Assault on Copenhagen (1659)

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Assault on Copenhagen
Part of Second Northern War (Dano-Swedish War (1658-1660))
Stormningen av Kopenhamn 11 feb. 1659.jpg
The assault of Copenhagen
Date11 February 1659
Copenhagen, Denmark
Result Danish and Dutch victory
Flag of Denmark.svg Denmark-Norway
Statenvlag.svg  Dutch Republic
Flag of Sweden.svg Sweden
Commanders and leaders
Frederick III Karl X Gustav
Otto Stenbock
Around 10,000 Danish soldiers and armed citizens of Copenhagen, including approximately 2000 Dutch troops, plus 343 guns of various caliber Around 10,000 Swedish soldiers
Casualties and losses
14 dead and wounded Around 1,700 dead and wounded

The assault on Copenhagen on 11 February 1659 was a major battle during the Second Northern War, taking place during the siege of Copenhagen by the Swedish army.

Copenhagen Capital of Denmark

Copenhagen is the capital and most populous city of Denmark. As of July 2018, the city has a population of 777,218. It forms the core of the wider urban area of Copenhagen and the Copenhagen metropolitan area. Copenhagen is situated on the eastern coast of the island of Zealand; another small portion of the city is located on Amager, and it is separated from Malmö, Sweden, by the strait of Øresund. The Øresund Bridge connects the two cities by rail and road.

Second Northern War conflict

The Second Northern War was fought between Sweden and its adversaries the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1655–60), the Moscow Tsardom (1656–58), Brandenburg-Prussia (1657–60), the Habsburg Monarchy (1657–60) and Denmark–Norway. The Dutch Republic often intervened against Sweden.



During the Northern Wars, the Swedish army under Charles X Gustav of Sweden, after invading the Danish mainland of Jutland, swiftly crossed the frozen straits and occupied most of the Danish island of Zealand, with the invasion beginning on February 11, 1658. This forced the Danes to sue for peace. A preliminary treaty, the Treaty of Taastrup, was signed on February 18, 1658 with the final treaty, the Treaty of Roskilde, signed on February 26, 1658, granting Sweden major territorial gains.

"Northern Wars" is a term used for a series of wars fought in northern and northeastern Europe in the 16th and 17th century. An internationally agreed nomenclature for these wars has not yet been devised. While the Great Northern War is generally considered to be the last of the Northern Wars, there are different scholarly opinions on which war constitutes the First Northern War.

Charles X Gustav of Sweden King of Sweden

Charles X Gustav, also Carl Gustav, was King of Sweden from 1654 until his death. He was the son of John Casimir, Count Palatine of Zweibrücken-Kleeburg and Catherine of Sweden. After his father's death he also succeeded him as Pfalzgraf. He was married to Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp, who bore his son and successor, Charles XI. Charles X Gustav was the second Wittelsbach king of Sweden after the childless king Christopher of Bavaria (1441–1448) and he was the first king of the Swedish Caroline era, which had its peak during the end of the reign of his son, Charles XI. He led Sweden during the Second Northern War, enlarging the Swedish Empire. By his predecessor Christina, he was considered de facto Duke of Eyland (Öland) before ascending to the Swedish throne.

Jutland mainland of Denmark, a peninsula north of Germany

Jutland, also known as the Cimbric or Cimbrian Peninsula, is a peninsula of Northern Europe that forms the continental portion of Denmark and part of northern Germany. The names are derived from the Jutes and the Cimbri, respectively.

The Swedish king, however, was not content with his stunning victory, and at the Privy Council held at Gottorp on July 7, Charles X Gustav resolved to wipe his inconvenient rival from the map of Europe. Without any warning, in defiance of international treaty, he ordered his troops to attack Denmark-Norway a second time.

Privy Council of Sweden Cabinet of medieval origin consisting of magnates (Swedish: stormän) which advised, and at times co-ruled, with the King of Sweden

The Council of the Realm, or simply The Council, was a cabinet of medieval origin, consisting of magnates which advised, and at times co-ruled with, the King of Sweden.

The Swedish armies had never left Denmark after the peace and already occupied all of Denmark apart from the capital, Copenhagen. After a failed assault, Copenhagen was put under siege in the hope of breaking the defense by starvation. In October 1658 however a Dutch relief fleet under Lieutenant-Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam defeated the Swedish fleet in the Battle of the Sound and lifted the sea blockade so that supplies and an auxiliary army could reach the capital. The Dutch were an ally of Denmark from the Anglo-Dutch Wars and were afraid that Swedish control of the Baltic would ruin their profitable trade in this area.

Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam Dutch admiral

Jacob, Banner Lord of Wassenaer, Lord Obdam, Hensbroek, Spanbroek, Opmeer, Zuidwijk and Kernhem was a Dutch Lieutenant-Admiral, and supreme commander of the confederate Dutch navy. The name Obdam was then also spelled as Opdam. British contemporaneous sources typically refer to him as Admiral Opdam or Lord Obdam because it was not until 1657 that he bought the Wassenaar Estate from relatives and thus acquired its title. Modern Dutch sources sometimes less correctly insert a second "van" between "Wassenaer" and "Obdam" or use the modern spelling "Wassenaar".

Battle of the Sound battle

The naval Battle of the Sound took place on 8 November 1658 during the Second Northern War, near the Sound or Øresund, just north of the Danish capital, Copenhagen. Sweden had invaded Denmark and an army under Charles X of Sweden had Copenhagen itself under siege. The Dutch fleet was sent to prevent Sweden from gaining control of both sides of the Sound and thereby controlling access to the Baltic Sea as well as of its trade.

