Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


(A Review of the Report by the Swedish Submarine Defense Co..tssion on Submarine Violations and Swedish Security Policy)

From October 1 to November l of 1982, the Swedish navy ataged its largest antisubmarine warfare operation since the Second World War. Dozens of ships and helicopters, using depth charges and mines attempted to – unsuccessfully flush out and force to the surface up to six “alien” subllarinea that had pentrated into the Stockholm archipelago, aainly the Hor,fjaerden area. The action that becaae known aa the “Borsfjaerden incident” is the focus of the recently released !ngliah-language version of the 109 page report of the Swedish Submarine Defence Commission. The scope of the five-member panel’s inquiry is much broader, however, as are the conclusions reached a~reco..andationa made. Two concerns do.tnated the inquest: one, the overall pattern of and possible motivations for over twenty years of violations of Swedish territorial waters by foreign sublaarinea, and two, the state of Swedish antiau.,..rine warfare defense a. The conclusions reached on both count a are, in the Co.adsaion’ viev, vorriso.a to say the least. One hundred and forty-three probable, possible, and certain sub.arine intrusions are reported between 1962 and 1982. This number excludes incident• not cited for security reasons, and those that have evaded detection. The geographic acope of the submarines’ activities encompasses the entire Swedish coastline, and appears to be closely linked with Swedish military exercises and the location of llilitary facilities. The Report leaves no doubt about the nationality of the intruders. While admitting the lack of hard, physical proof, circu.stanti•l evidence, including sonar analyses, points overwhelmingly to the Soviet Union.

The Swedish Navy’s failure to initially detect the Horsfjaerden intruders, and ita subsequent inability to prevent their escape, are evidence of Sweden’s  a inadequate antisubmarine defenses. The commission  faults a more than 20 year old defense policy that had effectively downgraded ASW from a priaary to a corollary mission. Amphibious invasion being perceived as the primary threat , Sweden’s sizeable fleet of destroyers and frigates bad gradually been replaced by fighter-bombers and fast patrol craft. By 1972, it was decided that dedicated ASW forces were no longer necessary , that the anti-amphibious forces would henceforth carry the burden of coastal convoy protection as a corollary role. As late as 1980, according to the Report, the need to detect and prosecute intruding submarines had never been the subject of express comment in Sweden ‘a annual defense deliberations and decisions. It took the so-called “Utoe incident” of 1980 and the Soviet “Whiskey-on-the-rocks” one year later for Sweden to act. An ASW improvement package worth 200 million kroner ( $20 m·) vas approved as part of the 1982-1987 Defence Plan, as was a tightening of the rules of engagement against violating submarines.

The Horsfjaerden incident itself involved six submarines, three mini submarines and three mothercraft. Four of Them penetrated into the Horsfjaerden area proper, while one mini- and once conventional submarine pushed into the central Stockholm archipelago. Swedish countermeasures included the setting up of barriers, active and passive sonar pursuit, and the dropping of 47 depth charges and five mines. The Commission adamantly rejects the rumor that the submarines were deliberately allowed to escape. It also disclaims reports that one of the minisubmarines was in fact sunk.

The Report provides fascinating photographic evidence of the rumored · existence of Soviet llinisubaarinea. Photos taken of the seabottoa clearly show the .. rlta of two different types, one a caterpillar-tracked vehicle, the other with a reinforced keel and driven by tvo propellers. Also shown ia the iaprint of one ‘of the 110ther submarines at rest on the bottom. A drawing from the commission report of observed tracks. The tracks indicate that a vehicle can detect and avoid obstacles on the sea floor. Boxed is a possible underwater vehicle.

View full article for table data

A key question is, of course, why? The Commission addressed a variety of possible Soviet motivations, but none of the answers is entirely satisfying. Rejected out of hand is the suggestion that training exercises are involved. Also denied is the idea that the Soviets may be engaged in a form of gunboat diplomacy designed to intimidate Sweden, as is the theory that the Soviets may be exploring possible sites to hide their Golf class ballistic missile submarines. The Report concludes that the most plausible explanation is a systematic Soviet intelligencegathering campaign aimed at preparing for the eventuality of military operations, including the landing of saboteurs and minelaying. Given this assessment, the Commission rightly concludes that Sweden is faced with a most serious threat to its national security. It urges a large increase in research and development, and procurement for ASW, and proposed a revision of the armed forces’ instructions so that foreign submarines may henceforth and “if necessary” be attacked “without prior warning …..”

Sweden, of course, is not the only victim of clandestine Soviet submarine operations. Submarines have been observed well inside the territorial waters of all of the Scandinavian countries, 170 times between 1971 and 1981 in Norwegian waters alone. What make the Horsfjaergen incident and the other Swedish violations different is that the victim is a neutral country. It makes no difference whether or not the Soviet Union’s activities are a part of Soviet plans for a possible. war with NATO, or in preparation of unilateral action against Sweden; the conclusion is unavoidable: neutrality is no guarantee of Moscow’s peaceful intentions.

Jan s. Breemer

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League