June 23, 2011

Great Polish Warriors: The Winged Hussars Part IV - Directory of Husaria

Directory of Husaria 

There are a lot of resources available on the web for Husaria enthusiasts. The subject has experienced an upsurge of popularity.  The following list includes Husaria Re-enactments, Books, DVD of great films on the subject of Hussars and medieval Europe, as well as a selection of popular video games for fans of medieval warfare, and one source that actually manufactures miniatures of Polish Winged Hussars (not only for kids!!) as well as a website where you can download Husaria wallpaper to your cell phone or PC.  If you have any suggestions for interesting sites about Husaria, please let me know so that I can add it to this list.

Polish Hussar Re-enactment

Suligowski's Regiment. An Los Angelos based Hussar Re-enactment group, portraying the famous winged hussars at the Battle of Vienna, 1683. Their goal is to educate the public about the history and culture of Poland, and organize numerous events at which they exhibit clothing and equipment of the era. They invite people to join, and unlike other re-enactment groups, you won't start out as a slave but rather as an equal in the noble brotherhood. Women enjoy equal status!  http://www.husaria.us/index.html

The Czarniecki Division Yahoo Group:  Based in New England.  Winged hussars, pancerni cossacks and light cavalry.  The largest 17th century Polish reenactment group in the USA.  Discussion group, photos, links.  The group does several reenactments and festival appearances each year, members perform fencing, archery and riding demos at events. http://www.polishhussarsupply.com/Links.html

Orlicki's Polish Light Artillery Group:  A 17th century Polish reenactment group based around Kismeta, the group's working replica of a period artillery.  The artillery crew is supported by hussars, pancerni and dragoons. This site is an excellent resource for new recruits to get information on getting started as a 17th century
reenactor. http://www.kismeta.com/diGrasse/PolishHorseArtillery.htm

Polska Reustawa - Also known as Katski's Regiment. A 17th century Polish reenactment group based on dragoons and pancerni cossacks with an emphasis on firearms and horse archery. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Polska_Reustawa

Re-enactment of Battle of Klushino 1610 (Celebrating the 400th Anniversary) A Photo Album


Polish Re-Enactors Handbook: A Guide To 17Th Century Living History In The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

With Fire and Sword (The Trilogy, Book I)

Husaria: The winged horsemen (Skarby polskie)

Polish Armies (2) 1569-1696 (Men at Arms Series, 188)

Napoleon's Red Lancers (Men-at-Arms)

In the Legions of Napoleon: The Memoirs of a Polish Officer in Spain and Russia, 1808-1813

Vienna 1683: Christian Europe Repels the Ottomans (Campaign)

Medieval Polish Armies 966-1500 (Men-at-Arms)


Great Polish Warriors: The Winged Hussars (complete series)
Part IV - Directory of Husaria

This concludes the series on
Great Polish Warriors: The Winged Hussars

Thank you for visiting

June 22, 2011

Great Polish Warriors: The Winged Hussars Part III Battles Won and Lost


The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of the largest and most populated nations in the 16th to 17th century Europe.  Its land mass covered 400,000 square miles (about 1 million square kilometers) and had a population of 11 million of diverse ethnic backgrounds. It came into being in July 1569 by the Union of Lublin, and was destroyed by a Third Partition in 1795.  During its long and powerful reign in which Poland was the dominant power, the Commonwealth enacted many democratic reforms, the existence which posed a threat to its neighbours. The Commonwealth was a constitutional monarchy, with an established political system of check and balances between the legislature (Sejm) and the nobility (szlachta).  Despite the high degree of ethnic diversity in the nation, religious tolerance was guaranteed by the Warsaw Confederation Act of 1573, although the degree of tolerance varied over time at the grass roots level.

The Commonwealth enjoyed years of prosperity but eventually fell into political, military and economic decline.  By the end of the 18th century the Commonwealth, already weakened, was partitioned by Russia, Prussia and Austria. However before its complete dissolution, the Commonwealth adopted massive reforms and enacted the Constitution of May 3, 1791, which was, according to Norman Davies, the first of its kind in Europe.­

The 17th century was a period of fierce rivalry between the major Eastern European nations, Sweden, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire. At its height the Commonwealth was a major European power whose territory comprised the present-day Poland, large sections of the Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Russia.  But by the end of the 18th century a series of internal conflicts and wars with foreign enemies led to the dissolution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and resulted in the partition of most of its dependent territories among other European powers. 



First Livonian War, First Northern War or Northern Seven Years' War (Polish: I Wojna o Inflanty, Pierwsza Wojna Północna). Participants and monarchs: Poland (Zygmunt II August), Denmark (Frederick II), Sweden (Eric XIV), Russia (Ivan IV the Terrible). Result: inconclusive. See Treaty of Stettin.


Danzig rebellion and the Siege of Danzig (1577) by King Stefan Batory. Result: inconclusive: In return for ransom and recognition of him as the sovereign, King Batory discarded the Karnkowski constitution of 1570.


Livonian War, Second Livonian War (Polish: II wojna o Inflanty). Participants: Russia (Ivan IV the Terrible), Poland (Stefan Batory). Results: Polish victory Peace treaty in Jam Zapolski.

King Stefan Batory at Pskov, Russia (painted by Jan Matejko)

Polish–Muscovite War (1577–1582)

1577 - First Campaign of Batory
1579 - Second Campaign of Batory
1580 - Third Campaign of Batory


War of Polish succession (1587-1588) - civil war of the election (Polish: Wojna o sukcesję polską) Participants: factions of Sigismund III Vasa and Maximilian III. Battles: siege of Kraków, Battle of Byczyna (24 Jan 1588). Result: victory and coronation of Zygmunt III Waza.


Tatar Invasion


 Kosiński Uprising (Polish: Powstanie Kosińskiego). Cossack uprising under Krzysztof Kosiński against Poland (Kresy magnates). Important battles: Battle of Piątek, Battle of Cherkasy. Result: Polish victory.


 Tatar Invasion


Nalyvaiko Uprising (Polish: Powstanie Nalewajki). Cossack uprising under Severyn Nalyvaiko and Hryhory Loboda against Poland (Stanisław Żółkiewski). Important battles: Battle of Ostry Kamień,  Battle of Lubny, Battle of Sołonica. Result: Polish victory.


Magnate wars in Moldavia, against Ottoman Empire/Turkey. Result: Polish defeat


Ottoman-Commonwealth War (1620-1621) - Polish defeat at the Battle of Cecora, then Polish victory. Commonwealth stopped Ottomans great invasion Battle at Chocim.

Polish-Swedish Wars, Third Livonian War (Polish: III wojna o Inflanty). Participants: Poland (Zygmunt III Waza), Sweden (first Charles IX of Sweden, then Gustavus Adolphus). Result: inconclusive/Swedish minor victory. See also Armistice of Altmark (Stary Targ).

War against Sigismund

Polish-Swedish War of 1600 - 1611
Polish–Swedish War of 1617 - 1618
Polish-Swedish War of 1620 - 1622
Polish-Swedish War of 1625 - 1629

Sigismund III Vasa


Polish-Muscovite War
First Dimitriad 1605-1606
Second Dimitriad 1607-1609


Zebrzydowski Rebellion, a civil war in Poland. Minor victory of King Zygmunt III Waza.


Thirty Years' War – minor involvement on the Habsburg side, mostly noticeable in the series of wars with Sweden (see above and below).


Ottoman-Commonwealth War - Polish defeat at the Battle of Cecora ends
 the Magnate wars in Moldavia.


Tatar Invasion


Zhmailo Uprising. (Polish: Powstanie Żmajły). Cossack uprising under Marko Zhmailo and Mykhailo Doroshenko against Poland (Stanisław Koniecpolski). Important battles: Battle of Kniazhi Bairaky, Battle of Cybulnik. Result: Polish victory (see Treaty of Kurukove, ugoda kurukowska).


Fedorovych Uprising. (Polish: Powstanie Fedorowicza). Cossack uprising under Taras Fedorovych against Poland (Stanisław Koniecpolski). Important battles: Battle of Korsun, Noc Taraswowa  Battle of Pereyaslav. Result: Polish victory, although Cossacks gained some minor freedoms (see Treaty of Pereyaslav).


Smolensk War, against Russia. The Commonwealth won Battle at Smolensk.

