Friday, February 28, 2014

Battle of Helsingborg, 28th February, 1710

Magnus Stenbock vid Helsingborg by Gustaf Cederstroem
Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to take a moment to remember a significant event in the Great Northern War. As I stated in the post on this Kabinettskriege era war, the Great Northern War is divided into 3 large phases: 1700 to 1709, 1709-1718, and 1718-1722. Today, we are going to look at the Battle of Helsingborg, which occurred on February 28th 1710, according to the Swedish calendar.

This battle was the first major field battle in this war since the Battle of Poltava in 1709. In the Battle of Poltava, the Swedish army was totally defeated by a restructured Russian army under Peter I of Russia. I would recommend everyone read Swedish historian Peter Englund's book, The Battle Which Shook Europe, as he is both a great historian, and a great writer.

This battle occurred not between Sweden and Russia, but between Sweden and Denmark. The Danes had been invaded and knocked out of the war very early on, but with the defeat of Karl XII of Sweden at Poltava, they broke their treaty and resumed the attack. In October of 1709, they reoccupied Helsingborg and other cities in the region. They desperately wanted to reclaim Skåne, the southern portion of Sweden, which they had lost to the Swedes in the 17th century. You may know this area of Sweden, as it is the setting of the famous, "Wallander" series by Swedish author Henning Mankell. (Ystad is just off the map to the right.)  Magnus Stenbock, the leader of the Swedish forces in the king Karll XII's absence, realized that he could not defeat the Danes with the small number of soldiers he had (around 1,500 to the Danes 14,000) and withdrew to raise more forces.

The Attack at Helsingborg

By February, Stenbock had raised enough troops to stand a chance against the Danes. This is one of the battles of the Kabinettskriege period where the number of soldiers on each side was almost exactly equal, around 14,000 men each. The one difference here, is that the Swedish had slightly more cavalry, while the Danes had more infantry. While some military historians might immediately assume that this was to the advantage of the Swedes, (after all, Hannibal used his mounted arm to great effect,) it is equally fair to say that infantry is useful as well- see the Battle of Mollwitz, 1740.

Initial Deployment

Stenbock prepared to attack the Danish forces around Helsingborg, which was one of the larger cities in Skåne. The Danish commander, Jorgen Rantzau, expected the Swedes to attack from the northwest, along the Angelsholms road, but Stenbock, using a heavy fog as cover, shifted north and attacked along the Kulla road. Rantzau, seeing that his left flank was exposed, quickly shifted his army and reinforced this trouble spot.

Battle is joined
The Swedes advanced to the attack, and the cavalry on the Swedish left immediately engaged the Danes. The Karoliner possessed some of the finest cavalry in the world, and as a result, quickly got the better of their Danish opponents.

Danish Collapse

The Swedes also attacked with their infantry in the center, and finally their right wing cavalry. The Danish put up a good fight, better than the Saxons at Fraustadt, but their cavalry was unable to best the Swedes, leading to a collapse on the Danish right, which eventually panicked and routed the Danish army. The Danish lost 1,500 killed,  3,500 wounded, and 2,677 captured, or just over 50% losses. The Swedes on the other hand, lost 897 killed, and 2,098 wounded, or around 20% losses. The unusually large Danish loss (by Kabinettskriege standards) can be attributed to the high ration of Swedish cavalry, which effectively pursued the Danes.
Magnus Stenbock i Mälmo, by Gustaf Cederstroem

This battle revitalized Swedish belief in their cause, and Stenbock would go on to win another victory at Gadebusch in Germany. This would prolong the war, dragging it out to the bitter end in 1722, when having been horribly defeated by Russia, Sweden surrendered. However, when looked at in another sense, Helsingborg gave us the Sweden we have today. As recently as 1658, Skåne had been under the control of Denmark, and if Stenbock had lost at Helsingborg, Denmark would have likely received Skåne in the peace settlement of the Great Northern War. However, because of this victory, Skåne remained part of Sweden, up to the present day.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

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