Teutonic War: Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg)

Battle of Grunwald. Public Domain

After nearly two centuries of crusading on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, the Teutonic Knights had carved out a sizable state. Among their conquests was the key region of Samogitia which linked the Order with their branch to the north in Livonia. In 1409, a rebellion began in the region which was backed by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In response to this support, the Teutonic Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen threatened to invade. This statement induced the Kingdom of Poland to join with Lithuania in opposing the Knights.

On August 6, 1409, Jungingen declared war on both states and fighting began. After two months of fighting, a truce extending to June 24, 1410, was brokered and both sides withdrew to strengthen their forces. While the Knights sought foreign aid, King Wladislaw II Jagiello of Poland and Grand Duke Vytautus of Lithuania agreed upon a mutual strategy for the resumption of hostilities. Rather than invade separately as the Knights anticipated, they planned to unite their armies for a drive on the Knights' capital at Marienburg (Malbork). They were aided in this plan when Vytautus made peace with Livonian Order.

Moving to Battle

Uniting at Czerwinsk in June 1410, the combined Polish-Lithuanian army moved north towards the border. To keep the Knights off balance, small attacks and raids were conducted away from the main line of advance. On July 9, the combined army crossed the border. Learning of the enemy's approach, Jungingen raced east from Schwetz with his army and established a fortified line behind the Drewenz River. Reaching the Knights' position, Jagiello called a council of war and elected to move east rather than make an attempt on the Knights' lines.

Marching towards Soldau, the combined army then attacked and burned Gligenburg. The Knights paralleled Jagiello and Vytautus' advance, crossing the Drewenz near Löbau and arriving between the villages of Grunwald, Tannenberg (Stębark), and Ludwigsdorf. In this area on the morning of July 15, they encountered the forces of the combined army. Deploying on a northeast–southwest axis, Jagiello and Vytautus formed with the Polish heavy cavalry on the left, infantry in the center, and Lithuanian light cavalry on the right. Wishing to fight a defensive battle, Jungingen formed opposite and awaited attack.

The Battle of Grunwald

As the day progressed, the Polish-Lithuanian army stayed in place and made no indication that they intended to attack. Increasingly impatient, Jungingen dispatched messengers to chide the allied leaders and provoke them to action. Arriving in Jagiello's camp, they presented the two leaders with swords to aid them in the battle. Angered and insulted, Jagiello and Vytautus moved to open the battle. Pushing forward on the right, the Lithuanian cavalry, supported by Russian and Tartar auxiliaries, began an attack on the Teutonic forces. Though initially successful, they were soon pushed back by the Knights' heavy cavalry.

The retreat soon became a rout with the Lithuanians fleeing the field. This may have been the result of a misinterpreted false retreat conducted by the Tartars. A favored tactic, the sight of them intentionally retreating may have led to panic among the other ranks. Regardless, the Teutonic heavy cavalry broke formation and began a pursuit. As the battle flowed on the right, the remaining Polish-Lithuanian forces engaged the Teutonic Knights. Focusing their assault on the Polish right, the Knights began to gain the upper hand and forced Jagiello to commit his reserves to the fight.

As the battle raged, Jagiello's headquarters was attacked and he was nearly killed. The battle began to turn in Jagiello and Vytautus' favor when the Lithuanian troops that had fled rallied and began to return to the field. Striking the Knights in the flank and rear, they began to drive them back. In the course of the fighting, Jungingen was killed. Retreating, some of the Knights attempted a final defense at their camp near Grunwald. Despite using wagons as barricades, they were soon overrun and either killed or forced to surrender. Defeated, the surviving Knights fled the field.


In the fighting at Grunwald, the Teutonic Knights lost around 8,000 killed and 14,000 captured. Among the dead were many of the Order's key leaders. Polish-Lithuanian losses are estimated at around 4,000-5,000 killed and 8,000 wounded. The defeat at Grunwald effectively destroyed the Teutonic Knights' field army and they were unable to oppose the enemy's advance on Marienburg. While several of the Order's castles surrendered without a fight, others remained defiant. Reaching Marienburg, Jagiello and Vytautus laid siege on July 26.

Lacking the necessary siege equipment and supplies, the Poles and Lithuanians were forced to break off the siege that September. Receiving foreign aid, the Knights were able to quickly recover most of their lost territory and fortresses. Defeated again that October at the Battle of Koronowo, they entered peace negotiations. These produced the Peace of Thorn in which they renounced claims to Dobrin Land and, temporarily, to Samogitia. In addition, they were saddled with a massive financial indemnity which crippled the Order. The defeat at Grunwald left a long-lasting humiliation that remained part of the Prussian identity until the German victory on the nearby ground at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1914.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "Teutonic War: Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/teutonic-war-battle-of-grunwald-tannenberg-2360740. Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). Teutonic War: Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/teutonic-war-battle-of-grunwald-tannenberg-2360740 Hickman, Kennedy. "Teutonic War: Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/teutonic-war-battle-of-grunwald-tannenberg-2360740 (accessed May 28, 2023).