Battle of Grunwald. How the army of the Teutonic Order was destroyed


Grunwald. Hood. Wojciech Kossak

610 years ago, Polish, Lithuanian and Russian troops defeated the army of the Teutonic Order in the Battle of Grunwald. Allied forces stopped the expansion of the crusaders to the east and marked the beginning of the military-economic decline of the Order.

Onslaught to the East

In the XIII century, the Teutonic Order settled in the Slavic lands and began a crusade to the east. At first, the crusaders fought with the Slavic alliance of the Prussian-Poruss tribes. By 1280, the Teutons, with the support of Rome and the Holy Roman Empire (at various times it included Germany, Italy, Burgundy and the Czech Republic), conquered Prussia. Most of the Prussians were destroyed, some were enslaved, some fled to the lands of the Lithuanian tribes. Earlier, many fierce lutichi (Slavic people) fled to Lithuania. As a result, the Slavs played an important role in the ethnogenesis of the Lithuanians. In general, at this time there was no big difference between the Slavs-Rus and the Balts. Moreover, the Baltic tribes preserved the cults of common gods like Perun-Perkunas, Veles, etc., more than the Russians themselves. Their Christianization took place later.

After the conquest of Prussia, the time came for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Russia. Nowadays, the information that Lithuania was then a Russian principality is almost erased. The state language was Russian, two branches of the Russian faith prevailed: paganism and Orthodoxy. The overwhelming majority of the lands and population of the Grand Duchy were Russian. For almost a century, a fierce battle for Zheimatia (Zhmud) was raging. In 1382, during the strife in Lithuania (the princes Keistut and Vitovt fought with Jagailo, the crusaders supported one side, then the other), the crusaders captured most of the region. However, the pagans continued to offer stubborn resistance until the Great War of 1409-1411. In response, the Teutons, receiving knightly reinforcements from Germany, France and the Netherlands, devastated Zhmud several times. The knights literally hunted pagans like wild animals.

In 1385 the Union of Kreva was concluded: the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jagiello married the Polish queen Jadwiga and became the Polish king. Jagiello recognized Vitovt as the Grand Duke of Lithuania, and he, in turn, recognized Jagiello as the supreme overlord of the Grand Duchy. Jagailo and Vitovt were to complete the Christianization of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Russia according to the Western (Catholic) rite. This agreement became the basis for the subsequent Westernization and Catholicization of the Lithuanian principality and the resistance of the Russian people, who began to see the new center of Russia in Moscow.


“Battle of Grunwald. 1410 “. Engraving from M. Belsky’s Chronicle. 16th century

Great War

The Order considered this agreement to be window dressing. The Teutons did not abandon their aggression in the region. It was a matter of faith, power and wealth (land). Even the Christian princes Jagiello and Vitovt were considered by the crusaders to be “repainted” pagans. Also, the Order did not want to give up territorial expansion. The knight brothers wanted to secure Zhmud, the Polish Dobrzyn land and Gdansk. Poland sought to return part of Pomorie and the Chelminskaya land, captured by the crusaders. It was vitally important for Poland and Lithuania to stop the further advance of the Order to the east. In addition, the Teutonic Order interfered with the economic development of the two Slavic powers. The knights controlled the estuaries of three major rivers in the region: the Neman, Vistula and Western Dvina, which flowed through Polish and Lithuanian territory.

Thus, it was a life-and-death confrontation. The war was inevitable. Both sides knew this and prepared to continue the struggle. In the spring of 1409, Samogitia rebelled against the Order again. Lithuania supported the Zeimates, and Poland expressed its readiness to side with the Grand Duchy. In August, Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen declared war on the Lithuanians and Poles. The knights immediately launched an offensive and captured several border fortifications. The Poles launched a counteroffensive and recaptured Bydgoszcz. In the fall, an armistice was concluded until the summer of 1410.

