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>> Storia Moderna> In Europa

History of Poland and Polish Army.

1450-1650: The Rise of Poland as European Power. Wars with the Russians, Mongols, and Teutonic Knights

In the Middle Ages and later there persisted a common false belief that the Vandals (barbarians) were ancestors of Poles (or Slavs). That belief originated because of confusion of the Venedes with Vandals and because both Venedes and Vandals lived in areas later settled by Poles. In 983 Gerhard of Augsburg in Miracula Sancti Oudalrici called Mieszko I (heading Polish prince) dux Vandalorum. Probably the first man who directly mentioned Vandalic roots of Poland was the chronicler Kadlubek, who wrote that Poles were once called Vandals, because they live next to the river Vandalus (Vistula). The XII-XIII centuries were a period of demographic growth until 1241-1287 when great destruction was wrought by the invasions of the Mongols. The Polish and German knights were defeated at Legnica, yet Poland preserved her independence, avoiding the fate that had befallen Ruthenia and Russia, both conquered by the Mongols. In XIV century, France, Germany, England and Italy were in the grip of the shocks of the epidemic plaque called Black Death. For Poland it was a century of an accelerated growth in economy, politics and military.
In 1240, the Mongol terror from the east invaded Poland, having first decimated many other countries to the east. (For example nearly all Russia became tributary to the Mongols.) The scouts of Khan Ougedei even reached France! In 1241 the Mongols defeated a combined Polish-German force at Legnica (Leignitz) where the best Polish knights, Teutonic Knights, Templars and the flower of German knights perished. The victors however did not continue their drive westward, Khan Ougedai died suddenly and in 1242 there was trouble about the succession. Thereafter the Mongols concentrated their attention upon their Asiatic conquests The victories of the Mongols were due to many causes. Weapons, tactics, the skill and hardiness of their troops, all played a part. Their troops - perhaps some 150,000-200,000 in Eastern Europe - also greatly outnumbered those available at any one time to the European monarchs.
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. The decisive battle took place in 1410 at Grunwald (Tannenberg). The day-long fierce fighting ended in a complete defeat of the Teutonic Knights and supporting them Crusaders, handful of Genoese crossbowmen and English longbowmen. Part of the Order’s lands, the so-called Teutonic Prussia, became a fiefdom of Poland. The XV century was a time of economic development of Poland and military victories.
In 1569 the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania united and formed the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania. Poland became an European power: the economy was strong, the army was excellent and the territory was huge (815,000 sq. km) 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. It should be remembered that one of the greatest commanders in history, Gustav Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) (ext.link) admired by Napoleon and many commanders, developed his skills in almost continuous warfare with the Poles. His success in the Thirty Years War was preceded by many years of effort against inferior numbers of Poles who had humiliated the Swedish army at the Battle of Kircholm.
The Battle of Orsha in 1514 halted Muscovy’s expansion into Europe for some time. The Russians (40.000-80.000 men) confident that the enemy would have to cross one of two bridges on the Dniepr River, split their forces to guard those crossings. However, the Polish-Lithuanian army (25.000-30.000 men)crossed the river farther north via two pontoon bridges and it began preparations for a final battle. The Muscovite troops 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-in-chief 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. Upset at word of the massive defeat, Muscovite ruler allegedly remarked that the prisoners [were] as useful as the dead and declined to negotiate their return.
In 1605 at the Battle of Kircholm 3,500-4,000 men (incl. 2.000 winged-knights) and 5 guns under Hetman Chodkiewicz defeated 12,000-14.000 well trained Swedes (incl. 5.000 veteran cavalry) and 11 guns deployed in an advantageous position. In Swedish army also served Fins, Germans and Scots. The charge of Winged Knights at Kircholm was one of the most famous displays of heavy cavalry. Casualties: 300 killed and wounded Poles, and ... 8,000 killed Swedes.
