Sweden identifies wrecks of warships discovered in 2019

The wrecks found at Vaxholm, Sweden, in the autumn of 2019 are warships Apollo and Maria, maritime archaeologists at Vrak – Museum of Wrecks have confirmed.

Jim Hansson/VRAK/SMTM

Both built in 1648, the ships in question were deliberately sunk in 1677 at Vaxholm.

Photo: Jim Hansson/VRAK/SMTM

As explained, wood samples, measurements of deck beams and frames, and thorough archival research have all led to an answer about which ships were previously discovered.

The museum’s maritime archaeologists confirmed that the ships are the warships Apollo and Maria, which were transporting troops to Poland in preparation for an invasion by Charles X Gustav. Both ships took part in the Battle of Møn in 1657 and were also used in the Battle of the Sound in 1658.

“Identifying the ships has been a real mystery to solve, and there were many pieces that needed to fall into place,” Jim Hansson, maritime archaeologist and project manager for the dives at Vaxholm, commented.

Intensive efforts to identify the ships

To reconstruct the ships, work began on making sketches and digitising them. By measuring deck beams and frames and then matching that information with hull details, the archaeologists were able to get a good picture of the size and shape of the ships.

“We found that one ship had been 8.7 metres at its widest point,” Hansson says.

“By having both the width and shape of the ship, we could estimate the length to be about 35 metres. This also matched well with the length and width ratios that were common in the 17th century.”

Through archival research, the maritime archaeologists came across two ships built in 1648: Apollo, built in Wismar, Germany, and Maria, built at Skeppsholmen in Stockholm. According to the archives, their measurements were consistent with what they themselves had concluded. According to the sources, both ships would also have been scuttled at Vaxholm in 1677.

 “The dimensions and shape of the ships matched the measurements from the sources. And the origin of the wood samples, where we had thought northern Germany for the smaller ship Apollo and eastern Sweden for the larger Maria, were also correct.”

“We also know that the really big ships of the same type as Vasa were primarily King Gustav II Adolf’s idea, and that idea died with him in 1632,” added Patrik Höglund, assistant project manager.

“After his death, medium-sized warships were built instead, since they could be used for many different purposes and were more seaworthy than the bigger unwieldy ships.”

“This type of medium-sized ship was equipped with heavy artillery. Although the ships were not especially large, they were very robustly built to withstand the weight of the artillery. The firepower of the ships grew in relation to their size, and Apollo and Maria are good examples of this.”

“The type of ships that Apollo and Maria represent have never before been documented archaeologically, and they have so much knowledge to convey,” he concluded.

The continuing investigations in Vaxholm are part of a research programme called “The Lost Navy – Sweden’s ‘Blue’ Heritage 1450–1850”, which is being run in partnership by CEMAS at Stockholm University, the Swedish National Maritime and Transport Museums (which Vrak – Museum of Wrecks is a part of), and the Finnish Heritage Agency.

The research programme is being funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.