Battle of Fraustadt

Carl Gustaf Rehnskiöld (6 August 1651 – 29 January 1722)

Marshal Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg (1661-1747)

King Charles XI’s Polish campaign had been highly successful, and after taking Warsaw in 1704, Charles decided to take out Saxony, so he gave a small detachment of 3,700 infantry of the line and 5,700 Cavalrymen to his trusted General Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld.

When Rehnskiöld reached Saxony he did encounter the last remnants of a broken Polish army, 9,000 Saxons, and a Russian relief force of just under 5,000.

Rehnskiöld decided to move his army in a tactical retreat, as he saw his numerical disadvantage, by leaving the battlefield, and  tricking his opponent to foolishly following him into a well-planned trap, skillfully orchestrated by Rehnskiöld and his subordinates.

Rehnskiöld initiated a pincer maneuver by careful placing the line infantry in the center and splitting up the cavalry into two units and placing them on each flank.

The fighting began with a Polish offensive. The Swedish cavalry quickly flanked the enemy from both sides simultaneously, effectively cutting their lines apart, causing mass panic, the Swedish Line infantry started advancing shortly after, cutting down any and all survivors, with no mercy.

The battle of Fraustadt ended with a decisive Swedish victory and a crushing defeat for the Commonwealth. Fewer than 1,500 casualties for the Swedes, with only 427 dead, and a staggering 15,000 for the Commonwealth (with allies), with 7,377 dead, and over to 10,000 wounded or captured.

Swedish Tactical Doctrine

Swedish King Charles XI obstinately refused to follow contemporary tactical fashion. Even though flintlock and bayonet were standard issue in Swedish armies – indeed the Swedish bayonet was better fixed and hence superior to many western versions – the pike was retained, not because Sweden was backward, but because pikemen, who constituted about a third of each battalion, still had a role to play. Charles had a healthy contempt for firepower, placing far greater trust in cold steel. Each Swedish infantryman was armed with a sword, the design of which was of great concern to Charles. Swedish infantry regulations, from those drawn up by Magnus Stenbock at Lais in the winter of 1700–1, played down the role of firepower and stressed the importance of infantry attack at the double. Salvos were to be delivered as close as possible to the enemy, and attacks were to be pressed home with maximum vigour: eyewitness accounts describe how the Swedish foot charged at the run; even during its doomed attack against overwhelming odds at Poltava, the weary infantry was running so fast it was ‘almost leaping’. At Fraustadt (2/13 February 1706), most of the Swedish foot did not even bother to fire a salvo as it attacked in one line, five ranks deep, with pikemen between the second and third ranks; only the right wing loosed its muskets. Elsewhere, the infantry pressed forward across the last hundred yards through three artillery salvos and one musket volley, brushed aside the bristling Spanish riders chained together in front of the Saxon ranks, and plunged in at the run with sword, pike and bayonet. At Holowczyn (July 1708), which Charles considered the best of his battles, ‘the King himself went from one battalion to another, … ordering them above all things, instead of firing, to use their pikes, their bayonets and their swords.’

It was not that Charles failed to appreciate the importance of firepower: Swedish artillery and musket technology remained the equal of any in Europe and he was perfectly capable of using artillery effectively where he felt it appropriate, as at the forcing of the Dvina in July 1701, or to cover his surprise crossing of the Vabich at Holowczyn which, despite Charles’s urgings, was largely a bitter firefight. Yet Charles judged weapons in terms of effectiveness not fashion. Although technology had certainly improved, the profound limitations of contemporary firearms still shaped tactics. Flintlocks might be better than matchlocks, but their rate of fire was still slow and their reliability uncertain, especially in damp weather; battleplans consequently tended to emphasise the defensive over the offensive. Charles, however, believed in speed of movement and the seizure of the initiative; this led him to downplay the role of the musket and of field artillery. For, if cavalry was no longer capable of breaking ordered formations of infantry, a disciplined, aggressive charge by well-drilled, motivated infantry with high morale could achieve what cavalry could not. Even troops experienced in the handling of firearms were vulnerable to a coordinated and rapid infantry assault. At Fraustadt, where much of the Saxon army was composed of French, Bavarian and Swiss mercenaries, each infantry platoon, firing in turn, should in theory have been capable of unleashing five or six salvos in the time it took the Swedes to approach. In practice they only managed one or two, since they were ordered to wait until the Swedes were eighty paces away. If, as one source suggests, some of the Saxons fired high, the damage inflicted would have been minimal.

