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The Swedish king had little sympathy for the Danish king, Christian IV , and Denmark and Sweden had been bitter enemies for well over a century.
However, Sweden feared a Catholic conquest of Copenhagen and Zealand. This would have granted the Catholic powers control over the strategic passages between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea , which would be disastrous for Swedish interests.
Until the early 17th century, the Swedish navy was composed primarily of small to medium-sized ships with a single gundeck, normally armed with pounder and smaller cannons; these ships were cheaper than larger ships and were well-suited for escort and patrol.
They also suited the prevailing tactical thinking within the navy, which emphasised boarding as the decisive moment in a naval battle rather than gunnery.
The king, who was a keen artillerist, saw the potential of ships as gun platforms, and large, heavily armed ships made a more dramatic statement in the political theater of naval power.
Beginning with Vasa , he ordered a series of ships with two full gundecks, outfitted with much heavier guns.
These ships, especially Kronan and Scepter , were much more successful and served as flagships in the Swedish navy until the s.
The only significant difference between the design of Vasa and her sister ship was an increase in width of about a metre 3. When a new contract for operation of the navy yard was negotiated in the winter of —, Monier withdrew and Master Henrik took on a young merchant from Amsterdam, Arendt de Groote, as partner.
On 16 January , Henrik and Arendt signed a contract to build four ships, two larger with a keel length of feet 38 m and two smaller, with dimensions to match the earlier ship Gustavus.
As they prepared to begin the first of the new ships in the autumn of , Henrik corresponded with the king through the Vice Admiral Fleming about which ship to build first.
The loss of ten ships in the Bay of Riga led the king to propose building two ships of a new, medium size as a quick compromise, and he sent a specification for this, a ship which would be feet Henrik declined, since he had already cut the timber for a large and a small ship.
He laid the keel for a larger ship in late February or early March He died in the spring of , probably about the same time as the ship was launched.
After launching, work continued on finishing the upper deck, the sterncastle, the beakhead and the rigging. Sweden had still not developed a sizeable sailcloth industry, and material had to be ordered from abroad.
In the contract for the maintenance of rigging, French sailcloth was specified, but the cloth for the sails of Vasa most likely came from Holland.
The rigging was made entirely of hemp imported from Latvia through Riga. The king visited the shipyard in January and made what was probably his only visit aboard the ship.
Thirty men ran back and forth across the upper deck to start the ship rolling, but the admiral stopped the test after they had made only three trips, as he feared the ship would capsize.
Gustavus Adolphus had been sending a steady stream of letters insisting that the ship put to sea as soon as possible. There has been much speculation about whether Vasa was lengthened during construction and whether an additional gun deck was added late during the build.
Little evidence suggests that Vasa was substantially modified after the keel was laid. Ships contemporary to Vasa that were elongated were cut in half and new timbers spliced between the existing sections, making the addition readily identifiable, but no such addition can be identified in the hull, nor is there any evidence for any late additions of a second gundeck.
The king ordered 72 pound cannons for the ship on 5 August , and this was too many to fit on a single gun deck.
The French Galion du Guise , the ship used as a model for Vasa , according to Arendt de Groote, also had two gun decks. Vasa was an early example of a warship with two full gun decks, and was built when the theoretical principles of shipbuilding were still poorly understood.
There is no evidence that Henrik Hybertsson had ever built a ship like it before, and two gundecks is a much more complicated compromise in seaworthiness and firepower than a single gundeck.
Safety margins at the time were also far below anything that would be acceptable today. Combined with the fact that 17th-century warships were built with intentionally high superstructures to be used as firing platforms , this made Vasa a risky undertaking.
Vasa was built during a time of transition in naval tactics, from an era when boarding was still one of the primary ways of fighting enemy ships to an era of the strictly organised ship-of-the-line and a focus on victory through superior gunnery.
Vasa was armed with powerful guns and built with a high stern, which would act as a firing platform in boarding actions for some of the soldiers she was supposed to carry, but the high-sided hull and narrow upper deck were not optimised for boarding.
She was neither the largest ship ever built, nor the one carrying the greatest number of guns. What made her arguably the most powerful warship of the time was the combined weight of shot that could be fired from the cannon of one side: This was the largest concentration of artillery in a single warship in the Baltic at the time, perhaps in all of northern Europe, and it was not until the s that a ship with more firepower was built.
This large amount of naval artillery was placed on a ship that was quite small relative to the armament carried. The Constitution , however, belonged to a later era of naval warfare that employed the line of battle -tactic, where ships fought in single file or line ahead while the group as a whole attempted to present the batteries of one side toward the enemy.
The guns would be aimed in the same direction and fire could be concentrated on a single target. In the 17th century, tactics involving organised formations of large fleets had still not been developed.
Rather, ships would fight individually or in small improvised groups, and focused on boarding. Vasa , though possessing a formidable battery, was built with these tactics in mind, and therefore lacked a unified broadside with guns that were all aimed in roughly the same direction.
