The Armfeldt Campaign 1718-1719

During the winter 1718-1719, 3 000 of Swedish King Charles XII’s soldiers perished before the elements in the border mountains of Mid-Scandinavia. This not only constitutes the largest known loss of military of personnel in Norway. It also exemplifies the limits of winter warfare in a subarctic environment during the Early Modern period. These cataclysmic events are not very well known outside the region. However, the trauma left on both sides of the Swedish-Norwegian border have been kept alive in the popular memory, and a lot of folklore have sprung out of these memories. This only constitutes a brief introduction of an international audience to a tale of great local importance. It gives an overview of the strategic background of the campaign, the forces involved and the consequences of the campaign, both in military and civilian terms.

The Kingdoms of Denmark-Norway and Sweden had been at war since the Middle Ages, and every generation experienced warfare in some way. In hindsight, it appears as a Scandinavian civil war, a dynastic feud, where royal families battled each other, and where the largely peasant population payed the price in blood, hard labor and pain. In a contemporary world, where the defense expenditure of most democratic states hardly rises above 2 % of GDP, it is also easy to forget the formative power of war on society at a time when the military apparatus absorbed as much as 80 % of the state’s income in what was the most militarized nations of their time.

The Swedish Empire 1560-1815 (Wikimedia Commons).

But it is also a part of the story of how the peoples of Scandinavia mutually became each other's “defining others” – as national identity was taking form. And as the modern state emerged,  the loyalty of the population to it were established under an enormous pressure of cultural and political conformity. Since the Napoleonic wars, paradoxically much to the credit of ethno-nationalism, ideas of “Pan Scandinavism” and consciousness of a common Nordic heritage, fratricide has been replaced by peace and cooperation. Looking back at how all engulfing warfare was at the time, the Scandinavian example should provide a source of hope and optimism for peoples struggling with war and violent conflict in the contemporary world.

Great Northern War 1700-1721

In 1700, Poland-Saxony, Denmark-Norway and Russia declared war upon Sweden in order to reverse its expansion of the previous century. The diplomatic work of establishing an anti-Swedish coalition had started in 1697, when Charles XII ascended the throne, only 15 years old. Sweden had endured several years of famine and plague, making its enemies believe that the Swedish possessions were ripe for picking, out of the hands of an inexperienced, adolescent monarch. But they severely underestimated the Swedish war machine. In the initial phases, Sweden made progress and Denmark-Norway was put out of action already in the first year of the war. Charles XII would become the last European monarch to lead his troops from the front, and that was literally. He would put himself in great personal danger on several occasions. He was a soldier’s king, preferring the company of his officers in the field rather than the decadent life of the court. But the Swedish fortunes of war would eventually turn, and their defeat before the Russians at Poltava tempted Danish king to once again declare war on Sweden, on October 28, 1709. Mid-Scandinavia had been a recurring battlefield during the incessant struggles for Nordic hegemony of the Early Modern Period. In 1709, Denmark had ambitions to regain the lost counties of Jämtland and Härjedalen. The major theaters, however, lay further south. Norwegian troops conscripted in Mid Scandinavia in February 1713, was sent to Germany and participated in the siege of the Swedish held towns Tönning and Stralsund on the Baltic.

When King Charles XII returned from Poltava via Turkey in 1715, the situation for his empire was dire. The bulk of his military forces were lost, as were almost all of his possessions in the Baltic. But the strategic situation did not make the king sue for peace. On the contrary, he believed that first; his negotiating position had to be improved. After initiating negotiations with Russia, Charles XII was able to concentrate his forces in the west. At the time, Denmark and England restricted their operations to enforcing a blockade. This meant that the Swedes had to seek out battle to change the situation. There had also been negotiations with England, but these were terminated when King George of Hanover (king from 1714) discovered that the Swedes also consulted with the Jacobites - Scottish based Catholics who supported the claim of the House of Stuart to the English throne. Charles first considered occupying the Danish island of Zealand, with the capital Copenhagen, to force the Danes to cede Norway. The communications up to the border adjacent to the important mining town of Røros was also improved as a preparation for an offensive into Mid-Norway. But in 1716 the Swedes attacked in southeast Norway instead. They took the capital Christiania, before Norwegian forces were transferred from Denmark and the town of Moss was liberated on April 23, 1716, and with it depriving the Swedes of their most important supply base. With the famous victory of naval maverick, Petter Wessel Tordenskjolds at Dynekilen, the Swedish supply lines were completely cut off, and Charles was forced to withdraw.

On New Year 1718, Charles put General Carl Gustav Armfeldt in charge of a new campaign aimed at ceasing Trondheim County (contemporary Trøndelag). If successful, it would cut Norway off at the middle and isolate the country north of the central Dovre mountain massif. The full extent of Charles’ strategy has since been subject of speculation. In addition to diverting attention and forces away from the main attack in the south east, historian Christer Palm also believed that Trondheim was intended as a base for an intervention in Scotland in support of the Jacobite rebellion. Thereby, Charles supposedly hoped to weaken or divert the British who were one of the cornerstones of the alliance against him. Also, access to the natural resources and North Atlantic trade routes must also have been tempting. However, there are no official records supporting this. But circumstantial evidence does exist. In the spring of 1719, Scottish vessels anchored in the harbor of Trondheim and their crews asked where the Swedish troops were at. During the campaign, Swedish soldiers also asked local Norwegians how far it was from Trondheim to Scotland. Finally, assistance in naval transport of Swedish forces was also an issue during the negotiations with Russia.

Swedish Forces and Preparations

Charles XII (1682-1718) - (Axel Sparre).

