Already the first engagements had displayed
a marked difference in the militarization and development of strategic
potential of the participating states. The Swedish army of the XVIIth century
was a formidable instrument of war. It was undoubtedly the best military
formation in Europe.
After a financial crisis at the close of the XVIIth century, Sweden was going
through a remarkable economic upsurge especially in military industry and
shipbuilding. Many factories, which produced uniforms and equipment, were
established by the Swedish administration. By the beginning of the Northern
War, the system of recruitment of most of the European countries was based on
In contrast to them Swedes had a regular army and also a people's volunteer
corps formed only in war time. Each Swedish rural community had to provide
several recruits, who were assembled at mobilization points. In accordance with
Gustavus Adolphus' reforms, which had been carried out in the middle of XVIIth
century, every tenth household was obliged to provide one recruit. At the same
time the whole territory of Sweden was divided into eight districts and its
population raised eight regiments of three companies each with a strength of
3,000 men. Gustavus Adolphus had reorganized and improved the battlefield
His infantry - pikemen and musketeers- formed 6 ranks, and this formation gave
a real opportunity to halt and turn back attacks of enemy forces . The cavalry
usually acted in three ranks and covered the rear and flanks of the main order.
In 1680's and 90s Swedish king Charles XI
embarked on a major military program. He established a new method of
recruitment and maintenance cost of his army, the so-called
"indelningsverkt". Swedish territory was divided into areas of equal
income, which were formed by several households-rotar. Each of them
had to provide one private-infantry man and it made them free taxes. Cavalrymen
were maintained by rotar too, mostly seven ones.
As a consequence, privates were becoming owners of small plots of land and
officers, depending on their rank, gained estates.
Additional sums for the army were taken from Ostland provinces, where the
Swedish administration was pursuing a strict tax policy. Generally this system
of maintenance and recruitment allowed Sweden to have or assemble a rather
numerous force at any time. Besides regular regiments, Sweden used mercenary
units from Germany, Estland and Inflant.
By the beginning of the Northern War, the Swedish infantry consisted of
musketeers, pikemen, and grenadiers. The line infantry regiment was formed with
a staff and two battalions, each of them having two companies. The nominal
strength of each was about 40-48 pikemen, 78-84 musketeers, and 10-12
grenadiers. The complement of the company's officers and non-commissioned
officers numbered 11. The guard infantry regiment comprised 3 battalions .
The Swedish infantry privates were armed with pikes (2.5-8 m), muskets,
flintlock smooth bore rifles, grenades, and broadswords. Sergeants and officers
had partizan, half-pikes and swords.
The basic unit of Karoliner cavalry was the two-squadron regiment, numbering
1,008 men. The whole line cavalry consisted of 9 regiments of cuirassiers and
dragoons. Each squadron was divided into four companies. The guard cavalry
init-drabants-consisted of 3 squadrons with a strength 1,600 men. Every cavalry
formation was supposed to be capable of all cavalry tasks (the charge in line,
reconnaissance, and protective duties like flank guards, and skirmishing). The
cavalry men were armed with flintlock carbines, pistols, and swords. After the
first actions, Charles XII reorganized all his cuirassier units into dragoon
regiments which acted mounted only. Nevertheless the Swedish rulers ignored the
importance of artillery, which comprised only one regiment numbering 1,800 men.
The artillery park consisted of 3, 8, and 18 pounder guns and howitzers.
Part of the battlefield artillery belonged to the infantry detachments. These
guns added to the firepower of the battalions in battle and were especially
destructive at close range. The fighting methods of the Swedish forces were
based on principles of line tactics adopted in Europe. Usually the infantry
regiments were formed into lines and cavalry covered them on the flanks .
All detachments took part both in hand to hand fighting and in skirmishing. The
main importance was attached to concentration of troops on the central
direction and Charles attempted to seek the most vulnerable point for the
crushing impetuous attack. The Swedes overestimated the significance of the
pointed weapon and to remedy the weakness of his artillery Charles resorted to
raising storm units, whose task was to break through the enemy lines by swords
and bayonets and clear the way for the rest of the regiments.
