Why Did The Vasa Ship Sink?

Why Did The Vasa Ship Sink?

Military History

The sinking of the Vasa ship on its maiden voyage in 1628 was a disaster that has puzzled historians and marine engineers for centuries. The Vasa, a Swedish warship built to become one of the most powerful and advanced ships of its time.

However, on her first voyage from Stockholm, the ship capsized and sank within minutes of leaving the harbor, killing more than 30 people on board. Moreover, she sank after sailing roughly 1,300 m into her maiden voyage on the 10th of August 1628. Furthermore, she entered obscurity after most of her valuable bronze cannons became salvaged in the 17th century.

An illustration from a treatise on salvaging from 1734. Showing the traditional method of raising a wreck with the help of anchors and ships or hulks as pontoons. Basically the same method that was used to raise Vasa in the 20th century.

Her global fame would not occur until she was located again in the late 1950s, in a busy shipping area in Stockholm harbor.

The hulk of the Vasa after recovery operations, 14 May 1961

There are several theories proposed to explain the sinking of the Vasa.

However, the most widely accepted explanation is that the ship was top-heavy and unstable due to its design and construction.
A model showing a cross section of Vasa‘s hull. Illustrating the shallow hold and two gun decks
One of the main factors contributing to the instability of the Vasa was its high and narrow hull, which made it prone to capsizing.

The ship’s hull was built with a higher center of gravity than most ships of its time. Which made it more susceptible to tipping over in rough seas. In addition, the ship’s hull was too narrow to provide sufficient stability, making it even more prone to capsizing.

Another factor that contributed to the sinking of the Vasa was the weight and distribution of the ship’s artillery and other heavy equipment.

The Vasa was equipped with 64 cannons, mounted on the upper decks of the ship. This added a significant amount of weight to the upper part of the ship, making it even more top-heavy and unstable. In addition, the cannon did not have an even distribution across the ship, which further contributed to its instability.

Finally, the Vasa was built using a new and untested method of construction known as the “shell-first” method. This method involved building the ship’s hull from the outside in. With the outer planking being laid first and the inner planking being added later. This method was faster and cheaper than traditional methods, but it also resulted in a weaker and less durable hull.

Modern replicas in the Vasa Museum of some of the ship’s sculptures. Painted in what are believed to be the original colors.

In conclusion, the sinking of the Vasa was a result of a combination of factors, including its high and narrow hull, the weight and distribution of its artillery, and its use of the “shell-first” method of construction.

These factors combined to create a ship that was unstable and prone to capsizing, ultimately leading to its tragic sinking on its maiden voyage.

Former Vasa Museum Director Klas Helmerson (left). Explaining aspects of the sinking of the ship to then US Defense Secretary William Cohen (centre). And Swedish Defense Minister Björn von Sydow (right).

Lastly, the Vasa became salvaged with a largely intact hull in 1961. In addition, housed in a temporary museum called Wasavarvet until 1988. Then moved permanently to the Vasa Museum in the Royal National City Park in Stockholm. Vasa is one of Sweden’s most popular tourist attractions and enjoyed over 35 million visitors since 1961.

The Ship of Theseus & Maintaining Historic Ships With Historian Ryan Szimanski
Military History

Why Did The Vasa Ship Sink?