The military situation during the Cold War period
Sweden was not occupied by German or other foreign forces during the Second World War. This was probably one of the main reasons for its exceptional prosperity after the war, backed up by American economic support (the Marshall Plan).
The Swedish military situation during the Cold War period was characterized by:
- Political neutrality.
- A strategic location in the front line with the Soviet Union.
- A very strong coastal defence force and a strong air force. This contributed to a deterrent effect, an official Swedish defence policy which aimed at preventing a Soviet attack.
- The country was prepared for total war in case of an attack from the Soviet Union.
- Sweden was self-sufficient in most of its military equipment such as cannons and aircrafts.
Neutrality, but near contacts to United States and NATO
It would have been impossible for Sweden to be neutral in the case of a war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In fact, the Swedish military forces were directed openly against the Soviet Union. The only realistic and successful possibility of defending Sweden in case of war was on the basis of support from the United States (and hence also nuclear support). Military ties with NATO were therefore kept deadly secret by the Swedish government because of its official policy of neutrality. Sweden’s strategic location Most Soviet attack plans throughout the Cold War period involved the Nordic countries because of the Soviet desire for military control of and access to the North Atlantic. Another reason for the Soviet Union’s interest in controlling access to the Baltic Sea was the many shipyards that could repair the Warsaw Pact’s ships in case of war.
It should also be noted that half of the border between Western Europe and the Soviet countries is formed by Sweden. Control of this border led to many confrontations between Swedish and Soviet aircraft in the Baltic Sea, including the downing of a Swedish surveillance aircraft in 1952 (the DC-3 affair).
Other confrontations involved Soviet submarines. One of these submarines, the U137, ran ashore in 1981 inside the restricted zone of the Karlskrona naval base, and resulted in a political crisis between Sweden and the Soviet Union.
A strong coastal defence and a strong air force
The eastern coast of Sweden, along a length of more than 1500 kilometres, probably had the most powerful coastal defence system in the world. The system consisted of coastal artillery, submarines, battleships and aircrafts. No less than 90 heavy cannons (typically 7.5 cm cannons) with large underground facilities were strategically located along the coast, together with a large number of bunkers and pillboxes.
For a long time Sweden had the fourth largest air force in the world, with no less than 30 bases and a large number of smaller hangars mainly connected to motorways that could be used as runways in case of war. One of the main tasks of the Swedish air force was to hinder attacks from Soviet antisubmarine flights against NATO submarines with nuclear missiles in the Baltic Sea.