Finnish War

Summary

The Finnish War was a war between Russia and Sweden, fought between 1808 and 1809. The war was caused by the peace signed between Russia and France at Tilsit on 7 July 1807. France gave Russia its consent to invade Finland, which made Russia an ally of France. Russia”s task, by invading Finland, was to force Sweden to join the Continental Blockade, an embargo that would have enabled France to strengthen its position as a sea power against Britain.

As a result of the war, the eastern counties of Sweden (Finland) were incorporated into the Russian Empire and their administration was organised on an autonomous basis, as the Grand Duchy of Finland. Before the war, Russia had no intention of incorporating Finland into the empire, the only reason for the war being to force Sweden into an embargo against Britain, which would allow the occupation of Finland to be ended. However, the decision on Finland”s future was taken shortly after the war began, around March 1808. The Russian capital, St Petersburg, was dangerously close to Sweden”s eastern border, which after 1743 ran through Kymenlaakso. By annexing Finland to its territories, Russia gained protection for St Petersburg and the Gulf of Finland”s shipping. Another reason was the naval fortress of Viapor, which could pose a threat to Russia as a possible base of operations for the British and Swedish fleets against St Petersburg or the Baltic coast.

Wars in Europe 1789-1807

Following the Great French Revolution (1789-1799), Europe entered a period of warfare that lasted until the 19th century. Before 1803, two alliances had been formed in Europe with the aim of overthrowing the newly established French Republic. Napoleon succeeded in defeating the first alliance and forcing the Austrians to accept the Peace of Campo Formio, which ended the war. In 1798, however, a new alliance was formed, including Great Britain, Russia and Austria. Napoleon had been one of the key factors in France”s victory against the First Alliance. This time, however, Napoleon was fighting in Egypt. The French army suffered heavy losses in the early stages of the war. Napoleon returned from Egypt in 1799. First, he reformed the entire French army and the French war effort was turned around. France was also able to repel the efforts of the Second Alliance and the war ended in 1802.

The peace did not last long, as Britain suspected France of harbouring ambitions for power and watched with concern the French invasions of Switzerland and Germany between 1801 and 1802. Britain went to war with France in May 1803. When the war began, Napoleon began to gather an army for an invasion of Britain. Amidst the demanding invasion plans, Napoleon heard that Britain, Austria, Prussia, Sweden and Russia had formed a third alliance against France. As late as June 1805, Napoleon was still harbouring hopes of invading Britain, despite the alliance. However, he soon realised that the French army was not large enough to occupy Britain, and the invasion army was moved to the west of France to fight against the other countries in the alliance. France defeated Prussia in 1806 and Russia was defeated at the battles of Eylau and Friedland.

Treaty of Tilsit 1807

The Russian Tsar Alexander I had to seek a negotiated solution with France, as its army resources began to weaken. Alexander I and Napoleon signed the so-called Treaty of Tilsit on 7 July 1807 on a raft anchored in the Niemen River.

The treaty established peace between Russia and France, but it also established an alliance between the two parties. The alliance allowed Napoleon to persuade Russia, which had previously been reluctant to join England”s continental exclusion. The treaty committed Russia to brokering peace between France and England. Further, if the peace talks failed, Russia would break off diplomatic relations with London and, if necessary, put pressure on Portugal, Denmark and Sweden, which were not committed to the continental treaty, to join the blockade, if necessary by force. At this point, Napoleon is also likely to have alluded to the possibility of Russian conquest of Finland. Later, Napoleon also repeated his proposal in letters. Russia was less interested in poor Finland, which was considered a wilderness. Russia, on the other hand, was interested in the Balkans in southern Europe, which Napoleon did not like.

However, Sweden quickly became aware of the contents of the Treaty of Tilsit, and as a result Sweden broke the armistice with France on 1 August 1807. France then occupied the Swedish territory of Pomerania, which had been an important strategic area in previous wars. Sweden had time to evacuate the troops in Pomerania to Skåne. The evacuation alone was considered half the victory. In 1807, Sweden adopted a foreign policy direction marked by a firm loyalty to Britain. Now Britain, under Prime Minister Georg Canning, showed similar loyalty to Sweden by invading Denmark”s Själland. The aim was to destroy the Danish navy and prevent Denmark”s alliance with France. The British fired on Copenhagen over three nights on 2-4 September 1807, and the city finally surrendered on 7 September. However, as a result of the attack, Denmark sought protection from France and signed the Treaty of Tilsit at the end of October. Sweden now found itself in deeper trouble, threatened on three fronts; Russia to the east, the Danish and French armies to the south and Norway, which belonged to Denmark at the time, to the west.

