Military Review

Feat Smolensk (1609-1611 years)

The ancient Russian city of Smolensk, which is located on both banks of the Dnieper, is known from chronicle sources from 862-863 as a hail of the union of Slavic Krivichi tribes (archaeological evidence speaks of its more ancient stories). From 882, Smolensk land was joined by the Prophetic Oleg to the Russian state. This city and land has written many heroic pages in defense of our Fatherland. He became the main fortress on our western frontiers, right up to World War II. One of the most famous feats of Smolensk is the defense of Smolensk in 1609 - 1611.

It should be noted that after the collapse of the Old Russian state, Smolensk was returned to Russia in 1514, Grand Duke Basil III. In 1595 — 1602, during the years of the kings Fedor Ioannovich and Boris Godunov, the Smolensk fortress wall was built under the guidance of architect Fedor Kony, with a length of walls 6,5 kilometers and with 38 towers up to 21 meters in height. The height of the strongest of them - Frolovskaya, which was closer to the Dnieper, reached 33 meters. Nine towers of the fortress had a gate. The thickness of the walls reached 5 — 6,5 m, height — 13 — 19 m, the depth of the foundation was more than 4 m. These fortifications played a huge role in the defense of the city. The architect introduced several new products to his already traditional scheme: the walls became taller - in three tiers, rather than two, as before, the towers are also taller and more powerful. All three tiers of the walls were adapted for battle: the first tier, for the plantar battle, was equipped with rectangular chambers in which the cannons were installed and squeaked. The second tier was for medium combat - they built trench-shaped vaulted chambers in the center of the wall, in which they placed guns. Pushkar climbed to them by the added wooden stairs. Top battle - was on the top of the battleground, which was fenced teeth. Deaf and battle teeth alternated. Between the teeth there were low brick ceilings, due to which the archers could beat from the knee. Above, the platform on which the guns were also installed was covered by a double slope toe-roof.

Distemper in the Russian state was caused by a complex of reasons, internal and external in nature, one of its reasons was the intervention of the Western powers - Sweden, Poland. Poland initially acted through impostors, detachments of the Polish gentry, who acted at their own peril and risk. But then the Poles decided on direct aggression, taking advantage of the fact that Moscow had concluded an agreement with Sweden (the Vyborg Treaty). The government of Vasily Shuisky promised to help Korel district and pay for the services of mercenaries, of whom the bulk of the Swedish army consisted, for helping in the fight against the “Tushino thief”. And Poland was at war with Sweden, which became an ally of Moscow.

Feat Smolensk (1609-1611 years)

Model of the Smolensk fortress wall.

Forces of the parties, preparation of Smolensk for defense

In the summer of 1609, the Poles began military operations against Russia. Polish troops entered Russian territory, and Smolensk was the first city on their way. 19 September The foremost detachments of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, headed by the Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Lev Sapega, approached the city and began its siege. Three days later, the main forces of the Commonwealth led by Sigismund III came up (1609 thousand people with 12,5 guns, the Polish army included not only Poles, but also Lithuanian Tatars, Hungarian and German hired infantry). In addition, more than 30 thou. Thousand Cossacks, led by the hetman Olevchenko. The weakness of the Polish troops was the small number of infantry, which was necessary for the assault on the fortress - about 10 thousand people.

The Smolensk garrison in 5,4, thousands of people (9 of hundreds of nobles and boyars' children, 5 of hundreds of archers and gunners, 4 of thousands of warriors from townspeople and peasants), was led by voivod Mikhail Borisovich Shein. He distinguished himself in the battle of 1605 of the year, near Dobrynichy, when the Russian army inflicted a crushing defeat on the False Dmitriy I detachments. Shein after this victory was appointed commander of the advanced regiment, in 1607 he was promoted to boyar, and in 1608 he occupied one of the most responsible positions in the Russian state - Became the main commander in Smolensk. The voivode had a rich military experience, was distinguished by his personal courage, firmness of character, perseverance and perseverance, and he had broad knowledge in the military field.

The armament of the fortress was 170-200 guns. Then the residents of Smolensk joined the garrison before the siege of 40-45. The ultimatum of the Polish sovereign about the surrender of Smolensk was left unanswered, and M. Shein, who delivered it to the Polish messenger, said that if he still came with similar proposals, he would be “drunk with the water of the Dnieper” (i.e., drowned).

