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|This section will contain personal stories that have been sent to me by Merchant Marine War Veterans. I strongly encourage others to send me more, whether long or short, it doesn't matter - it's so important they get recorded. Contact address can be found at the bottom of this page. This could also be a way of finding old shipmates, or use my Find Old Shipmates forum for that. To save me a lot of work I would prefer receiving the stories either as an E-mail or in a Word doc. attachment, but if this can't be done, I'd be glad to receive a handwritten document in the regular mail.
Fritjof Remø's Story | Don Hunter's Story - M/T Gard | Bill Elsigood's Story - Southern Gem | Christian S. Christensen's Story | Torleiv Sandseth's Story | Axel G. Axelson/Fagerfjell | Fred Turner - Misc. Norw. Ships | Oskar Skjold's letter to his wife & Diary/Borgholm/Blenheim
Fritjof Remø sailed from Nov.-1940 until May-1946. He had 4 brothers who were also seamen, and a sister who served for the Red Cross and worked as a nurse in Gt. Britian. All 6 made it home safely in the course of 1945/46. Altogether the brothers sailed on 17 ships; Sverre and Johan on M/S Potomac (British?), D/S Polyana, M/T O. B. Sørensen, D/S Sørvangen and D/S Germa, Sigbjørn with M/T Basilea, Aksel with D/S Loke, M/S Bonneville, M/S Somerville, D/S Idefjord, M/S Tercero and M/S Kong Sverre. In addition to M/K Brattholm I, which was the ship he and his friends escaped with, Fritjof sailed on M/S Ingria, M/S General Ruge, M/S Fernwood, M/S G.C. Brøvig (all these ships are included in my ship lists - an alphabet index has been provided at the bottom of this page). Their father was also involved in the war in his own way, by helping people escape to England, and Fritjof also had another sister who was involved in "illegal" activities in Oslo.
Fritjof says he left in secrecy; packed a suitcase with some food and clothes, then lowered himself down through his bedroom window late one night in Nov.-1940.
My own comments are in Italic text in paranthesis.
In the years between the 2 world wars it was still common to have large families, especially along the coast and in the countryside of Norway, though some families had no children, others had a dozen. On one of the neighbouring islands there was a family with sixteen children, says Fritjof Remø in an interesting article about his family's involvement in WW II.
There were 10 of us, 6 boys and 4 girls who grew up at Remøy, Southern Sunnmøre in Herøy municipality. Both our parents, Sara and Sigvald Remø, were from the same place. They had a small farm with a few cows, a horse and some sheep, but the main source of income came from the sea, from fishing and seal catching. Farming was an extra source of income along the coast. For the most part my father fished on the coast and near Iceland, or caught seals in the western and eastern ice areas, experiencing good times as well as bad, including the loss of his vessel.
Mother was responsible for the running of the farm when father was gone, and as we children grew up we had to help as best we could. We boys also fished for our table, and we very much enjoyed taking our six-oared boat out on the fjord to try our luck, with the resulting blisters in our hands as we struggled against the south-westerly through the years. The oldest of the brothers, Sverre is 95 years old now, and I, being the youngest am 78. One brother died early in his teens, and another, Johan who lived in the U.S. died in Seattle when he was 70 years old. Other than that the rest of us are still going strong (8 of the siblings are still alive, the oldest is 98). As soon as we were confirmed (age 15 in Norway, which has a state Lutheran Church) we joined a vessel to take part in the ocean fishing or seal catching; in the meager 1920's and 30's we didn't get much for this work so many joined ships sailing abroad, which usually paid better, although nobody got rich on those salaries either.
When the WW II broke out my 4 brothers Sverre, Johan, Sigbjørn and Aksel were at sea, 3 of them far afield, the 4th, Aksel, having paid off before Apr.-1940 (German invasion of Norway) as he planned to go to Radio School. I was out catching walrus and Greenland Shark in the Davis Straits during the summer and fall of 1939, and seal in the western ice areas in the spring of 1940. When the Germans attacked Norway on Apr. 9 all the catchers there gathered near the edge of the ice, about 10-12 altogether, unsure about the news from Norway, but as the situation became more clear the skippers decided to head for the north of Norway via Svalbard, arriving Tromsø in May. Veslemari, which I had served on, had lost her propeller in the ice and had been left and sunk there. In Tromsø I joined D/S Heilo, but not for long; the ship was taken by the Germans while we were loading dried cod at Henningsvær. I stayed on board until we arrived Porsgrunn, then paid off in July and went home.
