Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

The Swedish Army in the Napoleonic Wars

By Magnus Olofsson

Regular Army Training, Organization, and Higher Organization 1805 - 1814

The training of the Swedish army was abysmal at the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars; presumably few armies in Europe entered the Napoleonic war as badly trained as the Swedish. Training took place almost entirely during the summer, most troops spending most of the year on leave or in garrison duty.

The heart and soul of the indelta units training was the so called regementsmötet (“regimental meeting”). During the regimental meeting, which was to be held once each summer for 17 to 21 days, the whole of each indelt unit gathered and trained on everything from manual of arms to close order drill to marching. Most of the time was spent training on the manual of arms and company/battalion drill. Units in the northern parts of Sweden and Finland, whose soldiers were dispersed over very large areas, replaced the regimental meeting with a battalion meeting (“bataljonsmöte”) instead. Regimental and battalion meetings were preceded by the befälsmöte (“command meeting”) between one and two weeks long, during which only officers, NCO’s and corporals trained.

As been noted above, individual squads or platoons sometimes drilled a couple of hours on Sundays, outside church. Many units replaced these “church parades” with a company meeting some four to eight days long, or a longer regimental meeting. Only the basics of infantry drill were trained during the church parades, which was only carried out from April to November, some 20 or 30 days each year. 

Due to famines, epidemics, or other reasons the crown often allowed the regimental meeting either to be cancelled or replaced with a shorter - six or eight days long - company meeting (kompanimöte). Thus, each indelt corps on average trained less than 20 days a year (slightly more for officers). When the Napoleonic Wars broke out the training of the indelta infantry was certainly not good, and that of the indelta cavalry must have been abysmal. Not surprisingly, during the Pomeranian campaign we hear stories of cavalry troopers unable to stay in their saddles and in 1806 a Colonel Löwenhjelm (later Inspector of cavalry) wrote, regarding some proposed changes in the cavalry regulations, that despite the fact that the old regulations had been in use for eleven years he did not  know of any unit in the Swedish cavalry that knew all the manoeuvres in the regulations or that was capable of executing a well ordered charge!

The non-garrison värvade units’ training was very much like the indelta. The true värvade cavalry and infantry trained during May and June, and the artillery from May to August (only officers the last two months). Presumably the värvade troops were somewhat better trained than the indelta. The artillery and the Mörner Hussars especially seem to have been well trained.

Occasionally larger forces - of brigade or division size - of all arms were gathered and drilled together, but this happened so seldom that its doubtful it did very much to improve the overall quality of the army. How to perform any kind of manoeuvre above battalion or regimental level was anybody’s guess: in 1805 its unlikely that any unit in the Swedish army was capable of performing brigade-level drill with any kind of proficiency. 

All in all, the Swedish army, though a regular army, was not  very well trained in 1805. However, the comparative lack of training should not be exaggerated. The fact that many of the soldiers in any indelt or värvad unit had served for ten or twenty or even more years obviously meant that even though a given unit may only train for a few weeks a year, many soldiers of that unit may well have trained half a year or more in total during their military service - hardly enough to make elite soldiers, but too much to be called a militia. Indeed, the long service periods meant that in 1805 as many as one out of ten soldiers in the Swedish army had actually fought in the war against Russia in 1788 to 1790! Also, the army was on war-footing almost continually from mid 1805 to late 1809, and then from 1812 onwards and since units trained extensively during those periods, training did improve throughout the Napoleonic Wars. Whatever the quality of the training in 1805, it is clear that in the campaign against Napoleon in Germany in 1813 the infantry performed corps level drill with some aptitude and the cavalry division was well versed in division level drill. The Swedish army may well have been one of the best trained in Europe by 1813, when one considers that most armies consisted mostly of raw recruits at that time.[33]

The battalion, usually some 500 or 600 men strong, was the basic tactical infantry unit in the Swedish army. While the number of companies in a battalion varied somewhat, most battalions were organized in four companies with two platoons per company. This was the organization of the indelta units and this organization was used in all infantry regulations too, though many battalions of värvade units had a different number of companies per battalion.

