"Few nations in the last 200 years
"Russia and Prussia, especially, tried to suppress both Polish culture and
have seen more military action than the Poles."
- Norman Davies, UK 1980
language and the Catholic faith. In response, the Poles developed
one of the most intense and self-sacrificing versions of
Romantic nationalism ever seen in Europe. "
- Neal Ascherson
"Russia and Prussia, especially, tried to suppress both Polish culture and
1. Introduction: A Brief History of Poland.
- - - - - - Wars with the Germans. >
- - - - - - Wars with the Mongols. >
- - - - - - Wars with the Teutonic Knights. >
- - - - - - The Rise of Poland as European Power >
- - - - - - Wars with the Russians. >
- - - - - - Wars with the Swedes. >
- - - - - - Wars with the Turks. >
- - - - - - The Fall of Poland >
2. Polish army during the Napoleonic Wars
'A short way away to our left,' writes Dupuy
Picture: Napoleon and officer Tyszkewicz in 1812.
to prove their prowess on the battlefield." - Norman Davies, UK
From popular Polish song: "Darling war, what a lady you must be
for all the most handsome boys to follow you like this"
French Marshal "Louis Davout [The Iron Marshal]
Prince Poniatowski was the only foreigner
In 1812 the Poles formed the largest of the contingents
Introduction: A Brief History of Poland and Polish Forces.
Poland lies on the great crossroads of Europe. The nation, bound and attached to the land for life and death, an industrious and peace-loving, has in the course of history had little acquaintance with peace, but has again and again been forced to take up arms in the defence of the country. The Poles have been compelled to fight almost continously.
Norman Davies writes: "Few nations in the last 200 years have seen more military action than the Poles.
In the 18th century, as in the 20th, the Polish lands regularly provided an arena for Europe's wars.
In the 19th century, they supplied the armies of three martial empires with numberless recruits and conscripts.
Yet no European nation has reaped fewer rewards for the sweat and blood expended.
As often as not, the Polish soldier has followed foreign colors. ... It is sad fact, but Poland has been
obliged by circumstances to act as one of Europe's principal nurseries of cannon-fodder.
... Private armies abounded. ... Poland-Lithuania was not short of soldiers. Vast numbers of indigent petty noblemen filled the ranks of a military caste of proportions unequelled
in Europe. But their contempt for state service, their preoccupation with private wars and vendettas, their
perpetuation of the myth of the 'Noble Host', their dislike of drill, their obsession with cavalry to
the detriment of all other branches of warfare, and their opposition to the idea of raising an 'ignoble army' of peasant conscripts,
put them at a marked disadvantage in relation to all their neighbours. ...
By 1781, the ratio of trained soldiers in the service of the state to the adult male population had reached 1:472.
The derisory statistic compared with:
The Polish forces has developed along parallel lines to those of the evolution of western european armies, although local conditions, and especially the many decades of warfare with the nations to the East - Russians, Tartars and Turks - produced certain deviations and left their own mark on tactics, uniform and weapons.
Wars with Germans.
Wars with Mongols.
Wars with the Teutonic Knights.
The loss of Poland's access to the Baltic Sea resulted in a 150-year long period of wars
between Poland and the Teutonic Order.
In 1337 Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV allegedly granted the Order the imperial privilege
to conquer all Lithuania and Russia. During the reign of Grand Master von Kniprode,
the Order reached the peak of its international prestige and hosted numerous foreign crusaders and nobility.
Between 1519 and 1521 there was another war between Poland and the Teutonic Order.
The Polish fleet started a blockade of Teutonic ports.
In the war on land the Teutonic forces were on defense, waiting for reinforcements from Germany.
Those reinforcements arrived and the Teutonic army started an offensive.
The Poles however launched a counteroffensive. Both sides were plagued by financial troubles
(German reinforcements, mostly mercenaries, refused to fight until paid).
Poland as European Power.
The military and political victories, and the development of economy and culture,
strengthened Poland and the dynasty of the Jagiellons. In the latter part of the 15th century the Jagiellons
were gaining the upper hand in the competition against the Luxemburgers and the Habsburgs.
Poland became an European power: the economy was strong, the army was excellent and the territory was huge (815,000 sq. km) Peasants accounted for some 67% of the population, burghers for some 23%, and the gentry and clergy for some 10%. Grain exports to Germany, England and other countries and the resulting trade surplus ensured Poland prosperity and a large natural increase. The XVI Century was the Golden Age in Poland's history.
The Polish army was never large but it was of excellent quality.
The infantry and artillery were fine, while the cavalry was arguably the best in Europe.
During the Golden Age the Polish troops enjoyed several spectacular victories.
Majority of them were due to the husaria or
"winged knights", as they are called in English-speaking world, or "Flügelhusaren" in German.
