KLUSZYN   July 4, 1610

a.k.a. Battle of  Klushino (Kłuszyn)

By Radek Sikora

Acknowledging "Slawne bitwy Polaków" (Famous Polish Battles) by Leszek Podhorodecki

Translated by Rick Orli

©2000 radeslaw sikora, english text ©2001 richard j. orli

Polish Version at: http://www.jest.art.pl/



Kluszyn is the story of one the great victories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and especially of the famed winged Hussars. This battle with Muscovy was characterized by a huge disparity of force. Hetman (Field Marshal) Stanislaw Zolkiewski led 12,300 against 48,000 Muscovites under Dimity Szujski. In the actual battle 6,800 Poles (supported by 2 cannon), trounced 30,000 Russians and 5000 thousand foreign mercenaries (with 11 cannon).


This conflict with Muscovy is tied to the history of the Polish and Lithuanian union. The contest began with both sides seeking advantages and territorial aggrandizement. Lithuania had controlled huge territories from the Baltic through the Ukraine, but was not able to stand against Muscovy. Lithuania in time lost a third of its territory to Muscovy. Losses could have been greater, had not Poland entangled itself into this conflict.

Poland gradually became more and more involved with field operations (in spite of not sharing a border with the Great Muscovy Principality directly). The formal union ratified in the treaty of Lublin in 1569 was a turning point. From this time the Polish kingdom and Lithuanian principality become one State, leading a common foreign policy and with common enemies. The new State was tested almost at once, as Muscovy troops occupied Polish and Lithuanian territory. However, Stephan Batory led military expeditions which made clear the united Commonwealth’s enormous power, and its superiority in this regard over Muscovy. The advantage grew even greater when Ivan IV’s death caused a political crisis in Moscow. Various candidates to the throne appeared, known as ‘false Demetrius'. The second false Demetrius employed Polish mercenaries, but Poland itself stayed neutral. The new Tsar, Vasili Szujski, signed an alliance with Sweden in February 1609 and 5,000 Swedish troops joined forces with the Muscovite army. This greatly provoked the Poles.

.Poland, 1610

Zygmunt III Vasa (from the Swedish Royal house) ruled the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1588. Aspiring to recover the Swedish throne lost to his uncle, Zygmunt hoped that uniting the Commonwealth and Muscovy would give him the strength to do so. That is, at least, the apparent main motive of the expedition against Muscovy. Smolensk held the road to Moscow, and, as former Lithuanian territory that had been lost in the XVI century, it was the logical place to start. However, other reasons for the expedition might include influencing the placing of a Commonwealth candidate on the Muscovy throne; and, as a distraction to defuse internal conflicts in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. These various factors joined to precipitate the 1609 invasion.

The battle would be characterized by a huge disparity of force, with about 5 Russians for every Pole.  Against the 48 thousand Russian troops on the way to relieve Smolensk, Zygmunt III had assigned a force of 12,300 to Hetman (General) Stanislaw Zolkiewski, but somewhat fewer than 6,800 Poles would take part in the battle, supported by 2 cannon (though some sources say 4 cannon). This 6,800 faced a field army led by Dimity Szujski with 30 thousand Russians and 5 thousand foreign mercenaries (with 11 cannon). The Remaining Polish troops screened another force of 8 thousand Russians in the village of Carowa-Zajmiszcze.


Before the Battle


The Polish-Lithuanian army besieged Smolensk in September 1609. The city was heavily fortified, amply supplied, and had strong artillery. The population, largely Russian by this time, bolstered the defense. The siege dragged on thorugh winter, without progress.

Just as withdrawal from Smolensk seemed necessary, a political opportunity interveaned. An embassy of Russian Boyars (Russian leading citizens/nobles) arrived in the Polish camp supporting the pretender to the Russian Crown, Dimity II Samozwanc. The Boyars wanted a guarantee of their participation in the governance of the State, respect of their property rights, maintenance of perquisites and privileges, and personal security. Beyond that they were quite flexible in their requirements. In February 1610, they signed a treaty near Smolensk. Abandoning Dimity II Samozwanc, The Boyars recognized the Polish prince Wladyslaw as Tsar.