In November that year, 7 of us, aged between 18 and 24, stole a 72 foot cutter, M/K Brattholm, and managed to take her to Iceland (the names of those who came along are listed in the text under Brattholm, along with a description of events). We arrived Reykjavik after 6 days. Brattholm was immediately taken over by the Norwegian authorities and hired out to British Sea War Transport for service on the coast of Iceland. We stayed at Seydisfjord on the east coast and our job was to supply the British units there. In 1942 we took Brattholm to Shetland where she was placed in North Sea service while we paid off. After the usual security checks in London, I joined M/S Ingria. We departed Hull in Febr.-1943 for USA, encountered the storms on the Atlantic and was torpedoed about half way. All of us were able to take to the boats, though 2 men were injured. After a few hours we were picked up.
In the fall of 1941 it was Aksel's and my sister Lydia's turn to head across the North Sea, together with others from the area as well as a few from the east part of Norway who needed to get to safety. The pilot vessel Rundø from Rundøy was chosen for the trip. After some difficulties getting the motor started, they took off and arrived Shetland safely. Now there were 6 of us siblings in service for the freedom of Norway. In Oslo our sister Mimi became involved in illegal activities, distributing illegal newspapers and helping people escape to Sweden. She was called in for questioning twice, and had to go under cover at the end of the war.
Six children abroad during the war.
Lydia at first worked at a hospital in London, before being enrolled in the army's unit and served at the Norwegian hospital in Edinburgh where so many Norwegian seamen and military personnel were patients.
Sverre was on board D/S Polyana as mate/radio operator when the ship was bombed in Great Yarmouth (this happened on Jan. 25-1941). He was wounded and admitted to a hospital, so he paid off. Polyana disappeared without a trace en route from Oban to Freetown 3 months later, in Apr.-1941 (torpedoed on Apr. 25 by U-103). Sverre worked for Nortraship in London both before and after the special operation in Norge. He joined the navy, and among other things he was on patrol service in the Channel. He was made 2nd leutenant, and after the war he was given the task of cleaning up after the Germans along the coast of Norway.
Johan also sailed as combined mate/radio operator before Apr.-1940. Later he sailed as mate and captain, mostly in the Pacific, but also on the east coast of USA., England and Murmansk. Sigbjørn sailed as electrician, also mostly in the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. He became sick and eventuallly had to leave the sea.
Seventeen different ships.
During my last trip from USA to England with M/T G. C. Brøvig all those who were able to were asked to meet on the boatdeck on May 8-1945, and the captain told us that the war was over. He thanked us on behalf of the King and Government for our contribution through 5 long years, and gave us a shot of Cognac. Some of us had tears in our eyes there and then, looking out across the Atlantic where so many ships had gone down, and where so many of our peers had been left behind in the waves. Our gaze turned towards the east where we knew our country was behind the horizon. Now we were going home! But those who had a wife and children were allowed to go home first, the rest of us who were younger couldn't go home for another year.
Remøy had about 300 inhabitants at that time, 9 of those served outside before Apr.-1940, 23 went out later, all of them came home, some with injuries to body and mind. It was almost a miracle taking into consideration the strong experiences most of them had had in various services. Now, 55 years after the war ended, when we can see the events in a historical light, we can say we are proud of having taken part in the biggest drama in Norway's history. "Never before have so few done so much for so many" as the seamen on the Norwegian ships. The statement that the Norwegian Merchant Marines meant as much as a million soldiers is only one of the statements made by prominent persons during and after the war.
