Paul Georg Edler von Rennenkampff (Russian: Па́вел Ка́рлович Ренненка́мпф, tr. Pável Kárlovič Rennenkámpf; 29 April [O.S. 17] 1854 – 1 April 1918), more commonly known as Paul von Rennenkampf in English, was a Baltic German nobleman, statesman and general of the Imperial Russian Army who commanded the 1st Army in the Invasion of East Prussia during the initial stage of the Eastern front of World War I. He also served as the last commander of the Vilna Military District.
Rennenkampf gained a reputation as an effective cavalry commander during the Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War. Following service in the latter, he led the detachment that suppressed the Chita Republic during the 1905 Russian Revolution. This earned him further promotion, and by the outbreak of World War I Rennenkampf was commander of the Vilna Military District, whose forces were used to form the 1st Army under his command. He led the 1st Army in the invasion of East Prussia and won an early victory at Gumbinnen in late August 1914, but was relieved of command after defeats at Tannenberg, the Masurian Lakes and Łódź, although he was later proved innocent for the mistakes made in the Battle at Łódź. Exonerated by an official inquiry into his actions, Rennenkampf was shot by the Bolsheviks in Taganrog during the Red Terror in 1918.
Paul Georg Edler von Rennenkampff was born 29 April 1854 in the Konofer Manor (now in the small village of Konuvere in Märjamaa Parish, Estonia) in the Governorate of Estonia, one of eight children of Captain Karl Gustav Edler von Rennenkampff and Anna Gabriele Ingeborg Freiin von Stackelberg, he came from the Konofer-Tuttomäggi-Sastama branch of the Baltic German Rennenkampff family and was of Lutheran faith. His family was of Westphalian origin, originating in Osnabrück. On his mother's side was the Stackelberg family, which the common ancestor was Carl Adam von Stackelberg, a Swedish cavalry officer and participant of The Great Northern War, making him a fifth cousin of the Russo-Japanese War general Georg von Stackelberg.
As a youth, Rennenkampf was educated in the Knight and Cathedral SchoolCount Gurko. In early 1888, he was appointed to the Kazan Military District, Rennenkampf subsequently became the senior adjutant to the headquarters of the Don Cossacks. In late October 1889, he was appointed headquarters officer for special assignment at the 2nd Army Corps headquarters. In late March 1890, he was appointed the chief of staff of the Osowiec Fortress in Russian Poland. The same year he was promoted to colonel, after which he served in several minor regiment until late November 1899, when he was appointed chief of staff of the Transbaikal region, and was promoted to major general.(German: Die Estländische Ritter- und Domschule zu Reval; Estonian: Tallinna Toomkool), a German-speaking school built especially for Baltic German aristocrats. Upon graduation, he joined the military as a non-commissioned officer in the 89th Infantry Regiment. He graduated the Helsingforsky infantry school of the Junkers in Helsingfors (now Helsinki). He began his military career with the Lithuanian 5th Lancers Regiment. He graduated at the head of his class from the Nicholas General Staff Academy in St. Petersburg (or at the first category) in 1881. From late November to late August 1884, he was an over-officer for instruction of the 14th Army Corps. In late September 1886, he was the chief of staff of the Warsaw Military District serving under commander-in-chief of the military district, then general and later field marshal,
Rennenkampf participated in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China from 1900 to 1901. He distinguished himself with extreme success during the campaign, and for military distinction, he was awarded both the 4th and 3rd classes of the Order of St. George.
He acquired a name and wide popularity in military circles during the Chinese campaign (1900), for which he received two St. George crosses. The military, in general, were skeptical of the "heroes" of the Chinese war, considering it "not real." But the cavalry raid of Rennenkampf, in its daring and courage, deserved universal recognition.