In 1610 at the Battle of Kluszyn (not far from Borodino) the Polish army defeated much stronger Russian army. The Polish forces numbering 6,000-7.000 men (mainly winged knights) and 2 guns under Hetman 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, Tsar’s brother. Soon after the battle the Russian fortress of Smolensk surrendered, the tsar was ousted by the boyars and the small Polish army entered Moscow with little opposition. The Polish commander Zolkiewski wrote: The hedge between us was long... There were, however, gaps in it and when we moved to attack, we had to break out through them. ... For the gunners discharged the falconets at the German infantrymen who stood by the hedge, and our infantry, not numerous but tried and experienced in many battles, rushed at them ... our men rode after, and hitting and hacking drove them through their own camp. From Maskewicz’s memoirs: Szujski (Russian commander) ordered two reiter cornets, who were in readiness to move against us, to attack and destroy us. By the grace of God, they became the reason of our victory. As they moved forward we exchanged a salvo of fire with them, and each front rank fell back to reload the pistol or arkebuz in the ordinary manner, while the second rank advanced to fire their salvo. Seeing their rank retreat to load their secondary weapons, we did not wait for their next rank. We swooped down on them, sword in hand – whether they had managed to reload or not, I would not know because they took for the rear and did not stop galloping until they reached the Muscovite reserve at the rear camp gate, where their several tidy formations became chaotically entangled.. The Muscovites ran by God’s grace for a mile, while we slashed at them and grabbed the rich ones, who, carrying what they owned, tried to get away. Casualties: Poles 400 killed and wounded, Russians and Allies 5,000.
For centuries after the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Orthodox Church people of Ukraine had felt oppressed by the Polish nobles and Jewish traders. ... The magnates sold and leased certain privileges to the Jews for a lump sum and, while enjoying themselves at their courts, left it to the Jewish leaseholders and collectors to become objects of hatred to the oppressed and long-suffering peasants. ... Within a few months, almost all Polish nobles, officials, and priests had been wiped out or driven from Ukraine. Jewish losses were especially heavy ... Khmelnytsky told the people that the Poles had sold them as slaves into the hands of the accursed Jews. With this as their battle-cry, the Cossacks massacred a huge number of Jews during the years 1648–1649. ... The Commonwealth population losses in the Uprising were over one million citizens killed. In reprisals, many thousands of Cossacks and peasantry supporting them were also murdered. ... These events initiated a series of campaigns ... (wikipedia.org 2005).
In 1651 at the Battle of Berestechko the Polish army (55,000-65,000 men) defeated 90,000-100,000 Ukrainian Cossacks and their Crimean Tartars allies (15,000-25,000). Both sides had about 40,000 cavalry each (!) Fighting was close; with the core of excellent Cossack infantry making up for the weakness of their cavalry, much of the decisive fighting was by the infantry and dismounted dragoons of each side. The Crimean Tatars became dispirited by the death of their leader Togay Bey and deserted the battlefield. On to the battlefield remained the Cossacks entrenched in walled tabor camp. They bravely defended themselves until an explosion caused panic in their camp. The fleeing Cossacks were trapped by the river and thousands were cut down.
In 1672 a powerful army of Ottoman Empire invaded Poland and imposed the treaty of Buczacz on the Poles. The next year Hetman Jan Sobieski gathered his corps and virtually annihilated the Turkish army. 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 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 1673, from Podhorodecki’s Slawne bitwy Polaków transl. by Rick Orli).
