51. Things inevitable and unpleasant surprises
“When the Emperor of Russia is busy fishing, Europe can wait”Things inevitable
“Life is full of surprises and not only the pleasant ones ”
This was a March of 1712 and two things looked inevitable, Charles’ marriage and a new war. To his credit, he was not scared of either and was planning to take advantage of both, especially if the potential enemies extend a courtesy of the right timing.
While waiting for her bride, he ordered a general mobilization, expecting to have his army ready to march by the June.
The fleet was a more problematic issue: he had been receiving from Admiral General of his navy, Hans Wachtmeister, the cheerful reports that everything is fine, the new naval base in Karlskrona is operational, the naval regulations are being updated and, what’s most important, the navy does not cost too much due to existing system of “part-time” sailors (if similar system worked well in the army, why the navy should be different?).
Not being deeply interested in the naval issues (and having Gota canal as his main priority for spending the money), Charles was reasonably satisfied with the reports until the alarm bell had been sounded by captain Gustav Psilander, favored by the King’s patronage since the famous battle of 1704 on which he carried Charles’ orders against the overwhelming odds .
Psilander, appointed Deputy Superintendent of the Royal Navy shipyard in Karlskrona
in 1710 and just promoted to Schoutbynacht
and Admiralty Commissioner in the January 1712 (and ennobled at the same time so form now on he was “von Psilander”), reported to Charles that the things are not all nice and rosy:
5 of the Swedish ships of the line had been more than 40 years old and 18 more had been built in 1670s/80s. Only 2 ships of the line had been built after 1700 and both were of the 4th rank (46 and 52 guns).
The naval artillery was all over the place: the most powerful “Kung Karl” had 10 36-pounders, 22 - 24-pounders, 30 - 18-pounders, 28 - 8-pounders and 14 4-pounders. “Enongheten” had 56 24-pounders, 28 8-pounders, 6 4-pounders, 4 3-pounders. “Drotting Hedvig Eleanora” 30 24-pounders, 28 12-pounders, 22 6-pounders, 4 4-pounders, 4 3-pounders, etc. Experience of the recent Russian-Ottoman War, which demonstrated a very limited usefulness of even 18-pounders against the ships-of-the-line, had been blissfully ignored with a reference to the fact that the Danes also have a wide variety of the calibers (Dannebroge: 20 8-pounders, 22 14-pounders, 26 24-pounders, 4 4-pounders and 4 14-pounder howitzers, etc.).
While the potential enemy had its crews on the full-time service and trained accordingly, the Swedish part-time crews, while being reasonably experienced individual sailors, were not trained as the ships crews and even less so as the members of a fleet: they could, more or less, form a battle line but more complicated maneuvers had been problematic. The artillery crews, at best, were composed out of the soldiers with a minimal experience of a naval service and probably could be relied upon only if the battle was happening on the very short distances.
Karlskrona had been heavily hit by a plague of 1710-11, which killed 7,000 out of its 10,000 inhabitants including most of its 1,100 shipyard workers, and the same plague heavily hit the coastal communities from which the crews had been routinely raised.
The fleet was not getting out for the maneuvers and many senior officers, starting from the Admiral-General, had not been in the sea since a brief Swedish-British-Dutch campaign of 1700 .
Of course, concluded von Psilander, a lot can be done by the Swedish bravery but it can be the only factor to rely upon.
Not too much could be done about these problems in a short time left so Charles speedily promoted von Psilander into Vice-admiral and ordered him to do as much as was possible to have, at least, the crews prepared and available in the needed numbers (or as close to them as possible).
In May 1712 the bride-to-be, Grand Duchess Catherine Ivanovna, arrived to Stockholm on Peter’s imperial yacht. To make event even more enjoyable, the yacht was escorted by the Russian squadron of 6 ships of the line and 4 frigates under command of rear-admiral Naum Senyavin.
Senyavin’s orders were to remain in Sweden until the further orders and to act “according to the circumstances”. While Wachtmeister was making unhappy noises about the extra expenses, Psylander and Senyavin went together just fine being two birds of the feather: while it did not come to the battle, Senyavin refused to allow the Dutch to search his ship (which the Dutch claimed to be a merchant one and which was actually 52 guns ship of the line) and demanded a proper treatment declaring that even if the Russian flag is raised on a boat, this qualifies it aa a warship with a mandatory Dutch salute and flag lowering .
Couple days prior to the marriage ceremony declarations of war from Denmark, Prussia and Hanover arrived allowing Charles to utter “a historic sentence”: “When the King of Sweden is getting married, the war can wait” . At the ceremony the groom was his usual bellicose self, the bride was charming, population of Stockholm is properly enthusiastic, and everybody was happy.
Even before the wedding Charles had a private meeting with a Russian officer who arrived with Catherine and promptly left on the imperial yacht after the interview accompanied by few Swedish officers carrying instructions to the governors of the Baltic provinces. Taking into an account a relative insignificance of the personages involved, the whole episode passed unnoticed and when the “big wheels” started turning, quite a few people had been up to the unpleasant surprise.
