Seven Years’ War: Swedes Launch Their Last Offensive I

Major-General Wilhelm Sebastian von Belling’s campaign Pomerania in 1761 against the Swedes.

At the Northern Front, the Campaign 1761 had been a more involved one than usual, for the most part. The Prussian posts at the start of the campaign were: at Anklam, stood Major Alexander Friedrich Knobelsdorf, with three companies; at Demmin, Lieutenant Colonel Golz was present with I. Battalion of Hordt; at Reubnitz, stood Captain Thilling with a squadron of horse. During the opening course of this campaign, a reinforcement of about 6,000 men were dispatched to join the Swedish forces already facing the bluecoats. In the last week of June, General Lantinghausen, fed up with the frustrations of field charge of the Swedish arms, threw up his command in favor of General Ehrensvard. The new formations were being assimilated meanwhile into the existing army in Swedish Pomerania. The strengthened force, gaining confidence, began to press Belling back although Henry had sent a detachment to the aid of Belling. In the latter part of the campaign, Belling and General Stutterheim were able not only to hold their own but did finally compel the intruders to retire back into their home regions in Swedish Pomerania.

At the commencement of the campaign, Belling was careful to keep his limited forces of Prussians (approximately 3,000 strong) deployed where they could do the most good. A single squadron of the Belling Hussars, led by Captain von Thilling, was put up at Reubnitz, while Knobelsdorf was at Anklam, and other forces at Demmin.

Ehrensvard forthwith ordered his forces divided into three full columns, to advance. The general himself, taking some 4,000 Swedes (including about 600 hussars), marched past Loitz, detaching in the process a roving vanguard, led by Lt.-Col. Hierta, which barged into the retreating Free Corps of Hordt over by Kleitzer-Mühle. The bluecoats could not stand firm, and they promptly fell back, leaving behind some 165 men as prisoners. Belling responded by deploying his forces to shield his two supply depots. About the same time, General Lybecker led a body of men over the Trebel, where the force joined up with Hessenstein and moved on Vurchen. An isolated charge was unleashed which rode down Lybecker’s forward most elements but was subsequently checked by the main body of the Swedish force (July 20). Meanwhile, Ehrensvard ordered a concentration at Demmin of his forces, while simultaneously he began to threaten the pivotal Prussian arsenal at Malchin. Belling reacted to the Swedish marches by almost insensibly tending towards Nauendorf. Early on July 28, with little fanfare, the bluecoats crashed into the enemy lines over by Breest and Spantekow.

Ehrensvard forthwith pulled back, while a second, separate Prussian effort was launched from Stettin over by Űecker. But the Swedes held the line, and Belling withdrew as July closed out over by Friedland. July 30, the Swedes tried to break across the Tollense River near Breest and Friedland. Although these attempts were repelled, a more successful effort affected a crossing at Klempenow, but a bluecoat force under Knobelsdorf’s direction took cover at a nearby farm and opened such a bitter fire upon the local enemy they were finally compelled to withdraw.

The next day, Belling moved through the Kavelpasse, where he immediately encountered a Swedish force of about 150 horse under Major Schwartze. An initial Swedish success led to a furious counterattack, following which Belling withdrew as was his want upon Friedland, then to Bartow (August 2). The Swedes under General Hessenstein, ensconced about Demmin, reacted to the near encroachment in short order. They pressed off, on August 5, in three distinct files, one on Sedenbollentin, under the charge of Hessenstein himself, one under Lt.-Col. Wrangle through Breest, and a small force of horse at the town of Brook. Meanwhile, General Carpelan with another body of men was kept back at Bartow.

For his part, Belling did his best to sow confusion in the rear of the main enemy force. A Prussian cavalry troop of some 200 riders rode down part of Carpelan’s encampment, but could then progress no farther. After a short but furious altercation, Belling withdrew again on to Friedland, while Hessenstein and Ehrensvard drew back on Schwanbeck in the immediate neighborhood.

Over in the Russian sphere of influence, there was no dearth of activity either. As the campaign wore on, the final drama of events on the Eastern Front were inexorably winding down towards a finish. Twice before during the course of this long war the port city of Colberg had been besieged, and now it was to be again. In mid–1761, Colberg was still in Prussian hands, but the Russian Command had ordered General Gottlob Curt Heinrich Graf von Tottleben, to take the place by siege. He was opposed by Werner (with some 5,000 men), joined by Eugene of Württemberg’s 12,000 men, while Commandant Heyde was still leading a garrison in Colberg (some 2,000 bluecoats) itself. But the attention of the bluecoats in general, and of Frederick, was centered in Silesia where the king was keeping his main force. So little was actually allowed for Colberg, although it was important, for, if the fortress should fall into Russian hands, Russian armies could then winter on the Baltic Sea coast rather than having to fall back into Poland.

