The Latymer School History Magazine - page 43

the survival of the Swedish
monarchy. Whether or not
Gustavus Adolphus meant it
to be a crusade, Sweden’s
involvement proved crucial
to the Protestant cause and
by the time that he was killed
in the Battle of Lützen, the
Imperial Catholic coalition
had been brought to the
brink of total defeat.
The Swedish campaign
swept down through
Pomerania and Mecklenberg
and over the next few years
secured key territory North
and West of the Elbe. This
success was rooted in the
military reforms The result
was an exceptionally well
trained, motivated and led
army of professional
veterans supported by a
military system that was the
envy of Europe. However
Gustavus Adolphus’
innovations went beyond the
organisation of his army and
his success was also rooted
in the revolutionary tactics he
used, displayed with
crushing effectiveness at the
Battle of Breitenfeld (1631)
and the Battle of Rain (1632).
Having started his campaign
in April 1631, taking the
towns of Kustrin and
Frankfurt, the Swedish failed
to reach Magdeburg in time.
After a long siege in which
the besiegers had suffered
terribly, on the 20
th
May it
was captured by Imperialists.
Over two thirds of the city
with a population of 30,000
was massacred.
This was momentous not just
because of the brutality
witnessed but also because
Magdeburg was a major
capital of Protestantism. The
carnage convinced George
William of Brandenburg to
support Gustavus Adolphus
and they were soon
supported by John George
of Saxony after he refused
the Catholic general Tilly
entry to his lands over fears
his soldiers would attempt to
plunder “Saxon sweetmeats”.
As they entered the field
near Breitenfeld, the
combined Protestant force of
41,000 was a third stronger
than Tilly’s and possessed a
crushing superiority in
artillery. Moreover Gustavus
Adolphus had developed a
new type of formation with
long lines of only six deep as
opposed to the traditional
deep formations of thirty or
more. This allowed them to
fill the gaps in the lines
quickly, which proved vital
when the Saxon lines broke.
Supported by Finnish light
cavalry, the Hakkapeliittas,
and mobile artillery,
Gustavus Adolphus led an
unrelenting two hour
offensive resulting in a
crushing defeat for Tilly and
the Imperialist army. Under a
barrage of cannonade and
continuous musket fire
(made possible by the thin,
extended lines) seven
thousand Imperial troops
were killed and further nine
thousand captured with all
artillery captured; after
thirteen years of fighting the
Protestant had its’ first major
victory. These tactics were
repeated to even more
devastating effect in the
Battle of Rain in April 1632.
Protestant forces, under the
cover of using mobile
canons, managed to bridge
the river Lech. Sending
across his elite
Hakkapeliittas, Gustavus
Adolphus was able to dig in,
giving the rest of his army
time to cross the bridge. In
the fighting that ensued,
General Tilly was mortally
wounded.
Gustavus Adolphus’
innovative tactics have
earned him the title “Father
of Modern Warfare,” and
would prove valuable in their
time as in future militaristic
conflicts. His techniques
helped bring Sweden out of
the Thirty Years War in a
dominant position and
ensured Sweden were well
represented at the peace
talks that followed. His
flexible use of artillery,
cavalry and infantry in
tandem created an army
capable of fighting in any
style, that could partake in
interchangeable positions as
necessitated by the conflict
in which they were engaged.
Soldiers such as Napoleon
Bonaparte; Arthur Wellesley,
1st Duke of Wellington; Carl
von Clausewitz; and General
George Patton studied his
battles, which are still taught
in military science courses
today – a testament to his
legacy.
Although Gustavus Adolphus
intervention was a brief one,
it was no less significant. His
tactical nous and innovation,
bravery and inspirational
leadership helped secure
Swedish dominance in the
Baltic and inspired his
successors onto greater
victories notably at the Battle
of Nordlingen (1634). Nearly
200 years after Adolphus’
death Napoleon Bonaparte
sung his praises as one of
the greatest military
commanders in history – a
fitting tribute for a
noteworthy Scandinavian
monarch.
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