Battle of Öland
|Battle of Öland|
|Part of Scanian War|
Oil painting by Claus Møinichen showing how Kronan founders and explodes while Svärdet is surrounded by the allied admirals.
|Commanders and leaders|
| Cornelis Tromp
Philip van Almonde
| Lorentz Creutz†
|42 warships, including 25 ships of the line||57 warships, including 27 ships of the line
c. 12,000 men
|Casualties and losses|
unknown, at least 100 dead
|5 ships sunk
6 ships captured
at least 1,400 dead
The Battle of Öland was a naval battle between an allied Danish-Dutch fleet and the Swedish navy in the Baltic Sea, off the east coast of the island of Öland on 1 June 1676. The battle was a part of the Scanian War (1675–79) fought for supremacy over the southern Baltic. Sweden was in urgent need of transferring reinforcements to its north German possessions while Denmark sought to ferry an army to Scania in southern Sweden to open a front on Swedish soil.
Just as the battle began the Swedish flagship Kronan foundered and sank with the loss of almost its entire crew, including the Admiral of the Realm and commander of the Swedish Navy, Lorentz Creutz. The allied force under the leadership of the Dutch admiral Cornelis Tromp took full advantage of the ensuing disorder on the Swedish side. The acting commander after Creutz' sudden demise, Admiral Claes Uggla, was surrounded and his flagship Svärdet battered in a drawn-out artillery duel, eventually being set ablaze by a fireship. Uggla himself drowned while escaping the burning ship, and after the loss of a second admiral, the rest of the Swedish fleet fled in disorder.
The battle resulted in Dano-Norwegian naval supremacy, which was upheld throughout the war. King Christian V of Denmark and Norway was able to ship troops over to Swedish soil, and on 29 June 14,500 men landed at Råå, just south of Helsingborg. Scania became the main battleground of the war, culminating with the bloody battles of Lund, Halmstad and Landskrona. Dano-Norwegian and Dutch naval forces were left free to raze Öland and the Swedish east coast all the way up to Stockholm. The Swedish failure at Öland led to the creation of a commission to investigate the fiasco; it ultimately found no-one guilty.
In the 1660s, Sweden was at its height as a European Great Power. In the Dano-Swedish War of 1657-58, Swedish King Charles X made a bold march across the Small and Great Belts and struck right at the heart of Denmark, threatening to capture the capital of Copenhagen. Denmark was forced to sign the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658, in which Sweden received considerable concessions: all of the eastern Danish provinces of Blekinge, Halland and Scania (Skåne), as well as Norwegian county of Bohuslän on the west coast of Sweden. Holding all of Finland, most of the Baltic States and Pomerania in northern Germany, Sweden became the leading Baltic power. Only months after the peace, King Charles decided to go to war once again. The goal was to end Denmark's existence as an independent state and to take control of the lucrative toll from traffic passing through Öresund. This move threatened the trade interests of other European powers with large investments in the Baltic trade, in particular the leading shipping nations of 17th-century Europe, England and the Netherlands. They were best served by keeping the region politically divided without any one player dominating the scene. The Netherlands allied themselves with Denmark and intervened against Sweden.
In the early 1670s, Sweden was governed by a regency council that was internally weak with difficulties to assert Swedish power abroad. The Lord High Chancellor, Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, successfully argued for strengthened ties with France, which resulted in a Franco-Swedish treaty in 1672. The same year, France attacked the Dutch Republic, causing diplomatic unrest. In April 1674, the French ambassador to Sweden presented an agreement that stipulated that Sweden had to increase its military presence in Pomerania to 22,000 men in exchange for considerable financial support.
The Swedish position was difficult, as the French were pressuring for action against Brandenburg; in December 1674 a Swedish army under the command of Carl Gustaf Wrangel opened up an offensive in Germany. War had not begun in earnest, but about six months later, the Netherlands declared war on Sweden. Soon after, the Swedish army in Germany was defeated at the battle of Fehrbellin, only a minor setback tactically, but one which led to a major loss of prestige. The Swedish army had enjoyed a reputation of near-invincibility after its successes in the Thirty Years' War, which was tarnished after the defeat against Brandenburg.
