Lesser Known Navies: Denmark, Sweden and Norway

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Often, navy websites and books refer to "Minor" navies, We prefer to call them "Lesser known navies" because often these small navies, by their neutrality for example, played an important role in maintaining peace, especially in Europe, and were often a source of information and even assistance to the allied cause during the 14-18 and 39-45 wars. To label them "Minor" is at the least contemptuous, nobody can deny the courage of the Norwegian naval officers and men that ran the "Shetland Bus" from 1941 onwards. We begin this topic with Scandinavian navies: Denmark, Sweden then Norway with one photograph of a Finnish warship.


Denmark had what was essentially a coastal defence navy although it had a good harbour in one, St Thomas, of the three Danish West Indian islands (St John and St Croix being the other two). Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands also belonged to Denmark. Given the potential strategic location of these islands, it suited the major maritime nations of the time that they remained under the authority of a potentially neutral “minor” nation. This was all the more so when, in 1864, Prussia seized Schleswig-Holstein, Denmark lost the equivalent of one third of its territory. The British showed their hostility to any idea that the German Federation may attempt to occupy these islands and the status quo was maintained.

Catalogue number 35157

On station off the Danish Faroe Islands

That these Danish islands had a strategic interest for European naval powers is illustrated by the fact that, as late as 1905, France maintained warships on station off the Faroe Islands. Germany had already seized Schleswig-Holstein and was rapidly building up a navy that would be capable of seizing the Faroe Islands and hence controlling the passage between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Here we can see the cruiser Chasseloup-Laubat passing an iceberg. It looks like it is washing day with clothes hung out to dry from the foremast.

Verso: “Le Chasseloup-Laubat” in light pencil

10.5cm x 8cm Sepia print


Catalogue number 35118

The French cruiser off the Faroe Islands

The Lavoisier was also a cruiser of the Marine Nationale and she is seen here steaming past high cliffs. Lavoisier was employed for part of the year on fishery protection duties off Iceland and the Faroe Islands. This and the photograph above are from a series of 17 taken in 1905 and include views of Trongisvágur on the island of Suduroy, a whaling station and of visits ashore.

10.8cm x 7.8cm Sepia print


Catalogue number 86 F1

The wooden-hulled frigate Jylland

Jyland was a wooden-hulled screw frigate originally armed with 44 smooth bore 30 pdr guns. Launched in 1860, she is shown here in Copenhagen after becoming a training ship. When no longer needed, the frigate was preserved and is visible today in the dry dock in Ebeltoft.

Credit: J. Danielsen

22.5cm x 16.5cm photograph mounted on stiff cardboard


Catalogue number 117068

The training ship Dagmar

As a wooden-hulled sloop or corvette, K.D.M. Dagmar was armed with rifled muzzle-loading guns which, as is shown in this photograph in Bordeaux, were replaced with eight 4.7-inch guns (Conways All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860-1905)/5-inch guns (Danish Naval History website). Her career was essentially that of a training ship (launched 1861, decommissioned 1901).

Verso: “Bordeaux voilier Danois”in pencil

16.8cm x 12cm Sepia print


Catalogue number 36251

Fyen, an iron-hulled cruiser

Built for service in Danish West Indies, Fyen was an iron-hulled cruiser launched in 1882. From the mid-1850s Denmark tried to sell the islands, the economy of which was based on the slave trade (Danish arms and manufactured goods to Africa, slaves to the Caribbean sugar plantations, sugar, rum and molasses to Denmark) and they finally became the United States Virgin Islands after purchase by the United States of America in 1917. This gave the United States of America a strategic base from which to control the approach to the Panama Canal and also prevented Germany from taking the islands and using them as a submarine base. Although there are references to Fyen cruising in the Mediterranean Sea from the late 1800s, we have not found any description of Fyen on station off the Danish West Indies.