Like many other armies of the time, Swedish line infantry units had grenadier detachments; organization-wise the grenadiers did not  belong to a separate unit, but to the regular companies of their parent unit. Apart from this, next to nothing is known about these grenadiers: the number of men that was to serve as grenadiers seems to have been decided by the regimental commander (in 1806 the Dalregementet had 64 grenadiers, possibly a representative figure for other units) and they were probably formed into a separate grenadier platoon per regiment. The only converged grenadier unit of the Swedish army during the Napoleonic Wars was the so called Tyske greandierbataljonen (“German grenadier-battalion”), which was formed from the grenadiers of Drottningens lifregemente and Engelbrechtenska regementet and served from the 1st November 1805 to the 3rd February 1806. Be as it may, in 1806 the grenadiers of the line infantry was abolished; henceforth the only grenadiers of the Swedish army belonged to the all-grenadiers units, the Life Regiment Regiment and the Grenadiercorps of the Life Regiment Brigade.[34]

Every battalion was to have a jägare-force, though the jägare were not a part of the peacetime establishment. They were selected from the men of the line companies and formed into a separate unit only on mobilization. Only the infantry of the Swedish army formed jägare-detachments; the infantry of the Finnish army never did so. Originally, each infantry battalion was to form a 53 men strong platoon (one officer, two NCO’s, two corporals and 48 privates) but in 1806 this was doubled to a 106 men strong jägare-company per battalion. In the 1813 regulations, the number of jägare per battalion was lowered to a platoon with 58 officers and men (one officer, two NCO’s, four corporals, one bugler and 50 privates). The employment of these jägare-units varied; sometimes they were used as skirmishers for their parent battalion, sometimes merged to a regimental jägare-company or battalion, but most often they were removed from their parent battalions and formed into a light infantry battalion held at brigade level, as in Wellington’s Peninsular army. (It was several such converged brigade jägare-battalions that participated in the storming of Leipzig on the 19th October 1813). Obviously, the size of such a converged brigade light infantry battalion varied with the number of battalions the brigade had.[35]    

According to the infantry regulations of 1794, the infantry was formed in three ranks, but in 1806, during the campaign in Pomerania, a revision of the regulations, Kongl. Maj:ts Nådiga Förändringar och Tilläggningar uti Infanterie-Excercitie-Reglementet, changed this and ordered all infantry to be formed in two ranks instead. From 1806 to 1809, all Swedish infantry fought in two ranks. The regulations of 1813 revoked this: the infantry was to fight in three ranks again, though all jägare-troops were to keep the two rank line.[36]

There is little to say about the cavalry organization. As has been seen the number of squadrons per regiment and their size varied considerably. With the exception of the two chassuers à cheval squadrons the Lätta Lifdragon regementet had until 1806, no unit had any kind of elite squadron: all squadrons of all cavalry units were of equal status.

In the artillery the company was the basic organizational unit. Each company had a strength of 80 men except the companies of Göta Artillery Regiment which had a slightly higher number strength. Strangely, an artillery company did not correspond to a wartime battery. Instead each company consisted of five squads of 16 men: two with gun crews, one with mortar/howitzer crews, one with miners, and one with sappers. When a regiment were called to put batteries and other units on war-footing men were drawn from different companies as needed.[37]

In 1805 there were only two permanent formations in the Swedish army above regimental level: the so called Life Regiment Brigade, which was not  a brigade at all, but a regimental headquarter as has already been noted, and the famous Savolaks - karelska brigaden (or Savolkas brigaden for short). This brigade, also known as the Third, later Fourth Brigade of the Finnish Army in the war 1808 - 1809, consisted of the Savolaks Infantry and Savolaks Light Infantry Regiments, the Karelska Light Infantry Corps and the Karelska Dragoon Corps, and had its own artillery company (from 1805). Arguably, it was the finest body of troops that served in the Swedish army during the Napoleonic Wars, alongside the artillery and the Mörner Hussars.

Apart from the Savolaks Brigade there were not any permanent formations above regimental level; as in many other European armies at the time, brigades and divisions were created at the start of each conflict and tended to go through countless reorganizations throughout each campaign.

The (infantry) brigade was the basic organizational unit above the regiment throughout the period, even though there were considerable variations in exactly what constituted a brigade. A brigade could have as few as two, or as many as eight battalions, usually drawn from two or three regiments, sometimes more, sometimes less as an occasionally large regiment could be the only infantry unit of a brigade. During the wars up to 1809, infantry brigades almost always included one or two (or possibly more) batteries of artillery (some two to ten guns), and often, though not always, a couple of cavalry squadrons. After 1809, infantry brigades usually did not  include any artillery or cavalry, as they by then belonged to corps or divisions. The practice to merge the jägare-divisions of each infantry unit of a brigade into a brigade jägare-battalion was used throughout the period, though not all brigades did so.[38] 

During the campaign in Pomerania,  the infantry were organized into four brigades and the artillery and cavalry units that were not assigned to any of the infantry brigades were organized into one artillery and one cavalry brigade. There was not any organization above the brigade.[39]

