lithuanians under Grand Duke Witold were on the right flank, with the Polish forces on the left and the myriad Russian, Tatar, Bohemian and Maldavian vassal forces bridging the gap between the two forces. The Polish forces are documented to have created two or three lines of cavalry within their deployment, with two additional squads of cavalry deployed as reserves behind the left and center flanks. As well another few full units were placed in the forest behind the lines, with King Wladyslaw setting up his command between where those units were hiding and the Polish front lines.

The Armies

The strength of the two armies varies widely depending on the chronicle chosen. The Teutonic Order’s number of soldiers ranges from 18,000 to over 80,000 men, while the alliance’s force total ranges from 26,000 to over 163,000. Of the latter number for the alliance, it included an estimate that claimed 100,000 vassal Tatar forces were in the alliance army. One though has trouble believing that considering the Tatar’s role in the battle to come. Furthermore, claims state that all of the Order’s banners were captured, with numbers of banners ranging from the low 50s to the 60s.

A large part of the Order’s forces are said to have been comprised of vassals of the order and adventurers of various types. Overall the cavalry of the Order was the predominant force and their number is believed to have actually been around 20,000 men strong, a considerable force. As well the Order had 10,000 to 20,000 infantry and armed commoners, which included bowmen and is believed to have included mercenary forces. Finally, the Order is known to have possessed some significant part of its military strength in the battle represented in artillery.

Claims tend to put the alliance’s forces at or around 50,000 total troops, with about 20,000 Polish cavalry, including about 10,000 light cavalry, or retainers, and about 5,000 Polish infantry. The numbers vary for the Polish forces though and some sources place the Polish strength at significantly fewer and no more than 20,000 mounted soldiers. Among the other forces supporting the Polish were Lithuanians, Russians, Tatars and some Bohemian and Moldavian forces. Of these the Lithuanians were the most important and are said to have had about 10,000 to 15,000 cavalry. Also present were about 3,000 Tatar light cavalry and a few Russian banners from around Smolensk. Overall the infantry strength between all the banners is said to have been as high as 17,000 strong. As well the alliance forces are said to have had some small artillery presence.

Overall though, it should be noted that while the Polish side was the more numerous by whatever count is used, the Teutonic Order was a marvelous fighting force. They had some of the best commanders in the world, at the time and were heavily armored and indeed more wisely armored than their Polish counterpart. Indeed, where as those armored soldiers in the allied forces tended towards heavy plate and other such thick and very heavy protection, the Order's forces tended towards chain and mixed plate, something that offered nearly as much protection as thick plate, but was far less restrictive in the individual soldiers fighting capabilities and stamina. Whatever might happen, the common Polish or Lithuanian soldier of the alliance forces must have known that he was about to go into battle against an enemy that was in all ways more prepared and skilled in battle than they would ever be themselves. This had to be an unnerving thought for those involved on the alliances side; for indeed they were about to tangle with one of the most effective fighting forces ever seen in Europe, a fact which surely did not slip their minds.

Battle of Grunwald

The battle is said to have opened around nine am of July 15th, with some small skirmishes by both side’s light cavalry and rather insignificant bombardments by the Order’s small cannon. The first main struggle is said to have been started by the Lithuanians on the right flank, who charged the Order’s lines, heading for the cavalry and the cannons in the vicinity. Their immediate effect was spectacular as the Order’s forces fell back, losing most of their cannon and large quantities of troops. Though the initial victory is attributed to the Lithuanians, many agree that much of the damage to the order’s foot soldiers was probably caused by their own fleeing heavy cavalry.

It is not apparent whether at this time the Tatar forces under the alliance broke under battle or contrived a fake retreat, but it is known that at least one, if not many of the Tatar units fled towards their camp in the early stages of the battle, where they were pursued by some of the Order’s forces. Meanwhile, the commander of the right flank, von Wallenrod, committed his reserves against the Lithuanians and managed to steady his line and force Witold in turn to commit his own reserves to the battle. As well, the left flank of the Order’s forces now charged the opposing Polish forces, who met them in the field with their own cavalry charge. On the left flank, the fighting was said to have been relatively even.

By this time though, both sides had committed significant portions of their forces along almost the entire front. But, with the exception of the right flank, where Witold and von Wallenrod struggled, both sides had reserves left as well as some of their main forces actually not committed to any one area of the conflict as of yet. Indeed, even von Wallenrod had managed to hold back one of his main lines of troops, an act which would sharply shape the next period of the fighting.