The Polish forces at Chocim consisted of 30.000 men (incl. the winged knights) and 65 guns and were led by Jan Sobieski. The Poles unsuccessfully attacked on arrival. The next day as dawn broke the Polish infantry and dragoons again attacked, and with close artillery support forced their way into the Chocim castle. They then cleared a way for the cavalry, who burst into the Turkish camp. The Turks kept fighting until the winged knights charged and broke the elite Turkish cavalry. The Turkish infantry and gunners panicked and fled, their camp was captured. The victory was decisive. From then on the Turks called Hetman Sobieski The Lion of the North.
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 Empire. The Christian coaltion (70,000 German, Polish and French troops) under King Jan Sobieski defeated 130,000 Turkish cavalry, infantry and artillery under Kara Mustapha Pasha. Instead of focusing on the battle with the relief army, the Turks also tried to force their way into the city, carrying their crescent flag. Four cavalry groups totalling 20,000 men, one of them Austrian-German, and the other three Polish, charged down the hills. 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. Up till Napoleonic Wars that was the greatest cavalry charge in the history of Europe. It was not exceeded until the times of 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. The Turkish invasion of western Europe was halted. European dignitaries hailed Sobieski as the Savior of Vienna and Western European civilization. (ext.link) Sobieski triumphantly entered Vienna. In a letter to his wife Sobieski wrote about the freed Austrians All the common people kissed my hands, my feet, my clothes; others only touched me ...
The Polish army constantly evolved. 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 ... In 1576 the new King, Stefan Batory (Stephen Bathory), began reorganising the army. He ensured the disappearance of the knight and halted the hussars increasing use of armour, keeping them a fast manoeuvrable heavy cavalry. Batory increased the training of the hussars and so laid down the basis of this superb cavalry. ... Batory also made use of other infantry including Germans, Cossacks, and Scots ... Batory was a brilliant organiser and had laid down the basis for future successes (Byczyna, Kircholm, Kluszyn, Chocim). ... Because of the problems in maintaining a large mercenary army for any reasonable period of time, use was made of other types of forces: private armies of powerful magnates ... (and) ... Zaporozhian Cossacks. ... At the start of the 17th Century the army was composed mainly of cavalry and its commanders, though having fought in Batory's Muscovite campaigns, had more confidence in the use of cavalry than the methodical and thorough Western way of taking important towns and castles and then fortifying captured territories. The basic Polish aim was to destroy the enemy's main field army; however, victory on the battlefield did not always lead to victory in the war and problems were met when the enemy avoided battle and hid behind fortifications. ... When Wladyslaw IV was crowned king he was already an experienced soldier. In his youth he took part in Chodkiewicz’s Muscovite (1617-18) and Chocim (1621) campaigns. At Chocim he commanded a regiment exceeding 10,000 men of which around half were mercenary German infantry. Later, Wladyslaw embarked upon a grand tour of Europe, studying military techniques, fortifications and arsenals in Germany, Belgium and Holland. ... by the 1640’s the royal army alone had around 350 cannons and mortars of which over 40% were newly cast. New arsenals were set up and the position of commander of the artillery was formed in 1637. In imitation of the Swedes, he also introduced three to six pound regimental guns. ... During the critical years 1655-62 the numbers of winged knights fell to a mere 5-7% while the numbers of light cavalry grew to a rather large proportion. This was because of the ease of raising such typically Polish cavalry from the large noble population (the nobility formed some 10% of Poland’s population !). ... Dragoons were widely employed especially in the open plains of the South where mobility was so important. They remained mounted infantry up until the late 17th century. ... Poland could not keep up with the advance in military technology and tactics that occurred in the rest of Europe. While it could still raise large and good quality forces for a campaign it could not afford to maintain a large standing army that was widespread elsewhere. Due to problems with finance, the artillery and fortifications also suffered ... (Source: Polish Renaissance Warfare.)
The size and composition of the Polish armies between 1580 and 1630:

