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Owner: Hvalfangerselskapet Norge A/S
Built in Nakskov, Denmark in 1934.
Captain: Olaf Bjønnes.
Related item on this website:
Her voyages are listed on this original document received from the National Archives of Norway.
Please compare the above voyages with Arnold Hague's Voyage Record below.
(Received from Don Kindell - His source: The late Arnold Hague's database).
Follow the convoy links provided for more information on each.
After Norway had been invaded by the Germans on Apr. 9-1940 it was not uncommon for Norwegian ships to be treated with distrust and suspicion, resulting in quite a few of them being forced into British port by the authorities, and even put under armed guard for a while. This also happened to Solheim when she was stopped by a war ship off Fremantle on Apr. 13 and escorted to port. According to the archive document, she was on her way from Melbourne to Singapore at the time.
According to the Memorial for Seamen in Stavern, Norway (ref. link below), Solheim lost a crew member later that year. Motorman Knut Johan Mikkelsen is said to have died in an accident on board while at sea on Nov. 8-1940. From the archive document, we learn that Solheim arrived Thursday Island on that date.
Related external link:
At the beginning of January-1941 the military situation in the eastern part of the Mediterranean was seemingly in British control. Italy's army was retreating from Libya, Crete was occupied by British forces, and Malta was holding on. Tobruk was taken on Jan. 22, and the British army reached Benghazi on Febr. 6. Early in January, 150 German bombers had been stationed in Sicily. Jan. 10 saw the beginning of heavy bombardments of Malta which lasted for several months, with the result that the island was practically isolated from the rest of the world. At the beginning of March the Germans started their offensive against Greece, while at the same time the German Africa corps was shipped out of Italy. The British were now facing trouble on all fronts. They had to shift their attention from North Africa to reinforcements for Greece. The first allied convoy departed Alexandria for Piræus on March 5, followed by several more in the subsequent weeks. The convoys were constantly attacked by aircraft, losing 25 ships (most of which were lost in Greek waters).
Solheim had left Aden on Febr. 1-1941, joining Convoy BN 14 (external link), which was dispersed on Febr. 3, Solheim arriving Suez on Febr. 7/8 (Arena, Fagersten, Kronviken, Norse Lady and Woolgar are also listed in this convoy). She was held up for weeks at Bitter Lake along with about 30 other ships because magnetic mines had been dropped by German aircraft in the Suez Canal and had to be cleared before the ships could proceed. By then, all available tonnage in the Mediterranean was needed for the Greece convoys, and once traffic in the canal was freed again Solheim was put into service to Piræus-Alexandria.
She had arrived Piræus on March 16-1941 with Convoy AN 19 (external link - see also the archive document), leaving again on March 21 for Alexandria, joining Convoy AS 21 (also external link - Brattdal, Thelma and Thermoplyæ are also listed), escorted by three destroyers. The next day, March 22, 15 German aircraft attacked, 34 30N 24 10E, dropping several bombs, 5 or 6 of which detonated around Solheim. There were no direct hits, but a large bomb fell about 1 meter from the side of the ship, causing the engine room to start filling with water and her engines stopped, but they managed to keep her afloat by shifting some of the ballast from the aft tanks to the forward tanks.
A Greek destroyer stayed nearby overnight, and when the aircraft returned the next morning and tried to sink Solheim with torpedoes, the destroyer ordered the ship abandoned, so the lifeboats were launched and her crew taken aboard the Greek ship which then proceeded to Suda Bay. Due to heavy seas Solheim could not be taken in tow, but authorities at Crete were contacted and promised to send out a large tug, which they met that afternoon. The captain, with 4 volunteers from his crew, went on board the tug in order to go back and look for Solheim, together with the Greek destroyer, but when they reached the location nothing was seen of their ship, other than a patch of oil and some debris.
The destroyer landed 27 of the crew at Piræus on March 25, while the captain, the 1st mate, the 3 mate, Able Seaman L. Johansen and Ordinary Seaman G. Serten were taken to Suda Bay aboard the tug that same day.
