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Basic gear from mid-twentieth-century Denmark

Discussion in 'History of Diving Gear' started by David Wilson, Jan 5, 2020.

  1. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    In this thread, we're heading North to the kingdom of Denmark.
    Like Austria, Denmark probably conjures up a variety of images in the popular imagination such as the statue of the Little Mermaid in the Danish capital Copenhagen...
    ...bringing us in turn to Denmark's most famous writer Hans Christian Andersen, best known for his fairy-tales...
    ...and portrayed by Danny Kaye in the movie of that name:
    Sam Miller III likes this.
  2. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    With a current population of just 5.8 million, Denmark punches well above its weight, not least by having Greenland, the world's largest island, as an autonomous territory within its jurisdiction.

    While France has its Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Austria its Hans Hass, Denmark has a scuba legend of its very own in the less-known persona of Jan Uhre, whose Danish-language mini-biography at Jan Uhre I have roughly rendered into English:
    "He trained to be an engineer but had an adventurous spirit and searched for many years for sunken treasures on the sea floor. One of his projects was searching in 1954 for Christian IV's war chest in Stilling Sø, which Danish soldiers might have sunk there one winter during the Swedish war. Jan Uhre and his assistant worked on numerous dives in 10 metres of water, but all that came up was a barrel ring. He wrote about his diving sport in the books Frogmen - a diver's memories (1954) and I am a swim diver, besides several books on his projects: Somewhere in the deep (1981) about the Dutch frigate Brederode from 1658, which was to be located next to Snekkersten. The book describes the battle against the Swedes in 1658. Between hurricanes and wreckage (1959) about the salvage and scrapping of a shipwreck that collapsed off the coast of Guinea in 1942. Øresund and the ships (1997) about the many historical figures, sea battles and other events in these waters. Uhre was also interested in the ancient crafts of villages and worked to preserve these skills in the present time. Carpenters, Wheelwrights and Blacksmiths (2001) are tales of the development of the old carriage crafts from ancient times to today's leisure society. Thatchers (2002) is a guide to the old profession."
    jan.uhre.6.1954.PN..jpg-for-web-large.jpg 1441028462.jpg So a man of many talents and interests, not all scuba-related. His name will crop up in later postings on this thread when we come to acknowledge his contribution to underwater swimming equipment design in Denmark.
    JMBL and Sam Miller III like this.
  3. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    A second man in post-war Danish diving history deserves a mention: Filip Nielsen (above). A rough translation of his story at Filip Nielsen var blandt de ni første frømænd: Hvis vi viste et eneste tegn på svaghed, blev vi valgt fra:

