About M314 Alta

KNM ALTA: A PRESERVED SWEEPER WHICH STILL GOES TO SEA

REGULARLY CRUISES IN OSLO FJORD AND ALONG NORWAY'S COAST

by: Allan George

Few preserved warships can be taken to sea, but in Norway the minesweeper M314 Alta which regularly cruises down Oslo Fjord and along the country's coast, sometimes as far north as Bergen, gives small groups of enthusiasts passengers a taste of life on board a warship.

M314 ALTA is the last of a class of minesweeper built in the 1950s at the height of the cold war. Completed in 1953, after service in the US Navy she was initially transferred to Belgium and in 1966 to Norway.

She is one of several hundred American designed AMS 60-class minesweepers. Most were built in the US, but some in other countries as well, and many were transferred to Allied navies. In general these wooden ships were similar to the RN's Ton Class vessels. All were built during the Korean war surge in warship construction. In Norway they were collectively called the Sauda Class.

She is named after the river Alta in northern Norway. Its source if high in the mountains, not far from the Finnish border. The 150 mile long river is famous for salmon fishing and flows through the Sautso canyon, one of the largest in Europe.

Decommissioned in 1996, she was handed over to the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum, close to her berth near the Cruise Liner Terminal in Oslo. However, she isn't just a dead museum ship rarely being moved, but is kept in sea going condition, and actually her appearance is a First Lieutenant's dream.

M314 ALTA is living testament to the country's rich maritime heritage, and a reminder to the public of the importance of the Royal Norwegian Navy.

In the 1950s NATO perceived a real threat to maritime choke points and ports in Western Europe from mining, which would have been a cheap and effective way to prevent seaborne reinforcement of equipment and troops crossing the Atlantic from the US. Hence the effort put into mine counter measures and the programme of building minesweepers.

M314 ALTA is believing to be the last of her class in existence anywhere in the world.

She is kept in sea going condition by a group of volunteers, who founded in 1995, the fartøylaget, or in English, the ALTA society. These 300 or so members, many of whom served in minesweepers, raise funds, maintain her and form her crew when she goes to sea.

KEEPING THE PUBLIC AWARE

Lars Andreas Tobiassen, the Society's General Manager explained the objective is to keep the Norwegian public aware of its naval and maritime heritage, and what better way to do this than to keep alive a type of ship in which so many of its sailors served.

He said: "Of course maintaining a preserved warship is expensive, so finance is a constant concern. However in addition to the Society's fund raising, ALTA receives generous commercial sponsorship and active support from the Royal Norwegian Navy".

Tore Pettersen, who retired as a Lt Cdr after 17 years in the Royal Norwegian Navy including command of an FPB, is one of a handful of former Officers who take command of M314 ALTA. As a Midshipman he served in TANA, a sister of M314 ALTA.

He commented there is little point keeping the ship in sea going condition unless she is used, so there is an annual programme of cruises and port visits.

However, one of the problems the Society constantly faces is that, while is has quite a large membership, there are only a limited number of people who are available, qualified and experienced in the various crafts and skills necessary to take ALTA to sea.

HOW ALTA WAS SAVED

Two enthusiasts, who has served in sister ships to ALTA during their National Service, one a signalman and the other a stoker, hoped to preserve one of the class. After a long struggle to create support, identify a vessel, generate initial funding, and persuade the authorities their proposal was practical, they succeeded in saving M314 ALTA.

She was transferred from the Royal Norwegian Navy to the Armed Forces Museum, which in turn bestowed responsibility for the operation and maintenance on the M314 ALTA society which in effect has become a department of the Museum.

However, there was one condition for the transfer: the operation and maintenance of ALTA should not inflict any public expenditure.

The society, through a great deal of effort and commitment, achieved what the Ministry of Defence and Naval Staff had not thought possible: they preserved the ship so well that the bureaucracy was unable to find any reason to take the ship away and scrap her.

Tore Pettersen explained that ALTA retains the right to fly the Norwegian naval ensign as she is owned by the Armed Forces Museum and is therefore technically a Government vessel. When at sea she is run according to the disciplines and codes of the Royal Norwegian Navy, although one can be sure it is done in  very relaxed manner,.