In 1700, Denmark-Norway shifted to the Georgian calendar, while Sweden did not until 1753. Dates in this article are based on the Norwegian-Danish calendar. unless otherwise is specified. In 1718, Sweden was marked by 18 years of war and failed crops over several seasons. In addition, a plague in 1709 may have killed off as much as one third of her population. Military defeats, including that at Poltava in 1709, had decimated the Swedish manpower pool. But during the course of 1717 and spring of 1718, they still managed to raise a new army of 60,000 men, an astonishing feat of military administration. At the time, Sweden had approximately 1,8 mil. people, but enjoyed arguably the world’s most efficient war machine in terms of ability to mobilize resources within its territory for war. The basis was conscription and a professional state bureaucracy. The development of this system of mobilization, which had propelled Sweden into a Great Power in the 17th century, is often referred to as the Military-Fiscal Revolution, at which Sweden was at the forefront.

The Swedish Marshalling point at Duved (A. Lannerbäck).

The gathering of the Swedish Jämtland Army poised on attacking Trondheim, commenced at Duved, Åre, in the summer of 1718. The troops will here be referred to as "Swedish" even though in reality the units comprised mostly of ethnic Fins. The force consisted of three regiments and one independent company of cavalry, eight infantry regiments and two independent battalions plus one Free Corps. The regiments were territorial units of the counties and size of the individual regiments ranged from 400 (Nyland Regiment) to 1300 men (Hälsinge Regiment). Armfeldt’s staff accounted for a further 50 men bringing the total force up to 10 000 men and 7 000 horses. Several regiments had marched from the border of the Russian-occupied Finland which took time on the poor roads, and the ranks were not complete until the beginning of August. The hardships of the civilian population also made it difficult to raise the necessary provisions. The composition of each regiment also varied. Major General Henry Reinhold Horn’s Jämtlandske Regiment had been standing in the border area throughout the war and not been in combat and therefor retained its original elements. In addition to the regulars it had 40 officers, five priests, a lawyer and a field surgeon.

Swedish soldiers' attire consisted of a tricore hat or carpus (knitted hat with flaps), a blue wool tunic, leather pants, and a rucksack. An infantryman’s personal armament was a rapier and musket. Dragoons and cavalry carried a carbine, a flint lock pistol and a cavalry rapier. At the start of the campaign, Jämtland Army was to carry six weeks worth of supplies. By then Armfeldt hoped to have reached Trondheim where their provisions could be supplemented with acquisitions from the Norwegian civilians, until the routes across the mountains was secured enough for supplies to be brought forth from the magazines at Duved.

Swedish recon of the border areas found the best route of advance to go northeasterly from Duved and into the Verdal Valley on the Norwegian side. Despite hard work put down by the soldiers, the mountain roads were in a poor condition. 10 000 men with artillery, horses and train would soon turn them into a sea of mud even at the height of summer, and in winter they would be impassable due to snow except for sledges. This was the middle of the "Little Ice Age" - a period ca. 1400- 1850s when Europe experienced cool and humid summers and long harsh winters.

The Norwegian Forces and Preparations

Frederik IV of Denmark-Norway (Rosalba Carriera).

Norway also introduced conscription with the War Act of 1628. Accordingly, four farmsteads were obliged to raise a soldier and provide him with clothing, food and weapons. Officers however were commissioned by the king, 

and most of the higher officers were recruited abroad or were of foreign stock. In addition, the population was heavily taxed and had to carry out all kinds of duties for the military, including labor on fortifications, transport and delivery of provisions. Thus, making Norway the world’s most militarized society of the day. Through the War Act, territorial regiments were organized, and Trondheim Regiment initially counted between 1,000 and 1,350 men. Its territorial basis was the counties of Trondheim and Møre og Romsdal. The soldiers of the parrish would gather every Sunday after church services for drills, and the regiment would muster twice a year.

The recruits were mostly drawn from the poorest layers of society. This was later intensified, 1644 it was decided that two farmsteads would entertain one soldier, which in practice meant a doubling of the manpower in Trondheim Regiment. In 1657 the regiment was therefor divided into 1st - and 2nd Trondhjemske Regiment. In 1717, conscription was extended further, and each farmstead had to present one soldier, and a third regional regiment were under establishment by the time of the Swedish attack. However, the military burdens of society were so heavy that the population of Norway hardly grew during the latter half of the 17th Century. When a soldier got drafted, he was on call for mobilization for nine years, extended to 10 in 1717. During this period, he was banned from getting married, thus adding to the negative demographic effect of the draft by reducing over time the man pool from which future soldiers could be raised.

Independent ski companies were also created during the Scanian War 1676-1779, and Nordenfjeldske Ski Corps on under Major Jens Henrik Emahusen was re-activated in 1717. Though troops on skis had been deployed at least since the Middle Ages, this was the first soldiers in the history of warfare who were purposely trained for winter operations. They were essential in keeping track of the Swedish war preparations during the winter season. At the end of the 1600s, a grenadier corps of volunteers was also set up. From 1659 the main towns organized a citizen militia, and in Trondheim it comprised of two companies (about 300-400 men). Otherwise, the towns were exempted from regular taxes on income and property, however, in wartime, temporal taxes would be introduced and credits demanded by the military. There were also a rural militia, called the mandhusing which in practice meant all men capable of bearing arms in any given district, though it was often so-so with armament. In 1717, a Regiment of Dragoons was also set up in the Trondheim County. The richest farmsteads were ordered to keep a horse and raise a dragoon and a reserve. They were not cavalry, the horses not adapted to the sounds and visual impressions of the battlefield and provided mobility only, nor were the dragoons themselves trained to fight on horseback. Thus, they were not held in very high regard by their superiors, especially those who despite these limitations attempted to use them as cavalry.

In total, the Norwegian units could not compare with the Swedish in terms of leadership and experience. The 2nd Trondhjemske Regiment were seasoned from the campaigns in Germany and Southern Norway in 1716, otherwise the units were untested. Many of the officers, especially with the artillery, were of old age. Norwegian commanders like Maj.Gen. Budde drew the only logical consequence from this, avoiding pitched battles they were certain to lose. Instead, they resorted to guerrilla tactics and defending well prepared positions, focusing on Trondheim.

