Friday, July 24, 2015

Battle of Leppävirta 11.march 1808

  The Russians crossed the eastern border of the Kingdom of Sweden on the 21st of February, 1808. The winter was harsh and attacking in the winter was quite unorthodox, but this gave the Russians two advantages. Firstly, the Swedes were denied quick reinforcements because the sea was frozen and any supporting troops would have to march into Finland by land. This would make it easier to capture the strategic fortress of Viapori. Secondly, the winter conditions would actually make it easier to move armies in eastern Finland (Savolax region). The road network there was really poor, but during the winter roads were maintained on the ice of the extensive network of lakes in the region, and these were much easier to march on.

Johan Adam Cronstedt
The Russians were in Savolax in no time, and threatened the base of the Savolax brigade stationed in Mikkeli. Johan Adam Cronstedt, the commander of the brigade had had sufficient time to muster his forces. He had about 3500 men at his disposal and faced Tutskov who had roughly twice as many. Cronstedt couldn't cover all the Russian roads leading to Savolax from Mikkeli and decided to retreat. Meanwhile the main army in western Finland was also retreating before the Russian army as there was a great danger of having their supply lines cut if Cronstedt couldn't hold back the Russians. It was decided that the whole army would retreat to Oulu and wait for reinforcements, leaving Finland in Russian hands in the meanwhile.

The map of the battle.
On March 11th, the Savolax Brigade was caught by the Russian vanguard at Leppävirta and the brigade was forced to deploy on the ice of the Unnukka bay close to Leppävirta. The Russians advanced boldly with 1600 men on the ice which lead them to a difficult situation as the Swedish jaegers held the shores of the bay, threatening Russian flanks. The Russian vanguard was outnumbered and the Swedish held a good position, but Cronstedt did not want to tie his brigade in a battle. The skirmish lasted for three hours with some artillery fire and some fighting between the jaegers. One of the infantry half-battalions was attempting a manoeuver into the Russian rear but Cronstedt recalled them. Cronstedt lost only 9 men while the Russian casualties are unknown but similarly minor.

Prior to the game in this article we visited the site of the battle as it's close to my home. It's July so there's no ice or snow even if it is the coldest summer in decades here. Still, viewing the battlefield gave us some insight into the scale of the battle and the position the troops were in:

The woods at the site of the jaeger skirmish
Can't draw a very effective LOS here :)

The pastor of the infantry regiment, Carl Johan Holm complains in his memoirs that the brigade was in a good position to whip the Russians and that Cronstedt had been too timid to take advantage of this situation. This leads to our refight as we're about to see if Holm was right!

The portion of the map our 6x4 table covers. One centimeter on the table equals about ten meters.
Using our freshly painted 6mm armies and General de Brigade for the rules, we refought Leppävirta. We started off from the positions in which the armies had stood in, and committed them into a battle. We used the scenario designed by GeMiGaBok as a basis. The Swedish side has two half-battalions of line infantry, two battalions of jaegers, two squadrons of dragoons and a battery of 6-pounder guns. The Russians have two battalions of line infantry, one battalion of jaegers, a battery of guns and two units of hussars and cossacks each. The Swedes have a slight advantage in numbers and a good position.

Commentary is embedded in the images: 

So the Savolax Brigade was victorious, inflicting three or four times as many casualties to their enemy than which they received! Our meticulously realistic military simulation clearly proves that had the Savonians attacked that day, they would have been victorious. There is just one big BUT. This was just the Russian VANGUARD. Cronstedt was facing an army twice as big as his brigade. Cronstedt was guarding the backdoor route into Oulu right behind the Swedish main army. If he would have defeated the Russians at Leppävirta there would have been more of them and the Savolax brigade did not have positions where they could stop the Russians entirely. If the brigade would become worn in battle or lose, they could not protect the Swedish rear effectively, simple as that. It shows us that people such as Holm are quick to complain about the tactical situation while ignoring the strategic situation. Cronstedt was right to play it safe in order to fulfill his strategic goals.