In 1581 against Muscovy [Russia]:
8,500 Winged Knights;
500 medium and light cavalry;
12,000 infantry (incl. 1,600 German mercenaries);
10,000 Lithuanians.

In 1596 against the Ottomans [Turks]:
3,200 Winged Knights;
1,300 medium and light cavalry;
2,000 infantry;

In 1609 against Muscovy [Russia]:
5,500 Winged Knights;
1,700 medium and light cavalry;
6,500 infantry (incl. 1,500 German mercenaries);
5,000 Zaporozhian Cossacks;

In 1627 against the Swedes:
2,100 Winged Knights;
3,300 medium and light cavalry;
1,265 dragoons;
4,100 infantry (incl. 2,515 German mercenaries);
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 film 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.
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.

1700-1800: The Fall of Poland and disappearance from the map of Europe.

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 was Europe’s first modern codified national constitution and the world’s second after the USA constitution. 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 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 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.

Polish Army During the Napoleonic Wars.
Poland Has Not Perished Yet, As Long As We Are Alive.


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:
- 1:153 in France
- 1:90 in Austria
- 1:49 in Russia
- 1:26 in Prussia.
Here was a fine paradox indeed. Europe’s most militarized society was incapable of defending itself. ... From 1765 to 1831, constant attempts were made to develop Polish military potential to a level commensurate with that of the neighbouring countries. ... The revival began in 1765 with the founding of the Cadet Corps, a military college designed to raise a new generation of officers in the spirit of patriotism and enlightement. ... The artillery corps was refounded; the cavalry was reorganized ... By 1788, when the Great Sejm first voted for a standing army of 100,000 men, the capacity to realize this goal undoubtedly existed. ... The Napoleonic episode initiated three decades of strong French influence. If the impact of the Legions was mainly psychological, the introduction of 6-year conscription in 1807, affecting every man in the Duchy of Warsaw between 21 and 28 years of age, brought military experience and training to the broad mass of the population. Napoleonic strategy and tactics of surprise and attack were well matched to memoirs of the Polish nobility’s fighting habits and to legends of Tarnowski and Sobieski.
(Davies - God’s Playground. A History of Poland. Vol II, p 268).
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. The Polish Legion under General Dabrowski fought with Bonaparte in his earliest campaigns in Italy. These were the beginnings of Polish forces of Napoleonic period. These legions however were never used for purposes related to Polish independence. Some were posted to pacification duties in occupied Italy and in 1802-3 were drafted with the expedition sent to crush the rebellion of Negro slaves on Santo Domingo. They died in their thousands from swamp fever. In 1801 at Luneville, Napoleon made peace with his enemies and all agitation on the Polish Question was terminated. In Polish aristocratic circles, the prospect of a French alliance was clouded by the associated threat of social revolution. Soem aristocrats were laying plans of their won for the restoration of a united Poland under the aegis of the new Tsar of Russia, Alexander I.
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. 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 Col. 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.
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)
1806-1808
... there were plenty of young men [in Poland] determined to prove their prowess on the battlefield. - Norman Davies


According to Norman Davies the Polish affairs were subordinated to the rivalry between Napoleon and the Allies. Any Polish state that was to be created would, of necessity, be an expression more of the Balance of Power than of the wishes of the people. The Duchy of Warsaw was a child of war. 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 and Wesolowski - Poles and Saxons p 3)
The Polish liaison with France could be traced back well beyond Kosciuszko’s Raising to the Confederation of Bar and Le bon roi Stanislas. But after the Reolution, there was a direct bond of common interest between the governments in Paris challenging the Ancien Regime in the West, and the principal victim of the dynastic empires in the East. Napoleon took a personal interest in the Polish Question, especially when it promised to supply him with new soldiers.
Chlapowski writes: In Nov 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)
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) The chosen troops were: 4th, 7th and 9th Infantry Regiment, 140-men artillery company and 200-man sapper company. Several battalions were sent to Prussia. Due to such wide distribution of Polish troops the divisional organization had become obsolete. On March 16 1808 Napoleon decided that the Vistula Legion could, if the need arose, be sent to the aid of the King of Saxony without arousing particular attention. (Nafziger - Poles and Saxons p 79).
In the end of 1807 the army consisted of:
12 infantry regiments;
6 cavalry regiments;
3 battalions of artillery.
In February 1808 the Polish Legion du Nord was incorporated into the Polish army. 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 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)
All the cannons were taken and enemy’s resistance was broken. In later years, talk of the charge of Somosierra evoked the same reactions in Warsaw as mention of the charge of the Light Brigade in London. The flower of the nation’s youth was thought to have perished in a distant land for the sake of a courageous gesture. In fact, the exemplary sacrifice of those few men ensured the passage of a whole army.

1809. Campaign Against Austria and the Battle of Raszyn.

In the campaign of 1809, the Poles had a more immediate interest. 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 (ext.link) with its only major Vistula bridge. On the 20th, in a night attack, the Zamosc fortress (ext.link) 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 fisrt 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. (Davies, p 302) As a result of Polish offensive, and of the fact that Poniatowski had Polish administration and military structure in place there for some time, making it difficult for Napoleon to compromise the Polish gains for political expediency. Most of the liberated lands became incorporated into the Grand Duchy in October 1809.
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:
18 infantry regiments (with depots) - 45.000 men;
16 cavalry regiments (with depots) - 14.500 men;
artillery and sapers (with depots) - 2.620 men;
Vistula Legion and Guard lancers (with depots) -7.000 men
TOTAL = approx. 72,000 men.
Part of the army served in France, Germany and Spain under French and Polish generals.

