Ice campaign of the Russian army

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Ice campaign of the Russian army
Ice campaign of the Russian army

Video: Ice campaign of the Russian army

Video: Ice campaign of the Russian army
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210 years ago, in March 1809, the Russian army made the famous Ice Campaign, which brought it victory in the Russian-Swedish War of 1808-1809. During this campaign, Russian troops under the command of Peter Bagration and Barclay de Tolly made an unprecedented campaign on the ice of the Gulf of Bothnia to the islands of the Aland archipelago and the coast of Sweden.

The campaign plan of the Russian army for 1809 provided for the capture of the Aland Islands, the invasion of the Swedish kingdom from three directions, the occupation of Stockholm and forcing the enemy to peace on Russian terms. For this purpose, by the beginning of hostilities, three detachments were formed: 1) the Southern Corps under the command of PI Bagration (according to various sources, about 15-18 thousand people with 20 guns); 2) the middle corps under the command of MB Barclay de Tolly (3,500 men with 8 guns); 3) Northern corps under the command of P. A. Shuvalov (about 4 - 5 thousand people with 8 guns).

General BF Knorring, commander-in-chief of the Russian army in Finland, believed that this plan could not be realized. Therefore, in every possible way he delayed the start of the offensive. Hoping that when the ice begins to melt in the Gulf of Bothnia, it will be abandoned. However, under pressure from the Minister of War A. A. Arakcheev, he was forced to launch an offensive. Bagration's corps set out on February 26 (March 10), 1809 from Abo (Finland) and, crossing the Gulf of Bothnia across the ice, reached the Aland Islands. Having suppressed the weak resistance of 6,000 the Swedish garrison of General G. Debeln, Russian troops occupied the archipelago on March 6 (18), capturing 2 thousand people prisoners, 32 guns and about 150 ships and vessels bound in ice. Pursuing the retreating Swedes, the Russian 1-th. the advance detachment under the command of General Ya. P. Kulnev went to the Swedish coast on March 7 (19), captured the city of Grislehamn (Hargshamn). Thus, the Russian army created a threat to the Swedish capital. Panic broke out in Stockholm.

The troops of Barclay de Tolly, crossing the Kvarken Strait on the ice (connecting the northern and southern parts of the Gulf of Bothnia), occupied the city of Umeå on March 12 (24). Shuvalov's northern corps, advancing along the coast, occupied Tornio (Torneo) without a fight, and captured Kalix on March 13 (25). Our troops outflanked the 7-thous. General Grippenberg's Swedish corps, the enemy capitulated.

Meanwhile, in the Swedish capital on March 1 (13), 1809, King Gustav IV Adolf was overthrown. The conspiracy was led by the military, dissatisfied with the king's policies, which led to an economic and military crisis. The Regent, Duke Karl of Södermanland (future King Charles XIII) asked the Russian command for an armistice. General Knorring, who feared that the breaking of the ice would lead to a blockade of the Russian army in Sweden and its defeat, accepted this offer. Although there was a strategic opportunity to complete the defeat of Sweden. On March 20-25, 1809, Bagration's troops withdrew to their original positions. A small garrison was left on the Aland Islands.

Soon, Tsar Alexander I, who arrived in Finland, canceled the truce. The fighting continued. Knorring was replaced by Barclay de Tolly. Shuvalov's detachment took Umeå. The new Swedish government decided to continue the hostilities and recapture Ostrobothnia (Ostrobothnia - the middle part of Finland). However, the Swedes were unable to turn the tide of the war and organize a partisan war on the territory of Finland occupied by the Russian army. In September 1809, Sweden signed a peace treaty, ceding Finland and the Aland Islands to the Russian Empire.

Thus, the Ice Campaign in March 1809, although it did not achieve its goal, ultimately predetermined the outcome of the war. On September 5 (17), 1809, exhausted by the war, Sweden signed a peace treaty in Friedrichsgam.