But, the military situation in Smolensk did not change and the Russians loyal to Tsar Vasili Szujski still defended the city. Hearing that a powerful Muscovy army had been sent to relieve the siege, Zygmunt III sent a small force led by Hetman Zolkiewski to intercept it.

Zolkiewski left camp on June 6, 1610. Ivan Chowanski’s Muscovy division had advanced to Bialej, engaging a small Polish force under Alexander Gosiewski. Zolkiewski moved north to assist. Threatened by Zolkiewski’s advance, Chowanski’s division marched east, away from Bialej.

While part of the Muscovy army was retreating from Bialej, another large division under Hrihorij Walujew advanced to Carowa-Zajmiszcze villiage. The main force marching toward Kalug was under the Tsar's brother Dimity Szujski and the Swedish general, Jacob Pontusson del’Gardi (a Frenchman by birth).

The Hetman rested two days, then marched against Szujski’s army on June 22. In the path was the advance force Szujski had sent to Carowa-Zajmiszcze to control the lines of communications with Moscow. The Poles approached the Moscow camp in the evening of June 23. Although the camp was well-fortified , conditions for a surprise attack were ideal, and Zolkiewski attacked at dawn. Many Russians tried to escape from the rear but the camp was entirely encircled, and those that were not captured were forced to retreat back into the fort. For the cost of a handful of Commonwealth troops killed and wounded, a large Russian force had been trapped – a trap soon reinforced by a series of Polish field forts. The Muscovy regiments tried to break out two days later, but were driven back. Meanwhile, the main Muscovy forces under Szujski and del’Gardi approached.

Now, the situation was that 8 thousand Russians were trapped in the fortified camp at Carowa-Zajmiszcze, while 35 thousand soldiers advanced under Szujski and del’Gardi, with 12000 Commonwealth troops in the middle. It looked as though the Commonwealth force was in the real trap. Certainly Szujski, who was as yet unaware of Carowa-Zajmiszcze, and underestimating the Hetman’s force, assumed that the Poles were trying to escape.

Zolkiewski decided to try to block the besieged camp with a small force, and use his best and most mobile units to attack the main Muscovy army. This he hoped to destroy in a general battle, at which point he could return to force the besieged Carowa-Zajmiszcze camp to capitulate.

The Hetman’s attacking force left camp quietly on the evening of July 3 though roads muddied by two days of heavy rain. Apparently, the Muscovites in the fortified camp at Carowa-Zajmiszcze did not notice that most of their captors had decamped. At any rate, they sat quietly in their pen for the duration of the battle.

 The campaign



The Hetman learned from spies that the Russians and the foreign mercenaries had come into conflict. So, he sent a letter to the foreigners offering them a bounty and a safe passage home. This letter was actually discovered by del’Gardi, who put a stop to the plot, but by then the message had been communicated to the men, and perhaps made them feel that they had better options open to them than fighting.

Szujski probabally thought of the force at Carowa-Zajmiszcze as his forward guard, and they had not been heard from. He was unaware of Zolkiewski‘s proximity, and apparently failed to send scouts. So, the Muscovy camp did not know, as they slept, that an army moved against them.


The Pole’s long column passed along a muddy narrow trail through deep forests all night. In the darkness, the attackers actually started to march past the Russian positions, but soon the alarm went up. However, the Hetman could not exploit the surprise and attack straight from the march, since his troops were strung out along the narrow trail. The infantry in particular had marched at an extremely fast pace given the conditions, but still had been outpaced by the cavalry regiments. So, the Hetman chose to wait for his troops, which also granted a rest to the soldiers and horses, and let them settle into their formations. The Poles also used this opportunity to clear some fences stretching between the villages of Pirniewo and Woskriesienska, which blocked access to the enemy’s position. Meanwhile the Muscovy and foreign soldiers formed up their ranks, and set to work reeinforcing the fences they were using as field fortifications.

The Muscovy army was in two parts: the Russian camp and foreign mercenary camp. To the right (north-west), adjacent to extensive forest and Pirniewo village were the foreign regiments consisting of Swedes, Germans, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Flemmings, Englishmen and Scots. To the left (southeast) next to the river Gzac and Woskriesienska village, the Russians camped. Both camps lay on an extensive north wooded glade from the villages Bogajewo and Lagoczyche. Flat agricultural fields, and a line of fences, seperated the Muscovy and Commonwealth armies.

