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The Great Northern War, primarily fought between Charles XII of Sweden and Peter the Great of Russia, has become popular with wargamers in recent years. Aided by some fine figure ranges and recognition that the wars offer something different to the rather more rigid lines of its western sister, the War of the Spanish Succession.

Less well known is the continuation struggle in Moldavia and Southern Russia where Tsar Peter very nearly met a sticky end at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. As a consequence the history of Russia could have been very different. This battle on the Pruth River in 1711 formed the basis of Glasgow and District Wargaming Societyís first display game of 2010 at the Albanich show in Dumfries. 

Background

In 1709 Peter the Great destroyed Charles XIIís Swedish army at the Battle of Poltava. Charles and the remnants of his army fled from the Ukraine into Ottoman territory and were allowed to settle at Bender in Bessarabia. Peter demanded that the Ottomans hand Charles over and when they refused war became inevitable. It was declared by the Ottomans on 21 November 1710.

Opening Moves

In January 1710 the Tartar Khan, Devlet Girey II raided into the Ukraine with over 70,000 Tartars supported by 10,000 pro-Swedish Cossacks, some Polish and Swedish troops. They formed two groups led by his sons Bahti and Mehmed who advanced either side of the Dneiper River. After early advances they were driven back into the Crimea by Russian and Cossack forces led by Galitzin.

Large Russian armies then invaded the Crimea. A Cossack army 20,000 strong led by Hetman Skoropadsky supported by seven Dragoon Regiments and some infantry constituted the main attack. Another large force led by Admiral Apraksin attacke from Kuban supported by the Kalmyk Khan Ayuka and his 20,000 men. However, the attack was delayed by the Tartar raids and the main attack ground to a halt. The Kuban invasion was more successful but ran out of steam when the Tattars were able to switch forces to contain them.

 In May 1711 the main Russian army supported by Cossacks advanced from the Ukraine into Moldavia. The Moldavians led by Demetrius Cantemir, rose against their Ottoman overlords and joined the Russians with around 10,000 men at the Moldavian capital Jassy. However, the Russian advance led by Boris Sheremetev was slow and as a consequence the Wallachian ruler, Constantine Brancovo, failed to declare for the Russians and then joined the Ottomans as they advanced through his country.

 Peter advanced the army in three divisions down the Pruth River whilst detaching a flying column to the Danube to encourage the Wallachians Ė unaware that they had not changed sides. Peter was unaware that the Ottomans commanded by Grand Vizier Baltadji had mobilised a massive army (at least 100,000 men) supported by Tartars, Wallachians and the remnants of the Swedish army and their allies. They crossed the Danube and arrived at the Pruth River. The advance guards clashed on 7 July at Faltcha as the Ottomans successfully bridged the river. At the same time the Russian rear guard was attacked by the Tartars.

 Battle on the Pruth

They Russian advance guard fought a running battle with the Ottomans as they fell back onto the main Russian army. When Peter realised his situation the Russians began to withdraw and join up their divisions. They were attacked by the main Ottoman army and retreated to the river in a large square formation. The Russian line held, not least because of stiff resistance from the Moldavians, and by 9 July they had consolidated their position. Before the defences could be finished the Ottoman infantry led by Janissaries attacked. Again they were held off and the Ottomans regrouped for a siege. Some 300 Ottoman guns began to bombard the Russian camp. A strong sortie inflicted heavy casualties on the Ottomans but could not break through their lines.

Peter trapped between the Crimean Tartar army and the Ottomans was only saved from complete destruction by a favourable treaty offered by the Grand Vizier. Charles XII arrived too late to stop the treaty. Whilst a bribe may have helped, the Grand Vizier was also concerned about his casualties and a possible intervention by the Austrians. Peter agreed to abandon the fortresses of Azov and Tagenrog, the Black Sea fleet and then to withdraw back to Russia.

