Saturday, February 11, 2012
"Der Schwed" -- yesterday and today
During the 30 years war of the 17th century Gustav Adolf den store (Gustavus Adophus) led his Swedish troops to many great victories in Europe. Without him the Protestant cause may well have lost out to the Catholic South. His armies were at the time simply referred to as "Der Schwed" (the Swede), though they would have referred to themselves as the "Svea".
So we see that the Swedish martial spirit did not die out with the Vikings of the 11th century (Swedish Vikings mostly sailed up rivers into what we now know as Russia. It was left to the Norwegians and Danes to harass Britain and Western Europe).
And, strange as it seems in the light of their constant peacenikery of the 20th century, that spirit is still alive today. For good reasons the proximity of Russia gives everybody at the Eastern end of the Baltic the heebie-jeebies. Going by their invariant and very successful form since the 11th century, we would expect the English to deal with such a peril by forming alliances with other countries. Not so the Swedes. They cherish their independence. And they can realistically do that because of confidence in their military. They have been prepared to fight Russia alone if need be. The Finns did it under Mannerheim in the early stages of WWII so they have a successful example to go by. But the Swedish military has to be independent too -- so we come to the Swedish defence industries.
With a population about the same size as Israel, it is amazing what the Swedish defence industries have produced. The famous Bofors gun was used for antiaircraft defence by BOTH sides in WWII and is still in use today. And Bofors are not sitting on their laurels. I could go on to talk about Swedish military aircraft and submarines but I think that for the moment I will just say a few words about Bofors.
Aside from nuclear weapons, the most fearsome thing about the old Soviet Union was their vast fleet of tanks. And Bofors produced an answer to that in the form of the BILL1, a fearsome antitank missile. Bofors turned out tens of thousands of them, quite enough to wipe out the entire Soviet tank fleet with a bit of luck. It is a guided missile that flies just a bit ABOVE the tank and fires a shaped charge down onto the turret of the tank at just the right time -- the turret being a tank's weakest point. That must be a considerable challenge to the missile's controller but the Swedes must be confident that trained operators can pull it off. Below is a video of it in action:
(Note: Some mischievous person has been circulating the above video together with a claim that it shows an Israeli missile using white phosphorous to destroy a Syrian tank. Israel has been much criticized for its limited use of white phosphorous in Gaza but insists that it only used phosphorous in accordance with the laws of war. Using it in an anti-tank weapon would heap criticism on Israel so the false claim attached to the above video is malicious)
And to keep up with advances in tank technology Bofors have produced a BILL2 missile that is even more capable than BILL1. (The "B" stands for Bofors)
It seems sad that such an apparently effective weapon is not held in the arsenals of Western countries but Swedish neutrality forbids it. Only a few other "neutral" countries such as Austria and Brazil have it. So Sweden has had to bear all the costs of developing and deploying the weapon by itself -- a considerable challenge. Most armament manufacturers are keen to sell their stuff to all and sundry -- to help defray the development costs.
And even if Sweden did decide to sell BILL2 more widely, it might not get much uptake. I remember when I was in the Australian Army during the Vietnam war, we deployed the prime Swedish antitank weapon of the day, the Carl Gustav. But as soon as we entered the Vietnam war, the Swedes stopped supplying ammo for it! Tanks featured little in the Vietnam war so it was not a great setback but it was a salutary lesson in being careful about the source of supply of your weaponry. The Swedes have no worries on that score.