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Historical Overview


Nordic Seven Years War 1563-1570

The war took place between Sweden on one hand and Denmark in alliance with the city of Lübeck on the other. Poland also participated in a limited way on the Allied side. The fight was over control of the Baltic and the lucrative trade in the Baltic Sea. The Danes also had a desire to restore the Kalmar Union with a Danish king. The war took place largely at sea.

Fortunes of war changed, but the Swedes often had the upper hand until naval warfare went in to stand still for both sides during the final years of the war. The Swedish ships were largely dedicated warships with powerful armament, and  tried to avoid boarding tactics. The Danish and Lübeck ships were lighter built and equipped with a larger percentage of weak chamber loaded iron cannons. The Danish-Lübeck fleet fought in the traditional way and tried to reach a settlement through boarding. The allied fleet consisted of a higher proportion of armed and relatively weak trading vessels. Armament was increased on both sides during the war.  The Danes bought cast iron cannons from England, a novelty at the time. Sweden on the other hand had plentiful resources of cooper and armed their ships with superior cast bronze cannons. They could reach further and had more firepower. At the end of the war, which would qualify as a draw, Sweden had the largest navy in Europe.

After the Nordic Seven Years War ships generally reduced in size. The large “floating infantry fort”  was over and when the ships start to grow larger again in the second half of the 1600s, it was with full focus on artillery. Some nations, including Sweden in the years around 1630, temporarily invested in a few relatively large ship, but that was the exception.

Naval tactics

According to Erik XIV's instructions in 1565 and 1566 the Swedish armada were to sail in groups of three.. A larger vessel second by two smaller ones. The Danish admiral Trolle issued similar directives, sailing in groups of three in a V formation, with the largest ship first.

At a distance round balls where shot, but when the enemy approached they went on to include chain shots and incendiary grenades.  The Swedes tried to avoid being boarded, but instead kept their distance with superior artillery.

Part of the Swedish fleet probably had a shortage of soldiers, which in addition to the superior artillery could explain the Swedish tactics of avoiding close contact. If the enemy tried to board, one would shoot off a storm of shrapnel with canister shots, but also throwing fire-balls and incendiary grenades. Long beams sticking out from the ship's side as well as saws to cut off enemy grappling hooks where used.

The battle of Öland 1564

At the end of May 1564  the Swedish fleet set sail from Dalarö. It consisted of 37 vessels, including 16 major warships. On May the 30th, the Danish-Lübeck fleet of at least 25 warships and a number of smaller vessels where spotted some 20 nm north of Öland.

The Swedes tried to keep a distance and decide the battle by taking advantage of their superior artillery. The Lübeck vessel Longe Barken was sunk by a barrage of artillery from Mars massive broadside. At dusk the battle died out. . After the first day of battle the Danish admiral Trolle and the Lübeck counterpart admiral Knebel agreed to board at all costs.  The Swedes accomplished so much damage with their artillery. Trolle's flagship Fortuna had been hit by 167 projectiles!

The demise of the Mars

When the night came the Swedish navy dispersed. At dawn only a few Swedish ships where in the Mars vicinity. In spite this the Swedish admiral Bagge attacked followed by the Elephant and Finnish Swan and tried to push the enemy towards the northern tip of Öland.

When the wind turned, a number of Lübeckian ships used the opportunity to approach the Swedes. Several boarding attempts where repelled with Mars´s massive artillery. After an intensive melee Mars took fire, likely due to a cannon exploding, but possibly also of grenades that were thrown on board. Bagge fought bravely but finally surrendered and was transferred to an enemy ship with a hundred crew members. Meanwhile several hundred Lübeckian soldiers climbed the Mars to plunder the ship. Suddenly the gunpowder store exploded and up to a 1000 men, Swedes and Lübeckians, died. Jacob Bagge was imprisoned in Copenhagen and was released several years after the war.

Text Patrik Höglund Sjöhistoriska Museet