Rather, the guns were intended to be fired independently and were arranged according to the curvature of the hull, meaning that the ship would be bristled with artillery in all directions, covering virtually all angles.
Naval gunnery in the 17th century was still in its infancy. Guns were expensive and had a much longer lifespan than any warship. Guns with a lifetime of over a century were not unheard of, while most warships would be used for only 15 to 20 years.
Ships were therefore usually fitted with guns of very diverse age and size. What allowed Vasa to carry so much firepower was not merely that an unusually large number of guns were crammed into a relatively small ship, but also that the 46 main pounder guns were of a new and standardised lightweight design, cast in a single series at the state gun foundry in Stockholm, under the direction of the Swiss-born founder Medardus Gessus.
Two additional pounders, of a heavier and older design, were mounted in the bows, the so-called bow chasers.
Four more heavy guns were intended for the stern, but the cannon foundry could not cast guns as fast as the navy yard could build ships, and Vasa waited nearly a year after construction was finished for its armament.
When the ship sailed in August , eight of the planned armament of 72 guns had still not been delivered. The remaining armament of Vasa consisted of eight 3-pounders, six large caliber stormstycken similar to what the English called howitzers for use during boarding actions, and two 1-pound falconets.
As was the custom with warships at the time, Vasa was decorated with sculptures intended to glorify the authority, wisdom and martial prowess of the monarch and also to deride, taunt and intimidate the enemy.
The sculptures made up a considerable part of the effort and cost of building the ship. The symbolism used in decorating the ship was mostly based on the Renaissance idealization of Roman and Greek antiquity, which had been imported from Italy through German and Dutch artists.
Imagery borrowed from Mediterranean antiquity dominates the motifs, but also include figures from the Old Testament and even a few from ancient Egypt.
Many of the figures are in Dutch grotesque style, depicting fantastic and frightening creatures, including mermaids, wild men , sea monsters and tritons.
The decoration inside the ship is much sparser and is largely confined to the steerage and the great cabin, at the after end of the upper gundeck.
Residues of paint have been found on many sculptures and on other parts of the ship. The entire ornamentation was once painted in vivid colors.
The sides of the beakhead the protruding structure below the bowsprit , the bulwarks the protective railing around the weather deck , the roofs of the quarter galleries , and the background of the transom the flat surface at the stern of the ship were all painted red, while the sculptures were decorated in bright colors, and the dazzling effect of these was in some places emphasised with gold leaf.
Close to sculptures, most of which are concentrated on the high stern and its galleries and on the beakhead, are found on the ship.
On the transom are biblical and nationalistic symbols and images. A particularly popular motif is the lion, which can be found as the mascarons originally fitted on the insides of the gunport doors, grasping the royal coat of arms on either side, the figurehead, and even clinging to the top of the rudder.
Each side of the beakhead originally had 20 figures though only 19 have actually been found that depicted Roman emperors from Tiberius to Septimius Severus.
Overall, almost all heroic and positive imagery is directly or indirectly identified with the king and was originally intended to glorify him as a wise and powerful ruler.
The only actual portrait of the king, however, is located at the very top of the transom in the stern. A team of at least six expert sculptors worked for a minimum of two years on the sculptures, most likely with the assistance of an unknown number of apprentices and assistants.
Other accomplished artists, like Hans Clausink, Johan Didrichson Tijsen or Thessen in Swedish and possibly Marcus Ledens, are known to have been employed for extensive work at the naval yards at the time Vasa was built, but their respective styles are not distinct enough to associate them directly with any specific sculptures.
The artistic quality of the sculptures varies considerably, and about four distinct styles can be identified. These include some of the most important and prestigious pieces: The day was calm, and the only wind was a light breeze from the southwest.
The ship was warped hauled by anchor along the eastern waterfront of the city to the southern side of the harbor, where four sails were set, and the ship made way to the east.
The gun ports were open, and the guns were out to fire a salute as the ship left Stockholm. The sheets were cast off, and the ship slowly righted herself as the gust passed.
At Tegelviken, where there is a gap in the bluffs, an even stronger gust again forced the ship onto its port side, this time pushing the open lower gunports under the surface, allowing water to rush in onto the lower gundeck.
Survivors clung to debris or the upper masts, which were still above the surface, to save themselves, and many nearby boats rushed to their aid, but despite these efforts and the short distance to land, 30 people perished with the ship, according to reports.
Vasa sank in full view of a crowd of hundreds, if not thousands, of mostly ordinary Stockholmers who had come to see the great ship set sail.
The Council sent a letter to the king the day after the loss, telling him of the sinking, but it took over two weeks to reach him in Poland.
Under initial interrogation, he swore that the guns had been properly secured and that the crew was sober. A full inquest before a tribunal of members of the Privy Council and Admiralty took place at the Royal Palace on 5 September Each of the surviving officers was questioned as was the supervising shipwright and a number of expert witnesses.
The object of the inquest was as much or more to find a scapegoat as to find out why the ship had sunk. Whoever the committee might find guilty for the fiasco would face a severe penalty.
