Editor’s Note: Invited to make a presentation at the Norwegian Seapower Symposium at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, Bergen, Norway, 27-28 August 2009, Captain Tangredi talked with a number of Norwegian submarine officers and took the opportunity to visit an exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the Norwegian Submarine Force at Bergen’s public Maritime Museum. The followi11g article was inspired by the conversations and this visit. Dykk! Dykk! Dykk! is also the title of the exhibit.
Dr. Tangredi is a retired surface wa1fare officer and a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW. He is currently the Director, San Diego Operations for the Arlington, VA-based planning-consulting firm Strategic Insight.
The 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Norwegian Navy Submarine Force has provided an opportunity for Norway’s naval service to publicize its pride in the vital role it plays in its nation’s defense. To the Navy’s leaders, this is particularly important because they have concerns that events of recent years have caused sea blindness among their nation’s citizens- an inability to perceive the full importance of the maritime world to Norway’s survival. Although most Norwegians still regard themselves as a sea faring nation, debates on whether to join the European Union and whether to continue to participate in NATO operations in Afghanistan make it easy to forget that–given Norway’s political and geographic situation–the Navy and its close partnership with the U.S. Navy remains their primary national life insurance.
Attitudes and the Geopolitical Situation
Norway is unique in Western Europe in that it has decided at least for now- not to join the EU. To some extent, this reflects a lingering Atlantic mindset in which ties to the United Kingdom, U.S. and Canada are perceived to be as important as those with continental Europe. There is a cultural basis: the Norwegians claim Leifr Errikkson (Leif Eriksson) as their own and recognize the fact that in the 19th and 20th centuries, over 750,000 Norwegian emigrants settled in the United States and Canada. That number is equivalent to nearly 20 percent of Norway’s current population of roughly 4.5 million. To put that size in further perspective, some sources maintain there are 6 million Americans who claim to have Norwegian ancestry.
The Atlantic mindset is also related to the perception (at least until recently) that Norway is dependent on the sea for so many resources- particularly fish and North Sea oil–and for its traditionally strong merchant shipping industry.
It is also sustained by the fact that Norway is the only Scandinavian country with an open Atlantic coastline, and one adjourning that of Russia, making Norway a significant member of NATO’s naval defenses during the Cold War, and perhaps in case of the continued Putin-ization of Russia. The Royal Norwegian Navy’s tics to the U.S. Navy are perhaps the strongest of all European allies save the U.K. (another nation with a traditional Atlantic mindset). This is especially true between the respective Submarine Forces.
Unfortunately, Norwegians- at least judging by their media- seem to feel some guilt at their good fortune, a sensitivity that appears common to most Western Europeans today. Exactly who are the destitute people who require Norway’s membership in the EU to order to be helped is not very clear. Norway was never terribly successful in the race for colonial empires and Norwegians seemed to be pretty poor imperialists- at least since the 13th century or so. So by rights it should not be tarred by the imperialist brush. Meanwhile Norway quietly provides a high percentage of their gross national product (GNP) to foreign aid.
Contributing to the potential sea blindness of the Norwegian populace is that a significant number of Norwegian owned or partly-owned merchant ships sail under flags of convenience. While Norwegian-owned ships still make up over 10 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, this is not always apparent at home. All Norwegians are aware of their benefits from North Sea oil, but that does not necessarily translate to an appreciation that the sea is their primary access to markets and other raw materials. Despite recent acquisition of AEGIS-equipped frigates, the Royal Norwegian Navy (RNoN) is concerned for its future parliamentary support, and particularly for its Submarine Branch. Neighboring Denmark has recently announced it will completely eliminate its own submarine capabilities.
Initial Interest in Submarines
Norway’s political history largely consists of being forced into unions and alliances it did not necessarily favor (NATO being the exception). In 1808, as part of the Kingdom of Denmark, Norway was an ally of Napoleon. Throughout its struggle against Napoleon, Great Britain maintained a blockade of Norwegian ports.
An inventor, Mikkel Hallstein-Lofthus ( 1782-1850) come forward with detailed plans and a wooden model of a submarine designed to attack the British fleet. In principal, it was similar to David Bushnell’s TURTLE of the American Revolutionary War (it also planned to bore holes in the Royal Navy ships), but Hallstein-Lofthus’ design was larger and propelled by oars. There is no indication that the Norwegian was aware of TURTLE. The design was carefully considered by a scientific association, the king’s representative, and military authorities in the port of Bergen. But it was decided that the design was too risky and an actual submarine was never built.