    Filip Nielsen was among the first nine frogmen: If we showed a single sign of weakness, we were deselected.
    Sixty years have elapsed since the first contingent completed initial training. Filip Nielsen was one of the nine who did so.
    By Flora Juul Holst. June 17, 2017.
    All was blackness while Filip Nielsen swam forward in the void. The sole beacon was the compass direction towards the port they would be attacking.
    No one saw him. All he could feel was the cold and his diving suit tightening against his body.
    - Nothing is visible until you bump your head into the wharf. You must not ascend to the surface; you must descend instead to the bottom of the harbour. Someone is breaking it, says Filip Nielsen.
    This is what a night exercise could look like to a frogman being trained in 1957.
    This training meant students enduring a half-year of sleepless nights, endless hours in the water and a cessation of private life. An endless ordeal testing their physical and mental limits.
    1 minute and 23 seconds
    The majority gave up or were deselected. But not Filip Nielsen. Yesterday sixty years have elapsed since he had his first day of training. A time he has since called a half-year in hell.
    Anyone going pale was shown the door
    Something had to happen. The year was 1957 and 19-year-old Filip Nielsen had then been part of the military for two years. He was posted to a fort where he was bored. When he heard about the new special training, he rushed to sign up.
    - I didn't know what it was all about, but it didn’t matter. It had something to do with water. I've always been fond of water, so it was fine by me. The joy of it went away pretty quickly, however, when I started, he says.
    In the outset, the training budget was very tight. The students had to patch their own diving suits, which often got holes in them. (Photo: Filip Nielsen © Langelandsfort)
    230 boys applied. The candidates quickly reduced in number, however. Filip remembers one day in particular during the admission days.
    The boys were shown into a gym and stood where there was a large leak. Their bodies were unclothed apart for their lower limbs.
    Two nurses walked into the room with a long syringe, which the boys were told to stick in their rear-ends. A few faces in the row turned pale. That was enough for them to be pulled out.
    - If we showed a single sign of weakness, we were deselected, says Filip Nielsen.
    After many days of health examinations, psychological tests and physical checks, thirteen boys were finally sent to Kongsøre by the Isefjord.
    Marine spies
    Frogman training has always been shrouded in mystery. Only a few know the duties of a frogman.
    They have hidden names. Secret destinations. Unknown targets. An overview is possible, however.
    Today, frogmen must be able to operate both nationally and internationally on land, at sea and in the air. But more often than not near water. One day they are elite soldiers in the wilderness, the next they are bodyguards. The whole world is their potential workplace.
    Each day, the students slammed the sides of their hands down on to boards, which had been sprinkled with sand and gravel. This hardened the skin on their hands so they could more easily be used to crack the neck of an enemy in close combat. (Photo: Filip Nielsen © Langelandsfort)
    In 1957, during training, the frogmen spent more time underwater than they do today. And the Cold War, which was still in its glacial period, helped shape the earliest training framework.
    - We had to keep an eye on what eastern-bloc frogmen did. If they attacked, we should strike back. But primarily we were trained in espionage, says Filip Nielsen.
    He will not say whether he has ever spied or been sent on a mission.
    Blue stripes and crotch protectors
    They lived in a red-painted scout hut, which the Armed Forces had taken over from Frederiksberg Municipality.
    When they slept once in a while, it was in the same dormitory. A tiled stove in the middle of the room struggled to keep the place warm, but frogmen froze anyway.
    The programme began every day between six and seven in the morning and continued into the evening. Each day began with a training run and then they were taught everything they had to know about diving, sabotage or weaponry.
    Then they would be in the water for three to four hours. No matter what season.
    1 minute and 6 seconds
    When they dived, they wore camel wool underwear beneath their diving suits to keep warm. But this didn’t help. The cold penetrated both the suit and the wool.
    They wore nothing over their hands or over their mouths. The icy water made it hard to bite the mouthpieces attached to their oxygen bottles. Meanwhile, the suits squeezed hard against the body.
    - Black and blue stripes appeared in the long haul after the suit had tightened. They could come in the strangest places, some more criminal than others. Jockstraps were necessary, says Filip Nielsen.
    Twice a week they had night training exercises. Sunday was their only day off.
    The day they burned Maren on the fire
    Another integral part of the frogman’s everyday life was a 300-kilogram heavy oak beam they called Maren.
    - I hated her like the plague. We carried it everywhere we went. Uphill and downhill, through forests, even in the sea, we had to swim with it, says Filip.
    The oak beam tested the frogmen’s ability to cooperate under pressure without creating conflicts. But whenever somebody dropped out of training, Maren became heavier and heavier to carry for those who remained.
    Today Maren is still a regular part of initial training. (Photo: Filip Nielsen © Langelandsfort)
    The boys’ frustration about a heavy piece of wood making their lives a misery led them to carry out a plan on their final day of training.
    - We lit a fire and laid Maren on it. Each time she burned in half we reassembled the parts over the fire so she could burn even faster. But we ended up bitterly regretting what we did, he says.
    The trainer was stunned when he heard about the charred remains. The students were required to buy a new Maren for the Defence forces. It didn’t come cheap.
    Diver for life
    Nine ended up completing training that first year. Filip Nielsen was one of them. He spent the next six months living in Kongsøre as a trainer for the new students.
    But even when Filip Nielsen left the army, he still benefited from being a frogman. He earned his living as a professional diver until the day he retired.
    Today, Filip Nielsen is 80 years old.
    Sources: Peer Henrik Hansen, museum director at the Cold War Museum Langelandsfort www.forsvaret.dk

