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King Ivan finds himself on the defensive: The Campaign season of 1684 begins

I'm on a family holiday, no figures are on hand but I had a few minutes with everyone in bed, some paper and found a die, so I could continue the historical background of Syldavia's 17th century...

The arrival of spring 1684, delayed by a cold snap and late heavy snow falls, saw both King Ivan of Syldavia and the Ottoman governor of Borduria, Hassan Muhtar Pasha, in their winter quarters plotting out their strategies as antagonists for the upcoming campaigns.  King Ivan and his troops in Klow were well-rested and in an optimistic mood having received the news of Kara Mustapha Pasha’s sudden and dramatic demise.  In it, the Syldavian troops saw proof of unexpected weakness in their Ottoman adversaries and reason to hope for victories and a return to their homes.  For his part, King Ivan saw an opportunity to tighten his grip on the newly-gained territories of the ancient Syldavian heartland or even to dare to go looking for more in Moltuja and Zympathia while some newly-appointed Pasha struggled to restore the Ottoman’s deteriorating situation.  

After pouring over maps and reports in his headquarters (the hastily-refurbished Kropow Castle), over the winter, Ivan came to realise that he was in a delicate strategic position.  The St. Vladimir Grad fortification and Polishov province beyond were thought to shelter enough Bordurian troops to retake Klow if he left the city to campaign in Moltuja or Zympathia, the two adjacent provinces which were still held by relatively weak Bordurian garrisons.  However, if he renewed the siege of St. Vladimir Grad (which he had attempted and abandoned the previous fall) with a force more certain to take it, the lines of supply and communication sustaining Klow would be vulnerable to the Bordurians in Zympathia and Moltuja.  Because Syldavia and its interior provinces are not so very large, Ivan’s campaigning would not in theory lead him terribly far from Klow.  Nevertheless, because of the wooded and mountainous terrain and numerous sinuous valleys and difficult roads, Ivan could easily find himself several days’ march from Klow if he ventured too far into the valleys.   

To say the least, Ivan was not regarded by his contemporaries nor by historians as a patient character (he was nick-named “Ironhead” for good reason) and he had no patience for the exhaustive weighing of hypotheticals. His instincts were to attack the biggest problem head on by seizing the St. Vladimir Grad fortification as forcefully and as early in the spring as possible in order to free himself to take Zympathia and Moltuja in detail.  To aid his plan, he sent officers to scour his arsenals for the additional heavy guns he needed to breech the fortifications.  His extra artillery came in the form of a battery of aging heavy guns at Djordjevaro, a nearly-forgotten heritage of the late Queen Beneficia’s military improvements.  These were soon sent on their plodding way to Klow, having to be pulled through the mountain passes on makeshift sledges due to the persistent.  In the meantime, Ivan kept his men busy with drills and by repairing in so far as he could, Klow’s fortifications. Notably, Ivan ordered that an earthen rampart and wood palisade be built to cover the breech the Syldavians had made in taking the city the previous fall.  

With the demise of Kara Mustafa, King Ivan’s major adversary for the moment was the governor of Borduria, Hassan Muhtar Pasha.  He was both a wiley and seasoned survivor who did not intend to be the hapless victim of the ambitions of the likes of Kara Mustafa or King Ivan.  Campaigning with Grand Vizer Kara Mustafa Pasha in Austria, Hassan Muhtar was absent when Ivan wrested Klow from the hands of one of his underlings.  He had returned to Shozod after the retreat from Vienna with Grand Vizer to scrape together a new army from the shattered remains of his old ortas and from garrisons, pensioned veterans and new conscripts, in order to defend the northern borders.  Once back in Shozod, he was caught up, neither with pleasure nor with great regret, in the move to depose and execute his former superior. Hassan Muhtar Pasha was in fact haunted by the echoes of Kara Mustafa’s dying words, a taunting personal warning that the greatest of the dangers awaiting Hassan Muhtar were from the Sultan and King Ivan rather than the Austrians themselves.  Hassan Muhtar came to believe that Kara Mustafa had been correct after all and so he began to formulate a plan to put to King Ivan onto the defensive early in the year, before he would have to turn his energies to the Austrians on the Empire’s collapsing northern frontier.   

