The Poles formed one of the dominant military forces in Eastern Europe from the late Renaissance and still had an effect up until the Seven Years War - a period close to two hundred years. The Poles came up against every type of army - both Eastern and European - during this period and borrowed heavily from both. The most spectacular and successful of Polish arms developed during this time were the cavalry, in particular the famous Winged Hussars who in 1683 rode with Jan Sobieski to defeat the Turks at the Gates of Vienna. Because of the large variety of exotic types - mounted and foot - the Polish army during these years is a fascinating and challenging one to build.
Basically they dominated the Eastern European battlefield and at the height of their prowess they were regularly charging and breaking the usually cavalry-proof pike and shot formations. The trick was not only their superb horsemanship but the 18 foot long lances they carried which, from the advantage of horseback outreached the longest pike then in use.
When attacking they used a checkerboard formation so that they arrived in over-lapping waves against the target - making it extremely difficult for the shot with their slow rate of fire to reserve that fire for just the right moment. Historically, it appears they were rarely able to do so against the Polish hussars.
The first ranks were armed with the sarissa-like lances up to 5 & 1/2 meters long - but made out of hollowed ash which made them very light to handle (ending with a 10" wickedly sharp metal spear point) and incredibly expensive, being all hand crafted. The second ranks were sometimes pistol or carbine armed and would trot in behind the lancers and discharge their weapons at point blank range before wheeling about caracole fashion. If the first rank failed to penetrate the pike block they returned to the rear rank where their retainers carried spare lances for them. After the musket-armed ranks had 'softened' the target for them they would charge in with the lance again. Note all this required expert timing and the cavalry version of the passage of lines to enable each rank to attack the target. More often it was just the lance that was used - up to three times - with the final 30 meters or so delivered at a canter.
The second rank discharge muskets and pistols at close range - the pike formation becomes increasingly disordered.
If required (and not that often) the second lance charge would be made - the impact would drive large gaps in the formation into which the hussars would press. They dropped their lances and/or discharged pistols and took out the 1.5 meter (4 foot) two handed straight blade known as the Palasch with which all hussars were armed. You can imagine the result! Very nasty for yer Swedish pikeman!
The first rank return and charge full-tilt with fresh lances into the by now disintegrating pike formation.
For a full description of these tactics and how they did it, the following link may help:
This is all translated from original Polish language documents, so I think a pretty accurate description of what happened.
My favourites of the hussar figures are the Games Workshop Kislev Lancers, which needed little conversion. I'm told the originals are worth a fortune as they are scarce as hen's teeth to collect - although maybe less so since GW re-released them in 2008(?) Whatever they're worth, they are great figures to collect and paint anyway.
I've since traded these long muskets for more lances - again some nice Foundry figures with a mace-armed hetman in command.
In addition to the cavalry, the Poles produced some ferocious looking infantry for the period - Haiduks. The figures I have here are converted Foundry with some wicked Old Glory(?) choppers. The Poles didn't use pike formations much until towards the later part of the period - perhaps witnessing what their hussars regularly did to pike was all they needed to know! In any event their Haiduks (at first Hungarian mercs, later mainly Poles) had no fear of Western European cavalry. Just the look on their faces is enough to frighten the horses!
There's plenty more Poles and TYW figures in the collection but perhaps that's enough for now. As usual, please feel free to leave a comment.
Napoleonic affectionados will be pleased to hear my Victrix Italians (2nd bttn) with skirmishers and some casualty markers, is proceeding at pace. I promise my next post will show the results of the 1st Regimente, 1st and 2nd battalione. Salute!