The basic objective of the Swedish strategy
was to surround and annihilate the main enemy army. Its maneuvers and campaigns
were usually short and full-scale, which was explained by using first of all
local resources Charles XII could march and dash forward and back not being
afraid of cutting off of his communications. His army moved into the enemy
country in several columns operating some distance apart.
Communications between columns usually were maintained by messengers. The
Swedish king was a commander of great ability, he had real outstanding talent
of a general and in spite of his youth he succeeded to win remarkable
victories. From his ancestors he had inherited not only the well trained and
organized army but also the basic principles and methods, which allowed them to
surprise and defeat enemy armies. All this was successfully displayed already
during the first months of the Northern War. By the beginning of which the
Swedish army's over-all strength was about 87,000 men. The Swedes had a rather
strong navy, which numbered 45 ships-of-line and 12 frigates with 13,000 men
including crew, officers, and landing party.
This power gave a real opportunity to carry out active foreign policy in Europe
and to threaten England and Holland which had a claim on supremacy on sea. It
excelled in all points the opposing navies so the Swedes could act on the
Baltic sea without any damages for themselves simultaneously protecting their
possessions in Holstein, Finland and Baltic.
The Saxon Army
At this period the Saxon Army of Augustus II
was not reputed to be a real strong military power. Its over-all strength was
only about 15-18,000 men. (in peacetime 10-12,000 men) These forces were
maintained chiefly by their allies. The Saxon units took part in wars being
waged by the Habsburg Empire, but their actions usually were restricted by the
obligation of protecting the emperor's property. Augustus's army was mercenary
and his warriors were recruited both in Saxony and abroad, mainly in the German
states. Usually there were not sufficient volunteers who would express the
disposition to be killed for a stranger to them interests and profits. And so
the Saxon administration had to arrange the compulsory mobilization using
severe punishment but the quantity of the cases of desertion was increasing all
this time. Mostly of the Saxon regiments were militarily worthless, without
real battle experience, but with the aptitude for aversion to military
discipline. By the beginning of the war the Saxon army comprised 10 infantry
and 10 cavalry regiments, in few years 12 and 24 respectively. The Saxon
infantry regiment consisted of two battalions each of them divided into
companies with a strength of about 90 men, including 10 officers and sergeants.
There was also one separate grenadier company. At this period there were two
types of regular mounted troops in the Saxon army -- 4 dragoon regiments and 5
cuirassiers regiments. They were divided into 10 squadrons of 2 companies with
strength 70-80 men. Besides these units, there was the select regiment of royal
guard drabants with 3 companies, having a strength of 150 men. The Saxon
artillery park consisted of battlefield guns, siege mortars, and howitzers. In
common with virtually all armies of this period the Saxons attached light guns
to their infantry battalions. Artillery personnel were rather well-trained and
were formed by the 1 company of pyrotechnic 3 companies of cannoneers and
engineer subunits were represented by the ! miners and ! pontooneer companies.
The Saxon infantry were armed with flint locks with bayonets, broadswords, and
grenades (privates) and partizans, half pikes and swords (officers). Cavalry
arms comprised pistols, swords, carbines, and breastplates (cuirassiers). The
Saxons followed the principles of line tactics and on the battle field formed
their infantry in two or three lines, which were covered by cavalry and
artillery on flanks or from rear. Sometimes these detachments were placed
behind or in front of the main body. By the beginning of the Northern War the
army of Augustus was concentrated on the boundaries with Inflant, numbering
about 20,000 men with 126 cannons including mortars and field guns, but already
the first actions revealed its weakness and disorganization.
The army of Rzecz Pospolita (Poland)
In comparison with most European armies that
of the Rzecz Pospolita (United state of Poland and Lithuania) was small,
numbering only 15,000 men, but its strength could be raised by several times.
This phenomenon was based on national traditions in military formations, which
influenced the army of Augustus in many points. RP forces consisted of
mercenaries and the people's volunteer corps, which was assembled by the king
only in wartime. The important specific feature of the military structure was
the institution of the Hetmans. There were Crown and Lithuanian Hetmans, who
took part in all military actions, including conscription, provisioning, and
fighting. These were under the command of the Hetman. The Great, who carried
out the supreme command together with the king.