Most pikemen and musketeers formed up company squares just behind the fences and fieldworks – Foreigners on the right wing, Russians center and left. A second line of Cavalry units were stationed just to the rear, along the entire battle line. Szujski also added cavalry to the front of the left wing, which was less protected by fences. Dismounted arkebuzers (cavalry armed with carbines), joined the infantry behind the center fences. The 11cannon apparently stayed in camp, playing no role in the fighting.

The Hetman put five regiments along the battle line, and his own regiment somewhat to the rear and left, in a reserve role under the field command of Janusz Porycki. Several banners were stationed between and to the rear of the lead regiments, acting as free-companies in reserve. A newly arrived unit of four hundred Cossack infantry occupied a place on the extreme left wing, close by the fence. Two hundred infantry and the two cannon were still marching toward Kluszyn. The majority of the army concentrated for the main thrust directed against the Muscovy camp, screening the foreign camp with only a small force.

Zolkiewski gave a brief encouraging speech, then the signal to advance. To the sound of the cornet and drum the leading banners of hussars set forward their lances and moved forward with a huge cry to the charge. It was still before dawn, and dramatic rivers of light were created by the hussars’ torches advancing toward battle

The Battle


– July 4

The Moscovites waited with a huge numerical superiority, and picket fences and earthworks promised to break up any charges. The Pole’s task would not be simple. In the dawn light, the first rank of hussars drew pistols, advanced at a walk, then a trot, then at 50 meters, charged the Muscovey infantry at a canter. Just meters away, they fired, wheeled sharply around and cantered away to retrieve their lances from their retainers in the 3rd rank. Meanwhile the second rank advanced with carbines, fired and wheeled. The first rank again advanced in a perfect line, this time with lances held high. As they broke into a canter, they lowered the lance; driving the point home into their target, the lance shattered as the victim was thrown backward, the hussar using the blow’s force to help wheel about. Had the Moscow ranks crumbled and opened, the hussars were ready to draw swords and charge home, but they stood steady behind the fences. The banner then withdrew to reload and replace lances, as another banner advanced to its position in the line.

The hussar Samuel Maskiewicz, in his diary, wrote, "about that I shall remember, for it is beyond belief, that the companies managed eight or ten times to fall upon the enemy. (…) After the repeated charges and hand-to-hand fighting with the enemy, our equipment was broken and our strength was dissipated (.…) The horses were also ready to drop, because they have not received sustenance since dawn and for five hours of battle, they had served with a will but were reaching the limits which nature imposes."

Few hussars were available to press the attack against the Muscovy forces, but by continuously charging rank by rank, the impression was created that an endless stream of cavalry was involved in the assault. A banner would charge, return to the rear for a short rest and a reload and refit, replace broken lances, and then return to the battle again with another charge. The hussars truly demonstrated their mettle against the Boyar cavalry and the mercenary rieters.

The Moscow troops, partially protected from the lances by the fence and their own pikemen, fired a salvo of musketry at each attacking wave of cavalry, taking a steady toll. But they also suffered horribly from point-blank pistol fire, and it is difficult for us today to imagine what it was like to stand in tight formation facing a charge by a thousand pounds of horse and rider, while one of our number is killed and thrown bodily backward over his comrades by a lance’s blow.kluszynHussarCrg.jpg (23229 bytes)

An unsuccessful Muscovy reiter caracole counterattack proved to be a critical turning point. In Maskiewicz’s words: "Seeing us weaken, Szujski ordered two reiter cornets, who were in readiness to move against us, to attack and destroy us. By the grace of God, they became the reason of our victory. As they moved forward we exchanged a salvo of fire with them, and each front rank fell back to reload the pistol or arkebuz in the ordinary manner, while the second rank advanced to fire their salvo. Seeing their rank retreat to load their secondary weapons, we did not wait for their next rank. We swooped down on them, sword in hand – weather they had managed to reload or not, I would not know because they took for the rear and did not stop galloping until they reached the Muscovite reserve at the rear camp gate, where their several tidy formations became chaotically entangled."

