With only three torpedoes, a top speed of just over nine knots, and no heating equipment whatsoever, the submarine Hajen would not scare any modern navy in the world. However, in 1904, when launched, the Hajen was a terrifying state-of-the-art naval war weapon.
Moreover, according to marine engineer Carl Richson, it is with the Hajen, more than any other vessel, that we associate the birth of Swedish submarine.
Richson, a crofter's son and social climber from the Swedish province of Södermanland, lived in the US for ten years. There, he took various jobs before eventually becoming head of the design office of the naval dockyard in New York, and became a very well-known ship designer.
In 1897 Richson moved back to Sweden, where he started working at the Maritime Administration and was soon placed in a position that would prove highly important as the Swedish fleet prepared to enter the new century.
Study trip to the US
In 1900, the US navy obtained its first modern submarine, designed by John Philip Holland. The Swedish government soon realised the great opportunities that the underwater ship would bring.
For this reason, Carl Richson was sent to the US to learn more about submarine design. In 1901, he received the prestigious assignment of developing drawings for the Swedish navy's very first submarine. One year later, the government decided to allocate SEK 400,000 to the project, and in November in the same year, King Oscar II approved the drawings. So began the construction of the Galär dockyard in Stockholm, under great secrecy.
In July 1904, the submarine, named the Hajen, was launched.
High-tech when the 1900s were young
People who read the facts about the almost 22-meter-long longboat today, a little more than 100 years after the first launch, will definitely raise their eyebrows. However, in the beginning of the 1900s, the Hajen was a powerful submarine. It had a 45-centimeter torpedo tube and three torpedoes. The Hajen was driven by a 200-horsepower kerosene engine. It had a top speed, at the surface, of 9.5 knots, and submerged, of 6.5 knots. Its maximum diving depth was 30 meters. The boat lacked essentially all the normal comforts for the eight to twelve men who would be on board: there was neither a heater nor a toilet.
The Hajen could be under water for about 13 minutes. In the submerged position, her propellers were driven by batteries that were charged using the kerosene engine, and the batteries could only be loaded when the Hajen was at the surface.
Meant to be deployed against Norway
It is easy to see that the business of submarines was something new for the Swedish navy, when the Hajen made its entry. In July 1905, the captain of the Hajen, Georg Waldemar Magnusson, reported that neither he nor his crew had anything near sufficient experience of using the submarine in war, even though they had performed a number of exercises and trial runs with it.
Yet it would not be long before the Hajen would been deployed in a genuinely threatening situation. In 1905, the risk of war between Sweden and Norway was palpable, as the Norwegians demanded to leave the union between the two countries. The Hajen was sent to Gothenburg to be deployed in a possible attack on Sweden's neighbour to the West, but by the end of October 1905, the crisis had come a peaceful end, Sweden and Norway having agreed to dissolve the Union.
In the years 1915–1916, the Hajen was rebuilt and improved in different ways – for example, the kerosene engine was replaced with a diesel engine. In connection with the rebuilding, her name was also changed to the rather less imaginative "Underwater Boat No. 1". Toward the end of her career in the fleet, she was used as a training ship for submarine crews. The Hajen was taken out of service in the year 1922, and four years later, she was on the verge of being scrapped. Thankfully, that did not happen, even though her engines and other equipment on board had already been removed in the 1920s.
Today the Hajen stands, a piece of Swedish naval history in metal, in the Submarine Hall of the Naval Museum in Karlskrona.