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Battle of Grunwald

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Battle of Grunwald
Part of the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War
Jan Matejko, Bitwa pod Grunwaldem.jpg

Battle of Grunwald by Jan Matejko (1878)
Date15 July 1410 (1410-07-15)
Between villages of Grunwald (Grünfelde) and Stębark (Tannenberg), western Masuria, Poland

Result Polish–Lithuanian victory

Kingdom of Poland
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Polish–Lithuanian vassals, allies and mercenaries:[1]

Czechs, Bohemia,[1] Moravia,[1] Ruthenia,[2] Masovia,[3] Moldavia,[4] Tatars,[2] Wallachia,[5] Smolensk
Teutonic Order
Allies (Pomerania-Stettin), guest crusaders, and mercenaries from western Europe
Commanders and leaders
Grandmaster Ulrich von Jungingen 
16,000–39,000 men[6] 11,000–27,000 men[6]
Casualties and losses
Unknown Very heavy: 203–211 out of 270 Teutonic knights killed[7]
Battle site on a map of modern Poland

The Battle of Grunwald, First Battle of Tannenberg or Battle of Žalgiris, was fought on 15 July 1410 during the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War. The alliance of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, led respectively by King Władysław II Jagiełło (Jogaila) and Grand Duke Vytautas, decisively defeated the German–Prussian Teutonic Knights, led by Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen. Most of the Teutonic Knights' leadership were killed or taken prisoner. Although defeated, the Teutonic Knights withstood the siege of their fortress in Marienburg (Malbork) and suffered minimal territorial losses at the Peace of Thorn (1411) (Toruń), with other territorial disputes continuing until the Peace of Melno in 1422. The knights, however, would never recover their former power, and the financial burden of war reparations caused internal conflicts and an economic downturn in the lands under their control. The battle shifted the balance of power in Central and Eastern Europe and marked the rise of the Polish–Lithuanian union as the dominant political and military force in the region.[8]

The battle was one of the largest in medieval Europe and is regarded as one of the most important victories in the histories of Poland and Lithuania and is also widely celebrated in Belarus.[9] It has been used as a source of romantic legends and national pride, becoming a larger symbol of struggle against foreign invaders.[10] During the 20th century the battle was used in Nazi and Soviet propaganda campaigns. Only in recent decades have historians moved towards a dispassionate, scholarly assessment of the battle, reconciling the previous narratives, which differed widely by nation.

