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Johnny E. Balsved


The long Period of Peace (1864-1914):

50 Years of Preparation assured Denmark's Neutrality during the
1st World War

Broad political agreement and popular support ensured the best conditions for The Navy to enforce  Denmark’s desire for neutrality in a continued politically unstable Europe.

The technological development continued relentlessly and the era of wooden ships and sailing ships was over. The role of Ships of the Line was filled by large armored ships while new weapons and tactics were developed.

During the almost 50 years of peace, emergence of new weaponry and ships would heavily influence the next 100 years of naval warfare. Some examples are mine layers, mine sweepers, torpedo boats and not the least submarines and airplanes.

By Johnny E. Balsved/translated by J. D. Nielsen

Following the conclusion of the war in 1864, technological development continued and The Navy pursued the enormous advancements within naval warfare technology as well as possible given budgetary constraints.

The wooden ships were replaced by armored ships and ships made of steel.

The era of sail powered vessels also came to an end, and coal burning steam engines and steam turbines replaced the sails.

During 1866, The Navy left its base at Gammelholm in the inner city of Copenhagen, only the old smithies, now The Naval Church (Holmens Kirke), remained. All activities, including ship building now took place on Nyholm.

The Cruiser Corvette VALKYRIEN

The cruiser corvette VALKYRIEN leaving the port of Copenhagen,
seen here in her white/yellow paint scheme.

(Photo: Archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

Enforcing Danish neutrality

During the next many years, the Danish foreign policy was based on maintaining neutrality. This meant that The Navy should be structured for defense related purposes and, at the same time, retain sufficient power to ensure an active enforcement of neutrality.

Conditions in Europe were influenced by the changing political alliances and various wars, among those the French-German war 1870-1871.

In cooperation with Sweden, Denmark had the ability to close Oresund, while Denmark alone could close Storebaelt and thus prevent access for the larger powers to and from The Baltic. Conversely, it was also possible to ease passage through the Danish and Swedish straits.

In the meantime, regardless of the model chosen, the ability to control access to and from The Baltic made the probability of maintaining neutrality during a possible large power conflict  somewhat questionable.

As a case in point, during the 1890's The British considered a landing near Esbjerg, or some other suitable place on the West Coast of Jutland or Schleswig-Holstein, for the purposes of destroying The Kieler Canal and commencing a secondary front in case of a war with Germany.

We could thus defend ourselves, formally or by using our best abilities, against any attempt to breach our neutrality, but without assurances about  the consequences. Considerations also had to be given regarding relations with the neighbors after a war.

Therefore, the Danish and Swedish policy of neutrality, was, to a large extend, based on the larger powers’ understanding and agreement.

Mines and Torpedoes

During the war of 1864 Denmark had already used a rather primitive mine, while in other countries, cable mines with powder warheads and electrical fuses were in use.

Denmark now attempted to make a specific Danish type of mine, and the first step was taken by The Army in 1866 with the establishment of a Sea Mine Department.

During the same year, The Navy procured its first diving apparatus.

The torpedo boat, SPRINGEREN, (1891-1919) was the first Danish-built torpedo boat. In the background, the Sea mine base at Bramsnaesvig.
(Photo: Archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

April 1, 1878, The Sea Mine Department was established as a stand-alone entity with responsibility for sea mines and torpedoes.

During the first years, experimentation with torpedo launching took place from ships, but in 1883, a sea mine base was established at Bramsnaesvig in Holbaek Fjord. It was here torpedoes had to be tested before use on board ships.

The first torpedoes had a speed of 20 knots and a warhead weighing 35 kilos. The speed of the torpedo, and the size of the warhead, were gradually increased.

Development of the new weapons led to new types of ships such as mine layers, mine sweepers and torpedo boats. As early as 17th. September 1878, the first torpedo boat squadron was established, consisting of the steam launches numbers one, two and three equipped with torpedo firing mechanisms.

Later, The Navy acquired purpose-built torpedo boats from England and in September 1890, the first Danish-built torpedo boat, SPRINGEREN, was launched from The Naval Shipyard in Copenhagen.

New Ships

The technological development continued relentlessly and while the era of wooden ships and sail powered ships was over, there were different opinions regarding which type of ships should be constructed for the future, not just in Denmark but in the rest of Europe as well.

Construction of the new armored ships (the monitors) continued and in 1880 the armored ship  TORDENSKJOLD was launched from The Naval Shipyard. With its 35-cm gun, The TORDENSKJOLD remained the most heavily armed armored warship in Scandinavia for many years. Also, this was the first Danish warship constructed primarily of steel.

Some, however, continued to believe in sail power and September 27, 1882, the last of The Navy's large ships rigged for sails, the frigate FYEN, was launched. While her time as a warship was relatively short, she continued existence as a barracks ship at the Holmen Naval Base until 1962.

The armored ship TORDENSKJOLD

The armored ship, TORDENSKJOLD, launched 1880, was, in addition to being The Navy’s first ship built of steel, also the most heavily armed war ship in Scandinavia with its 35 cm gun.
(Photo: Archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

The Cruiser (cruiser corvette) VALKYRIEN was launched in 1888 and during the years from 1890 until 1895 the cruisers HEKLA, GEJSER and HEJMDAL were launched.

Around the turn of the century three powerful armored ships with large engines and a heavy armament were launched. These were the HERLUF TROLLE (1909), the OLFERT FISCHER (1903) and the PEDER SKRAM (1908).

World Wide Voyages

The long period of peace from 1864 - 1914 provided The Navy with many possibilities to show the flag around The World.

The frigate SJÆLLAND, commanded by commodore Rasmus C. Malthe Bruun, cruised in The Mediterranean during 1869-1870 and participated with 40 other warships in the opening ceremonies of the Suez Canal November 17, 1869.

