Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

The Swedish Army in the Napoleonic Wars

By Magnus Olofsson

Reserve Forces and Units

One of the main drawbacks of the indelta army was that it was never really large enough. Since mercenaries were expensive, this usually meant that some sort or reserve force had to be raised during each war. The increase of the regular army with hordes of raw recruits often put a considerable stain on the army’s resources but seldom contributed very much in terms of fighting power. During the 18th Century several different systems of reserve recruitment had been tried and found to be inadequate. During the Napoleonic Wars several systems would be tried; the last to be introduced, allmänna beväringen (approximately “general conscription”), was found satisfactory and kept until compulsory military service was introduced in 1901.

Vargeringen 1805 - 1810

In the late 18th Century the so called vargering (based on an archaic word meaning “defence”; translation impossible but in actual usage it can be taken as meaning “the reserve”) was organized to give the regular forces a viable reserve. The basic principle of the vargering was simple: every two rote- or rusthållare of the indelta army were to furnish their regiment with a reserve soldier. They were to provide for him during peacetime, either by giving him a plot of land to cultivate or hiring him as a farmhand. The vargerings-man should be armed and trained in peacetime and when war broke out the indelta army would therefore have a trained reserve of half its strength.

By the 1790s this system had been carried through, though it could not be implemented completely. The peasantry of Sweden flatly refused to pay for the vargering, and it was only the peasants of Skåne that could be convinced to change their mind. Thus out of a paper strength of 13,182, the Swedish peasantry only supported 1,000 reserve soldiers at the start of the Napoleonic Wars. In Finland the commoners were far more willing to support the defence of the realm and the Finnish vargering with a 4,050 men strong establishment, was fully manned, trained, armed and officered in peace; indeed the only practical difference between the regular forces and the reserve in Finland was that the latter was not uniformed.[1] 

The strength of the vargering belonging to the different unit’s are shown in the table below. It should be noted that the vargering of Dalregementet and Bohuläns regemente was equal to the strength of their parent unit’s instead of half, while Jemtlands and Österbottens counties (and thus regiments) were exempt from the reserve establishment.

The vargering was not  involved in the campaign in Pomerania in 1805 - 1807, but in 1808 it was raised to defend the country. The Finnish vargering was mobilized at the same time as the regular forces while the Swedish vargering was raised and trained during the spring; it was fit for duty by the summer.

The Finnish vargering was organized into separate units at the outbreak of the war, one for each indelt unit. These units disappeared as the war drew on. The units that garrisoned Sveaborg went into captivity when it surrendered in the spring, while the units that belonged to the field forces were disbanded early in the war and their personnel incorporated into their parent units, with the exception of the vargering of the Karelska dragoncorpsen - cavalry vargering was always trained and employed as infantry - which survived as a separate unit until 30 December 1808, when it was disbanded and its personnel transferred to other units.[2]

Since most infantry regiments in the Swedish army had a reserve force of roughly battalion size, the vargering belonging to each infantry corps was usually formed into a battalion of the same establishment as a indelt unit, i.e. a four company battalion with a company of jägare. When trained, these battalions joined their parent units, which gave most regiments a three battalion, three jägare company establishment. The vargering served in a combat role alongside the regular forces until November 1808 when the vargerings battalions were disbanded and their personnel incorporated into their parent regiments regular battalions to make up for losses. However, like in Finland, the cavalry vargering served in separate (infantry) units and was kept until the end of the war.[3] 

The vargering served with credit during the 1808 - 1809 War, contributing some 14,000 or 15,000 men (the theoretical establishment was never reached) to the war effort, which served with distinction in the field alongside the regular troops until they were incorporated into the regular units. In the case of the Finnish army, that need not surprise us; after all the Finnish vargering was not  much different from the regular troops. The Swedish vargering-units, which were led by officers and NCOs from their parent units, it must be noted, performed well though they were formed into entirely new units without the benefit of any cadre: they served in a combat role and there is no indication that they were any better or worse than the indelta or värvade units in terms of training or morale.[4]  

The loss of Finland meant the end of the Finnish vargering; the Swedish vargering was abolished in 1810.

