Tag: Army

The Great Heathen Army

The Great Heathen Army

The Great Viking Army or Great Danish Army, known by the Anglo-Saxons as the Great Heathen Army, was a coalition of Norse warriors, originating from Denmark (and likely also from Sweden and Norway) who came together under a unified command to invade the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that constituted England in AD 865.

Since the late 8th century, the Vikings had settled for mainly “hit-and-run” raids on centres of wealth, such as monasteries. However, the intent of the Great Army was different. It was much larger and its purpose was to conquer.

The name Great Heathen Army is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 865. Legend has it that the force was led by three sons of Ragnar Lodbrok. The campaign of invasion and conquest against the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms lasted 14 years. Surviving sources give no firm indication of its numbers, but it was clearly amongst the largest forces of its kind.

The invaders initially landed in East Anglia, where the king provided them with horses for their campaign in return for peace. They spent the winter of 865–66 at Thetford, before marching north to capture York in November 866. York had been founded as the Roman legionary fortress of Eboracum and revived as the Anglo-Saxon trading port of Eoforwic.

A map of the routes taken by the Great Heathen Army from 865 to 878.

During 868, the army marched deep into Mercia and wintered in Nottingham. The Mercians agreed to terms with the Viking army, which moved back to York for the winter of 869–70. In 870, the Great Army returned to East Anglia, conquering it and killing its king. The army moved to winter quarters in Thetford.

In 871, the Vikings moved on to Wessex, where Alfred the Great paid them to leave. The army then marched to London to overwinter in 872 before moving back to Northumbria in 873. It conquered Mercia in 874 and overwintered at Repton on the River Trent By this time, only the kingdom of Wessex had not been conquered. Towards the end of 875, Alfred the Great defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Edington, and a treaty was agreed whereby the Vikings were able to remain in control of much of northern and eastern England.

Background

Viking raids began in England in the late 8th century, primarily on monasteries. The first monastery to be raided was in 793 at Lindisfarne, off the northeast coast; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described the Vikings as “heathen men”. Monasteries and minster churches were popular targets as they were wealthy and had valuable objects that were portable. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 840 says that Æthelwulf of Wessex was defeated at Carhampton, Somerset, after 35 Viking ships had landed in the area. The Annals of St. Bertin also reported the incident, stating:

The Northmen launched a major attack on the island of Britain. After a battle lasting three days, the Northmen emerged the winners – plundering, looting, slaughtering everywhere. They wielded power over the land at will.

The Great Heathen Army approaches English shores aboard a Viking Longship.

Despite this setback, Æthelwulf did have some success against the Vikings. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has repeated references during his reign of victories won by ealdormen with the men of their shires. However, the raiding of England continued on and off until the 860s, when instead of raiding, the Vikings changed their tactics and sent a great army to invade England. This army was described by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a “Great Heathen Army” (OE: mycel hæþen here or mycel heathen here).

The size of the army

Historians provide varying estimates for the size of the Great Heathen Army. According to the ‘minimalist’ scholars, such as Pete Sawyer, the army may have been smaller than traditionally thought. Sawyer notes that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 865 referred to the Viking force as a Heathen Army, or in Old English “hæþen here”.

The law code of King Ine of Wessex, issued in about 694, provides a definition of here (pronounced /ˈheːre/) as “an invading army or raiding party containing more than thirty five men”, thus differentiating between the term for the invading Viking army and the Anglo-Saxon army that was referred to as the fyrd. The scribes who wrote the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle used the term here to describe the Viking forces. The historian Richard Abels suggested that this was to differentiate between the Viking war bands and those of military forces organised by the state or the crown. However, by the late 10th and early 11th century, here was used more generally as the term for army, whether it was Viking or not.

Sawyer produced a table of Viking ship numbers, as documented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and assumes that each Viking ship could carry no more than 32 men, leading to his conclusion that the army would have consisted of no more than 1,000 men. Other scholars give higher estimates. For example, Laurent Mazet-Harhoff observes that many thousands of men were involved in the invasions of the Seine area. However, Mazet-Harhoff does say that the military bases that would accommodate these large armies have yet to be rediscovered. Guy Halshall reported that, in the 1990s, several historians suggested that the Great Heathen Army would have numbered in the low thousands; however, Halshall advises that there “clearly is still much room for debate”.

The army probably developed from the campaigns in France. In Francia, there was a conflict between the Emperor and his sons, and one of the sons had welcomed the support from a Viking fleet. By the time that the war had ended, the Vikings had discovered that monasteries and towns situated on navigable rivers were vulnerable to attack. In 845, a raid on Paris was prevented by the large payment of silver to the Vikings. The opportunity for rich pickings drew other Vikings to the area, and by the end of the decade all the main rivers of West Francia were being patrolled by Viking fleets.

Princess Gisla of the West Franks is the daughter of the Emperor Charles and his most trusted adviser. She is also the fine wife of Rollo and mother of William, Marcellus and Celsa. Here she is escorted to safety, through the streets of Paris by the Royal Guard,.

In 862, the West Frankish king responded to the Vikings, fortifying his towns and defending his rivers, thus making it difficult for the Vikings to raid inland. The lower reaches of the rivers and the coastal regions were left largely undefended. Religious communities in these areas, however, chose to move inland away from the reaches of the Viking fleets. With the changes in Francia making raiding more difficult, the Vikings turned their attention to England.

Invasion of England

The term vikingr simply meant pirate, and the Viking heres may well have included fighters of other nationalities than Scandinavians. The Viking leaders would often join together for mutual benefit and then dissolve once profit had been achieved. Several of the Viking leaders who had been active in Francia and Frisia joined forces to conquer the four kingdoms constituting Anglo-Saxon England. The composite force probably contained elements from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Ireland as well as those who had been fighting on the continent. The Anglo-Saxon historian Æthelweard was very specific in his chronicle and said that “the fleets of the viking tyrant Hingwar landed in England from the north”.

The bulk of the army consisted of Danish and Norwegian Vikings, who, prior to the invasion, would have been raiding Francia and Frisia. Some of the grave goods unearthed at Repton, where the Great Heathen Army spent the winter in 874, were of Norwegian origin, indicating that part of the army was likely to have contained elements of Norwegian Vikings, who would have been operating in Britain, raiding and conquering lands around the Irish Sea. The Great Heathen Army would also have consisted of various independent bands, or liðs, coming together under a joint leadership.

The Vikings had been defeated by the West Saxon King Æthelwulf in 851, so rather than land in Wessex they decided to go further north to East Anglia. Legend has it that the united army was led by the three sons of Ragnar Lodbrok: Halfdan Ragnarsson, Ivar the Boneless (Hingwar), and Ubba. Norse sagas consider the invasion by the three brothers as a response to the death of their father at the hands of Ælla of Northumbria in 865, but the historicity of this claim is uncertain.

Actor Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lodbrok – in the TV series ‘Vikings’ on the History Channel.

Start of the invasion, 865

In late 865, the Vikings landed in East Anglia and used it as a starting point for an invasion. The East Anglians made peace with the invaders by providing them with horses. The Vikings stayed in East Anglia for the winter before setting out for Northumbria towards the end of 866, establishing themselves at York. In 867, the Northumbrians paid them off, and the Viking Army established a puppet leader in Northumbria before setting off for the Kingdom of Mercia, where in 867 they captured Nottingham. The king of Mercia requested help from the king of Wessex to help fight the Vikings. A combined army from Wessex and Mercia besieged the city of Nottingham with no clear result, so the Mercians settled on paying the Vikings off. The Vikings returned to Northumbria in autumn 868 and overwintered in York, staying there for most of 869. They returned to East Anglia and spent the winter of 869–70 at Thetford. There was no peace agreement between the East Anglians and the Vikings this time. When the local king Edmund fought against the invaders, he was captured and killed.