Anglo-Dutch Wars series of wars during the 17th and 18 century

The Anglo-Dutch wars were a series of conflicts mainly fought between the Dutch Republic and England. They predominantly occurred in the second half of the 17th century over trade and overseas colonies. Almost all the battles were naval engagements fought at sea.

The opposing forces

After the Copenhageners had withstood about six months of siege, bombardments and attacks, the Swedes attempted to take the city by a grand assault, as a prolonged siege no longer offered any hope of success, now that the sea lanes had been opened by the Dutch.

Siege military blockade of a city or fortress

A siege is a military blockade of a city, or fortress, with the intent of conquering by attrition, or a well-prepared assault. This derives from Latin: sedere, lit. 'to sit'. Siege warfare is a form of constant, low-intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static, defensive position. Consequently, an opportunity for negotiation between combatants is not uncommon, as proximity and fluctuating advantage can encourage diplomacy. The art of conducting and resisting sieges is called siege warfare, siegecraft, or poliorcetics.

The Copenhageners had been forewarned by spies, so they had planned their defences well and stockpiled weapons and ammunition.

The walls of Copenhagen bristled with about 300 pieces of cannon, mortars and other artillery, while a diverse mixture of weapons, ranging from muskets and arquebuses to morningstars, scythes, boiling water and tar had been readied for action. Craftsmen, students and other civilians were divided into nine companies, and each of these companies was allocated a part of the wall to defend. The professional soldiers were stationed at the outer field works, Kastellet (the Citadel) and Slotsholmen (the Castle Islet).

Cannon Class of artillery which fires at a low or flat trajectory

A cannon is a type of gun classified as artillery that launches a projectile using propellant. In the past, gunpowder was the primary propellant before the invention of smokeless powder during the 19th century. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees, depending on their intended use on the battlefield. The word cannon is derived from several languages, in which the original definition can usually be translated as tube, cane, or reed. In the modern era, the term cannon has fallen into decline, replaced by guns or artillery if not a more specific term such as mortar or howitzer, except for high calibre automatic weapons firing bigger rounds than machine guns, called autocannons.

Mortar (weapon) Artillery weapon that launches explosive projectiles at high angles

A mortar is usually a simple, lightweight, man portable, muzzle-loaded weapon, consisting of a smooth-bore metal tube fixed to a base plate with a lightweight bipod mount and a sight. They launch explosive shells in high-arcing ballistic trajectories. Mortars are typically used as indirect fire weapons for close fire support with a variety of ammunition.

Artillery class of weapons which fires munitions beyond the range and power of personal weapons

Artillery is a class of heavy military ranged weapons built to launch munitions far beyond the range and power of infantry's small arms. Early artillery development focused on the ability to breach defensive walls and fortifications during sieges, and led to heavy, fairly immobile siege engines. As technology improved, lighter, more mobile field artillery cannons developed for battlefield use. This development continues today; modern self-propelled artillery vehicles are highly mobile weapons of great versatility providing the large share of an army's total firepower.

The Swedish army consisted of about 9,000 professional soldiers, while the Danish defenders, a mixture of professionals, militia and raw civilians, were of an equal number.

The assault

Contemporary image showing details of the battle Kobenhavns storm 1659.jpg
Contemporary image showing details of the battle
Students defending Copenhagen Rosenstand - Studenternes deltagelse i Kobenhavns forsvar.jpg
Students defending Copenhagen

The Swedes started the action by making a diversionary attack at Christianshavn and Slotsholmen at the evening on 9 February. They were repulsed, and the Swedes left one of their assault bridges behind, which the Danes captured and measured. They found that the Swedish assault bridges were 36 feet long, and thus they realised that they could render these bridges useless by making the ice free parts of the moats wider than that.

The moats and the beaches had been kept free of ice, and now the ice free zones were widened to 44 feet with help from 600 Dutch marines. The ice was thick, and the work was done in heavy snowfall from 4 o'clock in the afternoon till evening on the 10 February.

Spies reported that the Swedish army had moved from their camp, Carlstad, at Brønshøj and had taken up positions behind Valby Hill, and when the Swedes began their assault about midnight the same evening, they met heavy resistance.

The main assaults were made against Christianshavn and Vestervold, but the chopped-up ice and the massed weaponry on the wall made the densely packed attackers pay a horrific toll in lives. Still, they fought their way to the top of the wall, and fierce hand-to-hand fighting broke out.

When the Swedes realised that the assaults on the Western part of the wall were in trouble, the choice was made to make a supporting attack at Østerport. The Swedes got very close to Nyboder and were in the process of crossing the moat, when they fell victim to a well-conducted ambush, and they withdrew with heavy losses.

At about five in the morning the Swedes gave up and retreated. They had taken severe losses. Before the walls 600 bodies were counted, and many more had perished in the ice-cold water and were never found. On top of that there were many wounded. The Danes had only suffered about 14 dead.


The Dutch in the spring of 1659 sent a second fleet and army under Vice-Admiral De Ruyter to further reinforce the city and cut the Swedish supply lines so that the siege would have to be lifted altogether. After Nyborg had been taken by a Dutch-Danish force, the Danish Isles were abandoned by the Swedes. Negotiations were opened and the Treaty of Copenhagen was signed on May 27, 1660, and it marked the conclusion of the Second Northern War between Sweden and the alliance of Denmark and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In conjunction with the Treaty of Roskilde, it ended a generation of warfare and established the present-day borders of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

See also

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