Maj.Gen. Vincent Budde in an argument with the citizens of Trondheim over requisitions and credits. Unlike most of his contemporary senior officers, Budde is supposed to never have gotten a portrait painted of himself. Perhaps a testimony to his lack of personal vanity (A. Lannerbäck).

Because of the poverty of the Norwegian countryside and that the communities were far between, the usual strategy of “living of the land”, did not work in Norway. The Swedes had to rely on the supplies they brought with them, making logistics a major challenge during the preparations and the upcoming campaign. This would also become the Achilles heel of their operations and a high value target for the Norwegian forces to engage. While not being up for a face to face battle, the Norwegians excelled in this indirect approach and captured numerous supply trains. Maintaining command and control, as well as unit cohesion over wast distances in hostile territory proved a daunting task for the Swedish as well. Norwegian peasants, often encouraged by firebrand ministries, coordinated by officers and crack ski troops, would intercept couriers going between units in the Jämtland Army- and the Swedish units and king Charles XII campaigning in the South. This provided intelligence, not only of Swedish plans and order of battle. As these satchels of mail contained correspondence of a more personal character, the Danish-Norwegian commanders were also provided an insight into the moral and motivation of the Swedish rank and file. Finally, they were able to effectively deny the Swedes of reliable communications. But Norwegian guerilla tactics could have grave consequences resulting in incarceration of several ministers and burnt down farmsteads.

At the beginning of the 1700s, Trondheim County also experienced failed harvest and hardships. In addition, Trondheim Town were ravaged by several fires. The important trade with Sweden also stopped up because of the war, and Bergen took over as transit hub for the lucrative dry cod trade from Northern Norway to Europe. In addition, extra taxes were imposed on the population  to entertain the troops of the 2nd Trondhjemske who participated in the Danish operations against Swedish positions in Germany and Poland. In 1717 tax revenues were particularly bad and the salary paid to the soldiers was often made in foodstuffs and even drafts on yet uncollected taxes. But rumors about Swedish preparations for a new attack called for extensive defense measures. Roadblocks were set up at major access routes across the border, repair work on the fortifications commenced, depots were stocked up and preparations were made for a quick mobilization. All financed by credits from the merchants of Trondheim Town and requisitions from the peasantry. County Prefect Iver von Ahnen warned however, that the costs caused great discontent and many of the provisions called for could not be delivered. This especially hampered the payment of agents deployed to Sweden. As a result, an unsubstantiated rumor of full Swedish advance would lead to a false alarm in March 1718 since there was no way of investigate it. The same month a Swedish patrol was able to advance unnoticed into Verdalen and captured 12 Norwegian soldiers. But a Norwegian ski patrol under Major Henrich Emahusen soon reached the main depot at Duved and could report that sufficient troops for an offensive had not yet been assembled.

Norwegian infantry of 1718. The previous year, most regulars acquired the classical red coat (A. Lannerbäck).

On May 12 1717, General Vincent Budde was appointed commander of the area north of Dovre. He had led the 2nd Trondhjemske on its continental campaigns and was still popular among the local troops. To alleviate local distress, he also lent out provisions from army magazines on account that it was paid back in the fall. In addition, shipments of grain arrived from allied Holland and England. In August 1718, Vincent Budde could muster 6800 men. He also expected reinforcements from the south. When they finally arrived in November, his forces increased to 8174. In pure numbers, the odds were not all that bad. But all the ranks of Armfeldts regiments, save the Jämtlandske, were filled with battle hardened troops. In addition, the Swedes held the initiative and the Norwegians were forced to spread out to guard several possible routes. Slightly over 4000 men covered the advance routes from the border and into Verdal. Here, 1900 manned the fortress at Stene and associated sconce works. But about 2 000 men were also positioned at alternative crossings to which Armfeldt sent patrols to keep his opponents guessing about the direction of his main trust. Budde, however, could rely on a relatively good and willing network of informants reporting Swedish' movements, enabling him to guess correctly the route the Swedes would come.

The Swedish Troops on the March

The roads were poor and narrow, it took three days to get the army on the move (A. Lannerbäck).

The Jämtland Army started to leave Duved on August 20, 1718 and three days later the whole column was on the march. Ahead of them lay a 180-km long march through difficult terrain, and with just enough supplies, even the slightest delay could be fatal. The poor roads also forced Armfeldt to leave behind his heavy siege artillery. This would prove decisive on the outcome of the campaign. And because of road conditions, the force was not able to cross the border until September 6. Here, they would have to leave behind the cattle they brought along for supplies due to poor grazing, thus further undermining the supply situation. Once there, Armfeldt issued a petition to the Norwegian population in which he promised that Swedish requisitions would be paid for and they were encouraged to get on with their daily lives. But he warned that his men "with fire and sword, and in the most ferocious manner, would pursue life and property of those who caused any trouble."

100 grenadiers under Major Palmstruck and 50 of Captain Långström’s cavalrymen were sent ahead on a reconnaissance and found the common road ahead blocked by Norwegian troops. Armfeldt therefore chose a tortuous route over the mountains that rose almost 1000 m above sea level and above the tree line. The maneuver proved exhausting and Armfeldt was forced to grant the troops a day of rest about 15 kilometers inside Norway. Also, many horses had difficulty finding good enough grazing on the mountain. Many of them fell sick and 650 had to be returned to Duved. On September 8, they broke camp and continued towards the fortifications at Stene. Word of the Swedish invasion soon spread beyond the homesteads in Verdal and rumors had that they were going to burn down all farms in the area. The population was stricken with fear and many fled into the mountains.

Stene and Skånes Earthworks

The Caroleans outflanked the Norwegians at Stene (A. Lannerbäck).

On the map, the fortifications at Stene with its compliment of 1,500 men should cover all gateways into Verdal. In reserve were also 410 infantrymen, two companies of dragoons and three field guns. But Armfeldt’s seemingly impossible route of approach had brought the Swedes in a position to the Norwegians’ rear. Budde, who now was in Verdalen with his troops, received warnings that the Swedes were coming. He summoned his officers, and ordered the beacons to be lit as soon as it was dark, and at ten o'clock that same evening, the notice of the Swedish incursion had reached Trondheim. The beacon lights then spread the message further throughout Mid-Norway. This was the last time beacons warned of an invasion after the system had been in operation since the Viking Age.