Medal commemorating Victory of Władysław IV Waza over Russia in Smolensk in 1634

1633 - 1634

Ottoman-Commonwealth War


Sulyma Uprising. Cossack uprising under Ivan Sulyma. Result: Polish victory,
although Kodak fortress was burned down.


Pawluk Uprising. (Polish: Powstanie Pawluka). Cossack uprising under Pavlo Mikhnovych (Pawluk) against Poland (Mikołaj Potocki). Important battles: Battle of Kumejki. Result: Polish victory, see Treaty of Borowica.


Ostrzanin Uprising. (Powstanie Ostranicy). Cossack uprising under Yakiv Ostryanin (Ostranica), Dmytro Hunia, and Karp Skidan against Poland (Mikołaj Potocki, Jeremi Wiśniowiecki. Important battles: Battle of Żołnin, capitulation at Starzec. Result: Polish victory. See Treaty of Słoboda


Tatar Invasion


Khmelnytsky Uprising, the largest and most successful Cossack uprising against Polish domination.


Polish-Russian War


Northern Wars – against Sweden


The wars against Sweden, Brandenburg, Russia and Transylvania, known as The Deluge.


Polish-Russian War ends with Treaty of Andrusovo.


Polish-Cossack-Tatar War Ends, Ottoman-Commonwealth War begins (1672-1676)


Ottoman-Commonwealth War


War of the Holy League inclued Austria, Venice and Russia against the Ottoman Empire.
 Poles underJan III Sobieski save Vienna from Turks.

Jan III Sobieski

During the 18th century, European powers (most often consisting of Russia, Sweden, Prussia and Saxony) fought several wars to gain the control of the territories of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the end of the 18th century, some Poles struggled to defend Poland from the growing influence of foreign elements operating in the country's internal affairs. By then any effort by the Poles to maintain their national independence failed dismally. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth underwent a complete dissolution and the territories partioned among its occupiers.


Great Northern War – on the side of the anti-Swedish coalition


War of the Polish Succession


Russo-Turkish War
Confederation of Bar


Polish-Russian War


Kościuszko Uprising – Polish uprising against Russia

    June 21, 2011

    Great Polish Warriors: The Winged Hussars Part II - Weapons and Battle Tactics

    "We saw it…. the hussars let loose their horses.  God, what power! They ran through the smoke and the sound was like that of a thousand blacksmiths beating with a thousand hammers. We saw it…Jezus Maria! The elite's lances bent forward like stalks of rye, driven by a great storm, bent on glory! The fire of the guns before them glitters! They rush on to the Swedes! They crash into the Swedish riters…. Overwhelm them! They crash into the second regiment - Overwhelmed! Resistance collapses, dissolves, they move forward as easily as if they were parading on a grand boulevard. They sliced without effort through the whole army already. Next target: the regiment of horse guards, where stands the Swede King Carol. And the guard already wavers!"   description from Potop "Deluge" Henry Sienkievich

    The Polish Winged Hussars, an elite branch of the Polish army during the 16th and 17th centuries dominated the European continent for over 200 years striking fear into their enemies. They defeated the Swedes, Teutonic Knights, the Tatars, the Russians, and the Ottoman Turks. The Hussars were a skilled tactical shock-force capable of annihilating armies twice their size and with terrifying ferocity and speed.

    The origins of the hussar were the Serbian exiles who had fled their homeland after the defeat under the Ottoman Turks in the late 15th century. The Hungarian Kingdom organized their own hussar banners (units) and trained them into a strong, highly effective cavalry which time and again proved their mettle in the heat of battle.

    Like that of the Hungarians, the early Polish Hussars wore no armour and were armed only with the lance, sabre and shield.  It gave them greater maneuverability and speed in battle - unlike that of the heavy, lumbering knights. The Hungarians soon made improvements to their hussars by introducing helmets, mail, and gorgets, making the cavalry heavier. 

    By the mid-16th-century, the Polish King and Lithuanian Grand Duke, Stefan Batory reorganized the Polish and Lithuanian cavalry along similar lines as those of the Hungarians. He included armor, yet ensured that the Hussars would remain a fast, albeit heavy cavalry.  They were made the standard of the Polish army, and were very-well trained and well-equipped.


    The most distinctive feature of the Polish Hussars were the pair of huge wings attached to their backs, each constructed of high wooden frames upon which eagle feathers were attached, although ostrich, swan and goose feathers had also been used.  Feathers were inserted into a series of holes bore into the length of the wood and the frame was either painted, or covered with crimson velvet and mounted in brass. By a series of metal rods on the batten, the wings were attached to the backplate of the hussar's armour. This symbolism is related to the Serbian practice of painting wings on cavalry shields. By the 1590s the double frame was replaced by a single decorative wing attached to back of the saddle on the left side. 

    It is believed that the Polish Hussars wore these wings for the purposes intimidating the enemy,  and they have often been depicted in battle wearing wings. This is the image that has long promoted by painters through the ages and more recently by film productions. The reality however may be that the Polish Hussars donned these wings only for the ceremonial purposes and victory parades. The size and weight of such apparatus would have been cumbersome if not self-defeating during battles.  Legend has it that the mere sight of these huge wings and the rustling sound they apparently made as the steeds charged in battle, were enough to unnerve infantrymen and horses.  Such a spectacular sight would indeed alarm the enemy,  but it is highly unlikely that feathers could emit any sound in the din of battle.  However, one other feature contributed to the awesome appearance of the Polish Hussars: in addition to their uniforms (and wings), draped over one shoulder would be the pelt of a leopard, tiger, or wolf, the total of which must have struck fear in their enemies before they even attaced.


    handle guard of lance 17th century
    Each towarzysz, or hussar was required to provide arms and armour as well as horses, for himself and for his poczet, or retinue. (Only the szlachta, or Polish nobility became Polish Hussars, as they could well afford the expenses to supply and upkeep their retinue.)  The weapons may have also included a Tatar or Turkish reflex bow, with arrows in a quiver. But the main offensive weapon was the lance, and it was the only weapon
    provided to the hussar by the King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  It was extremely expensive because of the rate at which lances broke in battle, however, the lance was deadly in the hands of a hussar, who could effortlessly thrust it into the chest of the enemy.

    According to the writings of Guillamde de Beauplan, a French military engineer and cartographer under King Jan Casimir, the "kopia-lance was hollowed out from the apple (handgrip) to tip, the lower part being of solid wood, which was surmounted by a pennant averaging somewhere from 6-8 feet in length, which fluttered, swirled and created, at full charge a unique (snapping popping) sound, which, multiplied by several hundred men (or in the case of the famous charge in Vienna - 1683), combined with the leopard skin cloaks and wings created a most fearful sound and appearance which was contemporarily noted to frighten both enemy infantry and cavalry."  

    The length ranged from 4.5m to 6.2m, though there were shorter demi-lances at 3.5m. It had to be long enough to enable the Hussar to overreach the infantry pikes, which measured 4.5m to 5.5m in length. Because of its length the lance had to be considerably light and easy to maneuver.  They were constructed from fir-wood, though aspen was used in the fore part of the lance to make it lighter. In order to obtain a hollow lance, the core was bored out from the point to the ball, by first cutting the lance in half and hollowing out each side. Then it was glued back together and reinforced with string webbing over which tar was applied.  The lance point was made of steel and reinforced with additional metal straps around the shaft. This also protected the wood just below from any saber cuts. It was often richly gilded.


    The banners were a familiar sight during battle and parades. Its lengths ranged from 2.5m to 3.5m and had distintive designs and colors according to the regiment. But it served a larger purpose, that is, the fluttering and flapping of so many banners caused panic in their opponents' horses which were not accustomed to such sights and sounds. The base of the lance was inserted into the tuleja (metal cup)  allowing the Hussar to manage his horse and weapons without the burden of carrying the banner.  However, when the hussars were on long marches, the banners were furled and carried along by accompanying wagons.



    Sabres were brought to Eastern Europe by nomads during the sixth century. By the 15th century curved sabres were widely used in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Hungary largely as a result of the many battles engaged with the Turks and Tatars. Many of these weapons had been captured from the enemy and passed on to the peasants. However, the Polish nobility refused to bear such common weapons and, like their Western European counterparts, continued to choose straight bladed swords.

    When Stefan Batory was elected King of Poland in 1576, he reformed the Polish and Lithuanian army, and made the sabre one of the basic weapons used by the nobility.  It became widely used by armies not only in Poland and Lithuania, but the Ukraine, Moldavia-Wolachia and Hungary. Over time, the Polish sabre or szlaba, evolved into an extensive array of sabre-like weapons, designed to accomodate as many practical as well as ceremonial functions.

