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Manager: Wilh. Wilhelmsen, Tønsberg
Launched on Oct. 23-1937 by N.V. Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw Maatschappij N.V., Amsterdam (Yard No. 268).
Captain: Nils Løken
As will be seen when going to Page 1 above, Trafalgar was on her way to Norway when the Germans invaded the country on Apr. 9-1940. She went into Boston instead, and it looks like she remained there for over 3 weeks - see my page about Nortraship for information on problems encountered in those early days of war in Norway. Her 1941 voyages also start on this document and continue on Page 2. It'll also be noticed, when going to Page 3, that she had a long stay in Buenos Aires in the spring of 1942 and again in New York later on that year.
Trafalgar was torpedoed by U-129 (Witt) on Oct. 15-1942, about 1100 miles northeast of Guadeloupe in position 25 30N 52 00W, when on a voyage from Buenos Aires to New York with 7900 tons general cargo (1100 tons sunflower seed oil, about 2400 tons wet salted hides, 2000 tons tanning extract and 2000 tons corned beef and other), having departed Buenos Aires on Oct. 1 - see Page 3.
She had been sailing as per the American/British routing instructions, but earlier that day they had received a wireless message from the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet ordering them to alter course more westerly. According to a report presented at the subsequent inquiry the attack occurred at 19:20, and the officer on watch, 1st Mate Birkeland, as well as the lookout on the foc'sle, Able Seaman Utvær, and on top of the wheel house, Able Seaman Lauritsen had sighted an object just before the 1st torpedo struck in No. 3 hold below the bridge, starboard side. The captain ordered hard port wheel to the helmsman, Able Seaman Godøen in order to put the 4" gun in position and was rushing to sound the alarm when a 2nd(?) torpedo hit in the engine room, also on the starboard side, sending the 2 lifeboats on that side sky high, and causing the electricity to go out. The derricks on the after deck were also blown up, some falling back on deck. Both explosions were followed by a tremendous wave and spray covering the whole ship, and there was a bad smell from gas and gun powder smoke.
The entire crew immediately ran to their respective duties. In addition to the gunner on duty, Cato Nilsen, the other gunners rushed to the gun but nothing could be seen of the U-boat. There were no casualties, and they all remained on board, keeping a close lookout for the U-boat, until the water started to wash over the decks, at which time they abandoned ship in the 2 port lifeboats and the dinghy from the poop. As Trafalgar sank, the U-boat came up to ask the usual questions of the people in the lifeboats and was told that the captain had gone down with the ship.
2 lifeboats with 23 in each (? numbers vary according to source) landed at one of the Guadaloupe islands on Oct. 25, but risking internment under the Vichy friendly authorities there they had to continue, and landed on Dominica, West Indies the next day.
Captain Løken says the ship was torn open from the middle of No. 2 hatch to the engine room, the lifeboats on the starboard side were blown away, some people even had their clothes ripped off their bodies. He claims that he himself was left with only his belt and shoes on, even his socks had been ripped off down to his ankles. Trafalgar was sinking quickly, and after having checked the cabins etc. to make sure no one was left behind he joined the rest of his men in the lifeboats. The 7(?) gunners stayed on their posts until everyone was safely off the ship, then went in the dinghy. It turned out the steward was missing, but it wasn't too late to get him, he was ready and waiting.
In this account the captain says there were 48 of them in 3 boats (conflicting with the number in the paragraph above - also, another report says there were a total of 43). The 1st mate had the dinghy, the 2nd mate lifeboat No. 2 and the captain had lifeboat No. 3. They had started rowing when the U-boat came up to ask the usual questions about ship and cargo etc., and when the 1st mate and the radio operator stated that the captain had been seen on the bridge as the ship went down, the U-boat started blinking with very strong red lights in different directions, and the Norwegians now realized they were right in the middle of a whole group of U-boats, en route from Europe to the West Indies (this according to Captain Løken). The U-boat finally disappeared, and the seamen started rowing, then set sail the next morning. 2 days later, after having stripped the dinghy of everything usable, it was let go adrift, and the 1st and 3rd mates now had one lifeboat, the captain and the 2nd mate the other, with the 48(?) distributed in the 2 boats. Course was set for the West Indies, partly because of the current and partly because of the temperatures, as they didn't have much in the way of clothes.