In 1901, while Norway was still in union with Sweden, the RNoN sent Captain Victor A. Geelmuyden to the United States to investigate the Holland Type VI submarine. Although unable to observe much in the way of actual operations and pointing out technical problems in his report, Captain Geelmuyden warmly endorsed submarine capabilities as critical for Norway and its naval strategy: “…submarines are on the agenda of all navies, but seem most of all to be a coastal defense weapon, which will, with reasonable expenses, make a smaller state both strong and dangerous to a bigger attacker. I think that submarines will be the best and most powerful defense for our fjords and key cities, and the most dangerous and the best weapon against blockades or attempts to land troops and occupation of harbors, as the moral value of the boat alone will provide the armed forces with strength and immeasurable advantages.”
Apparently the Norwegian Navy command was able to get a good offer with reasonable expenses from the Electric Boat Company, and recommended purchase of the submarine despite the technical issues. The recommendation was supported by the Defense Minister and the Prime Minister, but no money was provided by the Starting (Parliament) for the state budget of 1902. Before the union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905, the Swedish Navy had already acquired a submarine in 1904, the HAJEN (Shark). With tension between the two countries, HAJEN patrolled near Norway.
The presence of HAJEN prompted the Norwegian Starting to allow for the establishment of a Submarine Force. But instead of the Electric Boat Company, the Norwegian government went to Germaniawerft in Kiel, Germany for its first purchase. On 28 November 1909, the Royal Norwegian Navy’s Submarine Branch was officially activated with the commissioning of KOBBEN (Seal). It is unclear whether the name was chosen to appear more peaceful than the Swedish Shark.
The choice of a German submarine presaged future operations of more advanced German subs, including captured Second World War U-Boats, Type 207s, and Type 210s today (with Norwegian combat systems), along with Second World Warera Royal Navy (UK) subs. In the 1920s, Norway also built submarines of US design in Norway, licensed from the Electric Boat Company.
Kobben and her Role in Establishing the Norwegian Air Force
Like most submarines of her era, KOBBEN, at 259 tons submerged displacement, operated primarily on the surface. She could make 12 knots surfaced on her gasoline engine and 9 knots submerged on batteries, but was not seaworthy in bad weather. Her armament consisted of three torpedo tubes with room for a single spare torpedo. Homeport was the main RNoN base, Karljohansvern in Horton on the Oslo fjord, suitable for defense of the capital, but a long distance from the ports on the Norwegian Sea/ Atlantic Ocean, where she probably could not operate anyway.
During the First World War, KOBBEN maintained a neutrality patrol in the vicinity, but could do nothing about the great losses of Norwegian merchant ships in their effort to resupply the United Kingdom after Imperial German declared unrestricted submarine warfare. There is no indication that KOBBEN–whose name was changed to AL in 1913–was ever used in combat, and it was decommissioned in 1919.
However, KOBBEN’s crew played an inspirational role in establishing Norway’s naval aviation and air forces. KOBBEN’s commanding officer, Captain Carsten Tank-Nielsen read in a newspaper that a Swedish air pioneer, Lieutenant Olle Dahlbeck, threatened to demonstrate Swedish air superiority by over-flying the Norwegian Holden base and bombarding it with oranges. At the time there were no aircraft in Norway. CAPT Tank-Nielsen and the rest of the wardroom agreed that something needed to be done, and formed Kobben ‘s flying boat committee to publicly solicit funds to buy a plane. Meanwhile, the executive officer, Lieutenant H.F. Dons traveled to Germany to take flight lessons. LT Don expressed the typical submariner’s bravado about his task: “As experienced sea and submarine officers with solid technical education we should be well prepared to quickly learn how to fly. In a couple of weeks we should thus be able to learn enough to act, under favorable conditions, as pilots.”
Response to the solicitation was overwhelming; even the King of Norway contributed. LT Dons purchased the best aeroplane (with pontoon floats) he could find in Berlin. But the flight school was full, so he took a few individual lessons and decided he had learned enough even if he did not qualify for a German license. KOBBEN’s second engineer arrived on the scene to learn how to maintain and reassemble the plane because it would be shipped to Norway in pieces.
On 7 June 1912, the seventh anniversary of Norway’s separation from Sweden, LT Dons was the first to fly a Norwegian aircraft, flying across the Oslo fjord with KOBBEN cruising below in case he crashed. In 1913, the Norwegian Navy established a pilot school in Horton, and in 1915, a flying boat factory.
