Siege of Belaya
|Siege of Belaya|
|Part of Smolensk War|
|Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth||Tsardom of Russia|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Władysław IV Vasa (WIA)||Fyodor Volkonsky|
|Casualties and losses|
The Siege of Belaya was the final military episode of the Smolensk War. The heroic defense of the fortress by its small Russian garrison against a large Polish-Lithuanian army of King Władysław IV Vasa thwarted the king's plan to march against Moscow and made him sign the Treaty of Polyanovka in which he relinquished his claims to the Russian throne.
The small fortress of Belaya which had fallen into the hands of the Commonwealth during the Time of Troubles was liberated by the Russian army during its offensive in 1632. It became guarded by a garrison of 1,000 soldiers under the command of the Voivode Fyodor Volkonsky. He already distinguished himself in 1618, during the defence of Moscow against Władysław IV as well as during his successful operations against Crimean Tatar raids.
During the fortuneless siege of Smolensk for the Russians, Volkonsky tried to help the Voivode Mikhail Shein by attacking Polish detachments, capturing Polish baggage, attracting the enemy's forces and repelling their attacks. After Shein's situation worsened and he signed the capitulation treaty, King Władysław IV (who still claimed to be the legitimate Russian Tsar) intended to improve on his success and moved his army towards Moscow. On his way to Russian capital he wanted to capture the small fortress Belaya.
The course of the siege
When the Polish army approached Belaya, the king sent negotiators who demanded an immediate surrender to avoid the king's "wrath". Otherwise the garrison and the citizens were to be punished by death. The envoys reminded Volkonsky of the capitulation of Shein. However, Volkonsky decisively refused by saying that Shein was not an example to him. The defenders of Belaya decided to fight till the bitter end and filled up the fortress gate with earth.
The Polish-Lithuanian army tried to storm the fortress but suffered heavy losses and broke the attack off. After that, a siege began but that proved to be unsuccessful, too. The Commonwealth soldiers tried to blow up the fortifications of Belaya with the help of a subsurface mine but the engineers' calculations weren't precise enough. The explosion inflicted no harm to the fortress but killed 100 Polish infantry. After several new attempts to storm it, the Poles succeeded in destroying parts of the wall but the defenders managed to repel Władysław's mercenaries and even to conduct a counter-attack. They captured eight Polish standards, crushed the elite mercenary unit of Weyher and injured the king himself.[dubious ] For Władysław the siege of the small fortress became a matter of honour and he decided to continue the siege at any price. From the military point of view it was a mistake because the freezing temperatures and the lack of food killed more and more of his army.
Because of the large losses (according to modern estimations, 4,000 men), the Poles called Belaya (literally, the White fortress) the Red fortress. The siege lasted eight weeks and three days. Meanwhile, a 10,000 men strong Russian army led by the princes Dmitry Cherkassky and Dmitry Pozharsky gathered at the neighbouring Mozhaysk. The Polish-Lithuanian side which was suffering from hunger and desertions and was not ready for new battles initiated peace talks.
Consequences of the siege
Due to the steadfastness of the Belaya defenders, in June 1634 the Treaty of Polyanovka was signed. It reinforced the borders which were defined by the truce of Deulino of 1618. The Russians handed over several towns which they had taken during the war back to the Commonwealth but were able to keep Serpeysk. The Polish-Lithuanian king officially gave up his claims to the Russian throne.
The garrison commander Fyodor Volkonsky was celebrated in Moscow as a hero. The eight captured Polish standards were exhibited in the Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. Volkonsky was granted the rank of okolnichy by Tsar Michael Romanov as well as large estates.