Battle of Kletsk (1706)
The Battle of Kletsk took place on 30 April 1706 (Gregorian calendar), in- and outside the city of Kletsk, Belarus during Charles XII's Polish campaign of 1701–1706, in the Great Northern War. The Swedish forces were led by Carl Gustaf Creutz who defeated a bigger Russian–Cossack force under the command of Semjon Nepljujev and Danylo Apostol. Many of the Russian and Cossack regiments participating in the battle got completely annihilated and ceased to exist.
During the end of the 17th century Russia, Denmark–Norway and Saxony formed a coalition against the Swedish Empire in order to regain what was lost in earlier wars. The Swedish king Charles XII, however, then invaded the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in his 1701–1706 campaign and there removed Augustus the Strong from the Polish throne in 1704, replacing him with pro-Swedish Stanislaw Leszczynski. Even though having a rapid success, the Swedish army continued their campaign in Poland until 1706, mainly due to Polish irregular clans still fighting the Swedes.
In January, 1706, a bigger force of Russians were cut-off and trapped during the battle of Grodno, by Charles XII and his equally sized army. This caused the Russian Czar, Peter the Great to assemble great portions of men for their assistance. He also ordered the Cossack Hetman, Ivan Mazepa – who at the time was an ally to Russia – to gather an army of 14,000 men to attack and disturb the Swedish troops blockading Grodno.
However, the Swedes launched counter–offensives against the aiding Cossacks which inflicted large casualties. One of these when the Swedish commander Carl Gustaf Creutz sieged the city of Lyakhavichy with an army of 2,000 men, and there closed-in a large force of Cossacks and Poles. Mazepa then sent an aiding–party of 4,700 soldiers; whom initially were going to help those trapped in Grodno, but now instead the ones being held in Lyakhavichy. After some days marching they arrived to the city of Kletsk, where they put up camp.
Creutz, the captain of the siege, got knowledge of this and immediately started to gather and march with 1,500 cavalry against Kletsk, leaving 500 dragoons to the siege. He arrived the next morning and with a fruitless attack managed to annihilate the Russian–Cossack relief party camping there.
Immediately at their arrival, the Swedes charged and engaged some Cossacks under the command of Danylo Apostol guarding a 500 meter long bridge crossing over the marshes into Kletsk. The fighting took place just a distance away, but the Cossacks quickly got overwhelmed and in disorder they started to run against the bridge, but got trapped due to some wagons blocking their escape route. While being in choke points, the Swedes could easily finish them out, hunt down and kill remaining Cossack soldiers running out to the marshes. Danylo Apostol got his horse shot dead during the fighting, but succeeded to flee on another one before getting caught.
Meanwhile, the Russian commander Semjon Nepljujev tried to gather his troops and artillery to assist the Cossacks from the city, but chose rather to retreat when discovering their defeat at the bridge. The four artillery guns that were left behind of the fleeing Russians got in the hands of the Swedes which in their advance turned them around and fired at the escaping ones. The majority of the defenders at Kletsk now equipped and fortified themselves inside the city itself to withstand the charging cavalry. This is where the hardest fighting took place and it's told: "All the walls were scratched by their shots and bullets" according to a Swedish note.
After a while the remains of the Russian and Cossack troops were beaten and in full disorganized retreat, they ran against South and East direction to the forest lines. However, the majority of these were cut down on the fields, others were drowned in the swamps. The official Swedish story claims the fleeing soldiers to have: "thrown away most of their clothing and equipment and in barely a shirt tried to save themselves".
The German major of Kletsk, Johan Heinrich Cibinski, later announced that he had counted and buried up to 2,025 dead Russian–Cossack soldiers lying inside the city of Kletsk, but that there should be at least as many bodies lying around the outskirts, in all the fields, forests and swamps. The Swedish casualties were 15 killed and 16 wounded. The Russians, however, had lost at least 4,000 men dead, 71 captured, including a Colonel Petro Pryma. Also four cannons, 16 standards and 2,000 horses were lost to the Swedes.
The bullet wounded Semjon Nepljujev, who had been shot in his arm during the fighting; he later sent a message to the Czar Peter I, in which he claimed the Swedish forces to have outnumbered his own, and blamed Ivan Mazepa for having incorrectly calculated the numbers of the Swedes at Lyakhavichy, which he said, did not exceed more than 800 men.
On 17 May, the Swedish king Charles XII visited the battlefield and noted the victory to have been bigger than what he initially thought. Not long after, the colonel, Carl Gustaf Creutz, was promoted to general for his heroic actions. He later got captured in the surrender at Perevolochna, and became a prisoner of war in Russia until 1722, when he finally managed to get home. He then took command of the newly raised Life Regiment on Horse. During that time, the Swedish king had died in Norway and the war had ended just a year before in 1721.
Even though the battle of Kletsk wasn't that decisive to the campaign, it was a hard setback for Czar Peter I and his soldiers trapped in Grodno, who, after the battle of Fraustadt and this, were forced to a breakout and retreat with total losses of up to 17,000 soldiers dead in the progress. The battle also had a morale effect on those 1,300 soldiers being initially sieged in Lyakhavichy, who surrendered just days after the return of Creutz and his men with all their conquests. The Lyakhavichy fortress was then destroyed.
- Slaget vid Kletsk, Arkivcentrum Pages 8-10
- Carl Gustaf Creutz, Riksarkivet
- Battle of Kletsk
- Peter Ullgren, Det stora nordiska kriget 1700–1721 (2008) Stockholm, Prisma. p. 142. ISBN 978-91-518-5107-5