Table 6: The Swedish and Finnish vargering

Unit name

Strength

Recruited in Peacetime

     

Vargering of the Swedish infantry

   

     Lifregementetsbrigadens grenadiercorps

261

No

     Lifgrenadierregementets rothållsfördelning

600

No

     Lifgrenadierregementets rusthållsfördelning

500

No

     Uplands regemente

600

No

     Skaraborgs regemente

600

No

     Södermanlands regemente

600

No

     Kronobergs regemente

548

No

     Jönköpings regemente

550

No

     Dalregementet

1,200

No

     Helsinge regemente

600

No

     Elfsborg regemente

600

No

     Vestgötadals regemente

600

No

     Bohuläns regemente

904

No

     Vestmanlands regemente

600

No

     Vesterbottens regemente

528

No

     Kalmar regemente

550

No

     Nerike and Vermlands regemente

837

No

     

Vargering of the Swedish cavalry

   

    Lifregementbrigadens kyrassiercorps

257

No

    Lifregementbrigadens husarcorps

252

No

    Västgöta dragonregemente

495

No

    Smålands dragonregemente

500

No

    Skånska husarregementet

500

Yes

    Skånska karabinierregimentet

500

Yes

Total Swedish vargering

13,182

 
     

Vargering of the Finnish infantry

   

    Åbo läns regemente

512

Yes

    Åbo läns regimentes rusthållsbataljon

250

Yes

    Björneborgs regemente

512

Yes

    Björneborgs regimentes rusthållsbataljon

250

Yes

    Tavastehus regemente

512

Yes

    Tavastehus regementes rusthållsbataljon

250

Yes

    Savolaks infanteriregemente

476

Yes

    Nylands infanteriregemente

512

Yes

    Nylands jägarebataljon (indelt part)

46

Yes

    Kajana bataljon

355

Yes

     

Vargering of the Finnish cavalry

   

    Karelska dragoncorpsen

100

Yes

    Nylands dragonregemente

275

Yes

Total Finnish vargering

4,050

 
     

Total vargering

17,232 

 
     

Sources: Sveriges Krig, vol. 1

Lantvärnet 1808 - 1809

On  14 March 1808, the same day the Danish declaration of war reached Stockholm, Gustavus ordered a lantvärn (“Landwehr”; approximately “militia”) to be raised - an unprecedented move in Swedish military history. The original order called for all unmarried and healthy men from 18 to 25 years of age in Sweden (that is in “proper” Sweden; Finland was exempt) to join the lantvärn. This would have led to an unprecedented increase in the size of the army, which would almost had tripled in size, had not the royal advisors talked the king into a somewhat more realistic plan; in a supplementary proclamation dated the 26th of March the size of the lantvärn was set at 30,500 men organized in 51 battalions, still a huge increase in the size of the armed forces. The men were to come from the poorest members of society; all those employed in manufacture and agriculture were protected from service, as were the men of the upper- and middle-classes. Replacements could be hired, so in practice all but the most poor and wretched men were protected from service in the lantvärn.   

Every district (län) and the city of Stockholm were to raise a set number of men which were to be organized into a number of battalions per district. The table below shows the establishment of the lantvärn for each district; it should be noted that the people of Gotland volunteered to raise almost double their compulsory quota, so that a total of 52 battalions instead of the planned 51 were actually raised. Other districts were not so enthusiastic, so only some 27,000 men of the projected 30,500 men were actually raised.

Of the 52 lantvärns battalions, 49 served as infantry while the remaining three were assigned to the artillery, one battalion per artillery regiment in Sweden (Svea, Göta and Wendes). Most battalions had the same establishment as a battalion of the indelta army, i.e. 600 men in four companies, though some battalions were of different strength and some had a different number of companies. Some lantvärn battalions formed a jägare-company as the regular units and the vargering did.