1812. Invasion of Russia.
In June 1812 the French engineers began to raise the pontoon bridge across the Niemen River. At the sight of the crossing, a small group of Polish uhlans spurred their mounts forward 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 water. As the uhlans slipped beneath its waters they were clearly heard to cry: Vive l’Empereur ! Nafziger - Poles and Saxons p 113


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.
22 infantry regiments (3 field and 1 depot battalion each);
20 cavalry regiments (4 field and 1 depot squadron each);
1 foot and 1 horse artillery regiment;
Vistula Legion and Guard lancers.
The command structure of the Polish army in the second half of 1812:
Minister of War - Prince Jozef Poniatowski
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
Command Adjutant Assistant Chief-of-General Staff - Col. Rautenstrauch
Adjutant Colonel Attached to the Commander-in-Chief - A. Potocki
Chief-of-Staff - GD Fiszer
Inspector General of Infantry - GD Fiszer
Inspector General of Cavalry - GD Rozniecki
Inspector General of Artillery and Engineers - GB Pelletier (Frenchman)
One of the causes of the war of 1812 was the existence of the Duchy. In spite of Napoleon’s continuous assurances that the dangerous Polish dreams as Alexander called them, would never be permitted realization, the Russian monarch was forever restive. He demanded that the word Poles be not used in public documents, that Polish orders be abolished and that the Polish army be considered as a part of that of Saxony. Meanwhile, the second Polish war, as Napoleon called it, broke out. 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 are 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. 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&rsquos; 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.
August 1812
Ve Corps d’Armee - Commandant en chef GdD Prince Jozef Poniatowski
Chef d’état-major - GdD Fiszer
Corps Reserve Artillery - Col. Gorski
2nd Horse Battery (152 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
14th Foot Battery (158 men, 6 12pdr cannons)
Pontoneers (121 men, bridging equipment)
--------------------------------------------
General Artillery Park
7th Foot Battery (169 men, no guns)
8th Foot Battery (81 men, no guns)
9th Foot Battery (86 men, no guns)
13th Foot Battery (75 men, no guns)
15th Foot Battery (89 men, no guns)
16th Infantry Division - GdD Zajaczek
1st Infantry Brigade - GdB Mielzynski
3rd Infantry Regiment (2.621 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
15th Infantry Regiment (2.675 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
2nd Infantry Brigade - GdB Paszkowski
13th Infantry Regiment (2.371 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
16th Infantry Regiment (2.679 men,2 3pdr cannons)
Divisional Artillery - Chef ?
3rd Foot Battery (144 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
12th Foot Battery (159 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
Sapper Company (72 men)
--------------------------------------------
17th Infantry Division - GdD Dabrowski
1st Infantry Brigade - GdB Zoltowski
1st Infantry Regiment (2.396 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
6th Infantry Regiment (2.543 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
2nd Infantry Brigade - GdB Krasinski
14th Infantry Regiment (2.544 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
17th Infantry Regiment (2.666 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
Divisional Artillery - Chef Gugenmus
10th Foot Battery (167 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
11th Foot Battery (175 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
Sapper Company (71 men)
