Finnish dragoons

Updated this year-old post with some new pictures and a bit of background. I am also testing out taking images against a black background.

The miniatures are Perry 28mms. These are the Nyland and Karelia dragoons, the only Finnish cavalry regiments still active in 1808. In the early 18th century, there were three full cavalry regiments in Finland, the Åbo & Björneborg, the Nyland & Tavastehus and the Viborg regiments. In the course of the 18th century, the cavalry regiments were reduced by more than half, with much of the cavalry converted to infantry.

The Karelia dragoons had their origins in the Viborg cavalry regiment, which was dissolved following the Great Northern War (1700–1721), as Viborg county was lost to Russia. Thereafter, they were based in the region of Karelia in the easternmost part of Finland, on the new border with Russia. When the border was moved again following defeat in the war of 1741-1743, this regiment was reduced in size to just two squadrons, based in Savolax rather than Karelia.

Uniform of the Karelian dragoons (Vinkhuizen collection NYPL)

Together with the Savolax infantry regiment, the Savolax jägers and the Karelian jägers, the Karelian dragoons formed the independent Savolax brigade, a small army corps meant to defend the isolated and sparsly populated eastern part of Finland. It was understood that this region was a potential avenue of Russian attack, but it was also unsuitable for supplying large forces. As it turned out (in 1808), it was also more easily defended than Western Finland, as heavily outnumbered Finnish forces managed to hold up the Russians at narrow passes through a wooded, mountainous area cut through by lakes and streams.

The Nyland dragoons were the most numerous of the Swedish cavalry in the Finnish war of 1808 with 8 squadrons. On a whole, there were about 750 dragoons out of an army totalling almost 20 000 (in the army of Finland) at the outbreak of hostilities.

Uniform of the Nyland dragoons (Vinkhuizen collection NYPL)

The two Finnish dragoon regiments both had similar uniforms in blue and yellow, in line with the other cavalry regiments in Sweden proper, but in marked contrast to the Finnish infantry who were mostly dressed in grey uniforms at this time. The Karelian dragoons wore a bicorne while the Nyland regiment used a shako – both types of headwear were seen on other Swedish cavalry at the time. According to one source, part of the Karelian dragoons had received the shako as well by the time the war broke out. Aside from the hats the only real difference between the two uniforms is the jacket, which is open at the waist, showing the vest underneath for the Karelians, and the sabretache, which for Nyland has the regional emblem.

Both regiments were similarly armed with sabre and pistols. Carbines had been in use prior to the war and recently dropped. Instead, one of the two pistols was rifled, and both pistols had attachable stocks, making the pistols very much like carbines while relieving the troopers of the additional weapon.

Towards the end of the summer reinforcements arrived from Sweden proper, including some squadrons of the Horse Life Guards (Livgardet till häst). Interestingly, that regiment also had Finnish roots. It was originally raised as the Finnish Light Dragoons in 1770 and were elevated to royal guards as reward for assisting in the king’s coup d’etat in 1772. In 1777, this unit was transferred to Sweden, and was thereafter based in the regions around Stockholm. The regiment was renamed several times, for a short time it was in fact called a hussar regiment.

A dashing young officer of the Horse Life Guards (Wikimedia Commons), in the uniform that would have been worn in 1808. With minor conversion work, the Perry miniatures Nyland dragoons can be painted as Horse Life Guards – unless the Perrys release such figures themselves of course!

The miniatures and the uniforms are lovely. However, the Swedish army in the Finnish war used only light cavalry, and what little they had was used mostly for scouting, covering retreats and countering the Russian cavalry. A Some of the dragoons were also detached to serve the staff officers as messengers. The Swedish cavalry was both outnumbered and probably also out-classed by their Russian counterparts. There are some instances of fierce cavalry on cavalry fighting. But on the whole, Swedish horse was not used as battlefield cavalry, and there was nothing like the heavy dragoons or cuirassiers of other Napoleonic theatres.

The Russians employed somewhat more cavalry and they used them more aggressively. Don cossacks and hussars (Grodno regiment) were most common. Uhlans of the Polish, Lithuanian and Prince Konstantin’s (Guards) regiments also participated in important battles, such as Ruona and Oravais. Russian dragoons (Finland and other regts.) were present in some numbers, but did not take part in any of the major battles other than Karstula (21 August). However, even the Russian cavalry struggled with unsuitable terrain and, as the war progressed, increasing difficulties obtaining fodder for the horses. At various times cavalry (on both sides) also fought dismounted.

10 thoughts on “Finnish dragoons

  1. Great work on the painting. I am also working on painting up Swedish and Russian Forces for Sharps Practice and other skirmish games. You have done some very good modifications to get the Swedish miniatures spot on. I am hoping that Perry will release more Swedish miniatures as I want some Guard Miniatures as well as more cavalry options. I will be painting up the Swedish Dragoon miniatures from Perry as the Scanian Dragoons with there yellow uniforms and the black hats.


    1. Thank you! Lets hope Perry release some Swedish guard infantry. I myself am hoping even more for artillery limbers, but I suspect that is unlikely in the near future.


      1. Could we use Russian Artillery Limbers? Since there were a few wars between Russia and Sweden fought in Finland I am sure they might have been reusing captured equipment? Yes I want some Guard Infantry and some other types of Infantry from Perry, I have sent then an email to ask if they will continue and the answer at that time was yes. Lets see what is next. They just released more Danish figures this week.


      2. They did use captured Russian pieces. The Savolax brigade used some “4-pdr howitzers” which they captured early in the campaign, unclear what model that refers to exactly though. But more than that they used older Swedish guns, as the new 6-pdrs (m/1804) did not replace all old guns. So there must have been several different guns in service in 1808. Some of them may well have been painted in the older style with yellow and blue rather than blue and black as they were later. There are a number of late 18th century guns and limbers in the Digitalt museum collections that you could look at. But you would need proxies for them.


      3. Good point. When I painted up the 6lb for my collection I used yellow for the wood instead of blue. I have found some sources that mention that the Finish guns were in Yellow in 1808 and some in blue. I have checked out the digital library. I have also gone to the Army museum here in Stockholm. I want to go back once the Covid situation is under control.


  2. Dear Pancratist,

    Do you have any contemporary pictures, or any information at all, about the uniform of the swedish cavalry trumpeters during the 1790s 1815 period?

    All the best



    1. Hi,
      That is a good question. I havent found any good image. The only one I could find was ca 1820, but as you can see the uniform type didnt change much from 1815. I cant post images in this answer, but it can be found in this publication:
      At p. 37 in the pdf (p. 70 in the book). There you can see a trumpeter of the Life Regiment Hussars. The only distinction he seems to have is a red plume (instead of white for troopers). That is common, the Russians have red plumes for musicians too, and so do other nations I think. Maybe I should have done red plumes on mine as well!


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