The Swedish warship, VASA.
|On the 10th August 1628 at about 3
o'clock in the afternoon, the Royal Ship "Nya Wassen" as she was then known
left Stockholm on her maiden voyage. On board were the crew and their families
totaling some 25O persons the exact figure not being recorded. She
was towed for a short distance when - " four sails were set, but within
one mile from the quay, a light squall heeled the vessel over and water
poured through her lower gun-ports. The catastrophe was a national
disaster, not only because of the loss of life of some 50 people, but for
the effect on a nation at war.
The Vasa lay on Stockholm harbour in 35 metres of water for 333 years. In 1956 she was discovered by Anders Franzen, and on the 24th April 1961, the vessel broke the surface after a salvage effort lasting four years. She now rests in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, an epitaph for those lost, and a monument to those who saved her.
The following article was written by Peter Stone for the Hawthorn Scuba Club magazine, October 1975, after correspondence with Anders Franzen and Lars-Ake Kvarning from the Statens Sjohistoriska Museum in Stockholm, and herewith appreciatively acknowledged. It is interesting that after 36 years, the article should find its way to the internet, and still be fascinating reading.
|Anders Franzen recalls, after finding the Vasa, ‘I went immediately
to the Royal Swedish Navy, told of my discoveries and my hopes, and proposed
that the Divers Training School be moved to the Beckholmen site.
Student divers might as well practice on the wreck of a historic warship
as anywhere else, I pointed out, and the navy agreed. Soon a diving vessel,
manned by brawny helmet-and-hose veterans and eager young frogmen, anchored
at the designated spot. First to make the descent into 110 feet of
murk and mud was Chief Diver Per Edvin Falting, who had logged more than
ten thousand underwater hours.
Falting’s first report from the bottom was not encouraging. “I'm standing in porridge up to my chest”, he told me over the telephone. “Can't see a thing. Shall I come up?”.
“Yes,” I said gloomily, “you might as well come up”. Then I heard an excited 'whoop'.
“Wait a minute!” cried Falting. “I just reached out and touched something solid... it feels like a wall of wood! It's a big ship, all right! Now I'm climbing the wall... here are some square openings... must be gunports”.
On the surface I watched the depth gauge drop as Falting clambered up the hull. “Here's a second row of gunports”, he reported a few seconds later.
There could be no doubt about it now. In this vicinity my research had accounted for all other ships with two rows of gunports. We had reached the Vasa.’
|n February 1957 the Vasa Committee was formed to investigate the possibilities
of raising the ship. It was soon realised that a great deal of financial
and technological resources were needed, for the complete operation
must also include the vessel’s preservation after it had been raised.
There were many people of course who believed the task impossible.
Anders Franzen again, ‘It may be questioned why plans were made to raise, at considerable cost, an old warship which had no honours to fly from its masthead. However, museums and archives do not possess sufficient information to allow us to build a new and much finer Vasa. Our knowledge of ship construction, design and equipment before the l8th century, when ship's drawings came into common use, is much less than is generally believed. The experts are not even agreed on the system of measurement used in shipbuilding of that time.
‘We had been fortunate enough to discover a 17th century ship which is now the oldest fully identified ship in the world, in the middle of the protected harbour of Stockholm where it could be salvaged without taking into consideration weather or wind. Had the Vasa sunk out in the Baltic, it would have been unthinkable to have attempted to raise her. Further, the Vasa had not suffered damage from long service at sea and had not run aground. Lastly, while lying in the bottom of the harbour for three centuries, the wreck had not been damaged by ice or currents nor had she been attacked by ship worms, Teredo navalis, which exist in salt water seas and quickly destroy the most well-built oak ships’.
The Baltic has such brackish water that it does not allow these sea termites to live in it. This has made these waters a veritable treasure house for ship archaelogists. The Baltic Sea is the only area in the world where large sailing fleets have operated, to possess these peculiar properties which make possible the preservation of wooden ships. The other maritime powers have little possibility of finding their Vasa. The world's second oldest fully identified ship is Horatio Nelson's Victory, a survivor of the Napoleonic wars, which is now a national museum in Portsmouth.