Originally, the lantvärn was formed into 13 independent brigades, but these disappeared shortly, when the lantvärns battalions started to be employed in various reserve and second line duties throughout Sweden. It was soon decided to utilize the lantvärn as a kind of manpower reserve for the regular army: from 15 June 1808 it was allowed to enrol lantvärns-men to fill vacancies in the regular forces, and from 9 December the same year commanders of lantvärns-battalions were obliged to turn their best men over to the regular forces. Even though these orders seem to have been ignored to some extent, some four or five thousand men of the lantvärn joined the regular army during the war. Since vacancies in the lantvärn were not filled and no new lantvärns-men were conscripted during the war this manpower drain, added to losses from other sources, meant that the size of the lantvärns-battalions dwindled fast; on 31 December 1808, the number of battalions in the lantvärn was more than halved and at the end of the war, when the lantvärn was disbanded, most battalions were reduced to mere fractions of their original strength.[5]

The lantvärn was to be beset with difficulties throughout its existence. The sources of the difficulties were simple enough: raised at the same time as the vargering, the resources to equip, train and lead the lantvärn simply couldn’t be found. While weapons were bought and simplified drill regulations written, clothes and shoes just couldn’t be found, and - perhaps the most glaring deficiency of all - neither could competent officers. While the highest command posts in the lantvärn were filled by using retired generals and colonels, who seems to have been competent enough, the likewise retired officers used as battalion and company commanders were the most wretched and incompetent in the army, and that in an army that was hardly known for the excellence of its officer corps. Not even these could be found in adequate numbers and thus many university and college students were employed as officers. Thus, the young men of the lantvärn was led by the oldest and the youngest, and the most unfit and incompetent officers in the Swedish army.[6]

Therefore, its not surprising that the combat performance of those few lantvärns-battalions that ever took part in land combat was abysmal (in sharp contrast to the vargerings-battalions) and that the lantvärn added far less in terms of fighting power to the Swedish war effort than so large an increase in the size of the armed forces should have done. Despite this, the lantvärn cannot be said to have been a failure. Throughout the war, men of the lantvärn served in a wide range of capacities: guarding fortresses, prisoners and borders, performing manual labour, and, perhaps most important of all, manning the manpower hungry galleys and gunboats of the fleet. The lantvärn freed the regular forces from these tasks and thus did make a considerable contribution to the Swedish war effort, though hardly to such an extent as so many men could have done.[7]

Table 7: The lantvärn 1808 – 1809

County, district or city (Other or collective names)

Establishment

# battalions

# companies

       

 Blekinge läns lantvärn (Kronobergs lantvärn)

900

1 infantry

6

 Elfsborgs läns lantvärn

2,400

4 infantry

16

 Gottlands läns lantvärn

600 (400)

1 infantry  
(1 infantry )

4 (4)

 Gäfleborgs läns lantvärn

600

1 infantry

4

 Göteborgs och Bohus läns lantvärn (Göteborgs lantvärn)

1,800

2 infantry  
1 artillery

12

 Hallands läns lantvärn (Göteborgs lantvärn)

1,200

2 infantry

8

 Jönköpings läns lantvärn

1,800

3 infantry

12

 Kalmar läns lantvärn

1,800

3 infantry

12

 Kopparbergs läns lantvärn (Dallantvärnet)

1,800

3 infantry

12

 Kristianstad läns lantvärn (Skånska lantvärnet)

1,650

2 infantry
1 artillery

11

 Kronobergs lantvärn

1,200

2 infantry

8

 Malmöhus läns lantvärn (Skånska lantvärnet)

1,950

3 infantry
1 artillery

13

 Skaraborgs lantvärn

1,800

3 infantry

12

 Stockholms läns lantvärn (Upplands lantvärn)

1,200

2 infantry

8

 Stockholms stads lantvärn

600

1 artillery

4

 Södermanlands län lantvärn

1,200

2 infantry

8

 Uppsala läns lantvärn  (Upplands lantvärn)

1,200

2 infantry

8

 Värmlands läns lantvärn

1,800

3 infantry

12

 Västerbottens läns lantvärn

400

1 infantry

4

 Västernorrlands läns lantvärn

400

1 infantry

4

 Västmanlands läns lantvärn

1,200

2 infantry

8

 Örebro län (Närikes lantvärn)

