The 126 gun battleship Kronan was built in 1668 by Francis Sheldon and was one of the world's largest ships in its time. She was 53 m long and 14 m wide.
During battle against a Danish-Dutch fleet in June 1676, Kronan listed heavily during a badly prepared turn, then suddenly exploded and quickly sank with 800 men. Only 42 survived. What caused the blast is a mystery, perhaps something broke loose during the list and ignited the gunpowder. Possibly Lorentz Creutz, the newly appointed commander and admiral, is to blame for incompetence, because he had no naval experience before commanding the ship.
This was one of the lost wrecks that engineer/archaeologist Anders Franzén found in Swedish archives and placed on a search list. Finally, Franzén together with Bengt Grisell and Sten Ahlberg found the ship in 1980 off Öland in the south Baltic Sea on 27 m depth.
The hull is broken apart but a large section of the port shipside is intact and laying with the outside facing the bottom clay. This will possibly be salvaged in the future.
Already shortly after the sinking, between 1680 and 1686, 60 guns were salvaged using primitive dive bells, and then the ship was forgotten for centuries. But the old divers only got half of the guns. Originally, she had between 124 and 128 bronze guns. So fortunately the wreck has remained a gold mine for bronze guns. Between 1980 and '87 another 32 guns have been salvaged. They are in sizes from 6 to 36 pounds, and cast between 1514 and 1661. Some of them may well have come from the Vasa, sunk in 1628. The oldest gun, from 1514, is the oldest known muzzle-loaded gun in Scandinavia.
This has become the largest underwater archaeology project in Sweden. Initiated in 1981 and will continue a few more seasons. Plenty of well-preserved objects have been excavated so far. Among the finds are about 400 kg bones from the victims. These remains have been investigated by the osteologist Ebba During.
During 1982-83 a cask with ca 260 gold coins was found – that's the largest gold coin treasure ever found in Sweden.
In 1998 a complete cross staff was found as well as a magnificent case of tin bottles.
In 2001 a pharmacy chest was found, containing 70 bottles and medicine cans.
The excavations will continue for a few more seasons. Then a decision has to be made whether to raise the entire shipside, now laying face-down on the bottom. Hopefully many of the decorations are still in position and well preserved. But such an operation will be very expensive, including conservation. More private donors and sponsors would be needed to proceed. The project is headed by Lars Einarsson. Contact Kalmar County Museum, tel +46-480-563 00, fax +46-480-563 32, for details. Recreational diving on the site is not permitted.
The impressive stern, interpreted by Axel Nelson, based on contemporary information.
Contemporary painting of the blast by Danish artist Claus Möinichen.
Skull and bronze guns in situ. Photo Bengt Grisell
The Kronan wrecksite. The missing bow section is outlined with dotted lines.
One of the finds during the 1996 season, a medicine cabinet.
In 1997 this basket was excavated. It contained tobacco and spices.
View the 2001 news graphic (400 kb), courtesy Svenska Dagbladet.
by Per Ĺkesson, July 1997, revised dec '03
B/W images © the Kronan project and Bengt Grisell. Franzén photo © the Vasa Museum.
Back to Nordic Underwater Archaeology