Towards war

Gustavus IV Adolf had hated Napoleon from the start, and his hatred deepened in September 1807 when he claimed that Napoleon was the beast foretold in the Book of Revelation. Swedish foreign policy remained unchanged. Britain”s appreciation of Sweden as an ally increased by the end of the year. Britain decided to offer its only ally even more support to enable it to continue its war effort. Sweden had asked Britain for two million pounds, but received only 1.2 million, and a naval division commanded by Admiral Hyde Parker off Gothenburg. The agreement for British aid to Sweden was signed in February 1808.source?

The most important thing for Sweden was what Russia, led by the brother-in-law of the Swedish king, Alexander I, was going to do. Russia was not particularly interested in Finland and did not even want a war. Russia felt it would benefit France too much. However, Napoleon was actively pressuring Russia, which wanted to start a war against Britain”s only ally as soon as possible.

Gustav IV Adolf received a letter from Tsar Alexander I of Russia asking how Sweden would deal with the continental war against Britain and what measures it would take to maintain its neutrality. Alexander I proposed to Sweden a treaty of alliance under which the Baltic Sea would be declared a closed sea to Britain. Sweden did not agree, as King Gustavus IV Adolf of Sweden did not want to support Napoleon, whom he regarded as a usurper. At the end of November 1807, Russia declared war on Britain and renewed its demand for concerted action to close the Baltic Sea to the British. Gustavus IV Adolphus did not respond immediately, as the British had sailed away from Jutinraum under the Treaty of Surrender of the Själland, with the Danish fleet. The British fleet was therefore no longer present to protect southern Sweden, as it had been in the autumn of 1807. On 21 January 1808, after a period of reflection, Sweden again gave Russia a negative reply, after which the latter began to draft an ultimatum to Sweden.

Although the Russian leadership was hesitant to start a war against Sweden, preparations for war were already well advanced. Among other things, Russia sabotaged Sweden”s Baltic Sea trade. The Russians misled the Swedish envoy to St Petersburg, Curt von Stedingk, but he saw through the deception and sensed that the situation was heading towards war. On 23 January 1808, the envoy reported to Sweden that war was almost certainly coming and advised them to prepare for it.

Due to the tightening of relations between Sweden and Russia, the Finnish Commander-in-Chief, Lieutenant General Wilhelm Mauritz Klingspor, was ordered to Sweden to negotiate with the Chairman of the Secret War Convention. According to the principles adopted by the Convention, Finland would receive no help from Sweden and the Reich”s army would have to survive in Finland on its own. If the Russians were successful, the troops would have to retreat to the fortresses of Suomenlinna (then Sveaborg) and Svartholm, and otherwise withdraw to Ostrobothnia to await the melting of the sea and reinforcements from Sweden.

The deputy to the Finnish commander-in-chief, Lieutenant General Carl Nathanael af Klercker, on the other hand, prepared the defence from the border and ordered the mobilisation on 1 February 1808.On 6 February 1808, the Finnish commander-in-chief and Lieutenant General Wilhelm Mauritz Klingspor left for Finland via Tornio. He took command on 1 March 1808. In accordance with the secret decisions of the War Convention, no actual resistance was launched, but the planned retreat to Ostrobothnia began.

On 17 February 1808, Russia presented Sweden with an ultimatum stating that Sweden had not agreed to the alliance, but had instead demanded that French troops leave the Baltic coasts; and that the German ports involved in the Continental Treaty be opened to trade with Britain. In view of the negotiating relations Sweden had fostered with Britain, Russia stated that it could not regard Sweden as a neutral state in the war with Britain, but that Russia had to take steps to safeguard its interests.

Sweden”s ability to defend Finland after the Gulf of Finland had melted was limited by the fact that Denmark had to declare war on Sweden. Denmark could not remain neutral because of the strong French influence, even though a declaration of war could result in a British Royal Navy blockade and the loss of Norway. The Danish declaration of war of 5 March 1808 reached the Swedish government on 14 March 1808. By that time, the Russian forces in Finland had already advanced into southern Finland to Häme, with Turku as their objective.

Swedish Army

As a result of Charles XI”s reform of the army, Sweden created a system for maintaining a standing army. Two or more knights-at-arms had to maintain one soldier and his equipment. In return, the state guaranteed tax relief. However, the system proved inadequate for the Swedish war effort and was slowly becoming obsolete as Europe moved towards a conscript army. Sweden experimented with a draft army, but the attempt did little to meet expectations.

The structure of the Swedish army during the Finnish War is rather difficult to discern, as its composition changed several times. The land forces were supported by a navy, headquartered in Karlskrona, Sweden, and an archipelago fleet, grouped into five squadrons. The largest escadrade was the so-called Finnish Escadrade, based in Viapora. The other essential escadrille of the island fleet was the Stockholm escadrille.

The land forces were divided into three armies, called the Western Army, the Southern Army and the Finnish Army. In addition to these, a Fourth Coastal Army was formed during the war to defend the Swedish coast against Russian invaders. The Southern Finnish Army, which was to land in south-west Finland in the summer of 1808, also operated for a time in the Åland archipelago.

