Polish-Swedish War: 1620-1629

Maps: The New Cambridge Modern History Atlas, Cambridge, 1970




The war between Sweden and Poland was far from being terminated in 1618. The truce was short and in 1620 the military operations resumed.


The Military Course of Events



In November 1620, Sweden once again attacked Poland in Livonia and in 1621 Swedish army under King Gustavus Adolphus took Riga. After a while, another short armistice followed from November 1622 till March 1625. By the end of April the Swedes had overrun all of Livonia and Courland and started the invasion of Prussia.

In 1625, the Swedes quickly occupied all of Livonia and Courland by the year's end. In May 1626 Gustav Adolf began the surprising invasion of Prussia. Gustav's landing in East Prussia near Pillau (Baltiysk, Piława]]) with over 8,000 soldiers came as a surprise to the Commonwealth and despite his relatively small forces, Gustav Adolf acting with the support of the Elector of Brandenburg quickly captured all of the coastal towns, with the exception of the largest prize: the city of Gdańsk (Danzig). Commonwealth received no support from its vassal, Duchy of Prussia. Near the village of Gniew in a battle (22-30 September 1626) Gustav defeated a Polish army led by king Sigismund. Sigismund retreated and called from reinforcements from other parts of the country.




King Gustavus Adolphus

of Sweden


Stanislaw Koniecpolski

Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski's




Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski's forces (4,200 light cavalry, 1,000 dragoons, 1,000 infantry) moved to Prussia with amazing speed. Strengthened by other units, he had 10,000 men against over 20,000-strong Swedish force. Using the tactic of maneuver warfare, with small mobile units striking at the enemy's communication lines and smaller units, he managed to stop the Swedish attack and force the units under Axel Oxenstierna, who also attempted to avoid battles with an overwhelming concentrated forces of Koniecpolski, into a defense. For a short time the war became a stalemate.

In the meantime, the Sejm (Commonwealth Parliament) agreed to raise money for the war, but the situation of the Polish forces was difficult. Lithuanian forces were dealt a serious defeat in December of 1626 near Kokenhusen in Livonia and retreated behind the Dvina river. The Swedes planned to strike Koniecpolski from two directions - Oxenstierna from direction of the Vistula and Johann Streiff von Lawentstein and Maxymilian Teuffl from Swedish held Pomerania. The flooding of the Vistula disrupted their plans and allowed Koniecploski to intercept the enemy units coming from Pomerania.

Supported by a 7 000 strong contingent sent by the Emperor Ferdinand II, Koniecpolski recaptured the town of Puck on 2nd April. During the crossing of the Vistula near Kieżmark, in the vicinity of Danzig (Gdańsk), Gustav met the Polish forces and in the ensuing battle was wounded in the hip and forced to retreat. In July he led forces to lift the siege of Braniew, and lay siege to Orneta. Koniecpolski responded with the sudden attack and capture of Gniew. Gustav Adolf was reported to be impressed by the speed of Koniecpolski's reaction. With about 7,800 men (including 2,500 cavalry and hussars), Koniecpolski tried to stop the Swedish army from reaching Danzig near Dirschau (Gdansk, near Tczew). On 7-8 August (or 18 September, sources vary), battle with the Swedish forces (10,000 men including 5,000 infantry) took place near the swamps of Mołtawa. The Swedes wanted to provoke the Poles into an attack and then destroy them with infantry fire and artillery, but Koniecpolski decided not to attack. The Swedes then took the initiative and attacked with cavalry, but did not manage to draw the Poles within the range of their fire. The consequent Swedish attacks managed to deal severe damage to Polish cavalry units, but did not manage to cripple the army (whose morale was kept high, thanks to Koniecpolski). The battle ended when Gustav Adolf was once again wounded and the Swedes retreated.


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After the battle, Koniecpolski saw the need to reform the army and strengthen the firepower of infantry and artillery to match the Swedish units. The Swedes, on the other hand, learned arts of cavalry attacks, charges and melee combat from the Poles.

In March/April (dates vary) of 1627 near Czarne (Hamersztyn) Koniecpolski forced the Swedish forces to retreat inside the city, and three days later to surrender, leaving behind their banners and insignia. Some Swedish soldiers and mercenaries changed sides at that time. This victory also convinced the Elector of Brandenburg to declare his support for the Commonwealth, and the Lithuanian forces resumed the offensive in Inflanty.