"In the late 15th Century the composition of the Polish army began to alter. Due to the
destruction of the Teutonic state as a major military force in the Thirteen Years War,
and Poland's increasingly close ties with Lithuania, the Polish army became more and more
involved in warfare in the open territories of the East. The heavily armoured knights,
so common in Prussia, were too cumbersome and slow against the elusive cavalries of the East
List of Polish wars 1450-1700:
The winged knights were the terror of infantry and cavalry, Swedes, Russians, Turks, and the French and British mercenaries and anyone who met them in battle. They were the tanks of XVI-XVII Century. It was said that if the sky fell the Winged Knights' lances would support it, while Maurice de Saxe, the French marshal and military writer proposed the creation of a French cavalry modelled on these knights.
There are numerous articles and books in Poland about the winged knights. The film "With Fire and Sword" drew 7.5 million viewers in Poland in 7 months, outdrawing the famous movie "Titanic." This film portrays Renaissance Poland and the winged knights in several actions. There are Winged Knights in the movie "Potop" (Deluge) filmed in 1974-5. This film had an academy award nomination but did not win.
Wars with the Russians.
In 1512, Grand Duchy of Moscow began a war for the Ruthenian lands of present-day
Belarus and Ukraine that were part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
In 1514 a Russian army of 45,000 men and 300 guns besieged and finally captured Smolensk.
Meanwhile King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, Sigismund the Old, gathered some
35,000 troops for war with Russia. The Polish-Lithuanian forces were under the command of
The Russians (40.000-80.000 men) attempted to outflank the enemy by attacking the flanks, manned by Polish troops. One of the pincers of the attack was commanded by Chelyadnin personally. The attack failed, and the Muscovites withdrew toward their starting positions. The Lithuanian light cavalry attacked the overstretched center of the Muscovite lines in an attempt to split them. At the crucial moment the Lithuanians seemed to waver, then went into retreat. The Muscovites pursued with all their reserves. The Lithuanians suddenly turned to the sides. The Polish cavalry appeared and proceeded to surround the Muscovites. Chelyadnin sounded retreat, which soon turned into panick.
The victors took many prisoners incl. Russian commander Ivan Cheladnin, and all 300 guns. Due to the spectacular proportions of the defeat, information about the Battle of Orsha was suppressed in Muscovite chronicles. Even reputable historians of the Russian Empire such as Sergei Soloviov rely on non-Russian sources.
Polish forces in 1581 against Muscovy [Russia]:
Polish forces in 1609 against Muscovy [Russia]:
The next major Polish-Muscovite conflict took place between 1605 and 1618, when the Russian Tsardom was torn into a series of civil wars, the time most commonly referred in the Russian history as Time of Troubles, sparked by the Russian dynastic crisis and internal chaos. The Polish nobility encouraged by some Russian aristocracy attempted to exploit weakness of Russia and intervene in its civil war by supporting the impostors for the Tsardom False Dmitriy I and later False Dmitriy II against the crowned Tsars, Boris Godunov and Vasili Shuiski. After early Polish victories, which culminated in Polish forces entering Moscow in 1610, Polish king's son was briefly elected Tsar. In 1611 the Poles were ousted from Moscow but captured the important city of Smolensk. The most important battle of this period was Kluszyn (Klushino).
At Kluszyn (not far from Borodino) the Polish army
defeated much stronger Russian army. According to wikipedia.org
the Polish forces numbering 6,000-7.000 men (mainly winged knights)
and 2 guns under Zolkiewski defeated a force of 35,000-40.000 Russians
(incl. 5,000-10,000 Swedish, French, German and British mercenaries) and 11 guns led by Prince Shuyski,
Wars with the Swedes.
The Polish–Swedish Wars were a series of wars between 1563 and 1721. The Polish nobility did not think highly of the Swedes, and did not expect this war to be difficult. Poland-Lithuania had nearly 10 million inhabitants, and Sweden had only 1 million. However Poland had one of the smallest military to population ratios in Europe, while Sweden was able to draft a large army much more quickly than the Poles, due to its centralised government and obligatory draft of free peasants. The Poles were also forced to fight on two fronts, as their armies were also needed south to deal with the Moldavians, and Swedish forces quickly gained 3:1 numerical superiority.
In 1605 at Kircholm 4,000 Poles (incl.
2.000 winged - knights) with 5 guns under Chodkiewicz defeated 12,000 Swedes
with 11 guns deployed in an advantageous position.
The Poles used a feint to force the enemy off their high position.
The Swedes were routed on both wings and the infantry in the centre was
attacked from three sides simultaneously. The Swedish army collapsed in flight.
The battle was decided in 20 minutes by the devastating charge of winged knights.
Polish forces in 1627 against the Swedes:
Wars with the Turks.
