After a year-long pandemic interval, Polish and Lithuanian knights return to the battlefield of Grunwald to reenact once more the glorious victory over the Teutonic Order — the battle that 611 years ago turned the tide of history and, as historians say, “undid the German domination in Europe.”
“It was one of the three greatest battles of medieval times. The first was the Battle of Kulikovo, 1380 – an encounter whose silent witness was Jogaiła, who at the time had not taken the name of the future Polish king Władysław Jagiełło yet. The second battle was the Battle of Grunwald, and the third – the Battle of Agincourt, where English bowmen defeated the French,” historian Krzysztof Jabłonka told Poland’s public broadcaster.
Asked how the history of the entire Europe would change, should the united forces of Poles and Lithuanians not defeat the Teutonic Knights, Mr Jabłonka said that “the German domination would unfold 400 years earlier.”
The historian went on to say that the battle was a change of fate as not every previous encounter with the Teutonic Order turned out well for Poland. He also recalled that the Battle of Grunwald itself was not decided from the start as, for instance, the Lithuanian cavalry sounded a retreat, together with the Tatar horsemen who, however, were deliberate in their move as it was part and parcel of their mock retreat tactics.
Thanks to that retreat, the heavily armed Teutonic cavalry that launched a pursuit of the Lithuanian-Tatar forces, could not take part in the later phase of the battle. “On the other hand, it was at that moment that the Polish-Lithuanian forces’ banner fell to the ground,” said Mr Jabłonka, adding that the banner was a key communication tool on the battlefield. Then the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights Ulrich von Jungingen executed his famous flanking manoeuvre.
“Let us remember that the battle took place in intervals, that it was divided into rounds… It resembled a tournament of a sort,” Mr Jabłonka went on to say, adding that “after a break, the knights would get back into the fray.”
Once refreshed, the Polish and Lithuanian knights were able to face the incoming Teutonic Knights again, who advanced indifferent to a forest that separated the Lithuanian and Polish forces. It is in that forest that additional Polish-Lithuanian troops were lying in wait. All of a sudden the Teutons found themselves surrounded, with knights emerging from the forest unexpectedly.
“Then the Polish knights cheered ‘Lithuania returns, Lithuania returns’! And Lithuania did return, with Duke Witold in the fore, to close off the circle around the Teutonic Knights,” said Mr Jabłonka.
The reenactment of the Battle of Grunwald gathers over 1,000 participants each year with some 30,000 spectators gasping in awe at the stands and the plain of Grunwald, northeastern Poland.
Reenactors from all over Poland, as well as from Lithuania, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, even South Africa, and Russia descend on the meadows of Grunwald to replay the battle held in 1410 between the armies of Poland and Lithuania on one side, and the Teutonic Order on the other.
The defeat of the monastic Teutonic state, originally established by crusader knights brought in to spread Christianity among the pagans inhabiting the area along the Baltic shore, allowed the Polish-Lithuanian alliance to flourish, eventually leading to the rise of the regional superpower known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.