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  POLTAVA 1709
 
  Road to Poltava
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Örjan Martinsson

Swedish Strength and Casualties in the
Battle of Poltava

In my pages about the battle of Poltava I have used Bertil Wennerholm's estimates of the Swedish army's strength from 2000. They differ somewhat from the commonly used estimates made by the Swedish General Staff in 1919 (used for example in Peter Englund's book). The General Staff's estimates are based on a critical examination of information found in diaries made by Swedish officers (mainly the one written by lieutenant von Weihe). Bertil Wennerholm on the other hand has in addition to these sources also used later research which has provided detailed descriptions of how the strength of Västmanland and Närke-Värmland regiments changed during the campaign. With that as a baseline he has estimated the other regiments' strength by taking account of their different battle experiences during the campaign. The one exception are the dragoon regiments for which a lack of data have deterred him from making estimates on a regimental level and instead just presented a lump sum for that troop type.

As a comparison to Wennerholm's estimates I have also in the tables below presented the estimates made by the Swedish General Staff in the work "Karl XII på slagfältet" as well as the information found in von Weihe's diary. The latter has to be considered to be absolute minimums in most cases; in some cases they are unreasonably low. The estimates made by the General Staff and Wennerholm are also more likely to be too low than too high.
 

  Bertil Wennerholm
 
General Staff
 
All privates Only privates
 fit for battle
All privates
Infantry
Cavalry
Dragoons
10 660
5 840
6 240
9 270 10 200
11 900 6 840
6 240
The General Staff's sums also includes artillery (150),
Vallacks (1000) and the Enspännare company  (130).
Sum 22 740 22 450 24 700

The tables above and below only list the number of privates. Add 10 % to get the actual force which included NCOs and officers. The columns for "All privates" also include soldiers not fit for battle which Wennerholm and the General Staff estimates to have been about 10 % of all privates.

Strength of Swedish Infantry
(privates fit for battle in blue, all privates in green, more uncertain estimates in red)

Bn  Main Force Bertil Wennerholm General Staff von Weihe   Notes
4
2
1
Livgardet
Uppland
Östergötland
2250
600
2500
670
1800
690
380
1800
470
380
Wennerholm consider it unlikely that Östergötland's strength was as low as 380 but still use Weihe's estimate for lack of better data. The number of private guardsmen (Livgardet) fit for battle in Wennerholm's column has been calculated by me by subtracting 10 % from his total man power estimate.
380
1
1
1
Jönköping
Kalmar
Skaraborg
450 500 300
500
500
300
500
300
500
400-440 500
2
2
2
Närke-Värmland
Västmanland
Dalregementet
1050
1120
1100
1167
1246
1215
1200
1100
1100
1200
1100
1100
 
2 Västerbotten 900 1000 600 600  
 


Poltava Siege Works

1
1
 
Södermanland
Kronoberg
Livgarde-detachment
500
500

Included in Livgardet's figure above
450
450
200
300
300
200
Von Weihe does not mention which regiment the Livgarde-detachemnt belonged to, only that they were "Auf dem kleinen hofe".
20
 
Sum
Including NCOs
10 660
11 730
9 270
 
8 550
 
 

Strength of Swedish Cavalry and Dragoons
(privates fit for battle in blue, all privates in green)

 
Sqn  Main Force Bertil Wennerholm General Staff von Weihe   Notes
1
12
8
Drabant Corps
Livregementet till häst
Uppland 3-männings
(100) 100
1000
?
?
1000
?
The Drabant Corps consisted exclusively of officers and are therefore not included in Wennerholm's sums.
900
420
980
470
8
8
8
Östgöta
Småland
Norra skånska
600
510
600
670
570
670
800
?
600
800
?
600
 
4
8
8
Södra skånska
Åbo & Björneborg
Nyland
540
470
525
600
520
585
?
800
?
?
800
?
Half of Södra Skånska's strength should be subtracted from Wennerholm's estimate because they were posted at the Vorskla and did not participate in the battle.
4
8
8
Liv-dragoons
Skånska Stånds-dragoons
Dücker's Dragoon regiment
?
?
?
?
500
?
?
500
?
 
8
8
8
Gyllenstierna's Dragoon Reg.
Hielm's Dragoon Regiment
Taube's Dragoon Regiment
?
?
?
?
?
?
300
?
?
 
109
 
Sum
Including NCOs

4 650 (excluding dragoons)
7 800
 
  The 100 drabants are not included in Wennerholm's sums because they were officers.
 
Poltava Siege Works
   
4
 
Liv-dragoons
Detachment in the suburb
?
-
200
30
30
 -
Von Weihe does not mention which regiment the soldiers belonged to.
 
