Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns


 


Four Actions in Finland during the Russian-Swedish War of 1808-09

By Stefan Spett


In 1808 Swedish forces made several landings around Åbo in southwestern Finland. I here describe four of them.

On the 18 of June, King Gustaph IV landed a division at Lemo south of Åbo.
The force was not a strong one, but the king intended that the landing would ignite a general rebellion in occupied Finland. The division was commanded by von Vegesack and consisted of

An amalgamated Guard battalion.
Four battalions of the Uppland Landwehr.
5 x 3-pounders
Some dismounted guard cavalry.
106 volunteer sharpshooters. They were members of the Finnish  garrison-regiments that had percolated to the main Swedish army.
200 volunteer peasants. They had no training and were only good for bushwhacking.
In all more than 2800 men.


The guards were deployed as an advance guard and were soon attacked by a battalion of the Libau Regiment with one gun. The Swedes were pushed back skirmishing. The 3rd Uppland Landwehr advanced in column but panicked when the gun targeted them. The Russians, advancing in skirmish line, tried to pursue but was flanked by infantry and artillery.  The Russians  retreated and combat ended for some hours.

Russians  was pouring south under command of  Baggovut. At two in the morning of the 19th of June6 the Russians  attacked again. The deployed with the guard units interspersed among all the amateurs to provide spine. Combat continued for many hours.  All the landwehr battalions were thrown in but the Russians had the following units:

6½ companies from the Libau Regiment.
4½ companies from the Brest Regiment..
4 companies from the Neva Regiment..
2 companies from the Pernau Regiment..
1 squadron from the Finland Dragoons.
At least 8 guns

During the combat, Baggovut ordered that the Lemo farms that were occupied by the Swedes should set on fire by the artillery firing carcasses.

Under pressure from this force the landwehr fell back in disorder. The peasants had earlier panicked and had tried to steal some boats. Vegesack then ordered an evacuation.  The evacuation went smoothly because it was covered by a number of gunsloops with 24-pounders and 3 pounders.

The Swedish forces lost 216 men: 27 dead, 130 wounded, 59 prisoners.  Two of the dead were on the sloops. The Russians  lost 298 men, only 7 of them prisoners. The gun-sloops probably did most of the killing.

On  2 August, the combined Russian land and coastal forces defeated a Swedish blocking force at Sandöström, which is located between the mainland and the large island of Kimito.The Russians  already had a flotilla in Åbo that they had taken as booty a few months earlier. When it combined with the victorious Russian flotilla, mainly composed of ex-Swedish boats taken in Sveaborg, the Russians were able to establish local superiority.  The Swedish position at Sandöström was not very good and heavy batteries could fire on the boats from several directions. But the Swedes had planned a counterattack. When the Russian engaged the coastal flotilla, a force would land on Kimito and attack them from behind. The landing started on 1 August and was unobserved by the Russians  because the cavalry patrols were all serving as headquarters guard for Buxhoewden, who was present on the island.

The landing force did not inspire much confidence. It was the part of the Uppland Landwehr without the guard.  The force consisted of 966 landwehr, 74 men from the Tyska Regiment and 36 men Finnish  vargering. They had no cavalry, but 6 artillery-pieces. The guns were very hard to unload and the commander, Colonel Palén delayed the advance until all guns were ashore and the battle of Sandöström was lost. Buwhoewden had sat down to a victory-dinner at Västankärr mansion when the Swedish force appeared. The landwehr advanced somewhat hesitantly and Buxhoewden was able to gallop away. The soldiers plundered the table and Buxhoewden’s baggage, finding all his orders and medals among it.

The first counterattack came quickly, when  two companies of Villmanstrands Regiment, which was guarding a battery of three heavy pieces brought them to Västankärr.  This attack failed and the heavy guns quickly ran out of ammunition and had to be taken away. More forces released by the victorious fight at Sandöström came streaming in. Jägers having taken Sandö, waded back to Kimito. More jägers on the mainland was quickly shipped over and infantry on the gun-sloops were landed. The landwehr had to make a fighting withdrawal that degenerated on the beach. The two ships loaded with the guns collided and was taken with all 6 guns. Many were taken prisoner and others must have scattered in the woods because the Russians  reported fewer prisoner then Swedes claimed were missing.   Besides the guns the Swedes lost 25 dead, 50 wounded and 144 missing. Russian losses are not reported separately from the battle of Sandöström. 

