What was the Battle of Warsaw (1656)?

Introduction

The Battle of Warsaw (German: Schlacht von Warschau; Polish: Bitwa pod Warszawą; Swedish: Tredagarsslaget vid Warschau) was a battle which took place near Warsaw on 28-30 July 1656, between the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden and Brandenburg.

It was a major battle in the Second Northern War between Poland and Sweden in the period 1655-1660, also known as The Deluge. According to Hajo Holborn, it marked “the beginning of Prussian military history”.

In the battle, a smaller Swedish-Brandenburg force gained victory over a Polish-Lithuanian force superior in numbers, though in the long term the victory achieved little. Polish-Lithuanian losses were insignificant, since the Polish noble levy promptly retreated from the battlefield.

Background

The Polish–Lithuanian forces, commanded by King John II Casimir of Poland, comprised about 24,000-25,000 regulars, which included only 950 Winged Hussars (8 banners), 2,000 Tatars and 10,000-13,000 of the noble levy (pospolite ruszenie), altogether some 40,000 men of which only about 4,500 were infantry.[1]:173 The allied armies of Sweden and Brandenburg, commanded by King Charles X of Sweden and Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg, were only 18,000 strong, comprising 12,500 cavalry (60 squadrons), and 5,500 infantry (15 brigades), which included 8,500 Brandenburg men. Second in command of Brandenburg’s forces was Otto Christoph von Sparr.

John II Casimir ferried his army across the Vistula River and met the approaching Swedish-Brandenburg force on its right bank, about five kilometres to the north of the suburb of Praga. Charles X had initially hoped to destroy the Lithuanian and Tatar forces before they joined up with the remainder of the Commonwealth army, but this plan failed. Some officers of Brandenburg considered the Polish–Lithuanian forces to be overwhelming in numbers and instead advocated a retreat.

The Battle

First Day

Charles marched his allied army down the right (east) bank of the Vistula on 28 July and assaulted the Polish army. However, the Polish infantry had dug into a narrow corridor along the river bank, which prevented them from being dislodged.

Second Day

Charles, wheeling left, moved his entire army to the Polish right, through the Białołęka Forest onto a narrow plain, consolidating his position before the Polish hussars could react. Aleksander Polbinski’s 800 hussars drove into the three lines of cavalry, reiter, guarding the flanks of Charles’ infantry. The hussars broke through the first line but were stopped by the second line of Uppland and Småland regiments. The Cossack cavalry, the pancerna, did not participate in the attack, being held in reserve. Seeing that the Swede-Brandenburg allies held their ground, John II Casimir withdrew his army across the Vistula bridge, covered by his cavalry.

Third Day

The Swede and Brandenburg allies occupied the open plain and the Polish–Lithuanian cavalry escaped along the Vistula and John Casimir abandoned Warsaw again.

Aftermath and Legacy

The Brandenburg and Swedish allies occupied Radom on 10 August, and the Brandenburg garrisons replaced the Swedes in Wielkopolska, but then they refused to support the Swedes any further, forcing Charles to withdraw north to Royal Prussia. John Casimir quickly regrouped at Lublin.

The Battle of Warsaw is commemorated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Warsaw, with the inscription “Warszawa 30 V-1 VII, 28–30 VII 1656”.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.