Thursday, January 24, 2013

Battle of Byczyna anniversary

today we celebrate the anniversary of the famous battle of Byczyna, that took place on January 24, 1588, exactly 425 years ago. In many respects this battle changed the history of Poland, since Hapsburg pretender Imperial Prince Maximillian III of Austria was defeated by  Crown Grand Hetman Zamoyski who supported young prince Sigismund Vasa, descendant via his mother  of the Jagellonian Dynasty, and for next 80 years Poland would be ruled by the Vasa dynasty kings, for better or worse I guess.

   This battle is interesting in that it was one of the unusual circumstances where the Polish and Hungarian winged hussars banners fought against one another; of course they also fought against the landsknechts and other Western and Hungarian style infantry, Western style cavalry like reiters.

Bycznya 1588 was also a prime example of Old Polish military doctrine of assault  by using Polish heavy cavalry - then the winged hussars - to hammer the enemy on a field battle and possibly destroy him once and for good during that one terrible clash of arms. This time it worked well as we know at Byczyna this Old Polish military tactic was acctually accomplished to the utmost extend, evidenced by the fact that the commanding general and Polish Crown pretender prince Maximillian was taken prisoner when his surrendered in the aftermath  of this quite bloody engagement. 

Well, let us look at the forces – the general description of the battle is given on wikipedia - first the Imperial pretender's army.

Prince Maximillian had about 6,500 fighting men (according to Marek Plewczynski*), grouped into units based under their country of orgin, and those divided into cavalry, infantry and artillery. The vast majority - 5000 men -  of his army was fresh, since they freshly arrived at Byczyna, but they were undisciplined and never had fought together.  About 1,500 men were quite tired and perhaps demoralized by the constant withdrawal in face of Zamoyski's pressure. Yet Prince decided to give battle, so  between 5 & 6 am on January 24 his army left Byczyna and moved towards a flat terrain with a hill dominating it, numbered on the maps as hill 218, about 2-2,5 km away from the fortified town of Byczyna, where 2 rotas of infantry and 40 harquebusiers were left guarding the 'camp,' so to speak.
The army was to deploy in a form of a half moon on both sides of the King's highway, leading to Uszyce, with the hill 218 as their commanding and most dominating aspect of this battlefield.

Reiters – or pistolers – 7 rotas or units from Silesia (2 banners of 700 – under Oppersdorf- and 200 - under Waldau) and Moravia (5 rotas of a thousand horses– 2 largest under Boguslav Borzita and Fridrich Žerotin): together 1800 men and horses.

Harquebusiers – armoured, heavier cavalry – 4 rotas from Germany (2, but one very small of 30 horses) and Moravia ( 2 rotas of 300 and 100 horse, the smaller one under Jan Hodejowski): together 630 men and horses.

Light horse – 4 rotas, 3 Polish and 1 small one -30 men- of Hungarians, together: 230 men and horses.
Curiosity - the Hungarian unit is called Argienses Ungari milites exercitissimi or really well trained cavalrymen, sort of elite soldiers. Polish side had a similar unit, know as eleary or eligery.

Heavy cavalry - Winged Hussars – 5 rotas ( 4 Polish rotas ones grouped under Stadnicki – future Diabeł /Devil -  with their rotameisters Marszowski, Górka, and 1 large one – 500 horse - Hungarian under Prepostvari) together: 600 men and horses.

Infantry -
1 German rota of Landsknehts under Kurtz of 200 pikemen and 200 musketeers – 400 men.

2 Sillesian rotas of 400(100musketeers &300 pikemen) and 600 (200 musketeers & 400 pikemen) each – together 1000 men

1 Moravian rota under Jan Hetzer of 500 men (300 pikemen and 200 musketeers) 

1 Polish rota of 200 men (no pikemen) – divided into 10 gun-men units, where every tenth man carried a 'darda' or a staff weapon, and alos could have a firearm.
1 Hungarian rota of 1190 men (roughly divided into equal number of pikemen and musketeers)

Prince's artillery prof. Plewczynski* estimates at 4 heavy field guns and more than 10 falkonets.

   As  you saw above the army came to a flat ground 2,5 km from Byczyna and here Prince Maximillian ordered his army to be deployed near the dominant hill  218,  essentially in two lines. The left wing had the Hungarian Argienses in front of German mounted Harquebusiers (devided in 10 lines) and Moravian Harquebusiers. Next to them stood all Polish winged hussar rotas under their commander Stadnicki, 400 horses in 4 lines. The second line of the left wing consisted of 100 German reiter rota and all Polish light horse – 200 horses.
The center of the Maximillian army consisted of Silesian reiter rota – 200 horses in 13 lines, German reiter rota of 100 horse, the small German harquebusier rota and finally 700 Silesian reiter rota under Oppersdorf.

   The right wing was deployed into two lines as well : front line consisted of 500 Hungarian winged hussar rota under Prepostvari (perhaps in 10 lines). Second line of the right wing consisted of infantry deployed at the foot of  the hill 218. Looking from the left first stood a square of the landsknechts of 20 lines, 800 strong Silesian infantry, and huge 1,200 strong Hungarian infantry 'pułk.' Next stood 200 Polish haiduks in 10 lines, and finally Moravian infantry (500 men). Near the neighboring forest stood the Moravian harquebusier rota and 2 Moravian reiter rotas (600 men).

Prince Maximillian was on the hill 218, himself surrounded by Polish (Gorka and Zobrowski) and German nobles along with his personal guard -100 horses German reiter rota. Next to the Imperial commander the prince's artillery was placed.
Army was deployed in a form of half moon 1000 meters wide and 500 meters deep, the convex part of it towards the enemy thought to advance and attack via the highway leading towards Byczyna behind Prince Maximilian's army rear. 

There was a small village of Roszkowice on the King's highway, about 3-3,5 km away from Byczyna, in front of the army of Maximillian, that most likely than not was rather small and had been burned the night before. There was larger forestspreding from the south to the foot of the hill 218, there were other small wooded areas, some on hill 218. and some to the north-east of Roszkowice

Next, I will write about the army of Grand Hetman Zamoyski. 


* Source: article by prof. Marek Plewczynski – 'Bitwa pod Byczyna 24. 01. 1588 r.' In ''Studia I Materialy do Historii Wojskowosci,' volume 17.1 , Warszawa 1970.

ps and here I posted a link to the film about this battle  but it does not work anymore.

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