Primary Documents - Paul von Hindenburg on the German Attack on Warsaw, 1914
Reproduced below is German Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg's account of the German decision to launch an attack against Poland in 1914.
The attack was initially launched as a means of drawing Russian manpower away from their ongoing assault against Germany's struggling ally, Austria-Hungary.
In this intent the attack essentially succeeded, with the Russians redirecting sizeable resources to the defence of Warsaw. A subsequent wider and more determined German assault ultimately failed however.
The German Attack on Warsaw, 1914, by Paul von Hindenburg
The consideration that formed the basis of our new plan was this: In the existing situation, if we tried to deal purely frontally with the attack of the Russian Fourth Army, a battle against overwhelming Russian superiority would take the same course as that before Warsaw.
It was not thus that Silesia would be saved from a hostile invasion. The problem of saving Silesia could only be solved by an offensive. Such an offensive against the front of a far superior enemy would simply be shattered to pieces. We had to find the way to his exposed, or merely slightly protected flank. The raising of my left hand explained what I meant at the first conference. If we felt for the enemy's northern wing in the region of Lodz, we must transfer to Thorn the forces to be employed in the attack.
We accordingly planned our new concentration between that fortress and Gnesen. In so doing we were putting a great distance between ourselves and the Austro-Hungarian left wing. Only comparatively weak German forces, including Woyrsch's exhausted Landwehr Corps, were to be left behind in the neighbourhood of Czenstochau.
For our new concentration in the region of Thorn and Gnesen all the Allied forces in the East were distributed among three great groups. The first was formed by the Austro-Hungarian Army on both sides of the upper Vistula, the two others of our Eighth and Ninth Armies.
We were not able to fill the gaps between the three groups with really good fighting troops. We had to put what were practically newly formed units into the sixty-mile gap between the Austrians and our Ninth Army. The offensive capacity of these troops was pretty low to start with, and yet we had to spread them out so much along the front of very superior Russian forces that to all intents and purposes they formed but a thin screen.
From the point of view of numbers, the Russians had only to walk into Silesia to sweep away their resistance with ease and certainty. Between the Ninth Army at Thorn and the Eighth on the eastern frontier of East Prussia we had practically nothing but frontier guards reinforced by the garrisons of Thorn and Graudenz.
Facing these troops was a strong Russian group of about four army corps north of Warsaw on the northern banks of the Vistula and the Narew. If this Russian group had been sent forward through Mlawa, the situation which had developed at the end of August before the Battle of Tannenberg would have been repeated. The line of retreat of the Eighth Army therefore appeared to be once more seriously threatened.
From the critical situation in Silesia and East Prussia we were to be released by the offensive of the Ninth Army in the direction of Lodz against the flank of the Russian main mass which was only weakly protected. It is obvious that if the attack of this army did not get home quickly, the enemy masses would concentrate upon it from all sides. The danger of this was all the greater because we were not numerically strong enough, nor were our troops good enough in quality, to pin down the Russian forces in the bend of the Vistula, as well as the enemy corps north of the middle Vistula, by strong holding attacks, or indeed mislead them for any considerable length of time.
In spite of all this we intended to make our troops attack everywhere, but it would have been a dangerous error to expect too much from this.
Everything in the way of good storm troops had to be brought up to reinforce the Ninth Army. It was to deliver the decisive blow. However great was the threat to the Eighth Army, it had to give up two corps to the Ninth. Under these circumstances it was no longer possible to continue the defence of the recently freed province on the Russian side of the frontier; our lines had to be withdrawn to the Lake region and the Angerapp.
This was not an easy decision. As the result of the measures of which I have spoken the total strength of the Ninth Army was brought up to about five and a half corps and five cavalry divisions. Two of the latter had come from the Western Front. In spite of our earnest representations Main Headquarters could not see their way to release further units from that side.
At this moment they were still hoping for a favourable issue to the Battle of Ypres. The full extent and meaning of the difficulties of a war on two fronts were revealing themselves once more.
The lack of numbers on our side had again to be made good by speed and energy. I felt quite sure that in this respect the command and the troops would do everything that was humanly possible. By November 10th the Ninth Army was ready. On the 11th it was off, with its left wing along the Vistula and its right north of the Warta.
It was high time, for news had reached us that the enemy also intended to take the offensive. An enemy wireless betrayed to us that the armies of the northwest front, in other words all the Russian armies from the Baltic to and including Poland, would start for a deep invasion of Germany on November 14th.
We took the initiative out of the hands of the Russian Commander-in-Chief, and when he heard of our operation on the 13th he did not dare to venture on his great blow against Silesia, but threw in all the troops he could lay hands on to meet our attack.
For the time being Silesia was thus saved, and the immediate purpose of our scheme was achieved. Would we be able to go one better and secure a great decision? The enemy's superiority was enormous at all points. Yet I hoped for great things!
In its rapid changes from attack to defence, enveloping to being enveloped, breaking through to being broken through, the "Battle of Lodz" reveals a most confusing picture on both sides. A picture which in its mounting ferocity exceeded all the battles that had previously been fought on the Eastern Front!
In conjunction with the Austro-Hungarians we succeeded in stemming the floods of half Asia.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. III, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
A respirator was a gas mask in which air was inhaled through a metal box of chemicals.
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