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Great Battles #12 -poltava 1709 (rise Of Russia)

Discussion in 'Military History' started by Austerlitz, Oct 31, 2016.

  1. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    POLTAVA 1709 -RISE OF A NEW POWER

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    BACKGROUND :

    Expansion of the Swedish Empire -


    Sweden,the largest of the scandinavian powers began to grow in power from the late 16th century taking advantage of the relative power vaccumm in the baltic.Between 1560 and 1658, Sweden created a Baltic empire centred on the Gulf of Finland and comprising the provinces of Karelia,Ingria,Estonia and Livonia.
    Under the famed Gustavas Adolphus and she gained land from russia and poland,then participated in the thirty years war in germany.Sweden gained tracts in Germany as well, including Western Pomerania,Wesmar the Bremen, and Verden. During the same period Sweden conquered Danish and Norwegian Provinces.The kings after gustavas adolphus maintained and expanded sweden to her apogee in the late 17th century.Western and central europe paid scant attention,absorbed as they were in desperate attempts to ward off the hegemonistic advance of Europe's new superpower -France and her 'Sun-king' - Louis XIV.

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    These conquests turned the baltic into a swedish lake,she controlled entirely the fur trade with west and also Hemp- a key ingredient of sailing ships which was the lifeblood of the royal and dutch navies.

    Consolidation Of Russia - Swedish aggrandization had come at a cost to many,among them was the nascent russian state.Taking advantage of russia's political disunity and chaos during the 'time of troubles' Sweden had seized Ingria early in the 17 th century cutting off russia's access to the baltic and making her trade dependant on swedish mercy.It also locked russia out of contact with the west.Finally She was united under Czar Romanov in 1617.The subsequent czars were not powerful enough to challenge the baltic superpower of sweden alone and her army,which along with Louis XIV's french bluecoats were at this time considered the finest in europe.In 1694 Peter,the new russian czar(future peter the great) began to rule russia as an independent sovereign(A regent had ruled in his name during his adoloscence).At this time Russia was a country with vast potential ,both in manpower and natural resources but very much backward in both science and industry.The russian people were shared with the rest of europe only their religion and physical apperance,culturally they were closer to their steppe neighbours and their dress and customs reflected this.In western europe too russia was considered a semi-barbarous medieval outpost on the periphery of europe.(Infact on the french court's roll of kings of europe, russian rulers are not even mentioned before the very late 17th century).Peter sought to change all this.

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    Pyotr Tsarevich,the future Peter the great.Extremely tall at 6'8'',but thin in stature he aimed at implementing sweeping modernization and reformation of russia in education,manufacturing industry,scientific knowledge,shipbuilding and westernization of culture.He faced much opposition to these policies at home, but brutally suppressed any and all rebellions against his authority.Impulsive,farsighted, brilliant and brutal(a russian czar was unlikely to survive attempting reforms otherwise- but killing his own son may have been excessive) he was to change the face of russia forever.He went on a grand tour of western europe early in his reign for months where he personally inspected and learnt shipbuilding and industry in the netherlands and england.His experience impressed upon him the backwardness of contemporary russian science and industry(here vast resources were untapped and there was little if no industry) and he further strengthened the modernization process importing specialists from the west.

    He understood that for russia to modernize she needed maritime outlets and thus shed her status as a landlocked prisoner of the continent.Her only outlet was the port of Archanglesk which was frozen half of the year.Sweden controlled the baltic,The ottomans the black sea.Peter waged a prolonged war over the Port of Azov on the black sea and finally managed to capture it.Recognizing he lacked strength to make any further advance into ottoman territory he conducted a truce with them.However Azov didn't turn out to be as useful as he had hoped as Istanbul sitting at the entrance of the black sea still controlled all entry and exit into and from it.Peter now turned his attention to the Baltic and sweden.He knew that the russian state at its current position couldn't challenge sweden alone,but also that sweden had many enemies.He thus waited for a suitable oppurtunity to present itself.

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    (Carolus Rex - The Last Viking)

    THE GREAT NORTHERN WAR :

    In 1697,sweden's reigning monarch died succeeded by his 15 year old son Charles XII.During the first couple of years of his reign he spent most of his time hunting and ball-dancing giving the impression of a playful boy.Sweden's rivals sensed an oppurtunity.After adequate preparations and behind the scenes diplomacy, in 1700 King Frederick of Denmark, King Augustus of Poland (Elector of Saxony) and Czar Peter of Russia joined in a coalition and simultaneously attacked sweden intending to dismemeber the swedish empire.. Frederick attacked Holstein, the duchy allied to Sweden by marriage; Augustus attacked Riga acting as Elector and not King. Russia lay siege to the Swedish garrison at Narva on the Gulf of Finland.The Great Northern War had begun.

    This is as far as the allies calculations went to plan.For the 18 yr old 'boy king' turned out to be a military genius.He took direct command of the army and crossed the baltic to face his enemies.He was never to return.First he descended upon denmark's forces dispatching them in a mere six weeks,Augustus of Poland at this surprise lightning assault hastily withdrew from Riga.Thereafter,inspite of winter and minimal rations charles force marched an army of just 8,000 effectives and met the russian army of 37,000 at Narva.In the subsequent battle Peter's army got a full taste of swedish shock tactics.Aided by a snowstorm 8,000 swedes routed the whole russian army killing 10,000 and capturing another 20,000 for just 600 losses.It was one of the most stunning victories of the era.

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    Swedish Glory at Narva

    Contemptous of the russian performance at Narva he didn't bother to follow up his success and instead focused his attention to Poland.The years 1701-1707 would see a complex series of diplomatic and military initiatives and actions both in Poland and in the Swedish territories along the Gulf of Finland.Charles fought several battles-always outnumbered,always victorious.This continous string of victories finally brought augustus to heel,he lost the throne of poland and was forced to break his alliance with peter.In 1707 with all but one of his enemies crushed,Charles seemed poised to win the war.He was unbeaten in the field of battle and hailed at once as the 'alexander of the west' and the 'madman of europe' - for his youthful age and his practice of accepting battle against any odds.At his side stood the largest army he had ever led into battle 40,000 veteran swedish soldiers.

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    Meanwhile Peter had not been idle.He had regrouped his forces and modernized and reformed his army.Then the Russians proceeded to gradually grind down Swedish resistance along the Gulf while Peter simultaneously saw to the construction of his new capital of St. Petersburg on what was technically occupied Swedish territory.Peter then sued for peace, but success and memory of russian military weakness had made Charles complacent .Instead of moving along the coast to retake the lost strongholds he decided to settle the affair once and for all. He answered he would discuss peace terms when he took Moscow....

    Next: The OPPOSING ARMIES
     
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  2. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    THE SWEDISH CAROLEAN ARMY

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    The Development of the Carolean Army -

    The origins of charles's superb army were in the foundations laid by gustavas adolphus 'the founder of modern warfare'.Sweden's main problem was its acute manpower shortage.Almost every adult male was sent to battle and yet she was usually heavily outnumbered.To partially solve this issue the new allotment system was introduced in the 1680s.This essentially was a intricate conscription system that made a collection of farms obligated to supply a soldier with equipment to the king.Those farms having to support the horses of the cavalry recieved a tax reduction.In this way sweden ensured a standing army of 25,000 men and 11,000 cavalry at negligible cost to the treasury.Mercenaries and foreigners were common in swedish service.Sweden was rich both due to complete mastery of the baltic trade and due to her rich iron and copper mines and could afford them,but they were employed to fill up the ranks rather than as frontline shock troops.The allotment system allowed quick mobilization and with troops already trained and acquainted with their equipment.Also due to the territorial nature of the forces soldiers had good bonding.

