Battle of Svensksund

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the 1789 battle of Svensksund, see first Battle of Svensksund.
Second Battle of Svensksund / Rochensalm
Part of Russo-Swedish War (1788-1790)
Johan Tietrich Schoultz målning Slaget vid Svensksund.jpg
The battle as depicted by Swedish painter Johan Tietrich Schoultz
Date 9–10 July 1790 (28 June OS)
Location Svensksund, (now Kotka southern Finland)
Result Decisive Swedish victory
 Sweden  Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Gustav III of Sweden
Lieutenant-Colonel Carl Olof Cronstedt
Prince Charles of Nassau-Siegen
6 frigates
16 galleys
154 gun sloops and gun yawls
12,500 men
c. 20 frigates
15 middle-sized vessels
23 galleys
77 gun sloops
18,500 men
Casualties and losses
300 killed or wounded
1 udema
5 minor vessels
At least 7,400 killed, wounded or captured
19 frigates and xebecs
16 galleys
16 smaller vessels lost
with 22 ships captured[1]

The Battle of Svensksund (Finnish: Ruotsinsalmi, Russian: Rochensalm) was a naval battle fought in the Gulf of Finland outside the present day city of Kotka on 9 July 1790. The Swedish naval forces dealt the Russian fleet a devastating defeat that resulted in an end to the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–90. The victory has been named the biggest Swedish naval victory of all time.[2]


Circumstances in the 1780s, including the war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and the moving of a portion of the Russian Baltic Fleet to the Black Sea, prompted the Swedish King Gustav III to attack the Russian Empire in 1788.[3] The war was also initiated to distract domestic attention from domestic political problems and for the Gustav III to be able to fulfill his role as a successful and powerful monarch.[3]

Gustav's main aim was to recapture some of the territory in Finland that had been lost to the Russians in the disastrous war of 1741-43. In 1788, he launched a surprise attack against the Russian fleet, intending to catch it by surprise.[4] The plan was to attack Kronstadt and land a force to assault the capital of St Petersburg.[3]

The war was intended to be short and to be won by the assault on St Petersburg, conducted by the navy and skärgårdsflottan (the "archipelago navy"). The latter, officially designated as Arméns flotta ("navy of the army") was a separate branch of the armed forces designed for coastal operations and amphibious warfare in the Baltic. Since its formation in 1756, it had been something of an elite within the Swedish armed forces. However, after the Battle of Hogland (1788) (a tactical tie but a strategic failure for the Swedes) Gustav lost the initiative and tensions in Sweden rose. The first battle of Svensksund on 24 August 1789 ended in a Swedish defeat.[5]


Second battle of Svensksund

In 1790 an attempt to assault Vyborg failed, and the Swedish navy along with King Gustav himself was caught in the Bay of Viborg. It managed to escape during the "Viborg gauntlet" on 3 July, though with heavy losses to the deep-sea navy.[6] After retreating to Svensksund, King Gustav made a decision to make a stand there. The Swedish coastal fleet was reinforced by 40 ships under Lieutenant-Colonel Carl Olof Cronstedt after the escape from Vyborg. Gustav made the decision to lead the fight personally and divided his forces into four brigades under lieutenant-colonels Carl Olof Cronstedt, Claes Hjelmstjerna, Victor von Stedingk, and Jakob Törning. Von Stedingk was to lead the center consisting of 2 hemmema (Styrbjörn and Starkotter) and 2 udema (Torborg and Ingeborg) archipelago frigates, brig Alexander, 15 galleys, 2 half-galleys, and 11 cannon or mortar longboats. Törning had the command of the right wing consisting of 39 gun sloops and 22 gun yawls while Hjelmstierna's left wing had 30 gun sloops and 14 gun yawls supported by 12 gun sloops and yawls from Cronstedt's brigade. The rest of Cronstedt's brigade, consisting of turuma Norden, 1 galley and 36 gun sloops and yawls, was to remain in reserve and guard against a possible Russian flanking maneuver. Artillery batteries were constructed on the skerries of Kråkskär (between the center and right wings) and Sandskär (between the center and left wings). On 8 July the preparations were completed.[7]

The Russian coastal fleet consisted of 9 archipelago frigates, 13 xebecs, 2 mortar ships, 4 gun prams, 3 floating batteries, 26 galleys, 6 schooners, 4 cutters, 77 gun sloops and 121 lightly armed boats. The Russian fleet carried around 900 cannons compared to 450 Swedish cannons and had clear superiority in both number of ships and men.[8] The Russian coastal fleet was eager to attack, especially on 9 July, the anniversary of Catherine the Great's proclamation as Empress of Russia. Recognizing the failure to decisively defeat the Swedish archipelago fleet a year earlier at the same location, the Russian commander, Prince Charles of Nassau-Siegen, chose to commit his whole force from the south. This was done to prevent the Swedes from escaping to the shelter of Svartholm fortress since Nassau-Siegen was expecting a clear victory, having numerical superiority in ships, artillery as well as in men.[9]

On the morning of 9 July Gustav III suddenly named Lieutenant-Colonel Cronstedt as his flag-captain after relieving Colonel George de Frese from his duties. The reason for this sudden chance was likely that de Frese had been in favor of withdrawing from Svensksund to a more favorable location while Cronstedt had advocated fighting the Russians at Svensksund.[10]


