By Vladimir Velikanov
The main notes about Russian cavalry tactics are about reiters. The tactics of Spearmen and Hussars are clearer. They fought in the Polish Hussars style. The reiters tactics do not have a single meaning.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any specific information concerning Russian cavalry tactics. During wars of 1654-67, the Russian Reiters used a translation of the Dutch reiter regulations adopted in 1650. I believe they were similar to the Swedish style of cavalry tactics (fast charge to contact with the pistols used just before contact). There are some arguments in favor of this view.
First of all, German style tactics (caracole) needed a great deal of training; however, Russian regular cavalry fought all the year in field, except during the winter when they were dismissed until spring. In this situation there were no time for regular training. Secondly, the tactics of the Polish Hussars and Tartars had a huge influence on Russian Army. They both used rapid, massive cavalry charges as a main element of tactics. In this situation German style cavalry tactics, would have resulted in being carried away from battlefield by the enemy, like tornado. As far as I can judge from battle descriptions in Russian sources, Russian regular cavalry were used as battle cavalry closing on the enemy with cold steel (vanguard and guard duty were performed by Cossacks and Feudal Levy). For this rapid movement and individual training are more necessary then shooting in ranks.
Finally, the availability of a Spearmen company in each of the Reiter regiments, and the fact that both Spearman and Reiters wore protection for close combat, indicates that the normal tactic was to close with the enemy. Meeting an enemy attack by firing undoubtedly would have been fatal, especially if the attackers were Polish Hussars or Tartars. I believe, Russian cavalry met enemy attacks by counter-charging, and the Spearmen were in the first rank of these charges.
In the battle of Tinkovichy on 29 August 1655 (15 kilometres from Kletsk) a Russian detachment of 2 Reiter regiments and some Feudal Levy, moving in vanguard, met superior in numbers Polish Hussars. They fought for two hours until Russian infantry arrived. Then Polish Hussars were defeated and were pursued by Russians. A two-hour cavalry fight clearly points to close combat, which would have been impossible, if the Russian Reiters had used German style tactics.
In 17th Century the word Cossack had two meanings. The first is an Ukrainian military man. They were professional soldiers and had to mobilize by the first call. During peacetime they lived as they wish. They were not taxed and their only duty was military service during war. Cossacks were grouped in regiments which were settled in the same districts (Poltava Regiment was formed or settled in the Poltava district). The population of Polk consist of two parts: Cossacks (military men) and podpomoshnik who supported the Cossacks. Each Cossack had from 2 to 8 supporters who equipped him and paid him money. For example, at the end of 17th Century in the Kharkov district there were about 4,000 peasant homesteads and 850 Cossacks. The latter formed Kharkovskyi regiment. All Cossacks were listed at the reestr in English this word means register. So these Cossacks were called registered or reestr Cossacks.
The second meaning was free people on the border of Russia. These free men settled on vacant lands between Russia and Turkey. They did not belong to any state. They lived in a kind of community. All questions were solved at meetings. They elected the leader - ataman. At the end of 17th Century these Cossacks lived along the Don, Dnepr (Zaporozhskaya Sech), Yaik and in Siberia. These Cossacks lived by fishing and hunting. They also pillaged Turkish and Tartar lands.
Slobod Cossacks (1651-98) As Russian settlements moved further south their protection became more and more necessary. The experience with the settled regiments showed the problems associated with these units. At the same time Russia could not maintained large regular forces for long periods of time. So Russian government tried to find another solution for the protection of the border area. As a result the Slobod Cossacks appeared.
Sloboda means the outskirts of the town, in the 17th Century it also meant houses built around small strongholds. Slavs, who fled from Poland and Turkish lands where they were oppressed for their religion, settled in these regions. They occupied the unoccupied lands on the Southern border of the Russia. Their settlements appeared around Russian border strongholds, and the population was on the military service in the case of the Tartars raids. Gradually they were organised after the Ukrainian Cossacks. These Slobods were grouped into Polks (an administrative and military division like that of the Ukraine.
There were 5 such Polks: - Sumskiy (in Sumy) - 1658 - Izumskiy (Izum) - 1685 - Akhtyrskiy (Akhtyrsk) - 1657 - Kharkovskiy (Kharkov) - 1659 - Ostrogozhsky (Ostrogozhsk) - 1652
The date indicates when the Polk was finally formed as an administrative and military unit, and received a colour from Tsar. There were also some small Slobod regiments (Voronezh, Bulykeiskyi, Polatovskyi, etc.), later they were incorporated in the regiments above.