In 871, the Great Summer Army arrived from Scandinavia, led by Bagsecg. The reinforced Viking army turned its attention to Wessex, but the West Saxons, led by King Æthelred’s brother Alfred, defeated them on 8 January 871 at the Battle of Ashdown, slaying Bagsecg in the process.

King Æthelred’s brother Alfred, defeating the Viking Great Heathen Army.

Three months later, Æthelred died and was succeeded by Alfred (later known as Alfred the Great), who bought the Vikings off to gain time. During 871–72, the Great Heathen Army wintered in London before returning to Northumbria. It seems that there had been a rebellion against the puppet ruler in Northumbria, so they returned to restore power. They then established their winter quarters for 872-73 at Torksey in the Kingdom of Lindsey (now part of Lincolnshire). The Mercians again paid them off in return for peace, and at the end of 873 the Vikings took up winter quarters at Repton in Derbyshire.

In 874, following their winter stay in Repton, the Great Heathen Army drove the Mercian king into exile and finally conquered Mercia; the exiled Mercian king was replaced by Ceowulf. According to Alfred the Great’s biographer Asser, the Vikings then split into two bands. Halfdan led one band north to Northumbria, where he overwintered by the river Tyne (874–75). In 875 he ravaged further north to Scotland, where he fought the Picts and the Britons of Strathclyde. Returning south of the border in 876, he shared out Northumbrian land amongst his men, who “ploughed the land and supported themselves”; this land was part of what became known as the Danelaw.

King Alfred’s victory

According to Asser, the second band was led by Guthrum, Oscetel, and Anwend. This group also left Repton in 874 and established a base at Cambridge for the winter of 874–75.

Guthrum.

In late 875 they moved onto Wareham, where they raided the surrounding area and occupied a fortified position. Asser reports that Alfred made a treaty with the Vikings to get them to leave Wessex. The Vikings left Wareham, but it was not long before they were raiding other parts of Wessex, and initially they were successful. Alfred fought back, however, and eventually won victory over them at the Battle of Edington in 878. This was followed closely by what was described by Asser as the Treaty of Wedmore, under which England was divided between the Anglo-Saxons of Wessex and the Vikings. Guthrum also agreed to be baptised.

Aftermath

In late 878, Guthrum’s band withdrew to Cirencester, in the kingdom of Mercia. Then, probably in late 879, it moved to East Anglia, where Guthrum, who was also known by his baptismal name of Aethelstan, reigned as king until his death in 890.

The part of the army that did not go with Guthrum mostly went on to more settled lives in Northumbria and York. Some may have settled in Mercia. Evidence for this is the presence of two Viking cemeteries in modern-day Derbyshire that are believed to be connected to the Great Army, at Repton and at Heath Wood.

Excavations at the Anglo-Saxon monastery of Repton in the heart of Mercia between 1974–1988 found a D-shaped earthwork on the river bank, incorporated into the stone church. Burials of Viking type were made at the east end of the church, and an existing building was cut down and converted into the chamber of a burial mound that revealed the disarticulated remains of at least 249 people, with their long bones pointing towards the centre of the burial. A large stone coffin was found in the middle of the mass grave; however, the remains of this individual did not survive. A study of the skeletal remains revealed that at least 80% of the individuals were male, and were between the ages of 15 and 45. Further investigation of the male skeletal remains revealed that they were dissimilar to the local population of Repton, and most likely of Scandinavian descent. In contrast, analysis of the female remains revealed that they were similar to the local population, suggesting an Anglo-Saxon lineage. It is possible that the people in the grave may have suffered some sort of epidemic when the army overwintered in Repton during 873–74, leading to the mass burial. The nearby cemetery at Heath Wood barrow cemetery contains about sixty cremations (rather than burials). Finds of cremation sites in the British Isles are very rare, and this one probably was the war cemetery of the Great Heathen Army.

In 878, a third Viking army gathered on the Thames. It seems they were partly discouraged by the defeat of Guthrum but also Alfred’s success against the Vikings coincided with a period of renewed weakness in Francia. The Frankish emperor, Charles the Bald, died in 877 and his son shortly after, precipitating a period of political instability of which the Vikings were quick to take advantage. The assembled Viking army on the Thames departed in 879 to begin new campaigns on the continent.

The rampaging Viking army on the continent encouraged Alfred to protect his Kingdom of Wessex. He built a navy, reorganised the army, and set up a system of fortified towns known as burhs. He mainly used old Roman cities for his burhs, as he was able to rebuild and reinforce their existing  fortifications.

King Alfred’s ships fighting marauding Vikings.

Historically, every freeman in the land could be called out to protect the realm in times of trouble. However, the speed of Viking hit-and-run raids had been too quick for the local militias to act, so part of Alfred’s reforms were to create a standing army that could react rapidly to attacks. The Anglo-Saxon rural population lived within a 24 km (15-mile) radius of each burh, so they were able to seek refuge when necessary. To maintain the burhs, as well as the standing army, Alfred set up a system of taxation and conscription that is recorded in a document now known as the Burghal Hidage. The burhs were interconnected with a network of military roads, known as herepaths, enabling Alfred’s troops to move swiftly to engage the enemy. Some historians believe that each burh would have had a mounted force that would be ready for action against the Vikings.

By 896, the remains of the Danish army that had not gone to East Anglia or Northumbria found it difficult to make any progress in Alfred’s fortified kingdom, so according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle those that were penniless found themselves ships and went south across the sea to the Seine. As for Anglo-Saxon England, it had been torn apart by the invading Great Heathen Army, and the Vikings were now in control of northern and eastern England, while Alfred and his successors remained in control of Wessex.

NOTES

  1. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called the Vikings Danes, Pagans or Northmen. However it should not be assumed that they were purely Danish as they could also be derived from Sweden or Norway.
  2. The word “Viking” is a historical revival; it was not used in Middle English, but it was revived from Old Norse vikingr “freebooter, sea-rover, pirate, Viking”, which usually is explained as meaning properly “one who came from the fjords” from vik “creek, inlet, small bay” (cf. Old English wic, Middle High German wich “bay”, and the second element in Reykjavik). But Old English wicing and Old Frisian wizing are almost 300 years older, and probably derive from wic “village, camp” (temporary camps were a feature of the Viking raids), related to Latin vicus “village, habitation”.
  3. This reconstruction was made in 1985 by the BBC for a programme called Blood of the Vikings based on a skull and sword found in a burial outside St. Wystan’s Church, Repton

 

New Commander of the Finnish Army: “General conscription works”

Major General Petri Hulkko assumed the post of Commander of the Finnish Army on 1 August 2017. The Army Commander Change of Command Ceremony was held on 31 July 2017 in Mikkeli.

Major General Hulkko transfered to his new position from the post of Chief of Staff of Army Command Finland. Lieutenant General Seppo Toivonen, who has led the army since July 2014, has transfered to the reserve.

Lieutenant General Seppo Toivonen has developed the army and its readiness in accordance with the demands brought about by rapid change in the security environment. In his speech at the ceremony, Major General Hulkko thanked his predecessor, saying that the Defence Forces Reform planned under his leadership has created a good foundation for the operations and further development of the Finnish Army.

Under Lieutenant General Toivonen, the army has changed from a trainer of conscripts into a true readiness and training organisation. The use and training of personnel as well as the exercise system has been refined in order to respond to even more rapid and unexpected situational development.

Lately, the army has implemented both functioning and cost-effective solutions for materiel development. This decade has been one of development for the Finnish Army, while the strategic projects of the Navy and Air Force are to begin in earnest at the turn to the 2020s.