    The Hussar Sabre was the most famous. Developed around 1630, it served as the main weapon for the Polish cavalry, mainly the Polish Winged Hussars. The Hussar Sabre was less curved than those of eastern versions and was well suited for use during horseback fighting, allowing for faster and stronger strikes at close quarters. The hilt provided excellent protection to the hand because of its weight and almost full enclosure.  Moreover it was easier to maintain control of the sabre during a skirmish. Its durability was further enhanced by the addition of  two feather-shaped pieces of metal on both sides of the blade called moustache,which strengthened the weakest point of the blade, that is, the joint between the blade and the hilt.  

    Hilt of a Hussar Sabre

    When fencing on foot or on horseback, the Hussar could wield even greater control of the weapon by extending his thumb along the back strap of the grip; or by using the thumb-ring, the small ring of steel or brass positioned at the junction of the grip and the cross-guard through which the thumb is placed.  This permitted greater ease in making forceful downward swinging cuts from the shoulder and elbow with a "locked" wrist.   The thumb ring also allowed 'recovery' of the weapon to inflict the next cut, giving the Hussar a distinct advantage over infantry and less experienced cavalry.

    A typical hussar szabla was relatively long, the average blade having a length of 85 centimetres. The tip of the blade measured 15 to 18 centimetres long and was, in many cases double-edged, making it extremely stable and durable. 

    Sabres varied widely in cost, depending on its decorative features. Some were cheap but Polish nobles usually bought the very best quality that they could find because such sabres were always worn to public occasions and were considered personal "jewelry". Many designs were gold plated and jewel-encrusted symbols of nobility and always hung from a belt on the left side.

    Polish Hussar szabla is believed to be one of the finest cold weapons ever made.  They were used in combat well into the 19th century.


    Each towarzysz husarski, or Hussar, carried a koncerz which was placed on his saddle underneath his left thigh. The Koncerz was a type of sword in use during the late 15th century and measured 1.3 metres in length.  Though not a fencing or slashing weapon, it was meant for thrusting and was designed to pierce armour plate,  As such it had no edge at all.  It was very light and its grip permitted that the hussar could hold the koncerz at arms length and it would seem to him an extension of his own forearm.  In other words, even if he were to thrust the weapon with his eyes closed, he would have a pretty good idea of where the steel point was.


    However, in a forward charge during battle, the koncerz was instead used like a short lance. In this way,  the weapon could not be used in a thrusting motion, but rather held out with arm fully extended. The opponent would be impaled, carried by the momentum of the horse in full charge.  In the event that the weapon had been thrust deeply into the opponent, it would have been abandoned by the hussar and another weapon selected such as the saber or palasz.  By the late 16th century the length of the koncerz increased to 1.6 metres. It was used like a spear and gave  the Hussar a very long reach. Again, it did not have a cutting edge, but rather a sharp point, which appeared triangular or square in cross-section.  It was sometimes used like a short pike, putting the hilt between the arm and the chest and pointing the blade a third of the way down.


    Under the Hussars right thigh attached to the saddle was the palasz, or a type of broadsword with a saber grip. It had a straight, long and wide single or double-edge cutting blade designed for hacking at the enemy, as well as a sharp point.  They are somewhat shorter but heavier than the palasz.  However, there were many variations made of these weapons.  The palasz is essentially an axe shaped like a sword. While it has a point that was used during a charge, it was designed for heavy cutting blows and slashes, making it versatile for close quarter fighting.



    These were war steel-hammers which the Polish Hussaria used to deliver devastating and fatal wounds to the enemy.  One swift thrust of the czekan (or nadziak) could slice through armored helmets like a knife in butter.


    Firearms were a basic weapon of the Hussars and were became available in the 1570s. There were three kinds of pistols - short, medium and long.  The long firearms like matchlock muskets were not used by the Hussars. Instead they relied on short weapons like pistols, which they carried in pairs of holsters over the front part of the saddle. The medium range weapons were arquebus carbines with a maximum length of one meter. They were designed to be used on horseback and were carried by a sling over the shoulder.

    Matchlock musket made in Suhl-Henneberg, Thuringia, 1600-1620; and bandoleer

    A collection of arquebuses from the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

    Hussars who carried the lance usually did not carry the arquebus and treated pistols only as secondary weapons.

    The reason was that pistols could use only small loads of gunpowder and thus had a low rate of efficiency, low range and poor accuracy. Effective use was limited to about 20 metres or less. Instead the arquebus was carried by their retainers following in the rear ranks.
    However, the Hussars and other cavalry used long guns whenever they fought on foot. As surprising as that seems, it was to be expected that Hussars would have to dismount at some point to continue fighting when called upon, say during sieges and ambush, and at night.

    Following an edict by King Stefan Batory, all cavalry was required to carry pistols. It became customary to carry four however in practice the Hussars usually carried six pistols.

    Hussars relied on wheellock weapons because it gave them an advantage over armies using matchlock weapons. The wheellocks were always ready to shoot  and could be triggered using only one hand, whereas the matchlock pistol had to be lit with a match even if loaded. However there were several disadvantages; the wheellock was very expensive to produce and the lock often failed. Moreover the pyrite crumbled easily or became misaligned; or the mechanism was obstructed by powder residue and as a result became corroded. The delicate mechanism of the wheellock made it particularly vulnerable to mechanical damage and hence the weapon was not always reliable.

    Wheellock pistol

    The Hussars also carried medium length firearms on horseback. The practice was formalized in 1689 when Hetman Jablonowski ordered Hussar retainers to carry arquebuses instead of lances. It boosted the firepower of the Hussars

    Hussar medium length firearm "Bandolet", 17 century


    Polish hussar saddles resembed the oriental version and had deep construction to allow support to the hussar's back, especially at the moment of a lance at­tack.  These saddles were usually covered by embroidered leather or velvet and their bow mounted in brass or silver. The stirrups, referred to as the "Polish variety," were of a design influenced by Tartar-Turkish styles. Examples of these have been preserved and can be seen in the Livrustkammaren of Stockholm, the Orusheynaya Palata of the Kremlin, and the Czartoryski Collection of the National Museum in Cracow.

    Polish Hussar Saddle pre-dates 1600 (Kremlin Armoury)


    The armour of the Polish Hussar consisted of breast and backplates, a pair of pauldrons and a pair of arm-guards, and was a splendid example of decorative design and superb craftsmanship. Many of the designs were inspired by earlier Roman armoury.

    But until 1570 the armour consisted only of mail coat, helmet, shield, lance and saber, although many had implemented breastplates.  King Stefan Batory (1576-1586) had specific ideas about the type of armour worn by his men and insisted that they follow the Hungarian style. By1600 the Hussars breastplates had been modified to take on the "half-lobster" design with several bands or lames from the lower chest to the bottom.  However there was still quite a demand for oriental weaponry especially after the battle with the Turks in 1620-21.

    Towarzysz, the Polish Hussars, also wore tassets (protectors for upper legs), cuisse (thigh protectors), and poleyns (knee protectors). All this was worn underneath a coat of mail that reached the thighs, or a specially padded coat with mail sleeves. The retainers wore less expensive and older armour, usually painted black, and after the 1670s according to sources, had no cuisses.

    During the reign of Sobieski, (1674-96) Sarmatian armour was popular. They were iron scales riveted to a leather support and consisted of scale helmet, cuirass, gorget, legs and shoulder protection. 

    The armour was much lighter, about 15kg, and permitted the hussar to ride quickly. Needless to say it also benefitted the horse, as it could gallop at full speed for longer periods of time without tiring.  But the armour was quite expensive to produce, and for this reason was used only by commanding officers of the husaria. Hussar armour was regarded as splendid and unique in their time, partly because the metal was burnished instead of blackened in order to prevent rust.


    Originally the helmets followed the Hungarian style, but by 1620s their features evolved into designs resembling lobster-tails.  The Polish helmet was a hemispherical skull upon which beaks were attached by rivets thus permitting adjustable nose-guards and ear-guards, often with cut-out shapes of hearts.  The lower ranks, or retainers were given Shishak and kettle hat helmets which were blackened, as well as their armour.


