"... from the heights of the Peninsula
to the depths of Russia, Polish valour went on parade
as never before since the days of King Jan Sobieski."
Davies - "God's Playground.
A History of Poland." 1982
Prince Józef Antoni Poniatowski was born in 1763 and ten years
later became the ward of his uncle, the King of Poland. Chandler writes: "Nicknamed 'the Polish Bayard',
Poniatowski was born in Vienna ... He was commisioned into the Austrian army in 1778,
serving in the dragoons and carabiniers, and in 1788 he became an ADC to the Emperor Francis II ..."
(Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic wars" p 346)
In 1807 Poniatowski met Marshal Murat and French troops and began overtures to Napoleon for the restoration of a free Poland. In 1807 he became minister of war in the Polish Directory. In April 1809 Poniatowski selected a good defensive position at Raszyn and withstood all Austrian attacks. Then he defeated them at Radzymin and reconquered parts of former Poland. Poniatowski routed the Austrians again at Góra and Grochów. For his achievements Poniatowski was presented the French grand-aigle de la Légion d'Honneur and a saber of honor. He was one of the few Napoleonic commanders who was able to conduct a successful campaign without Napoleon's supervision.
In 1812 Poniatowski led the V Army Corps to Russia and fought at Smolensk, Borodino,
Tarutino and Krasne.
Fiszer (infantry, chief-of-staff)
Sokolnicki (advance/rear guard)
(source: Nafziger, Wesolowski - "Poles and Saxons ...")
On picture: Polish line infantry (fusiliers). Left - in sumer dress, right - in winter dress.
Although the Polish infantry maneuvered swifter than the French (according to Lejeune) who had little time for drill
due to almost constant campaigning, there was no uniformity of weapons and uniforms in the Polish
infantry. In the Polish infantry served mostly Poles, this is obvious, but there were also Germans and
Lithuanians. Chlapowski writes: "I had several Germans [Prussians] from Leszno in my company [of voltigeurs].
I even made one of them a NCO and was very content with him. These men were less able to endure hardships than our Polish men, and so took greater care of themselves in everything which
could preserve their health. In Gniezno, when they first joined us, they did not speak Polish, but soon learnt it well and were always our equals in the thick of battle.
I made sure my Poles did not make fun of them and always treated them as comrades."
When under artillery fire some Polish units sat down to lessen their casualties (Borodino, Leipzig etc.). Both, the French and Polish, were very devoted to the Napoleonic cause.
Organization and Strength of Infantry.
In January 1809 were:
French Marshal Davout reviewed the infantry and selected three of the best regiments
(4th, 7th and 9th). These troops were sent to Spain where already was the Vistula Legion
(infantry and cavalry).
In the end of 1809 new regiments were raised: two in the Grand Duchy (14th and 15th)
and four in the liberated Galicia (13th, 16th, 17th and 18th).
In 1811 each infantry regiment received 2 light cannons and raised a depot battalion of 4 companies.
Due to financial difficulties Napoleon took into French pay the 5th, 10th and 11th Infantry
Regiment. Each company had 136 men but the convention between France and Poland signed in
February 1812 added 20 men. The increase was paid by France.
When in 1812 Napoleon liberated Lithuania (which had been part of Poland) several new regiments were organized:
In April 1812 Napoleon attached the Vistula Legion (four regiments of 2 battalions each) to the Young Guard. In May third battalions were formed, but they were not to form elite companies as they were too young. The third battalions followed the army and joined the parent regiments already during the retreat in the beginning of November. All four regiments of Vistula Legion fought long and hard. Out of 7.000 men only 500 returned. In June 1813 Napoleon took all the remaining legionnaires and organized one regiment of Vistula under Col. Kosinski. In 1813 this unit fought at Leipzig, Hanau, Soissons, Rheims and Arcis-sur-Aube where Napoleon sought shelter in one of its battalions. These lads were awarded with tens of crosses of Legion d'Honneur.
In March 1815 Napoleon directed that 1 battalion of Polish infantry begin forming in Rheims. The 590 men under Chef d'Bataillon Golaszewski were sent to Sedan where was depot of the disbanded Vistula Legion. Napoleon expected that second battalion will be raised from prisoners he expected to capture. On June 15th the Polish regiment had only 505 men.
Uniforms of Infantry.