    Discipline and Religious Fervour -

    To compensate for the lack of manpower and resources sweden strove for innovative ways to make an effective army. The successful path of innovative military ideas was in fact the only way Sweden managed to achieve a great power status.Strict discipline was necessary in the Carolean army to allow its very offensive tactics.To attain this steadfast discipline, the army had very strict rules.Religion was used as a tool for keeping the morale high amongst the troops. Not only within the army religion was used for military purposes, but regular priests also preached about the virtues of serving the crown and being a soldier in order for young men to join the army. Within the military, priests often participated in battles to raise morale amongst troops.Just as spain was the standard bearer of catholicism,sweden was considered the sword arm of protestant christianity. The Carolean soldier was told not to fear, since if God meant him to die, he would die no matter if he dodged the bullets or not.The swedish berserker tactics required this type of fatalist fearlessness.On top soldiers had strict rules of conduct with theft and looting forbidden,interrupting a prayer,taking god's name casually and rape punishable by death.After the battle of narva many soldiers believed that God had sent them the blizzard that helped them to victory.Swedes considered it their duty to battle the catholic(holy roman empire,poland) and orthodox heretics(russia) and defend protestantism.

    CAROLEAN INFANTRY :



    ORGANIZATION :

    The swedish army was organized into regiments of 1200 men.Each regiment consisted of 2 battalions of 600 men which was the basic tactical unit.Each battalion had 4 companies of 150 men each.There were 3 types of soldiers.Musketeers armed with modern fast firing flintlock muskets as in the west and these formed the bulk of the troops.The bayonet had just begun to be adopted.Special companies of grenadiers who also carried grenades along with muskets.And 1/3 of a battalion was equipped with pikes,an anachronism in western europe which had switched to fire tactics and abandoned the pike,but remained in use for the swedish shock tactics and the russians too kept them.For close quarter fighting,the musketeers had rapiers.In their famous blue greatcoats swedish infantry were a common sight on the battlefields of northern europe.


    GA-PA TACTICS :

    It was said of Charles XII ,'He couldn't retreat,only attack or fall'.
    And indeed swedish tactics was inherently extremely bold bordering on reckless at times.When the rest of europe had switched to fire tactics dominated solely by synchronized manuevering and firing sequences,sweden relied on an entirely different approach -brutal shock tactics to end battles quickly and decisively to preserve their manpower.This unique swedish tactics - The 'Ga-Pa'(Go-on)was the standard combat technique used in the Swedish army at the time. This very aggressive tactic often resulted in short–lived battles in order to counter superior numbers of enemies.However at poltava its limitations against a determined prepared enemy would be revealed.


    In four ranks with gaps, the Swedish battalion would "smooth and slowly" march against enemy fire (which often started at a distance of 100 meters), while making their way to the enemy lines. The Swedish soldiers were first issued to fire when "you could see the whites in the enemies eyes" a range of roughly 50 meters—when the marching drums stopped the two rear ranks would fill the gaps within the two foremost ranks and fire a salvo .At this range it was a horrible experience for the enemy soldiers- they would see the hammer cock, and looked directly into the aiming eyes of the caroleans; at this range it was no longer a gamble, it was execution by firing squad.

    After the first salvo they would draw their swords. The two rear ranks would then fall right behind in their previous position and the two foremost would close the gaps after which the battalion would resume their attack. The two foremost ranks then discharged a second lethal salvo at a point blank range of roughly 20 meters before drawing their swords and the charge began. At this range, the powerful muskets usually felled many enemy troops and was highly demoralizing to them. Directly after the volley the Swedes charged the enemy ranks with pikes, bayonets and rapiers. Note that the pikes were used as an offensive weapon: in close combat they had the advantage over their foes' weapons thanks to their range, it often happened that complete ranks of enemies ran before physical contact, frightened by the long pikes and the fact that the morale of the battalion could calmly withstand their fire.The pikes were concentrated on the centre of the battalion.


    Fire support and combined arms - To give fire support grenadiers would lob grenades from the flanks even as the attack proceeded with pikes in the centre.Also supporting regimental artillery would set up at close range and pour shot into the enemy ranks.Below -the combined arms assault on the enemy lines.

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    Method to the Madness - The tactic was not random,it hinged on excellent observation of contemporary military tactical practice.Either the enemies fired by platoon,rank or all together - a common reload was in the end necessary, during this reload—which took in practice around 1 minute to finish—an opponent could calmly march 80 meters and run 150 meters (on one minute). This means—with the effective range of fire of roughly 50 meters—that the first line to open fire on 50 meters or above, made for a vulnerable target to the incoming enemy line which marched calmly, steady and fired at a more effective range. The Gå–På–method was based on these simple mathematics.Essentially the enemy was allowed the initial volleys at more ineffective ranges ,but the swedes would not only get the next one at crack range but also close to brutal hand to hand combat before the enemy line gained its balance.(remember here that in the swedish method in the first volley only the rear 2 ranks fire,and the second salvo the 21 foremost ranks -so reload is not necessary)

    Modification -
    By 1709 the tactic had been further modified .The slow march was replaced by running.Also now the rear ranks would fire the first volley at point blank 15-20 meters and no longer fall back but instead draw rapiers or charge with bayonet with the whole line.The foremost 2 ranks would immediately follow the rear ranks salvo and join the melee assault as well.

    Tactical formation -
    Apart from the common line,column and square.Swedes also made good use of the spackad formation against cavalry.

    NEXT :SWEDISH CAVALRY
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2016
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  3. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    SWEDISH CAVALRY

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    Cavalry was the premier offensive arm of the carolean army,swedish cavalry eschewed the caracole tactics of western europe and from the traditions set by gustavas adolphus prefered speed and shock with an emphasis on disciplined charges with sabre.The cavalry consisted of 2 types - the heavy cavalry kavallerie and the medium cavalry dragoner(dragoons).


    The heavy cavalry were armed with a heavy rapier for close combat duty from horseback ,2 pistols,a carbine(small musket) and a cuirass protecting the upper body and back.These were mounted assault troops.The dragoons which were technically mounted infantry had a rapier,2 pistols and a flintlock musket with a socket bayonet.He lacked body armour.

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    (Swedish Rapiers & Trabant Guard Cavalryman)

    Charles discouraged and even forbade the use of pistols on the charge,relying instead solely on cold steel.Trabant were a famous squadron 150 men manned entirely by officers who rode into battle with king,much like Alexander and his companions.Always at the forefront,of the 147 who entered the Great Northern War only 14 returned to Sweden in 1716.

    Organization:
    The swedish cavalry were organized into regiments like the infantry.The Swedish cavalry regiment consisted of roughly 1,000 men, divided into four squadrons of 250 men each. The squadron was the tactical unit of the Swedish army and consisted of two companies of 125 men each.An important distinction from other western armies was the heavy proportion of cavalry in swedish armies -half of the army was cavalry.Cavalry was divided into national horse and dragoon regiments, with one squadron of Trabant Garde (Royal Yeomanry Guards) and a corps of nobles (adelsfanan). In 1685, a royal decree specified a special test for the blades of cavalry swords: they were bent in both directions, and the flat was struck hard against a pinewood plank. The blade was stamped only if it passed this test.

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    Tactics :
    The Swedish cavalry was, just as the infantry, fighting in this extreme aggressive manner (also called the "Carolingian manner"). Prior to battle, contrary to the rest of Europe—which during the time would form in linear formations up knee to knee—the Swedish cavalry would form up in stretched wedge formations in two or three ranks, knee behind knee to successfully achieve the most clustered cavalry battle array possible in order to get a more fierce impact on the enemies. To achieve this, they had thrust rapiers which would further increase the shock of the charge. The squadron would usually not use any of their pistols during the charge, only cold steel. In 1704 a regulation was made, disbanding the pistol completely when charging . In 1705 another regulation was made, in which the cavalry would ride in trot during the initial phase of the attack and then full–gallop (which was the fastest possible speed) prior to the impact.Above u can see the swedish wedge formation.This required high discipline,more so than the linear formation and could achieve devastating results.The formation originated with the ancient thracians ,was made famous by alexander's companions,and was regularly used by persian cataphracts as well as byzantine ones.The swedes were historically the last to use this formation as the close clustering made it more and more vulnerable to rapidly developing artillery technology,and it also required heavy discipline to maintain.