The soldiers of the Swedish army came from all over the kingdom. This meant that there were Swedish and Finnish speakers among the soldiers. The officers were almost entirely Swedish-speaking and orders were given in Swedish. This in turn created language problems, as the Finnish army consisted mainly of Finnish soldiers recruited in Finland. As a result, language skills were not necessarily broader than Finnish. Officers thus had to learn Finnish or find a suitable interpreter. In the Swedish army, the age distribution of soldiers was concentrated around 40 years old, but there were younger soldiers and a few in their 60s. The difference in age caused problems with marching speed, among other things.

The uniform of a Swedish soldier consisted of a coat, trousers, waistcoat, shoes, socks, shirt, scarf and a so-called kapot, a long grey overcoat. The Swedish land forces used a wide variety of muskets, but all of them had the same calibre of 20.04 mm, so the same cartridges could be used in different muskets. The length of the musket was 1.5 m and the length of the bayonet was 70 cm. The musket weighed 5 kg, making it difficult to handle in wooded terrain. In addition, the crew carried a hukari, a shorter sword than the officer”s model. The artillery was equipped with three- and six-barrelled cannons. In the Finnish army, the lighter three-barrelled cannons were most commonly used, as they were easier to manoeuvre in the terrain.

Each army in Sweden used a division into different subdivisions. The armies were divided into divisions, which were made up of several brigades, which respectively consisted of infantry battalions, cavalry units and artillery batteries. For most of the Finnish War, the Finnish Army, commanded by Wilhelm Mauritz Klingspor, was divided into six brigades, plus the Oulu garrison and the Fiendt detachment. Later, when the Finnish Army retreated to the Western Bottom, it was merged into the Northern Division of the Swedish Army. As a result of the merger, the new army became known as the Northern Army.

Russian Army

The size of the Russian army was superior to that of the Swedish army. At the beginning of the Finnish war, Russia put some 24 000 soldiers on the front, almost twice the number of soldiers in the Swedish army. On top of this, the soldiers had gained a wealth of experience in the wars against Napoleon. The Russian army was also much more professional in nature, with soldiers serving for 25 years. During this period, however, most soldiers died of illness or in battle.

The army”s equipment was very similar to that of Sweden, although it had been developed in a more practical direction as a result of the wars of 1805-07. For example, Alexander I did not approve of soldiers wearing powder or long curls, which were common in the days of Paul I. The soldier”s equipment included a felt cap, a dark green tailcoat, white trousers, boots and a mantlet. The Russian army wore a musket, like the Swedish, but also a sword and a bayonet, which was shorter than the Swedish bayonet. Cavalry soldiers were equipped with pistols, sabres and carbines. In the artillery, the Russians had heavier cannons, up to 12-pounders.

In 1806, Russia adopted a division system based on the French model. The idea behind this division was the same as that of the Swedish brigades, i.e. to create units that were as versatile as possible and capable of operating completely independently. A Russian army division consisted of four or five infantry regiments, one or two ice regiments and three cavalry regiments, an artillery brigade, an engineer company and a Cossack detachment.

Russia had appointed Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Buxhoevden as commander-in-chief of the Northern Front in December 1807. He had also been promised the post of Governor-General after Finland was conquered. He was advised by Göran Magnus Sprengtporten and, like Sprengtporten, by Captain Gustaf Wilhelm Ladau, who had participated in the Union of Anjala and had been appointed an official of the Russian Foreign Affairs College, and by Nikolai Emin, Governor of the Vyborg region, as head of the Civil Chancellery. Sprengtporten was an important figure for the Russian army, as he had already recommended to the Russians a winter war against Sweden.

Groupings at the beginning of the war

According to Sprengtporten”s plan, the Russian troops were divided into three divisions. The 5th Division, which was to cut off Finland”s mainland connections with Sweden in Tornio, was commanded by Lieutenant General Nikolai Tutskov and was to go from the north to Heinola and from there via South and North Savo to Ostrobothnia. The 21st Division, which was to attack along the central Salpausselkä to Hämeenlinna and finally Turku, was commanded by Pyotr Ivanovich Bagration. Along the southern coast and the coastal road to Suomenlinna and Helsinki, and later to Turku, the 17th Division was led by Alexei Ivanovich Gorcharov.

At the outbreak of the war, the Finnish army of the Ruotu division had 13 000 infantry men, of which 4 050 were reinforcements (reserves). In addition to these, there were 6 400 enlisted troops from outside the rationing system. During the war, a few smaller units were formed from volunteers and additional recruits, including soldiers who had surrendered in Viapora and been sent home. Sweden feared an attack from Denmark, and so only a few small Swedish units were brought over from the mother country. North Karelia was almost entirely in the hands of the so-called peasant troops, but they performed their task excellently, delaying the enemy for several months with their inadequate armament.