On 16 September, it was time for the Second Division to ignite the flame of rebellion around Åbo. This division commanded by Major General Lantingshausen included :

2 battalions of Kronobergs Regiment
Svenska Guard Battalion
Finska Gguard Battalion
Foot- Lifgardet Battalion
Gardes Jägar Battalion (Mot likely they were jagers attached from the other battalions )
Västmanlands Vargerings Battalion (Reserve Battalion)
2nd & 3rd squadrons of Horse- Lifgardet.
12 guns.
About 3500 men.

The mainforce was intended to land at Helsinge and 300 men of Västmanland would land at Järvenperä to flank the local defences. Lantinghausen changed his mind when he received a pessimistic report from the inshore fleet about to be attacked by the Russians. Major Stjernstam with the Västmanland force had already closed on the Russians  at Järvenperä when he received orders to embark again and decided to fight. This worked out well, as the Russian local defences were weak. The obligatory cossack were often ambushed and a company of the Neva Regiment provided support. It had 132 men including officers and plus a falconet ( this gun was likely a 2-pounder taken in Nystad) close by. Three pickets occupied Helsinge, Järvenperä, and Lokalax. A reserve was in Vinkkilä. Stjernstam drove off the picket in Järvenperä and cut of the picket in Helsinge. The reserve and the picket from Vinkkilä counterattacked but despite the use of combined arms the Russians were beaten. The Swedes lost 1 dead and 2 wounded. The Russians  lost 42 men including an officer killed, 31 unwounded and 3 wounded prisoners.

When Bagration in Åbo received report of this action he force marched two reinforced battalions of the Pernau Regiment north.

On 17 September, Lantingshausen landed his division at Lokalax further north. A position easier to evacuate if the Inshore Fleet were beaten. Lantingshausen was also very worried because of a lack of musket-ammunition. His division only had 60 cartridges per musket. Lantingshausen advanced no more than 4 kilometers to the church of Lokalax and the Västmanland Battalion was ordered to improve the road to the beach from Lokalax. On the same day the first Pernau Battalion under command of Major General Tshoglokoff reached Vinkkilä after having marched more than 40 kilometers through the night. While the situation was evaluated 2 companies, one gun, and some dragoons was sent to Lokalax to make contact with the Swedish force. On meeting the Swedish outpost the dragoons dismounted and skirmished. The little Russian force engaged the Swedish post without much success but the Swedish forces stayed absolutely passive and allowed the Russians  to camp for the night close by.

During the night the other 2 companies of the Pernau Battalion arrived with one gun. The weakened Neva company, with its falconet and General Major von Aderkas also arrived. In the morning the Russians  attacked. The guns advanced on the road with two supporting companies in close formation. Two companies deployed as skirmishers and the Neva Company, with the falconet, moved toward the Swedish south flank. Lantinghausen deployed most of his forces, but despite only having two guns, stopped the attack. Then nothing, not much skirmishing seems to have taken place because the Guard Jägers had no one killed and merely 4 wounded in the operation. Sometime during the day a squadronn. of the Grodno Hussars moved up in support of the Neva Company.

In the afternoon, Bagration arrived bringing General Sasonoff, 3 Pernau Companies and 2 guns. One company was left in Vinkkilä. The attack was renewed and a company was sent to turn the Swedish north flank. The entire force must have been less than 1200 men. Lantingshausen then ordered a retreat! This retreat was not orderly, the rearguard consisting of a Kronoberg Battalion made a stand at the churchyard but were defeated and lost its backpacks stacked in the churchyard. The guns were nearly lost at the church. The Swedish cavalry had been standing behind the church but when the combat reached the church they obviously had moved somewhere safer. They suffer no loses all day.

The Russian pursuit was understandably weary and the evacuation was easy because the very inferior Russians  had marched and fought so long.  During or just after the evacuation a ship loaded with musket-ammunition arrived, along with ships carrying another infantry battalion. Swedish losses at Lokalax are 140 men. The Kronoberg lost 83 out of this, including 16 of 20 prisoners.   The Russian losses are reported to be 200, but the Russians  lost only 1 dead and 2 wounded officers. All those generals were unhurt. Likely the "about" included stragglers.

Lantingshausen asked the king to be relieved of his command and given his leave because of illness. The king shouted "I make you ill and stabbed him to death.” Of course he did not, and Lantingshausen could return home.

The King replaced Lantingshausen with Lieutenant-Colonel Lagerbring and ordered a new landing at Hälsinge despite the coastal navy’s defeat at Palva sound. The landing fleet would be exposed and likely taken away by the Russian gun-sloops. The division, already defeated at Lokalax had been reinforced by Upplands and Kronobergs vargerings battalions but all units was seriously weakened by disease. The ships being uncomfortable and the food and water was of bad quality.