March 26, 1870, the screw frigate TORDENSKJOLD was commissioned and, commanded by Captain Friedrich Lund, sailed on a voyage to East Asia, where, among other duties, she carried and placed an undersea telegraph cable for The Great Northern Telegraph Company.

During this voyage the frigate visited, among other countries, China and Japan before she returned to Holmen in 1872.

The screw frigate TORDENSKJOLD leaving Copenhagen April 3, 1870 to embark on an almost two year long voyage to South East Asia.
(Drawing by Carl Baagoe,
from the archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

In 1878 the screw frigate SJÆLLAND, commanded by Captain Johan C. Kraft, was dispatched to the Danish West India Islands (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) in connection with a slave revolt on these islands. The revolt was brought to a conclusion when the frigate arrived November 25, 1878.

During the years 1899 - 1900 the cruiser VALKYRIEN, commanded by Captain, HrH Prince Valdemar, was dispatched on a voyage to promote Danish trade and shipping. She visited, among other countries, Siam (Thailand) and Japan.

May 11, 1902, while the cruiser VALKYRIEN, commanded by Captain H. P. Holm, was stationed in West India, the Volcano Mont Pelees on the island of Martinique erupted on May 8th, and during the subsequent rescue operation the Valkyrien saved 567 people.

During a voyage to The Mediterranean, the cruiser HEJMDAL, commanded by Commander J. H. Schultz, assisted victims of the earthquake in Messina December 28, 1908.

Enter the Submarines

Yet another type of vessel emerged, a type of craft which would heavily influence the coming world wars.

The new craft - the Submarine or the U-boat - became part of The Navy in 1909 when the Italian-built DYKKEREN was procured.

The submarine DYKKEREN

The Navy's first submarine, DYKKEREN, was commissioned in 1909.
She is here seen in the Port of Copenhagen
with The Royal yacht, DANNEBROG, in the background.
(Photo: Archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

During the next few years, The Navy received another six submarines, the so-called A-class, three of which were built in Italy, while the remaining three were built at the Naval Shipyard. The submarine HAVMANDEN, launched December 23, 1911, became the first submarine to be built in Denmark.

The Naval Air Service Was Born

The visionary Ministry of The Navy commenced a study already in 1910 to determine how The Navy’s personnel might best be schooled in aerial operations. This took place only six years following the first flight by Ellehammer.

March 25, 1912, The Navy received its first airplane, donated by a private individual who was very interested in flying - Consul general Ludvigsen. In accordance with The Navy’s age-old tradition of naming its crafts, the airplane was named GLENTEN.

The aeroplane GLENTEN

The aeroplane GLENTEN, The navy's first airplane, had a 50 hp engine and a top speed of 80 kph.
(Photo: Archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

In April 1923, The Navy received two French two-seated Donnet-Leveque seaplanes (flying boats), these were procured by means of funds collected by private citizens. The seaplanes were named MAAGEN and TERNEN.

During the next two years the airplanes and seaplanes were stationed at Kloevermarken in Copenhagen, where a tent and a small hangar served as the operations platform.

A well-equipped Navy

The relatively shallow depths in Danish territorial waters favored a mine warfare defense, as is still the case today, and cable mines were to be utilized to close Danish waterways to enemy vessels. These mine fields could be controlled from the shore and using a simple device, the mines could be activated or deactivated.

To deny access for the enemy’s mine sweepers, it was necessary to defend the mine fields by means of shore or ship-based artillery.

The armored ship HERLUF TROLLE

The armored ship HERLUF TROLLE painted in the original black/yellow paint scheme.
(Photo: Archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

Artillery ships, as well as torpedo and patrol boats, were necessary to safeguard neutrality, just as an effective defense necessitated the use of submarines.

Several years after the war of 1864, issues pertaining to the armed forces had been kept outside party politics, and until 1885 there was broad political agreement regarding the Danish policy of neutrality.

The defense agreement in 1909 included a large budget for The Navy to procure ships and equipment. During the years 1909-1914, nine torpedo boats and six submarines were commissioned. In addition, the stocks of ammunition, torpedoes and mines were greatly increased.

The debate about the Defense Agreement of 1909 created a high level of public interest, and among other things, this resulted in the procurement and donation to The Navy of the submarine 2den April by "The Danish Women's defense collection" in 1913.

Thus, when the dark clouds of war gathered over Europe in 1914,  Denmark, with its powerful navy and the will to defend itself, had the means to enforce the desired neutrality.

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Danmarks Flåde - fra bue og pil til missil ("Denmark's Navy - from Bow and Arrow to Missile"), by Jørgen Teisen, Bogans forlag, 1984 (ISBN 87-7466-027-6)


Dansk Marineflyvning 1911-1998 ("Danish Naval Aviation 1911-1998"), by Niels M. Probst, Forlaget Marinehistoriske skrifter, 1998 (ISBN 87-87720-15-9)


Dansk Udenrigspolitiks Historie, Vol. 3 - Fra Helstat til Nationalstat ("Danish Foreign Policy History"), by Claus Bjørn & Carsten Due-Nielsen, editors: Carsten Due-Nielsen, Ole Feldbæk & Nikolaj Petersen, Gyldendals Leksikon, Copenhagen 2003 (ISBN-7789-91-4)


Orlogsmuseet - Introduktion til Flådens historie ("The Naval Museum - Introduction to the History of the Navy"), by Ole Lisberg Jensen, Orlogsmuseet, Copenhagen 1994 (ISBN 87-89322-14-2)

44You are also referred to the Naval Bibliography

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This page was first published: January 8, 2006

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