On the 6th day a ship was spotted, but their signals were not seen. Rationing had been started from day 1; additionally, those who still had their shirts were told to dip them in water and drape them around their chests. The body would soak up the moisture, leaving the salt behind in the shirt. Apparently, this helped combat the thirst quite a bit. Using a compass and an American pilot map for navigational aids, they headed southwest in the hope of reaching the island Barbuda or Anguilla, where they had heard that the Americans had an airport. Finally, on the 11th day they saw land. Finding a place to land initially proved a big problem due to the coral reefs, but the 3rd try was successful and they could stretch their legs out again. The island turned out to be Desirade, which was under Vichy French control, and when they were told by the authorities to leave, or alternatively be interned, they had no choice but to get back in the boat, so with heavy hearts, a bucket of water and some extra food they took off yet again, watched by a large audience.
The next day they had a far more welcoming reception when they reached Marigot, Dominica. (The 1st mate's boat landed at Rosseau). A large number of people were already gathering as they maneuvered their way towards land, and the boys in the boat were so happy they jumped overboard and swam the rest of the way. It so happened they were the first shipwrecked crew to come (alive) to the island and the news of their landing spread like wildfire. At the police station drinks awaited, as well as clothes, and after an island feast worthy of heroes they were taken by car across the island and lodged at the best hotels Portsmouth could offer. From there they were sent by boat to Rosseau on Oct. 27, the island's capital, where they again were welcomed with a lot of festivities. The vice governor and his staff and the chief of police, all clad in magnificent uniforms, as well as interested onlookers received them on the quay. The next day they were placed on an American subchaser, but no sooner had they left the harbour than the alarm was sounded, though nothing further happened and the following day they were landed at St. Lucia where they were transferred to the Canadian steamer Colister(?) which, via St. Vincent/Grenada, took them to Trinidad, with arrival on Nov. 2.
An inquiry was held in New York on Nov. 18-1942 with the captain, the 1st mate, and the radio operator appearing, none of the others having arrived New York. The radio operator stated that the main antenna was destroyed in the explosion, but he had sent out an SOS with the help of an emergency antenna. However, the signal was very weak and he doubted it had been heard by anybody.
Crew List - No casualties:
Related external links:
Back to Trafalgar on the "Ships starting with T" page.
Other ships by this name: Wilh. Wilhelmsen also had a previous ship by this name, built in Sunderland 1906. Sold in 1922 to D/S A/S Ørsnæs (Jens Lund & Co. A/S), Tønsberg. Sold in 1925 to San Peh Steam Navigation Co. Ltd., China, renamed Taishan. Disappeared in Nov.-1934, having departed Tsingtao for Shanghai with cargo of coal. The company's 3rd Trafalgar was built in Malmö in 1949. Sold in 1971 to Hong Kong Atlantic Shipping Co. Ltd., Singapore and renamed Ngomei Chau. Transferred in 1975 to the ownership of Hong Kong Islands Shipping Co. Ltd. (the former managers) and to Panamanian registry. Broken up at Kaohsiung in 1978. There was also a British ship by this name in WW II, built 1924, 4530 gt - shelled, torpedoed and sunk by the German raider Atlantis on Apr. 24-1941.
The text on this page was compiled with the help of: "Nortraships flåte", J. R. Hegland, Wilh. Wilhelmsen's fleet list, "Menn uten medaljer", A. H. Rasmussen, "Sjøforklaringer fra 2. verdenskrig", Volume II, Norwegian Maritime Museum (all listed in My sources).