This rather long post officially closes the Lesnaya series that will be merged into the TMT series. I, Nick Dorrell and the very decent chums of the Wyre forest wargames club will be doing three battles (2 that took place and one that could have been) from the Great Northern War covering the, from a Swedish perspective, ill-fated Russian campaign 1708 to 1709. I will provide a brief overview here and on how many bases and figures we need for the project – there will be more historical background as we get into these projects in more detail. There is a lot to do. The Battles will be presented at the Joy of Six Shows 2017, 2018 and 2019.
I plan to do an update every 4 weeks on this particular project. I do try to update this blog on a weekly basis with other stuff I am working on or something else that takes my fancy. If you are interested in following this blog you could register your e-mail here or like the Roll a One group on Facebook or, if you prefer, come back from time to time.
Basing and Rules
As I already have thousands of 6mm GNW miniatures from previous projects I will base these new miniatures in the same way. This is in line with the GNW Polemos basing standard for 6mm figures and is done on bases measuring 60mm by 30mm. However these bases have been used to play with other good rules including Maurice (using two bases per unit which makes the column formation look funny but works), Might and Reason (the standard is two bases 50mm by 25mm per unit) and Twilight of the Sun King without any problems. There are of course other rules that can be used for the period and invariably rules, I have found, can be adapted to whatever basing you have. None of these rules are 6mm specific – so other scales works equally well. There are few things to consider when wargaming the early 18th century period in general and the Great Northern War in particular.
For Maurice there are some additional rules about more immobile artillery and pikes that needs to be included in a GNW setting and if you are using Might and Reason make sure you download the excellent (and free) module Sun King – A Module for Might and Reason 1689 to 1721 by Greg Savvinos. This module contains special rules for the Swedes as shock troops (see notes below). I think the following from the module is a spot on summary of the Swedish Army and the King from a period of history that produced some amazing military victories for the Swedish army but also its greatest defeat.
“The Swedish army of the GNW was a formidable combination of regular and militia that had been forged together to form a devastating battle field force that was able to sweep its enemies from many a battlefield. One of the great strengths of the Swedish army was the capable team of leaders it fielded, headed by the soldier king Charles XII. Unfortunately whilst Charles was a brilliant battlefield commander, he was less than mediocre as a strategist or diplomat and ultimately led his country to disaster at Poltava. The Swedish Army never recovered from that catastrophe and the rest of the war marked a steady decline in its quality. Yet Charles was willing to keep fighting to the last Swede, and very nearly did so by the time he was felled by a bullet fired from the Swedish lines whilst besieging a Norwegian fortress in 1718”.
From the Might and Reason supplement “Sun King – A module for might and Reason 1689 to 1721” by Greg Savvinos
Whilst the Great Northern war was the twilight of the Swedish Great Empire it was the dawn of the Tsarist Russian empire. I have to admit a bias in being Swedish but that does not blind me from the skillful and cautious build up and modernisation of the Russian army following the defeat at Narva in 1700. On top of the organisational changes the army had gained valuable experience from the smaller campaigns in the Baltic States and Finland. The skillful strategy adopted by the Russians during the Russian Campaign itself by using scorched earth tactics (as was later used against Napoleon and Adolf Hitler) and the successful ambush on the reinforcement supply column are amongst some of the reasons that the Battle at Poltava ended in a total disaster for the Swedes. Peter, who truly was Great, more or less on his own moved Russia from being a medieval and isolated culture to become a major european power with a strong army and navy. The Russian army fighting the Swedish army during the Russian campaign is a better trained and more experienced force.
I find this essay on Peter the Great being a good summary of his achievements. I further recommend the brilliant book by Robert K. Massie on Peter the Great if you are interested in this period of history.
Sam Mustafa, who wrote Maurice (and Might and Reason), provided the following guidelines on his Honours forum for the national advantages to be used in Maurice for early 18th century battles (for both WSS and GNW – I have just included the ones relevant to the GNW):
- Swedish: a la Baionette, Steady Lads, Cavaliers, Clerics, Maison du Roi, Great Captain if Charles XII is in command
- Danish: Lethal Volleys
- Prussian: Steady Lads, Lethal Volleys.
- Saxon/ Polish: Feudal if the army includes Poles.
- Russian 1695-1702: Feudal, At least half the regular units must be conscript.
Russian 1703-1707: Maison du Roi, Feudal
Russian 1708-1724: Steady Lads, Maison du Roi
- Ottomans: Feudal, Skirmisher, En Masse. No more than four regular Cavalry. At least 3 regular infantry must be conscript.