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    (position of the officers and their subordinates in a swedish squadron charging in wedge,they are strategically placed to exert maximum control)

    SWEDISH ARTILLERY :

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    Artillery during this era was still an arm in development,small in quantity and relegated to strictly a supporting role.Nevertheless since the time of gustavas adolphus sweden had been one of the pioneers in cannon technology.Charles entered russia with a small but modern and effective artillery arm.Composed of 12 and 6 pounders plus 4 pounder regimental pieces.However his personal almost religious devotion to shock tactics meant that he neglected and disregarded his artillery arm.Only the regimental field pieces with a direct infantry fire support role were thus employed properly usually by him.(see fire support diagram in infantry section in previous post).Charles believed heavy artillery slowed down his army.Thsi was to prove a blunder at Poltava.

    Next:The Russian Army
     
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  4. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    THE RUSSIAN ARMY

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    THE OLD ARMY OF THE 1690s -

    On assuming power peter had inherited the old style muscovite army,which was increasingly outdated and a lumbering slothful mass by and large.The infantry was divided into the streltsi and some foreign style foot regiments of dubious quality.Of the cavalry were the noble cavalry and the cossacks.Conscription was also used to get levies during military campaigns.These armies could make slight and painful advances against the ottomans and suffered occasional igonimous defeats to them and the crimean tatars.
    The core of the old army were the streltsy- a 45,000 strong corps of men divided into 22 regiments -16 of whom were based in moscow.They were the closest russia had to a standing army.Unfortunately this force had become something like a praetorian guard,its economic and political activities more important by the day than its military competence.They were increasingly obsolete.It was with these forces that peter fought his earlier campaigns against the tatars and turks.


    The Guard regiments - In 1682 the child peter 10 yrs old moved to the royal lodge at Preobrazhenskoe away from moscow,here he played wargames for the next decade with a group of friends and increasing number of officers/foreign experts that were added from the army.These play soldiers were increasingly organized into companies and finally regiments.Under the guise of roleplaying however these were increasingly practising large and complex manueveres.By the 1690s Peter organized these companies into the first 2 russian guard regiments -The Preobrazhenski and Semenovski regiments with czar peter becoming its 'first colonel'.(A tradition to be followed by all czars till 1917).These guard regiments were fanatically loyal to peter,trained to western practices and were to become the model of peter's new army.Their first major action was at the disaster of narva in 1700,where only these 2 regiments in the whole army showed any ability or resilience.Subsequently these regiments were to become the foundation of the later russian imperial guard - celebrated during the napoleonic wars.(the soviets reintroduced the guards title to exceptional battle formations during ww2)

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    New Model Army of 1700 - One of the cornerstones of peter's vision for a new russia was the formation of a modern army on western lines.This conflicted with the entrenched interests of the streltsy and the moscow regiments revolted in 1698.Peter crushed them and now had full freedom to carry out his reforms.After the revolt the only standing army in russia consisted of 2 'old' regiments in moscow,the 2 guard regiments and the provincial streltsy regiments that had stayed loyal.To increase the manpower he issued a proclamation for volunteers who would recieve some pay and freedom from serfdom.While this would provide considerable available manpower still more was needed.This conscription of serfs was required.Each district of the orthodox church within the empire had to produce 25 men.By 1700 these were assembled and given a 3 month training course.
    Then the total of 32,000 men were divided into 27 foot regiments each numbering between 950 - 1300 men.These were subdivided into 3 grand divisions under princes Repnin,Golovin and Weide.2 were mustered around moscow and the third on the tatar frontier to the south.Thus these 27 line regiments,plus 2 guards regiments were the army of foot with which russia entered the debacle at narva.These could be aided by the remaining provincial streltsy regiments.The disaster of narva exposed the short training times of these conscripts.Losing over 25,000 men peter's situation would have been dire if charles pressed him then,but he turned towards poland.Peter now determined to remedy the existing situation as soon as possible and make full use of this respite.

    Post-Narva Reforms - Peter's first task was to rebuild the army.23,000 survivors and repnin's 10,000 men division in the south gave him the base .Making full use of russia's manpower pool,and a proclamation for mandatory military service he rapidly expanded the army and by 1705 the foot army numbered 47 line regiments,2 guards and 5 regiments of grenadiers.The provincial streltsy regiments were gradually assimilated into the line regiments.The voluntary enrolment scheme was abandoned as it endangered control over the serfs.The army gradually gained experience in smaller actions aiding their allies in poland and began to win several small victories when outnumbering the swedes.In 1702 peter wrote -

    A victory over a swedish army of equal strength came at kalisz 1706 and marked a considerable increase in its morale and self-image.At poltava peter's army was to show charles just how much they had learned from narva.(note though that none of these victories had come against the main swedish army under charles himself.Charles was as yet unbeaten.)


    RUSSIAN INFANTRY -

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    In 1700 each infantry regiment consisted of 2 battalions,each of five companies.Only the guard regiments had four battalions.The regiments numbered around 1000-1300 in strength.They consisted of flintlock musketeers,pikemen(1/5th strength in emulation of the swedish model) and small numbers of grenadiers.
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    Almost all of the regiments commanded by a colonel were led by foreigners(saxons,scots) as officers trained in the western standards were as yet not sufficient in number in peter's newly reformed army.In general leadership was not particularly high class as many of these were rejects from european armies.Peter tried his best nonetheless to purge any incompetent officers and time servers.From 1708 the single grenadier company that was attached to each line regiment were now detached and all the companies converged into a total of 5 grenadiers regiments.Only the guard regiments retained their grenadier companies.

    At the beginning of the invasion in 1709,each battalion consisted of four companies .Each company had about 150 men.The grenadier companies of each regiment had been consoplidated into seperate grenadier regiments.

    The russian serf soldier by nature coming from a background of enormous hardship was stoic and inured to the privations of war to a large extent.Courageous and extremely durable especially in defense he was to prove a formidable adversary for charles and his neo-viking berserkers.

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    Tactics - The russian army was in its infancy and detailed tactics had not yet matured.Yet lessons had been learned from actions against the swedes.Massed firepower was now prefered to counter the swedish shock ga-pa tactics.Field fortifications would be used whenever possible to blunt the swedish frontal assaults.Battalions formed up in four ranks with pikes in centre.Firing was based upon the dutch or english systems.Either fire by rank or fire by platoon.Poltava was to show the application of several of these concepts.

    Next : Russian Cavalry and Artillery.
     
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  5. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    RUSSIAN CAVALRY

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    Pre-Peter Cavalry -
    The cavalry arm peter inherited was not impressive .It consisted of thousands of 'noble cavalrymen' - Essentially consisting of minor russian noblemen and the boyars with their retainers.These feudal like contingents had low discipline and minimal co-operation and are described by most observers as a 'sorry multitude'.Added to this regular cavalry was the irregular cavalry of the cossacks.Cossacks however were only recently intregrated into the russian empire and their loyalty was still suspect.They also restricted their military service mostly to southern campaigns against the tatars and turks.At narva the noble cavalry performed miserably,being seized by panic at the assault of the swedish cuirassiers and fled even without engaging.After this peter gradually began to phase them out.

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    Peter's Dragoons -

    In 1699 peter ordered formation a new cavalry arm of dragoon's on western lines armed with carbines,muskets and sabres .By a combination of conscription and drafts of already serving cavalrymen from the existing units 2 of these new dragoon regiments were raised in time to take part at the battle of narva.Here they were igonimously routed by the swedish heavy cavalry.Given the even more miserable performance of the noble cavalry,peter didn't lose heart but began to rebuild his mounted arm with patience.

    The first were called Schneewanz and Goltz, after their colonels. After 1708, regiments were named for their places of formation and recruitment.
    They were organized according to the infantry model, in 10 companies of 120 men. Every regiment also had three three-pound cannon. In 1704, an additional company of 140 grenadiers was added to the dragoon regiments;in 1711, these were organized in three regiments of mounted grenadiers.Until the mid-eighteenth century, Russian cavalry rules envisaged units dismounting and fighting in infantry squares; this was a throwback to the dragoons' infantry training. The reason for this was that Russia lacked large numbers of heavy horses, which were later bought from Germany for the forming of cuirassier regiments.The noble cavalry were phased out and more and more dragoon regiments raised .By poltava peter had at his disposal no less than 37 dragoon regiments.

