Battle of Lesnaya, September/October 1708


Another Great Northern War scenario and game.  My favourite period and my favourite style of game- an historical clash.

The Battle of Lesnaya was a decisive clash of the GNW. It took place on September 28th 1708 between a Russian army commanded by Tsar Peter I of Russia. (October 9 for the Swedish Calendar) His number two was Prince Aleksandr Menshikov who ably assisted the Russian ruler. The Russians numbered approximately 14,000 men. The Swedes, numbering 12,000 were commanded by General Adam Ludwig Lewenhaupt. Lewenhaupt was one of Sweden's foremost generals and commanded a well trained and motivated force. Some of his regiments were veterans of many years' campaigning. 

For Peter the Great it was his first great victory over the Swedes.

The Russian guns from the southern column deployed.

Swedes waiting by the town

Overview of the table. The Swedes were tasked with holding the village and the crossing in it- and the crossing at the very bottom right of the picture. They had no troops at all at that point- and as is marked a Russian column was headed straight down the road.

The map from Wikipedia - showing the general layout.  My table was a modified version of it.

Scaling the game down in terms of terrain and units I had to maintain the main features: which were the Russian superiority in numbers and the Swedish need to hold the bridges. I left out the wagon train as I wanted to focus just on the fighting and see if the Swedes could hold. I am hoping to replay the game on a larger table with both sides of the river ( there were Cossacks floating around to the east) and put the wagons on the table too- and try and get them off.
The numbers of the opposing sides don't really tell the story. 14,000 Russians should not be able to overrun 12,000 of Charles XII's Swedes....but Lewenhaupt was not Charles, and his poor deployment and conduct of the battle gave the Russians their first great victory..Poltava was only a short time away.
For this game there were 15 Russian squadrons of Dragoons and 12 Infantry battalions.
The Swedes had 9 Infantry battalions and 10 Squadrons of Horse.  Of these,  4 battalions and 2 squadrons started on the far side of the River and took a while to arrive and deploy.  Only one of these battalions and the two squadrons would arrive on time- so for much of the game 6 Swedish battalions and 8 Squadrons would face 12 Infantry battalions and 11 Dragoon squadrons.
The second key factor was the far superior Russian guns. Deployed from the beginning, there were four batteries - two heavy- that kept blasting all game supporting the Russian attack. The Swedes had two light batteries that were not deployed at the start and failed repeatedly to get themselves into an area for a clear field of fire. 

The Russians were basically all present and moving at the start except for 4 squadrons of Dragoons who would arrive from the north. The final key issue was the poor deployment of the Swedes (game wise and historically) and then the Swedish commanders failure to consolidated them adequately (game wise and historically!!)

Main Swedish position- defending the bridge and the town of Lesnaya.

The Russians move forward.  They have emerged from the woods ( off table) so are disordered on the first move of the game.

One of the few guns that the Swedes had.

The Russians advance.

Russian cavalry move out to meet the advance guard of the Swedes


Peter himself (played by Paul)- walking past a destroyed gun- directing the battle.

The Russian advance 

The Swedish forward line- outnumbered and out gunned. I had read that the Swedish commander had at first tried to stem the Russian advance in the woods- but found that the Russians kept moving back for protection- so he moved back into the open to be able to effectively use the Swedish GaPa tactics. The game represented the moment that the Russians advanced out of the cover of the woods and engaged the Swedish advance guard.

Swedish cavalry unleashed to help the advance guard.

Swedish reinforcements arrive.

Main Swedish position. The Swedes had to hold the crossing points to enable them to be able to withdraw at night.

Swedish cavalry squadrons in the north advancing. Peter the Great's column emerging from the woods. The advancing Swedish squadrons - four of them, are visible just above the village. I sent these guys out early hoping to slow the Russians down....but found that although they fought magnificently....they were had no further support..they were quickly depleted and overrun. 

The centre. Swedish cavalry squadrons supporting the advance guard and more infantry moving up.
 The Swedish player's problem is obvious here- the Russians are deployed and advancing in a uniform front....the Swedes are desperately trying to stem this advancing wave...piecemeal.

The 4 Battalions crossing from the east....

Two Swedish battalions ....four Russian battalions..and just to the right a Russian battery..and off picture to the left..another Russian battery.

Swedish troops headed south.

Head of the southern Russian 3rd column. The Swedish cavalry hit them hard. GAPA!

A Russian column to the south. The Swedes (Chris) effectively stopped this column- but the troops deployed to resist these Russians were badly needed at the northern end of the table.

The first clash in the open. The Swedish advance guard and many of the Russians did not have the 'first fire' modifier as it had been used earlier. The start of our game took into account some of the earlier, less conclusive fighting in the heavily wooded area to the west.

Infantry clash in the centre of the pic and cavalry about to clash on the right of the pic on the far side of the road
 Red flag- Russians Dragoons- Yellow flag Swedish Horse.

Peter the Great's main column - large numbers of Russian troops moving forward.

The large swirling cavalry melee- the red arrows are charge markers. This pic is from later in the game when the Swedes were in trouble- the squadrons moving down the road in the very centre of the picture are Russian Dragoons getting behind the Swedish line.....

Swedish left flank- southern end...reasonably secure.

Diminishing numbers of Swedes.....increasing numbers of Russians.