Armfeldt quickly exploited his tactical advantage. A force of 2 000 infantry and some cavalry descended from the mountain under cover of darkness to attack Stene from the south at the break of dawn. This would bring them behind the right flank of the Norwegian defenses. The terrain along this route was so rugged that the defenders did not believe it would be possible, and accordingly, this was also poorly defended. A Norwegian prisoner was forced to guide them through the trackless terrain, but some of the Swedes got lost and ended up facing Norwegian positions on the opposite bank of the Sul River. They opened fire and began to cut trees and build rafts to lure the enemy into believing that they were preparing to cross over. But after a few days of low rainfall, the water level was so low that they could easily have waded across, and Budde was not to be outwitted as the main force moved further towards the bridge at Trangdøla.

The Norwegian stopping force at the bridge, however, was overwhelmed by the superior Swedish force and fired one single volley before retreating. This did not discourage the advancing enemy, but the volley did notice Budde of the Swedish break through and he dispatched Northern Trondhjemske Regiment(i.e. 1st Trondhjemske, the regiments had been renamed on basis of geography) under Colonel Baltzer Meitzner to the Lefring farmstead to stop the enemy before they could force their way further down the valley. In addition, the Verdalske and Gauldalske dragoon companies were ordered to counterattack in an attempt to halt the enemy. But when the inexperienced dragoons saw the enemy in their tight ranks, they panic and fled to safety behind Meitzners infantrymen who had taken up position behind a nearby fence. Luckily for the Norwegians, Northern Trondhjemske managed to stop the Swedes with three volleys of fire, but the skirmishes at Lefring left 20 Norwegian dragoons killed, injured or captured. In addition, the Verdalske Company of Dragoons lost their standard. The Swedish losses were limited to one killed and two wounded. But the efforts at Lefring saved Budde from being surrounded. Armfeldt attempted to challenge him to continuing the battle, but the Norwegians continued their retreat down Verdal and towards Trondheim Town. The Swedish forces on their part were too exhausted to pursue after their forced march in rugged terrain.

Map of Skånes skanse by the Swedish engineer Gabriel Cronsted who accompanied Armfeldt.  

Before continuing the advance, Armfeldt left a garrison of 500 men at Stene. Though the Norwegian main force had escaped decisive battle, he had conquered a major military stronghold which secured his lines of communications back to Sweden so far. After Stene, Armfeldt marched against Skånes Fort by the fjord, strategically located on a promontory along the road south towards Trondheim. The fort was armed with some cannons and crew consisted of 130 dragoons and 90 auxiliary peasants, a handful of artillerymen and some senior officers. Budde had hoped Skånes could hold out for some time, but once the Swedes turned up, fifty men of the garrison fled. The Swedes sent out a parliamentary and succeeded in convincing the Norwegian commander to surrender with the remaining men. By this they also conquered 14 days of supplies and the Swedes left 100 men to man the fort while their Norwegian predecessors got a free passage in exchange of promising not to take up the fight.

The War Council in Christiania, who served in the absence of the Governor, was notified of the Swedish invasion on September 20. Commanding General of the South, Barthold Heinrich von Lützow, wanted to counterattack immediately. But Deputy Governor Frederik Krag objected because the border defenses in the south were not ready, and all reserves would be needed to halt an expected attack from the Swedish main force massing on the other side. Instead, two infantry battalions and four dragon companies were sent to bolster Budde’s forces. The fear that the Scottish Jacobites would interfere by sea also made Copenhagen dispatch a small naval force and more ships with supplies that would make Trondheim Town able to withstand any siege.

Advance on Trondheim

The shantytowns outside the town walls are burned to the ground by the Norwegians to deny the enemy cover (A. Lannerbäck).

Armfeldt’s men marched through the Levanger district and the menfolk were nowhere to be seen because most had been conscripted in to the Norwegian army, called up as mannhusing or simply went into hiding out of fear that they would be press ganged into working for the Swedes. By then, Budde had reached Stjørdal where blocking positions were established along the thoroughfares through the communities of Forbygda, Skjeldstadmarka and Langstein. Rumors were also planted that Budde had gone to Røros to wait for a reinforcement of 2500 men. But the Swedes called the bluff and knew that Budde was still in Stjørdalen.

On September 19, the Swedes arrived at the mouth of the Langstein defile, a four-kilometer narrow passage way with a steep mountain side to the south and the sea to the north. It was defended by 300 Norwegians under Major Lorens Brun. Their positions were practically impossible to circumvent. Both the physical location and the number of defenders bear an eerie resemblance with the famous last stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae, but the following events were less than glorious on behalf of the Norwegian defenders. In an attempt to lure them into believe that they had found a way through, Armfeldt sent some soldiers out on a climb up the cliffs. Brun’s men swallowed the bait and threw themselves into their boats and fled. Despite the fact that the opponent was easily driven off, it took three days to get all the troops through defile. The supply train had an even worse going, and had not yet passed on September 22. A head they now had the barrier of the Stjørdal River. The Swedes threw a bridge over and sent cavalry patrols across in an attempt to make contact with the Norwegians. But by then, Budde had long since arrived at Trondheim. In Trondheim, rumors among the population had it that the Swedes were driven back across the border, and when Budde came to town in retreat on September 20, panic ensued. The most wealthy sent women, children and valuables out of town by sea and a discontent started to spread itself among citizens over Budde’s withdrawal. City Council wrote to a letter to the War Council in Christiania pleading to be spared from having an army entrenched in their midst. But Budde immediately began to prepare for defense. Buildings outside the defensive perimeter were razed to the ground in order to deny enemy any quarters, and the streets and port were barricaded.

