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Manager: Westfal-Larsen & Co. A/S Bergen
Delivered in Sept.-1928 from Ateliers et Chantiers de la Seine Maritime Worms & Cie., Le Trait, France. Laid up in San Pedro from Sept.13-1930 till Febr. 7-1931, and from Oct. 2-1931 until Febr. 5-1932 (affected by the depression). Later also laid up in Stavanger, Norway for 2 1/2 months. Just before the war she was on charter to The Norwegian State for a while and used as depot in Oslo for about 5 months.
Related item on this website:
Captain: Lauritz Andreas Teffre.
Some of her voyages are listed on this original document received from the National Archives of Norway.
Orkanger had arrived Port Said from Abadan on May 26-1940, with a cargo of fuel oil for the Admiralty. She waited for orders until June 7, when she was ordered to continue to Malta, and left Port Said alone late that afternoon with 1 British officer, 2 naval ratings and 9 soldiers on board as passengers. On June 10, they heard about Italy's entry to the war over the radio, whereupon an envelope with secret orders was opened, and in accordance with instructions therein she turned around to head back. However, the next day she was ordered by a British cruiser to continue to Alexandria.
At 22:55 on June 12 she was torpedoed on the port side between tanks No. 6 and 7 by the Italian submarine Naiade (Baroni)*, position 31 42N 28 50E. The ship's side and the deck outside the summer tank hatches were torn open so that the plates were projecting about 15' up in the air, and oil from the tanks was flung all over the midship section, causing complete darkness on the bridge for a while. The port, midships lifeboat was thrown on deck and smashed.
The engine was stopped and the starboard midships boat as well as the 2 aft lifeboats were launched, 2 of which rowed away from the ship, while the starboard aft boat was ordered to wait for the captain, the 3 mates, the 1st engineer and the British officer who remained on board.
An SOS was sent out, and after the damages had been examined it looked like she could be saved, but at 23:05 another torpedo struck, this time aft in the engine room, destroying the lifeboat which was waiting alongside and killing 4 of the men in it. The remaining men, 5 of whom were injured, were subsequently picked up by the other lifeboats. Orkanger slowly sank by the stern at about 23:30.
The officers who had remained on board had launched the dinghy and about 3 hours after the ship had sunk the survivors were picked up by the Spanish S/S Tom where the injured men received first aid (see the able seaman's story below). Tom stayed in the location until daylight, then searched the entire area but found nothing but wreckage. The survivors were landed in Alexandria in the afternoon of June 13 where the injured were admitted to a hospital, while the others were accomodated at the Seamen's Home. One of the injured men died at a hospital in Alexandria on June 17, making the final death toll 5.
According to Admiralty records the first torpedo "opened up tanks No's. 6 and 7, and folded back the deck like a piece of paper". Approximate position is given as 31 43N 28 53E. These records state that 3 of the passengers were Naval personnel and 9 were Army personnel of other ranks, returning to Malta from Port Said.
The inquiry was held in Alexandria on July 17-1940 with the captain, the 3rd mate (officer on watch), Able Seaman Helland, Jr. Ordinary Seaman Knarvik (lookout), the 1st engineer, and the Engine Boys Zakariassen and Blomquist appearing.
Orkanger was the first merchant ship to be sunk by an Italian submarine (the British cruiser HMS Calypso had been sunk just an hour after midnight on that same date). 4 days later the Norwegian tanker M/T James Stove also encountered a torpedo from an Italian sub - follow the link for details.
Related external link:
Able Seaman Einar Nilsen's story is included in "Menn uten medaljer". He places the attack at 11 in the evening, saying he was fast asleep and woke up from the noise of the torpedo hitting. He says all the lights immediately went out, but he managed to get on deck after having grabbed some clothes, including an old winter coat he had bought from the donkeyman for 10 kr. The ship was listing so badly he ran straight into a hydrant, giving himself a big black eye. He ended up in lifeboat No. 4, which was being pulled behind the wreck by the painter while waiting for the 1st mate, 2nd mate/radio operator, engineer and captain. This story is written in a very lighthearted style, and he claims that Ole Jamne, the 1st engineer who had been on board for 12 years and loved his ship and his engine, probably gave all the machinery a good polish, before going to his cabin, put new batteries in his flashlight, changed his glasses and donned a brand new six-pence before he joined the men waiting impatiently in the lifeboat. The deckboy Bertil could finally cut the line, and not a minute too early, as a 2nd torpedo now hit the ship, just in the area where they had been, destroying lifeboat No. 3 which was still alongside, killing 3 and injuring several. Those who were still left on board now had to move quickly. Failing to lower boat No. 5 they had to use the rowboat on the port side aft, walking straight from the deck into it. Just seconds later Orkanger sank.
