Unknown submarines in Norwegian fjords and territorial waters

​The project is an update of the study Fremmede ubåter i norske fjorder. Realitet eller myte? [Unknown submarines in Norwegian fjords. Reality or myth?]

 The study was published in the series Oslo Files on Defence and Security in 2013. Gjelsten used accessible sources to consider reports on observations of unidentified submarine objects in Norwegian territorial waters. The aim was to assess the probability of the objects being unknown, foreign submarines.

The idea is to publish the updated text in English.

A summary of Gjelsten's original Oslo File in English:

The purpose of this study has been to utilise the available source material to analyse the circumstances surrounding reported observations of unidentified underwater objects in Norwegian territorial waters. 

The aim has been to investigate the likelihood that they were unknown, foreign submarines. The period covered ranges from 1960 to 1990 with a few glances at the years before and after. 

Initially, the study presents an overview of which nations could have the motive, the capacity and an operational pattern of sailing their submarines to qualify as potential intruders. 

Next, the parameters of the unique environmental water properties that exist in Norwegian fiords are explained. Even when hunted by surface units equipped with hull mounted sonars, the conditions favour a submerged perpetrator in most circumstances. 

The study concludes that there is little doubt that foreign submarines have operated in Norwegian territorial waters without prior clearance from proper authorities. Since the usual way submarines operate in such circumstances is to be present, but silent and hidden, it is impossible to calculate the frequency of intrusions. Probably, the number of sightings reported represented only the tip of an iceberg. Furthermore, the analysis indicate that the majority of the submarines that violated Norwegian sovereignty in the period between 1960 and 1990 most likely were conventional submarines of Soviet origin. 

On the other hand, in some cases the evidence pointed to one of the Western sea powers as the possible home state of the intruder. Hence, it cannot be excluded that allied navies occasionally operated submarines in the fiords without permission. It is also a fact that very few documents have been declassified and only a minimum of sources have been available to shed light on and increase the insight into the matters treated in this study. 

What is common to all the countries capable of sending submarines to penetrate Norwegian fiords submerged, is the secrecy and sensitivity that still characterise this field. 

Selected publications by Roald Gjelsten (for full overview go to staff page)

  • 2013. "The Small Country as a Maritime Great Power: The Case of Norway". In Maritime History and Identity. The Sea and Culture in the Modern World, edited by Duncan Redford, 120–140. London/New York: I. B. Tauris.
  • 2012. The Norwegian navy: A brief history; translated and adapted from a work by Bjørn Terjesen, Tom Kristiansen and Roald Gjelsten. Bergen: John Grieg.
  • 2004. "The Role of Naval Forces in Northern Waters at the Beginning of a New Century". In Navies in Northern Waters, 1721-2000, edited by Rolf Hugh Hobson and Tom Kristiansen. Frank Cass Publishers.
Published 09 February 2018 12:40.. Last updated 20 February 2018 08:35.