The Muscovy ranks broke; the victorious Polish cavalry drove the stragglers toward their camp. The survivors who ran toward the gates of the camp took shelter behind the field fortifications. Some of the Russians escaped to the open field and were pursued by the Poles. ‘The Muscovites ran by God’s grace for a mile, while we slashed at them and grabbed the rich ones, who, carrying what they owned, tried to get away" "Far more Muscovites fell in 2 or 3 miles of pursuit then fell in their ranks in battle," wrote Maskiewicz.

On the far right, the Muscovy infantry continued to hold the buildings in Pirniewo. There, they bravely fought to the end.

The Commonwealth army faced the greatest resistance on its left wing, where the foreign regiments waited. According to Zolkiewski, the Swedes, Germans, Frenchmen and Flemmings fought bravely. The Polish Cavalry had to charge the redoubts a single banner at a time, since the approach was blocked. "The biggest barrier to us was the Picket fence and Redoubt, which Pontus del’Gardi set up to protect his infantry" wrote Zolkiewski. The musketeers stood behind it and fired point-blank, while being protected from the charging cavalry by the fence as well as their pikemen. After the Muscovy side of the line broke, Zolkiewski was able to position additional forces here, but they failed to make progress.

The hussars were relieved by the arrival on the field of the Polish infantry and the two cannons who had finally extracted themselves from the muddy road. In spite of their exertions in the march, the infantry moved eagerly toward battle. Several well-aimed shots from the cannons smashed a considerable part of the picket-fence fieldworks and paralyzed the musketeers behind it. Then the infantry advanced, and firing a few salvos, charged with cold steel through the defender’s fire. The mercenaries were pushed away from the fences, opening a way for the hussars to charge. The retreat turned into a rout as the lancers drove over them klusmap1.jpg (34706 bytes)

TheTsar's brother Szujski had panicked after the first disaster on the open field, and took shelter in the camp. Prince Andrew Golicyn and Danilo Mezecki tried to encourage him to take aggressive actions; they had several hundred fresh cavalry under their command and had not yet given up the day for lost. Those Muscovites who had retreated from the field were in the camps.

del’Gardi’s mercenary infantry formations rested in good order near their camp in the woods, supported by a large cavalry force. They retreated further into the safety of the woods after seeing the initial defeat and subsequent inaction of Dimity Szujski’ division.

However, while the Russians had been beaten in this first phase of the battle, they were still strong enough to turn the tide. Fresh and uncommitted troops alone greatly outnumbered the entire Polish force. In addition, the Crown army was exhausted after a long march and heavy fighting, and had gone without sleep and food.

Zolkiewski had managed the battle superbly with the economical use of his slim resources. He even managed to keep a small force in reserve. When his cavalry broke through, Zolkiewski managed to stop them from overextending the pursuit, and they reformed to face the still-powerful defenders. Both the Muscovy and foreign camps were surrounded, as well as the foreign infantry standing in the forest. Given the residual strength of the defenders the matter could not be easily resolved. He later wrote the king :"It was hard to charge at him with the cavalry, which was exhausted. There was no more fresh infantry. We had only my regiment and Count Chmielnicki’s, as we had to leave the rest besieging the Carowa-Zajmiszcze camp, so there was no way to continue."

Luckily for Zolkiewski, the foreigners were happy to call it a day. Another approach was tried. Mikolay Marchocki said "Some of us did not shoot but only rode up to them, and trying to seduce them, shouted ’come! come! come!’" The foreigners negotiated with the Hetman. They could return home under their own recognizance under the condition that they swore never again to serve Muscovy against the Polish republic. Several hundred chose instead to take up arms in Polish service.


After the battle


Actually, the Muscovites got off quite easy. Usually bigger massacres happen in pursuit by victorious cavalry, but the Commonwealth forces showed good discipline and held formation until the Moscow army, and the threat it posed, dissolved. Then, the abundant loot in the camps distracted the Poles long enough to allow the fugitives to escape. The winners took great quantities of gold and silver, furs, hundreds of wagons and carriages. Trophies included several command flags and banners, extensive stocks of military equipment, and all 11 artillery pieces.