There were three wars between Poland and Turkey (1620-21, 1633-34, and 1672-76) and
several minor conflicts.
The Polish magnates intervened in the affairs of Moldavia, which the Ottoman Empire
considered within its sphere of influence. Additionally, the Ottomans were aggravated by
the constant raids of Cossacks, then nominally subjects of the
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, across the border into Ottoman territories.
The Turkish army at Chocim (Khotyn) consisted of 35.000 men (incl. elite cavalry)
and 50-120 guns. The Turks held the Chocim castle and well entrenched camp.
The Polish forces comprised of 30.000 men and 65 guns and were led by Jan Sobieski.
"The east of the camp was defended by the Dniestr, from the North and from the south deep the ravines about steep,
bold braes. The western side was most exposed, so they had raised and strengthened the walls with palings, and
improved the fosses or moats." (- Battle of Chocim, from Podhorodecki's
"Slawne bitwy Polaków" transl. by Rick Orli
Unable to break into Europe through Poland, the massive Turkish army invaded Austria
and Hungary. The Battle of Vienna in 1683 had the most far-reaching consequences as it was the turning
point in the 300-year struggle between the forces of the European kingdoms, and the Ottoman
The attack was led by the Polish king in front of a spearhead
of 2.000 heavily armed Polish Winged Knights. Seeing them, Kara_Mustafa, the
Turkish commanderhts fled in panic. His mighty army folded.
Up till Napoleonic Wars that was the greatest cavalry charge in the history of Europe.
It was not exceeded until the times of Emperor Napoleon.
In honor of King Jan, the Austrians had erected a church atop a hill of Kahlenberg, north
of Vienna. Also, the train route from Vienna to Warsaw is named in Sobieski's honor.
Pope Innocentius XI regarded the defence of Vienna as his major achievement and the relief
on his monument in St. Peter's was dedicated to this event, with the Catholic soldiers
portrayed as ancient Romans.
1700-1800: The Fall of Poland.
The XVIII century is considered the most tragic period in Polish history. Poland's neighbours, Russia and Prussia were absolute states and their political systems stood in contradiction to the Polish tradition of self-government low taxes and civil freedoms of the gentry. Unfortunately it became increasingly common for Polish parliament's sessions to be broken up by liberum veto. It was every nobleman's representative's right to block any legislation, just by uttering his veto. It was tantamount to an extreme expression of political liberty and conceived as a safeguard against tyranny. But it also made a reasonable policy virtually impossible as the ambassadors of Poland's neighbours Russia and Prussia had several Polish noblemen on their payroll, thus influencing the decisions of Polish parliament. Poland deteriorated from a European power into a state of anarchy.
In 1791 the Poles attempted to reform their political system. The Polish Constitution of May (ext.link) was Europe's first modern codified national constitution and the world's second after the USA constitution. (ext.link) The changes in Poland were received with hostility by Russia and Prussia, while the situation in Europe was not encouraging for the Poles. The internal problems of France, the preoccupation of Britain with the American Revolution, gave the opportunity for Russia, Prussia and Austria to proceed with reference to Poland. In reply to Poniatowski's appeal after the first patrition of Poland, King George III (ext.link) of England wrote: "Good Brother...I fear, however misfortunes have reached the point where redress can be had from the hand of the Almighty alone, and I see no other intervention that can afford a remedy."
In 1794 General Kosciuszko, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War (ext.link) pronounced the general uprising and assumed the powers of the commander in chief of the entire Polish Army. The great difficulties with providing enough armament for the mobilised troops made Kosciuszko form units composed of pesants armoured with scythes called kosynierzy. The Polish army was heavily outnumbered and defeated by the enemy.
Between 1772 and 1795 the entire territory of the Kingdom of Poland was divided between Prussia, Austria and Russia. The King was forced to abdicate and was taken to Russia. Many captured Poles were sent to Siberia but thousands more escaped to France, Germany and Italy. For next decades Prussia, Russia and Austria had much of their land forces tied up in Poland and could not field enough troops to suppress the French Revolution, which added to its success.
The Partition of Poland did not for a moment break the resistance of the Poles, who - whenever opportunity offered - rose in arms to fight not only for their own country, but also for the idea which they inscribed on their standards - "Free men are brothers."
Poland in 1018 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Poland in 1500s ("Golden-Age of Poland")
Polish Army During the Napoleonic Wars.
