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Consorzio Europeo Rievocazioni Storiche
Europäische Vereinigung historischer Gruppen
Union of European Historical Companies
Association Européenne d'Évocation Historique
Consorcio Europeo de Evocaciones Históricas
 
 
 

 Historical Archives

 
"THE BATTLE OF GRUNWALD"
 
It was 1226 when the Polish Duke of Mazowsze, Konrad Mazowiecki invited the Palestine - based Teutonic Order into the lands of Chelmno, on the river Wisla (Vistula), expecting the Order's help in their struggles against pagan Prussians.
Grand Master Hermann von Salza had brought his first German knights to Poland that same year, with the presumed intention of staying a year or two. Nearly two hundred years later they owned most of the Baltic coast, including the lands of Latvia and Estonia, and showed every intention of soon controlling Lithuania, Poland and Russia.
The Teutonic Knights achieved excellent diplomatic relations with other western countries, and developed a particularly good relationship with the papacy. They seemed destined to control and occupy the whole of Eastern Europe, and acted under a commission signed by the Pope, ordering them to Christianise the pagan lands in the Baltic Region. No matter how they behaved, they could always claim that they acted under Papal authority, and with the approval of God Himself.
Their first Christianising mission in the 13th century involved the Prussians, a tribe which controlled the amber trade along the Baltic. The Teutonic knights dealt with them in a most effective way: they eliminated them almost completely. Those who remained alive were forbidden to marry so that no further Prussian children would be forthcoming. Centuries later, when Prussia was a proud and famous name among Europeans, there was hardly a true Prussian alive, and the archaic Prussian language slowly died out under Teutonic occupation.
 
The Teutonic Knights continued their occupations and captured Pomorze (1308-1309), Chelmno, Kujawa, Dobrzyn, and Kalisz in Poland. Every time Polish land was captured, the population was massacred, and Germans were brought to live in the captured lands.
The 14th century Order's attacks were mainly against the pagan Lithuanian State, combining the mission to spread Christianity, and the desire to capture Lithuanian lands, especially the area around Zemaitija (Zmudzi or Samogitia). The Knights of the Teutonic Order needed reinforcements to fight effectively in this region. Well-armed knights from France, England, Luxembourg, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and the Low Countries arrived every year to participate in "Lithuanian Crusades".
In 1385 Lithuania entered into a union with the Polish Kingdom, and the following year The Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vladyslav Jogaila, married the Queen of Poland and acceded to the Polish throne. He became a Christian, and changed his name to Wladyslaw Jagiello. Jagiello brought Christianity to the last pagan European country, Lithuania in 1387.
In 1401 Jagiello left the title of Grand Duke of Lithuania to his cousin Vytautas the Great, so that he (Jagiello), could be free to concentrate on Polish affairs. King Jagiello and Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas the Great (Witold) had difficulty in reconciling with the occupation of their lands, the massacres of innocent citizens in villages near the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic borders. They were also conscious that the Order was gaining power year by year, preparing to conquer Eastern Europe. There was peace for a time after the union of Lithuania and Poland, but in 1398 the Teutonic knights invaded Lithuanian and Polish territory, and occupied the areas of Zemaitija (Zmudzi), Santok, and Drezdenko. The Polish-Lithuanian State considered Zemaitija to be part of its own territory, of course, and a cold war started between the Polish-Lithuanian State and the Teutonic Order.
 
On 14 August 1409, Teutonic Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen declared war on the Polish-Lithuanian State. He also proposed an armistice with his neighbours, as neither side was ready for war, and for the time being, Jagiello and Vytautas accepted that. The truce was to last from 8 October 1409 until sunset on 24 June 1410. During that time Jagiello sent spies to the occupied lands to learn all they could about the powerful enemy. All across Poland and Lithuania that winter of 1409, preparations were made for military action. Both sides understood that a titanic battle would follow.
In the meantime Jagiello sent some of his own people to Kiev, seeking help from the Tartars, who agreed to send 1500 cavalrymen after May 1410. The Bohemians would send 3000 men under the leadership of Jan Sokol, and help would also come from Moldova and Russia, since they understood the importance of this battle. In December 1409, Jagiello, Vytautas, and Dzala-ed-din, the leader of Tartars, met in Brzesc Litewsk, and formulated a plan of how to go to Malbork, and crush the Teutonic Order once and for all.
In the second week of June 1410, only eleven days before the armistice was due to end, the Polish forces were surprised by the arrival of three Teutonic Knights in full armour and bright trappings. They sought to speak with King Jagiello, proposing to him that the armistice should be extended for three weeks. Jagiello asked why, and the knights answered that knights from other nations of Europe wished to participate in the crusade, and that honour should not be denied to them.
Jagiello accepted that proposal, not out of consideration for the Order, but because these extra days would be useful for better preparing his army. Soon Jagiello and Vytautas the Great with their armies and their colours assembled in Mazowsze on 2 July, at Czerwinsk on the river Wisla.
 