It began in late July 1900, after the occupation of Aigun (near Blagoveshchensk). Rennenkampff, with a small detachment of three arms, defeated the Chinese in a strong position along the ridge of the Small Hingan and, having overtaken his infantry, with fourteen hundred Cossacks and a battery, having made 400 kilometers in three weeks with continuous skirmishes, captured a large Manchurian city of Qiqihar with a sudden raid. From here the high command assumed a systematic offensive against Jirin, gathering large forces in the 3 regiments of infantry, 6 regiments of cavalry and 64 guns, under the command of the famous general von Kaulbars ... But, without waiting for the detachment to be collected, General von Rennenkampff, taking with him 10 hundred Cossacks and a battery, on August 24 moved forward along the Sungari valley; On the 29th he captured Boduna, where 1,500 boxers surrendered unawares to him without a fight; September 8, seized Kaun-Zheng-tzu, leaving here five hundred and a battery to ensure its rear, with the remaining 5-hundred, having done 130 km per day, flew to Jilin. This match, unparalleled in its speed and suddenness, caused the Chinese, exaggerating to the extreme the strength of Rennenkampff, the impression that Kirin, the second most populated city and the most important city of Manchuria, surrendered, and the big garrison folded it. A handful of Rennenkampff Cossacks, lost among the mass of the Chinese, for several days, until reinforcements arrived, was in a preoriginal position ... - Anton Denikin
In mid-September, Rennenkampf left for Dagushan, leaving hundreds of troops to protect the mint and arsenal. After several days of resetting, he with his detachment attacked and occupied Tieling and Mukden, which he occupied until October. During the occupation, the general had faced numerous assassinations, during one encounter, when he and his troops entered a manor, three Chinese men with spears charged toward the general, but saved by a Cossack named Fyodor Antipyev, getting stabbed upon himself. For military distinction, he was awarded the Order of St. George of the 3rd degree.
In the war, the raid of the cavalry detachment of Rennenkampf was one of the most successful and decisive military operation in the Boxer Rebellion. In just three months of actions, Russian troops had taken over 2,500m of land, the best trained Chinese troops stationed at Heilongjiang were defeated and were pushed out of Manchuria, rebel detachment were dispersed, leading to the cessation of the Chinese resistant movement against their Russian occupiers.
In February 1904, after the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, Rennenkampf was appointed commander of the Trans-Baikal Cossack Division. In June, he was promoted to lieutenant-general for military distinction.
In late June 1904, while scouting the Japanese positions at Liaoyang, he was shot in the leg, shattering the shin. After less than two months, he returned to active service, before fully recovering from his wounds. In the Battle of Mukden, Rennenkampf again distinguished himself commanding the Tsinghechensky detachment, which was stationed at the left flank of the 1st Manchurian Army led by General Nikolai Linevich. During the battle, he showed great persistence, which combined with other reinforcements, was able to repulse Field Marshal Kawmura's offensive.
According to some historians and writers, after the Battle of Mukden, a personal conflict occurred between Rennenkampf and General Samsonov, and it came to an exchange of blows, which made the two of them lifelong foes. While some other historians argue that there could be no clashes between the generals. The main source of this rumor is the memoirs of the German general Max Hoffmann, who was a military agent in the Japanese army during the war and therefore incapable of personally observing relations among Russian generals and would subsequently become one of Rennenkampf's enemies in the First World War. In Hoffmann's memoirs, referring again to rumors, mentioned that both generals quarrelled in Liaoyang after the battle, which was physically impossible, since at this time Rennenkampf was seriously injured.
After the war he commanded numerous army corps, including the 7th Siberian Army Corps, the 3rd Siberian Army Corps and Army Corps.
1905 Russian Revolution
After the war, he commanded an infantry battalion with several machine guns, which followed a train in Harbin, restoring the communication of the Manchurian Army from Western Siberia. During this time, the Revolution broke out, and they were interrupted by a revolutionary movement in Eastern Siberia, the Chita Republic. General von Rennenkampf and his forces were sent to suppress the movement and restored order in Chita.
After this successful campaign, he became the target of the rebels, and there were several plots to assassinate him. In late October 1906, he faced an assassination attempt, while walking along the street with two of his adjutants, a SR member, who was sitting on a bench, threw a bomb on to the general's feet, but the bomb only worked partially, instead of blowing Rennenkampf and his adjutants to shreds, the explosion only stunned them, and the rebel was later arrested and tried.
The decisive actions of Rennenkampf in the course of a war and decisive action in suppressing rebels led to further advancement in Rennenkampf's career. And in late December 1910, he was promoted to General of the Cavalry, and in 1912, General-Adjutant and the commander-in-chief of all the troops of the Vilna Military District in mid-January 1913.
