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Attack on Goteborg

14th May 1717
Part of : Great Northern War (1700/02/22 - 1721/09/10)
Previous action : Battle of Fehmarnbelt 22.4.1715 - 25.4.1715
Next action : Attack on Strömstad 15.7.1717 - 19.7.1717

Tordenskjold decided to attack Gothenburg in the hope of destroying both the dockyard and the Swedish squadron. He had a considerable force, but one hardly sufficient for the work to be undertaken; his entire fleet consisted now of two 50-gun battleships, Laaland and Fyen, three frigates, Raae 30, Seridder 28, and Loss 26, two prams, one snow, nine galleys, two half-galleya, and fourteen armed boats.

In the evening of May 12th he left the Danish coast with all his ships except the frigates. Surprise was an essential element in his plan, and in this he failed. The Ark Noa 34, one of his best ships, did not reach Vinga, outside Gothenburg, till long after the rest of the squadron. Vosbein in the Seridder had been told off to tow her since her slow sailing was notorious, but pre- tending to misunderstand his orders he went off elsewhere and left the pram to do her best alone. Finally, when she did arrive the wind, previously favourable, shifted to the east, and an attack became impossible. Surprise was thus out of the question. The Swedes were on the alert and soon put the harbour into a state of defence. Two new batteries were thrown up, troops were stationed on shore, and the ships in port were moored in a line across the river.

What ships there were is not quite certain, but they seem to have been four of the battleships (Ebenetzer 64; Oldenborg 52; Gotteborg 42; Levendals Gallej 20), the "galleas" or armed merchantman Gref Melrner 49, and the galley Wrede 22. Tordenskjold was not, however, the man to draw back from any undertaking. Early in the 1 night of May 13/14th he moved in close to the island fortress of Ny Elfsborg, and leaving the two battleships at anchor, entered the harbour with the rest of his force. A list follows :

Prams Hjaelper 46, Ark Noa 34;

Snow Jepta 8;

Galleys Fredericus IV. fra Arendal 7, Fredericus IV. 7, Prinds Christian 7, Prinds Carl 7, Louisa fra Arendal 7, Louisa 7, Charlotte Amalia 7, Sophia 7, Lucretia 13;

Half galleys Achilles 5, Pollux 5;

14 boats and some more from the battleships.


Denmark -
Peter Jansen Wessel TordenskjoldDanish
Naval Sailor
Service 1705-1720

Ships of the Line
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Laaland (50) 1711-1762
Danish 50 Gun
4th Rate Ship
Fyen (50) 1705-1734
Danish 50 Gun
4th Rate Ship of the Line
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Raae (30) 1709-1751
Danish 30 Gun
5th Rate Frigate


Swedish Squadron
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Ebenetzer (64) 1709-1747
Danish 64 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
Oldenborg (52) 1688-1728
Danish 52 Gun
4th Rate Ship of the Line
Gotteborg (50) 1715-1718
Danish 50 Gun
4th Rate Ship of the Line

Notes on Action

The ActionNWB

At about 1.30 a.m. on May 14th the action began. The Danish vessels stationed themselves in a line across the channel with the prams at the southern end, and replied fiercely to the fire of the Swedish ships in front, the fortress of Ny Elfsborg in their rear, and the troops and batteries on their right flank. The smaller craft were put close under the northern shore and were not at first in action. For five hours the struggle went on, but at last Tordenskjold, seeing that he could make no impression on the Swedish defences took advantage of a lucky slant of wind from the north-east to withdraw. His losses were heavy; the casualties in the squadron were 52 killed and 79 wounded, and besides this two galleys were lost. One, the Louisa 7, sank at the northern end of the line early in the action, and the other, the Lucretia 13, went aground to the south on the way out, and was abandoned.

Both were re-floated by the Swedes later, The Ark Noa 34 also went aground during the retirement. She was well within range of Ny Elfsborg, and the Swedish galley Wrede 22 approached to board her, but a broadside drove off this foe, and soon after the pram got afloat with the help of a Danish galley. This was Tordenskjold's first failure. As a surprise the attack might have succeeded, but when once the Swedes were on the alert it was probably a mistake to attempt it. At any rate, it seems to have been foolish to leave the battleships out of action. It would, of course, have been risky to bring them into such difficult waters, but with so many oared craft there should have been no real danger of losing them, and their guns would certainly have been a valuable reinforcement.


The AftermathNWB

For twelve days the Danish squadron remained in Elifve Fjord, outside Gothenburg, partly to blockade the port and partly to repair damages. Twelve prizes were taken, one a Dunkirk privateer chartered by the Swedish Government, and three other Swedish privateers. Further, a detachment from Tordenskjold's fleet entered Odensala, some twenty miles south of Gothenburg, destroyed the rope-walk there, and carried off several vessels laden with rope for the Swedish dockyards. About this time Vosbein in the Soridder 28 captured the Swedish frigate Island 30. This did much to appease Tordenskjold, and on Vosbein's sending him an apology and an appeal to stop the proceedings which had been instituted, he did so, and in fact recommended Vosbein so highly that his promotion to Commodore-Captain followed almost at once. The Island, which was probably a privateer, was found unsuitable for the Danish service, and was therefore sold in Norway.

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