The Battle of Kircholm - 27th September 1605


Polish Winged Hussars charge into the Swedish ranks

The Polish-Swedish War had broken out in 1600 as a dispute as to who should control Livonia and Estonia, as well as being an ongoing dispute over the Swedish throne which had started in the 1597-99 civil war. Sigismund III Vasa of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been the king of Sweden until that civil war, when his uncle, Duke Charles had usurped the crown and had himself declared King Charles IX of Sweden. The ill feeling between the two would make for a fierce conflict in the Baltic.

A number of early battles drained the Polish economy to the point that paying soldiers became almost impossible and Charles decided to take advantage of this by landing an army in Estonia with the intention of securing Riga while the Poles struggled to defend it. To add insult to injury, showing off that he could still pay for soldiers, Charles employed large numbers of Dutch and German mercenaries to swell his ranks, even a unit of Scots, bringing his invasion force to almost 11,000 men, of which 2.500 were cavalry and 11 artillery pieces.

The Polish Crown refused to contribute money to raising and army, and it looked like Charles would this time win without even fighting; that was until the Great Hetman of Lithuania, Jan Karol Chodkewicz offered to personally pay soldiers wages from his own fortune. Even so, money was not limitless and time was of the essence to defend Estonia, so after a quick assembly of forces, Chodkewicz set of to face Charles with just 3,600 men, most of whom though were the famous Polish Winged Hussars.

The two armies met at Kircholm which about 11 miles south-east of Riga. Charles's men had made a overnight march in heavy rain to reach the Poles and to grab a strong position to deploy. There was high ground overlooking Kircholm where the Swedes and allies formed up in a checkerboard formation, leaving gaps in their lines to funnel the Polish cavalry into if they charged. The Poles in the low ground below and outnumbered almost 3 to 1 didn't look to have much chance in defeating Charles, but as proud and patriotic fighters for their homeland, they were prepared to try and fight.


Suggested initial set up for the battle of Kircholm

ORDERS OF BATTLE - using a figure scale of 1 figure = 20 men


POLISH-LITHUANIAN COMMONWEALTH ARMY

Jan Karol Chodkiewicz - commander in chief - elite, veteran, tactician, inspirational leader

Polish 1st line (top to bottom)

Winged Hussars (2 units of 100 men) total of 10 figures - heavy cavalry, elite, veteran, fearless, body armour, warhorse, lance, sword, pistols

Haiduks Infantry (300 men) 15 figures - open order infantry, stubborn, veteran, solid, musket

Winged Hussars (2 units of 100 men) total of 10 figures - heavy cavalry, elite, veteran, fearless, body armour, warhorse, lance, sword, pistols

Haiduks Infantry (300 men) 15 figures - open order infantry, stubborn, veteran, solid, musket

Polish Cossacks (2 units of 100 men) total of 10 figures - open order light cavalry, trained, steady, reliable, lance, sword, pistols

Polish Artillery (5 cannons) 2 models and crew - trained, steady, muzzle loading medium field gun

Detached cavalry

Polish Cossacks (4 units of 100 men) total of 20 figures - open order light cavalry, trained, steady, reliable, lance, sword, pistols

Polish 2nd line (top to bottom)

Haiduks Infantry (200 men) 10 figures - open order infantry, stubborn, veteran, solid, musket

Winged Hussars (2 units of 100 men) total of 10 figures - heavy cavalry, elite, veteran, fearless, body armour, warhorse, lance, sword, pistols

Lithuanian Tartars (3 units of 100 men) 15 figures - open order light cavalry, skirmishers, elite, veteran, lance, javelins, sword, pistols

Polish Cossacks (1 units of 100 men) total of 5 figures - open order light cavalry, trained, steady, reliable, lance, sword, pistols

Winged Hussars (2 units of 100 men) total of 10 figures - heavy cavalry, elite, veteran, fearless, body armour, warhorse, lance, sword, pistols

Across the river

Lithuanian Tartars (3 units of 100 men) 15 figures - open order light cavalry, skirmishers, elite, veteran, lance, javelins, sword, pistols

Polish 3rd line

Winged Hussars (7 units of 100 men) total of 35 figures - heavy cavalry, elite, veteran, fearless, body armour, warhorse, lance, sword, pistols

Polish last line (top to bottom)

Winged Hussars (2 units of 100 men) total of 10 figures - heavy cavalry, elite, veteran, fearless, body armour, warhorse, lance, sword, pistols

Haiduks Infantry (200 men) 10 figures - open order infantry, stubborn, veteran, solid, musket


SWEDISH ARMY

King Charles IX of Sweden - commander in chief - veteran, tactician, impetuous

Swedish 1st line (top to bottom)

