Karlsborg Fortress

Karlsborg Fortress


Location: Karlsborg, Västergötland  Map

Constructed: 1819


Description of Karlsborg Fortress

Karlsborg Fortress is an old citadel in Karlsborg, Västergötland of Sweden. It was constructed in 1819 as a huge military fortification capable in case of emergency to house members of the royal court, government and even treasury of Sweden. Its construction became necessary after the Finnish war and the Napoleonic wars. Swedish government was threatened by European empires as well as the Russian Empire that managed to capture large expanses of land along the Baltics and even an entire Finland. In theory Karlsborg Castle played a central role in the defenses of the country against possible intrusions. It is one of the largest fortresses in Europe, covering 100 hectares. It was the garrison of 6,000 soldiers and 8,000 to 10,000 additional people. It is classified as Historical monument since 1935.


About the fortress
When Sweden lost Finland in 1809, the Baltic coast became more vulnerable than before. The military judged that an enemy could not be stopped on the coast but could be defeated inland after delaying battles, according to the so-called central defense idea. From the beginning, operational fortresses were planned at Askersund and Jönköping as well as a depot fortress at Vanäs cape on the Västgöta side of Lake Vättern, but only the last one became a reality. On a later occasion, it was decided that the central depot would also be an operational fortress, and it would house both the garrison, storage and "bourgeois quarters". The intention was that the government and central management functions in the event of an attack on the kingdom would withdraw to this fortress in the middle of the country. The Riksbank's gold reserve was also to be protected in the fortress during times of unrest.

The fortress, which had a planned construction period of 10 years, began to be built in 1819 according to a defense plan then decided by the Riksdag, and the original name was Vanäs fortress. The site was proposed by General and Vice Admiral Baltzar von Platen in connection with the construction of the Göta Canal, which began in Forsvik, seven kilometers northwest of Vanäs and was one of the conditions for a central fortress. The site was considered easy to defend as the triangular Vanäs cape means that the fortress has two sides towards Lake Vättern.


The gravel walls
A sand dune ran along the headland, and for the first 15 years the work consisted of shoveling this sand out to the approximately 5-kilometer-long defensive ramparts towards the fortress's sea sides, as well as building protruding caponaries, from which one could shoot along the ramparts. Below the five km long gravel embankments and between the caponiers a so-called storm barrier consisting of a limestone base. On top of the foundation is an iron fence consisting of about four meters long upright, forged and pointed iron tines. These were forged in a cabin at Igelbäcken about 10 km north of the fortress. In total, about one million tonnes of sand were used for the grass construction. During the years 1827-1830, about 2000 people worked at the facility.

In 1831, the fortress' first garrison moved in. It was a company from the Göta Artillery Regiment that moved from Varberg Fortress, which then ceased to be an active fortification.

By the middle of the 1830s, the fortifications to the seafront were largely complete, and work on the final defense could begin. In 1832, the Östgötadelen section of the Göta Canal was also completed, the Västgötadelen section had already been completed as early as 1822. During an inspection by King Karl XIV Johan in 1832, the foundation stone for the main gate, Götiska vault, was laid and the name of the fortress was changed to Karlsborg Fortress.


The final defense
As the main enemy attack on Karlsborg Fortress was expected to come from the land side, extensive fortification work was required to meet the threat. From the beginning, an ordinary fortification with bastions was planned, but the head of the construction work, Lieutenant Johan af Kleen at the Fortification, got other ideas after a study trip to Europe. Af Kleen's proposal for a new land front in 1835 meant that Vanäs cape would be cut off from shore to shore along its base by a final defense. The final defense, consisting of two floors with cannons placed in casemates, would be supported by moats, bastions, curtains, and caponiers. It was an ingenious system that would create a deep defense in front of the final defense. The long straight guard ended at the outer ends with short guards, angled inwards. In order to be able to coat the walls, a round tower was erected at each angle, and a tower in the middle. These towers served as caponiers.

