Battle of Golymin

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Coordinates: 52°49′N20°52′E / 52.817°N 20.867°E / 52.817; 20.867

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Contents

Battle of Golymin
Part of the War of the Fourth Coalition
Date26 December 1806
Location
Gołymin, Poland
Result French victory
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg First French Empire Flag of Russia.svg Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Joachim Murat
Flag of France.svg Pierre Augereau
Flag of France.svg Louis-Nicolas Davout
Flag of Russia.svg Dmitriy Golitsyn
Strength
38,000 soldiers [1] 16,000–18,000 soldiers,
28 guns [2]
Casualties and losses
700 750

The Battle of Golymin took place on 26 December 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars at Gołymin, Poland, between around 17,000 Russian soldiers with 28 guns under Prince Golitsyn and 38,000 French soldiers under Marshal Murat. The Russian forces disengaged successfully from the superior French forces. The battle took place on the same day as the Battle of Pułtusk.

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

Gołymin is a village in Poland, approximately 70 kilometres (43 mi) north of Warsaw. It is now divided into three sołectwos: Gołymin-Ośrodek, Gołymin-Północ and Gołymin-Południe.

Russian Empire Former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

Background

Strategic situation

After conquering Prussia in the autumn of 1806, Napoleon entered Poland to confront the Russian army, which had been preparing to support the Prussians until their sudden defeat. Crossing the river Vistula, the French advance corps took Warsaw on 28 November 1806.

Kingdom of Prussia Former German state (1701–1918)

The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.

Vistula river in Eastern Europe

The Vistula, the longest and largest river in Poland, is the 9th-longest river in Europe, at 1,047 kilometres in length. The drainage-basin area of the Vistula is 193,960 km2 (74,890 sq mi), of which 168,868 km2 (65,200 sq mi) lies within Poland. The remainder lies in Belarus, Ukraine and Slovakia.

Warsaw City metropolis in Masovia, Poland

Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. The metropolis stands on the Vistula River in east-central Poland and its population is officially estimated at 1.780 million residents within a greater metropolitan area of 3.1 million residents, which makes Warsaw the 8th most-populous capital city in the European Union. The city limits cover 516.9 square kilometres (199.6 sq mi), while the metropolitan area covers 6,100.43 square kilometres (2,355.39 sq mi). Warsaw is an alpha global city, a major international tourist destination, and a significant cultural, political and economic hub. Its historical Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Russian army was under the overall command of Field Marshal Mikhail Kamensky, but he was old and becoming infirm. The Russian First Army of some 55,000 to 68,000 men, [3] commanded by Count Bennigsen, had fallen back from the Vistula to the line of the River Wkra, [4] in order to unite with the Second Army, about 37,000 strong, [5] under Buxhowden, which was approaching from Russia and was still some 15 days march from the First Army. However, realising his mistake in allowing the French to cross the Vistula, Kamensky advanced at the beginning of December to try to regain the line of the river. [6] French forces crossed the Narew River at Modlin on 10 December, and the Prussian Corps commanded by Lestocq failed to retake Thorn. This led Bennigsen on 11 December to issue orders to fall back and hold the line of the River Wkra. [7]

Mikhail Kamensky Russian officer

Count Mikhail Fedotovich Kamensky was a Russian Field Marshal prominent in the Catherinian wars and the Napoleonic campaigns.

Wkra river in Poland

Wkra is a river in north-eastern Poland, a tributary of the Narew river, with a length of 255 kilometres and a basin area of 5,348 km² - all within Poland. Among its tributaries are the Łydynia and the Płonka.

Narew river

The Narew, in western Belarus and north-eastern Poland, is a right tributary of the Vistula River. The Narew is one of Europe's few braided rivers, the term relating to the twisted channels resembling braided hair.

When this was reported to Napoleon, he assumed the Russians were in full retreat. He ordered the forces under Murat (the 3rd corps of Davout, 7th of Augereau and 5th under Lannes and the 1st Cavalry Reserve Corps) to pursue towards Pułtusk while Ney, Bernadotte and Bessières (6th, 1st and 2nd Cavalry Reserve Corps respectively) turned the Russian right and Soult's (4th Corps) linked the two wings of the army. [8]

Pierre Augereau general, Marshal of France

Charles Pierre François Augereau, 1st Duc de Castiglione was a soldier and general and Marshal of France. After serving in the French Revolutionary Wars he earned rapid promotion while fighting against Spain and soon found himself a division commander under Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy. He fought in all of Bonaparte's battles of 1796 with great distinction. During the Napoleonic Wars, Emperor Napoleon entrusted him with important commands. His life ended under a cloud because of his poor timing in switching sides between Napoleon and King Louis XVIII of France. Napoleon wrote of Augereau that he "has plenty of character, courage, firmness, activity; is inured to war; is well liked by the soldiery; is fortunate in his operations."