Modern equipment and training means that the Maavoimat will be leading-edge well into the 2030s

“From the army’s point of view, we must also look towards the future beyond strategic projects. The next time that army capabilities become outdated will be in the 2030s. Building capabilities takes on average ten years. Already at the beginning of the 2020s, we should be able to see the alternative solutions towards which we will have to begin to move”. Major General Hulkko said.

“Also in the future, national defence will be built upon general conscription. Personally, I see no other alternatives. Together, we must continue to do our utmost, so that as many Finnish men and female volunteers as possible enter military service and honourably complete it. This is not a demand stemming only from military need, it is also of great benefit to our entire society”. Major General Hulkko emphasised.

The change in the international security environment has placed significant expectations also on the army. As part of the Defence Forces, and in cooperation with other authorities, the army must continuously be prepared, and have the capability to react to traditional military threats as well as to more complex threats than earlier.

The army’s participation in military crisis management and the significantly increased amount of international cooperation are part of displaying and developing the credibility of national defence. Lieutenant General Toivonen emphasised the exceptional dedication to their tasks of the army’s personnel.

I would like to thank everyone serving in the army for their efforts in furthering our readiness capability. The army’s salaried personnel and conscripts are an important resource both in disturbances in normal conditions and in case of unexpected changes in the security environment. The army’s extended capability rests naturally on our reservists”. Lieutenant General Toivonen said in his speech.

“With great gratitude I would like to commemorate the sacrifices made by our veteran generation. Without their struggle and post-war rebuilding, Finland would be very different from what it is today. I am certain that the chain of defenders of our independent fatherland will carry on strong also in the future”, he continued.

The change of command ceremony included the unveiling of the portrait of the retiring commander Lieutenant General Toivonen, a luncheon for invited guests and the handover ceremony in the courtyard of the Mikaeli concert and congress centre. All of the army’s brigade-level units were represented at the ceremony. After the ceremony the Conscript Band of the Defence Forces performed for invited guests in the Mikaeli concert hall.

MAAVOIMAT

Special Forces in Focus: Sissi – Guerilla Warfare Specialists

Sissi Geurilla Warfare Specialists

The Baltic Post, 26 June 2017

Sissi Insignia

Sissi is a Finnish term for light infantry which conducts reconnaissance, sabotage and guerrilla warfare operations behind enemy lines. The word sissi, first attested in the modern meaning “patrolman, partisan, spy” in 1787, comes to Finnish from Slavic and refers either to a forest bandit or his yew bow.

The Finnish Army Sissi units are trained to conduct long range reconnaissance patrols, gather intelligence from concealed observation posts, raid enemy installations (especially supply depots), conduct road side ambushes and pursue and destroy enemy special forces units.

Finnish Sissi Geurilla Warfare-Recon Team

In wartime, an unspecified number of reservists assigned to Sissi battalions would deploy and operate as small groups up to company size. They are meant to stay behind and covertly operate against enemy forces in their area of responsibility even if regular friendly troops have been forced to retreat. Sissi battalions are part of Finnish Army local troops, unlike the jäger and armored brigades meant for operational use. Sissi units are considered as the elites of the Army conscripts, and many of the units, such as the Paratroopers or Border Jaegers, are formed of volunteers.

Sissi are specialist unconventional guerilla warfare specialists that form part of a highly trained, highly skilled Finnish Special Forces Command.

Wars between Russia and Finland have a long tradition of Finnish sissi warfare. Famous sissi leaders have included Pekka Vesainen (c. 1540—1627), Tapani Löfving (1689–1777, fought during the Greater Wrath), and Olli Tiainen (1770–1833, fought during the Finnish War).

Before the hostilities of Winter War, the Finnish Borderguard formed 25 Independent Battalions (Erillinen Pataljoona) from local reservists along the border area. After the outbreak out of hostilities, a further five Sissi Battalions (Sissipataljoona) were formed from “auxiliary personnel”. These battalions especially those of the latter type, were below their nominal strength in both men and weaponry. These units proved to be effective in using motti tactics in their native area with light infantry weapons and skis.

Finnish soldiers on skis with reindeers, near Jäniskoski, Finland, 20 Feb 1940

In the Continuation War the ad hoc Sissi Battalions were discontinued, but Independent Battalions were raised, 4th Independent Battalion was directly under the command of Supreme Headquarters doing LRRP and raiding missions deep inside Soviet area. In the Battle of Ilomantsi, soldiers of the 4th disrupted the supply lines of the Soviet artillery, preventing effective fire support. In the Ladoga Karelia front the length of the front, absence roads and lack of troops prevented continuous front lines during the trench warfare period. Both armies used a chain of fortified field bases separated by the wilderness, monitoring and controlling the gaps with patrols. Both Finns and Soviets launched raids and recon patrols into enemy territory. Battles were short clashes of lightly armed infantry groups from squadron to battalion in size, with little chance of support or reinforcements.

After the Second World War, Sissi units were de-commissioned and officially Sissi training was discontinued, although many units gave Sissi training for their reconnaissance units. In the beginning of the 1960s, Paratrooper School was established at Utti, infantry and border guard established Sissi training companies thereafter.

Famous sissi troops

  • Ilmari Honkanen, officer in 4th Independent Battalion (ErP 4). Known especially from the destruction of the Soviet military depot in Petrovski Jam.
  • Lauri Törni a.k.a. Larry Thorne, a commander of “Detachment Törni”, the reconnaissance company of the 12th Infantry Regiment during the Continuation War, had a bounty on his head by the Soviets, joined Waffen-SS in 1940 and was sent back home before the Continuation war. After the Finno-Soviet ceasefire he returned to Waffen-SS because he did not believe that Soviets would actually follow the ceasefire agreement. After the war Törni joined US Army and volunteered for the US Army Special forces.
  • Mauno Koivisto, member of “Detachment Törni” during Continuation War, later the President of Finland.
  • Mikko Pöllä, most decorated member of the ErP 4.
  • Onni Määttänen.
  • Paavo Suoranta (Peltonen).
  • Viljo Suokas, killed while on patrol in Sekee 1943.
President Mauno Koivisto 1967

In Finnish, “sissi” means guerrilla, but the term is somewhat misleading when referring to Finnish Defence Force Sissi troops. Sissi forces are not irregular guerrilla or militia forces; they are part of the regular FDF troops trained for operations behind enemy lines. Like most of the Finnish Defence Forces, Sissi battalions are composed of reservists. Their closest foreign equivalents are the Swedish Armed Forces Jägare troops.

Sissi as a description is a person of extraordinary stamina (or Sisu) – e.g. “Sissi weather” (Sissin sää) refers to the worst possible weather conditions, for sissi soldiers prefer these for their operations, since bad weather tends to distract enemy soldiers (any normal soldier tends to think about getting to shelter as soon as possible when bad weather strikes) and hide any noise caused by sissis.

In the Finnish Defence Forces, sissi is used as an umbrella term for all unconventional military applications, such as MREs, which are called “Sissi rations”, also any improvised and/or temporary repair to any equipment is often called “sissiviritys”, literally “sissi fix” or “sissi patch”, in addition any improvised booby-trap, such as a firearm rigged to fire at doorway of a building once someone opens the door, may be called “sissijäynä”, literally “sissi prank”.

Finnish Army Sissi (Ranger-Reconnaissance) on patrol

Volunteers with hobbies such as hunting and hiking are preferred for Sissi training, but any conscript in decent physical condition has a good chance of being assigned to a Sissi training company.