    Mail sleeves and gauntlets were eventually phased out and replaced by the kawarze. Much of the Hussars equipment and armour was lost during the Ukrainian Cossak Rebellion after 1648 and to the Swedes in 1655. However during Sobieskis campaigns, the Husaria regained their former splendour, entering a second phase of opulence that lasted until the late 18th century. 


    The combat horses used by the Polish Winged Hussars in the 16th and 17th centuries were a special breed and very expensive to acquire. The horses originated from Turkish stock, which included Anatolian, Persian, Kurdish, Crimean, Caucasian and Arab breeds.

    While the Polish Hussars horse had to be heavier and stronger to ensure stamina during battles, a new breed made its appearance, that is the "Polish Arabian" which was renowned (then and now)for its excellence in temperament, speed and stamina.

    The price paid for these horses varied considerably depending on their breed, training, maturity, and adaptability to warfare. A typical cavalry horse sold for about 100 zloty, while a hussar horse would cost between 200 and 800 zloty.

    The highest price known to have been paid was 1,500 zloty for a breed of the most exceptional value, affordable to only the wealthiest of Polish and Lithuanian families.(Compare this with what it cost to buy an ordinary common horse at less than 10 zloty.)

    The Polish Hussar's horses were the finest breed in all of Europe, and was particularly sought after by the Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz to replenish his own stud farm.


    The Polish Hussars were a powerful striking force of the Polish-Lithuanian cavalry, and their dominance in Europe was supreme for over 200 years. Their fierceness in battle was exceeded only by their skill and cunning in tactical maneuvers.

    The Charge
    The hussars charged the enemy in a formation of 3 to 4 ranks depending on the terrain and numbers, while the rear rank could detach from the formation in order to deal with flank attacks. In the latter part of the 17th century formation was limited to only 2 ranks.

    A typical charge was staged at gradually accelerated intervals; for the first 75 meters, the hussar, mounted on his steed, would advance at a normal walk, the next 150 meters would be at a trot, then a canter, breaking into a gallop.  The charge would be completed by a canter for the last 30 meters. This method was imperative in order to preserve the horse's stamina, especially in the event that the hussars had to engage in multiple charges, or final pursuit of the enemy. Incidentally, a trot is a two-beat gait with averages of about 8 mph (13 kph). A canter is a three-beat gait that averages 10-17 mph (16-27 kph).  A gallop is like a canter but much faster at a four-beat gait averaging 25-30 mph (40-48 kph).

    As the hussar ranks advanced, slowly at first, the distance between each horse was the length of a horse. It was a necessary formation in order to allow enough space to bypass unexpected barriers such as the wounded soldiers and horses, or enable opposing cavalry to bypass during a charge.
    Sometimes the second rank of hussars would move forward to take up positions with the first, as would happen whenever the first rank suffered losses. This ensured that the rank would maintain a constant and maximum density during battle.

    The hussars normally advanced together in an open, loose formation, but during the charge, their positions would become much tighter, so that each hussar would be virtually knee-to-knee at full gallop. Not only did it minimize losses as a result of enemy fire power, but the intense power of this attack, by thousands of hussars, literally crushed the enemy. The agility and speed of the hussars was not diminished in any way by the armour which they wore. On the contrary, they were able to engage in a full charge from a virtual standstill with ease.  Speed was of the essence and their ability to change speed and direction was only one of the factors that contributed to their amazing success. Unlike those of other cavalry, the Polish Hussars not only charged, but fought through the enemy, literally trampling over the infantry in the process.

    Facing the hussars were the opposing infantry, whose soldiers were assembled in formations of about 6 or 10 ranks, each rank stepping forward to deliver fire, then falling back to the rear to reload. If the hussars succeeded in killing the first rank of pikemen, another two ranks remained to defend the musketeers. Radisoslaw Sikora,a published author on the subject of Polish antiquity, surmises in his book, "How the Hussars Fought" (in Polish; Wojskowość polska w dobie wojny polsko-szwedzkiej 1626-1629. Kryzys mocarstwa, Poznań: Sorus, 2005) gave three explanations on how the hussars managed to defeat the enemy under those conditions. Point # 1, the hussars assembled into a "dense formation so as not to be greatly outnumbered by the pikemen." He explains that "some hussars had intact lances after the collision and could continue the offensive on the other lines of pikemen."  (Editors note: With respect, I cannot concur with his assumption because evidence supports the fact that lances could not have survived any collision owing to its construction. It was light-weight and hollow). Point #2. He explains that even broken lances, that might have measured 2 to 3 meters long, could have been used by the hussars to exact serious injuries on the pikemen.  (Editors Note: Such an occurrence is highly unlikely during a skirmish. Once a hussar dispensed with his lance he had to choose the next weapon quickly or die.) Point # 3,  mentions that the most ffective means with which the hussar defeated the pikemen was by attacking its formations on its flanks. (You may read about such tactics, and more, in Part I Famous Battles)

    The initial weapon used during the charge was the lance which, if used successfully, impaled the victim on contact.  Contrary to certain sources, the impact could not have caused the hussar to fall off his steed and inadvertently trip his compatriots.  During an attack the hussar would clasp the lance in a horizontal position  under his armpit but the lance was never removed from the tuleja (metal cup). Instead there was a long ribbon fastening the lance to the saddle's tuleja.  When the decisive thrust of the lance was made, carried by the momentum of the horse at full charge, the hussar no doubt would have released the lance at the approprirate

    Certain sources indicate that frontal assaults by heavy cavalry were ineffective against formations of pikemen. Pikemen were a formidable but not impenetreable defense system against the cavalry. They stood in a line in very tight formations each soldier brandishing a pike, or long pole, the end of which was embedded into the ground, and tilted forward with the spike facing the oncoming attack. As forboding as it appeared, the pikemen were no match for a skilled hussar with a very long sharp lance.

    The most successful campaigns by the Polish Hussars  were fought on hard, level ground with a lot of space - ideal conditions for a cavalry charge.  However in the Battle of Klushino, (July 4, 1610)  the hussars were confronted with an unexpected obstacle. The Muscovites had erected a high fence crossing the span of the battlefield thereby frustrating the efforts of the Polish Hussars to stage a charge. They could only pass through a narrow opening. Nevertheless, the hussars continued to attack ferociously about 8 or 10 times. In the end however, the Muscovites were defeated and demoralised. (Please read about these battles in Part I.)

    The Polish Hussars were a heavy cavalry, and relied on the support of combat units such as heavily armed archers and infantry who advanced together with the cavalry. The archers were essential in the early stages of battle as they could weaken and demoralize the enemy before the onslaught of the charge.  During the Battle of Vienna, the Holy League Cavalry waited upon the hilltops for twelve hours and watched while the infantry battled all day. Then at the appointed hour, the King of Poland gave the command for the cavalry to commence the attack, in four groups. (The Holy League was initiated in 1684 by Pope Innocent XI to oppose the Ottoman Empire, and was composed by the Holy Roman Empire,  the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Venetian Republic. Two years later the Tsardom of Russia joined.)

    Each hussar was armed to the teeth, and had an array of terrifying weapons that he used with great skill. Many hussars also carried bows, and a quiver of arrows, but these were soon replaced by the arquebus. Most feared by the enemy was the swift retribution by the hussars with his arsenal of sabers, koncerz, palasz, czekan and wheellocks.

    Needless to say, many a Polish Hussar fell under the barrage of firepower from the their opponnents, but those losses were relatively few compared to that of their opponents.  The Polish warriors were consistently able to defeat armies considerably larger than their own. At the Battle of Kircholm, there were only 100 Poles killed and 200 wounded, while Swedish losses were 8,000 dead or wounded and 500 captured.

    Among pistols, wheellocks, and arquibus, the opponent also used muskets against the cavalry, however there were numerous disadvantages resulting from use of the latter. Muskets were slow to reload, inaccurate at over 50m range, and often caused accidental ignition of gunpowder stores.  According to Radoslaw Sikora, the firepower of enemy infantry was insufficient to hold off the charging hussars.  The maximum range for muskets was 250 to 300 metres while the arquebus had a maximum range of 150m to 200m.  Moreover, according to research conducted by *Scharnhorst, in the19th century, only 65 shots of every 1,000 managed to hit its target. *[Wg. Hansa Delbrucka. "Geschichte der Kriegkunst Rahmen der politischen Geschichte " Berlin 1920-1923 (op.cit. Page (s) 310 ) t.IV. ]  From a distance of 225 meters the ratio was  149/1000 while at closer range of 75 meters, the ratio was 403 hits out of 1000.  These statistics are not surprising since firearms were still in their developmental stages. The weather also had an impact on weapons reliability, since damp weather would virtually put an end to the use of gunpowder for the interim.