Meanwhile, when Totleben’s spying was finally discovered, the command of the greencoat forces in Pomerania fell to Lt.-Gen. Peter Rumyantsev. His approach was informed to Prussian scouts when the Russians reached Cöslin on June 22, although they took great pains to proceed to their business slowly. The truce of Werner and Totleben expired on May 12, and the bluecoats immediately began earnest preparations for what was to come. Rumyantsev spent considerable time at Cöslin “consolidating” his position and it was not until August 19 that he deigned occupy Belgard—giving the Russians the control of the Persante River, and thus allowing preliminary operations for another try at Colberg.

With Belling taking up post at Friedland, the bluecoats strove to consolidate their forces in response to the enemy. Knobelsdorf, from Bartow, took a mere 48 hours or so to cover over 70 miles of hard terrain territory to arrive at Friedland. In the first of August, the Belling Hussars there were under Major von Hoendorf and Captain von Rüllman. Then, before daylight on August 6, Belling, with some 2,300 men, including 1,200 cavalry, suddenly erupted against the Swedish block force holding the river crossing at Röpenackerpasse. Belling’s Johnny-on-the-spot, Knobelsdorf, stormed forward against the Swedish lines, but an energetic counterattack mounted chiefly by the Västgöta Cuirassiers, along with two full units of infantry, loosened the Prussian stranglehold on the bridge thereabouts in very short order. Belling once again retired after this on Friedland.

Belling was not able to stand pat, for a large Swedish force launched a major effort at get at the Prussian magazine of Malchin. Leaving only a handful of men to hold all of Friedland, Belling moved as dexterously as possible to cover Malchin from the enemy’s encroachments. But the Swedes had vanished, so the bluecoat horse sped off in pursuit of the Swedish Majors Plathen and Schwartze and their Swedish force. The Swedes turned on their pursuers at Kentzlin (August 8), and promptly checked Belling’s “enthusiasm” for the whole business. Losses in this venture were two dead, ten wounded, one captured for the bluecoats, while the Swedish loss was 13 killed, 40 wounded, and 11 captured. The latter retired upon Friedland once more, and, responding to an increase in the enemy force opposed to him, proceeded to strip down, and then cart away, their two major supply depots, both at Treptow and at Malchin, in anticipation of a renewed Swedish offensive.

A resurgent Swedish force of some 16,000 men now concentrated in front of the bluecoats. Early on August 12, General Hessenstein (at the head of about 3,800 men) marched from Siedenbollentin aiming for Colpin via Neubrandenburg. Pausing thereabouts, he rested his men while Ehrensvard centralized his forces in preparation for a major offensive to be mounted against the Prussian positions.

Keeping his forces together out to Boldekau, the general unleashed Hessenstein for Woldegk, while Meijerfelt’s small force made straight for the little bluecoat force guarding Friedland. A smaller force of the light cavalry swarmed around Belling. The latter, disdaining a nearby enemy post, galloped towards Hessenstein’s men over by the Kavelpasse. The bluecoats struck hard, by Röhlau (August 14), riding down the Swedes and taking 85 captives. Hessenstein reeled back, while Belling, startled by the “speed” of the enemy advance on Finkenbrück, galloped out to intercept the new effort. The Swedish Plathen fell back on Anklam (August 17), while, on the same day, Ehrensvard marched a force which wrestled away Neubrandenburg from the foe.

The Swedish General Stackelberg assumed a central position hard about Klein-Teetzleben. Swedish outposts detected Belling’s approach, and Stackelberg fell back immediately without hesitation to a position hard by Neubrandenburg (August 21, 1761).

The situation before the Swedes continued to unfold as well. The Prussians wasted no time in going over to the offensive. August 31, 1761 Major Zülow attacked the Swedes at the Tollense River crossing at Klempenow, but was thrown back abruptly. The reinforcements allowed a new attack to be mounted by Major Stojenthy, but the foe was able to turn back this new effort also.

General Stutterheim would not be denied, and laid down an artillery covering fire opposite to the Swedish position hard-by, while Belling took a side detour, broke across the Tollense (September 2), and seized Klempenow.

