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D/S Isbjørn
Icebreaker, Svalbard, requisitioned by the Germans (but later under allied control - details below).

To Isbjørn on the "Ships starting with I" page.

A picture is available on this external page.

Manager: Jacob Kjøde A/S, Bergen
437 gt

Built in Oslo in 1894.
According to the external page above, she was delivered from Aker mek. Verksted in March-1895 as Isbjørn to Christiania Havnevæsen, Kristiania. From 1924, Havnevæsenet, Kristiania/Oslo, same name. From 1928, Oslo Havnevesen (Havnefogden), Oslo, no name change. From 1931, Oslo Havnevesen, Oslo. Owned from 1937 by A/S Inger (Jacob Kjøde A/S), Bergen.

 Misc. War Details: 

This vessel was involved in a tragic affair in May-1941. She had arrived from Norway on May 25 to break up the ice for the ships that were expected from Norway with supplies (they would then carry coal on their return trips). At Longyearbyen 8 men came on board, saying they needed passage to Grønfjord, but their real intent was to force the ship to go to Iceland so that they could join the Norwegian forces there. This intent was made clear soon after departure (they were armed), and while a couple of the crew joined them the captain, engineer and 5 others did not agree. Problems occurred right away, because the "hijackers" had no navigational skills, and being as the course of the vessel took them through ice, and because there were no maps on board for the westward voyage, the captain was requested to resume command, which he refused to do. The supply of fuel (coal) also diminished so that after 5 days, on June 2 the idea of a voyage to Iceland had to be given up, and the 8 were disarmed and locked up, along with those of the crew who had joined them. The captain had no choice but to notify the authorities at Longyearbyen, then took the ship to Bjørnøya, arriving there 4 days later, on June 6. The authorities on Svalbard were now faced with a difficult decision; keep the incident secret or report it to Norway. The first option seemed too risky; if the Germans should find out at some point that the episode had been covered up, Gestapo would no doubt come for a visit. The district governor of Svalbard at the time, Wolmer Marlow made the decision to notify the authorities in Norway, 6 Norwegian police men came from Tromsø on board Sogningen and those involved were arrested and taken to Tromsø where they were handed over to Gestapo and interrogated under extreme torture for several weeks. 6 were later executed while 3 got "imprisonment for life".

Those who were executed (Nov. 2-1941) were: Karl Engen, Ernst Hekkelstrand, Sverre Helmersen, Bjarne Sevald Langseth, Johan Henry Olsen and Halvor Sverre Rødaas.

The other 3 were: Einar Amundsen, Sverre Kristensen and a man with the last name Simonsen.

After the Germans had attacked Russia in June-1941 conditions changed for the coal trade to and from Svalbard. Strategically Svalbard now came to play a more important role, and the passages could no longer be expected to be as safe as they had been previously, and soon the service to this area was cancelled. Norwegian and British authorities discussed what steps to take next (Russia had also been in contact with the British regarding the Svalbard question), and 2 operations were decided upon; firstly to dispatch 2 aircraft carriers for the purpose of attacking shipping between Kirkenes and Petsamo, and secondly to send a reconnaisance force to Svalbard, then this force would go on to attack German, and German controlled, shipping on the coast of Finnmark. The Norwegian government was not notified of these operations. 2 British cruisers and 2 destroyers departed Scapa Flow heading for Svalbard on July 27. Phillip Vian was the leader of this expedition, and the Norwegian Navy Leutenant Ragnvald Tamber also came along (on board cruiser Nigeria), though did not know the extent of the plans until at sea. At the radio station on Kap Linné Tamber arranged for the meteorological observations to be sent out as usual. He was also told that there were no Germans on Svalbard and that only one of the coal ships was in port at the time, namely Dagny I, which they later encountered outward bound with a full cargo for Norway, and ordered her to return to Longyearbyen. (Text under D/S Dagny I has more details on what further happened to her).

When the British forces departed, Tamber, who had formally been appointed Military Governor of Svalbard (which gave him the right to requisition the ships on Svalbard) stayed behind in order to see to it that all the regular radio traffic would continue as if nothing had happened, so that the Germans in Norway would not get suspiscious. While waiting for the British forces to return from their raid on the coast of Finnmark Tamber formally "seized" more coal ships as they arrived, D/S Munin on Aug. 4, then D/S Nandi and on Aug. 9 D/S Ingerto as well as some small vessels (seal catchers Agnes, Polaris, and Strømsnes). Their cargoes were discharged, and telegrams sent to Norway saying they had departed, but they of course stayed put. Finally, on Aug. 25 (the group on Svalbard had gotten quite nervous by then) the British forces returned, carrying with them an expedition corps, with the orders that Svalbard was to be evacuated, the coal mines destroyed and the supplies of coal burnt. Tamber was ordered to take the coal ships and their cargoes to Reykjavik, and departed Svalbard with 65 passengers and with cruiser Aurora and an armed trawler as escorts on Aug. 26, arriving Eydisfjord, Iceland safely on Sept. 1, Tamber on board Ingerto. By then Isbjørn had also arrived Svalbard, and was in turn sent to Iceland along with the other seal catchers. By Sept. 3 the evacuation of Svalbard was complete.

The following year, on Apr. 30-1942 Isbjørn departed Greenock for Svalbard, together with the seal catcher Selis. On board was a force of 82 men, whose task it was to regain control of Svalbard. They got as far as Isfjord, but in Grønfjord the ice stopped them, and the next evening 4 German aircraft (from Norway) attacked, hitting Isbjørn with 2 bombs which immediately sank her. Selis was hit shortly thereafter and caught on fire, 12 were killed and 15 wounded. The rest scattered on the ice and were able to avoid the machine gun fire. The survivors rescued some weapons and equipment from Selis and managed to get to Barentsburg, where they were assisted by a British Naval Force on July 2.

1 of the survivors of Isbjørn, Engineer Einar Oscar Holst had previously survived the loss of M/S Tancred and M/T Barfonn. (As far back as 1918 he had survived the loss of D/S Henrik Lund). In "Krigsseileren" No. 2 for 1982 there's an article which says Isbjørn was stationed in Reykjavik until she was ordered to Greenock for conversion to naval vessel. He agrees with the departure date of Apr. 30 from Greenock and says they went to Akureyri for bunker and also took on board some sled dogs. They arrived Isfjord on May 13 and was attacked the following day. Holst was in the engine room when the first bomb hit, causing the engine to stop and water to fill the room. He ran up, then jumped overboard with the rest of the crew, while a bomb hit just 30 meters from him, went through the ice and exploded. The resulting waves knocked him over. The rest of the crew managed to get the frozen clothes off him and saw that he got medical care. He says 17 were killed* and 4 wounded. While they were at Barentsburg they endured attacks from aircraft every day. After a while the cruiser Manchester and a destroyer carrying weapons and a new crew arrived. Together with 10 others Holst was sent to Dumbarton in Scotland where he joined the Norwegian Navy.

*One of the casualties was Steward Johannes Rønnestad, who's commemorated at Stavern Memorial - external link. He's listed among those who died when the other D/S Isbjørn was lost, but according to "Våre falne" he served on the ice breaker.

There's a message in my Guestbook from the daughter of the doctor who took part in the above incident. He was on board Selis, and his name was Per Hønningstad. She's interested in getting in touch with someone who knows this story. I have her address in my files.

Back to Isbjørn on the "Ships starting with I" page.

The text on this page was compiled with the help of: "Nortraships flåte", J. R. Hegland, "Hjemmeflåten - Mellom venn og fiende", Lauritz Pettersen, "Krigsseileren" No. 2 for 1982, and misc. (ref. My sources).


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