Swedish Polish War 1600 to 1609
Overview of the War
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
1605 Campaign and Kircholm
is not a simple success of masses of hussars like Lubieszow, Kokenhausen
or Bialy Kamien. Here is not only a defeat but total destruction
of the main enemy forces. Chodkiewicz was aware of the significant
tactical superiority of his cavalry and so went further than Radziwill
at Kokenhausen. He formed not one but two attack groups with the
aim of not just breaking but also surrounding the Swedish centre
after the destruction of both enemy wings. He organised one of the
groups, his left wing, to be two times stronger than the other wing
and only with this wing did he have local numerical superiority.
This was a classic example of the economic use of force, even though
the enemy had almost three times numerical superiority. This is
however a consequence of the formation of not one but two attack
groups and, though rather small, the reserve played a critical role.
Kircholm is one of the few examples in modern history
up till W.W.II of a victory of the type of Canne, envelopment of
the main enemy forces, and exceptional with forces so decisively
disadvantaged in numbers.
The Swedish operations at operational level were
effective when Lennartsson evaded battle in the open field and the
Swedish intentions to utilise marshes, forests or fortifications
to their advantage. The new Swedish battle order used at Kircholm
embraced correct concepts so as to neutralise the superiority of
the Polish-Lithuanian cavalry. However it had not been tested in
practice. The use of significant depth and the mixing of cavalry
and infantry would be successfully adjusted by Gustav Adolf. The
Swedes were correct in their selected area of operations - Riga
and the shortest route to her - by sea.
1609 campaign had a transitional Character between the Polish-Lithuanian
victories of 1601-05 and the later successes of Gustaf Adolph (1621-1629).
Tactically the Poles and Lithuanians were significantly
ahead of the Swedes but they could not repeat the destructive success
of a Kircholm or Kokenhausen. The Swedes avoided open battle, carefully
protecting themselves with defences or natural obstacles. However
they also took advantage of surprise attacks, often under cover
of darkness. Even where they were caught out, though defeated and
disorganised, they managed to avoid total destruction such as that
But the brilliance of Chodkiewicz still shines through.
Operating with small forces in difficult conditions he achieved
many successes. Surprising the Swedes with quick forced marches
in unexpected directions. Even where he was surprised he was able
to improvise and turn defeat into victory.