The Order, Poland and Lithuania were actively preparing for the decisive battle, forming armies, looking for allies and actively blaming each other for all their sins. For a large bribe, the Teutons received the support of the Hungarian king Sigismund. The Teutonic Order was also supported by the Czech king Wenceslas. Large detachments of Western European knights and mercenaries (Germans, French, Swiss, British, etc.) came to the aid of the Order, hoping for a large booty in the lands of “heretics” and pagans. By the beginning of 1410, the Order’s army was increased to 60 thousand people. In the meantime, Vitovt achieved an armistice with the Livonian Order and avoided a war on two fronts.

Jagailo and Vitovt agreed on a joint campaign in the lands of the Order, intending to defeat the enemy army and take the capital of the Order – Marienburg. To deceive the enemy, the Allies made small demonstrations on their borders. The knights were shown to be attacked from two directions. Therefore, the order command chose a defensive strategy, the crusaders were expecting an invasion from two sides: from Poland along the Vistula to Gdansk and from Lithuania along the Neman to the Ragnit fortress. Part of the Order’s troops were located on the border in castles, and the main forces were concentrated in Shvets in order to march from there to meet the enemy. The crusaders were going to destroy the main forces of the enemy in a decisive battle.

Polish troops gathered in Volborzh, Lithuanian-Russian – in Grodno. The exact number of warriors is unknown. The forces of the Order are estimated at 51 banners, about 27-30 thousand people, about 100 bombards. The Teutonic army also included regiments of dependent Polish feudal lords. The main force of the Order was well trained and armed heavy cavalry. But there was also infantry: crossbowmen, archers and gunners. Poland put up 50-51 banners (including several Russians from Podolia and Galicia), Russians and Lithuanians – 40 banners, about 40 thousand people in total (according to other sources, up to 60 thousand soldiers). On the side of the allies were detachments from the Czech Republic and Moravia, Moldova, Hungary and the Tatar equestrian detachment. The backbone of the allied army was also cavalry, but a significant part of it was light (especially in the Russian-Lithuanian army), the infantry mainly defended the camp.

A banner is a banner, a tactical unit in an army, which roughly corresponded to a company. The banner consisted of 20-80 copies, a tactical unit that consisted of a knight, his squires, archers, swordsmen, spearmen, pages and servants. The richer the knight (feudal lord) was, the more and better the spear was. As a result, the banner was from 100 to 500 fighters.


Jan Matejko. “Battle of Grunwald”

The death of the Teutonic army

On June 26, 1410, Jagailo’s army set out from Velborzh and a week later joined up with Vitovt’s troops near Cherven. The Allies launched an offensive in the direction of Marienburg and on July 9 they crossed the border of Prussia. The two armies met at the villages of Tannenberg and Grunwald. The army of the grand master arrived there first and prepared for the defense. Von Jungengen decided to defend himself at the first stage of the battle: they prepared traps (wolf pits), set bombards, covered them with archers and crossbowmen. The order command was going to upset the enemy regiments, and then inflict a powerful blow with heavy cavalry and destroy the enemy. The knights lined up in two lines at a front 2.5 km away. In the first line on the left flank there were 15 banners of the great marshal Friedrich von Wallenrod, on the right – 20 banners under the command of the great commander Cuno von Lichtenstein. In the second line, in reserve – 16 banners of the great master.

The allies lined up in three lines at a front 2 km away, each with 15-16 banners. On the left flank there are 51 banners of Poland (including 7 Russians and 2 Czechs) under the command of the Krakow governor Zyndaram, on the right flank 40 Russian-Lithuanian banners and Tatar cavalry. At the junction were the Smolensk regiments, which were reinforced with other Russian banners during the battle. At dawn on July 15, 1410, the troops formed. The Teutons wanted the enemy to act first, which led to the breakdown of his ranks and made it easier to break through the Polish-Lithuanian line. Therefore, until noon, the troops stood and suffered from the heat. Yagailo, apparently sensing danger, also did not want to be the first to start the battle. The crusaders, in order to provoke the enemy, sent heralds with two drawn swords to Jagaila and Vitovt (the so-called Grunwald swords). The master conveyed that these swords “should help the Polish and Lithuanian monarchs in the battle.” It was a challenge and an insult.

