The defeat of the Swedish fleet in the Battle of Revel

Battle of Revel on May 2, 1790. AP Bogolyubov

Russian-Swedish war of 1788-1790 230 years ago, in May 1790, the Battle of Revel took place. The Russian squadron under the command of Chichagov defeated the superior forces of the Swedish fleet.

“To Petersburg”

The Swedish monarch Gustav III, despite the failures of 1788-1789, financial problems, the ruin of the economy and public dissatisfaction with the war, decided to attack in 1790. The Swedish high command, as in 1788, was planning a “lightning war”. On land, the army under the command of the king himself, generals von Stedingk and Armfelt was to defeat the Russian troops and develop an offensive against Vyborg, posing a threat to St. Petersburg.

Meanwhile, the Swedish fleet had to attack and defeat the parts of the Russian ship and rowing fleet scattered in Revel, Friedrichsgam, Vyborg and Kronstadt. Then it was possible to land a landing in the Vyborg area, which was supposed to support the offensive of the ground forces. The Swedes were outnumbered at sea and hoped for success. Thus, King Gustav wanted to quickly defeat the Russian armed forces in the north-west, create a threat to the Russian capital from land and sea, and force Empress Catherine II to go to a peace advantageous to Sweden.

However, the Swedes were unable to organize coordinated actions of the army, rowing and ship fleets. On land in April-May 1790, several local battles took place (the defeat of the Russian army in the battle at Kernikoski), where success was on the side of the Swedes, then the Russians. The Swedes had no superiority either in the number of troops or in their quality. The Swedes could not defeat the Russian army and break through to Vyborg. The Swedish fleet attacked the Russians, but the matter was also limited to a number of battles that did not lead to a decisive victory for Sweden.

The plans and forces of the parties

At the end of April 1790, when the Russian squadron in Kronstadt was just preparing to go to sea, the Swedish fleet left Karlskrona. On May 2 (13), 1790, the Swedes were at Fr. Nargena, hoping for surprise. However, the Russians learned about the appearance of the enemy from the crew of a neutral ship, which arrived in Reval and prepared for battle. In the morning, the commander of the Russian squadron, Admiral Vasily Chichagov, gathered the flagships and captains and made a short speech, urging everyone to die or to glorify themselves and the Fatherland.

The Russian squadron under the command of Vasily Chichagov stood on the Revel roadstead, in the direction from the harbor to the shoals of Mount Vimsa. The first line consisted of nine battleships and a frigate: Rostislav and Saratov (100 guns each), Kir Ioann, Mstislav, Saint Helena and Yaroslav (74 guns), Pobedonosets, Boleslav and Izyaslav (66 guns), the frigate Venus (50 guns). In the second line there were four frigates: “Podrazhislav”, “Slava”, “Hope of Prosperity” and “Pryamislav” (32 – 36 guns). On the flanks were two bombardment ships – “Terrible” and “Winner”. There were 7 boats in the third line. The vanguard and rearguard were led by Vice Admiral Alexei Musin-Pushkin and Rear Admiral Pyotr Khanykov.

The Swedish fleet was under the command of the brother of the king, Duke Karl of Södermanland (in the Russian tradition, the spelling Karl of Südermanland is also common). There were 22 ships (armed with 60 to 74 guns), 4 frigates and 4 small ships. That is, the Swedes had a double superiority in forces and could count on victory over part of the Russian fleet. The Swedish command decided to fight on the move, going in a wake column and firing at the Russian ships. And repeat this maneuver until the Russians are defeated. This “running through the tune”, in the words of the German researcher Stenzel, was a big mistake. The Swedes could not use their numerical advantage, did not anchor opposite the Russians in order to conduct a firefight with them, where they would gain superiority due to the number of ships and guns. They did not try to bypass the Russian squadron, go for a rapprochement, etc. In conditions of strong wind and inaccurate sight, the Swedes fired badly. A strong wind heeled the Swedish ships on the side with which they operated against the enemy. Russian ships anchored fired better.

Revel battle

With an intensifying westerly wind and noticeable roughness, the enemy fleet entered the raid in a linear order. The leading Swedish ship, having caught up with the fourth from the left flank of the Russian line, the ship “Izyaslav” of the captain of the 2nd rank Sheshukov, lay down on the left tack and fired a volley. However, due to the strong roll and poor sighting, most of the shells passed by the Russian ship. The Russians, on the other hand, shot more accurately and harmed the enemy. The situation continued in a similar way. The leading Swedish ship, which quickly passed along the line towards the island of Wulf, was followed by the rest of the Swedes.

