Alexander Samsonov was born in 1859. He joined the Russian Army at 18 and took part in the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78). After the war Samsonov attended the Nikolaevsky Military Academy. He commanded a cavalry unit during the Boxer Rising (1900) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05).
In these wars Samsonov obtained a reputation as an energetic and resourceful leader but some doubted his strategic abilities. After the Battle of Mukden in 1905 accused General Paul von Rennenkampf of letting him down during the fighting and the two men came to blows. After the Russo-Japanese War Samsonov was made Chief-of-Staff of Warsaw Military District and later as military leader in Turkeston.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Samsonov was given command of the Russian Second Army for the invasion of East Prussia. He advanced slowly into the south western corner of the province with the intention of linking up with General Paul von Rennenkampf advancing from the north east.
General Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff were sent forward to meet Samsonov’s advancing troops. They made contact on 22nd August and for six days the Russians, with their superior numbers, had a few successes. However, by 29th August, Samsonov’s Second Army was surrounded at Tannenberg.
General Samsonov attempted to retreat but now in a German cordon, most of his troops were slaughtered or captured. Only 10,000 of the 150,000 Russian soldiers managed to escape. Shocked by the disastrous outcome of the battle, Alexander Samsonov committed suicide on 29th August.