The Norwegian-Swedish War of 1814
By Martin Sandbekken,
Editor's Note: The images used in this article are used with
the permission of Trond Bkkevold of the Elverumske
Skielber Compagnie, a re-enactment unit dedicated to the study
of the Danish-Norwegian light infantry in one of the most dramatic periods
of Norwegian history - the wars of 1807-1814.
Brief Look at the Political Background of the War
In 1814, the Napoleonic Wars were all but over -- Napoleon had abdicated
(although he would come back to power briefly and fight at Waterloo
in 1815) and the victorious British and their allies divvied up the
booty. Sweden had fought on the side of Britain under the promise of
receiving Norway, which at that time was a part of Denmark. The Kiel
Peace Treaty stipulated that Denmark had to sign the territory of Norway
over to Sweden.
Norwegians had since the 1700's grown tired of the Danish-Norwegian
union, and had a wish for independance and self rule. So when the chance
appeared, they grabbed it. In May 1814, the Norwegian constitution was
written in a matter of days. On May 17th, the constitution of Norway
was signed and the Danish Prince, Christian Fredrik was, chosen as the
King. Representatives of Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria went to
Norway to attempt to persuade them to join with Sweden. They failed,
and left Norway on July 17th.
Prince Regent Karl Johan of Sweden returned home from France in May,
and at this time decided to use military force to get the Norwegians
to accept a union. The drastic decision can be explained by the fact
that Sweden might not have that much time to force the Norwegians to
accept a union, as a change in the political climate might change the
Peace of Kiel, and Sweden could lose it's claim to Norway.
A Look at the Armed Forces of Norway and Sweden
Norwegian Infantry 1814
A Swedish army of 45,523 men was raised, and the fleet
was fitted. The Swedish navy consisted of: 4
ships of the line, 5 frigates, 24 smaller vessels, and 60 gun sloops.
King Karl the XIII was very interested in ships,
and had supreme command of the fleet. Under
him, Admiral Johan Puke had the operational command.
To face this force the Norwegians had an army of approximately
30,000 men and a fleet consisting of 160 vessels
of various size. The Norwegian army was in a pitiful state, poorly equipped,
with poor morale, and incompetently led. From the Swedish side it was
said that "There is no Norwegian General who
knows how to wage war. There is most likely something in this saying, King Christian Fredrik
himself, 27 years old, had no experience in leading an army in the field.
The Combat Operations of the War
On July 12th, Prince Regent Karl Johan
left Stockholm to take command of the forces assembling on the Swedish-Norwegian
Border. After yet another attempt at a diplomatic solution with the
Norwegians, he ordered hostilities to commence.
Lier, August 2, 1814
On the eve of August 1st, the Swedish crossed the border
in 3 columns at Magnor.
This force was led by Colonel Gahn and consisted of:
5 batalions infantry
and Vrmlandske Jegere (skirmishers\light infantry)
8 three pounder guns.
On the Norwegian side, in the Kongsvinger District,
there was a corps under the command of Lt. Colonel Krebs. It consisted
3 batalions of infantry
Akershusiske Skarpskyttere (Marksmen)
Snnenfjeldske Skilpere (ski troops)
4 three pounder guns
70 mounted jagers (Eidsvold-Nessiske).
The two forces were relatively equal in strength,
although the Swedes were better supplied with cannons and had more officers
and NCO's. Both sides over estimated each other in the beginning, and
therefore acted carefully.
Map of Lier.
Throughout August 2nd, there were several
minor skirmishes between Norwegian outposts and the Swedish forces.
The Norwegians retreated towards Lier, it appears that Lt. Colonel Krebs
at first thought to meet the Swedish east of Lier, but changed his mind
and pulled his forces into the Lier position.
Around 1500 hours on August 2nd, the Norwegian
skirmish line (Jegerkjeden) came in contact with Sedish scouting patrols.
The Swedes deployed their skirmish line and forced the Norwegian skirmishers
(Jegerne) to retreat to Lier.
Between 1600 and 1800 hours, the 3 Swedish attack
columns marched on the Norwegian positions, and the main attack started.
The central columns, led by Colonel Gahn himself, went head on against
the center of the defences at Lier, where 8 companies were positioned,
but after repeated attacks none of the Swedes reached further than the
At the same time, the left Swedish column attacked
the Norwegian western wing, hoping to threaten it and force them to
redeploy troops from the center. This attack failed mostly due to difficult
terrain and the two cannons under the command of Lieutenant Kjerulf.