World War I
In the beginning of the First World War, Rennenkampf was appointed commander of the troops of the 1st Army of the Northwestern Front under commander-in-chief General Yakov Zhilinsky, along with his rival Samsonov, who was the commander of the 2nd Army, which was invading East Prussia from the south. On 7 August August 1914, Rennenkampf and his troops entered East Prussia from the east. While on the retreat under the order of the defending 8th Army commander General Maximilian von Prittwitz, a gap was created between the Russians, causing the 1st Division led by General Hermann von François to counterattack at the Battle of Stallupönen, starting the Eastern Front of WWI. Although it was a victory for the Germans, Russian artillery bombardment halted the German offensive, causing François to withdrew to the town of Gumbinnen. Rennenkampf continued his advance, defeating the 8th Army under the Prittwitz's command at the Battle of Gumbinnen. But due to a later incorrect assessment by Zhilinsky, the victory at Gumbinnen did not develop. After the battle, Rennenkampf was ordered by Zhilinsky to launch an offensive against the heart of East Prussia, Königsberg, but his army did not link up with Samsonov's 2nd Army due to a mistake made by Zhilinsky. As a result, the German 8th Army under the new commander, General (later field marshal) Paul von Hindenburg, charged through the gap, encircled and nearly wiped out the 2nd Army near Allenstein (the Battle of Tannenberg). When the desperate Samsonov sent his appeals for help, and instead of immediately replying and head south to aid Samsonov, Rennenkampf almost completely ignored the appeal, and when he finally began to head south, he and his men were a lot slower than it should and it was already too late (probably because of the personal rivalry between the two). This remained one of the main reasons for the defeat of the 2nd Army at the battle. After the battle, Samsonov, fearing to hold responsibility for the defeat, committed suicide.
After the 2nd Army's annihilation at the Battle of Tannenberg, Rennenkampf's army took over all the defenses along the Deyma, Lava and the Masurian Lake. On 7 September, the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes began, as the Germans attacked the left flank of the 1st Army with a powerful detachment, Zhilinsky broke the promise to provide Rennenkampf with reinforcements from other formations. As a result, the 1st Army had to retreat in a hurry. The 2nd Army Corps led by General Vladimir Slyusarenko resisted desperately, so did Rennenkampf himself, who brought all the cavalrymen, reserves, and troops, all transferred from the right to left flank of the 20th Army Corps, in order to avoid encirclement by Hindenburg. By 15 September, he skillfully helped his men escape encirclement and withdrew behind the Neman, saving all the remaining troops he had. After this failure, despite his best efforts to blame Rennenkampf for the defeat, Zhilinsky was dismissed and was replaced by the General Nikolai Ruzsky.
In mid-November at Łódź, due to the indecisiveness and mistakes made by Ruzsky, the 1st Army blocked the corps of General Reinhard von Scheffer-Boyadel from bursting out of the encircling movement, causing the front to retreat. A sharp conflict then broke out between the two men. After that, Rennenkampf was dismissed from the office, and was placed at the disposal of the Minister of War. His acts during the battle became the subject of a special commission under General Peter von Baranoff, he was even tried for treason (due to his ethnic background). He was then dismissed in early October 1915 "for domestic reasons with a uniform and pension." After that, he stayed in Petrograd, living in retirement with his wife Vera until the Bolshevik coup. However, his retirement life was extremely unsettling, as he was falsely accused for being a traitor, and all across Russia on all streets and public places, people insulted him of his action. Even Baltic Germans accused him, on Vera's recall, the Baltic Germans considered him "too Russian patriot" and "terrible Russophile". All this events rendered Rennenkampf into deep moral suffering.
The mass of complaints, libel, and so on, that the Germans (Rennenkampf, Sivers, Müller, etc.) are traitors and that the Germans are being given a move, as well as the mood of military censorship letters convinced that the appointment of P. AP (Plehve), with some of his regime and perseverance to carry out operations even with victims, prompted. (Grand Duke Nikolai) to abandon the original idea of PA (Plehve) and to dwell on a man with a Russian surname.
In a further investigation, it was revealed that it was Ruzsky's strategic mistakes that had let Scheffer-Boyadel and his troops get out of the encirclement. This however did not return Rennenkampf back to service.
