The Finnish War

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Date: 21 Feb 1808 to Sep 1809
Location: Finlandmap
Surnames/tags: Finnish_War Sweden
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The Finnish War

The war between Sweden and Russia that lasted from February 1808 until September 1809, also called the Finnish War, was in many ways a small part of the Napoleonic war that engulfed most of Europe. By the end of the first decade of the 19th century almost every non-neutral country in Europe was either part of Napoleon's alliance or allied with England and her allies.

In the end, Sweden lost the war to the Russian Empire and the eastern third of Sweden (modern day Finland) became the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire. The separation of Finland from Sweden paved the path to Finland's independence and eventual statehood. As a result of the war, Sweden's King was removed, the country would adopt a new constitution, and established the new Royal House of Bernadotte in 1818.

Locations of major engagements of the Finnish War.


The Treaty of Tilsit allied Napoleon with Russia and required other nations, including Sweden, to follow the Continental System. The eccentric King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden believed Napoleon to be the anti-Christ and in response to the treaty, aligned Sweden with Britain and sought financial and military aid from them.

After the British Navy attacked Denmark at Copenhagen, the Russians called upon Sweden to close the Baltic sea to British warships. Despite the trepidation of Swedish officers, Gustav had an unrealistic view of Sweden's military abilities and refused the Russian request. Using intelligence acquired through a network of spies, Russian forces made plans to attack eastern Sweden.

The Swedish planned a defensive war but because they were at war with both Denmark and Russia, they had to split their forces. Sweden had thought that Russia would only be able to invade by sea but Russia had built new road networks and had drawn detailed maps that would allow them to attack by land.

February - May 1808

The Russian invasion came on 21 February 1808. The overland attack was swift and caught the Swedes off guard. By the end of March, Sweden had lost many towns and fortifications.

The Swedish Army was ill-prepared for battle and lost battle after battle to the advancing Russian Army. At Svartholm, two thirds of the soldier's weapons did not work and the cannons were without their carriages. After a brief bombardment the fort surrendered on 18 March.

The coast was better prepared and defended; at Sveaborg 6,000 men and 700 cannons under the command of Admiral Cronstedt had enough food and ammunition to withstand a siege until the summer of 1808. The Russians simply blockaded the fort and then convinced Cronstedt that resistance was futile. He surrendered the fort on the 6th of May.

When the coming spring melting of the Baltic sea ice, the Russians knew that their advance units would succeptible to being cut off or encircled by the Swedish fleet supported by the British Navy.

On 18 April the Swedes count-attacked at Siikajoki and halted the Russian advance. Crondstedt pushed the army south causing the Russians to stretch their manpower to garrison forts in the land that they had occupied. By May the Russians were driven from Gotland and Åland.

On May 26, a British fleet carrying 14,000 troops arrived but after a disagreement with the Swedish King, the British sailed south to fight the French in Spain. Despite leaving with their soldiers, the British left 16 battleships and 20 other ships to Sweden's control.

June - July 1808

The Swedish fleet failed to contain the Russian fleet at the Hangö Peninsula resulting in the King replacing the fleet commander. Major General Eberhard Ernst von Vegesack led the Swedish Army into Finland to counter-attack the Russians. The Russians who were first caught off guard regrouped and repelled von Vegesack's attack. Colonel Johan Bergenstråhle landed additional Swedish forces nearby but were also forced to withdraw. Because the Russian fleet had escaped the Swedish blockade, its presence in to the north hindered Sweden's ability to concentrate their forces.

In July and August the Swedish and Russian armies maneuvered. Most of Sweden's amphibious landings were beaten back and forced to withdraw. Despite raising local militias to help in the fight, in the end, the Russians gained the strategic advantage.

August - September 1808

By August, Russia had a numerical advantage in forces with 55,000 soldiers compared to Sweden's 36,000. By September, under the command of Count Kamensky, Russia won important victories in Finland. The Swedish naval blockade floundered and Russia was able to unite its northern and southern naval forces. British ships arrived and destroyed several Russian ships but outbreaks of scurvy on board the Swedish ships prevented them from maintaining the blockade.

Winter 1808

The Russians overran most of Finland and the Emperor wanted to invade Sweden to ensure victory. Kamensky devised a plan to march soldiers across the frozen sea but his subordinates hesitated and the mission was not executed.

In the spring of 1809, King Gustav IV was deposed and replace by his uncle Charles XIII of Sweden. Four days later the Russians marched across the frozen sea and invaded as close as 70 km from Stockholm. Three Russian armies marched across the sea and successfully invaded Sweden proper. The Swedish sued for peace and the Russian general agreed but he was later overruled and then replaced before the Russians instigated further hostilities.


A large British armada arrived and blocked the Russian navy. By the end of the summer, the Royal Navy destroyed a 20 Russian ships and captured an additional 35. Charles XIII ordered an invasion in the north of Sweden but Kamensky withstood the assault. With no other option than to sue for peace, negotiations were opened and the Treaty of Fredrikshamn was signed on 17 September 1809. In the treaty, Sweden ceded the entirety of Finland to the Russian Empire. Sweden was forced to join Napoleon's Continental System and closed its ports to British ships.


  • Wikipedia contributors. "Finnish War." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 12 March 2019 by SJ Baty.

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Categories: Finnish War