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The submarine hunts or submarine incidents were a series of several incidents involving foreign submarines that occurred in Swedish territorial waters during the Cold War, more specifically during the 1980s. In this time, there was intensive debate and speculation in Swedish media about the possibility of Soviet submarine infiltration of Swedish territorial waters.

While there had been earlier incidents involving foreign submarines (as seen below), the incidents normally referred to in this context are those that followed the sensational stranding of the Soviet submarine U 137 deep inside Swedish waters on October 27, 1981. The Swedish navy responded aggressively to these perceived threats, increasing patrols in Swedish waters, mining and electronically monitoring passages, and repeatedly chasing and attacking suspected submarines with depth charge bombs, but no hits or casualties were ever recorded.

Reports of new submarine sightings and television imagery of Swedish Navy helicopters firing depth charges into coastal waters against suspected intruders became commonplace in the mid-to-late 1980s. They remain, for many Swedes, one of the iconic images of the Cold War and of the Swedish relation to the Soviet Union—for some underlining what was considered a major threat to Swedish sovereignty, while for others illustrating the tense and, in the view of some, paranoid atmosphere of the time. However, the reports of these incidents are not uncontested, and an intensive debate emerged early on. This debate unfolded somewhat, but far from exclusively, along leftwing/rightwing lines, and became tied up with the larger issues of relations to Moscow and Swedish armed neutrality. The Soviet Union consistently denied that it was responsible for violating Swedish waters, and claimed that the U 137 had only crossed the border because of navigational faults. Russia today maintains this stand. While the submarine sightings subsided with the fall of the Soviet Union, the debate about these events has reemerged in the 1990s and 2000s (decade). They have been the subject of a number of government investigations in Sweden, and continue to attract media attention.

List of major reported incidentsEdit

  • 1962: During a military exercise, a submarine is discovered by radar echo and hydrophone, north of Fårö at Gotland. It retreats only after repeated depth charge strikes.[1]
  • Fall 1969: During a naval drill on the coast of Norrland, the Swedish submarine Springaren comes into contact with a foreign submarine in Swedish waters; it leaves the scene.[2]
  • 1974: A submarine periscope is spotted by the Swedish Coast Guard near Kappelhamnsviken on Gotland. A destroyer is sent to the scene and establishes contact, at which point the foreign submarine leaves Swedish waters.[1]
  • Fall 1976: During a naval drill in the Stockholm Archipelago, a Soviet Type W submarine exposes itself by using radar, outside Swedish territorial waters. A Swedish submarine monitors the Soviet vessel entering Swedish waters, and records sounds from it. When Swedish submarine-hunting helicopters and destroyers arrive, it speeds out towards international waters and disappears.[3]
  • 18 September to 6 October 1980: The Swedish Marine tugboat Ajax discovers the turret of a submarine outside Utö in the Stockholm Archipelago. Submarine hunting helicopters are dispatched to the scene, establish contact, and fire warning shots. The submarine does not leave the area, but attempts to avoid capture, and a prolonged submarine hunt began. This lasted for several weeks, during which time the submarine is repeatedly sighted.[1][4]
  • October 27, 1981: The U 137 incident. On the evening of October 28, 1981, a fisherman residing in the eastern part of the Karlskrona archipelago phoned in to the Swedish Coast Guard and reported that a submarine had run aground in Gåsefjärden, 30 km from the town centre of Karlskrona. Originally, it was not taken seriously because of its location, as Gåsefjärden is a very difficult terrain to navigate in, as well as being a "dead end". Nevertheless, the fisherman was right, and the vessel was found to be of Soviet origin. The grounded submarine generated intense media interest, and Swedish military forces were put on high alert following suspicions that the Soviet Union would try to recapture the vessel. After several rounds of interrogation, the conservative/Liberal government led by Thorbjörn Fälldin decided to release both the vessel and its crew. This marked the beginning of the "submarine hunts" (ubåtsjakter), as nicknamed by Swedish media.
  • October 1–13, 1982: The Hårsfjärden incident. After a long period of submarine incidents, the Swedish Navy sets a trap by sealing off an area with mines and sensors. A foreign submarine is then recognized to have entered the trap, and the navy responds in force with major forces stationed nearby. A reported 44 depth charges and 4 naval mines are detonated, trying to sink the submarine, but it is later determined that it avoided the trap or fled at an early stage. This incident triggers the appointment of a parliamentary committee under the leadership of Sven Andersson, which—partly due to the efforts of Carl Bildt—blames the Soviet Union, thereby escalating tension with Moscow. Later research has cast doubt on many of the conclusions of the committee, with some of the sound recordings from the purported submarine now believed to have come from a civilian ship.[5] The entire incident is now hotly disputed, with some arguing the submarine may have been of NATO origin.[6]
  • May 4, 1983: A suspected submarine is reported in Törefjärden, North of Luleå, and mines are detonated.
  • May 1983: Submarine hunt outside Sundsvall. Helicopters establish contact with a foreign submarine, but are unable to fire, reportedly because civilian journalists have entered the safety area.[7]
  • August 1983: Submarine hunt in the harbor area of Karlskrona and in the adjoining archipelago. Depth charges are fired inside Karlskrona harbor.
  • February 9–29, 1984: Another submarine hunt in Karlskrona. 22 depth charges are fired against a suspected submarine.
  • Early summer 1986: A "mysterious object" is reported "diving into the water" in Klintehamnsviken on Gotland. The sea floor is examined, and double-track trace is discovered, allegedly from a submarine vehicle, extending 1100 meters.
  • Summer 1987: While examining the magnetic sensors of a minefield in Kappelshamnsviken on Gotland, the military discovers "clear traces on the bottom from a tracked submarine vehicle".
  • Early summer 1988: A suspected foreign submarine is noticed in Hävringebukten outside Oxelösund. Submarine sounds and air venting is said to have been recorded.
  • April 13, 2011: A possible foreign submarine is noticed in Baggensfjärden in Nacka. The Swedish Armed Forces' Naval Tactical intelligence service, MTS-M2 investigated the incident.[8] Later it was confirmed that the object was really a raft frozen in moving ice.[9]
  • September 11, 2011: An eyewitness contacts the Swedish armed forces after seeing something outside the harbor of Gothenburg that possibly could have been a foreign submarine. The Swedish Navy deployed several surface warships in an attempt to locate the unknown object.[10][11]