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On July 15th 1410 armies of the Polish-Lithuanian alliance and the Teutonic Order alongside the dozen nations supporting them clashed on a field near Grunwald. This battle shaped the fate of northern and eastern Europe and the people of these regions for the next few centuries. Welcome to the great war of 1409 - 1411 between the Teutonic Order and the Polish-Lithuanian alliance. In 1025 Poland became a kingdom under Bolesław I "the Brave" of the Piast dynasty. Bolesław was baptised and his realm was recognized by the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire. Slowly the Poles adopted Christianity. Baltic tribes living to the northeast of Poland were the last pagans of Europe and that was creating tensions along the borders. That made the Baltics a perfect target for the next crusade. Pope Innocent III was eager to increase his influence and in 1204 he sanctioned the foundation of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword order in Riga, modern-day Latvia. The order was comprised of warrior monks of German origin and its goal was to conquer and baptize pagans of the Baltics. But that wasn't enough and in 1226 the Polish duke of Masovia, Konrad, invited the Teutonic order to protect his northeastern borders against the pagans. The Teutonic order was founded in Jerusalem as a hospice brotherhood in 1143 to accommodate the German-speaking crusaders and pilgrims. In 1198 it was transformed into a military order in Acre and was based on the model of the Knights Templar. However Crusades into the Levant were on the decline and when Konrad asked for the order's assistance they answered his call and got Chełmno land as a fief. The Holy Roman Emperor decreed that Prussia was to be conquered by the order. This decree did not name any other Baltic lands; however, both the Teutonic and Livonian Orders considered conquering these and baptizing its population a sacred duty. So while the former operated in Prussia the latter fought wars against the burgeoning Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1236 Lithuanian dukes decisively defeated the Livonian Order in the Battle of Saule. The order was so decimated it had to join the Teutonic Order and become its vassal. They continued incursions into Prussia and by the year 1274 the conquest was finalized. However, their way into the Baltics was blocked off by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Most of Lithuania adopted Christianity by the end of the 14th century and that gradual Christianization made the order's mission problematic as their initial goal was fulfilled. The Teutons were now just conquerors. This strained relationships between the Order and the Polish Kingdom and resulted in two wars. The war of 1308 to 1306 ended with the Teutonic takeover of the city of Danzig. Poland also lost the second conflict in 1326 to 1332 which ended with a treaty that forced the Polish Kings to renounce their claims on Pomerania and Chełmno land. Which meant that Poland did not have access to the Baltic Sea anymore. In 1384 eleven-year-old Jadwiga of the Piast dynasty was crowned as a female King. The Polish aristocracy were eager to strengthen the country through an alliance with the Great Duchy of Lithuania. And they achieved that in 1385 through the union of Krewo when Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila married Jadwiga. Jogaila adopted Christianity and became the founder of the Jagiellonian dynasty that ruled Poland for the next two centuries. Jogaila's brother Skirgaila was designated as a regent of the Grand Duchy. But he was unpopular with the people and Jogaila's cousin Vytautas used this opportunity to become the Grand Duke which resulted in the Lithuanian civil war of 1389 to 1392. Vytautas entered an alliance with the Teutons and ceded the region of Samogitia to the order in 1390. In 1392, Jogaila finally agreed to name Vytautas the regent of the Grand Duchy. Control of Samogitia meant that the order had a land corridor between its holdings in Prussia and Livonia. Additionally the Samogitians were the last pagans in Europe and baptizing them presented a chance to improve the prestige of the order. Vytautas gave the region to the order in 1390, but the locals were not eager to adopt Christianity, and they rebelled in 1409. The Grand Duchy supported this rebellion politically right away. When the order threatened to retaliate against Lithuania, Poland was forced to issue an ultimatum, stating that they will defend their allies. That was a precarious situation: The allies had more troops, but both Jogaila and Vytautas knew that if they started an offensive war, the order might receive support from the Holy Roman Empire and Hungary. They needed the Teutons to make the first move and that is what happened on August 6th 1409 as the Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen declared war. The plan was to beat Poland quickly and then crush Lithuania, so the knights moved into greater Poland and Kuyavia. Their troops burned the castle of Dobrin and capture Bobrowniki and Bydgoszcz. The Poles were able to retaliate and take the latter back while the Samogitians attacked Memel. At that point, the king of Bohemia Wenceslaus asked the belligerents to negotiate and they obliged. A truce was signed in October and was set to expire on the 24th of June 1410. The Order and the allies used that opportunity to prepare their forces and to conduct diplomacy. The Order bribed Wenceslaus who was a mediator in this negotiation, to declare Samogitia the order's land. They also paid king Sigismund of Hungary to attack Poland. During the truce, Vytautas was able to obtain guarantees of neutrality from the Livonian Order. In December of 1409, Jogaila and Vytautas reconvened in Brest to discuss their plans and agreed that they would gather all their troops in northern Poland and would move against the capital of the Order, Marienburg, as soon as the truce ended. Von Jungingen had concentrated his forces in Schwetz, and the allies knew about that. So to distract the knights, they organised raids along the borders with Prussia. Polish-Lithuanian forces crossed the border on the 9th of July 1410, but their attempts to maintain secrecy failed. The Grand Master moved his forces to intercept the attack along the Drewenz river. The two armies saw each other on opposing sides of the river on the 10th of July. But Jogaila decided that it wasn't a good idea to move across the river in full view of the Order's forces. The ally started moving to the east to be able to attack Marienburg without crossing any rivers. Von Jungingen's forces mirrored their movement, crossing the Drewenz river and moving to the east, parallel to the Polish-Lithuanian troops. The two armies met on the 15th of July between the villages of Grunwald and Tannenberg. Modern historians agree that the allied forces outnumbered the Teutonic Order at least four to three. The commonly accepted number is 39,000 troops for the Polish-Lithuanian army and 27,000 for the Teutons. While the Order's army consisted of warriors of Germanic origin, the allied forces were international: Russian vassals from Smolensk and other princedoms along with the Ruthenians, Moldovans, and Czechs, led by the future command of the Hussite forces, Jan Žižka, were part of the Lithuanian army. They were also joined by at least 3000 Tatars of the Golden Horde. Heavy cavalry accounted for more than half of the Order's army, and although they were outnumbered by the allied forces, they had a clear advantage in training, equipment, and discipline. The Order also had at least 5000 infantry and a few artillery bombards. The Poles mirrored the Teutons, with their focus on heavy cavalry with added infantry and artillery, while the Lithuanian army had lighter equipment, and its cavalry, especially the Tatar horsemen, were lightly armed. Von Jungingen planned to attack the allies on the slope of the valley, where his troops would be able to diminish the advantage of the enemy's numerical superiority. However, Jogaila anticipated that plan and decided to stay within the limits of the forest. Sources claimed that von Jungingen was angered and sent emissaries with two swords to the king to shame and mock him for the delay. The battle started at noon, and it was mainly a cavalry affair. The battle began with the Lithuanian forces attacking from their right flank. Tatar light cavalry was able to overpower the infantry and missile units of the Order. However, when the orders heavy cavalry on the left wing counter-attacked, most of the Lithuanian forces retreated hastily. To this day debates are ongoing as to whether this retreat was planned or not. Some historians claim that the Lithuanian troops were not able to withstand the charge of the Order's knights and ran away. Others think that this retreat was tactical and Vytautas was using the old nomad tactic of a feigned retreat. In any case, most of the Allied right flank retreated with only troops from Smolensk joining the Polish forces. Jogaila's army had a better time as it was able to stop the advance of the right flank of the Order and made it retreat to the west. When the left side of the Order's army stopped chasing Lithuanian forces and returned, they found the right flank of their army in retreat and half encircled. Sources portray the heroism of the Smolensk banners who, despite heavy losses, fought off most of the left wing of the Teutonic forces until the Lithuanian army returned to the battlefield and charged the Teutons from behind. The Grand Master tried to change the fate of the battle by retreating to lure allied forces in and then go for a double envelopment, but Jogaila was able to undermine this maneuver by placing blockading troops to prevent outflanking. On the contrary, his flanks were able to use their numerical advantage and surrounded most of the Order's remaining units. The Grand Master and most of the Order's commanders died fighting in this encirclement. The Order lost more than 20,000 troops in this battle with most of its elite dead. The Polish-Lithuanian army moved towards the Order's capital Marienburg and reached it by the 22nd of July. But the city was defended by the remainder of the Teutonic forces. The siege continued for weeks, but the Livonian Order threatened to attack the allies, so they decided to retreat. Possibility that Hungary might attack was increasing, and the allies decided to start negotiations. A treaty was signed in the February of 1411 in Thorn. Thank you for watching our documentary on the Battle of Grunwald. We would like to express our gratitude to our Patreon supporters who make the creation of these videos possible. Patreon is the best way to suggest a new video, learn about our schedule, and so much more. This is the Kings and Generals Channel, and we will catch you on the next one.


Names and sources


The most important source about the Battle of Grunwald is Cronica conflictus Wladislai regis Poloniae cum Cruciferis anno Christi 1410.
The most important source about the Battle of Grunwald is Cronica conflictus Wladislai regis Poloniae cum Cruciferis anno Christi 1410.

