Armed Hostilities

East Prussia Campaign of 1914: Staff Ride Project

Table of Contents
  1. Preliminary Study Phase
  2. Field Study Phase
  3. Integration Phase
  4. References

Word War I was the first war waged by fully industrialized militaries. Many of its features, such as advances in firepower and communications, the importance of aerial reconnaissance, and the benefits of operational and strategic mobility, remain relevant today. The developmental goal of the staff ride to the battlefields of the East Prussia campaign of 1914 is to foster professional insight into several dimensions of World War I that remain applicable today. The objectives of the staff ride are to provide a case study in operational art, the relationship between technology and doctrine, and leadership.

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Preliminary Study Phase

The preliminary study phase for this staff ride will include lectures, individual work, and group discussions, provided other professional responsibilities of the participants will allow the latter. The purpose of this phase will be to acquaint the participants with “the organizational and operational setting of the campaign” (Robertson, 2014, p. 11). Lectures will cover the geography of the theater of operations, operational constraints of moving multi-corps formations via weak logistical networks, and tactical doctrines of German and Russian armies. The phase will pay specific attention to the underestimation of firepower of then-modern weapons in the Russian doctrine and successful use of aerial reconnaissance by the Germans (Stone, 2015). Study packets issued to the participants will cover particular leaders, such as General A. Samsonov, General P. Rennenkampf, General M. Prittwitz, General (later Field Marshal) P. Hindenburg and General E. Ludendorff. To foster the group discussion, individual participants will each cover a key leader or a critical event.

Field Study Phase

The field study phase for this staff ride will cover the sites of the major battles in chronological order. To avoid confusion, the instructor will cover the initial Russian success in the battle of Gumbinnen (present-day Gusev, Russia) prior to arriving at the first location. The staff ride will begin in the city of Olsztyn, Poland, in the vicinity of which Germans annihilated parts of the Russian Second Army on August 26-30, 1914 (Stone, 2015). Then it will proceed to the city of Ełk, Poland, in the vicinity of which Germans outflanked the Russian First Army and forced it to retreat on September 7-14, 1914(Stone, 2015). The instructor will maintain chronological and spatial orientation throughout the entire ride (Robertson, 2014). The instructor will also use both locations, as well as the unplanned stops, should those occur, to encourage the group discussion.

The field study phase will serve to deepen the participants’ understanding of the East Prussian campaign. To provide a case study in operational art, participants will discuss the lack of cooperation between the Russian armies and swiftness and appropriateness of response on the German side, allowing Hindenburg and Ludendorff to defeat the enemy piece-by-piece (Stone, 2015). To provide a case study in the relationship between technology and doctrine, participants will discuss the flaws of Russia doctrine, underestimating the power of modern firearms, the use of radio communication, and the importance of aerial reconnaissance (Stone, 2015). To provide a case study in leadership, the participants will reflect on the leaders’ performance on both sides. They will focus on Prittwitz’s defeatism after the initial setbacks, Hindenburg and Ludendorff’s refusal to accept defeat, and the descent of the Second Army’s retreat into flight as the chain of command broke.

Integration Phase

The integration phase will allow the participants to reflect on what they learned in the staff ride and how these insights may address performance gaps in their organizations. The instructor will initiate it after the end of the field study phase in Ełk so that it would field study “as closely as circumstances permit” (Robertson, 2014, p. 18). Lessons regarding operational art will stress the importance of maintaining communication between formation, which Russians failed to do, and ensuring swiftness and appropriateness of response, as demonstrated by the Germans. Discussion of the relationship between technology and doctrine will prompt the participants to think whether their organizations underestimate the effect of new technological developments as Russian did in 1914. Insights into Hindenburg and Ludendorff’s leadership will reemphasize the Warrior Ethos and the importance of never accepting defeat.


Robertson, W. G. (2014). The staff ride. United States Army, Center of Military History.

Stone, D. R. (2015). The Russian Army in the Great War: The Eastern Front, 1914–1917. University Press of Kansas.

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