The russian streltsy

 It’s been a fuckton of time since I’ve last handwritten a post, so here it is – the russian streltsy, beacause I love them.

 16th century russia was in military regards barely comparable to european powers. Her large army, numbering around 200.000 (if I’m not wrong), was quite much unprepared and unable for professional military operations. Ivan IV the Terrible begins his reign in 1533, and during his early time, enacted several domestic and military reforms. That’s where the streltsy come in.

 Streltsy (sg. Strelets, ru. стреьлцы, стрелец, meaning shooter, or one who shoots a gun) were introduced by him as russia’s first standing army; they weren’t the only troops to be introduced here, but the main, and for that matter, the most important.

 Streltsy were the first to be armed with firearms, and weren’t far off their european counterparts. Now, strelets as much as western european arquebusiers, later musketeers, had mostly the same training. Streltsy were all dressed, trained and armed the same way, but what set them apart of the western europeans we keep on reffering to was their equipment.

 They wore fur caps, distinct red coats, brown, black or orange boots, and the standard twelve apostle chest band as well as the necessary pouches (which was a good implementation since the western european arquebusiers didn’t exactly have a standard uniform back then).

We were saying that their equipment is what set them apart earlier, but before that, let’s analyse what an european counterpart had :

The above pictured is a spanish one, which did have a distinct morion and a cuirass (armor pieces which, despite being widely used, never became by any means standard). Any arquebusier (keep in mind we’re talking about early firearms, not the late musket) was issued, along the weapon itself, a band of twelve apostles strapped obliquely across the chest (missing in the pic). Apostles were wooden containers loaded with gunpowder for a few shots, the ball pouch (this didn’t sound ok at all) as well as a gun rest – keep on to that, we’ll need it.

 Now, this had several problems, which weren’t problems in the traditional sense of unconvenience, they were problems as in their life was at risk.They were strapped with gunpowder, which wouldn’t be exactly worrying were they not carrying lit match cords literally all the time, at any time of service. This system, by extension the firearm itself, was called a matchlock. Where does the match come in?

 The weapon was a traditional muzzleloader, meaning it had to be loaded with gunpowder, paper and a lead ball via the muzzle, but before that, the pan had to be loaded with gunpowder as well. The pan was a small box with a hole leading to the inner load which ignited it when being ignited itself; it was, of course covered with a metal body which had to be drawn back after being loaded, to ensure no powder escaped. Now, who ignited the pan? The match cord. The match cord was fixed on a metallic arm which was lowered when the trigger was pulled.

 This posed enormous safety risks, as the man had to load while holding the cord in his left hand, and had to make sure it doesn’t touch anything, from the pan to the apostles. Steps were as following – open pan, load gunpowder, close pan, draw the weapon on its butt, load the muzzle, push it with the scouring stick (ramrods didn’t exist until much later), put the scouring stick back in its underbarrel place [1], open the pan, fix in rest, present and give fire. I don’t really remember at what moment in it you had to place the cord, so sorry on that.

 Now try doing that in the heat of battle, in line with tens of other men just as terrified as you, when your life hanged on to it. Accidents did happen.

Also, the slowmatch was a lot longer than represented by me. A lot longer.

What is very important here is the rest, and it is just now that we go back to the streltsy.

[1] Now don’t get me wrong, it could very well work as a projectile itself, but you couldn’t reload any further, and considering how bad these weapons actually were, that was the last thing you ever wanted.

Analyse the picture, it’s really important. European arquebusiers were issued the gun itself, a stick with a claw acting as a rest, most times 1.40-1.50 meter tall, and a side sword, whereas the streltsy were issued no sidearm by itself, but a bardiche along the gun. The bardiche worked as both a weapon and a gun rest, which did of course lower they equipping cost – and being able to quickly arm your men was a big thing, especially then was well as nowadays. The picture is quite useful, as you can notice quite much everything there is to be noticed – from the clothing (since streltsy didn’t have any real armor), to the way they were organised in ranks, the match cords hanging [2], as well as how the weapons were placed onto the bardiche and how the bardiche itself was held

[2] In his average service a guardsman would burn through miles of matchcord, beacause he was expected to be able to fire at any given time, and not take time to light the cord with a match, in case of fire being needed, which means the matchcord had to be lit at any given time. European arquebusiers oftenly had large brimmed hats with cord wrapped around, to fend the weapon’s arm and pan from getting wet. 

It’s not as if you could shoot anything with it if you were guarding a castle wall, for instance.

Having another weapon as their weapon rest proved efficient, giving the men an edge in maneuverability, and on their european counterparts, since the weapon just had to be kept aside, or even thrown, just so the man can get melee ready, and didn’t have to keep aside a rest and weapon and draw a sword. 

 Streltsy saw a lot of action, even after them being disbanded. They took part in the famous siege of Kazan, during Ivan’s reign; they had a few uprisings during their relatively brief service, and were to be effectively disbanded under Peter the Great’s reforms.