    Chlapowski, a Polish lancer who fought in the Napoleonic Wars summed it up perfectly. He regarded the musket with considerable disdain, and admitted that while many of his men had been killed by firearms, his point (parden the pun) was that it was impossible for the enemy to stop the entire Polish cavalry.  [Dezydery Chlapowski, Memoirs of a Polish Lancer, Emperor's Press, 1992. ]

    With the advent of firearms came a technique new to the cavalry and known as the caracole.  It consisted of a single half turn to the left or right, a maneuver which is used today in modern equestrian dressage.  The technique was developed in the mid-16th century (though not by the Polish cavalry) as a way to incorporate gunpowder weapons with cavalry tactics. Each rider, equipped with two wheellocks would approach their target at less than a gallop. As each rank came into range, the riders would turn slightly, shoot, retire to load, and repeat. The obvious disadvantage of this tactic is that it made the cavalry an immobile target and hence quickly fell into disuse.  Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1594-1632) considered the technique useless and ordered his cavalry, under Swedish command, to abandon the method in favor of the technique used by the Polish-Lithuanian cavalry, that is, an aggressive charge at high speed.

    Cannons were often used in battle during the period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but it was not considered the major choice of weapon. It is interesting to note that the first recorded use of gunpowder in Europe was in 1248 when the Moors laid siege on the city of Seville. By the 16th century, cannons had developed into a great variety of lengths and bore diameters. Some barrels exceeded 10 feet in length and weighed over 20,000 pounds (9,100 kg) making it necessary to use large amounts of gunpowder to fire stone balls just a few hundred feet. By the end of the 15th century technological developments made the cannon more mobile. However, despite the increase in maneuverability, cannons were still slower than the rest of the army. For example, a heavy English cannon required 23 horses to transport it and many more men.  Despite the power wielded by a cannon shot, they were slow, unwieldly, and lacked organization and tactics.  Pike and shot (pikemen and arquebusiers) were still the order of the day. But as firearms increased in usage, the use of the pike was decreased or abandoned altogether.  (In Part I: The Ottoman Turks used cannons during the Battle of Vienna (September 11, 1683)  but were unable to breach the city walls.)

    16th century artillery

    June 20, 2011

    Great Polish Warriors: The Winged Hussars Part I - Famous Battles

    History is filled with tales of great, heroic warriors of epochs long ago. Among them were Alexander the Great, whose empire spanned from the Ionian Sea to Asia Minor, was much lauded in life as after his death for being the greatest military mastermind the world had ever known. His desire was to reach the "ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea". Hannibal was a Carthaginian military commander whose most famous battle was the Second Punic War (218 to 202 BC). He led his armies in a spectacular march across the Alps, conquered Italy and consolidated his control over the Roman heartland for the next fifteen years. And Julius Caesar, whose conquest of Gaul reached all the way to the North Sea. In 55 B.C. he conducted the first invasion of Britain, a victory which ranked him as the greatest military leader in the ancient world.

    But fate took its turn with each one: when Alexander the Great attempted to invade India in 326 BC, a mutiny of his own troops forced him to turn back. He died three years later never having realized his ultimate goal - the conquest of Arabia.  His great empire rapidly disintegrated, and following a series of civil wars, it was transformed into a number of states ruled by his generals. Hannibal met his nemesis years later when a Roman counter-invasion forced him back to Carthage (where he was defeated by Cipio) at the Battle of Zama. On the 14th of March, 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated by 60 senatorial conspirators, an event which marked the beginning of the demise of the Roman Republic.

    These and many other brilliant military masterminds continue to fascinate the world, and have since been a source of awe and inspiration not only to historians but military leaders of each era. Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Caesar have been lauded, among others, as "gifted strategists" by men such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Duke of Wellington. In fact, military academies today still teach many of their brilliant tactics

    But in the realm of war stories, there is but one great story which has always been omitted. It does not dwell on the victories of any one leader, but rather on the succession of victories by a lineage of great and noble warriors. The greatest army ever assembled in the history of mankind was an elite branch of the Polish cavalry. They quickly developed into one of the most formidable armies throughout Europe. During the Middle Ages they struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. Their conquests surpassed that of any predecessor and their military prowess was supreme and undefeated for over 200 years.


    The first recorded evidence of hussars can be found in Polish treasury books dated 1500. Initially these troops were considered only light cavalry and were composed mainly of foreign mercenaries, called "Racowie", (in Polish) meaning "from the Serbian state of Ras".  By 1503 the Polish Sejm (Polish Parliament) decreed the formation of hussar units in the Kingdom of Poland. What began with a fledging regiment of three banners of Hungarian mercenaries quickly expanded as Polish citizens enlisted in droves. This Polish-Serbian-Hungarian regiment was at first a light cavalry and fought in wars during the early 16th century, most notably at Orsza (1514) and Obertyn (1541). However their participation was initially relegated to one of lesser importance. But by the mid-1500s during the "transitional period" they were transformed into heavier-armed hussars and it was not until the 1570s that the Polish Hussars finally came into their full glory. This was the Golden era,  when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had become one of the largest, most powerful and most populated nation in all of Europe.

    To describe the Polish Hussars as an elite branch of the cavalry would be an understatement. Most of them were recruited from wealthier Polish and Lithuanian nobility, and were referred to as the "szlachta". Each "towarzysz", or "comrade" was responsible in assembling his own "poczet" or retenue, and several of these were combined to form a hussar banner or company. In the meantime, during the 16th century, the hussars in Hungary had replaced their heavy wooden shields with full body metal armour. After the election of Stephen Batory as King of Poland (1575) and later acceptance of him as Grand Duke of Lithuania (1576), Batory re-organized the hussars of his Royal Guard to be equipped along the same lines as those of the Hungarian regiments, and equipped his men with long lances as their primary weapon. By the 1590s this transformation to heavy armor was all but complete and the Polish regiment became known as the "husaria".


    Battle of Lubiszew

    King Stefan Batory
    The Battle of Lubiszew was one of the most important battles fought during the reign of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was waged against Danzig, whose citizens refused to accept the election of Stephen Batory as King of the Commonwealth and thus ensued the two-year Danzig Rebellion. The battle took place on April 17, 1577 to the west of the town of Tczew (Dirschau), southeast of Gdansk on the left bank of the Vistula river. It was near Lubiszewo Lake and what is now the modern village of Lubiszewo Tczewskie. The Danzig (Gdańsk) army, led by German commander Hans Winckelburg von Kölln consisted of 10,000 to 12,000 soldiers, but only 800 were cavalry. In addition he brought 7 cannons, and 30 light cannons mounted on wagons. When the Polish Commander heard of the German advance on Lubiszewo, he led his soldiers in battle. Under his command were only 1,000 infantry and 1,300 cavalry.  Despite their overwhelming numbers, the Danzig army was utterly defeated by the army of Jan Zborowskik. The Danzig army lost over half of their men: 4,420 killed, and 5,000 captured. The Polish army suffered 88 casualties, and 100 wounded. In the face of attack by Polish troops, the German soldiers retreated and fled in panic to take refuge behind their city walls. The siege had begun. While the battle did not end in a decisive victory, and war raged on, the city of Gdansk did eventually come to terms with the King by the end of the year.

    Battle of Byczyna

    Sigismund III Vassa
    In 1576, following the death of King Stefan Batory, the Swedish King Sigismund III Vassa was elected to the Polish-Lithuanian throne, much to the discontent of Archduke Maximillian II of Austria who opposed the election claiming that he was the righful monarch. Thus ensued the War of the Polish Succession, by which Maximillian had hoped to defeat Poland. His attempt to conquer the city of Krakow failed. (During the Middle Ages, Krakow was regaled as the academic, cultural and artistic center of Poland. King Sigismund had arrived in Krakow on December 9 and was crowned on December 27th).

    In the Battle of Byczyna (January 24, 1588) the Archduke led his army to positions east of Byczyna on the royal road leading into Poland. With him were 5,400 infantry and 600 cavalry and he felt confident that his position on the Hapsburg side of the border would be secure enough that the Polish army would not be likely to cross it. Polish soldiers under the command of Jan Zamoyski numbered only 2,300 infantry but had 3,700 cavalry.

