Michal Paradowski, Despite Destruction, Misery and Privations… (Helion, 2020)
Between 1626 and 1629, the Swedish and Polish fought a bitter territorial war in Prussia. This was another in a series of wars beginning in 1600. Two great commanders led the armies: Gustav II Adolf and Hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski. The Swedes are more familiar to English-speaking audience, but in this book, Michal Paradowski examines the Polish army, including the famous Winged Hussars.
Paradowski begins with a general oversight of the complex Polish military system with all its different contingents and allies, mainly from the Austrian Habsburg Imperial forces. Then comes a discussion of the commanders where we find that Koniecpolski was not only a militarily capable Hetman (Commander), he kept a cadre of experienced officers around him for this war. Paradowski also considers recruitment and the size of the army in Prussia. How that army was formed, organized, and equipped comes next with an emphasis on the Polish cavalry. Paradowski highlights the role of mercenaries that formed the backbone of the Polish infantry, all of which were apparently musketeers, which was highly unusual for the period. They also had very little artillery and a deficient navy, a clear problem against the Swedes who were not short of both. Paradowski moves on to logistics and finds the Poles administratively ill-equipped there too, lacking resources in all areas, including food and weapons. Nevertheless, it says something about the Poles that they fought hard for three years. Battles were small affairs and sieges were more common: Paradowski provides a very good account of those actions and how the Poles fought. In his conclusion, Paradowski notes that the 1626-1629 war was transitional for the Polish, at least tactically, but logistical and financial problems continued to haunt them for the rest of the century. His book concludes with nine short appendices, consisting of various pieces of primary evidence, and a deep bibliography, though almost all of it in Polish.
I came to Paradowski’s book through my curiosity about Winged Hussars, but I found there was much more to this Polish army than meets the eye. Paradowski presents a clear analysis of the Poles at all levels of their professional competency, or otherwise. He is supported by a series of excellent colour plates by Sergey Shamenkov and many monochrome illustrations, especially of those fabulous Winged Hussars but also other colourful units. This is certainly a niche subject, but anyone interested in 17th Century warfare, and other aspects of the Polish world illuminated by the military system and processes, will enjoy this book.