    That's enough for today. I'll be back in a few days' time with a review of the underwater swimming masks made by Denmark's own diving equipment manufacturer.
    JMBL and Sam Miller III like this.
  4. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Denmark's own diving equipment manufacturer during the 1950s and 1960s deployed the brand name "Nauti-Scope":
    The eBay image above showcases a watertight hood in the Nauti-Scope range of underwater swimming equipment. The German text in the Barakuda catalogue reads and translates as follows:
    German: "NAUTI-SCOPE KOPFHAUBE (dän.) für Schwimmer und Taucher mit wasserempfindlichen Ohren, die auf absolut sicheren Wasserabschluß Wert legen. Gleichzeitig Kälteschutz für die Kopfhaut. Sie ist auch als sichere Badehaube verwendbar. Ausführung A (geschlossene Haube mit Gesichtsöffnung und Halsteil). Best.-Nr. 787. DM 8.30. Ausführung M (Kopfhaube mit freiem Unterteil, angearbeitete Haltebänder für Tauchmaske). Best.-Nr. 788. DM 8.30."
    English: "NAUTI-SCOPE HOOD (Danish) for swimmers and divers who have water-sensitive ears and who value absolutely reliable water exclusion. Cold protection for the scalp at the same time. It can also be used as a reliable bathing cap. Type A (closed hood with face aperture and neck section). Order No. 787. DM 8.30. Type M (hood with open lower section, straps attached for diving mask). Order No. 788. DM 8.30."
    Barakuda "carried" this Danish import from 1959 to 1969. The Nauti-Scope hood was exported overseas too, notably to Australia:
    Smiths Sports Store, Sydney: Australian OUTDOORS (1960). See top, second from left:
    R. Wallace-Mitchell Pty Ltd, Melbourne: Australian Skindivers Magazine 1961 08-09. See Item 10.
    So Nauti-Scope branded equipment sold in the mid twentieth century not only domestically to the Danish market but also internationally and even intercontinentally. Like its country of manufacture, the Nauti-Scope brand punched well above its weight in its time. Curiously, however, there is very little online about this long-gone company. Although the scholarly Danish-language article "Svømmefinner" (Swim fins) by Sven Erik Jørgensen at https://www.tauchhistorie.eu/th-zusatz/flossen/schwimmflossen-dk.pdf is an excellent contribution to the history of swim fins in Denmark, it nevertheless contains an appeal for data about Nauti-Scope: "Selskabets viden om (...) Nauti Scope er begrænset, og kan nogen supplere denne, vil jeg være taknemlig." (The Society’s knowledge of (...) Nauti Scope is limited, and if anyone can supplement this, I would be grateful.) Perhaps somebody here on SB might help.
  5. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Let's move on to Nauti-Scope diving masks. Like many other diving equipment manufacturers of the 1950s, Nauti-Scope made goggles covering the eyes only as well as diving masks enclosing the nose too:

    Three Nauti-Scope diving masks targeted different age-groups. First, the Junior mask:
    Danish: "508.244 Junior-DYKKERMASKE for de helt unge og for ringe vanddybde (strandkanten).
    Vejledende udsalgspris .... kr. 9,85."
    English: "508.244 Junior DIVE MASK for younger people and for shallow waters (close to the beach).
    Suggested retail price: DKK 9.85."

    Then the Yngling (Youth) and Senior masks:
    Danish: "508.239 Yngling-DYKKERMASKE. Kvalitetsmaske af middelstørrelse. Vejledende udsalgspris ... kr. 11,85. 508.240 Senior-DYKKERMASKE med saltvandsbestandig metalramme om buet special-glas, model Jan Uhre. Vejledende udsalgspris ... kr. 18,50."
    English: "508.239 Youth Diving Mask. Quality mask in a medium-size. Suggested retail price: DKK 11.85. 508.240 Senior DIVE MASK with saltwater-resistant metal rim around special curved glass, Jan Uhre model. Suggested retail price: DKK 18.50."

    There was a graduation in quality from the Junior through the Youth to the Senior models. The Junior came with a rudimentary head strap, secured on one side by a button-like device. Like the Junior, the Youth version had no lens-retaining metal rim, although the head strap was properly buckled. The even more professional-looking Senior version featured not only a metal rim with a top screw at the front but also a split strap with buckles at the rear. The diver in the picture below is wearing a non-split-strap Nauti-Scope Senior mask. Note the buckle arrangement on the side:
  6. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    So much for the three basic models in the Nauti-Scope range of diving masks, each of them intended for a particular age-group. For the advanced user, the Panorama model in the Danish line offered a more sophisticated option with wider visibility:
    Danish: "508.245 Panorama-DYKKERMASKE med det helt frie udsyn gennem sideruderne, der fjerner »skyklap«-fornemmelsen. Saltvandsbestandig metalramme om det buede special-glas. Vejledende udsalgspris ... kr. 22,80."
    English: "508.245 Panorama DIVING Mask with complete freedom of vision through the side windows, eliminating that “blinkered” feeling. Saltwater-resistant metal rim on round special-purpose glass lens. Suggested retail price: DKK 22.80."

