Battle of Ruona 1 September 1808

A week ago we played another game of Black Powder set in Finland in the summer of 1808. But for the first time, we now played a scenario based on a particular historical battle. Credit goes out to the Finnish guys behind this site: who conveniently gathered most of the details for this and several other scenarios for the Finnish war. Also thanks to Oskar who hosted the battle and did most of the terrain!

The Finnish war started very badly for Sweden. First, the Swedes were somewhat surprised that the Russian invasion came in the middle of winter (in February), although the threat from the east was familiar enough. Second, the loss of Sveaborg fortress (outside Helsinki) in early May, was a severe blow. The plan for Finland’s defense was to retreat and await reinforcements, and to use this key fortress as a base for a counter-attack. Without the fortress, the Swedish strategic position was weakened considerably. Along with the fortress, a garrison of 7000 men, no less than a third of the Swedish army in Finland, surrendered, together with 700 cannon and a large contingent of the coastal fleet, numbering 200 ships. Furthermore, the surrender of Sveaborg occurred without a serious attempt at a siege, as the Russians had not yet managed to transport the required heavy artillery. There have been speculations as to whether the commander was bribed or otherwise persuaded to hand the fortress over ever since, but no conclusive evidence has been presented. The overall strategic situation certainly did not help, as Sweden faced a potential Danish-French invasion from the South (over sea into Skåne) and West (from Danish Norway), as well.

In the spring, the Russian army advanced swiftly through southern Finland, in three separate division-sized corps. The Swedish defense was divided into two corps, with the main force under commander Klingspor retreating over the main road from Helsinki-Tavastehus north over Lappo (Lapua), and the smaller Savolax brigade defending the road over Kuopio deep in the interior. The Swedish army retreated quickly and the retreat continued until the late spring when Swedish forces were just south of their intended base of operations at Oulu (Uleåborg) in Northern Ostrobothnia (Österbotten). In April the Swedish army made successful stands against the Russians at Siikajoki and Revolax, and thereafter, the Swedish army began a summer offensive.

Detail of a late 18th century map showing the area around Kuortane, with the roads from Karstula (in the right hand side of the map) and the road from Alavo (in the lower mid-left part of the map) faintly outlined. The farmsteads Takala and Heroja can be seen just north of lake Kuortane. This is where the first day of fighting, known as the battle of Ruona, took place on 1 September.

The Swedish counter-offensive advanced successfully enough to Nykarleby on the western coastal road, to Toivala on the Kuopio road and to Alavo (Alavus) in central Finland following the victory at Lappo on 14 July. However, in August, the Russians received substantial reinforcements, and the situation quickly changed. Swedish forces were defeated at Karstula, to the east of Lappo and northeast of Alavo, on 21 August. The Swedish position at Alavo became untenable, as the road now lay open from Karstula to Lappo and the Russians threatened to cut the main force off from its supply lines westwards. The Swedish army retreated. At the crossroads connecting the two main roads from Karstula and Alavo towards Lappo, lies the villages Kuortane, Ruona and Salmi. This area was the scene of two days of fighting, in Swedish sources referred to as the battles of Ruona and Salmi, and in the Russian as the battle of Kuortane.

Detail of a contemporary map in the Swedish national archives (Riksarkivet) showing the battlefield.

The road north, past Heroja, runs along a swampy area around a small stream. This stream was dry enough to cross on foot in summer, but the whole valley was flooded in the spring. The low area on both sides of the stream was in effect impassable to cavalry and artillery limbers could not be driven over it (the Russians did manage to carry their 6-pounder guns dismantled in pieces to deploy them). The stream drained into the mire or fen beyond the kilometres long bridge connecting the Karstula/Lintulaks and Lappo roads. On opposite sides of the mire were elevated areas of woodland. The north-south road, running on the eastern side of the stream, was covered by forest.

The Swedish first brigade had prepared defensive positions on the Swedish right flank, between the smaller lake (Nisous) to the south and the Takala farmstead on a low hill in the center. Fourth brigade defended the road and bridge on the left flank. The third brigade was initially positioned south of lake Nisous, but transferred to the north to assist. Our game took place in the area to the north of the lake, with the stream running in the middle of the game board.

