Battle of Narva (1700)
The Battle of Narva (Russian: Битва на Нарве; Swedish: Slaget vid Narva) on 19 November 1700 (30 November, N.S.) was an early battle in the Great Northern War. A Swedish relief army under Charles XII of Sweden defeated a Russian siege force three to four times its size. Before, Charles XII had forced Denmark-Norway to sign the Treaty of Travendal. Narva was not followed by further advances of the Swedish army into Russia, instead, Charles XII turned southward to expel August the Strong from Livonia and Poland-Lithuania. Peter the Great took Narva in a second battle in 1704.
During the 17th century, Russia was less advanced technologically than the rest of Europe, a condition which extended to their armed forces. Despite this shortcoming Peter the Great of Russia was keen to expand his territory by conquering parts of Sweden's Baltic provinces. Russia made a military alliance with Frederick IV, king of Denmark-Norway; and August the Strong, king of Poland-Lithuania and elector of Saxony, to wage war against Sweden. Whereupon all five countries attacked Sweden from several directions.
Charles XII, assisted by the British Royal Navy and the Dutch Navy, first landed in Humlebæk north of Copenhagen and forced Denmark-Norway to leave the alliance in August 1700 (until 1709). He then moved part of the Swedish army across the Baltic Sea to Estonia where it was joined by Estonian and Finnish regiments of the Swedish army.
The new Russian Tsar, Peter I, would drastically modernize Russia in the coming years, but the army with which he traveled in 1700 was still poorly drilled. Peter had employed foreign generals and officers to improve his armed forces, but they were still far from seasoned. Sweden, on the other hand, possessed a well-drilled and well-equipped army. Charles XII of Sweden had the most complete military force in northern Europe, even if it was not the largest, and Peter envied its capabilities.
During November, Russian troops surrounded the Swedish city of Narva in Estonia (part of Sweden at the time), attempting to secure its surrender via siege. A Saxon-Polish army commanded by August II and Steinau was outside Riga in Swedish Livonia. The Saxon-Polish army however had gone into winter camp south of the river Daugava so Charles XII decided to deal with the more immediate Russian threat against Narva. King Charles moved to relieve the city and push Peter's forces back into Russia.
On 19 (OS) or 30 (NS) November 1700 (20 November in the Swedish transitional calendar), Charles XII positioned his 8,000 men (another 2,500 men were garrisoned in the city and would also take part in the battle at a later stage) opposite the besieging Russian army of about 34,000 to 40,000 troops.
The Swedish army was commanded personally by Charles XII, assisted by General Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld. The Russian forces were commanded by Tsar Peter and Charles Eugène de Croy. Claiming important domestic events in Russia to which he was required to attend, Peter had left Narva just days before and was therefore not present during the actual fighting. He trusted that his commanders would draw success from the battle and presumed that Charles would not immediately attack his well fortified forces of superior number. Some interpretations view his flight from Narva days before the battle an act of cowardice; most of Europe mocked the Tsar after the battle for his departure. However, some scholars believe this accusation has little merit, as reportedly the Tsar had placed himself in physical danger too many times previously for his flight to be out of cowardice.
For much of the day, a blizzard engulfed both armies, making attacks impossible. However, at midday, the winds changed and the snowstorm blew directly into the eyes of the Russians. Charles saw his opportunity and advanced on the Russian army under cover of the weather. The Swedes attacked in two columns, quickly broke through the Russian lines cutting them in three, and rounded them up. At one crucial point, a bridge over the Narova river collapsed under retreating Russian troops: The stampede led to the overall losses of 6,000–18,000 dead Russians, depending on sources. The remainder surrendered.
The Russian surrender brought to Charles XII's army all of Peter's cannons, muskets and military supplies. This left Russia's remaining armed forces with essentially no equipment. If Sweden, or any other aggressor, had invaded Russia immediately after Narva, Peter would have been almost powerless to stop them.
In 1900, 200 years after the battle of Narva, the Preobrazhensky and Semyonovsky regiments initiated the construction of a memorial to the Russian soldiers who had fallen in the battle of Narva. The memorial consists of a granite pedestal with a cross on top, placed on a mound of earth. The inscription says: "Our heroic ancestors who fell in November 1700."
On November 20, 2000, the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lena Hjelm Wallén inaugurated the new memorial/monument to celebrate the victory. It was erected with economic contribution from the Swedish Institute, and was a replacement for an older memorial erected in 1936, that disappeared during the Second world war. The monument is surmounted by a "Swedish Lion", his left paw resting on a ball ingraved with the Three Crowns of Sweden. It stands on a pedestal of granite. The pedestal is inscribed in Latin with; MDCC (1700) and Svecia Memor (Sweden Remembers).
Four years after the first battle of Narva, Tsar Peter marched again in an attempt to capture Narva. Peter marched with 45,000 men. The garrison of Narva was under the Commandant Major-General Henning Rudolf Horn af Ranzien and consisted of 3,800 infantry and 1,300 cavalry. The Russians made a three-fronted attack and after a long battle they took Narva. General Horn, several officers and a large number of Swedish soldiers were captured, with about 3,200 casualties while the Russians lost over 10,000 men during the siege and the battle.
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