For the Swedes in their encampment on the north bank of the Stjørdal River, the supplies were running low. In addition, they were hit by torrential rain, making the river swell and tore with it the provisional bridge and reducing the prospects of a successful crossing even further. By September 28, the situation was so critical that the men were starting to call in sick, including Armfeldt himself. The supply train was therefore ordered back to Skåne in order to bring forward whatever had been brought in from Sweden or acquired in Norway. The situation also affected moral and the number of desertion increased. Still, looters were punished severely - by hanging. But the local population was already on the verge of starvation and there was not much to loot in the first place. On October 1, a supply column managed to cross the mountains from Sweden, but while traversing the difficult terrain, most of the load was lost. Armfeldt concluded that the supply lines were stretched too far and he withdrew to Levanger and Verdal where they camped October 11. Perhaps he wanted to await the arrival of the much-needed heavy artillery, but the decision also gave Budde more time improve the Trondheim Town’s defenses. However, much discussion has taken place among historians over whether Armfeldt spilled his best, if yet still infinitesimal, opportunity to capture Trondheim.

As part of their scorched earth strategy, the Norwegians also destroyed or transported off boats along the southern shore of the fjord to deny the Caroleans mobility (A. Lännerbäck).

Following the Swedish retreat, Budde dispatched combat patrols to keep track of enemy movements and to make sure that they were kept constantly on the alert and forced devote time and energy to build barricades and guard their encampments. Whenever the Swedes dispatched their own patrols, they had to do so in force, thus limiting their freedom of movement and the area they could cover when scavenging for supplies. Every day, the Norwegian patrols also brought in prisoners and deserters. From these, Budde received valuable intelligence about the poor state of the enemy. He also left Colonel Storm and 2000 men behind to continue the fortification work in Trondheim, while he himself with the colonels Myhlenphort and Meitzner advanced in order to maintain contact with the enemy. Around this time, Norwegian troops also made an amphibious landing on the island of Ytterøy in the fjord and drove off or captured a 200 strong Swedish force occupying it. After a hot pursuit in row boats, 55 surrendered at gun point in mid-fjord.

The moral of Armfeldt’s Hälsinge Regiment was by now so low that the men were on the verge of mutiny, but Armfeldt mercilessly put down a near-riot before it spread. The supply situations also grew so dire that Armfeldt was forced to put aside the king's command to provide payment for requisitions. Farms were looted and animals brought down from the mountain pastures by force, not only for meat's sake, but also to provide hides for making shoes, harnesses and satchels to replace those who had been worn out. Soon Levanger was bled white, and Armfeldt was forced further up the Verdalen Valley. Not long after he received a visit from Charles XII aide-de-champ, Marcks von Würtemberg, with orders to hasten the procurements and set course for Trondheim. On November10, Armfeldt was again on the march, leaving behind a trail of plundered communities. He had received intelligence that Budde was in Inderøya and was in a hurry to get to Trondheim before him. This time they moved further inland to avoid the Langstein defile. The sick, wounded and all non-essential baggage was sent back across the border. Between November 13 - and 14 , 1180 cavalry and 4000 infantry reached Stjørdal River for the second time while Norwegian patrols kept Budde informed of the Swedish movements.

The last stop before the fatal march into the mountain were the settlement of Østby in Tydal (A. Lannerbäck).

The Swedish advance party, consisting of cavalry led by Lt. Gen. Reinhold Johan de la Barre, soon crossed Stjørdal River, but failed to capture Budde before he was in safety within the bulwarks of Trondheim Town. Within the city gates he now could muster a force of 6 200 infantry, two citizen companies of 200 men, 720 Dragoons, 1014 cavalry and 40 artillerymen. Armfeldt and the main body caught up on November 15. Four days later, new orders arrived from King Charles to attack Trondheim and Armfeldt started an extensive reconnaissance of its defenses. Further pillaging of the countryside paid little off since the Norwegian army had already collected most of the available supplies. But that did not stop Armfeldts men from taking what little was left of hay, straw and grain, cattle, horse, sheep, food and clothing. In addition, they took with them farm implements, household goods, materials and timber.

Inside the city the worst panic had subsided by mid-November. Kristiansten was manned by 1 000 men under the command of Colonel Myhlenphort, while the 400 was deployed to Munkholmen, a fortfied Islet 1,6 km ashore. Meitzner’s 1st Trondhjemske was in position along the river bank from Brattøra to Bybroen, while 2nd Trondhjemske under Colonel Storm, held the sector from the Archbishop's Palace to the western town gate and fortifications at Skansen. Between them they had over a hundred guns, some of them of heavy caliber. Infantry reinforcements from the south manned the town gate itself while the detachment of Dragoons sent as reinforcements acted as a tactical reserve. The Northern Dragoon Regiment under its new chief, Colonel Peter von Motzfeldt, was however dispatched south to the Tiller bridge to prevent the Swedes to cross the river and threaten the town from the west.  In early November, the Danish-Norwegian naval force also arrived on the scene, led by the Man-of-War Søndermanland, with 46 guns and 300 men led by Captain H.J. Rostgaard. Other ships in the flotilla was the frigate Søridderen with 28 guns and gunboat Landsord with 14 guns and 44 men. In addition, the merchant in Bergen had funded and dispatched the frigate Haab Gallei with 24 guns and 80 men. The ships deployed line abreast at the waterfront of the town.

Map of Trondheim on November 12, 1718. The Swedish positions are marked with blue and yellow bars. Norwegian troops marked with red and yellow, and red and blue bars (Norwegian Mapping Authority). 

Several transport vessels also arrived with the warships, with supplies which enabled Buddes men to endure four months of confinement within the town gates. Though the Swedes never laid the town under siege per se by sealing it off completely. But due to poor management many provisions were lost. The town's population had also increased because of the refugees from the suburbs. In addition, many were left homeless due to the recent fires and the soldiers had to camp in the open. In early November, the war treasury had gone empty and the soldiers went unpaid when Buddes decreasing popularity among the population bared him from further credits. As one might expect in a war stricken pre-modern urban area without modern sanitation and water supplies, the beleaguered city was also struck by disease which cost the lives of 2,500 civilians and military. Especially among the dragoons, the death toll was high.