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    A russian dragoon regiment composed of 5 squadrons originally each of 2 companies of 100 men each for a total of approx 1000 men per regiment.A reorganization was attempted to create a 3 squadron regiment of 4 companies each for a 1200 man regiment,but this wasn't implemented wholly in time for poltava.Apart from line regiments some of the more experienced troops were concentrated in horse grenadier regiments.During the Great Northern War (1700-21), Peter introduced two large dragoon formations: one under General Menschikov, consisting of 11 regiments, the other under General Golitzin, 10 regiments strong. The king thus had at his disposal large corps of mounted infantry armed with artillery and all that was needed for independent action in Russia's vast expanses.

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    Equipment and Tactics -

    Dragoons were meant as all-purpose versatile horsemen who could double up as mounted infantry.They were invaluable for scouting,harassment and in employing peter's scorched earth policy before poltava.Weaponry included muskets/carbines,flintlock pistols.When dismounted the dragoons fought as regular infantry.Mounted tactics relied on firepower lacking the superb discipline of the swedish horse.

    Dragoon regiments formed up 3 deep with a frontage of four or five companies(half a regiment).They rode at a trot to 30 paces and discharged their firearms ,then they closed at a trot with pistols and sabres.Since charging at gallop while holding formation required excellent discipline this was not attempted,instead reliance was placed on firepower to disrupt the concentrated swedish 'chevron' wedge style formations of horsemen.

    Cossacks -Apart from the dragoons were the irregular cavalry of cossacks.Excellent scouts,raiders,pursuers and harassers but as yet of little battlefield value.

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    RUSSIAN ARTILLERY


    Peter in contrast to charles paid deep attention to his artillery arm and the result was that by poltava russia possed a numerous and strong cannon force.It consisted of 68 3 pdr light guns integrated into the line infantry regiments for fire support.13 2-pdr light horse artillery- a unique innovation attempted first by the russians.8 pdr guns as the main calibre.And 12 12-pdr heavy guns plus siege mortars of higher calibre.

    (Artillery calibres with roundshot ammunition.For artillery tactics consult plz battle reports 10 and 12.Remember that artillery ammunition doesn't include heavy explosive shells which came into use in 1850s but solid iron balls for physical damage by hurling them using the force of a controlled gunpowder explsion via fuse)
    Peter would use these guns to devastating effect at poltava.He would prove himself superior to charles as an exponent of artillery.

    Next: The campaign begins.
     
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  6. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    CAMPAIGN BEGINS - CHARLES MARCHES ON MOSCOW

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    Charles's main war goals were to reclaim his baltic holdings and achieve a lasting peace on this russian front.He hoped to achieve this without further devastating the baltic provinces by making them a battleground.His initial aim would be to drive out the russian forces from east poland and then penetrate into russia itself.Once into russia though he would face 3 choices -
    The northern route to retake the baltic provinces culminating in an attack on st petersburg.
    Or the central route through smolensk -the road to moscow.
    Finally the southern route to ukraine where he perhaps could enter into an alliance with the ottomans or any dissident cossacks.
    Initially charles chose the second option as it would avoid baltic states becoming a battleground,but more importantly charles wanted to secure a lasting triumph over peter,and taking moscow-right into the heart of the enemy,this go for the jugular approach was consistent with his personality.

    Peter's main objective as can be discerned from his letters seems to centre around his obsession to defend his new capital at st.petersburg.Poland was to be a buffer where the russian advance elements would employ scorched earth tactics and draw in and exhaust the advancing swedes.After that peter was prepared to employ scorched earth as far as moscow itself to wear down the swedish army.Charles had no idea of peter's weakness for st.petersburg,had he understood the czar's obsession with holding his new capital at all costs,he may have opted for the northern route and co-ordinated it with a pincer strike from finland and swedish livonia by swedish forces there.The result of such a campaign may have been very different.However charles was never much to bothered about reading his enemy and chose his own path.

    [​IMG]
    In late august charles rode out from saxony with his forces,entering poland where russian advnace force led by peter's foremost lieutenant prince menshikov fell back employing scorched earth policy.Crops burned,livestock killed or diverted and wells poisoned.Swedish army 44,000 strong crossed the vistula river in the final days of 1707.(see the rivers on the first map)From vistula they headed towards grodno,taking a seemingly inhospitable road south of east prussia through forests and thus bypassing the russian defences as well as staying away from the burned wasteland that the russians had prepared for them.Here charles faced guerilla resistance from the local peasantry over requisition of food stocks,which were dwindling among his army's supply train.Crushing this nuisance charles moved forward to grodno.Peter joined menshikov at grodno and abandoned the city to continue the retreat.His army was screened by coassacks and dragoons.Swedes continued into lithuania by mid-february 1708 charles asked general Lewenhaupt to prepare his forces in swedish livonia and join him with 12,000 men and a full supply train by mid-summer.The supply train was essential as though casualities from the scorched earth policy had till then been minimal,charles's army was beginning to feel the pinch.Charles then abruptly moved north towards minsk where the area was relatively intact.Here the swedes halted and rested for 3 months - replenishing their stocks and gathering information.Meanwhile charles detatched a contingent of 5,000 men to return to poland to maintain swedish influence there and secure his rear.This reduced the army to 38,000 men but also shortened its logistical burden a little.

    THROUGH THE 'RIVER GATE' OF SMOLENSK -

    By mid-june charles resumed his march.35,000 + swedes were concentrated around grodno and minsk.The 50,000 strong russian army was forced to be more dispersed -they had to cover both the route to moscow and towards st.petersburg.The russian forces were strung out behind the river lines of the Dvina and the Dnieper-berezina.Here charles' prime minister advocated a drive towards st.petersburg by a rapid attack.Done with enough speed this could overwhelm the defenders on the northern route seperated from the russian forces in the south by geography.However charles opted to march in between the opening left by the 2 rivers around smolensk.A river gate.(See map u'll see the 2 rivers don't meet but bend away creating a gap without a defensive river line north of smolensk.)Through this route charles envisioned a march on moscow along the highway from smolensk.Tentative russian peace offers were rejected by him-

    To which Peter is supposed to have said -

    On 6 june charles marched with the intention of crossing the berezina,russian advance guard of 8000 cavalry around borisov hovered menacingly to disrupt any crossing.Charles sent a diversionary cavalry detatchment to pin down this force and crossed unhindered further south.His original plan was to swing round and trap the russian cavalry,but atrocious weather and rain allowed the russian cavalry to disengage.Now advancing on smolensk ,the swedish army reached the village of Holowczyn.Defended by extensive field fortifications it was clear that this was the main russian defensive position in the sector.No means of outflanking the position were available.As the swedish army assembled charles planned his battle.

    THE BATTLE OF HOLOWCZYN :

    [​IMG]
    As charles reconnoitered the russian positions on the other bank of the vaubitch he made an important discovery.There was a gap in the russian lines between the divisions of repnin and shermetiev.The cause of this was the presence of a extensive marshy land that was regarded as impassbale by the russians and left undefended.Charles resolved to force this gap by making a surprise crossing and then take repnin in the flank and roll up his line.It was a daring plan,if the russians could contest the crossing in force before bulk of charles army could redeploy on the solid ground beyond the marsh the result could be disastrous.

    1.Extensive russian field fortifications and earthworks behind which 24 battalions of repnin's division lay in defense.Behind him on his left rear in the woods remained Goltz's russian dragoons.His immediate left was anchored by a village.Sheremetiev's 18 battalions were some distance off,again in a wooden area.The marsh seperated them.

    2.On the evening of 3rd july the swedish guns under bunow begin to deploy facing repnin's right to silence the russian guns,bombard the entrenchmenst and provide cover for the crossing.

    3.In the dead of night under cover of darkness,charles leads his forces across the water and into the other bank.At about 2 am this operation begins,immediately bunow's guns begin their barrage.Charles however doesn't manage to completely surprise the russians,the sentries on the bank fire warning shots when they see the swedish engineers and soldiers about to make the crossing.

    4.Even in darkness,charles leads the swedish infantry with the guard regiments in the vanguard across chest high water.Russian artillery opens up but the swedes come on.Repnin understands the danger and sends for help from sheremetiev via dispatch.The darkness causes much confusion in communications.