Surviving crew members were questioned one by one about the handling of the ship at the time of the disaster. Was it rigged properly for the wind?
Was the crew sober? Was the ballast properly stowed? Were the guns properly secured? However, no-one was prepared to take the blame.
Crewmen and contractors formed two camps; each tried to blame the other, and everyone swore he had done his duty without fault and it was during the inquest that the details of the stability demonstration were revealed.
Next, attention was directed to the shipbuilders. Jacobsson had in fact widened the ship by 1 foot 5 inches c.
In the end, no guilty party could be found. Gustavus Adolphus had approved all measurements and armaments, and the ship was built according to the instructions and loaded with the number of guns specified.
In the end, no-one was punished or found guilty for negligence, and the blame effectively fell on Henrik Hybertsson. Less than three days after the disaster, a contract was signed for the ship to be raised.
However, those efforts were unsuccessful. Two ships or hulks were placed parallel to either side above the wreck, and ropes attached to several anchors were sent down and hooked to the ship.
The two hulks were filled with as much water as was safe, the ropes tightened, and the water pumped out.
The sunken ship then rose with the ships on the surface and could be towed to shallower waters. The process was then repeated until the entire ship was successfully raised above water level.
Even if the underwater weight of Vasa was not great, the mud in which it had settled made it sit more secure on the bottom and required considerable lifting power to overcome.
With a simple diving bell , the team of Swedish and Finnish divers retrieved more than 50 of them. Such activity waned when it became clear that the ship could not be raised by the technology of the time.
However, Vasa did not fall completely into obscurity after the recovery of the guns. The ship was mentioned in several histories of Sweden and the Swedish Navy, and the location of the wreck appeared on harbor charts of Stockholm in the 19th century.
In , the navy officer Anton Ludwig Fahnehjelm turned in a request for salvaging rights to the ship, claiming he had located it.
Fahnehjelm was an inventor who designed an early form of light diving suit and had previously been involved in other salvage operations. There were dives made on the wreck in —, and a commercial salvage company applied for a permit to raise or salvage the wreck in , but this was turned down.
In , a witness also claimed that his father, a petty officer in the Swedish navy, had taken part in diving exercises on Vasa in the years before World War I.
Almost all of the iron on the ship rusted away within a few years of the sinking, and only large objects, such as anchors, or items made of cast iron, such as cannonballs, survived.
Organic materials fared better in the anaerobic conditions, and so wood, cloth and leather are often in very good condition, but objects exposed to the currents were eroded by the sediment in the water, so that some are barely recognizable.
Of the human remains, most of the soft tissue was quickly consumed by bacteria, fish and crustaceans, leaving only the bones, which were often held together only by clothing, although in one case, hair, nails and brain tissue survived.
The parts of the hull held together by joinery and wooden treenails remained intact for as much as two centuries, suffering gradual erosion of surfaces exposed to the water, unless they were disturbed by outside forces.
The quarter galleries , which were merely nailed to the sides of the sterncastle, collapsed fairly quickly and were found lying almost directly below their original locations.
Human activity was the most destructive factor, as the initial salvage efforts, the recovery of the guns, and the final salvage in the 20th century all left their marks.
Peckell and Treileben broke up and removed much of the planking of the weather deck to get to the cannons on the decks below.
Peckell reported that he had recovered 30 cartloads of wood from the ship; these might have included not just planking and structural details but also some of the sculptures which today are missing, such as the life-size Roman warrior near the bow and the sculpture of Septimius Severus that adorned the port side of the beakhead.
Construction work in Stockholm harbor usually results in blasting of bedrock, and the resulting tonnes of rubble were often dumped in the harbor; some of this landed on the ship, causing further damage to the stern and the upper deck.
He spent many years probing the waters without success around the many assumed locations of the wreckage. He did not succeed until, based on accounts of an unknown topographical anomaly just south of the Gustav V dock on Beckholmen , he narrowed his search.
In , with a home-made, gravity-powered coring probe, he located a large wooden object almost parallel to the mouth of dock on Beckholmen.
The location of the ship received considerable attention, even if the identification of the ship could not be determined without closer investigation.
Soon after the announcement of the find, planning got underway to determine how to excavate and raise Vasa.
The Swedish Navy was involved from the start, as were various museums and the National Heritage board, representatives of which eventually formed the Vasa Committee, the predecessor of the Vasa Board.
A number of possible recovery methods were proposed, including filling the ship with ping-pong balls and freezing it in a block of ice, but the method chosen by the Vasa Board which succeeded the Vasa Committee was essentially the same one attempted immediately after the sinking.
Divers spent two years digging six tunnels under the ship for steel cable slings, which were taken to a pair of lifting pontoons at the surface.
The work under the ship was extremely dangerous, requiring the divers to cut tunnels through the clay with high-pressure water jets and suck up the resulting slurry with a dredge, all while working in total darkness with hundreds of tonnes of mud-filled ship overhead.
The almost vertical sections of the tunnels near the side of the hull could also potentially collapse and bury a diver inside.
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