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The Two Armies
By Denis (Deen)
“It was the winter of 1703, and we, Swedes, have managed to get into the Russian territory from the North. Our camp was positioned only about 38 kilometers from the border, so we still had a long way to push toward the Russian fortress where one of our generals was held captive, and resistance was growing stronger with every passing minute.
Our encampment was positioned on a cliff, a place hard to get to, but also hard to position a defending army on, so we were forced to live in tents on a snowy field, outside the walls of the camp. The villagers came down regularly and brought us food and wood for fires, nevertheless it was difficult to sleep in the bitter cold, with the howls of the wolves being heard from nearby.
Our initial army was composed of the following forces: a 120-men column of musketeers; 2 regiments of dragoons, 60 men each; and numerous pikemen, of which I was a part. We recently received new uniforms, replacing the cuirasses we had before. They were red, with bright yellow pants. The new recruits liked it, for it was easier to wear than a heavy steel cuirass; however, the more experienced soldiers, or how we called them—veterans, only shook heads and murmured that the younger soldier will miss the protection of a cuirass when we will have to take bullets from the pischals used by Strelets and face the Russian Vityaz.
I had served for only 2 years, and did not have much experience fighting the Russian army. I heard they had very well trained infantry, especially Spearmen, but no one had ever told me of the cavalry and it’s tactics. I spend all of next week looking for someone who had fought the Russian cavalry before. One evening, sitting in front of a fire, I meet Hans, an old fellow with strong arms and very little teeth left behind his long and wide beard. He told me that he had been in Russia before and he did get to fight the Vityaz.
He was a part of a scouting mission in the year 1691, consisting of a square of pikes and a musketeer-line…
“We were getting through a dence forest in the dusk. Abruptly, we heard horses trotting from the rear. From behind the trees we saw a group of cavalrymen, wearing heavy layers of armor and wielding long maces. The musketeers aimed while pikemen tried to get between them and the cavalry. The first volley left marks on the trees, wood flying, but none of the cavalrymen fell; they increased pace and took out their maces. Second volley, same result, only a couple of them jerked, but continued on. Third volley was fired from only 80 yards and managed to knock down two of the attackers. They divided into two even groups, one charged us, the other took the way around left and came upon the poor musketeers. Their maces swung slow, but more often than not were a one hit kill. They fought silently, and seldom died. The fighting ceased after an hour, and they continued on, leaving no more than a dozen fellow cavalrymen dead in the dirt. I was mistaken for a dead soldier after I took a hit in the back. I woke up only the next morning, aching with pain, with no one left, and crows sitting in the trees. They were Vityaz, and we outnumbered them ten to one…. It was a horrific battle…”
I could not sleep that night, the nightmares of the silent warriors kept me up until morning. “
Part 2: The First Encounter
“The next day we were summoned by our commanding body. They had received news from the scouts that had returned last night. The Russian army was sighted 10 kilometers down from out base, the battle would most likely occur tonight. I was eager to ask whether there were Vityaz in the army, but could not allow myself to do that. In two hours we were ready to take the enemy.
Our army was positioned on a plain only a couple kilometers from out tents, with a line of pikes and howitzers in front. Behind them--the musketeers; to the right, some cannon protected by a second line of pikemen. And in the left flank, and toward our tents were the dragoon regiments.
I was defending the cannon and crews, and could not see much because of the pikeline in front. We were all growing with anticipation, and passed time blowing air out and watching it turn into steam-like frost. I was a particularly cold day, and my pike was very cold to hold on to. I wished they had given us mittens.
Soon, we were signaled to get ready to take the enemy. From what I could see there were no Vityaz in the Russian army, however there were many Don Cossacks, Strelets, and Spearmen, all dressed into warm coats and with thick mittens on. They also had artillery numbers to match ours.
Without halting their march, they lowered their spears, aimed their pischals, kicked their horses and charged us. What would seem like an unorganized mass attack was actually a well-planned order of waves of attack. The Don Cossacks came first, followed by spearmen slightly flanking us away from dragoons and being covered by Strelets fire. And all that was supported by their cannon blowing holes in our line.