Sissi troops are trained in several brigades under the Finnish Defence Forces. Finnish Border Guard, which is under the Ministry of the Interior, also trains Sissi-troops in Frontier Guard units. In the FDF and Border Guard, Sissi troops are trained in:

  • Kainuun Prikaati
  • Jääkäriprikaati
  • Ivalo Company
  • Onttola Company, Headquarter of North Karelian Border Guard

In addition to this small groups of conscrips (8-10 people) are bi-annually given marine Sissi and reconnaissance training at the amphibious brigade in Dragsvik. The group is usually taken from the “rannikkojääkärit” (Coastal Jaeger) infantry unit. In Finnish Border Guard sissi troops, called Frontier jaegers, are trained in each Border Guard Command. Sissi troops trained in Finnish Border guard are also taught basic duties of border guarding. In Kaakkois-Suomen Rajavartiosto ( Southeast Finland Border Guard District) special Sissi troops (Special frontier jaegers) are also trained in Special forces tactics and techniques. Reserve officers for all Sissi troops are trained at Reserviupseerikoulu. Rivalry between Sissi-troops in different services is traditionally high.

Conscript training in these units is 6 to 12 months long. Leaders of guerrilla warfare platoons and squads serve 12 months whereas crew members serve 6 months. The medical personnel (as also in scout units) serve 9 months, except leaders specialising in medical training serving 12 months.

Conscript in Sissi-company begins with 8-week basic infantry training. After this training becomes more intense. Conscripts are given survival training during every season of the year, they can specialize further into reconnaissance, sniping, dog handling, battlefield medical service or signals. Sissi NCO/Officer training includes additionally signals, demolitions, extended small arms training as well as advanced escape & evasion techniques and ambush tactics. Those unable to cope for either physical or psychological reasons are either given deferments or transferred to a regular infantry training.

Hayha-ampujat

Special Sissi NCOs are also trained to operate in Sissi platoons, called sissiradisti or Sissi signalists. These NCOs are trained in the use of telegraphy for long-range communications.

Besides specially trained sissi troops, everyone in Finnish army at least in theory receives basic training in survival and sissi tactics. All troops and soldiers in Finnish army are theoretically capable of moving from normal warfare to sissi tactics if they are, for example, encircled or their main forces or command structure are destroyed.

Sissi troops are generally not airborne, with the exception of Army Para Jaegers trained in the Utti Jaeger Regiment. Para Jaegers are trained in sissi warfare, with an emphasis on long-range reconnaissance and the addition of close-quarter battle and urban operations training.

Sissi troops also resemble Scout troops (tiedustelijat), who are more specialized at gathering intelligence than the aggressive Sissi troops. In some brigades, Sissi are trained in Scout companies, and vice versa in other brigades, as the training is quite similar.

Sissi Recon Sniper

Sissi troops are un-motorized and are not equipped with heavy weapons or equipment (Except SiRad), their uniforms and weaponry are almost identical with regular infantry issue. Distinctive personal equipment used by Sissi are Savotta “Para Jäger” backpacks used because of extended hikes, camouflage paint and personal camouflage nets. Sissi units have fewer crew served weapons and more sniper rifles than regular infantry.

Mines are an important part of the Sissi tactic of ambushing enemy convoys. They are also used to discourage pursuit after a raid and serve as defences of bivouac. Sissi training includes constructing improvised explosive devices, as well as boobytraps (e.g. from dud artillery shells). Sissi units have a wide variety of land mines at their disposal, including: (Because of Ottawa treaty traditional word mine is nowadays explosion device.)

  • Track Mine TM 65 77 (AT mine)
  • Pipe Explosion Device 68 95 (AP Explosion Device, future uncertain because of Ottawa treaty),[7sometimes called “ovikello”, “doorbell.”
  • Anti-personnel mine 65 98 (AP mine, prohibited by Ottawa treaty)
  • Side Explosion Device 87 (AT Mine)
  • Side Explosion Device 81 (AT Mine)
  • VP 88 Claymore (AP Explosion Device )
  • VP 84 Claymore (AP Explosion Device )
  • Mortar 81mm 81 KRH 71 Y (mortar) both firing and producing guided-launched antipersonnel improvised charges
Finnish mortar squad using the 81 KRH 71 Y Mortar

The National Defense University of Finland hasn’t published any thesis or paper on the 21st century where sissi units and tactics are mentioned. This might be mainly because the FDF has moved to a more flexible defense by reforming its land warfare doctrine leaving no room for tactics and strategies for regiment/company level sissi troops. After organizational changes, the FDF will provide reconnaissance (formerly sissi) training in Kainuun Prikaati, as well as in other major training formations, where they emphasise scout recon. training. That includes reconnaissance, forward observation and fire control but this training no longer leans towards special tactics, weapons, sabotage and woodland area fighting skills. However, the FDF still trains long range reconnaissance patrol units in Utti jaegare Regiment (Paratroopers, one of the elite units of the FDF) and they are trained in woodland area fighting, survival skills, unconventional methods and asymmetric tactics though the major role is geared more towards long range reconnaissance and special operations.

Finnish Border Guard, under the ministry of interior, trains traditional sissi units itself for peace/gray/war time duties. Border Jaegares (or ‘Rajasissi’ – Border Ranger) are trained to operate behind the enemy lines with asymmetric tactics and unconventional weapons and methods as well as do long term operational reconnaissance and aggressive short term reconnaissance and sabotage. Training includes peace time operational methods and the responsibilities of the Border Guard i.e. border control, patrol and tracking and catching illegal intruders. But the training is mostly sissi training with the majority happening in the wilderness.

The future of FDF sissi units is uncertain, clearly decreasing dramatically, but the Finnish Border Guard will maintain sissi training (of a few hundred per year) including the, highly respected, traditional branches such as woodman and survival skills. The FDF have dismissed/are dismissing most of its sissi units and there is fiscal pressure ob the Finnish Border Guard as well, which has already dismantled some regiments of sissi units. The wartime mobilized strength of the Finnish Border Guard is 11,600.

The FDF’s reformed land warfare doctrine is a distributed fighting doctrine so in some sense every soldier in the army is required to understand basic principles of asymmetric tactics and guerrilla warfare.

Sissi Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP)

‘Sissi’ means ‘guerrilla’ or ‘partisan’ in the Finnish language, it doesn’t mean paramilitary or illegal troops without a controlling high command and government. The name only points towards the tactics used in historical guerrilla wars (Freedom fighters / Terrorists). This is an important difference to note as, unlike guerrilla combatants, Finnish sissi don’t hide in the local population and they always carry a belt, cockade, rifle and other signs which makes these units a legal fighting force, by the UN legal definition, alongside regular units. Local civilian support would likely be welcomed but there are no guidelines or a codex for these kinds of situation or interactions and sissis are trained to be invisible to the local population which also helps avoid legally and ethically difficult situations.

 

 

 

 

Special Forces in Focus: The Danish Jaegerkorpset/Hunter Corps and Fromandskorpset/Frogmen Corps

Jaegerkorpset- Hunter Force or Hunter Corps. Danish Army Special Forces Maroon berets.

The Hunter Corps (Danish: Jægerkorpset) is an elite, special forces unit of the Royal Danish Army based at Aalborg Air Base.

The group unit insignia of Jægerkorpset.

The first incarnation of the corps was formed in 1785 as Jægercorpset i Sielland (The Hunter Corps of Zealand) and existed in various forms until it was remade in its current form in 1962 where Major P.B.Larsen and First lieutenant Jørgen Lyng were the first two to complete the training. Their hunting origin is recalled in the hunting horn on their insignia. In the year 1995, the Corps was deployed for the first time. A six-man team was sent to Sarajevo, Bosnia as a counter-sniper reconnaissance team.

Throughout the Cold War, the Jaegers’ primary tasking was that of a long-range reconnaissance unit, with wide renown for their skills in parachute operations. However, with the advent of the post-9/11 Global War on Terror, the Jaegers were modernized to better meet the developing threat of global terrorism. As such, the Jaegers increased their proficiency in counter-terrorism skills, while still maintaining their excellence at reconnaissance operations.