The guns of the fortress ensured the defeat of the enemy to 800 meters. The garrison had large reserves of manual firearms. weapons, ammunition and food. In the summer, the voivode began to prepare for a siege, when he received information from the agents that the Polish army would be at Smolensk by August 9. Before the siege, Shein managed to recruit "dutch people" (peasants), developed a defense plan. According to it, the Smolensk garrison was divided into two groups of forces: the siege (2 thousand) and the outfall (about 3,5 thousand). The siege group consisted of 38 units (by the number of towers of the fortress), 50 — 60 of warriors and gunners in each. She was supposed to defend the wall. Vylaznaya (reserve) group was the general reserve of the garrison, its tasks were attacks, counterattacks of the enemy, strengthening the most threatened areas of defense in repelling the attacks of the enemy troops.

When the enemy was approaching Smolensk, the city surrounding the town (to 6, thousands of wooden houses) was burned out by order of the governor. This created more favorable conditions for defensive actions (visibility and shelling for artillery improved, the enemy was deprived of shelters to prepare for a surprise attack, dwellings on the eve of winter).

Defense of the fortress

Getman Stanislav Zolkiewski, who directly led the Polish army, was a man of very sound mind, and therefore opposed the war with the Russian state. Getman believed that it does not meet the interests of the Commonwealth. But his peace-loving reports did not reach their goal.

After exploring the fortifications of Smolensk and discussing ways to master the fortress at the military council, the hetman was forced to report to King Sigismund III that the Polish army did not have the forces and means necessary for the assault (numerous infantry, siege artillery, etc.). He suggested that the king confine himself to blockade the fortress and the main forces go to the capital of Russia.

But Sigismund made a decision, by all means, to take possession of Smolensk, and rejected this offer. Fulfilling the royal will, hetman Zolkiewski ordered the storming of the fortress to begin on the night of September 25. It was planned to destroy the Kopytitsky (western) and Avraamiyevsky (eastern) gates with subversive shells and break through them into the Smolensk fortress. For the assault, infantry companies of German and Hungarian mercenaries were allocated, for the best horseback hundreds to break through the gates. To distract the garrison was gun-gunnery around the perimeter of the fortress. She was supposed to create the appearance of a general assault.

But Shein provided for such a scenario, and all the gates of the fortress were pre-covered with log cabins filled with earth and stones. This protected them from siege artillery fire and possible explosions. Polish miners were able to destroy only the Avraamiyevskie gate, but the troops did not receive a conditional signal before detection. The defenders of the eastern wall lit torches, seeing the enemy, covered the order of the artillery prepared for the attack. Polish forces suffered heavy losses and withdrew. The night assault was foiled.

25 — 27 of September the Polish army tried to take the city, the most fierce battles were in the north - at the Dnieper and Pyatnitsky gates and in the west - at the Kopytitsky gate. The attacks of the Poles were everywhere reflected, with significant losses for them. A major role in the success of the defense was played by the reserve, which was quickly transferred to the threatened areas.

Defenders of the fortress at the same time with the defense, improved the system of fortifications. The holes were immediately repaired, the gates, without which it was possible to do, were covered with earth and stones, the log houses in front of the gates were covered with a fence with a guard.

After that, the Polish command decided to weaken the defense of the fortress with the help of engineering work and artillery fire, and then begin a second assault. But the effectiveness of the fire turned out to be low, the Poles had little artillery, and besides, they were low-powered cannons that could not cause serious damage to the walls of the fortress. The fortress artillery of the Russian garrison inflicted great damage on the Poles, disrupted engineering training. In this situation, the Polish king was forced to abandon the re-assault of the fortress, and from October 5 the Polish army passed to the siege.

Siege. The engineering work of the Poles also did not succeed, although they were led by foreign specialists. Under the foundations of the walls of the fortress were "rumors" (galleries intended for attacks outside the fortress and mine action). Voevoda Shein ordered to build additional "rumors", strengthen intelligence on the approaches to the fortress and deploy countermining work.

