Smolensk War

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This unsuccessful campaign to recover the western border regions lost to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the end of the Time Of Troubles marked Muscovy's first major experiment with the new Western European infantry organization and line tactics.

The Treaty of Deulino (1618) ended the Polish military intervention exploiting Muscovy's Time Of Troubles and established a fourteen-year armistice between Muscovy and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. But it came at a high price for the Muscovites: the cession to the Commonwealth of most of the western border regions of Smolensk, Chernigov, and Seversk. This was a vast territory, running from the southeastern border of Livonia to just beyond the Desna River in northeastern Ukraine. It held more than thirty fortress towns, the most strategic of which was Smolensk, the largest and most formidable of all Muscovite fortresses and guardian of the principal western roads to Moscow. Upon his return from Polish captivity in 1619, Patriarch Filaret, father of Tsar Mikhail, made a new campaign to recover Smolensk, Chernigov, and Seversk from the Poles the primary objective of Muscovite foreign policy.

Most of the diplomatic preconditions for such a revanche appeared to be in place by 1630, and by this point the Muscovite government had succeeded in restoring its central chancellery apparatus and fiscal system. It was now able to undertake a massive reorganization and modernization of its army for the approaching war with the Commonwealth. It imported Swedish, Dutch, and English arms to the cost of at least 50,000 rubles; it offered large bounties to recruit Western European mercenary officers experienced in the new infantry organization and line tactics; and it set these mercenary officers to work forming and training New-Formation Regimentssix regiments of Western style infantrymen (soldaty ), a regiment of heavy cavalry (reitary ), and a regiment of dragoons (draguny ). These regiments were drilled in the new European tactics and outfitted and salaried at treasury expense, unlike the old Pomestie-based cavalry army. The New Formation infantry and cavalry would comprise a little more than half of the 33,000-man expeditionary army on the upcoming Smolensk campaign. Muscovy had never before experimented with New Formation units on such a scale.

The death of Polish King Sigismund III in April 1632 led to an interregnum in the Commonwealth and factional struggle in the Diet. Patriarch Filaret took advantage of this confusion to send generals M. B. Shein and A. V. Izmailov against Smolensk with the main corps of the Muscovite field army. By October, Shein and Izmailov had captured more than twenty towns and had placed the fortress of Smolensk under siege. The Polish-Lithuanian garrison holding Smolensk numbered only about two thousand men, and the nearest Commonwealth forces in the region (those of Radziwill and Gonsiewski) did not exceed six thousand. But the besieging Muscovite army suffered logistical problems and desertions; their earthworks did not completely encircle Smolensk and did not offer enough protection from attack from the rear. Meanwhile the international coalition against the Commonwealth began to unravel, with the result that in August 1633, Wladyslaw IV, newly elected King of Poland, arrived in Shein's and Izmailov's rear with a Polish relief army of 23,000 and placed the Muscovite besiegers under his own siege. In January 1634 Shein and Izmailov were forced to sue for armistice in order to evacuate what was left of their army. They had to leave their artillery and stores behind.

On their return to Moscow, Shein and Izmailov were charged with treason and executed. By the terms of the Treaty of Polianovka (May 1634) the Poles received an indemnity of twenty thousand rubles and were given back all the captured towns save Serpeisk. The next opportunity for Muscovy to regain Smolensk, Seversk, and Chernigov came a full twenty years later when Bogdan Khmelnitsky and the Ukrainian cossacks sought Tsar Alexei's support for their war for independence from the Commonwealth.

See also: filaret romanov, metropolitan; new formation regiments; poland; thirteen years'war


Fuller, William C., Jr. (1992). Strategy and Power in Russia, 16001914. New York: Free Press.

Brian Davies