Lagerbring wrote to the king that victory in the operation was beyond human reach. The King answered:

"Då bestämde orrder äro gifvne, emottages ej några anmärkningar däröfver af hvad beskaffenhet som häldst."

"Because specific orders are given no contrary remarks of any kind whatever is acknowledged."

Sounds better in the original language.


On 25 September, the wind turned in a suitable direction and the landing fleet proceeded to Hälsinge. Hälsinge was only guarded by cossacks who fell back to Järvenperä defended by Major Liders with 75 men. Just as the last time, the Swedish forces advanced slowly and the Russian troops started concentrating fast. Three companies from the Pernau Regiment and two guns soon arrived at Järvenperä and one other Pernau company was sent to Lokalax. The Swedish guards and Kronobergare advanced on them feebly and the Russians  retreated in perfect order, only losing one prisoner. Swedish losses was 4 wounded.

On the 27th, the Swedes advanced north and immediately met the Russians,  who during the night had been reinforced by a battalion from the Nevski Regiment and Baggovut took command.

The Swedish advance guard was a Uppland jäger company and a 3-pounder and they had to fight hard to push back the Russian outposts. Baggovut had orders to delay the Swedes and accepted battle at the Viais mansion. Most of the troops on both sides  fought as usual with skirmishers supported by close columns. Three platoons from the Kronoberg Regiment deployed in line and when the deployed Swedish forces attacked in force, the Russians  were driven off, losing 40 prisoners. Despite that the Swedish guard-cavalry were as invisible as at Lokalax. The Russians  in Lokalax harassed the Swedish flank-guard and Lagerbring seized the opportunity to stop pursuit and spend the night at the Viais area.  During the same night superior Russian forces and Bagration marched flat out to reach Baggovut.

The Russian reinforcements consisted of :

Both batallions of the 1st Jäger Regiment
One battalion of the Libau Regiment
One battalion of the Kexholm Regiment (Kept in reserve in Vinkkilä )
One stray company from the Polotsk Regiment. (Sent to Lokalax with a falconet and cavalry )
Guns and dragoons.

Swedish losses during the action on 27 September were 3 prisoners, 12 dead, and 71 wounded, 6 of the wounded were officers.

On the morning of 28 September both sides started advancing, but the stronger Russians quickly gained the initiative. The Russians advanced in three columns about a kilometre apart, but the wooded and hilly terrain broke up the battle into several small combats. Two jäger companies attacked Viais defended by the Finska Guard supported by two 6-pounders. The Guards had no problem keeping them away.  A bit further west, Lagerbring commanding the Lifgardet fought a stiff fight. A cottage standing the road with some stout piles of firewood outside was occupied. In support was a 3-pounder and infantry drawn up in both line and column. Two Russian guns deployed and quickly chased off the 3-pounder but the Russian gunners were shot down by troops in the cottage. The Russians  deployed more troops and drove the Guards back with jägers. Lagerbring ordered the troops to charge and they made a headlong advance until they found themselves surrounded. The main Russian force behind the jägers consisted of two battalions of the Pernau Regiment and one battalion from the Nevski Regiment under the command of Baggovut. Lagerbring's attack passed them by. Baggovut detached two companies to attack the Guards in the rear and took the abandoned Swedish positions. The Guards, commanded by Lagerbring and Tornerhjelm, extricated themselves in splendid fashion. They closed column and charged through the enveloping Russians . When the old position south of the cottage was seen to be occupied by the Russians  the Guards ran through the forest until they found a Kronoberg Battalion deployed as rearguard.

Further west a Swedish and a Russian column met in a thick forest. They both deployed skirmisher chains and units in close order made charges on both sides. As the Russians  were much superior in numbers the Swedish forces had to give way and a general Swedish retreat followed. The Swedish forces had more reserves than the Russians and they were closer at hand. A Kronoberg Battalion was close behind the battlefield, the guard-cavalry with 120 horses was also somewhere. The only thing they did was to send out some patrols. One was cornered and had save themselves by boarding coastal fleet units. The Västmanlands vargerings Battalion was on work-detail in Helsinge. Furthermore Lagerbring was behind the Russians  and could perhaps need some help. But the retreat was ordered and the Kronobergs Battalion was deployed as the rearguard supported by two 6-pounders. Most of the Guards retreated through them. At Viais, the Finska Guard was a bit slow and 46 were taken prisoner when dragoons charged the mansion. proving that cavalry could be used. The Kronoberg Battalion fought well, fighting hour after hour and retreating only when superior forces outflanked it. But on the beach in Helsinge the situation was deplorable. The loading was slow and inefficient and it seems obvious that the sailors did not do their utmost. Lieutenant Thersmer in charge of the loading failed. When the Kronoberg Battalion retreated into Helsinge village and barricaded it, many guns and troops was still on the beach. The Russians  who earlier had not been able to deploy all of their guns could do so now and a battery bombarded Helsinge, forcing the Swedes out. Later these guns commenced firing on the boats. The Russian batteries would have been easy pickings for the Swedish gun-sloops. but none of them were present ! All war-vessels had concentrated further south and only the transports were present at Helsinge.

