Battle of Lund, (December 4/14, 1676)

Charles_XI,_Battle_of_Lund

Charles XI at the battle of Lund, by Johan Philip Lemke

A Swedish army led by the 21-year-old monarch Karl XI soundly defeated a Danish army at Lund. The Danes invaded Scania with 14,000 men on June 29/July 8, 1676. They were in fine fit before the battle, well equipped and confident, braced by large numbers of German mercenaries. The Danish invasion force was small even by standards of the day at just 5,000 cavalry, 1,300 dragoons, and 6,000 infantry, but it had an excellent artillery train. Even at just over 12,000 men, it was half again as large as the hungry and unpaid Swedish army of 4,700 cavalry and dragoons, and just 1,750 foot soldiers that moved to fight it.

The battle began with a bold night attack ordered by Karl and made across the frozen waters of the Lödde River. The surprise assault failed, and fighting deteriorated into eight hours of carnage and bitter attrition, with men on both sides dying in frozen ditches while others fought on behind low stone farm and village walls. The Danish left broke early in the fight but-as with so many English cavalry charges before and after Lund-the Swedish horse grew overexcited at the sight of a running enemy and badly overpursued. This nearly cost Karl the battle and his life. With his cavalry preoccupied with looting the Danish camp, which they overran, the Swedish center and left had to hold against the brunt of superior Danish-German firepower for nearly two hours. Finally, at dusk (which came early at so northern a latitude), Karl returned with nine squadrons of cavalry to support his infantry, which was near its breaking point. The Danish cavalry were taken in the flank and rode away, leaving Danish and German infantry to be run down and slaughtered. The massacre was merciless until a Swedish sub-commander, but not Karl, ordered that quarter be given to all who ceased fire.

In proportional terms, this was the deadliest fight in recorded military history, with almost 50% out of the total of nearly 19,000 men engaged killed, and many of the survivors wounded. Some of the dead were Danes who drowned when river ice cracked and broke apart beneath their feet as they sought to flee across the Lödde. About 6,000 on the Danish side died, including a number of Dutch Marine Infantry, who fought in alliance with the Danes. An additional 3,000 Swedes and Finns were killed or died afterward from severe wounds.

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