Battle of Praga

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Battle of Praga
Part of the Kościuszko Uprising
Obrona Pragi 1794.JPG
Obrona Pragi (Defence of Praga) by Aleksander Orłowski
Date November 4, 1794
Location Praga, Warsaw
Result Decisive Russian victory
Belligerents
Banner of Kosciuszko Uprising flat.PNG Polish forces Russia Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders

Józef Zajączek

Berek Joselewicz
Aleksandr Suvorov
Strength
14,000 regulars, 3,200 militia
Less than 90 cannons
17,000 men (assaulting)
104 cannons
Casualties and losses
6,000 killed or wounded
10,000 taken prisoner[1]
580 killed, 960 injured[2]
7,000[1] to 10,000-15,000[3] to up to 20,000[4] civilians killed
View of Russian assault on Praga

The Battle of Praga or the Second Battle of Warsaw of 1794 was a Russian assault of Praga, the easternmost suburb of Warsaw, during the Kościuszko Uprising in 1794. It was followed by a massacre (known as the Massacre of Praga[a] ) of the civilian population of Praga.

Eve of the battle[edit]

After the Battle of Maciejowice General Tadeusz Kościuszko was captured by the Russians.[5]:210 The internal struggle for power in Warsaw and the demoralisation of the city's population prevented General Józef Zajączek from finishing the fortifications surrounding the city both from the east and from the west. At the same time the Russians were making their way towards the city.

Opposing forces[edit]

The Russian forces consisted of two battle-hardened corps under Generals Aleksandr Suvorov and Ivan Fersen. Suvorov took part in the recent Russo-Turkish war, then in the heavy fighting in Polesie and finally in the Battle of Maciejowice. Fersen fought for several months in Poland, but was also joined by fresh reinforcements sent from Russia. Each of them had approximately 11,000 men.

The Polish forces consisted of a variety of troops. Apart from the rallied remnants of the Kościuszko's army defeated in the Battle of Maciejowice, it also included a large number of untrained militia from Warsaw, Praga and Vilna, a 500-man Jewish regiment of Berek Joselewicz as well as a number of scythemen and civilians.[6] The forces were organised in three separate lines, each covering a different part of Praga. The central area was commanded directly by General Józef Zajączek, the northern area was commanded by Jakub Jasiński and the southern by Władysław Jabłonowski. Altogether, the Polish commander had less than 20,000 men.

Battle[edit]

The Russian forces reached the outskirts of Warsaw on November 3, 1794. Immediately upon arrival, the Russian forces started artillery barrage of the Polish defences. This made the Polish commander think that the opposing forces were preparing for a long siege. However, Suvorov's plan assumed the fast and concentrated assault on the Polish defences rather than a bloody and lengthy siege.

At 3 o'clock in the morning of November 4 the Russian troops silently reached the positions just outside the outer rim of Polish field fortifications and two hours later started an all-out assault. The Polish defenders were completely surprised and soon the Polish lines were broken onto several isolated pockets of resistance, bombarded by the Russians with canister shots with a devastating effect. General Zajączek was slightly wounded and retreated from his post, leaving the remainder of his forces without command. This made the Poles retreat towards the centre of Praga and then towards Vistula.

The heavy fighting lasted for four hours and resulted in a complete defeat of the Polish forces. Joselewicz survived, being severely wounded, but almost all of his command was annihilated; Jasiński was killed fighting bravely on the front line. Only a small part managed to evade encirclement and retreated to the other side of the river across a bridge; hundreds of soldiers and civilians fell from a bridge and drowned in the process.

Massacre[edit]

Rzeź Pragi (Slaughter of Praga) by Aleksander Orłowski, 1810
Rzeź Pragi (Slaughter of Praga), woodcut after Juliusz Kossak (19th century)

After the battle ended, the Russian troops, against the orders given by Suvorov before the battle, started to loot and burn the entire borough of Warsaw in revenge for the slaughter of the Russian Garrison in Warsaw[7] during the Warsaw Uprising in April 1794, when about 2,000 Russian soldiers died.[8] Faddey Bulgarin recalled the words of General Ivan von Klugen, who took part in the Battle of Praga, “We were being shot at from the windows of houses and the roofs, and our soldiers were breaking into the houses and killing all who happened to get in the way… In every living being our embittered soldiers saw the murderer of our men during the uprising in Warsaw… It cost a lot of effort for the Russian officers to save these poor people from the revenge of our soldiers… At four o'clock the terrible revenge for the slaughter of our men in Warsaw was complete!”[9] Denis Davydov wrote on this, “During the assault on Praga the rage of our troops, who were burning with revenge for the treacherous slaughter of our comrades by the Poles, reached extreme limits”.[10]

