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Owner: A/S Sagona
Built by C. van der Giessen & Zonen's Scheebswerven NV, Krimpen, Holland in 1929. Previous name: Lion until 1931. According to the external page that I've linked to above, she was owned by A/S Ambra (Alf Mohn), Oslo when she had that name.
Captain: Einar Leire (from the time she was acquired).
On the day Norway was invaded (Apr. 9-1940), Sagona arrived Suez with a full cargo of oil meant for Italy. The authorities would not let her through, and she remained there until Apr. 27; see my page Nortraship for details on difficulties and confusion with regard to payments etc. in those early days. (It'll be noticed, when going to Page 1, that arrival Suez is given as Apr. 13, departure for Port Said the next day). Finally, British soldiers came on board and she was ordered to Malta, where she also stayed for several(?) weeks, with the captain refusing to give up his cargo to the Italians there, fearing Italy, though still neutral at the time would soon enter the war. As the situation started to look more and more threatening, it was decided to get Sagona away from Malta, and on June 9 she quietly left the harbour with all her lights out. Still, she was spotted by the Italian guards at Pantellaria who signalled again and again, but Captain Leire ignored them and just kept going. As it turned out, this was not a moment too soon, as Italy declared war the following day and Malta was bombed.
Judging from the events that followed, it appears Sagona very narrowly escaped internment in Africa, as was the fate of 26 other Norwegian ships when France fell in June-1940. When Sagona got further west, communication with London was established and she was ordered to the nearest allied port, then proceeded to Algiers where her cargo was unloaded. But while there, France capitulated. Captain Leire was not about to let his ship be trapped there for the rest of the war so went from office to office, demanding permission to leave, and sending telegram upon telegram and in general pestering the authorities until they got so fed up with him that permission was granted. With a final warning from the authorities about German and Italian subs, Sagona departed Algiers on June 29, watched by astonished crews on the other ships who fully expected this to be her final voyage, but she reached Gibraltar safely. (Note that she's listed as scheduled for the convoy in which the Norwegian Tudor was sunk, namely Convoy HGF 34, which had left Gibraltar for the U.K. on June 13-1940).
Her 1941 voyages also start on Page 1.
Just for info, there's a ship listed in station 16 of the westbound North Atlantic Convoy ON 33 in Nov.-1941 which looks like Sagona (the document is very blurry and hard to decipher). If this is Sagona, it must have been the British ship by that name, as the Norwegian Sagona was in another part of the world at the time this convoy sailed from the U.K. - follow the link for convoy details.
On Dec. 19-1941, several ships were in port at Alexandria, among them Sagona (see Page 2), and the battle ships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant. Sagona was replenishing 4 British destroyers that night, two on each side of her. The Italian submarine Scire (Borghese) was also present not too far away, though not as visible as the above mentioned ships. Late that evening 3 manned torpedoes ("pigs") were heading towards the ships, with two men riding each. They got lucky and slipped passed the barrier net just as it was opened to let three British destroyers into the harbour. The plan was to attach limpet mines to the bottom of the battle ships and Sagona, as well as spread incendiary time bombs around in the basin, before quickly pulling out and trying to get back to Scire again. When Sagona blew up, her oil cargo would leak into the harbour, the incendiary bombs would ignite the oil and turn Alexandria harbour into an inferno.
Two of the teams were eventually able to attach their explosives (SLC 221, under L. Durand de la Penne to HMS Valiant, and SLC 223, A. Marceglia to HMS Queen Elizabeth), but as they found themselves unable to get out past the net and out of the harbour again, they destroyed their chariots and went on shore to watch the results of their efforts. Two of the men were discovered and taken aboard Valiant, though they kept their little secret. The third team (SLC 222, under V. Martellotta) had great difficulties attaching the explosives where they wanted them, as one of the men got sick and had to take his frogmask off, and since the load was too heavy for just one man to drag underneath the ship as planned, he had to fasten the explosives on the after part of Sagona. They then sank their chariot and swam to shore, where they too were taken prisoners.
The explosions started at dawn the next morning. Valiant and Queen Elizabeth were the first* to go and were considerably damaged, then it was Sagona's turn. Most of her aft part was blown away, but nobody was injured, and her entire cargo of oil was intact (12 000 tons), so that when the incendiary bombs started to detonate a couple of hours later they found no fuel to ignite and did not cause the planned damage in the harbour. HMS Jervis was also damaged by the team from SLC 222.
Sagona remained in Alexandria as "bunker ship" for the rest of the war. Captain Leire travelled to New York in an effort to get her back into service, but the authorities were reluctant to take the risk of sending her to the U.S. for repairs, as only 1 of her engines was operable. (While there, the captain met and married a nurse from the Norwegian hospital in Brooklyn, and she returned to Alexandria with him).
Towed to England in 1946 and repaired. Captain Leire continued on board for a few more voyages before returning to Norway (he died in 1999 at age 73).
According to this external page, Sagona was owned from 1955 by A/L Derby (Yngv. Hansen-Tangen), Kristiansand. Sold the following year to be broken up by Biscoe.
Heroes of the Italian Navy - (scroll down to Luigi Durand de la Penne).
Back to Sagona on the "Ships starting with S" page.
The text on this page was compiled with the help of: "Nortraships flåte", J. R. Hegland, Krigsseileren No. 4, 1983, article written by Søren Brandsnes, based on a report in the company's archives by Sagona's 2nd Mate Kaare Haugevik and misc. (ref. My sources).