Sweden, the ever growing giant of the north, expands westwards to increase the number of trading ports in its control and ultimately attempting to monopolize trade in the Baltic Sea. Of course, this is all much to the disliking of the Danish who declared war (along with Prussia) to defend their trading ports.
And so this brings us back to the coast of Orland, an island west of the more famous Gotland where many skeletal remains were discovered in the 1930s in medieval mass graves from when the local populace were slaughtered by the professional Danish army 200 years prior to the war which now surrounds the region.
Of course, gaining a monopoly in the Baltic Sea means to clear the area of hazards to your trading ships, meaning enemy ships which could raid them and steal the valuables being transported, and this is where the ship “Mars” comes in to play.
Naval warfare in the 1500s was quite crude. The idea was one simply tried to sink the enemy’s ship before she sunk you, and the Mars certainly had a greater advantage in this. Due to her size, she was able to mount three decks of guns, in fact, even her crow’s nest was armed with cannonades (think of them as miniature cannons), and it is thought that she was armed with 170 cannons made of the highest quality of Swedish iron. And it was those cannons which transformed her into a legend.
It was never quite known where the Mars sank or how she sank, but one thing which remained unchanged in her story was her transport of treasure. As the stories go, the Mars had been instructed to transport 200,000 pieces of silver as well as several large church bells (which were to be melted down to make cannons) which had been taken from several towns and villages as the Swedish army advanced. As she sailed north, apparently the Danes attempted to attack the fleet she sailed in, but as records show, the Danish were fought off and the fleet continued unhindered.
This was when the Holy Roman Empire decided to have a crack at them. As the Sun was rising, the fleet was spotted by a Germanic fleet, and the battle commenced. The ships of the line fought, each attempting to outdo the other; some ships were boarded, and others simply slipped into the sea. The Mars however fought with one of the German heavyweights. Cannons roared as the two ships sailed beside each other, cannon balls splintering wood as crew members struggled to reload.
Moving forward to 2011, a Dutch diving team by chance discovered the wreck while looking for another wreck in the area 246ft underwater. She lay on her starboard side in pristine condition thanks to the Baltic’s slow currents and absence of wood worms which in other oceans would cause a wooden wreck to disappear within 5 years. The wreck is like a time machine; its pristine condition means one is able to discover artefacts which one never would find in other wrecks. Such being the coat of arms of the Swedish king, inscriptions on the cannons, and of course, large amounts of the estimated 200,000 silver pieces which it was claimed she carried (one coin being valued at 13,000 Euros).
Since its discovery, several meetings have been held by historical societies about what should be done with the wreck. One option was to raise it as had been done with the Mary Rose in 1982, however the costs of conserving and preserving the wreck once it was raised would be enormous so the decision was made to leave her where she lays as a war grave.
The studying of the wreck has shed light on much of naval construction of the 16th century, which has so far remained a mystery. It was in this century that three-masted ship building first began and the Mars is perfect to study for this. Today she still is at the bottom of the Baltic where she will stay, however some of her cannons and artefacts have been recovered and are currently on display in the Swedish naval museum.