Siege of Smolensk, 28 October 1632-1 March 1634

The siege of Smolensk was the main action of the Smolensk War (1632-34) between Russian and Poland-Lithuania. It began with a Russian army attacking Polish held Smolensk and ended with a Polish relief army besieging the Russians.

Smolensk had been lost by Russia during the Time of Troubles (1604-1613), and had remained in Polish hands after the truce of Deuline (1619). The recovery of the areas lost in 1619 became a central aim of Russian policy. The Smolensk War broke out the year before the truce of Deuline was due to expire, and was triggered by the death of Sigismund III of Poland-Lithuania in April 1632. Russia had been preparing to renew the war in 1633, and but even so it took until September for the Russian army to move west. It arrived outside Smolensk on 28 October 1632.

The Russian army at Smolensk was 34,500 strong. It included 9,000 men in “new formation” units, modelled on western European practise. The army was commanded by Mikhail Borisovich Shein. He had commanded the Russian army that had defended Smolensk in 1609-11 and was thus familiar with the powerful defences of the city. He began a well organised siege. His siege guns arrived at Smolensk in December 1932 with heavier guns arriving in March 1933. Shein would have nearly a year to besiege Smolensk before the arrival of a large Polish relief army, but he was unable to take the city. Perhaps unexpectedly in a siege situation, his main problem would turn out to be a lack of good quality cavalry.  

This was first demonstrated in January-March 1633. A small Polish-Lithuanian army under Krzysztof Radziwill was able to launch a series of raids against the Russian army outside Smolensk, inflicting several hundred casualties on the Russians for the loss of only four men. In March 1633 he was able to slip some of his men into the beleaguered city, carrying valuable supplies.

The main relief effort was slowed down by the time needed to elect a new king of Poland-Lithuania. Although Sigismund’s son Wladyslaw IV was elected unopposed, the election did not take place until November 1632. In February 1633 the Polish-Lithuanian Sejm (the Diet or Parliament) approved an army 23,427 strong. In September 1633 Wladyslaw reached Smolensk at the head of a relieving army that contained a core of 14,000 Polish-Lithuanian troops as well as 15,000 Ukrainian Cossacks.

By the time Wladyslaw reached Smolensk Russian enthusiasm for the war was on the wane. The main driving force behind the war had been Patriach Filaret, the father of Tsar Michael Romanov, but he had died during 1633. Shein had been left largely unsupported outside Smolensk. The weakness of his cavalry would now cost him dear. Although the Russian army outside Smolensk had better infantry than the Poles, they were spread out in the trenches outside Smolensk. Shein was unable to move his men between danger points, and was soon trapped in his trenches.

Wladyslaw launched his first attack on 7 September, against a strong Russian position north of Smolensk. On 21-22 September Wladyslaw made another attack on the same part of the Russian lines, forcing them to retreat into the main camp. The siege had been broken.

It would soon be the Russians who were besieged. On 28 September Wladyslaw drove them away from the western side of the city and by 3 October the entire Russian army had been forced away from the city. Wladyslaw now began a siege of the Russian camp. His cavalry dominated the surrounding areas, preventing supplies reaching Shein. Despite repeated promises of help, no relief army marched west to rescue him. By the end of October 1633 the Poles were in a dominant position on the hills around the Russian camp. Finally, on 1 March 1634 Shein and his army surrendered. They were then sent back to Moscow.

Once back in Moscow Shein was blamed for the failure of the siege, accused of being a Polish agent and executed, as was his second in command. The war itself came to an end in May 1634 with the Eternal Peace of Polianovka, which recognised the Polish conquests of 1619.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 July 2007), Siege of Smolensk, 28 October 1632-1 March 1634 ,

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