Military Wiki
Archipelago fleet
Archipelago Fleet Ensign.JPG
The ensign of the archipelago fleet used 1761-1813
Active 1756-1823
Country Sweden
Branch Army
Type Fleet
Role Inshore naval warfare
Garrison/HQ Stockholm, Sveaborg
Engagements Battle of Frisches Haff, Battle of Svensksund

The archipelago fleet (Swedish: skärgårdsflottan), officially the fleet of the army (arméns flotta), was a branch of the armed services of Sweden between 1756 and 1823. Its purpose was to protect the coasts of Sweden, which was surrounded by a natural barrier of archipelagoes (or skerries). Throughout its existence it was a largely independent arm of the Swedish army, separate from the navy with the exception of a few years in the late 1760s.

Its vessels consisted of traditional Mediterranean-style galleys, prams, gunboats and specially-designed broadside-armed "archipelago frigates". All types had in common the ability to operate under oars and a small draft, enabling them to navigate the shallow and often treacherous inshore waters.

The archipelago fleet was active in several wars from 1757 to 1814, the Swedish involvement in the Seven Years' War, the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-90, the Finnish War (1808–09) and the brief Swedish-Norwegian War of 1814.


Contemporary model of a mid-18th-century Swedish galley, the mainstay of the first Swedish inshore squadrons

Russian capture of the Nöteborg and Nyen early in the Great Northern War gained Russians access to the Baltic Sea which had remained largely in Swedish control before the war. Since Russian naval units were at the time based on coastal squadrons it prompted a response from the Swedes to start construction of small coastal squadron of their own. However the small squadron which had been hastily formed during the war was overwhelmed at the battle of Gangut in 1714 by the tenfold superiority enjoyed by the Russian galley fleet.

After the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, the Swedish high command realized the need of a fast and agile marine unit that could maneuver in littoral waters. A squadron based in Stockholm was the first to be created. However, the Russo-Swedish War of 1741–1743 proved that the unit was too small to meet the Russian threat. An official fleet of the army was planned, and the ships would be modelled after Mediterranean galleys and xebecs (a sailing ship hybrid with oar propulsion). These were fast and dangerous ships that were used by the Barbary pirates off the coast off North Africa. The Swedish galleys were redesigned somewhat, and made smaller.[1]

The archipelago fleet was detached from the high seas navy (örlogsflottan) and the admiralty based in Karlskrona, and on October 18, 1756, it was set up as a unit under the command of the army. In 1756, the archipelago fleet consisted of two units, a Stockholm squadron and a Finnish squadron. General Augustin Ehrensvärd was appointed commander of the fleet.

The fleet had some initial successes. During the Seven Years' War the new galleys supported by heavy gun prams were victorious against Prussia at the battle of Frisches Haff, but their short range limited their use. It was only with a deliberate boarding action that the battle was won.[2] The ship designer Fredrik Henrik af Chapman had joined the navy in 1757 and was charged with creating new ship types that would better fulfill the needs of the archipelago fleet. In 1760, the archipelago fleet was granted independent status, and renamed the "fleet of the army" or "the united archipelago fleets", by suggestion of Ehrensvärd.

In 1766, the ruling Caps faction of the Swedish parliament ordered that the archipelago fleet would once more be merged with the navy. But the ruling was partially reversed when the rival Hats regained political power in 1770. The Finnish squadron was returned to the army, while the Stockholm squadron remained under navy command, but was renamed the "galley fleet" (galärflottan). On November 14, the same year, both units were once again merged into one unit and in 1777 renamed arméns flotta, the "fleet of the army".[3]

The main headquarters of the archipelago fleet were located at Stockholm and Sveaborg, with smaller stations established elsewhere over time.[4] The Bohus squadron was formed in Gothenburg in 1789, an additional Finnish squadron in Åbo in 1793. A Pomeranian squadron was created in Stralsund, and moved to Landskrona in 1807. Further there were some smaller units in Malmö, Kristina and Varkaus.[5]

The battle of Svensksund in July 1790, Sweden's greatest naval victory ever. Contemporary painting by Johan Tietrich Schoultz.

