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December 2010

New details emerge about disappearance of Swedish ships in the Cold War

    In 1948 Swedish military officials considered the possibility that the loss of the ships “Iwan” and “Kinnekulle” had not been accidental, but that they had been delivered “intentionally” into Russian hands, in retaliation for Swedish smuggling operations.

    Months earlier, in November 1947, Foreign Minister Oesten Undén personally met with a Swedish captain questioned by Polish authorities about smuggling activities by Swedish ships.

    Also, on at least one occasion the Swedish Defense Staff used a Swedish commercial vessel to infiltrate a secret agent into Poland in 1946.

    All these issues may have had serious implications for Swedish ships traveling the dangerous Gdansk-Trelleborg corridor during the Cold War years.

    New documentation obtained from the archives of the Swedish Defense Staff (MUST) and the Swedish Security Police (SÄPO) shows that as early as 1946 Swedish civilian and military authorities had detailed knowledge about illegal smuggling operations of various goods and refugees from Eastern Europe conducted by Swedish ships. The papers also make clear that there existed at least a routine exchange of information between the Swedish State Police, the Customs Office, as well as the Swedish Foreign Ministry and Defense Staff on the subject at the time. There is evidence that by November 1947 Foreign Minister Östen Undén was so concerned about the problem and its wider political impact, that he held an official meeting with a Swedish captain after a prominent Polish politician had fled to Sweden on the captain’s ship.

    The secret traffic, however, also flowed in the opposite direction. The new papers reveal that the Swedish Defense Staff on at least one occasion used a Swedish vessel to smuggle a secret agent into Poland. According to records from MUST, the head of Försvarsstaben, Utrikesavdelning, Curt Kempff, in August 1946 personally authorized the transfer of a Polish agent onboard a Swedish commercial vessel. These actions raise important new questions about the disappearance of Swedish ships in the Baltic sea in the Cold War years.