16 January 1610, the Russian miners got to the Polish undermining and destroyed the enemy who was there, and then blew up the gallery. Some military historians, for example, E. A. Razin, believe that this was the first underground battle in military history. 27 January Smolensk miners won another victory over the enemy, the enemy mine was blown up. Soon Smolensk could blow up another Polish mine, proving the futility of waging a mine war against them. Russian warriors won the underground war of the winter of 1609-1610.

It should be noted that the Russian garrison not only successfully repelled the attacks of the enemy and won the mine war, but also made forays in which hundreds of warriors participated without giving the enemy a peaceful life. In addition, the attacks were carried out in order to get water in the Dnieper (it was not enough in the fortress, or the quality of the water was low) in the winter for firewood. During one of the sorties, 6 of Smolensk climbed a boat across the Dnieper, quietly made their way to the Polish camp, seized the royal banner and returned safely to the fortress.

A partisan struggle unfolded in the Smolensk region, which is not surprising, given the mores of the European armies of the time - supply at the expense of the local population, looting, violence against people. Partisans strongly interfered with the enemy, attacking his foragers, small units. Some groups were quite numerous, as in the Cod unit there were up to 3 thousand people. An outstanding Russian commander of the times of the Troubles, M. V. Skopin-Shuisky, helped organize the partisan movement. He sent to the Smolensk region three dozen military experts with the aim to form partisan detachments and disorganize the rear of the Poles.

Disaster Klushino and its influence on the defense of Smolensk

The siege of Smolensk shackled most of the Poles' army, which allowed M. V. Skopin-Shuisky to accomplish a number of victories, vast areas in the north-west of the Russian state were cleared of the enemy, and the Tushino camp of False Dmitry II was eliminated. And in March, 1610 was able to free the capital from the siege. But a little over a month after the triumphal entry into Moscow, a young and talented commander, whom many predicted to be the czars of Russia, died unexpectedly. He died at a time when he was energetically preparing a campaign for the liberation of Smolensk. The young commander was just 23.

The command of the army was transferred to the brother of Tsar Vasily Shuisky - Dmitry. In May, the Russian-Swedish army of 1610 (about 30 thousand people, including 5 — 8 thousand Swedish mercenaries), led by DI Shuysky and Jacob Delagardi, marched to liberate Smolensk. The Polish king did not remove the siege and sent to the Russian army 7 thousand corps under the command of Hetman Zolkiewski.

24 June in the battle of the village Klushino (north of Gzhatsk) Russian-Swedish army was defeated. The reasons for the defeat were the mistakes of senior officers, the complete lack of talent personally D. Shuisky, betrayal at the crucial moment of the battle of foreign mercenaries. As a result, Zolkiewski seized a wagon train, a treasury, artillery, the Russian army almost completely fled and ceased to exist, the Polish army strengthened 3 thousand by a detachment of mercenaries and 8 thousand by a Russian detachment of voevody G. Valuev, who swore allegiance to King Vladislav.

The regime of Vasily Shuisky received a terrible blow and the king was overthrown. The boyars government, Semiboyarshchina, recognized the authority of the Polish prince. The position of Smolensk was hopeless, hope for help from the outside collapsed.

Stanislav Zolkiewski.

Siege continued

The position of Smolensk continued to deteriorate, but the siege, hunger and disease did not break the courage of the townspeople and the garrison. While the forces of the defenders dried up, and there was no help, more and more reinforcements arrived to the Polish army. In the spring of 1610, under the fortress, Polish troops arrived, who had previously served the second impostor. Significant forces came from the Commonwealth. In total, the army received 30 thousand reinforcements and siege artillery. But the garrison was not going to surrender, all the attempts of the Poles to persuade Smolyan to surrender were not successful (they offered to capitulate in September 1610 of the year and in March of 1611 of the year).

In July, the Polish army resumed active engineering work on 1610, while the resulting siege artillery and walling machines began to be used simultaneously. Polish engineers laid the trenches and began to move to the tower at the Kopytitsky gate. The garrison led trenches to counter the advancement of the enemy and were able to destroy part of the moves of the enemy. Although the Poles nevertheless reached the tower, they did not have any success in trying to break through its powerful foundation.