The gaiters were black and short (under knee). The breeches and trousers were either white (in summer) or dark blue (in winter). The headwear was either shako or czapka (pronounced as 'chapka') with white eagle over brass base. Some of the shako had a red band around the top. The edges of czapka were trimmed with brass. The grenadiers wore either black or brown fur caps with or without front plates or czapka with brass plate bearing a grenade. In 1810-1813 the bearskin bore a brass plaque bearing a white metal eagle and the regimental number between two grenades. The grenadiers wore red epauletes, mustaches and large sideburns. The voltigeurs wore yellow-green epaulettes and some of their shako had a yellow band around the top. The shako cords were white. The grenadiers of the Vistula Legion distinguished themselves with white (not red) cords and white carrot-shape pompons. They wore dark-blue czapka with yellow sunburst plaques bearing a white eagle and the inscription "Pulk Nadwislanski" (Vistula Regiment).
The grenadiers (grenadierzy), voltigeurs (woltyzerowie) and fusiliers (fizylierzy distinguished themselves with colors of plumes and pompons. For grenadiers they were red, for fusiliers were black and for voltigeurs light green (in 1812 yellow over green). For officers were white.
In 1813 "After the battle of Dresden 3,000 Austrian deserters of Polish nationality were taken prisoner into the [Poniatowski's VIII] corps; 30 to each company. Many of them continued to wear their old unifrms." (Digby-Smith, - p 316)
There is a lot of confusing information about the Polish light infantry. Some claims that Poland (Grand Duchy of Warsaw) had no light infantry at all, while others assume that the Poles had similar organization of infantry to the French. Let me explain several things. In 1806-1807 each of the three legions (divisions) had a single company of strzelców pieszych (chasseurs-a-pied, light infantry). These companies were formed into a 400-men battalion of strzelców. In March 1807 this unit was converged into line infantry and absorbed into the 11th Infantry Regiment. The chasseurs were armed with muskets and rifled carbines.
In August 1812 it was decided that new six battalions of strzelców would be raised in the liberated Lithuania. They were formed from outdoorsmen, foresters, and men who had an experience with hunting weapons, rifles and muskets. All were volunteers, no recruits were accepted. They were issued Austrian muskets with rifled barrels (1807 Model), rifled carbines and muskets. These sharpshooters were then organized into two regiments of 3 battalions each. But the amount of volunteers was disappointingly low (624 men) and only one regiment of 2 battalions was raised. It was the Pulk Strzelców Litewskich (Lithuanian Chasseur Regiment) This unit was mauled by the Russians at Kojdanow, Beresina River and at Vilna. But the survivors, in contrast to other units, stayed in the ranks and retreated across Poland into Germany.
There were no regiments of light infantry, so if necessary individual companies of voltigeurs were
taken from infantry battalions and formed in larger units. For example in 1812 at Smolensk
Prince Poniatowski directed two battalions of converged voltigeurs into the suburbs defended
by Russian infantry. These voltigeurs fought in skirmish order. If voltigeurs were not enough, the line infantry
was capable of fighting as sharpshooters and tirailleurs. For example at Borodino the
Polish 16th Division fought in the wooded area near Utica having 2/3 of its strength fully
in skirmish order.
On picture: Polish horse battery at Raszyn, by W. Kossak
The Polish artillery was of excellent quality, well trained although too few in numbers and partially equipped with older guns. The artillery was very effective in 1809 at the Battle of Raszyn where they halted Austrian infantry from breaking the Polish line. At Leipzig the few guns dueled with powerful Allies artillery for three days.
In Polish artillery served also French officers; Jean Pelletier, Mallet, Bontempts, Charlot, Daret and others. They were transferred by Napoleon to Warsaw on Poniatowski's request. The Frenchmen were professionals, and had positive impact on the tactics and organization of Polish artillery. There were also Polsih officers who studied in France (for example Roman Soltyk of horse artillery).
Strength and Organization of Artillery.
The 6pdr cannon had crew of 10 men, 12pdr required 13 men and 3pdr 8 men. The company (battery) usually had 6 guns formed in three sections of 2 guns each, or two half-batteries of 3 guns each. It was recommended to deploy the battery on a hard and slightly elevated ground. For communication and passing the orders the foot artillery had drummers and horse artillery trumpeters. Companies were organized in fortresses of Torun (Thorn), Praga, Serock and Modlin. In 1808 one company of artillery was sent to Spain. It consisted of 4 officers and 145 other ranks.
In November 1807 were:
In 1808 was raised horse artillery. In 1810 was formed entire regiment, it consisted of 4 companies (batteries) each of 6 guns: 4 6pdr cannons and 2 howitzers. The first company was organized by Cpt. W. Potocki, the second by Roman Soltyk who studied in Paris.