As for the the game, as you can see, jaegers are prominent and important in the Finnish War because the terrain is so congested and the forces small. The rules we use therefore need good skirmishing rules and General de Brigade seems to fit the bill, even if the system is showing it's age with all the charts and the modifiers. A lot of the Napoleonic rules out there are focused on a grander scale and leave skirmishing as a footnote. I also like the orders system in GdB.

I don't have closeups on the models I painted for you yet. I hoped to do this the other way around, presenting the game after showing off the new models, but I want to finish two more stands of Savonian infantry before photographing the brigade. As for gaming, I think we will play the battles of Siikajoki and Revolax next so that we have the winter of 1808 covered after that.

PS: When speaking about the Finnish war (or the Russo-Swedish war of 1808-1809) I will often refer to armies composed almost entirely of ethnic Finns as Swedish because for all intents and purposes, Finland was part of Sweden during that time and Finns fought in the Swedish army. Most of the units engaged during the war were Finns commanded by Swedish officers. The soldier would speak Finnish among themselves, but orders rang out in Swedish. I hope that helps any "outsiders" understand the nature of the army.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Russo-Swedish War 1808-1809 in 6mm

In 1808 the Kingdom of Sweden felt the echoes of the Treaty of Tilsit. Gustav IV Adolf, the Swedish monarch, was still unwilling to join the Continental System against England. To force the Swedes to join in, Russia invades Finland, then still a part of the Swedish realm. This would have major repercussions as Sweden would be forced to cede Finland to Russia, the inept Gustav would be deposed in a military coup and this in turn would make way for the Bernadotte family to gain the throne later on. A throne they still hold today.

From a Swedish/Finnish perspective the war was very much a failure. The army was in a state of stagnation and during the war the king, fancying himself a general, kept interfering with the real military leaders of the army. Opposing them was a veteran army which had experienced the War of the Third Coalition and was led by the likes of Buxhoevden, De Tolly and Bagration. Still, the war interests me greatly even if there isn't much in the way of "lost cause" sympathy. 

Politically, it pushed Finland from the bosom of Sweden where she had been since the medieval times into an uncertain place where she had to consider her identity. This, combined with it's autonomous position granted by the enlightened Alexander I would lead to Finnish independence more than a century later.  For Sweden, it was the end of an era where it could consider itself a major player on the world stage (let's see if I anger some Swedes by saying that ;)

Strategically the war contains plenty of interesting what-if's. What if the formidable and modern fortress of Sveaborg hadn't surrendered and had continued to resist until relief could have been sent by sea after the melting of the ice? What if the Swedish amphibious landings were not such a military blunder or those troops put to better use? What if the Swedish army hadn't been so slow to react to the Russian invasion? There is plenty we can consider in hindsight which might have influenced the course of the war, perhaps giving Sweden better terms on the negotiation table. 

Tactically, the war differs from your typical Napoleonic age battle.Firstly, the scale is much smaller. The engagement might involve a couple of battalions per side, perhaps a small brigade. The ground in Finland is so broken by woods, lakes and rocky ground that large forces cannot be brought to bear and typical line formation tactics are difficult to use. Therefore most of the engagements in the Finnish war as we'll call it, included extensive use of open order formations and skirmishing. Jaegers were very important and both sides used them a lot.

A map and a description of a delay action fought in the Jynkkä bay near Kuopio.

Finally, the war interests me because I live right on top of some of these battles and skirmishes. The first battle we will report will the battle of Leppävirta, fought just 20 kilometers from my house. A Swedish ambush on a Russian supply column took place just two kilometers from my home. The city of Kuopio where I work is also the site of several engagements. The site of the battle of Virta bro as the Swedes call it, (Koljonvirran taistelu in Finnish), which might be the most famous battle of the war, is just an hour and a half's drive away. The graves of the soldiers who fought in the war are found in local cemeteries. Naturally this makes the war more personal to me than say, the American Civil War which I also enjoy wargaming. 

Ok, this was just a prologue to start off this project. I started painting some of the models a good while ago but only started working on it properly a few weeks ago. Next week we'll play our first battle and after that I will tell you more about the models, basing and rules we will be using. Right now I have a brigade to finish!