Polish-Swedish Wars: 1600-1629

by S. Jasinski

 

Maps:  Westrmann atlas zur Weltgeschichte, Berlin, 1953

            The New Cambridge Modern History Atlas, Cambridge, 1970

 

Introduction

Livonia - Terrain of war operations

During this period Livonia - known as Inflanty in Polish - was an important transit region for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as well as the Duchy of Muscovy. The river Dzwina (Dvina) was of particular importance as a trade route for the White Ruthenian Lands. There were also land trade routes for Muscovy.

 

Livonia was divided into:-
     - Swedish Estonia, with a population of some 50,000.
     - The Island Oesel
     - Polish Livonia (Inflanty), with a population of some 200,000.
     - Courland, with
a population of some 120,000.

The main town was Riga, a rich port, similar in many ways to its more westerly neighbour Gdansk. It was also the most important crossroad for overland routes. The countryside was comprised of large tracts of forests and wilderness and had a low population density. This gave significant supply problems for large forces, especially after the ravages of war.

 

Cause of the Polish-Swedish conflict.

At the end of the 16th century Livonia became a hotspot, triggered by the occupation of northern Estonia by Sweden. Poland had laid claim to these lands following the agreement made in 1561 with the Livonian Order of the Teutonic Knights.

In 1588 Zygmunt Waza III (Sigismund Vasa) was elected King of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. Part of his success was the desire that this would bring the two countries closer, end their conflicts and perhaps provide a much needed ally. Instead it was to lead to over a century of conflict and the eclipse of both countries by others.

In 1594, after the death of the King John III of Sweden, his son, Sigismund became the rightful heir to the throne of Sweden. However his Catholic faith brought him a great deal of opposition from the mainly Lutheran Swedes, who were led by his uncle Charles Sundermanland. Sigismund attempted to break this opposition and in 1598 he landed with privately funded mercenary forces of Polish, German and Hungarian infantry. He did not have the support of the Sejm and fatally he failed to bring any Polish cavalry.

 

Sigismund was not noted for his military skills, after some early successes on the 4th November he was defeated at Jonkoping. He was forced to come to terms with Charles and conceded to him in the Riksdag (Parliament). He left SWenden, which in the next two years came under the control of Charles and his supporters.

This did not end his hope of obtaining the Swedish crown and to gain Polish support he gave the Commonwealth the disputed territory of Northern Estonia, which was then in Swedish hands.

On 12th March 1600 Zygmunt incorporated Estonia into the Commonwealth.

 

1600 Operations

In the middle of April 1600, in preparation for a conflict over Inflanty, the Sejm earmarked funds for a Polish-Lithuanian expedition comprising some 2,400 mercenaries assisted by local forces of around 2,000. The forces were to be led by the chief of the Wenden province, Jerzy (George) Farensbach.

Before further Commonwealth forces could arrive the Swedes began offensive operations. Aware of the weak Polish- Lithuanian forces, Duke Charles decided to move quickly. With the main army of some 10,000 he left Rewal for Pernau (Parnawa) and sent Per Stolpeg's force of 4,000 at Narwa in the direction of Dopart to Lais (Laiuse). Charles felt the major port of Pernau would be an excellent base of operations in Livonia and its capture would open roads to Fellin (Viljandi), Salis and then Riga.

In the middle of September Farensbach garrisoned various forts and castles and with 750 infantry and 2,000 cavalry he placed himself at Rancen.

Pernau was besieged on 17th September and eleven days after the heavy artillery began the port surrendered (on the 17th October). Then on the 25th October the Swedish army moved for Fellin, shielded from the south by a force of 1,500. In the night of 29th/30th October the shielding force was caught near Karkus by the traveling Farensbach, with 1,200 horse, and destroyed.

Fellin was captured on 3rd November and though Farensbach garrisoned Dorpat (Tartu) with 1,100 men because of the extent his army's poor morale he retreated to Riga.