Population of the Slobod Polk was divided into the two parts: - Registered Cossacks, they were on the state military service; - Rural population called Podpomoshnik (assistant or helper), 2-8 for each Cossack.
Registered Cossacks did not receive payment from the state and they lived off the Podpomoshnik . Supplying and providing for the registered Cossacks was the only duty of slobods rural population. Slobods were free of any taxes and had their own administration.
The administrative and military organization of Cossacks was as follows: Each Polk consisted of several (7-15) Sotnia (a hundred), each between 70-150 registered Cossacks. The number of Sotnia depended on the number of available Cossacks.
The staff of a Polk, called Polkovaya Starshina, consisted of: - Polkovnik (colonel) - Oboznyi (the man who is the head of train). He was the head of Polk train, artillery and fortresses. - Sudia (judge). The Cossacks had their own legal proceeding. - Yesaul. He was the assistant of Polkovnik. - Khorungyi. He was the commander of Polk guard (Khorungyvye Cossaks) and looked after the polk flag. - Clerks.
Sotnya staff consisted of: - Sotnik - Sboznyi (the man who is the head of train): He was the head of Sotnya train, artillery and outposts. - Sudia (judge): The Cossacks had their own legal proceeding. - Podyesaul: he was the assistant of Sotnyk. - Podkhorungyi: He was the commander of Sotnya guard (khorungyvye Cossacks) and looked after Sotnia flag. - Clerks.
The Polkovnik was elected by the Cossacks, but later was appointed by the Tsar. He had full military, administrative and legal power on the territory of the Polk. His orders had a power of a law. Polkovaya Starshina elected the Sotnik, and the Sotnik designated the Sotnia staff.
In the 1730's the Slobod regiments received a stable military organization and in 1765 were transformed to regular cavalry:
Slobod Regiment Regular Cavalry Regiment in 1914 Sumskyi 1 Sumskiy gen. Seslavina Hussar Regiment (1 Cav. Div., Gren. Corps, Colonel Groten) Izumskyi 11 Izumskyi gen. Dorokhova Hussar Regiment (11 Cav. Div., 11 Army Corps, Colonel Mirbah) Kharkovskyi 11 Kharcovskyi Dragoon Regiment (11 Cav. Div., 11 Army Corps) Akhtyrskiy 12 Akhtyrskyi gen. Davydova Hussar Regiment (12 Cav. Div., 12 Army Corps, Colonel Tringam)
An additional Slobod regiment was the Chuguevskyi. It had different history than the other Slobod Cossacks. In contrast to other Slobod Cossacks who were Ukrainian, the Chuguevs were Russian. The first Russians appeared on the River Severnyi Donez in the 1620's. On 26 February 1626 the fortress of Chuguev was found. It was the most southern outpost of Russian State against Crimean Tartars. The basis of Chuguev population was the Russian garrison, which consisted of streltsy and gorodovye Cossacks. In 1638 some Ukrainian Cossacks settled near fortress, but later they moved away after a quarrel with the Russian Streltsy. The reduction of military funds in the 1640's led to the reorganization of the Chuguev garrison to settled units. Instead of payment, the streltsy and the gorodovye Cossacks received plots of land and were released from taxes. Russian government also supplied them with weapons and powder. As a result, the Chuguev Cossacks alone had to protect southern border of the State. They were called tsarskie kormovye Cossacky (Cossacks supplied by Tsar) and were directly under the voevoda (general) of Belgorod prikaz. In contrast to other Slobod Cossacks, Chuguevs always were considered a part of Russian army. They were organized in a "polk", but they did not have administrative and legal autonomy, and the Tsar directly appointed the polkovnoik (colonel). As a part of the Russian Field Army they took part in actions in Belorussia in 1658. It is known, that they had own banner (crimson with St. Dmitriy Solunskiy and St. George). This indicates that they were a separate regular regiment.
