A Year: Day to Day Men: 10th of August, Solar Year 2018

Leaves of Green

August 10, 1628 marks the sinking of the Swedish warship Vasa.

King of Sweden Gustavus Adolphus, 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 the Vasa, he ordered a series of ships with two full gundecks, outfitted with much heavier guns. The Vasa was built simultaneously with her sister ship Applet; the only significant difference was Vasa’s three foot increase in width.

King Gustavus Adolphus ordered 72 24-pound cannons for the Vasa on the 5th of August 1626, and this was too many to fit on a single gun deck. Since the king’s order was issued less than five months after construction started, it would have come early enough for the second deck to be included in the design. The French Gallon du Guise, the ship used as a model for Vasa, according to Arendt de Groote, also had two gun decks. Laser measurements of Vasa’s structure conducted in 2007–2011 confirmed that no major changes were implemented during construction, but that the centre of gravity was too high.

On 10 August 1628, Captain Söfring Hansson ordered Vasa to depart on her maiden voyage to the naval station at Alvsnabben. The day was calm, and the only wind was a light breeze from the southwest. The ship was 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.

As Vasa passed under the lee of the bluffs to the south, a gust of wind filled her sails, and she heeled suddenly to port The sheets were cast off, and the ship slowly righted itself 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 gun ports under the surface, allowing water to rush in onto the lower gun deck. The water building up on the deck quickly exceeded the ship’s minimal ability to right itself, and water continued to pour in until it ran down into the hold; the ship quickly sank to a depth of 105 ft only 390 ft from shore.

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 crowd included foreign ambassadors, in effect spies of Gustavus Adolphus’ allies and enemies, who also witnessed the catastrophe.

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