    Hetman Jan Zamoyski
    While the exact position of the Polish cavalry cannot be ascertained, it is known that part of the Polish right flank had advanced in the dense mist and was able to encircle Maximillians left flank without being detected. Once the mist began to clear, Maximillian realized his predicament and could not retreat to Byczyna, so he ordered an attack. However his troops, misunderstanding his command, retreated instead. Under the command of Stanislaw Zolkiewski, the Polish left wing was able to disperse the enemy.

    The Polish Hussars played a major part in this battle (even though the infantry was in the forefront).The battle was a bloody one and resulted in a rapid retreat by Maximillian's army, which took refuge in Byczyna. The Germans suffered very heavy casualties and lost their artillery and guns to the Poles who were poised to use them against the town. But before the Poles could attack, Maxmilian surrendered and was taken prisoner.

    Battle of Kokenhausen

    One of the greatest victories of the Polish Hussars took place on June 23, 1601 in the Battle of Kokenhausen. Despite overwhelming numbers, Polish forces were able to defeat the Swedish army.  In early March about 2,000 Swedish troops led by Carl Carlsson Gyllenhielm, had blockaded the town of Koknese (located on the Daugava River, between Riga and Daugavpils, currently in Latvia) and on the 1st of April had taken the town. However, they were unable to take the inner castle as it was defended by a Polish garrison.  By May 11, Polish reinforcements arrived, and under the command of Krzysztof Mikolay "the Thunderbolt" Radziwill, laid siege to the town.  By mid-June Polish ranks grew from less than 1,000 to over 4,000 troops.  At the same time, Polish forces reinforced nearby strongholds and took to harassing the Swedish units.  A Swedish relief force of about 5,000 soldiers arrived on the morning of June 23rd and attempted to break the Polish encirclement.

    The field of battle was raised along the shore of the Daugava for a distance of approximately one and a half kilometers, to a width of about half a kilometer -with the side adjacent to the river being quite steep and gradually sloping towards the field.  Gyllenhielm's army consisted of 900 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and 17 cannons.  Radiziwell gave orders to 500 of his men to maintain the siege, and he led the remaining troops afield consisting of 3,000 men, of which 400 were infantry, as well as 1,000 Polish hussars, and 9 cannons.  The Poles successfully broke through the Swedish right flank and defeated their attempt to maneuver a counterattack. 

    Their victory can be attributed to the decisive engagement of their hussars, and artillery fire.  In the aftermath of the battle, the Poles had lost 200 men, while the Swedes lost 2,000 men including almost all of their infantry.  The 2,000 Swedes who had besieged Koknese Castle, wanting no part in the battle, had surrendered to the Poles, their weapons confiscated by the Polish forces.

    Battle of Kircholm

    The Battle of Kircholm, one of the major battles in the Polish-Swedish War, was fought on September 27, 1605, (or the 17th according to the Old calendar then in use in Protestant countries). The hussars launched a devastating charge against the enemy which ended the battle in the decisive victory of the Polish-Lithuanian forces. It is remembered and celebrated to this day as one of the greatest triumphs of the Polish Hussars.. The battle was decided in all of 20 minutes!

    On the eve of battle Swedish forces and that of the Commonwealth assembled near the town of Kircholm (which is about 18km SE of current day Riga, Latvia). The Swedish forces under the command of Charles IX numbered 10,800 men and 11 cannons, and were reinforced by several thousand German and Dutch mercenaries, as well as a few hundred Scots, greatly outnumbering the Commonwealth forces.

    Jan Karol Chodkiewicz
    The Polish-Lithuanian army, led by the Great Hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, consisted approximately of 1,300 infantry, that is, 1,040 pikemen and 260 musketeers, in addition to 2,600 cavalry, and only 5 cannons. Incidentally, the Polish Crown refused to finance its army, the funds having been obtained from the personal fortune of Chodkiewicz.

    Even with numerical superiority the Swedes were at a severe disadvantage. Their troops were less well-trained (though armed with pistols and carbines), had a poorer breed of horses, and were tired after having marched throughout the night in torrential rains.  Other the other hand, the Polish-Lithuanian forces were well-rested, confident that their cavalry was superbly trained and were heavily armed with lances.  Most came from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and about 200 from the Polish Crown, the remainder of which were either mercenaries or close personal allies of Chodkiewicz.  Among these forces were also a small number of Tatars and Polish-Lithuanian cossack horses used mostly for reconnaissance.

    The Swedish soldiers were deployed in a checkboard formation in which infantry assembled into 7 or 8 widely spaced blocks, with intersecting fields of fire while the flanks were covered by Swedish and German cavalry, and cannons positioned ahead of the cavalry. In contrast, the Polish-Lithuanian forces were deployed in the traditional format: the left wing, commanded by Dabrowa, was significantly stronger, while the right wing under the leadership of Pawel Jan Sapieha consisted of a smaller number of Hussars while at the centre were 300 Hussars led by Chodkiewicz, as well as a powerful formation of reiters dispatched by the Duke of Courland.  

    Despite the 1:3 disadvantage of Chodkiewicz forces, he used a feint to lure the Swedish forces from their high position. Thinking that the Commonwealth forces were retreating, the Swedish army was ordered to attack and began to give chase, spreading out their formations as they advanced. This is precisely what Chodkiewicz had planned and at the precise moment, the Commonwealth infantry launched a full-blown attack on the approaching enemy. At this point the Hussars assumed battle formations and charged on the Swedish left flank. At the same time about 300 Polish-Lithuanian Hussars charged the Swedish infantry in the centre  to prevent them from interfering with their cavalry action on both of their flanks. Chodkiewicz then ordered his left wing and all reserves to attack the opposing right flank of the enemy. 

    Polish Hussars depicted in the Battle of Kircholm
    The Swedish reiters were driven back on both wings and the infantry in the centre was attacked from three sides simultaneously. The Swedish forces turned and ran off in a panic, their whole army having collapsed. It was at this point that the Swedes had suffered their heaviest casualties. Defeat was devastating and complete. Swedish forces had lost more than half, and perhaps as much as two-thirds of their men. Their largest number of losses occurred while retreating in the dense forests and marshes: 8,000 dead or wounded, and 500 captured. The Poles and Lithuanians were fierce warriors and spared few opponents. Commonwealth losses were only about 100 dead and 200 wounded, though the Hussars had lost many of their trained battle horses. That they suffered fewer casualties was largely due to the incredible speed of their victories, not to mention that their horses had also been a shield and protection to the riders.

    1630 painting of Battle of Kircholm, Pieter Snayers
    The Swedish king henceforth abandoned the siege of Riga, relinquished his control of northern Latvia and Estonia, made a complete withdrawal and sailed back to Sweden across the Baltic Sea.  Irregardless, the Commonwealth was not capable of exploiting their victory to the fullest owing to the limited financial resources at hand. There was not enough money for military supplies, and for incidentals such as food and fodder for their horses, nor to replace the many horses killed in battle. As a result their military campaign faltered.  In 1611 a truce was signed, but by 1617 war broke out again and four years later Gustavus Adolphus, the new Swedish king, succeeded in retaking the city of Riga after a brief siege.

    The Battle of Klushino

    The Battle of Klushino was fought during the Polish-Muscovite War between the forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Russia. It took place on July 4, 1610 near the village of Klushino (near Smolensk).

    Stanislaw Zolkiewski
    Polish forces under the command of Hetman Stanislaw Zolkiewski numbered approximately 4,000 men, 80 percent of which consisted of the famous Winged Hussars. Russian forces, under the command of Dmitry Shuisky, Andrew Golitsyn and Danilo Mezetski, greatly outnumbered the Poles with 35,000 to 40,000 men. In addition they were reinforced by 10,000 Finnish and Swedish mercenary units under the command of Jacob De la Gardie as well as French, German and British regiments. Altogether the Russians had 48,000 men pitted againsted only 12,300 Poles. Moreover, the Russians were supported by 11 cannons, while the Poles had only two. Despite these greatly disproportionate numbers, the Polish-Lithuanian Hussars had a decisive victory over the Russians due largely to the military prowess and tactical skill of the the Polish Winged Hussars.

    The Russian army, under the command of Prince Dmitry Shuisky, was heading towards the besieged fortress of Smolensk when they were intercepted by Polish forces. Soon after dawn the Poles attempted an attack but lost the element of surprise as the Russians had been able to fortify their positions in advance. In the opening stages of battle, the Polish Hussars engaged in repeated and ferocious attacks against Russian positions but without success. According to a witness, Samuel Maskiewicz, the hussars had charged about 8 or 10 times. The battle was extremely hard fought throughout the early part of the campaign, largely due to the barriers on the battlefield: it was divided by a high fence which permitted the Polish hussars to charge only through a narrow gap.

