Famous Swedish Battles, 1700's (2)

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King Gustaf III: The Russian war  1788 - 1790, the Sea War

The Sea Battle at Svensksund 1790

After the breakout of the Vyborg Bay, the Swedish King, Gustav III, assembled the Army Fleet at Svensksund not far away from Fredrikshamn (Hamnia) on the southern Finnish coastline. Gulf of Finland

The Swedish Navy sailed to the naval base at the fortress of Sveaborg outside Helsinki to do repairs.
The Russian Navy was late in pursuing the Swedish Navy. So the Swedish ships arrived at Sveaborg without any further battles. However, the Russian Navy followed the Swedish ships from a distance and kept track of the Swedish Navy from a position outside Sveaborg out of reach of the guns at Sveaborg.

The Army Fleet arrived at Svensksund on July 5th. They were aware of the Russian Galley Fleet following them and the King wanted to engage the Swedish Army Fleet in a battle immediately.
Some of the high ranking officers were against a battle so soon. One of the Commanders that was against a battle was the Flag Captain, Colonel George de Frese.
However, Lieutenant Colonel Cronstedt had just arrived with his Pommern squadron of the Army Fleet, and he supported the King.

The morning of the battle, the Flag Captain, Colonel George de Frese was removed from his command and Lieutenant Colonel Cronstedt was appointed as the new Flag Captain.

  Svensksund

The German prince Nassau Siegen was in charge of the approaching Russian Galley Fleet. In the morning of July 9th they arrived at Svensksund. His crew was tired after rowing the long distance from Vyborg Bay. However the prince wanted to attack immediately.
July 9th was the coronation day of the Russian Empress Catharine II, and in honor of her, Prince Nassau wanted a victory on that very day.

The Russian fleet consisted of 32 larger and 206 smaller vessels and carried a total of 1.200 guns. The crew consisted of about 14.000 men.
The Swedish fleet had fewer ships, about 200, and was carrying 1.000 guns. The complement of Swedish seamen was about 12.500 men.
The Russian ships had the artillery at the broadsides while the majority of the Swedish ships had their artillery on their bows.

The Swedish fleet formed a curved battle line between the islands of Muslaö and Kutsalö. With this formation the enemy ships could be fired at from two directions. The Swedes also had batteries on the islands, such as at Kråkskär.

The center of the Swedish battle line consisted of 5 archipelago frigates and 16 galleys.

Around 8 o'clock in the morning of July 9 1790 the fast Swedish reconnaissance launches reported that the Russian Galley fleet was approaching. A signal, general quarters, was sent from the "Seraphimisorden" to make the Swedish fleet ready for battle. Around 9 0´clock, the battle began.
The narrow sound didn’t give the Russian much maneuvering room
.   The battle at Svensksund July 9 -10 1790

The Swedish center was made up of the the archipelago frigates Alexander (next to the island Kråkskär), then Thorborg, Ingeborg, Starkotter and Styrbjörn. In a position between the frigates was in total 16 galleys.
The frigate
Norden was supposed to be in the center battle line but she had just arrived at Svensksund early in the morning of July 9th and had no time to take a position in the center line. Instead she took a position just behind the frigates.

The Commander of the ships in the center battle line was
von Stedingk onboard the Styrbjörn.

The Swedish King, Gustav III, initially embarked the schooner Amphion, but transferred to the royal sloop together with the general staff in order to better follow the battle.

Törning was the commander of the Swedish right wing. The right wing consisted of 40 gun sloops and schooners from the Bohuslän Brigade. The right wing held a position between Muslaö and Kråkskär.

Claes Hielmstierna was the Commander of the Swedish left wing. The left wing consisted of 40 gun sloops and gun tenders from the Finnish Squadron. A few mortar longboats held a position between Sandskär and Lehmässari. The galley Jämtland and a division of gun sloops guarded the ”Svensksundshålet”.

Prince Nassau was in charge of the Russian main body. The commander of the Russian left wing was Sjlissov, which consisted of 48 smaller vessels and a floating battery.
The commander of the Russian right wing was Buxhövden, which consisted of 10 galleys and 20 gun sloops.

The battle started at the wings. The Russians tried to break through with their left wing but encountered a counter attack from the Swedish right wing. The Swedish counter attack was quite successful. This was around 11 o’clock in the morning. The Russians were severely damaged by Törning’s gun sloops.
Törning’s unit also managed to sink the Russian floating battery. Quite a few of the Russian galleys were destroyed.

Since the Russian right wing was more or less destroyed, Törning got room to attack the larger Russian ships in the center. The ships in the Russian center were then forced closed together without any room to maneuver.

Among the Swedish ships the frigate Ingeborg was hit and caught fire and the galley Calmar had an explosion onboard. 

The Swedish left wing had a very strong position and Hielmstierna could repulse the Russian attacks.
Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, about half of Hielmstierna’s gun sloops managed to outflank the Russians by transiting the shallow sound between the islands Kutslaö och Lehmässari. Hielmstierna thereby was in a favorable position to attack Buxhövden and the Russian right wing from behind.

Prince Nassau realized the danger and ordered Buxhövden to repulse on the new threat. The movement on the Russian right wing was misunderstood as a retreat by the other Russian forces and was relayed to rest of the Russian ships. This caused disorder in the Russian battle lines. When they realized the mistake it was too late to do anything about it.
The Russian center was at the time involved in very heavy fights and found themselves deserted the wing ships. The Russian frigate Nikolai took a severe hit and sank in a couple of minutes. At the same time Sjlissov was under severe pressure by Törning and the Swedish right wing.

The Russian ships were practically shot to pieces and around 4 o’clock the remaining Russian ships appeared to panic and started to retreat from the battle zone. The fighting did, however, continue until the darkness fell. Many Russian ships were lost during the retreat, among them the frigate Maria. Other Russian ships struck their colors thus signaling surrender. The rest of the Russian ships were pursued by the Swedish ships throughout the night and the following morning.

The defeat was a disaster to the Russians. They lost 50 to 60 of their largest ships. This was the equivalent to about a third of their entire Galley fleet. In addition, 9,500 men were lost. Of this amount, the Swedes captured about 6,000 of them.

The victorious Swedes on the other hand lost only about 700 men including both dead and wounded. The Swedish ship losses were limited to 6 galleys.

The flagship of Prince Nassau, the "Catarina", was captured by the Swedes during the battle. This capture was regarded as an important war price to the Swedes. Not only did they capture the ship, but all of the Prince’s personal belonging were still onboard.

The battle of Svensksund is regarded the as the greatest naval victory in Swedish history as well as the largest maritime battle ever occurring in the Baltic Sea.

After the battle, Cronstedt was promoted to Colonel and was awarded the Swedish Order of the Sword (“riddartecknet av Svärdsordens stora kors”).

The Swedish victory at Svensksund radically changed the political situation in the Swede's favor. Despite the fact that the Swedes had started the war, they were able to keep the support of the important European countries of Great Britain and Prussia. So even though there was no change in the amount of territory that either the Swedes or the Russians controlled, the Swedes maintained a political advantage, which resulted in a peace treaty, signed in Värälä, Finland on August 14 1790.

Note: For cross-reference purposes, the sea battle at Svensksund is known in Russian literature (written in the English language) as "The battle of Rochensalm". Rochensalm is Russian for Svensksund.

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  Hans Högman
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Copyright © Hans Högman, reviewed 2013-03-24 17:29