"In the 16th century Poland had been one of the most powerful countries in Europe ... within the space of 200 years, however, Poland had been eclipsed by its neighbours ... Soon the country's history culture and language were extinguished and its very name abolished. In this way was the white eagle of Poland devoured by the three black eagles of Prussia, Russia, and Austria. ... Meanwhile the Poles looked for France, with its revolutionary ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, as a beacon of hope. The fact France's enemies happened to be Poland's oppressors was an obvious attraction, and many Polish soldiers volunteered for service in the French army." (Summerville - "Napoleon's Polish Gamble" p 15)
"During the Partitions, the Poles came to see France as their truest friend in the outside world. There was some background to this: the French and Polish royal families had intermarried, French had become the polite language of the great Polish aristocrats, and Poland had drawn many ideas from the Enlightenment and the Revolution of 1789 before its fall. Afterwards, Napoleon supported the Polish cause (for his own ends), and for most of the nineteenth century French governments not only welcomed Polish exiles but loudly endorsed their calls for the restoration of independence." (- Neal Ascherson)
In 1797 in Italy was formed a Polish Legion, fighting for France against Austria.
There is hardly a more touching chapter in the world's history than the story of the
Polish Legions. The Poles hoped that by fighting on the French side against Austria,
Russia and Prussia, the contries that had partitioned Poland they could free their country.
Two years after the last dismemberment of Poland, a Polish army was formed, in Polish
uniforms, under Polish command, decorated with French cockades and wearing on the
eppaulets the inscription: "Gli uomini liberi sono fratelli." (Free men are brethren.)
The Polish soldiers without the state sung their battle-song: "Poland has not perished yet,
as long as we are alive" and fought in numerous battles and campaigns alongside the French.
Not all Poles supported Napoleon. Tadeusz Kosciuszko said about the Emperor: "He only thinks of himself, not about nationalist ideas, and so he could not care less about any dreams of independence [of Poland]. He is a despot, whose sole ambition is to satisfy his personal ambition. He will create nothing of any permanence, of that I am sure." Kosciuszko is Polish national hero, general and a leader of 1794 uprising (which bears his name) against the Russian Empire. He fought in the American Revolutionary War as a colonel on the side of Washington. In recognition of his service he was brevetted by the Congress to the rank of Brigadier General. He was also admitted to the prestigious Society of Cincinnati, one of only three foreigners allowed to join. As a national hero of both Poland and the USA, Kosciuszko became the namesake of numerous places in the world: the highest mountain in Australia, several bridges, monuments, and cities in USA. In Poland every major town has a street or a square named after Kosciuszko.
"In November 1806, the French armies arrived in Poznan [Posen]. The 1st Chasseurs-Cheval, under Colonel Exelmans, who would later become a famous general, where the first to enter the [Polish] city as evening fell. The I Squadron hurried at the trot right through the city with swords drawn, to place pickets on the other side of the Warta River, on the Warsaw and Torun [Thorn] roads. The rest of the regiment stood peacefully in the market square, where a part of the population came cheering to welcome them. ... The French ... after talking to the townspeaople pressing around them, they confirmed the impression already gained from a few days march ... that they were in friendly territory. They billeted themselves peacefully around the city." (Chlapowski / Simmons - p 8)
Marshal Murat entered Warsaw to a rapturous welcome. He was feted by the Poles igniting vain hopes of future kingship. "In the 16th century Poland had been one of the most powerful countries in Europe ... within the space of 200 years, however, Poland had been eclipsed by its neighbours ... Soon the country's history culture and language were extinguished and its very name abolished. In this way was the white eagle of Poland devoured by the three black eagles of Prussia, Russia, and Austria. ... Meanwhile the Poles looked for France, with its revolutionary ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, as a beacon of hope. The fact France's enemies happened to be Poland's oppressors was an obvious attraction, and many Polish soldiers volunteered for service in the French army." (Summerville - "Napoleon's Polish Gamble" p 15)
To the Polish deputations which approached him in Berlin and at Warsaw, he replied vaguely, "France has never recognised the different partitions of Poland; nevertheless, I cannot proclaim your independence until you have decided to defend your rights as a nation with arms in your hands by every sort of sacrifice, even that of life. You have been reproached with having, in your continued civil dissensions, lost sight of the interests of your country. Instructed by your misfortunes, reunite yourselves and prove to the world that one spirit animates the whole Polish nation."
Napoleon was furious with Marshal Murat, for forwarding one petition from Warsaw, in which it was prayed that the Polish kingdom might be reconstituted under a French commander. Napoleon's replies to Poles were sufficiently encouraging to assure to him the moral and material support of the Poles in the ensuing campaign, and to deprive Prussia and Russia of all hope of recruiting their armies by voluntary enlistment in Poland.
Napoleon entered Warsaw in 1807 and French eagles soared over the Vistula. The Emperor
was hesitant about reenacting the Kingdom of Poland. In spite of the ovations given him
by the Poles, he wrote: "Only God can arbitrate this vast political problem ... It would
mean blood, more blood, and srtill more blood ..."
