Sweden might have managed to remain neutral during both World Wars and the following era, but it always kept up to date with the latest military technologies to ensure the countries security. Here is a short summary of the development of the Swedish armored forces, only focusing on the machines that existed in real life. (No blueprint / prototype only tanks.)
PRE – World War II Tanks
As for most European nations, the First World War was the starting point in the history of armored warfare for Sweden as well. While the country remained neutral throughout the conflict, the advancement in military technology did not go unnoticed, and Sweden became one of the many foreign operators of the revolutionary Renault FT-17. This influential tank design is often referred as the world’s first modern tank, having featured for the first time such ground stones in tank design like a fully traversing turret housing the main armament, or placing the crew in the front and the engine in the back. The tank first entered service in 1917, typically remaining active during the 1920’s and 30’s in most countries, though several hundred even made it into World War Two (of course being completely obsolete by than).
As the light tank industry was booming during the interwar era, Sweden set their eyes on a new weapon – the LK II. This light tank was originally developed by Germany towards the end of the First World War, but due to the regulations outlined in the peace treaty of Versailles the project got stuck at prototype phase. As Sweden really wanted their own version of it, they secretly paid the German government for 10 tanks, which were than also in secret manufactured in Germany, and smuggled in parts disguised as agricultural machine parts and boiler plates to Sweden. The tank entered service in 1921 under the designation Stridsvagn (Strv) m/21, and was later modified giving it a 37mm gun and a Swedish engine.
The first Swedish tank design was a direct upgrade based on the m/21, the plans being developed with the help of the German designer Joseph Vollmer, who was also involved in the LK II project. Designated Stridsvagn m/31 (or Landswerk L-10 after the factory), this little light tank boosted a 37mm main gun, two 7,7mm coaxial machine guns, a nice engine and great suspension. Originally the plan was to replace the m/21-s as from 1932 onward, but eventually only 3 of them were built. While the tanks were still advanced for their time when the Second World War broke out, they ended up being dug in the ground as a mobile bunker.
Still following the lead of Joseph Vollmeer the next step in Swedish tank design was their first mass produced tank, the Stridsvagn L-60. This light tank design did build on the previous m/31 model from two years earlier, with production of the L-60 starting as of 1934. The layout was rather similar featuring sloped frontal armor, a rather cramped turret and a 20mm main gun (which was later up-gunned to a 37mm version). A total of about 150 units were produced of the machine. It’s perhaps also interesting to mention, that the Hungarian Toldi 38 tank was basically a modified version of the licensed L-60B model with the 37mm gun…
The next machine in the inter war era to be operated by the Swedish Army was in fact of Czechoslovakian design. The AH-IV tankette (a smaller and lighter design even compared to light tanks – intended mostly for reconnaissance) was a successful export product of the time. The Swedish government was so impressed by it, hat they ordered 48 units, most of which were built in Sweden under license, though heavily modified to their own needs. Most importantly they used an upgraded engine, suspension and transmission (provided by Volvo), and the tanketts were larger and heavier than the original Czechoslovakian models. The machines entered service in 1938 under designation Stridsvagn m/37 and remained in service right up until 1953.
In the meantime Sweden of course did continue working on their own tank design as well, soon coming up with the Stridsvagn m/38, a slightly improved version of the L-60 before it. This version was originally intended for export, but the breakout of the war foiled any such plans and the m/38 remained solely in Swedish service. About 17 of these tanks were built, all of them serving until 1953. A single m/38 did survive until today, these days being displayed at the Swedish tank museum in Axwall.
For completion’s sake, let’s also mention that Sweden owned a single unit from the T-37A Soviet amphibious light tank as well, even if they never purchased or captured one. This tank was actually a gift from the Finnish Army, as it was one of the dozens captured by them during the Winter War in 1939. The tank is still on display at the Arsenalen Tank Museum today.
World War II
While Sweden did strive to remain neutral through the Second World War as well, that didn’t mean that they wanted to stay defenseless in case of an invasion. With the rising tension in Europe and eventually the breakout of the war, the development of the previous L/60 model continued, and after the m/38 further upgraded versions were born, such as the Stridsvagn m/39 and m/40. These models were built up until 1944, and with about 200 units produced they made up a significant percentage of the Swedish armored forces.
As before, Sweden was of course not ignoring the development in international tank design, and especially the Czechoslovakian LT vz. 38 got their attention. After a successful inspection they ordered 90 of this brand new light tank – to be delivered in 1940. Production was well underway, when a small problem arose in the form of the German invasion of the country, which did see both the factories and the already produced units being confiscated by the German war machine, the tanks entering service under Germany with designation PzKpfw 38(t). After long negotiations Sweden eventually managed to get the blueprints of the machine from Germany in 1940, and started manufacturing 116 of them now in their own factories. All this delay meant that by the time the tanks started to roll out of the factories by the end of 1942 they were already outdated, but since the need for additional armor was so pressing, another 122 of them were produced until the end of the war, bringing the total production numbers to around 240. They served in Sweden under the designation Stridsvagn m/41.