Jean Lannes Marshal of France

Jean Lannes, 1st Duc de Montebello, Prince de Siewierz, was a Marshal of the Empire. He was one of Napoleon's most daring and talented generals. Napoleon once commented on Lannes: "I found him a pygmy and left him a giant". A personal friend of the emperor, he was allowed to address him with the familiar "tu", as opposed to the formal "vous".

Pułtusk Place in Masovian, Poland

Pułtusk is a town in Poland by the river Narew, 70 kilometres north of Warsaw. It is located in the Masovian Voivodship and has a population of about 19,000.

Kamensky had reversed the Russian retreat, and ordered an advance to support the troops on the River Ukra. [9] Because of this, the French experienced difficulty crossing the river and it was not until Davout forced a crossing near the junction of the Wkra and the Narew on 22 December [10] that the French were able to advance.

On 23 December, after an engagement at Soldau with Bernadotte's 1st Corps, the Prussian corps under Lestocq was driven north towards Königsberg. Realising the danger, Kamensky ordered a retreat on Ostrolenka. Bennigsen decided to disobey and stand and fight on 26 December at Pułtusk. To the north-west, most of the 4th Division commanded by General Golitsyn and the 5th Division under General Dokhturov were falling back towards Ostrolenka via the town of Golymin. The 3rd Division under General Sacken, who had been the link with the Prussians, was also trying to retire via Golymin, but had been driven further north by the French to Ciechanów. Some of the 4th Division's units were at Pułtusk. [11]

Weather

The weather caused severe difficulties for both sides. Mild autumn weather had lasted longer than usual. [12] Normally, frosts made the inadequate roads passable after the muddy conditions of autumn but on 17 December there was a thaw, [13] followed by a two-day thaw beginning on 26 December. [14] The result was that both sides found it very difficult to manoeuvre. In particular the French (as they were advancing) had great difficulty bringing up their artillery, and so had none available at Golymin.

There were also difficulties with supply. Captain Marbot, who was serving with Augereau, wrote:

It rained and snowed incessantly. Provisions became very scarce; no more wine, hardly any beer, and what there was exceedingly bad, no bread, and quarters for which we had to fight the pigs and the cows. [15]

Terrain

The village of Golymin lay in a flat area, with slight rises to the north and north-east. Woods and marshes almost surrounded the village. From the village, the road to Pułtusk ran south-east, that to Ciechanów north-west, and that to Makow (the destination for the Russian retirement) to the north-east. A track linked Golymin to the small village of Garnow to the south. The village of Ruskowo lay to the south-west, and that of Kaleczin a short distance to the west. Wadkowo lay further out along the Ciechanów road.

Battle

On the morning of 26 December, elements of Golitsyn's 4th Division reached Golymin. They were too exhausted to continue to Makow and Golitsyn also needed to wait for units of Sacken's 3rd Division. In the village he found Dokhturov, who had sent most of his 5th Division towards Makow, but remained at Golymin with a dragoon and an infantry regiment. Golitsyn hoped to rest his men before continuing their retreat. [16]

Murat's Reserve Cavalry Corps and Augereau's 7th Corps set out towards the town at first light (around 7 am). Lasalle's Cavalry Division were the first to arrive from the south-west at about 10am. [17] Golitsyn reinforced his rearguard of two squadrons of cavalry with three squadrons of cuirassiers, and Lasalle's men were driven back to the woods. But at around 2 p.m. Augereau's Corps appeared from the east. Golitsyn gave up his attempt to retreat, as his men were too exhausted to retire without fighting. He sent one regiment of infantry under the command of Prince Shcherbatov into the woods around Kaleczin and posted the rest of his troops in front of Golymin. He put his cavalry and Dokhturov's troops as his reserves, and positioned the rest of his division in front of Golymin.

Augereau's two divisions advanced, that of Haudelet on the left from Ruskow and Desjardins on the right from Wadkow. Desjardin's division at first drove back Shcherbatov, but being reinforced by an infantry battalion and with the support of their guns the Russians drove the French back. Heudelet's division made very little progress. For the rest of the day the forces skirmished as Heudelet's men slowly pushed round the Russian right.

Battle of Golymin about 2pm Golymin 2pm.PNG
Battle of Golymin about 2pm

About the same time as Augereau's attack started Murat arrived around Garnow with the cavalry divisions of Klein and Milhaud, and Davout's light cavalry. They drove the Russian cavalry into the woods to the south of Golymin, but were then unable to pursue further because the terrain was unsuitable for cavalry.

Golitsyn's force was now reinforced by two cavalry regiments from the 7th and 8th divisions, who had pushed past Augereau's cavalry on the Ciechanów road. However, Davout's 1st Division under Morand was beginning to arrive from the south-east. Golitsyn sent three infantry battalions into the woods and marshes to the south of Golymin, and two cavalry regiments to cover the Pułtusk road.