During the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–90 the Swedish high seas navy was roughly equal in quality and often superior in number and size of ships in comparison to the Russian navy. It failed to achieve the major victory that was required to leave the Russian capital of Saint Petersburg open to invasion, and struggled throughout the war, sustaining considerable losses and achieving at best only tactical draws. The archipelago fleet suffered a few initial setbacks, including a tactical defeat against its Russian equivalent at the Svensksund in August 1789, but achieved a resounding success when it dealt the Russian inshore fleet a crushing defeat at a second battle of Svensksund on July 9, 1790.[6] The experiences of the war against Russia showed that the heavy archipelago frigates lacked the mobility and required for inshore operations, while smaller rowed craft proved to be the most efficient.[7]

The battle of Ratan near Umeå, the final engagement of the Finnish War, where the archipelago fleet fought to hold off invading Russian land forces.

The archipelago fleet was heavily involved in the Finnish War of 1808-09 against Russia, but with less success. Russia attacked the Swedish forces in Finland during the winter, when ice prevented either naval forces from intervening. Sveaborg, the cornerstone of the defense of Finland was also lost at an early stage, along with most of the ships of the Finnish squadron. Further ships were lost when the Archipelago Fleet's which had been docked for the winter at Åbo were torched by the Swedes to prevent their capture. The loss of the bulk of the Archipelago Fleet was catastrophic and prevented Swedes from regaining their advantage in the Finnish Archipelago despite of heavy fighting between Swedish and Russian coastal units during the 1808. The war ended with a harsh peace treaty where Sweden lost all of Finland to Russia for good.[8]

During the latter phases of the Napoleonic Wars, Sweden was allied with Great Britain against Napoleon and participated in battles in continental Europe in 1813. The archipelago fleet was deployed in 1814 in a short war against Norway to conquer strategic fortresses and strong points with the objective to force Norway into a union with Sweden (at the expense of the arch-enemy Denmark). This was also the last war Sweden participated in actively.[9]

In 1823 the archipelago fleet was once again merged with the high-seas navy and had a minor renaissance between 1866 and 1873 as part of the coastal artillery.[10]


Contemporary model of the turuma Lodbrok (built in 1771) at the Maritime Museum in Stockholm. The turuma were the core of the archipelago fleet during the war of 1788-90 and were the largest vessels in the inshore squadrons.

Several new ships were designed in the 1750s and 1760s by the naval architect Fredrik Henrik af Chapman,[11] to bolster the hitting-power of the new Swedish arm and to provide it with better naval defense and greater fire support capabilities during amphibious operations. The result was four new vessels that combined the maneuverability of oar-powered galleys with the superior rigs and decent living conditions of sailing ships: the udema, pojama, turuma and hemmema, named after the Finnish regions of Uudeenmaa (Uusimaa), Pohjanmaa, Turunmaa and Hämeenmaa (Tavastia).[12] All four have been referred to as skärgårdsfregatter, "archipelago frigates", in Swedish and English historical literature, though the smaller udema and pojama are also described as "archipelago corvettes" originally.[13] The first new ship, Norden, a turuma vessel, was launched in Stralsund in 1761.

The archipelago fleet also employed traditional galleys and several types of prams and sloops. After the war of 1788-90, it consisted mostly of smaller vessels, primarily specially designed yawls and sloops that carried only one or two heavy guns, usually 24-pounders.

In 1790, the fleet consisted of 285 armed vessels. These were crewed by 320 officers, 675 NCOs, and about 6.000 sailors. Additionally the vessels carried 593 officers and some 17.000 men from the army.

Gun sloop

Gun sloop comes from Swedish 'kanonslup' which refers to a vessel equipped with two collapsible masts armed with 'chaser' guns on both bow and stern. They were 15 to 19 meters in length and 3.5 – 4 meters in width while having draft of slightly less than one meter. They had 10 to 12 oar pairs with two man at each oar and they were equipped with two collapsible - sloop tackled - masts. Armament consisted of single 12- to 24-pound gun at both bow and stern - though some of the first gun sloops carried only a single gun at bow - and single 3-pound 'nickhake' swivel gun on both sides. Some sloops carried carriages to allow their guns to be used as a shore battery. When not in combat the guns were secured at the bottom of the vessel. Later slightly larger decked versions of gun sloops were built which were called gun schooners (sv. kanonskonert). Crew complement was from 50 to 64 men.[14][15]