Ice campaign of the Russian army
Ice campaign of the Russian army

"The passage of Russian troops across the Gulf of Bothnia in March 1809". Woodcut by L. Veselovsky, K. Kryzhanovsky after the original by A. Kotzebue 1870s

Russo-Swedish war

Sweden was an old enemy of Russia. The great Russian princes, Novgorod, Muscovy and the Russian Empire fought with the Swedes. The military-strategic and economic interests of Sweden and Russia collided in the Baltic States and Finland. In the course of the weakening of the Russian state, the Swedes were able to occupy the Russian sphere of influence in Finland and the Baltic states, the Russian northwestern lands.

Peter the Great during the long Northern War of 1700 - 1721. returned the previously lost cities and territories - part of Karelia, Izhora land (Ingermanlandia), Estonia and Livonia. During the wars of 1741 - 1743. and 1788 - 1790 Sweden tried to take revenge, but was defeated. At the beginning of the 19th century, Stockholm still hoped to take revenge and return at least part of the lost territories. The Swedish kingdom at this time remained one of the most powerful European powers with a strong army and navy. Sweden had a developed industry and was the main center of European metallurgy.

Initially, Russia and Sweden were allies in the fight against Napoleonic France. However, Alexander I was defeated in the fight against Napoleon, and in 1807 Russia and France became allies by concluding the Tilsit Agreement. Russia joined the continental blockade of England, the main enemy of France. The British attacked an ally of Russia - Denmark. Russia and England found themselves in a state of sluggish war (there is no common border for active confrontation). Petersburg demanded Sweden's support - on the basis of previous agreements to close the Baltic Sea to the British, Gustav IV rejected these demands and headed for rapprochement with London. The British promised the Swedes help in the fight against Russia - money and a fleet. In addition, the Swedes were going to recapture Norway from Denmark, and the Danes were allies of Russia. As a result, Petersburg decided to start a war with Sweden in order to protect the capital from a long-standing threat from the north. In turn, Napoleon promised Russia full support, even if Alexander wanted to annex all of Sweden.

The fighting began in February 1808. An unfavorable circumstance for Russia was that St. Petersburg did not want to concentrate a serious army against Sweden. The Russian army at that time was at war with the Ottoman Empire. In addition, St. Petersburg still secretly considered the main enemy of Napoleon's empire, and the main and best forces of the Russian Empire stood in the western strategic direction. Therefore, the Russian army at the beginning of the war numbered only 24 thousand people against 19 thousand Swedes. At the same time, it was not necessary to count on a serious increase. The Russian fleet in the Baltic was weak in composition and quality, it was launched, so there was no need to count on serious support from the sea either.

In the spring of 1808, the Russian army took the main, strategic fortress of the Swedes - Sveaborg, with hundreds of guns, huge reserves and part of the Swedish fleet. During the campaign of 1808, the Russian army occupied the whole of Finland with stubborn battles. All the Swedish fortresses were captured, the Swedish landings were repelled. The main difficulty was the Finnish partisan war led by Swedish officers. However, the partisans were also defeated. Swedish troops retreated to the territory of Sweden itself. The English fleet was unable to exert any influence on the war on land.

Thus, during the campaign of 1808, the Russian army captured Finland and all the Swedish fortresses there, including the largest base and arsenal of the Swedes - Sveaborg. However, the Swedish army, having retreated to the territory of the Swedish kingdom, retained its combat capability. In winter, the Swedes had the opportunity to recuperate and continue the war with renewed vigor. The Swedish fleet, supported by the British, had superiority at sea. A further offensive along the seashore was complicated by poor communications and problems in the supply of troops. It was clear that in the spring the rested and replenished Swedish army would try to return Finland, and a partisan war would be organized again. The Finnish coast, cut by bays, stretched for many hundreds of miles, so it could not be reliably covered from Swedish landings. It was impossible to drag out the war, a new big war was brewing in Europe.