It was imperative for Hassan Muhtar to defend if not recover the advantage in his southern frontier before his Ottoman overlords demanded the resources of his army to face the Austrian offensive that would inevitably come in the north later in in the summer.  The speediest possible recovery of the city of Klow, the strategic hub of inner Syldavia, was the essential element of this plan.  The Bordurian troops left in Syldavia were the among best that Hassan Muhtar still possessed but they were scattered and weak in numbers, with many men detailed to vital towns which, now restive, might rise up in rebellion if left unoccupied for long.  So, small garrisons were maintained in Moltuja and Zympathia while a larger number of men were stationed in Polishov province and in the St. Vladimir fortress. Completely lacking reserves and needing the tax revenues of his Syldavian territories, Hassan Muhtar Pasha could only risk battle where he held an advantage; he would have to move with great dexterity in his desperate circumstances. He did have critical advantages over King Ivan in intelligence and communication as his forces in Syldavia were well capable of sending messages in regular fashion by couriers using familiar routes that Ivan could neither observe nor police.  This gave Hassan Muhtar Pasha a capacity to coordinate manoeuvres that Ivan could not equal. 

Hassan Muhtar Pasha exploited these advantages when he made the first moves of spring 1684, catching King Ivan’s men still in their winter quarters while late snows covered the ground.  His goal was to coax King Ivan to split his forces through a series of raids and feints, so that Ivan could be maneuvered into an unfavourable position for battle and to facilitate an assault on Klow at the greatest possible advantage.  The first move was a raid on the village of Nie Zilheroum, the site of a ford and a bridge across the Wladir River, across from Klow itself.  A party of Janissaries from Neidzdrow attacked the village in the night and threw the weak Syldavian detachment out of its post in a short and spirited fight.  Then, they fired the village and blew the wooden bridge in spectacular fashion before withdrawing while an infuriated King Ivan watched helplessly from across the river.  By destroying the bridge, they cut off Klow from its supply route to Travunia through the St. Mihailo Pass.  

In the days that followed, the Bordurians conducted two further attacks on similar targets (villages with bridges) around Klow.  First, men from the Moltuja garrisons attacked Ottokardin just east of Klow and then forces from Zympathia overran Orehovo, the site of a key bridge over the Wladir River west of Klow.  As Hassan Muhtar intended, Ivan was now very anxious about Klow’s lines of supply and communications and he moved aggressively to regain control of these towns and their bridges, leaving only a skeletal garrison in Klow comprising two foot regiments, including his best regiment and all of his artillery except a small battery of light guns.  This entailed rapid marches over some 45km of snowy roads.  The Bordurian raiders retreated from Orehovo south along the Wladir River rather than back into Zympathia. 

Ever impetuous and hopeful of trapping and crushing the Bordurians (and gaining free access of Zympathia in so doing), Ivan continued after the raiders and allowed himself to be drawn ever further from Klow.  Ivan failed to catch them however (the Bordurians were mostly light infantry and very mobile) and was forced to turn back when, his progress slowed nearly to a crawl by a snowstorm, breathless messengers arrived with news that Hassan Muhtar Pasha had united his forces from Moltuja and Polishov and was setting up siege works and batteries before the city of Klow without impediment.  Realizing that he had walked naively into a trap and the newly-regained city was in peril, Ivan turned his men around and struggled back to Orehovo through the snowy night with his Bordurians quarry now sniping out of the dark all the while.  Once in Orehovo, he paused to rest his men and then continued back to Klow, leaving a few companies of regular foot, a militia battalion, his light infantry and his guns as a rear guard to hold off the Bordurians. 
Borduro-Ottoman depiction of the Bombardment of Klow of 1684

King Ivan pressed his men on to Klow, marching along with them and exhorting them to maintain their pace through the roads clogged with melting snow in order to bring relief to the Klow garrison.  A day and a half later he was approaching the city with his cold, wet and fatigued men to hear the thundering barrage of the Bordurian siege guns.  Ivan’s cavalry scouts returned with news that the Bordurian army was in battle formation west of the city and marching in their direction. They also reported that while plumes of smoke rose from the city, the Royal banner was still flying from the top of Kropow Castle.  Klow had not yet fallen but the Bordurians had moved to meet Ivan, hoping for a decisive field battle.  


  1. Exciting post,looking forward to hearing more.
    Have a great holiday!

  2. Great events afoot once more. =)


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