Due to changing priorities in the deployment of defence resources, in 2004 the Saelen (‘The Seal’) was the last Danish submarine to be decommissioned.
The Saelen is just over 47 metres long and weighs almost 500 tons. In 1985 Denmark purchased 4 Norwegian submarines to replace older, Danish-built vessels. Each of the new submarines cost 20 million DKK. Only three of the submarines – the Saelen (‘The Seal’), the Tumleren (‘The Porpoise’) and the Springeren (‘The Dolphin’) were to be used by the Danish navy. The last submarine was purchased for spare parts.
A Sinking Submarine
The submarine was brand new in 1985. It had a very simple valve system that just needed turning to stop one of the hatches from dripping. If this valve is not shut, things go wrong. In 1990 the Saelen submarine sank off the small Danish island of Hesseloe because of this ‘small’ oversight.The Saelen submarine was purchased as part of Denmark’s Cold War defence, just like the guided missile boat Sehested next to it. But by the time the Saelen had been repaired in 1993, the Cold War was over.
On March 21st 2003 a small majority of Denmark’s members of parliament decided that Denmark should join the invasion of Iraq. Denmark was at war. The Saelen submarine was sent to the Gulf, probably to send a political signal to the US government. The most important role played by the Saelen in the Gulf was assisting with intelligence tasks.
The Submarine Crew
The Saelen was the home of 24 men and women, although the number of crew members could vary. Because there was limited space in the submarine, men and women had to accept that there were no separate facilities for them on board.
A submarine has to be manned 24/7, so some members of the crew take the night shift while others sleep. Since there are not enough berths, everyone has to share. When one member of the crew has the watch another sleeps in the berth, then they swap.
Ship Cook Challenges
Since a submarine often has to be as silent as possible, the ship cook had to plan any use of electric kitchen tools according to the navigation of the vessel. If the vessel was submerged he could also not serve fried food, since it was impossible to open a window and get rid of cooking odours. The submarines ventilation system circulated air throughout the vessel, which meant that the entire crew had the pleasure of the smell when onions were chopped.
The Weapon of Stealth
The Saelen has been tested at a depth of 186m. In wartime it could be submerged to a depth of 250m, and is constructed to go even deeper.
The strongest weapon a submarine has is its invisibility. Like a hunter, it sneaks up on its prey to either attack or observe. To remain invisible, the submarine has to have a good idea of where potential enemy ships could be, at the same time as not revealing its own position.
The Saelen could carry up to 8 torpedoes. Once they were installed they could not be removed while the submarine was sailing, and could also not be replaced en route. If the submarine needed reloading, it had to be docked.
On missions where the submarine was not loaded with 8 torpedoes, the empty torpedo tubes were used to store provisions or dispose of refuse. The refuse was forced out of the torpedo tube under the water – weighted with ballast so a milk carton suddenly floating to the surface did not reveal the position of the submarine. New environmental legislation has banned this practice, and all refuse is now brought back to harbour.