 

 

 With the onset of winter the rivers and marshes froze solid and Duke Charles recommenced his operations. At the end of December with 7,000 men and 80 cannon he attacked Dorpat. While on 5th Jan 1601 3,000 men under Bengtsson moved for Wolmar (Valmiera) - Kies. On 7th January 700 horse under Maciej Dembinski defeated the Swedes near Kies, checking their advance. Soon however the unpaid Polish-Lithuanian forces trickled home.

Dorpat besieged on 2nd January capitulated four days later. On the 10th February Wolmar was taken and seven days later Kies.

Charles felt too weak to directly besiege the newly fortified town of Riga so he decided decided to capture Kokenhausen which guarded the shortest route through Wilkomierz to Kowno and Wilno. It was also the most likely route of any retaliatory Polish-Lithuanian force.

On 10th March Karl Karlsson, son of Duke Charles, blockaded the town. The siege proper did not begin until 28th March with the arrival of Charles and the siege artillery train. The Swedes managed to take the town but the castle withstood four attacks, being well prepared for defense.

 

Discouraged by the initial failure Duke Charles prepared for a blockade of the castle in order to starve it into surrender. He placed 2,600 men within the town and with his main forces he moved to Erlaa some 30 km to the north. In mid April Charles entrusted command to Gyllenhjelm and returned to Rewal (Talinn).

 

 

1601 Spring Summer Campaign (1)

So in the beginning of 1601 the Swedes had mastered a significant part of Livonia and advance detachments moved beyond the river Dzwina into Courland and Zmudz. It was essential that the line of the Dzwina did not fall and that the bridgeheads were maintained for future operations. Poland-Lithuania's most important forts lay along this river:-

  • Dynemunt (Dyjament, Dunemunde) near Riga
  • Kokenhausen 100km East of Riga
  • Dyneburg another 100km down the Dzwina

The success of the Swedish offensive had galvanised the Sejm into passing taxes for the organisation of a strong 20,000 army for a Livonian campaign. The Lithuanian Grand Hetman Krzysztof Radziwill the "Thunderbolt" dispatched Jan Sicinski to organise the forces in Livonia and instructed him to concentrate them in the region of Birz.

 

On 9th April Radziwill ordered the new forces to concentrate at the end of April at Oniksztach. In the beginning of May Radziwill sent most of these forces to Sicinski. On 11th May with 800 men he crossed the Dzwina at Kokenhauzen, forcing the Swedes into the town and blockading them. He then sent for reinforcements which increased the Commonwealth forces to 2,000 by the end of the month. Meanwhile the new Grand Lithuanian Field Hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz (Jonas Karolis Chodkevicius) had moved on 11th May from Wilno to Riga.

The Swedes responded to the blockade with a relief force bringing supplies. Boat transports moved along the Dzwina river and on 28th May Gyllenhjelm left for Kokenhauzen. The next day Sicinski met the Swedes a mile from Kokenhausen and forced them to retreat. The same day Radziwill arrived capturing the majority of the supplies sent in the boats.

With such a strong enemy force in the region Radziwill decided he had to deal with them. At the beginning of June he sent Sicinski with around 1,000 men, mainly cavalry, to Erlaa. They reached Erlaa in the evening of the same day. Gyllenhjelm with about 1,000 cavalry and 1,000 infantry, formed his cavalry on the left bank of the river Oger, its first line of 500 horse were in a narrow between hillocks. They were ordered to fire their pistols once and then attack the Poles and Lithuanians with cold steel. In order to 'assist' their morale he ordered the retreat to be partly barred by wagons. This left a gap of 3km near where he positioned his second line of cavalry. Under the fort on the right bank of the river he left his infantry.

 

Sicinski attacked the first line of Swedish cavalry with his hussars. The Swedes, untrained for their new tactics, fired their pistols and broke. Next the hussars smashed the second line of cavalry. The Lithuanian infantry attacked the wagons and lay siege to the remnants in the buildings on the left wing of the enemy. The Poles and Lithianians then looted the Swedish camp. Gyllenhjelm managed to organize a counter attack with his infantry, surprising the disorganised Commonwealth troops. They regrouped on the eastern bank of the river and waited for sunset. Gyllenhjelm felt unable to continue the engagement, garrisoning the castle with his infantry and retreating with his cavalry through Pebalg to Kies on 3rd June. Polish-Lithuanian losses were 54 and Swedish 400.