When von Wallenrod committed his last set of troops to the struggle, the Lithuanian forces began to buckle under the pressure. The Lithuanian troops are said to have finally broken into an open rout and fled the field under the onslaught. Some fled towards the lake and the forest where the Polish and Russian forces where, while others are said to have fled through the screening marshes. Von Wallenrod would have had an opportunity now to smash the alliance’s right flank now, but some Russian units and a few reformed Lithuanian forces managed to stabilize the line in the area, albeit on a nearly ninety degree angle from the previous alliance line. And though one of the Russian units was completely destroyed in the action to stabilize the line, enough time was gained that Polish reinforcements could be deployed to re-invigorate the forces on the right.

While the chamberlain of Krakow was busy reinforcing the right flank though his position was stormed by the Order’s troops. Both himself and his standard bearer, Marcin of Wrocimovic, were wounded in the fighting and the standard of Krakow fell to the enemy. Being the main standard of the army, the Order believed the day had been won and surged forth en masse. Unfortunately for the Order’s troops, a unit of Polish knights also charged into the area and recovered the chamberlain, his standard bearer and the Krakow standard. Along the left front though, things were not going great for the alliance forces. The Order’s troops had been freed up to assault the left more heavily and Wladyslaw was forced to use his reinforcements. This though allowed the stabilizing of the right flank and brought some of the pressure off of the entire line.

Now though the battle was nearing an end. Both sides had committed the majority of their forces it was down to the men in the front lines as to who would eventually claim victory. Along what was once the far right flanks of the two armies, the Order’s pursuing troops finally caught up with some of the Lithuanian forces, but it was at this time that the last hidden troops of the alliance emerged. The Polish cavalry, hidden in the forest since the beginning of the battle, charged into the Order’s forces. This allowed the Lithuanian forces to stabilize and to rejoin the battle. The Order’s forces in the area were driven into the marsh and slaughtered nearly to the man. Nearly at the same as the Lithuanian and Polish knights were finally fighting back against their pursuers, Hochmeister von Jungingen deployed 16 reserve units to the right, hoping to completely destroy the alliance’s right flank.

One of the units sent in by von Jungingen managed to slide around the far side of the alliance’s forces and narrowly missed the Polish King’s own small force. It was said that only one knight of the Order’s forces manage to notice the king and the ensuing duel, supposedly happening during a lull in battle, signaled the final stage of the struggle. Though there may have indeed been a lull in battle, for both sides seem to have made some changes to their formations and prepared for a final onslaught; whatever happened, the battle was nearing its ultimate climax. Following the supposed duel, Wladyslaw was said to have send his infantry into the massed up Order cavalry. The effect was said to have been devastating to the Order’s forces. And even more so, Witold, the Lithuanian Grand Duke, is said to have been able to rally the Lithuanian forces and now launched an attack on the Order’s rear.

Whether Witold really did manage to make that decisive attack, or it was simply the end of the line for the Order’s flagging troops, along with some small fighting to the rear, the fact of the matter is that Hochmeister von Jungingen saw that his army’s position was near helpless. A controlled retreat of the Order’s forces was ordered, but coincided with the Polish forces breaking through the middle of the Order’s lines. Now instead of one fighting force, the Order was split in two, both of which were quickly surrounded. The fight quickly degenerated from there until the point where von Jungingen was pulled from his horse and killed. From that moment on, the battle was a battle no more and simply a slaughter.

When the final tallies were read, the Teutonic Order’s records claimed 18,000 of their soldiers dead and 14,000 captured to only 5,000 dead alliance soldiers and 8,000 wounded. In the days following the Battle at Grunwald most of the Order’s fortresses surrendered to the Polish forces, though Marienburg itself hung on until the Polish left the region in September of 1410. Areas of the former Order would eventually become the Grand Duchy of Prussia and pledge fealty to Poland. Even later they would join with the German state of Brandenburg to become one of the centers of a new Prussian state. Poland and Lithuania on the other hand would experience a long period of dominance in the region, following the battle, which slowly ended at the hands of Russian, Swedish and German forces, as well as bickering among the electorates.

Tannenberg, Battle of. (2006). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 30, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service
and some other sources I lost in the death of a flash drive.

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