Swedish musketeers (600 men) 30 figures - trained, conscript, brittle, musket

Dutch infantry (600 men) 30 figures -trained, steady, 1/3 pike 2/3 musket

Swedish musketeers (600 men) 30 figures - trained, conscript, brittle, musket

Swedish musketeers (600 men) 30 figures - trained, conscript, brittle, musket

Dutch infantry (600 men) 30 figures -trained, steady, 1/3 pike 2/3 musket

Swedish musketeers (600 men) 30 figures - trained, conscript, brittle, musket

Dutch infantry (600 men) 30 figures -trained, steady, 1/3 pike 2/3 musket

Swedish 2nd line (top to bottom)

German Reiters (2 units of 250 men) total of 25 figures - heavy close order cavalry, trained, unsteady, trotters, pistols

Swedish Landsryttare (2 units of 250 men) total of 25 figures -heavy close order cavalry, trained, unsteady, trotters, pistols

German Reiters (2 units of 250 men) total of 25 figures - heavy close order cavalry, trained, unsteady, trotters, pistols

Swedish 3rd line (top to bottom)

Dutch infantry (600 men) 30 figures -trained, steady, 1/3 pike 2/3 musket

Scots infantry (600 men) 30 figures - trained, veteran 1/2 pike 1/2 musket

Swedish musketeers (4 units 600 men) 120 figures - trained, conscript, brittle, musket

Swedish artillery (11 cannon) 4 models - trained, steady, muzzle loading medium field guns

Swedish 4th line (top to bottom)

Swedish Landsryttare (250 men) total of 12 figures -heavy close order cavalry, trained, unsteady, trotters, pistols

German Reiters (250 men) total of 12 figures - heavy close order cavalry, trained, unsteady, trotters, pistols

Swedish Landsryttare (250 men) total of 12 figures -heavy close order cavalry, trained, unsteady, trotters, pistols

German Reiters (250 men) total of 12 figures - heavy close order cavalry, trained, unsteady, trotters, pistols

Swedish Landsryttare (250 men) total of 12 figures -heavy close order cavalry, trained, unsteady, trotters, pistols


THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

Assessing the two army's positions, Chodkiewicz could see any attack by his men would be suicidal, Charles commanded a very strong position indeed. So Chodkiewicz tried to lure him down from the heights by sending forward his light cavalry to harass the Swedes and annoy them enough to break formation. This went on for several hours, with only light casualties on both sides, but still the Swedes refused to move. It looked like the encounter would end as a stalemate, Chodkiewicz tried once last tactic, passing the order to his men to about turn and retire from the field. It was of course a feint withdrawal, but Charles fell for it, and ordered his army to advance from the heights and pursue and engage the Poles as they retreated.

As once the first two lies of Charles's army were in the low ground Chodkiewicz ordered another about turn and immediate charge of his elite Winged Hussars.

On the Swedish right flank the Poles charged into the Reiters and completely smashed their formation, sending them in an immediate rout to the rear. On the opposite flank, it was a similar story, where Winged Hussars destroyed the Swedish and German cavalry with the impact of their charge. Charles ordered forward all his remaining cavalry, but as the Hussars continued to fight, now assisted by Polish Cossacks and the Lithuanian Tartars, they too were routed at the first contact and fled the field.

The Swedish infantry were all that remained to fight, and as the Polish infantry advanced to exchange musket volleys the Swedish numbers would look to win this dual, but as they charged the Polish infantry, so too charged the now regrouped Winged Hussars into the Swedish rear and flanks, cutting them down with sabre slashes.

In fear of being completely surrounded the Swedes fled, and Chodkiewicz won the day. It was however a Pyrrhic victory. The Swedes lost so many men (about 8,000) that they withdrew back to Sweden to seek safety, however the Poles, despite only losing about 300 men, lost many more valuable trained warhorses. The Winged Hussars mounts were big, powerful and trained warhorses, who would bite and hoof the enemy, not just carry their riders, but their sheer size and bulk made them an easy target for their enemy's muskets and pikes. Their size would protect the riders, but at a sacrificial cost to themselves. The loss of so many mounts meant the Poles were unable to capitalise on their victory and follow up by completely dispersing Swedish forces in the Baltic states.


WARGAMING THE BATTLE


This period is a personal favorite of mine, ever since a "Jackanory" story on TV some 45 years ago that introduced me as child to Winged Hussars. I've loved them ever since.

There are a number of suppliers making suitable figures.

In smaller scales Pendraken make excellent 10mm figures suitable, and Essex Miniatures offer a good 15mm choice too. If 28mm is your thing, Warlord Games make a few suitable figures, including Winged Hussars, but Foundry Miniatures have a good collection with infantry etc as well.

Rules for me are a choice of two for this - DBR by Wargames Research Group, or Hussaria which is published by The Pike & Shot Society (listed on our Society's page)


If nothing else, masses of Winged Hussars look very impressive charging across the table - so give it a go.

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