By the middle of June the Polish-Lithuanian forces at Kokenhausen reached just under 4,000 men with 16 canons.

Radziwill decided that any assault should be undertaken only after the arrival of the siege artillery sent for from Riga, and until it arrived he limited his operations to a blockade. He placed artillery batteries with protecting infantry north of the Dzwina from the west and on both sides of the river Perse to the north of the town. The cavalry was divided into three fortified camps, which were organised not only to blockade the town but also in readiness for the anticipated assaults in its capture. The winding river Perse divided the area into two:-

  • The first camp was Radziwill's. It was positioned on both sides of the river Perse and together with the castle it closed the access/route to the town from the west.
  • The second camp, Staroboski's, stood northeast from the town.
  • The third camp, Chodkiewicz's, was on the Perse protecting from the north west.

In the first half of June, Radziwill sent a strong diversionary expedition under Sicinski. This force captured Lemburg (Malpilis), Nitau (Nitaure), Lurensburg (Launpils), Suntazi (Suntzel) and laid to waste most of these areas.

The retention of Kokenhausen was of great importance to Charles and in June he issued orders for the relief of the town, whose garrison was being cut down by starvation. Due to the urgency Gyllenhjelm collected 4,000 cavalry, as well as 900 infantry and 17 field guns. He was unclear as to the positions of Radziwill's army and judged that the majority of the cavalry would be positioned on the right bank of the Perse with the infantry on the left in entrenchment's open at the rear. His aim was to reach the Dzwina opposite Zelbork (Selburg, Selpils) and from the unexpected eastern direction surprise the entrenched Polish-Lithuanian infantry and then to combine with the town forces to oppose the Commonwealth's horse. His infantry were supplied with sharpened stakes over 2m long to help deal with the enemy cavalry, while his cavalry had orders to use their swords, rather than their pistols. On the 18th June Gyllenhjelm left Kies, travelling through Pebalg, Festen. On 22nd June he stopped some 20km from Kokenhausen.

Warned of the approaching relief force Radziwill decided to confront them in front of the town. He kept his forces in readiness the whole of the night 22 to 23 June, keeping them in one group shielded by the river and fortified camps. The Swedish forces, having left in the night of 23rd, arrived within some 2km of the town at five in the morning where they formed up for battle. The field of battle was raised along its edge with the Dzwina for some one and a half kilometers to a width of about half a kilometer with the side nearest the river being steep and falling more gently towards the field.

 

1601 Spring Summer Campaign (2)

The Battle of Kokenhausen (23 June 1601)

On the approach of the Swedes, Radziwill left 500 infantry in entrenchments opposite the town under Otto Denhoff, who had orders to maintain fire on the town. 150 men guarded the camp, and with the rest he entered the field of battle. His force comprised around 3,000 men, of which some 400 were infantry with 9 canons.

Radziwill, observing the Swedes with both flanks protected either by the Dwina or the forest and wagons, decided to break them on his right wing. He ordered both his first lines to attack the Swedish left wing sending almost half his army. He had no intention of opposing the immobile enemy infantry. While the Swedish right wing was to be tied up by Stabrowski assisted by 200 infantry and 5 cannons. In reserve Radziwill left some 800-1000 men and 4 cannon.

At just after 7:00, on seeing the size of Polish-Lithuanian forces forming up against his left wing, Gyllenhjelm reinforced this wing with his skirmishers. With the lack of a reserve it was the only way to strengthen them. Shortly after being struck by both of Chodkiewicz's regiments the left Swedish wing became disorganised but were soon supported by the second line. At this point the Swedes had a numerical superiority (2,000:1,300) and the Poles and Lithuanians were checked. Soon however Dorohostajski's unit quickly passed the weak fire of the infantry and artillery and struck the engaged Swede's flank. The force of the attack and its location ensured the collapse of the Swedish horse who routed and their pursuit began.