The title of the most produced Swedish tank during the Second World War has to go the Stridsvagn m/42 however with some 280 units produced between 1943 and 1945. While the basis of the machine was the previously developed m/40 (which was in reality a polished L-60 light tank), unlike its predecessors it went through a complete re-design of the original concept, improving and changing a lot of it’s aspects, effectively evolving into a true medium tank. The new tank was now longer and had a smaller silhouette, it had a 4 man crew instead of the previously typical 3 and it did weigh more than twice with 25 tons. The most important upgrade was the gun though, as it finally mounted a competitive 75mm, since the previously used 37mm guns were becoming quickly outdated as the newer and tougher tanks entered the war. While overall a successful tank design, much like their predecessors, the m/42-s did never see actual combat.
Cold War Era
The war might have ended in 1945, but with the international tension during the Cold War era, the arms race was still in full bloom, and Sweden had to keep its defenses up to date as well. In order to do so they very effectively modernized their existing armored portfolio, and also acquired some state of the art new tank designs from other nations. A great example for the modernization is the Stridsvagn 74, which was in effect a modified and upgraded m/42. In order to salvage as much as possible from the already outdated medium tank, they mounted the existing turrets on the coastline as static pillboxes, while re-using the chassis in a brand new tank model. They gave it a newly designed turret, engine, wider tracks and a high-velocity 75mm gun. The result was a highly effective vehicle that remained in service from 1958 right up until 1984. While it served its purpose flawlessly, the Stridsvagn 74 had a bit of a specialty when firing. The thin, high body and the large recoil from the gun made tank rock significantly when firing over its tracks, earning it the nickname „Sanslös” (or senseless) by their crew…
In terms of foreign arms imports, Sweden was one of the largest foreign operators of the British Centurion main battle tank, with a total of 350 units bought in the 1950’s. The purchases included 80 Mk 3 Centurions, 160 Mk 5 Centurions (both of them using the 20 pounder gun) and finally 110 Mk 10 Centurions with the 105mm. Sweden continued to upgrade their Centurions throughout the decades and they continued to play a major role in the national armored forces. They were eventually phased out in the early 2000’s together with the famous S-Tank, having served through almost half a century. Their designations ranged from Stridsvagn 81, 101 and 102, followed by 104 to 106 marking completed and planned upgrades.
Sweden of course continued their own tank development projects as well, resulting in highly effective (and specialized) armored machines, like the Infanterikanonvagn 91, or in short Ikv 91. This was a fully amphibious light tank, specifically designed to operate in some of the most challenging areas of Sweden. Not only could it travel (and fire!) in water, but the wide tracks and the excellent power to weight ratio meant that it could easily (and quickly) advance in the swampy summer taiga, or in thick winter snow as well. As for its main armament, it used a 90mm rifled, low pressure gun, firing up to 8 rounds a minute of HEAT or high-explosive ammunition. The vehicle was in service from 1975 up to the early 2000’s…
The most well-known Swedish tank design has to be the famous S-Tank (or officially Stridsvagn 103), which was an amphibious main battle tank, and it made up a considerable portion of the Swedish armored forces with 290 units built during its service time between 1967 and 1997. The main reason why it is so special is because it doesn’t have a turret (actually being the only post World War Two tank design to do so), and the fully fixed gun had to be positioned by using the tracks and adjusting the elevation of the suspension. It’s perhaps interesting to mention that while non-turreted armored fighting vehicles are typically classified as an assault guns or tank destroyers, the 103 is considered to be a tank because its combat role matched the more conventional tanks in the Swedish army. The unconventional design followed a study that stated that over 50% of the penetrating hits received on knocked out tanks were on the turret, so in order to improve safety and resilience, in a radical move they removed the turret altogether. This made the S-Tank an extremely low profile target to the enemy, especially in a hull-down position. And if that was still not enough, the tank could be lowered by an additional 13cm-s using the suspension. Some of the tanks were even equipped with a blade mounted on the lower hull that allowed the tank to literally dig itself into the ground for even better protection.
The revolutionary design did not stop here however, as the S-Tank was also the first tank to receive a turbine engine – well before the Soviet T-80 or the American M1 Abrams. The Swedish model actually had 2 engines, a smaller one for cruising and maneuvering while aiming and a more powerful one for higher speeds and for traveling on difficult terrain. Another specialty of the tank was that it did go backwards just as quickly as forwards (with up to 60 km/h) allowing the crew to never have to turn their front away from the enemy if they wanted to disengage. While the Stridsvagn 103 never did see combat (and thus the special design has never really proven itself under live conditions), during its service time several other nations tested it out as well with very positive results. The Norwegians found that it had better view range and rate of fire than a Leopard 1, the British were impressed by its performance compared to the Chieftain, despite the S-Tank not being able to fire on the move, and the Americans found that it did beat the M60A1E3 in terms of overall accuracy.
