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Another picture is available at Uboat.net (external link).
Manager: Westfal Larsen & Co. A/S, Bergen
Delivered in March-1933 from Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw Mij., Amsterdam.
Captain: Frode Bjørn Hansen.
Related item on this website:
Her voyages are listed on these original images from the Norwegian National Archives:
As will be seen when going to Page 1 above, Moldanger was in New York when war broke out in Norway on Apr. 9-1940. She had arrived there from Boston on Apr. 5 and left again for Philadelphia on the 13th.
Moldanger departed Buenos Aires for New York with a cargo of about 8700 tons salted hides, tallow, wool and vegetable oils on June 8-1942 (Page 3), and was sailing alone when she was torpedoed at 20:50 GMT (18:30 ship's time) on June 27, position 38 03N 70 52W. At the time, she was steering a north/northwesterly course at 14.5 knots and zig-zagging, 4 lookouts (1 in the mast, 1 by the guns, 2 on the bridge), weather fair, sea smooth, southwest wind and good visibility. The torpedo, which came from U-404 (von Bülow) hit in the engine room on the port side amidships, immediately stopping the engine and killing 2nd Engineer Reidar Ramsli and Motorman Tollefsen. The port midships lifeboat was destroyed and all the radio equipment was damaged, so they were unable to send out distress calls.
11 men (among them, 2nd Mate Kåre Nilsen, the officer on watch) who were struggling to lower lifeboats were killed when a second torpedo hit right underneath them (port side aft, near No. 5 hatch), the explosion destroying both lifeboats. As the sea was washing in over the deck, the captain (who had been on the bridge with the 2nd mate when the first explosion occurred), an engineer and the carpenter, the last ones to leave the ship, swam over to a raft. The U-boat came up, the usual questions about ship and cargo were asked, apologies made for what had happened, then it took off again.
The starboard midships motor boat had been filled with water when it was lowered because of the ship's speed at the time of the attack (14.5 knots). After having picked up those who were in the water, the lifeboat was bailed and the men distributed themselves as best they could in this boat and the gig which was found to be almost intact. Sail was set on both boats as well as all the rafts, and for the first 3 days they stayed together. Captain Hansen was in command of the motorboat with 15 men. The motor had been rendered useless because of the water, and in spite of the 1st engineer's continuous attempts to get it started in the subsequent days, his efforts were in vain. The gig had room for 6, while the rest had to use the rafts. However, towing 3 rafts in the heavy seas was slow going, so 1 of the rafts was let go on the 2nd day after the men and supplies had been transferred and distributed. The gig then sailed independently near the others during the day, as the line between them had broken several times. On the 3rd day those in the gig sailed on alone with 3rd Mate Thore Legland in command, and the following day it was also decided to let the motorboat continue towards land to get the injured under medical care as soon as possible, and also obtain help for the people left behind on the rafts. One of the men, who had a broken leg was tranferred from a raft to the motorboat, making their total number 16 for a while, but Motorman Johan Larsen died of his injuries on July 4, and was "buried" in the sea that same day.
A Canadian corvette, HMCS Buctouche (K-179, see link to The Naval Museum of Manitoba at the end of this text) rescued the 15 survivors in the captain's boat on July 7; among them were 1st Engineer Ole Flørlo and Boatswain Harry Monsen. They were landed in Newport (Rhode Island) in the afternoon of July 8. Maritime hearings were held in New York on July 14 with the captain, the 1st engineer, the radio operator, and the boatswain appearing (ref. crew list at the end of this text).
The gig with 6 survivors was sighted on July 15 by a USAAF aircraft about 100 n. miles southeast of Ambrose Light. USN Blimp K-9 arrived on the scene and dropped food and water to the boat, then stayed nearby until the USN patrol craft PC-495 arrived, and landed the survivors at Cape May (Naval Base), NJ the same day (July 16).
Meanwhile, 9 survivors drifted around on 2 rafts for 48 days before being picked up by the Norwegian Washington Express on Aug. 14, all in remarkably good shape, considering what they had endured. What had bothered them the most was the thirst, and the cold temperatures during the nights as well as the burning sun during the day.