Saxony - 1,1 millions
Lombardy - 2 millions
Papal State - 2,3 millions
Sweden - 2,3 millions
Portugal - 3 millions
Poland Duché de Varsovie - 4,3 millions
Naples - 5 millions
USA - 6 millions
Holland & Belgium - 6,2 millions
Prussia - 9,7 millions (in 1806 reduced to 4,9 millions)
Spain - 11 millions
Great Britain - 18,5 millions (England, Ireland, Scotland)
Austria - 21 millions (with Hungary)
France - 30 millions
Russia - 40 (with annexed territories)
Prince Józef Antoni Poniatowski was born in 1763 and ten years later became the ward of his uncle, the King of Poland. "Nicknamed 'the Polish Bayard', Poniatowski was born in Vienna ... He was commisioned into the Austrian army in 1778, serving in the dragoons and carabiniers, and in 1788 he became an ADC to the Emperor Francis II ..." (Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic wars" p 346)
In 1788 he participated in the war against Ottoman Empire and was wounded at siege of Sabatach. In 1789 Poniatowski returned to Poland, became general and in 1792 won against the Russians at the Battle of Zielence. In July Poniatowski resigned and left Poland but two years later the ardent patriot had returned and joined the Kosciuszko Insurrection. After collapse of the uprising Poniatowski was in exile. When Poland disappeared from the map of Europe, many Polish officers and generals fled to France where they felt an ideological affinity. But not Poniatowski, in 1798 the restless soul was back in the occupied by Prussians Warsaw.
In 1807 Poniatowski met Marshal Murat and French troops and began overtures to Napoleon for the restoration of a free Poland. In 1807 he became minister of war in the Polish Directory. In April 1809 Poniatowski selected a good defensive position at Raszyn and withstood all Austrian attacks. Then he defeated them at Radzymin and reconquered parts of former Poland. Poniatowski routed the Austrians again at Góra and Grochów. For his achievements Poniatowski was presented the French grand-aigle de la Légion d'Honneur and a saber of honor. He was one of the few Napoleonic commanders who was able to conduct a successful campaign without Napoleon's supervision.
In 1812 Poniatowski led the V Army Corps to Russia and fought at Smolensk, Borodino, Tarutino and Krasne. In 1813 Poniatowski rebuilt the Polish troops that were to become the VIII Army Corps. He led them to Saxony to join Napoleon's army. Poniatowski's troops participated in several small engagements, was majority of them were victories. At Leipzig Poniatowski's troops successfully defended Napoleon's flank for three days. Napoleon promoted him to the rank of Marshal of France. On the last day of battle some French troops and Poniatowski's Poles were covering the retreat of Napoleon's army. When the bridge was destroyed Poniatowski spurred his horse into the Elster River. Poniatowski was shot and disappeared under water. His body was found several days later.
Generals and Officers.
Polish officers and generals communicated in Polish and French language. The troops were organized after the French model and used much of its terminology. Chlapowski writes: "Our drill regulations were provided by General Dabrowski, translated from the French. Knowing the Prussian system, it was easy for me to learn these new regulations, which were far simpler and much better suited to the conduct of war." (Chlapowski/Simmons - p 13)
There was rivalry within the officers and generals between those who had served in the army of the Duchy of Warsaw and those who had joined Polish units in French service. The former often felt the latter had put self interest before patriotic duty, while the latter scorned the former as military amateurs. The rivalry had been largely healthy, and there had in fact been considerable interchange between the two.
General Fiszer (infantry, chief-of-staff)
General Rozniecki (cavalry)
General Axamitowski (artillery)
General Hauke (engineers)
General Sokolnicki (advance/rear guard)
(source: Nafziger, Wesolowski - "Poles and Saxons ...")
In the years 1806-1807 Napoleon defeated Austria, Prussia and Russia. Under the Treaty of Tilsit the Duchy of Warsaw was established on part of the lands of Prussian-annexed Poland. It was placed under the guardianship of the King of Saxony. The constitution given by Napoleon in July 1807 established the Polish army at 30,000 men. Prince Poniatowski became its Minister of War. The Poles joked about the Duchy having "a Saxon king, French laws, Polish army, and Prussian currency." (Nafziger - "Poles and Saxons" p 3)
In November 1806 Napoleon directed General Dabrowski to form Polish troops. Dabrowski issued a decree ordering the population to provide 1 infantry recruit from every 10 households, 1 cavalry recruit from every 45 households and 1 chasseur (light infantry) recruit from every estate.
In January 1807 the Polish army consisted of 20.500 recruits and approx. 3.000 volunteers. The army was organized into three legions (divisions).
In August Marshal Davout selected the best infantry regiment of every division
and Napoleon took these units to Spain. "Napoleon took this force into French service on
much the same basis as the Hessians served the British in the American Revolution."