Rennenkampf was arrested shortly after the February Revolution, as many of the revolutionaries remembered his role in the suppression of the Chita Republic back in 1905. He was then questioned by the Extraordinary Investigative Commission of the Russian Republic, although he was not charged for anything.
October Revolution and death
Rennenkampf was arrested again after the October Revolution and, like many other tsarist officials, was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress. He was released shortly afterwards due to deteriorating health. After that, he, along with several other tsarist generals, went south to Taganrog, to which his wife was native, and lived under the guise of a merchant named Smokovnikov. After the Red Army took over the city, Rennenkampf disappeared under disguise of the Greek subject Mandusakis, but was tracked down by the Red Army and identified, after which he was brought to the headquarters of the Bolsheviks under the order of Red Army commander-in-chief Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko. After arriving, the former general was offered a command in the Red Army, with refusal implying death. Rennenkampf refused to defect to the Bolsheviks and betray his Fatherland, saying:
I'm old. I have not much left to live, for the salvation of my life, I will not become a traitor and will not go against my own. Give me a well-armed army, and I will go against the Germans, but you have no army; to lead this army would mean leading people to slaughter, I will not take this responsibility on myself.
At the time, the Germans were advancing toward Taganrog, as well as the Czech and the Anton Denikin’s White Army. As a result, Rennenkampf was taken hostage and brought near the railway tracks running from the Martsevo station to the Baltic Plant. Upon arrival, Rennenkampf was forced to dig his own grave and was stabbed before being shot dead with a bullet to the temple.
According to Rennenkampf's wife Vera's memoirs, after his death, the Whites were told that Rennenkampf was on the way to Moscow. In May 1918, after the Whites had taken over Taganrog, a stick was found stuck into the ground near the railway tracks running from the Martsevo station to the Baltic Plant. After they dug out the grave, they found several bodies, including one nearly naked with a bullet wound to the head. When they took the corpses to a local cemetery (now the Taganrog Old Cemetery) in the city, Rennenkampf's wife Vera arrived at the cemetery and identified the nearly naked corpse as her husband Paul. The White troops and Rennenkampf's wife held a funeral that fulfilled Rennenkampf's wish of being buried in an unmarked mass grave with other victims of the Red Terror. But other her memoirs, there were no other evidence supporting Rennenkampf's burial ground to be in the Old Cemetery in Taganrog.
In recent years, researchers at the Hoover Institution archives of the Stanford University found several photos taken during the civil war. In the photos, a marked grave was clearly seen on the left with "P. K. Rennenkampf" written on it. This allowed historians and researchers to determine and establish the final resting place of Rennenkampf at the burial ground in the Old Cemetery in Taganrog.
Born into a large and wealthy family, Rennenkampf had 5 brothers and 2 sisters:, including his brothers Woldemar Konstantin (1852-1912), a cavalryman and the director of the Russian gun industry, and Georg Olaf von Rennenkampff (1859-1915), a chief of the powder manufacture in Zawiercie.
Rennenkampf married 4 times. In 1882, he married Adelaide Franziska Thalberg, with whom he had 3 children: Adelaide Ingeborg (1883-1896), Woldemar Konstantin (1884) and Iraida Hermaine (1885-1950). Only all but one out of his three children survived into adulthood. Thalberg died in 1888 after only 6 years of marriage, after which Rennenkampf married three more times.
In 1890 in Vilno, Rennenkampff married Lydia Kopylova, with whom he had one more child, Lydia (1891-1937). He then married Evgenia Dmitryevna Grechova, with whom he had no children.
Finally, in 1907 in Irkutsk, he married Vera Nikolayevna Krassan (Leonutova), with whom he had a daughter, Tatyana (1907-1994), and adopted Vera's daughter Olga (1901-1918) from her first marriage. Unlike his other marriages, Rennenkampf's marriage with Vera was long and happy. Vera, as the wife of the commander of the Vilna Military District, was a trustee and member of a branch of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. When the war broke out, she participated in organizations that cared for the wounded. In Vera's memoirs, she wrote of her founding of the Committee for Assistance to the families of reserve lower ranks, tailoring workshops for the front, and her participation in the formation of the flying car detachment of the Evangelical Red Cross that took the wounded from the battlefield.