Two light 3pdr cannons were added to each infantry regiment (for this purpose was formed so-called Auxiliary Artillery Battalion). The foot artillery was under the command of Col. Gorski, the horse artillery under Col. W. Potocki and the sapper battalion under Kubicki.
Due to financial difficulties in the Grand Duchy Napoleon took into French pay the artillery stationed in the fortresses of Gdansk (Danzig) and Kostrzyn (Kustrin).
In 1813 in Saxony Poniatowski had the following artillery units for his last campaign:
Between 1807 and 1810 the foot gunners wore dark green coats called kurtka with black collar, lapels, cuffs, cuff flaps and turnbacks - all piped red. The buttons were yellow. The privates wore red epauletes, cords and pompons. The trousers were black with dark green side stripes, their gaiters were black and just under knee. The shako was black and bore a brass plaque with a white metal eagle over crossed guns with a brass grenade. Between 1810 and 1813 the vest and summer trousers and gaiters were white. If dark green breeches were worn, black gaiters completed the outfit.
Between 1807 and 1810 the horse gunners wore a dark green coat called kurtka with black collar, cuffs and facings. The buttons were gold. Two golden grenades were embroidered on the collar. Collar, cuffs and facings were piped red. The breeches were dark green with black side stripes. They wore uhlan headwear, the tall top-squared czapka. Between 1810 and 1813 the czapka was replaced with a colpack/busbie with a dark green bag. To the colpack were attached red cords, tassels and pompon. They also wore Hungarian boots with gold trim and tassels.
Between 1810 and 1813 the train drivers wore blue-gray coat with white buttons, light yellow
collar and cuffs. The shako was black with yellow pompon and white eagle.
On phot: Polish uhlans, reenactors in 2006 - photo by poloniamilitaris.pl
Poland required numerous and good quality light cavalry to defend its
long borders against the elusive and agile Cossacks and Turks. The Polish cavalry helped to
solidify the eastern wall of Europe for nearly two centuries.
Thereafter, these deeds have been commemorated through plaques, memorials, marches,
literature and the media.
The French cavalry commanders (Murat, Lasalle and others) enjoyed leading the Poles into combat.
In 1812 at the Battle of Ostrovno "Murat ... darted forward,
placing himself in front of the 8th Polish Uhlan Regiment
He excited them with his words and actions, though they were
already enraged by the sight of the advancing Russians. ...
He had no intention of throwing himself with them into the
midst of a melee ... but the Poles were already crouched in the saddle.
The charging cavalry covered the width of the field completely
and pushed Murat before them. He could neither separate from them or stop."
- Nafziger and Wesolowski "Poles and Saxons of the Napoleonic Wars" p 116
However the beginnings of the Polish cavalry during the Napoleonic wars were modest.
The first units were formed in 1806-7 and Chlapowski writes: "Foot drill went very well with such enthusiastic citizens as tehse, but mounted drill
was very difficult as their horses were all too lively for the ranks and kept breaking up the lines.
One should avoid putting over-lively horses in the ranks, as horses always become livelier still when brought together."
(Chlapowski / Simmons - p 9)
Strength and Organization
The cavalry regiment consisted of staff and usually 3 (in 1806-1809) or 4 squadrons of two
companies each. The 4-squadron regiment was commanded by colonel, major, 2 chefs d'escadron
and 2 adjutanbts-majors. There were also standard-bearer and trumpet-major.
In November 1807 were:
The Poles numbered their cavalry regiments not by/within type but like the British, ŕ la suite.
In November 1809 were formed:
In 1811 each cavalry regiment raised a depot squadron of 2 companies. Due to financial difficulties in the Grand Duchy Napoleon in early 1812 took into French pay the 9th Uhlan Regiment.
When Napoleon liberated Lithuania (which had been part of Poland) several new regiments
There were several regiments in the French service:
In May 1815 Napoleon issued a decree organizing the 7th Chavauleger-Lancier Polonais. It consisted of 350 men and only 13 horses. The lancers fought on foot in the defense of the bridges in Sevres earning Marshal Davout's praise. After Napoleon's abdication all the foreign regiments were disbanded. The Polish units were absorbed into the Russian army except the lancers - they refused to serve for the Tsar, were disbanded and allowed to stay in France.