--------------------------------------------
18th Infantry Division - GdD Kniaziewicz
1st Infantry Brigade - GdB Grabowski
2nd Infantry Regiment (2.420 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
8th Infantry Regiment (2.422 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
2nd Infantry Brigade - GdB Pakosz
12th Infantry Regiment (2.206 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
This infantry regiment was detached
Divisional Artillery - Chef ?
4th Foot Battery (163 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
5th Foot Battery (153 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
Sapper Company (61 men)
--------------------------------------------
Light Cavalry Division - GdD Kaminski replaced with Sebastiani, then Lefebvre-Desnouettes
18th Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB ?
4th Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment (786 men in 4 squadrons)
19th Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB ?
1st Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment (652 men)
12th Uhlan Regiment (497 men)
19th Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB ?
5th Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment (791 men in 4 sq.)
13th Hussar Regiment (755 men in 4 sq.)
--------------------------------------------
IVe Corps de Cavalerie - GdD Latour-Maubourg
Corps Artillery - Chef Szwerin
3rd Horse Battery (168 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
4th Horse Battery (167 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
Saxon Horse Battery (176 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
Westphalian Horse Battery (69 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
4th Light Cavalry Division - GdD Rozniecki
28th Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB Dziewanowski
2nd Uhlan Regiment (596 men in 3 squadrons)
7th Uhlan Regiment (672 men)
11th Uhlan Regiment (551 men)
29th Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB Turno
3rd Uhlan Regiment (658 men)
11th Uhlan Regiment (688 men)
16th Uhlan Regiment (728 men)
7th Heavy Cavalry Division - GdD Lorge
1st Brigade - GdB Thielemann
Polish 14th Cuirassier Regiment (300 men ?)
Saxon 'Zastrow' Cuirassier Regiment (4 sq.)
Saxon Garde du Corps Regiment (4 sq.)
2nd Brigade - GdB Lepel
Westphalian 1st Cuirassier Regiment
Westphalian 2nd Cuirassier Regiment
--------------------------------------------
There were Polish troops in French divisions, for example in the 28th Division under Girard.
28th Infantry Division - GdD Girard
1st Infantry Brigade - GdB Ouviller
2nd Infantry Regiment (1.331 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
7th Infantry Regiment (967 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
9th Infantry Regiment (1.281 men, 2 3pdr cannons)
2nd Infantry Brigade - GM Klengel
Saxon Von Low Infantry Regiment
Saxon Von Rechten Infantry Regiment
Divisional Artillery - Chef ?
1st Foot Battery (67 men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
2nd Foot Battery (?? men, 4 6pdr cannons, 2 howitzers)
Sapper Company (97 men)
--------------------------------------------
The Poles were also in the Imperial Guard. The entire Vistula Legion was attached to the Guard. Part of the Guard were the chevaulegere-lancers.
Infantry Division of Vistula Legion - GdD Claparede, GdD Jozef Chlopicki
1st Infantry Brigade
1st Infantry Regiment of Vistula Legion
2nd Infantry Regiment of Vistula Legion
2nd Infantry Brigade
3rd Infantry Regiment of Vistula Legion
4th Infantry Regiment of Vistula Legion
Divisional Artillery
Foot Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
Foot Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
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)

