An SDV goes Gävle

So it seems that approximately once a year there is some kind of more serious unexplained underwater activity in Finnish or Swedish waters. On 29 June it was the port of Gävle’s turn to be at the centre of attention.

Following dredging works in the main sea lane leading into the port, a hydrographic survey was made. As is usually the case when measuring small areas where high precision is needed, a measuring frame was pulled under the water at the correct depth (for simplicity, think of a welded frame being pulled at a constant depth, indicating if it hits something). At the very inlet of the port this indicated some kind of “anomaly”, and it was decided to scan the plot with a multibeam sonar. The area was then scanned between 11:00 and noon, after which followed a lunch break during which the scans were studied closer. It was then that the crew thought that the shape looked “boat like”, and after lunch the area was rescanned around 13:00. The “anomaly” was still there, and the survey vessel ran a few laps around it. The vessel then went to get divers, and when the divers arrived around 14:00 the anomaly wasn’t visible on the multibeam sonar any longer.

The object is described as around 12 meters in length, and roughly 3 meters high.

Gävle skiss
A rough skiss of the general dimensions of the anomaly based on the imagery released by SVT. The object seems to cast a shadow towards one of the sides, which according to my understanding is normal for this kind of sounding equipment. Source: Own work

It does seem clear that it was some kind of a underwater vehicle. It was observed by professionals, using proper equipment, and observed numerous times before disappearing. It should also be noted that the location meant that if it had been there for any longer periods of time, it would have been hit by a passing merchant vessel.

The obvious next question is what kind of a vessel it could have been. It does seem to feature a quite pronounced passenger bay, meaning that it is likely a ‘wet’ swimmer delivery vehicle, SDV, in which divers sit with their gear on, and not a ‘proper’ midget submarine. There are two (likely) operators of these in the Baltic Sea: Russia, and Sweden.

Russia (probably) uses the Triton-NN, which rose to fame during the Swedish sub-hunt a few years back when it featured heavily in the speculations. Here there’s the obvious point that Gävle was mentioned by Gerasimov in April as part of a staging area, as discussed on the blog earlier, and as such it is likely the target of some form of intelligence gathering efforts.

A more likely candidate, however, seems to be the Swedish JFD SEAL Carrier, which the company has confirmed it has delivered to the Swedish Defence Forces. The likely user is the combat divers Attackdykarna, thought within the Swedish Defence Forces there are also other potential operators under the surface, such as the special forces (SOG), underwater clearance teams (Röjdykare), and even certain army engineers practice diving.

Compare the general dimensions of the SEAL Carrier to the skiss above. The vessel is 10,5 m long, with a width of 2,21 m. The stern is sloping (tumblehome, left side of the picture), while the bow is more sharply built with the crew/passenger compartment being the open bay close to the bow. Perhaps the most significant feature is the round object to the left of the centreline just aft of the passenger compartment. This location matches the location of the snorkel on the SEAL Carrier. As it happens, the Triton NN is more or less an mirror-image of this design, with a car-like bow and a passenger-compartment towards the (straight) stern. There is also a snorkel mounted on the right-side in front of the passenger compartment, but the proportions doesn’t seem to match as well.

As such, my impression is that this is an example of the Swedish Navy’s combat divers being accidentally found during one of their unannounced exercises. As such, the outcome of the incident is probably not much worse than that someone has to buy someone else a round of drinks. Keep calm, and carry on!

Points to @covertshores, who I believe was the first one to point out the similarities to the SEAL Carrier.

Review: Ryska elitförband och specialvapen

Unless you have stumbled upon this blog by pure coincidence, chances are you have an idea about what spetsnaz is. But how much do you really know about their history and current status, not to mention the different units which at one time or another have been described by the word? A Swedish book by historians Joakim von Braun and Lars Gyllenhaal clear up the picture, and tell the story of Russian (and Soviet) elite units from the birth of the Soviet Union to the present day.

Ryska elitförband och specialvapen (Russian elite units and special weapons) first came out a few years ago, but was rather quickly followed by a significantly revised and expanded second edition which was published by Fischer & Co in 2016. It is this edition which is the subject of this review.

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J v. Braun & L Gyllenhaal: “Ryska elitförband och specialvapen”. Second edition published in 2016, 231 pages in hardcover. Swedish.

As the name implies, the book covers the whole spectrum of Russian military and paramilitary forces, stretching from the naval OMRP combat divers and the Vityaz of the MVD, to larger specialised forces such as the airborne VDV and naval infantry.