The Swedish defeat Fehrbellin led to a declaration of war by German states and the Holy Roman Empire. Denmark saw this as its chance to regain its recently lost eastern provinces, and declared war on 2 September. The southern Baltic became a strategically important scene for both Denmark and Sweden. Denmark needed the sea lanes to invade Scania, while Sweden needed to reinforce Swedish Pomerania, its holdings on the Baltic coast; both stood to gain by taking control of the Baltic trade routes. As war broke out between Dernmark and Sweden a strong fleet became essential for Swedied to secure its interests at home and overseas.
In late fall of 1675 the Swedish fleet under Gustaf Otto Stenbock put to sea, but got only as far as Stora Karlsö off Gotland before it had to turn back to Stockholm, beset by cold and stormy weather, disease, and loss of vital equipment. Stenbock, held personally responsible for the failure by King Charles XI, was forced to pay for the campaign out of his own pocket. During the winter of 1675–76 the Swedish fleet was placed under the command of Lorentz Creutz, but was iced in by exceptionally harsh weather.
A Danish fleet of 20 ships under admiral Niels Juel put to sea in March 1676, and on April 29 his forces landed on Gotland, which promptly surrendered. The Swedish fleet was ordered out on May 4, but encountered adverse winds and was delayed until May 19. Juel had by then left Visby, the main port on Gotland, to join up with a smaller Danish-Dutch force at Bornholm, between the southern tip of Sweden and the northern coast of Germany. Together they intended to cruise between Scania and the island of Rügen to stop Swedish troops from landing on Rügen and reinforcing Swedish Pomerania. On May 25–26 the two fleets fought a largely indecisive battle at Bornholm. The Swedish force was superior in numbers, but was unable to inflict any serious losses and instead lost a fireship and one smaller vessel.
Several Swedish accounts say that Creutz was in conflict with his officers after Bornholm. Major Taube of the Mars testified that after the battle, the officers had been "scolded like boys" and that Creutz, "without regard for guilt or innocence, accused them almost all alike". The army captain Rosenberg told a later inquiry that Creutz "almost had a paroxysm in the night" over the conduct of Johan Bär (one of his flag officers) at Bornholm, and that he swore "never to go to serve at sea with such rascals". Maritime archaeologist Lars Einarsson has concluded that the relationship between Creutz and his subordinates had hit rock bottom before the battle.
After the unsuccessful action the Swedish fleet anchored off Trelleborg, where King Charles was waiting with new orders to recapture Gotland. The fleet was to refuse combat with the allies at least until they reached the northern tip of Öland, where they could fight in friendly waters. After the Swedish fleet left Trelleborg on May 30, the allied fleet soon came in contact with it and began pursuing the Swedes. By this time the allies had been reinforced by a small squadron and now totaled 42 vessels, with 25 large or medium ships of the line. The reinforcements also brought with them a new commander, the Dutch Admiral General Cornelis Tromp, one of the ablest naval tacticians of his time. The two fleets sailed north and on June 1 passed the northern tip of Öland in a strong gale. The rough winds were hard on the Swedish ships. Many lost masts and spars. The Swedes, forming a barely cohesive battle line, tried to sail ahead of Tromp's ships, hoping to get between them and the shore, thus putting themselves on the allied fleet's lee side and gaining the tactical advantage of holding the weather gage. The Dutch ships of the allied fleet, however, managed to sail closer to the wind and faster than the rest of the force, and slipped between the Swedes and the coast, snatching the weather gage. Later that morning the two fleets closed on each other, and were soon within firing range.