The Vasa was an ill-fated ship but she represents that great navy with whose help Sweden made herself into a great power. Ships have been discovered which are older than the Vasa. There are the Egyptian burial ships on which the Pharaohs sailed to the Kingdom of Death. Between the World Wars, two Roman ceremonial ships were salvaged in Lake Naemi; these, however, were later destroyed by fire. In Norwegian Viking graves three dragon ships have been found which are now on display in Oslo. However, none of the ships has been completely identified. It is not known exactly when and where they were built and who sailed them and in any case most were only built for ceremonial purposes. The Vasa, however, was a completely equipped warship carrying the multitude of things needed by several hundred men in order to live and fight during a comparatively long period of time.
Anders Franzen again, ‘The recovery of the Vasa is of great value to the cultural heritage of Sweden. It has provided us with a picture of life as it was lived in the early 17th century in Sweden and the ship itself is a reminder of the period of Sweden's greatness and of the country's maritime traditions.’
Several suggestions were made as to how to raise the vessel intact. The Swedish inventor Karl Kroyer suggested the "ping-pong plan": simply to fill the entire hull with ping-pong balls, producing sufficient uplift to raise the vessel. The "frozen wreck plan" was also presented : the ship was to be frozen in a giant block of ice which would rise to the surface under its own accord. Whilst the Vasa committee were debating the various possibilities, diving continued and attempts to blow an experimental tunnel under the ship began.
A gun was discovered on these early dives, as were many carved relics
from the hull, lying in the mud and clay bottom. Franzen was extremely
energetic and convincing in providing support for the Vasa plan, and the
project received tremendous support from the international press and television.
|In 1958 the Vasa committee issued its report. On the committee
were members of the Neptun Salvage Company of Stockholm who had offered
to undertake the salvage work free of charge. The plan was to move
the Vasa, underwater, from a depth of 100 feet to an island in the centre
of the harbour where the depth was 50 feet. After this achievement it was
expected that financial support would be such that the vessel could be
The first stage of the salvage operation involved driving six tunnels through the mud under the Vasa, Lifting cables were to be passed through the tunnels, and the vessel raised by a direct cable lift by two salvage barges. Six tunnels were to be dug through the harbour bed which consisted of 6-feet of black, semi-organic mud covering a 20-ft. layer of hard clay resting on a granite foundation. The tunneling equipment used was the "Zetterstrom-jet" invented by Arne Zetterstrom who incidently broke the world's deep diving record in 1945 by descending to 528-feet, breathing a hydrogen-oxygen mixture. The Zetterstrom jet delivers one forward jet of water which cuts the clay, and a reverse spray which sends water backwards, thus eliminating recoil. A suction hose held between the diver's legs sucked up the loose material to the surface. The diver’s air-hose, and a combined safety line and telephone cable completed the rig.
|The incredible task of tunneling under a sunken wreck is
difficult to imagine. Divers carried out the job in complete darkness
and under great danger, being well aware that a hundred tons of stone ballast
was resting on the ship’s bottom - just above them. The chance of disaster
was even greater when it is considered that when the vessel capsized, the
tons of ballast were thrown to one side of the hull crushing internal planks
and stays. What little support was left could not be imagined.
A fortnight later, on the 4th May, the Vasa was high enough out of the water to float into the 30-foot deep dry dock at Beckholmen. On the floor of the dock lay a huge concrete pontoon. Special submersible pontoons lifted the Vasa so that she could float onto the larger pontoon, where she was supported whilst the water was pumped out of the dock. Finally, the complete hull lay supported on the concrete pontoon. A hall made of steel, concrete, aluminium and glass was built up around the Vasa, with its foundation on the pontoon. To prevent the Vasa drying out before preservation, an extensive sprinkler system was installed which kept the whole ship wet. At the same time all loose objects were dug out of the mud which had remained in the ship. These were cleaned and sent to the preservation shop which had been specially built for the Vasa.
|References and Acknowledgments.
Correspondence from Anders Franzen, and Lars-Ake Kvarning from the Statens Sjohistoriska Museum, Sweden.
Ref 1. The Warship Vasa - Anders Franzen (P.A. Norstedt &
Soners Forlag, Stockholm).
|The floating hall with the Vasa inside was then towed to
the Vasa Museum site where the public could watch the Vasa gradually being
preserved and restored. Now the tedious work of preservation and
restoration began -and it won't be completed for many years to come.
The men who did it! ‘The tunnel gang’ with Chief Diver Edvin Falting
-in the centre - an important man in the Vasa project. Standing from
left: Sven-Olof Nyberg, Stig Friberg, Lennart Carlbom, Ragnar Jansson,
all petty officers in the Royal Swedish Navy.
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