Gyllenhjelm, glimpsed a chance of success leading his right wing in a quick attack against Stabrowski. The Polish-Lithuanian cannons managed only a salvo and the cavalry, seriously outnumbered, fled on being struck.

 The Swedes, in their pursuit of the Polish-Lithuanian cavalry, became dispersed and on reaching the flank of Radziwill's forces were met by three hussar banners. Disorganized the Swedes broke and fled.

  (click here for more details)

Gyllenhjelm, with 900 infantry and his artillery, occupied a ruined farm in the centre of his formation and commenced its fortification. He placed 2,000 cavalry on each wing, with about 1,200 horse in each first line. To protect his right flank he positioned a line of wagons.

The Poles and Lithuanians arrived on the field of battle once the Swedes had formed up and Chodkiewicz sent out some hundred skirmishers to cover the deployment of his forces:-

(A) The first line was composed 1,000 horse commanded by Chodkiewicz. They comprised two regiments - Chodkiewicz's own and Radziwill's.

(B) In the second line were two regiments of 300 horse each, on the right Christopher Dorohostajski, on the left Stabrowski.

(C) The Huf Walny in the third line was the Royal Grand Lithuanian Hetman's own forces (1,000-1,200 men, including 400 infantry) positioned on the highest ground from which the whole battlefield could be seen.

The Swedes also deployed a similar number of skirmishers to counter the Polish-Lithuanian skirmishers

 

Radziwill, observing the Swedes with both flanks protected either by the Dwina or the forest and wagons, decided to break them on his right wing. He ordered both his first lines to attack the Swedish left wing sending almost half his army. He had no intention of opposing the immobile enemy infantry. While the Swedish right wing was to be tied up by Stabrowski assisted by 200 infantry and 5 cannons. In reserve Radziwill left some 800-1000 men and 4 cannon.

At just after 7:00, on seeing the size of Polish-Lithuanian forces forming up against his left wing, Gyllenhjelm reinforced this wing with his skirmishers. With the lack of a reserve it was the only way to strengthen them. Shortly after being struck by both of Chodkiewicz's regiments the left Swedish wing became disorganised but were soon supported by the second line. At this point the Swedes had a numerical superiority (2,000:1,300) and the Poles and Lithuanians were checked. Soon however Dorohostajski's unit quickly passed the weak fire of the infantry and artillery and struck the engaged Swede's flank. The force of the attack and its location ensured the collapse of the Swedish horse who routed and their pursuit began.

Gyllenhjelm, glimpsed a chance of success leading his right wing in a quick attack against Stabrowski. The Polish-Lithuanian cannons managed only a salvo and the cavalry, seriously outnumbered, fled on being struck.

 The Swedes, in their pursuit of the Polish-Lithuanian cavalry, became dispersed and on reaching the flank of Radziwill's forces were met by three hussar banners. Disorganised the Swedes broke and fled.

 

It took some time for Radziwill to collect his tired units after their pursuit and strike the infantry. The cavalry failed on the pikes and musket fire. It was only after the arrival at about noon of the Polish-Lithuanian artillery that their resistance was broken. Most of the infantry were killed.

Overall the Swedes lost 2,000, the Poles and Lithuanians 200. Gyllenhjelm managed to gather 2,000 cavalry some 14km from the battlefield and wanted to return to Kokenhausen to help the infantry but his men would no agree.

The Battle was won by powerful hussar charges. Where this battle differs from many others in this period was the high economy of strength utilised. The decisive point for the battle was selected and there half the army was directed while the enemy centre was completely ignored. The importance of a powerful reserve cannot be underestimated and its large size was also exceptional for this era

 

VIDEONext Room AUDIONext Room

 

 

 1601 Spring Summer Campaign (3)

The Swedish fleet landed new forces forces at Dynemunt on 19th June. Radziwill sent Dorohostajski on 28th June, who dislodged the Swedes in the middle of July. Meanwhile the poor relationship between the hetmans worsened and Chodkiewicz, with 700 comrades plus retainers, left Radziwill with 2,000 men.

