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The Finnish War

The Finnish War

The Finnish War was fought between Sweden and Russia from February 1808 to September 1809. As a result of the war, the eastern third of Sweden was established as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire. Other notable effects were the Swedish parliament's adoption of a new constitution and the establishment of the House of Bernadotte, the new Swedish royal house, in 1818.

After the Russian Emperor Alexander I concluded the 1807 Treaty of Tilsit with Napoleon, he suggested that the Swedish King Gustav IV Adolf should join the Continental System. The king, who viewed Napoleon as the Antichrist, Britain as his traditional ally and was apprehensive of the system's ruinous consequences for Sweden's maritime commerce, instead entered into negotiations with Britain in order to prepare a joint attack against Denmark, whose Norwegian possessions he coveted.

In the meantime, the Royal Navy attacked Copenhagen and the Anglo-Russian War was declared. Referring to the treaties of 1780 and 1800, the emperor demanded Gustav Adolf to close the Baltic Sea to all foreign warships. Although he reiterated his demand on November 16, 1807, it took two months before the king responded that it was impossible to honor the previous arrangements as long as the French were in control of the major Baltic ports.

Although most Swedish officers were skeptical about their chances in fighting the larger and more experienced Russian army, Gustav Adolf had an unrealistic view of Sweden's ability to defend itself against Russia. In Saint Petersburg, his stubbornness was viewed as a convenient pretext to occupy Finland, thus pushing the Russo-Swedish frontier considerably to the west of the Russian capital and safeguarding it in case of any future hostilities between the two powers.

On February 21, 1808, 24,000 Russian troops under Friedrich Wilhelm von Buxhoevden crossed the border and captured Hämeenlinna. The king was quite unprepared for the attack, especially as war was not declared until April. About 21,000 Swedish troops were stationed in various fortresses of Finland, while the rest of his army was unable to leave southern Sweden for fear of Danish attack.

The plan of the Swedish commander, Johan Adam Cronstedt, was to retreat into Ostrobothnia leaving only the isolated fortresses of Svartholm and Sveaborg behind. In March, the Russians with only modest troops overran, basically without resistance: Kuopio; Tampere; Jakobstad; Svartholm, which surrendered after a short siege; Helsinki; Hanko; and landed in Gotland and the Åland Islands. Buxhoevden laid siege to Sveaborg, which surrendered on May 3 with 6,000 soldiers, 100 vessels, and more than 700 cannons, as the commanding officer Carl Olof Cronstedt and his council thought that resistance was futile.

Under a new commander, Carl Johan Adlercreutz, the Swedish army counter-attacked and the Russian offensive was halted. Nikolay Tuchkov, a Russian general who was dispatched to the north of Finland, left garrisons in every fort on his way, thus reducing his unit to 4,000 troops, which proved insufficient to pacify the hostile country. The Finns rose up in guerrilla fighting as far as Hamina (in Russian "Old Finland"), where the unit of Colonel Sandels was active. Kulnev's detachment was defeated at Siikajoki (April 18) as was Bulatov's contingent at Revolax (April 27).

In May, the Russians suffered further setbacks when they were driven from Gotland and Åland, where a Swedish flotilla, supported by the local population, compelled Colonel Vuich and his garrison to surrender. On May 26, a British fleet manned by 14,000 troops entered the port of Gothenburg but, due to various disagreements with the king, never landed and proceeded to fight the French in Spain after leaving 16 battleships and 20 other ships at Sweden's disposal.

After the Russians were driven from Central Finland, their forces stretched along the line of Pori Ч Tampere Ч Mikkeli. Having received considerable reinforcements, their numbers increased to 55,000, as opposed to the 36,000 their opponents had. On August 14, Count Nikolay Kamensky decided to use this numerical superiority to launch a new offensive.

Although Georg Carl von Döbeln won the Battle of Jutas for Sweden on September 13, Kamensky's 11,000-strong corps achieved more important victories at Kuortane on September 1, at Salmi on September 2, and at Oravais on September 14. Swedish attempts to land troops near Turku were stalled by Bagration's prompt actions. In Eastern Finland, the guerrilla movement was gradually extinguished. As a consequence, Russia's situation in Southern Finland improved significantly.