Baggage Train at Pushkarovka
       
  Swedish Adelsfana
Livonian Adelsfana
Karelska
234
105
360
260
115
400
260
68
312
?
?
400
Von Weihe included the Swedish Adelsfana in the main force. All privates fit for battle in the Wennerholm column have been calculated by me by subtracting 10 % from his total man power estimate.
  Uppland Stånds-dragoons
Schlippenbach's Dragoon Reg.
Schreiterfeldt's Dragoon Reg.
d'Albedyhl's Dragoon Reg.

?
?
?
?

299
497
305
323
?
?
?
?
25 Sum   2 064  

16

Posts along the Vorskla
       
  Meijerfelt's Dragoon Regiment
Funck's detachment (mainly from Dücker's Reg.)
Silfverhielm's detachment (mainly from S. Skånska
1000
300
500
1000
 -
300
At Novie Senzhari.
At Bjeliki.
At Kobelyaki
154
Total sum (cavalry + dragoons)
Including NCOs

12 080
13 140
12 000   The Vallack Regiment (c. 1000 men) and the Enspännar-company's 130 men are not included in the total sum.

According to Peter Englund the artillery consisted of four 4-pounder cannons in the main force, 28 guns at the baggage train and an unknown number in the siege works at Poltava, all in all manned by 150 men. The strength of the Zaporozhnian Cossacks is uncertain. Peter Englund give them a strength of about 3 000 while the General Staff refer to sources that would suggest a strength of 10 000 men.

Wennerholm's Estimate of Swedish Casualties

  Infantry Dragoons Cavalry Total
Privates
NCOs
10 660
1 070
6 240
530
5 840
530
22 740
2 130
Sum
 
11 730 6 770 6 370 24 870
Killed at Poltava
Captured at Poltava
6 667 2 057 2 008 8 145
2 587
Sum of Casualties
 
10 732
 
Captured at Perevolochna

With the king over the Dnieper

4 763

300

4 313

400

4 062

300

13 138

1 000

The table above is a simplified version of the one found on page 78 in Wennerholm's book. The number of officers were according to him between 1 800 and 2 000. All in all Bertil Wennerholm report a total of 15 725 Swedish prisoners of war.

The General Staff's Estimate of Swedish Casualties

Infantry, cavalry and dragoons fit for service before the battle 21 164
Unfit for service  2 116
Summa
 
23 280
 
Captured NCOs and privates from the infantry, cavalry and dragoons (including those unfit for service) at Perevolochna. 13 138
With the king over the Dnieper  1 000
Battle casualties and missing after the battle  9 142
Summa 23 280

By subtracting the 2 587 who were captured on the battle field we are left with about 6 600 men killed and missing. Take note that the sum is different in this table than the one presented earlier. This is because the General Staff have not included the Vallacks, the Enspännare Company and the artillery here.

Regimental Distribution of Casualties

With exception of the Livgarde the Russians did not at first report which regiments their prisoners belonged to, which make it difficult to determine the casualties for individual regiments. Wennerholm estimated the Livgarde to have had 2 500 privates before the battle and of these 1 196 men were taken prisoners at Perevolochna. Their battle casualties (52 %) would be below the average because the total losses for the infantry were 57 %. But these statistics also include soldiers who were not fit for service and thus did not participate in the battle. If we only consider the men who actually fought in the battle, which in the case of the Livgarde were 2 250 men, then this regiment's casualties rises to 58 %.

Of the rest of the infantry we can conclude that the force of 3 000 men who were separated from the main force at the Russian redoubts (Dal-regiment, Västerbotten, Jönköping and half of Närke-Värmland Regiment) was completely wiped out. According to their commander Roos, only 400 men of his force remained when he surrendered at the Guard redoubt, which would suggest extremely high casualties at the redoubts and the Yakovetsky forest. It is not impossible that some soldiers departed from Roos' force during these battles and made their way to the baggage train or the siege works in which case they evaded captivity. But Menshikov reported to the tsar after these battles that almost the entire force had either been killed or injured. Furthermore decisions to surrender were always controversial and Roos may have had good reason to not give a truthful estimate of how many soldiers were left of his force when he surrendered. So it should not be unreasonable to assume that the casualties were close to 100 % for this force.

Of the other regiments Skaraborg seems to have had exceptionally high casualties. Two sources report that only 10 respectively 27 men from this regiment survived the battle. The disastrous fate for Skaraborg may have been caused by the fact that they probably made up the right flank of the infantry during the battle (read the argument for that on this page). But considering that 27 of Skaraborg's 51 officers evidently survived the battle the sources have to be exaggerated even though they only count the privates. They become more believable if we interpret the losses as including captured soldiers and not just killed. Skaraborg Regiment was also the only regiment to lose all their colours during the battle so it is reasonable to assume that very few of their soldiers managed to flee the battle field.