Don Cossacks took heavy casualties from the howitzers, but practically annihilated the first line of pikemen, and were finally defeated by the racket of muskets from behind the pikes; just in time to take on the spearmen. I thought our line would have the same fate, as the spearmen were cleverly avoiding the dragoons and closing in on us, while strelets were having a what seemed like a successful shoot out with our musketeers who were outnumbered roughly two to one.
We were saved by the cannon we were protecting which gave loud rounds of grapeshot into the mass of the brave spearmen. Following, we were locked in a melee bloodbath with the remaining spearmen, who obviously were superior to our men. But because they lost many to the grapeshot, and the small group of dragoons firing at them, we were able to overcome them and keep the cannon.
Meanwhile, the strelets have killed most of our musketeers and were firing at our dragoons. The dragoons left us to finish off the spearmen, and went toward the enemy to take on the strelets, who by now had lost many and were loosing the shooting contest. At the last moment, the Russian howtizer fired upon the dragoons and took down over a dozen. The rest killed off the stragglers and captures the artillery.
We had lost 4/5 of our pikemen, most of our musketeers, and half of the dragoons, but were saved from complete diaster by the grapeshot. I had a feeling the Russians would still not let us advance toward the fortress, and had another assault in the works. I was not mistaken…”
Part 3: The Second Assault.
“Our command had realized that we would not be able to make any advancement toward out target if we kept using all of our forces to fight off the enemy. We needed reserve, so we could use it to launch a quick counter attack right after the second assault, and before there was a third army to fight off. It was obvious that our small encampment could not train men fast enough to meet that goal.
So, a messenger was sent to Poland to ask for assistance. In two weeks he came back with good news: the polish king agreed to help us, and already sent reinforcements— four hundred light riders and 120 hussaria; they are scheduled to arrive next week. Meanwhile, we were training new recruits for the second battle that was sure to happen soon. The new army would be ready.
After two weeks, late and tired, the Polish had arrived. They ran out of supplies, so our villagers had to work overtime to feed extra 520 men and their horses, plus build many new tents for them. It was decided that the Polish cavalry would join the newly trained musketeers and half of the pikemen in fending off the second assault, while dragoons, and the remaining pikemen would prepare for the siege of the fortress that would quickly follow.
Again, we were called upon to be informed of the enemy, this time the officers were worried, even though we had 520 more cavalrymen. They told us that the Russian army had changed its units. Instead of Don Cossacks they implemented Currasiers, and instead of strelets and spearmen they had grenadiers. I did not know whether this was good news or bad, and I did not think about that much, because I was among the ones left in reserve for the siege.
Time passed. Again, we were lined up to face the enemy. Again, we were numerically superior. And again, we were scared. I was told the battle was long and tiring. First the currasiers took on the polish light riders in hand to hand combat, defeated all 400 with the help of grenadiers shooting from the back. Then they charged the pikes and musketeers, and the 120 hussaria charged the grenadiers… Everything under the thunder of roaring guns, taking the lives of dozens of soldiers. The piles of bodies were and obstruction to the flying cannon balls, the kings of the battlefield. Flying slowly through the air, with immence force and grace….
Only a handful survived the onslaught, they came back, and told the story though tears, lost their friends and comrades. They were even sorry for the Russian soldiers who had perished. “Why should so many people die…? For what…? For one man? Why…”—they cried.”
Part 4: The Siege
“After that, we were ready to launch the counter attack, and were determined to make it to the fortress, free the general, and leave, leave for home. The details our journey are not significant, except that we encountered little resistance until we got to the Russian city. They had a narrow passage leading inside, and going in would mean death, for there were grenadiers awaiting to shoot us to pieces as soon as we showed our heads.
We stayed outside the passage for two days, then the end of supplies left us with two choices, turn back, or try to break through the passage. The dragoons went first, managing to kill one or two grenadiers before being killed by the bullets flying from all directions. We followed closely, managed to get outside the passage and engage the grenadiers in melee, covered by the fire of the remaining dragoons. The whole skirmish took no more than half an hour, and we had overpowered the resistance and were looking for the general in the city…
Every story has an ending, sometimes it is happy, sometimes it is disappointing, sometimes it is unexpected, sometimes it is confusing, sometime it questions the purpose of the story and completely changes it’s morale.
The General killed himself.
We safely returned to the camp, and were out of Russia by the end of the month.
P.S. I never got to face the Vityaz, maybe for the better.”
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