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Swedish Navy - Cold War

The Swedish navy was not associated either directly or indirectly with NATO. Its primary mission was deterrence or disruption of an invasion of Swedish territory, the main threat being from the east. Sweden, which by 1980 had only two destroyers in commission, had gone farther than the other Nordic countries in renouncing large ships in favor of fast attack craft and submarines. The number of these latter two types had not increased since 1960, however, and, in fact, the submarine force had declined since 1974 from its previous average of 22 units to 14, despite the introduction of three Nacken-class submarines in 1979-80.

By 1980 the near-term future of this submarine force appeared assured by plans to modernize some of the oldest boats and by the order just given for the first unit of the new A-17 class. The fast attack craft force, which averaged around 40 units from around 1956 to 1975, would probably stabilize at 35 units after completion of thp Jagaren class. In liqht of the cancellation of the M-70 minesweeper program, Sweden's minesweeping force was likely to decline. The naval minelayer force, which would soon consist of three modern ships, was backed up by some small Coast Artillery minelayers.

The Swedish Navy, partly as a result of numerous intrusions into their territorial waters by Soviet submarines, continued to place increased emphasis on anti-submarine warfare. In 1980, events caused considerable military and political commotion in Sweden, a country which has officially pursued a policy of non-alignment since the mid-1800’s and has enjoyed peace since 1814. For a period of several weeks, the Swedish Navy hunted what it later judged to be two foreign submarines operating in the country’s inner territorial waters, near Sweden’s largest nava base.

This event commenced a more than decade-long period of political uneasiness and increasing military, as well as public, vigilance. The period was characterized by an inflow of final event intelligence reports to the Swedish military headquarters, which during the years of 1986-88 reached a peak of about 1000 per year. In total, more than 6000 reports were collected which may refer to independent sightings or detections of foreign underwater activity. Today, the episode is generally considered by public opinion to belong entirely to history, although the Supreme Commander still delivers a yearly report to the government on the topic.

The Soviet Whiskey-class submarine W-137 that ran aground in Swedish territorial waters near the naval base at Karlskrona in October 1981, merely confirmed what the Swedish Navy had known all along, that the Soviets had been engaged in a series of violations of Swedish territorial waters. This incident proved quite unusual, with radioactive material detected aboard the submarine, plus two Soviet Navy captains also aboard the vessel. The violation was resolved through diplomatic channels, a far cry from an incident in the 1950s when two Swedish Air Force planes approached Soviet territory and were shot down while still over international waters.

At least four kinds of Soviet intruders had been identified by the Swedish Navy: sub-marines, mini-submarines of the type that can crawl along the sea floor, frogman vehicles, andfrogmen. In January 1985 Sweden bought two "scooters" (i.e., mini-submarines) from Yugoslavia to bolster and test Sweden's coastal defense system and help prevent future intrusions. Such intrusions were not of recent vintage. Soviet submarine reconnaissance against Sweden goes back to at least the 1930s.

During World War II, Soviet submarines exploited Swedish neutrality by transiting in or close to Swedish waters in order to escape German anti-submarine warfare forces and to cover their moves from German reconnaissance. Since the Soviets did not fully trust Swedish neutrality during World War II, they probably conducted substantial intelligence collection against Sweden in anticipation of possible hostilities. While no one can say for sure what was the cause, there were interesting and unanswered questions as to the loss of the Swedish submarine ULVEN in 1943 and the explosion at Musko Naval Base that same year in which three Swedish destroyers were sunk. While the Germans had nothing to gain from such actions against Sweden, the Soviets did not hesitate to carry out at least three known air raids on Swedish territory during World War II.

Arkady Shevchenko, the most highly placed Soviet official ever to defect to the West, stated that the Kremlin made a decision in 1970 to initiate submarine probes of Swedish and Norwegian waters. The reasons have less to do with diplomatic considerations, such as neutral status, than with broad strategic imperatives that the Soviets feel must be considered, regardless of the embarrassment that may temporarily occur when one of the missions is discovered. These strategic imperatives include the need to control the Baltic approaches in wartime, to control or neutralize Swedish natural resources and industrial capability, to protect the Karelian Isthmus land approach to the Soviet Union, and to support Soviet ground forces in any drive to seize the northern flank of Europe.

The Soviet Union continued to probe Swedish waters and airspace and occasionally to harass Swedish air traffic. In September 1984 Sweden protested an incident in which a Soviet military aircraft followed a Swedish tourist charter flight for four miles in Swedish air space over theBaltic. Not all violations of Swedish territory, however, are so serious. On 8 February 1983, a helicopter flown by two defecting Polish Air Force officers landed undetected on Tarn Island (near the southern port of Karlshamn), designated as a top secret Swedish military zone. They searched the island until they found the only inhabitant and submitted to him their request for political asylum.

In October 1985, there was a collision in the Baltic between a Swedish navy surveillance vessel and a Soviet minesweeper. The Swedish ship was shadowing a new Soviet Kilo class submarine when a Soviet minesweeper violated the international rules of theroad and struck the Swedish ship, inflicting slight damage. The Swedes filmed the entire episode and released photographs to the world press showing that the fault lay with the Soviets who weretrying to bully the Swedes and make them leave the area.

Ola Tunander, from the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO). Initially one of the Submarine Inquiry’s experts, published books on the topic. Tunander’s hypothesis is that the Reagan administration, supported by Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, exploited the Soviet submarine running aground in Gåsefjärden to trick the Swedish people into believing that the Soviet Union was continuing to violate Sweden in a provocative manner. Tunander goes as far as speculating that naval officers, along with members of the Swedish security service, might have been behind the 1986 assassination of Olof Palme.

Eventually, the caterpillar tracks were determined to have been created by the trawling gear of local fishermen. And on 12 February 1995, Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson said "It's a sad fact that what was originally stated to be intrusions into our waters have proved to be minks." Owe Wiktorin, the armed forces Chief of Staff, revealed this in his report about military and naval activity. He said that although security equipment had long detected sounds identified as coming from submarines, hydrophonic instruments introduced to the Swedish Navy in 1992 had shown that minks could give off sound patterns similar to those of submarines.

In February 1995, the Swedish government formed an independent commission “with the task of assessing and analyzing the underwater violations and indications of these that have existed since the beginning of the 1980’s...” [Ubåtsfrågan 1981-1994 1995]. Until the Submarine Commission’s report was published, very little was known to the public about the size and character of the intelligence material that had been gathered. From those who were involved in the Swedish defense effort one way or another, absolute secrecy had been required.

Bengt Gustafsson, Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces 1986-94, wrote in 2010 that "... it can be asserted that it is highly likely that the Soviet Union that was responsible for the submarine violations of Swedish waters."

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:06:16 ZULU