    5 and 6.Swedish commander sparre manages to deploy his forces on solid ground after doggedly struggling through the marsh.The swedish soldiers are bit fatigued but they have made it.Meanwhile charles deploys his other division on solid ground as well ready to now make a move.The swedish cavalry is also plodding across trying to gain a foothold.
    Repnin redeploys some of his battalions and extends and bends his right flank to halt the swedish advance.However many russian troops are still in the entrenchments.

    7.Charles sees a space for him to conduct a flanking movement and expose repnin's already extended right flank.The swedish infantry move to exploit this oppurtunity.

    [​IMG]
    1.The russians initially hold their ground but as charles makes his flanking move and repnin's front is in danger of being rolled up.He orders a withdrawal into the woods and to buy time for sheremetiev's arrival.bitter confused fighting rages till 7AM in the darkness and amongst broken woody terrain.

    2.Finally swedish pressure begins to tell.Russian problems are compounded by shortage of ammunition and they begin to withdraw hastily.The battalions on the sides manage a steady retreat being aided by the woods-but the centre battalions collapse and are routed.

    3.The swedish cavalry are now across and depolying under creutz.

    4.While the swedes have broken repnin's line,their infantry is now scattered and vulnerable.Goltz aims for this disorganized and exposed mass.A timely charge from the flank would reverse the tide of the battle at this juncture.

    5.Rheinskold ,leading the vanguard of the swedish cavalry however is not idle.He has moved up his squadrons to support the infantry.

    6.Goltz's dragoons almost make it to the swedish infantry,but are instead intercepted by rheinskold's horse.Initially the swedes are outnumbered and in peril ,but as more and more squadrons enter the fray goltz's situation becomes difficult.Finally the household cavalry of the swedes break through.The rear squadrons of goltz's force attempt a last ditch intervention but are caught in order of march before they can redeploy and routed.Goltz's cavalry withdraws in disarray.The wooded terrain and forests prevents any kind of organized pursuit.

    7.Finally sheremetiev's leading battalions make an appearance,too little too late.He can do no more than cover repnin's retreat.The battle of holowczyn is over.

    [​IMG]
    Aftermath :

    While the crossing operation had been masterly with glimpses of alexander's famed operation at the hydaspes- gains on the ground for charles were not as impressive.It had been a pyrrhic victory.Russian losses were about a 1000 killed and 675 wounded to swedish losses of 267 killed and about a 1000 wounded.However many of the swedish wounded would subsequently die from lack of medical attention.Much of the russian forces had escaped intact and not before they had given a good fight.There was no mass panic flight like narva.But charles had succeeded for the time being in his original objective,the road to moscow through smolensk was now open.

    Causes of russian failure - -

    Faulty tactical deployment ,the russian commanders seem to have assumed without deep thought the marsh was impassable.They seperated their own army for charles to exploit.They had underestimated the audacity of charles.

    Poor communications and sheremetiev's slothful movement - Poor co-ordination between the russian commanders and sheremetiev's dragging his feet led to russian forces being unable to be reinforced despite being present closeby.The darkness added to the confusion.

    Lack of strategic reserve - There seemed to have been no mobile reserve that could be employed in an emergency.Thus when charles managed to outflank repnin's right ,there was no force available to counter the move and withdrawal became inevitable.

    Despite this however,the russian army remained almost wholly intact and capable of contesting swedish movement towards moscow.Holowczyn marked the first episode of the campaign,round 1 had gone to the swedes.

    NEXT : Battle of lasnaya.
     
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  7. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    ROAD TO POLTAVA

    [​IMG]

    After holowczyn on 3rd july,charles entered mogilev on the 8th(see above map for locations and movements)Meanwhile peter took personal command of his army and regrouped the russian forces.Charles meanwhile awaited four weeks near mogilev collecting supplies but more importantly awaiting general Lewenhaupt with 12,000 men and his vital supply column.Charles's supply situation wasn't yet dire,but agaisnt the russian scorched earth tactics he couldn't make the long march to moscow without the supply column.However the removal of swedish forces from livonia allowed peter to concentrate on the defense of moscow,now that an attack on st.petersburg -his worst nightmare was out of the picture.Charles made limited movements to force the russian army into battle and also to cover lewenhaupt's approach route.
    Both armies manuevered inconclusively,charles trying to bring the russians to battle and peter avoiding it and always keen to cover smolensk and the main road to moscow.On 31 august the russians surprised the swedes in a skirmish near smolensk and a brief but bloody encounter ensued.Russians withdrew when charles brought up reinforcements having lost 700 to 300 swedish losses.However the swedish commanders noted the much improved morale and performance of the russian soldiers with foreboding.

    Peter too had noted the increased proficiency of his army and was pleased.
    ''I have never seen our soldiers keep up such a heavy fire ,or maintain such order in operations''

    However peter continued his fabian strategy avoiding battle.Russian cossack cavalry raids began to harass the swedes.One such raid almost captured charles himself.Meanwhiel charles supplies were dwindling and his scouts brought news of only endless burnt countrysides.Lewenhaupt's column was now key to the advance on moscow.However there was still no sign of it.Unable to stay in one place to lack of supplies and unable to advance charles decided to change direction and move to the southwhere he expected relatively intact country.His main aim was to keep his army alive and steal a march on the russians to the severia region.(see map)The army marched on 15th september.The main towns in the area were pochep and starodrub which he required.However the swedish advance guard commander hesitated and failed to take the town when it was undefended,giving the russians an oppurtunity to garrison both.Meanwhile without supplies,charles army suffered horribly among the marshes and woodlands on the march.The previously 35,000 men now reduced to just over 25,000.The continous attrition of scorched earth was now beginning to take its toll.By 6th october charles had camped his army in the severia region and gained a short respite when news reached him of lewenhaupt's column.

    BATTLE OF LESNAYA

    [​IMG]
    Peter had noted the gap that had opened up between the 2 swedish forces( lewenhaupt's incoming column and charles's main army )due to the swedish southern movement by charles's army,and planned to exploit it.Leaving sheremetiev to shadow charles,he took command of 10 battalions of his best infantry mounted on horses,ten regiments of dragoons and 4 batteries of horse batteries in a 'flying column' capable of extremely quick movement due to its all mounted nature and decided to engage lewenhaupt before he could join charles.This total force numbered around 11,700 -more or less equal to lewenhaupt's 12,000 men column.Peter however also ordered general bauer to reinforce his flying column as soon as possible with 3000 dragoons.

    Lewenhaupt marched with 7500 infantry and 5000 cavalry escorting 1000 supply wagons.On being made aware of charles's move south and peter's sudden appearance near him he ordered a forced march to the sozh river( see map) to secure a crossing.After a running skirmish the russian army caught up to him.Lewenhaupt sent forward the wagons guarded by the dragoons to secure a quick crossing while the rest of his army drew up for battle near the village of lesnaya to repulse peter's flying column.

    [​IMG]
    1.The russian army approaches lesnaya in two columns along the roads.Peter commands the bulk of the infantry - 2 guard regiments and 1 battalion of infantry,plus reserve of 3 dragoon regiments.
    2.Peter's lieutenant Prince menshikov commands the russian left wing with 3 battalions of infantry and 7 dragoon regiments.
    3.The swedes take up defensive positions ahead of the town,the 1000 wagons are arranged in a semicircle as a fallback position.Main battle lines clash at around 1 pm,29th september 1708.
    4.Menshikov spots a potential gap between the swedish right flank and cavalry and attempts a cavalry attack,but the alert swedish cavalry intercepts and repulses him.
    5.Encouraged at this Lewenhaupt's swedish infantry of the right centre unleash a typical ga-pa attack,even in the woooded terrain.This fierce assault nearly breaks through the russian infantry.
    6.Peter sees the potential crisis and quickly reinforces the sector with a guard infantry regiment .The swedish assault supported by 16 guns is gradually exhausted by the reinforced russian line and 30 guns.

    [​IMG]
    1.From 3;00 pm to 4;00 PM there is a lull in the fighting as both sides rest.Bauer arrives with dragoon reinforcements at around 4.00 pm.