On November 15 Armfeldt and the generals made a recon of the town defenses with dismaying conclusions. The warships in the harbor precluded any advancement by sea. With its seven small field guns, there was no chance of taking the fortress Kristiansten. The only opportunity was to advance from the west once the river froze over. On November 15 Budde received report that a major Swedish force was moving southward along the river. He sent his brother, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Budde with 50 dragoons, to make out the enemy intentions. But Frederick Budde and his men were cut off after crossing a bridge over a minor tributary to Nidelva. He and his men turned around and advanced on the Swedes who begged him to surrender. Fredrick Budde flamboyantly replied that he had not learned how to surrender, only to fight. They cut through the Swedish ranks and Fredrik Buddes horse was badly wounded. Nine Norwegians were killed or captured in a running battle that ended when they reached the field of fire of Kristiansten fortress. The Swedes also reached a still intact bridge about 10 km up stream, but found it defended by Norwegian dragoons. These soon fled, however, and Colonel Peter von Motzfeldt had to dispatch his personal guard company (livkompaniet) to shore up the defenses.

In early December, Swedish cavalry under general de la Barre also advanced on the important mines at Røros and Kvikne. The local militias were easily overrun, but the de la Barre’s men soon got entangled in a battle with the elusive Norwegian ski troops of Major Even Kraft, coming up from the south. de la Barre's advance had also pushed Motzfeldt south, ending in a mad chase across the Dovre mountain massif before the Swedish pursuers gave up. As snow started to cover the higher laying areas, Norwegian ski patrols also intercepted Swedish mail couriers and supply trains.

The Swedish Retreat

By the end of November, the Swedes now stated a southward movement away from Trondheim Town, probably because they had to move the entire main force to keep it supplied due to the Norwegian guerilla attacks. On November 28, they crossed Nidelva on a pontoon bridge under fire. The Norwegian force on the opposite side, however, consisted mainly of dragoons that were quickly brushed aside as cannon shot drove their horses away and caused chaos and confusion. But the retreat as such had not begun in earnest. Armfeldt may still have expected reinforcements with heavy artillery with which he had some hope of finally take Trondheim. Nonetheless, on December 11, Armfeldt could only muster 5 320 battle ready troops from the approximately 10 000 men who crossed the border in august. The remainder had deserted, been killed or captured by the Norwegians, detached to man posts and fortifications along the rout from Duved, died or been sent home due to injury and illness.

On December 17, Armfeldt was notified of King Charles XII’s death at Fredrikshald in the south. Charles XII had led the invasion of southern Norway with 36 000 men in the beginning of December and laid siege to Fredriksten fortress. Here, the King was hit by a musket ball in his right temple and killed instantly while inspecting the trenches on December 11. Under the command of Prince Frederick of Hesse, the Swedes soon pulled out of southern Norway, the same day that Armfeldt received the message about the king's death. On December 20 Armfeldt also received orders to withdraw. In a twist of fate, the success at which the Norwegians were able to intercept Swedish messengers might have prolonged the campaign by delaying the arrival of these orders. Armfeldt chose to retreat to the south, then continue up the Gauldal Valley, cross over to Tydal and head for the settlement of Handöl on the Swedish side. He could not retrace his route of advance as it led through areas already plundered. If he travelled further south, aiming at exiting by the mining town of Røros, he risked being cut off by Danish-Norwegian reinforcements coming up from the south. Therefore, he relied on an old path used by traders to bring goods across the mountains on sledges in winter through Tydal.

Norwegian farmers would often revenge plunder by ambushing the Swedish troops, often led by skitroops. The Swedes would frequently burn settlements as reprisals (A. Lännerbäck).

The Jämtland Army was now in a hurry to get out. But the news of the King’s death was kept from the men in order not to cause a major setback in moral. The main force's movement was slow in the beginning as it had to allow for patrols and small detachments to catch up. Messengers also brought the news to Stene and Skånes which was razed to the ground and evacuated in early January under constant skirmishes with the Norwegians. On January 6, the Swedish vanguard reached Haltdalen where they according to tradition halted to hold Christmas mass (it was Christmas Eve according to the old calendar), before starting the ascent across the mountains to Tydal. The weather was now deteriorating fast, and the Swedes had no tents, their clothes were wearing thin and their food supplies virtually non-existent. Thus, the plight of the civilians grew even more severe since the soldiers grabbed anything that could be eaten, worn or burnt as fuel. Anybody who resisted risked being shot. But the Norwegian ski troops followed Armfeldt as if they were his own shadow. From the end of December Major Emahusen set up base in Tydalen. On January 4th, they had also hit a major supply train trying to reach Armfeldt through Tydal.

While trying to traverse the mountains over to Tydal, the Swedes encountered a snowstorm to which 200 men perished before they reached forested and lower lying areas. Not long after the storm had subsided, civilians looted the bodies of the dead soldiers who just a day earlier had raided their homes. The Norwegian ski troops disappeared into the undergrowth in the valley bottom, but kept a watchful eye on enemy movements. Emahusen’s men had already cleared the lower parts of Tydal for supplies so that there were very little the Swedes could get their hands on here. But a little further up the valley, however, the population had believed that the intruders were heading westward and had not hidden away anything, and could do nothing but watch as all the fruits of a season’s hard work were carted off by the Swedes. Next day Armfeldt continued to Ås, the modern administrative center of Tydal Municipality. From the highest lying farmstead here, the distance over the mountain to the nearest Swedish settlement at Handöl was about 55 km - a hike that normally takes no more than 8-10 hours on skis - and another 20 km to Duved. Armfeldt asked a peasant what their odds were to make it over the mountain, upon which he replied that they would probably be okay if they were familiar with the terrain and had skis, which only a few of them had.

