Eirik Hornborg, Erik Faithfull trans., Carl Gustav Armfelt and the struggle for Finland during the Great Northern War (Helion, 2021)
Helion is at it again with another military biography of one of the leading figures in the Great Northern War. This time the not so well known Carl Gustav Armfelt. Eirik Hornborg, one of the key Finnish historians, wrote this account in 1953 and it has been translated by Erik Faithfull who is a descendant of Armfelt. As far as I’m aware this is the first time that detailed information on the defence of Finland by the Swedes in the Great northern War has appeared in English. The original scholarship is impressive, and the translation enhances rather than distracts from the work as can sometimes be the case.
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The book is part biography and part military history. The biographical element covers the usual, birth, early life, marriage, previous military service and death and is interesting in its own way. The main reason for purchasing the book has to be the in depth account of the Finnish Campaigns and the shorter but no less devastating Norwegian Campaign. To give you a sense of the war, the main areas covered are:
The opening phase of the war
The Loss of the Neva Line
The Battle for the Neva Estuary and the Karelian Islands, 1704-1707
The Ingrian Campaign, 1708
The opening phase of the conquest of Finland and the recovery after the fall of Viborg
The Campaign of 1711
The Campaign of 1712
The Summer and Winter Campaigns of 1713
The Campaign around Ostrobothnia in 1714 and the battle of Storkyro.
The Norwegian Campaign 1718-19.
Hornborg’s scholarship just pours from the pages, and he manages to cover all the different aspects on the Campaigns, interweaving the manoeuvres of the land forces, the battles, the sieges, and the importance of controlling the Baltic, into a cohesive story. The book is written primarily from the Swedish perspective, but he remains even handed in his treatment of the subject matter.
The book benefits from excellent maps of the operational areas. The addition of an eight page colour section, which provides pictures of the battlefields today with troop movements superimposed along with pictures of the main protagonists, is a nice touch. The rest of the book is supported by simple battlefield maps, copious historic maps, and illustrations, along with specially commissioned pen and ink drawings of the troops in combat, which helps bring the story to life. There are also appendices on desertion, recruiting, the levy, and reserve regiments, which also add more information to the overall context of the war. Perhaps not for those new to the Great Northern War but highly recommended for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge and delve into the less well known but no less interesting struggle for Finland.