Warship Wednesday, May 31, 2017: The Swordfish of the Baltic

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, May 31, 2017: The Swordfish of the Baltic

Image via Saab Defense, who own Kockums.

Here we see the ubåt HSvMS Svärdfisken (Sf) of the Royal Swedish Navy (svenska flottan) as she appeared in 1914 on builder’s trials from Kockums before delivery to the fleet.

The cool kid stuck sitting in the Baltic between the knuckle-cracking bruisers that were the Kaiser’s Germany and the Tsar’s Russia, Sweden faced the problem of being able to keep her sea lines of communication open while appearing to be too tough a nut to crack should either one of the class bullies decide to come sniffing around. This meant innovative coastal battleships and submarines.

While Sweden counted among her illustrious sons no less a person than early U-boat pioneer Thorsten Nordenfelt who sold cranky early submarines to Turkey and Greece, the country went shopping elsewhere for some more mature designs.

The first Swede ubåt, the stubby single-hulled HSvMS Hajen (Shark) was built at Bergsunds Mek. Verstad in Stockholm in 1904 under the eye of former USN engineering officer and MIT graduate Carl Eric Richson (himself a Swede) and, at 111-tons and 77-feet oal, would be considered a midget sub today. She carried a single 450mm bow tube and could make 9.5-knots wide open.

Next were a series of three locally built “bathtub” boats of the same size as Hajen built in 1909, followed by a narrow and sexy Italian sub, HSvMS Hvalen (Whale) of some 140-feet, built at Fiat-Laurenti of San Giorno in 1912.

Italian Foca Class Submarine built by Fiat-San Giorgio at La Spezia for the Swedish Navy in 1909,HSwMS Hvalen pictured in Portsmouth Harbour c.1910, in the background is an unidentified Eclipse Class Second Class Protected Cruiser.

While Hvalen was nice, had a double-hull, and could touch 14-knots, the spaghetti boat also had leaky gasoline engines that were prone to catch fire at the most inopportune times.

This brings us to the decision in 1913 by the Swedes to contract with Kockums Mek. Verkstads AB of Malmo to build the first modern all-Swedish combat submarines, the Svärdfisken (“Swordfish,” Kockums hull No. 115, Swedish Navy pennant “Sf”) and Tumlaren (No. 116, pennant “Tu”) while the near-sister Delfinen (“Dolphin,” pennant “Df”) was laid down at Bergsunds Mek. Verkstad.

Svärdfisken at her builder’s dock, early 1914. She was delivered 25 August, just three weeks after the outbreak of the Great War. (Photo: Saab)

A modification of the Fiat-Laurenti design of Hvalen, these 300-ton boats had a long, narrow pressure hull and went 148-feet overall. Gone were the gasoline engines, replaced by a pair of Swede Jonas Hesselman’s forward-thinking 500 hp diesels which charged batteries for two Luth & Rosén electric motors on twin shafts. On the surface, they could make 14.2-knots, submerged 9.5. The difference between Delfinen and the two Kockums-built craft was that she carried a different set of diesels that generated 450 hp each (good for 13.2kts) and a slightly modified single hull design.

The vessels’ 21-man crew operated a pair of 450mm torpedo bow tubes with four “fish” carried as well as a low-angle M98 37mm deck gun kept very greasy to help abate salt-water corrosion.

The class was designed from the ground up to use wireless sets, which at the time were so new as to almost be considered a novelty.

Note the double periscopes

All ships of the class could dive to 110-feet, which was sufficient for use in the shallow waters of the Baltic– and they could float in 11 feet of seawater and operate at a periscope depth of 25 feet. The crews trained to spend upwards of 24 hours at a time submerged, most of it stationary.

Note her deployed high mast which incorporated a wireless antenna. As with the image above, her deck gun has not been fitted yet.

When the Great War kicked off and Germany and Russia began to duke it out on the regular whenever the Baltic ice allowed it, all three of the new Swede swordfish were operational and spent much of their time at sea enforcing Swedish neutrality at the force of a torpedo tube and deck gun– stepping up the latter to a 57mm Bofors piece after Armistice Day. This early cold war often turned hot, with Hvalen on at least one occasion taking deadly fire from an armed German trawler.

The two Kockums-built boats were reportedly popular with their crews and had an enviable safety record, a feat that was often elusive with pre-WWI designs.

The three sisters alongside tender in 1917, the elderly 1870s 175-foot iron-hulled steam gunboat HSvMS Skäggald (Bearded Eagle)

Then came the salad days of the Swedish Navy’s submarine force.

By 1929, the King’s ubat fleet counted the 3 Svardfisken, 2 Laxen-class, 2 Abborren-class, 3 Hajen-class, 3 Bavern-class, HSvMS Valen, and 3 Draken-class vessels giving the force a total of 17 modern hulls. When you take into account the Germans were forbidden by the Versailles Treaty to operate/maintain U-boats, and the Soviets’ Red Banner fleet was still crippled by the Great War/Revolution/Civil War and remained that way until the early 1930s, Sweden had more operational submarines in the Baltic than anyone else.

And it would only get stronger, as in 1933 a program to build a dozen new 200~ foot subs, each with a six-pack of 21-inch tubes, were ordered. This, of course, led to the withdrawal of some older designs.

While the cranky Delfinen was scrapped in 1930, Svärdfisken and Tumlaren had their names struck (and recycled for new submarines) and were placed in reserve in 1936 to continue to serve as pierside trainers.

Still in reserve when the next war came but working with hulls considered too unsafe to submerge and take into combat, both Kockums-built boats were used as floating AAA batteries along the Swedish coast during World War II. For this, they landed their old low-angle 57mm deck gun and fitted a few 40mm Bofors and light weapons.

All the Svärdfisken-class were scrapped by 1946, with the set-aside Bofors 57mm deck gun (Ubåtskanon) of Svärdfisken retained and placed on public display at the Swedish Marinmuseum.


Via Swedish Marinmuseum

As mentioned above, the Svärdfisken and Tumlaren had their names given to new Sjölejonet-class ubats commissioned in 1940. These vessels remained in the fleet through WWII and the Cold War until 1959 and 1964 respectively.

Since the production of Svärdfisken, Kockums has produced no less than 73 submarines, with the latest being the Gotland-class and pending A26s, which, while sharing many traits of the old Swordfish (small, shallow divers) are still some of the most innovative and deadly in the world.

Via Saab

A26 via Saab


Via Swedish Marinmuseum

Displacement: 247 tons surfaced, 300 smgd
Length:148 ft.
Beam:    13.78 ft.
Draft:    10 ft.
Engineering: Diesel engines, 2 x 500 hp, electric motor 2 pcs
Speed:    14.2 knots, surfaced. 9.5 submerged.
Endurance: 1,000nm at 10kts surfaced, 40nm at 5kts submerged.
Diving depth 35 m
Crew     21 men
Armament     2 x 45 cm torpedo tubes, 1x37mm M98 (replaced by M1919 57mm by 1920).
2x 40mm Bofors singles, machine guns

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