The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Conflict between the Swedes and their various neighbours between 1670s and 1721. Including topics on Danes, Saxons, Saxon-Polish, Russians and anyone else the boys in blue were mixing it with!
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The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by danschorr » Wed Jan 21, 2015 4:46 pm

I think the general consensus has been that Swedish cavalry did not wear the cuirass during the Great Northern War; however, I ran across the following in Vol.1 pg 846 of Jöran Nordberg’s “Konung Carl XII:tes Historia”: In early February 1708 “...the Lifregiment was ordered to hand in their “harnesk” (cuirass) to Colonel Ekeblad in Elbingen”
This statement does raise some interesting questions. Does this mean other Swedish cavalry also wore the cuirass, including the Drabants? I don’t have access to Swedish records to verify this statement, so I would be interested in hearing others’ take on this, particularly our Swedish friends who might have greater access to the records. Perhaps someone could also contact Bengt Nilsson.

Regards,

Dan
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by Dfogleman2 » Wed Jan 21, 2015 6:58 pm

Oskar Sjöström in his book on Fraustadt makes a couple of references to Swedish cavalry wearing harnesk. I am not sure of his source, though.
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by danschorr » Wed Jan 21, 2015 7:44 pm

Thanks Dannie. I'll have a look.

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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by danschorr » Thu Jan 22, 2015 12:42 pm

Dannie, you were correct about Sjöström. I found at least five references to breastplates and "harnesk" for all three Swedish cavalry regiments present at Fraustadt. Only one is footnoted and that relates to equipment losses of the Norra skånska which lost 83 "harnesk".

It would seem that the Nordberg reference concerning the Livregiment only placed the cuirass in storage in preparation for the continuation of the Russian Campaign. It did not imply the removal of the cuirass as an item of equipment.

The question now is, did the other cavalry regiments in the Main Army follow suit and place their cuirass in storage?

It would seem the the breastplate was a standard item of equipment for Swedish cavalry during the first seven years of the war, and probably after, with the possible exception of the cavalry regiments that were part of the Main Army during the Russian Campaign.

Does anyone know of a manufacturer who produces Swedish cavalry in breastplate?
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by Stenbock » Thu Jan 22, 2015 9:02 pm

Perhaps this might help to answer the question: At the battle of Helsingborg 28th of february 1710 the commander of Västgöta 3-männingregiment relates that the danes mistook his unit for dragoons, since they wore no cuirasses. Maybe the "original" (i.e. indelta) cavalryregiments, all had cuirasses at the beginning of the war and continued to use them but were not issued new ones when they were raised anew. At Helsingborg there were a few regiments that had remained at home and thus kept their equipment intact.
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by danschorr » Thu Jan 22, 2015 9:12 pm

Thanks Stenbock. Perhaps the 3-männingregiments were never issued breastplates, but the fact that they were mistaken for dragoons would indicate that other cavalry still had breastplates as you indicated.
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by Dfogleman2 » Thu Jan 22, 2015 9:15 pm

Dan,

I am wondering how the a single regiment could "lose" 83 harnesk in a battle that was such a comprehensive victory. Surely, a man's equipment would be removed and saved before he treated if he was injured, or before he was buried if he was killed.

From what I recall reading the cuirass was standard issue but was not often worn in the field because it was uncomfortable. Of course, that may not be true!

Finally, I don't know of any figures of Swedish cavalry with cuirasses (assuming they were worn under the coat, since IIRC Tacitus says the kyller was left at home in the GNW). If there is strong evidence that they were worn, Clib will need to do some for the new Warfare range!
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by danschorr » Thu Jan 22, 2015 9:58 pm

Dannie,
See pg 246 in Sjöström for the Norra skånska. Perhaps not lost, left on the field is a better translation. According to the descriptions in Sjöström, all three cavalry regiments wore the breastplate. You are probably correct that they were uncomfortable, and many could have been intentionally left on the field in order to avoid wearing them in the future. That’s why I think we need to have a closer look at the sources, such as the “Generalmönsterrullorna”. On the other hand, I don’t think the “harnesk” was offically abolished.
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by Dfogleman2 » Mon Jan 26, 2015 4:08 pm

This is and excerpt from Peter Englund's book poste on his website describing the cavalry action at Poltava (my Google assisted translation from the Swedish version):

"Lorentz Gustaf Lillienwald [Quartermaster in the Livregement of Horse] . . . was present in most of the major campaigns right from the landing in Denmark and also had been wounded several times; at Holowczyn just over a year ago, . . . received a shot through the left leg. Another bullet had struck the stock of his carbine and hit him in the chest, he was saved by his armor [harnesk]."
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by danschorr » Tue Jan 27, 2015 11:40 am

Thanks again Dannie. Another good reference. On the surface it would seem to contradict Nordberg, but perhaps the officers and NCOs of the Livregiment retained the cuirass while the corporals and other ranks put theirs in storage.
I am uncertain whether or not the cuirass was worn under the coat.
Again, it would be nice to hear from others on this subject; although, this topic doesn't seem to have generated much interest.
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by Friedrich August I. » Tue Jan 27, 2015 12:30 pm

danschorr wrote:...I am uncertain whether or not the cuirass was worn under the coat. Again, it would be nice to hear from others on this subject; although, this topic doesn't seem to have generated much interest.
I think there are some followers, especially those who have recently sculpted miniatures, Swedes for GNW, and now they are worried about the outcome :D
Some of them will have high hopes that those "harnesk" thing will be worn under the coat, if not, they will have to create new models with Cuirasses on top of the coats :wink:

I on my part see the (BLB) advantage of my Saxon Cuirassiers go to hell :roll: But, more than to loose the battle and run like hell won't happen :D :lol:

http://braennaren.se/wp-content/uploads ... r-bear.jpg

Funny thing is its from a swedish website.