As noted above, these events have been hotly disputed in Swedish media and by politicians and journalists active during the time. Although there were some clearly recognized cases of foreign military activity in Swedish waters (e.g. band tracks on the sea floor, or most obviously the U 137), many of the supposed submarine incidents were based on intelligence reports, radar, underwater sensors, or witness statements, giving a less than full picture of the source of the disturbance.

As a result, there is no clear consensus on the extent of possible infiltration, or on whether trespassing submarines were necessarily of Soviet origin. Some suggest that NATO submarines may have been responsible for the most well-known incidents, which has led to a further line of debate, on whether such submarines were secretly allowed to exit Swedish waters unpursued—that would have been in contravention of the publicly declared Swedish neutrality. There is also a dispute concerning sound recordings purported to be of submarine engines, which some now allege stem from natural sounds, fish, mink, civilian vessels, etc.

The discussion also focuses on whether U 137 was sent to spy on Swedish defenses (supported by the large number of similar suspected espionage infiltrations, and by the depth to which it had penetrated), or, as its captain claimed, was lost because of a navigational error (supported by the fact that it ran aground). Furthermore, there is a debate on whether this vessel was armed with nuclear weapons. Swedish military teams are said to have registered high levels of radiation on geiger counters when examining the stranded submarine.

Twenty years after the events, they still generate controversy in modern-day Swedish politics, with prominent politicians and former military officials active on both sides of the dispute.

Ola Tunander attributes the majority of these incursions to be of NATO origin.[12][13]

Cultural influenceEdit

The incursions during 1982 and 1983 form a basis for the plot of The Troubled Man (Den orolige mannen), the final Kurt Wallander novel written by Swedish author Henning Mankell and published in 2009. Mankell considered the incursions to be one of the worst scandals in Swedish political history.[14] Mankell’s play Politik', which debuted in autumn 2010, also dealt with the submarine incidents.[15]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Allerman, Christian (2007). "Ubåtsincidenter och främmande undervattensverksamhet- en tillbakablick och ett försök till summering, Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet 1, 35-41". Kungl. Örlogsmannasällskapet. ISSN 0040-6945. 
  2. Malmberg, Bertil (2007). "Några minnesbilder från ubåtsincidenter. Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet 1, 47-48". Kungl. Örlogsmannasällskapet. ISSN 0040-6945. 
  3. "En sovjetisk ubåtskränkning i Danziger Gatt år 1976, Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet 1, 44-46". Kungl. Örlogsmannasällskapet. 2007. ISSN 0040-6945. 
  4. "personliga minnesbilder från ubåtsincidenter, Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet 1, 48-51". Kungl. Örlogsmannasällskapet. 2007. ISSN 0040-6945. 
  7. Svensson, Emil (2005). "Under den fridfulla ytan". Marinlitteraturföreningen. ISBN 91-85944-09-2. 
  8. Richard Aschberg, Mattias Carlsson (5 June 2011). "Är det en ubåt? (Is it a submarine?) (In Swedish)". 
  9. Spetz, Lennart (26 May 2011). "Marinens rapport: "Ubåt" var en flotte" (in Swedish). Retrieved 5 July 2011. 
  12. Ola Tunander. "Some Remarks on the US/UK Submarine Deception In Swedish Waters in the 1980s" (PDF). International Peace Research Institute, Oslo. Retrieved 2010-11-10. 
  13. Ola Tunander (24 September 2004). The secret war against Sweden: US and British submarine deception in the 1980s. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-7146-5322-8. Retrieved 2010-11-10. 
  14. Staff (11 August 2009). "Mankell på väg att lämna deckarna". Ystads Allehanda (Skånemedia AB).
  15. Staff Writer (17 August 2009). "Palmepjäs av Mankell i Stockholm" (in Swedish). Dagens Nyheter (Bonnier AB).

Further readingEdit

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