Sweden 1792-1810 Finland 1525-1808 Denmark 1790-1814 Russia 1796-1815
Foreign Policy

The Swedish-Russian War of 1808

A.) The Diplomatic Pre-History of the War

During the WAR OF THE THIRD COALITION, Sweden and Russia have been allies, together with Britain, Austria and Prussia. Sweden's contribution by and large had been paid for by British subsidies, it was thus regarded depending heavily on Britain.
Russia came to experience the coalition as rather unreliable - the Prussians, against agreement, withheld their troops in 1805, the Austro-Russian troops were consequently defeated at Austerlitz. Most coalition members acted on their own; Russia was most suspicious of Britain.
Between July 7th and 9th 1807 Napoleon and Czar Alexander I. met at Tilsit. Russia switched sides, formally joined the Continental Blockade against Britain. As Sweden was regarded a British ally, Napoleon agreed to a Russian attack on Sweden with the object of the conquest of Finland.
Although Denmark-Norway, another French ally, had old matters to settle with Sweden and this was an excellent opportunity to do so, the country still suffered from the British temporary seizure of Copenhagen in 1807. On March 14th 1808 Denmark declared war.

B.) The Military Course of Events

Sweden had an army of 66,000 men, a part of which was withheld in Sweden proper for fear of a Danish attack on Scania. Russia had, according to Swedish calculations, 80,000 men at the most to employ in the Finnish campaign. Gustav IV. Adolf ordered a Finnish militia of 30,000 men to be established, which turned out to be of little military value and suffered heavily from epidemics. The Russian invasion began on February 21st 1808, with 24,000 men. The actual defensive force available in Finland numbered 22,000 men, 7,000 of them stationed in Sveaborg.
The Swedish strategy was to retreat, slowing down the Russian advance by skirmishes, and to rely on a number of fortresses, most importantly Sveaborg, in which the Swedes could spend the coming winter while the Russians had to camp out in the open.
The campaign in Finland saw Russian troops advancing, occupying much of the country. A number of smaller battles were fought, at Siikajoki and Revolaks (Russian victories), at Lappo (Swedish victory), at Oravais (Russian victory). Most critical was the fortress of SVEABORG. After a brief bombardment, fortress commander CARL OLOF CRONSTEDT signed an agreement on April 5th 1808, according to which he would surrender the fortress with her cannons and ammunition to the Russians if not relief would arrive from Sweden by May 3rd in form of at least five ships-of the line. This relief did not materialize and the fortress was handed over to the Russians - an incident which, by many Swedes, was regarded treason.
Napoleon had sent 22,000 men, mostly Spaniards in French service, under the command of Field Marshal JEAN-BAPTISTE BERNADOTTE to support the Danish troops, numbering 13,000, in their operations against Sweden, which was supported by 11,000 British soldiers. Swedish General ARMFELT, with 8,000 men under his command, invaded Norway (April 13th 1808); the troops were recalled May 19th, without having accomplished a major victory or conquest. On July 2nd, Norwegian forces invaded JÄMTLAND, expelled from Sweden by the end of the month by forces under General GEORG KARL VON DÖBELN. The British fleet, throughout the entire war, prevented any attempt of an invasion of Sweden by Danish-French troops.

C.) The Legacy

In November 1808 the CONVENTION OF OLKIJOKI was signed, according to which Finland to the south/east of the Kemi River was left to the Russians. Negotiations over the border dragged on; finally the TORNEÅ RIVER was fixed as the border.
After 6 centuries, Sweden lost Finland forever, including the Åland Islands with their Swedish speaking population. Sweden's foreign policy underwent a reorientation; to regain Finland was highly unlikely, so Swedish aspirations turned on the acquisition of Norway.
Finland, now a Grand Duchy (the Czar being the Grand Duke) saw the reintegration of Eastern Karelia (lost 1721) and Western Karelia (1743) and was granted some degree of political autonomy.
Denmark and Sweden signed a peace treaty on December 10th 1809 in Jönköping.

Biography of General Georg Karl von Döbeln, 1758-1820, from Biographies of Swedish Military Leaders
Kriget med Rysland 1808-1809, by Hans Hogman, in Swedish, scroll down
Sveaborg Homepage
Bibliography of the Russo-Swedish War of 1808-1809, from Napoleon Series
The Russo-Swedish War, from Napoleon Series, very detailed, focusses entirely on the events in Finland
Russo Swedish war of 1808 - 09 : Scandinavian Campaign, by Nick Dorell, wargaming site; yet very precise historical information, much on the Norwegian war theatre
The Final War. The Russo-Swedish War of 1808-1809, by Göran Frilund
Georg Carl von Döbelns Personarkiv, from RA Stockholm, Krigsarkivet, in Swedish
DOCUMENTS Gustav IV. Adolf's Proclamation concerning the Fall of Sveaborg, from A selection of events and documents on the history of Finland, May 6th 1808 (in English translation; also available in Swedish)
Peace Treaty between Russia and Sweden, signed Sept. 1st 1809, from A selection of events and documents on the history of Finland (in French; also available in Swedish and Finnish)
Finska Kriget 1808-1809, from Text- och Diktarkivet, a compilation of Swedish language poetry and prose; here on the topic of the war of 1808 to 1809

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

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