The proposal was approved and resulted in the fortress' mighty 678 meter long final defense. The facility, which is one of Europe's longest buildings, began construction in 1844 and was completed in 1866. At that time, 263 cannons were aimed at the front, and the fortress was planned to be manned by between 6,000 and 8,000 men. The roof of the building, the so-called peace roof, could also be removed and make it possible to use the upper floor as an open battery deck. The thickness of the walls is 2-3 meters on the "war side" to the south, but much thinner to the north, towards the fortress.

The final defense is mainly built in Borghamn limestone, which was shipped over from Borghamn by boat. All stone was cut by hand with primitive tools and sanded with sand and water to get a smooth surface. The workforce was motley. It periodically consisted of divided soldiers, who during the bright season were sent to work command at Karlsborg. Many from the surrounding countryside also took up voluntary work here, especially in connection with crop years. In both of these categories there were skilled craftsmen. In addition, there were forced conscripts with criminal backgrounds, vagrants and prisoners. They were organized in military forms between the years 1826 - 1885 in a special force which was first called the Pioneer Corps, then the Krono Labor Corps and finally the Discipline Company. The guard staff consisted of divided soldiers from different parts of the country.


The main valley
When the final defense was completed in 1866, the facility had played its role as an operational fortress, and it was realized that it would never be able to play a decisive role in a war. The planned bastions in front of the final defense were abolished and instead it was decided to build simpler solutions, mainly for cost reasons but also when they wanted to have the facility completed as soon as possible. The solution was two smaller defenses, so-called block houses, in front of the main embankment. Protruding caponaries could also fire along the tomb of the main embankment. To take troops to various places on the main embankment during battle, covered passages, potsherds, were built inside the embankments.

In 1870, Karlsborg's fortress was in working order, but it was not until 1909, after 90 years of construction, that it was declared completely finished.

At the same time as the fortress was built, various buildings were also built in and around the facility.
Kungsvillan, built in 1823 at the far end of the headland, was intended as the royal family's home if you had to leave Stockholm.
The arsenal (Fabric House), built in the 1840s, was a storehouse for weapons and other fabric material. When the fortress was a central store for the entire army, there were about 100,000 rifles and other equipment stored here. "
Garrison hospital outside the ramparts near Kungsvillan.
Quay facility, workshop area and smithy were among the first to be built on Vanäs, outside the ramparts.
Riding stables and stables.
Officer housing.
The garrison church, which is housed in the middle of the final defense, was inaugurated in 1869. The church is located on the second floor, above the Fortress Museum, and was once also intended as a plenary hall for parliament and government in times of unrest. In the ceiling hangs a chandelier made of 276 bayonets instead of candle prisms.
Storage and storage spaces. At the far end of the headland within the fortress area, storage and storage facilities were completed in 1873. Access to these was delayed due to a tragic death during the final stages of construction.
When rear-loaded rifles and cannons began to be used in the 1860s, there was a need for cartridge manufacturing, which started at Karlsborg in 1867. In 1886, production was expanded and placed in a special ammunition factory, Vanäsverken, outside the eastern ramparts. The former factory area is now being developed with homes close to the lake.
When the new communication medium radio was developed at the beginning of the 20th century, a decision was made in 1915 to build a Swedish "major station for correspondence with other countries". As Karlsborg Fortress was still planned to protect the Riksdag, government and war leadership in times of unrest, the place Kråks bog was chosen five km southwest of Karlsborg, given that the station, Karlsborg radio, would secure Sweden's radio connections in war as a central radio station.
In 1913, Lieutenant Gösta von Porat landed with his aircraft, a Nieuport IV G, on the exercise heath "Lusharpan" in front of the fortress' main embankment, and found that the ground would be useful for flight exercises. In 1915, the army aircraft used Karlsborg as one of their bases as there were great opportunities to practice firing and bombing on the artillery's firing range. Seaplanes were also used in later exercises. During the latter part of the 1930s, hangars and a runway were built for what on 1 July 1939 became Västgöta Flygflottilj F6 near the fortress.

