After the United States Women’s National Team lost to the Swedish soccer team in the Rio Olympics, American goalie Hope Solo made international news by calling the Swedish team “cowards.” She has since been banned from the Women’s Team for six months as a result.
This incident gave me a reason to write about one of Sweden’s most storied leaders: Gustavus Adolphus, who certainly was no coward. Adolphus led Sweden for much of the Thirty Year’s War, which was a massive war between Europe’s Protestants and Catholics that involved almost every country in the continent. It is also known for its outcome, the Treaty of Westphalia, which set the stage for secular nation-states in Europe down the road.
At the start of the 17th century, most countries did not have standing, professionalized armies. Most battles would be fought with mercenaries or soldiers that were drafted right before wars were fought. Gustavus Adolphus was one of the first strategists to change that, while also being one of the first to cross-train his troops. This is not the same as CrossFit. It is where all of his troops were able to have at least moderate skills in the practices of the others in the army. Pikemen would be able to serve as musketeers, and vice versa. This allowed for his army to have far more cohesion than those of his contemporaries. Cross-training is still widely practiced, helping to create well-rounded soldiers, and special forces are almost all well versed in it.
All of Adolphus’s innovations would be put to the test when he entered the Thirty Years’ War on the side of the Protestants. At the time of his entry, the Habsburg Empire was well on its way to conquering Germany, but Adolphus’s entry shifted the tide of the war against the Catholics.
Adolphus’s first major battle was against the Holy Roman Empire at The Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631, which he won decisively in no small part thanks to the cross-training that his troops had undergone.
The battle opened with both sides exchanging artillery fire, and the Swedes started off with the upper hand, far outpacing the army of the Count of Tilly in volleys launched. The Catholic cavalry mostly relied on the caracole maneuver, which was where they would ride to the Swedish line, fire two pistols, and then retreat to reload. This was mostly ineffective against the Swedish military, and their cavalry ultimately chased the Habsburg cavalry 15 miles from the battlefield. While this was happening, Tilly’s infantry advanced on the Swedish line, and routed their Saxon troops. This left the left flank of the Swedish army vulnerable, but Adolphus was able to quickly regroup his troops to plug in the gaps, and his troops captured the Habsburg artillery, which they trained against Tilly’s army. Adolphus’s cross-training was critical here, because his soldiers were able to use the Habsburg artillery against the Habsburgs with ease.
Tilly’s army was ultimately unable to withstand being attacked from multiple sides and utterly broke. Tilly was wounded and was killed later in the war, and about 6,000 of his troops joined Adolphus’s army, further bolstering its strength.
Adolphus utterly destroyed the Catholic army, forcing it to rebuild, and managed to leave the battlefield with more troops than when he arrived, due to the prisoners he captured. He also attracted new allies to the Protestant cause, which took a huge hit after Adolphus was killed during the Battle of Lützen about a year later.
Although the Thirty Years’ War raged on for over a decade after Adolphus’s death, the innovations that he brought to the battlefield cemented his impact on warfare for decades to come.
To this day, Sweden commemorates Adolphus’s legacy each November 6th, which is Gustavus Adolphus Day. The band Sabaton also has a song, The Lion of the North, dedicated to him. Maybe Hope Solo will spend November 6th in Sweden, learning about one of the great figures in its history.
For more on political video games, hatred at the Olympics, Greece’s Brexit over 2,000 year ago, America’s first Donald Trump, and more, check out the rest of my Profiles in History here!