In March of 1712 some, generally overlooked, events started happening in the Russian Empire. Without too much of a fanfare the troops began marching to its Western border. There were 5 infantry divisions, 5 cavalry divisions, 2 reserve artillery brigades and 10,000 irregulars (Cossacks of Don and Kalmyks), totaling 54,000 infantry, 20,000 regular and 10,000 irregular cavalry with 400 guns moving toward the staging area between Pskov and Witebsk .
By the early June of 1712:
- the 1st Separate Corps of lieutenant-general Fermor (1 infantry, 1 cavalry division, 2,000 irregulars and a company of the siege artillery ) and a squadron of 4 bomb-ketches and 2 gunboats, with the Charles’ approval advanced to the Dvina River near Riga where they had been joined by 3,000 Swedes from the local garrisons under command of colonel Treyden.
- the main army of 3 infantry, 2 cavalry divisions with 3,000 irregulars and 1.5 reserve artillery brigade under command of Fieldmarshal Sheremetev had been concentrated behind Dunaburg.
- the 2nd Separate Corps of 1 infantry, 2 cavalry divisions and 5,000 irregulars under command of lieutenant-general Michael Golitsyn was assembled near Polotsk.
The PLC was, of course, neutral but most of the Lithuanian magnates had been “stimulated” enough not to oppose the passage of the Russian troops and to sell the needed supplies including the horses, if needed.
Prussian forces in the East Prussia amounted to 10,000 spread between the numerous garrisons. Main Prussian army marched to the Swedish Pomerania.
By that time the coalition members already had been too committed to their plans to pay attention to what is going on the East and, anyway, none of them declared a war on Russia so why would they be worried? In other words, so far there there no surprises of any kind but the first unpleasant one was only days away.
Interlude #1. Memel - general background
At that tome the town of Memel was neither big nor too important. The agricultural countryside remained predominantly ethnic Lithuanian through ages and the Lithuanian name for the city "Klaipėda" was thus born in the 16th century as a pejorative, literally meaning "Bread eater" and referring to the castle garrison. There was some trade coming through it but not too much of it (only in mid-XVIII it became important due to the booming timber business). By the beginning of the 18th century, Memel was considered one of the strongest fortresses (Memelfestung) in Prussia but this was not too much of a recommendation .
The town of Memel was surrounded by a ditch with 5 bastions. Three of these bastions were not completely enclosed. The square shaped citadel was located to the west along the Kurisches Haff (present-day Curonian Lagoon), its four corers were defended by bastions. The curtain walls had a 25 m. wide moat. The fortifications were in very poor conditions. Furthermore, the suburbs consisting of wooden buildings, it was difficult to observe or to fire on the enemy.
The fortress was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Rummel, seconded by Captain von Winterfeldt. He had not enough time to improve the defensive works of the entire fortress but had managed to put the citadel in state of defence. The garrison consisted of 800 men from Land Regiment 2 Polentz commanded by 16 officers of which 3 were more than 90 years old and 4 could not get out of bed. Furthermore, there were 800 peasants who had been driven out of the surrounding country. Since there were only 24 gunners to serve the 80 pieces of the fortress, they had to be assisted by infantrymen.
Unpleasant surprise #1
Distance from Riga to Memel was slightly above 300 km. Fermor’s march started on June 20.
On June 28, a Russian squadron (4 bomb-ketches and 2 gunboats under the command of Captain Valrunt) appeared in front of the Fortress of Memel located at the mouth of the Kurisches Haff.
On June 29, Rummel ordered to remove the buoys and marks but he could not block the entry of the harbour of Memel.
On June 30 at 6:00 a.m., after summoning Memel to surrender, Valrunt's bomb-ketches opened on the Fortress of Memel and a regular siege was undertaken. These were the first shots exchanged between the Russians and Prussians during this war.
The same day (June 30), Fermor
's Corps marched by Budendingshof and Polangen (present-day Palanga/Lithuania). The 1st brigade and the Swedes crossed the Dange River to the north-east of Memel and established themselves to the south of the river near the Fortress of Memel. The 2nd Brigade remained on the north bank of the Dange to cover the artillery and the park. 500 cossacks and 200 hussars under reached Polagen across the Niemen, to protect the left flank of the siege corps.
In the night of June 30 to July 1, under the light of the burning suburbs who had been set afire by the Prussians, Fermor sent 1,000 workers, under the protection of grenadier detachments, to establish infantry positions and batteries some 1,300 meters from the “Preussen” Bastion. The Russians planted 3 20 pounder mortars and 4 40 pounder howitzers in the first parallel.
On July 1 at 6:00 a.m., Fermor's howitzers and mortars opened fire. For 24 hours, the Russian batteries maintained a steady bombardment of the Fortress of Memel. By the evening, 136 bombs had already fallen on Memel. Around 8:00 p.m., the 4 Russian bomb-ketches (Jelefant, Dondier, Dziki Byk, Jupiter) opened fire from a distance on the town. Some 144 bombs fell on the town proper and 140 others on the fortress.
