"Swedish Victory at Poltava" by Jeff Provine
says: we're very pleased to present the seventeenth story from Jeff
Provine's excellent blog
This Day in
Alternate History Please note that the opinions expressed in this post
do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
on a warm and humid night, Swedish troops under the command of Charles XII
attacked and prevailed over a larger Russian army commanded by Peter I.
The Great Northern War had raged since 1700, when Denmark, Russia, and
Poland attacked Sweden and its allies. Sweden under Charles XII turned
back the tide of war, first opposing the Danish and Russian attacks, then
in a counterattack defeating August the Strong (Elector of Saxony, King of
Poland, and Grand Duke of Lithuania), driving him out of his throne and
turning the lands into allies. With the Danes removed from the war by
skillful maneuvers of the Swedish navy and army and August destroyed,
Charles turned toward Russia.
Peter I, rarely known as Peter the Great, had spent the years Sweden
fought into modernizing his army and making conquests in the eastern
Baltic. His greatest stab at Sweden was founding Saint Petersburg in 1703
to solidify a port on what was once Swedish soil.
Charles marched into Russia and the Ukraine (a longtime conquest of
Russia) in 1708, having waited for the winter to freeze the Vistula River.
He sent General Lewenhaupt out to gather supplies, which he did speedily
that spring, rejoining Charles in the Ukraine with news of the improved
Russian troops, which he had narrowly evaded by the Sozh River. Skirmishes
and small battles had quieted any arrogance Lewenhaupt might have about
In 1709, having wintered with only minor losses thanks to the supplies
secured by Lewenhaupt, Charles went to secure his supply lines in
preparation for a campaign on Moscow. His first target was Poltava, which
Peter had defended with improved bulwarks and 60,000 troops. Kalmyk allies
to Russia were on their way to join Peter, so Charles acted quickly.
Swedish cannon pounded the defenses, and, at 3:45 AM, Lewenhaupt led a
stout Swedish attack of infantry. Because of the effective use of
artillery, the Russian defenses folded. At 8:30 AM, Peter himself led a
desperate counterattack from the north aided by his cannons. While the
Russians routed Swedes initially, they pursued outside of the range of
fire, and were routed. Peter was killed at the head of his troops,
reportedly not dying from musket wounds until being torn limb-from-limb by
With the Tsar dead, the Russian troops retreated. Charles secured Poltava,
rebuilt the defenses, and routed the incoming Kalmyk cavalry in such a
defeat that they abandoned their Russian allies. Left with Peter's wife
Catherine in command, Russia mounted a brave defense (though not daring
enough for scorched earth). No armies could stand up against Charles'
quick attacks. With newly liberated Ukraine giving supplies from the
breadbasket of Europe, Charles arrived in Moscow in October, wintering
there while working with Catherine over the details of her surrender.
Rather than conquering Russia, Charles would make it an ally, a buffer
against western Mongol bands. The Great Northern War had ended with Sweden
victorious, effectively knocking Russia out of significance in Europe.
Russia would remain an Asian power until its disastrous defeat by Japan in
In Europe, Swedish power continued to grow. Charles was ceded Saint
Petersburg (he kept the name) and maintained Baltic dominance. In the
following century, Sweden would begin many important colonies all over the
world in Africa, the East Indies, and the West Indies to build its naval
power. While it would lose ground in the Seven Year's War, Sweden would
injure its new enemy Britain by aiding its rebellious colonies in the
1770s and gain great conquests as Napoleon's ally until his betrayal in
his disastrous attempt to conquer Stockholm in 1812. Then fighting opposed
to Napoleon, Sweden was given Norway in 1814 at the Congress of Vienna.
The nineteenth century would prove generous to Sweden, though World War I
would devastate its navy as German U-boats tore through Swedish
battleships. The loss of manpower in the Danish trenches and collapse of
the world economy would tear the Swedish Empire apart, making way for the
fascists to gain control in 1933. World War II would prove even more
disastrous as the Allied Powers turned their attention to Sweden after the
fall of Hitler. The Swedish Empire would be broken into pieces with
liberated Norway, occupied Sweden, and Finland finally held once again by
their old nemeses, the Russians. Gradually Sweden would fall to Communism
in the late 1950s and try to reconquer its neighbor Norway, sparking the
long and unresolved Scandinavian Conflict with its Demilitarized Zone
stretching over 1000 miles. Car bombs and paramilitary attacks are common
on the war-torn peninsula.
says in reality, Lewenhaupt did not leave until late June on his mission
to gather supplies. When his army did march, he was dogged by modernized
Russian troops, losing the Battle of Lesnaya. He abandoned cannon and
supplies, which caused a mutiny of his soldiers, who proceeded to drink. He
left more than one thousand drunken troops in the woods, and only half of
his 12,000-strong army managed to regroup with Charles.
The defeat at Poltava would spell doom for the Swedish Empire and make way
for Russia as the next great power in eastern Europe.
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