(Nafziger - "Poles and Saxons" p 12)
In the end of 1807 the army consisted of:
The Polish troops participated in the campaign of 1807. On 27th January 1807 they fought at Tczew (Dirschau), on 14th February they took Gniew (Mewe) and on 20th captured Slupsk (Stolpen). On 23rd February they took Tczew (Dirschau). Napoleon awarded GdD Dabrowski with cross of the Legion d'Honneur. In March-May 9.000 Polish troops (attached to French divisions) participated in the siege of Gdansk (Danzig). The Poles suffered approx. 2.000 killed and wounded. The Poles also participated in the Battle of Friedland.
In February 1808 the Polish Legion du Nord was incorporated into the Polish army.
In November 1808, Napoleon was in Spain, marching on Madrid. His advance was blocked by Spanish troops.
The Spaniards held the narrow defile of Somosierra, leading on to the lofty plateau where Madrid stands.
Sixteen guns were holding off Napoleon's army. After repeated attempts to force the position
with infantry, the regiment of Polish lighthorsemen were given the order to charge. Approx. 200 men obeyed and eight minutes later, the survivors emerged from the top
of the hill, "a thousand feet and three miles above the admiring Emperor."
(- Norman Davies p. 301)
The Polish forces of that period were in excellent state. Officer Chlapowski writes: "It was marvelous to be back in Warsaw. ... there was a great difference between these new regiments and the Polish Guard and Vistula Legion with which I had recently been in Spain. As well as Colonel Krasinski, the entire staff of the Polish Guard Lighthorse were experienced officers ... The Vistula Legion still had officers from Dabrowski's Italian Legion and even Kniaziewicz's Legion of the Rhine. Nearly all the NCOs were older men, so training was steady, severe, and regular. It wasn't like that in the army of the Duchy of Warsaw. The infantry was admittedly first class, but the cavalry still needed a lot of work. ... The artillery had only very few qualified officers, but the gunners were quite well trained. The whole army was learning and its excellent spirit, liveliness and cheerful confidence bade well for the future."
In the campaign of 1809, the Duchy of Warsaw sustained the full weight of the Austrian attack. Austrian corps under Archduke Ferdinand appeared on the Polish borders on April 14, 1809. Taken by surprise, the Polish government ordered general mobilization. Headed by Prince Poniatowski the few Polish troops offered an valiant resistance during the Battle of Raszyn. Poniatowski fought to a standstill an Austrian force more than twice the size. But it was necessary to abandon Warsaw and to withdraw to the right bank of the Vistula.
All Austrian efforts to cross the Vistula River were in vain. While the Austrians were exhausting themselves in their attempts to get at the right bank of the Vistula, Poniatowski crossed the Austrian frontier to liberate Galicia. On May 14 the city of Lublin was taken and on the 18th the city of Sandomierz with its only major Vistula bridge. On the 20th, in a night attack, the Zamosc fortress was captured together with 2,000 prisoners and 40 cannons. These developments compelled the Austrians to withdraw from Warsaw. Everywhere enthusiastically received by the Poles, Poniatowski was able to liberate large areas of Galicia.
"For the first time since the partitions a Polish army had taken to the field under Polish
command and had succeeded in reuniting two important pieces of the shattered Polish lands.
National sentiment revived. Hopes were raised anew.
Poles from Lithuania swam across the Niemen river to escape from Russia and serve in the
Duchy's army. Poles from the Prussian and Austrian partitions came over to swell the ranks:
and all were offereed citizenship in the Duchy's service."
(- Norman Davies, p 302)
After the victorious war against Austria and annexation of Galicia the Poles raised 6 new infantry regiments and 10 cavalry regiments (1 cuirassiers, 2 hussars and 7 uhlans).
Strength of the Polish army in the end of 1809:
Part of the army served in France, Germany and Spain under French and Polish generals.
1812 - Invasion of Russia.
The year of 1812 saw the climacteric of the Napoleonic era. For the French it was just another campaign, for the Russians it presented the supreme test for the integrity and durability of their mighty empire. For the Poles alone, it was a war of liberation.
In early 1812 due to financial difficulties in the Grand Duchy, Napoleon took into French pay several units: artillery companies in the fortresses of Gdansk (Danzig) and Kostrzyn (Kustrin), the 9th Uhlan Regiment, 5th, 10th and 11th Infantry Regeiment. Napoleon approved Poniatowski's suggestion to add 2 light cannons to every Polish infantry regiment. The strength of companies in infantry and cavalry regiments was increased. Before the campaign against Russia the army of the Grand Duchy consisted of more than 75.000 men and 165 guns.