The above mentioned regiments should together have lost about 4 700 men. If we subtract these as well as the over 600 NCOs from the table's casualty figure of 6 667 men for the infantry, then we are left with 1 400 casualties to distribute to the remaining regiments' privates. These regiments had a combined strength of over 4 000 men which means that they suffered 35 % casualties. But of these the 1 000 men belonging to Södermanland and Kronoberg regiments would reasonably have suffered minor casualties since their battle in the Poltava siege works was successful. If they are removed from the equation we get a maximum casualty rate of 45 % for Kalmar, Uppland, Östergötland, Västmanland and the second half Närke-Värmland Regiment. If we also consider that Västmanland Regiment effectively made up the second line which fled early (together with Östergötland and Närke-Värmland) then the casualty rate is considerably higher for the two regiments which remained on the battle field the longest time in the first line (Kalmar and Uppland). Both in percent and in absolute numbers the officers of Uppland Regiment had by far the highest death toll (62 %). This would suggest that the Upplanders suffered from a massacre of the same proportions as the one the sources say Skaraborg Regiment experienced (whose 47 % death toll among officers was the second highest). The cause to a disaster of that magnitude must have been the flight of the above mentioned regiments which left the Upplanders' left flank completely exposed.

Unfortunately there is not enough of data to try to distribute the cavalry casualties of 4 065 men (31 %) among the individual regiments. However if you subtract the regiments who did not participate in any fighting then you are left with a casualty rate of 43 % for proper cavalry regiments and as much as 70 % for dragoon regiments. Except for the Skånska Stånds-dragoons the dragoons’ allocation in the battle line cannot explain their higher casualty rate. The likely cause is instead that these regiments were of inferior quality than the proper cavalry and thus performed poorly in the battle against the Russians.

In a letter from Charles XII to the council in Stockholm (sent before he knew about the surrender at Perevolochna) the king mention that the entire infantry and Östgöta Cavalry Regiment need to be re-recruited by the "Indelningsverk". This would suggest that very few of the 600 Östgöta cavalry men remained after the battle of Poltava. But the highest casualties must have been inflicted to the Skånska Stånds-dragoons because they were the most northerly regiment in the Swedish battle line (Östgöta was however nearby). Just like the other dragoons the Stånds-dragoons were enlisted and not an "indelt" regiment so they were not affected by the instructions in the king's letter.

Russian Lists of Prisoners of War

In addition to the estimates of Swedish strength and casualties there are also detailed but unreliable lists of Swedish prisoners of war in the Russian source "Tsar Peter's Journal". They are presented in their entirety in Nicholas Dorrell's book "The Dawn of the Tsarist Empire" and Valery Moltusov refers to them in his book "Poltava 1709 - Vändpunkten". The lists which include all personnel (including civilian) from the various regiments have however an unreasonably high figure for Östergötland Infantry Regiment and unreasonably low figures for several other infantry regiments. The fact that the information from the Russian source is not reliable is also evident when it in conjunction to the lists also name captured officers and frequently attributes them to the wrong regiments. The General Staff explain the unreasonable figures by saying that the names of the regiments have been mixed up. In contrast to the infantry list the General Staff regarded the lists of the mounted units to be credible. The General Staff's estimate of the strength of the mounted units which did not participate in the battle is therefore based on Tsar Peter's Journal. Bertil Wennerholm on the other hand do not see any basis for accepting the cavalry information as credible when it is so obvious that the infantry list is not correct.

Cavalry Dragoons Infantry
Drabant Corps
Livregementet
Småland
Östgöta
Karelska
Swedish Adelsfana
Livonian Adelsfana
Åbo & Björneborg
Norra skånska
Södra skånska
Nyland
Uppland 3-männings

0
1 119
324
325
378
362
106
422
472
343
774
193

Liv-dragoons
Schreiterfeldt
Taube
Schlippenbach
d'Albedyhl
Dücker
Meijerfelt
Gyllenstierna
Upplands Stånds-dragoons
Skånska Stånds-dragoons
Hielm
 

409
459
466
548
360
476
942
261
332
658
484
 

Livgardet
Jönköping
Södermanland
Skaraborg
Kronoberg
Västmanland
Kalmar
Östergötland
Uppland
Dal-regiment
Närke-Värmland
Västerbotten

1 464
494
288
25
426
28
321
819
14
432
428
421

Sum

4 830

Sum

5 388

Sum

5 161

Read also about the Russian army's strength and casualties in the battle of Poltava or the Swedish army's Order of Battle and uniforms.