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Gdansk Rebellion 1576 to 1577





Swedish Polish War 1600 to 1609

Military Operations, 1605

The Swedish council of war on 26th decided to move with all their forces to Kircholm in order to surprise the Poles in the night. They left only a few hundred soldiers to guard the camp. At about 22:00 the Swedes 10,700 strong - 8,200 infantry 2,500 cavalry and 11 canon - left their camp but marched during a down pour. The watch alerted the Polish-Lithuanian camp and because of this the Swedes waited for sunrise (approx 5:30) on 27th before forming up on the heights above the village Kircholm. They stood facing the Polish-Lithuanian army which was on the opposing heights across a dried river bed which was marshy only at its northern edge. The Swedes formed themselves in four lines in a checkerboard pattern alternately cavalry and infantry. The latter were positioned in 13 small tercios - squares of some few hundred men (7 in the first and 6 in the third lines) while the cavalry formed the second (6 squadrons) and the fourth (5 squadrons) lines.

The Swedes began to dig in, they positioned their infantry opposite the enemy and the cavalry behind ready to move onto the wings or between the gaps in the infantry. So that they could attack the Polish-Lithuanian cavalry once it had lost its impetus in battle with the infantry. Due to the great depth of formation the rear lines moving to the wings would parry any outflanking maneuvers.

Neither side wanted to loose its advantageous position on the higher ground above the valley and both waited for the enemy to attack. Wanting to provoke the Swedes to attack Chodkiewicz positioned his forces in a few lines to try and give the impression that his forces were even smaller than in reality. This did not however have the desired effect as Charles did indeed dread moving down into the path of the hussar lances.

Finally in the afternoon Hetman ordered his screening arquebusiers to withdraw suddenly and obviously, in an attempt to give the impression it was the start of the retreat of the whole army. Charles on seeing this and fearing this movement of his weaker enemy as a real retreat ordered his forces to attack. Giving up his caution he resigned from his intended defend-attack tactic and moved his cavalry to the wings, so as to provide for more options in attack. Most of the cavalry he moved to his left wing wanting to push the enemy against the river Dzwina. As the Swedes made their initial maneuvers Chodkiewicz, concerned with his army's morale, ordered a group of camp followers, whom had previously sent North, to reveal themselves. They moved south towards this main forces in a cloud of dust and with much noise to give the impression of arriving reinforcements from Krzysztof Radziwill.

Until now the Poles and Lithuanians had stood in a column and now they deployed into battle order. Chodkiewicz had 3,700 to 4,000 men of which 2,700-3,000 cavalry and around 1,000 infantry. This was prior to the arrival of 300 reiters in the service of Prince Frederick Kettler of Courland - who arrived crossing the river and taking up positions behind the Polish-Lithuanian centre. Though the Hetman had significantly weaker forces he managed to achieve a numerical superiority on his;

  • Left wing led by Tomasz (Thomas) Dabrowa comprised 1,200 to 1,300 cavalry - 100-400 hussars, 200 reiters, 700-900 cossack cavalry and the Tartars in the camp - in 4 lines. The edge of the left wing was shielded by the fortified camp position on the heights of the Dwina river bank and held by 2 cannon and 4 banners of Tartars (350). Mansfeld had 1,000 reiters to oppose them.
  • The Polish centre under Wincent (Vincent) Wojna stood in two lines and comprised 1,000 infantry with 5 cannon, 300 hussars and 300 Courlandian reiters against 8,200 Swedes with 11 cannon under Lennartsson.
  • On the right wing in 4 lines stood 700 cavalry almost solely hussars, though including 100 Cossacks of Jan Piotr Sapieha, against 1,500 retiers led by Henri Brandt.
  • The main reserve under Teodor (Theodore) Lacki numbered 200-400 hussars.

Excerpt - Peter Snayers paintingChodkiewicz aimed at an outflanking on the left wing so as to force the Swedes away from the river rather than pushing them against it. This was the preferred option in order to allow the Polish-Lithuanian horsemen to take advantage of the drier ground and maximise use of their best qualities - the impetus - of full gallop charges. The wet meadows of the old riverbed to the north did not provide the opportunity of launching a forceful outflanking on that wing, limiting the fighting to a relatively confined area. Further more the wet meadows did not pose for the Swedish cavalry the same problems as they did not use the full gallop charge.

However the right Polish-Lithuanian wing was fairly strong, proportionately stronger than the 'tying-in' wing at Kokenhausen in 1601. Therefore it was certainly intended to be an active wing. Not having superiority in impetus or numbers they had some advantage due to their shallower line allowing the use of more lances. While the right wing and center were primarily formed of heavy cavalry (hussars and reiters) best for breaking through enemy formations in frontal attacks, so the left wing was primarily Cossack cavalry, so superb at maneuvers on enemy flanks.

When the Swedish infantry reached the base of the valley and began to climb the opposite slope, the Polish-Lithuanian artillery opened fire and as the Swedes drew nearer so did the infantry. Next from between the gaps moved the hussars followed by the Courlandian reiters, attacking in full gallop charges leading to vicious fighting with the Swedish infantry.

The retreat of the arquebusiers had lured the Swedish right wing into the fire of the Polish-Lithuanian Camp. The distracted cavalry was then attacked frontally by Dabrowa's main forces and at the same time outflanked by the Tartars and were quickly broken. Cavalry struck the rear and side of the Swedish right wing tercio who were busy in battle with the Polish-Lithuanian centre.

The fighting on Sapieha's wing lasted longer. Brandt's reiters moved somewhat later than the rest of the Swedish forces. Sapieha waited, while the wet meadows were passed, where his hussars would have lost impetus. When the Swedish cavalry moved onto firmer ground, Sapieha attacked with his first line smashing the enemy and pushed them onto the wetlands, however the Swedish second line repulsed the hussars, who had not managed to reform after the chase. When the Swedes reached the dry ground they were struck by Sapieha's second line, who then also repulsed Brandt's reorganised first line. Chodkiewicz seeing the success of Dabrowa and the tying up of the Swedish centre, and since the Swedes had also engaged all their forces, decided to use his reserve to outflank them on Sapieha's wing. Lacki struck the side of Brandt's reiters and crushed them completely.

The routing Swedes fell into the left wing of their own infantry who were already retreating and further disordered them. When Lennartsson (centre's commander) was killed part of the retreating tercios collapsed. At least half of the infantry became surrounded by the Polish-Lithuanian cavalry and the rest met defeat in the pursuit, which continued almost to Riga.

The Swedish losses were around 6,000, of which only a few hundred were prisoners. Particularly heavy losses were suffered by the infantry, well over half their original strength. The Poles and Lithuanians lost some 100 dead and a few hundred injured, mostly in battle with the infantry. The remainder of the Swedish infantry escaped onto ships at Dynemunt, while reiters led by Mansfeld retreated to Parnawy. The unpaid Polish-Lithuanian army revolted and Chodkiewicz was unable to take further advantage of this superb victory.

The Battle - click for larger


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