Polish Artillery in the 17th Century

by Rick Orli   (c)2001 richard j. orli

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Horse Artillery in the XVII Century?

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Unit Artillery Manual and Drill Summary with Field Operations, incl. Polish commands

dell 'Aqua's 16th C. Polish Artillery Manual

Siemienovitz 17th C. Polish Artillery Manual

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Light Artillery in Polish service had to adapt to a cavalry-dominated army’s operational and tactical situation. It had to be mobile enough to keep up with the cavalry, and had to provide concentrated firepower when needed to disrupt enemy ranks.

In addition to regular Crown and Lithuanian units, much of the Polish strength-in-numbers came from levies of noblemen and from private armies (great noblemen might amass a thousand men or more, and several pieces of artillery). These irregular forces could be quite variable in equipment, costume, and organization. Boleslav Orlicki’s Horse Artillery represents a private unit of this type, raised by a medium-sized estate. The service is less likely to be offered as a mercenary contract for cash than as a display of loyalty to the Crown or a political faction.

armata.jpg (123339 bytes)The Poles invested heavily in artillery and mastered the tactics of bombardment in concentration with mobility in advance of their enemies. They exchanged many insights with their on-again/off-again rivals, the Swedes, under Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolfus), also a noted artillery innovator. Faced with the need to keep up with their cavalry, the Poles were particularly advanced in carriage design and the tactical aspects of handling horse artillery. A case can be made that Poles invented horse artillery,  at least,  Jan Tarnowski’s "Consilium rationis bellicae"Agalloper.gif (25559 bytes) (Outline of Military Method ) included a description of the use of light cannons mounted on wagons, a concept akin to 'gallopers'. Kazimierz Siemienowicz wrote Artis Magnae Artilleriae pars prima (The Complete Art of Artillery, Part One) the standard European reference for artillery until the Napoleonic era, which included the first description of multi-stage rockets. Siemienowicz, as Lieutenant General of Crown Artillery, directed it’ssiemrocket.gif (4390 bytes) technical and tactical refinement in the mid 17th Century.  (See also dell'Aqua's manual.)

Horse Artillery worked closely with mounted infantry- the dragoons - who would typically accompany batteries to form skirmishing screens in front, and some security to the battery line itself. Dragoons were often armed with smaller infantry matchlocks prior to 1670, but were also often armed with carbines with wheel-locks, dog-locks, other types of early flint-locks and pistols, as well as sabers. Dragoons were numerous in Polish service, and did most of the routine work of scouting, picket duty, and finding provisions, as well as providing critical infantry support in the highly mobile battles the Poles favored.

In the 1500's, artillery was typically parked on top of a hill before the battle, from which spot it never moved.  the Poles and Swedes developed the use of light artillery that was integrated with the battle line.

A Dramatization - The process of handling a two pounder in the face of the enemy:

The crew loads a round of case shot to the limbered gun while preparing to advance. The rammer is left in the gun, strapped to the muzzle, to hold the charge and shot in place. The battery officer selects the firing line, which may be within 70 meters of the enemy if the army is in general advance, or 90 to 150 meters if the intent is to deliver punishing fire. The officer coordinates with the escorting dragoons, who will form a skirmish line with the battery; a small detachment of dragoons is assigned to each gun. The three-horse team is spurred forward at a canter. One rider on the team’s lead horse drives the team, another young and agile rider stands astride on the axle of the limber, holding on to a strap as if riding a chariot. One or two of the other crew are mounted on one of the other horses of the team, the rest are individually mounted, and may carry some of the implements. The bombardier carries the lit linstock. The officer riding in lead plants a pennant to mark the battery line. The team makes a sharp fish-hook turn, slowing to a walk. The rider on the limber pulls the retaining pin, uses a crowbar-like spike to pop the cannon trail off the limber, and leaps off. The driver spurs the horses away to the most sheltered convenient position, ideally just a few meters away but further if appropriate. As the rest of the crew dismount, one (or a dragoon) leads the horses to the rear. The Loader (Number 2) pulls the ammo box from within the gun carriage and runs a few paces to the rear. The crew use handspikes or hands to roll the gun to firing position. Rammer (Number 1) unstraps the rammer, tamps the shot home again to ensure it is still seated, and withdraws. The gunner pops off the vent guard, adds priming powder, and aims (one crewmember inserted a handspike, to assist with pivoting the gun). ‘DAI’..... The bombardier lowers the linstock.... ‘OGEN!’ The linestock’s match touches the priming powder and BANG! The gun fires in as little as 25 seconds from the start of the fish-hook turn. The crew immediately reloads, and fires about twice a minute.

mmMusArtillery34.jpg (30731 bytes) Muscovite Artillery, about 1634

The primary threat to this operation is that unlimbering artillery is the most appetizing of targets for a quick cavalry attack. A fully alert troop, ready to charge, can cover 100 meters in 20 seconds, do the damage in 20 seconds, and be on their way back to safety within a minute. Fortunately for horse artillery who do their drill well, a reasonably alert enemy will still take a moment to prepare for an attack, and in that interval the potential attacker will find that they are facing the most unappetizing of targets, a battery of artillery ready to fire case-shot at point blank range. The trump card the horse artillery usually had in hand was the presence of a banner or six of crack cavalry just to their rear. If the artillery was threatened, the supporting cavalry could counter-attack, or feint a counter-attack, and the threat might just vanish.

In retreat, the crew inserts handspikes and hook on drag lines (prolonge), and run the gun to the rear to the waiting limber, when 12-20 feet away, they loop the polong over the limber's pintle, while another crewman pops in the powder box and others gather up the implements and mount up. The drivers spurs the team to a trot effect a rapid withdrawal. This process could take under one minute.

The gun can also be manually advanced under fire for short distances with ease and speed. One or two dragoons attach harness lines to the forward carriage hooks, and pull on the walk or on the double, while the crew members push with the handspikes.MovingHorseArt.jpg (25874 bytes)

 

 

 

 

 

Techniques:

Kosciuszku described a specific technique, in action: to use the prolonge (drag rope) lying slack, 12-20 feet (longer in rough terrain)... while the gun was in action.  The gun would be maneuvered in the face of the enemy, advancing and retreating, with the prolonge wrapped around the limber's pintle. (One end is fast to the guides of the limber, several turns around to take up slack , out to limber 12-20 feet, one turn around pintle of limber. Other end to lashing rings of carriage.)

 

 

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Kosciuszku: Manouvores belonging to the horse artillery:  Drill Summary with Field Operations, incl. Polish commands

More on 17th C. Polish Military and Cultural History

 

Horse Artillery in the XVII Century?

Polish Artillery Design

Artillery Manual

dell 'Aqua's 16th C. Polish Artillery Manual

 

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