The battle was fought in the territory of the monastic state of the Teutonic Order, on the plains between three villages: Grünfelde (Grunwald) to the west, Tannenberg (Stębark) to the northeast and Ludwigsdorf (Łodwigowo, Ludwikowice) to the south. Władysław II Jagiełło referred to the site in Latin as in loco conflictus nostri, quem cum Cruciferis de Prusia habuimus, dicto Grunenvelt.[8] Later Polish chroniclers interpreted the word Grunenvelt as Grünwald, meaning "green forest" in German. The Lithuanians followed suit and translated the name as Žalgiris.[11] The Germans named the battle after Tannenberg ("fir hill" or "pine hill" in German).[12] Thus there are three commonly used names for the battle: German: Schlacht bei Tannenberg, Polish: Bitwa pod Grunwaldem, Lithuanian: Žalgirio mūšis. Its names in the languages of other involved peoples include Belarusian: Бітва пад Грунвальдам, Ukrainian: Грюнвальдська битва, Russian: Грюнвальдская битва, Czech: Bitva u Grunvaldu, Romanian: Bătălia de la Grünwald.


Engraving of the Battle of Grunwald by Marcin Bielski, Kronika wszytkiego świata, 1554.
Engraving of the Battle of Grunwald by Marcin Bielski, Kronika wszytkiego świata, 1554.

There are few contemporary, reliable sources about the battle, and most were produced by Polish sources. The most important and trustworthy source is Cronica conflictus Wladislai regis Poloniae cum Cruciferis anno Christi 1410, which was written within a year of the battle by an eyewitness.[13] Its authorship is uncertain, but several candidates have been proposed: Polish deputy chancellor Mikołaj Trąba and Władysław II Jagiełło's secretary Zbigniew Oleśnicki.[14] While the original Cronica conflictus did not survive, a short summary from the 16th century has been preserved. Another important source is Historiae Polonicae by Polish historian Jan Długosz (1415–1480).[14] It is a comprehensive and detailed account written several decades after the battle. The reliability of this source suffers not only from the long gap between the events and the chronicle, but also Długosz's alleged biases against the Lithuanians.[15] Banderia Prutenorum is a mid-15th-century manuscript with images and Latin descriptions of the Teutonic battle flags captured during the battle and displayed in Wawel Cathedral and Vilnius Cathedral. Other Polish sources include two letters written by Władysław II Jagiełło to his wife Anne of Cilli and Bishop of Poznań Wojciech Jastrzębiec and letters sent by Jastrzębiec to Poles in the Holy See.[15] German sources include a concise account in the chronicle of Johann von Posilge. A recently discovered anonymous letter, written between 1411 and 1413, provided important details on Lithuanian maneuvers.[16][17]

Historical background

Lithuanian Crusade and Polish–Lithuanian union

Territory of the State of the Teutonic Order between 1260 and 1410; the locations and dates of major battles, including the Battle of Grunwald, are indicated by crossed red swords.
Territory of the State of the Teutonic Order between 1260 and 1410; the locations and dates of major battles, including the Battle of Grunwald, are indicated by crossed red swords.

In 1230 the Teutonic Knights, a crusading military order, moved to Chełmno Land and launched the Prussian Crusade against the pagan Prussian clans. With support from the pope and Holy Roman Emperor, the Teutons conquered and converted the Prussians by the 1280s and shifted their attention to the pagan Grand Duchy of Lithuania. For about 100 years the Knights raided Lithuanian lands, particularly Samogitia, as it separated the Knights in Prussia from their branch in Livonia. While the border regions became an uninhabited wilderness, the Knights gained very little territory. The Lithuanians first gave up Samogitia during the Lithuanian Civil War (1381–84) in the Treaty of Dubysa. The territory was used as a bargaining chip to ensure Teutonic support for one of the sides in the internal power struggle.

In 1385 Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania agreed to marry Queen Jadwiga of Poland in the Union of Kreva. Jogaila converted to Christianity and was crowned King of Poland (Władysław II Jagiełło), thus creating a personal union between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The official Lithuanian conversion to Christianity removed the religious rationale for the order's activities in the area.[18] Its grand master, Conrad Zöllner von Rothenstein, supported by Hungarian King Sigismund of Luxemburg, responded by publicly contesting the sincerity of Jogaila's conversion, bringing the charge to a papal court.[18] The territorial disputes continued over Samogitia, which had been in Teutonic hands since the Peace of Raciąż in 1404. Poland also had territorial claims against the Knights in Dobrzyń Land and Gdańsk (Danzig), but the two states had been largely at peace since the Treaty of Kalisz (1343).[19] The conflict was also motivated by trade considerations: The knights controlled the lower reaches of the three largest rivers (the Neman, Vistula and Daugava) in Poland and Lithuania.[20]

War, truce and preparations

Lithuanians fighting with Teutonic Knights (14th-century bas-relief from the Castle of Marienburg.)
Lithuanians fighting with Teutonic Knights (14th-century bas-relief from the Castle of Marienburg.)
A modern re-creation of 14th– and 15th-century Lithuanian heavy infantry (Columns of Gediminas on shields).
A modern re-creation of 14th– and 15th-century Lithuanian heavy infantry (Columns of Gediminas on shields).

In May 1409 an uprising in Teutonic-held Samogitia started. Lithuania supported it and the knights threatened to invade. Poland announced its support for the Lithuanian cause and threatened to invade Prussia in return. As Prussian troops evacuated Samogitia, Teutonic Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen declared war on the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania on 6 August 1409.[21] The Knights hoped to defeat Poland and Lithuania separately, and began by invading Greater Poland and Kuyavia, catching the Poles by surprise.[22] The Knights burned the castle at Dobrin (Dobrzyń nad Wisłą), captured Bobrowniki after a 14-day siege, conquered Bydgoszcz (Bromberg) and sacked several towns.[23] The Poles organized counterattacks and recaptured Bydgoszcz.[24] The Samogitians attacked Memel (Klaipėda).[22] However, neither side was ready for a full-scale war.