It so happened that on board Washington Express was the Norwegian doctor Trygve Gjestland, whom many Norwegian seamen will remember. He started out as the seamen's doctor in England in Sept.-1941 after having escaped from Norway with a fishing vessel (see my text for Viola), then was assigned the same position in New York in 1942 (perhaps he was en route to that position that fateful day when the survivors from Moldanger were picked up?). During the war 22 000 Norwegian seamen were treated by the staff which numbered 20 altogether (incl. nurses, dentists etc.). In Sept.-1981 Professor Dr. Med. Gjestland, age 70, was honoured with the Norwegian War Veterans' Association's Crest, their highest award. In his acceptance speech he said he would never forget the moment when the 9 from the rafts climbed the ladder to the deck of Washington Express, adding he had been moved to tears at the time. He stayed in touch with the men through the years and in 1987, together with Per Bøhn and Lars Gunnar Lingås he published a book, "De seilte for vår frihet" (they sailed for our freedom), in which Johan Moe (one of the raft occupants) describes the days on the rafts and the doctor describes the medical condition of each man. In 1989 "Hellfire over Bombay" came out (also with Johan Moe), and he also wrote a book about his 1941 escape to England. He died in 1994.
Carpenter Olav Brekke (age 57) was in his cabin aft, and put on his Vaco suit (description on my page Ship Statistics/Misc.) and lifevest before heading for the boatdeck, but the lifeboat was destroyed. When the 2nd torpedo hit he was struck in the head and chest by debris, then jumped overboard and was immediately picked up by a raft. He was troubled with pain in his chest and had headaches for about a week, but gradually improved. Received Krigsmedaljen Oct.-1942, St. Olavsmedaljen m/ekegren Dec.-1942. - See my page Norwegian War Medals for description and pictures. (Died 1960).
Electrician Kaare Kaarstad (age 37) was in a cabin amidships on the starboard side. When the torpedo hit he was thrown out of his cabin, but unhurt, he was able to get to the boatdeck. He had no lifevest or rubber suit. 2 lifeboats full of people had been partly launched, 1 on each side, when the 2nd torpedo hit, killing all on the port side. He was knocked over by the impact, tangled in debris and surrounded by injured men, but managed to get to the foredeck where a raft was cut loose, whereupon he jumped overboard and climbed onto the raft. Received the same medals as those listed for Olav Brekke. (K. Kaarstad died in 1973).
Able Seaman John Bakkemyr (age 32) was in the messroom aft on the starboard side when the first torpedo hit. He went straight to the poop deck, putting on his lifevest on the way (he was unable to get to his Vaco suit). When the second torpedo hit he was thrown against the lifeboat davit and hurt his left shoulder and his head. He jumped overboard and swam with one arm to a nearby raft. Due to pain he was unable to move his left arm for 2 weeks, and was also unable to chew due to pains in his temple and lower jaw, but this gradually improved. He found himself on a raft yet again the following year, when he was on board Høegh Silverdawn, which was attacked by Michel on June 15-1943 (there's more info on this at Victims of Michel). He was rescued by the American M/S Franklyn P. Mull, along with two of his shipmates, Sverre Karlsen and Arthur Hansen on June 26. For the rest of his life he always had to make sure he had enough water in the house. He developed a habit of leaving the water running from the faucet, or letting it drip onto a lid in the sink, so that he could hear that there definitely was water there (interview with Guri Hjeltnes, author of "Handeslflåten i krig" volumes 3 and 4). He died in 1994, at age 83, still carrying the days on the rafts with him. Received the same medals as those mentioned above with the addition of Deltagermedaljen.