On July 3 they started moving towards the enemy.
On 8 July the huge army of Jagiello and Vytautas crossed the borders, with the intention of marching against Malbork. But Grand Master Ulich von Jungingen, a brilliant leader and fearless warrior, tried to trap the enemy. He knew from his own spies where the enemy would pass, and positioned his Krzyzacy on the opposite side of the river from Jagiello's army, near the small village of Drwecy. But the Polish King and Vytautas did not want to fight in that area, where the Krzyzacy would have an advantage, and decided to approach Malbork from the other direction, via the occupied town of Dabrowno.
The Krzyzacy would take another route, to head them off, with the intention of opposing the huge enemy army in Grunwald, or in Frygnowo, or Rychnowo. On 13 July the Polish-Lithuanians reached the city of Dabrowno, occupied by the Krzyzacy, and now populated by German citizens. Within a few hours of storming the city, the Poles and Lithuanians captured it. No defending Crusader managed to survive. They were all killed. So strong was the hate for the Krzyzacy, and the feeling of revenge in the army of Poles and Lithuanians, that the town was totally burned, in the full knowledge that this would be seen by Krzyzacy who were kilometres away, following the army of Vytautas and his cousin.
The fire and heavy smoke was indeed seen that night by the Grand Master and his army, who observed that Dabrowno had been captured and burned, and he predicted that a wild battle could not be avoided? We should not let them cross our borders, said one Crusader Commander to his Grand Master.? The Krzyzacy watched the town burn without saying anything.
 
The huge army of Poles and Lithuanians left Dabrowno before dark on 15 July, and by sunrise they had reached Lake Lubien. This time the Grand Master found the army of Jagiello and Vytautas, and for second time planned to oppose the enemy, on Tuesday 15 July, at the villages of Grunwald, Stebark and Lodwigowo near Lake Lubien. The land around here was heavily forested with wood suitable for concealing the Polish-Lithuanian army.
When the sun rose on that fateful day, 15 July, one could have imagined all Europe holding its breath to see who would win the titanic battle that had so long been expected. Everyone understood its tremendous significance, since the winner would occupy all of Eastern Europe.
 
The Krzyzacy positioned their headquarters near the little village of Grunwald, while some three miles distant, the Polish and Lithuanian Commanders had their headquarters near to the equally small village of Stebark (Tannenberg).
In subsequent history the Poles would call this the Battle of Grunwald, the Lithuanians the Battle of Zalgiris, and the Germans and other western allies, the Battle of Tannenberg.
 
The Poles had provided a formidable army of 18.000 knights, 11.000 retainers and 4000 foot soldiers, to which must be added 11.000 Lithuanian knights and foot soldiers, 1100 Tartars and about 6000 Bohemians, Russians, Moravians and Moldavians who came to help the Polish-Lithuanian State. But only a precious few were heavy cavalry. Most of the Lithuanian and Polish foot soldiers were armed with clubs, and their equipment was inferior to that of the Krzyzacy.
The Krzyzacy could assemble that day 21.000 excellent heavy cavalrymen, 6000 massively armed infantry, and 5000 servants trained in battle, and better-armed than most of the Lithuanian and Polish foot soldiers. Most of these Krzyzacy would be Teutonic Knights/Germans, but from all Western Europe knights had come to help their brothers against the "pagan" Lithuanians (some of them were indeed still pagans), and the Poles who dared to support the pagans instead of the Christians. English, French, Hungarians, Austrians, Bavarians, Thuringians, Bohemians, Luxembourgians, Flamands, Dutch and even some Poles would help the Teutonic Knights, but the Grand Master had expected more help from western Europe. The Krzyzacy had 100 cannons capable of throwing balls larger than a head, while the Polish-Lithuanians had only 16 cannons.
 
The Germans had the best field leaders in the world - men tested in many battles with Lithuanians and Tartars. Ulrich von Jungingen as Grand Master, Frederick von Wallenrode as Grand Marshal, Kuno von Lichtenstein, one of the finest swordsmen of the century, as Grand Commander, and Albrecht von Schwarzenberg, a marshal serving as Commander of Supply.
Although outnumbered in bodies, (more than 50.000 Poles, Lithuanians and Allies to 32.000 Krzyzacy - mostly Germans), the Krzyzacy were vastly superior in armour, horses, and experience and in battlefield leadership.
 