1,200

2 infantry

8

 Östergötlands läns lantvärn

1,800

3 infantry

12

 

30,500

48 infantry
 3 artillery

206

       

Sources: Samuelsson, Sveriges Krig, vol. 4

Förstärkningsmanskapet, extra roteringen and allmänna beväringen 1810 - 1814

With the loss of Finland the size of the Swedish armed forces shrank considerably and it was evident that they needed strengthening if Sweden was ever to redeem its fortunes. Furthermore, the vargering strained the economy of the peasantry and the improvised lantvärn had been less successful, so the army reserves needed some kind of reform too. The strained public finances did not  allow a large increase of the regular forces and even though two indelta infantry units were raised in Skåne and the size of the enlisted forces were increased this was not  simply enough. Thus the army reserves became one of the most important political issues in Sweden during the years 1810 - 1812 and after a lengthy parliamentary process three different systems of reserve recruitment, förstärknings-manskapet, extra roteringen and allmänna beväringen were created.

The parliament voted in favour of the förstärkningsmanskapet (”reinforcement men”) on the 31 March 1810. The law allowed for a one time conscription of up to 50,000 men in the ages 20 to 45 in the case of war. Each parish (socken) were to be given a quota of the total number of reinforcement men to be raised, and were supposed to enlist volunteers. The parishioners would pay those that enlisted voluntary a cash bounty and if willing recruits couldn’t be found to fill the quota, the remainder would be filled by drawing lots among the parish’s farmhands and other men from the poorer strata of society. Many men were exempted from having to draw lots and substitutes could be hired by those the lot selected for service, so most men of the middle- and upper-classes were insured against having to serve as reinforcement men. The reinforcement men were to serve for the duration of the war and once they were drafted the rust- and rotehållare were exempt from replacing their indelta soldiers should they become casualties during the war. This reform also abolished the vargering.[8]

On 5 February 1811, the extra rotering was created. When the indelningsverk was established in the 1680s and 1690s much land owned by nobles and priests were exempted from the rotering. With the extra rotering, this privileged land was included in the rotering; but, as with the förstärknings manskap, extra roterings men were only to be raised in wartime. The extra rotering was some 2,500 men strong.[9]

The reform of the army’s reserves did not  stop with the reinforcement men and the extra rotering: on 27 October 1812, the most important army reform since the establishment of the indelningsverk was decided when the allmänna beväringen (approximately “general conscription”) was created. It made almost all Swedish men liable for conscription and military service from their 20th to their 25th year of age. In sharp contrast with both the earlier lantvärn and the new förstärknings manskap which gave exemption to large groups of men, very few were exempted from the allmänna beväringen: basically only the physical unfit or civil servants were not liable for conscription, though replacements could be hired. The allmänna beväringen was the first conscripted force in the history of the Swedish army that can be traced to the modern idea of general conscription that was born during the French revolution; indeed, the legal framework of the allmänna beväringen has been said to the be very much alike the French conscription laws of 1793.[10]

The reinforcement men and the extra roterings-men were not called to the colours immediately after the laws were passed, but soon the ambitious Bernadotte started to make his mark on the political and military affairs of Sweden: his fist plans, to invade Denmark in 1812, meant that the army needed strengthening. On 23 April 1811, 15,000 reinforcement men were called to the colours. The 10,000 or so of the reinforcement men that actually joined the army were assembled in the spring of 1812. The extra rotering was raised at the beginning of 1812, and seems to have reached a strength of about 2,000 men.

The reinforcement soldiers and the men of the extra rotering were merged with the units of the indelta infantry. The indelta infantry were thus used as a cadre for the new reserves, which avoided the mistake made when the lantvärn was formed into separate units. Most indelta infantry units were reorganized into three battalions instead of two to accommodate the resulting increase in strength. The reinforcement men and the extra roterings men were invariably assigned the regiments of their home counties or districts to preserve the provincial identity and esprit de corps of the regular units; thus the regiments of the 1813 and 1814 campaigns varied widely in strength depending on the size of the contingents of reinforcement men and extra roterings men they received from their home areas. All indelta infantry units and Vermlands fältjägareregemente were assigned reinforcement men; most but not all counties raised extra roterings soldiers, and therefore not quite all indelta infantry (nor Vermlands fältjägareregemente) units were assigned any extra rotering. The reinforcement men and the extra rotering did not  join cavalry, artillery or garrison type värvade infantry units.