The general quartermaster, chief medical officers, and other officials
including the commander of artillery submitted to him. RP mercenary troops
composed of Polish and foreign regiments. The Europeans, mostly German and
Austrian units, were represented by dragoon, infantry, and arqubusier;
meanwhile the Polish comprised mostly cavalry of several types: hussars,
cuirassiers and irregular Tartars and volock units. Polish officers corps in
cavalry was represented by magnates titled noble and gentry/ shlachta/ mainly
they had not sufficient combat experience but obtaining the royal diploma they
were at head of regiments.
Usually royal military administration tried to recruit men from 16 till 45
years whose height was more than 172 cm. In contrast to most of European armies
the RP infantry regiment consisted only of several companies with strength from
100 to 900 men.
The regiment staff was formed by the titled commander, colonel, several majors,
medical officer, profos, gendarme and sergeants. The most well trained officers
and privates composed the life "leib" company. The foreign units of
RP forces looked like typical European detachments but Hungarian troops were
based on subdivisions with really uncertain strength from 50 to 200 men. Each
dragoon regiment had a special separate fray company being capable of various
tactical tasks. The Polish cavalry detachments were divided into so called
chorugvy, whose strength were the following: Hussars 80-180;
Cuirassiers 60-150; Light 40-120. These subunits were the core of the Polish
forces and represented the traditional system of relations and military
fraternity. The assembling of choruhwy was very significant both in
battle and in a campaign and even in peacetime. The so called
"towarichestva" gained ascendancy over command and composing of
project of military action. The artillery park comprised the cannons, mortars,
and battlefield guns of all calibers which were adopted in Europe that time.
The artillery personnel was well trained and fulfilled its missions. Owing to
artillery, the RP commander succeeded to supply the weakness of mercenary
infantry. The staff of artillery corps consisted of a general (his assistants
major, secretary, captains, and 2 lieutenant). During the battle, artillery and
engineer units were usually protected by dragoon fray company and an infantry
regiment. The arms of RP forces mainly were the same as it had been for the
last 25 years. The infantry men were armed with carbines, flintlocks, and
broadswords. As a result of Jan Sobieski's reforms, the pikes (2-5 meters) were
replaced with the berdysh on a short staff. Sergeants had partizans and
officers were armed with swords.
The kinds of cavalry weapons depended on the specific style of the detachment.
For instance hussars - heavy cavalry were armed with swords pistols, lances,
and nadziaks. Besides that they had helmet and cuirass. Cuirassiers mainly used
helmet, chain-mail armor, sword, and cavalry short musket. Light cavalry men
preferred to act with sabres, lances, and bow with arrows. Arquebusiers,
besides the usual kinds of cavalry arms, had arquebuse. The tactics and
fighting methods of RP forces were based on actions and massive charges of
heavy cavalry which were directed into the vulnerable points of enemy armies
formation on a battle field. It enabled the outstanding general, J. Sobieski,
to win a remarkable victory over Tartars and Turkish forces.
By the Northern War these methods had been out of date. The increased role of
artillery and gunfire curbed the significance of heavy cavalry maneuver. The
results of reconnaissance became more important for choice of fighting method.
It was clear RP should be accustomed to new modern - line - tactics which began
to prevail in Europe.
Transformation of the Russian army in the
XVII century and initial development under Peter the Great before the Northern
In contrast to Charles XII, Peter the Great
inherited a weak, poorly trained and equipped army, which was a complex and a
heterogeneous force. In spite of all attempts to overhaul this military
machine, undertaken in the XVIIth century, it still did not correspond to
modern European military standards. It was composed of distinct elements, of
which one of the most important was the streltsi. They were formed by Ivan the
Terrible in the middle of the XVIth century. Initially they were considered the
bodyguard and for the space of almost a century their units were the core of
the Russian forces. The streltsi were free from taxation, received a salary and
in peacetime might be engaged in trade and handicraft. Their service was life
and hereditary. The streltsi subunit was called a "Prikaz". From 1680
it was divided into companies led by "golova". All matters dealing
with streltsi were concentrated in the Streltsi Prikaz, which was considered
one of the most important administrative establishments in Russia. The streltsi
formation consisted of town (gorodovye) and Moscow, who had a higher
salary and some privileges. By the end of the XVIIth century, they had become
of only reduced limited military value and turned into a formidable and
influential political instrument, which was used by the opposition to youthful
Peter and his relatives. He was never in any serious danger from streltsi plots
for instance in 1682 and 1689, but nevertheless it revived his hatred of them.
