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The Evacuation of Refugees from Le Havre on board S/S Ringulv.
Compiled partly from an excerpt from "Skip og Menn" ("Ships and Men") by Birger Dannevig,
(translated by me), and partly from a letter written by Captain Thorvald Messel, found in "Norway's New Saga of the Sea" (Books).

"D/S Ringulv was officially taken over by Nortraship on May 28 and on the same day she was chartered to Transport Maritimes, who in turn transferred the management to Compagnie General Transatlantique. Ringulv then started loading general cargo for New York in Le Havre.

As the German forces advanced it was decided that the ship would also take some cargo which was to be transferred to Bordeaux. On Sunday June 9 at 1300 hrs. Ringulv was the last ship to leave the docks and she moored alongside Transatlantique's deep water quay. The ship was sprayed with rocks, mud and shrapnel from the hits on the quay without being seriously damaged.

On Monday June 10 at 0715 hrs. the head of the maritime authorities gave orders to stop loading the cargo and instead take 500 workers, mainly female, from the ammunition and weapons factories on board and go to Cherbourg. In addition to these several other refugees came - women, children and old people. A couple of hours later the maritime authorities arrived to ask if Ringulv could take even more on board, and captain Messel agreed.

The ship left Le Havre at 1200 hrs. A count showed there were 1472 refugees on board plus a few tiny babies. The married women had their men at the Front and were left to fend for themselves. The crew members of Ringulv tried to make them as comfortable as they could by giving them, among other things bed linens and food, as the refugees had not been able to bring anything. In the galley coffee, tea and fresh bread were made day and night, to the extent the steward Nils Larsen Lilleås and the cooks Trygve Olsen and Arne Handeland could manage. The ship's entire supply of condensed milk was diluted with water and distributed among the children.

Ringulv went to Cherbourg and the captain had to sail her in himself as he could not get hold of a pilot. On June 11 at 0700 hrs. the ship was ordered to continue to Brest and departed at 1900 hrs. after having stocked up on water and some military bread - other supplies could not be obtained. The ship then arrived Brest in the evening of June 12, and the following day they all disembarked. A collection among the refugees had raised 1500 franc, which captain Messel was instructed to divide among the crew members to thank them for their help. The sailors unanimously decided to give the money to the local Red Cross. During the unloading of cargo in France in May the crew had conducted a collection for the Red Cross which had raised 6050 kroner - a very large sum in those days. Stoker Frithjof Svensås and able seaman Oskar Nilsen topped the list with 500 kroner each. No one gave less than 50 kroner, and all the foreigners also took part. The sailors definitely had their hearts in the right place. Later on a collection was held for Norsk Jagerfond (The Norwegian Destroyer Foundation), captain Messel and mess boy Einar Sørensen started it with 500 each, and the total was 7400 kroner."

On June 20 Ringulv was ordered by the maritime authorities to go to Casablanca for orders and the further fate of the ship is recounted in Odd's Letters, Captain Messels' Diary and Rudzin's Diary, as well as some of the other links found at the bottom of this page.

Captain Messel says in a letter dated Casablanca Sept.15-1940 that about half of the refugees were women and children; the youngest only 2 days old. Many were sick, some invalid, but fortunately there was a Red Cross nurse and several others who knew about nursing among them. The officers and crew gave up their cabins, saloons and galley; everywhere was overcrowded. The mates and the captain slept on the floor in the radio station when they weren't on the bridge, though the captain was on the bridge most of the time as they encountered thick fog near the Guernsey Islands. The table in the saloon was placed lengthwise along the starboard side and was full of babies.

According to this letter Ringulv arrived Brest on the afternoon of June 13 (not 12th) and got a wide gangway from shore. Red Cross nurses were awaiting them with soup canteens, assisted by Boy and Girl Scouts. Port and city authorities, as well as representatives of the the Navy came down to welcome the refugees. Big busses and trucks took them into town, after they had been divided into groups. Before they disembarked Ringulv's crew received a nice letter from them to thank them for their assistance, signed by the leader, a colonel, and by the leader of each group. On the initiative of the Red Cross nurse who had been among them, they had taken up a collection of money, and when Captain Messel said he couldn't accept it, they insisted he did, so he suggested the 1500 francs be given to the French Red Cross, to which they all agreed. This was announced in a speech given by the colonel, first on the foredeck, then on the boat deck, resulting in a lot of cheering and applause and "Vive la Norwège". They all disembarked quickly and with no problems occuring, with an officer on each side of the gangway to check their passports, and a crewmember on each side as guards. After about 2 hours they were all on shore, and when Ringulv started to move away there were still around a thousand people on the quay shouting hooray.

The Norwegian consul had joined Ringulv in Le Havre and came as far as Verdun Roads where they were sent the next day. They were meant to go to Bordeaux, but never got beyond Verdun Roads, due to the approaching Germans. Orders were received to proceed to Casablanca (on the 20th, as mentioned), where they arrived on June 25 according to this letter. Some of the cargo that had been intended for Bordeaux was discharged, but they still had the cargo originally meant for the US on board at the time this letter was written. Captain Messel says he suspects they'll probably be laid up there for the duration, and had it not been for the allied invasion of North Africa on Nov. 8-1942 he may very well have been right.

He also mentions what they endured while in Le Havre from May 21 until they departed on June 10. The continuous bombing resulted in them having to seek refuge in the bomb shelters. These bombings are also extensively described in Rudzin's Diary, as is the evacuation from Le Havre. Messel says the attacks started at 9:45 every night and lasted till about 1 or 2 in the morning, and they had many a close call. Bombs fell near the ship, on the quay or on the dock, so that huge rocks flew into the water, sending it sky high over the ship. The entire vessel got black from powder and smoke and the muddy water on the docks. One night both lamps in the saloons were ripped from their hooks, where they had hung through many a bad storm. They fell on the table, sending china, glass and paraffin all over the place. If they ventured into town during the day they also risked having to go to the shelters, to protect themselves from the shrapnel which was more dangerous than anything. The anti-air barrage was excellent, Captain Messels says, and many aircraft were shot down day and night, thereby somewhat reducing the destruction in the town itself. Le Havre was taken on June 13, and Ringulv's men thought they had the worst behind them once they got out of there, but already on the first night at Verdun Roads they had an air attack. The bombers came regularly day and night, dropping bombs and magnetic mines in parachutes, all of which could be seen from the ship.

Before the fateful journey from Swansea to Norway in April Ringulv had been to New York. According to Rudzin's diary they had military trucks on deck in addition to the other cargo. This was discharged in Le Havre before they continued to Swansea to pick up the coal for Norway. See link to this diary below, which also describes what Ringulv's crew endured in the labour camps.

Odd's letters | D/S Ringulv | Labor Camps | Rudzin's Diary | Messel's Diary
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