This was going to be one of the most decisive battles of the world, and of all times - an immense clash of arms which would determine the history of Eastern Europe and the destiny of the two emerging nations, Lithuania and Poland.
By 5 o' clock in the morning of 15 July, massed Krzyzacy with flags and huge horses dressed in white could be seen waiting on the horizon, but no Poles and Lithuanians appeared to oppose them. It was an amazing sight. Never in previous battles could anyone have seen such a formidable army, all dressed in white, wearing helmets, brandishing swords, and flying huge flags.
At 6 o'clock the sun rose. Three Polish Champions went to meet the King and requested permission to lead the army in an attack against the Krzyzacy.
 
The three Polish Champions, including the formidable knight Zawisza Czarny (Black Zawisza), known on many battlefields as the premier knight of the east, were impatient, and did not like their King's strategy. But when the sun became hotter and hotter, they understood their King's wisdom in staying in the forest, while the Krzyzacy in full armour were "burned" by the hot sun. In the meantime Vytautas the Great was checking the regiments/flags of Lithuanians, Poles, Bohemians, Russians etc and with his strong voice, gave morale to the soldiers. Vytautas would participate in the battle as one of the Allied commanders, but actually he would be the Leader of the army. Vytautas did not like to wait, since the Krzyzacy, according to spies, had marched more than 25 km in heavy rain the previous day, to reach and block the enemy at Grunwald. The Krzyzacy would be tired, and one attack in the early hours of the morning could have crushed the exhausted Krzyzacy, but Jagiello considered that making them wait in the heat of the day would make the Krzyzacy nervous, and irritable. It was known that Krzyzacy in the past on many battlefields of Europe, won battles because of their psychology and clear mind. Unlike Vytautas' participation in the battle, Jagiello would be placed on the hill to watch the battle and see how he could use the army to the best tactical advantage.
 
At 8.30, when the Krzyzacy were dripping with sweat, Grand Master von Jungingen engaged in a super manoeuvre, sending two of his finest knights to the opposing side with a clever purpose. When the two knights reached about twenty yards from the Poles, one of them cried in a loud voice:
"Lithuanian and Poles, Dukes Vytautas and Jagiello, if you are afraid to come out and fight, our Grand Master sends you these additional weapons".
 
The insult made warriors like Black Zawisza angry, but Jagiello remained unperturbed and sent one of his aides to recover the swords. Brandishing one, he said: "I accept both your swords and your choice of battleground, but the outcome of this day I entrust to the will of God".
At this challenge the heralds withdrew. Everything was ready for the great battle, maybe the greatest that ever happened in all time.
 
On the left side, there were Poles, Bohemians, Moravians and Moldavians.
 
On the right side Vytautas the Great had a Tartar platoon, Russian troops and his Lithuanian knights. The foot soldiers, along with the Poles, were hidden in the trees. The Krzyzacy were conventionally opposed to the Polish-Lithuanians. They just had a line of cannon and infantry at the front of their lines.
Jagiello suddenly gave the signal to attack "Krakow-Vilnius," and soon a strong voice "Lietuva" came out like the roar of a lion from the mouth of Vytautas the Great. Many voices and horses were heard as the Lithuanians, Russians and Tartars started to move forward to the first line of Krzyzacy. The Krzyzacy' cannon only managed to fire twice against the mainly light, and of course quick, cavalry. Soon Vytautas' knights reached the line with very few casualties, since they were cleverly spaced so as not to be too close to each other, and brought chaos to the Krzyzacy' infantry.
 
Von Jungingen, seeing the failure of his cannons and infantrymen to stop the Lithuanians, immediately ordered some of his cavalry to be sent to engage the Lithuanians. The unlucky foot soldiers, trying to escape from the enemy, saw sand rising from the horses of the heavy cavalry, and were taken by surprise.
The first line of the Krzyzacy' infantry was almost wiped out. A few foot soldiers managed to escape and hide in the Krzyzacy' tents, but most of them who were massed in the middle, pressed by the cavalrymen, did not survive. It was a clever manoeuvre by Jagiello and Vytautas the Great, to throw only their mainly light cavalry against the cannons, to eliminate them, and prevent them causing problems for the heavy Polish cavalry. It also forced the Krzyzacy to commit their heavy cavalrymen so soon to the battle. But now things have changed. When the Tartars looked up the hill and saw giant horses and equally giant Krzyzacy coming towards them, they fled, leaving the Lithuanians and Russians alone. It was a chaotic and undisciplined retreat, and some Krzyzacy followed them, cheering and shouting battle cries. After a chase of four miles, when more than 50 Tartars had been killed, the Krzyzacy returned to their fellows who were fighting with the Lithuanians, but they were engaged in an entirely different kind of battle.
 
