The advantage he had thus gained in front of Soldau, Hindenburg maintained by rapid and successful entrenchment; and the next day, Thursday, 27th August, he moved great numbers round by railway to his left near Allenstein, and appeared there with a great local superiority in numbers and in heavy guns. By the evening of that day, then, the 27th, he had got the Russian line into the position 2, and the chief effort was being directed along the arrow b. On the 28th and 29th the pressure continued, and increased here upon the north; the Russian right was pushed back upon Passenheim, for which there was a most furious fight; and by the evening of the 29th Samsonoff’s whole body was bent right round into the curve of the line 3, and vigorous blows were being dealt against it along the arrow c, which bent it farther and farther in.
It was clearly evident by that evening, the 29th of August, that Samsonoff must retreat; but his opportunities for such a retreat were already difficult. All he had behind him was the worst piece in the whole country—the triangle Passenheim-Ortelsberg-Niedenberg—and his main avenue of escape was a defile between the lake which the railway at Ortelsberg uses.
His retirement became hopelessly congested. Further pressure along the arrow d, during the 30th and 31st, broke that retirement into two halves, one half (as at 5) making off eastwards, the other half (as at 4) bunched together in a hopeless welter in a country where every egress was blocked by swamp and mire, and subjected to the pounding of the now concentrated ring of heavy guns. The body at 5 got away in the course of the 1st and 2nd of September, but only at the expense of leaving behind them great numbers of guns, wounded, and stragglers. The body at 4 was, in the military sense of the word, “annihilated.” It numbered at least two army corps, or 80,000 men, and of these it is probable that 50,000 fell into the hands of the enemy, wounded and unwounded. The remainder, representing the killed, and the chance units that were able to break out, could hardly have been more than 20,000 to 30,000 men.
Such was the victory of Tannenberg—an immensely successful example of that enveloping movement which the Germans regarded as their peculiar inheritance; a victory in nature recalling Sedan, and upon a scale not inferior to that battle.
The news of that great triumph reached Berlin upon Sedan Day, at the very moment when the corresponding news from the West was that von Kluck had reached the gates of Paris, and had nothing in front of him but the broken and inferior armies of a disastrous defeat.