Warship Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018: Oscar’s boldest pansarbat

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, Aug. 22, 2018: Oscar’s boldest pansarbat

(Photos: Karlskronavarvet/Marinmuseum)

Here we see a colorized photo of the Swedish pansarskepp HSvMS Dristigheten (Swedish= “The Boldness”) passing under the iconic Levensau High Bridge in Germany’s Kiel Canal during a visit to that country, between 1912 and 1927.

Pansarskepps (literally “armored ships”), or pansarbats, were a peculiar design that was popular in the Baltic from about 1900-45. These short, shallow-draft ships could hug the coastline and hide from larger capital ships while carrying big enough guns to be able to brutally bring the pain to any landing ship escorted by a shallow draft light cruiser or destroyer approaching from offshore. Sweden had kept out of wars since Napoleon was around, but she was still very wary of not only Russian and German but also British designs on the Baltic. With her neutrality only as good as the ships that could protect it, the country built a series of 15 coastal defense vessels, or pansarskepps, from 1886-1918.

Sometimes referred to as battleships, or cruisers, these warships were really neither. Nor were they destroyers.

They were pansarskepps.

Sandwiched roughly in the middle of these vessels was Dristigheten, preceded by the trio of Svea-class vessels (3,200-tons, 2×10-inch guns) and a matching threesome of Oden-class ships (3,445-tons, 2×10-inch guns), while she was followed by eight more advanced Aran, Oscar II, and Sverige-class ships.

A standalone vessel, Dristigheten was laid down at Lindholmen, Goteborg in October 1898 just after the world was amazed by the recent steel navy combat that was the Spanish-American War. While most of Sweden’s pocket battleships carried names drawn from Norse mythology or the country’s royal family, Dristigheten is a traditional Swedish warship name going back to the 18th Century where it was carried by a 64-gun ship whose figurehead is preserved to this day.

Some 3,600-tons, she was just 292-feet overall or about the size of small frigate these days. However, she had as much as 247mm (that’s pushing 10-inches) of good (for the time) Harvey nickel-steel armor and a pair of domestically-produced 209mm/43cal M1898 naval rifles.

One of those pretty 209mm/43s. Dristigheten, the first to mount such guns in the Swedish Navy, carried one forward and one aft. She was also the first Swedish naval ship to use water tube boilers.

These 8.3-inch guns, as noted by the 1914 Janes, could fire a 275-pound AP shell on a blend of special Bofors-made nitro-compound that was capable of penetrating 9.5-inches of armor at 3,000 yards. A half-dozen smaller 152mm guns were the secondary battery. A dozen 6-pdr and 1-pdr popguns would ward off torpedo boats. As such, she was the first Swedish capital ship with only quick-fire artillery. A pair of submerged torpedo tubes added to the party favors.

Commissioning 5 September 1901, Dristigheten was a happy ship and was inspected on several occasions by King Oscar II of Sweden, a septuagenarian who had joined his country’s navy at age 11.

The picture shows four Swedish armored ships Göta, Wasa, Äran, Dristigheten (without her later tripod foremast which was fitted in 1912) and collier Stockholm, which anchors during the winter season in Karlskrona’s naval harbor. Ships are flagged for King Oscar II’s birthday on January 21, 1903. The boats frozen solid in the ice and people can be seen moving around on the pack. (2289×1213)

1899 impression of the Swedish fleet with several Swedish pansarbats featured including #2. ODEN (1896) #3. THOR (1898) #4. NIORD (1898) and #5. DRISTIGHETEN (1900), then under construction. Via Karlskronavarvet 11788 (2778×728)

For a quarter-century, Dristigheten steamed around European waters, showing the flag, training naval cadets and visiting friends (Sweden knew nothing but friends, although some were friendlier than others).

Swedish coast defense ship DRISTIGHETEN, note the early single foremast she carried from 1900-1912

Postcard of the Swedish battleship HMS Dristigheten in Algiers, 1906

Dristigheten, 1920, Bordeaux. Note the tripod foremast, added in 1912.

