Battle of Grunwald - Basic Facts

Grunwald is a village in northern Poland, 30 km south from Olzstyn. In its nearness there was one of the biggest and most important European battles of the Middle Ages. Two allied forces both Polish and Lithuanian of about 50 000 men led by the Polish king Vladislav and the Lithuanian prince Vitold fought against The Order of German Knights of about 40 000 men which was led by its Grand master Ulrich von Juningen.

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The battle ended up by crushing defeat of the Order of German Knights.

The battle is memorable for the Czech history thanks to the participation of Czech free - lances in the fight on the coalition’s side and especially the participation of Jan Zizka from Trocnov. He became the chief commander of the Hussite troops and through him the fame of the Czech war strategy and tactics spread throughout the whole Europe.

The battle meant the beginning of the end of the Order of German Knights.
From the military point of view the battle was a typical war conflict of the time. The war luck used to swing the index hand from one side of the scale to the other to end up on the ally’s side finally. 

Battle of Grunwald - Armies

The Order of German Knights

  • Commander: Grand master Ulrich von Juningen
  • Army: 20 000 Knights and hoplites, 20 000 foot soldiers (bowmen and lancers)
  • Left Wing: Fridrich Wallenrod
  • Right Wing: Konrad from Lichtenstein
  • Reserve: Ulrich von Juningen

The Polish and the Lithuanians

  • Commanders: the Polish king Vladislav and the Lithuanian prince Vitold
  • Left Wing: 50 000, 20 000 of it Polish knights and other horse guards, 11 000 Lithuanian and Zmud light horsemen 1500 Crimean Tatars, 17 000 Polish, Czech, Russian, Vlach and Serbian foot soldiers
  • Right Wing: Zyndram from Maskowic

Battle of Grunwald - Course of battle

The German army of about 40.000 men consisted of 20.000 horsemen and 20.000 foot soldiers and bowmen, started to march against the Polish at the dawn of July 15. The Polish army gathered on the south and west sides of the Lubien lake . The Germans took their positions on the east side of the Polish army. The German knights had formed 52 units. Hundreds of flags and banners, some of them carrying Christian symbols , the others had various heraldic dragons, bulls and lions on, but above all of the flags there flew a flag of the Order of German Knights - golden cross in black hem, in its middle there was a black eagle in golden field. The Grand master ordered to place a line of obstacles in front of his knights to held the enemy back. Bowmen and English mercenaries - lancers were placed behind the obstacles.

Von Juningen evidently decided for defensive strategy and he also insisted on it. His commanders urged him to attack the Polish, but he refused to do it and so he threw away the chance to attack the awkward, undisciplined and indecisive to fight, Polish army.

The battle was initiated by Juningen as he sent two of his knights carrying pulled out swords and a message, that said, the knights should help the Polish fight because the Polish do not dare to start fighting.

Vladislav accepted the challenge and he commanded to start the fight. Shortly after nine o’clock, the Polish - Lithuanian troops set in movement towards the stable German rows. All the Polish knights were marked with a bunch of straw on their left arms just for recognition. The German knights’ white coats with black crosses on them made the distant hill as if covered with snow and their swords above their heads shone in the sunlight.

On the contrary to the Christian symbols on Polish flags, the Zmud and Lithuanian rows, which followed the Polish ones, carried enemies heads stuck on bars.

As the first rows got nearer to the Germans the wild Lithuanian horsemen attacked heavily the German’s left wing, which was nearest to Tanneburg village. The storm swept off German foot soldiers and destroyed the cannons. The attack was finally beaten off by the offensive of the Prussian marshal Fridrich Wallenrod´s knights, who had better positions and armaments. The German horsemen pursued the Lithuanians as far as to the lake where they killed most of them. Only three Smolensk units, which joined their Polish ally, survived the disaster.

Vitold dismayed over the collapse of his army asked Vladislav to leave the positions near Ulnowo village about 1,5 km far behind the front. Vladislav and his personal guard of 60 excellent knights, carrying above them a big Krakow flag with silver eagle on purple silk, set off on a march.

The Polish knights, most of them having their helmets decorated with typical fantastic wings and jewellery, pulled back in a heavy fight man against man twenty troops of knights which were positioned in the middle and on the left wing and led by marshal Konrad von Lichtenstein.

There was a tough fight along the whole front of about 3-5 kilometres. The Wallenrod’s winning knights coming back from the pursuance of the Lithuanians saw that their middle and the right wing are under the pressure. They hurried to help their army and pushed back the Polish right wing, which was created by everywhere present Vitold.

Von Juningen who lingered near Grunwald seeing that the result of the battle is on the waver so he personally led 16 supporting units in the attack. The attack almost broke through the middle of the Polish army.

At that time some of the German knights having left the battle, attacked a group of soldiers who surrounded Vladislav. One knight attacked even the king but the knight was knocked down from his horse by king´s secretary and killed by king´s guard. Vitold succeeded in getting together a large group of Lithuanians and Tatars, who escaped from the battle, and he attacked the Germans’ nape and encircled them. At that moment the excellent rows of German knights suddenly fell into danger. This final and important blow came from an unexpected side and marked the beginning of the collapse of the best what the Order had ever had.