At the beginning of the war, Sweden had three brigades in Finland. The 1st Brigade, commanded by Colonel August Fredrik Palmfelt, was stationed in the Loviisa area and had a strength of about 3 000 soldiers; the 2nd Brigade, commanded by Colonel Carl Johan Adlercreutz, was stationed in the present-day Lahti area and had a strength of about 4 000 soldiers; and the 3rd Brigade, commanded by Colonel Johan Adam Cronstedt, was stationed in Savo and had a strength of 3 800 soldiers. When the Russians attacked, only the 3rd Brigade in Savo was fully mobilised.

February-March

On the first day of February 1808, King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden ordered the Finnish regiments of his army to mobilise. The mobilisation was announced in Finnish churches on 7 February 1808. At the same time, the Russians concentrated their own troops in the Hamina area.

The Russians crossed the Kymijoki River without a declaration of war on Sunday morning at about five o”clock on 21 February 1808 and marched towards Ahvenkoske and Elimäki. The 1st Battalion of Uusimaa was the first to engage in battle. On the first day of the battle, two Swedish soldiers from the East were killed on the 21st and 22nd. The Russians crossed the Swedish border at five points and advanced about 15-20 kilometres. The war began in very difficult conditions, with temperatures reportedly often falling below -30°C in late February. The conditions were further complicated by a heavy snowstorm, which made it difficult for the Russians to advance and for the Swedish army to retreat along the already poor Finnish roads.

A week after the war began, the message of war reached Gustav IV Adolf via an optical telegraph built between Åland and Stockholm in 1796. Martial law was declared in the Kingdom of Sweden on 3 March. The commander-in-chief of the Finnish army, W. M. Klingspor, was also late, as he was still in Stockholm when the war broke out. Only when word of the war had reached Stockholm did Klingspor set off on the long journey towards Finland, circumnavigating the Gulf of Bothnia on horseback and sleigh. Klingspor”s deputy was 70-year-old C. N. af Klercker.

Winter was not a good time to invade because of supply difficulties, but it gave Russia a strategic advantage by removing the basis of Swedish defensive thinking: the possibility of transporting reinforcements from Sweden by sea. Sweden acted according to its plans and began to withdraw from the border crossings. The Russians began to invade Finland in the morning of 21 February, which led to a few minor skirmishes. The Swedish army continued its retreat until it reached Hämeenlinna on 1 March, where the supply situation was good and sufficient food was available. A day later, negotiations were held and it was decided to retreat northwards to Oulu and Ostrobothnia. The decision was almost unanimous, although Klingspor”s deputy, af Klercker, was of the opinion that the current positions could be held until the food threatened to run out. On the other hand, Klercker was not necessarily prepared to fight the Russian army from Hämeenlinna.

A letter from Johan Adam Cronstedt arrived in Hämeenlinna on 5 March, where he announced that the Russian 5th Division had attacked the Savo Brigade on 28 February, and that the division was marching towards Kuopio under the command of Lieutenant General Tutshkov. This signaled to the main army that they should begin their retreat quickly, as the 5th Division could, in the worst case, blockade the Swedish main army from Sava. The Savo Brigade was tasked with delaying Tutškov”s advance as much as possible to allow the main army to retreat to Oulu without the threat of an encirclement. The Savo Brigade consisted of 3 500 men and was opposed by 6 500 Russian soldiers. Cronstedt did not guard all the roads leading into Savo, so the brigade could have been threatened by a mobbing. However, the brigade withdrew quickly enough to Kuopio, and the Russians did not keep up, and the threat began to fade. However, the retreat created a new threat, as on 8 March the brigade assembled at Leppävirra, 45 km from Kuopio, which was further away than the order had been given. Now the Russian 5th Division was given the opportunity to use the road west of Kuopio, which would enable the division to block the Swedish main army”s passage through Vaasa to Oulu. Sweden fought a major battle at Leppävirta on 11 March and another battle at Kuopio four days later. An outpost led by Joachim Zachris Duncker was stationed off Kuopio. The brigade withdrew from Kuopio on the 15th, but had not informed the outpost. Duncker was thus forced to repel several waves of Russian attacks. After three hours of fighting, the situation began to look desperate, as the main reason for the success of the defence was the slow movement of the Russian cavalry over the snowy slopes. After some time, Duncker received word that other sections of the brigade were marching north and that he should follow. After the arrival of Toivalaa, Duncker received reinforcements and the situation began to look better.

At the same time, the Swedish main army had marched from Hämeenlinna to Tampere, where it was divided into two columns. The smaller column, led by Carl Johan Adlercreutz, retreated north through Parkano, Ilmajoki and Uusikaarlepy. The larger column made a detour to Pori, and continued north along the coast. The Russians remained steadily on the heels of the main army. The rearguard had to constantly repel Cossack attacks. The attacks did not substantially tax the strength of either army, the more important factor being the weather. In March, the temperature was -30°C on some days, and according to Carl Magnus Möllersvärd”s war diary, it was as low as 40°C on 13 March. In addition to the severe frost, snowstorms forced soldiers to tear firewood from barns to keep warm, but above all to survive the harsh conditions. At that point, it was more a battle against the weather than against the Russians.