By July 18, having concentrated almost all their siege artillery here, the Poles were able to make a dent. 19 July morning Polish army went to the storming of the fortress, which lasted two days. Demonstrative actions were conducted on the entire front of the fortifications, and the main blow, by the forces of German mercenaries, was inflicted in the area of ​​the Kopytitsky gate (from the west). But the defenders, despite his desperate efforts of the enemy, repelled the attack. The decisive role was played by reserve units, which were brought into battle in time.

The fierce battle went on 11 August, the defenders repelled the third big assault. The Polish army lost up to 1 thousand people only killed. November 21 garrison repelled the fourth assault. The main role in repelling the enemy was again played by the reserve. The Polish army suffered significant losses and again moved to the siege, not taking active steps.

The fall of the fortress

The 1610-1611 winter was very hard. The hunger and the epidemics that weakened people were joined by the cold; there were not enough people to go out for firewood. There was also a shortage of ammunition. As a result, by the beginning of June 1611, in the fort's garrison, only two hundred people survived, who were capable of holding a weapon in their hands. This number was barely enough for perimeter surveillance. Of the inhabitants of the city no more than 8 thousand survived.

Apparently, the Poles did not know about it, otherwise they would have started the assault earlier. The Polish command took the decision on the fifth assault only after one defector from the fortress, a certain A. Dedeshin, spoke about the plight of Smolensk. He pointed out the weakest point of defense of the fortress in the western part of the Smolensk wall. In recent days, before the decisive assault, the Polish army subjected the fortifications to powerful shelling. But its efficiency was low, a small gap was managed to be pierced only in one place.

In the evening of June 2, the Polish army prepared for an assault. She had complete superiority in strength. At midnight, the troops went to the assault. In the area of ​​the Avraamiev gate, the Poles were able to climb the walls unnoticed by assault ladders and break into the fortress. In the place where a breach was punched in the wall, hundreds of German mercenaries met a small detachment (several dozen warriors) led by voivode Shein. In a fierce battle, almost all of them laid down their heads, but did not give up. Shein himself was wounded and captured (he was tortured in captivity, then sent to Poland, where he was imprisoned for 9 years).

The Poles broke into the city and to the west, having blown up part of the wall. Despite the stalemate, Smolensk did not surrender, they continued to fight in the city, a fierce battle on the streets went all night. By morning, the Polish army captured the fortress. The last defenders retreated to the Sobornaya Hill, where the Assumption Cathedral towered, hid there to 3 thousand citizens (mostly old men, women and children, since the men fought with the enemy). In the basement of the cathedral stored powder stocks of the garrison. When the last heroes defending the Sobornaya Gorka fell in an unequal battle and the mercenaries who were mad from the battle broke into the cathedral, there was a terrible explosion that buried the citizens and enemies.

Unknown Russian patriots preferred death to captivity ... 20-month unprecedented defense ended on a high note. The Russian garrison fought to the end, having exhausted all defensive capabilities. What the enemy could not do, made hunger, cold, and disease. The garrison fell in battle entirely, from the inhabitants of the city, several thousand people survived.

The value and results of the defense of Smolensk

- The Russian people received another example of how to live and fight, to the end, regardless of the victims and losses. Their unshakable resilience, courage inspired all the peoples of the Russian state to fight the aggressors.

- The Polish army was exsanguinated (total losses amounted to 30 thousand people), demoralized was not able to throw at Moscow and Sigismund III did not dare to go to the Russian capital, led him to Poland.

- The defense of Smolensk played a huge military-political role in the struggle of the Russian state for its existence. The Smolensk garrison, residents of the city for almost two years held down the main enemy forces, thwarted his plans to occupy the vital centers of Russia. And this created the conditions for a successful national liberation struggle of the Russian people against the interventionists. They fought for a reason.

- From the point of view of military art, the defense of the Smolensk fortress is a classic example of the defense of a fortified position. It should be noted that Smolensk’s good preparation for defense helped its relatively small garrison without any outside help, relying only on its own strength and resources to successfully withstand the 4 assault, a significant number of small attacks, the siege of the numerically superior army of the enemy. The garrison not only beat off assaults, but was able to deplete the forces of the Polish army so much that even after the capture of Smolensk, the Poles lost their offensive power.