Gun yawl

Gun yawl comes from Swedish 'kanonjolle' which refers to a vessel equipped with two collapsible masts armed with stern 'chaser' gun. The heavy gun and the small size of the vessel required design to have a distinct tail for stability. Designed along same principles as the slightly larger gun sloops they were roughly 11 to 15.3 meters in length while having draft of only 0.75 meters. They had 5 - 10 oar pairs with one man at each oar and they were equipped with two collapsible masts. Armament consisted of single 18- to 24-pound gun at stern. Their advantage was their shallow draft and their low crew complements (only 24 men or so).[15][16]

Cannon longboat

Cannon longboat comes from Swedish 'kanonbarkass' which refers to a vessel equipped with two schooner tackled masts armed with cannons. Only roughly 13 meters in length they were equipped with 8 oar pairs with single 12- to 24-pound cannon at bow and total of 16 lighter 3-pound (nikhaka) cannons mounted along the sides.[15][17]

Mortar longboat

Mortar longboat comes from Swedish 'mörsarbarkass' which refers to a vessel equipped with two schooner tackled masts armed with a mortar. Related to bomb ketch mortar longboat was designed to operate at shallow waters. Vessels were usually only 10 meters long and had 7 oar pairs. Mortar longboat was armed with single 40-pound mortar at midships and total of four lighter (3-pounder) 'nickhake' guns on sides.[15][17]

Gun pram

Gun pram comes from Swedish 'skottpråm' which refers to a vessel intended for broadside engagements at shallow waters. It was equipped with three masts and with 7 pairs of oars placed between the gun ports. They were built in different sizes but the common size was roughly 40 m long and 10 m wide with draft of less than 3 meters. The armament consisted of up to twenty-four 12-pound and sixteen 3-pound guns. Crew complement was around 250 men.[15][18]


Augustin Ehrensvärd, commander of the archipelago fleet 1770-72


  1. Anderson (1962) pp. 93-94
  2. Berg (1993), p. 33
  3. Norman (2000), pp. 14-15
  4. Nikula (1993), p. 163ff
  5. Norman (2000), p. 15
  6. Anderson (1910)
  7. Anderson (1962), p. 95
  8. Norman (2000) pp. 21-22
  9. Norman (2000) p. 22
  10. Norman (2000)
  11. Anderson (1962) p. 94
  12. Anderson (1962), pp. 93-94
  13. Berg (1993), p. 35 and (2000) refer to skärgårdsfregatter only for the larger turuma and hemmemas while Glete (1992) and Anderson (1962) do not.
  14. Mattila (1983) p.111
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Högman (2010)
  16. Mattila (1983) p.144
  17. 17.0 17.1 Mattila (1983) p.145
  18. Mattila (1983) p.41


  • Anderson, Roger Charles, Oared Fighting Ships: From classical times to the coming of steam. London. 1962.
  • Berg, Lars-Otto, "Development of the Swedish archipelago fleet in the 18th century, construction[,] technology and weaponry" in The war of King Gustavus III and naval battles of Ruotsinsalmi: VIII International Baltic Seminar 5–7 July 1990. Provincial Museum of Kymenlaakso, Kotka. 1993. ISBN 951-96183-5-X
  • (Swedish) Eklund, Hans, Augustin Ehrensvärd: målaren, upplysningsmannen, människovännen, byggaren, sjömannen och flaggmannen. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. 1997. ISBN 91-7100-552-8
  • (Swedish) Glete, Jan, "Kriget till sjöss 1788-1790" in Gunnar Artéus (editor) Gustav III:s ryska krig. Probus, Stockholm. 1992. ISBN 91-87184-09-5, pp. 110–174
  • (Swedish) Hans Högman (26 November 2010). "Svenska skärgårdsflottan". Swedish archipelago fleet. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  • (Finnish) Mattila, Tapani (1983) (in Finnish). Meri maamme turvana [Sea protecting our country]. Jyväskylä: K. J. Gummerus Osakeyhtiö. ISBN 951-99487-0-8. 
  • (Swedish) Nikula, Oscar, Svenska skärgårdsflottan 1756-1791. [doctoral dissertation] Helsingfors. 1933.
  • (Swedish) Norman, Hans (editor), Skärgårdsflottan: Uppbyggnnad, militär användning och förankring i det svenska samhället 1700-1824. Historiska media, Lund. 2000. ISBN 91-88930-50-5, pp. 50–75

Further reading

  • Anderson, Roger Charles, Naval wars in the Baltic during the sailing-ship period 1522-1850. Gilbert-Wood, London. 1910.

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).