Saving the Falcon

Kobben klasse undervannsbåt KNM Svenner (S309) og KNM Stord (S308) babord side (MMU.942589)

In the 1960s, West Germany’s Rheinstahl Nordseewerke in Emden built 15 small Type207 submarines for Norway with the cost split with the Pentagon.

A Development of the Bundesmarine’s own Type 205 “Baltic” subs, they were small, just 155-feet long/500-tons, but had an impressive bite in the form of eight forward-firing 21-inch torpedo tubes– enough to sink a Soviet battlecruiser if one came poking its nose in a Norwegian fjord (see Red Storm Rising).

From Mr. Clancy’s classic:

They found a gathering of submarine officers, which was not a surprise, but the center of attention was. He was a Norwegian captain, a blond man of about thirty who clearly hadn’t been sober for several hours. As soon as he drained one jar of beer, a Royal Navy commander handed him another.

“I must find the man who save us!” the Norwegian insisted loudly and drunkenly.

“What gives?” Simms asked. Introductions were exchanged. The Royal Navy officer was captain of HMS Oberon.

“This is the chappie who blasted Kirov all the way back to Murmansk,” he said. “He tells the story about every ten minutes. About time for him to begin again.”

“Son of a bitch,” McCafferty said. This was the guy who had sunk his target! Sure enough, the Norwegian began speaking again.

“We make our approach slowly. They come right”–he belched–“to us, and we creep very slow. I put periscope up, and there he is! Four thousand meters, twenty knots, he will pass within five hundred meters starboard.” The beer mug swept toward the floor. “Down periscope! Arne–where are you, Arne? Oh, is drunk at table. Arne is weapons officer. He set to fire four torpedoes. Type thirty-seven, American torpedoes.” He gestured at the two American officers who had just joined the crowd.

Four Mark-37s! McCafferty winced at the thought. That could ruin your whole day.

“Kirov is very close now. Up periscope! Course same, speed same, distance now two thousand meters–I shoot! One! Two! Three! Four! Reload and dive deep.”

“You’re the guy who ruined my approach!” McCafferty shouted.

The Norwegian almost appeared sober for a moment. “Who are you?”

“Dan McCafferty, USS Chicago.”

“You were there?”


“You shoot missiles?”


“Hero!” The Norwegian submarine commander ran to McCafferty, almost knocking him down as he wrapped the American in a crushing bear hug. “You save my men! You save my ship!”

“What the hell is this?” Simms asked.

“Oh, introductions,” said a Royal Navy captain. “Captain Bjorn Johannsen of His Norwegian Majesty’s submarine Kobben. Captain Daniel McCafferty of USS Chicago.”

“After we shoot Kirov, they come around us like wolves. Kirov blow up–”

“Four fish? I believe it,” Simms agreed.

“Russians come to us with cruiser, two destroyers,” Johannsen continued, now quite sober. “We, ah, evade, go deep, but they find us and fire their RBU rockets–many, many rockets. Most far, some close. We reload and I shoot at cruiser.”

“You hit her?”

“One hit, hurt but not sink. This take, I am not sure, ten minutes, fifteen. It was very busy time, yes?”

“Me, too. We came in fast, flipped on the radar. There were three ships where we thought Kirov was.”

“Kirov was sunk–blow up! What you see was cruiser and two destroyers. Then you shoot missiles, yes?” Johannsen’s eyes sparkled.

“Three Harpoons. A Helix saw the launch and came after us. We evaded, never did know if the missiles hit anything.”

“Hit? Hah! Let me tell you.” Johannsen gestured. “We dead, battery down. We have damage now, cannot run. We already evade four torpedoes, but they have us now. Sonar have us. Destroyer fire RBU at us. First three miss, but they have us. Then–Boom! Boom! Boom! Many more. Destroyer blow up. Other hit, but not sink, I think.

“We escape.” Johannsen hugged McCafferty again, and both spilled their beer on the floor. The American had never seen a Norwegian display this much emotion, even around his wife. “My crew alive because of you, Chicago! I buy you drink. I buy all your men drink.”

“You are sure we killed that tin can?”

“You not kill,” Johannsen said. “My ship dead, my men dead, I dead. You kill.” A destroyer wasn’t exactly as good as sinking a nuclear-powered battle cruiser, McCafferty told himself, but it was a whole lot better than nothing, too. And a piece of another, he reminded himself. And who knows, maybe that one sank on the way home.

“Not too shabby, Dan,” Simms observed.

“Some people,” said the skipper of HMS Oberon, “have all the bloody luck!”

“You know, Todd,” said the commanding officer of USS Chicago, “this is pretty good beer.”

Ordered in 1959, the 15th Kobben-class SSK was delivered to Norway before the end of 1965, talk about expedited fulfillment!

Norwegian Kobben-class via Janes 1975-76

At the end of the Cold War in 1990, two of the Kobbens were disposed of, four were transferred to Denmark to jump-start that country’s submarine forces, and the rest reconditioned for another decade of service with the Norwegians as six new 1,100-ton Type 210 (Ula-class) SSKs were added to the fleet to make up the difference.

By 2001, Norway put their remaining 35-year-old Type 207s to pasture, passing five of the retired boats in better condition on to Poland, which had only just joined NATO and was looking to upgrade their Soviet-patterned fleet to something more western.

Today, the Polish Navy still operates two ~55-year-old Kobbens (as ORP Bielik and ORP Sęp) and has recently decided to preserve one of these boats– that have been serving their new country for two decades– as a floating museum ship.

ORP Sokół (Falcon), formerly His Norwegian Majesty’s Submarine Stord (S308)– shown at the top of the post– is now at the Muzeum Marynarki Wojennej w Gdynia, being readied for her new role.

Sokół/Stord will not be the only one of its class on display. The Norwegians have had ex-KNM Utstein (S302) as a museum ship at Horten since 1998 while the Danes have ex-HDMS Sælen (S323)/ex-KNM Uthaug (S304) on display at Copenhagen since 2004. Notably, the Danish boat clocked in for an epic 385-day deployment during the 2003-04 Gulf War, proving these little submarines remarkably able, even if they never did sink that Russki battlewagon.

Although there is still an outside chance…

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