Verso: “Freja” crossed out “Fyen” in light pencil

10.9cm x 7.8cm Matt silver print


Catalogue number 91069

Coastal defence ships

In cooperation with Sweden, Denmark had the ability to close Oresund, while Denmark alone could close Storebaelt and thus control or at least survey passage by ships of the larger powers to and from the Baltic Sea. As a low freeboard coastal defence battleship, the Olfert Fischer was well-adapted for operations in these closed waters but quite unsuitable for steaming in the frequent rough weather of the open seas in the Baltic.

12.8cm x 7.9cm Printed image


Catalogue number 91069

Olfert Fischer

The Olfert Fischer was one of two Herluf Trolle class ships, the second being the name of class. They had two 9.4-inch guns plus four 5.9-inch guns and ten 6 pdrs. In this photograph we can see the crew are lining the deck.

12.8 x 8.8cm Printed image


Catalogue number 103025

Iver Hvitfeldt, a protected cruiser

Following the defeat by the joint Austrian and Prussian armies with the subsequent loss of territory, Denmark embarked on a policy of neutrality and developed its navy as a consequence. The protected cruiser Hekla was launched in 1890 and was armed with two 5.9-inch guns fore and aft, four 6 pdr on sponsons and multiple 1pdr revolver guns. The forward 5.9-inch is turned inwards and we can see two of the 6 pdr guns shielded on sponsons fore and aft on the upper deck.

10.8cm x 8.8cm Sepia print


Catalogue number 30001

The Danish cruiser Heimdal

K.D.M. Heimdal was a 17kt cruiser of the same class as Hekla. She is shown here in harbour with, in the background, a flotilla of five submarines and a depot ship. The Havmanden class and the Aegir class Danish submarines were made up of six and five boats respectively. To the right is what looks like a German M class minesweeper. Heimdal was decommissioned in 1930 so this photograph is not after the German occupation of Denmark in the Second World War.

11.2cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 104094

Ingolf, 1933

The website Danish Naval History (http://www.navalhistory.dk/indexUS.htm) gives K.D.M. Ingolf as an inspection ship which makes sense for a neutral maritime nation that may have to control military and merchant ships passing through its territorial waters. Elsewhere, she is described as a Fishery Protection vessel and a cadet training ship. Armed with two 120mm guns, two 57mm guns and machine guns, she was seized by the Germans in 1943 and later bombed and wrecked in Kiel.

Verso: “Ingolf 133 Danish cadet training ship and Fishery protection ship.” in French and in black ink

Credit: A. Beeken

12.5cm x 8.9cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 102097

Captain Harrtung, 1922

There is reference to a Lieutenant V.J.A. Harrtung in the Danish Navy, as commanding officer of the torpedo boat Narhvalen from 1904 to 1905 then of the torpedo boat Støren from May to June 1905. Here he is shown as a Captain in 1922.

Recto: “Harttung 1922.”

10.4cm x 14.4cm Matt silver print



The maritime history of Sweden in the recent past was as a member of various unions with Denmark and Norway then as a separate navy battling against its powerful neighbours notably Russia and Germany. Sweden built up a strong navy to keep the country out of a war or if this policy were to fail, to fight an enemy coming from within the Baltic Sea. The policy was one of active self defence. Of importance were minelayers to close the Baltic Sea but also powerful warships - along with a strong minesweeping fleet - were built and maintained to keep the Baltic open for commercial shipping - Swedish but also of other Baltic and non-Baltic nations.

Catalogue number 15036

Fylgia, the White Swan

The armoured cruiser Fylgia, commissioned 1907, was known as the white swan of Sweden as she visited ports worldwide in her role as a cadet training ship. She was extensively modernised in 1940-1941, rearmed and assigned to the neutrality watch.

Recto: "Swedish cruiser "Fygia" (sic) 11/3"

13.4cm x 8.2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 103027

Guns on Fylgia

Fylgia was initially armed with eight 6-inch guns and 14 6pdrs. In this photograph we can see the 6-inch guns in twin turrets fore and aft as well as on the starboard beam. One of the many 6pdrs can be see right forward between the anchor and the ship’s crest.