Complementing the post-World War II era was a highly special self-propelled artillery, the Bandkanon 1. This Swedish designed and built, lightly armored artillery was one of the world’ heaviest self-propelled artillery systems during its time with up to 53 tons, but it was still able to reach up to 28 km/h road speed while traveling. Its main armament was a 155mm gun with a 15 round magazine, giving it exceptionally high rate of fire. With the first round already loaded, it was able to fire all 15 rounds in just 45 seconds, which was an official world record. Each of the shells weighed 47 kg-s, and could be fired at a maximum range of 28 km-s. A total of 26 Bandkanons were built, having served from 1967 up until 2003.
Entering the modern days, unfortunately we have to skip the amazing technological innovations, like infrared camouflage that makes your tank look like a tree for enemy infrared viewfinders, or the active damping suspension system that pressurizes the suspension based on your speed and the terrain ahead, and that was originally designed to help Formula One racing cars… One of the main ground stones of the modern Swedish armored forces is the Stridsfordon 90 (which in English translates to the catchy Combat Vechicle 90, or in short CV 90). This family of infantry fighting vehicles was fully developed and built by Sweden, and turned out to be a highly successful export product as well. The machine is still in production today (already past 1000 completed units), with the largest operators being Sweden (with over 500 units in service), followed by The Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Estonia. The machine was specifically designed to excel in the challenging Nordic conditions, and retains very good mobility even while moving through the swampy wetlands, or through deep snow. It’s main armament is a 40mm auto-cannon, complemented by a 7.62mm machine gun and six 76mm grenade launchers. The CV 90 is also capable of transporting up to 8 fully equipped soldiers in addition to the 3 man crew, making this a truly versatile machine.
The main battle tank of choice for the modern Swedish Army was once again of German design – the powerful Leopard 2. Originally a 160 Leopard 2A4-s were leased from Germany, that entered service under designation Stridsvagn 121. In the meantime Sweden also acquired the license to an improved variant of the Leopard 2, and built an additional 120 units modified to fit their own needs – making them effective in heavily forested areas just as much as in urban conditions. Most of these tanks were manufactured in Sweden itself. These main battle tanks entered service as the Stridsvagn 122 in 1997, and 42 of them are still in active service today. While still using the original 120mm smooth bore gun of the Leopard 2, modifications included an improved armor package, a reinforced defense system against chemical, biological and radioactive weapons, improved range finders and targeting systems (now allowing to lock on to multiple targets at once) and the ability to drive through up to 1,4 meters deep waters.
Complementing these advanced armored machines is an artillery system developed together with Norway – the ARCHER. This next generation artillery system composes of a 155mm howitzer and an M151 Protector remote controlled weapon station being mounted on a 6 by 6 Volvo chassis. The artillery carries 21 rounds in a fully automated magazine, which can be reloaded in 10 minutes via a separate armored munitions carrier vehicle. The full magazine can be fired within 2,5 minutes, or a 3 shell salvo can be fired within 15 seconds. The firing range of the machine is 35kms, which can be pushed up to a staggering 60km-s by using the GPS guided Excalibur shells. The main concept for the vehicle was to provide a highly mobile tactical strike force, which the Archer most certainly is capable to provide with a top speed of 70km/h, being able to drive in up to 1m deep snow and being rail- and air transportable as well. Deployment to a fix firing position only takes less than 30 seconds, after which the gun can be elevated up to 70 degrees and can be turned in a 150 degree arc.
- Renault FT-17 at the Brussels Army Museum: Wikimedia Commons
- Swedish Light Tank Stridsvagn m/21-29: Wikimedia Commons
- Swedish Landsverk L-10 tank: Wikimedia Commons
- Stridsvagn L-60 Light Tank: Military Factory
- Strv m/37 (Swedish AH-IV tankette): Wikimedia Commons
- T-37A Soviet Amphibious Light Tank: Wikimedia Commons
- Stridsvagn m/40, Arsenalen Museum: Wikimedia Commons
- Stridsvagn m/41 – Swedish PzKpfw 38(t): Wikimedia Commons
- Stridsvagn m/42, Regiments Day, 2012: Wikimedia Commons
- Stridsvagn 74, Military History Museum, Boden: Wikimedia Commons
- Stridsvagn 102 – Swedish Centurion: Wikimedia Commons
- Infanterikanonvagn 91 Light Tank: Wikimedia Commons
- Stridsvagn 103, Regiments Day, Revingehed: Wikimedia Commons
- Stridsvagn 103, Swedish Army Museum: Wikimedia Commons
- Bandkanon 1, 155mm self-propelled howitzer: Wikimedia Commons
- Swedish Combat Vehicle 9040A: Wikimedia Commons
- Stridsvagn 122 (Swedish Leopard 2): Wikimedia Commons
- Archer Artillery System: Wikimedia Commons