The sea fortress of Svartholm off Loviisa, besieged by the Russians at the very beginning of the war, surrendered on 18 March, causing consternation. Major Carl Magnus Gripenberg, who commanded Svartholma, was transferred to Russian service before the end of the war.

The Swedish troops left Pori on 18 March. Four days later, Russia scored a major political victory when it captured Turku, the administrative centre of Finland. Now all of southern Finland was virtually under the control of the invaders, with the exception of the strong Viapor fortress. Meanwhile, the main body of the Swedish army rested at Lapväärt and the Russian 5th Division controlled Kuopio. The rest continued until 28 March, when the division led by Adlercreutz joined the division on the western flank and the main army was again assembled. The main army was still threatened by the 5th Division, which was able to surround the main army because the Savo Brigade had retreated too hastily. Tutshkov feared that Cronstedt would take Kuopio back for himself, so he did not dare to send his men west to surround the main army. Tutškov did send a small unit, but it was far too small and arrived too late to pose any threat to the main Swedish army.

The Savo Brigade arrived at its destination in Oulu on 29 March. Tutshkov received new orders to march to Kokkola and attack the Swedish army. Tutškov was late again, and no real confrontations took place. However, Tutchkov kept up the pressure.

War threatens to spread to three fronts

When Sweden retreated from Finland to escape the Russian army, it had to prepare for war on other fronts. Denmark, a signatory to the Treaty of Tilsit, sent Sweden a declaration of war dated 5 March. However, Denmark did not want war, partly because of the threat from Britain, which could have occupied the whole of Norway. However, Denmark was drawn into the war by its proximity to Sweden. In Själland and Fyn, a Danish-French army of some 20 000 soldiers was equipped and ready to march towards Swedish Skåne. The army was led by Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, who would become Crown Prince of Sweden in 1810 and King in 1818. The Norwegian army commander Kristian August would later become Crown Prince of Sweden.

Sweden managed to avoid a three-front war thanks to the British and Spanish. The Danish-French invasion failed because the escadrons led by Admiral Hyde Parker had wintered off Gothenburg in the winter of 1807-08 and had set out early enough to have sea dominion over the Sound, making the invasion of Sweden impossible. Around the same time, Napoleon”s attention turned towards Spain, where there had been an uprising. Pressure on Sweden was beginning to ease in the south, and the Norwegian army alone would not have been strong enough to cause Sweden any problems.

Gustavus IV Adolf remained sceptical about Denmark and asked the British for help. The British promised an escadrade of 62 transports, led by Admiral James Saumarez, carrying an army of 11,000 soldiers under John Moore. The relief force arrived off Gothenburg in mid-May. A dispute soon arose between the commander of the British army and the King of Sweden as to whether British troops could be used to occupy Själland. Gustavus IV Adolf wanted the troops to attack Denmark, but Moore felt that the order was contrary to the instructions he had received. The Swedes then tried to arrest Moore, but the attempt failed badly. The attempted capture inflamed relations between Britain and Sweden and made it seem unlikely that further assistance would be forthcoming.

Withdrawal phase in April-May

In March and April the Swedish troops were reorganised and a new 3rd Brigade was formed, commanded by Colonel Hans Henrik Gripenberg. The then 3rd Brigade, commanded by Colonel Johan Adam Cronstedt, became the 4th Brigade. The 5th Brigade was also formed, commanded by Colonel Johan August Sandels.

The first major battles were fought in Pyhäjoki on 16 April and in Siikajoki on 18 April. The advance troops led by Yakov Petrovich Kulnev surprised the 2nd Battalion of Uusimaa led by Döbeln in the village of Yppär in Pyhäjoki. The Swedes lost 183 men in the clash, but managed to repulse the attack. Colonel Gustav Löwenhjelm was also captured by the Russians. Kulnev was outnumbered, but a new attack was launched two days later at Siikajoki, where the Swedish army had retreated. Klingspor, the commander-in-chief of the Finnish army, gave the order to retreat to Oulu and led his troops away from Siikajoki. Adlercreutz”s and Döbeln”s troops were still there and went on the offensive, even though it violated Klingspor”s orders. The 150 riflemen of the Uusimaa regiment were sent to attack the Russians together with a company of the Hämeenlinna regiment across the icy Siikajoki River. The attack was more successful than expected and more soldiers were sent to support it. The Swedes were victorious, although the effect was only psychological, as it was the first major victory for the Swedish army. 211 Swedes and probably more than 380 Russian soldiers were killed in the battle. The victory allowed the Russians to retreat five kilometres. Despite the victory, the Swedish army continued to retreat to Lumijoki, closer to Oulu.

