Carl Olof Cronstedt
Carl Olof Cronstedt
|Born||3 October 1756|
Botby mansion, Finland
|Died||7 April 1820 (aged 63)|
|Years of service||1765–1808|
|Commands held||Fleet of the Army (1773–1801)|
Sveaborg's Garrison (1801–1808)
|Battles/wars||American Revolutionary War|
Carl-Olof Cronstedt the elder (3 October 1756 – 7 April 1820) was a Swedish naval commander responsible for the overwhelming Swedish victory at the Second Battle of Svensksund, one of the largest naval battles in history. He is often better remembered, however, as the commander of the fortress of Sveaborg (Finnish: Suomenlinna) during the Finnish War in 1808–09, which was fought between Sweden and Imperial Russia, and ended in Cronstedt surrendering the fortress.
Cronstedt was born on Botby mansion (now a part of Helsinki) in Finland 3 October 1756. His parents were Johan Gabriel Cronstedt and Hedvig Juliana Jägerhorn af Spurila. He joined the army in 1765 and advanced to the rank of lieutenant in 1773. Only five years later, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. When Sweden in 1788 declared war on Russia he fought in the royal navy. In 1790 he won a great naval victory against the Russian fleet at the naval battle of Svensksund (in the Gulf of Finland). The naval battle is the greatest naval battle in the Baltic Sea history.
After the naval battle he was promoted to the rank of colonel and was appointed to naval state secretary. After further advances he was soon to become vice admiral. However, shortly after he was to be in disfavor of the new king and was appointed to be commander of Sveaborg. Cronstedt had desires to be commander of the whole royal fleet, not commander of some distant fortress in Finland.
In 1801, he was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, but was expelled in 1809.
Siege of Sveaborg
Cronstedt surrendered the fortress to the Russian army after a siege of two months. The fortress had internationally received the reputation of being "the Gibraltar of the North", and was by some assumed to be impregnable. In the peace treaty next year (1809), Sweden was forced to give up the territory of Finland (about half of the kingdom). In order to find scapegoats for the loss of Finland the surrendering of Sveaborg became a convenient vehicle, and as Cronstedt was the responsible officer, he was charged with the whole catastrophe.
Today, however, many historians are re-evaluating the action of Cronstedt. His decision to surrender the fortress was a great humanitarian act, in order to prevent the children and women within being killed by the Russians (many of the civilians from Helsinki had fled to the fortress and would likely have been be killed if Cronstedt had not reached agreements with the Russians). Furthermore, the war was doomed to a Swedish defeat already from the beginning. Sweden was not in the shape for war with no money or resources whatsoever. Cronstedt was the man to be blamed in order to save the dignity of King Gustav IV Adolf.
Sveaborg in the Finnish War
War broke out 21 February 1808 on the initiative of the Russian empire. The timing was unusual, as wars were usually fought in summertime, and the temperature at that time was -30 degrees Celsius (-22 F). Because of the cold winter, the poor condition of the Swedish army and the plan to retreat to the north, the Russian army faced poor resistance in Finland. So, the Finnish territory was overrun and half of the kingdom (Finland) was conquered in a few months. The Swedish main force retreated towards Sweden, leaving Sveaborg and Svartholm to defend themselves. The idea was that the fortresses would hold out and that reinforcements would arrive in the next summer. The fortress Svartholm surrendered already on 18 March. The siege of Sveaborg began in early March. After only three weeks of siege, negotiations between Carl-Olof Cronstedt and the commander of the Russian unit Jan Pieter van Suchtelen were held. The negotiations resulted in a deal, that if no reinforcements had arrived by 3 May, the fortress would unconditionally surrender. Unfortunately for the Swedes, the sea was still frozen in May 1808 and royal fleet could not arrive, therefore Sveaborg surrendered on 3 May.
A short story "Under Siege" (published in Omni, October, 1985) by George R.R. Martin takes place during the siege of Sveaborg, as well as in a dire future.
The legacy of Cronstedt
The surrender of Sveaborg in undoubtedly one of the most important events in the history of Finland. Therefore, Carl-Olof Cronstedt is naturally a central character of it. In Sweden, he was recognized as a traitor after the war, condemned to death in the court of Stockholm (later abolished on the initiative of the Russian emperor). He alone was made responsible for the loss of Finland, and therefore ending one era in Swedish history. During the earlier, era of greatness Sweden was in the 17th century recognized as a major power in Europe, and now Sweden had become a shadow of its former self.
Cronstedt was also by many condemned as a traitor in Finland. He was made a symbol of an embarrassing war and a failure to stop the Russian army. This war was for long an embarrassment for Finland until Johan Ludvig Runeberg wrote the national romantic poem collection The Tales of Ensign Stål. In this writing Runeberg paints the picture that the Finns fought bravely in the Finnish War and that everything was the fault of a few officers and the king. This was an encouragement for the Finnish national identity, in part built up on the hatred of Cronstedt.
The old legacy of Carl Olof Cronstedt was that Sweden was forced to give up half of its kingdom, whereas modern historians seem to explain the developments at Sveaborg by primarily smart psychological warfare combined with the widely spread low morale among Swedish officers. Today, Sweden and Finland are separate sovereign nations. It is therefore somewhat contradictory that Cronstedt has been seen as a traitor in Finland, when he is one of the main reasons for Finland being an independent nation.
In 1990's Cronstedt was remembered by naming a newly built street in Helsinki after him. Amiraali Cronstedtin ranta (Admiral Cronstedt's Quay) is located about one kilometre from the preserved admiral's manor in Herttoniemi.
- Olof af Hällström, Sveaborg - The Island Fortress off Helsinki (1986)
- Magnus Ullman, Örlogshistoriska episoder (1997)
- C.J.Gardberg, Sveaborg (1997)
- Göran Eriksson, Slaget vid Rilax 1714 (2006)
- Johan Ludvig Runeberg, The Tales of Ensign Stål
- Odelberg Wilhelm. Viceadmiral Carl Olof Cronstedt (1954)
- William Monteith, Narrative of the Conquest of Finland by the Russians in the Years 1808-9 (1854)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Carl Olof Cronstedt.|
- "Amiraali Cronstedtin ranta on Google Maps". Google. Retrieved 2013-10-18.