Koniecpolski's insistence of taking the war to the seas resulted in the tiny and untested Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Navy of 9 ships to the defeat of a Swedish flotilla on 28 November (or 17th November, dates vary), 1627, at the battle of Oliwa.

In 1628 the Polish forces, lacking funding, were forced to stop their offensive and switch to defense. Gustav Adolf captured Nowy and Brodnica. Koniecpolski counterattacked by using his small forces most efficiently - fast cavalry melee attacks combined with the supporting fire of infantry and artillery, and using fortifications and terrain advantage. By that time the war had become a war of maneuver with neither side willing to face the other without advantages of terrain or fortifications.

The Sejm decided to increase the funds for the war after the battle of Górzno, where Stanisław Potocki was defeated. After defeating Christian IV of Denmark at Wolgast in September 1628, Emperor Ferdinand II sent help to the Commonwealth in the form of 12 000 men under field marshal Jan Jerzy Arnheim. A corps under Albrecht von Wallenstein also cooperated in Pomerania with Koniecpolski in 1629. Nonetheless, Koniecpolski was forced to withdraw Commonwealth forces from many strategic Polish strongholds in Prussia.

In time, hetman Koniecpolski managed to recapture Puck. The final battle took place on 27 June 1629 near Trzciana (or Trzcianka). The Swedes attacked in the direction of Graudenz (Grudziądz), were stopped, and retreated to Stuhm (Szturm) and Marienburg (Malbork). Koniecpolski attacked the rear guard lead by Jan, count of Ren, and destroyed it. He also repelled a counterattack by Swedish raitars, who were pushed in the direction of Pułkowice, where another counterattack was lead by Gustav Adolf with 2,000 cavalrymen. This counterattack was also stopped, and the Swedish forces were saved by the last reserve units lead by field marshal Herman Wrangel, who finally managed to stop the Polish attack. Swedish losses were heavy, especially in the cavalry regiments. Gustav Adolf said after the battle "I have never been in such a bath". 1,200 Swedes were killed, including the count of Ren and the son of Wrangel, Jan Wilhelm Reingraff, and a few hundred were captured. Polish losses were under 200 killed and injured.

However this victory was not followed up politically and militarily. Despite's all of Koniecpolski's brilliant efforts, a ceasefire in Stary Targ (Truce of Altmark) on 26 October, 1629 was in favour of the Swedes, to whom Poland ceded the larger part of Livonia with the important port of Riga. Swedes also got the right to tax Polish trade moved through the Baltic (3,5% on the value of goods), kept control of many cities in Royal Prussia Pillau (Piława, now Baltiysk), Memel (Klaipeda) and Elbing (Elbląg) and for the time were generally recognized as the dominant power on the southern Baltic Sea coast. Duchy of Prussia was compensated by its losses (occupation of some cities by Swedes) by Commonwealth, with the temporary (until 1634) transfer of Malbork, Sztum and Żuławy Wiślane. Remaining ships of the Commonwealth fleet were transferred to Sweden. The Swedes only failure was their inability to capture the important port of Gdańsk. Gustav Adolf’s biographer, Harte, noted that the king was furious "that a pacific commercial rabble should beat a set of illustrious fellows, who made fighting their profession". Nonetheless, Swedes now controlled almost all Baltic ports, with the exception of Danzig (Gdańsk), Puck, Königsberg (Królewiec, now Kaliningrad) and Libau (Libawa, Liepāja). This would be the closest Sweden ever got to realizing its goal of making the Baltic Sea 'Sweden's inner lake'. After the treaty, Sweden used their prizes and money as a starting point in their entry into the Thirty Years War and begun the invasion of northern Germany.


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Treaty of Altmark would be revised in Commonwealth favour in 1635 (Treaty of Sztumska Wieś or Treaty of Stuhmsdorf), when Sweden, weakened by their losses in the Thirty Years War, would retreat from some Baltic ports and stop taking the 3,5% tax.


As the Vasa Dynasty continued to rule in Poland, Swedish animosity toward Poland continued. The war brought only temporary peace to Poland. In 1655 Sweden took advantage of Poland s involvement in war with Russia and initiated started a new war invading the Commonwealth from Pomerania and Livland. The new war lasted until 1660 and devastated the whole of the Commonwealth as well as Livland causing svere damage to both Poland-Lithuania and Sweden.