The battle lasted five hours and both sides suffered heavy losses. Probably, Szujski’s army lost no more than five thousand killed. All the principle officers survived. Del’Gardi, according to Luny, was robbed and beaten on the way. Szujski horse was found later, as were his shoes, which had somehow found themselves on a peasant’s feet. Zolkiewski mentioned 100 comrades killed. Perhaps the total including retainers and infantry was 400 dead, and 400 horses were also lost. Many were wounded on both sides. klusmap4.jpg (24897 bytes)

The Commonwealth army now turned to Carowa-Zajmiszcze; after a sleepless night marching and a brutal day fighting, they lost a second night’s sleep marching the opposite direction. The Russians in the camp behaved passively the whole day. Probably, the shooting at Kluszyn (just over 20 kilometers, or about 15 miles away) would have been distinctly heard as a rumbling sound, like distant thunder. When Zolkiewski’s troops returned before dawn to their positions besieging the Muscovy camp, the remaining units awoke with a great cheer of joy punctuated with celebratory gunshots. The Russians did not initially believe that their relief had been destroyed. Only the next day, seeing the prisoners of war, Szujski’s command pennant and other captured Russian banners, did the Russian commander Walujew agree to negotiate capitulation.

More Russians now swore fealty to prince Wladyslaw, son of King Zygmunt III. Wladyslaw advanced toward Moscow, supported by the power of the Hetman’s army now reinforced with the foreign mercenaries. Wladyslaw guaranteed the inviolability of Muscovy State territory, and the end of the siege of Smolensk, on condition that the army recognize him as Tsar.

Several weeks later, July 27, 1610, a group of Boyars abolished the discredited rule of Tsar Wasyl Szujski and took over authority. The Hetman’s army stood at the gates of Moscow on August 3. Negotiations were concluded on August 27. The Russians elected prince Wladyslaw as their Tsar and received promises that Smolensk and other territories would remain. Wladyslaw also promised to support the existing social and political structure in Russia. The Orthodox Church’s rights were guaranteed, and Prince Wladyslaw agreed to accept the Orthodox religion. King Zygmunt III was sent the treaty document, for confirmation. Moscow opened its gates to the Commonwealth army on September 8. Zolkiewski had now achieved complete strategic victory, and Wasyl and Dimity Szujski were his prisoners.

But Zygmunt III, in a move that seems in hindsight to be the height of hubris and folly, did not accept the Moscow negotiations. He ordered the continued siege of Smolensk. The Hetman’s great victory at Kluszyn was downplayed, as it contrasted unfavorably with the failure of his own leadership. Zolkiewski returned to Poland in October leaving a garrison in Moscow. The Muscovites turned against the foreigners and attacked the garrison in March, destroying much of the city, and besieging the Poles in the Kremlin for nineteen months. The attempted relief failed, and the garrison was starved into surrender.

King Zygmunt III finally achieved the conquest of Smolensk in 1611, but the war continued. The new Tsar Michael Romanov tried to recover Smolensk in 1613. Only in 1618 was a peace treaty signed ceding the Smolensk region to the Commonwealth.



Evaluation of the battle



Zolkiewski’s army faced an almost impossible task. It placed itself between the jaws of two groups of Russian troops with multiple numerical superiority. Zolkiewski used his dubious advantage of ‘internal lines of communication’ to blockade the force or 8 thousand at Carowa-Zajmiszcze with 800 infantry, 700 cavalry and about 4000 Cossacks, moving the rest to Kluszyn. He hoped for surprise, given his opponent’s crushing superiority in manpower. However, surprise was not achieved. As it happens, at Kluszyn, the Russians were able to first prepare the field with earthworks and fences enclosing their camp. This allowed their musketeers to fire from cover. Attacking a five-fold numerical superiority protected by field fortifications bordered on lunacy. But Zolkiewski had no doubt as to the quality of the judgement and initiative of his subordinates; he demonstrated this by granting his independent commanders considerable liberty during battle to maneuver the reserves. Through Zolkiewski’s skillful application of and economy of power, taking all the appropriate tactical choices (sequence and targets of individual attacks, and timing), the results vindicated the decision to attack. Nevertheless, the Poles had a bit of luck on their side in this battle, as well (translator’s note: Although as Napoleon said: ‘I believe in luck; the great make their own luck’).

And how can one evaluate Hetman Zolkiewski’s performance? Genius, madman, overconfident swaggerer? In order to answer this question, it is necessary consider the available alternatives. Given the material disadvantages he could not stay where he was and fight defensively. Retreat might have been a temporary solution, but by taking the initiative he might gain the advantage of surprise. This was not the decision of a madman.