At about 3:30pm [18] Morand's first brigade attacked. After a struggle they drove the Russians out. Davout saw that the Russians were trying to retire towards Makow, and sent Morand's second brigade to advance via the Pułtusk road. A unit of dragoons led by General Rapp charged the Russian cavalry on the road, but found that the marshes on either side contained Russian infantry up to their waists in water and safe from the cavalry. The dragoons were driven back and Rapp was wounded. After taking the woods Morand's division did not advance further, concerned that there would be further useless losses. [19]

Battle of Golymin about 5pm Golymin 5pm.PNG
Battle of Golymin about 5pm

Night had now fallen and the Russians started to withdraw. Dokhturov's men led the way to Makow, then at about 9 p.m. Golitsyn sent off his guns, cavalry and then his infantry.

Augereau occupied Golymin early on 27 December.

Losses on both sides seem to have been around 800. [1]

Analysis

Golitsyn had the advantages of the terrain and support from his guns, when the French had no artillery. The French attacks were also uncoordinated, late in the day and, as dusk fell, illuminated as targets by the burning villages. On the other hand, Golitsyn's men were exhausted and outnumbered two to one. Their fierce resistance led Murat to say to Napoleon:

We thought the enemy had 50,000 men [20]

While the French held the field, Golitsyn achieved his objective of withdrawing and Murat failed to stop him.

Aftermath

General Golitsyn's successful delaying action, combined with the failure of Soult's corps to pass round the Russian right flank destroyed Napoleon's chance of getting behind the Russian line of retreat and trapping them against the River Narew.

The dogged resistance and obedience to orders of the Russian infantry greatly impressed the French. Marbot noted:

The Russian columns were at this moment passing through the town [Golymin], and knowing that Marshal Lannes was marching to cut off their retreat by capturing Pułtusk, three leagues farther on, they were trying to reach that point before him at any price. Therefore, although our soldiers fired upon them at twenty-five paces, they continued their march without replying, because in order to do so they would have had to halt, and every moment was precious. So every division, every regiment, filed past, without saying a word or slackening its pace for a moment. The streets were filled with dying and wounded, but not a groan was to be heard, for they were forbidden. [21]

The Russian 5th and 7th Divisions retired towards the main body of the army at Różan. Bennigsen's forces fell back to Nowogród on the River Narew, uniting on 1 January 1807 with the forces under Buxhowden.

On 28 December Napoleon stopped his advance and, having lost contact with the Russian army, decided to go into winter quarters. His troops were exhausted and discontented, and the supply situation was in great disorder. [22]

The break in hostilities did not last long. On 8 February 1807 the two armies faced each other at the dreadful Battle of Eylau.

Forces involved

This list is derived from the units referred to in Petre's "Napoleon's Campaign in Poland 1806–1807", [23] and by checking the details for the same formations for the order of battles for Jena [24] and Elyau. [25] Milhaud's cavalry unit does not appear in either reference.

The French list is more detailed as there are more sources to work from. Petre was using the French Army archives for his research, and most unit details appear to be taken from there. The sources referred to give unit compositions down to individual battalions and squadrons.

Petre's source for the Russian units present was the memoirs of Sir Robert Wilson, British liaison officer with the Russian army. This was published in 1810 ("Remarks on the Russian Army"). It does not appear to contain any further information to help identify individual units. Stolarski's article [25] appears to make too many assumptions about the Russian order of battle at Eylau to be reliable.

French

Note: No guns are mentioned as the French were not able to bring them up due to the muddy conditions. [27]

Russian

Footnotes

  1. 1 2 Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p114
  2. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p113
  3. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p38
  4. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p70
  5. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p39
  6. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p40
  7. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p73
  8. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p76
  9. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p77
  10. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p79-82
  11. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p89
  12. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p354
  13. Correspondance de Napoleon Ier, XI 497
  14. Petre "Campaign in Poland", 2001 ed, p40
  15. Marbot "Memoirs", 1:xxvii
  16. For details see Petrie "Poland" 2001 ed, p.107-114; Chandler "Campaigns" p.524; Chandler "Dictionary" p.173
  17. Chandler, ed. "Dictionary" p.173
  18. Petrie "Poland" 2001 ed, p.111
  19. Petrie "Poland" 2001 ed, p.107-114
  20. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p115, quoting from Hoepfner, Gen. E von, "Der Kreig von 1806 und 1807" Berlin, 1855. iii, 126
  21. Marbot "Memoirs", 1.xxviii
  22. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p117
  23. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p113 -114
  24. Chandler, David G. "Jena 1806". Osprey 1993. ISBN   1-85532-285-4
  25. 1 2 Stolarski. P; "Elyau", Miniature Wargames Magazine, March 1997
  26. Petre "Poland" p.64
  27. Petre "Poland", 2001 ed, p109, 111

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References