For the Swedes, this sums up the final result. This is the  second last turn of the game. Bauer's Dragoons have come streaming down the road to the right and there is nothing to stop them. My bold gamble failed- I ran out of time and troops. The Swedes had been overrun  on the northern end and I had nothing to plug the gap- having sent too many troops to the south. Above the spot that says 'Forward Swedish Infantry" there is a charge marker showing a squadron of Swedish Cavalry smashing Russian Dragoons....they shouldn't have been that far away......

Bauer's Dragoons barrelling down the road...getting behind my main line.

The Russians in their box.

A really enjoyable game that mirrored the historical outcome.  

The Swedes were only slightly outnumbered and I exacerbated this difference by keeping my advance guard way out in front- and then launching them at the Russians in an uncoordinated manner. I basically did what Lewenhaupt did..and it didn't work. Ross pointed it out several times in the game- no coordination and disjointed attacks

At one stage the sheer brutality of a Swedish GaPA charge had the Russian players worried- but the Swedes were too widely dispersed to deal with the concentrated Russian attacks.

The Swedish advance guard swept the first Russian line away but were too depleted to continue. The Swedish cavalry fought well- but I was too aggressive. I would have been better to have consolidated my position, and falling back and holding a perimeter around the town- making it much harder for the Russians to get at me- and limiting their numbers until I could get all of my units deployed and ready......then at nightfall we could have slunk away....very un-Swedish...but that's what the scenario called for - based on the situation at the time!!! 

To the South my subordinate ( Chris) knocked the advancing southern column of Russians on the head, stopping them dead but it was in the north that the battle was decided decisively. Menshikon ( Ross) made sure that he had 2-3 units of Russians shooting or attacking every Swedish one- because i didn't let them wait for support. And Peter- Emperor of all the Russias ( Paul)  pinned all my cavalry in place...and then sent Bauer's Dragoons through the gap on my extreme right.

An interesting lesson and a Russian victory!


  1. Awesome looking game!
    Beautiful miniatures and terrains.

  2. Stunning game photos, John. Really stunning! Like you, I prefer refighting historical battles too. Excellent report.

    1. Thanks Jonathan- yes you can't beat a good historical refight! I always feel it gives insight ( in a very small way) into what happened at the time.

  3. Superb looking game for my favourite period

  4. Once again John, nice to see the GNW figures on the table. Just a shame about the result....bloody Russians!

    1. Thanks Keith- yes I think , on average the Russians have won most of my GNW games- but in every game the Russian player bemoans that the Swedes are 'too tough' and have 'too many advantages'....but then they win! Time to give the Swedes even more advantages I think!!

    2. I have a genuine concern re this John - if I ever get into gaming with my mate Nick. He has read a fair bit of background info on the conflict, and has repeatedly said, the Russians need 4:1 advantage over the Swedes, to have any chance using Mr Hiltons rules...HOWEVER, he already knows the tactics that it took Peter the Great ten years to figure out, so, the perceived advantages the Swedes may have, are likely to be nullified by the knowledge of what tactics to use, to overcome said advantages!

    3. Hey Keith- all I can say is that we replicated history! We managed to get the same result as the Russians did historically. But I have always said that if the Swedes lose on the table- it's the fault of the rules.....or bad dice..or poor play...or a combination of all three. I have used my rules for about 8 games- have had varied results. In our refight of Holoczwyn the luck of the dice meant that the Swedes were badly outnumbered ( which doesn't worry them) but they were too far apart to co-ordinate their fighting and didn't get 'stuck-in' early enough. In this one, they lacked co-ordination and it was usually 2-3 battalions fighting all the Russians infantry at a time- or 3-4 squadrons taking on a lot more Russians. Under our rules- it's almost impossible for a single Russian battalion to defeat a Swedish battalion. But put a whole Russian army on the table, in a co-ordinated well supported assault against a confused piece-meal Swedish defence...and things get real interesting!

  5. Wonderful to see Great Northern War on the table. You went from nothing to staging big, wonderful looking games in quick time (in my books)! This one looked absolutely superb. You take top close-up photos too.
    Lesnaya is a toughie for the Swedes, as you said. Hold on and skulk away in the night? You have to be kidding?!!
    Time for some Swedish victories. Is Klissow next? Eventually, is Poltava on the cards? I reckon the Swedes can win it. They nearly did, despite everything, then it became a complete and unmitigated disaster and magnificent Russian victory!
    Regards, James

    1. Thanks James- I am glad you enjoyed the post! Lockdown- over two years - gave me a lot of painting time- it's amazing how many figures you can get through when work zooms don't require an image on the screen- just the audio! This was tough for the Swedes- but they are due for a big win. I don't have enough Saxons for Klissow- although my Poles are getting there. I have to have a think! Poltava will eventually be done- first the redoubts and then the showdown in front of the Russian camp!

    2. The 4Ground mini scenarios include three separate events at Poltava - one being the assault on the redoubts - that's one I think I can split down even further, to fit my 2 x 2 table!

    3. Hmm...Keith- you're giving me ideas..yes I have all the scenarios from Barry...I think they are on the cards next!

  6. Oh such a wonderful collection and table. Good choice for a scenario too. One of my favorite periods as well. Ga Pa! Swedes.

    1. I agree Joseph- thanks for the comments. The GNW has so much to offer!

  7. Excellent photos and report. I love that you show so many photos with many details.

    1. Thank you very much. I appreciate your comments!

  8. Great looking game. I had not heard of this battle but looked it up. Very interesting. I thought Poltava was Peter's first victory.

    1. It's a fascinating battle- well they all are really in the GNW!