Recto: "The Filgia (sic) Swedish training ship" in French and in black ink

Verso: Message from a nephew to his aunt, in black ink

9.9cm x 7cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 16037

Fylgia at anchor

The 6pdrs are in casemates on slight sponsons. The port anchor would appear to have a special port to stow one of the flukes. A steam picket boat is on the boom and the canvas is out, is it too sunny?

10.7cm x 6.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 18002

Fylgia in Marseille

With this view of Fylgia taken in Marseille - note the transborder bridge left background - we can see one of the two stern 6pdr casemates. The strange shadows are probably made by the Captain’s stern walkway. This photograph is a cyanotype producing a blue photograph.

8cm x 5.7cm Cyanotype


Catalogue number 118003

Fylgia during the 1939-1945 war

Fylgia, already with 32 years in service, was extensively rebuilt in 1939-1940. Air defence was greatly improved and the range of the main battery was increased after which she patrolled on the neutrality watch. She finished as a cadet training ship once again and was decommissioned in 1953. Perhaps the long life of the hulls of the Swedish ships, and Scandinavian navy ships in general, can be attribute in part to the low salinity of the waters in which they navigated.

13.2cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 46118

Gotland, cruiser/carrier, 1938

This hybrid aircraft carrier/cruiser carried six Hawker Osprey floatplanes that were catapulted from the aft deck and were brought back on board using the crane over the stern. These Ospreys were powered by the Bristol Pegasus radial engine. She had six 6-inch guns, two twin turrets fore and aft with single mountings either side of the bridge structure. The AA guns were numerous (see roof of the forward turret and at several points on the upper deck) and the cruiser could also carry between 80 and 100 mines.

Credit: Wright and Logan

13.4cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 128015

Rail system for moving aircraft, Gotland 1938

The complex rail system to move aircraft on Gotland is shown here with the turntable catapult to the right. Just left of center is a parked Pegasus-powered Hawker Osprey. Each aircraft was mounted on its launch trolley. In Jane's Fighting Ships 1938, it is said that an aircraft would use its motor to move on the trolly along the rails whereas in The Hybrid Warship (Layman and McLaughlin, 1991), it is said that the aircraft were moved about on electrically-powered trollies. There is a spare float to port. The aircraft were exposed to the elements and moving aircraft in anything other than a calm sea would be hard work.

Verso: "Swedish cruiser 12 th June 1938" in French and in light blue ink

11.8cm x 6.8cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 29015

A cruiser and an aircraft carrier

Here we can see the forward twin 6-inch turret and the port single 6-inch with a Bofors AA gun pointing up abaft the rear funnel. Aircraft were moved on the flight deck using trolleys running on a system of rails. Whilst the ship was underway, aircraft could be picked up over the stern using the floating Henne mat system. Although an interesting concept, this hybrid ship was overtaken by aircraft carrier development and the arrival of high performance carrier-borne aircraft.

Verso: "Visit "Gotland" 12th June 1938. Antwerp" in Dutch and in black ink

13.2cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 108068

Gotland converted to an AA ship

Gotland was converted to a formidable AA cruiser between 1943 and 1944. She had four 75mm, eight 40mm (in four double mountings) and 16 25mm Bofors guns. Here we can see double and single gun mounts. There are shoots for releasing mines over the stern. She was finally decommissioned in 1956 and broken up in 1963.

13.1cm x 8.9cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 100058

Part of the fleet in Goteborg pre-1944

The warship far left is the Sverige (commissioned 1917) after modernisation and showing the curved back forefunnel. After a group of three destroyers, there is either Drottning Victoria or Gustaf V before modification of the funnels. In the background is the special cruiser Gotland (completed 1933). Whilst on exercise in May 1941, it was Gotland that signalled the passage of the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen into the North Sea, information that "came to the attention" of British naval officials in Sweden.

13.1cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 100110

Modernised battleshipsn

This and the previous photograph show part of the Swedish Navy just prior to the Second World War with the modernised coastal battleships Drotting Victoria (commissioned 1917) and Gustaf V prior to the 1938 changes (commissioned 1922) moored in the harbour in Goteborg. Changes include a tripod mast with a prominent director atop and addition of 40mm Bofors AA guns. Inboard of these warships are three twin-funnelled destroyers.