On July 2, Fermor threw bridges on the Dange near Memel. He also opened the second parallel. New batteries opened on the fortress. By the end of the day, the Russian land and naval artillery had fired 982 bombs on the fortress. On the same day Russian squadron of 3 ships of the line, 4 frigates, and 2 cannon boats under command of the Rear Admiral Pamburg  arrived and positioned itself outside the Curonian Lagoon.
On July 4, the Russian troops made preparations to storm the fortifications of Memel. Rummel asked Fermor for the authorisation to send a courier to Field-Marshall Lehwaldt
 the Prussian commander-in-chief in East Prussia. Meanwhile, the Russian artillery intensified the bombardment. By 4:00 p.m., about 2,405 bombs had fallen on Memel since the beginning of the siege.
On July 5 at 2:00 a.m., the Russian artillery intensified the bombardment. At 4:00 a.m., Rummel hoisted the white flag. The burghers and the garrison, even though they had suffered very little losses, could not bear the constant bombardment anymore. After the short negotiations, garrison accepted unconditional surrender and was sent to Livonia. Treyden was appointed governor of Memel and immediately started to repair and improve defensive works.
Memel was turned into the supply base for the further operations.
Unpleasant surprise #2
By time Fermor was done with Memel, Sheremetev’s main force reached Insterburg and Golitsin’s corps was getting close to Rastenburg. To avoid a need of the numerous river crossings Fermor marched his corps South by the Curonian Split using Pamburg’s squadron as a cover.
The Kammerpräsident Domhardt sent a report by courier from Gumbinnen confirming that the Russians had advanced from Memel and would continue their march through to Königsber. Officials at Königsberg met for several day to decide on measures to be taken. Despite all indications already gathered, the invasion of the Russians surprised the officials who had refused to believe that they would do something serious but in a couple days they changed their minds.
On July 10, considering that the defensive works of Königsberg could not withstand bombardment, the government, in association with the magistrates, decided to send a delegation to Fieldmarshal Sheremetev with the proposed surrender of the city, the university and the country. At the same time, the authorities in Königsberg had managed to send to safety the coffers, valuables and important files to Danzig, which proved to be a big mistake
On July 12, 2 bns of the Garrison Regiment Nr. 1 Puttkamer
under Lieutenant-Colonels Unruh and Wutenau, respectively occupying Königsberg and Pillau, soon joined by Du Fay‘s hussars, evacuated these places and marched toward Kolberg (present-day Kołobrzeg) in Eastern Pomerania taking with them the best artillery piece of both places. They did not go too far: being trapped between Golitsin’s corps and the Swedish garrison of Elbing they had to capitulate.
On July 13, the Russian vanguard entered Koenigsberg without resistance.
On July 14, Pamburg’s squadron took possession of the abandoned Pillau.
All Northern half of the East Prussia to the Alle River was under the Russian control.
 As a Captain of the Öland, a Swedish ship-of-the line he was escorting Swedish merchantmen during the LNW. Followed by a squadron of eight English ships-of-the-line and a frigate, he refused to salute the English squadron when requested to do so by William Whetstone
(with Whetstone's reason being that Psilander was in English waters), being under strict orders to not lower his flags under any circumstances by his king because this would damage the Swedish honor. A four-hour battle (Battle of Orford Ness) ensued, with the heavily damaged Öland being captured alongside the convoyed merchant ships. The Swedish Board of Admiralty and Board of Trade refused to demand for his release or support Psilander while he was in captivity, but Charles XII
was of a different opinion and successfully demanded the release of the warship and crew. Psilander, his crew, and the convoyed ships were later released and returned to Sweden. However, Öland later sank north of Denmark
 Not a big surprise because quite a few of them, starting from Wachtmeister, had been also governors of the provinces or held some other administrative positions.
 In OTL this episode took place only in 1716
 “Historic sentences” are usually being uttered for the posterity and the history books: by the time they are reaching their intended audience the underlying facts are already forgotten and they look rather absurd, which qualifies them as the “historic” ones (like a famous quote from Bayard). In a reality, Charles already put the well-tested mobilization mechanism into the action and had to wait until the troops are assembled so few days of the marriage festivities would do no harm and even raise the national spirit by showing that everything is under control.
 Infantry division: 6 infantry regiments (1,800 each), 1 cavalry regiment (800) and 2 artillery brigades (64guns), total 10,800 infantry and 800 cavalry. Cavalry division: 4 cavalry regiments (800), total 3,200.
 “Best of the worst” would be probably more to the point.
 Who in this TL was not killed in a drunken duel.
 In OTL he was in charge during the 7YW but who really cares about specific Prussian fieldmarshal?
 On two accounts: 1st, Fieldmarsal was seriously pissed off with their attempt to save the money and 2nd, because the convoy had been intercepted by Golitsin’s Cossacks raiding well ahead of the main body of his corps. The money (minus some reasonable “losses on the road”) had been delivered to the Russian headquarters but Sheremetev was still pissed off and forced the city to pay reparations.