At Suda Bay the bomb damaged ex Danish Marie Mærsk (then under British flag - this ship had also been in Convoy AS 21) was in need of officers, because her captain and mate were in the hospital, and the rest of her deck officers had been killed. Local Naval Authorities requested that Captain Bjønnes take command of her and he accepted, taking his 1st and 3rd mates as well as Able Seaman Johansen and Ordinary Seaman Serten on board with him, with the 3rd mate promoted to 2nd mate for the occasion. The bombs had set her on fire, and the middle section was virtually gone, but her cargo and other parts of the ship were intact and their job was to somehow get her out of Suda Bay and her cargo unloaded.
After about a week they were told to leave for Piræus. According to the captain's own report, which can be found in the book "Larviks Sjømannsforening 1849-1949" the ship had been so extensively damaged, including the steering gear, lifeboats etc., that the task of getting her going was not an easy one, but they managed to get her to Piræus where they arrived on March 31, aided by a small tug and escorted by a destroyer. Half of the cargo was transferred to another ship the next day, but as this vessel could not take all of it Captain Bjønnes and his men had to move further out and wait for orders. Before long the Germans made their appearance and proceeded to bomb the city and harbour, resulting in their new "home" being bombed every day for a week, until she was eventually so badly hit that the entire afterpart was in flames, while the engine room was filling with water. Seeing no more use for their services on board, they left. The crew found lodgings at a military camp outside Athens, while the captain (and possibly the 3rd mate?) went to Athens.
On Apr. 23 the captain received a phone call from the 1st mate saying that he and 20 others from Marie Mærsk, who were in the same camp, had received orders to leave the same day. After that the captain did not hear from the 1st mate again. According to Able Seaman Johansen's statements at the subsequent maritime hearings, the 1st mate had assembled the crew in motor cars and had gone to Naples where they stayed for 5-6 days. On their last night there, the 1st mate received orders to take the crew to a ship which was lying at anchor some distance out. The able seaman and the 1st mate ended up in different boats when they were sent out to this ship, and that was the last time he had seen the 1st mate. Neither he nor 4 others who had been on board Marie Mærsk, and who had been in the same boat as the 1st mate as it left the quay, arrived on the ship. The able seaman adds that while being transported to the ship he had heard shouts for help from several places (this seems peculiar - so why did they not stop to help?).
The captain and the 3rd mate, meanwhile, were sent from Athens on Apr. 24, and arrived Alexandria via Suda Bay on May 1 as follows:
Captain Bjønnes' attempts to get out of the country proved fruitless, and as the Germans came closer and closer the situation became quite desperate. By then Marie Mærsk's captain and mate had been released from the hospital, and together they were able to find a Greek ship to evacuate them, but as the departure time drew near the captain and 1st mate of the latter ship had still not shown up so again, Captain Bjønnes was asked to take over, along with Marie Mærsk's former captain as 1st mate. However, just after the 2 of them had gone ashore to get sailing orders, German aircraft bombed and set that vessel on fire as well. The 2 officers had to seek shelter from the machine gun fire under some railroad cars. Afterwards, they helped bring the injured ashore.
The only vessel now left for them was a tug, aground somewhere in the harbour. With combined efforts they were eventually able to get it afloat and out to sea, filled to the rim with people. On arrival Suda Bay they were told to go to a camp where they would find food and clothing, but after having walked for several hours to this camp, nobody was around. They found some crackers and some canned corned beef, then slept under some olive trees until the next morning, then returned to Suda Bay, where they were finally sent to a cargo ship which took them to Alexandria.
The steward(?), Kaspar Holtan had signed on M/S Gausdal.
An inquiry into the loss of Solheim was held in Alexandria on July 15-1941 with the captain, the 2nd mate, the 2nd engineer, Mechanic Smith, and Able Seaman Johansen appearing.
Crew List - No casualties:
Back to Solheim on the "Ships starting with S" page.
Chr. Nielsen & Co. had another Solheim after the war, this ship sailed as Norbris during the war.
The text on this page was compiled with the help of: "Nortraships flåte", J. R. Hegland, "Larviks Sjømannsforening 1849-1949", "Sjøforklaringer fra 2. verdenskrig", Norwegian Maritime Museum, Volume II and misc. - (Ref. Sources/Books).