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Hakkapeliitta (Finnish pl. hakkapeliitat) is a historiographical term used for a Finnish light cavalryman in the service of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden during the Thirty Years' War (1618 to 1648). Hakkapeliitta is a 19th-century Finnish modification of a contemporary name given by foreigners in the Holy Roman Empire and variously spelled as Hackapelit, Hackapelite, Hackapell, Haccapelit, or Haccapelite. These terms were based on a Finnish battle cry hakkaa päälle (English: Hack on them; Swedish: hacka på), commonly translated as "Cut them down!"
The hakkapeliitta-style cavalry was first used during the Polish-Swedish Wars of the late 16th century. In the early 17th century the cavalry led by the Field Marshal Jacob De la Gardie participated in campaigns against Poland and Russia. The Hakkapeliitta cavalry men led by Field Marshal Gustaf Horn were vital to the Swedish victories in Germany during the Thirty Years' War.
The Finnish military march Hakkapeliittain Marssi is named after hakkapeliittas.
The Hakkapeliitta were well-trained Finnish light cavalrymen who excelled in sudden and savage attacks, raiding and reconnaissance. The greatest advantage of the fast and lightly armored Hakkapeliitta cavalry was its charge. They typically had a sword, a helmet, and leather armor or a breastplate of steel. They would attack at a full gallop, fire the first pistol at twenty paces and the second at five paces, and then draw the sword. The horse itself was used like another weapon, as it was used to trample enemy infantry.
The Swedish army then had three cavalry regiments from Finland:
Their most famous commander was Torsten Stålhandske (surname meaning "steelglove"), who was commissioned as a lieutenant-colonel with the Nyland and Tavastehus Cavalry Regiment in 1629 and led it for the first time in the Thirty Years' War.
The original provincial regiments (landskapsregementen) had been raised by splitting the old Grand regiments (Storregementen, also "Land regiments" (landsregementen), organized by Gustavus Adolphus at the end of the 1610s, forming 21 infantry and eight cavalry regiments as written in the Swedish constitution of 1634.
The main battles in which the Hakkapeliitta took part during the Thirty Years' War were:
200 Hakkapeliitta were also part of the army which King Karl X Gustav of Sweden led across the frozen Danish straits in the winter of 1658, which enabled him to conquer Skåneland from Denmark in the Treaty of Roskilde.
Despite popular Finnish belief, the Hakkapeliitta were not particularly well-known on the Central European battlefields; Finns are rarely mentioned in Central European sources of the time. Nonetheless, during the era of the Swedish Empire of the 17th century, the Finnish cavalry was constantly used in Germany, Bohemia, Poland and Denmark. Parts of the cavalry were stationed in Estonia and Livonia.
Aulis J. Alanen described the Finnish cavalry:
"Our [Finnish] Hakkapelites cannot have been any sort of fine representatives. I should mention a parade of the Gustaf Adolf troops in the Thirty Years' War, while the king still lived. At first went the blue, yellow, green etc. mercenaries of the regiment in their flashy gear. Then came, clothed so-so, bridles and baldricks repaired with birch bark and cord, legs hanging from the backs of their small, shaggy horses, cutlasses dragging on the ground, a troop of hollow-cheeked but stern-eyed men. When the Dutch ambassador inquired who they were, the last rider, a fat German Quartermaster [kuormastovääpeli] in charge of the cargo proudly replied "The royal Life Guards: Finnish, pärkkele!".