I think this is a good interpretation and the clerics represent the strong religious indoctrination of the Swedish army. Priests and religion were central to the Swedish Army’s development of the discipline needed to successfully implement the offensive tactics.
“Morale and discipline unites them
A common faith to keep them strong
Always on their way to heaven
In the name of Christ their enemies chastise”
From the Song “The Carolean’s Prayer” by Sabaton
You can find a link to the GNW Polemos rules here written by Nick Dorrell. Nick, amongst other things, is also working on a new version/adapatation of the Twilight of the Sun King rules for this period but these are not yet in print.
Whatever rules you are using for this period and the specific theater of war in the east in summary you need to consider some issues special to this theatre:
- The use of pikes – The normal pike to musket ratio in the Swedish army was about 1 to 3 and for the Russian about 1 to 6 for the period leading up to and including the Russian campaign.
- Swedish shock tactics – The use of shock tactics by the Swedish Army, both by the infantry (with pikes and swords) and cavalry (with naked steel and wedge formation charges). These attacks focusing on speed and aggression took advantage of the, still, relatively low firing rates and expected the enemy to waver and flee, which indeed happened on may occasions. I and the little one was once charged by a band of reenacting English Civil War pike men and it was indeed a scary experience.
- Swedish Determination – The effectiveness of the Swedish army who seemed to win time and time again although numerically inferior to its enemies. This is elegantly solved in the Polemos rules by using a temporary determined status, giving benefit in combat, for some Swedish units where the “..opponents can work to take the ‘edge’ off the Swedish by seeking to remove this status. Also it was a useful device to show the difference between the main Swedish army and the troops available elsewhere. Often the troops in the minor armies and theatres did not have this ‘edge’”.
- Troop types – including more varied cavalry units including old style Panzerni, Polish hussars as well as light horse units.
Below is a slideshow of some GNW miniatures from my collection (They are all from Baccus) as a thank you for reading this far. There are Saxons, Russians, Polish and Swedes.
Towards Moscow background and the Battles we will do
The campaign is the invasion of Russia by Charles XII of Sweden starting with the crossing of the frozen Vistula river in early 1708 and ends with the Swedish defeat in the Battle of Poltava in the Summer of 1709. It is the beginning of the end for Sweden as a dominant military power in north-eastern Europe.
The Great Northern War in started in 1700 when a coalition formed by the Peter the Great of Russia, Frederick IV of Denmak-Norway and Augustus II the Strong of Saxony-Poland attacked Sweden. The coalition were formed following the death of the Swedish King Charles XI and the belief was that the new and very young King (Charles the XII was 15 when his father died) would not be able to put up an organised fight. Following Swedish successful expansion during the 17th century a lot of these neighbours wanted lost territories back, limit Swedish economic dominance and gain access to the Baltic Sea.
However the King turned out to be a skilled warrior and leader of men and the preparedness, quality and efficiency of battle methods of the Swedish army built up by his father was second to none during this era. The King quickly pacified Denmark and a Peace Treaty was sign in Travendal 1700. The Russians were defeated at the Battle of Narva in 1700 but then the King turned his attention to Saxony-Poland and Augustus. It took the King 6 years to defeat the Saxon-Polish and force the abdication of Augustus the Strong from the Polish crown (1706 Treaty of Altranstädt).
The time had come to sort out the Russians.
I have used Nick Dorrell’s book Dawn of the Tsarist Empire that you can buy from Caliver books to derive the units present for the Battles and the bases needed (remember a base of infantry represents 400 to 600 men, about a battalion, and for cavalry 2 squadrons of about 200 to 250 men). It is probably the best book available about the full Russian campaign written with the “wargamer in mind”. I would also recommend Peter Englund’s fantastic The Battle that Shock Europe about the Poltava Battle – this is probably the best book I have ever read with regards to battles and warfare.
For painting guidance and colours/standards I have copies of the excellent books Great Northern War 1700-1721: Colours and Uniforms Part 1 and Part 2, by Lars-Eric Höglund and Åke Sallnäs. Not sure where these can be found nowadays more than the second hand market – for me these books are priced possessions. However a lot of information is readily available on the Tacitus Website (see above – with uniform detail for many battles) and is a good start. There is also a few relevant Osprey Books – Peter the Great’s Army Part 1 and Part 2 as well as a campaign book on Poltava (I will go through some other sources and provide some overviews in future installations of some of the other, including Swedish, sources I have and will be using).