The Swedes fell back on Boldekow, while Belling’s men consolidated their hold upon Breest and Klempenow. The bluecoats were destined not to remain undisturbed for long, for Ehrensvard, after a hasty preparation, tried to accost the Prussians at Klempenow, under the charge of Captain Hullessen (September 4). Crohnjelm, who was in command of the Swedish force, launched a furious, but short-lived, attack, which failed to turn the bluecoats out of their lines. Ehrensvard then withdrew as was his want, detaching General Carpelan to hold a base position beside the Tollense River.

The general progression of the Prussians was hedging back upon Stettin, but the Swedish military was mostly content to leave their foe alone at that stage. General Stutterheim, however, was not satisfied to let matters stand pat. He burst out to Bargensdorf, but, hard-by Kueblankh, was the extent of his march just then. Bevern, still keeping in Stettin, pressed off a force on Wollin, trying to sabotage the Swedish link from the island to the mainland. Early the following morning, Belling overthrew an enemy force led by Hessenstein, hard-by Jatzkhe. This blunted the Swedes from that immediate vicinity.

However, Ehrensvard was resolved to hazard holding on to Wollin as well as the links to the positions in Swedish Pomerania. The presence of Stutterheim’s Prussians over by Pasewalk and Woldegk really negated any meaningful Swedish offensive in the whole region. So Ehrensvard stayed put, but did dispatch Major-General Fredrik Vilhelm von Hessenstein with a force of some 2,100 men to join up with the Swedish force at Wollin.

Meanwhile, General Stutterheim fell back upon Stettin, which action immediately relinquished the offensive to the reenergized Swedes. A Swedish force under General Lybecker pressed off eastward, while a second assembly of Swedes under Major-General Jacob Magnus Sprengtporten also marched, bound for Ferdinandshof. This conglomerate of some 14,000 men constituted the last major Swedish offensive of the Seven Years’ War. And, we might add, one of the few of the entire war.

September 17, Lybecker’s men rolled into open country hard-by Kosabroma. Belling and his hussars, being very close at hand, did not waste time. They attacked and routed the Swedish horse which clung on the flanks and in front of Lybecker’s foot soldiers. The initial Prussian blow drove the Swedes back into nearby wooded terrain, but the emergency deployment of artillery and the subsequent shelling helped check the ardor of the bluecoats. A force of the Prussian hussars under Major Zülow struck at the Swedish flanks, but the onset of nightfall and Lybecker’s men managing to stand their ground brought the tussle to an end without clear result. The upshot was, Belling moved off during the night, and the only Prussian force left in front of Lybecker’s Swedes was a small force under Lt.-Col. Golz.

This development enabled Lybecker to advance once more, while Belling belatedly made his way over near Rothemühl. The progress of General Sprengtporten on Ferdinandshof had flushed out Knobelsdorf’s small force, which had been deployed thereabouts. The latter conducted a fighting retreat and fell away with his band to Rothemühl as well. Belling barged into Neuenzond, with the Swedes of the Skaraborgs Infantry making themselves to home between Rothemühl and Friedrichshagen.

Belling sent scouts, which judiciously felt out the enemy position over by Rothemühl and returned with word that the Swedes were in fact well prepared for action. Belling did little more at this point than to deploy his guns and start lobbing shells in the direction of the enemy. Lybecker had resumed his march, pressing Golz and trying to figure out the strength of the Prussian force just in front of him. It was indeed fortuitous that Lybecker, acting under the mistaken belief he had Belling’s whole force confronting him, instead of just a part, pulled up short and waited. The Swedes of Sprengtporten emerged from Ferdinandshof just before noon, making their way down the road through Friedrichshagen, where they encountered some light Prussian resistance.

Lybecker, for his part, had been content to engage in mere small arms’ fire with Golz, but Belling was savagely attacked by Sprengtporten before he hardly had time to react. But, the grenadiers of Ingersleben nevertheless attacked the Swedes head-on, piercing the enemy’s front and moving so rapidly forward through the Swedish ranks they outpaced their supporters, and were quickly surrounded by the foe. This was a devastating development. In heavy fighting, Ingersleben was forced finally to recoil, although the Swedish pursuit was quickly checked by the hussars of Belling.

At that stage, Belling, with Sprengtporten moving in and Lybecker behind still being “contained” by Golz, withdrew as was his want on Taschenberg. The two Swedish processions forthwith joined up near Schönhausen with very little fanfare, and retired forthwith upon Woldegk. Swedish losses at Rothemühl amounted to some 150 men, while the Prussians lost closer to 500 men of all arms.

After an interval of just a few days, the Swedes resumed their offensive. September 23, General Sprengtporten moved on Taschenberg, driving out an enemy hussar force across the Űecker on to Rollwitz and thereabouts. Knobelsdorf spun back on Űckermunde with patrols reaching over on Torgelow. This left a vacuum of sorts, into which the Swedes were only too eager to proceed.