    This product was exported to the UK, appearing as "The Nauti Panoramic" in the 1958 catalogue of Cogswell & Harrison of Piccadilly in London:
    Nauti-Scope was not the only diving equipment brand worldwide to design, manufacture and market a wide-view mask with side lenses during the late 1950s. Made in France, the Hurricane Argonaute was introduced in 1957:
    The French caption reads roughly as follows in English: "New for 1957. All round visibility with the new “ARGONAUTE” mask. Equipped with side windows, the 'ARGONAUTE' guarantees a very wide field of vision." I love the comparison made between the mask and a car windscreen and passenger's window for those who could not see the benefit of the new design straight away.

    The Danish Nauti-Scope Panorama and the French Hurricane Argonaute may have inspired two later (circa 1960) diving masks also attempting to provide swimmers, as well as drivers, with 180° vision:

    Barakuda Stromboli
    Aqualung Professional

    Next time, we'll take a closer look at Nauti-Scope snorkels.
  7. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Today's topic is the Nauti-Scope range of breathing tubes. There were several models. First up the "Balloon snorkel":
    Danish: "508.282 Ballon-SNORKEL med særlig effektiv ventil-konstruktion. Vejledende udsalgspris... kr. 12,85 (heri medregnet statsafgift)."
    English: "508.282 Balloon SNORKEL with particularly efficient valve design. Suggested retail price: DKK 12.85 (including state tax)."

    So an "S"-shaped double-bend snorkel with a shut-off valve at the top. The product description refrains, however, from explaining how this "particularly efficient valve" contrives to cut the air supply while the user is underwater. Anybody care to conjecture how this valve may have operated?
  8. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    The "Balloon Snorkel" was likely a Nauti-Scope proprietary design, although I have been unable to locate a patent to confirm this. The remaining four snorkels in the range came in two pairs: "Standard" and "Flexible". Positioned left below is the Nauti-Scope "Standard" S-shaped model topped with the more familiar ping-pong-ball-in-a-cage type valve:
    Danish: "508.272 Almindelig SNORKEL med normal kugleventil. Vejledende udsalgspris ... kr. 11,85 (heri medregnet statsafgift)."
    English: "508.272 Standard SNORKEL with normal ball valve. Suggested retail price ... DKK 11.85 (including state tax)."

    Note the use of the words "Standard" and "normal" to denote a breathing tube fitted with a shut-off valve. In the early days of recreational underwater swimming, such snorkels would have been the "entry" models for beginners. When I first took the plunge into snorkelling in the early 1960s, my parents bought me a Typhoon Model "T2" breathing tube made in England with a double bend and a ball valve:
    The following photograph from Peter Small's 1957 book Your Guide to Underwater Adventure not only sums up underwater fun perfectly in the caption to the illustration below but also features a Typhoon "T2" breathing tube:
  9. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Next up is the simple J-shaped Nauti-Scope "Standard" breathing tube right below:
    Danish: "508.273 Almindelig SNORKEL uden ventil (for viderekomne). Vejledende udsalgspris... kr. 7,50 (heri medregnet statsafgift)."
    English: "508.273 Standard SNORKEL with no valve (for advanced users). Suggested retail price: DKK 7.50 (including state tax)."

    Note how the product description associates the absence of a valve with more experienced underwater swimmers. The removal of the valve is almost as much of a rite of passage for a snorkeller as the removal of stabilisers might be for a cyclist.

    I'll leave it there for today and come back in a few days' time for a closer look at the "Flexible" Nauti-Scope snorkel pairing.
  10. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    There is one pair of Nauti-Scope Flexible snorkels still to be reviewed:
    Danish: "808.275 Flexibel-SNORKEL uden ventil (for viderekomne) og med støddæmperslange. Vejledende udsalgspris... kr. 9,50 (heri medregnet statsalgift)."
    English: "808.275 Flexible SNORKEL without a valve (for advanced users) and with a corrugated hose. Suggested retail price: DKK 9.50 (including state tax)."

    The captions refer to the valveless model on the right. The "flexibility" mentioned in the product description derives from the presence of the pliable corrugated hose leading to the neck of the mouthpiece and enabling the mouthpiece of the breathing tube to drop out of the way when no longer in use. This feature was reportedly appreciated by SCUBA divers who used their flex-hose snorkels to conserve the contents of their air tanks when they were swimming on the surface of the water. Note once again how valveless snorkels are designed for "advanced users" who longer need the air supply to shut off automatically when the top end descends below the surface of the water.

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