Around noon, as a result of poor communication and signaling, the Swedish line unexpectedly turned toward the allied fleet. When the flagship Kronan came about in the maneuver it suddenly heeled over and began to take on water. According to master gunner Anders Gyllenspak, the sails were not reefed and the ship leaned over so hard that water flooded in through the lower gunports. While the ship was leaning over, a gust of wind pushed the ship on her side, laying her masts and sails down in line with the surface of the sea. A short while later the gunpowder store in the front part of the ship exploded and ripped the forward part of the starboard side apart. Kronan quickly lost buoyancy and sank, taking most of her 850-man crew with her.
The sudden loss of the flagship and the fleet admiral threw the already scattered Swedish line into confusion and sapped morale. Four ships from Creutz' and Uggla's squadrons immediately fled when they saw that the flagship was lost. Claes Uggla was next in command after Creutz and became the acting commander of the Swedish fleet. When the line came about, Uggla and his ship Svärdet came on a collision course with the still floating wreckage of Kronan, and were forced to jibe (turn the stern into the wind direction) to avoid it. Svärdet's second turn was interpreted by many ships as a signal to turn again while others interpreted it as the beginning of a general retreat, leading to major disorder. Uggla reduced speed in an attempt to gather his forces, but instead was separated from his subordinates.
Tromp on Christianus Quintus, Vice Admiral Jens Rodsten on Tre Løver and Niels Juel on Churprindsen took advantage of the chaos. They quickly surrounded Svärdet and began to hammer it into submission. Several Swedish ships attempted to assist Uggla, but they were in a lee position and could not provide effective support. After about an hour-and-a-half to two hours of hard fighting Svärdet's mainmast went overboard and Uggla had to strike his colors (surrender) to Tromp. Despite this, Svärdet was ignited by accident or misunderstanding by the Dutch fireship 't Hoen. The second largest Swedish ship after Kronan sank in the blaze and took with it 600 out of a crew of 650, including Admiral Uggla himself. Only Hieronymus, Neptunus and Järnvågen, an armed merchantman, had tried to support Uggla. Of these only Hieronymus escaped the attempt, though badly damaged, while the others were captured by Juel and his subordinate on Anna Sophia.
By six o'clock in the evening the Swedes had lost two flagships along with two fleet admirals, including the supreme commander of the navy. The entire force now began a disorderly retreat: the smaller ships Enhorn, Ekorren, Gripen and Sjöhästen were outsailed and captured while while the rest of the ships sought shelter in friendly harbors. Most set course for Dalarö, north of Stockholm, while others tried for Kalmar Strait, between Öland and the Swedish mainland. The alleid fleet tried to capitalize further on its victory by giving chase, but the dash up the coast had scattered its forces and there was disagreement among the Danish commanders on how far they should pursue the Swedish ships.
The Swedish fleet had suffered a stinging blow by losing its two largest ships, its commander-in-chief and one of its most experienced admirals. Even after the battle, the misfortunes continued. Äpplet came off its moorings at Dalarö, went aground and sank. Around fifty survivors were picked up by pursuing Danish ships and taken as prisoners to Copenhagen. The battle gave Denmark undisputed naval supremacy and the Swedish fleet did not dare to venture out for the rest of the year. The army that had been amassed in Denmark could now be shipped to Scania to take the war to Swedish soil and on June 29, 1676, 14,500 troops were landed at Råå south of Helsingborg.
The battle of Öland was the first major Swedish defeat at sea to Denmark and granted the latter complete control over the southern Baltic until the end of the Scanian War in 1679. The experience of the winter of 1675–76 led to the conclusion that the navy needed an ice-free port that was closer to the arch enemy Denmark. By the fall of 1679, king Charles personally chose the location of a new naval base of Karlskrona and by 1686 the main structures of the base had been built.
The Swedish commission
Within a week, the news of the failure at Bornholm and the complete fiasco at Öland reached King Charles, who immediately ordered that a commission be set up to investigate what had happened. Charles wanted to see if Bär and other officers were guilty of cowardice or incompetence. On June 13 the King wrote "some of our sea officers have shown such cowardly and careless behavior" that they have "placed the safety, welfare and defense of the kingdom at great peril", and that "such a serious crime should be severely punished".