In 2002, the Jaegers were deployed to Afghanistan as part of the Danish contribution to Task Force K-Bar, along with the Frogman Corps. During these operations, the Jaegers took part in de-mining operations, reconnaissance in support of conventional forces, the capturing of high-value targets, and direct-action raids on Taliban and al-Qaeda positions. As part of Task Force K-Bar, the Jaegers were awarded “The Presidential Unit citation” on December 7, 2004 for its effort as part of the joint-forces special forces group in Afghanistan.

Jægerkorpset unit in Afghanistan.

The selection course to become a Jægersoldat (a member of Jægerkorpset) is very demanding, both mentally and physically. For a candidate to be accepted into the corps, he/she must complete the following:

  • Pre-course 1 (5 days)
Introduces the candidate to the subjects covered in the patrol course, and gives the candidate a feel for what he/she must get better at. (Orienteering, swimming, etc.)
  • Pre-course 2 (2 days)
More training and evaluation in the above covered subjects.
  • Pre-course 3 (2 days)
More training and evaluation in the above covered subjects with tougher requirements.
  • Patrol Course (8 weeks)
Basic patrol skills. This course must be completed at a satisfactory level to continue to the aspirant course.
  • Aspirant Course (6 weeks)
Very demanding course teaching the candidate the physical limits of himself/herself and his/her patrol. If passed the candidate is awarded his/her “bugle” for the beret.
  • Basic parachuting course (2 weeks)
  • Combat Swimming Course (2 weeks)
When all this has been completed to a satisfactory level, the candidate can begin their actual training. Following the successful completion of a years full time training, the maroon beret is awarded, and the soldier is considered a full member of the corps.
Jægerkorpset og Frømandskorpset overdrages til Specialoperationskommandoen.

Jægerkorpset wears the maroon beret with a brass emblem depicting a hunter’s bugle on a black felt liner. After one year of satisfactory service and training in corps the wearer is issued the shoulder patch “JÆGER” (English: Hunter) and may call himself by this name.

Jægerkorpset is composed of around 150 highly trained soldiers with special expertise in counter-terrorism, demolitions, parachuting, and combat swimming, HAHO and HALO parachuting, infiltration, sabotage, reconnaissance and more. The corps regularly trains with similar units from different countries, such as the US Navy SEALs, US Army DELTA , British SAS and the Danish naval special forces group, the Frogman Corps. The corps is based on the structure and modus operandi of the British SAS.

Their slogan, which is Latin, Plus esse, quam simultatur translates to Hellere at være, end at synes (“Rather to be, than to seem”) in Danish, meaning that the soldier’s capabilities do not have to be widely recognized or boasted—they are only more effective if unknown.

The Danish Frogman Corps (Danish: Frømandskorpset) is the maritime special operations force of the Danish Defence part of Special Operations Command. On 1 July 2015, the Frogman Corps transferred from the Royal Danish Navy to the newly established Special Operations Command.

Frømandskorpset

The Frogman Corps was establised on 17 June 1957 based on the model of the United Kingdom Royal Marines Special Boat Service. Initially it was under the Danish Navy’s Diving School at Flådestation Holmen (Naval Station Holmen, Copenhagen), but in 1972 it was made an independent unit, operationally under the submarine squadron.

The Frogman Corps primary role is reconnaissance, but it is also tasked with assaulting enemy ships, sabotage of fixed installations, advanced force and maritime anti-terrorism tasks.

It performs special operations work on land also, including anti-terrorism and anti-criminal work. The Corps supports the police with clearing up criminal matters that demand highly specialised diving. Also, local authorities, etc. can benefit from the frogman’s skills, for example when underwater installations must be inspected.

Denmark’s Fromandskorpset (Frogman Corps)

The Frogman Corps trains at the Torpedo Station at Kongsøre and works through a long series of courses, e.g.:

  • Combat swimmer course for three weeks
  • Advanced scuba diving course
  • Rescue swimmer course
  • Survival course

The basic Frogman Course is nine months. Each year 500-600 applicants start the course and less than a dozen complete all nine months. Since its creation in 1957, 311 have completed the training, and become a Frogman.

Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark passed selection and completed continuation training to become a badged Frogman, in the course of which he earnt the nickname “Pingo”.

In 2015, a DR-produced documentary detailing the life of Frogman cadets was released.

The Frogman Corps was involved in operations in Afghanistan such as Task Force K-Bar and in Iraq.

From 2008 until the end of 2014, the Frogman Corps was involved in counter-piracy operations as part of Operation Ocean Shield. On 5 February 2010, ten Frogman Corps aboard HDMS Absalon (L16) conducted a counter-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden approaching the Antigua and Barbuda-flagged merchant vessel Ariella by rigid hull inflatable boat which had been hijacked by six armed Somali pirates. They scaled the side of the ship and freed the 25 crew, who had locked themselves in a secure room, and continued to search the vessel for the pirates who had however fled.

Armament

Type Caliber Manufacturer Model Danish designation
Pistol 9mm Glock Glock 26 Glock 26
Pistol 9mm Heckler & Koch USP H&K USP
Pistol 9mm SIG SIG Sauer P210 Neuhausen M/49
Pistol 9mm, .38 Super, .40 S&W, .45 ACP STI Tactical 5.0 STI Tactical
Submachinegun 9mm Heckler & Koch MP5 MP5
Carbine 5.56 Heckler & Koch G53 M85
Rifle 5.56 Diemaco C8 CQB M/96
Rifle 5.56 Diemaco C8 SFW M/95
Light Support Weapon 5.56 Diemaco LSW M/04 LSV M/04
Machinegun 5.56 Heckler & Koch 23 E MG85
Machinegun 7.62 Rheinmetall MG3 LMG M/62
Machinegun 7.62 Heckler & Koch 21 E H&K 21 E
Sniper 7.62 Heckler & Koch MSG-90 MSG-90

 

Special Forces in Focus: Finland’s Utti Jaeger Regiment

NH-90 Egress.

The Utti Jaeger Regiment (Finnish: Utin Jääkärirykmentti, UtJR) is the Finnish Army training and development centre for special forces and helicopter operations. It consists of about 500 personnel of which about 200 are conscripts.

Colours of the Utti Jaeger Regiment.

The regiment undergoes training and preparation to operate throughout the country. The most visible part of our operations is formed by the NH90 tactical transport helicopters and MD500 light helicopters. We train together with all Army forces as well as Navy and Air Force units. In addition to this, we cooperate closely with other security authorities, such as the Police and Border Guard.

MD 500 mavoimat.

The regiment’s Helicopter Battalion maintains round-the-clock readiness to use its NH90 transport helicopters to support other authorities. If necessary, we also take part in other executive assistance tasks.

The Utti Jaeger Regiment has been a reliable operator in international military crisis management for a number of years. We have participated in crisis management operations in numerous locations, such as Afghanistan and Kosovo, and been part of EU battle groups and NATO rapid response forces.

Regiment composition

In addition to the HQ, the regiment comprises the Special Jaeger Battalion, Helicopter Battalion, Support Company and Logistics Centre.

Organisation

  • Helicopter Battalion (NH90, Hughes MD500), responsible for all helicopter operations of the FDF
  • Airborne Jaeger Battalion
  • Special Jaeger Battalion
  • Support Company

The Special Jaeger Battalion is responsible for training the Army special forces combatants. The Paratrooper Company handles the training of conscripts while the Special Jaeger Company is in charge of honing the skills of the Special Jaeger NCOs, who are part of the hired personnel. The training is provided in close cooperation with the Special Forces Qualification Course of the Defence Forces.