13.1cm x 8.9cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 80256

1886, the beginnings of a modern navy

From the late 19th century Sweden embarked on a programme to build a modern navy as did Germany under the impetus of Kaiser Wilhelm II. H.Sw.M.S. Svea was the class name ship of three coastal defence ships, Svea was launched in 1886. She is shown here after reconstruction in 1901-1904 during which the 10-inch guns of the twin turret were replaced by a single 8.3-inch gun.

10.3cm x 7.6cm Cellulose negative


Catalogue number 118006

Svea rebuilt, 1920

Svea was extensively rebuilt in 1920 as a submarine depot ship. Photographs exist with Svea servicing seven submarines.

13.3cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 118006

Patricia as a submarine depot ship

H.Sw.M.S. Patricia was initially the steamer Patris II built in 1926 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend. She served the route Marseille-Genoa-Piraeus-Alexandria-Cyprus-Beirut for the Byron Line before being sold to Swedish Lloyd in 1935 and renamed Patricia II. After working the Goteburg-Tilbury route, she was laid up at the start of the Second World War. In 1940, the Swedish Government bought her and she was converted to a submarine depot ship (1941). She could accommodate the crews of nine submarines.

13.3cm x 8.4cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 80257


The Oden class of coastal defence ships followed soon after the Svea class. Oden was armed with two 10-inch guns fore and after as opposed to the single fore-mounted gun of the reconstructed Svea. In this image, we can see the three starboard 6pdr guns. Although Sweden had high quality iron ore, it did not have - and was reluctant to invest in - the plant necessary to make heavy guns. The 10-inch guns of Svea came from Armstrong and those of Odin from the French constructor Canet.

9cm x 7.5cm Cellulose negative


Catalogue number 92149


H.Sw.M.S. Dristigheten was armed with 8.3-inch guns fore and aft with six 6-inch guns at the level of the upper deck. She was launched in 1900 as Sweden was coming to an end of the forced union with Norway (1905). Of the warships we have see so far, none would be a match for the battleships and cruisers of the Imperial Russia Navy should they make battle in the open sea. However, the Swedish warships were admirably suited for a prolonged defence by manoeuvring in the fjords and inlets of the 7624km of coastline, picking off the enemy when the occasion presented itself.

Credit: A. Bougault

13.3cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 118005

Dristigheten as a seaplane tender

Dristigheten was rebuilt as a seaplane tender and repair ship in 1930, she also carried the necessary stores and provided accommodation. Three aircraft could be carried and in this photograph, there is a Heinkel HD-19 to the right and a larger Heinkel HD-16 to the left by the stern crane. The HD-19 was a naval fighter powered by a Bristol Jupiter VI radial engine, note the lower extension to the tail. The He-16 could carry a Swedish-made 45cm torpedo.

13.3cm x 8.2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 30042

Secondary armament of Drottning Victoria, 1937

This port side view of the coastal defence ship Drottning Victoria (commissioned 1921) shows her extensive secondary armament of 152mm Bofors QF guns in turrets. We can also see the twin Bofors AA guns just forward of the stern turret.

Credit: Wright and Logan

13.2cm x 8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number

Mining of the Skagerrak and the Scandinavian coast 1914 to 1945

This map gives an idea of the problem facing neutral shipping moving in and out of the Baltic Sea during the First and Second World Wars. An efficient mine-sweeping force was necessary to keep the shipping lanes open as well as mine-laying to protect the territorial waters.

Credit: Ingemar Elofsson, Försvarsmakten (Swedish Armed Forces)


Catalogue number 29007

Älvsnabben, a minelayer

H.Sw.M.S. Älvsnabben 1943 was a mine-layer initially laid down as a merchant ship, this photograph also exists with neutrality stripes (vertical white stripe fore and aft) on the hull. She was well-armed and carries 380 mines which moved along three parallel lines of rails port and starboard going from the foredeck to the dropping shoots over the stern. Launched 1943, she became a training ship in 1953 travelling worldwide and stricken only in 1982.