The next battle was fought at Revonlahti. Colonel Bulatov”s 1 500-strong force was sent after the Savo Brigade. The Russian troops arrived at Revonlahti on 24 April, where they tried to contact the Russian soldiers in Siikajoki. This time the battle was initiated by the Swedes, when Cronstedt attacked at 7 o”clock in the morning. The battle turned out to be a Swedish victory. The Swedes suffered 20 soldiers killed and 74 wounded. The Russian losses were much higher, with an estimated 500-600 Russians killed in the battle.

The Swedes had won the major battles in Finland and the victories continued in the archipelago. After the Russians gained control of southern Finland, they attempted to conquer the islands of Åland and Gotland off the coast of Sweden. The Russians spread out to the main islands of Åland in April. As the ice melted, the Russians began to blackmail the Ålanders into handing over their ships to the Russians. This did not please the inhabitants of the main island and they revolted. The rebellion was led by the minister Erik Arén and the assistant priest Henrik Johan Gummerus. The Russians were quickly defeated and the few soldiers were captured. Sweden sent help by sea and together the Swedish soldiers and the islanders captured the Russians on the other islands. By 11 May, all of Åland had been liberated. A force of about 1 800 men was sent to occupy Gotland in April. The Russians who had landed on the island were defeated in mid-May, when on 14 May an overwhelming Swedish army force landed on Gotland.

Siege of Viapor

In early May 1808, the besieged fortress of Viapor surrendered to the Russians just as the Gulf of Finland was being freed from the ice. The reasons for the fortress” surrender have long been debated. The commander of Viapor, Carl Olof Cronstedt, was even accused in some circles of treason (allegedly selling Viapor to the Russians – a claim for which historians have found no evidence). What is certain is that the surrender of the fortress scuppered the Swedish battle plan. According to peacetime plans, Viapor Fortress would have received reinforcements from Sweden, which, supported by a coastal fleet wintering in the fortress, would then have advanced along the shores of the Gulf of Finland to cut off the enemy”s supply routes. The relief troops sent from Sweden now only made a few mostly unsuccessful attempts to land on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia and Åland, without once engaging in any significant fighting. The soldiers who surrendered at Viapor were disarmed and given an oath of honour not to take part in any fighting against the Russians. Despite this, some of the Viapori crew sought refuge in the main army or in the peasant forces operating in Häme. source?

Launching the counter-attack in April-May

Planning for a counter-attack began as soon as the troops had retreated to Oulu and its environs, and especially after the siege of Viapor had ended in Russian victory. There were a variety of ideas for a counter-attack, but the most important were either to reinforce the Klingspor army or to make a series of large landings to support the main army attack. The first option was advocated by the King”s Adjutant General af Tibell, who thought that the Klingspor army should be reinforced with 15 000 Swedish soldiers. The King, on the other hand, was in favour of the second option and the King”s opinion finally prevailed.

Sandels was ordered to attack eastwards through Savo and Karelia. Sandels” army had a maximum strength of 2 500 men, with which he was to defend the important road between Kuopio and Oulu and disrupt the connection between the Russian army and St Petersburg. However, the army Sandels received only partially used the Savo Brigade, which was specifically trained to operate in the terrain of the Savo and Karelian regions. This may have been due to distrust of the brigade commander Johan Adam Cronstedt on the part of the war command. By the end of April, Sandels and his army were ready to march towards Kuopio.source?

Sandels” task was made easier by the fact that there were relatively few Russian soldiers in eastern Finland, and those who were there were guarding the muon and march routes. The difficulty was the long march and the poor supply arrangements. The first target was Pulkkila, which was captured on 2 May. After a successful battle, the army moved towards Iisalmi and Kuopio. The muonate situation was made easier by the fact that Sandels managed to loot several Russian food stores. Sandels was joined by active peasants in Savo, led by the peasant Erik Ollikainen. The volunteer force he led captured the Iisalmi provisions warehouse even before the Swedish army arrived.

Captain Malmi”s troop, detached from Sandels” army, was stationed near Kuopio during the night of 10-11 May. In the northern part of the city they met a volunteer force of 300 peasants, led by schoolmaster Hellgren, who agreed to help in the attack. The battle began on Thursday night, 12 May. The peasants regrouped on the lake ice to the east and the Swedish army troops to the north-west. The attack was successful despite the Swedish inferiority and the sleeping Russians were forced to retreat to the lake ice, where a group of peasants was waiting. The Russians managed to retake Kuopio in June, but Sandels”s troops still managed to prevent any further advance. This was important for the main army”s counterattack.

Summer battles

In accordance with the counter-attack plan, military operations at sea began in the spring of 1808. The Swedish navy had lost its most important escadrons during the siege of Viapor and now the most important escadrons were the Stockholm escadrons. Strategically, the most important thing was to be able to keep the Russian navy east of Hankoniemi. However, this was not quite achieved.