Able Seaman Johan Hansen Moe (age 20, 22?), who had been on board for only 3 months, was in the messroom aft, close to his cabin. He went to get his lifevest and proceeded to the bridge, his duty being that of helmsman during attack, but the captain ordered him aft to the poop deck to help with the lifeboat, and he had just gotten there when the 2nd torpedo hit. The explosion knocked him overboard. When he came to the surface he saw the captain standing on a raft and with great difficulty he swam towards it, after having been pulled under twice because his arm was entangled in wool. At the same time he saw Moldanger's bow disappear, and also saw the U-boat's conning tower across from the raft. He says the captain was alone on the raft at the time, but another 4 were added later, whereupon the captain took command of the motorboat. J. H. Moe had a lot of pain in his left leg, which bothered him the whole time he was on the raft, and also had terrible pain in his back, feeling like he was resting on "glowing coals". The 2nd storm that hit them became a nightmare, with everyone desperately clinging to whatever they could for the 2 days it lasted, so as not to be swept overboard by the tall waves it created. When it was finally over they were totally exhausted, having been "thrown around on the ocean like a little sliver of wood". Sharks were frequently around them. After his rescue it turned out he had a broken leg. Received the same medals as John Bakkemyr. (J. M. Moe died in 1998).
Ordinary Seaman Harald Revaa (age 19) was aft in a friend's cabin, and when the torpedo hit he went to his own cabin nearby to put his lifevest on and grab his rubber suit, before heading for the starboard lifeboat which he says was found to be filled with water. He then proceeded aft to the poopdeck, where he was when the 2nd torpedo hit, resulting in him being thrown overboard. He had put his rubber suit on just before this happened but found it to be leaking and pulling him down. He was able to get out of it, and was picked up about 25 minutes later by the motor lifeboat. He later served on M/S Anatina, settled in Canada and I've had the pleasure of speaking with him on the phone, at which time he told me about the weeks on the raft. He said they talked about food all the time, a fact which according to him kept them going. He also said they got quite a reception on arrival New York, with interviews in the radio and by several newspapers. He wrote a book about his time on the raft, entitled "A Merchant Seaman's Story", ISBN 1-895590-23-X (Cordirella Books, Vancouver). Received the same 3 medals as those listed for J. H. Moe. H. Revaa was awarded his Deltagermedalje (Participant Medal) on Nov. 11-1981. He died on May 21-2002.
Steward David Olai Holgersen (age 60) was on his way from the pantry amidships to his cabin. Being close to his cabin when the torpedo hit he was able to get his rubber suit and lifevest before heading to the boatdeck. He again escaped injury when the 2nd torpedo hit, and helped many of his shipmates get to a raft which was then launched. He himself jumped overboard and swam the short distance to the raft where he was picked up. Received Krigsmedaljen and St. Olavsmedaljen m/ekegren. (Died in 1957).
Motorman Einar Moldekleiv (age 22) was in the messroom, close to his cabin when the first torpedo hit. He went and got his lifevest from his cabin before proceeding to the starboard lifeboat assigned to him. (He noticed that 2 lifeboats amidships were destroyed). Due to problems the 8 men had with lowering it, the boat ended up dropping down vertically, 2 men falling into the sea. With the help of the net on the side of the ship, 4 men climbed back on board. The 2 left in the lifeboat (incl. Moldekleiv) made a 2nd attempt to get it lowered, but the ship turned just as the boat hit the water, pressing it under the stern, filling it with water, so the 2 had to jump overboard. Moldekleiv was hit by debris in the chest when the second torpedo hit, causing him great pain. (This troubled him the whole time he was on the raft. After he had been rescued and examined by a doctor on Washington Express it turned out he had a broken rib). The 2 were later picked up by another lifeboat. The 4 who had climbed back on board the ship went in the port lifeboat and were killed with another 7 when the 2nd torpedo hit. This was Moldekleiv's 3rd torpedo experience; the 1st one took place in Jan.-1940 when he spent 36 hours in a lifeboat, the 2nd had been in March-1941, at which time he was rescued after 30 hours. Received all 3 medals. (He died in 1989). According to Johan Moe it was Moldekleiv who came up with the idea of using safety pins for fishhooks, a trick he had learnt as a child.
Saloonboy Poul W (N?) Andersen (Danish, age 23) was in the pantry amidships when the torpedo hit. He too grabbed his lifevest and proceeded to the poopdeck, but on the way he heard someone cry out that another torpedo was on its way. When it hit it knocked him over. He later found the 1st engineer badly injured(?), trapped by debris, and tried to free him but was ordered to abandon ship, whereupon he jumped overboard and was picked up by shipmates on one of the rafts. He later found out that the 1st engineer had also been rescued. Received Krigsmedaljen.
