Part II: Battle of Sudomĕř
Battle of Sudomĕř (Hussites forces have their backs to the camera)
Photographed at Historicon miniatures convention, held at Valley Forge PA in July, 2011
(Illustration courtesy of http://blundersonthedanube.blogspot.com with kind permission of site owner)
Today in Military History: March 25, 1420
Prelude to the Battle
After initial fighting in November of 1419, the Hussites began to consolidate their movement. Under the direction of Jan Žižka – also known as "Jan One-Eye" – the Czech and Bohemian peoples who followed the teaching of Jan Hus were whipped into an army.
[Part of the problems that the Hussites had with the Catholic church – in addition to indulgences – was the fact that during Communion, only the priests were allowed to partake of both the bread and wine of the rite, while the laity were only allowed to consume the bread. It was for this reason that the Hussites adopted the chalice as one on their symbols, which appeared on their battle flags.]
Typical Hussite banner (Veritas vincit translates as "Truth prevails")
(Illustration courtesy of http://historyreconsidered.net)
They were opposed by a hodgepodge force of German knights and their retinues, as well as knights and mercenaries from all over Europe (many of these latter men were probably more interested in loot and plunder than bringing the heretic Hussites back to the Catholic faith). This force was mainly a cavalry force, with some mounted men wielding bows and crossbows.
On the morning of March 25, 1420 Jan Žižka and a force of 400 Hussites – many of them women and children, and therefore poorly armed – were retreating from the city of Pilsen toward the newly-built Hussite stronghold of Tabor. The Hussites had a total of 12 war wagons in their little force. Shortly after beginning the day's march and crossing the Orava River, scouts reported to Žižka that two columns of Imperial horsemen were pursuing them. One column was composed of 1000 members of the Order of Saint John, commanded by Jindřich of Hradec; the other column was made up of knights and their men-at-arms in the employ of the Holy Roman Empire and was commanded by Peter von Konopischt of Sternberg. The general terrain was not particularly suitable for the newly-developed tactics of the Hussites.
Fortunately, the scouts also reported in the neighborhood of the nearby village of Sudomĕř were a number of small lakes which had been dammed to construct fishponds. In addition, the general terrain was very wet and marshy. Acting quickly, Žižka ordered the tabors arranged for battle. He elected to place several of his wagons between a large pond full of water – likely from recent spring rains – and a second pond which was largely empty of water, but was instead filled with mud and marshy terrain. He also used part of a small dam to help protect part of his front line. This portion of the Hussite force was commanded by Bŕenĕk Švihovskẏ. To protect his flanks, Žižka placed what little cavalry he possessed, along with one or two of his war wagons.
Battle of Sudomĕř, March 25, 1410
(Illustration courtesy of http://www.jiznicechy.org)
Battle of Sudomĕř
After the Hussites made their defensive arrangements, the military order column attacked the Bohemian wagenburg. The first attacks were beaten off by the Hussite missile fire, combined with the fire of the haufnitze. Realizing the futility of mounted men attacking a fixed position, Jindřich of Hradec ordered a portion of his men to dismount and attack the wagenburg on foot. The crossbows and pistalas of the Hussites continued to reap a bloody harvest, not to mention the flails and pikes of their footmen when the Imperialists managed to get a few men within fighting distance of the tabors.
Close-up of fighting at the main line of the wagenburg, battle of Sudomĕř
[Note the red Hussite standard with a chalice on left side of photo]
(Illustration courtesy of http://blundersonthedanube.blogspot.com)
These attacks continued throughout the day, with the Crusaders unable to penetrate the Bohemian position. At some point in the afternoon, Peter von Konopischt of Sternberg decided to attempt to outflank the Hussite formation. He took his Imperialist column and rode into the empty pond which protected the right flank of the Hussites. Unfortunately, they were not aware of the swampy, mucky condition of this pond. In order to get his men into position to attack the Bohemian rebels, von Konopischt ordered his men to dismount and make their way through the pond on foot.
Very soon, the Imperialist knights and their men-at-arms were mired in the morass. Seeing the stuck condition of the enemy cavalry, Jan Žižka ordered his missile troops to fire on the barely-moving enemy. After a short barrage of crossbow bolts, arrows, and handgun fire, he sent forward his peasant footmen – who were not mired down with heavy armor or weapons – to attack the entrapped knights. Armed with axes, flails, halberds, and spears, the Hussite foot made a great slaughter of their enemy.
The main attack by the Crusaders of Saint John was beginning to slacken. When word reached them of the butchery of the Imperialist column, the Crusaders lost all heart. Chronicles stated the fighting lasted most of the day, until darkness and a thickening fog prodded the remaining Crusaders and Imperialist to begin a retreat. At that time Jan Žižka unleashed the rest of his forces to pursue and annihilate their foes. As night fell, the battle of Sudomĕř was over.
Another view of the battle of Sudomĕř, from behind the Hussite right flank.
(Illustrations courtesy of http://blundersonthedanube.blogspot.com)
The Imperialist-Crusader force was almost entirely wiped out, nearly 2000 men killed or wounded – including Jindřich of Hradec – many being killed during the retreat. Hussite casualties were somewhat less, but the only numbers I could find said that their losses were "heavy" with about 30 of their brethren taken prisoner. In addition, 3 of the Hussite tabors were badly damaged in the fighting. The Hussite wagenburg commander, Bŕenĕk Švihovskẏ, was killed during the fight on the main line.
Footnote #1: Jan Žižka led the remainder of his forces to the new Hussite stronghold of Tabor. From that location, the Bohemian rebels resisted a total of five separate crusading forces sent to subdue them. It was not until internal dispute within the Hussite movement ended the rebellion in 1434.
Footnote #2: Žižka led the Hussites through the first two crusades against them, then led one of the factions of the Hussite civil war. [During the course of those crusades, he lost the use of his other eye.] In 1424, the Hussite leadership began planning an attack on nearby Moravia, one of the centers of support for King Sigismund. Unfortunately for the Hussite ambitions, Žižka contracted the plague and died on the Moravian frontier. He was about 64 years old. According to one chronicler, Žižka's dying wish was to have his skin used to make drums so that he might continue to lead his troops even after death. Žižka was so well regarded that when he died, his soldiers called themselves the Orphans (sirotci) because they felt like they had lost their father. His enemies said that "The one whom no mortal hand could destroy was extinguished by the finger of God".
Footnote #3: On the site of the battle of Sudomĕř there stands a huge statue honoring Jan Žižka.
Žižka memorial near Sudoměř village, Strakonice district, Czech Republic
[Note the huge mace said to be Žižka's favored weapon]
(Illustration courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org)