. . . Secretary General - Col. Jean Bennet (Frenchman)
. . . . . . . . . 1st Section of Finances - Fechner
. . . . . . . . . 2nd Section of Military Operations - Col. Rautenstrauch
. . . . . . . . . 3rd Section of Artillery and Engineers - Col. Redel
General Directorate of Administration of War - GD Wielhorski.
. . . Secretary General - Wilkoszewski
. . . . . . . . . 1st Section of Military Hospitals - Doney
. . . . . . . . . 2nd Section of Uniforms - J. Suchodolski
. . . . . . . . . 3rd Section of Supplies and Forage - Deybell
. . . Health Services - L. Lafontaine (Frenchman)
. . . . . . . . . Inspector of Military Hospitals - Puchalski
. . . Inspector of Military Reviews and Conscription - GB Hebdowski
. . . . . . . . . Chief of the Office of Management of Reviews - Wyszkowski
. . . . . . . . . Inspectors of Reviews in Poland - Miroslawski, Kasinowski, and Hryniewicz
. . . . . . . . . Inspector of Reviews in Lithuania - Sarnowski
. . . Military Paymaster - J. Wegierski
Commander-in-Chief of the Army Prince Jozef Poniatowski
According to Adam Zamojski Napoleon was determined to hold the possibility of the reunification of the Kingdom of Poland as a carrot before the Poles, a semi-sincere promise to ensure loyalty. He avoided any concessions toward Poland having in mind further negotations with Russia. Poniatowski talked with Napoleon about forming the Kingdom of Poland and thus mobilizing the entire country. "Poniatowski has had to appeal to Davout to put in a word on his behalf. And now standing there by the roadside as Colbert's lancers again file by, he's urging Napoleon to mobilize Poland and thus consolidate the army's rear, instead of marching on Moscow. But the Polish prince, who'd turned down the Tsar's handsome offers of advancement if he had side with him, gets nowehere. Napoleon simply tells him he doesn't matters of high policy." (Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 173)
In June of 1812, Poniatowski together with 100,000 of his fellow Poles were part of Napoleon's expedition. The Poles formed the largest of the contingents provided by any of the states allied with France. The dispersion, however, of the Polish regiments among the various French corps was strongly resented. For nowhere else had Napoleon a more loyal and devoted ally than the Poles who stood by him through thick and thin. They formed a striking contrast to the Prussians under Yorck, who as soon as Napoleon's defeat became known joined the Russians, as did also the Austrians.
The war began when the napoleonic troops crossed the border with Russia. "At the sight of this crossing, a group of Polish uhlans, probably belonging to the 6th Uhlans, spurred their mounts froward into the river, hoping to seize the honor of being the first to be on Russian soil. Unfortunately, the current proved too swift and they were quickly swept downstream, engulfed by the river. As the men slipped beneath its waters they were clearly heard to cry, 'Vive l'Empereur !' (Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia" pp 114-5, 1998)
In 1812 the Polish troops carried the fame of Polish heroism along the same roads which two and three centuries before, in the times of King Stefan Batory and King Wladyslav IV saw the Polish banners of the White Eagle in a triumphant march to Moscow. The memories of Hetman Zolkiewski and Gosiewski came back. At Czerepowo General Rozniecki "orders the Polish troops to halt, forms up in square and reminds us that we're standing at the limit of the Jagellons' and Batory's one-time empire. After painting for us the heroic aspects of our nation's glorious past he invites all present to dismount and pick up a little dust so as to be able to remind our descendants of this glorious event which has brought us back to Poland's former linits." (Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 234)
The Poles fight with a great zeal. Britten-Austin writes: "Some units, perhaps many, are mortified to find their exploits have escaped official notice. To his left had seen the 7th Hussars make a brilliant charge against Russian ainfantry and cavalry, and only lose a few men in so doing. 'A short way away to our left,' writes Dupuy 'the 9th Polish Lancers [Uhlans ?] pierced a square of Muscovite chasseurs and wiped it out.' To Thirion it had seemed 'these men [Poles] had become fighting mad. How many didn't I see who, with arm or leg bandaged, returned to the scrum at a flat-out gallop, forcefully eluding those of their comrades who tried to hold them back." (Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 136)
The initial period of the offensive was wasted, because Poniatowski was placed under the direction of Napoleon's incompetent brother Jerome, who criticized by Napoleon eventually left, but for Poniatowski, then put in charge of Grande Armee's right wing, it was too late to make up for the lost opportunities (Later on St. Helena, the dethroned emperor reflected back on the 1812 war with Russia and expressed his belief, that if he had given Poniatowski Jerome's right wing command from the beginning, Bagration's army would have been destroyed early, and the campaign would have followed a different course.
The Poles fought hard in every major battle of the campaign, including Smolensk, Borodino and Berezina.