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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by Dfogleman2 » Tue Jan 27, 2015 3:01 pm

Dan,

A couple of things to note: In Sjostrom's book he references a ryttar whose cuirsass was shot away from his shoulders. It's hard to see how how this could happen but, if this is true, he could not have been wearing a coat over it.

Also, there is another reference that when the Swedes attacked the Saxon cuirassier recruit regiment they struck at the Saxons' necks and faces because the Saxons were wearing cuirasses under their coats. This supports your belief stated in your monograph that the 1707 regulations probably confirmed the practice that was already in place.
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by Tacitus » Tue Jan 27, 2015 10:44 pm

The picture I get after I have checked with my informants is that Swedish cavalry regiments were supposed to have cuirasses and that Charles XII was an enforcer of this regulation. But this was not so easy to achieve since the cuirasses were highly unpopular among both privates and officers.

Major general Adam Horn, who was in charge of the cavalry, wrote for example in 1757 about the cuirasses of the 1680s type which were still standard equipment:
Adam Horn wrote:After which model the ancient cuirasses have been manufactured, I cannot determine. The human body was not a parable that they have been matched, because of the thousands that belonged to my regiment, had nothing existed, which not after two days of use had wounded the man at some point. Most are too short, suited for thick bellies and narrow chests.
Source: Blanka vapen och skyddsvapen 1932, J. Alm. page 269. (the author disagree however with the quote and claim that this type of cuirass was designed for people with unusually narrow waists).

Another quote, this time from an actual participant in the Great Northern War, comes from the memoirs of Johan Stenflycht who was born 1681.
Johan Stenflycht wrote:Then we marched to Cracow, I was thus first corporal at the first company of Östgöta cavalry. The whole time, however, I had to wear a cuirass. Since I was young, I had difficulty carrying this heavy burden. When we would take us across a river on horseback, I was so hot in my cuirass that I threw myself into the water. Many of the cuirassiers then followed my example. There was an investigation of the incident and it found out who was the initiator. I got arrested. I excused myself with that while I could manage the burden of a cuirass; I was also willing to show my courage without cuirass. In the last battle, I had noticed that many of those killed had carried full equipment. The cuirass had not protected the Duke of Holstein from getting killed. It all resulted in me being forgiven; all cuirasses were discarded and were transported on the river from Krakow to Warsaw. Thereafter nobody saw any more cuirasses in Poland ".
This quote is obviously not correct since there is lots of evidence of cuirasses being used in Poland even after this event. However, very many cuirasses seem to have been thrown away by the men. Södra Skånska Regiment lost 354 cuirasses in 1703 alone, and the year after it was reported that only a handful of cuirasses remained in the regiment.

None other than the colonel of Östgöta Regiment, Burensköld, threw away his cuirass during the battle of Warsaw 1705 because it was too hot.

As previously mentioned, Norra Skånska lost 83 cuirasses in the battle of Fraustadt, but since only one officer and eight privates are reported to have been killed from this regiment, it would appear that the vast majority of these had simply been thrown away by the men.

Charles XII was nonetheless undeterred and 10 January 1707 he ordered Krigskollegium to deliver 991 swords, 974 pairs of pistols, 983 carbines and 1 000 cuirasses to Norra Skånska (which had suffered badly at the battle of Kalisz). The same year were 213 new cuirasses commissioned to Småland Regiment, almost all of them were intended for two companies which apparently had lost nearly all of their cuirasses.

But after this something appears to have changed. In a letter to Krigskollegium from October 1711 the cuirass factory in Arboga wrote:
His Royal Majesty have always been very pleased that the cavalry have been able to be provided with these bullet proof cuirass chest pieces. Full cuirass has cost 60 copper coins and only chest piece 30. It has been said that His Royal Majesty in Altranstädt had been so keen that the cavalrymen would have cuirasses that if someone lost his cuirass, he would be punished with the rod and his salary withheld. But since a few years, no cuirasses have been commissioned why artisans suffered distress; many have left and now remain only 8 masters and three journeymen. This factory is probably the only in Europe that can make such good cuirasses but it is now under threat of ruin. Therefore request that the rusthållare be required to pay 16 copper coins per cuirass for 20 pieces a year at each company.
The plea appears to have been in vain because it was not until 1716 this message can be found in the archive of the Krigskollegium.
The cuirass makers in Arboga have after a long interruption received a commission of 400 cuirasses.
As far as the Drabants are concerned they went into campaign in 1700 without cuirasses. The following year both breast and back plates for cuirasses were commissioned and delivered from Arboga. 200 pairs of cuirasses were commissioned in 1702. Of these a hundred were of full size, 50 of intermediate and 50 of smaller size. When the Drabant Corps was transformed into the Life Squadron in 1717 no cuirasses were mentioned as part of their equipment.
Last edited by Tacitus on Tue Jan 27, 2015 10:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by Tacitus » Tue Jan 27, 2015 10:51 pm

danschorr wrote:Thanks Stenbock. Perhaps the 3-männingregiments were never issued breastplates, but the fact that they were mistaken for dragoons would indicate that other cavalry still had breastplates as you indicated.
As far as I know the Danes did not give a reason why they thought it was a dragoon regiment. 3-männing regiments were however issued dragoon sized horses and it was this regiment's commander who famously stated that his horses were so small that his men could almost ride underneath the bellies of the Danish Horse Guards.
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Re: The Cuirass and Swedish Cavalry

Post by Dfogleman2 » Wed Jan 28, 2015 12:15 am

Tacitus,

Thanks a lot for the information. Is there any evidence that the cuirass was worn over or under the coat, or, like the Danes, was worn over a kyller, with no coat?
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