Over the last year or so BAD Wargamers have fought out a selection of battle scenarios involving Swedish and Danish forces and their allies in the latter half of the 17th century. I must confess this was down to my wish to use my new Swedish army more often under FOG Renaissance rules, and also my preference for historical scenarios over competition style games for a club night. Such games test not just the players’ rules skill and knowledge, but also their
ability to adapt to the political, strategic and tactical limitations of their historical counterparts. They are presented with a battleground, deployment and army composition not of their choosing, and given victory conditions beyond a mere points score.
Before I describe the re-fight I’ll give a brief historical context. After the Thirty Years War Sweden was the dominant military power in northern Europe. Denmark had lost her possessions in southern Sweden and the Polish Commonwealth was in a political and military turmoil the Poles called ‘The Deluge’. In 1655 Sweden took advantage and invaded Poland. Initial success was followed by stalemate, with changing alliances and many Swedish troops bogged down in garrisons and sieges. Denmark sought to take advantage of Swedish difficulties and declared war on her in 1657. But the Swedes seized the initiative and marched an army across the frozen Baltic to overwhelm the Danes who soon agreed to a humiliating peace. Less than a year later the Swedes attacked again, but the Danes held out and with the assistance of the Dutch navy forced the Swedes to retire from the Danish mainland.
Denmark now went on the offensive. She persuaded her allies to launch an expedition onto the Danish island of Funen which still had a large Swedish garrison. The Dutch navy would blockade the island to prevent Swedish reinforcements, and two Allied forces would land and unite to destroy the Swedish garrison. The Swedes were all cavalry and outnumbered 2:1, but the Allies also had their problems. Their forces were a mix of Danish, Dutch, Brandenburg, Imperial and Polish troops, split into two commands – and the commanders hated each other! Eberstein, who commanded the Imperial and Brandenburg cavalry with a couple of units each of Dutch and Danish infantry, wanted to bring the Swedes to battle as soon as possible; Schack, in command of the Danish cavalry and the bulk of the Dutch infantry, favoured a more cautious blockade of the Swedes until they were forced to surrender. Unable to decide on tactics the Allied generals at least agreed to take command on alternate days, and on the morning of their arrival before Nyborg Eberstein was in overall command.
They found the Swedes drawn up in a strong defensive position. Their entire front was covered by hedges, their left flank secured by the sea and their right by woodland. Six units of veteran cuirassiers formed each flank command, with the right also having a unit of dragoons in the edge of the woods . A few artillery pieces were placed in the centre, with 4 infantry regiments that the
Swedes had managed to run through the Dutch naval blockade.
The Allies drew up in two lines – Eberstein in front and Schack to the rear. Eberstein’s formation largely mirrored that of the Swedes, with two strong cavalry wings (the left reinforced with a Dutch infantry regiment) and a centre of 3 Danish/Dutch infantry with artillery behind hedges. Schack had two smaller cavalry wings and the bulk of the Dutch infantry. Eberstein still doubted Schack’s commitment to battle, and launched his assault before the second Allied line was in position. The Swedish cavalry counter attacked on both flanks and the battle raged for over two hours with the Swedes gradually gaining the upper hand. In the meantime Schack had brought the Allies second line right wing cavalry and Dutch infantry up. With the extra numbers and fresh troops the tide turned against the Swedes and their left wing cavalry routed and fled toward Nyborg. Pinned to their front by the advancing Dutch infantry and hit in the flank by the victorious Allied right flank cavalry the Swedish infantry also collapsed. Only the Swedish right flank cavalry were able to withdraw in some kind of order. With no means of escape the surviving Swedes surrendered unconditionally the following day. Some 3000 Swedish cavalry were immediately recruited into the Danish army, making it larger than before the battle.
For the club re-fight the terrain and troop deployment was pre-set for the players, based on the historical battle. Steve took command of the Swedish left and Paul the right. On the Allied side Eberstein’s right was taken by Bob and the left by Lynette, and Schack’s right and left by Simon G and Dene respectively. Each command was briefed before battle commenced. The Swedes were informed
that, despite their strong defensive position, a stand-off would be considered a loss; If they were pinned down around Nyborg they would run short of supplies and be forced to surrender. The Allies had two briefings and were asked to act in the spirit of their historical commanders. Bob and Lynette (Eberstein’s command) were therefore committed to battle with the Swedes, with or without Schack’s support. Conversely Dene and Simon (Schack’s command) were asked to avoid battle initially. However they could move up to take Eberstein’s starting positions, and could intervene to cover any disaster or exploit any success. In addition, as Eberstein and Schack hated each other so much, they were told that generals from one command could not take charge or influence troops from the others command.
The Allies had the first move and Eberstein’s command duly advanced their cavalry at speed, even before Schack had fully deployed, and the Swedish cavalry responded with vigorous counter attacks on both wings. The Allied and Swedish centres traded artillery shots, their infantry remaining behind the hedgerows at this stage. On the flanks the rival cavalry crashed into combat. Both sides fielded armoured cuirassiers with pistols (save for a lone unit of Croats on the Allied side), but the Swedes were classed as superior. On the Swedish right their cavalry made steady progress, slowed a little by hedgerows and the presence of Allied infantry. On the Swedish left their cavalry went through the Allied cavalry like a knife through butter. In short order 5 of Eberstein’s cuirassier units were destroyed, their general dead and the Croats and the remaining cuirassier unit in rout. The Swedish cavalry had achieved this for the loss of just one base. Seeing an opportunity to press home their advantage the Swedish infantry advanced In the centre, leaving one unit to defend the guns.
Schack’s command now advanced to steady the Allied position. Their right wing cavalry were understandably wary of taking on the superior Swedish cavalry, but their Dutch infantry (superior with
armoured pike) had no such qualms facing the Swedish infantry (who were only average for this scenario). On the Allied left Schack’s cavalry reinforcements made headway against the now outnumbered Swedish cavalry and they were gradually overwhelmed. With their right wing lost and their infantry losing the battle in the centre the Swedish position was getting desperate. Their victorious and largely intact left wing cavalry could probably have broken through the second Allied cavalry line, but would have been unsupplied as Nyborg would be lost to them. We decided to end the re-fight at this point and assumed the surviving Swedish cavalry (mostly veteran German mercenaries) would take up the offer of enlistment into the Danish army. The scenario outcome was
thus close to the historical outcome, though the Allied breakthrough had been on their left flank rather than their right.
*The Danish Brothers epithet derives from the first Swedish-Danish battle we played at the club. Simon and Dene Green took the Danish command that day and I remarked that‘The Danish Brothers’ was a counter in the boardgame ‘Britannia’. Simon and Dene have subsequently always played on the Danish side in these scenarios. Ironically at Nyborg there were two brothers in command of Danish
units under Schack.