Dieselpunks

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To stay neutral, a nation needs strong defense. Especially if we talk of a former great sea power.

Sweden, a country that did not enter any war since 1814, was not immune from the naval arms race in the early 20th century. After the dissolving of the union with Norway in 1905, the situation was tense with the Russian Empire in the east, Germany south of the Baltic Sea, and Norway, traditionally an Anglophile country. In 1911, battle-ready units from the Royal Navy and the German Imperial navy cruised around in the North Sea. War was close. As the latest Swedish coastal battleship Oscar II was inferior to its contemporaries both in terms of armament (2×8.3"guns) and speed (17.8 knots), the need for a new class of ships was pressing. Seaworthiness, armament, armor and speed, all had to be improved according to the multiple new technologies that had arrived.

In 1911, the parliament voted (with a small majority) funds for the building of the new vessel, known as the F-boat, after the alternative that was chosen from various options (A, B, C, D, D1, D2, E, E1, E2 and F, varying in size from 4,800 to 7,500 metric tons and with armaments and speed in various arrangements accordingly). When Karl Staaff became prime minister in the fall of 1911, the funding was postponed. This caused the "Pansarbåtinsamlingen", a fundraising aiming at the 12 million Kronor the ship was estimated to cost. With the backing of the King Gustav V in little over 3 months 15 million was raised to build the ship. This caused a political crisis, and the fall of the government. The new government accepted the money and let the contract for the ship, which was named Sverige (Sweden) for the people who had paid for it.

Technically the ship was very interesting: its designers and builders managed to install strong armament (four Bofors M/1912 283 mm gun in twin turrets and eight Bofors M/1912 152 mm quick-firing guns) on a relatively small displacement, 6852 t standard. Sverige's firepower was equal to a full-size pre-dreadnought battleship while her armor belt was somewhat weaker, 200 mm maximum. The ship had speed, 23 knots, copying fastest drednoughts of the period.

After the outbreak of World War I two more ships where ordered which had a slightly changed appearance and marginally larger displacement, the two bearing the names of the Queen and King of Sweden - Drottning Victoria (commisioned on March 12, 1921) and Gustaf V (commissioned on 12 December 1922).

The Drottning Victoria is probably the most famous (and most photographed) of the three, after her mournful cruise around Europe in 1930, bringing home the body of Queen Victoria of Sweden who died in Italy. Here's one photo from this cruise, taken in in Swinemünde, Germany:

In 1930s, the threesome has been extensively modernized, each ship trading two of her 6-inch guns for a stronger anti-aircraft battery, getting oil-fired boilers and receiving a unique appearance: while the Drottning Victoria remained a classic two-stacker with thinner and taller funnels, the Gustaf V was fitted with a two-in one funnel and the Sverige had her forward funnel curved, more or less in the style of Japanese and Russian modernized dreadnoughts.

HMS Sverige: before and after modernization

HMS Drottning Victoria: before and after modernization

HMS Gustaf V: before and after modernization

During WWII, the ships secured Swedish sea borders and merchant shipping:

They remained in service well through 1950s, the oldest one (Sverige) decommissioned in 1953 and two others in 1957. Here's the "people's ship" being scrapped in Karlskrona, 1957:

The Drottning Victoria towed to scrappers, 1957:

The Gustaf V was scrapped only in 1970. There was a public movement aimed at saving and preserving this ship but it failed (alas!).

Now something about the classification. A quote from Wikipedia: "Note that while the ship is listed as a Battleship in Jane's Fighting Ships, 1938 edition, technically it is a Coastal Defense Ship, a class which was commonly used in the Nordic countries. " OK, in Swedish it's listed as a pansarskepp, the word being an exact analog of German Panzerschiff. And Panzerschiff is usually translated into English as "Battleship". So if you call any of the three a battleship you won't commit any crime.

More pictures of the Sverige class ships (with credits!) in my Flickr album

Sources: Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. Other sources: see picture credits.

in Swinemünde

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