Vaxholm Fortress, the old gate to Stockholm

The collapse of the fortress in Helsinki at the end of the Finnish War sent shock waves down the spine of the parliamentarians at the Riksdag in Stockholm. A vastly weakened Sweden now had its capital left open and vulnerable to a naval invasion. Stockholm needed cover, the politicians and citizens needed a new fort to feel safe. A new defensive position had to be found.

Thus came the decision to rebuilt the old fort at Vaxholm. The old fort of Vaxholm was already 300 years old by that time, set up by the regent of Svante Nilson Sture.

Why this location? Why chose something so far north with possible routes around it? To us today, with ships and boats able to comfortably navigate seas (and sometimes oceans) a sea-based fortress serves no purpose and makes no sense. But in the 1500s all through the 1800s, where seafaring did not come with the kind of cross sea/ocean capabilities that we take for granted today, and so ships had to travel in waters that were deep but not too deep so they would always tend to cling near to the coastal areas. There used to be no other route through the archipelago except through Vaxholm island.

The choice of Vaxholm was a good one in the 16th century. Vaxholm is a small island wedged in between two larger ones so it was able to be completely devastating to attacking forces. It was able to repel the Danes in 1612 and turn back the Russians in 1712. The fortress was never really completed though, it defended Stockholm while it was itself in a half complete phase.

But Vaxholm was only as useful as the number of routes through to Stockholm. In the 1800s, a new route was created adjacent to the island (Oxdjupet), a shorter route to Stockholm that rendered Vaxholm useless. But a quirk of politics meant that although the fortress was useless by the mid 19th century, upgrading works at the site that began in the early 19th century had to still be paid for. Three decades of upgrading were completed in 1863 (with forced labour from Russian POWs) and a new, obsolete fort was reopened.

 

The fort was by then useless and so the fortress was then converted into a training ground for naval officers instead with defensive capabilities moved further out in the archipelago.

It was impregnable, and it should have been a powerful shield for the Swedish state, but it took to long to complete. The only people it impresses now, are tourist from all over who penetrate the depths of the island everyday to explore the history of Sweden’s naval history on the island.

ON THE MAP

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