Some Swedish commanders showed courage and tried to get closer, to reduce the speed and roll they lowered the sails. They were met with targeted salvos and suffered more casualties and severe damage to the mast (sail setting device) and rigging (all the ship’s gear). However, they could not cause serious damage to the Russian ships. The ship of the Swedish general-admiral “King Gustav III” was especially damaged. It was carried to the Russian 100-gun flagship “Rostislav”, which fired at the enemy from a short distance. Another Swedish ship “Prince Karl”, which was 15th in line, having lost part of the mast, after a 10-minute battle dropped anchor and raised the Russian flag.

The Swedish commander, Duke Karl, watched the battle from one of the frigates and was out of the enemy’s effective fire zone. After two hours of skirmish, the Duke of Södermanland ordered an end to the battle. As a result, the last 10 ships of the Swedish fleet, without engaging in battle, went north.

The Swedish 60-gun ship Raxen-Stender was damaged and landed on a reef north of Wolf Island. The Swedes could not take off the ship and burned it so that the enemy would not get it. Another Swedish ship ran aground north of Kargen Island before the start of the battle. It was removed from the shallows, but most of the guns had to be thrown into the sea.

Thus, the Battle of Revel was a complete victory for the Russians. With an almost double superiority, the Swedes were unable to achieve victory, destroying part of the Russian fleet. The Swedish fleet lost two ships and retreated. The losses of the Swedish side amounted to about 150 people killed and wounded, 250 (according to other sources – 520) were taken prisoner. Russian losses – 35 killed and wounded. After the battle, the Swedes partially put their ships in order at sea and withdrew east of the island of Gogland. Several ships went to Sveaborg for repairs. It was a strategic victory for Russia, and the Swedish plan for the 1790 campaign was thwarted. They could not destroy the Russian fleet in parts. The combat capability of the Swedish fleet has decreased.

Plan of the Battle of Revel on May 2, 1790. A. Krotkov. Everyday recording of remarkable events in the Russian navy. Map source:

Friedrichsgam battle

Meanwhile, another battle at sea took place – the battle of rowing fleets at Friedrichsgam. After several setbacks on land, the Swedish king Gustav decided to move to the rowing fleet to attack the Russians in Friedrichsgam. Thus, the Swedish ruler hoped to divert the Russian troops from other directions and to alleviate the situation of the detachments of Generals Stedingk and Armfelt, who were to invade Russian Finland.

The Swedes had a chance of success. In early May 1790, the entire Swedish galley fleet was off the coast of Finland. Most of the Russian galley fleet was at Kronstadt and St. Petersburg. The winter of 1790 was warm, but the spring did not recede for a long time. There was a lot of ice in the skerries. In Friedrichsgam Bay, the leading Russian detachment of the rowing flotilla under the command of Captain Slizov wintered. It consisted of 3 large and 60 small vessels. Despite the outbreak of hostilities, the armament of the squadron has not yet been completed. Many gunboats were not fully armed and ammunition. The detachment had only half the crew. And that one consisted mostly of peasants who, at best, had ever walked along rivers. But the biggest problem was the lack of ammunition. In addition, the commander of the rowing flotilla, Prince of Nassau-Siegen, did not accept Slizov’s proposal to strengthen the position with coastal batteries, the construction of which seemed premature to the French naval commander.

Being in a vulnerable position, Slizov on May 3 (14), 1790 learned about the approach of the enemy fleet, which consisted of 140 warships and 14 transports. The Russian detachment lined up at the entrance to the bay. On May 4 (15), in the early morning, the Swedes attacked. Allowing the enemy at close range, Slizov opened fire from all the cannons. The stubborn battle lasted for about 3 hours. The right wing of the Swedish rowing fleet already trembled and began to withdraw, and the left wing was shaken by the fury of the Russian resistance. However, this was affected by the lack of ammunition. Slizov ordered to withdraw, while firing back with blank charges. Ten ships that could not be withdrawn from the battle were burned. The Swedes captured ten more ships, including three large ones, destroyed and sunk up to six. The Russians lost about 240 people.

Slizov retreated under the protection of Friedrichsgam. The Swedes learned from the prisoners that there was a small garrison in Friedrichsgam. King Gustav invited the Russians to lay down their arms and prepared for the landing. The city did not give up. The commandant of Friedrichsgam, General Levashev, replied: “The Russians are not surrendering!” The Swedish fleet bombarded the city for three hours. Several Russian ships burned down, shipyards were badly damaged. Then the Swedes tried to land troops. However, the Russians went on the attack and the Swedes, not accepting the battle, retreated to the ships. The enemy feared that strong reinforcements had approached the garrison of Friedrichsgam. At the same time, the Swedes did not manage to attack Friedrichsgam from sea and land. The Swedish detachment under the command of General Meyerfeld was still in Swedish Finland and arrived in the area only a month later.

Thus, the Swedes received free passage in the skerries to Vyborg, which complicated the position of the Russian army. Now the Swedes could land a strong assault in the rear of our troops. The Swedish king entered the Vyborg Bay and waited for his ship fleet. He hoped to land troops near Petersburg.

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