While KOBBEN’s crew took to the air, the Storting decided the submarine was a proven experiment and voted to buy four more submarines in Germany in 1911. This was to be the A-class, and KOBBEN was renamed A 1. It may be recalled that the U.S. Navy also named submarines by numbers in the 1920s.
It was decided to buy submarines similar to KOBBEN’s design, also to be built by Germaniawerft. A 2, A 3, and A 4 were delivered in 1914, but with the outbreak of the First World War, A 5 was kept by Germany. All had diesel instead of gasoline engines, with crew size of sixteen. As coastal defenses, none of the submarines saw combat in the war. They could not protect the significant number of Norwegian ships sunk by U-Boats on the high seas. But being on alert wore down the submarines’ batteries, which were unobtainable during the war. Because of this, Norway built a battery factory in 1923. After the war, the A-Class was placed in reserve for the oncoming B-Class.
In 1915, the Starting voted to purchase six more submarines. Since the war prevented purchase from Germany or the Netherlands, the Norwegian government obtained a design and building license from the Electric Boat Company.
But construction did not begin until the 1920s, at which point the design was already obsolete. Nevertheless, the class of six was built. B 1 was commissioned in 1923 with now Captain Dons in command. The B-class carried two spare torpedoes and had a crew of 23. In 1929, the Submarine Inspection was established. As its head, Captain Tan1<-Nielsen was effectively the commander of the Submarine Force.
The Nazi Invasion
Like much of the Norwegian military, the Submarine Branch was overwhelmed in the Nazi attack on 9 April 1940. B 4, B 5, and B 6 were seized in port without resistance. In Oslo fjord, A 2 surrendered under fire, and A 3 and A 4 were scuttled by their own crews to prevent capture.
Meanwhile, B 1andB3 were in Northern Norway. When the German army closed on their positions, B 3 sailed for the U.K., but a battery explosion forced her back. She was scuttled by her crew. B 1 was trapped by German naval forces and was also scuttled by her crew on 13 April 1940, but the crew remained intact in the city of Tromso.
When a British landing force combined with the Norwegian Army to push the Germans back, the crew returned to raise B 1 on 13 May, repaired her in Tromso and returned to patrol. But the British forces were recalled to fight in France, and on 7 June, the King of Norway flew to London to form a government-in-exile. On 8 June, B I departed from Norwegian waters to continue the fight from the U .K. The remnants of Norwegian Army and Navy- less ships and personnel who managed to escape– surrendered on 10 June 1940.
Fighting On from Scotland
B 1 was assigned to the Royal Navy’s 9th Submarine Flotilla based at Dundee, Scotland, which comprised British, Polish, Free French, Norwegian, and Dutch submarines. Along with other tasking, the 9th Submarine Flotilla was to monitor and attack enemy shipping along the coast of occupied Norway, as well as land commandos and agents. This would seem a natural mission for the Norwegian Submarine Branch, but the outdated B 1 was moved to Rothesay on the Western Coast of Scotland to train new submarine crews and to act as a target for exercising British warships. To fulfill both missions, she was equipped with ASDIC (the initial version of SONAR) in the summer of 1940, but also suffered a battery explosion that killed two sailors.
At the same time, a steady current of refugee Norwegian sailors and merchant mariners arrived in the U.K., many volunteering for submarine duty. A military agreement was reached by which the Norwegians took over three Royal Navy submarines: UREDD (originally designated as P 41 by the British, but transferred before completion) in 1941, ULA (originally designated HMS VARNE, but also transferred before completion) in 1943, and UTSIRA (originally designated HMS VARIANCE, but transferred upon completion) in 1944.
UREDD was commissioned into the RNoN on Pearl Harbor day, 7 December 1941. Like other submarines of the British U-class, she was 191 feet in length, had a submerged displacement of 730 tons, and was armed with 4 torpedo tubes and a 3″ deck gun. Torpedo complement was 8-10, and crew size was 32 with room for special forces. UREDD completed seven war patrols and sank several vessels including a German Navy supply ship carrying parts for U-Boats operating from occupied Norway.
On 5 February 1943, UREDD left Dundee to land six Norwegian commandos and one Norwegian agent of British Secret Intelligence on the coast near Bodo. She neither completed the mission nor returned. In 1985, she was finally found and designated a war grave, an apparent victim of an unknown German minefield. UREDD is Norway’s sole submarine loss.