    2.At a little past 16:00, the Swedes opened fire, with cannons positioned 600 meters from the southern forest edge, on the newly arrived dragoons, who were then attaching themselves to the Russians' left flank. The Russian dragoons under Bauer then—without awaiting orders from Peter I—charged against the Swedes, supported by most of the other Russian troops. The open terrain gave the Swedish army opportunity to closely coordinate its infantry and cavalry, an advantage which they gratefully seized. Repeatedly, Russian front troops retreated from infantry Ga-Pa shock attacks only to find themselves under immediate attack from the rear by Swedish cavalry. However, this could only be a temporary advantage in view of the Russian reserve strength, reportedly three battalions deep by this time, enabling an irresistible grinding advance.Russian attacks gather pace,the swedes are severely pressurized as russian numbers begin to tell.

    3.The swedes abandon their forward defenses and take shelter beyond the wagon line.The Russian right flank moved to secure the sole bridge across the Lesnjanka in order to prevent the flow of Swedish reinforcements across it, while seeking to trap them with their backs to the river. However, the bridge was ferociously defended and the Russians were beaten off, suffering heavy losses. At this time, both sides were inconvenienced by a snowstorm, a rare event for early–October, even in Russia. At 17:00, Lewenhaupt ordered a concerted attack which, however, was blunted by a tactic of continuous fire which the Russians had devised to counter the Swedish Gå–På onslaught. The Swedes took heavy casualties and were driven further back towards the village. Their line was also split in two, one side against the Lesnaya (east of the bridge) and the other against the forest to the west.

    4.Finally the swedish position is salvaged by the arrival of the cavalry that had been sent earlier to find a crossing.The all–important bridge was on the brink of being taken when it was saved by the arrival of 900 Swedish dragoons from across the river, whose fierce onslaught drove the Russians back.At 19:00 when night fell, the Russians left the field and drew back to the forest fringe. The Swedes stood in their battle formations for several hours, expecting a night attack which did not come.

    [​IMG]
    Both sides were exhausted and in no position to gain decisively the next day,but lewenhaupt seems to have been mentally demoralized by his situation.For a few hours the Swedes remained in their positions in case of a renewed attack and to convince the Russians that they intended to stay. Subsequently Lewenhaupt decided to withdraw his army under the cover of the darkness and continue on his march against Propoisk. Each unit slowly made its way across the stream as they were covered by the remaining units. During this progress, a number of wagons broke and partially blocked the road where the Swedish artillery was moving down, so it was decided a number of these would be sunk in the mud (to prevent them falling in Russian hands) as they were hard bringing in the rapid march. Having successfully crossed the stream with all his troops, Lewenhaupt continued towards Propoisk. However, this withdrawal was the beginning of the end for a large part of his army.Despite the difficult condition, having men lost in the woods during the march, the Swedes reached Propoisk, only to find that the town and bridge had been burned down.There were also no suited material for building a bridge. The Swedes saw the risk in having the Russian army pursue them from behind and so Lewenhaupt decided that everything that could be carried be taken from the wagons, subsequently the whole wagon train was burned and the bulk of the essential supplies within.

    [​IMG]
    Seeing the fruits of their labour going up in flames,at this point discipline and morale in the swedish ranks who had held on grimly all day broke down.Looting and drunkenness took place.In the night march among the broken terrain order collapsed and the force degenerated into a disorganized mass.With morning this now fleeing mass came under relentless attacks from swarms of cossacks.500 were cut down,and thousands surrendered.Lewenhaupt rallied the remnants and led them on charles's footsteps.But there could be no mistaking the volume of the disaster.Not only was the whole wagon train gone up in flames,and with it charles hopes of a renewed march on moscow and new supplies for his army.

    Russian losses had been quite heavy ,over 6000 men.But for the swedes it was a strategic catastrophe.1400 cavalry,4500 infantry,the entire artillery and vitally the whole supply train was gone.Lewenhaupt's mission-to bring the supplies to charles had ended in total failure.Charles came to know of the debacle 2 days later.Peter was elated .He called lesnaya the 'mother of poltava'.Indeed Lesnaya had been a turning point,the tide had turned against charles.The battle of lesnaya shows the importance of logistics in the planning of a campaign.

    Next:The Battle of Poltava.
     
  8. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    [​IMG]

    THE RACE FOR UKRAINE :
    Charles's original plan of a renewed march on moscow was no longer feasible after lesnaya and the destruction of the supply column.Now one more option remained for him.Mezappa,the rebel ukrainian cossack leader had declared for him in ukraine.He promised supplies and reinforcements.Charles believed he could camp and rest his army in the friendly territory and also replenish it with allied manpower.Meanwhile the nearby ottomans could be persuaded to join in the struggle against russia.To this end the swedish army marched north and into ukraine shadowed by the russians.

    Peter had not been oblivious of his adversaries plan.The race for ukraine was on,while blocking detatchments harassed and delayed the swedes,Menshikov made a rapid march with a all-mounted 'flying column' and reached mazeppa's capital baturin just before the swedes.The russians stormed the city and seized it.After burning it down and all stores of supplies within it,with the swedes just 4 miles away menshikov-his mission accomplished,slipped away.Charles had yet again been deprived of a main potential supply base.Mazeppa now had only few scant recruits to offer him.

    [​IMG]

    THE RUSSIAN WINTER :

    Winter had now come.And it was worst winter in living memory in europe's history.Horses and birds froze in trees and fields,even the warm water port in venice in italy froze up.For troops of both sides only safety against the icy winds of death were the few towns and villages.They were fought for with grim and brutal ruthlessness out of the urge for bare survival.(note that swedes didn't suffer as horribly as the french and the germans from the cold as the scandinavians were themselves very used to cold climates)Charles attempted desperately to secure winter quarters for his army.The russians too were determined to keep the swedes bottled up,peter wanted to nip any chance of a swedish drive on kharkov and kursk in the bud which would open the road to moscow.Russian cossack raids continued.To counter these charles attacked veprik,a cossack fort nearby which was used as a base.Held by 2 infantry battalions,400 cossacks and a few guns.3000 swedes assaulted the fort but were repulsed with heavy losses.By the time the fort surrendered to ammunition shortage,the swedes had lost a 1000 men killed and wounded.The manpower problem was now becoming critical.

    The new year came,but the bitter on and off fighting continued.In early january in another cavalry skirmish charles defeated menshikov and his raiders .Finally having weathered the winter in march the swedes shifted their main base of operations near kiev.Russian forces were concentrated around kharkov.Meanwhile charles attempted to convince the ottoman sultan to join him and also carried on negotiations with the zaprozhye cossacks.Peter's reaction was swift and alert.The russian ambassador at Istanbul secured an armistice with the turks and lightning russian raids destroyed the supply bases of the zaphrozye cossacks.Charles was isolated.Charles awaited any reinforcements from poland,concentrating his army around poltava aiming for a drive on kursk.The swedish army proceeded to besiege the small garrison at poltava.

    As the siege continued,charles was wounded on the foot by a musket ball in a russian raid.He was not seriously injured but incapacitated.This injury meant he would be unable to lead his forces in person during the upcoming battle and the swedish army would be deprived of his charismatic leadership.

    Meanwhile the russian forces on 16th june, made a crossing north of poltava.Due to the confusion caused by the king's injury and subsequent fever,swedes didn't attempt to push them back.The whole russian army crossed over and rapidly constructed a fortified camp just 4 miles north of poltava,in a position to seriously impede further swedish operations.Given the proximity of the armies,a decisive encounter was now inevitable.


