Crossing of the Düna
The Crossing of the Düna (also known as Battle of Riga) took place during the Great Northern War on July 8 (Julian calendar) / July 9 (Swedish calendar) / July 19 (Gregorian calendar) 1701 near the city of Riga, present-day Latvia. The Swedish king Charles XII was in hot pursuit of king Augustus II the Strong of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Saxony. The crossing was easily made, and the coalition troops were quickly broken and scattered by retreat.
During the first year of fighting in the Great Northern War, Charles XII of Sweden had delivered two crushing defeats on his enemies. In July 1700, he forced Frederick IV of Denmark out of the coalition against Sweden, after a brief landing on Humlebæk. He then settled to aid the besieged Narva (which at the time belonged to the Swedish Empire). On his arrival, late November, he managed to decisively defeat the Russians in the battle of Narva, despite being heavily outnumbered, this led to an end of the Russian campaign for the year. Charles then turned his army against the south and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to deal with his last opponent, August the Strong. The combined Saxon–Russian army of 19,000 men had entrenched themselves across the river of Düna under the command of Augustus, Adam Heinrich von Steinau, Otto Arnold von Paykull and Ferdinand Kettler.
Orders were sent from the Swedish king to the governor-general of Livonia, Erik Dahlbergh, in preparations for the crossing before the arrival of the Swedish main army. Dahlbergh was ordered to obtain around 200 landing boats of different sizes and was also instructed to build a bridge in order to transfer the cavalry across the river. The operation was supposed to be done in strict confidentiality, without having the coalition troops to gain knowledge of where the crossing were to be made. The Swedish army of 19,000 men arrived at Riga on July 17, and already by the time, preparations for the attack were completed. However, bad weather ruined the Swedish plans to attack instantly, and the assault had to be postponed. During their wait, Swedish troops tried to lure the Saxons into different possible landing sites, as by Kokenhusen, which forced the allies to spread, thus the bulk of the army stayed across Riga.
The allied army was initially under the command of Otto Arnold von Paykull and Ferdinand Kettler, who were both ensured of an easy victory. In their confidence, they prioritized their numbers, advantageous position, redoubts and Saxon courage in superiority over the Swedes. Prior to the battle, Kettler pronounced: "even a superior force of three hundred thousands Swedes, would yet not be enough, to successfully achieve any progress with the crossing". The Saxon army was, however, deployed a distance away from the beach, to ensure only a few Swedish regiments to land, before it would massively strike with its full capacity, to drive the Swedes back and capture the Swedish king (who as they thought would – with his usual boldness – be one among the few, to first step in land).
Crossing of Düna 
During the night of July 19, Swedish forces started to embark their landing boats in silence (there were about 195 boats of different structures and sizes). About 6,600 infantry, 535 cavalry and some artillery pieces stood for the order of battle to participate in the first wave. Swedish guns from Riga had continually bombarded the allied entrenchments across the river the whole previous day and the fire would continue during the night as well. After they had embarked their landing craft, the Swedes first torched some small boats on fire and pushed them out the river in order to obstruct the view for the allies, then at four o'clock in the morning of the 19th, the attack began.
The Swedes launched a surprise attack on the Saxon forces camping on the opposite bank of Düna (Daugava) in the Spilve meadows and during their halfway reach, they got discovered and fired at. The four Swedish floating batteries returned fire, and after half an hour they reached the beach and was immediately thrown into fight against Saxon redoubts and some smaller parties – some sources mentions the Swedes being in such disorder during their first contact, that they were about to break, when suddenly, Charles XII jumped off his boat and once brought courage to his men who managed to push the allies away. When about 3,000 Swedish troops were ashore, the Saxons launched their first gathered assault. However, the Swedish force under the personal command of the king himself, would not retreat and the attack was beaten back. By then the Swedes had taken ground of at least 200 steps inshore and managed to establish a good foothold. After having a brief stalemate, the Swedes formed up to initiate a second attack made by the Saxon general Otto Arnold von Paykull who strictly intended to drive the Swedes back before the arrival of further Swedish reinforcements. This attack, as the previous one, was repusled, and so was a third try made by the Saxon general Adam Heinrich von Steinau who had returned from Kokenhusen and gained the command.
By this time, at seven o'clock in the morning, Saxon commander Heinrich von Steinau went for a council of war with his generals and decided to retreat from the battle. Another wave was thrown at the Swedes in order to cover the retreat. The crossing was successful, however, the Swedish cavalry was not able to decisively persecute the retreating forces due to the weather which caused most of them to stay at the opposite bank of the river. The Swedes lost 100 men dead and another 400 wounded. The allied forces lost up to 1,000 dead, 700 captured and about 1,500 wounded. 36 artillery pieces and three standards had also been conquered by the Swedes.
The battle proved decisive; Charles and his army earned even more respect after the bold landing which forced the Russians to retreat back to their lands (they initially retreated from the battlefield early, after only two allied assaults and had scarcely been participating in the fighting). The Saxon army retreated all the way to Prussia. All of Courland stood now open for Charles who sieged and took the city of Mitau where he gained 8,000 muskets and 9,000 pistols to his supplies. Kokenhusen was also later taken by Charles along with Dünamunde.
In preparation for the crossing, king Charles XII had ordered to build the first bridge across the Daugava, which was made of anchored and interconnected by ropes and boats. After the Swedish victory, the city was left with the structure. In 1705, the bridge, which had been lodged for the winter in Vējzaķsalas Bay, was washed away by the high spring waters. Later, the floating bridge was restored, but in 1710, it was again destroyed by the Russian army during the siege of Riga.
During the battle, small barges armed with cannons were used, thus combining land and sea forces as well as deception (smoke) to achieve a stunning victory, carefully planned and very well executed. Participants included Otto Arnold von Paykull.
- Larsson (2009), p. 108-111
- Ericson (2003), p. 268-273
- Fryxell (1861)
- Riga municipality portal
- Olle Larsson, Stormaktens sista krig (2009) Lund, Historiska Media. ISBN 978-91-85873-59-3
- Ericson, Lars m fl: Svenska Slagfält, Wahlström & Widstrand 2003, ISBN 91-46-20225-0
- Peter Ullgren, Det stora nordiska kriget 1700-1721 (2008) Stockholm, Prisma. ISBN 978-91-518-5107-5
- Ericson, Sjöslag och rysshärjningar (2011) Stockholm, Norstedts. ISBN 978-91-1-303042-5
- Anders Fryxell: Berättelser ur svenska historien, Volym 21–22. p. 157-161, 1861