Besides that, the streltsi were influenced by a feeling that they were becoming
an obsolescent force, threatened by new military developments. Finally the
streltsi rebels were suppressed and their corps abolished by 1716. Their units
were represented by infantry and mounted detachments, but there was no
principal difference of their arms. Traditionally it comprised berdysh (along
edged half-oval axe on a long staff, sabres, and muskets. The colonels of
streltsi were armed with a mace and the officers had a partizan.
The oldest and least useful part of the Russian army of that time was the
feudal cavalry recruited by means of obligation of landowners
(pomestchiki) to serve in case of war with specified number of
services. It was the main condition of their holding lands but in the second
half of the XVII century this form of property merged with the
votchina ancestral lands and obviously the impetus for giving service
disappeared. The landowners were not satisfied with their salary and their
absence from their assigned places became rather frequent. Moscow military men
formed the so-called Tzars (Gosudarev) regiment a kind of guard led by
a "golova". In 1682 this unit was divided into several companies
under the command of rotmisters and poruchics. All the Russian military men
were distributed through several military administrative districts
"razryadi", on basis of which of them had being formed separate unit
which comprised also streltsi and the regiments of formations "novogo
stroya". Moreover, feudal cavalry formations depended for many points on
several administrative institutes such as the Razryadnii Sibiria, Kazan and
other Prikazy. The arms of feudal cavalry men was heterogeneous and comprised
maces, pistols, spears, carbines, sadaks, and sometimes kniferests. Most of the
military men were poorly trained and had not the necessary martial experience.
They always wished to avoid participation in rather rare exercise and yet in
the first half of the XVII century it was clear this detachment was in need of
radical improvement or replacement.
The most efficient and modern units of the Russian army were the regiments of
new formations. The first of them were created in 1631 before the war with
Poland and later some more were formed. This corps comprised hussars, dragoons,
reiter, pikemen, and infantry of so-called soldiers regiments. Their complement
was composed of volunteers, state peasants, town people and service military
men. Partly this structure was assigned upon mobilization. In comparison with
feudal cavalry these units were better trained, but the main element of their
recruitment connected with the obligation to have service as a condition of
holding lands hampered the creation of really efficient fighting forces. This
detachments were fully supplied by the state, which promoted the expansion of
the size of financial expenditures on the military. All these formations
consisted of companies led by captains, rotmistrs, and lieutenants. The
armaments of new "foreign" regiments were the same as in the most
similar regiments in European armies. For instance, the private soldiers had
sabres, berdyshy, pikes, and arquebus. There were special subunits armed with
grenades. Cavalry men had swords, pistols, lances, and carbines. Reiters as a
rule used carbines, and swords. Meanwhile hussars preferred to act with lances
and pistols. These detachments were engaged in different actions. Hussars were
used mainly for reconnaissance and reiters were considered shock troops.
Infantry and cavalry of new formations were controlled simultaneously by
several state institutions Reiter, Foreign (Inozemny), and Dragoon
Prikazi, which were established to supervise all aspects connected with this
corps. Finally by 1682 there were 25 regiments of cavalry and 38 of infantry
and these units made up at least 2/3 of the Russian army.
As to artillery, it was divided into siege and battlefield. There were many
kinds of cannons with various calibers. The cast iron, cast brass, and iron
guns, heavy mortars and howitzers were available. The Russians attached 1, 3,
6, 8 pounder guns to their infantry, but streltsi had separate artillery corps.
The greatest change came in the second half of the XVII century.
