Gustavus III.
Finland Swedish, 1525-1808 Denmark 1660-1790 Russia under Catherine
Foreign Policy

The Swedish-Russian War of 1788-1790

Also known in Sweden as the Gustav III.s Russian War, the war with Denmark as the Theatre War

A.) The Diplomatic Pre-History of the War

In the 1780es the domestic situation in Sweden was precarious, and King Gustav III., who ruled the country absolute since 1772, believed a "little war" might help to distract the people from social ills. Swedish troops in Russian uniforms attacked a Swedish border post in Finland, causing an outrage in Stockholm which provided the excuse for the declaration of war on Russia.
Denmark, Russia's ally, in return declared war on Sweden.

B.) The Military Course of Events

THE RUSSIAN FRONT : The Swedes planned a naval assault on the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. The BATTLE OF HOGLAND (July 17th 1788) was indecisive, as was a battle fought near Oeland July 26th. On May 13th 1790 the Swedes suffered a defeat at Reval (Tallinn).
The dissatisfaction with Swedish policy in Finland, among Finland's ethnically Swedish noblemen, was of such a kind that in the ANJALA CONSPIRACY they invited Czarina Catherine to assume the throne of Grand Duchess of Finland (expecting her to recognize the traditional privileges of the Finnish nobility). It did not materialize then.
On May 22nd 1790, the Swedish fleet of c. 400 ships found itself trapped in Viborg Bay, as the exit was blocked by 150 Russian vessels. On July 3rd the Swedes forced their way out in the BATTLE OF VIBORG BAY in which both sides combined lost 50 ships. On July 9th and 10th 1790, the Swedish navy won the SECOND BATTLE OF SVENSKSUND, in which the Russians lost 9,500 out of 14,000 men, the Swedes c. 700 out of c.12,500. The battle was a decisive Swedish victory; the Russians entered peace negotiations; peace was signed at VAERAELAE on August 14th 1790.

THE DANISH FRONT : at KVISTUMBRO near Goeteborg on September 29th 1788 in the only battle of the war he Danes defeated the Swedes. In 1788 a Norwegian unit surprised and took prisoner a Swedish force in BOHUSLAEN, in what was locally called the COWBERRY WAR. These fights were minor engagements, and peace was signed on the basis of the status quo ante. Peace was signed on July 9th 1789.

C.) The Legacy

The war solved Gustav III.'s domestic problems only briefly; he was assassinated in 1792, and Sweden, after losing Finland in 1809, underwent a thorough, peaceful reform.
As the Anjala Conspiracy had shown, in Finland dissatisfaction with the policy made in Stockholm was widespread, and when Russian troops occupied Finland in 1808/09, the sympathies of the people were with them.
The Swedish-Russian War of 1788-1790 war thus was insignificant, neither gaining territory, defeating an invasion nor achieving lasting stabilization of the country.
Russia regarded the Swedish war as a distraction, was more concerned about events in Poland and France.
Denmark signed a peace on the basis of the status quo ante. The Danish government, in reaction to popular unrest everywhere in Europe, began implementing a reform policy (liberation of the serfs 1788).

The Swedish-Russian Sea Battles of 1790, from Nordic Underwater Archeology
Biography of General Georg Karl von Doebeln, 1758-1820, from Biographies of Swedish Military Leaders, fought as a junior officer on land
Biographies : Samuil Karlovich Graig (Samuel Craig), Vasily Vasil'evich Chichagov, from Glorious Pleiad of Russian admirals, encyclopedic
The Swedish - Russian war of 1788 - 1790, in : History of the Royal Swedish Navy, scroll down
Gustaf III: Ryska kriget 1788 - 1790, sjoekriget, by Hans Hogman
Chronology : Three Ages of russian Navy, from Russian Navy website, thin on the Swedish-Russian War
Timetable of Danish Military History, by Gert Laursen
Sweden : Major Wars and Territorial Changes, from SweGGate
History of Norway : 1550-1800, from Origo Culture
The History of the Russian Navy, see chapters 'Armed Neutrality', 'From Hogland to Barezund', 'Revel and Krasnaya Gorka', 'Vyborg and Rochensalm'
DOCUMENTS Medal : Russia, Peace with Sweden, 1790, from : coins
Guerra Ruso-Sueca 1788-1790, from Uniformes Militares 1740-1914, in Spanish

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 19th 2004

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