In the very end of 1812 the Polish forces consisted of less than 10.000 men. The splendid Vistula Legion had only 500 survivors. The campaign ended in a disaster. William Napier writes: "Napoleon, unconquered of man, had been vanquished by the elements. The fires and the snows of Moscow combined had shattered his strength, and in confessed madness nations and rulers rejoiced that an enterprise, at once the grandest and most provident, the most beneficial ever attempted by a warrior-statement, had been foiled - they rejoiced that Napoleon had failed to reestablish unhappy Poland as a barrier against the most formidable and brutal, the most swinish tyranny that has ever menaced and disgraced European civilization." (Napier - Vol IV, p 167)
"The last act of independent will was carried out in the Duchy's behalf by Jozef Poniatowski. Refusing offers of clemency from the Russians, he determined to fight to the last at Napoleon's side. He gathered the reserves of his army together and retreated into Germany." (- Davies, Vol II, p 304)
Poniatowski began withdrawing across Poland "as Schwarzenberg's perfidious maneuvers exposed him to the approaching Russians. His 8.000 army was joined by about 6.000 light cavalry..." (Nafziger and Wesolowski - "Poles and Saxons of the Napoleonic Wars" p 22)
In July, few months before the battle of Leipzig was fought, Polish infantry and artillery had allowance for exercises in life fire training and shooting competitions. According to Mariusz Lukasiewicz's "Armia Ksiecia Jozefa" (p 215) the best shooters were awarded with 20 francs each. Captain Baka worked very hard to train the hundreds of young recruits in the 'Krakus' (pronounced: crack-coos) Regiment. It was a new unit and mounted on small horses. Fighting the feared Cossacks became Krakusi's specialty. Napoleon called them "Pygmy cavalry", others called them "Polish Cossacks" this is because of their horsemanship and tactics. The Krakusi had simpler maneuvers and orders but all movements had to be done in great speed. It was probably the only one regiment in entire Napoleonic army which captured Cossack Color. The Empreror expressed his wish to have 3.000 of them.
Near Zittau in Saxony Prince Poniatowski ordered intensive and large scale "war games"
for his troops. The quarters were excellent and the food was pretty good.
Many soldiers received new uniforms, shoes, shirts, and headwears.
Morale of the troops was very high despite of lack of weapons. According to General
Sokolnicki only 20 % of men in IV Cavalry Corps had carbines. The average cavalryman was armed with
lance, saber and one pistol.
After Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig the majority of Polish soldiers were either killed, wounded and taken prisoner, others wandered back to Poland. Only few followed the French. Napoleon entertained thoughts of completely disbanding Polish infantry and organizing four uhlan and two Polish-Cossack regiments. (Nafziger - "Poles and Saxons of the Napoleonic Wars" p 28)
In December Napoleon formed so-called Polish Corps, it consisted of the following
troops (strength on 1st January 1814):
There were in France other Polish units, but all were cavalry:
In 1814 officer Skarzynski overwhelmed and ridden down by a flood of Cossacks, wrenched an "especially heavy" lance from one of them and - wild with the outraged fury of despair - spurred amuck down the road, bashing every Cossack skull that came within his reach. Rallying and wedging in behind him, his Polish handful cleared the field. Impressed Napoleon made Skarzynski the Baron of the Empire.
The last stand of Polish troops took place in March 1814 at Soissons.
Soissons was defended by a very weak garrison: 792 men of Vistula infantry, 80 eclaireurs,
guns and 300 French municipal guardsmen. The overall command was in the hands of GdB Moreau.
Napoleon ordered him to hold his position at all costs. On 1st March numerous Prussian and
Russian troops arrived before Soissons. The next day they bombarded the town and stormed the
Approx. 300 men of Vistula Regiment "attacked them with such impetus that they were pushed
out of the suburb, far into the surrounding fields."
(Nafziger - "Poles and Saxons of the Napoleonic Wars" p 129)
In Waterloo in 1815, there was only one single squadron of Poles. They formed the 1st Squadron of the Red Lancers.
Sources and Links.
Kukiel - "Wojny Napoleonskie"
Bielecki - "Grand Army" 1995
Elting - "Swords Around a Throne"
Davies - "God's Playground. A History of Poland." Vol II, 1982
Lukasiewicz - "Armia Ksiecia Jozefa 1813" MON, 1986
Salter and McLachlan - "Poland the Rough Guide."
Kukiel - "Wojna 1812", tom 1-2, Kraków 1937
Kukiel - "Dzieje Oreza Polskiego w Epoce Napoleonskiej, 1795-1815" 1912
Gembarzewski - "Wojsko Polskie. Ksiestwo Warszawskie 1807-1814" 1912
Gembarzewski - "Rodowody pulków i oddzialów równorzednych" 1925
Little plastic soldiers for dioramas and wargames:
Polish infantry, Polish uhlans
Napoleon, His Army and Enemies.