    [​IMG]

    THE BATTLE OF POLTAVA

    INITIAL MOVEMENTS :

    The battlefield was largely shaped by terrain.Bulk of the russian army lay in a fortified camp(reverse basket shape) on the western bank of the river vorskla.
    Swedish forces besieged poltava's small garrison.
    Between the main swedish army and the russian camp two heavily wooded areas flanked the the battlefield.The budyschenki woods on the left and the yakovetski woods on the right near the river.,both were relatively impassable by ordered linear formations to advance through.
    To the north marshy land near the stream marshy land known as the great ouvrage marked the northern boundary of the battlefield.
    This meant that the main swedish army could attack the russians in force only through the gap between the two woods.Peter understood this.Here he built a line of six fortified redoubts to cover the gap and slow down any swedish attack.These square or rectangular structures consisted of a ditch ,a parapet and were protected by artillery and spaced no more than 150 metres apart.
    However peter had begun building even more intricate field fortifications.A series of 4 new redoubts were built perpendicular to the earlier fort line in front of them.2 of these were as yet incomplete.They were positioned in such a manner that if the swedes bypassed them and attacked the second line of redoubts they would have move directly past these with their flanks exposed and open to devastating enfilade fire from russian cannon.If the swedes attacked these redoubts head on,they would have to take them by bloody assault and meanwhile be exposed to fire from the second line of redoubts.It was a mutually supported defense system designed to blunt and grind down the swedish assault.

    Russian forces were deployed in the following manner - 25,500 infantry and 73 guns in the fortified camp.
    1000 foot and 1000 cossacks as an early warning scouting force in yakovetski woods
    guarding the southern approach to the camp.Another screen of cossacks served guarded the budyschenki woods against any swedish flanking movement.4000 infantry and 16 heavy guns garrisoned the central redoubts.

    The swedish plan decided upon by charles and his generals relied on surprise,bold movement and confidence in superiority of the swedish ga-pa assault tactics in aggressive combat.8200 infantry in 18 battlalions were available for the main attack.To support them would be 7800 cavalry.The baggage train was guarded by 2000 cavalry.Another 1000 irregular cavalry faced the russian outposts on the yakovetski.A further 1100 infantry besieged the garrison.1800 more cavalry,incluidng mazeppa's cossacks were strung out covering the river bank.

    The swedish attack was to be led by Fieldmarshall rhenskold though charles had nominal command.Rhenskold commanded the cavalry while Lewenhaupt,the infantry.The swedish plan required the infantry formed up in the cover of night in 4 columns facing the russian fortifications.Just at dawn they would assault and sweep through the redoubts.Rheskold's cavalry would then follow through and rout menshikov's dragoons covering the path to the main russian camp.Then the swedish infantry body would assault the main russian camp where the russian army crammed into the small space would be unable to use its numbers.Meanwhile rhenskold's cavalry would go north and cut off the russian retreat route over the fords.If all went to plan another narva like massacre would follow.

    However this plan made certain assumptions.
    One that the redoubts could be taken without any problems.
    Two that the russian dragoons beyond the redoubts(see map)could be routed .
    Three ,the main russian army would remain immobile in its camp and the russian entrenchments could be overrun as at narva.

    At 3:45 Am the swedish assault began.The original plan called for the 2 centre columns to take the perpendicular forward redoubts by storm while the 2 outer flanking columns on each side moved on and attacked the horizontal redoubts.However the subordinate commanders had not been clearly briefed on their exact roles and confusion arose.
    At first things went to plan.Both the first 2 incomplete redoubts were stormed and all the defenders slaughtered.However in the melee elements of the third coloumn led by Roos got intermixed with the 4rth column and continued towards the second redoubt line.(see swedish attacks on the redoubts on map).

    Problems began on the third complete larger redoubt.This was defended in strength and supported by a full artillery battalion.Two succesive swedish assaults came under withering fire and were repulsed with heavy losses.The battle for the 3rd redoubt began to suck in more and more swedish troops.

    Meanwhile Lewenhaupt leading the reinforced 4rth column on the right approached the second redoubt line and tried to flank it.He found menshikov and 9000 russian dragoons barring his way.At this the swedish cavalry was called up.

    [​IMG]

    The swedish cavalry launched two strong charges at the dragoons,but on each occasion the russians held firm.The supporting horse artillery played its part to repulse the attacks with superior firepower.At this point Peter ordered menshikov to withdraw his dragoons which menshikov was loathe to do just yet.However a third massed attack by the swedish cavalry finally forced the russian cavalry to retreat into the safety of the redoubts.The attempts of the swedish cavalry to pursue were met by heavy fire from these redoubts.At this point Lewenhaupt's infantry joined the attack.The Horizontal redoubt line was attacked from 2 flanks and slowly squeezed,but with heavy losses.Unable to withstand this combined arms attack the russian cavalry now conclusively withdrew and began to stream northwards towards the Tachtaulova stream and the great ouvrage marsh.The swedish cavalry conducted an pursuit but the russian retreat was ably covered by screens of cossacks.

    Meanwhile Lewenhaupt's infantry struggled through the second redoubt line eventually taking them and then proceeded to regroup and reorganize his forces on the plain beyond the redoubts and deploy for the attack on the main russian camp.Charles was with Lewenhaupt.Lewenhaupt had this point some 10 battlalions left.However General Roos,leader of the 3rd column and six battalions were missing-still back at the 3rd redoubt engaged in a desperate contest.Lewenhaupt moved to storm the russian camp,but rhenskold recalled him-he rightly understood with just over 5000 infantry and no cavalry he stood no chance storming the camp alone.Rhenskold recalled his cavalry from pursuing the russian dragoons(see movement in map) and to join the infantry.They moved north to regroup and redeploy beyond a depression(seen in map,dark lines in a arc).The swedish forces awaited roos to join them.
    Using the respite the russian cavalry regrouped on the other side of the stream.

    [​IMG]

    THE PLIGHT OF ROOS :


    Roos's force consisted of a third of the whole swedish infantry but had managed to get bogged down and isolated in the 3rd redoubt.Roos had followed his original orders for the inner columns to storm and take the perpendicular redoubts but didn't possess the vision or initiative to recognize that such a move was now redundant.Instead all six battalions around 2600 men were hurled into futile assaults that failed again and again,the dead piling up on the ditches.Finally after losing 1000 killed and wounded Roos had had enough and at about 6:00 am withdrew incredibly towards the yakovetski woods on his right.He had absolutely no idea where the main swedish army was,and this was a serious error as now his force was completely cut off from charles .
    Peter pounced on this opening.A force was dispatched from the camp to surround and annihilate roos.General rentzel led five battalions of infantry that swiftly reoccupied most of the redoubts and then attacked roos's withdrawing force from the front.Meanwhile five dragoon regiments sent to support Rentzel swung south west and attacked the swedes from the rear.Caught between these 2 pincers roos's force collapsed.1100 were killed or captured.Leading a skeletal band of survivors roos attempted to withdraw towards the swedish siege works around poltava but is surrounded and forced to surrender.One third of the swedish foot was gone,and the main battle had not yet begun.

    Meanwhile noting the passivity of the swedish army which had remained north,peter held a council of war and decided to regain the initiative.Roos was by now out of the picture.His main worry remained that the swedish army would get between the russian cavalry on the stream and the camp ,then isolating the camp a shock attack could break into the camp and decimate the russian forces cramped within who would have no space to manuever-another narva.
    Peter ordered the russian army to deploy in front of the camp.

    THE FINAL PHASE :

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    Within half an hour the deployment was complete. 24 infantry battalions made up the russian first line.The second line consisting of 18 more battalions.These were supported by 55 regimental guns.9 battalions and the heavy guns remained in the camp as a final reserve.The heavy guns in the camp being able to fire over the heads of the infantry due to the elevated positions there.In all 22,000 russian infantry were now arrayed in the field.Bauer deployed 9000 dragoons on the russian right flank and menshikov 4500 on the left anchored by the yakovetski woods.The swedish commanders now understood their peril,they were pinned in with their backs to the woods and the russian army now threatened to seperate them from their baggage train.Charles ordered an immediate march south to attack the russians before they were overwhelmed.He understood outnumbered as he was,the only chance for the swedes was to attack.If they got boxed in with their backs to the woods the whole force would be destroyed.Still in all respects it was a last desperate gamble of an army that had shot its bolt.

    Lewenhaupt led his 10 infantry battlalions-4 ranks deep into the assault.They were thinly spaced to match the frontage of the russian line but were still outflanked by the length of the russian line.

