A museum with a difference!
Just before the commencement of TBEXStockholm, VisitSweden had organised a familiarisation trip for us to Landsort. It is a small, scenic, sparsely populated, yet a strategically located island in Stockholm Archipelago. We had travelled from Stockholm by bus to reach a jetty. From here, a fast ferry took us to this island. Here, our abode for the night was a Naval Pilots’ Tower. Till then, I had no way of knowing that soon I will be telling my readers a gripping tale titled Bofors Gun – The Inside Story !
The presence of a Naval Pilots’ Tower indicated some sort of military connection of the island. But the exact linkage did not dawn upon us till a small buggy pulled by a quad-bike transported us to a huge gun that just seemed to jut out of a solid granite rock face.
Once there, we were told that we were about to enter the rock that has now been preserved as Ersta Gun Museum! Upon careful scrutiny, we noticed a well-camouflaged dirt passage that led to a solid metal door. In fact, the entire site was so well camouflaged that even careful aerial surveillance would not have revealed the gun. By the way, a Bofors that fired 12cm shells was the gun deployed here! That’s when we realised we were just going to be told an interesting tale: Bofors Gun – The Inside Story !
Thanks to his just-right military past, our guide, a retired artillery brigadier, was more than suitably equipped to explain every detail of the museum. Be it the strategic importance of the location, the gun & ammunition, the living quarters beneath, or whatever else!
Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
As we went into the artificially lit underbelly of the earth descending steep, well secured, sturdy metal ladders, the import of this strategic position was explained to us. During the cold war era, this was the shortest route Russia could have taken to attack the US.
These guns, 18 of them, were meant as a line of defense deployed by Sweden. These were located on 6 different islands of the archipelago. Given that none of these guns were ever fired, it is evident that this move proved to be an effective deterrent for Russians.
After climbing down, we were ushered into a decent sized room. Its walls were lined with rows of crates stacked with mortar shells! We were in a state of shock seeing all this high-powered ammunition! Seeing our surprised looks and gaping mouths, our guide told us that these shells have all been emptied out!
An on-going commentary about the gun, its precision and firepower continually drew gasps of amazement from our group. This fortification was created with a plan of ensuring the survival of the men manning the gun station for one whole month, without any outside support! And, this survival was not just in ordinary times, but also even in the event of a nuclear blast of 100 kilotonnes happening just 300 metres away! Now, that’s an atomic blast 5 times the size of the bomb that hit Hiroshima!
The Hovercraft Technology at work!
The magazine of the gun contained 25 shells, which could be fired at a maximum speed of 25 shells per minute. Each of these live shells weighed 46 kg. The combined weight of the magazine (without counting the weight of the container) was a whopping 1150 kg.
Even more amazing was the fact that just one person was enough to pull that magazine and bring it to load the gun since the crates moved around on an air-cushion – a technology similar to the one that makes a hovercraft glide over land or water! Volvo had provided this know how indigenously!
Considering that the gun would have heated up if it rapid-fired 25 shells per minute, the gun barrel was water-cooled with pipes coiled around it. This brings us to another important aspect of this unique stronghold – WATER!
Since this bastion was created to provide wherewithal of survival for a month without outside support, naturally water was necessary for such survival. 2 tanks with a cumulative capacity of 10,000 litres were installed 4 levels beneath to take care of this vital need!
Let’s now see how this gun worked! The design of this remarkable gun was such that while the gunner would fire from the cabin just behind the barrel of this artillery gun, a simple computer joystick in the GPS/Control Room controlled the aim. When we enquired about the precision of the gun, we were told that it was capable of hitting a pilot boat moving at 100 kph at a distance of 20 km. And the range of the gun? It mind-numbing 27 km!
As we started our climb back from the bottom-most floor (four levels under the earth) taking in the cramped living quarters, the pantry, the toilets, etc., we couldn’t help feeling amazed at the stupendous feat of various different streams of engineering that had been painstakingly brought together to make this remarkable fortification work!
If you visit Stockholm and are able to spare a day, do visit this unique museum with a difference. It will bring you face to face with the way of life of an artilleryman! The museum fee is steep (US$100 per person, with a minimum group of 4 and maximum of 10), but well worth it!