Soon the Grand Master sent a large force of Krzyzacy to the battle, to engage the Polish knights who were waiting on the other side. Trumpets sounded. Cheers rose. And the Polish knights waited for the savage charge of the Krzyzacy who came over a slight rise waving their banners and singing "Christ has risen" as they came against the "Pagans"...
The right side of the Poles also started to move slowly, and they sang Ojczysta Piesn (their homeland song) "Bogurodzice" (God's Mother). Both sides, with flags flying, and the sounds shouting and singing, came to join the wild battle that the Lithuanians and Krzyzacy were engaged in. The battle was furious.
The Grand Master seeing that the Lithuanian army was less numerous than the Poles, and less well armed, diverted some Krzyzacy who were engaged in fighting the Poles, to crush the dangerous Lithuanians of Vytautas the Great, who was the Allied Commander in the battle. Indeed Krzyzacy started to press the Lithuanians. Vytautas the Great realised his men were under pressure, and ordered a tactical retreat, to bring the Krzyzacy to the forests. A big force of Lithuanians started to withdraw, and the Krzyzacy happily started to chase them. Only a small force, mainly of Russians from Smolensk and some Lithuanians who were very close to the Polish knights, stayed to fight. One Russian regiment was smashed completely by the Krzyzacy, but the rest were fighting desperately against the better-armed Krzyzacy.
 
But not many Krzyzacy chased the Lithuanians. Some of them were afraid of the sight of the forests, suspicious that this may be a trap. Indeed it was, because when the Lithuanians went into the Zevaldas forest across the narrow river Morence, a reserve force of fresh Polish knights suddenly came out of the trees like lions and started to kill the surprised Krzyzacy without mercy. The retreating Lithuanians made an immediate about-turn, and assisted the Poles.
But the Lithuanians' tactical withdrawal was dangerous for the Polish lines, as it left them with an exposed left flank. Nine Crusader regiments were able to attack the Polish knights from that side, and some succeeded in getting behind the Polish front. A complete surrounding of the Poles was prevented by three regiments from Smolensk, and some Lithuanians who had not retreated.
 
It was now that Krzyzacy would gain some successes and even they were close to the end of this battle. In the Krzyzacy' favour, Marcin from Wrocimowic, the Chamberlain of Krakow had been awarded the honour of bearing aloft at the heart of the battle, a big Polish flag marked with the sign of a white Eagle. When the Krzyzacy saw this, they supposed that King Jagiello must be nearby, fighting at the head of his troops in the European fashion. They did not realise that Jagiello had stationed himself atop a small hill to watch the battle, as the Grand Master did - a tactic that was followed by Genghis Khan and his successors. With enormous courage and determination, a squadron of German knights crashed into Marcin, wounded him, cast down the Polish flag, and triumphantly sang "Christ ist erstanden" (Christ has risen). In a normal battle this would have signalled the defeat of the army to which the flag belonged, and the Krzyzacy so interpreted it, with hundreds of knights rushing to kill the hypothetically fallen king, and disperse his immediate entourage.
 
Jagiello heard the singing, and asked if it was the Krzyzacy who were singing. The knights near their King, protecting him, assured him that it was the Krzyzacy. He was worried since maybe the Krzyzacy would win the battle. It was like they were celebrating victory.
They obviously thought that would be the end of the battle, but this was no ordinary battle. Knights from Krakow, including Czarny Zawisza, went to defend the flag, and another wild battle broke out. The Polish knights, more determined than the Krzyzacy, saved their flag and drove back the crashing Krzyzacy who expected to finish the battle, which actually got worse and wilder. Their singing stopped, and the sounds of war could be heard again. It was almost 6 o'clock and Jagiello moved to another position on the hill near Lodwigowo, closer to the battlefield, to give orders. Suddenly the Polish King gave a signal, and from the dark woods the Polish and Lithuanian peasants began to emerge, walking gingerly at first, then half-running with their pitiful wooden weapons in the air, and finally surging forward with cries they might have used in hunting bear. On and on they came closer, the cries growing louder and more shrill, scaring the Krzyzacy who this time could not see could not see white horses and white dressed Knights, but many foot soldiers advancing on the Krzyzacy like a mass of irresistible ants. The Krzyzacy killed many of them, but the vast army of foot soldiers never stopped advancing.
 