After the war and Rennenkampf's death, the fate of his family was unknown, but Vera and Tatyana escaped to Paris, France. Olga was murdered at her doorsteps the same month her stepfather's murder. The rest of the family either fled to the Baltics or back to Germany during the civil war.
Before his execution, Rennenkampf had asked his wife Vera to make every effort to "whitewash his name from slander." It was not only Vera who considered her husband to be innocent of the strategic mistakes that led to the Russian defeats in the East Prussian campaign. This view of the impeccability of Rennenkampf's acts in the campaign adhered to a significant part of the White émigré: the generals: Baron Wrangel, Anton Denikin, Nikolai Golovin and many others.
To rehabilitate the general's image and to "give the light to the real face of General Paul Georg Edler von Rennenkampff," on the initiative of his wife in November 1936, the historical society of the "Friends of Rennenkampf" ("Les Amis de Rennenkampf") was founded in Paris. The honorary chairman was Vera herself, and the president of the bureau was the husband of Rennenkampf's daughter Tatyana. The honorary committee included the widow of Baron Wrangel - Baroness Olga Mikhailovich, General Nikolai Epanchin, Prince Belosselsky-Belozersky and others.
A collection of Chinese art pieces looted by Rennenkampf during the 1900 Chinese Campaign is on display in the Alferaki Palace in his resting place in Taganrog.
In popular culture
- In the 2005 Russian film The Fall of the Empire, Rennenkampf was portrayed by Russian actor Sergei Nikonenko.
- Rennenkampf was among 15 Russian generals and admirals to be featured in the postcards produced by the French confectionery company Chocolat Guérin-Boutron, with the description "86. Rennenkampf, général russe".
Honours and awards
- Order of St. Stanislaus, 3rd class (1884)
- Order of St. Anne, 3rd class (1888)
- Order of St. Stanislaus, 2nd class (1894)
- Order of St. Anne, 2nd class (1895)
- Order of St Vladimir, 4th class (1899)
- Order of St. George, 4th class (12.8.1900)
- Order of St. George, 3rd class (22.12.1900)
- Order of St Vladimir, 3rd class (1903)
- Order of St. Stanislaus, 1st class with swords (31.3.1905)
- Golden Weapon with diamonds and the inscription "For Bravery" (1906)
- Order of St. Anne, 1st class (1907)
- Order of St Vladimir, 2nd class with swords (1914)
- Kingdom of Sweden:
- Order of the Sword (before 1914)
- Austrian Empire:
- Order of the Iron Crown (before 1914)
- Auf dem Fluß Amur und in der Mandschurei, war reports of Generals Rennenkampf of 1904, Part I, Voyenny Sbornik (military collection), Nr. 3, S. 89–108.
- Auf dem Fluß Amur und in der Mandschurei, war reports of Generals Rennenkampf of 1904, Part II, Voyenny Sbornik, Nr. 4, S. 57–86.
- Auf dem Fluß Amur und in der Mandschurei, war reports of Generals Rennenkampf of 1904, Part III, Voyenny Sbornik, Nr. 5, S. 55–86.
- Der zwanzigtägige Kampf meines Detachements in der Schlacht von Mukden, Berlin: Mittler & Sohn (1909)
- Connaughton, R.M (1988). The War of the Rising Sun and the Tumbling Bear – A Military History of the Russo-Japanese War 1904–5, London, ISBN 0-415-00906-5.
- Jukes, Geoffrey. The Russo-Japanese War 1904–1905. Osprey Essential Histories. (2002). ISBN 978-1-84176-446-7.
- Kowner, Rotem (2006). Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4927-5.
- Warner, Denis & Peggy. The Tide at Sunrise, A History of the Russo-Japanese War 1904–1905. (1975). ISBN 0-7146-5256-3.
- Stackelberg, Otto Magnus v. Genealogical Handbook of the Baltic Knighthoods Part 2, 3: Estonia. Görlitz (1929)
- Transehe Roseneck, Astaf v. Genealogical Handbook of the Baltic Knighthoods Part 1, 2: Livonia, Lfg. 9-15. Görlitz (1929)
- Baltic German Biographical Dictionary 1710-1960. (1970), from the Baltic Biographical Dictionary Digital