Wenceslaus, King of the Romans, agreed to mediate the dispute. A truce was signed on 8 October 1409 and was set to expire on 24 June 1410.[25] Both sides used this time to prepare for war, gathering troops and engaging in diplomatic maneuvering. Both sides sent letters and envoys accusing each other of various wrongdoings and threats to Christendom. Wenceslaus, who received a gift of 60,000 florins from the knights, declared that Samogitia rightfully belonged to the knights and only Dobrzyń Land should be returned to Poland.[26] The knights also paid 300,000 ducats to Sigismund of Hungary, who had ambitions regarding the Principality of Moldavia, for mutual military assistance.[26] Sigismund attempted to break the Polish–Lithuanian alliance by offering Vytautas a king's crown; Vytautas' acceptance would have violated the terms of the Ostrów Agreement and created Polish-Lithuanian discord.[27] At the same time, Vytautas managed to obtain a truce from the Livonian Order.[28]

By December 1409 Władysław II Jagiełło and Vytautas had agreed on a common strategy: their armies would unite into a single massive force and march together towards Marienburg (Malbork), capital of the Teutonic Knights.[29] The Knights, who took a defensive position, did not expect a joint attack and were preparing for a dual invasion—by the Poles along the Vistula River towards Danzig (Gdańsk) and the Lithuanians along the Neman River towards Ragnit (Neman).[3] To counter this perceived threat, Ulrich von Jungingen concentrated his forces in Schwetz (Świecie), a central location from where troops could respond to an invasion from any direction rather quickly.[30] Sizable garrisons were left in the eastern castles of Ragnit, Rhein (Ryn) near Lötzen (Giżycko) and Memel (Klaipėda).[3] To keep their plans secret and mislead the knights, Władysław II Jagiełło and Vytautas organized several raids into border territories, thus forcing the knights to keep their troops in place.[29]

Opposing forces

Various estimates of opposing forces[6]
Historian Polish Lithuanian Teutonic
Karl Heveker and
Hans Delbrück[31]
10,500 6,000 11,000
Eugene Razin[32] 16,000–17,000 11,000
Max Oehler 23,000 15,000
Jerzy Ochmański 22,000–27,000 12,000
Sven Ekdahl[31] 20,000–25,000 12,000–15,000
Andrzej Nadolski 20,000 10,000 15,000
Jan Dąbrowski 15,000–18,000 8,000–11,000 19,000
Zigmantas Kiaupa[33] 18,000 11,000 15,000–21,000
Marian Biskup 19,000–20,000 10,000–11,000 21,000
Daniel Stone[18] 27,000 11,000 21,000
Stefan Kuczyński 39,000 27,000
James Westfall Thompson and
Edgar Nathaniel Johnson[34]
100,000 35,000
Alfred Nicolas Rambaud[35] 163,000 86,000

The precise number of soldiers involved has proven difficult to establish.[36] None of the contemporary sources provided reliable troop counts. Jan Długosz provided the number of banners, the principal unit of each cavalry: 51 for the knights, 50 for the Poles and 40 for the Lithuanians.[37] However, it is unclear how many men were under each banner. The structure and number of infantry units (pikemen, archers, crossbowmen) and artillery units is unknown. Estimates, often biased by political and nationalistic considerations, were produced by various historians.[36] German historians tend to present lower numbers, while Polish historians tend to use higher estimates.[6] The high-end estimates by Polish historian Stefan Kuczyński of 39,000 Polish–Lithuanian and 27,000 Teutonic men[37] have been cited in Western literature as "commonly accepted".[5][10][36]

While less numerous, the Teutonic army had advantages in discipline, military training and equipment.[32] They were particularly noted for their heavy cavalry. The Teutonic army was also equipped with bombards that could shoot lead and stone projectiles.[32] Both forces were composed of troops from several states and lands, including numerous mercenaries; for example, Bohemian mercenaries fought on each side.[38] The knights also invited guest crusaders. Twenty-two different peoples, mostly Germanic, joined them.[39] Teutonic recruits included soldiers from Westphalia, Frisia, Austria, Swabia[38] and Stettin (Szczecin).[40] Two Hungarian nobles, Nicholas II Garay and Stibor of Stiboricz, brought 200 men for the Knights,[41] but support from Sigismund of Hungary was disappointing.[28]

Muslim Tatar fights a Teutonic Knight (detail from a painting by Wojciech Kossak)
Muslim Tatar fights a Teutonic Knight (detail from a painting by Wojciech Kossak)

Poland brought mercenaries from Moravia and Bohemia. The Czechs produced two full banners, under the command of Jan Sokol z Lamberka (cz).[1] Serving among the Czechs was possibly Jan Žižka, future commander of the Hussite forces.[42] Alexander the Good, ruler of Moldavia, commanded an expeditionary corps.[4] Vytautas gathered troops from Lithuanian, Ruthenian (modern Belarus and Ukraine) and Russian lands. The three Russian banners from Smolensk were under the command of Władysław II Jagiełło's brother Lengvenis, while the contingent of Tatars of the Golden Horde was under the command of the future Khan Jalal ad-Din.[2] The overall commander of the joint Polish–Lithuanian force was King Władysław II Jagiełło; however, he did not directly participate in the battle. The Lithuanian units were commanded directly by Grand Duke Vytautas, who was second in command, and helped design the grand strategy of the campaign. Vytautas actively participated in the battle, managing both Lithuanian and Polish units.[43] Jan Długosz stated that the low-ranking sword bearer of the Crown, Zyndram of Maszkowice, commanded the Polish army, but that is highly doubtful.[44] More likely, marshal of the Crown Zbigniew of Brzezie commanded the Polish troops in the field.