1813. Campaign in Saxony and the Battle of Leipzig.
Darling war, what a lady you must be for all the most handsome boys to follow you like this - from a Polish song


Davies writes: 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.
Though the ranks of Poniatowski’s troops were thinned, their determination was strong.
In May 1813 Napoleon formed so-called Grenadier Corps, which became part of the French Imperial Guard. It consisted of three battalions (each of 4 companies); the 1st Battalion of Poles, 2nd of Saxons and 3rd of Westphalians. It was Napoleon’s attempt to establish closer ties to the Poles and Germans. The grenadiers were selected by Prince Poniatowski from the infantry of VIII Army Corps. They were brave men, at least 23-years old and with 2 years' service.
October 1813
VIIIe Corps d’Armee - Commandant en chef GdD (MdE) Prince Jozef Poniatowski
Chef d’état-major - GdD Aleksander Rozniecki
Sous chef d’état-major - GdB Jozef Rautenstrauch
Commandant l’artillerie - Col. Jakub Antoni Redel
Commandant le genie - Col. Jean C. Mallet de Grandville
--------------------------------------------
Corps Reserve Artillery - Col. Pierre-Charles-Francois Bontemps
Foot Battery
Foot Battery
Sapper Company
--------------------------------------------
Advance Guard of VIII Army Corps - GdB Jan Nepomucen Uminski
'Krakusi' Cavalry Regiment (4 squadrons)
14th Cuirassier Regiment (with no armor)
--------------------------------------------
26th Infantry Division - GdD Ludwik Kamieniecki
1st Infantry Brigade - GdB Jan Kanty Julian Sierawski
'Vistula Legion' Infantry Regiment
1st Infantry Regiment
16th Infantry Regiment
2nd Infantry Brigade - GdB Kazimierz Malachowski
8th Infantry Regiment
15th Infantry Regiment
Divisional Artillery - Capitaine Franciszek Orlinski.
Foot Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
Foot Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
Foot Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
--------------------------------------------
27th Infantry Division - GdD Jan Henryk Dabrowski
1st Infantry Brigade - GdB Edward Zoltowski
2nd Infantry Regiment
4th Infantry Regiment
2nd Infantry Brigade - GdB Stefan Grabowski
12th Infantry Regiment
14th Infantry Regiment
Divisional Artillery - Chef de bataillon ...
Foot Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
Foot Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
Horse Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
--------------------------------------------
IVe Corps de cavalerie - GdD Michal Sokolnicki
Commandant en chef - GdD Michal Sokolnicki
Chef d’état major - GdB Charles Antoine Benoist de Tancarville
Corps Artillery:
Horse Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
Horse Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
7th Light Cavalry Division - GdD ....
17th Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB Jozef Tolinski
1st Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment
3rd Uhlan Regiment
18th Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB Jan Krukowiecki
2nd Uhlan Regiment
4th Uhlan Regiment
Divisional Artillery - Capitaine Schwerin
Horse Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
8th Light Cavalry Division - GdD Antoni Pawel Sulkowski
19th Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB Kazimierz Turno
6th Uhlan Regiment
8th Uhlan Regiment
20th Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB Jan Weyssenhoff
16th Uhlan Regiment
13th Hussar Regiment
Divisional Artillery - Capitaine Masson
Horse Battery (4 6pdr cannons and 2 5.5" howitzers)
--------------------------------------------
There was also the 8th Chevauleger-Lancier Regiment (or Lighthorse-Lancer, previously known as the 2nd Vistula Uhlan Regiment) as part of French 1st Light Cavalry Division.
1st Light Cavalry Division - GdD Berkheim
2nd Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB Montmarie
French 1st Chevauleger-Lancier Regiment
French 3rd Chevauleger-Lancier Regiment
French 16th Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment
3rd Light Cavalry Brigade - GdB Piquet
8th Chevauleger-Lancier Regiment (French unit, all Poles)
French 5th Chevauleger-Lancier Regiment
Italian 1st Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment
--------------------------------------------
There were several Polish units in the French Imperial Guard.
2nd Infantry Division of Old Guard - GdD Curial
1st Brigade - GdB Rousseau
Fusilier-Grenadiers Regiment (French)
Fusilier-Chasseurs Regiment (French)
Velites of Turin (Italians)
Velites of Florence (Italians)
2nd Brigade - GdB Rothembourg
1st Grenadier Battalion (Poles)
2nd Grenadier Battalion (Saxons)
3rd Grenadier Battalion (Westphalians)
Divisional Artillery
French Foot Battery of Young Guard
French Foot Battery of Young Guard

2nd Cavalry Division of the Guard - GdD Lefevre-Desnouettes (Young Guard)
Cavalry Brigade - GdB Krasinski (1.240 men)
part of 1st Lancer Regiment of the Guard (4 sq. of Young Guard)
part of French Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment of the Guard (4 sq. of Young Guard)
Cavalry Brigade - GdB Castex
part of French Grenadier-a-Cheval Regiment of the Guard (2 sq. of Young Guard)
Divisional Artillery
French Horse Battery of Old Guard

3rd Cavalry Division of the Guard - GdD Walther (Old Guard)
Cavalry Brigade - GdB Lyon (1.700 men)
part of French Garde d'Honneur (Young Guard)
part of 1st Lancer Regiment of the Guard (4 sq. of Old Guard)
part of French Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment of the Guard (6 sq. of Old Guard)
Cavalry Brigade - GdB Letort
part of French Garde d'Honneur (Young Guard)
French Dragoon Regiment of the Guard (4 sq. of Old Guard)
Cavalry Brigade - GdB laferriere
part of French Garde d'Honneur (Young Guard)
French Grenadier-a-Cheval Regiment of the Guard (4 sq. of Old Guard)
Divisional Artillery.
French Horse Battery of Old Guard
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.

