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 Composition


Hetman Commanders

Battle Tactics (17thC)

Army Sizes

'Cossack' Cavalry

Hussar Cavalry


Early 17th Century Battle Tactics

Against outnumbering masses of mobile cavalry, such as Tatars, the Poles used deep formations, with the wings deepest. They then purposefully entered the enemy's trap of encirclement and aimed at breaking straight through. The small numbers of infantry and artillery were used to prepare the way for the heavy cavalry with their firepower. Screens of wagons were used, though these had the drawback of hampering the cavalry's movement. One solution, used by Koniecpolski at Martynow in 1624, was to place the wagons behind each wing, thereby protecting the flanks but leaving the cavalry free to manoeuvre.

Excerpt - drawing of the defence of Chocim 1621When encountering the forces of the Ottoman Empire the Poles took a more defensive posture, mainly due to the size and quality of the Turkish forces. Though there were few fortifications in southern Poland, the Turkish army's way was usually blocked by an entrenched Polish army. The Poles employed deep defences by building separate field works in front of the camp's defences, as at Chocim in 1621. These field works could be defended and allowed the use of cavalry counter attacks. They still, however, hampered the army's movement so whenever possible, if the enemy's numbers were not overwhelmingly superior, the whole army was led out into the open, such as at Cecora 1620. The camp to the rear acted only as a refuge and did not affect the course of the battle. A later improvement was to place independent redoubts in front of the camp that gave direct support to the army. A system of advance guns was also used and was linked solely by firepower, Kamieniec Podolski, 1633.

Fighting Western European foes the infantry's firepower was crucial to prepare the way for the cavalry, although the outcome of a battle was decided by heavy cavalry charges. Batory's reforms gave the Polish cavalry a high mobility and a highly developed economy of strength. This was superbly illustrated at the battle of Kircholm in 1605, where Polish forces succeeded in surrounding and routing a three times larger Swedish force. The victory owed its success to the mobility of the cavalry whose small numbers occupied the Swedish centre and left, while on the right they achieved numerical superiority and turnedCavalry charge - Kircholm 1605 the flank.

A strong reserve was an important component in most battles of this period, used only when the enemy had committed all his forces and then unleashed in a devastating charge. This reserve could consist of up to one third of the army.

Since 1514, firepower played an important role in Polish military thought and the husars achieved success only where they collaborated closely with the small numbers of infantry and artillery. This collaboration was especially pronounced in the defence of field fortifications where the cavalry gave them an offensive capability.

In the 1620's when the Poles met the massive firepower and skilful manoeuvring of Gustav Adolf's reorganised army, they had few immediate answers. Gustav avoided open battle, carefully shielding his army with field obstacles, and the Poles could not counter the Swedish firepower superiority. So they resorted to a campaign of harassment and attempts to catch the Swedes on the march.

SmolenskIn 1633, Wladyslaw's new 'foreign' infantry were used to attack Muscovite field fortifications at Smolensk, while continually digging in and establishing new artillery positions in front of their previous ones. Their attacks were followed by a wave of cavalry sent to destroy any Muscovite counterattack. The new infantry had an offensive capability and were directly used to open the way for the heavy cavalry. They were still used to hit the enemy with their firepower as shown at Kamieniec Podolski, 1634, when all the Turkish front attacks broke on the infantry and artillery firepower.

Deep incursions into enemy territory also played an important part in Polish warfare. They varied in size from a few hundred to a few thousand, and their depth reached up to a few thousand kilometres. They were often used against the Tatars, as well as the Swedes and Russians. Their objectives were to disrupt the enemy's supplies and preparations for war and to take away their initiative. They were also used to protect the main army while travelling in enemy territory.

Primary scource: A republic of Nobles: Studies in Polish History to 1864, edited and translated by J.K. Fedorowicz - University of Western Ontario. Cambridge University Press (1982)



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