The same basic organization was kept during the war in 1808 - 1809, though brigades were now grouped into larger units, variably called armies, corps (occasionally with “d’armée” added) or divisions. A typical army, the most common denomination for these units, consisted of some three to six infantry brigades, often with most cavalry and artillery grouped into one reserve unit of each kind (sometimes called brigades). Some armies had, for a short time only, a divisional structure, with two or three brigades per division, but this practice was not continued. The so called corps and divisions were sometimes only of brigade strength, but in most cases included two or three infantry brigades with only small cavalry and artillery forces.[40]

In the campaign in Germany during 1813 and 1814, the Swedish army’s organization was wholly up to date: the army, in effect a corps of the Army of the North, was organized into three (later two, then three and finally four) infantry divisions. Each division had two or sometimes three infantry brigades. The artillery was not assigned to infantry brigades anymore, but belonged either to the divisions or the corps artillery reserve. Though some divisions included a few cavalry squadrons for a while, most of the cavalry for most of the campaign was organized into a cavalry division belonging to the whole corps.[41]

This basic organization was kept for the Campaign in Norway, when the Swedish army was organized into two army corps, one with two and one with three divisions. Each division had two infantry brigades and two artillery batteries (12 guns). As during the continental campaign, there was a cavalry division and an artillery reserve, though these were assigned to the army, not to any of the corps. [42] 



[33] Björlin, G., Sveriges krig i Tyskland åren 1805-1807, Stockholm 1882, pp.57 and 113; Meddelanden från Kongl. Krigsakivet, vol. 2, passim.; Nilsson, N-G., “Övning och färdighet. Den indelta arméns övningar och arbetskommenderingar 1685-1805”, Meddelanden från Krigsarkivet XII, Borås 1989, pp.66-77; Philström, A., Kungl. Dalregementets historia, vol. 5-6, Stockholm 1911, pp.49-57; Sköldebrand, A.F., Excellensen grefve A. F. Sköldebrands memoarer, Stockholm 1903-1905, passim.; Sveriges krig åren 1808 och 1809, vol 1., pp.235-245.

[34] Kongl. Maj:ts förnyade nådiga förordning och reglemente för regementerne til fot. Dat. den 29 April 1794, pp.90-92; Lehfeldt, R., Geschichte des Füsilier-Regiments Graf von Roon (Ostpreußischen) Nr. 33, Berlin 1901, appendix 7; Philström, A., Kungl. Dalregementets historia, vol. 5-6, Stockholm 1911, pp.16 and 150.

[35] Olofsson, M., Svenska infanteriets stridsdoktriner 1784-1813, unpublished bachelor thesis, University of Lund 1998, pp.32-33;  Philström, A., Kungl. Dalregementets historia, vol. 5-6, Stockholm 1911, pp.16-17; Kongl. Maj:ts nådiga förordning och reglemente för regementena til fot. Dat. Den 10 Februari 1813, pp.70-73.

[36] Olofsson, M., Svenska infanteriets stridsdoktriner 1784-1813, unpublished bachelor thesis, University of  Lund 1998, pp.30-33.

[37] Ossiannilsson, S., Wendes regementes historia 1794-1944, Kristianstad 1944 pp.10-11; Sveriges krig åren 1808 och 1809, vol. 1, pp.154-156.

[38] Mankell, J., Uppgifter rörande svenska krigsmagtens styrka, sammansättning och fördelning sedan slutet af femtonhundratalet jemte öfversigt af svenska krigshistoriens vigtigaste händelser under samma tid, Stockholm 1865, pp.452-504.

[39] Björlin, G., Sveriges krig i Tyskland åren 1805-1807, Stockholm 1882, passim.; Mankell, J., Uppgifter rörande svenska krigsmagtens styrka, sammansättning och fördelning sedan slutet af femtonhundratalet jemte öfversigt af svenska krigshistoriens vigtigaste händelser under samma tid, Stockholm 1865, pp.453-456.

[40] Sveriges krig åren 1808 och 1809, vol. 3-9, passim.

[41] Mankell, J., Uppgifter rörande svenska krigsmagtens styrka, sammansättning och fördelning sedan slutet af femtonhundratalet jemte öfversigt af svenska krigshistoriens vigtigaste händelser under samma tid, Stockholm 1865, passim.; Tingsten, L., Huvuddragen av Sveriges yttre politik, krigsförberedelser, m.m. från och med fredssluten 1809-1810 till mitten av juli år 1813, Stockholm 1923, pp.113-149.

[42] Mankell, J., Uppgifter rörande svenska krigsmagtens styrka, sammansättning och fördelning sedan slutet af femtonhundratalet jemte öfversigt af svenska krigshistoriens vigtigaste händelser under samma tid, Stockholm 1865, passim.; Meddelanden från Kongl. Krigsarkivet, vol. 1, Stockholm 1884, pp.38-52


Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2008


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