ULA, another British U-class sub, was commissioned immediately after the apparent loss of UREDD. Built as the HMS VARNE, she was intended for the Royal Dutch Navy, but the Dutch crew- being transferred from a decommissioned Dutch submarine in Sydney, Australia- were lost when their transport was sunk by a U-Boat. ULA completed fourteen war patrols. At least one source claims she sunk more tonnage than any other Allied submarine operating in the Atlantic. Her most notable victim was U-974, cut in two by a torpedo hitting just aft of the conning tower off Stavanger, Norway. The commanding officer, Captain Sigurd Valvatne later became the post-war head of the Submarine Branch.
UTSIRA was a British V-class submarine. Similar to the U-class, V-class submarines were slightly longer (207 feet in length), and had a bigger crew (37), more powerful engines and could dive deeper. During her three war patrols she sank a German Navy patrol vessel and a Norwegian merchant ship sailing under German control.
Both ULA and UTSIRA remained in commission until 1965.
U- and K-Class
In 1945, B 1 was decommissioned. In 1946, Norway purchased three more submarines from the UK. All were British V-class like UTSIRA: UTSTEIN (ex-HMS VENTURER), UTVAER (appropriately ex-HMS VIKING) and UTHAUG (exHMS VOTARY). Some sources refer to the British V-class as the Vampire-class since HMS VAMPIRE was the lead sub.
Somewhat confusingly, the Royal Norwegian Navy refers to their British V-class submarines as the (Norwegian) U- class.
UTSTEIN, in particular, had a distinguished legacy since HMS VENTURER sunk U-864 off Norway in 1945 while both subs were submerged, a rare feat for the Second World War. Today, the wreck of U-864 is considered an environmental hazard since it carried a cargo of 67 tons of metallic mercury.
After all of the U-class subs underwent modernization in the 1950s, UTSTEIN again distinguished itself (in 1962) by accidentally going 225 feet below its maximum depth of 300 feet.
After liberation, the Norwegian government also realized that it had inherited over 15 Type VIIC Jong-range German U-Boats as well as a few nearly indestructible U-Boat bunkers. The British Royal Navy had established a policy that all captured U-Boats should be sunk, and the Norwegians complied out of gratitude. However, Sigurd Valvatne, now head of the Submarine Branch, convinced the political leadership to retain three U-Boats which were recommissioned in 1948 into Norwegian service as the K-class: KYA (ex-U 926), KAURA (ex-U 995), and KINN (ex-U 1202).
The subs of the K-class were decommissioned between 1961 and 1964. KAURA (ex-U-995) was returned to Germany as a display at the U-Boat Memorial at Laboe, near Kiel. The U-class was decommissioned 1964-1965.
Cold War and the Move to Bergen
Based on the lessons of the Second World War, a Norwegian Defense Commission recommended that the main submarine base be moved from Horton in the Oslo fjord to near Bergen on the Atlantic coast. In 1949, Norway became a founding member of NATO which provided further impetus for a base in Western Norway. The submarines were moved to Bergen (which is the second-largest Norwegian city) in 1954, although their base was actually not fully completed until 1963.
The move greatly facilitated the superb cooperation between the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and the Norwegian armed forces, cooperation that was a hallmark of the Cold War, even during the academic and propaganda assault on The Maritime Strategy of the 1980s. The focus of the Royal Norwegian Navy was anti-Soviet operations off North Cape and in the Arctic, with the RNoN submarines being critical players. Norway retains this capability; after all it is their territory. However the number of submarines in the force has shrunk considerably.
An alternative submarine base in Tromso, north of the Arctic Circle was activated in 1968, but closed in 2008 amidst controversy.
KOBBEN-Class/Type 207 and the “Grand Age”
In 1960, a Naval Fleet Plan was drafted calling for a construction of 15 small but more modem submarines to be built for defense against a Soviet invasion. RNoN was lent a German Type 201 built by Rheinstahl Nordseewerk (now part of HDW) in Emden for evaluation. The result was a design combining features of the Type 20 I and Type 205, designated Type 207. Type 207 is 155 feet in length, with a submerged displacement of 485 tons and a crew of 24. Its eight 21 .0 inch torpedo tubes are capable of a variety of torpedoes, including US-built.