Uniforms of Polish Cavalry
The czapka was a traditional Polish headwear. The edges of the top square were reinforced with yellow metal and white cords (red for elite companies) hung from corner to corner. Tall black plume was worn on the front peak of the czapka (red for elite company and white for senior officers). There were also in use some non-regulation plumes cut "a la russe" or uncut long horse hair cascading down from the top. (Nafziger and Wesolowski - "Poles and Saxons of the Napoleonic Wars" p 51) A yellow "Amazon's Shield" bore regimental number and a white metal eagle. Some regiments however preffered a sunburst plaque with the eagle superimposed (the regiments formed in Lithuania wore a mounted knight instead of eagle). Just above the turban was worn a white band (golden for officers).
Uniforms of Uhlans
Uniforms of Chasseurs
The hussars wore dark blue dolman and dark blue pelisse with black fur for the 10th Regiment or white for the 13th. (Nafziger and Wesolowski - "Poles and Saxaons of the Napoleonic Wars" p 50) The lace between rows of buttons for officers was strung gold for the 10th Regiment and silver for the 13th. The collar was crimson, the breches were dark blue with yellow (for 10th) or white (for 13th) single side stripes and thigh knots. For campaign they wore grey breeches with crimson side straps and the inside of the legs strengthened with leather. All hussars wore Hungarian boots. The shako was black (in 10th) or light blue (in 13th), black plumes was attached to shakos. The men of elite company wore black busbies/colpacks with red cords and red plumes. The senior officers distinguished themselves with gold or silver cords and white plumes.
Uniforms of Cuirassiers
"My Pygmy Cavalry" - Napoleon
The Krakus Regiment, pronounced crack-coos, was formed in 1813.
On 25th September 1813 on the road to Bautzen the Polish troops met Napoleon.
The Emperor reviewed the Krakus Regiment mounted on their peasant ponies and
laughed out loud. He called them “my pygmy cavalry.” But when they began maneuvering,
deploying, charging and ploying, all in a very fast pace, his amusement switched to admiration. In the end of the review individual riders presented their incredible skills.
Stones were placed on the ground and they came at speed picking them off the ground with
easy. Impressed Napoleon called for the commanders of French cavalry and said: look at these
kids. They are superb horsemen, they captured allied general, Cossack standard and dozens of prisoners.
And they accomplished it in short time.
In 1813 the officers gave commands by waving a handkerchief, in 1814 this function was performed by using a horsetail on a pike in the manner of the wild Tartars. It was excellent tool for small warfare as the regular cavalry used the trumpets for communication, more suited for noisy battlefield than for chasing the elusive Cossacks.
The Pygmies in Combat
The Best Regiments
According to George Nafziger (USA), author of numerous books, the best cavalry were:
The quality of the Polish cavalry regiments varied, the best were the Guard lancers and the Vistula uhlans. The uhlans were the most numerous, some regiments were excellent (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th) while others were below the average. Below is a list of the best Polish cavalry regiments.
Sources and Links.
Kukiel - "Wojny Napoleonskie"
Bielecki - "Grand Army" 1995
Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" (translated by Tim Simmons)
Elting - "Swords Around a Throne"
Digby-Smith - "1813: Leipzig"
Nafziger and Wesolowski - "Poles and Saxons ..."
Pawlowski - "Polish-Austrian War of 1809" 1999
Zych - "Armia Ksiestwa Warszawskiego 1807-1812" 1961
Lukasiewicz - "Armia Ksiecia Jozefa 1813" MON, 1986
Salter and McLachlan - "Poland the Rough Guide."
Kukiel - "Wojna 1812", tom 1-2, Kraków 1937
Kukiel - "Dzieje Oreza Polskiego w Epoce Napoleonskiej, 1795-1815" 1912
Pachonski - "General Jan Henryk Dabrowski", Warszawa 1981
Gembarzewski - "Wojsko Polskie. Ksiestwo Warszawskie 1807-1814" 1912
Gembarzewski - "Rodowody pulków i oddzialów równorzednych" 1925
Sokolnicki - "Journal historique de la 7-e div. de cav. legere polonaise"
Domange - "Garde Imperiale, bataillon de Grenadiers Polonais" Uniform Plate from the Series on the "Legions Polonaises et l'Armée du Grand-Duche de Varsovie."
Battle of Raszyn, 1809
Battle of Fuengirola, 1810
Legiony i Wojsko Ksiestwa w latach 1797 - 1814
Napoleon; nadzieja Polaków
Legion de la Vistule.
Pulaski, Father of the American Cavalry
Photo Gallery - troops of Duchy of Warsaw