The non-colorised version of the Kiel photo (Marinmuseum Fo113541A)

While the Baltic would freeze over, she would traditionally voyage on a long-haul winter cruise (in times of peace) to the Mediterranean, visiting Southern Europe and North Africa. Malta, Tangier, Vigo, Salonika, Suda Bay, Toulon, Bizerte, and Smyrna all saw the big Swede on a semi-regular basis.

Janes listed her as a “battleship” in 1902, 1914, and 1919. A 3,600-ton battleship.

During WWI, she, along with the rest of the pansarbats, kept a cautious neutrality in Swedish waters between the warring Allies (composed of the Tsar’s Baltic fleet and the occasional British submarine) and German surface and untersee units.

Once the war ended, the days of these plucky ships were numbered, with the goal of bringing more modern cruisers and destroyers online while keeping a few of the newer pansarbats around as a strategic reserve.

As such, in 1927 Dristigheten was refitted as a seaplane carrier (flygmoderfaryget.) With this conversion, she lost her big guns and torpedo tubes, trading them in for a few smaller caliber AAAs and the capability to handle a few floatplanes as well as tend small craft such as patrol boats and coastal gunboats. Also gone was her aft mast. Her magazine space was largely converted to avgas bunkerage.

The Swedish Navy’s Marinens Flygväsende (MFV) at the time flew a host of early Friedrichshafen and Hansa models with Dristigheten lifting these recon seaplanes from her deck to take off on the water and retrieving them from the drink on their return. In her later years, she carried Heinkel HD 16/19s

She continued her service as a seaplane tender through WWII, during which she was augmented with a dozen additional AAAs and served as a key mothership for coastal patrol/artillery units.

Dristigheten in Karlskrona WWII note camo. Note the 40mm Bofors mounts under weather protection.

Decommissioning 13 June 1947 after a solid half-century on the King’s naval list, Dristigheten was converted to a training hulk and target ship, continuing to serve for another 13 years, testing Sweden’s new weapons, keeping the fleet’s existing guns in action, and teaching fresh classes of sailors in damage control.

In 1960, the testing reached a tipping point and she sank.

Raised, she was scrapped in 1961, outliving most of her contemporaries.

Shown in the Oscarsdockan in Karlskrona

As for her contemporaries, she outlived almost all of them. For the record, the last of the pansarskepp-era mini-battleships, HSvMS Gustav V, was used as a training hulk and pier side until 1970 when she was scrapped.

Dristigheten is remembered extensively in maritime art.

Herman Gustav af Sillen Swedish, (1857–1908) “Dristigheten under stridsskjutning 1903.”

Pansarbat Dristigheten by Axel A. Fahlkrantz


Displacement: 3,600 tons
Length: 292 ft overall
Beam: 48 ft 6 in
Draught: 16 ft 0
Propulsion: Steam triple-expansion engines, 2 screws, 8 Yarrow boilers, 5,570 shp
Speed: 16.8 kn
Range: 2,040 nmi at 10 kn on 310 tons coal. 400 tons maximum coal would allow for “6 days at full speed.”
Complement: 262 (1901) up to 400 as tender
2 x 209 mm/44cal. Bofors 21 cm M/98
6 x 152 mm/44cal. Bofors M/98
10 x 57 mm/55cal. Ssk. M/89B 6-pdrs (Janes also lists a pair of 1-pdrs)
2 × 457 mm submerged torpedo tubes. Whitehead torpedoes (1901-1917) Karlskrona torpedoes (1917-22)
2 x 210 mm/44cal. Bofors M/1898
6 x 152 mm/44cal. Bofors M/98
8 x 57 mm/55cal. Ssk. M/89B 6-pdrs
1 x 57 mm/21,3cal. Bofors lvk M/16
1 x 57 mm/21,3cal. Bofors lvk M/19
4 x 75mm/60cal. Bofors lvk M/26-28 AAA
2 x 40mm/56cal. Bofors lvk M/36 AAA
4 x 8 mm/75,8cal. lvksp M/36 MGs
Armor: Harvey Nickel: 247mm in the conning tower, 6-8 inches main belt, barbettes, and turrets; 4-inches casemates, 2-inches deck.
Aircraft carried (1927-47) : 2-4

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