Monday, August 26, 2013
Soldier of Monarchy: Field Marshal Lennart Torstensson
Gustavus Adolphus. From 1621 to 1623 he accompanied his king in the campaigns in Livonia on the other side of the Baltic and it was King Gustavus Adolphus who first impressed upon him at an early age the importance of artillery on the battlefield. He learned even more when he was subsequently sent to study at the Holland Military School under another of the great captains of history, the Dutch Prince Maurits van Nassau. When he returned to Sweden he fought for three years in the campaigns against Prussia, seeing action in such engagements as the battle of Wallhof in 1626. The King was greatly impressed by his skill and promoted him to colonel at the age of 26, giving him command of the first artillery regiment in military history. He wasted no time in proving himself worthy of such a position and by the following year he had earned promotion to general and his title of the “father of field artillery”.
Torstensson basically took the innovations of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus and the Dutch Prince Maurits van Nassau concerning artillery, refined them and built upon them to increase the mobility of the artillery. His fame as the “father of field artillery” comes from the fact that, before his time, artillery tended to be seen mostly as a weapon of static, siege warfare. Torstensson made it something more mobile that would be capable of supporting the infantry and cavalry on the battlefield. Previously, the only light cannon had been rather dangerous guns with a copper core wrapped in leather. Torstensson came up with a new cast-iron cannon that was powerful enough to be a major force on the battlefield but which could still be moved by as few as four men or two horses. He also led the way in getting away from cannon balls to more advanced artillery “shells” which combined powder and shot inside a wooden container. He also worked out a drill routine that so increased the efficiency of the Swedish artillerymen that they were able to load and fire their cannon faster than the infantry could load and fire their muskets. On September 17, 1631 at the battle of Breitenfeld his innovations were put to the test and Torstensson was fully vindicated. His guns fired at three times the rate of the Catholic forces opposing them and accompanied the infantry and cavalry to help secure a decisive Swedish victory.
Pressing on after this victory, Torstensson and his Swedish army marched into Bohemia and Moravia. He turned away to pursue a threatening Danish army and defeated a Bavarian army to sent to the aid of the Danes. The battle of Jankau in 1645 was his last great victory, won over the Bavarians, after which the great general was obliged to resign because of his worsening health and return home to Sweden. He held a few political posts before his death in Stockholm on April 7, 1651 at the age of only 47. Were it not for the great and influential victories of King Gustavus Adolphus himself, Marshal Torstensson would probably be remembered as the greatest Swedish military mind of his age. Nonetheless, alongside the great king, he was responsible for securing the victories that made Sweden a major military power, he was a competent and successful battlefield commander and as an innovator his influence on artillery has been immense in military history, putting artillery for the first time on an equal footing with the infantry and cavalry as one of the indispensable tools of modern warfare.