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Manager: J. Wilson & Søn, Arendal
Built in Fredrikshavn, Denmark in 1917.
Captain: Trygve Terkelsen. (I've seen a statement that he had been on board since 1917 when he joined as ordinary seaman, but a document from the maritime hearings following her sinking says he was 32 years old at the time of loss).
Related item on this website:
Solaas embarked on a voyage from the Swedish port of Stubbsund in Norrbotn for Antwerp on Sept. 19-1939 with 1745 tons of dry wood pulp. She had at first loaded 336 standards of cut timber for London, but because of the new war situation this cargo had been unloaded and replaced by the wood pulp. They travelled along the Swedish coast, then along the Norwegian coast, all the while within the territorial waters, and on Sept. 24 they stopped at Arendal in order to pick up extra rescue equipment. At the same time some of her crew members were replaced with new men.
She continued her voyage westward along the coast at 19:00 on the 27th, and after the pilot had left near Store Torungen at 21:15, nothing unusual happened until just after 23:00 when she (about 5 n. miles off Homborsund, a few miles outside the territorial line) was stopped by a German cruiser, in company with another similar vessel, coming up on each side of her, with the one on the starboard side shining a strong light on her while signalling for her to stop. The engine was stopped and she was boarded by about 10 men who stayed for about an hour, checking her papers and examining the ship, but none of them were ever in the engine room according to later testimonies. Satisfied that everything was in order, the Germans allowed her to proceed around midnight; the officer who appeared to be the "leader" had made a notation in her book that she had been stopped, checked and released. They had paid particular attention to the fact that Solaas had originally had a cargo for London on board (as it was, she was a neutral ship on her way to a neutral port).
At 11 the following morning when they were about 25 n. miles southwest of Lister Light (estimated to have been 57 48N 06 35E) a German U-boat came up to them from the southeast, on the port side, calling over (in German) for them to stop, which was done, and all the crew members were called out. Captain Terkelsen noted that it was a large boat, with no markings except for the German flag, and with a gun foreward of the conning tower. Through a megaphone the commander asked the captain a few questions about cargo, destination etc., then the U-boat (this was U-36/Fröhlich) went over to the starboard side and asked the same questions, before it a few minutes later headed in the direction of the Norwegian coast, having given various signals which were understood to mean that Solaas could continue.
Solaas waited until the boat had left, then "full speed ahead" was ordered. 5 minutes later, about 11:35 the 2nd engineer announced that water was seeping through to the coals in the fireroom, but it was impossible to locate the source of the leak. The donkeyman said his "shovel" got wet when he was getting coal from the starboard bunkers. A whistling sound had been heard just before "full speed" was given, followed by a bump, then a hissing noise from the starboard coal bunkers. Everyone on board was asked if they had heard anything while the U-boat was present. The following men had heard a strange sound and the bump: The 1st engineer, the 2nd engineer, the donkeyman (who described the noise as a rumbling, as if the coal was shifting, only louder), Stoker Berntsen, the able seaman, Ordinary Seamen Osuldsen and Pettersen and the deckboy. The water in the engine room rose very quickly, and because the pumps proved unable to keep it at bay Captain Terkelsen decided to turn around and try to reach a bay east of Lindesnes, but when they altered course the wind and seas came straight in on her port side causing her to list heavily, so they set a course up against the wind again. By that afternoon the water had risen so high that the entire engine was under water.
With the help of flag signals contact was established with an approaching ship, namely the Danish D/S Juliane of Fanø, sailing in ballast. At 19:00 she took Solaas in tow with the intent of towing her to Kristiansand but the tow line broke after 2 hours. By then it was obvious that the afterpart of Solaas was about to sink, so when another Danish vessel, D/S England came by, Solaas' men went across in the motorboat, having no hope their ship would stay afloat much longer. By 7 in the morning of the 29th the entire afterdeck was under water, and she was listing an estimated 30° to starboard. When a couple of German aircraft started to circle above them D/S England found it best to leave and headed for Copenhagen (at this time Solaas had still not sunk).
The cause of the leak was never established. None of the people on board had heard shots or an explosion, nor had they observed any signs of torpedoes (though some felt this could be because of the heavy seas). At the maritime hearings in Arendal on Oct. 3-1939 the captain said she had been in excellent condition. That spring she had been in dock at Pusnes mek. Verksted where she had been repaired, and nothing had happened since then that could have weakened her hull, and no leaks had been observed before the U-boat appeared. The captain was convinced the leak had somehow been caused by the U-boat (and the others agreed), though couldn't explain how. He completely ruled out the possibility that the leak could have resulted from drifting debris, nor did he think it could have been caused by the seas alone, or by anyone on board. He indicated the possibility that an unexploded torpedo could have made a hole in the ship's hull.
Most of this info is from Arendal Seamen's Association's 150th Anniversary Book, Kristen Taraldsen, used here with permission. From Per Skaugstad, Norway I've since received a copy of the statements given at the maritime hearings, and all of the above appears to have been taken from the same document. I've inserted some extra details from it, which were not noted in this book. The book adds that according to German sources the U-boat was U-7, but I've received an E-mail from Erling Skjold in Norway who says he has gone through the KTB's for U-7, U-16 and U-36, which all operated on the Norwegian coast on the date in question. He says that in addition to stopping Solaas, U-36 also checked other ships on the 28th, namely the Swedish Rudolf, Saxen and Tom, and the Danish Prins Knud as well as Juliane mentioned above. U-7 operated between Utsira and Marsteinen on that date, and nothing in particular is mentioned in her KTB (U-7/Heidel sank Takstaas the next day). U-16 (Weingärtner) operated off Jæren, but only had one attack during her patrol; the sinking of the Swedish D/S Nyland. Therefore, it appears that no U-boat was responsible for the sinking of Solaas. Erling speculates it could have been a drifting mine, collision with drifting debris, leakage (dry wood pulp cargo can be treacherous if it gets wet), or even insurance fraud, which he thinks was the case with D/S Lappen, Dec. 25-1939.
Jürgen Rohwer says: "The KTB of U-36 (Fröhlich) indicates that she stopped the neutral Norwegian steamer Solaas on 28.09.39. The vessel was en route from Belgium to Norway and had not called at any British port. The Solaas sank the next day after a heavy explosion, possibly caused by a mine". "Skip og menn" (Birger Dannevig) also says she sank following an explosion shortly after she had been allowed by the U-boat to continue. He states she was on a voyage from Sundsvall to Antwerp when she was stopped by the U-boat about 25 miles off Lista light.
For info, U-36 was sunk with all hands in Dec.-1939, while U-16 had been sunk with all hands in Oct.-1939 - ref. external links below.
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