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Owner: A/S Hav
Built in 1927 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd., Wallsend, Sunderland. Fruit carrier, 14 knots. In service between the US and West India. On charter to United Fruit Company from March 5-1940. She had no armament on board.
Captain: Arthur Dahl
As will be seen when going to Page 1 above, Hvoslef was on her way from Puerto Barrios to Mobile when war broke out in Norway on Apr. 9-1940.
Hvoslef was on a voyage from Sagua la Grande to Boston, having departed on March 6-1942 with a cargo of sugar, when she was hit by two torpedoes and sunk by U-94 (Ites) at 20:05 hrs local time on March 10, 38 27N 74 54W, 2 n. miles east of Fenwicks Island light buoy, off Delaware Bay. One of the torpedoes hit aft near the crew's cabins, the other amidships. 2 minutes later the ship was gone. The starboard lifeboat was destroyed, and only 7 men had been able to get in the port boat, but they later found another 7 in the water whom they picked up.
1st Mate Andreas Ambjørnsen and the captain had placed themselves on a raft, but when the ship broke in front of the funnel following the 2nd explosion, Hvoslef's forepart was lifted vertically up in the air before she sank, taking the raft down with the suction. The 1st mate was able to get to the surface and cling to some debris until the people in the lifeboat heard his cries and picked him up. They searched for Captain Dahl for a long time, but he was nowhere to be seen.
The lifeboat landed near Fenwick Island light at 13:00 hrs on the 11th, where they were taken to Lewis rescue station and given dry clothes. 3 of the men were admitted to Bebee Hospital in Lewis. That afternoon the Coast Guard found the captain's body underneath the raft with his foot entangled in a line. He was later taken to Brooklyn (I believe he was buried there), while some of the survivors continued to New York the next day. The maritime hearings were held at the Norwegian General Consulate there on March 18-1942 with the 2nd mate, Ordinary Seaman Olsen (helmsman at the time of attack), Carpenter Wroldsen (lookout) and the 2nd engineer appearing.
He says Hvoslef was on charter to United Fruit Co. and was especially fitted out to carry bananas, though had no refrigerated holds. Instead, large air pipes kept the bananas cool, and on top of the regular decks there were also wooden decks for protection against the heat of the sun. Due to their cargo they had a problem with rats, though they also provided great entertainment, as will be seen. As long as there were bananas in the holds they remained out of sight, but if the cargo consisted of inedible goods they would come out in search of sustenance elsewhere. In New Orleans, after having unloaded the cargo, gas was used to get rid of them, while in other ports large pots of sulphur were placed in the holds, air supply would then be closed off and the sulphur set on fire. The advantage of the latter method was that the rats would come out from their hiding places to fight for oxygen, and when the flames had used up all the oxygen in the hold they would be nicely strewn around the sulphur pots whereupon they could easily be removed. The gas method had its disadvantages in that the rats would die and rot in their hiding places.
One of the rats was nicknamed King Kong by the crew, being larger than the others, and easily recognizable with his one eye and just 3 functioning legs. He always seemed to escape both methods, had even survived a "sulphur battle" in Jacksonville, Florida. About twice a week the crew would organize evening "shows", and after all the "theater ticket holders" had taken their seats, the lights would be turned off in the audience area, while the stage area remained fully lit. This was the galley, where trays with food had been hung close to the ceiling. The first performers were the acrobats (cockroaches) who crawled up the walls, then along the ceiling, before dropping themselves down on the food tray. Next came the ballet dancers (rats), jumping from the floor to the bench, then to the table where the dance would begin, as they stood on their hind legs trying to reach the food tray, jumping and otherwise performing their act with great skill and endurance. King Kong would usually save his strength and wait till some of the food landed his way.
Ingvald Wahl says they had arrived New Orleans in Febr.-1942 with a cargo of bananas from Montego Bay, Jamaica, and after having unloaded, they all had to leave the ship while the gassing took place. He was convinced that King Kong's days would now be numbered, but the next day, as they departed for Havanna with general cargo, he met him again in the messroom, presumably in search of food. Once cargo had been discharged, the ship headed for Sagua la Grande to pick up a cargo of sugar for Boston (see also Page 4). After having passed Cape Hatteras they saw a great deal of debris, then a torpedoed ship which had been abandoned; it had broken in two but was still afloat (possibly the American Gulftrade? Captain Torger Olsen - sunk by U-558 in the morning of March 10, 39 50N 73 52W). That evening Hvoslef was herself torpedoed (he says 1 torpedo hit in the rear part of the engine room, 1 in No. 4 hatch, while a 3rd missed and went behind the ship). He was in the bathroom at the time (aft), and before he could reach the boats, it was "as if her afterpart was shot off and separated from the rest of the ship" taking him down in the deep as it sank. When he resurfaced, he could see Hvoslef with her funnel parelell to the water and her bow reaching for the skies before disappearing.
He looked around for something to hold on to and found a plank, but someone had gotten there before him, namely non other than King Kong himself and one of his pals! Ingvald has told me that he was able to grab hold of the middle of the plank, then pushed it down under the water to get rid of the former "ballet dancers", then held on until he could be picked up (as the last man) by his shipmates. As he turned around, he observed that the plank had been re-occupied by the smaller "survivors" of Hvoslef's sinking.
Ingvald Wahl also has a long article in another issue of "Krigsseileren". He describes how the 14 survivors landed on Rehobeth Beach near Cape Henlopen, on the coast of Delaware on March 11. The beach and houses were deserted, because the area was used for summer residency only, but they had been observed from a lighthouse which had notified the Coast Guard whose representatives arrived to assist just as the lifeboat landed. They were driven to the local rescue station where they were given the best of care; some were sent to New York the following day, as mentioned, while the injured, including Ingvald, were admitted to a hospital. He says this turned out to be a maternity hospital for the well-to-do, belonging to the rich Du Pont family, so they received excellent care. Mrs. Du Pont herself came by and saw to it that they had everything they needed (including her personal masseur), as did the Norwegian Consul Moe and the minister from Philadelphia Seamen's Church, Johs. Særdal. Each man was given a private room to start with, and each had an around-the-clock armed, uniformed representative of the Coast Guard in the room, in order to prevent the press from contacting them. American authorities were not interested in letting it be commonly known that U-boats were operating so close to American shores. After a few days, more survivors were fit enough to be sent to New York, while 3 remained in the hospital for quite some time (1st Mate Ambjørnsen may have been one of them, because he was not present at the maritime hearings on the 18th).
Ingvald Wahl had previously served as able seaman on Stavangeren, and has also written about that ship's 1st visit to Leningrad in the fall of 1939. He also served on Herma and others. If you read Norwegian, his story is now available on this external page.
Related external links:
Back to Hvoslef on the "Ships starting with H" page.
The text on this page was compiled with the help of: "Nortraships flåte", J. R. Hegland, "Krigsseileren" No. 1 - 1977 and other issues of this magazine, "Axis Submarine Successes of World War Two", Jürgen Rohwer, "Sjøforklaringer fra 2. verdenskrig", Norwegian Maritime Museum, Volume I, and misc. (ref. My sources).