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Gdansk Rebellion 1576 to 1577





War with the Gdansk Rebels 1576-78


Map Vistula DeltaAlready in 1570 Gdansk had defied the Commission which regulated relations between Poland and its largest town. In the 1576 election of the King, Gdansk supported the Hapsburg candidate, so when Stephen Bathory was elected the port rebelled. Bathory placed a ban an Gdansk transfering all trade to Elbing. When resistance continued, with rioters burning the Abbey of Oliwa, Bathory attacked by force.

At this time Gdansk was surrounded by a strong wall originally built in the Middle Ages and strengthened in the Sixteenth Century with earthworks. Two new walled bastions were constructed, while the fortifications were supplemented with many dams and sluices which made the flooding of various areas possible. The entrance to the port was protected by a strong fort - called Latarnia. Also the town could hire or muster over 10,000 men.

In August 1576 Bathory led 2,000 men to Malbork (Marienburg), from there Polish units ravaged the area surrounding Gdansk, capturing Grabina and Glowa, two stategically important towns, thereby blockading the port from the east and the south. The King left the army under the command of Hetman Jan Zborowski, most of the forces were stationed at Tczew (Dirschau). In the west the main base was at Puck, where there was a mercenary force led by Ernest Weyhera, and also some Polish privateer ships which fought the Gdansk and Danish fleets.

Stefan BatoryDuring winter both sides restricted their activities to small raids, while in the Spring the thaw stopped all movement. During this time the Gdansk magnates hired a group of German mercenaries, to be commanded by a well known Condottiere, Hans Wickelbruch Yon Koln. In April 1577 Wickelbruch decided to attack Zborowski's army at Tczew and destroy it before new forces led,by the King could arrive.

Towards Tczew Wickelbruch moved 3,100 Lansknechts, 400 Reiters, 400 town horse and 6,000-8,000 town militia, with 7 cannons and 30 ultra light cannons mounted on wagons. He aimed to cross the river Motlawa (Mottlau) and attack Tczew, while 210 men in boats attacked the town from the river. On hearing about the rebels movement Zborowski, with 1,350 cavalry, 1,050 infantry and a few cannons, left Tczew to meet them. 100 men remained at Tczew to help the inhabitants in its defence.

LansknechtsThe river Motlawa was swollen from the thaw, with very marshy banks and could only be crossed at a few places. The closest crossing to Tczew was at Rokitki, a second was south west of the first between the Lubieszow lakes. Zborowski formed his forces at the Rokitki crossing sending scout units to the second crossing and towards the sailing boats on the Vistula.

Wickelbruch sent the militia and 200 cavalry to Rokitki to occupy the Polish forces there, while he proceeded with the rest of his force to the second crossing at Lubieszow hoping to outflank the Poles. The Polish scouts informed Zborowski of Wickelbruch's arrival, but the two standards of cavalry the Hetman sent arrived too late to stop the enemy crossing and was to weak to remove them, especially as they were already strengthening their positions.

Battle of LubieszowZborowski ordered the destruction of the bridge at Rokitki, which made crossing there impossible, and sent all his forces to the lakes. 600 Hungarians attacked the enemy initially crouching to avoid the enemy fire and then charging to make contact, cavalry supported their left flank. The enemy cannons were taken, after which they were used in a brief fire fight in which the Poles (and Hungarians) suffered least casualties. Wickelbruch ordered the Lansknechts to attack and they were met by the Hungarian and Polish infantry, who had dropped their guns and charged the pikemen with their sabres. With the Lansknechts halted momentarily, two standards of hussars charged them in the flank. The Lansknechts broke and with their main force fleeing the remainder of the rebel troops followed suit pouring through the narrow crossing between the lakes. Their pursuit by the Polish cavalry reached as far as Gdansk. The Gdansk militia retreated from Rokitki and the sailboats on the Vistula turned back.

The enemy lost 4,420 dead and about 5,000 taken prisoner Polish losses were 188 of these 58 dead.

The superb victory at Lubieszow (17 April) was due both to the excellent leadership and bravery of the Polish forces, equally cavalry as infantry. Zborowski kept his forces together up until the very end, separating only small units for scouting purposes. As soon as he realised where the main attack would come from he moved all his forces there. The first line of his forces stopped the enemy attack, and a reserve of heavy cavalry sealed the victory.

The victory however could not be fully taken advantage of, only in June did the King bring new forces. The 7,000 cavalry, 4,000 infantry and 22 guns were concentrated at Tczew and used to attack Gdansk, whose forces had been strengthened with around 10,000 new mercenaries. A raid by the rebels on 3rd July destroyed the Polish camp at Latarnia including two thirds of the artillery, and forced them to move to Glowa. The Polish attacks on Gdansk failed, mainly due to the lack of artillery and the strength of the enemy.

In September Bathory began withdrawing his forces from Gdansk, he was preparing for a much more important war, against Muscovy. The Gdansk magnates had suffered a great deal from the blockade, especially because of lack of trade. So both sides sued for peace, Bathory received 200,000 zloty, but Gdansk retained much of its freedom from Polish control. .



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