A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Hither Pommerania - the Continuing Story

Since Christmas is a traditional time for legends and fairy tales, here is more of the little-known history of the Duchy of Stralsund-Rügen, during it's brief membership of the Confederation of the Rhine.

First, some pictures. The dress uniforms of the two regiments of chevauxlegers were in the style of French chasseurs, but white with coloured facings and piping. This proved to be an impractical choice - the white garments became very shabby on campaign, and supplies of white cloth were so limited that there are descriptions of the cavalry troopers of the Brigade Rugeois wearing grey or brown, and there is some evidence that they were supplied with French-issue green uniforms.

Next we have our artist's interpretation of the regulations for the infantry standards. They are known to have been 140cm square, unfringed, and carried on a blackened pole with a gilt spear-head finial. No examples or contemporary illustrations exist, though there is a description of what appears to have been the colour of the Von Grimmen battalion, hanging in the cathedral at Huesca in 1882.

From the top, these are the colours of the Grenadiers Zum Alten Greif (bearing the arms of Stralsund), the 1st and 2nd Infantry Battalions (bearing, respectively, the arms of the Podebusk Princes of Rügen and of the house of Von Grimmen) and the Jaegers (bearing the Pommerngreif, the traditional griffin of Pommerania).

Continuing the history of the units of Rugeois in the service of the French Emperor.

The unit of Grenadiers served as the Stralsund garrison - their role was to show the flag at parades, underlining the status of Herzog Friedrich and generally acting as town guard. The rest of the army was distributed in small detachments around the convoluted coast of Rügen itself and the towns on the Baltic shore, their main duty being to discourage British trade, which was still carried on, in total defiance of the Continental System. The problem seems to have been heightened by the fact that an estimated one-third of the population made their living, directly or indirectly, through this illegal commerce. The Duke's Army were almost entirely ineffective in their efforts to interfere, not least because of the very high degree of corruption and bribery which persisted in the Army. Jacques Lazare, who succeeded Molitor as French ambassador to the Duke, is on record as saying, "it is hard to stop this infernal business when the authorities and the army are making more money from it than the smugglers".

In an attempt to make a high-profile example, Major Ernst Arschkratzer of the Grenadiers was sentenced to a public flogging in Stralsund's Fischmarkt in November 1808, but he was pardoned by the Duchess before the punishment could be carried out. The real low point came during Ferdinand von Schill's brief adventure in Vorpommern - he and his German partisan "Freikorps" picked the Duchy as an obvious easy option when they required to seize a port on the Baltic. Von Schill's troops were defeated at the so-called Battle of Stralsund in May 1809, and Von Schill himself was killed. It is noticeable that the "French" forces which beat him were Danes, Dutch (2nd, 5th, 6th & 9th Dutch Line Regts, 2nd Cuirassiers, some artillery) and a small number of French regulars - the Duchy's own soldiers were conspicuously absent. Further, Mattaeus Hoffnunglos, colonel-in-second of the Infanteriebataillon Graf von Grimmen, was imprisoned for publishing a pamphlet which claimed that it was "unethical and unnatural" for the Vorpommern troops to be ordered to fire on their German brothers.

The enthusiasm for Napoleon had already largely vanished - desertion and corruption continued unabated and there were frequent confrontations between local troops and French officials and citizens in Stralsund and elsewhere. Napoleon ordered the worst of the officers to be replaced - largely with Frenchmen and Hanoverians - and the whole force was sent to Northern Spain in October 1809 to form part of the counter-insurgency force. In fact they performed passably well, probably because of the iron will of Marshal Suchet, and because desertion meant almost certain torture and a slow death at the hands of the guerillas. When the best of the French allies were being sent home from Spain for the Russian campaign in the Winter of 1811-12, the Rugeois were not even considered.

After Napoleon's failure in Russia, Vorpommern returned to its former situation - the people had their own traditions - they had largely ignored the Swedes when they were in power, now they ignored the elderly Duke and his French supporters. The survivors of the forces of the Duchy were marched back from Spain into France - just 87 of them arrived back home - though the probable truth is that many more got back home but went into hiding to escape military service. There was a brief, and chaotic, period of French military occupation, then the Duchy was abandoned, and withdrew from the Confederation of the Rhine - the old patriarch went back to being the Herr von Putbus, and to his hobby of sailing hand-carved model boats on his pond at Quitzin. The Swedes returned briefly, and arranged a swap with the Danes - they traded Vorpommern for Norway. Then in 1814 the Congress of Vienna presented the whole area to Prussia, which is probably where it should have been all along.

In the University at Greifswald, among other material of interest, there is a manuscript memoir of a sergeant in the Prussian Army who fought at Ligny and Wavre in 1815, who was a native of Franzburg and had previously served in Spain with the Jaegerbataillon – I am trying to arrange to get a competent translation made available.


  1. Some very interesting research, I commend your rigour.

  2. I forgot to mention my gratitude to Dr Ute Iluszja, of the Gesellschaft der Pommeranischen Geschichte, Greifswald, for her help with sources.

    One difficulty of studying this particular area is that much of the documentation is in Pommeranisch dialect, which is somewhere between Low German and Polish - the language is particularly rich in words connected with sailing and kinds of fish!