Meanwhile Gyllenhjelm retreated through Kies to Burtneck (Burtnieki) to the north west of Wolmar. While Radziwill attempted to take advantage of the victory by recapturing as much of Livonia as possible. He divided his forces and took many castles in the south, such as Erlaa and Pebalg. Radziwill himself left Kokenhausen on 6th July directing his troops towards Gyllenhjelm through Kies, which capitulated on the 14th.

Gyllenhjelm stood in a fortified camp between Burtneck and Rujen and even though reinforcements arrived, among them Chodkiewicz, Radziwill decided not to risk an attack and moved to Ronneburg on 23rd July. Ronneburg was a harder nut to crack than Radziwill anticipated and by August illness and desertions had reduced his army to some fourteen hundred men.

Back in Sweden Duke Charles was already raising new forces. He was concerned at the recent success of the enemy and aimed to gain some advantage before the arrival of the bulk of the Royal forces. This time his target was Riga and he chose the coastal road as the shortest route from Pernau. Duke Charles managed to concentrate a land force of over 12,000 men with 20 cannon and led by Count John Nassau - pupil, friend and associate of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and architect of the new Dutch infantry tactics. He arrived at Pernau on 26th July.

Without waiting for the arrival of all his forced, due to his concerns over the besieged Ronneburg, Duke Charles left Pernau on 16th August. He marched along the coast to Salis where on around the 20th August he met up with Gyllenhjelm.

This move threatened Radziwill's lines of communication and route of retreat to Riga. So on the 23rd of August Radziwill left for Kies and then moved towards Riga in order to link up with Farensbach's 2,000 men. These were the leading group of the Royal forces which had arrived on 21st August.

The Polish-Lithuanian army was encumbered with 3,000 wagons and a sizable number of cannon and at Nitau on 31st August Count Nassau caught up with them. From there the Polish-Lithuanian retreat became a series of heavy rearguard actions and amongst some heavy losses were 300 wagons.

On 2nd September Radziwill's forces reached Riga. The port had been blockaded by the Swedes from around June and Farensbach, with a few ships, successfully attacked the Swedish fleet on the Dwina and forced it to retreat on 26th August to Dynemunde.

 

 

Duke Charles' army approached Riga on 6th September and in the region of Nowy Mlyn (New Mill) the forces spread out. The town had strong new fortifications and Farensbach raised fieldworks on the high ground at Kubsberg in front of the town ramparts placing there 600 Scottish soldiers with 15 cannon.

Without heavy artillery, the Swedes attempted a surprise attack. On the 9th at two in the morning 4,000 infantry attacked the fortifications at Kubsberg and despite fierce resistance captured it and almost penetrated the town. Farensbach ejected them with his counter attack. With the approach of the main Royal forces the Swedes retreated into their occupied towns and castles.

 

 Overview

1601 Spring-Summer Campaign

The fundamental factor in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's success during this period was Radziwill maintaining the initiative. Despite weak forces he did not wait with indifference for the relief army, but actively searched for battle with any potential relief forces before they could be properly ready.

Questions have been raised as to whether after Kokenhausen Radziwill should have struck at Gyllenhjelm at Burtneck to destroy the Swedish forces. This would have been imprudent bearing in mind the enemy's numerical superiority and fortified position.

The Swedes did learn as their operations progressed. The Summer operations were directed at their main target Riga rather than being distracted by other targets. They also found the best route, the coastal road. However one must question the timing of the attack on Riga, which would involve a significant siege, at a time when it was known that sizeable Royal forces would soon be approaching.

CONTINUE TO 1602 1606 OPERATIONS

 

 

Originally published at www.jasinski.co.uk/wojna/index.htm

 

 

BACK TO THE BALTIC STATES

 

BACK TO POLAND