Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Military History and Warfare: The Thirty Years War: The 'Vasa' Part II

This week, due to popular demand, I shall be taking another look at the recovered warship 'Vasa' with more pictures of the ship and its museum. However, before that I would like to remind you about the 17th Military History Carnival being hosted on this site on the 14th September.

The handy submission form can be accessed here .

In my previous post on the Vasa, I examined some of the historical background to the ship and the events leading up to its sinking. This week, I shall be focusing on the recovery operation and some of the archaeological finds discovered in the wreckage.

In the decades that followed after the sinking of the ship in 1628, efforts were begun to salvage the valuable cannons and provisions that could still be recovered and reused. This explains why out of the original complement of sixty-four cannons, only three were recovered with the wreckage in 1961.

Knowledge of the ship's location was then lost for three hundred years. In the twentieth century, it was thanks to the determination of a Swedish marine technican, Anders Franzen that the ship was again located Using a homemade coring probe, he found a large wooden object near Beckholmen in Stockholm. After identifying the ship, the Swedish navy was brought in (along with National Heritage Board) to form the Vasa committe. Together, they made plans to raise the Vasa.

In order to even have a chance to raise the ship, divers were required to use pressure hoses to dig six tunnels underneath the wreck. This was dangerous work. There was a strong possibility that the wreck could shift as the mud was being excavated, trapping the diver. Fortunately, no one was injured in the process. Once the tunnels were complete, steel cables were run underneath and attached to a pair of lifting pontoons on the surface. The ship was then raised in a series of eighteen lifts bringing her from a depth of 33 metres to 16. Over the next year and a half, debris and mud were cleared from the ship in the hopes of lightening the load. The gunports were temporally plugged and iron bolts that had rusted away were replaced.

On the morning of April 24th 1961, the Vasa broke surface and once again floated in Stockholm harbour. She was then towed to a dry dock and works were begun. Although a museum was established for members of the public to visit whilst the ship was being excavated, it was not until 1990 that the Vasamuseet we see today was completed.

Unlike the old museum, Vasa museet has three levels of viewing galleries. This allows us to view the ship from above:

Having learnt valuable lessons from the Vasa's maiden voyage these cannon ports were sealed as the ship was raised to the surface.

Thirty to fifty men, women and children died during the sinking in 1628. Some were below decks when the ship keeled over trapping them, others may have been unable to swim. As a result, several skeletons have been recovered from the site.

Using DNA tests on the remains, scientists have been able to determine the age, sex and relative health of crew. The ability to gather this vast amount of detail, gives the historian an incredible insight into the lives of ordinary people in the seventeenth century. Look here for some reconstructions of how the crew may have looked.

It is important to remember that although the Vasa has been largely reconstructed, large parts of the ship were originally painted in bright decorative colours.

The Vasa was as much a work of art as she was a warship.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts on the Vasa! I strongly encourage you to go to Stockholm and take a look for yourselves.

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Richard said...

I was surprised to read there were women and children among the skeletons exhumed with the ship? Presumably, this was as it sank during its own launching ceremony? There is very little concrete evidence about the routine makeup of a 17th century fighting ship's complement.

Alex said...

I seem to recall from the museum that some of the crew had brought their families onboard specifically for the launching ceremony. I'm not sure what the crew complement would normally have consisted of under full military conditions.