Only old people and a woman who just gave birth to twins remained in the surrounding settlements. But Armfeldt needed a guide who was physically able to handle the trip. Then a 59-year-old man was discovered sinking his way down from his mountain hide out and was press ganged into Swedish service as a guide. In addition, three women, including the one who just gave birth to twins, were marched along as hostages together with five Norwegian POW. On the moonlit night to January 11th the Swedes began the march up the mountain. Around midday they reached the zenith of a 1200-meter-high peak called Blåhammaren when the weather deteriorated dramatically into a raging blizzard. The female hostages were allowed to turn around and came back safely, and on their descent, they passed troops that were already dead and dying in the snow. But some of them still had the strength left to force the women to give up their warm knitted gloves.

The biggest problem as they passed the tree line was fuel for camp fires. The Little Ice age had forced the tree line was lower than it is today. In addition, this was a period of intense grazing on the highland moors and mountain and sprouts of threes would be chewn off by sheep and goat before they had any chance to grow. Desperately cold solders set fire to whatever they could lay their hands on that could burn. Some even cut of the butts of their musket. Soldiers laid down to sleep for the night, but in the morning, many of them had frozen to death around the long burnt out campfires. Others had been standing back to back to shelter and warm each other, but died as they stood. That first night, one of the Norwegian hostages also perished. Among those who survived the first night, many threw away their weapons and equipment.

The last stop before the fatal march into the mountain were the settlement of Østby in Tydal (A. Lannerbäck).

The storm soon wiped out the tracks of those who went before, and as they approached the foot of Blåhammaren, the army had split up into three main sections. On the evening of January 13th, the largest group camped just a stone throw away from the border. Some of the soldiers hacked hole in the ice on a nearby river which confirmed that they were over the watershed and the water flowed eastward. A patrol of 10-15 men on skis had been sent ahead to alert the base at Duved that the troops were coming, and by then, the main force had probably already met a peasant who had been ordered up on the mountain to guide the troops off the mountain. On the morning of January 14 there were even fewer who arose from their sleep, but in the afternoon the weather eased somewhat. The next evening, Armfeldt and the vanguard reached the settlement of Handöl in Sweden. The general himself had just some light frostbite. Beacons were lit to help the troops find their way down the slopes and sleds were ordered up to salvage what they could of equipment. Messengers were also sent to Duved with request for food and transport to the exhausted troops. At the time, Handöl consisted of just three small farmsteads and there was nowhere near enough shelter or food for everyone. But they packed themselves together tight in the small lodges. Yet, many continued to die. Perhaps it was the shock and cardiac arrest as a result of exhaustion combined with abrupt warming, or because they were already weakened, smothered to death as too many tried to enter the few buildings.

Another possible cause of death after they reached what was supposed to be safety, was what later has been dubbed “refeeding syndrome”. It was first scientifically described when American POWs returned emaciated from Japanese captivity. When given high energy foodstuffs by well-meaning savior’s, many would die over the following 4-5 days. After being on the verge of starvation for a lengthy period, production of insulin are shut down, and the reaction to a sudden intake of too much fat and carbohydrates could cause shock and death. Similar observations were made on people being freed from German concentration camps. Many of the Swedes were also still left standing outside due to lack of shelter, and had to spend another night outdoors. Hardly any were without major or minor frostbites, and gangrene and ensuing blood poisoning would also have claimed numerous lives. A regimental surgeon set up a makeshift infirmary in a shed and several barrels were filled with amputated and frozen limbs. A stone slab later discovered near Handöl has the inscription "Anno 1719, January 20, 600 men were buried here." For several months, Swedish soldiers continued to drift down the mountain, but they had most likely stayed behind in Tydal or found other shelter on the way. Some also turned up in Norwegian settlements some 100 km west of the border and was often met with an unpleasant faith at the hands of vengeful local peasants.


3000 Swedish soldiers died from a combination of exposure, emancipation and disease (A. Lännerbäck).


On January 18th, a church services were held for the survivors at Frösö. The priest, Nicolao Idman, was chaplain in Turku Regiment and had endured the hardships together with the congregation. The sermon was printed the following year in a book of 108 pages titled “The Cry of the People on the Norwegian Mountains”, and is one of the first eyewitness accounts to be recorded. Armfeldt himself soon left Jämtland and assigned to general Horn to reorganize the army. The war was not yet over and a Danish-Norwegian counterattack was anticipated. Since there was not much left of the original force, the Swedes had to conscript new troops from the local population in order to man important fortifications. Another immediate account of the horrors suffered by the Swedes was filed in a report by Major Emahusen who led his men up the mountain in pursuit of the Swedes after the blizzard had subsided. They were met by an unforgettable sight:

“I am not capable to fully describe the demise of the Swedish army as I have witnessed it (...). Throughout the Mountains, there are no firewood to be found, and when last man marched up on the mountain, the foul weather set in and lasted for four days. It was a sad and gruesome sight! Men lay dead in piles of 30, 40, 50 and more, in full battle dress with rucksack on their backs. Some still clung to their weapons, and some even had food their mouths; riders stood head first in the snow along the route, as if they were discarded by their horses. Many had knocked the butts of their guns to make fire with - no, I can not describe it! The longer up the mountain we went, the more dead people and horses were to be seen.

Only few of the cavalry as well as infantry could have gotten across the mountain. And they who succeeded must be frozen regardless of rank. Alas, the weather and the cold was piercing. (...). Loaded sledges were frozen in their tracks with their coachmen and dead horses in place…"


Major Emahusen soon reached the campsite of Turku Regiment under Major General Otto Reinhold Yxkull. Here alone his men found 400 muskets and several sabers together with six smaller field guns with ammunition. Local peasants helped themselves to shoes, coats, belts, etc. Some were sold; other effects were used for different purposes. Musket barrels quickly became axle rods of grinding stones. And after them, the predators made a clean sweep. The body of a high-ranking officer was also found, carrying a gilded sword that was sent to General Budde. Emahusen sent a single skier over to Handöl to check on the Swedes. The skier returned to Tydal the same evening, a distance of 120 km. The next day that very same trooper continued to Trondheim to report before Budde and then came back to Tydalen again. In total that should make up about 300 km in three days, mostly over mountainous terrain. If this is even close to being true, it is a monumental testimony of the mobility and adaptability of these specialized ski troops in comparison with the Swedish formations being conventionally equipped as if they were going on a summer campaign on the European continent.