Swedish success was not dependent upon infantry alone. Cavalry still played a central role on the battlefield, protecting the flanks and preventing envelopment by the enemy. With the division of the Commonwealth’s forces in what became a civil war, the Swedish cavalry were able to play a more central role than had been possible in the 1650s. Backed by substantial quantites of Polish medium and light cavalry, either recruited directly into the Swedish army as Vallacker (Wallachian) regiments, or as part of the pro-Leszczyński forces, Swedish cavalry enjoyed the freedom to roam widely. On the battlefield, mounted on robust, powerful horses, they were direct and devastating. According to Stenbock’s 1710 regulations, a cavalryman was to charge ‘with sword in hand’, and never to ‘caracolle or use his carbine or pistol’ in preference to his sword. The cavalry charged in closed wedge formation, with knees locked together. It is a matter of some controversy as to whether it was possible to maintain an attack in such close formation at high speed; in part it depended on the terrain, but eyewitness reports make it clear that Charles’s cavalry charged home at the gallop, even if they did not always maintain close formation.

The superior Swedish cavalry proved decisive in several battles, including Pułtusk (June 1703) and Ponitz (September 1704). At Fraustadt, where Rehnskiöld was outnumbered nearly two to one (and nearly three to one in infantry), he used his cavalry on both wings in a double envelopment of Schulenburg’s force which was deliberately deployed in a position thought to be impregnable to cavalry attack, with each wing resting on a village, and battalions turned at right angles to offer flanking cover. The Swedish cavalry, attacking at the gallop, drove off the Saxon horse on the wings and pressed in on the allied centre as the infantry mounted a frontal assault against the allied foot. The result was a massacre. Of some 18,000 Saxons and Russians, 7–8,000 were killed, including the Russians cut down in cold blood after surrendering. Four-fifths of the allied army was killed or captured.

The spectacular results of these aggressive tactics themselves played an important part in their success, since they ensured that morale remained high. Faith in Charles’s powers as a general and a feeling of superiority towards other armies took root. Belief in the king, trust in the providential protection of a Lutheran God and the confidence which stemmed from an unbroken run of success drove Sweden’s armies forward. Charles’s oft-criticised insistence on leading from the front and exposing himself to danger helped strengthen this belief: his preservation from harm, especially given the mounting toll of men killed or wounded at his side, seemed to confirm that he enjoyed divine protection.

Battle of Fraustadt

Battle of Fraustadt 1706 scenario for Pike & Shot

Here are the design notes;

1) According to the map on Tacitus’ site all the Saxon artillery pieces seem to have been battalion guns. They were 3 pounders located between the gaps in the infantry battalions in the front line. Therefore I have not given other battalions light guns. The Swedes do not seem to have had any artillery, which seems very odd to me, but I have decided to represent their battalions without light guns.

2) The Russian Infantry battalions are represented in red coats. This is because on the day of battle they were ordered to turn their coats inside out, so that the red lining showed, to make them look like regular Saxon infantry. Schulenberg (and the Swedes) believed that they were inferior to his Saxon infantry, and did not want the Swedes to identify them in his line of battle and so single them out for attack.

3) I have reduced all infantry units (except Swedes) using less sophisticated firing techniques to 80% Musket. As the Swedes have the Salvo capability, they are already reduced at short range and if I reduce their Salvo percentage that would affect their impact capability.

4) I have created the Chevaux De Frise by renaming the light fortification as low wall, and modding the texture .dds file to show Chevaux De Frise. The effect in the game is the same as a low wall. Unfortunately, they cannot be moved.

5) This scenario uses the RBS socket bayonet mod, which also allows Swedish salvo infantry to charge cavalry.

6) The scenario uses Adebar’s Winter (No snow) objects, combined with his Winter (Snow) tiles, slightly modified by me to give a less snowy appearance.

7) Difficulty Rating; Medium

8) Sideicons are as follows;

Swedish; General Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld, commanded at this battle.

Saxon; General Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, commanded the Saxon army at the battle.

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