Verso: "For the benefit of the Swedish Navy" in Swedish

13.1cm x 8.2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 29008

Mine warfare ship Kullen

Note the derricks on the stern of the Arholma class minesweeper Kullen and the unshielded 105mm gun on the foredeck as well as the folded boom on the bow for the forward sweep. This class of 14 were built from 1937 to 1940. They were considered to be well-armed and able to act as patrol vessels and minelayers (20 mines). A mine laying and mine sweeping capability was all important for Sweden given its strategic position controlling the passage to and from the Baltic Sea.

13.1cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 29008

The Arholma class of minesweeper, 1937 on

H.Sw.M.S. Arholma was the first ship of a class of 14 minesweepers/mine layers built from 1937 on to 1940. Here we can see the sweep handling derricks with a clasp-like device for holding the Oropesa sweep. By the emergency conning position is one of the two machine guns and the two 105mm guns are under canvas covers. The two depth charge throwers can be seen on the main deck just forward of the emergency conning position. These ships could carry 20 mines.

13.1cm x 8.2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 29008

H.Sw.M.S. Bredskär

The Oropesa sweeps are stowed on the quarter deck although we cannot see the handling derricks. The emergency conning wheel is just forward of the canvas covered machine gun and there are two 105mm AA guns - one abaft the funnel and the other on the foredeck. The depth charge throwers do not seem to be mounted.

13.3cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 24025

Italian-built destroyer Puke, 1940

The destroyer Puke and her sister ship Psilander were purchased in 1940 from Italy (ex Bettino Ricasoli and Giovanni Nicotera, respectively) but were found to be unsuitable for operations in the Baltic Sea. After extensive reworking and adaptations to cold weather conditions, the ships proved difficult to operate and the machinery was unreliable as had been the case under the Italian flag.

13.2cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print



Norway has a vast coastline giving out onto the Skagerrack (gateway to and from the Baltic Sea), the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Barent Sea. The coastline is made up of hundreds of islands, inlets and fjords that penetrate deep inland. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Norwegian merchant navy was the fourth largest in the world, illustrating the excellent seamanship qualities of the Norwegians rather than the need to export Norwegian goods. However the state was not financially capable of maintaining a large navy to protect its merchant ships. The naval force was oriented towards coastal defence.

Catalogue number 91085

A coastal monitor along the same lines as American monitors

Launched in 1866, when Norway was still part of a union with Sweden, Skorpionen was the first ship of a class of three coastal monitors of American inspiration. This image shows the monitor after the original two 10.5-inch rifled muzzle loading guns were replaced in 1897 with two 4.7-inch guns in a turret, two 9 pdrs and two 1 pdrs. Note the shielded guns by the funnel, the conning tower by the foremast and the very low freeboard.

19.5cm x 12.9cm Printed image


Catalogue number 91082


Tordenskjold was a coastal defence ship armed with single 8.2-inch guns in fore and aft turrets. The six 4.7-inch shielded guns were port and starboard amidships. Note the guns around and above the bridge as well as the mainmast. The two ships of the class were still operational in the 1939-45 war as German flakship.

19.5cm x 13cm Printed image


Catalogue number 107074

Guns on Tordenskjold

The ship is still under the Norwegian flag, a gun has been added to the fore turret and we can clearly see the 12 pdrs below the bridge.

Verso: “Norwegian cruiser Tordenskjold” in French and in black ink

5.4cm x 8.2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 80291

Harald Haarfagre, launched 1897

Sister ship to Tordenskjold, Harald Haarfagre was active in the Norwegian Navy throughout her life until she was disarmed in 1939. Built in Britain, she carried two 8.2-inch guns and six 3-inch guns on the beam.

7.9cm x 4.2cm Negative


Catalogue number 80290

British-built Swedish warships, the Norge

Similar to the two Harald Haarfagre class ships, the Norge class were built in Britain by Armstrong. They had a compliment of 266.

9.9cm x 6.8cm Negative


Catalogue number 91084

H.Nw.M.S. Norge dressed over

The secondary armament was heavier and more numerous than the previous class with notably 5.9-inch guns in the upper deck casemates. Note the steam picket boat coming alongside.

