The Swedes have since the most ancient times been a seafaring nation. During the age of the Vikings the people of the North had the greatest naval power of the world. But this formidable power was soon broken up, and, with regard to Sweden particularly, it came to such a pass that, at the close of the Middle Ages, it had no navy at all. In later times the fortunes of our naval defense have been very much varying. But in our days a lively interest for its strengthening has been awakened and already borne good fruits.
Gustavus Vasa (1523/60) is rightly called the creator of the modern Swedish navy. The development of the navy was effected under his own vigorous personal guidance. Erik XIV, his son, kept up the work, and the Swedish navy became during his time the most powerful of all the navies of Northern Europe. After his time, however, it was very much neglected.
The inefficiency of the navy and its stationing at Stockholm caused great damages to the country during the war with Denmark 1675/79. The establishment of Karlskrona as naval station, and the speedy improvement of the navy during the later years of Charles XI, were the direct results of this. At the beginning of the 18th century, Sweden had a navy of no less than 45 rated vessels besides smaller ones. The steadily growing financial difficulties during the later part of the reign of Charles XII made it, however, impossible to maintain such a force.
When peace, after the death of Charles XII, had been re-established, the naval defense was well cared for by government and parliament. Beside the regular naval fleet a powerful fleet of various vessels grew up with certain types of vessels peculiar for Sweden and adapted for its many archipelagoes. Sveaborg became the chief station and basis for this fleet. Both fleets were, especially during the reign of Gustavus III, re-inforced to such a degree that Sweden in the war with Russia 1788/90 could send 26 ships of the line, 12 large frigates, and more than 350 smaller vessels against the enemy. These were manned with about 44,000 men and carried more than 5,000 guns. The losses during the war were great, however, and the Swedish navy has never since regained the same strength.
Up to the middle of the 19th century Sweden maintained two fleets of quite a respectable power and quality. Then occurred the great and rapid changes in vessels and material used in naval warfare by which so many of the smaller states were left powerless. Sweden procured some ironclads of small type and some gunboats between 1860 and 1880, but this was much too small a compensation for the old fleets, particularly when it is considered that the personnel of the navy at different times had been very much reduced.
By 1878 the naval force of Sweden had been for a number of years divided into two branches, one comprising the navy proper, and the other known as the "coast artillery."
The fleet consisted of thirty-eight vessels, armed with about 325 guns. One ship, the Stockholm, of 2,850 tons and carrying sixty-six guns; oue frigate, the Vanadia, of 2,130 tons and sixteen guns; four corvettes namely, the Balder, of 1,880 tons and six guns; the Gefle, of 1,280 tons, and eight guns; the Saga, of 1,530 tons and seven guns; and the Thor, of 1,070 tons and five guns; the VanadisanA Saga are under construction. Besides these, there are eighteen gunboats, carrying twenty-six guns.
All these were screw-propeller vessels of moderate power and armament, the guns being rifled breech and muzzle loaders of 9, 5J, and 4 inch caliber, and more powerful guns are devised. In addition, twelve sailing-vessels belong to the fleet, viz, one ship, the SJcandinavien, of 2,380 tons and sixty-two guns; five corvettes and six brigs, carrying in all one hundred and twenty-nine guns.
The coast artillery was considered the most important arm of defense"; its total force is one hundred and twenty vessels of all kinds. This includes the armored vessels, the four largest being counterparts of our Passaic class. In the above were included, also, the small turreted boats built from the designs of Captain Ericsson, and provided with machinery to be worked by hand, independently of steam; there are, also, forty-four sloop-rigged galleys, six mortar-launches, and fifty-three yawls.
In 1882 a committee of the parliament agreed upon a new type of ironclads of greater dimensions and seaworthiness, greater speed, and more powerful armament. Since then the naval defense of Sweden has again commenced to improve, very slowly up to 1895, but after that year and particularly through the decision of the parliament of 1899, more rapidly, and can with some certainty be calculated to become adequate to the defense that it is intended for within a few vears.
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