Vitovt threw light cavalry into the attack on the left flank of the enemy, including the Tatars of Jelal ad-Din (the son of Tokhtamysh, he hoped to seize power in the Horde with the help of Lithuania). The bombers fired several shots, but the effectiveness was low, and besides, it began to rain. Traps and arrows did not stop the light cavalry. The light riders in a frontal attack could do nothing with the heavy knights of Wallenrod. Then Wallenrod’s cavalry launched a counteroffensive, and Vitovt’s light cavalry rolled back. It is believed that this was a typical Eastern cavalry tactic of luring the enemy into a trap. Some of the knights, believing that this was already a victory, carried away in pursuit and rushed to pursue the Russian-Lithuanian cavalry. The crusaders reached the camp, where they got bogged down in the fight against the infantry (militia warriors). When these crusaders, overwhelmed by the battle with the militia, returned to the battlefield, abandoning their prey, the battle was already lost. Another part of Wallenrod’s cavalry entered the battle with the remaining troops of Vitovt. A persistent felling began. Russian banners, including the Smolensk regiments, took the blow and suffered heavy losses. The leading banners were killed almost completely, but they were replaced by the rear ones. They fulfilled their task: the heavy knightly cavalry got bogged down, lost mobility and striking power.

Meanwhile, von Liechtenstein’s banners hit the Polish army. They were joined by several of Wallenrod’s banners. The blow was terrible. The leading Polish banners suffered huge losses. The knights captured the large Krakow banner. The Teutons took this as a victory. But the Poles violently rush into a counterattack, the banners of the second line enter the battle. The battle was extremely stubborn, one of the crusaders broke through to Jagail himself, but he was cut down. At 5 o’clock, deciding that victory was close, the Grand Master led the reserve banners into battle. It is obvious that von Jungingen was late in bringing fresh forces into the battle. In response, the Poles threw the third line into battle, and the light Tatar, Lithuanian and Russian cavalry, which returned to the battlefield, began to surround the enemy’s heavy banners stuck in a heavy wheelhouse. On the Grunwald Hills, the Crusaders were driven into two “cauldrons”. They quickly overgrown with walls from the remnants of all regiments, light cavalry, Lithuanian and Polish infantry. The order army was drowned in blood. The knights of Wallenrod tried to break through, but they were beaten off everywhere. The encirclement ring was tightening. As a result, the main forces of the Order’s cavalry were destroyed and captured. The last battle the remnants of the cavalry and the Prussian infantry tried to give in the camp near the village of Grunwald, but then they were quickly swept away. A small part of the Order’s army fled.

It was a complete rout. Almost the entire command of the Order was killed, including Grand Master Jungingen and Grand Marshal Wallenrod, from 200 to 400 order brothers (there were 400–450 people in total), many foreign knights and mercenaries. Many were captured. The losses of the Order are estimated at 22 thousand people (including 8 thousand killed and about 14 thousand prisoners). The losses of the allied army were also heavy, up to 12-13 thousand killed and wounded. But on the whole, the army retained its combat core and combat capability, in contrast to the enemy.

The allied command made a mistake: for three days the troops “stood on the bones.” Light banners were not sent to take the almost defenseless Marienburg-Malbork. When the army moved, the king was in no hurry, he was already sharing the skin of the Teutonic bear, distributing towns and fortresses to those close to him. At this time, the decisive Svecensk commander Heinrich von Plauen (he did not have time to take part in the battle) was the first to get to Malbork and organized its defense. The allies could not take the impregnable fortress, they had to leave. In the northeast, the Livonians began to stir, in the west, the Germans were gathering new forces.

Thus, it was not possible to crush the Teutonic Order on the move. Peace was made in 1411. The Teutons returned the disputed territories to Poland and Lithuania, paid indemnity and ransom for the prisoners. The expansion of the Teutonic Order to the east was stopped. Grunwald was the beginning of the military-political decline of the Order. His authority, military power and wealth were undermined. Soon the leading positions in the region were taken by the union of Poland and Lithuania.


“Two Swords”. Wojciech Kossak

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