The great Nordic war is full of heroes. But few where so spectacular as Stefan Löfving. A swashbuckling bravado of special warfare, freebooter and army intelligence.
Stefan Löfving, or ‘the Löfving’ as he was often called, was born in Narva on Christmas eve 1689. His father was an artillery NCO.
He was keeping a journal between 1713 and 1720. In 1734 he composed those into a diary. Even if there are some exaggerations, scholars holds most of it as true. It is intriguing stories of harsh conditions, fleeing for enemy forces, Daring undercover sabotage and infiltration in disguise, and death-defying combat against overpowering odds. The last is of course standard for the Carolean army as it was not allowed to give up or run away. It was basically an army of religious protestant fanatics with a fatalistic view of life. everything was in Gods hands, and it was already decided id you would die or not. You might as well just fight. This view shines through in letters and diaries from soldiers and also in Löfvings diary. He constantly give thanks to God and leaves him self in his mercy. When he spoke to the King, he said “My enemy I fear not, if he has not strength to hit me, I hit him. Being afraid does not help, after you have sought out your enemy”
He often operated out of uniform. More than once he refers to him ‘changing clothes’ and also all his disguises (as a cripple, farmers help, half blind and so on). At least once he mentions “we where dressed as Russians” Some put him down as part of the footdragoons. This might be the case in 1711 and 12 however, later on it seems he had a wider work field. At that point he never refers to himself as a footdragoon and he reports either directly to the king or to General Taube. Not to the high command of the Army in Finland, as the other footdragoons seems to have done.
He held a lieutenants commission and usually was on patrol with 3-7 men, not always army personnel, but a mix of soldiers, farmers and other of more suspect origin.
There are no known depictions of him.
Let us dive into his diary and have a look at some of the more spectacular things in it.
…And killed him with his own sword.
In 1708 he started working for the bordermajor Simon Afleck and this is when he got his first taste of the war. Finland was brought in to the war in 1710, When the Russians took Viborg. This area, Karelia, is where Stefan was stationed.
And this is where he killed a cossack with his own sword. While his hands was tied.
But that is not enough…..
Lets start from the beginning.
In 1710, in July, he was captured by a Russian troop and severely beaten since he did not divulge how many horses and other necessities the manor where he worked had. He lost his money and also his clothes. They tied his arms with rope and he had to run between the horses for about a quarter of a mile. When they arrived at Kide he lost his pants and shirt also, and thought he was about to die.
Luck was with him though and he even got a shirt, before being hauled between horses for yet a while. This time considerably longer. On a small bridge he managed to escape and was violently pursued. The Russian force was about 300 man strong so he had quite the hassle to stay ahead. He waded through two swamps and hid in the last swamp until he finally lost his pursuers. He then thought that it was time to go home, and this was when he met two plundering cossacks. After having beaten and dragged for most of the day. Clad only in a shirt. Just waded through two swamps. And his hands tied.
One of the Cossacks kept riding, but the other one stopped and started questioning him. He seemed to think Löfving was worth getting hold of and asked him to hold his horse while he dismounted.
He bade me hold the horse so he could dismount. But since he had big sacks and buckets behind the saddle he had to bow low before he could throw his foot over. So I grabbed him over the neck and killed him with his own sword. I took from him around 1000 daler in kopeks (money) and a green kaftan (a kind of Cossack coat). Then I ran through the woods to the farm.
In may 1714, after having had a part of his ear shot off (a Russian shot his ear so the earlobe was hanging. A major asked “What shall we call the Löfving now that his ear has blown off?” Whereupon Löfving forcefully yanked off his own earlobe, hanging loose, replying ” others have been wounded worse” ) , Löfving and a volunteer was out on a sabotage mission.
Disguised as a blind beggar, his friend as a one-eyed hunchback. He set out on a sabotage mission some times later. Blindfolded he was led as blind for three days. Between their legs they had tied grenades inside their pants, surely it was not very comfortable. The usual grenade of the swedish army was the threepounder.
Seeing to his diary it seems that he usually carried a smallsword, a couple of grenades, a pair of pistols, a knife and a musket. Quite strapped in other words.
After two days they came to their target area and on the third day they struck.
They managed to burn down three storehouses of meal with their pant grenades.
They are only 8 times as many!