After killing or capturing of the commanders, the ordinary soldiers tried to escape but they were pursued by the Lithuanians horsemen. Among those who were killed there was the Grand master of the Order as well as his deputy marshal and hundreds of distinguished German brothers of the Order.

The battle took ten hours and with the number of soldiers and dead belongs to the most blooded and the biggest of the Middle Ages.

18 000 killed men were left behind on the battlefield, 14 000 Germans were taken into the captivity. Only 15 of altogether 700 "white coat" brothers of the Order survived and were captured. The Polish took all the 52 flags of the Order and hanged them in Krakow cathedral.

Battle of Grunwald - Final result

Ones powerful German Order was humiliated on the battlefield by Polish - Lithuanian alliance and no one of the well informed observers throughout Europe would think that the alliance would be able to do such a thing. The German Order had been defeated many times in its history but no defeat was as crushing as the battle at Grunwald. The spirit of crusades in Germany vanished and volunteers from Western Europe did not want to support the Order and its aggression against the non-Christians (the Christian co-religionists).

In 1466 the Order ceded western Prussia to Poland and draw off from Malbork to Kralovec. Slowly the Order declined.

The Czechs and the European art of war

Principality, and later Kingdom of Bohemia is geographically in the center of Europe. Routes from north to south and from west to east crossed it as far back as the Middle Ages. Everybody who wanted to conquer Europe or at least a part of it had to pass through it. There was a saying that was handed down from generation to generation until as late as the 20th century that the one who rules Bohemia rules Europe.

Accordingly, only a nation that was able to form a stable state and repulse practically permanent pressure from the neighbors could live through the conflicts. After unavailing efforts of the Celts and Germans, the Slavs, who tried to occupy the Czech basin three times, partly succeeded in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. Their first two attempts to establish an empire - the Empire of Samo and the Empire of Great Moravia, however, did not withstand the attacks from the east and west.

The third and definitively successful attempt to form a Slavic state was undertook by the Premyslid dynasty, which in the course of the 10th century united the Slavic tribes living in a basin protected by mountains. It was the birth of the Czech state and Czech nation.

The Czech Premyslid rulers had to resist attacks from their neighbors. Rich and fruitful Bohemia and Moravia were tempting loot. Attacks were charged predominantly from the west from Germany, but also from the North from Poland, and from the South from Austria, less often from Hungary. When the attacks were fought off, punitive actions were taken, and the Czechs normally made a raid into enemy territory. After the country suffered damage from the invaders the equivalent harm was then inflicted on them.

Czech military activity in the Middle Ages was not only limited to protection of the country and ferocious counterattacks. Important war campaigns aimed at obtaining territorial gains and retaining them were launched. Many Czech rulers (Boleslav II, Premysl I, Premysl II, Vaclav II, Jan of Luxembourg, Charles IV) reigned not only in the Czech lands, but also temporarily in the whole of Central Europe or its substantial part. They influenced the course of events in entire Europe. They took a great interest in the events happening as far as the coasts of the Atlantic, Baltic, and Adriatic. Emperors and popes curried favor with them. These and also other great Czech monarchs sent Czech armies to fight a long way from their homeland. They battled for their cause or came to the rescue of their allies. The Czechs became famous as a formidable, brave, and merciless enemy. They were the first to fall upon the enemy, crossed flooded rivers, fought against overwhelming odds, but also plundered ruthlessly.

King Premysl II died in a battle in Austria, Jan of Luxembourg in France, and other rulers died natural deaths in war expeditions or while preparing them. Fighting was main occupation of Czech medieval aristocracy, who accompanied their rulers. In the times of Jan of Luxembourg people used to say that there was no real fight without a Czech king.

A separate chapter in the history of Czech military art was the first half of the 15th century. Czech peasants, followers of the teachings of the Bohemian religious reformer John Huss destroyed the superior strength of elite armor-clad warriors standing behind a barricade of wagons. They used firearms for the first time in field battles on a massive scale. They excelled because they were tenacious, uncompromising, and fought to the last breath. They were respected all over Europe. Local craftsmen, who laid the foundations for Czech military production, supplied their weapons.

When the Czech state was integrated into the Habsburg monarchy in 1526, the new sovereigns were glad they could use the military mastery of the Czechs. They proved their talents not only as courageous commanders and soldiers, but they often served in technical units and artillery due to their traditional education and ability to improvise.

Czech soldiers in the service of the Habsburgs defended Vienna between 1529 and 1683, fought for both sides of Thirty Years‘ War, defeated the Prussians at the battle of Kolin, but were beaten near Hradec Kralove. Czech volunteers took part in Balkan wars as well as American War of Independence. Other Czechs massively produced weapons.

Several key European battles took place in Bohemia, Moravia or their vicinity - Battle of Lech, Moravian Field, Lützen, Jankov, Kolin, Slavkov, Leipzig, and Hradec Kralove.

Czech military history is still topical. There are hundreds of groups of historical fencing well known across Europe. Castles, strongholds, and cities are being recaptured. Military historical clubs organize dozens of demonstrations of battles waged in recent or distant past in the heart of Europe.