The pressed Krzyzacy were retreating to join their Grand Master, but Vytautas the Great immediately ordered his troops to weaken the centre and strengthen the sides, so as to surround the Krzyzacy who were speeding towards the centre of the allied line. Many Polish regiments fell to the Krzyzacy now, and the final stages of the deadly battle began. Slowly, like the remorseless tentacles of a giant octopus, the various bands - Lithuanian, Polish, Bohemian, Russian, Tartar, Moravian, Moldavian - closed in upon the Krzyzacy. When the circle was complete, the slaughter began. Lances, daggers, pikes, scythes, poignards, the hoofbeat of horses, the strangling force of maddened hands, all combined to crush the German power which only the day before had seemed so impregnable.
Foot soldiers, mainly villagers, were fighting fanatically, full of hate and revenge, as they had seen their villages destroyed by raiding Krzyzacy, and many of their friends had been killed by these People of God.
 
The encirclement was complete now. Even the 16 new regiments could not help the situation for the Krzyzacy. Vytautas the Great was dealing out death to every Crusader who opposed to him. He was shouting and giving more encouragement to the allies, who, like bees, were pressing the unfortunate Krzyzacy more and more. But the battle was still deadly. The Krzyzacy with their long swords killed many lightly-armed soldiers, but most of the Krzyzacy were confused now, their white clothes turned to red, because of the amount of blood that was on the ground, and on the horses. Those Krzyzacy who wanted to see better threw away their heavy restricting helmets, only to have their heads crushed by the Poles' numerous weapons.
The Lithuanians were on the left wing attacking the Krzyzacy, and Poles on the right. The circle was so strong that no one could escape from it. The Krzyzacy were fighting bravely and very stubbornly, refusing to accept defeat, and continuing the desperate battle. The Grand Master, aided by Von Wallenrode and six of his bravest knights, tried to hold back the peasants and determined knights. But there were too many of them and he was overcome. The masses fell with extreme force on the German leader, hitting him from all directions. He was fatally injured, and cried out "Jesus save me!" As he perished, he must have known that his crusade to crush the Polish-Lithuanian State and grab Eastern Europe had failed.
 
At twenty past seven, when half an hour of daylight still remained, the last phase of the battle ended with the complete crushing of these 16 regiments, and those who were connected with them. Now the hunt started for those few who had survived and sought help at the Krzyzacy' base of tents, where some infantry and a few knights were preparing to help their fellows.
The army of Poles and Lithuanians very quickly overran the Krzyzacy' base. The Krzyzacy did not expect the tired enemy would be able to reach their base so soon, but Jagiello had more fresh reinforcements to throw into the battle, even at this late stage. Again a new slaughter began, and those who were unarmed and begging for their lives were taken prisoner.
Some Krzyzacy, alone or in small groups, tried to escape through the woods, but they lost their way and were captured or killed by the allies.
Only around 1400 Krzyzacy managed to leave the battlefield and reach Malbork.
 
The next day the two great leaders Vytautas the Great and Jagiello, surrounded by their splendid captains, moved to the battlefield and saw one enemy flag after another fall to the ground. 39 flags would be taken by the Poles, and 10 by the Lithuanians. The lucky 1400 Krzyzacy who escaped only managed to take 7 flags with them, and for them it was a success taking at least these flags.
The body of von Lichtenstein was there, Schwarzenberger's, von Wallenrode's, and from the foreign knights was Jaromir of Prague, Gabor of Buda, leader of Hungarians, Richard of York and some others also. 28000 Crusaders and their helpers had been slain the previous day. Of 60 leaders of the Order, more than 50 perished.
 
It was a complete defeat for the Teutonic Knights, who will never recover after that important battle. 209 Crusader knights died. Only 12 Polish knights were killed, along with a few other allied knights. Of the Lithuanians and Polish foot soldiers, more than two thirds died, along with over 100 Tartars. The total number of casualties in the Polish-Lithuanian army is unknown, but it is almost certain that over 20.000 died to save their beloved homeland from the barbarian Krzyzacy.
 
On 1 February 1411 a peace treaty was signed by both sides. The Poles and the Lithuanians regained some territory, including Zemaitija, and part of Pomorze (Pomerania), but Malbork remained in German hands. Of course the Teutonic Order would pay money in compensation to the Poles, and all the prisoners would be freed. After this the weak Teutonic Order would not cause any problems to Poland-Lithuania, but they continued to occupy the formidable fortress of Malbork. Vytautas the Great would be known in subsequent Lithuanian history as saviour of the nation and Eastern Europe, while in the eyes of Polish historians, Jagiello is regarded in the same way.
 

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