Breech-loading, rifled-tube cannons were introduced and several factories for
gunpowder and foundries for cannon were established. The artillery was attended
to by pushkari who were recruited from town people and whose service
was for life. The artillery necessitated establishment of the
"naryad" and its main task included supply of ammunition. The Russian
artillery personnel were rather skilful and well trained and primarily owing to
them the Russian fire machine was considered to be one of the most powerful in
The separate groups of the Russian forces
were represented by Tartars and Cossacks. The last split up in town
(gorodovye), guard, and service regiments. They were supplied from the
state treasury with a salary, provisions, and ammunition. The cossacks were
established as guards along the southern frontiers. Their main purpose was to
provide adequate warning of an enemy offensive. They composed a whole system of
constant picket patrols who secured border territories and towns. Cossacks
usually acted mounted, their basic unit was the regiment with hundred's
(sotenny) division. Each of them was under the command of a
sotnick. Traditionally their arms comprised a pair of pistols, pikes,
and sabres. This peculiar military fraternity played an important role as did
Tartar units with the similar functions in the composition of the Russian
forces. During the reign of Alexey Michailovich, there were several attempts to
overhaul the military forces, regularize training, and introduce the basics of
modern European tactics. With this purpose there was translated from Danish the
work compiled by Valganzen, "Training and cunning of military order".
This document included a series of more fragmentary regulations of organization
of army and separate subunits. Besides that there were represented commentary
to various exercises and re-forming. The Russian command tried to incorporate
some of these rules into military practice, but the European influence from
this point was not sufficient to overcome traditional Russian military fashion.
For example charges of Russian cavalry were wanton, and if a squadron was
turned back it had to draw off a distance and assume the role of passive
spectator. The actions of infantry had a mostly defensive character. There were
not interrelations between kinds of arms during the battle and on campaign.
Nevertheless, Tzar Feodor Alexeevich attempted to continue the previous
military reforms. In 1680-81 a new military administrative system was
established accordingly to which the whole territory of the country was divided
into 9 districts (razryady) and all military men were assigned to it.
Then in 1682 mestnichestvo was abolished at last. It was a Russian
national ancient institution, a system of hereditary family ranks which
determined the status of service of an individual depending on the status of
his ancestors. Using the razryadni books everyone tried to prove the
notability of his origin in order to be appointed a senior officers or voevode.
Naturally such order prevented selection of officers on merit and talents. One
more reorganization was the unification of military and administrative command,
all forces of the regiment service (polkovaya sluzba) were assigned
under the command of only the Razryad, Reitars and Inozemnyi Prikazi. But in
spite of this innovation, the Russian forces were still far from the modern
military patterns. This was confirmed by the unsuccessful campaigns against the
Crimean Tartars undertaken by the government of Sofia (daughter of Alexei
Michailovich) and her favorite, V. V. Golitsyn.
In 1681 in Bachchisarai Russia concluded the truce of 20 years with Turkey
which was considered a perennial enemy to Russian rulers. Also in 1686 there
was concluded an Eternal peace between Russia and Poland. This document obliged
Russia to act against Turkey in coalition with Poland, Venice and Habsburg
Empire. The Russian government had arranged the military expedition to Crimea,
which was a strong point of the Ottomans nearby the Russian southern frontiers.
In 1687 the Russian troops led by Golitsyn himself and units of Ukrainian
cossacks set out from the river Merlo. The march set square column was formed
by the center group composed of infantry of streltsi and soldiers. Flanks and
cumbersome train were covered by artillery and cavalry. The cossacks were
placed in the vanguard, together with seven regiments of infantry. The movement
was hampered by strong heat and lack of fresh water. The Russian forces reached
the steppes, passing through Kolomak, Orel, and Samara, but constant raids of
Tartars and the deteriorating of weather forced the Russians to turn back. In 2
years the campaigns was repeated and the commander tried to take into
consideration the previous mistakes. Novogorodinsky fortress was erected as a
strong point for future advance. And the second campaign was also a failure.
The actions of infantry were wanton and irresolute. Cavalry were repulsed by
Tartars who organized a counter attack, which in its turn was halted by the
artillery and infantry fire. The project of a Scottish officer, Patrick Gordon,
who offered to use vessels to assist the main forces and blockade Perekop was
rejected. This failure became fatal for Golitsyn, he was degraded and exiled.
Link to Part 2 Great Northern War