The right Swedish column attacked on the eastern side of Vinger Lake,
and attempted to go around the lake and threaten the Norwegian flank.
This was right were the Skilperne (ski troops) were positioned
and some of the hardest fighting during the battle was here. The Norwegians
were hit hard and were forced to withdraw.
It was here the Norwegians discovered the poor quality of Norwegian
gunpowder. The Swedes could shoot at ranges over 400 alen (250 meters),
while the Norwegian marksmen could only use their rifles out to 200
alen (125 meters). But it was said that the Norwegians were better
shots than the Swedes, and therefore could compensate for the lesser
range of their weapons. Skilper Ola Brnd from Stor-Elvdal, who fought
at Lier said:
The Swedes hadn't gotten any further with their shooting in 1814 than
they were in 1808, they fired volleys, every man at once; the Norwegians
preferred to do it the skirmisher way and shot more on their own.
After a while, the Swedish column came so close to Lier that it came
under fire from two amusetter(?) there. This caused the column to retreat,
and skilperne and the marksmen recaptured their lost terrain.
The Swedish disappeared into the woods towards Malmer,
and Lt. Colonel Krebs released his small cavalry force who pursued them
for a while, untill a Swedish artillery volley caused them to retreat.
Norwegian Cavalry Pursuing Fleeing Swedish Soldiers
Aftermath of the Battle of Lier (August 2,1814)
On the battlefield less than 30 Norwegians and 130 Swedish soldiers
lay dead. The Swedish retreated to Malmer and continued the next day
towards Matrand\Midtskog. Colonel Gahn's plan was to return to Sweden
on August 5th. How his plan to return to Sweden ended will
The Days after the Battle at Lier
After losing at Lier, Gahn retreated to Malmer (August
3rd) and continued the next day (August 4th )
on to Matrand\Midtskog, (the two places are near each other and there
has been some disagreement as to which one it is) where the infantry
camped for the night, while the baggage train went to Skotterud.
Lt. Colonel Krebs pursued the enemy, and managed to
catch up with them. On the night of 4 - 5 August, he attacked Colonel
Gahn's force at Matrand\Midtskog with half his force, while the other
half marched on Skotterud to capture the Swedish baggage train, set
up a defence, and attack the Swedes from the rear.
Swedish Soldiers Attacking the Wagon Barrier
at Skotterud, Created with Wagons Captured from the Swedes' Own
A smaller force broke off to the west to attack the Swedish left flank,
while Krebs himself led the main attack force onto the Swedish head
on. At 0300 hours, Krebs launched his attack on the Swedes, and when
the flank attack came an hour later, Colonel Gahn retreated towards
Skotterud. Unfortunately for Gahn, the Norwegian forces already held
Skotterud. The result was the hardest fighting in the entire 1814 campaign.
After repeated attacks, the Swedish forces managed to breakout of the
Norwegian encirclement, but it came at a high cost of men, horses and
materiel for both sides when combat ended at 1100 hours. Lt. Colonel
Krebs said afterwards: "A more horrible and furious affaire on both
sides than this can not be considered possible between two as small
units as this. (Gahn entered Norway with 1400 men, while Krebs marched
from Lier with 2500 men).
The Swedish force lost approximately 350 men, of which
around 250 were prisoners of war.
They had also lost their baggage train, and was forced
to abandon 1 gun, 7 ammunition wagons, 20 supply wagons, and 60 horses.
Swedish Gun Captured by the Norwegians on August
5 at Skotterud
The Norwegians lost more than a hundred men killed and wounded. There
was also casualties among the officers. A Lieutenant Norgren had been
in a hurry to get gunpowder for his men, and had tried to open a ammunition
wagon by knocking off the lock with an axe. This resulted in the entire
ammunition wagon exploding, increasing the casualty numbers.
The End of the War and Its Aftermath
This was not the main battle of the war, or would
not have been, had the main forces of both sides actually fought. By
August 14th there was a cease-fire in effect, and Sweden's
last war was over.
The reason the Norwegians agreed to a cease-fire was that, although
successful in minor battles, the Norwegian army was in to poor a shape
to wage a large battle against the larger Swedish forces. But the fighting
of August 1814, and the lives lost, was not in vain. Norway agreed to
join in a union with Sweden, but retained a certain amount of self-autonomy,
including being allowed to keep the constitution the brave founding
fathers wrote up in a few days, and signed on May 17th 1814.
This day is the National Day of Norway.
The union with Sweden lasted till 1905, and this year
(2005) is Norway's 100 year anniversary!
Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2005
Index | Battles
© Copyright 1995-2005,
The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.