1814. Campaign in France
After Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig the majority of Poles 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 and Wesolowski - 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):
Krakusi Regiment
1st Uhlan Regiment (530 men + 399 horses)
2nd Uhlan Regiment (530 men + 336 horses)
Vistula Infantry Regiment (854 men in 2 battalions)
four companies of foot artillery (520 men)
company of horse artillery (125 men + 47 horses ONLY)
sapper company (68 men)
There were in France other Polish units, but all were cavalry:
4th, 8th and 16th Uhlan Regiment
1st Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment
13th Hussar Regiment
3rd Eclaireur Regiment of the Guard
1st Lancer Regiment of the Old Guard

Soissons. The Last Heroic Stand

The last heroic stand of Polish troops was in March 1814 at Soissons. Soissons was defended by a very weak garrison: 792 men of Vistula infantry, 80 eclaireurs, 20 French 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 ramparts. 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 and Wesolowski - Poles and Saxons of the Napoleonic Wars p 129) In the evening an emissary arrived with a call to surrender. During a war council Moreau and the commander of Vistula Regiment voted categorically against capitulation. Soon another emissary arrived with stronger worded ultimatum threatening to put the garrison to the sword and sack the town. Moreau agreed to capitulate. When informed of this the Vistula Regiment nearly mutined, the soldiers were seen biting their muskets with impotent fury. The Allies were in such a hurry that at 3 pm two battalions entered the town and found themselves facing the angry Vistula Regiment. The commander of the Poles told the allies general to leave for another hour or he would start shooting ! The Allies general quickly agreed. At 4 pm the garrison departed Soissons with its weapons, receiving military honors. Allies generals asked Moreau why he didn’t order his division to march after the vanguard, Moreau replied that this was his entire force. The Vistula Regiment was awarded by Napoleon with 23 crosses of Legion d’Honneur for its actions at Soissons.
When the Napoleonic Wars ended and Poland was under Russia’s rule, Grand Duke Constantine became commander of the Polish army. He was highly unpopular among Poles for his rigors. It was a shock for many whom earlier served in the French army. Neither merit, nor virtues salvage praise and acknowledgment that depended entirely on his capricious high-handedness. News circulated that he was insane and during the Congress in Vienna entertained himself by giving hot enemas to stray dogs. Only after Constantine married Polish countess in 1820 his behaviour changed and corporal punishment was abolished. The severity of his administration, the activity of secret police and the discontent of the army led in 1830-1831 to anti-tsarist November Uprising. In the beginning of the hostilities, Constantine only narrowly escaped the capture by young officers who ran into his palace with drawn sabers. He never returned.

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
Pawlowski - Polish-Austrian War of 1809 1999
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
Pachonski - General Jan Henryk Dabrowski, Warszawa 1981
Gembarzewski - Wojsko Polskie. Ksiestwo Warszawskie 1807-1814 1912
Gembarzewski - Rodowody pulków i oddzialów równorzednych 1925
Sokolnicki - Journal historique de la 7-e div. de cav. legere polonaise
Napier - History of the War in the Peninsula 1807-1814
Domange - Garde Imperiale, bataillon de Grenadiers Polonais Uniform Plate from the Series on the Legions Polonaises et l’Armée du Grand-Duche de Varsovie.
Battle of Kircholm 1605, Poles vs Swedes (incl. maps, old illustrations etc.)
Legiony i Wojsko Ksiestwa w latach 1797 - 1814
Napoleon - nadzieja Polaków
Polish Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery During the Napoleonic Wars.

PS
Some would doubt the bravery of the Polish troops. Their opinion is based on what they heard and read about World War 2. In 1939, Germans with 2,500 tanks invaded Poland and defeated Polish troops with 500 tanks. Despite being so outgunned and outmaned Poland fought for almost one month. Although Britain and France declared war on Germany the Poles received no help - French and British troops sat on their asses doing the phoney war in the west while their wimpy politicians feared Hitler. Poland had been forced by Britain and France to delay mobilization which they claimed might be interpreted as aggressive behavior. And as one of our visitors (Andrew of USA) put it: not only did no aid arrive, but Poland was attacked by and from two sides, Germany and Russia! And Poland still managed to give both a workout. Despite the fact that France and Britain fielded 1.500 tanks, more than the Germans (!), the invaders rolled over them and within one month France capitualated and the Brits fled to Dunkirk.


With kindly Jane Jaye’s permission


Into image,Polish lancers in action
Documento inserito il: 24/12/2014
  • TAG: esercito polacco 1450 1650, guerre polonia russi, guerre polacco mongole, guerre polacchi cavalieri teutonici, organizzazione, armamenti, strategie, dragoni alati
  • http://web2.airmail.net/napoleon/

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