    Nevertheless, so fierce were the hussars that many of the Russian foreign mercenaries began deserting and joined the Polish forces. That event, and the fact that a large number of native Russians also began deserting their posts, greatly diminished the morale of the remaining Russian forces. Eventually, the Russian cavalry launched a counterattack but were heavily mauled by the Polish hussars. After a brief melee, the Russians broke ranks and fled in panic, suffering extensive losses.

    In the meantime, the remaining Russian forces maintained their position on the right wing but they too were overpowered by the Poles. The foreign troops on the left wing continued to put up a strong resistance for several hours but they retreated when the Polish infantry and cannons arrived. It was in their retreat that the Russian forces suffered the heaviest of casualties. There were however a large number of foreign troops who were able to make a relatively safe retreat under the protection of their long infantry pikes and find refuge in their camps. But in the meantime Polish-Lithuanian forces had surrounded two enemy camps as well as the mercenary camps in the forest. Though the Russians still had one fortified camp with able-fighting men, having larger numbers were no consolation to them in the face of the invincible Polish Hussars.

    "Then when there were no more of the German infantrymen harassing us by the hedge, a few troops of our cavalry, joining together, charged the foreign cavalry with pikes - those who still had them - sabers and broadswords, They, deprived of protection of the Russian soldiers and cavalry, unable to resist, began escaping back into their camp. But there too our men rode after, and hitting and hacking drove them through their own camp." (from Zolkiewskis' memoirs)

    Zolkiewski wielded his negotiating skills as deftly as his military tactics. He succeeded in procuring a surrender from the foreign mercenaries, who had already abandoned the Russians, as well as obtain their agreement to withdraw and not enlist again with the Russian Tsardom against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Several hundred of them chose to switch sides and voluntarily enlisted with the Commonwealth forces. The Polish-Lithuanian forces were able to achieve victory with ease, due largely to the poor structure of command and coordination of the Russian forces.

    The main Russian army retreated whereupon Polish forces, already exhausted from battle, took to looting the Russian camps for their spoils of war  - gold, silver, furs, military equipment, all Muscovite artillery, and the several war trophies such as flags and banners.

    Following one victory, Zolkiewski turned towards Tsarovo, whose commander, Walujew, unilaterally surrendered after learning about the defeat of his comrades at Klushino. Shortly after battle, the Russian Tsar Vasily IV was ousted by the boyars and Zolkiewski and his troops marched into Moscow with little opposition. The high-ranking Russian boyars proclaimed Polish prince Wladyslaw Zygmuntowicz the new Tsar of Russia. Though he claimed the title from 1610 to 1634 he never assumed the Russian throne.

    The Russian fortress of Smolensk was taken on June 3, 1611 following a 20-month long siege. The Polish forces suffered only 400 casualties, while the Russian casualties were 5,000 men killed or wounded.

    Battle of Trzciano

    The Battle of Trzciano, one of the many during the Polish-Swedish War, was fought on June 17, 1629. In addition to the Polish forces of Sigismund III, led by field crown hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski, were imperial troops sent from emperor Ferdinand II to aid the Polish king (Sigismund III). The latter troops were under the command of Hans Georg von Arnim-Boitzenburg and Ernst Georg Sparr. From June to August they fought against the Swedish forces commanded by King Gustav II Adolf, who supported the Protestant Lutherans of Germany and northern Europe. In the end the battle ended in a stalemate and acceptance of a truce by Sigismund III.

    Sigismund III - of Swedish descent, and Catholic, was king of both Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He sought to maintain the crown of Sweden despite being rejected by the Swedish people.He also wanted the crown of Russia. As fate would have it, Sigismund's uncle Karl instead became king of Sweden, having assumed the throne with the assistance of Russia. However, Sigismund III's plans were considerably more ambitious. He attempted to gain control of the lucrative trade routes in the Baltic Sea and repeatedly requested that Swedish king Gustav Adolph abdicate his throne as a requisite for a truce and peace negotations. Gustav refused and battles and skirmishes ensued for a number of years.

    Sigismund III Vasa received military support from emperor Ferdinand II, consisting of 5,000 infantry, and reiters. Reinforcements arrived in Prussia by late spring 1629 and led by General von Arnim and by Ernst Georg Sparr, set up camp near Graudenz (Grudziądz). Gustav Adolf had arrived in May. On June 17th, 1629 several skirmishes broke out at Honigfelde, situated south of Sztum. Gustav Adolph's army, positioned there, totalled 4,000 cavalry and 5,000 infantry all poised to fight against the Imperial and Polish forces.

    Hetman Koniecpolski
    Polish forces led by Hetman Koniecpolski and by von Arnim and Sparr fought against the Swedish rearguard at the village of Honigfelde on the Stuhmer Heide (which is now Trzciano).

    When Gustav II Adolf learned that the Polish-Imperial forces were in the proximity, he ordered the troops of the Count from the Rhine to continue marching. However, the Rhein count did not follow his orders and instead maintained his position at Honigfelde. In the meantime Koniecpolski had hordered his cossacks to advance through the forest NW of Sadowe, and his Hussars engaged in another flanking manoeuvre behinds the hills SE of Honigfelde. The last to reach the battlefied were Von Arnims reiters, which immediately formed into battle order to attack the Swedes from the front.

    As the Polish forces approached, the Swedish leather cannons began firing, and the Rheincount ordered his arquebuisers to attack them. (Both cossacks and arquebuisers
     were mobile cavalry possessing good firepower but the Germans arquebuisers soon gained the upper hand and began pushing the outnumbered cossacks back towards the forest. At this moment, the Polish Hussars arrived from their flanking manoeuvres. A few of whom had fought the Swedish artillery (and the 60 to 80 musketeers supporting them) but the majority of Polish Hussars advanced and charged upon the engaged arquebuisers.

    As the Hussars charged their flank and rear, the arquebuisers position quickly collapsed and they fled in disorder towards the north to join the rest of their army. Gustav II Adolf then arrived and helping to regroup the Rheincount, ordered a charge with the Battalion (Zakarias Paulis, and Reinhold Anreps Finnish squadrons). Much of the Battalion were so demoralised by the flight of the rearguard that they too joined the flight. Gustav II Adolf and the remaining cavalry were left alone to face the pursuing cossacks. The cossacks almost captured Gustav, but managed to escape when one of his men, Erik Soop, after having shot the attacker, threw off his harness over his head, and joined the other members of the cavalry in safety. As they approached the village of Straszewo, the situation became critical. Field marshall Wrangel was able to achieve only momentary advantage - allowing Gustav II Adolf enough time to reorganize some of the fleeing squadrons for re-entry into battle. Once again von Arnim's cuirassiers and Konieckpolski's hussars engaged in a full charge and once again the Swedes were thrown back. The Swedes proceeded to withdraw to Pulkowitz where the Gardescuirassiers and Streiff's squadron had taken up defensive positions, while their infantry and artillery continued towards Neudorf, taking up defensive positions at a river crossing. During their retreat, they were hotly pursued, but as they neared Pulkowitz, the Streiffs squadron began a counterattack, thereby relieving the beleaguered troops.

    The Swedes and Poles had reached a deadlock, until von Arnim once again caught up with his cuirassiers and turned the battle against the Swedes. Again the Swedes withdrew, this time to Neudorf where their infantry and artillery had taken up positions. From there the Swedes were able to easily hold off the tired Polish-Imperial cavalry until nightfall. The next day was without event, and the Swedes were able to withdraw and make their way to Marienburg.

    During the battle, 300 Poles were killed. Casualties suffered by the Swedish cavalry were higher, about 600 killed and 200 captured by the Poles, including many high ranking officers. Despite these losses the Swedish infantry remained somewhat intact.

    Koniecpolski's troops launched further attacks on July 15th and on August 9th, both of which were repelled. The battle had come to an end, and a truce called.

    Battle of Khotyn

    In one of the most famous battles of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth occurred on November 11, 1673 when forces under Hetman Jan Sobieski defeated the Ottoman Empire led by Hussain Pasha.  It reversed the misfortunes of the previous year and permitted Sobieski to win the royal election and become King of Poland.