The foe wasted no time in sending raiding parties to raise contributions from the region round about. There were no further meaningful engagements on the Northern Front until the Russians sent raiding parties of their own into the Űeckermark province and the vicinity of Stettin. The Prussians reacted by reinforcing the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern over in Stettin, while their Swedish enemy was himself being strengthened to renew once more its advance into Prussian territory—early October 1761.

Ehrensvard was building up to renew his lumbering advance into Prussian Pomerania. October 15, his Swedish force emerged from behind the Peene, while the bluecoats reacted conservatively. The two sides had a brief interlude of military inactivity, although the Swedes on water continued to maneuver about. In early November, Swedish ships brought reinforcements from Finland and from their homeland, in a desperate bid to inflict a defeat upon the enemy before the depths of winter could interfere. November 22, several Swedish vessels appeared on the Peene River and the reinforcements, meanwhile, were being assimilated into the rest of the Swedish formations.

Thus far, the weather had been comparatively mild, but this situation abruptly did an about face. In the first few weeks of December, the temperatures plunged, and the Peene tried to freeze over. This forced the Swedish ships to make for Stralsund instead. The Swedes also suddenly seemed to lose all interest in campaigning, but it did not take long at all for Belling to try to take advantage of the enemy inactivity and the poor weather conditions, like the heavy snowfall. Belling, in spite of the elements, split up his command, sending Knobelsdorf over to Tessin, while I. Battalion of Hordt was unbuckled upon Gnöien. Meanwhile, Ehrensvard pulled his forces out of Demmin, which was then promptly occupied by the Prussians, while the latter also did their best to secure Anklam as well.

The weather continued to deteriorate, but Belling moved out. On December 10, the main Prussian force reached Gnöien. There was now a concerted effort put forth to drive the Swedes back into their own territory. After dark the next day, Belling’s men accosted the Swedish position at Volksdorf astride the Peene River. The next morning, December 12, 1761 the bluecoats hitched into Neuhringen. But the province of Mecklenburg was largely evacuated by the Swedes, and so Belling pulled back from the incursion and moved off in the direction of Demmin and Meyerkrebs.

But the interlude here was very brief, for before twenty-four hours had elapsed, Belling was at it again. His Prussians pushed off, bound for Rustow and Randow, pressing the enemy in his path into precipitate retreat. But not all of the Swedes were in a defensive frame of mind. General Meijerfelt performed almost a diversionary raid upon the bluecoats ensconced in Anklam, but the foray was limited to taking only a handful of prisoners. The Prussian force, on the other hand, continued to progress in its endeavors, and, December 16, Belling’s men pressed on to Loitz, but hard by Langenfelde, the Swedish commander Carpelan was discovered and compelled to retreat, which move uncovered Jarmen. Belling at once pressed on that place. Knobelsdorf, for his part, attacked an enemy force at Gutzkow (December 20), while still other Prussians were making a camp at Remplin.

All of these moves combined to betray the vulnerability of Mecklenburg to any Prussian encroachment. Of course Prussian raiders were being sent to pilfer as much in the way of men and material as they could to help out the Prussian war effort. The upshot was, Ehrensvard sure heard “it” from a very agitated Duke of Mecklenburg, who had some trouble understanding how the recently reinforced Swedish army could allow Belling to run rough shod all over the province, while, at the same time, the Swedes themselves were snug behind the Peene—although perhaps not warm and snug. Ehrensvard had little choice but to respond to the entreaty, dispatching General Meijerfelt with a force over the Peene, putting in an appearance back in Mecklenburg, while General Sprengtporten took up the banner as well, marching on Dargun and Malchin, near where his men arrived on December 22.

The Swedes were determined to snare Malchin and worked up a rather involved assault scheme to accomplish this feat. Sprengtporten’s grenadiers thundered into action on the western end of Malchin by the Wargentiner Gate. This particular column was initially repulsed by the defenders under the charge of Golz, but the Skaraborg Infantry and the rest of the column striking against the Kahldener Gate ruptured the Prussian defenses, forcing the bluecoats to abandon Malchin forthwith. Belling sent his hussars to check General Sprengtporten’s pursuit, although the latter did venture on to Basedow. The Swedes appeared on the point of coming back to life offensively in this early winter when all was altered abruptly once more by Prince Eugene of Württemberg and the timely arrival of his force back in front of the Swedes after Colberg had capitulated to the Russians.

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