Ice hike plan

The Russian high command, headed by Emperor Alexander, understood this well. Despite the conquest of Finland, the enemy army retained its combat capability and in the spring of 1809 the struggle was to begin again. The war dragged on. It was very dangerous. The war with the Swedes had to be ended as quickly as possible with a decisive blow. So the idea was born of the passage of Russian troops across the ice of the frozen Baltic Sea in order to capture Aland and strike at the heart of Sweden. Force the enemy to admit defeat.

The plan was bold and bold. The huge Gulf of Bothnia between Finland and Sweden was covered with ice at times. But a thaw could come at any moment. There have been winter storms in the Baltic that would have easily broken the ice and killed the troops. It was necessary to walk about 100 miles on unreliable sea ice towards a strong enemy. Moreover, it was not even ice of frozen rivers and lakes. Sea storms often broke the ice shell, then frost again fettered the wreckage. It turned out whole ice mountains, impassable hummocks, in which it was necessary to look for a new path. In the ice, there were huge openings and cracks, they could be covered with snow.

In addition, there was a danger that storms or thaws would destroy the ice immediately after a successful crossing, and our army would be cut off from reinforcements and without supplies. The fleet, in such a situation, could not yet provide assistance to the ground forces. The author of this plan, apparently, was the young talented general Nikolai Kamensky, who distinguished himself in the battles for Finland in 1808. At the end of 1808, Kamensky fell ill and left the Finnish front. In 1810 he will lead the Danube army and inflict a series of heavy defeats on the Turks. However, in 1811 a fever would kill him.

The commander-in-chief of the Russian army in Finland was then Count Fyodor Fedorovich Buxgewden. and 1806-1807 He commanded the Russian army in the war with Sweden and during the campaign of 1808 his troops established control over the whole of Finland.: "The battalions are not frigates to walk the bays …".

Emperor Alexander appointed a new commander - Bogdan Fedorovich Knorring, also from the Baltic German nobles. He also had vast combat experience, fought with the Turks, Poles and French. However, Knorring, considering the plan of the army's march on the ice of the Gulf of Bothnia too risky and not having the will to directly oppose the plan of St. Petersburg, in every possible way delayed the start of the operation under the pretext of lack of proper preparation and necessary supplies. He didn’t want to take risks that couldn’t be calculated. Knorring waited, hoping that with the melting of the ice, the plan could be abandoned.

So Commander-in-Chief Knorring dragged on all winter. Finally, in February 1809, he admitted that he was not ready for the Ice Campaign and asked for resignation. Winter was coming to an end, and the war threatened to become protracted. Then Alexander sent his favorite Alexei Arakcheev to the front. About him, the liberals created a "black myth" about a stupid soldier, a negative and reactionary persecutor of everything advanced, the "club" of the tsar. Indeed, he was a decisive and tough statesman, a talented manager and artilleryman, who, by the war of 1812, created such artillery that did not step into the French, or even surpassed it.

Arakcheev received unlimited power in Finland. At the meeting in Abo, all the commanders spoke about the complexity and enormous risk of the operation. Only Bagration said resolutely: "… order, let's go!" Arakcheev decided to go. Through his efforts, the troops were supplied with everything necessary. In particular, the troops received winter clothing - fur hats, sheepskin coats, sheepskin sleeveless jackets under greatcoats and felt boots. It was impossible to burn fires on the ice for cooking, so the soldiers were supplied with portions of bacon and flasks of vodka. The horses were reforged with new winter horseshoes, the guns were put on the winter sledges.

Russian troops in Finland were divided into three corps detachments under the command of Shuvalov, Barclay de Tolly and Bagration. Shuvalov's northern corps was supposed to advance along the seashore from the area of the city of Uleaborg to the city of Tornio (Torneo) and further west and south to the city of Umeo. The middle corps of Barclay de Tolly received the task to go from the city of Vasa (Vaza) on the coast of Finland to Umeå along the ice of the Kvarken Strait, about 90 miles in total. The main blow was delivered by the forces of Bagration's Southern Corps. Our troops were supposed to travel about 90 miles from the Abo region along the ice of the Gulf of Bothnia, capture Aland and then go on the ice for about 40 miles more and reach the Stockholm region. The soldiers of Bagration had to overcome the icy expanses of the Gulf of Bothnia in frost and blizzard, smash a strong Swedish garrison in Aland, occupy fortified islands, reach the Swedish coast and gain a foothold there.