The heroic defense of Smolensk testifies to the high level of Russian military art of the time. This was manifested in the high activity of the garrison, the stability of the defense, the skilful use of artillery, the victory in the underground war against Western military specialists. The command of the fortress skillfully used the reserve maneuver, continuously improving the defense of Smolensk during the conduct of hostilities. The garrison showed high morale, courage, quick-witted mind to the very last moments of the defense.

- The fall of the fortress was due not to the mistakes of the garrison, but to the weakness of the government of Vasily Shuisky, the direct betrayal of the national interests of the Russian state by individual elite groups, the ineptitude of a number of tsarist military leaders.


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  1. rumpeljschtizhen
    rumpeljschtizhen 4 November 2011 16: 08
    yes glorious History of our city
  2. fedora
    fedora 4 November 2011 20: 18
    - The fall of the fortress was due not to the mistakes of the garrison, but to the weakness of the government of Vasily Shuisky, the direct betrayal of the national interests of the Russian state by individual elite groups, the ineptitude of a number of tsarist military leaders.

    Friends, do not you think that this conclusion is somewhat reminiscent of the current situation in Russia?
    1. zczczc
      zczczc 6 November 2011 20: 23
      fedoraShuisky people generally never loved.
      Reminds, of course. Our strength and our weakness have always been multinational. When we are united and see a common goal - we are strong, when we have all sorts of civil strife - we are weak. Mono-ethnic nations like the Japanese or the ancient Greeks are a flint, because they are homogeneous in every sense. But for mono-ethnic nations, the limit of growth has long been exhausted, and vulnerability is higher - if a problem arises, then the whole nation is covered with a copper basin, and if we have one nation that is drinking or decaying, then there are still others to pull everyone out.
      1. GDP
        GDP 4 December 2014 17: 06
        Mikhail Vasilievich Skopin-Shuisky - was one of the greatest commanders of his time

        The growing popularity of Skopin-Shuisky in the conditions of Troubles and instability of power aroused envy and fear among the tsar and the boyars. Many people wanted to see on the royal throne just the energetic Skopin-Shuisky, and not the hated Vasily Shuisky, especially since the Skopin-Shuisky clan was the older branch of the Rurikovich. Especially unfriendly to Skopin-Shuisky was the Tsar's mediocre brother Dmitry Ivanovich Shuisky, who lost all the battles against the rebels. Skopin-Shuisky was preparing by the beginning of spring to leave Moscow to help the besieged Smolensk. Delagardi, suspecting something was amiss, advised Skopin-Shuisky to do this as soon as possible in order to be surrounded by his army in greater security. However, it was not possible to prevent the death of Skopin-Shuisky.

        The young commander was invited to a feast on the occasion of the christening of the son of Prince Ivan Mikhailovich Vorotynsky, who asked Skopin-Shuisky to become the godfather for the baby. The godmother was the wife of Prince Dmitry Shuisky, Catherine (daughter of the oprichnik Malyuta Skuratov). From her hands Skopin-Shuisky took a bowl of wine at a feast. After drinking it, Skopin-Shuisky suddenly felt ill, blood poured from his nose

        So the hero of our state and one of the most talented military commanders was plagued by envious boyars.
        If he survived the defense of Smolensk there would be a completely different story ...
    2. Nick
      Nick 6 November 2011 21: 08
      Still reminds! History develops in a spiral. It is time to prepare for the whole of Russia, as the Smolensk in the year 1609.
  3. zczczc
    zczczc 6 November 2011 00: 53
    In general, we were not stronger than under Stalin in the period known to us.
  4. Georg Shep
    Georg Shep 29 February 2012 22: 03
    Glory to Smolensk - Russian military degree!
  5. Centaurus
    Centaurus 28 October 2013 12: 57
    "In addition, over 10 thousand Cossacks approached, led by Hetman Olevchenko."
    Well, what did they do there ?! am
    Lu4che,, Smolensk helped to defend! Perhaps the Poles would not have taken the glorious city.
    Great Russia and Mogu4aya, and her people are the same.
    Only their trouble, 4 very many all kinds of important posts!