Nicholas Hjelmberg
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The fog lay dense over Stralsund as the Swedish ships approached the city. The first man to set foot on German soil was the supreme commander, King Gustavus II Adolphus, defender of the Protestant Faith. The war that would be known as The Thirty Years' War had just begun.

But the first few years passed without enemy contact. The Austrian, Spanish and French armies were still far away and the King could lay siege to Berlin without anyone stopping him. Meanwhile, Johan Banér was sent to Danzig to secure the Northeast. From the South came reports that Spain and France were already entangled in a fierce struggle around the city of Brunswick. The French paid dearly for their victory and would not be a threat to the Swedish army for many years. However, the rapid Austrian advances against Prague and Munich spelled more trouble. If the Count of Tilly were to gain control of the Elbe bridges, he would be able to strike against the heart of the Swedish possessions.

Berlin fell 1622 and Danzig 1624 but where to go next? It was tempting to deny the Emperor the city of Dresden but Gustavus II Adolphus also wanted to settle his affairs with the archenemy in the West - Denmark. Thus, he left Dresden to her fate (which came in the shape of a double-headed eagle from Vienna) and lay siege to Copenhagen instead while his marshal Johan Banér continued south towards Breslau. The cities fell 1626 and 1628 respectively, giving Sweden a strong position in the Northeast corner with four cities. However, Austrian influence in Germany was now alarmingly strong and the inevitable duel between the King and the Count approached rapidly.

It was Johan Banér that had the honor to strike first. In a tight battle outside Breslau, he fended of Tilly's attempt to take control of the Oder bridges and the road towards Vienna now lay open. However, Tilly was not discouraged and increased the stakes by moving north and challenging Gustavus II Adolphus instead. Outside the village of Lützen, the two dominants of Europe met. The result was a disaster for Sweden and the King had to flee for his life. Nothing was left to prevent Tilly from marsching towards Stralsund.

But the victory had been costly. The French had finally got the upperhand against the Spaniards and now moved east. Wallenstein's attempt to divert the French army by razing Heidelberg and marsching towards Paris only increased the Cardinal's fury and in 1632, the city of Dresden fell to the golden lilies. The Count of Tilly was forced to retreat and when Johan Banér captured the now undefended Prague, the Austrian hegemony was at an end.

It was now Gustavus II Adolphus' turn to put all at stake. Spain had turned her attention towards the Danish capital and the Spanish commanders now crossed the Elbe. Through a forced march, the King managed to break the siege in time and throw back the Spaniards across the river. Sweden had now exhausted her resources and several cities were on the verge of revolts. The other major powers moved up to share the spoils and would they had one more year, the Swedish positions would have fallen apart. But time was with Gustavus II Adolphus, with the five cities of Berlin, Danzig, Breslau, Copenhagen and Prague under control, the German princes acknowledged his hegemony and Sweden emerged as the winner of The Thirty Years' War.

It was a tense affair. If Copenhagen had fallen, the armies would have clashed among the ruins of central Europe. Of the major powers, only France was able to set up an army but would she have been able to beat all the other three?

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