The Special Jaeger Battalion of the Utti Jaeger Regiment provides special jaeger training for reserve NCOs.

The Special Jaeger Battalion trains special forces for the Finnish Army. Conscripts are trained in long range recon, Sissi, MOUT and Air Assault operations. The Battalion includes an Airborne Jaeger Company for the training of conscripts, a Special Jaeger Company consisting of enlisted personnel who have a reserve officer or NCO training, and formerly also a Military Police School, responsible for the training of career military police personnel of the Finnish Defence Forces.

The Finnish Army Sissi units are trained to conduct long range reconnaissance patrols, gather intelligence from concealed observation posts, raid enemy installations (especially supply depots), conduct road side ambushes and pursue and destroy enemy special forces units.

Finnish army Sissi Long-Range patrol, gathering intelligence from concealed position.

In wartime, an unspecified number of reservists assigned to Sissi battalions would deploy and operate as small groups up to company size. They are meant to stay behind and covertly operate against enemy forces in their area of responsibility even if regular friendly troops have been forced to retreat. Sissi battalions are part of Finnish Army local troops, unlike the jäger and armored brigades meant for operational use. Sissi units are considered as the elites of the Army conscripts, and many of the units, such as the Paratroopers or Border Jaegers, are formed of volunteers.

The Finnish special forces trace their history to the four long-range patrol units (Kaukopartio-osastot) of the 4th Detached Battalion (Erillinen Pataljoona 4) which fought in the Continuation War in 1941 – 1944.

The Helicopter Battalion is responsible for the helicopter operations of the Defence Forces. All 20 of the NH90 tactical transport helicopters and seven MD500 light helicopters are located in Utti. The battalion is responsible for type training and further education of the helicopter personnel.

European Defence Agency – NH90 – Utti Jaeger Regiment – Ivalo, Finland.

The Support Company trains conscripts for support tasks that require special expertise and, in cooperation with the Logistics Centre, arranges a variety of logistics operations for the regiment.

National Parade on the Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces in Helsinki 4 June 2017

Puolustusvoimat FINNISH DEFENCE FORCES, 23 May 2017

The National Parade on the Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces will be held in Helsinki on 4 June 2017. In addition to the review of troops and pass in review, the programme will include vessel and materiel displays, a flight show and the Defence Forces’ Finland 100 summer tour 2017 concert. The events are free of charge.

The parade will be reviewed by President Sauli Niinistö together with the Commander of the Finnish Defence Forces General Jarmo Lindberg. Field Bishop Pekka Särkiö will hold the field devotional and the parade troops will be commanded by the Army Chief of Staff Major General Petri Hulkko.

The theme of the parade is: National defence is everybody’s business. Troops from the Finnish Army, Navy and Air Force, National Defence University, Border Guard and veteran’s and national defence organisations will participate in the day’s events. The parade will include a total of more than 1,300 persons, 50 vehicles and 19 aircraft.

The review of troops will take place at the Senate Square at 12:00. The parade troops will begin to gather at the Senate Square at 11:20.

The pass in review on Mannerheimintie will begin at the Simonkatu – Kaivokatu intersection at 13:30 and progress in the direction of Musiikkitalo. The pass in review will be viewed in front of Musiikkitalo.

In addition to the marching troops, the parade will include 50 vehicles. For the first time, a 155 mm Armoured Howitzer K9 Thunder will participate in the parade event.

The flypast will include Army NH90 helicopters and Hughes MD500 light helicopters, the Border Guard’s Super Puma sea rescue helicopter as well as Air Force Hornet fighters and Hawk jet trainers.

In addition to the parade, the day will also offer many other things to see around Helsinki. It will be possible to visit Navy combat and support vessels and equipment in the Eteläsatama harbour and the Border Guard’s offshore patrol vessel Turva at the Katajanokka dock.

A joint air show of the Air Force and Army will take place at the Kaivopuisto park before the review of troops, where NH90 transport helicopters, F/A-18 Hornet fighters and the Midnight Hawks aerobatic team will perform. All flypasts are subject to weather conditions.

Midnight Hawks Aerobatic Team.

There will be a joint equipment display of the Army, Air Force and other authorities on the Kansalaistori square, which will be open all day.

Also on the Kansalaistori square, the highlight of the day will be the Defence Forces Finland 100 summer tour 2017 concert, where the Defence Forces’ Guards Band and Conscript Band will perform with soloists Sami Pitkämö, Osmo Ikonen and Heini Ikonen.

The general public is invited to attend all of the Flag Day’s events. The review of troops and pass in review can also be watched on giant screens at the Senate Square, the Market Square and the Kansalaistori square.

The parade will affect the traffic in Helsinki. The public is asked to arrive in good time using public transportation in order to avoid traffic congestion. It is advisable to avoid using one’s own car in the city centre at the time of the Flag Day’s events, as some streets and areas will be completely reserved for the parade.

Preparations will begin already on 3 June at parade locations.

The Guard Jaeger Regiment is responsible for parade arrangements.

The Defence Forces, City of Helsinki and Helsinki Region Transport will provide information on traffic arrangements as of 22 June.

Programme for the Flag Day:

08.00 Ceremonial hoisting of the flag by the Navy in Eteläsatama harbour
9.00 Wreath laying ceremony at Hietaniemi cemetery
09.00-15.00 Navy vessels and equipment display open for visitors in Eteläsatama harbour
10.00-18.00 Equipment display at Kansalaistori square
10.00-10.50 Service in the Helsinki Cathedral
10.50-11.30 Air Force and Army Air Show in Kaivopuisto park
11.20 Parade troops begin to gather for the review of troops at the Senate Square
12.00 Review of troops at the Senate Square
13.30 Pass in review on Mannerheimintie
15.00-18.00 Defence Forces Finland 100 summer tour 2017 concert at Kansalaistori square

You can follow the parade on location or on the internet on the Defence Forces’ websites:

GOTLAND: Sweden’s Fortified Baltic Island

Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, is located in the Baltic sea between Sweden and Latvia, and represents the most strategically important defensive stronghold in the entire Baltic region. The Swedish government decided in March 2015 to begin reestablishing a permanent military presence on Gotland, starting with an initial 150 troop garrison, consisting primarily of elements from the Swedish Army. It has been reported that the bulk of this initial garrison will make up a new motorised rifle battalion, alternatively referred to in other reports as a “modular-structured rapid response Army battalion”. A later report claimed that plans were at an advanced stage for a support helicopter squadron and an Air Force “fast response Gripen jet squadron” to also be based on the island to support the new garrison and further reinforce the defences. Prior to the disbandment of the original garrison, there had been a continuous Swedish military presence on Gotland in one form or another, for nearly 200 years.

Map showing the strategic location of Gotland.
Map showing the strategic location of Gotland.

The original Gotland garrison, also known as the Visby Garrison, could trace its roots back to at least 1811. That was the year the Gotland National Conscription was formed to strengthen the islands defences after the Russians had briefly occupied the island two years before. Although, the “new” garrison was just the latest in a long line of Swedish military forces protecting the island, and consequently the rest of Sweden, continuously since the 1640s. The exception being the 23 days when Russia occupied the island during the Finnish War (1808–1809), after Gotland had been left undefended due to errors in overall Swedish strategy early in the war.

In 1887, a new country wide conscription system replaced a number of previous regional recruitment and reserve systems, including the Gotlands nationalbeväring (the Gotland National Recruitment) The existing regiment defending Gotland under that system was reorganized into two new regiments, the Gotland Infantry Regiment and the Gotland Artillery Regiment. Those two units would go on to provide the bulk of the garrison forces both directly and indirectly, throughout the various crisis that threatened to overtake Sweden (including two World Wars and the Cold War), for most of the next two centuries right up to the final dissolution of the garrison in 2005.