[116 bases, excluding commanders – a total of 1,424 miniatures]
[Wikipedia link here]
This is an interesting Battle and in effect is an ambush by a Russian flying detachment of a smaller Swedish army led by General Lewenhaupt escorting a supply column of more than 4,500 wagons for heading for the main Army in Ukraine. From the perspective of doing the battle we need a lot of forest as well as about 40 or more bases to represent the supply column (wagons, carts, marching soldiers, etc). Please find the figure count for the Battle.
Russian Army (72 bases, excluding command bases)
Infantry – 10 bases with 24 miniatures per base (240 miniatures)
Dragoons – 60 bases with 9 miniature per base (540 miniatures)
Artillery – 2 light gun bases (2 cannon with 6 crew)
Swedish Army (44 bases and 50+ bases to represent the convoy, excluding command bases)
Infantry – 17 bases with 24 miniatures per base (406 miniatures)
Dragoons/Horse – 22 bases with 9 miniature per base (211 miniatures)
Vallacker Light Cavalry – 1 base with 7 miniatures per base (7 miniatures)
Artillery – 2 light gun bases and 2 field gun bases (4 cannon with 14 crew)
Train/Convoy – a large number of bases, say 50+
[245 bases, excluding commanders – a total of 3,296 miniatures]
We were going to do the Battle of Holowczyn but instead decided to do a “what-if” battle at Horka 1708. When Charles XII was waiting for Lewenhaupt and the supply column to arrive at Mogilev (Belarus) the Russians had occupied a strong position nearby at Horka (sometimes called Gorki). As noted in Nick’s book this could have been the site of the decisive battle of the campaign. In reality the King decided not to attack – in our scenario he decided to “Gå-På” for it.
We went for this idea for the following reasons:
- Although the position was beneficial for the Russians we felt that the balance between the forces was such that it would make an interesting battle with similar strength on both sides than the more one sided battle at Poltava battle at year later.
- The Holowczyn battle was fought on a wide frontage, whilst this idea offers a more solid a classical (for the time) set up with a long line of soldiers getting on with it.
Currently we will run this what-if with the following forces (but since we have some artistic freedom it could change, e.g. we have no information of Russian cavalry at the Horka):
Russian Army (137 bases, excluding command bases)
Infantry – 54 bases with 24 miniatures per base (1,296 miniatures)
Dragoons – 59 bases with 9 miniature per base (531 miniatures)
Kalmyk/Cossack Light Cavalry – 16 bases with 7 miniatures per base (112 miniatures)
Artillery – 4 light gun bases and 4 field gun bases (8 cannon with 26 crew)
Swedish Army (108 bases, excluding command bases)
Infantry – 28 bases with 24 miniatures per base (672 miniatures)
Dragoons/Horse -66 bases with 9 miniature per base (594 miniatures)
Vallacker Light Cavalry – 6 bases with 7 miniatures per base (42 miniatures)
Artillery – Artillery – 4 light gun bases and 4 field gun bases (8 cannon with 26 crew)
[354 bases, excluding commanders and a total of 4,758 miniatures]
[Wikipedia link here]
The final installation will be the disastrous Poltava in 1709 that from a war game perspective will be a spectacle with a big table and many troops – however most of them are Russians (or fighting on their side) and it will be impossible for the Swedes to win. 42,000 men on the Russian side and 17,000 on the Swedish side. However if we can not go for playability we will go for spectacle and ensure the table is large and that units not directly involved are also included on the table. In addition the Russians had 86 cannons vs the 4 the Swedes brought to the battlefield. So if we are struggling with playability we will put on a spectacle and make the table bigger and include units in the area including the Siege at Poltava itself. This gives us the following miniature figure count for the Poltava battle, subject to review before the day of battle (July 2019).
Russian Army (266 bases, excluding command bases)
Infantry – 89 bases with 24 miniatures per base (2,136 miniatures)
Dragoons – 132 bases with 9 miniature per base (1,188 miniatures)
Kalmyk/Cossack Light Cavalry – 30 bases with 7 miniatures per base (210 miniatures)
Artillery – 11 light gun bases and 4 field gun bases (15 cannon with 47 crew)
Swedish Army (91 bases, excluding command bases)
Infantry – 18 bases with 24 miniatures per base (432 miniatures)
Dragoons/Horse – 41 bases with 9 miniature per base (369 miniatures)
Vallacker Light Cavalry – 4 bases with 7 miniatures per base (28 miniatures)
Cossack Light Cavalry – 20 bases with 7 miniatures per base (140 miniatures)
Artillery – 4 light gun bases and 4 field gun bases (8 cannon with 28 crew)
That is all for this time, I hope to show some progress on the Sharp Practice project next week.
/ All the very best