Saloonboy Holger Aronsen (Swedish, age 34) was asleep in his cabin (aft) when the ship was hit. He put on his Vaco suit and lifevest and proceeded to the deck. When the 2nd torpedo hit he jumped overboard and swam to the nearest raft, which then had 5 men. He was a vegetarian and had a hard time accepting the fact that he had to eat raw fish and turtle meat to stay alive. Received Krigsmedaljen and Deltagermedaljen. (Died in 1981). His story is told in the first book in a series of 3 with the title "Utanför Spärren" by Terje Fredh, about Swedish seamen on Norwegian ships.
NOTE: St. Olavsmedaljen could only be given to Norwegian citizens. According to an article in "Krigsseileren", Deltagermedaljen was not awarded merchant mariners until 1979, and could not be awarded posthumously (this conflicts slightly with what is found on my medals page, though this "rule" may have been changed later on).
They quickly got themselves organized, 4 on one raft, 5 on the other, each raft measuring about 2 x 3 meters, and tied together. First of all they rigged up masts by using oars and tried to sail in the direction of land, but the wind and current were not in their favour. A regular 4 hour watch was established, just like on an ordinary ship. Most of them had a lifebelt and a Vaco suit, but even those who were without them did well; they had their usual work clothes, as well as oilskins of the kind used by fishermen in Norway. Also, the rafts were equipped with sweaters, lumberjackets etc. Luckily it was the warm season of the year, so the cold was not their biggest problem, except during the 3 cyclones they endured. But on the other hand, the cyclones supplemented their diminishing water supply, so that the rations were kept unchanged, though they never had enough to combat their constant thirst; 1 small cup per person per day was the ration. Then there were a few milk tablets, as well as vitamin pills. Almost all the bread had been spoiled by seawater and was inedible. The rafts drifted with the Gulf Stream, which carried them away from the United States, but with the Stream came long strands of Saragossa seaweed which had plenty of fish in it. Safety pins from the first aid kit were used for fish hooks, attached to a 2 ft long string. When cleaning the fish (with their nails) they were careful to not discard the liver, but ate it along with the fish (which they dried for 36 hours) thereby getting extra vitamins.
With their bare hands they were also able to catch 3 large turtles, which they ate, including the blood, heart and liver. Each turtle must have weighed 50 or 60 pounds, and lasted about 5 days. These turtles had a good amount of fat under their shells, but since it tasted quite bad, they made a "grease refinery" by scraping it into a can which was then placed in the sun. When the fat melted, the sediment settled on the bottom, leaving a clear liquid floating on top which could then be eaten, "almost like first class butter" one of the men said. They even used it as a "dip" for the fish they caught. However, a complication arose with these turtles; one of the men was a vegetarian, and declared that he couldn't possibly deviate from his principles. But after a long struggle with his conscience, and with starvation at the door, he accepted some of the meat, but refused the blood. For exercise they took turns swimming around the rafts, while others kept a lookout for sharks, which were plentiful, in fact it was the sharks that brought them the turtles, as they were trying to get away from the sharks.
After 28 days they spotted a ship, but they were not seen. Then a little over a week later a Liberty ship came straight towards them until it was only 1 n. mile away, and they thought for sure they were going to be rescued. They immediately wanted to celebrate by drinking all the rest of the water, but the carpenter said no "we're not on board yet", and sure enough, the ship turned and disappeared. Other than the terrible disappointment on that particular day, their mood was generally good. They would sing and talk, their favourite subject for discussion being food, which they could talk about for hours. To combat the increasing indigestion problems they drank a small amount of sea water after 45 days, which promptly took effect, though they were careful to not drink too much. Their appearance changed; "the barber shop was closed", and they all lost weight, 20-29 kg, but when they were finally spotted by Washington Express on Aug. 14 (in the Saragossa Sea) each and every one of them was able to climb on board unaided. By then they had travelled 1000 n. miles, in the direction of the Azores. Needless to say the best possible care awaited them on the Norwegian ship; the crew fought to give away their clothes and their own berths to the shipwrecked, until they remembered the passenger cabins, which the guests got "free of charge". Their first meal consisted of a slice of bread, some gruel and a soft boiled egg, having to go easy on their stomachs at first, and tasted better than any meal they had dreamed up and discussed on the rafts. The first bath was of course indescribable!
