Scholars from the Lebedev Laboratory of Archaeology, Historical Sociology and Cultural Heritage at St Petersburg University are investigating the place where one of the battles of the Great Northern War took place. This work might result in a comprehensive reconstruction of the battlefield near the village of Krivoruchye.

The archaeologists from St Petersburg University have found two rare Swedish bastion redoubts from the Great Northern War on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. The fortifications were detected at the north-eastern end of the Soikinsky Peninsula, which is in Kingiseppsky district of Leningrad Region on Cape Kolgompya.

Ground redoubts consist of an inner platform, an earth rampart with a breastwork (parapet), and a ditch. The length of each side of the southern fortification is about 59 metres, which corresponds to 200 Swedish feet (at the end of the 17th century, this measurement unit was 29.69 centimetres). The northern redoubt has been badly destroyed – only the eastern corner with sections of the inner platform, rampart and ditch have been preserved.

redut plan

The topographic map of the southern redoubt by Andrei Gorodilov (the Institute for the History of Material Culture, the Russian Academy of Sciences)

The appearance and design of the fortifications make it possible for archaeologists to date them without doubt to the 17th to 18th centuries. Also, in the area around the fortifications, lead bullets and a fragment of a hand grenade case, characteristic of that time, were found.

The vicinity of Cape Kolgompya is associated with a series of events in military history. The most significant of these was the battle in October 1708, which was the final stage of the campaign of the corps under General Georg Lybecker. In August 1708, he set off from Vyborg, which then belonged to Sweden, to capture St Petersburg. There were several attempts to conquer the new capital during the Great Northern War, but this one can be considered the most striking.

The corps moves along the Swedish Royal Road, which is substantially the same as the present-day Vyborgskoe shosse. Then they begin to bypass St Petersburg from the east. In the area of the present-day village of Korchmino, 30 August sees a battle with the Russian troops to seize the Neva River crossing site.

Kirill Shmelev, a research associate in the Laboratory of Archaeology, St Petersburg University

‘As a result, the Swedish corps smashes the enemy, crosses the river and goes deep into Ingria. This was possibly the last success of General Georg Lybecker during the campaign. The fact is that Ingria was already severely devastated by the war – it could not provide a large army. Then Georg Lybecker makes a decision: to go west, to the Baltic states, the better part of which still belonged to Sweden. However, on the way to the city of Narva, the corps was blocked by the Russian troops. It was therefore decided to evacuate the corps by waterways. A squadron was sent to perform this mission,’ says Kirill Shmelev, a research associate in the Laboratory of Archaeology at St Petersburg University.  

The Swedish corps moved north, on the coast of the Gulf of Finland, and camped near the village of Krivoruchye, located on the Soikinsky Peninsula. This is the reason why the battle that took place there has several names: ‘The battle for Soikinskaya Farm’; and ‘The battle at the village of Krivoruchye’. Cape Kolgompya became the centre of concentration of the Swedish squadron. The evacuation was complicated by the fact that it was rather shallow nearby – the ships could not approach the coast. However, the chosen site had a significant advantage over the others – the distance that had to be covered by boats was much less there, and the small space at the tip of the cape was convenient to defend, when covering embarking.

puli

Spherical lead bullets (it should be noted that bullets with an unremoved sprue, as in the picture, are considered characteristic of the Russian army of the 17th to early 18th centuries)

Meanwhile, the Russian troops under the command of Admiral Fyodor Apraksin continued closing with the enemy. Before embarking, the Swedish army had to destroy their horseflesh.  In total, about 6,000 horses were slaughtered. This was because it was impossible to take the animals with them and they could not allow the horses to be taken by the enemy.

The redoubts we found had been constructed to protect the evacuation of the corps: they covered the only passage to the tip of the cape. The fortifications were defended by units of captive Saxons converted by the Swedes. In general, Lybecker had a hard time with them during the campaign – a significant number of them deserted and surrendered to the Russians. However, covering the embarking troops, they acquitted themselves heroically: from two battalions a little more than a hundred people were taken prisoner. They remained steadfast to the last.

Kirill Shmelev, a research associate in the Laboratory of Archaeology, St Petersburg University

The Russians captured the redoubts, but they had fulfilled their function: most of the Swedish corps had embarked. Despite the fact that Fyodor Apraksin was an admiral, he had only ground forces at command. He also had no serious artillery. The available artillery were not enough to blast the ships, which were several hundred metres from the coast.

Interestingly, unlike most major battles of the 18th century, there are no images of the battle near the village of Krivoruchye. The only exception is the medal coined by order of Peter I in honour of the winner in the campaign, Fyodor Apraksin. On one side, it is decorated with a portrait of the admiral. On the other is an image of ships with fighting foot and horse figures in the background and the inscription in Russian: ‘Храняï сïе неспитъ — лучше смерть, а не неверность’. This can be translated as ‘keeping this does not sleep; death is better than unfaithfulness.’

There are a lot of written accounts of the battle, both from Swedish and Russian sources. There is also a well-known monument of folk culture related to the events of 1708: the old Izhorian rune Kolkopään sota (‘The War in Kolgompya’), which tells about the battle of the Swedish king with the Russian army at Cape Kolgompya.

The closest constructive and chronological analogues of the Cape Kolgompya fortifications are in Ukraine (redoubts of the Battle of Poltava in 1708) and in Sweden (redoubts of the Battle of Stäket in 1719). The latter were built to protect Stockholm from the Russian landing force and coincide with the fortifications on Cape Kolgompya in most of their dimensional and structural features.

The study of fortification of the early modern period is one of the important areas of research in architecture, military history and archaeology. For the most part, the attention of scholars is attracted by fortresses and other large constructions. Field fortifications are studied much less. This is due to the fact that they are less prevalent and worse preserved.

The archaeologists from St Petersburg University plan to continue investigating the battle site. In particular, they are going to study the sea floor near Cape Kolgompya and find the burial sites of the combatants. Additionally, they are determined to find out the exact location of the Swedish coastal camp. All this work might result in a comprehensive reconstruction of the battlefield.