Almost all of the area was pillaged and inhabitants of the Praga district were tortured, raped and murdered. The exact death toll of that day remains unknown, but it is estimated that up to 20,000 people were killed.[4] Suvorov himself wrote: "The whole of Praga was strewn with dead bodies, blood was flowing in streams."[11] It was thought that unruly Cossack troops were partly to blame for the uncontrolled destruction.[12] Some Russian historians claim that Suvorov tried to stop the massacre by ordering the destruction of the bridge to Warsaw over the Vistula river [13] with the purpose of preventing the spread of violence to Warsaw, but in fact he wanted to stop Polish troops stationing on the left bank from attacking his soldiers.[10] Other historians dispute this.[14]

After the battle[edit]

After the battle the commanders of Warsaw and large part of its inhabitants became demoralised. To spare Warsaw the fate of its eastern suburb, General Tomasz Wawrzecki decided to withdraw his remaining forces southwards and on November 5. Warsaw was captured by the Russians with little or no opposition. It is said that after the battle General Aleksandr Suvorov sent a report to Catherine the Great consisting of only three words: Hooray! Warsaw is ours! The empress of Russia replied equally briefly: Bravo Fieldmarshal, Catherine,[15] promoting him to Field Marshal for this victory.[8] The massacre of Praga dented Suvorov and the Russian army's reputation throughout Europe.[16]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

a ^ The Polish term for the massacre, rzeź Pragi, more literally translates as Slaughter of Praga, but most English sources translate it as "massacre".

  1. ^ a b (Polish) Dorosnąć do wielkości
  2. ^ (Russian) Бантыш-Каменский Д. Биографии российских генералиссимусов и генерал-фельдмаршалов. — СПб.: В тип. 3-го деп. Мингосимуществ,1840; [1]
  3. ^ The Kosciuszko Uprising 2 - The Siege of Warsaw and Defeat (1794)
  4. ^ a b "According to one Russian estimate 20,000 people had been killed in the space of a few hours" (Adam Zamoyski: The Last King of Poland, London, 1992 p.429)
  5. ^ Storozynski, A., 2009, The Peasant Prince, New York: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 9780312388027
  6. ^ Tgnacy Schipper, Żydzi Krolestwa Polskiego w dobie Powstania Listopadowego, Warszawa, 1932.
  7. ^ Madariaga: Catherine the Great: a Short History (Yale) p.175
  8. ^ a b John T. Alexander, Catherine the Great: Life and Legend, Oxford University Press US, 1999, ISBN 0-19-506162-4, Google Print, p.317
  9. ^ Faddey Bulgarin (ru:Булгарин, Фаддей Венедиктович) (21 August 2015). "Воспоминания (Memoires)" (in Russian). Российский Мемуарий. 
  10. ^ a b Denis Dawidow (ru:Денис Васильевич Давыдов) (31 March 2009). "ВСТРЕЧА С ВЕЛИКИМ СУВОРОВЫМ (Spotkanie z wielki Suworowem)" (in Russian). Lib.ru/Классика. 
  11. ^ Isabel de Madariaga, Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2002, ISBN 1-84212-511-7, Google Print, p.446
  12. ^ John Leslie Howard, Soldiers of the Tsar: Army and Society in Russia, 1462-1874, Keep, Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-19-822575-X, Google Print, p.216
  13. ^ (Russian)A. F. Petrushevsky. "Generalissimo Prince Suvorov", chapter "Polish war: Praga, 1794", originally published 1884, reprinted 2005, ISBN 5-98447-010-1
  14. ^ (Polish) Janusz Tazbir, Polacy na Kremlu i inne historyje (Poles on Kreml and other stories), Iskry, 2005, ISBN 83-207-1795-7, fragment online
  15. ^ Norman Davies, Europe: A History, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-820171-0, Google Print, p.722
  16. ^ Madariaga: Catherine the Great p.175

External links[edit]