The Russians saw their chance to outflank the enemy by heading north and capture the bridge. This would of course mean running the gauntlet along the front of the Swedish positions. Consequently, in our scenario, all three Russian brigades entered the board from the Alavo-road in the lower right corner, at Heroja farm.

Top, left to right: 1st, 4th, 3rd Swedish brigades; Bottom, left to right: 3rd, 2d, 1st Russian brigades.

The figures we had were not painted exactly as the historical forces (although close enough). The type of units involved were pretty much the same. Historically, both uhlans and hussars were present on the Russian side, but they do not seem to have affected the outcome, as they were constricted by the terrain. This was an infantry battle. We represented the Russian cavalry by a single unit of cossacks (incidentally this happened to be the only Russian cavalry we had painted!). All in all, there were around 150 figures per side, with slightly more on the Russian side. Please note that the Russian army was not formally organized into brigades in the way that the Swedish army was – the numbered Russian “brigades” mentioned here are wargaming constructs, not true historical units.

Russian army

MG Nikolay Mikhailovich Kamensky                                                    

First brigade

MG Nikolay Nikolayevich Raevsky/Col. Ivan Matvejevich Eriksson

2 large battalions line infantry (Azov reg.)

1 battalion line infantry (Velikiye Luki reg.)

2 small bat. jägers (23rd reg.)

2 small bat. jägers (26th reg.)

Second brigade

MG Ivan Fedorovich Yankovich de Mirievo                                                             

2 battalions line infantry (Belozersk reg.)

1 small bat. jägers (26th reg.)

1 sq. uhlans

1 6-pounder gun

Third brigade

Col. Yakov Petrovich Kulnev                   

1 battalion line infantry (Petrovsk reg.)

1 small bat. jägers (3rd reg.)


Swedish army

MG Carl Johan Adlercreutz

First brigade

Lieut. Col. Reuterskiöld

2 battalions line infantry (Åbo reg.)

1 6-pounder gun


1 large battalion line infantry (Västerbottens reg.)

Third brigade

MG Hans Henrik Gripenberg

2 battalions line infantry (Tavastehus, Nylands reg.)

1 small bat. jägers (Nylands jäg.)

1 3-pounder gun

Fourth brigade 

Col. Nils Cedergren

2 bat. line infantry (Savolax inf. regt.)

2 small bat. jägers (Savolax jägers)

1 3-pounder gun

The scenario was played with minimal special rules. All units were considered regulars, with no special traits other than the sharpshooters rule for jägers. In line with historical conditions, the Savolax jägers counted as having rifled muskets, with longer range. A couple of Russian line units and the Västerbotten battalion counted as large. The objective of the game was to control the bridge and the game length was set at six turns. The movement of cavalry and limbered artillery was restricted to the roads. The Swedish artillery of first and third brigades was considered deployed in fixed positions and unable to move.

A Swedish 6-pounder takes aim across the fen from its position by Takala.

The Russians made a strong start and soon advanced halfway up the road towards the bridge and crossroads. The Swedish third brigade foolishly marched straight into the fire of the Russian jägers. On the Swedish left flank, the Savolax jägers advanced across the bridge.

The Russians then began to advance over the mire to attack the Swedish infantry and artillery in the center, while Swedish third brigade hesitated and first brigade remained in its defensive position. Third brigade broke and retreated after effective fire from jägers and a Russian 6-pounder. This also secured a safe passage for the remaining Russian units to advance north.

In the center, as a small group of Swedish jägers rush to defend the gun at Takala, but is outnumbered by infantry and jägers of the Russian first brigade.

Two strong Russian units supported by cavalry attacked the Savolax jägers at the crossroads. The jägers were joined by the rest of fourth brigade who put up a magnificent fight, but finally broke. This meant that two out of three Swedish brigades were broken and the Swedes were beaten.

When six turns had elapsed, the bridge had just been taken by the Russians as fourth brigade broke. It was a win for the Russians and a complete disaster for the Swedish army. However, things were still a lot closer than it may seem. Admittedly, serious mistakes were made by the defending commander (thats me!), which rendered the counter-attack on the right flank entirely ineffective. The Russians on the other hand concentrated their forces at strategic points to make life very difficult for the somewhat weaker Swedish units.

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