Victor Hammar the gun designer

    Victor Hammar, who originated from Värmland, worked at Bofors for just over half a century. He was known internationally as the chief designer behind the Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun and is depicted on the Bofors monument in Karlskoga. “Through contact with people in all parts of the world, you come to understand that there is more that unites people than divides those of different races and nationalities”, he said in an interview.

    Today Hammar is to all intents and purposes forgotten. He is not included as an entry in the Dictionary of Swedish National Biography nor is he on Wikipedia. But for many decades he was one of the most important people in the Swedish arms industry.

    He commented as follows on designing guns:

    “To start with a gun is no more than a lump of steel with a hole in it. Then it’s the creative joy that will do the rest. Each design is created after endless toil, tests and experiments, and when the successful product is finally finished, it is the result of many collaborating forces focused on a common goal.”

    Victor Hammar was born in Filipstad in 1880 and came to Bofors as a trainee in 1896. One of his older brothers was already employed as an engineer at the company. After studying at the Technical Secondary School in Örebro, Hammar applied for a job at Bofors again and started as a draughtsman in the drawing office in 1902. Some 15 men worked there at the time – a huge contrast to the 450 or so who worked under Hammar during the Second World War.

    During Hammar’s first year Bofors was mainly producing marine guns for the new Swedish fleet – the twelve armoured ships – and armoured turrets for the coastal fortifications and for the Boden Fortress. But some time later Bofors received an order from the state for a field gun that would be to its own design. This was the start of lengthy and painstaking work.

    25 mm. Autocannon L/64.

    There was a problem in making guns as light as possible. At that time field guns were drawn by horses and you could not use more than six horses in the team. So not only did the gun need to be light – but it also had to be capable of being rapidly transported and able to withstand transport over rough terrain. Robustness was one of the most difficult challenges. After a demanding field march around Lake Vättern the prototype gun resembled a corkscrew. Only after the sixth prototype had a product been created that was worthy of the name, and it became the Swedish Army’s 105 mm howitzer, Model 09.

    This was then followed by the design of a 150 mm howitzer, which involved a long series of new drawings, tests and experiments. There was still no firing range at Bofors at the time, so the employees had to head off to Marma in northern Uppland with the guns, ammunition and equipment. The firing range at Bofors was only inaugurated in 1913.

    Mule train in Bofors

    Hammar considered that one commission for the design of mountain artillery pieces which Bofors was engaged in during the 1920s was particularly stimulating. The difficulty was in achieving a high level of effectiveness while ensuring that the entire artillery piece – gun barrel and gun carriage – would be easy to dismantle. The various parts were transported on packhorses or mules in the mountainous areas where the guns would be used.

    The company was even forced to buy in a number of mules to try out the pack saddles for the gun parts. Meeting a mule train in the Värmland terrain must have been a strange site for the uninitiated. For the general public in Bofors this entire period was an exciting time.

    Accidents also occurred despite careful preparations. During one transport test in Java, in what is now Indonesia, a mule fell down a steep slope and disappeared with a cry into the depths. The event cast a gloom over the group, but that made the members of the expedition all the more pleased a little later when the mule was discovered far down in the abyss peacefully grazing and with the gun piece still happily held in the pack saddle!

    75 mm mountain gun (BK L/20 M/30 T) in driving position.

    ‘A castle in the air’

    Hammar described the work at Bofors as like building a ‘castle in the air’ around the dreamt-of gun and providing it with the desired characteristics. It was creative team work where you began practically empty-handed and had a brainstorming session, as we would say today. All Bofors products were essentially new designs.

    “The first sketches may even be discussed, only to end up in the wastepaper bin. Other routes are tried, feelers thrown out in different directions, new sketches are produced and these may eventually be discarded as well. In two or three months you may not appear to have taken one step forwards. Anyone looking in from outside might believe that nothing whatsoever had been done. But the experience is valuable, ideas take shape, you start to glimpse the way forward and the principle becomes clearer.”

    Hammar and his colleagues achieved their greatest success with the Bofors 40 mm gun – the renowned anti-aircraft gun that spread throughout the world. The design work took approximately seven years. But they had plenty of other irons in the fire at the same time, including 40 mm twin guns for ships which had to be capable of operation regardless of the ships’ movement at sea. The trials cost huge sums of money and were time-consuming. The solution lay in the gyro principle. In order to carry out the experiments the engineers developed a platform which would mechanically imitate the rolling of the ships. One of the Bofors designs which Hammar regarded as most successful was the 150 mm moveable coastal artillery field gun.

    Carpentry as a hobby

    Hammar travelled a lot throughout the world on behalf of Bofors and met many interesting people and visited exotic locations. But he was happiest in the country, relaxing in his summer cottage by Lake Alkvettern outside Karlskoga. He had created his own little wooden castle there and even made many of the fittings and much of the furniture.

    It was where he could also philosophise over world events and changes in society. After both world wars he nourished a hope that it might finally be possible for war to be ‘organised away for financial and other reasons’.

    “But unfortunately it will take another century for that. It’s now the risk of war or rather the demand for security that necessitates the production of Bofors special lines and not vice versa. The same can be said of the artillery designer’s profession. It certainly predisposes you least of all to any kind of war mentality. Through contact with people in all parts of the world, you come to understand that there is more that unites people than divides those of different races and nationalities. Good intentions will not be enough until then.”

    Hammar passed away in 1958 and his burial took place in silence as he had requested. He left behind him his wife Karin, children and grandchildren.