In the north, the situation was more complicated. Tuchkov's battered unit strained to hold its own against Sandels, while the progress of a relief force under General Alekseyev was contained by guerrilla fighters. It was not until September 26 that Prince Dolgorukov (Alekseyev's replacement) managed to join his forces with Tuchkov, inducing Sandels to retreat. Three days later, Buxhoevden Ч pressed by the early onset of winter weather Ч signed an armistice, much to the dismay of Napoleon. The emperor refused to ratify the truce and replaced Buxhoevden with a new commander-in-chief, Boris Knorring in December of the same year.

The Swedish situation was further weakened by being at war with France and Denmark, both of whom threatened Sweden's possessions with a joint invasion of 45,000 troops in Denmark (under French general Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte) and a further 36,000 in Norway. This forced the Swedes to allocate their main forces to southern Sweden and against the Norwegian border (23,000 troops). Denmark had declared war on Sweden on March 14 but no serious hostilities occurred except for a series of inconclusive minor skirmishes along the Norwegian border as the Spanish situation in April started to increasingly require the attention of Napoleon and as the British navy remained a continuous threat for troop movements between Denmark and Sweden.

By that time, Russian forces had overrun all of Finland. On November 19, the Convention of Olkijoki was signed and the Swedish army was forced to leave the country. The emperor was, however, now eager to bring hostilities to the territory of Sweden proper, which was certain to bring the war to a victorious end.

With these reasons in mind, Kamensky suggested a daring plan, whereby the Russian army was to cross the frozen Gulf of Bothnia in two directions: one unit was to march from Vaasa towards Umeå and another from Turku to the Åland Islands and thence towards the vicinity of Stockholm. A third unit was to advance on Tornio and arrive in Sweden by land.

Although Knorring was urged to execute the plan as quickly as possible, he regarded the idea as unrealistic and procrastinated until March, when the emperor dispatched the War Minister Arakcheyev to Finland in order to pressure Knorring into action before arriving at the army himself.

As Russian forces embarked upon their unprecedented march across the frozen Baltic on March 13, King Gustav IV Ч accused of fatal mistakes leading to the loss of Finland Ч was dethroned in Stockholm and his uncle was proclaimed Charles XIII of Sweden. Four days later, Bagration's corps of 17,000 men occupied the strategic Åland Islands, while Kulnev led the vanguard further across the frozen sea and on March 19 reached the Swedish shore within 70 km from Stockholm.

When news of Kulnev's incursion spread to the Swedish capital, the new king sent an embassy to Knorring, proposing a truce. The Russian commander agreed and speedily recalled Kulnev back to Åland. In the meantime, another Russian contingent Ч 5,000 men under Barclay de Tolly Ч endured great hardships in crossing the frozen gulf further north: they entered Umeå on March 24.

A third force, commanded by Count Shuvalov, struck against Tornio and, braving fierce frost, encircled a Swedish army, which capitulated on March 25. Six days later, the czar arrived in Turku and, on learning about the truce, not only revoked Knorring's signature but named Barclay de Tolly new Commander-in-Chief. Hostilities thus continued until May, when Shuvalov finally reached Umeå, where he was succeeded by Kamensky.

In August, Charles XIII, anxious to reach a better peace settlement, ordered Sandels to land in the north of Sweden and to attack Kamensky's rear. The last engagements of the war, at Sävar and Ratan, proved inconclusive and Kamensky succeeded in neutralizing this belated counter-offensive.

Sandels's action was only a prelude to the peace negotiations that opened in August and resulted in the Treaty of Fredrikshamn (September 17), in which Sweden ceded the whole of Finland and part of Lapland east of the Torne River (part of Norrlands län) to Russia. Sweden closed its harbours to British ships and joined the Continental System, leading to the formal declaration of war on Great Britain. A few months later, on January 6, 1810, the Russian government mediated the Treaty of Paris between Sweden and France. Russia would attach areas ceded earlier during the 18th century by Sweden to the newly formed Grand Duchy of Finland including so-called Old Finland. The Grand Duchy of Finland was to retain the Gustavian constitution of 1772 with only slight modifications until 1919. Almost all Finnish soldiers in Sweden (most of them in the Umeå area) were repatriated after the war.

Åland Islands, 2009, Boundary post

Finland, 1940, Soldiers of War with Russia

Finland, 1958, March of the Pori Regiment Soldiers

Finland, 1959, Opening of Diet, 1809

Finland, 2009, Aleksander I

Finland, 2009, Sprengtporten

Sweden, 2009, Jubilee words

Sweden, 2009, Jubilee words

Finland, 1959.03.22, Borgo. Cathedral

Finland, 2009.01.22, Helsinki. Swords

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