Introduction page Battles and campaigns 1450 to 1697 Army composition
main conflicts 1450-1697 Maps of Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth Army's development 1450-1697

Army Development

Second Half of 15th Century

First Half of 16th Century

Second Half of 16th Century

First Half of 17th Century

Reforms of 1632-1633

Second Half of 17th Century

The end of 17th Century

Beginning of the 17th Century

Polish hussars attack Swedish cavalry at Kircholm 1605At the start of the 17th Century the army was composed mainly of cavalry and its commanders, though having fought in Batory's Muscovite campaigns, had more confidence in the use of cavalry than the methodical and thorough Western way of taking important towns and castles and then fortifying captured territories. The basic Polish aim was to destroy the enemy's main field army; however, victory on the battlefield did not always lead to victory in the war and problems were met when the enemy avoided battle and hid behind fortifications. Examples of the cavalry campaigns were the war in Livonia (1600-1609) and the war in Muscovy (1609-1618). The infantry were used mainly in the few sieges and to garrison captured castles; in battle few were used, although their firepower played an important role. We see that large numbers were used at Chocim (1621), but this is because the fighting was mainly in the defence of fortifications.

The Cavalry
At first the cavalry was mostly composed of the hussars, but in support increasing use was made of Cossack cavalry in kolczuga (mailcoat) and misiurka (mail helmets) mounted on lighter horses and in the main armed with bows and arquebuses, as well as shields, war hammers, pistols and lances. Their numbers increased so that by the early 1620's they and the unarmoured Cossack Cavalry composed the largest cavalry type. They were used with great flexibility in close or open order (i.e. melee or skirmishing). In Lithuania there were similar cavalry called petyhorcy and czeremisy who tended to use lances more. The unarmoured Cossacks remained and were used as a lighter arm for manoeuvre, other light cavalry included Wallachians and Lithuanian Tatars.

Polish infantry from the 'Constantina/Stockholm' Roll The Infantry
The infantry - wybraniecka, mercenary (Polish and Hungarian) and Zaparozian - was primarily firepower infantry and was very useful in support of the cavalry, but did not yet form an independent arm of its own. Since the beginning of the 17th Century the arquebus was being replaced by the more powerful musket. This necessitated the use of a rest and the introduction of the counter march system of firing. The largest organisational unit was still the rota, but the term pulk was used to cover units under the same commander.

The Artillery
Although at first there was a fixed grant from the Sejm for the artillery, this practice declined later in Sigismund's reign and the numbers of cannons in the Royal army decreased. Their use tended to be reserved for sieges and only small numbers of light cannons were used on the battlefield. The quality of training and technology, however, remained relatively high and a school for artillery men was formed which later produced some excellent artillery commanders.

A major impact on the Polish army was Gustav Adolphus' invasion of Prussia with a reorganised and well-trained Swedish army. The powerful Swedish firepower superiority, coupled with field defences and skilful manoeuvring, meant that the Polish cavalry were no longer in a position to defeat the Swedes by themselves. The need for an independent infantry arm was realised, but attempts to hire large numbers of mercenary pike and shot infantry were hampered by the Sejm, which did not believe their extra cost in comparison to the Polish-Hungarian infantry was justified. The main reorganisation of the army occurred only when Zygmunt's son, Wladyslaw IV (Vladislav) became King, although the use of pike and shot infantry increased from 1627-28.



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