Bagration's aide-de-camp, Captain Ofrosimoff, took command of some cossacks and charged the Swedish guns abandoned on the beach. Besides prisoners, they also took two guns, three howitzers etc. Major Hederstierna, commanding the Kronoberg. Battalion, ripped the battalion's colour from the staff, wrapped it around a stone, and sank it. But he and a large part of his battalion managed to escape on some small boats. Into this scene of panic and defeat, enveloped in smoke from the burning village sailed the king, surprised and not at all amused.

Swedish losses on the third day was : 346 prisoners, 176 wounded, and 45 killed. Five officers was wounded and 11 taken prisoner, none were killed. The Swedes also collected 11 prisoners.

The Russians  state their losses for all three days to be 120 dead and 352 wounded, the 54 prisoners taken bythe Swedes are not described as such if included. The Russians  had 6 officers killed and 13 wounded, none taken prisoner. As compared to the Swedish losses of none killed 11 wounded and 11 taken prisoner. Sedish losses in total was : 349 prisoners, 251 wounded and 57 dead. Plus guns, a colour, and equipment.

The king decided that punishments were necessary. He did not hang any of the deserving officers, but instead dispersed the Svenska Gardet and demoted the other two guard regiments, even removing their colours. The new regiments were renamed Fleetwoods and Paléns Regiments. They were most unhappy units and plans were made to kill the king.   

The above isn´t very uplifting if you care for the good name of Sweden but in interior Finland the sun shined on the Swedish flag.

In October, the Russians  decided at the expiration of a truce to advance from Kuopio to Uleåborg and hopefully corner the Swedish main army. The Russian force under command of General Tutschkoff, ill and seconded by General Dolgorukij, consisted of the Lifegrenadier Regiment, the Lifeguard Jäger Battalion, the Navagin Regiment, parts of the Azov Regiment, the Reval Regiment, 4th Jäger Regiment, etc. and included 700 cavalry. According to Russian strength reports it totaled 5800 men.
Opposing them was a force under command Generaladjutant Sandels. His force consisted of men from :

Västerbottens Regiment
Österbottens Regiment
Kajana Battalion
Vasa Regiment
Uleåborgs Battalion
Savolaks Jägar Regiment
Dragon varg. company
Finska artillery Regiment

But they were all small detachments that totaled only 1800 men.

The demarcation-line was the bridge at Virta. The name Virta Bro translates as Current Bridge. The Virta separates two lakes and the road from Kuopio follows the eastern side of the southern lake and the western side of the northern lake. Because of a disagreement about the exact hour the armistice ended, the bridge was not completely demolished when the Russians  arrived from the east side. But it can have been part of Sandels ambush-plan. The bridge was defended by rather weak fieldworks with guns. Some way north, further fieldworks had been built at Linna outside the reach of Russian artillery on the eastern shore. Further north was two further separated fieldworks guarding against amphibious attacks.

The battle of Virta Bro on 27 October 1808 started with a artillery-duel. The Russians deployed strong field artillery and a Swedish 6-pounder was dismounted. The Swedes retreated and three Russian battalions followed across the bridge. They stormed the fortifications at Linna and were hit by a sudden counterattack. The Russians  streamed back to the still unrepaired bridge meeting more troops crossing it. The Swedes brought artillery and a brutal slaughter took place at the bridge, General Dolgorukij was killed by a cannonball at the Russian end of the bridge. The last Swedish battalions arrived with colours flying and the bands playing. They engaged in a heavy musket contest with strong Russian forces across the Virta. General Tutschkoff was lightly wounded.

Combat ended with a new armistice for battlefield cleaning. Swedish losses: 34 killed and 282 wounded. Total 316 men. Russian losses: 221 killed, 479 wounded and 73 prisoners. Total 773 men.

I have to mention the battle of Porrosalmi on 13 June 1789. A Swedish force of 750 men was attacked by a Russian force more than 6 times as large and clobbered them. But the battlefield was about 50 meters wide. The road followed two narrow peninsulas connected by a bridge. The Russians  could not flank or even lay crossfire on the Swedes.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2005

 

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