The book follows a roughly chronological order, starting with two pages dedicated to pre-1917 units such as oprichnina and the korvolant, before moving on to the main focus of the book with a chapter on the earliest Soviet special units. To cover the bewildering array of different units that has passed through the ranks during the last hundred years, the book mixes big and small stories, featuring smaller anecdotes and case studies in between the major developments. In part this is also due to the secretive nature of the topic, there are cases where there simply aren’t much information available!

One example of the latter is the spetsnaz units operating on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War. However, this chapter also provide an example of the unique nature of the book: by combining the sparse Russian and German sources available with interviews made with the relatively large number of Swedish volunteers who served in the units, a picture can be made of a largely forgotten part of the Spanish conflict. The sabotage missions behind enemy lines are also interesting in that they provide insight into the way communist sabotage rings were expected to operate in other countries as well, an example being the rather large operation that was active in Sweden during WWII.

As can be expected from a Swedish book, much attention is given to Swedish individuals serving in Soviet units, as well as to Soviet (and DDR!) units operating in Sweden. While these at times fail to spike my interest as a non-Swede, the use of Swedish sources does add significant value especially to the chapters dealing with developments around the Baltic Sea and the aforementioned Spanish Civil War chapter. Underwater incursions into Swedish waters and their role in Soviet military planning also gets covered in depth, and reading the chapters on these raises interesting questions with regards to Finnish Cold War history.

But back to the book. As VDV and different special forces were the preferred tools of trade in any interventions abroad, the book also deals with the Soviet foreign adventures of the Cold War. Some of these are largely forgotten today, like the Soviet-led Ethiopian operation that turned the tide of the Ogaden War by airlanding large amounts of light armour behind Somali lines. Others are well-known operations, but the role played by elite units in these might be overlooked. This is the case with Operation Danube, the invasion of Czechoslovakia 1968. The case-study of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is especially interesting, showing that little-green men is far from a new phenomenon.

Speaking of little green men, the book goes right up til early 2016 in Ukraine and Syria. Though to be fair, if your interest is the use of Russian special forces in these two conflicts in particular, you are better served elsewhere.

Where this book does shine then, is by providing a bird’s-eye view of more or less all Russian and Soviet elite units post-1917. Without getting caught up in minute details, you get a good overview of not only what kind of units have been created over the years, but also their use, equipment, and further developments. In some cases I wish there were more details given, but considering the sheer number of units raised by the armed forces, intelligence services, borders guards, and ministry of internal affairs, covering everything in depth in a 200-page book is simply impossible. In general I think the amount of time spent on each topic is fairly well balanced, though this naturally varies with taste. While the book can be read cover-to-cover, something I enjoyed doing as part of this review, this really is one of those books you want to have in your bookshelf to be able to pull out and use as a reference when encountering yet another Russian acronymed unit. The chapters are clearly defined and structured in a way that if you want to know the difference between the different combat divers of the navy or get an overview of the presidential guard, you can quickly skip to that chapter and get the answers you need. Some of the more interesting units presented include not only the brief history of the sole Soviet unit to feature jaegers (created by two Finns), but also a close look at the secretive deep-water research agency GUGI and its hydronauts. From a Finnish point of view, the fact that GUGI (like other underwater spetsnaz) extensively trains and performs evaluations and developments projects in the Baltic Sea and Lake Ladoga is of special interest.

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The shifted signature. Unfortunate, but not bad enough that I personally would consider it a deal-breaker.

Edit: Having heard of my issue with the binding, the publisher contacted me and expressed their surprise at the issue. According to them, this was very rare, and they offered to ship a replacement at no cost. The new book has now come, and I am happy to report that as far as I can tell there are no issues whatsoever with the quality of this one.

One unfortunate issue I had was that the quality of the binding left to be desired, and already during the first reading I noticed that one of the signatures had started to shift. It still holds together, and doesn’t seem about to loosen further. Naturally, I can’t say if this is representative of the edition as a whole, or if I was just unlucky (or if one of my kids somehow managed to have a stab at it without me noticing…).

What else is there to say? The book is well illustrated, largely in colour, and features both a timeline and an extensive source list (though, as always, I would have loved to see end-notes). As the title indicates, the special weaponry used is also covered, including some exotic pieces of gear like underwater grenade launchers. I dare say that some of the info included, especially those parts that are based on Swedish and/or untranslated Russian sources, is previously unpublished material not only in Swedish, but in the west as a whole. If you are able to read Swedish and interested in Russian (or Soviet) armed forces, this is the book for you.

Highly recommended.

Starting now I will be posting reviews every first Friday of the month. The book in this case was kindly provided for review by Fischer & Co. And Lars, wouldn’t a revised and expanded edition of Elitförband i Norden be an excellent companion to this one?