Alexander Samsonov was the commander of the Russian Army. Born in 1858 in the Russian Empire, Samsonov spent his earliest years as a cavalry officer and served in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. After fighting in the war, Samsonov went on to attend the Nikolaevsky Military Academy in St. Petersburg, and he was subsequently given greater and greater command over cavalry divisions in wars such as the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).
Having gained a strong reputation for being a resourceful leader, Samsonov became Chief of staff of the Warsaw Military District, before being made Governor-General of Russian Turkestan in 1909. Once World War One broke out, all this experience placed him in good stead. He was given command of the Russian Second Army in 1914 and given the task of invading East Prussia.
The attack was the first real military challenge Samsonov had faced in his career and it ended in disaster. Failing to coordinate movements of the Second Army with the First Army (due to a fall out with the First Army’s commander Rennenkampf) he found himself surrounded by the German Eighth Army (including commanders Hindenburg and Ludendorff) at Tannenburg.
The Second Army was essentially destroyed by Germany, with fewer than 10,000 of the 150,000 managing to escape death or capture. The Battle of Tannenburg immediately went down in history as a complete disaster for both Samsonov and Russia, and had such an impact on Samsonov that he committed suicide near the battlefield, unable to face reporting the defeat to Nicholas II.
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