The commission began its work on June 7, 1676. At the hearings, strong criticism surfaced and was directed against individual officers as well as Swedish conduct in general. Anders Homman, one of the officers on board Svärdet, was among those who chastised his colleagues the hardest. In his testimony he said that that Admiral Uggla had exclaimed "look how those dog cunts run" when he was surrounded, fighting the allied flagships. Homman himself described the actions of his colleagues as those of "chickens running about the yard, each in his own direction", and added that he "had been in seven battles, but had never seen our people fight so poorly".
The commission did not find anyone guilty of negligence or misconduct, but Bär of Nyckeln and Lieutenant Admiral Christer Boije, who had run aground with Äpplet, were never again given a command in the navy. Hans Clerck of Solen went through the process unscathed, and was promoted by the King before the commission even presented its verdict. Creutz has quite consistently been blamed for the loss of his ship by historians, and has been described as an incompetent sea officer and sailor who more or less single-handedly brought about the sinking through lack of naval experience. Military historians Lars Ericson Wolke and Olof Sjöblom have attempted to nuance the picture by pointing out that Creutz' task was akin to that of an administrator rather than a military commander. The practical issues of ship maneuvering should therefore have been the responsibility of his subordinates, who had experience in naval matters.
Disputes among the allied officers
Despite the astounding success, several allied officers were unhappy with the conduct of their forces. Naval historian Jørgen Barfod explains that the battle was fought "in a disorganized manner from beginning to end" since Tromp had given the order for each commander to attack the enemy ship closest to him. Since most of the Danes were unable to keep pace with the faster Dutch ships, the race for advantageous position along the coast had also contributed to the scattering of the allied fleet. Juel later complained in a letter to the Danish Admiral of the Realm that the Dutch had not assisted him in pursuing the fleeing Swedes. He claimed that if he had gotten proper support, they could have "brought [the Swedes] such a fever on their throats that it would take years for all the doctors in Stockholm to cure it". When Tromp sent a report of the battle to the Danish King he reproached his subordinates, but not by name, and asked that no punishment be dealt out.
The captain of 't Hoen, the fireship that had set Svärdet ablaze after she had surrendered, was arrested and incarcerated directly after the battle, and was subjected to such harsh treatment that he died within a few days. Tromp later reported that his ship Delft, which had seen some of the roughest fighting, had lost around 100 men and that most of its officers were wounded.
The numbers in parentheses indicates the number of guns for each ships.
- Göran Rystad "Skånska kriget och kampen om hegemonin i Norden" in Rystad (2005), pp. 16–19
- Göran Rystad "Skånska kriget och kampen om hegemonin i Norden" in Rystad (2005), p. 20
- Göran Rystad "Skånska kriget och kampen om hegemonin i Norden" in Rystad (2005), pp. 20–21
- Finn Askgaard, "Kampen till sjöss" in Rystad (2005), p. 171
- Barfod (1997), p. 45–48
- Gunnar Grandin, "Gotland invaderas" and "Flottan löper ut" in Johansson (1985), pp. 114–15, 118-19.
- Sjöblom (2003), pp. 225–26.
- Original quote: "utbannade som pojkar", Lundgren (2001), p. 23.
- Original quote: "aktat varken skyldig eller oskyldig, utan skärt dem nästan alla över en kam", Lundgren (2001), p. 45.
- Original quote: "så nära om natten fått slag", "aldrig mer gå på flottan med sådana skälmar", Lundgren (2001), p. 50
- Einarsson (2001), p. 8
- Sjöblom (2003), p. 226.
- Lundgren (2001), pp. 235–36
- Zettersten (1903), s. 480.
- Unger (1909), pp. 235–36
- Sjöblom (2003), p. 228
- Zettersten (1903), pp. 479–80
- Zettersten (1903), pp. 480–81.
- Barfod (1997), s. 54-55.
- Ericson Wolke (2009), p. 115
- Finn Askgaard, "Kampen till sjöss" in Rystad (2005), p. 176
- Ericsson Wolke, p. 121.