Course of the battle

March into Prussia

Map of army movements in the Grunwald campaign
Map of army movements in the Grunwald campaign

The first stage of the Grunwald campaign was the gathering of all Polish–Lithuanian troops at Czerwinsk, a designated meeting point about 80 km (50 mi) from the Prussian border, where the joint army crossed the Vistula over a pontoon bridge.[45] This maneuver, which required precision and intense coordination among multi-ethnic forces, was accomplished in about a week, from 24–30 June 1410.[3] Polish soldiers from Greater Poland gathered in Poznań, and those from Lesser Poland, in Wolbórz. On 24 June 1410 Władysław II Jagiełło and Czech mercenaries arrived in Wolbórz.[3] Three days later the Polish army was already at the meeting place. The Lithuanian army marched out from Vilnius on 3 June and joined the Ruthenian regiments in Hrodna.[3] They arrived in Czerwinsk on the same day the Poles crossed the river. After the crossing, Masovian troops under Siemowit IV and Janusz I joined the Polish–Lithuanian army.[3] The massive force began its march north towards Marienburg (Malbork), capital of Prussia, on 3 July. The Prussian border was crossed on 9 July.[45]

The river crossing remained secret until Hungarian envoys, who were attempting to negotiate a peace, informed the Grand Master.[46] As soon as Ulrich von Jungingen grasped the Polish–Lithuanian intentions, he left 3,000 men at Schwetz (Świecie) under Heinrich von Plauen[47] and marched the main force to organize a line of defense on the Drewenz River (Drwęca) near Kauernik (Kurzętnik).[48] The river crossing was fortified with stockades.[49] On 11 July, after meeting with his eight-member war council,[44] Władysław II Jagiełło decided against crossing the river at such a strong, defensible position. The army would instead bypass the river crossing by turning east, towards its sources, where no other major rivers separated his army from Marienburg.[48] The march continued east towards Soldau (Działdowo), although no attempt was made to capture the town.[50] The Teutonic army followed the Drewenz River north, crossed it near Löbau (Lubawa) and then moved east in parallel with the Polish–Lithuanian army. According to the Order propaganda the latter ravaged the village of Gilgenburg (Dąbrówno).[51] Later, in the self-serving testimonies of the survivors before the Pope the Order claimed that Von Jungingen was so enraged by the alleged atrocities that he swore to defeat the invaders in battle.[52]

Battle preparations

Teutonic Knights present Grunwald Swords to King Władysław II Jagiełło (painting by Wojciech Kossak)
Teutonic Knights present Grunwald Swords to King Władysław II Jagiełło (painting by Wojciech Kossak)

In the early morning of 15 July 1410 both armies met in an area covering approximately 4 km2 (1.5 sq mi) between the villages of Grunwald, Tannenberg (Stębark) and Ludwigsdorf (Łodwigowo).[53] The armies formed opposing lines along a northeast–southwest axis. The Polish–Lithuanian army was positioned in front and east of Ludwigsdorf and Tannenberg.[54] Polish heavy cavalry formed the left flank, Lithuanian light cavalry the right flank and various mercenary troops made up the center. Their men were organized in three lines of wedge-shaped formations about 20 men deep.[54] The Teutonic forces concentrated their elite heavy cavalry, commanded by Grand Marshal Frederic von Wallenrode, against the Lithuanians.[53] The Knights, who were the first to organize their army for the battle, hoped to provoke the Poles or Lithuanians into attacking first. Their troops, wearing heavy armor, had to stand in the scorching sun for several hours waiting for an attack.[55] One chronicle suggested that they had dug pits that an attacking army would fall into.[56] They also attempted to use field artillery, but a light rain dampened their powder and only two cannon shots were fired.[55] As Władysław II Jagiełło delayed, the Grand Master sent messengers with two swords to "assist Władysław II Jagiełło and Vytautas in battle". The swords were meant as an insult and a provocation.[57] Known as the "Grunwald Swords", they became one of the national symbols of Poland.

Battle begins: Lithuanian attack and retreat

Retreat of Lithuanian light cavalry
Right-flank Polish–Lithuanian assault
Polish heavy cavalry break-through

Vytautas, supported by the Polish banners, started an assault on the left flank of the Teutonic forces.[55] After more than an hour of heavy fighting, the Lithuanian light cavalry began a full retreat. Jan Długosz described this development as a complete annihilation of the entire Lithuanian army. According to Długosz, the Knights assumed that victory was theirs, broke their formation for a disorganized pursuit of the retreating Lithuanians, and gathered much loot before returning to the battlefield to face the Polish troops.[58] He made no mention of the Lithuanians, who later returned to the battlefield. Thus, Długosz portrayed the battle as a single-handed Polish victory.[58] This view contradicted Cronica conflictus and has been challenged by modern historians.

