Historical story

The Art of War by Jan Karol Chodkiewicz. Thanks to this tactic, the queen was invincible on the battlefield

He went down in history as a conqueror of the Swedes, the great victory of the Battle of Kircholm in 1605. More than once he managed to defeat a much stronger enemy. What was the secret of his successes?

Charisma and war experience are not enough to achieve brilliant successes. When at the end of 1602 Jan Karol Chodkiewicz took over the supreme command of Livonia, he had a difficult task ahead of him. He had to face much more Swedes.

A recipe for success

As an efficient commander, the hetman was aware, however, that in open clashes, opponents usually lose to the Polish army - and decided to take advantage of it. As historian Leszek Podhorodecki wrote about Chodkiewicz:

He was characterized by great speed of actions and a tendency to fight a general battle, in accordance with the principles of the old Polish art of war. In the operative arts, he used a fortified camp for the first time in a centrally chosen place, where the accumulated cavalry was a mobile reserve for fortresses, manned by a small foot.

It is no coincidence that this outstanding commander won many times, coming to the relief of the fortresses besieged by the Swedes. This was the case, for example, in 1603, when he set out to help the crew of Rakvere Castle. After three days of fast walking, he ran into the Swedish vanguard, which the hussars smashed to dust (the balance sheet:about 70 German mercenaries and 100 Estonian peasants died on the Swedish side, 1 killed and 2 wounded on the side of the Republic of Poland).

The Swedes felt justified respect towards the hussars.

General Anders Lennartsson soon followed at the head of the larger forces. Chodkiewicz did not want to risk a clash with the outnumbered enemy. As it turned out - he did not have to be afraid. The Swedes were so afraid of the hussars that after a few hours of waiting ... they retreated.

How to beat a stronger enemy?

On September 24, 1604, the hetman came to help the White Stone (today's Estonian Paide). He had 2,300 soldiers with him, the enemy - 6,000 (sometimes the proportion is 2,500 to 5,000). The Swedish troops were commanded by Arvid Eriksson Stälarm, who realized the Polish strategy of driving away from the field and then killing the lonely infantry. So this time Stälarm mixed up the two units.

What did Chodkiewicz do? He focused on the opponent's stronger (left) wing, where he gained the advantage and won, and then threw his troops to fight in the center and on the other wing. Effect? If you believe the Hetman's account, the Swedes lost 3,000 men; he himself only 81 killed and about 100 wounded.

He played the battle of Kircholm on September 27, 1605 in a similar tactical way. Here, the disproportion of forces was probably even greater (the Polish army is estimated at 3440-4000, the Swedish army at around 11 thousand), and the result of the Hetman's actions - even electrifying.

On the enemy side, more than half of the fighters lost their lives, among Poles only 100 (and 200 wounded) were killed. (...) Stanisław Herbst counted the fight near Kircholm among the greatest tactical victories in history. In turn, Marian Kukiel wrote:

Kircholm is a classic example of a full-blown combat battle, ie destroying the opponent. Little is known of history so full of victories, nor of a single won with such an advantage.

Speed, surprise, creativity

"Chodkiewicz is fast" - could be repeated by the Swedes. Before the battle of Kircholm, the Poles he commanded traveled about 80 kilometers (there is also an opinion that even 125) in just two days. However, it is one thing to travel across Livonia in September and another - in a cold winter. Meanwhile, in February 1609, the hetman decided to attack Pärnu by surprise. For six days, his soldiers wandered through forests and wilderness, covering a distance of 200 kilometers.

Thanks to strenuous marches, Chodkiewicz often appeared where the enemy did not expect him.

And when he was about to strike before dawn on March 1, the Pärnu crew - warned by a spy - opened artillery fire from the castle. So nothing came of the surprise attack, and Chodkiewicz had too little strength to allow himself a regular siege. So he decided to use a trick. He ordered a retreat, but as soon as his soldiers left the enemy's sight, he ordered them to stop. However, he forbade lighting fires.

So the Poles waited a few hours - until midnight. It was then that the hetman picked up the army, which again moved to Parnava - and this time surprised the Swedish crew. By dawn, the city was in the hands of the attackers. They captured 104 cannons and two merchant ships, which gave Chodkiewicz a new idea ...

For the captured ships, he bought a few more from the Dutch and the English staying in Pärnu. He quickly completed a crew of Swedish prisoners of war, Lithuanian infantrymen and local sailors and headed towards the port of Salis, where the Swedish flotilla was stationed blocking Riga - the second most populous city in the then Commonwealth.

On the night of March 23-24, 1609, Jan Karol Chodkiewicz fought the only sea battle in his life. First, he brought two branders loaded with flammable materials into the port of Salis. Two Swedish units caught fire from burning ships. Chaos reigned. Surprised Swedes, under fire, swam away in panic, and the winner from Kircholm added another triumph to his biography.

"It is the genius's lot to discover events that ordinary minds do not notice, catch them quickly and do them immediately" - Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz complimented this success.


You can read about the secret of the successes of our greatest leaders in the book "Polish gods of war" .