The Russian attack on Lövstabruk, 1719

By Erik Hamberg. Translation: Aidan Allen

In the summer of 1719, Russia launched a major attack on the Baltic coast of Sweden. On 11 July a fleet was sighted off Söderarm, raising fears of a large-scale attack on Stockholm, which was indeed what the Russian forces intended. Their contingent was made up of 132 large galleys, rowed by oarsmen, and roughly a hundred smaller
galleys. The total force comprised twenty-six thousand men.

Yet an attack on Stockholm never materialised, and the advances the Russians did make were repulsed by Swedish troops. Instead the enemy split up. The southern contingent, led by General Admiral Fyodor Apraxin, burned and harried its way as far south as Nyköping, while the northern force made an unsuccessful bid to take Gävle. On the way there, and on the way back, the troops burned coastal communities such as Östhammar, Öregrund and Norrtälje, and many villages besides. These actions were commanded by Admiral Peter de Lacy, and Irishman in Russian service.

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Russian galley at the Battle of Ledsund, 1720. Painting by Ferdinand Victor Perrot. Central Naval Museum, Saint Petersburg.

But the Russian forces were not yet satisfied. Exploiting Sweden’s military weakness, which had arisen after the death of Karl XII, they made several raids deep into the Roslagen region. Their aim was to further weaken Sweden and destroy its infrastructure, in among other ways by striking at important industrial centres in Uppland.

Because the Swedish army was weak, peasant forces were mobilised in defence, but these lacked combat experience and effective weapons. Yet withdrawals were also caused by poor leadership and cowardice on the part of some Swedish officers.

The Russian strategy used artillery bombardment from the sea, which made local people
guarding the coast flee inland. Then Cossacks on horseback were put ashore, followed by soldiers in various sized groups. The Russian attack on Lövstabruk came from the north.

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Painting at Lövstabruk manor house – Detail. photo: Gabriel Hildebrand, 2015.

Landing at Fagerviken, the Russian forces made their way inland, devastating  communities such as Grönö, Skärplinge and Försäter. The last Swedish outpost before Lövstabruk, at Sillbo, was soon abandoned, leaving the road wide open for the enemy,
which for this part of the campaign initially consisted of 2600 soldiers. The Swedish forces at Lövstabruk comprised just over 800 simply armed peasants, 92 men of the Roslagen company of Life Guards, and a group of 95 dragoons commanded by Colonel Jacob Labrecque, which had arrived from Norrtälje on 24 July. An additional troop of 300 dragoons from Ingermanland and Karelia, led by Major General Fabian Zöge, had withdrawn from Forsmark to Lövstabruk. Zöge now assumed command. He declined the offer of reinforcements stationed at Österby, claiming to have sufficient men at his disposal. But Zöge failed to prepare the defence of Lövstabruk properly, just as at Forsmark a week earlier. Realising the gravity of the situation he got cold feet and claimed to be sick, which Surgeon Weise refused to accept, as he found Zöge to be in perfect health.

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Painting at Lövstabruk manor house – Detail. photo: Gabriel Hildebrand, 2015.

When the Russians attacked Lövstabruk, from three directions, on Saturday 25 July 1719, the Swedish forces put up little resistance. The manor house was quickly torched, and soon the entire settlement of 50 cottages, the church, bell tower, hospital, and almost two thousand barrels of grain was alight. The Swedes withdrew so swiftly that the works funds, 10,768 daler, were lost too. According to Russian sources, 30 Swedes were killed
whereas only a handful of Russians lost their lives.

Zöge retreated to Österby and then Dannemora, but the enemy did not follow and instead withdrew. Hillebola bruk was spared and Gimo escaped destruction. At Skebo bruk the works inspector, Georg Svebilius succeeded in scaring the enemy away. He was later appointed inspector at Lövstabruk.

Major General Zöge was dismissed, fined 3 000 daler and sentenced to prison. The Russian attack on the Roslagen region culminated on 19 August, when the town of Norrtälje was razed to the ground.