The 15 submarines, designated the KOBBEN-class (RNoN routinely reuses sub names), were built 1963-1966, and partially financed by the US. Their primary operating areas were off Northern Norway and in the Barents Sea. RNoN took pride in having an average of 10 operational at any given time. 12 Between 1985-1993, six boats were modernized and were lengthened by 2 meters (6 ft. 7 in.). Four others were sold to the Royal Danish Navy, where three served as the Tumleren-class until 2004 (the fourth was used for spare parts). In 2002-2003, five of the modernized subs were given to Poland, where four remain in commission and one is used for spares. The rest were scrapped by 2001.
Because of the number of operational submarines, the 1963- 2001 period has been referred to as the grand age of the RNoN Submarine Branch.
In the 1970s, the RNoN already started planning for replacements for the Kobben-class. Six Type 210 submarines were built in 1989-1992, and designated the ULA-class. These constitute Norway’s current Submarine Force.
At 190 feet and 1150 tons submerged displacement, the Ula class is substantially bigger and more capable than was the Kobben-class. The combat systems and the boats’ sections were built in Norway, but assembled in Emden. The Ula-class is also much faster, capable of making 23 knots submerged and with a range of 5000 miles at 8 knots.
Although primarily used for territorial defense, the Ula-class is a deployable submarine, and has operated in the Mediterranean in support of Operation Active Endeavor, primarily conducting intelligence gathering.
As the result of this experience, the ULA (S 300) itself was tropicalized for more efficient operations in warm water (especially cooling for the crew). Two more of the class are slated for tropicalization. Going through a series of modernizations, the RNoN expect to maintain the Ula-class in service until 2020.
Voyage to the Future, Echoes of the Past
The geography of Norway and its commitment to NATO would appear to require the maintenance of an effective Submarine Force. This is currently recognized by the major political parties, and the commitment to NATO is reflected in the tropicalization efforts to support out-of-area submarine operations. The Royal family is very supportive of the Norwegian military (the King is commander-in-chief of the armed forces), and the Crown Prince is a Norwegian Naval Academy graduate.
The Norwegian government is not sanguine about developments in Russia, but there is a significant degree of elite opinion looking to the EU rather than to the Atlantic. In 2005, the government of Norway pulled out its forces from the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (and from Iraq), reassigning them to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) instead. Interestingly enough, there are a number of Norwegian combat soldiers from Operation Enduring Freedom who are now RNoN Naval Academy midshipmen or graduates.
Within the RNoN, the Submarine Force maintains considerable prestige; however, the RNoN is a naval service in which most officers know of each other, so reputation is personal rather than derived by specialty. Flag ranks in the Royal Norwegian Navy tend to be dominated by qualified submariners, but most have held at least one surface command as well, often more than one. Being qualified in submarines does not mean one stays in submarines, and the most prestigious commands afloat are now the three new AEGIS-frigates: FRIDTJOF NANSEN (F310), ROALD AMUNDSEN (F311 ), and OTTO SVERDRUP (F312). Two more are under construction.
As before, RNoN submarines remain largely a territorial defense for the same reasons identified in Captain Geelmuyden’s report, with underway periods averaging three weeks. But this appears to be changing given the NATO deployments to the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Women have been integrated into the submarine crews (the fact that most underways are three weeks or so may or may not have influenced this decision), and the RNoN boasts the world’s first female submarine commanding officer.
The decision to proceed with AEGIS surface ships is actually a defensive complement to the Submarine Force in the sense they should eventually be able to provide a national ballistic missile defense (BMD)–at least of cities–while the subs provide local sea control and coastal protection. There has been little if any talk in Norway about AEGIS BMD, but most other nations obtaining AEGIS ships appear to be looking forward to that capability. Given the globalization of ballistic missiles and trends in Russia, it would be a mistake for Norway not to consider AEGIS BMD. At the same time, the AEGIS frigates and the tropicalized submarines give the RNoN a deployment capability unequaled by nations of equivalent population.
There is no indication that Norway would follow Denmark in the elimination of its Submarine Force. But then again, given the narrow straits of Denmark- the perfect geography for diesel electric submarines–who would have thought that the Danes would make such a decision without simply disarming completely? In the meantime, the Russian Baltic Fleet is bringing tactical nuclear weapons back on to their attack subs and surface ships. But I suppose Denmark’s decision reflects either an absolute faith in NATO or a belief that world peace is just around the comer.
In any event, the Norwegians are proud of not being Danes or Swedes and have no problem making their own independent choices as to how they see the world. But sea blindness is an illness that affects even many Americans, and no nation is necessarily immune without being frequently reminded of their naval and maritime traditions. Today that is exactly what the Royal Norwegian Navy is doing.