    1.The swedish infantry move forward towards the waiting russians.
    2.At 500 meters the long range heavy guns begin to find their mark from the safety of the elevated positions in the russian camp.At this range damage is marginal,but the psycological effect is considerable.
    3.Meanwhile rehnskold is still in difficulty ,unable to properly deploy the swedish left wing cavalry due to the marshes there.He is not in position to support the infantry attack.
    4.The advancing swedes come within range of the numerous regimental guns that begin to devastate swedish ranks.The fire of 77 combined guns begins to sweep away whole scathes of men even as only 4 guns support the swedish assault.At 200 meters the guns switch to canister shot and the swedes are mowed down in scores.

    ''Mowed down by the thunderous russian cannon before they could find employment for their muskets''​

    5.At 50 meters all 4 ranks of the russian first line fire a crushing massed musket volley that shatters swedish ranks further.And still the swedes come on!(red arrows with forked ending depicting masseed musket fire)

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    6.At just 30 meters,in accordance with their training the swedish survivors fire a lethal volley.At this point blank range even with their reduced numbers they cause considerable losses.Then the charge begins.
    7.Creutz leading the swedish right flank cavalry attempts to support the infantry attack with cavalry charge on the russian left flank infantry battalions.The 3 infantry battalions however form a hollow square and repulse the swedish cavalry.

    [​IMG]
    1.Despite taking hideous losses,the now almost non-cohesive swedish line launches a typical ga-pa assault on the russian first line.Having taken a point blank volley followed by this charge,the russian first line begins to waver and retreats towards the second line.The swedes seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough,but creutz's cavalry needed for support has been held up.Russian numbers absorb the initial storm and slowly grind down the dwindling number of swedes.

    2.While the swedish right wing and centre had struck the russians with full force,the left wing had been disorganized by the devastating fire and lagged behind,thus creating a dangerous gap for the swedes.They face the best russian infantry-the guard regiments which now engage.

    3.Creutz is attacked by menshikov as he tries to regroup for another assualt on the square.He holds off the russian dragoons in a bitter struggle.

    4.Rehnskold attempts to aid the beleaguered swedish left wing ,but bauer's cavalry halts his progress.Though rehnskold's cavalry makes local successes he is unable to influence the main battle.

    5.Rest of bauer's dragoons attack the exposed swedish left wing and rear.The swedes no longer have nay large bodies of organized troops available to resist this attack and now the left wing collapses and routs.Lewenhaupt's attempts to rally them are in vain.
    6.The whole swedish army disintegrates as the russians engulf them.Small bands of survivors make their way to safety.Charles leaves the battlefield with part of the survivors abandoning poltava.Lewenhaupt escapes with another,lewenhaupt is chased down and forced to surrender 3 days later.Rehnskold is captured.

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    [​IMG]

    AFTERMATH:

    After the victory Peter held a victory mass and invited the captured swedish officers including Rehnskold proposing a toast to 'his teachers'.Rehnskold replied that the pupils had given a good return to their masters.

    Infact swedish army had all but been destroyed.6900 killed and wounded and a further 2800 captured.Russian losses had been a mere 1345 killed and 3200 wounded.It had been a stunning victory over an army considered among the best in europe.The remnants of the swedish army were more or less wiped out in the pursuit.Charles escaped to the ottoman empire where he failed to persuade the sultan into entering the war against russia.He returned to sweden in 1715 to continue the war.But sweden no longer had the manpower to turn the tide as denmark ,emboldened by poltava also rejoined the fight.He fought on but was killed in action in 1718 in a siege.With him ended the carolean era.In 1721 the great northern war came to an end with sweden losing most of her baltic holdings and became confined to scandinavia.The swedish empire came to an end in all but name,never to regain its position as an european superpower again.(they didn't possess the manpower to recover these territories in a future war).The politics of eastern europe would henceforth be dominated by the new power of imperial russia.Charles's disastrous russian campaign also burnt as a warning to future invaders,one that would not be heeded.Poltava remains one of the most decisive battles in history-one that marked the rise of russia as a superpower .

    NEXT : ANALYSIS
     
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  9. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    ANALYSIS :FACTORS FOR RUSSIAN SUCCESS

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    Poltava may be described as an succesful example of a defensive offense.

    GEOGRAPHY -
    Napoleon said -'A country's geography is her destiny'.Peter understood his advantage very well and used it to the hilt to weaken,attrite and finally defeat the exhausted swedish army.Charles like 2 others after him(including the fellow i just quoted) underestimated the magnitude of the problem.He lost as much of his army to attrition as to combat.He had one chance to turn peter's geographic advantage against him.By dividing the russian forces forcing them to guard both St.Petersburg and Moscow,geographically apart.However he didn't use that option.

    SUPERIOR GRAND STRATEGY :
    Throughout the campaign,peter remained one step ahead of his adversary .The tactically brilliant charles had all of his plans foiled or disrupted by russian interference.He was kept isolated both politically and militarily.Any attempts at reinforcements like lewenhaupt's were intercepted and destroyed.Any and all supply bases he could hope for were destroyed before he could make use of them.The campaign was a brilliant example of Fabian warfare.(destroy an enemy without giving battle at any but the most oppurtune time)
    ''Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.'' - Sun Tzu.
    This almost matches peter's approach in this campaign in the leadup to poltava.He kept stacking the odds in his favour,till when the final big attack came his forces so outnumbered the enemy that victory was all but assured.Had he on the other hand foolishly attempted a decisive encounter at the beginning of the campaign with cahrles 40,000 strong fresh army results would likely have been disastrous.
    FIREPOWER DOMINANCE : To combat the swedish mastery of shock tactics,the russians were able to use massed firepower effectively to blunt them.In the final Battle Peter made use of 77 guns of varying calibres compared to swedish 4.These guns played a crucial role in the defeat of the swedish assault.

    LOGISTICS: The campaign showed the need for sound logistical planning.Lewenhaupt's failed mission turned the whole campaign at one stroke.Logistics problem forced Charles to turn south earlierand he was thus unable to support lewenhaupt at lesnaya.

    UNDERESTIMATION : Charles seems to have seriously understimated the quality of the new russian army.Memories of narva may have clouded his ability to comprehend their potential.When charles set out from saxony he may not have factored in scorched earth into his plans.But after encountering this tactic consistently on reaching the russian border he still opted for a direct drive on moscow instead of the safer northern route through freindly swedish livonia.This was a case of wrong strategic approach caused either by underestimation of the enemy or arrogance.

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    BLUNDERS OF ROOS : Roos can't be faulted entirely for the debacle at the 3rd redoubt,he was originally following his orders.He main blunder was to keep the attack going even when the main swedish army had moved on and more critrically to retreat towards the woods rather than the swedish force.He seemed to have made no attempt to establish a communication with charles .Anyway Roos's mistakes and delay cost the swedes dear.The swedish army was not only deprived of 1/3rd its infantry but also wasted precious time waiting for him and gave the russians time to deploy.

    NUMERICAL INFERIORITY: In the final battle,the swedes were too heavily outnumbered to have won a straight contest in a linear attack.They were outflanked from the start.However we see no attempts at the swedish commanders refusing one flank.This could have been an useful tactic here.An oblique order attack in my view could have been possibly the only way swedes could have had a chance here.Frederick's heavily outnumbered in many battles used this tactic in his battles just a few decades from this one to success.This was one time when charles could have emulated his hero alexander.

    LACK OF CO-ORDINATION : In the battle of poltava itself co-ordination and communication between several swedish units was off.Roos lost contact with the army.Rhenskold didn't support the infantry attack.Artillery barely played a role.Even though 34 cannons were available only 4 took part in the battle.

    ABSENCE OF CHARLES:
    The absence of charles leading from the front and his charismatic leadership also may have affected swedish performance.

    USE OF TERRAIN AND FIELD FORTIFICATIONS: Peter understood and employed terrain and fortifications in a masterly fashion to channel the swedes into a hard contested fortified kill zone that ended up isolating roos.The excellent placement of the redoubts bloodied and soaked up the initial swedish surge and led to the destruction of 1/3rd of the swedish infantry even before the battle had begun.

    Sources -
    Osprey Campaign -Poltava
    Cavalry - History of a fighting Elite

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  10. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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