15.3cm x 5.2cm Printed image


Catalogue number 91084

Eidsvold, a newer class

This image gives a good view of the main and secondary armament of H.Nw.M.S. Eidsvold. Note the powerful searchlights on the bridge wings and the semaphore system inboard of the port searchlight. The above three coastal defence ships were considered to be excellent seaboats.

15.2cm x 9.5cm Printed image


Catalogue number 91090

Viking, a small protected cruiser

H.Nw.M.S. Viking was, compared to navies of the period, the size of a destroyer yet armed as a cruiser. For the Norwegian Navy it was often the case of putting the maximum of weaponry into the minium hull size. She carried two 5.9-inch guns (later changed to 4.7-inch), four 6pdrs (later 12pdrs) and four 1pdrs (later six 3pdrs). As we can see in this image, the 6pdrs were in casemates on the beam, fore and aft. Note the now-in-favour inverted bow.

19.4cm x 13cm Printed image


Catalogue number 91088

Frithjof, another armoured cruiser

Deck armour of 1.25-inches qualified Frithjof, like Viking, to be classed as a cruiser. She had a similar armament to the modified Viking. Launched only five years after Viking, the design was slightly different, the secondary armament is not in casemates like Viking.

19.5cm x 12.9cm Printed image


Catalogue number 91086

Sleipner, a small ship with battleship armament

Following the tradition of building small ships that pack a big punch, the gunboat Sleipner was launched in 1877 and mounted one 10.2-inch gun forward for a hull size of 53.26m oa and only 571t displacement. In other navies, this calibre of gun was normally found on battleships ! The gun was breach loading and made by Krupps.

19.6cm x 12.9cm Printed image


Catalogue number 72130

Sleipner, after rebuild

This and the previous image show the ship after the 1900 rebuild when the masts and rigging were removed, the bridge was built up and the superstructure redesigned. There are two, maybe 12pdr, guns on the stern.

8.7cm x 5.1cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 91083

The destroyer Valkyrjen

Of German construction (Schichau shipyard, commissioned 1896) along the lines of the German destroyers of the time. She carried two 76mm guns, which can be clearly seen in this image, and four 37mm guns plus two torpedo tubes. Said to be a good and very comfortable sea ship after hitting a storm on delivery to the Horten shipyard. Being financed by public subscription from Norwegian women (“The Women’s Warship”), the ship was open to the public during two days in Christiania ( now Oslo). She was decommissioned in 1922.

19.7cm x 14.3cm Printed image


Catalogue number 91087

The torpedo boat Orm

Orm was a fast (19kts) torpedo boat with a 1pdr gun and two 16-inch torpedo tubes - bow and mid-ships.

19.1cm x 12.8cm Printed image


Catalogue number 91089

Sael, torpedo boat

Here is a view of the sleek torpedo boat Sael, the bow tube has gone and been replaced by a second deck tube, both of which are trained to port. She was a merit to the Royal Norwegian Navy Shipyard in Horten and had a very long life. Commissioned in 1901, she took part in the union war with Sweden in 1905, was active in assuring Norwegian neutrality in the 14-18 war and finally was lost fighting the Kreigsmarine in 1940.

19.5cm x 12.8cm Gelatin silver print

Catalogue number 72020

Finnish Navy Ship Hämeenmaa

The development of an independent naval force in Finland was greatly hampered by its overpowering neighbour Russia. Only ships of modest size could be built or acquired. The sloop Hämeenmaa was launched in 1917, displaced 400 tons and was built in the Kone ja Silta Oy shipyard in Helsinki. She had a complicated early life passing from Finland to Russia and then to Germany before being handed back to the Finns in 1920. She is shown here with a Russian-manufactured 102mm Pattern 1911 gun of Vickers design. In the background of this photograph are two submarines, the one far right looks like the Saukko (note black band on the bridge), a small Finish submarine of 100/136 tons displacement, radius of action 375/45 miles.

12.2cm x 8.1cm Gelatin silver print