Having managed to assemble all my 15mm miniatures for Swedish and Polish armies of the Thirty Years War, the time came to put both forces to the test of battle. I broadly based this game on the very first scenario from a now-venerable but still useful book by Charles Stewart Grant, Programmed Wargames Scenarios – very handy for solitaire gaming, as it provides a primitive kind of AI for the lone wargamer to fight against.
I took personal command of the Swedish army, on this occasion, and deployed my regiments on a low line of hills to meet the advancing Poles. A distinguishing feature of Polish armies in this period was their heavy dependence on massed cavalry. It means they really have to act aggressively; so my assumption was that they’d launch themselves at my line as fast as possible and that their cavalry – a mix of the famous winged hussars and lighter cossack-style horsemen (pancerni) – were going to be my main problem, rather than the lower-quality foot units.
With that in mind, I anchored my infantry regiments and supporting guns on the hills, while massing my own cavalry, two large units of reiters, on my left wing with the idea that I could counter-attack and overwhelm the Polish units on that flank.
The Polish army emerged from the south and deployed with infantry – mostly haidouks, irregular footsoldiers inspired by a type of Balkan outlaw, but with a few levies of variable enthusiasm as well – in the centre with the guns, and cavalry on the wings. To my slight consternation, the Poles stationed two-thirds of their horse on their right, facing off against my own reiters. Any counter-attack was going to prove tougher than I’d hoped.
As luck would have it, the Polish general turned out to be the impetuous type. Even as the artillery on both sides fired the opening shots, he chose to throw everything forward, perhaps hoping that the sheer speed of the attack would break through the Swedish defence.
Artillery bombardments began to have an effect on both sides. The Yellow Regiment in my centre started to take casualties, though a greater toll was being taken on the haidouks, whose advance slowed as a consequence. Meanwhile, the Polish cavalry on their left came into the range of shot from the Blue Regiment and the little leather regimental guns seemed to have an unnerving impact on them; their advance also slowed.
Action on the other flank was more intense. As the Polish husaria swept forward, I moved one of my reiter regiments into contact with them, and a fierce hand-to-hand fight ensued. I might well have been in trouble had it not been for the fact that, instead of supporting their compatriots in melee, the second line of pancerni wheeled to their left and set off to try to engage my Red Regiment. Even so, the struggle between the two cavalry forces pushed back and forth without a clear advantage going to either side.
At this point fate, in the shape of a chance card, intervened. A fire broke out in the Polish gun position. The Polish artillery was silenced while the gunners worked frantically to extinguish the flames (and while two Russian mercenaries quietly crept away amid the confusion!). This was a relief for the Yellow Regiment, who’d been suffering a steady trickle of casualties, and left the haidouks without artillery support just as they marched into the range of Swedish musketry and of those little leather regimental cannon.
I sent my second regiment of reiters into the swirling melee on my left. That did the trick. The husaria put up a brave fight but were at last overwhelmed by the number of Swedish horse they were facing. With the nearby pancerni now closely embroiled with the Red Regiment, this suddenly exposed the whole right flank of the Polish army to my cavalry counter-attack.
Realising the danger, the Polish general thus took a sensible decision, choosing to withdraw as much as he could of his army and fight again another day.
All in all, it was an enjoyable game to play through, even if it didn’t really reach a decisive conclusion. I think luck was on my side, with the fire in the Polish battery and the husaria being left unsupported in the big cavalry melee both being crucial factors. These two armies will certainly meet again quite soon. It would be interesting to see how the Poles might fare if they are trying to hold a position – not the easiest of tasks for an army so reliant on its cavalry arm.