Starting with an article by Vaclaw Lastowski in 1909, they proposed that the retreat had been a planned maneuver borrowed from the Golden Horde.[59] A feigned retreat had been used in the Battle of the Vorskla River (1399), when the Lithuanian army had been dealt a crushing defeat and Vytautas himself had barely escaped alive.[60] This theory gained wider acceptance after the discovery and publication, in 1963 by Swedish historian Sven Ekdahl, of a German letter.[61] Written a few years after the battle, it cautioned the new Grand Master to look out for feigned retreats of the kind that had been used in the Great Battle.[17] Stephen Turnbull asserts that the Lithuanian tactical retreat did not quite fit the formula of a feigned retreat; such a 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 had returned late in the battle).[62]

Battle continues: Polish–Teutonic fight

While the Lithuanians were retreating, heavy fighting broke out between Polish and Teutonic forces. Commanded by Grand Komtur Kuno von Lichtenstein, the Teutonic forces concentrated on the Polish right flank. Six of von Walenrode's banners did not pursue the retreating Lithuanians, instead joining the attack on the right flank.[33] A particularly valuable target was the royal banner of Kraków. It seemed that the Knights were gaining the upper hand, and at one point the royal standard-bearer, Marcin of Wrocimowice, lost the Kraków banner.[63] However, it was soon recaptured and fighting continued. Władysław II Jagiełło deployed his reserves—the second line of his army.[33] Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen then personally led 16 banners, almost a third of the original Teutonic strength, to the right Polish flank,[64] and Władysław II Jagiełło deployed his last reserves, the third line of his army.[33] The melee reached the Polish command and one Knight, identified as Lupold or Diepold of Kökeritz, charged directly against King Władysław II Jagiełło.[65] Władysław's secretary, Zbigniew Oleśnicki, saved the king's life, gaining royal favor and becoming one of the most influential people in Poland.[18]

Battle ends: Teutonic Knights defeated

At that time the reorganized Lithuanians returned to the battle, attacking von Jungingen from the rear.[66] The Teutonic forces were by then becoming outnumbered by the mass of Polish knights and advancing Lithuanian cavalry. As von Jungingen attempted to break through the Lithuanian lines, he was killed.[66] According to Cronica conflictus, Dobiesław of Oleśnica thrust a lance through the Grand Master's neck,[66] 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. This move backfired when the camp followers turned against their masters and joined the manhunt.[67] The knights attempted to build a wagon fort: The camp was surrounded by wagons serving as an improvised fortification.[67] However, the defense was soon broken and the camp was ravaged. According to Cronica conflictus, more Knights died there than on the battlefield.[67] The battle lasted for about ten hours.[33]

The Teutonic Knights attributed the defeat to treason on the part of Nikolaus von Renys (Mikołaj of Ryńsk), commander of the Culm (Chełmno) banner, and he was beheaded without a trial.[68] He was the founder and leader of the Lizard Union, a group of Knights sympathetic to Poland. According to the Knights, von Renys lowered his banner, which was taken as a signal of surrender and led to the panicked retreat.[69] The legend that the Knights were "stabbed in the back" was echoed in the post-World War I stab-in-the-back legend and preoccupied German historiography of the battle until 1945.[68]


Casualties and captives

The battle as depicted in the Berner Chronik of Diebold Schilling
The battle as depicted in the Berner Chronik of Diebold Schilling

A note sent in August 1410 by envoys of King Sigismund of Hungary, Nicholas II Garai and Stibor of Stiboricz, put total casualties at 8,000 dead "on both sides".[70] However, the wording is vague and it is unclear whether it meant a total of 8,000 or 16,000 dead.[71] A papal bull from 1412 mentioned 18,000 dead Christians.[70] In two letters written immediately after the battle, Władysław II Jagiełło mentioned that Polish casualties were small (paucis valde and modico) and Jan Długosz listed only 12 Polish knights that were killed.[70] A letter by a Teutonic official from Tapiau (Gvardeysk) mentioned that only half of the Lithuanians returned, but it is unclear how many of those casualties are attributable to the battle and how many to the later siege of Marienburg.[70]

The defeat of the Teutonic Knights was resounding. According to Teutonic payroll records, only 1,427 men reported back to Marienburg to claim their pay.[72] Of 1,200 men sent from Danzig, only 300 returned.[40] Between 203 and 211 brothers of the Order were killed, out of 270 that participated in battle,[7] 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 ten of the komturs.[73] Markward von Salzbach, Komtur of Brandenburg (Ushakovo) and Heinrich Schaumburg, voigt of Sambia, were executed by order of Vytautas after the battle.[72] The bodies of von Jungingen and other high-ranking officials were transported to Marienburg Castle for burial on 19 July.[74] The bodies of lower-ranking Teutonic officials and 12 Polish knights were buried at the church in Tannenberg.[74] The rest of the dead were buried in several mass graves. The highest-ranking Teutonic official to escape the battle was Werner von Tettinger, Komtur of Elbing (Elbląg).[72]

Polish and Lithuanian forces took several thousand captives. Among these were Dukes Konrad VII of Oels (Oleśnica) and Casimir V of Pomerania.[75] Most of the commoners and mercenaries were released shortly after the battle on condition that they report to Kraków on 11 November 1410.[76] Only those who were expected to pay ransom were kept. Considerable ransoms were recorded; for example, the mercenary Holbracht von Loym had to pay 150 kopas of Prague groschen, amounting to more than 30 kg (66 lb) of silver.[77]

Further campaign and peace

After the battle the Castle of Marienburg, which served as the Teutonic Knights's capital, was unsuccessfully besieged for two months by the Polish–Lithuanian forces
After the battle the Castle of Marienburg, which served as the Teutonic Knights's capital, was unsuccessfully besieged for two months by the Polish–Lithuanian forces
The Battle of Grunwald displayed in the National Museum in Warsaw
The Battle of Grunwald displayed in the National Museum in Warsaw

After the battle, the Polish and Lithuanian forces delayed their attack on the Teutonic capital in Marienburg (Malbork), remaining on the battlefield for three days and then marching an average of only about 15 km (9.3 mi) per day.[78] The main forces did not reach heavily fortified Marienburg until 26 July. This delay gave Heinrich von Plauen enough time to organize a defense. Władysław II Jagiełło also sent his troops to other Teutonic fortresses, which often surrendered without resistance,[79] including the major cities of Danzig (Gdańsk), Thorn (Toruń), and Elbing (Elbląg).[80] Only eight castles remained in Teutonic hands.[81] The besiegers of Marienburg expected a speedy capitulation and were not prepared for a long siege, suffering from lack of ammunition, low morale and an epidemic of dysentery.[82] The Knights appealed to their allies for help, and Sigismund of Hungary, Wenceslaus, King of the Romans, and the Livonian Order promised financial aid and reinforcements.[83]

The siege of Marienburg was lifted on 19 September. The Polish–Lithuanian forces left garrisons in the fortresses they had taken and returned home. However, the Knights quickly recaptured most of the castles. By the end of October only four Teutonic castles along the border remained in Polish hands.[84] Władysław II Jagiełło raised a fresh army and dealt another defeat to the Knights in the Battle of Koronowo on 10 October 1410. Following other brief engagements, both sides agreed to negotiate.

