THE THIRTY YEAR WAR
CRISIS IN THE LEADERLESS SWEDISH ARMY
THE BATTLE OF WOLFENBUETTEL 1641
The army in deep crisis
The situation was precarious. Banér dead and buried. The army
depleted after the failed cwinteroup of 1940. The men numbered only 13000 in the
field army, of which only 500 were national swedes or finns. The Swedes and Finns
were as usual employed as garrison troops or were part of Stĺlhandskes corps
that was somewhere in Schlesia. The moral was low and made worse by the avocatoria
(letter of amnesty to those that left foreign service) that circulated. Far
worse however was the fact that neither the officers or soldiers had recieved
their pay for quite a while. As long as the respected and by soldiers well liked
Banér had been in command all these rebellious sentiments had been kept in
check. Only a few days after Banérs death the mutiny was a fact.
It was the colonels that rebelled. These entrepeneurs of
war often had raised their regiment themselves and had paid for the equipment in
advance to be reimbursed later. When the army couldnt pay the wages the colonel
often paid the soldiers himself to keep them under the banners waiting to receive
what the army owed him later. Out of 30 regimental commanders in the army, 23
formed a strange conspiracy. It was directed at both the Swedish government and
their own soldiers. If the soldiers in a regiment rebelled the other commanders
promised to help crush the rebellion. They demanded better quarters, wages not
yet paid and on top of that 2000 riksdaler for each squadron of cavalry and 1000
riksdaler for every company of infantry. Two months wages all in all. They
promised to fight for Sweden for a just and righteous peacetreaty but also
demanded to be allowed to influence all major decisions in the army. Collapse
was close. Again.
Especially so since the imperial/leauger army under Piccolomini
was close. The swedish command prepared for disaster. If the army collapsed the
remaining useful elements was to be rallied at Wismar. There was no alternative
than to give in to the demand by the colonels. With a shower of money, sweet
promises, gifts and bribes the army was made to march again.
The battle of Wolfenbuettel
It was to be another year of indecision. But at a time it
seemed as if something decisive might happen in the southern parts of Lueneburg.
Lueneburgian units were besieging the by the imperials occupied town of
Wolfenbuettel. The imperials intended to use Lueneburg as a pawn in the peace negotiations
and therefore intended to relieve the hard pressed garrison. The Swedes realized
that if they wanted to keep the princes and electors in the alliance they had to
aid in the siege of this otherwise utterly useless town. Both armies raced to
The race ended in a draw. Soon after noon on the 19th of June
1641 the imperials attacked. It was one of the biggest battles of the war. The Swedes
with allies numbered 20000 and the imperials/leaugers 21000. Due to the evenly
sized armies it turned out to be a very empty and indecisive affair.
The allies had prepared by building blockades of timber and
digging in. On the left flank imperial cavalry under Piccolomini attacked but
due to the green crops that obscured vision they were suddenly taken under close
range artillery fire from undetected entrenchments. The imperials bounced with
light casualties. On the right flank there had been less time to dig in and the
enemy fared better. His cavalry charged into the Swedish cavalry rectangles and
made them withdraw in some disorder. A countercharge by two regiments of
Bernadhiners (the one effort that these moaning veterans actually managed to
perform during this and the past campaign) managed to throw the imperials back
and restore the situation.
The most intensive fighting took place in the center, in the
Beddingerforest. In the forest an entrenchment of 75x75 meters was placed and
defended by Banérs old blue regiment. Bavarian and imperial infantry swarmed
forward between the trees up to the fire breathing walls of the defense. Their
battlecry of the day: Help Mary, mother of god!"
The imperial leadership lost control almost immediately. The
formations of the attacking units got disrupted in the wooded terrain and the
units that were supposed to attack along the edges of the forest misunderstood
their orders and followed after their charging comrades up the entrenchment.
That mistake turned out to be impossible to rectify since most of the higher
commanders didn't follow their units into the battle. Probably due to sheer cowardice
since the forest had become a grotesque butcher shop were the attacking infantry
was cut down in droves. The attack was being defiladed from both flanks by Swedish
guns and muskets as well as receiving frontal fire. When the mistakenly
attacking units tried to elbow their way through this disorder through the
shreds of the first wave chaos ensued. In this hellhole of shrieking grapeshot,
bouncing solid shot, flying wooden splinters and cracking musketry the imperials
still managed to storm the entrenchment and in on of the rare melees seize it.
The old blue lost three guns and four colors. A Swedish brigade that had been
placed in reserve counterattacked and retook the now corpsefilled entrenchment.
The Bavarian infantry became severely handled in the fierce fighting. After
three hours of fighting 1149 of 2000 were dead or maimed.
The imperial leaders now gave the orders to retreat. This they succeeded
in since no serious attempt to pursue was made. The Bernadiners simply refused
to follow orders to pursue and the Luenburgian units didn't care to leave their
entrenchments. The Swedish leadership was still pleased. Only a week earlier the
army had been at the brink of revolt. The battle turned out to be of no
The rest of the year 1641
The battle proved again that it was very
difficult to attack a well dug in enemy in terrain of his choosing. Even a well
coordinated attack was likely to fail as Gustav II Adolf had learned at Alte
Feste. When coordination was in shambles it became a disaster. The rest of the
summer was wasted on political intrigues, the Swedish army cried for more pay
again and did not move. The emperor was scared by the defeat at Wolfenbuettel
and saw his base of power shrink. Both sides suffered from logistical problems
resulting in many soldiers selling their arms for food and logistical raiding
that did not effect the war as whole but terrorized the locals. The peasants
formed posses and struck back. More soldiers were killed in that way this year
than by enemy action. Fall came and the armies entered winterquarters.
The swedes waited for the new commander. Lennart Torstensson.
He should have arrived a long time ago...