- Original quote: en del av våra sjöofficerare sig så lachement förhållit [att de] riksens säkerhet, välfärd och försvar ... ställt uti den högsta hazard", "ett så stort crimen strängeligen bör straffas"; Lundgren (2001), pp. 5–6. The protocols of the commission have been transcribed and published in partially modernized form in Lundgren (1997).
- Original quote: "se hur de hundsfottarna löpa och ränna", Lundgren (1997), p. 94. Homman repeated Uggla's accusation several times during the hearings and was backed up by Captain Olof Nortman, see pp. 93, 99, 107. A literal translation of the Swedish term hundsfott is used here. The word was a common, strongly derogatory term against male individuals that was in widespread use until the 19th century; see Svenska Akademiens Ordbok, H1425.
- Original quote: "De andra löpte som hönsen omkring gården, var på sitt håll. Och har jag varit med i 7 bataljer, men aldrig sett våra fäkta så illa som den andra gången.", Lundgren (1997), p. 94.
- See for example, Gyllengranat (1840), Zettersten (1903), p. 478; Unger (1909), p. 234; Isacson (2000), pp. 11–12; Björlin (1885)
- Einarsson (2001), p. 13; Ericson Wolke (2009), p. 115; Sjöblom (2003), p. 227
- Original quote: under helt uordnade former fra først til sidst, Barfod (1997), p. 54
- Original quote: de svenske en sådan feber på deres hals, at alle de doctores i Stockholm ikke skulle have været gode for at kurere dem i år og dag igen, Barfod (1997), p. 54
- Barfod (1997), p. 54
- Gunnar Grandin, "En förtvivlad kamp" i Johansson (1985), pp. 140–41.
- Danish forces according to Barfod (1997), pp. 50–51
- Swedish forces according to Zettersten (1997), pp. 472–74
- The fourth squadron was divided up among the other three squadrons after Bornholm following the death of its commander by disease.
- (Danish) Barfod, Jørgen H, [books.google.com/books?id=_u4xnj9rjmAC&lpg=PP1&hl=sv&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false Niels Juels flåde.] Gyldendal, Copenhagen. 1997 ISBN 87-00-30226-0
- (Danish) and (Swedish) Bjerg, Hans Christian (redaktör), Slaget i Køge bugt 1. juli 1677: forudsætninger, forløb og følger. Søe-lieutenant-selskabet, Copenhagen. 1977.
- (Swedish) Björlin, Gustaf, Kriget mot Danmark 1675–1679: läsning för ung och gammal. Norstedt, Stockholm. 1885
- (Swedish) Einarsson, Lars, Kronan. Kalmar läns museum, Kalmar. 2001. ISBN 91-85926-48-5
- (Swedish) Ericsson Wolke, Lars, "En helt ny flotta – sjökrigen under 1600-talets sista årtionden" i Ericson Wolke & Hårdstedt, Svenska sjöslag. Medströms förlag, Stockholm. 2009. ISBN 978-91-7329-030-2
- (Swedish) Johansson, Björn Axel (redaktör), Regalskeppet Kronan. Trevi, Stockholm. 1985. ISBN 91-7160-740-4
- (Swedish) Lundgren, Kurt, Sjöslaget vid Öland. Vittnesmål – dokument 1676–1677. Lingstad Bok & Bild, Kalmar. 2001. ISBN 91-631-1292-2
- (Swedish) Göran Rystad (redaktör), Kampen om Skåne Historiska media, Lund. 2005. ISBN 91-85057-05-3
- (Swedish) Sjöblom, Olof, "Slaget vid Öland 1676: Kronan går under" i Ericsson [Wolke], Hårdstedt, Iko, Sjöblom & Åselius, Svenska slagfält. Wahlström & Widstrand, Stockholm. 2003. ISBN 91-46-20225-0
- (Swedish) Zettersten, Axel, Svenska flottans historia åren 1635–1680 Norrtälje tidnings boktryckeri, Norrtälje. 1903.