The Swedish campaign cost the lives of 4273 privates and NCOs, many to disease, starvation and complications after injuries. But the single most important cause of death was cold. Operations on a large scale in the winter were not very common at the time. From December 28th to January 4th, 3,000 of the 5,000 who started the ascent from Tydal died. Additional 900 perished after they came to Handöl, Of those who survived 451 were discharged because of injuries, many of them crippled with little chance to survive if they were not able to perform any kind of work. The distribution of the death toll could partly also be ascribed to social conditions. The soldiers who were recruited from the peasantry had experienced a childhood of hard work and poor, unbalanced diet with associated injuries and illnesses. Differences were also continued in the military. Officers and their "peers" (priests, lawyers, and surgeons) came from affluent families and probably had a much healthier childhood. They could also afford a personal equipment and clothing (such as coats and woolen trousers) which was superior to the standard issue enlisted men had to make due with. Regulations dictated that officers should have the same rations and accommodation as privates and non-commissioned officers, but the reality was different. How much effect this gave the relative number of dead is difficult to determine with any certainty because officers were under commission and did not figure in the enrollment records. We do have details of the losses of the Jämtlands Dragonregimente, which lost 1025, or 67,7 %, of its original strength. However, the total losses among officers alone was only 1,3 %.

Many of the surviving Swedish soldiers returned as amputees. Unable to serve, they had to leave the smallholdings they had been given when drafted. With them, also their families if they had any, had to go (A. Lannerbäck).

At the time, many Norwegians enjoyed some schadenfreude over the fate of the Swedish soldiers. In March 1720 Fredrik VI issued a rescript to the bishops in Norway that annual thanks giving feast was to be held in a “Godly manner” on January 13th January in remembrance of what he saw as a divine intervention on behalf of his Kingdom. During the feast, the following verse would be recited:

“For the glory of God, we thank you for your great mercy towards our King and Realm, and subjects, that all Swedish enemies was, after the ever good, mysterious ways of the Lord, forced from the Realm, and that the Realm was delivered on this very day, and as a reminder to posterity.”

The rescript was in force until the Danish-Norwegian Princess Sophie Magdalene was married to the Swedish Crown Prince, the later King Gustavius III, in 1766. The disastrous outcome of the campaign, both from the Norwegian civil point of view, as well as that of the Swedish soldiers, can in some ways be attributed to Armfeldt and his leadership - paradoxically enough because of his lack of ruthlessness. When they first came to Stjørdal, he hesitated at first because of the difficult supply situation, instead of pressing on which would have shortened the fighting and limited the sufferings on both parties, regardless of the outcome. Buddes strategy of letting time work to his advantage was the right one in the long run, but the Norwegian officer corps in general were not marked by resourcefulness and rapid decisions. Consequently, number of opportunities to deal the Swedes minor blows slipped, for example at Trangdøla, Skåne and Langstein.

In Trondheim alone, some 1000 civilians died during the siege, while 1200 military personnel perished. In some rural communities, mortality was up ten times that of a normal year. How much of the hardship of the civilian population that was the direct result of the Swedish soldiers' behavior is difficult to isolate. They had already experienced several failed harvests and epidemics. War barred normal trade relations in addition to that much disease probably followed this large entourage of men on the march and refugees. In addition, 1718 was most likely a lemming, which meant that water sources in the mountain region were infected with tularemia that among other things can cause respiratory problems, skin lesions and fever. A population weakened by hunger would be more susceptible to infection and even an innocent disease could be fatal. Norwegian mobilization, requisitions and destruction to deny the enemy quarters and resources also made up part of the causes. In some communities, destruction due to Norwegian scorched earth strategy were more destructive than Swedish plundering. Economical ruin also prolonged the suffering of many long after the war ended. Of ten soldiers who died on campaign, six died of disease, three of accidents and injuries, and only one in combat. And while very few, if any, Norwegian civilians died as collateral damage from fighting, disease proved to be the major killer. This can be inferred from the distribution of mortality, both in time and space. First, the death toll also increased in areas not directly affected by plundering. This suggests that refugees and discharged soldiers returning home carried the disease with them. Also, the death toll peaked in spring 1719, months after the fighting stopped. If starvation had been the main killer in its own right, one would expect mortality to have peaked closer to harvest time when food stores would be definitively empty.

The Swedish campaign of 1718 was the last large-scale invasion across the mountains between Trøndelag and Jämtland / Härjedalen. Later wars saw only minor skirmishes in these border areas. As armies grew bigger and the artillery heavier, the communications traversing these mountains simply could not sustain the logistics required to bring a campaign to a successful conclusion. And a major reason for this was the climatic conditions which did not allow for elaborate road constructions, as well as the intense grazing by livestock making it difficult for pack animals and cavalry horses to find good enough pastures. The Great Northern War would continue for two more years. Prussia and Hanover had also entered the alliance against Sweden, and negotiations between Sweden and Russia collapsed. In the final phase, Danish and Russian naval forces conducted several raids along the coasts of Sweden. Finally, Britain found it in her interest to save Sweden. According to the balance of power politics, no single state could achieve dominance on the continent, and Sweden was an important player in this game that could not be too weakened. During the peace negotiations, Denmark strengthened its grip on the Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein, while Finland was returned to Sweden by the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. But the possessions in the Baltic were forever lost for Sweden. New wars with Russia in 1741-1743, 1788-1790 and finally 1808-1809 only made the position worse, and the last conflict, Finland was also lost to Russia.

The death of Sweden's King Charles XII at Frederiksten fortress in Southern Norway on November 30, ended 20 years of war, albeit negotiations dragged out and peace did not come into effect until 1721 (A. Lannerbäck).


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