The Peace of Thorn was signed in February 1411. Under its terms, the Knights ceded the Dobrin Land (Dobrzyń Land) to Poland and agreed to resign their claims to Samogitia during the lifetimes of Władysław II Jagiełło and Vytautas,[85] although another two wars—the Hunger War of 1414 and the Gollub War of 1422—would be waged before the Treaty of Melno permanently resolved the territorial disputes.[86] The Poles and Lithuanians were unable to translate the military victory into territorial or diplomatic gains. However, the Peace of Thorn imposed a heavy financial burden on the Knights from which they never recovered. They had to pay an indemnity in silver, estimated at ten times the annual income of the King of England, in four annual installments.[85] To meet these payments, the Knights borrowed heavily, confiscated gold and silver from churches and increased taxes. Two major Prussian cities, Danzig (Gdańsk) and Thorn (Toruń), revolted against the tax increases.[87] The defeat at Grunwald left the Teutonic Knights with few forces to defend their remaining territories. Since Samogitia became officially christened, as both Poland and Lithuania were for a long time, the Knights had difficulties recruiting new volunteer crusaders.[88] The Grand Masters then needed to rely on mercenary troops, which proved an expensive drain on their already depleted budget. The internal conflicts, economic decline, and tax increases led to unrest and the foundation of the Prussian Confederation, or Alliance against Lordship, in 1441. This in turn led to a series of conflicts that culminated in the Thirteen Years' War (1454).[89]


Poland and Lithuania

King Władysław II Jagiełło of Poland. Re-enactment of the battle, 2003.
King Władysław II Jagiełło of Poland. Re-enactment of the battle, 2003.

The Battle of Grunwald is regarded as one of the most important in the histories of Poland and Lithuania.[10] In the history of Ukraine, the battle is better associated with Vytautas the Great, who stood as the leader of Eastern Orthodox Christianity at that time.[90] In Lithuania the victory is synonymous with the Grand Duchy's political and military peak. It was a source of national pride during the age of Romantic nationalism and inspired resistance to the Germanization and Russification policies of the German and Russian Empires. The Knights were portrayed as bloodthirsty invaders and Grunwald as a just victory achieved by a small, oppressed nation.[10]

In 1910, to mark the 500th anniversary of the battle, a monument by Antoni Wiwulski was unveiled in Kraków during a three-day celebration attended by some 150,000 people.[91] About 60 other towns and villages in Galicia also erected Grunwald monuments for the anniversary.[92]

A monument to the Battle of Grunwald was erected in Kraków, Poland for the battle's 500th anniversary. It was destroyed during World War II by the Germans and rebuilt in 1976.
A monument to the Battle of Grunwald was erected in Kraków, Poland for the battle's 500th anniversary. It was destroyed during World War II by the Germans and rebuilt in 1976.

About the same time Nobel Prize-winner Henryk Sienkiewicz wrote the novel The Knights of the Cross (Polish: Krzyżacy), prominently featuring the battle in one of the chapters. In 1960 Polish filmmaker Aleksander Ford used the book as the basis for his film, Knights of the Teutonic Order. A museum, monuments and memorials were constructed at the battlefield in 1960.[93] The battle site is one of Poland's official, national Historic Monuments, as designated on 4 October 2010, and tracked by the National Heritage Board of Poland. The battle has lent its name to military decorations (Cross of Grunwald), sports teams (BC Žalgiris, FK Žalgiris), and various organizations.

An annual battle reenactment takes place on 15 July. In 2010 a pageant reenacting the event and commemorating the battle's 600th anniversary was held. It attracted 200,000 spectators who watched 2,200 participants playing the role of knights in a reenactment of the battle. An additional 3,800 participants played peasants and camp followers. The pageant's organizers believe that the event has become the largest reenactment of medieval combat in Europe.[94]

A German National People's Party propaganda poster from 1920 depicts a Teutonic Knight threatened by a Pole and a socialist
A German National People's Party propaganda poster from 1920 depicts a Teutonic Knight threatened by a Pole and a socialist

The Battle of Grunwald is commemorated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, with the inscription "GRUNWALD 15 VII 1410".