On 25 May, the order was given to land between Turku and Uusikaupunki. The primary objective was to retake Turku, but later the invasion forces were to join the Klingspor army. The Kihdi Ridge between the Åland archipelago and Turku was crossed by 2 600 soldiers and 70 ships. The entire landing operation was led by Major General Ernst von Vegesack, whose tasks were hampered by incomplete information about the Finnish mainland, outdated maps and relatively inexperienced soldiers. The invasion fleet arrived at Lemus unobtrusively on 19 June 1808. After the landing had begun in the afternoon, a Cossack patrol visiting Per-Johan Ekbom, the owner of the Ala-Lemu manor, noticed the Swedish landing and hurried to Turku to report what they had seen. The Russians managed to regroup quickly and with 3 600 Russian soldiers the invasion was repulsed after 14 hours of fighting. Even contemporaries in Sweden criticised the invasion as too feeble.

The army led by Klingspor suffered a severe food shortage and the whole army was left to bake bread when they should have attacked and conquered Vaasa together with the invaders. Because of the baking, the army was seriously behind schedule. The invaders were commanded by Colonel Bergenstråhl, whose army fought for Old Vaasa a few days before Midsummer. The battle turned into a shambles, which the Russian army took advantage of and managed to defeat the invaders. For the Swedes, the battle went from bad to worse, so the commanders thought it best to surrender to the Russian army. A total of 16 officers and 256 soldiers were killed or captured as a result of the Battle of Vaasa. Those who escaped joined the main army in Uusikaarlepys on 28 June. After the fighting, the Russians looted and destroyed the town of Old Vaasa, claiming that the townspeople were fighting alongside the Swedes. 17 civilians were killed, five of them women. Among them was one child. However, a small group of about 50 soldiers had earlier been detached from the invasion force and landed south of Vaasa after the battle. Led by Lieutenant Ridderhjerta, the team made contact with the local population and the locals were persuaded to rise up against the invaders, as was part of Gustav IV Aadolf”s plan. The popular uprising achieved more results than the Swedish army had achieved. The rebels were able to chase the Russian troops further south. The people”s march ended in Närpiö at the Finby Bridge.

On 9-10 July 1808, the so-called Piri skirmish took place in Alahärmä.

The July battles began bloodily, as a Swedish force led by Otto von Fieandt fought what has been described as the fiercest battle of the Finnish war on the road to Kokkola on 11 July. The day before, Klingspor decided to attack the main Russian force in Lapua. This was the first real attack by the Swedish main army, for which Klingspor gave responsibility to Adlercreutz. The strength of the Russian army was slightly weaker than that of the Swedes: the Russians had 4 000 soldiers and about 18 guns, while the Swedes had 700 more men equipped for the attack and the same number of guns. The battle did not go entirely according to Adlercreutz”s plans, but the army did manage to surprise the Russians. The battle was not a big one. The significance of the battle, however, lies in the fact that the winner would gain control of the road between Vaasa and Kuopio. Sweden, having won the battle, not only gained control of the road, but also the opportunity to attack the Russian troops in eastern Finland.

As July progressed, the Russians were forced to retreat further south. The reason was not only the Swedish army. In the words of von Buxhoevden, commander-in-chief of the Russian army, “we are fighting three enemies at the same time: the troops, the agitated peasants and the food shortage.” The Russian army was therefore suffering from a shortage of food. The reason was not the availability of food from Russia, but simply the inability to move it to the places where it was most needed, and the troops had to retreat because of supply operations.

The aim of the Swedish army was to bring the front lines to the same level. Sweden”s battle victories culminated in August 1808, when it won the Battle of Alavud. It was a turning point, after which the Swedes were no longer able to win more than individual battles. The Battle of Alavudu was followed on 21 August by the important Battle of Karstula, in which the Russian army had a significant superiority. The battle began to look desperate for the Swedish army, so it was forced to retreat. The defeat gave the Russian army the opportunity to march on Kokkola and thus encircle the Swedes who were in Ostrobothnia. Klingspor was worried about the new situation and was forced to request the evacuation of the army across the Gulf of Bothnia. source?