Bagration's corps numbered about 17 thousand people: 30 infantry battalions, 4 cavalry squadrons, 600 Cossacks and 20 guns. The Swedish corps in Åland numbered 6,000 regular troops and 4,000 local militias. The islands were prepared for defense. All the inhabitants of the islands located between Finland and Greater Åland (the largest island in the archipelago were evicted, villages were burned, supplies were destroyed.



At the end of February 1809, Bagration's detachment from the Abo region moved to the starting point on Kumlinge Island. On March 3 (15), 1809, Russian troops began their amazing campaign. The troops were moving in 5 columns. The vanguards marched at the head of the columns. The columns were followed by two reserves. By developing a swift offensive from the front and at the same time bypassing the Swedish corps from the south, the Russians created a threat to encircle the enemy. Fearing the blockade and the fact that the beginning of spring would cut them off from Sweden, the Swedes abandoned their stubborn defense and fled. Already on March 6 (18), Bagration's detachment captured Aland, taking more than 2 thousand people prisoners and serious trophies (including part of the Swedish fleet that was wintering here). The enemy was pursued by the advance detachment of Major General Kulnev. On March 7 (19), the Russians reached the shores of Sweden and with a quick blow captured the city of Grislehamn, 80 km from the Swedish capital. The news of the appearance of the Russians ("The Russians are coming!") Caused panic in Sweden.

Other Russian corps were also successful. Reinforcements did not have time to approach the north of Finland, so Barclay de Tolly's detachment numbered only about 3, 5 thousand people. Russian soldiers came out on the ice of the Kvarken Bay in the early morning of March 8. From the very beginning, the Russian soldiers faced terrible difficulties. A few weeks ago, a violent storm tore the ice and piled icy mountains. The soldiers had to climb these obstacles or remove them from the path, and even in a blizzard. The horses, cannons and the supply train had to be abandoned, it was impossible to drag them through the icy cliffs. A strong wind rose and people were afraid that this was the harbinger of a new hurricane. The Don Cossacks, foremen Dmitry Kiselev, paved the way ahead. After 12 hours of grueling march, at 6 pm the troops stopped to rest. To avoid the death of people while spending the night on the ice, Barclay de Tolly decided not to stop for the night. After the halt, the troops went forward again at midnight. This crossing took 18 hours. The soldiers had to walk the last miles through deep snow. As Tolly wrote to the Tsar, "the work carried out in this transition can only be overcome by the only Russian." On the evening of March 9, Russian troops reached the Swedish coast. On March 12 (24), the troops of the Middle Corps captured Umeå. Nobody expected a Russian attack here, the frozen Kvarken Strait was considered impassable.

Meanwhile, Shuvalov's corps took Torneo. The current situation forced the Swedish government to ask for a truce. The Russian command, fearing the breaking of the ice cover and the isolation of the advanced forces of Bagration and Barclay de Tolly, withdrew the troops back. A garrison was left in Aland. Sweden, due to internal turmoil and military-economic exhaustion, soon went to peace. In the fall of 1809, Finland became Russian, and Russia secured the northwestern strategic direction.

Pyotr Bagration and Mikhail Barclay de Tolly, who commanded an unparalleled in world history Ice campaign on the ice of the Baltic, were rightfully considered the best generals of the Russian Empire. Soon it was they who led the two Russian armies, which took the blow of Napoleon's "Great Army".


Medal "For passage to Sweden through Torneo", reverse. It was established by Alexander I in April 1809 in connection with the military successes of the Russian army during the Russian-Swedish war. The medal was awarded to the soldiers of P. A. Shuvalov's detachment, participants in the campaign to Sweden along the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia through the city of Torneo


Medal "For passage to the Swedish coast", reverse. It was awarded to soldiers who participated in the transition to Sweden on the ice of the Gulf of Bothnia