From 1811 to 1873, the commander of military forces on Gotland (at that time, effectively a military district in its own right) also served as the governor of the island and during the existence of the Gotland National Conscription (1811–1892) the commander was by default the senior officer of that regiment. Under the military reorganisation of 1892, the then commander and his successors (up until 1937) automatically became the senior officer of the Gotlands infanteriregemente that succeeded the Gotlands nationalbeväring. He remained in charge of army troops on the island, even though Gotland was no longer the center of a military district under the new 5 area (district) system which lasted up to shortly before World War II.

During World War II, Gotland was part of both the VII Military area [area=army district] (from 1942) and the Gotland Naval District, both of which the senior military officer on the island acted as head of. Army and air force units assigned to Gotland came under the former, while naval, marine, and coast artillery units based on/out of Gotland came under the jurisdiction of the latter. With a change in the Naval Districts (see naval section below) in 1957, the commanding officer lost his maritime responsibilities, but regained them in the 1966 military reorganisation that created the Gotland Military Command (the Gotlands militärkommando), or MKG, and which changed the VII. Military area into the new expanded Eastern Military District or Milo Ö (also known as Milo Z) which was now headquartered out of Södermanland.

gotland-bunker
World War II era Kulsprutebunker (Machine gun bunker) located near Brucebo, Gotland County.

This command structure continued relatively unchanged until the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, when Milo Ö was stood down in 1991. The MKG remained operational into 2000, albeit increasingly downgraded in importance despite concerns,with a corresponding steady reduction in the units and capabilities under the MKG. In the now discredited Swedish Defence reform of that year, the MKG was replaced with the, in theory, autonomous Gotlands Military District (the Gotlands militärdistrikt) or MDG, which despite its name, only had control over the island itself (that control was also severely constrained by the existence of the, later infamous, post-Cold War Swedish Fortifications Agency). In practise this meant the MDG was responsible for overseeing the Army garrison units remaining on the island, along with coordinating with any reserve and civil defense elements still in place. There were, and as of 2015  still are, no maritime or coastal defense units remaining on the island, with the exception of a couple of naval units that did not come under the new MDG and which in any case were withdrawn in 2004. The MDG was stood down in December 2004, with the remaining garrison forces being abolished in 2005.

Alongside the Swedish Army, the Swedish Navy have played a major role in the garrisoning of the island over the last two centuries; not only helping to defend the island but also using it as a well placed base to defend Sweden and its interests in the Baltic Sea. Prior to (from 1931) and during World War II, Gotland was the headquarters of the Gotland Naval District. In 1957, during the Cold War, Gotland became part of the (now defunct) Sound Naval District, headquartered at the Muskö naval base. The Sound Naval District itself came under the new joint Eastern Military District in 1966, with operational control of naval units (including coastal defense forces) in the area of the former Gotland Naval District being returned to the commanding officer of the new MKG centered on Gotland.

In the early part of the Cold War (late 1940s to late 1950s), elements of one of the three major task forces that then made up the navy’s front line strength, including cruisers and destroyers, were based out of Gotland’s various anchorages and harbours. This was in addition to locally based elements of the Coastal Artillery’s significant support fleet, which included coastal minelayers, inshore minesweepers, and patrol craft. However, in 1958, a doctrinal switch from heavier surface combatants to smaller ASW combatants (increasingly corvette sized and smaller) and Fast Attack Craft began with most of the former being retired without replacement. The operations of these new combatants were still coordinated with submarines though, which, along with the fact that some major combatants weren’t immediately retired (e.g. the two Halland-class destroyers), ironically helped to disguise the problems with relying so heavily on light combatants in the short term. In the late 1960s, this shift towards lighter types accelerated, though more for political and economic reasons than military.

For Gotland, this meant that the naval units based out of the island by the 1970s were mostly light combatants such as FACs with relatively short range, though there were still a few larger corvettes mixed in. Submarines were generally not based out of Gotland at this point, being housed in purpose built bases such as Muskö, though they still made port visits.

By the early 1980s, flaws with the “FAC based doctrine” had become impossible to ignore, with incidents such as the so-called Whiskey on the rocks confrontation proving that the Swedish Navy had become outgunned in the Anti-surface warfare arena, and that even in areas where it should have had a local advantage in such as Anti-Submarine Warfare it was materially outmatched by potential aggressors, with intruding submarines able to breach Swedish waters almost at will.

In the short term, the navy and government attempted to address these issues with various emergency measures and programs, such as the hasty revamping of the Ytattack-81 (the Surface combatant-81) project into what would become the Stockholm corvette program. Another hastily introduced program was the construction of four new heavy coastal missile batteries based around the Rb-15 missile, one of which was placed on Gotland. Delivery and installation of the systems was to take place from 1987 to 1992. Existing installations such as coastal gun batteries and mine stations were continuously upgraded. In the longer term, among the new programs that were started in the late 1980s were two to provide replacements for various FAC and corvette classes; the Ytstridsfartyg Mindre (the Surface Combatant Small) and the Ytstridsfartyg Större (the Surface Combatant Large) programs. In the post-Cold War cutbacks of the early 1990s, those two programs were merged into a single program, the YS2000 (the Surface Combatant 2000) program, that later became the Visby-class stealth corvette. Originally, it was planned to have a class of 10 in two variants; the ASuW/Anti-Air ‘Series II’ and a lower cost ASW dedicated ‘Series I’. Finally, only four Series Is and a single Series II were built in the 2000s (with a second Series II being cancelled), and even those were not fully manned or equipped as part of further economy measures to support other non-defence areas. As a result of this reduction in class size being decided on in the late 1990s, plans for some of the Visby-class corvettes to be based out of Gotland were scrapped. This was against a background of severe cutbacks for the navy at that time, which would continue into the 2010s. Those cutbacks apparently also led to the cancellation, just prior to the disbanding of all coastal defence units on Gotland, of plans to install elements of the KAFUS coastal/underwater surveillance network in and around the island.

In an echo of events from over 60 years earlier, the navy would lose its Marinflyget in 1998, with its helicopter units being absorbed by the air force’s new ‘joint’ Helikopterflottiljen (Helicopter Wing) (the Army also losing its helicopters to this new wing). The air force then promptly retired the former navy ASW helicopters without any immediate replacement.

Boeing-Vertol 107/Kawasaki KV-107 - HKP 4A/B ASW Helicopter.
Boeing-Vertol 107/Kawasaki KV-107 – HKP 4A/B ASW Helicopter.

The resulting lack of ASW helicopters, along with the operationally incomplete state of the Visby-class corvettes, were issues that would become apparent just under a decade and a half later, during the ‘October 2014 Submarine incident’ when the military made a prolonged search without any public results, for alleged underwater activity.

Swedish Air Force elements have operated from the island since the late 1920s. The Swedish Air Force was created by the amalgamation of the air arms of both the army and the navy in 1926. The formation of the new air force would leave the navy without an air branch until it was reestablished in the late 1950s with the navy’s first helicopters. Swedish Naval aviation had already established a major presence on the island in the late 1910s, so the air force was able to take over or share some facilities with the navy, as well as building ones of its own, such as the Bunge and Roma airfields in the late 1930s. By the outbreak of World War II, the Flygvapnet was well established on Gotland. The air force’s general wartime strategy in regards to Gotland was primarily based around bombers, in particular 20 B-17s based at Bunge airfield and seaplane torpedo bombers out of Fårösund. The intention was to use them against enemy ships in the support of the navy and coastal defence units (including both gun batteries and minefields), that were the islands first line of defence against an invasion. The air force also had fighters and reconnaissance aircraft based on the island to further support the island’s defence, the latter also including seaplanes.

