Mars The Magnificent

August 23, 2015
Boby Norman

In the summer of 2011, after many years of searching, divers from Ocean Discovery in Västervik found the wreck of Erik XIV’s legendary flagship Mars. The find was made at a depth of 70 meters, about 12 nautical miles southeast of Böda on northern Öland.

The gigantic ship Mars was built at Björkenäs north of Kalmar. When she was launched, she was bigger than any vessel that had ever sailed the Baltic Sea. She went down practically brand new on May 31, 1564, after a fierce battle against a fleet from Denmark and Lübeck. A fire broke out after she had been boarded by soldiers from Lübeck, and she exploded. The result today is a well-preserved marine battlefield, with burnt timber, cannon, and a variety of objects spread out on the Baltic seabed.

An archaeological investigation of the wreck was begun last summer, and in July 2013, this work continued. This year’s exploration of the Mars has been one of the biggest marine archaeological expeditions in the world, involving five survey vessels and over 40 people. The work has been carried out by international deep divers and with the help of underwater robots and multibeam sonar. A 3D scan of the wreck using BlueView sonar imaging has also been started, and this data is to be combined with the very detailed photo mosaic made in 2012. To brighten the total darkness at 70 meters under the Baltic Sea, a lighting rig strong enough to illuminate a small athletic field was hung ten feet above the wreck.

The scientific objective of the 2013 phase was to try to reconstruct a cross-section of the battle space. To this end, a selection of ship timbers were salvaged for detailed documentation on the surface.

In addition to the timbers, the team salvaged two of the Mars’s 120 bronze guns. A small unique rail gun weighing about 150 kg, called a falkon, and the two ends of an exploded 3-meter-long field gun, called a fältslanga, were brought up. Many of the Mars’s guns probably exploded, as this one was, because of the fierce heat on board minutes before the ship went down. The long-range fältslanga is an immediate part of the battlefield situation in which the Mars went down, and its analysis will help to reconstruct the environment and the fighting aboard the ship. Finally, a gun carriage was salvaged. It has large, spoked wheels and a rough protruding axle.

The wreck of the Mars presents an opportunity to study an exceptionally well-preserved maritime battlefield and thus to reflect on war generally and on human behavior in relation to it.

How this first generation of big warships was built is also almost completely unknown, and the documentation of the wreck and the salvaged objects provide new and unique knowledge of this process.

The archaeological work on the Mars is a part of a multidisciplinary research project at Södertörn University called Ships at War: Early Modern Maritime Battlefields in the Baltic. The study is a collaboration between MARIS at Södertörn University, the National Defense College, and the private companies Ocean Discovery, Deep Sea Production, and Marin Mätteknik (MMT). During the study, an international television documentary is being made about the archaeological work.

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