Cries for help were heard all around them; the men who had been in boat No. 3 were still swimming around in the oily water. As many as possible were picked up by boat No. 4, which then searhed for survivors for as long as they could. Boat No. 1 now came alongside, and a "headcount" was performed. He doesn't mention any numbers, only expresses the happiness at every "yes" heard, and the sadness at the lack of response when some of the names were called out. The next morning they saw lights on the horizon which turned out to be the Spanish ship Tom of Bilbao, on a voyage with grain from Alexandria. Einar Nielsen says "the mate turned out to be quite a witchdoctor and the captain a wonderful man, though he looked like Franco's twin. The injured were taken care of and we had some worrysome hours by the electrician's sickbed; being afraid he had broken his back. Unfortunately he died a few days later at a hospital in Alexandria".
Einar Nielsen is full of admiration for the boatswain, Elling Gjøvåg who was badly hurt but nobody realized the extent of his injuries until they were on board the Tom, as he had climbed on board unassisted and had never uttered a word of complaint. "Half his skull was bashed in, his nose in bad shape, all his front teeth were gone, and he was covered in black oil. Never have I seen a living person looking worse". Additionally, once he was admitted to hospital in Alexandria it turned out his right leg was broken in two places, above and below his knee. With a name like his, with the combination Gj, then the ø and not to mention the å he had many a different name while in the hospital, and had a completely new "identity" when he was eventually discharged. Elling Gjøvåg is still around today (2009). He's 95 years old, and lives on the island Reksteren in Tysnes, Norway. I've been told that some of the details in this account are inaccurate - will be corrected when/if I get the correct version.
Einar Nilsen goes on to say the rest of them were placed in an English seamen's home, where Lady Cunningham in person, as well as Lady Wawell paid them a visit, bringing cigarettes, shaving gear and whatever they were in need of. He also mentions a Mrs. Ella Nashed, "all shipwrecked seamen's good fairy". I'm not sure who she was, but it sounds like she was very well known among most sailors. Eventually, the Norwegian consulate stepped in and they were given new clothes. Some of them joined the British M/S Rodi, which made some voyages to Malta - with regard to that matter he says "he who is meant to hang will not drown". His story now goes on to descripe these voyages and life on Rodi, but I will not include that here. However, Einar Nielsen later joined M/T Brattdal, to "get some peace from the war for a while". That story is also included in "Menn uten medaljer", and I've added a translated summary of it under M/S Brattdal.
Nielsen ends his story by saying:
"Well, I'm alive, but *Captain Teffre went to heaven Christmas Eve 1941 when his ship exploded. Chief Engineer Isaksen met his fate off Portugal at about the same time and Kåre Moen was shot in a battle with a raider in The Indian Ocean. Olav Brevik disappeared without a trace from a Norwegian tanker on a voyage from The Persian Gulf to Australia and the whaler Ludvig was lost in the Antarctic somewhere, as is fitting. I've never been able to find Helgesen, in spite of several attempts". (This story was probably told especially for the book around 1964. Some of the people he lists here were his shipmates on Brattdal. Checking the crew list for that ship, there's also an Able Seaman Arthur Nilsen and a Sigve Helgesen who can be found in the crew list below, so it appears they too joined Brattdal after the loss of Orkanger. Einar Nilsen later served on M/T Trondheim until the spring of 1946).
Back to Orkanger on the "Ships starting with O" page.
Other ships by this name: Another Orkanger was delivered to Westfal-Larsen in Febr.-1955, built by Lithgows Ltd., Port Glasgow, 11 817 gt. Sold in June-1968 to Sonap Maritima Ltd., Lisbon, renamed Bayete. Sold in 1974 to Shipbreaking Industries Ltd., Faslane. The ship has been included on the Clydebuilt Ships website. In Oct.-1970 the company received another Orkanger from Nylands Mek. Verksted, Oslo, 13 003 gt. Both were tankers. (Info from Westfal-Larsen fleet list).
The text on this page was compiled with the help of: "Nortraships flåte", J. R. Hegland (the first paragraph of my text), E-mail from a visitor to my website (info from Admiralty records), "The World's Merchant Fleets 1939", Roger W. Jordan, "Axis Submarine Successes of World War Two", Jürgen Rowher, "Menn uten medaljer" A. H. Rasmussen, "Sjøforklaringer fra 2. verdenskrig", Volume II (Norwegian Maritime Museum). Some of the pre-war details are from an article by Lauritz Pettersen, sent to me by a visitor to my website, Hans Jacob Herholdt - (ref. My sources).