Moments before their rescue a group of large whales had threatened to put an end to them all, and the people on board Washington Express watched as they splashed with their oars and blew their whistles in an effort to scare them away. The whales had a course directly towards them, but fortunately turned away, only a few meters from the rafts. When the rescuers were about 30 meters away from the rafts they threw out a line to them, but it fell short. John Bakkemyr then jumped into the water and swam towards the line, while at the same time a big shark came alongside the ship, so the men on board Washinton Express again had some frightening moments. The U-boat danger was also an issue while she lay there waiting. In fact, before they had gotten close enough to see the 9 on the rafts through the binoculars, the captain had been extra cautious, suspecting the sail they had spotted might be a U-boat trick to lure them closer.
The fact that there were 2 doctors on board, who could subsequently report their medical observations, later benefitted other seamen, because the doctors could also present recommendations for improvements with regard to supplies and equipment on rafts and in lifeboats, based on statements by Moldanger's survivors. As a result of their experiences, new rules for standard equipment were implemented, one being that fishing gear should be available. Also, better tools (as a result of the seamen's difficulties with the turtles) and several bread containers instead of just one (as a result of all the bread being ruined by salt water) were to be among the new standard contents, in addition to an increased amount of water. It also turned out that Moldanger's raft, in fact, had lacked the proper amount of food stuffs set down in the already existing rules, so stricter regulations for examining the rafts on a regular basis were implemented.
On arrival New York 4 days after the rescue, Moldanger's captain, who just 3 days earlier had reported them as "missing, probably dead", was joyfully waiting for them, and so were some Red Cross ambulances, but there was no need for them so they were sent away. Later, they all agreed that Carpenter Olav Brekke was to a great extent responsible for their success, because it was he who had kept the excellent discipline on the rafts and came up with some of the ingenious survival ideas.
* Denotes those who were in the captain's lifeboat and landed in Newport on July 8.
Johan Larsen had been in the captain's boat, but died of his burns on July 4 and was buried at sea.
(The 1st mate had been allowed to call his family in Norway by phone just before departure Buenos Aires).
Related external links:
Naval Museum of Manitoba - this is linked directly to "RCN Ships Image Database", which has a list of the RCN ships, with a photo of, and technical data on each ship. HMCS Buctouche, which rescued the 15 from Moldanger's lifeboat is included.
Danfs Online - Patrol Vessels - (PC-495, which rescued the 6 from Moldanger's gig is not listed).
Back to Moldanger on the "Ships starting with M" page.
Other ships by this name: Westfal Larsen had another Moldanger after the war, delivered from Kockums, Malmö in Dec.-1950, 8055 gt. Sold to China Nav. Co. Ltd., London in Sept.-1970, renamed Sooshow. Sold to Panama in 1977, renamed Yat Shing. Sold to Canton in 1981, broken up in China in 1982. The company's 3rd Moldanger was delivered in Febr.-1975, built in Japan, 35 512 gt. Sold in June-1977 to A/S Uglands Rederi, Grimstad, renamed Favorita. Another Moldanger was built in 1997.
The text on this page was compiled with the help of: "Nortraships flåte", J. R. Hegland, "A Merchant Seaman's Story" by Harald Revaa (one of the survivors), "Tusen norske skip", Lise Lindbæk, "Krigsseileren No. 4, 1983, article by Dr. Trygve Gjestland and Dr. Lyndon E. Lee Jr.), "Handeslflåten i krig" volumes 3 and 4, Guri Hjeltnes, "Sjøforklaringer fra 2. verdenskrig", Norwegian Maritime Museum, Volume II and misc. other - (ref. My sources). The Memorandum mentioned in the narrative above was received from Tony Cooper, England.