The 24 of july in 1714 he was in charge of 7 men that he had picked up around the countryside from the now retreating Swedish army. In Haavisto village they came upon a Russian surgeon a regimental chest and the lieutenant and the 58 men that escorted it.
Deeming these odds good, or not… they had no other option than attack according to Carolean doctrine, they loaded their muskets with 14 shots and a bullet each.
They “marched with force upon them, but since there was a big field there the Russians fired three volleys upon us” No one was hurt though, but poor sergeant Holmgren that had a scratch on his foot beside the buckle. Only the surgeon and 8 men from the Russian side got away. The swedes lost none, not counting Holmgrens sour foot.
The stealing of a certain cook
in 1715, he was disguised as a one-eyed beggar. He went into Åbo where he walked right up to lord Golitsyns house.
Golitsyn was the governor of all Finland for the Russians and quite the bigshot. He had led the conquering of the land and was no chickpea. It was to his house Löfving directed his steps.
In his beggar outfit he managed to get 10 kopek of the big man himself. After this he sneaked into the house kitchen. The cook engaged him in conversation. It ran into the question about fish and if there was any to be had where he came from? Löfving answered that there was primo herring at his made up place of home.
Once the reached open water he opened his other eye and pulled out a pair of pistols. From there he took command and delivered lord Golitsyns cook and two servants in Stockholm a while later.
High and low
In his diary he also mentions things that has amused him.
Like the time he had his horse parked outside the gate while he was buying paper (a spy is of no good unless he reports…) and two Russian high officers came by. It seems the horse had to go just when they passed it and sprayed its manure forcefully over their wigs and fancy coats over one side. This amused Löfving enough to write it down.
For us others it gives a glimpse of the day-to-day hazards of the preindustrial society….
Another time he got stuck on a farm while a Russian lieutenant and his dragoons came to party. He played the fool and managed to pour three glass of vodka down the officers boot. “It was like he had just came up from the sea with all the sloshing of his boot” he remarked. It is unsure how this helped the Swedish war effort…
Another time he was tired and came to a Russian encampment. Dressed as a farmer he just lay down and slept amongst the Russians on the floor. This was in 1717 so he was quite sought after at that point.
Much of 1717 to 1720 Löfving was seaborne and operated as a freebooter. In 1719 the king was already dead, valiantly shot in the head by a stray grapeshot and the Russians was sending fleets to burn and plunder the Swedish mainland in order to get the stubborn swedes to give up.
Löfving saw plenty of sea action and a small glimpse can be seen in the episode he choose to share when he encountered a Russian sloop with mail, ammunition and all that. It was manned by 20 Russians and two officers.
“They fired a salvo first. I then asked if someone of mine had been hit? they said NO!, Fear not, it will surely go well, row on! and when I got closer, the second salvo. Then a man called Johan Bergman was injured in the arm and all the oarlocks on one side and the gunvale to the water was blown off, as well as the hat from my head. I thence fired my threepounder swivelgun loaded with scrap and hit them so they no longer could fight. After that I fired on them with handguns until only four men, that was rowing, could be seen. After that I had to lay still and repair my rowingplaces. After that I set after them and shot at their sails so the mast came down. “
Stopping the whole russian fleet. On his own.
the 15th of august 1719 Löfving saw the Russian fleet at Sundby. After being chased he made land and ditched his boat. He commandeered a Lieutenantgenerals horses and rode in advance to Lindal, where he found two small cannons.
When the Russian fleet came to Lindal he fired upon them furiously with his small guns, and, not knowing what or how many they had encountered, the Russians retreated a bit and anchored at Vårdholmen. Within sight of Lindal straights.
At nightfall Löfving played taps on a drum, and rode off to report the Russians whereabouts to the Commanding Swedish Admiral in Vaxholm. The admiral was not keen to use his highsea fleet though, as the Russians had smaller and faster ships, more suited to the hard-to-navigate archipelago.
Löfving rode back into the night, and back to Lindal. There he commenced to shout guardchallanges and replies, shooting Swedish identification and making a general ruccus, keeping the russian fleet at bay. At dawn he played revelie and the 16th, the Russians sailed of to Tuna.
..and much more.
These little tidbits above are just some of the adventurous that fill the pages of his diary. There are duels, quarrels, fisticuffs, spying and escapes over frozen grounds to fill a half-dozen Hollywoodfilms in there.
Löfving survived the war and died 1777, 88 years old.