Zolkiewski failed to achieve surprise. He again faced the alternative of fighting or running. If he retreated in the face of this powerful force there would be great risk and no advantage, and at best the effect to the Polish army would be a serious decay of morale. However, Zolkiewski had a trump in hand: over 5,500 elite hussars, so he did not fear encounters in the open field. He decided to try his luck. The Russians did not know, as the attackers advanced at night, that they were not being attacked by a superior force, only that the attackers had just overwhelmed the force at Carowa-Zajmiszcze, so the fact of the attack alone gave the Poles the morale advantage. Perhaps Zolkiewski also had reason to be confident in the fissure between the foreigners and the Russians. The plan of attack was carefully worked out to maximize the advantages of the Polish force, and minimize the effect of the weakness of numbers. Considering everything, Zolkiewski perhaps had a reasonable expectation that the operation could succeed. Though the final result exceeded expectations, the victory was no mere accident.



Role of the ‘foreigners’

The historical evidence is not clear. According to Zolkiewski, the English and Scots did not participate in the battle. Giovanni Loony reported that the Scots did not want to fight from the start of the battle, but that the Frenchmen and Flemmings fought bravely. The Muscovy chronicler, Conrad Bussow, claimed that two regiments of French cavalry had deserted and joined the Poles, and fought alongside them. Probably, some of the Frenchman had deserted, although apparently not to fight; but some remained loyal. The German infantry fought well at the fence and then held again in the forest.

Role of the Hussars

The hussars had a predominate role in the battle. Of the 6800 men in the Polish army, 5556 were hussars. However, their impact was not just a result of numbers. Some banners withdrew bloodied from the fight, but charged rank by rank again and again into the fray, by several reports, up to 8-10 times. This battle truly revealed the hussars’ elite status and combat value. hrysxvii.jpg (17985 bytes)

If the hussars demonstrated enormous reliability and durability, they also showed their flexibility. They were able to overcome eastern cavalry (the Boyar and light cavalry of Muscovy), as well as the western reiters. They also overcame eastern and western infantry in spite of very adverse conditions.








Role of the Artillery and Infantry

This battle also showed the hussar’s limitations. The Polish artillery and infantry were critical to the battle, and this is also significant because they were in such small numbers. When the hussars tried to drive the foreign infantry from the field, they failed. As it happens, it would seem the failure was due to the fairly negligible barrier of a rather weak fence, which became a sound foothold for the defending infantry. From the protection of the fence the infantry was able to hold off the cavalry, taking a toll with musketry. At the critical moment, the two pieces of light artillery was brought forward to point-blank range, certainly less than 100 yards, and fired several rounds to break up the fence and scatter the infantry defending it. Then a tiny force of perhaps 200 infantry advanced with great elan and took the fence with cold steel, who were immediately followed by the hussars who easily completed the rout of the same infantry who had held against them so effectively. This is a classic example of combined arms used to their full potential – each type of unit contributing its special qualities.

There was never in history any type of troop which always won in all circumstances. Each victory depends sometimes more and sometimes less on the value of a given combat formation. Victory and defeat depends on the ability to make use of your advantages and the ability to take advantage of the opponent’s weakness. The role of the commander is to make use of the physical and human factors at hand and create a solution better than that created by the opponent.

For 110 years (not counting internal revolutions) the hussars overcame numerous foreign opponents, repeatedly. The saying went: "where the hussars go, there goes victory". However, one must not forget, that sooner or later somebody will ‘build a better mousetrap’. It belabors the obvious to say that hussar cavalry is not the best solution to all military problems in the 17th C, let alone in the face of technological development of firearms in later years. And, at any rate Kluszyn was a result of tactical genius as much as of fighting poweress. But, it seemed that castle walls, deep oceans, and field fortifications were the only barriers the hussars were unable to vanquish unaided.


Translator’s notes:

2 cannon (though some sources say 4 cannon).

the regiments involved at Kluszyn itself were mostly Polish, the ratio was probably 70% Pole, 15%Lithuanian, 15% Ukrainian Cossack and other)

Zolkiewski is pronounced something like ‘Zuw-kiev-ski’

KLUSZYN is ‘Kwu-sen’

Battle of Kircholm, 1605

How the Hussars Fought - Tactics

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