Germany and Russia

Germans generally saw the Knights as heroic and noble men who brought Christianity and civilization to the east, although many came to the region with more material motives.[10] In August 1914, during World War I, Germany won a battle against Russia near the site. When the Germans realized its propaganda potential, they named the battle the Battle of Tannenberg,[95] despite it having actually taken place much closer to Allenstein (Olsztyn), and framed it as revenge for the Polish–Lithuanian victory 504 years earlier. Nazi Germany later exploited the sentiment by portraying their Lebensraum policies as a continuation of the Knights' historical mission.[96]

Due to the participation of the three Smolensk regiments, Russians saw the battle as a victory of a Polish–Lithuanian–Russian coalition against invading Germans. Chronicler Jan Długosz praised the Smolensk banners, who fought bravely and were the only banners from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania not to retreat. In Soviet historiography, the Battle of Grunwald was styled as a racial struggle between Slavs and Germanics.[97] The Teutonic Knights were portrayed as the medieval forerunners of Hitler's armies, while the battle itself was seen as the medieval counterpart to the Battle of Stalingrad.[10][97]

In William Urban's summary, almost all accounts of the battle made before the 1960s were more influenced by romantic legends and nationalistic propaganda than by fact.[68] Historians have since made progress towards dispassionate scholarship and reconciliation of the various national accounts of the battle.[96]

In 2014, the Russian Military Historical Society stated that Russian troops and their allies defeated the German knights in the Battle of Grunwald,[98] though evidence that the Grand Duchy of Moscow was involved with this battle is lacking. In July 2017, billboards appeared on the streets of Russian cities with statements that seemed to attribute the victory in the battle of Grunwald to Russia.[99]


  1. ^ a b c d e Turnbull 2003, p. 26
  2. ^ a b c Turnbull 2003, p. 28
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Jučas 2009, p. 75
  4. ^ a b Urban 2003, p. 138
  5. ^ a b Davies 2005, p. 98
  6. ^ a b c d Jučas 2009, pp. 57–58
  7. ^ a b Frost 2015, pp. 106–107
  8. ^ a b Ekdahl 2008, p. 175
  9. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 92
  10. ^ a b c d e f Johnson 1996, p. 43
  11. ^ Sužiedėlis 2011, p. 123
  12. ^ Evans 1970, p. 3
  13. ^ Jučas 2009, p. 8
  14. ^ a b Jučas 2009, p. 9
  15. ^ a b Jučas 2009, p. 10
  16. ^ Jučas 2009, p. 11
  17. ^ a b Ekdahl 1963
  18. ^ a b c d Stone 2001, p. 16
  19. ^ Urban 2003, p. 132
  20. ^ Kiaupa 2000, p. 137
  21. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 20
  22. ^ a b Ivinskis 1978, p. 336
  23. ^ Urban 2003, p. 130
  24. ^ Kuczynski 1960, p. 614
  25. ^ Jučas 2009, p. 51
  26. ^ a b Turnbull 2003, p. 21
  27. ^ Kiaupa 2000, p. 139
  28. ^ a b Christiansen 1997, p. 227
  29. ^ a b Turnbull 2003, p. 30
  30. ^ Jučas 2009, p. 74
  31. ^ a b Frost 2015, p. 106
  32. ^ a b c Разин 1999, p. 486
  33. ^ a b c d e Kiaupa 2002
  34. ^ Thompson 1937, p. 940
  35. ^ Rambaud 1898
  36. ^ a b c Turnbull 2003, p. 25
  37. ^ a b Ivinskis 1978, p. 338
  38. ^ a b Turnbull 2003, p. 29
  39. ^ Разин 1999, pp. 485–486
  40. ^ a b Jučas 2009, p. 56
  41. ^ Urban 2003, p. 139
  42. ^ Richter & 2010-07-16
  43. ^ Jučas 2009, p. 64
  44. ^ a b Jučas 2009, p. 63
  45. ^ a b Turnbull 2003, p. 33
  46. ^ Urban 2003, p. 141
  47. ^ Urban 2003, p. 142
  48. ^ a b Turnbull 2003, p. 35
  49. ^ Jučas 2009, p. 76
  50. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 36
  51. ^ Turnbull 2003, pp. 36–37
  52. ^ Urban 2003, pp. 148–149
  53. ^ a b Jučas 2009, p. 77
  54. ^ a b Turnbull 2003, p. 44
  55. ^ a b c Turnbull 2003, p. 45
  56. ^ Urban 2003, p. 149
  57. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 43
  58. ^ a b Jučas 2009, p. 78
  59. ^ Baranauskas 2011, p. 25
  60. ^ Sužiedėlis 1976, p. 337
  61. ^ Urban 2003, pp. 152–153
  62. ^ Turnbull 2003, pp. 48–49
  63. ^ Jučas 2009, p. 83
  64. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 53
  65. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 61
  66. ^ a b c Turnbull 2003, p. 64
  67. ^ a b c Turnbull 2003, p. 66
  68. ^ a b c Urban 2003, p. 168
  69. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 79
  70. ^ a b c d Bumblauskas 2010, p. 74
  71. ^ Bumblauskas 2010, pp. 74–75
  72. ^ a b c Turnbull 2003, p. 68
  73. ^ Jučas 2009, pp. 85–86
  74. ^ a b Jučas 2009, p. 87
  75. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 69
  76. ^ Jučas 2009, p. 88
  77. ^ Pelech 1987, pp. 105–107
  78. ^ Urban 2003, p. 162
  79. ^ Urban 2003, p. 164
  80. ^ Stone 2001, p. 17
  81. ^ Ivinskis 1978, p. 342
  82. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 75
  83. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 74
  84. ^ Urban 2003, p. 166
  85. ^ a b Christiansen 1997, p. 228
  86. ^ Kiaupa 2000, pp. 142–144
  87. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 78
  88. ^ Christiansen 1997, pp. 228–230
  89. ^ Stone 2001, pp. 17–19
  90. ^ "Битва народів": 600 Грюнвальдської битви ("Battle of Peoples": 600 Anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald). BBC-Ukraine.
  91. ^ Dabrowski 2004, pp. 164–165
  92. ^ Ekdahl 2008, p. 179
  93. ^ Ekdahl 2008, p. 186
  94. ^ Fowler 2010
  95. ^ Burleigh 1985, p. 27
  96. ^ a b Johnson 1996, p. 44
  97. ^ a b Davies 2005, p. 99
  98. ^ Calendar of memorable dates of military history of Russia. July.
  99. ^ Победа России в Грюнвальдской битве — новый исторический «факт»

External links

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