 Aftermath

Peter had a very lucky escape on the Pruth in 1711. Had his army been destroyed he would have been imprisoned, the modernisation of Russia would have been halted and European history could have taken a very different turn. The Moldavian leader, Demetrius Cantemir, managed to escape with the Russians and is to this day a national hero. No such luck for the Wallachian Prince who was arrested and executed in Constantinople in 1714.

Charles XII made it back to Sweden but was killed in 1718.  The Grand Vizier lost his post on his return to face the displeasure of the war party on the Sultanís council. Many dismiss the Ottoman army of the 18th Century as a rabble, but this campaign and the later campaign against Austria shows that they were still a force to be reckoned with.

 The Armies

This has to be just about the most diverse group of forces to be found in any 18th century army.

 Russian

The Russian infantry operated like any Western army of the period and regiments normally had two battalions. Each regiment had two or more battalion guns to strengthen their firepower. They were normally issued with pikes, however, in this campaign they were left in storage and took portable chevaux de fries instead. The cavalry consisted entirely of dragoons plus three regiments of horse grenadiers. They often dismounted to fight and were commonly used in flying columns supported by light guns and infantry that rode behind the dragoons or on separate horses. The regular army was supported by Cossacks. Whilst we think of these as light horse, during this period there would have been large numbers of musket armed infantry as well. The Ukrainian Cossacks led by Hetman Mazeppa sided with the Swedes during the Poltava campaign and a number remained with them in this campaign. There was also a large Kalmyk army some 20,000 strong that fought in the Crimea. These were generally good quality horse archers with some bodyguard units of mailed cavalry.

 Moldavian & Wallachian

There is very little information on the armies of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. The Moldavians who supported the Russians were mostly light horse, Hussars. There would also be musket armed foot known as Arnauts and a form of dragoons called Segbans.  We know even less about the Wallachians, but they are likely to have been similarly constituted.

 Ottoman

The Ottoman army had an infantry core built around the Janissary infantry. By this period they had adopted the flintlock musket but not the pike or volley firing. They were supported by often good quality musket armed skirmishing infantry. The Ottomans always had a large artillery train possibly over 400 guns in this campaign, although as always Ottoman army numbers are at best estimates. The Sipahi cavalry had largely abandoned armour, except for the elite Siphai of the Porte and carried a range of firearms. The normal tactic was use firearms to break up the enemy infantry before charging home. The Tartars remained a formidable army in this period, able to field almost 100,000 men. They were mostly light horse with bow and increasing use of firearms. There would be mailed bodyguard units and Segbans. Infantry were used in defence during the Crimea campaign. 

Poles & Swedes

To add even more colour to this campaign we have the remnants of the Swedish forces of the Poltava campaign and their Polish allies. The Swedes were mostly high quality guard cavalry. The Poles again were all cavalry including winged Hussars, Pancerni, light horse and dragoons.

Wargaming the campaign

This campaign offers a range of possibilities. Skirmish actions around supply trains and the numerous small forts. Forts were typically earth banks with a wooden stockade and portable obstacles. Then the large scale light cavalry battles in the Crimea. Finally, the different stages of the battle on the Pruth. These include the Ottoman river crossing, the retreating Russian square and the final hasty Russian defences on the river.

 We used 28mm figures for this game. The Russians are primarily from the Reiver range supplemented by some Foundry and Front Rank. Reiver also do some great fortifications for this period. The Ottomans come from many ranges including Old Glory, Redoubt and Dixon.

 For rules we used Black Powder at the display game. They worked well although the classification of Ottoman troops like the Janissaries needs some more thought. We used Principles of War for a big game at the club and Beneath the Lily Banners is another option.

 Further Reading

There is an excellent article on this campaign in the Pike & Shot Society journal Arquebusier Vol XXXI/II. Osprey MAA 140, 260 and 264 provide uniform details. For more detail see Virginia Aksan, Ottoman Wars 1700-1870 and for the Russians Dawn of the Tsarist Empire, by Nicholas Dorrell.

 

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