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Poltava 1709

n model by Markus Eriksson
n text and images by Martin Waligorski 

The enmity that had existed between Russia and Sweden during the reign of Tsar Peter I and King Charles XII of Sweden culminated in the twenty-year long Great Northern War. In 1700, seeking to open Russian trade routes to the West, the Peter I combined with Denmark, Saxony and Poland attacked Swedish hegemony in the Baltic.

Against the odds, Charles XII subdued the hostile coalition for nearly a decade - until he took a fateful decision to conquer Russia in a land campaign. 

In 1708, he marched to Russian heartland  with a large army and the aim to assault Moscow. Like many conquerors of Russia before or after him, he took on a task way beyond the capability of his leadership and his army. The Russians avoided direct combat and used their usual defence method, to burn and destroy their land dragging the invading army deep into the hostile landscape and depriving them of their supplies. Soon the Swedish army had nothing to feed on, and it became very hard to keep the army in good shape. Charles then decided to turn his steps south, towards Ukraine.

The fate of the campaign was sealed in battle of Poltava in the summer of 1709, which to this day ranks as the most famous defeat in Swedish history. Tsar Peter himself came with a huge army, far outnumbering the Swedish forces. The Swedish army couldn't use their artillery as they had no gunpowder, and one-third of the infantry was  lost through the winter. Worse still, the king himself was wounded in the days before the battle and the command had to be passed to the field marshal Rhensköld. Rhensköld had problems with the other officers, and unclear issuing of orders contributed to the defeat.  

As a result, the Swedish infantry was almost wiped out on the battlefield. Several thousands prisoners were taken, many of them ending up in the mines of the Ural Mountains or as a slave labour erecting the new city of St Petersburg. The officers were mostly sent to Siberia and very few ever returned home. The king himself managed to escape with a little guard unit and through Ukraine and the Balkans escaped to Turkey, where he spent many years in exile.

Poltava marked the end of Sweden's role as a major power in Europe.

The figure

Swedish army figures of the 18th century do not rank as popular subjects among figure manufacturers.  Looking for a break from his usual armour projects, Markus Eriksson found this 54mm (1/32) figure of the Caroline infantry officer (Ensign Bremen Reg 1709) from Elite Miniatures. 

The famous Caroline infantry used mostly their swords and bayonets in combat. They also had rifles of 22 mm calibre that  were usually fired at about 10-20 yards. The Carolines gained fame through their aggressive tactics on the battlefield. The infantry would advance in complete silence walking, move in quick pace under enemy fire to reach the best firing range and then fire a single volley. Then the soldiers charged with the edged weapons pointed towards the faces of the enemy, who would by now usually have begun to flee. Ironically, it was just this offensive tactics that brought the demise of Carolines at Poltava, when 4000 of Charles XII's remaining infantry charged seventy guns and 22000 Russian infantry in the final action of the battle.

The figure has been originally sculpted by Micke Blank. The sculpting was excellent, but as Markus sought more suggestive pose, he decided to re-sculpt the left arm in the dropped position.

For painting, Markus used Humbrol enamels and artists oils. The colours of the uniform correspond to Östgöta regiment at the time.

Markus covered the base with grass produced from linen fibre (traditionally used in this corner of the world for tightening water plumbing). He tried to replicate the look of the grass that had been stamped by men and horses on the battlefield. Additional accessories like the abandoned sword from Andrea Miniatures completed the scene.

eriksson_poltava_1709_05.jpg (48301 bytes) eriksson_poltava_1709_04.jpg (55593 bytes) eriksson_poltava_1709_03.jpg (67632 bytes) 

Additional images, click to enlarge


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