Even into the Jet Age, and the Cold War, the Swedish Air Force insisted on remaining being able to operate from semi-prepared airstrips and dispersed emergency airfields, which influenced its equipment development and procurement choices greatly along with the development of tactics and strategies. This allowed the air force major flexibility in its role of defending Gotland and the rest of Sweden against intruders. In some respects, this flexibility made the air force more capable than most NATO member air-forces who, especially before the advent of such aircraft as the Harrier and the A-10, were arguably over reliant on permanent airbases and long concrete runways, unlike their Soviet foes, who put in at least as much effort as Sweden into being able to disperse and operate their tactical aircraft from semi-prepared airstrips and other temporary or semi-permanent locations, including those based around specially strengthened stretches of road.

For Gotland, this meant the air force was not only able to operate out of Visby Airport (especially after its BAS-60 upgrade in 1968) and its existing airfields such as Bunge and Roma, but also from semi-prepared sites such as the Visby 1 and Visby 2 highway strips, which were officially classified as dispersed emergency (wartime) airfields as per Sweden’s general overall Cold War doctrine.

Apart from the threat of direct Soviet aggression against Gotland and the rest of Sweden, another potential wartime problem was to increasingly weigh on the minds of both the island’s defenders and Sweden’s politicians: cruise missile transits. In the event of an all out war, the airspace of neutral Sweden was seen by both NATO and Warsaw Pact planners as a possible handy shortcut for the flight paths of cruise missiles that both sides were developing, and in the case of the United States had already deployed, during the 1980s. The airspace in and around Gotland was one of the areas of Sweden seen as especially vulnerable to transit by cruise missiles en-route to their targets. A particular worry in Sweden in the early 1980s was that the US would program some of their new nuclear armed cruise missiles to fly through Swedish airspace on their way to targets in the Soviet Union. This was seen as a violation of the country’s neutrality, so Sweden officially stated that it would be obliged to shoot down any such missiles that were fired over Swedish territory in wartime. In light of this policy a number of major anti-cruise missile exercises were held by Sweden during the 1980s, at least one of which was held in and around the island. As the decade went on, fears grew that the Soviet Union would be at least just as likely to violate Sweden’s neutrality in this manner; such fears regarding the two superpowers were only partially eased by the advent of the (defunct as of 2014) INF Treaty.

Late 1980s plans to reinforce the air cover over Gotland, including one for the reactivation and deployment to the island of an additional J-35 Draken squadron to take place in the early 1990s, were to be overtaken by world events such as the Revolutions of 1989 and the Soviet dissolution.

After the end of the Cold War, the air force’s presence on Gotland had rapidly diminished to practically nothing by 1992, with the final withdrawal of deployed elements of the F13 Wing including a Saab 37 Viggen fighter detachment from Visby Airport. This was a direct result of the initial cutbacks by Swedish politicians seeking the peace dividend in order to, among other things, to fund increasingly costly social programs in an economic downturn (in part caused by the fall of the Soviet Union). Due to this, the Bunge airfield was closed in 1991. The Roma airfield had been deactivated in 1988. In the intervening years, the air force has been absent from Gotland, with only the occasional transport or support aircraft (such as ASC 890 Airborne early warning and control) making visits to Visby Airport as part of an exercise or similar.

In the 2010s, the relatively dilapidated state of the county’s defences had to be addressed by the Swedish government, with a newly resurgent Russia stepping up probes of Sweden’s defences alongside those of her neighbours with both air and sea incursions. The most noted of these to date occurred in March 2013, when two Russian Tupolev Tu-22M nuclear capable bombers, escorted by four Sukhoi Su-27, were able to enter Swedish controlled airspace unimpeded and simulate strikes against targets in and around Stockholm with the Swedish Air Force unable to effectively respond at any time during the incident. During their operation, the Russian aircraft skirted around Gotland. In the aftermath of this highly controversial failure to avert the intruders, the air force for the first time in many years deployed a detachment of four Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighters to Visby Airport. This short lived deployment was followed by another smaller one the following year, consisting of two Gripens. However, because of their strictly limited nature, these deployments were seen by observers as unsuccessful PR exercises rather than a coherent response. By the close of 2014, Swedish public confidence in the government’s ability to defend the country had dropped to 20% or lower, depending on the poll. This was a continuation of a general trend that could be traced back to even before the Stockholm incident, but which had rapidly worsened in its aftermath.

JAS-39 Gripen at Visby Airport.
JAS-39 Gripen at Visby Airport.

In late March 2015, it was reported that plans were at an advanced stage for a support helicopter squadron and a “fast response Gripen jet squadron” to be based on Gotland in order to support the new garrison and further reinforce the island’s defences.

In April 2015, a decision was made to reestablish troops permanently on Gotland within three years. The recruitment started in September 2015. The Battlegroup Gotland is to consist of 300 personnel, half of which are soldiers and half a permanent staff. As of 2016, the main issue of where to house the battle group was still unresolved. The barracks in Visby formerly owned and used by Gotland Regiment were evacuated and sold to a private company in 2006. Since 2006, the property is used by the Gotland County Administration and several private companies.

The re-militarization of Gotland once again reopened the debate about a possible threat to Sweden from Russia and Sweden’s accession to NATO.

The Battlegroup Gotland (18th Battlegroup) will fall under administrative control of the Skaraborg Regiment, which will also train the troops destined for Gotland. The battlegroup will be based at the Tofta firing range near Visby and will field 301 men.

18th Battlegroup (18. Stridsgruppen):

  • 180th Staff Company “Havdhem”
  • 181st Armored Infantry Company “Roma” with 12x Strf 9040B infantry fighting vehicles, 1x Bgbv 90 armored recovery vehicle and 1x Bandvagn 309 tracked ambulance vehicle
  • 183rd Tank Company “Lärbro” with 11x Stridsvagn 122 main battle tanks, 1x Epbv 90 forward observation vehicle, 1x Bgbv 120 armored recovery vehicle, 1x Strf 9040B infantry fighting vehicle and 1x Bandvagn 309 tracked ambulance vehicle
  • 185th Logistic Company “Garde”

In the meantime, before the 18th Battlegroup is ready for deployment on Gotland (originally scheduled to begin in 2018), it was hoped that a combination of an increase in training rotations by mainland based regular army units to the Tofta range, combined with some rather public exercises around the island by the Särskilda operationsgruppen since late 2015, would be enough to discourage any Russian adventurism.

Stridsvagn 122/Leopard 2 MBT
Stridsvagn 122/Leopard 2 MBT

However by Autumn 2016, the regional situation was considered to have deteriorated even further. So much so that following representations from the current Supreme Commander Micael Bydén, the Swedish Government reluctantly agreed that Gotland’s defences would have to be reestablished on a much shorter timescale than previously mooted (despite ongoing major divisions within the current ruling parties with regards as to the strategy & resources required to defend Sweden). To this end, the Supreme Commander announced on the 14th of September 2016 that not only would the deployment of the 18th Battlegroup to Gotland would be moved up to the first half of 2017, but also a rifle battalion from the Skaraborg Regiment which was then in the middle of a training rotation at Tofta, would now be held in place on Gotland as a interim garrison. A few Giraffe 40s normally on the strength of the Luftvärnsregementet (Lv 6) are to be attached to the battalion to provide some early warning capability. Despite this though, neither air defence vehicles such as the Luftvärnskanonvagn (lvkv) 9040, nor MANPADS have been attached to the garrison battalion to take advantage of this local radar coverage.

The plan is to within a few months relieve the battalion with another battalion or a equivalent formation, which will then remain in place until the 18th Battlegroup is ready to take up it’s posting.

Reference