Even though the projected invasion of Denmark never materialized the reinforcement men and the extra rotering drilled with their parent units during the summer of 1812. Thus Bernadotte could add some 12,000 trained infantrymen to the armed forces by the time the campaign in Germany opened in 1813.[11]

On 3 November 1812, the conscripts of the class of 1813 were ordered to report for duty in the spring. The conscripts were to belong to units of the regular army in the same way as the reinforcement men and extra rotering (that is, only to the indelta infantry units and the Vermlands fältjägareregemente, and invariably to the units of their home counties), utilizing the regular army as cadre. Of the class of 1813, only some 50 men were sent to each indelt infantry unit serving in Germany in the war against Napoleon, while the rest of the class was assigned to the regimental depots of the indelta infantry units, consisting of a few officers and the oldest and most unfit soldiers left in Sweden for the purpose of training the conscripts. In the spring of 1814, the class of that year was likewise called into service and trained in the regimental depots. Therefore, by the start of the Norwegian campaign, the conscript classes of 1813 and 1814 included some 11,000 trained and combat ready soldiers that were assigned to the indelta infantry units and the Vermlands fältjägareregemente before the outset of hostilities.[12]

Thus, in the campaigns of 1813 and 1814 all indelta infantry units consisted of soldiers from no less than three sources: the regular rotering, the reinforcement men, and the general conscription; most added a fourth category: the extra rotering. its hard to underestimate the importance of the förstärkningsmanskap, extra rotering, and allmänna beväring’s contribution to the Swedish war effort in the latter part of the Napoleonic Wars: no less than 40% of the infantry in the army that invaded Norway came from these three categories of troops.

 

Notes:

[1]   Sveriges krig åren 1808 och 1809, vol. 1, pp.118-126.

[2]   Sveriges krig åren 1808 och 1809, vol. 8, p.339.

[3]   Sveriges krig åren 1808 och 1809, vol. 8, p.249, vol. 9, p.427.

[4]   Sveriges krig åren 1808 och 1809, vol:s.3-9, passim.

[5]   Sveriges krig åren 1808 och 1809, vol. 4, pp.53-75, and appendices 6-8, vol. 8, pp.248-250.

[6]   Samuelsson, G., Lantvärnet 1808 -1809, Uppsala 1949, pp.98-109.

[7]   Samuelsson, G., Lantvärnet 1808 -1809, Uppsala 1949, pp.194-195, 323 and 347.

[8]   Jansson, A., Försvarsfrågan i svensk politik. Från 1809 till Krimkriget, Uppsala 1935, pp.491-492; 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.84-88.

[9]   Grill, C., Statistiskt sammandrag af svenska indelningsverket, vol. 1, Stockholm 1855, facsimile ed. 1988, pp.48-50.

[10]  Jansson, A., Försvarsfrågan i svensk politik. Från 1809 till Krimkriget, Uppsala 1935, pp.519-520 and 527-528; Tingsten, L., Huvuddragen av Sveriges yttre politik, krigsförberedelser, m.m. från och med fredssluten 1809-1810 till mitten av juli år 1813, Stockholm 1923, p.90.

[11]  Philström, A., Kungl. Dalregementets historia, vol. 5-6, Stockholm 1911, pp.1-2, 233, 240-243, 306; 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.89, 126.

[12]  Björlin, G., Kriget i Norge 1814, Stockholm 1893, pp.20-21; Jansson, A., Försvarsfrågan i svensk politik. Från 1809 till Krimkriget, Uppsala 1935, pp.529-530; Tingsten, L., Huvuddragen av Sveriges yttre politik, krigsförberedelser, m.m. från och med fredssluten 1809-1810 till mitten av juli år 1813, Stockholm 1923, p.90.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2008

 

Organization Index ]



© Copyright 1995-2013, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]