Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Kexholm 1710

Boris has been researching GNW sieges with the view to reenact them - he has shared with us the latest siege from 300 years ago so I hope you enjoy it. See a previous reenactment here.

Boris Megorsky
The SIEGE of KEXHOLM in 1710
Korela was the name of a Russian fortress on the frontier with Swedish territories; known since the 12th century, it had repelled numerous attacks and was taken several times, too. The last fall occurred in 1611 when it fell to the Swedish crown after a 6 month siege. Swedes built a modern bastioned fortress near the medieval castle and the town was named Kexholm.
When the Great Northern War started, Tsar Peter first attempted a campaign against Kexholm in the Spring of 1704, but soon after the troops set out to Karelia they were recalled to take part in the siege of Narva and thus re-conquest of Korela was suspended. In the following years no considerable actions were undertaken against Kexholm as the belligerents’ forces were heavily engaged in the West – in Poland, Lithuania, Belorussia and Ukraine. Nevertheless, actions didn’t cease completely; the Swedes with their bases in Viborg and Kexholm threatened newly built Saint-Petersburg. The Russians in their turn constantly harassed Swedish troops and the local population and sent troops from Saint-Petersburg and Olonets towards Korela with the aim of devastating the enemy’s economy and obtaining information. These reconnaissance parties operated throughout the year, including ski raids in winter, and as we can tell from the autobiography of Lieutenant Ivan Naidinsky, 2nd Grenadiers regt. He wrote that for an unaccounted number of occasions he was sent with special parties from Saint-Petersburg to Viborg and Kexholm in 1705, 1706, 1707 and 1708 with orders to devastate, seek enemy parties and to capture prisoners.
The tables turned dramatically in 1709 when the main army of Charles XII was annihilated at Poltava and Peter’s forces were relieved to be redirected to the assault on Swedish Baltic provinces. Field marshal Boris Sheremetiev’s corps was ordered to Riga in July; the siege of this big fortified city started in October and ended in July 1710. After the fall of Riga Russian troops besieged and took Reval (Tallinn), Pernau (Parnu) and Arensburg (Kuressaare). Separate forces under Major-General Nostes operated in Poland and took by assault the town of Elbing (Elblong) in February 1710. Operations in the north started in March 1710 – the corps of General Fedor Apraksin marched to Viborg, besieged it and took it in June. Several regiments that took part in this siege were then sent eastwards towards Kexholm under the command of Major-General Roman Bruce. This General was ‘ober-commandant’ of Saint-Petersburg, in this capacity he took part in the defence of the city and was well informed about the theatre of operations.
On 9th July Bruce came to Kexholm with three dragoon regiments (Lutsky, Vologodsky and Narvsky), two infantry regiments (Arkhangelogorodsky and Apraksin) and two grenadier companies. Another battalion joined this siege force on July 22nd, coming from Olonets under Major Drukort. Mortars were brought from Schusselburg (formerly Noteburg) on August 4th and four more ships with artillery arrived on September 5th.
Kexholm fortress was completely surrounded by water, the River Vuoksa forming an impassable moat around it; it had five bastions (nowadays their elements can be seen in the town) and a citadel (the very medieval Korela, surviving as a museum today). Breaching the ramparts required strong artillery which Bruce didn’t have and an attack over water would have caused considerable losses. Taking into consideration that the garrison was too small for active defence and after the fall of Viborg they had no chances to receive ‘succor’ from outside, Tsar Peter instructed Bruce to limit siege operations to blockading and bombardment only. It meant that unlike the sieges of Noteburg, Narva and Viborg, Russian command weren’t planning to take Kexholm by storming. Experience of the war taught that the majority of fortresses surrendered after heavy bombardment, when governors lost hopes of receiving relief. This scheme was to be followed again.

The besiegers took their positions on July 11th, opened trenches and started building ‘kettles’ (mortar batteries). The Swedish Governor of Kexholm Colonel Johan Stiernschanz ordered the burning of downtown suburbs (so that buildings didn’t aid the besiegers) and in the town all straw roofs were to be dislodged (to prevent fires). The previous Governor of Kexholm Magnus Stiernstrole left the town earlier that year for Viborg and controlled the defence of that city along with the elderly Governor Zacharias Aminoff.
On July 16th Bruce offered Stiernschanz the opportunity to surrender and after the offer was declined the bombardment began. On the first day 68 bombs were thrown into the town; the shelling lasted day and night. Most likely, in this phase of the siege only light regimental pieces were used; their caliber was not sufficient for effective bombardment, so ships were sent to Schusselburg via Lake Ladoga to bring siege pieces. On August 8th the bombardment continued with newly arrived heavy mortars.
On the other hand, blockade did not mean total passiveness of the besieger. It is known that on July 22nd a redoubt was assaulted and taken that was positioned on the bank of Vuoksa river in front of the castle. On August 8th a rocky island was taken near the fortress’ Western front. These must have been the only assaults during the siege. The afore-mentioned officer Naidinsky recalled that he was sent with a party close to a rampart where he took prisoners and burnt down a battery.
About one month after the heavy bombardment started the Governor initiated talks. Over 4000 projectiles were thrown into the town, including bombs, grenades, carcasses, fire-balls and stones - all this inflicted damage on buildings and fortifications. On August 12th a stock of gun-powder exploded in the castle and this considerably decreased the overall supply of powder for garrison. By September 4th Roman Bruce had new ships with artillery arriving and this was probably the last straw for Stiernschantz. Sides started exchanging messages delivered by drummers; when a final agreement was discussed, sides also exchanged hostages.
On September 8th an ‘accord’ was signed and Russian regiments entered the town. The Swedish garrison had the right to leave for Neuschloss (Savonlinna) with their uniforms and weapons, but without colors and music (this measure symbolized that the defence wasn’t too active and that the garrison had no chance). Peter wrote to Bruce that the Swedes could be let go after they had helped Russian soldiers to renovate the damaged fortress.
Although they had the opportunity to leave for Swedish territory, some soldiers preferred to return to a peasants’ life and some enlisted in Russian service. Trophies taken were 77 bronze and iron cannons and 7 mortars. Roman Bruce obtained the rank of Lieutenant-General.

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