Battle on the Ice of 1242

Battle on the Ice of 1242

 

a battle fought by a Russian host on Apr. 5, 1242, on the ice of the southern part of Lake Chudskoe against German Livonian knights; the battle ended in a defeat of the invaders.

Between 1240 and 1242 the German crusaders and Danish and Swedish feudal lords intensified their aggressive actions, taking advantage of the devastation of the lands of Rus’ by Khan Batu’s Mongol-Tatars. In 1240 the Swedes were defeated at the mouth of the Neva, but the crusaders of the Livonian Order seized Izborsk and then Pskov, being helped in Pskov by traitorous boyars headed by Tverdila Ivankovich, the posadnik (burgomaster). After taking the Kopor’e district (1240), the crusaders built a fortress there. In 1241 they planned to capture Novgorod the Great, Karelia, and lands around the Neva. Summoned by the veche (popular assembly), Prince Alexander Nevsky arrived in Novgorod, which he had left in the winter of 1240 after a quarrel with a segment of the Novgorod boyars. He then assembled a host of Novgorodians, Ladogians, Izhorians, and Karelians and drove the Teutonic knights out of Kopor’e in 1241. The Novgorod host, which was joined by the Vladimir-Suzdal’ forces, entered the land of the Ests. But then, turning suddenly east, Alexander Nevsky besieged Pskov and soon freed the city. After that he again shifted his forces into the land of the Ests in order to forestall the concentration of the main forces of the crusaders and to force them to a premature battle. The knights assembled large forces and, sure of their victory, moved eastward.

Near the settlement of Khammast a Russian advance detachment led by Domash and Kerbet discovered a large army of the knights; the detachment was defeated in an engagement, but the survivors reported the crusaders’ approach. The Russian host retreated eastward. Alexander Nevsky deployed the Russian army (15,000 to 17,000 men) on the narrow southern part of Lake Chudskoe, southwest of Voronii Kamen’ Island, imposing a battle on his enemies at a place of his own choosing, a place that covered the roads to Novgorod and Pskov. The enemy host —Livonian knights, knights and footmen of the Derpt and other episcopates, and Danish crusaders—were deployed in the “wedge” (svin’ia, [”pig”], according to the Russian chronicles). The enemy’s plan was to break up and defeat the Russian divisions with a blow by the mighty armored wedge.

At dawn of Apr. 5, 1242, the German wedge charged the Russians, and the Battle on the Ice began. After crushing the advance detachment, the crusaders “pushed in a svin’ia through the division” (center division) and thought they had won the battle. But Alexander delivered a flank attack that confused their ranks and defeated them. The Russian host won a decisive victory: 400 knights were killed and 50 were captured, and many more attendants on foot as well as Chudian and Estian warriors fell in action. The defeated knights fled westward, pursued across the frozen lake by the Russians.

The victory on Lake Chudskoe was of tremendous historical significance, which bourgeois German historians try to belittle to this day. It stopped the crusaders’ eastward drive and prevented their subjugation and colonization of Russian lands. In K. Marx’s evaluation, Alexander Nevsky defeated the German knights “on the ice of Lake Chudskoe so thoroughly … that the scoundrels were thrown back from the Russian border for good” (Arkhiv Marksa i Engel’sa, vol. 5, 1938, p. 344). In 1243 the knights of the order “sent ambassadors with expressions of deference” to Novgorod, having renounced their plans of conquest in Russian lands: the same year a peace treaty between Novgorod and the Livonian Order was concluded. Under the influence of the Battle on the Ice the peoples of Lithuania and the Pomor’e stepped up their struggle against the crusaders. The battle is also important in the history of the Russian art of war.

SOURCES

Poln. sobr. russkikh letopisei, vol. 1. Moscow, 1962. Novgorodskaia pervaia letopis’ starshego i mladshego izvodov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.

REFERENCES

Marx, K. “Khronologicheskie vypiski.” In Arkhiv Marksa i Engel’sa, vol. 5. Moscow, 1938.
Tikhomirov, M. N. Bor’ba russkogo naroda s nemetskimi interventami v XII-XV vv. Moscow, 1942.
Pashuto, V. T. Aleksandr Nevskii i bor’ba russkogo naroda za nezavisi-most’ v XIII v. Moscow, 1951.
Karaev, N. G. “Novye dannye o meste Ledovogo poboishcha.” Istoriia SSSR, no. 6, 1963.
Ledovoe poboishche. Moscow, 1966.

V. I. BUGANOV