Autumn retreat

The battles of Kuortanee Ruona and Salmi on 31 August – 2 September began the phase of the war that led to Sweden”s final defeat. The Russian troops were led by Nikolai Kamensky, who replaced Nikolai Rajevski on 24 July. He had 7 700 soldiers and 36 guns at his disposal against 4 700 soldiers and 21 guns of the Swedish Adlercreutz. The decisive battles of the war began at Ruona. The battle began with a Russian attack, against which the Swedes counter-attacked and forced the Russians to retreat back to their positions. Kamensky became concerned as the situation progressed and planned to retreat. Adlercreutz began his retreat at midnight to Kuortanee Salme. The reason was that the overwhelming Russian forces were threatening to surround the Swedish troops from both the west and the east. The next day, Adlercreutz learned that Kamenski”s troops would be retreating. This inspired him to prepare an attack, which he carried out. As the troops moved towards Ruona, they were met in the wooded terrain by Russian troops of superior strength. After the failed attack, the Swedish army regrouped at Salme. The weakest point of the north-south group was in the north, where the battalion of the Uusimaa Regiment and the Uusimaa Ranger had no protection against attack. The Russians took advantage of this opportunity and attacked from the north. They could not get past the troops, but made the Swedes consider retreating. At the same time, Klingspor ordered Adlercreutz”s troops to retreat further north, as he believed that the Russians in Kauhajoa were threatening the Swedes in Lapua. Adlercreutz obeyed and withdrew his troops to Oravais, where he prepared new defences, having been reinforced by Swedish regiments.

Von Döbeln”s troops defeated Russian troops attempting to cut off the army”s retreat at the Battle of Jutland on 13 September. However, Adlercreutz suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Oravaiste on 14 September, forcing the entire army to retreat north again.

On 27 October, Sandels still managed to defeat the Russians at the Battle of Kolyovrda, but this was no longer of strategic importance after the defeat of the main army. Sandels” forces were forced to retreat northwards.

The second retreat ended this time at Tornio in December 1808. Klingspor had already lost the war at the Battle of Lapua, where he could have seized the opportunity to attack the struggling Russians on the coast.

End of the year

The situation for the army was becoming increasingly difficult as winter set in. It was plagued by food shortages and morale was low. After a new retreat, the army was ready for a truce. In Russia, the truce was well received and on 19 November 1808 a truce agreement was signed at Olkijokiye. The treaty was signed by Major General Adlercreutz and Lieutenant General Kamensky. According to the agreement, the Swedish army was to withdraw behind the Kemijoki River, leaving Oulu to the Russians by 29 November and Kemi by 13 December. The war in Finland was practically over.

In March 1809, Russian troops attacked from three directions. The southernmost attack was on Åland and from there on to Grisslehamn. A truce was signed on the Åland front on 20 March. In March, the Russians attacked across the Kvarken and captured Umeå. However, the Russians retreated from Umeå, believing that peace was imminent. A third attack took place across the Gulf of Bothnia in the Kemi and Tornio areas on 22 March. Swedish troops surrendered in the area on 25 March. No significant Swedish forces remained in the area, but the Russians did not advance south, mainly because of supply problems.

In March 1809, a coup d”état took place in Stockholm when officers of the Swedish Western Army overthrew King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden. The rebels captured the king on 13 March and forced him to resign. Peace talks were held in the spring, but failed, and in early May the Russians began to advance southwards along the western plain towards Umeå. There were battles in Skellefteå, among other places, and the Russians occupied Umeå at the end of May. In early June, a truce was again signed, but the fighting soon resumed. In addition to the Russians, a Norwegian division invaded northern Sweden in early July. The Norwegians were beaten back, but against the Russians the Swedes suffered defeat at the battle of Hörnefors. In August 1809, the Swedes landed north of Umeå at Ratan. The invasion failed and was the last major military operation of the Swedish army.

The Finnish War ended on 17 September 1809 with the Peace of Hamina. Sweden lost all its eastern provinces, part of the West Bank and Åland. The border was drawn on the Tornion River. About 20 000 Finnish and Swedish soldiers died in the war, most of them from various diseases.

By 1808, Russia had already declared Finland a permanent part of itself. Emperor Alexander I invited the conquered territory to organise the Porvoo County Diet.

The peace between Russia and Sweden was signed in September 1809 in Hamina. In the peace treaty, Sweden lost Finland, Åland and large parts of the Western Plain. Strategically, the defeat was a disaster for Sweden. Sweden”s east coast and Stockholm were left unprotected.

In 1818, Charles XIV John, a former marshal in the French army, came to the Swedish throne. There were vindictive circles in Sweden who hoped that Charles John could have helped Sweden regain Finland. In 1813, Swedish troops joined Russia and Prussia in the war against France, although many officers would have preferred to fight on the side of the traditional ally France. In 1812, Charles John received Russian support for the invasion of Norway. In 1814, Sweden and Norway went to war, which resulted in Norway being annexed to Sweden, but the country became a personal union.

After the Finnish War, Sweden sought to reorganise its defences and in 1819 began building Karlsborg Fortress in West Gotland. However, for economic reasons, no fortification system could be established. Sweden”s new defence plans were based on a retreat to Karlsborg Fortress, even though the large retreats in the Finnish War had caused a loss of morale.

In Russia, the annexation of Finland was seen as a successful continuation of the expansionist policy initiated by Peter the Great. However, the new Finland was only part of the additional territories that Russia gained under Alexander I. The Congress of Vienna did not question Finland”s status.

Sources

  1. Suomen sota
  2. Finnish War
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