At 0800 on 9 July 1790 the Russian flagship signaled the attack. By 0930 the first ships had reached firing distance in the western flank but soon after fighting spread throughout the battle lines.[11] The Swedish right wing under Lieutenant Colonel Törning met with increasing resistance as the Russian left wing opposing him got reinforced. However, the Swedes were able to move ships from their reserves to support their right wing with a counterattack which managed to lead the Russian left wing into disorder.[5] Meanwhile the increasingly strong southwesterly wind forced the Russian center deeper between converging Swedish lines.[12] After no Russian ships were seen approaching from Frederiskhamn the Swedes were able to release more ships from the reserves to bolster the Swedish left wing led by Lieutenant Colonel Hjelmstierna. Half of Hjelmstierna's ships were sent to the rear of the Russian fleet through narrow passage between Legma and Kutsalö which in turn forced the Russian right wing to deploy accordingly. However, movement to the back of the line was read as a signal to withdraw by the Russian left wing which started its retreat leaving the Russian center to face the Swedes alone.[13]

By the evening it had become apparent that the Swedes were victorious even though Russian center, consisting of their galleys and largest ships, continued to fight despite unfavorable winds and battle damage. At this time the Swedes were able to fire at the Russian ships from the front as well as from both sides and several Russian ships started drifting into the Swedish battle line.[4] Other Russian ships caught fire or were intentionally set on fire while a few were beached to avoid sinking. At 2000 Naussau-Siegen ordered the Russian fleet to withdraw and to destroy drifting Russian ships in order to keep them from being captured. Strong winds made the withdrawal difficult and several ships failed to make it. A few of the Russian ships ignored the order to withdraw and instead kept fighting until they sank. Fighting didn't end until 2200. The wind calmed down during the night and several Russian ships tried to escape under the cover of darkness but Swedish gun sloops and yawls were sent to hunt then down and this type of fighting continued until 0900 on the morning of 10 July 1790.[14]

The Russians lost around 7,400 of at least 14,000 men dead, wounded and captured, compared with Swedish losses of one udema, four minor vessels and 300 men. Though others place the number of dead and wounded Swedes to around 600.[15] Among the Russian ships that were lost were 10 "archipelago frigates" (sail/oar hybrids) and xebecs, 9 "half-xebecs" (schooners), 16 galleys, 4 gun prams and floating batteries, 7 bomb vessels, 5 gun sloops and several other small vessels.[16] Along with 21 other ships the Swedes captured the Catarina, Nassau-Siegen's flagship.

The battle of Svensksund is the biggest naval battle ever fought in the Baltic sea: 500 ships (including supply ships and other ships not involved in combat), over 30,000 men and several thousand cannons. At Svensksund, the Swedes boasted to have destroyed 40 percent of the Russian coastal fleet. It qualifies among the largest naval battles in history in terms of the number of vessels involved.[8]


Swedish trophies after the battle

Surviving Russian ships gathered at Frederikshamn where the badly depleted fleet was being rebuilt while the Swedish coastal fleet stayed at Svensksund. The Swedes later sent a squadron of 25 gun sloops closer to Frederikshamn but they were turned back on 5 August by the rebuilt Russian coastal fleet.[17] The Swedes withdrew back to Svensksund but the Russians did not give chase.[15]

This defeat encouraged Russia to negotiate with Sweden, eventually signing the Treaty of Värälä on 14 August 1790. Neither side gained any territory, however all provisions in the peace treaty of Nystad from 1721 that formally infringed upon Swedish sovereignty were cancelled. After the war the Russians started a massive fortification programme on the eastern, Russian, side of the Kymi river, building the sea fortress Fort Slava and the land fortress Kyminlinna. The forts later grew into the port city of Kotka.

Sankt Nikolai[edit]

The Russian frigate Sankt Nikolai was sunk in the battle. She was found in 1948 off Kotka, almost intact. Over 2,300 objects have been recovered from her hull by divers.[18]


  1. ^ See Ericsson Wolke & Hårdstedt (2009) pp. 246-50 and Jan Glete, "Kriget till sjöss 1788-90" in Artéus (1992), pp. 162-64 for total strength and losses.
  2. ^ Alm, Mikael (2003). "Teaterkungen på slagfältet". Svenska krig och krigiska svenskar (in Swedish) (Lund: Historiska Media): 71. 
  3. ^ a b c "The Swedish-Russian sea battles of 1790". Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Kriget mot Ryssland och slaget vid Svensksund". SO-rummet. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Super User. "Pennan & Svärdet - Pennan & Svärdet". Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  6. ^ "Battle at Sea". Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Mattila 1983, p. 209-210.
  8. ^ a b Mattila 1983, p. 210-211.
  9. ^ Mattila 1983, p. 212.
  10. ^ Mattila 1983, p. 212-213.
  11. ^ "1790 Slaget vid Svensksund (Fi12)". Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  12. ^ Sjöhistoriskasamfundet - Svensksund Retrieved 6 July 2015
  13. ^ Mattila 1983, p. 213-214.
  14. ^ Mattila 1983, p. 214.
  15. ^ a b Mattila 1983, p. 215.
  16. ^ Jan Glete, "Kriget till sjöss 1788-90" in Artéus (1992), pp. 162-64 for total strength and losses.
  17. ^ Historik - Svensksund Retrieved 6 July 2015
  18. ^ "St. Nikolai". National Board of Antiquities. Retrieved 22 April 2015. 


  • (Swedish) Artéus, Gunnar, Gustav III:s ryska krig. Probus, Stockholm. 1992. ISBN 91-87184-09-5
  • (Swedish) Ericsson Wolke, Lars & Martin Hårdstedt, Svenska sjöslag. Medströms förlag, Stockholm. 2009. ISBN 978-91-7329-030-2
  • (Finnish) Mattila, Tapani (1983). Meri maamme turvana [Sea safeguarding our country] (in Finnish). Jyväskylä: K. J. Gummerus Osakeyhtiö. ISBN 951-99487-0-8. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 60°26′00″N 26°57′30″E / 60.43333°N 26.95833°E / 60.43333; 26.95833