Changed focus
The long construction time caused a number of factors to change, which changed the conditions for the fortress.
The steam engine, which enabled faster connections with the steamboat and railway than what sailing ships and horse-drawn carriages could offer. A trip Stockholm - Gothenburg with the stagecoach took about a week in the 1830s. The new conditions enabled a strategic thinking where one could quickly mobilize an army and move it towards an attacking enemy.
The expansion of the electric telegraph network. This meant faster communication and a longer notice period, than the previous method of communication with horse courier, where a ride between Stockholm and Gothenburg took two days.
Development of weapons technology. Artillery pieces constructed in the 1880s could easily shoot through the 3 meter thick limestone walls of the fortress. Range and precision had also increased when knurled fire tubes began to be used. When Vaberget about five kilometers from Karlsborg would be a threat if it was used by an enemy, Vaberget's fortress was built here with new technology when the fortification, for the first time in Europe, between the years 1888-1909 was blown directly out of the rock.
Relocation of the population. At the beginning of the 19th century, the majority of Sweden's population was employed in agriculture and Västergötland, closest to the fortress, was one of the country's most populous areas. This changed with the breakthrough of industrialism, which led to a strong influx of people to the cities.


Changed strategy. During the Crimean War 1853-56, an Anglo-French war casualty sailed into the Baltic Sea and attacked Russian positions, including on Åland. Russia was eventually forced to turn Åland into a demilitarized zone. This meant that the threat to Sweden diminished and the realization that Russia, with the help of the right ally, could be defeated. The increased self-confidence replaced the abandoned atmosphere of the early 19th century, and during the latter part of the 19th century a series of fortifications were built around Stockholm, with a desire to quickly meet an attack instead of the previous tactic of retreating and gathering strength inland.

Current conditions
Next to the fortress, the community of Karlsborg, before 1832 called Rödesund, grew up. It was first and foremost a marketplace, and after 1819 it became a residential area for staff at the fortress's operations and grew into an urban area, much thanks to the Göta Canal that runs through the community.

Since the fortress was removed from the war organization by the defense decision in 1925, Karlsborg's garrison, (next to Boden's garrison), has instead acted as one of the country's largest educational garrisons. Since 1984, the Life Regiment's hussars (K 3) have been here, the Paratroopers 'School and the Swedish Armed Forces' survival school. In the fortress area, the special unit Special Operations Group (SOG) is also housed. A number of the buildings inside the fortress area have been rebuilt, with the exterior retained, and are rented out to civilian tenants.

Karlsborg Fortress was included in the German war planning ahead of a possible attack on Sweden during World War II. Not as the main target, but as a benchmark for attacks on the then nearby air flotilla Västgöta air flotilla (F 6).
The Swedish film comedy Göta kanal 3 - Kanalkungens hemlighet (2009), takes place at Karlsborg Fortress, among other places. The film also weaves the connection between Baltzar von Platen, Göta Canal and the fortress into its plot.
When the storage and storage building was almost completed, a tragic death occurred. The German construction worker Anders Werenheilm fell from the southernmost of two gaps in warehouse building 507 and died immediately.

Parts of the facility are open to tourists with a range of activities.
Inside Fästningstorget is Soldathemskonditoriet, a restaurant and shops open in summer.
Karlsborg Fortress Museum is housed on both sides of the church vault in the middle of the fortress' final defense. Here is the history of the fortress, as well as information about the units and activities that are, or have been located in Karlsborg. There is also a local history museum that shows the history of the area before the fortress.
The historical adventure tour is a guided tour through parts of the final defense with film screenings, bang and smoke effects. This tour provides an insight into how the fortress was intended to be used in a possible attack on Sweden in the 19th century.
The hunt for the lost gold reserve, beginning in the summer of 2011, is a guided family adventure where participants look for the Swedish gold reserve that got lost at the fortress during times of unrest in the 19th century. To help them, the participants have 3-D film and motion-controlled computer games, developed in collaboration with the University of Skövde.
3-day survival course. Under the guidance of instructors from the Swedish Armed Forces' survival school in Karlsborg, basic courses in survival techniques, theory and practice are arranged for private individuals and companies with a minimum age of 16 participants.

Among the fortress commanders were:
1904–1911 - Oskar Sylvander
1911–1918 - Christofer Lemchen
1918–1919 - Gabriel Torén
1919–1927 - William Bergman