A well-preserved 17th-century Baltic wreck discovered by archaeological divers late last year was suspected to be the Applet, sister-ship of Sweden’s iconic Vasa restored warship – but only now has that suspicion been confirmed.
Vasa and Applet were the biggest of four heavily armed warships ordered in 1625 by the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf. The 69m Vasa sank on her maiden voyage three years later – confirming the concerns of shipbuilder Hein Jacobsson’s that he had built the ship too narrow to be stable. He had therefore widened the Applet and modified her hull shape before her launch in 1629.
The Applet carried around 100 crew and 900 soldiers and saw action in war with Germany, but as a large ship would often have been left idle. Always regarded as problematic, after 30 years she was scuttled to form part of a defensive shipwreck barrier for Stockholm.
Vasa was salvaged in 1961 and, displayed at a dedicated museum in the capital, has long been one of Sweden’s biggest tourist attractions.
A scuba dive-team from Vrak, the Museum of Wrecks in Stockholm, and the Swedish Navy found what is now known to be the Applet off Vaxholm in the Stockholm Archipelago on 13 December, 2021.
Although its sides had partially collapsed, the hull had otherwise remained intact up to lower gun deck level, rising to 7m above the seabed. The presence of gun-ports at two levels in the fallen sides revealed the vessel to be a warship with two gun-decks.
“The pulse rose considerably when we saw how similar the wreck was to the Vasa,” said Vrak marine archaeologist Jim Hansson. “Both the construction and the heavy dimensions felt very familiar.”
A more detailed investigation this spring revealed technical details seen before only on the Vasa. Timber analysis then revealed that the oak used had been cut in 1627 in the Malaren valley region, where Vasa‘s timbers had been hewn a few years earlier.
This, combined with the archaeologists’ measurements of deck-beams and other items to recreate 3D models of the hull, technical details, Vasa comparisons and archival records, has allowed the identification to be confirmed.
In November 2019, Hansson and the archaeological dive-team found two large 17th-century warship wrecks off Vaxholm and initially believed one of these to be the Applet, as reported on Divernet. They however turned out to be the medium-sized ships Apollo and Maria from 1648.
“With the Applet, we can add another important piece of the puzzle in the development of Swedish shipbuilding,” said Hansson. “And it is only now that we can really examine the differences in Vasa’s and Applet’s designs.”
“This will help us understand how the large warships developed from the unstable Vasa to seaworthy vessels that could dominate the Baltic Sea – a decisive factor for Sweden's emergence as a great power in the 17th century,” added another Vrak archaeological diver, Patrik Hoglund.
Unlike Vasa, the Applet is unlikely to be raised. The Vrak team believe that historic wrecks that remain well-preserved in brackish Baltic waters are best left in situ, because using modern technology their story can be told digitally.
Investigations of Baltic wrecks by Vrak form part of the “Forgotten Fleet” research programme, carried out in collaboration with Stockholm University, State Maritime & Transport History Museums (SMTM) and the National Museum of Finland.
Scuba diving is banned around the wreck-site but tomorrow (26 October) Vrak archaeologists will discuss the Applet in more detail in a talk broadcast live via its website at 5pm UK time.
Also on Divernet: Swedish Divers Survey British Annie Shipwreck, Divers Date Unique Baltic Shipwreck, Vrak Divers Find 10 More Baltic Wrecks, 6 Historic Wrecks ID’d For Diver Trail, Divers Find Barricade ‘Forest’ In Baltic, Exploring Baltic Shipwrecks In Sweden