    The Turks had under their command about 35,000 troops and 120 guns, but were no match for Polish-Lithuanian forces at 30,000 strong.  In battle, the rockets of Kazimerz Siemienowicz were used against the enemy to great success.  It lead to a resounding victory which allowed the Poles to abrigate the unfavorable Peace of Buczacz.  It set the stage for the role Sobieski would play in the Battle of Vienna.

    Kazimierz Siemienowicz
    Kazimierz Siemienowicz was a Polish-Lithuanian general and military engineer and had excelled at artillery, gunsmith, and a pioneer in his time in rocketry. He published Artis Magnae Artilleriae in 1650 expounding on his development of rocketry and pyrotechnics, which by the way, remained a standard work in these field for over two hundred years.

    Khotyn Fortress in what is now western Ukraine

    Battle of Lwow

    The Battle of Lwow took place near the city of Lwow, (currently in Western Ukraine) on August 24, 1675 between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire.

    In the summer of 1675, 20,000 Turkish troops under the command of Ibrahim Shyshman crossed the Polish border and began a rapid march towards Lwów along the banks of the Dnister. The army was composed mainly of Turkish infantry and cavalry with numerous Tatar detachments.  In order to face this assault, Polish King Jan III Sobieski commanded that his troops take positions in and around Lwów, while more reinforcements arrived. Upon hearing of the increased concentration of troops the Turkish commander sent a detachment of about 10,000 men of the Tatar forces to try to stop it.  The Polish king assembled about 6,000 men, of whom 1,700 where Hussars. The remaining army consisted of infantry, dragoons and light cavalry.

    By early morning on August 24th, Polish reconnaissance units observed Turkish columns quickly approaching the city of Lwow from the direction of the village of Gliniany (currently Hlyniany). The main road leading to the city passed through this area, a plain surrounded by swamps on both sides. Just before reaching Lwow the road passed through hilly terrain. Sobieski predicted that the Tatars would have to reach the road by either of the two narrow valleys located nearby.

    So he decided to split his forces. One unit of 180 infantrymen, 200 light cavalry and several cannons were placed in the easternmost area of the ravines leading to the road to Lwów. Most of the heavy cavalry took the road itself, directly behind the valleys and the plain. The left flank of his forces was guarded by 200 Hussars positioned in the village of Zboiska. The remainder of the light cavalry and infantry guarded all the other approaches leading to Lwow, in case the Tatars outflanked the defenders and attacked the city from other directions. The remaining taborites and civilians were ordered to assemble on the hills surrounding the plains and were given spare lances by the Hussars in order to create the impression that the number of Polish troops was much higher.

    The Tatars arrived on the plain at noon - precisely as Sobieski had predicted. The Turkish commander was convinced that a large group of Hussars were hiding in the woods on the hills, and he ordered his cavalry to reach the road through one of the ravines. The Polish infantry ambushed them and pushed the Turks back by a counter-attack of light cavalry. Meanwhile, Sobieski ordered all troops that had been guarding other approaches towards Lwow, to join the main forces advancing along the road.

    Michal Kazimierz Radziwill

    The Hussars, numbering 1700-strong were joined by three banners (that is, 300 men) of the Lithuanian light cavalry under the command of Hetman Michal Kazimierz Radziwill. Sobieski ordered the cavalry group to advance through the unguarded western gorge. The ravine was relatively narrow making it impossible for the Turks to outflank the Polish and Lithuanian cavalry while on the move. Upon reaching the plain, Sobieski commanded his troops to form a battle line and ordered a cavalry charge which he led personally.

    In less than 30 minutes the battle was over. The Turkish lines were broken and its infantry surrounded, with their cavalry in full retreat.
    The pursuit lasted until the dusk.

    Battle of Vienna

    The Battle of Vienna was the most important of all the battles in Europe in the 17th century and marked a crucial turning point in the balance of power between European Christendom and the Ottoman Empire. For 300 years the struggle between the Ottoman and Habsburgs dynasties ensued as the Turks swept across the continent and conquered territories throughout southwestern Asia, North Africa and central and southeastern Europe.  Vienna had long been coveted by the Ottoman Empire as the means to control the trade routes through Europe - from the Black Sea to Western Europe, and from the eastern Mediterranean to Germany, and with it the world.

    Map of Vienna Fortifications
    The first siege of Vienna took place in 1529 though the city fortifications only barely provided enough resistance from attack.  However, the Turks abandoned their campaign only due to epidemics and an early winter. During the years leading up to the second siege, the Ottoman empire concentrated its efforts at logistical preparations, such as the repair and building of roads and bridges leading into Austria, as well as stocking logistical centers with ammunition and equipment.  Meanwhile Vienna had already constructed a massive fortress around its city with eleven bastions and surrounded by a moat. It permitted the city to sustain itself for at least two months.  Apparently, a state of peace existed between the Habsburgs and the Ottoman empire for 20 years before the Ottoman empire attempted another siege.

    The second siege came on July 14th, 1683 when the Ottoman army invaded Vienna and on the same day demanded their surrender. The troops and citizens of Vienna refused to capitulate and instead began to burn down many of their houses in the effort to create a clearing from which they could easily fire upon the approaching Turks.  However the Turkish commander Pasha was able to overcome this problem by ordering his troops to dig long lines of trenches into the city, thereby providing adequate cover for his advancing armies.  The Ottomans had 300 good cannons, but none were able to penetrate the massive city walls, so instead they dug tunnels under the city walls and blew them up with large quantities of black gun powder.  To further extend hardships, the Ottomans cut the food supply into Vienna.  However the greatest danger to the Viennese troops was that of fatigue, so much so, that the commander Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg ordered any soldier who was found asleep on watch to be shot.

    By September 6th, the Polish army led by King Jan III Sobieski had crossed the Danube river 30 km north-west of Vienna at Tulln.  There he joined the Imperial forces and troops from Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Franconia and Swabia. (French troops of Louis XIV declined to provide assistance, and used the opportunity to attacks cities in Alsace and parts of Germany.)

    During the early part of September, over 5,000 Ottoman sappers descended upon the outer walls of the city, and one by one blew up large portions of the walls: the Burg bastion, the Lobel bastion, and the Burg ravelin, creating enormous gaps in the wall 12 m in width. (Ottoman forces totalled 30,000 to 40,000 men while the Habsburg-Polish armies totalled 84,400.) The Austrians desperately tried to circumvent the bombardment by digging their own tunnels to no avail.  In a matter of days the Ottomans managed to breach the city walls and occupy the Burg ravelin and the Nieder Wall.  Now the Austrians had to prepare for a fight in Vienna itself.

    After a two month-long siege, the Ottomans attacked at 4:00 am on September 11, 1683, the battle continued on to the next day.  Austrian and German forces moved forward. Pasha launched a counter-attack using most of his forces, planning to use his elite forces in a simultaneous attack on Vienna. His intention was to take Vienna before the Poles arrived, but time was running out. The Ottomans prepared one last detonation to breach the city walls, and resealed the tunnel.  But later that afternoon, an Austrian  "mole" detected the tunnel, entered and diffused the load just in time.

    Meanwhile, above ground, the Polish infantry had already launched a massive assault on the Ottoman right flank and after twelve hours of fighting, the Poles held the high ground on the right. The Holy League cavalry had been watching the infantry battle for the entire day, all the while waiting for the order to attack.  Finally at about 5:00 pm, King Sobieski gave the command and the cavalry attacked in four group formations. The first was Austrian-German, and the other three were Polish. Twenty thousand horsemen charged down those hills, a maneuver planned and led by the King of Poland.  He was at the head of 3,000 Polish Winged Hussars.  In the confusion, the cavalry headed straight for the Ottoman camps, while the remaining Vienna garrison sallied out of its defenses and joined in the assault.

    The Ottoman troops were exhausted and demoralised following their failure to capture the city. The arrival of the cavalry, in particular the Polish Hussars, were instrumental in turning the tide of battle against the Ottomans, sending them into retreat to the south and east. With the intervention of the cavalry, it took less than three hours to win the Battle. It saved not only Vienna but all of Europe. 
    Casualties for the Ottoman forces were very high; at least 15,000 killed and wounded, and at least 5,000 men captured. The Habsburg-Polish forces sufferred casualties of 4,500 killed and wounded.

    After the battle, Sobieski paraphrased Julius Caesar's famous quote by saying "Venimus, Vidimus, Deus vincit"

    "We came, We saw, God conquered"