Artillery appears as a separate unit in Russian army in the beginning of the 15th Century and was called Nariad. As a separate, regular unit, the artillery had its own flag called a prapor. The artillery was a kind of a corporation or guild like the Streltsy. The Pushkarsky (Gunner) prikaz managed the entire life of the Russian artilleryman, including legal proceedings. They lived according to Russian State law, but were under the jurisdiction of their prikaz. Service in the artillery was for life, and service in the artillery was inherited. Because of losses during the Time of Troubles, at the beginning of the 17th Century enlisted volunteers were used; however, by the 1630's artillerymen were recruited from the relatives of current pushkary. Pushkary settled in separate sloboda near the walls of fortresses. These slaboda were restricted only to pushkary. No one other than pushkary could settle there or even remain in the sloboda after nightfall. Russian artillery in the 17th Century did not have fixed organization. The number of gunners depended on the available guns and finances. Artillerymen in Russia were officially called ludy pushkarskogo china (people of cannon rank).
This title was shortened to pushkary. The artillery corps consisted of:
- puskary - means gunner. These served large and medium caliber guns. The word pushkar has two meanings: gunner and artillerman in general.
- zatynshyky - means instigator. These served small caliber guns which were generally used at the beginning of a battle.
- vorotniky - means a man guarding a gate. These guarded the gates of settlements and outposts.
- blacksmiths and carpenters.
- armorers and gunsmiths.
The pushkary were divided into two parts: - Moscow puskary. - Gorodovye pushkary.
Unfortunately, there is no specific breakdown of the strength of the Moscow and Gorodovye gunners. Only the following is available: -In 1651 Russian artillery numbered 4,250 gunners, -In 1680 - about 7 000 gunners. This growth was the result of the increase in the number regimental artillery pieces.
The Moscow gunners were an elite unit and served in the field artillery. They were called "Moscow" because they lived in Moscow in a separate sloboda (district) of old Moscow. Military forces stationed in Moscow were the core of the Russian Field Army. In war the Moscow pushkary formed the basis for the field and siege artillery. As a rule, they were assisted by attached Gorodovye pushkary.
Gorodovye (town) gunners were stationed in numerous garrisons and fortresses throughout the Russia. As a rule, during war Gorodovye gunners joined the field artillery as assistants to the Moscow gunners. In contrast to Moscow gunners, the service of Gorodovye gunners was hard duty, especially in the border garrisons.
It is possible to distinguish two main duties of the Gorodovye pushkary: - service in towns (nariad) - service in field units
The major duty of the Gorodovye pushkary was service in a town's nariad (artillery). Each frontier town and settlement in the west and especially in the south was fortified and protected by cannon (usually not less than 20-30 pieces). Each cannon was attended by 2 gunners who served in rotation. Pushkary also guarded the powder magazines. From the middle of the 17th Century field duty for Gorodovye pushkary appears. This duty was tied to the growth in the number of regular infantry regiments. During the 1654- 67 war each Soldier and Streltsy regiment had 5 to 10 medium caliber cannons served by Gorodovye pushkary.
In addition to military duties, pushkary also were assigned police and administrative duties. They guarded prisons, convoyed prisoners to Siberia, looked for robbers, etc. Quite often they gathered Datochnye recruits and members of the Feudal Levy. Pushkary also produced ammunition, and built outposts and fortresses. The information below on the uniform of Russian pushkary is based on the article by Palasios-Fernandes in Zeughaus magazine. He describes the Moscow pushkary in the second half of the 17th Century. The article is well illustrated and recommended. The cut of the coats of artillerymen was the same as the infantry. Usually, gunners' coats were red or blue. These colors (red-blue) were preserved in Peter's army. His gunners wore red coats with blue facings. Only in 1731 were facings changed to black. The author also stated that in the 17th Century green coats also were available for gunners. The distinguishing feature of gunners in the 17th Century was metal armor. This was a kind of metal cuirass. There were two variants: Alam, used for parade purposes, and Zertsalo, a plain variant for duty. This armor consisted of 2 metal (tin/pewter or copper) circles connected by straps. Alam was a decorated variant with stamped eagles and lions, but for everyday use the variant of this cuirass called Zertsalo (a word meaning mirror) was used. Gun carriages and ammunition wagons were painted red.
Another interesting detail of gunners' equipment was the palnits (from the words to fire and to scorch, it means something that is scorching/burning). It was a kind of pike with fastenings for fuses on the top. The palnits could be used also as a pike. The uniform of the Gorodovye pushkary is less well known. According to A.K. Levykin, Russian Pushkary in the 2nd Half of the 17th Century, they wore a light blue coat and a red cap. They were also equipped with the zertsalo and a metal helmet called a shishak.
By Vladimir Velikanov