I was a short time ago reading the replies posted on your website, because I was searching for any information concerning the Norwegian ship M.V. Gard, an oil tanker. I served as Radio Officer on her after I left the S.S. Thorshov until after the war ended. We carried high octane aviation fuel across from America, on the Atlantic convoys to Italy for the American and British Air offensive against the Germans who had continued the battle after the Italians surrendered (I always liked the Italians who really did not want to be in the War). On one trip across the Atlantic we ran into a hurricane and lost all our American new fighters which had been lashed on our decks, during one night. We had been overloaded with fuel in America and were out in mid-Atlantic. The storm lasted 3 days. That particular night we lost the planes we all thought we would not live to see the dawn, because in that sea, and being overloaded it was not uncommon for a tanker "to break its back", that is break in half. If that had happened our chance of survival was nil. Incidentally I was the only Englishman on the ship among the all Norwegian crew and I was treated very well indeed. When we left New York with our full load we were worried about the overload and when we arrived at the Ambrose light (which marks the channel in and out of New York) the sea was then gently lapping over our tanks. Apart from the well known threat of the U-boat, there was the weather. Sailing in convoy and meeting unexpected fog patches made the ever present danger of collision with the adjacent ships in your convoy very possible, also the North Atlantic weather was very unpredictable, especially during the winter months, the weather could change and deteriorate quite rapidly.
(See also my page about Gard).
William Elsigood says:
See also this Guestbook message, which says it was the Southern Pride that was damaged, and that Southern Gem was paid off in Cape Town.
If you served on this ship, please contact me at the address given further down on this page, and I'll supply you with the contact info for William Elsigood.
Christian S. Christensen's Story:
"Radio Officer Christian S. Christensen ended up staying out an extra long time - always in the danger zones of the Atlantic and Pacific. Still, he was lucky. Christian S. Christensen went to sea a week before war broke out in Sept.-1939. He was 16 1/2 years old. In Kristiansand he joined up as a mechanic on board M/T Barbro belonging to Arth. H. Mathiesen, Oslo. The plan was to stay on board for one trip, then go to High School. The first voyage was to Cuba, where the ship took on a cargo of molasses for Philadelphia.
Then Norway was attacked on Apr. 9-1940. Thus, his chances of returning home to complete the planned education were totally spoiled. He then sailed on M/T Britamsea belonging to Onstad Shipping, Oslo. Then he was on M/S Para belonging to J. L. Mowinchel, Bergen. This ship was in service between U.S.A. and England with important war stores, among other things ammunition and explosives.
In 1942 he went to "Little Norway" in Toronto to go to the Norwegian Air Force's radio school. After having passed his exams he joined M/S Tarn as radio operaor (Wilh. Wilhelmsen, Tønsberg). This ship was in regular service between New York and West-Afrika with war stores. He then joined M/T Beau belonging to Biørn Biørnsatd & Co., Oslo.
From Beau he changed to M/S Duala, belonging to Chr. Gundersen, Oslo (this was one of the 26 Norwegian ships interned in North and West Africa early in the war, see link at the bottom of this page). Captain was Ole Thommesen from Narestø. Duala was chartered to the American Navy and made several trips in the Pacific, also Pearl Harbor. She later followed the American invasion forces to Saipan, Guam and Tinian. Christian S. Christensen says that Duala was in the harbour of Tinian when the aircraft which dropped the first atom bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6-1945 took off from the island. "We knew nothing about this historic event until the plane returned, and then we understood something out of the ordinary had happened" says Christensen. The harbour area was strictly guarded the whole time and the use of radio was prohibited.
Christian S. Christensen came home to Norway in June-1946. Instead of 1 voyage at sea he ended up staying in this dangerous service for 7 years.
Christensen has also added the following:
Torleiv Sandseth was born 12 August 1916 in Lillesand. In 1939 he was on a Norwegian ship, the Fernwood. He made trips to Japan and the Middle East, and was on his way back to New York when the war started in Europe. He decided to sign off in NY and get a ship home to Norway. He wanted to go to Aalesund and attend Officers School for Navigation, where his uncle Hans was master. He got an old U.S. ship, which was bought by a Norwegian Company. It was going to Ireland with a load of sugar and then on to Oslo. It had a crew, but they refused to go to Europe because of the war so he was able to sign on board. The ship was the Norse King. It was going to be in Havana, Cuba, so he and the new crew were sent by Greyhound Busses from NYC to Miami, Florida, then by ferry to Cuba. The ship was not there yet, so they were put up in hotels for 1 week. When the ship arrived they found they were going to Dublin, Ireland. 2 days before reaching Dublin, they got the news that Germany had invaded Norway. They were in Dublin 2 weeks and then sent right over the Irish Sea to England. There, a four inch gun was placed on the back of the ship and they were trained to handle the gun as well as some smaller machine guns.
Then, they were sent to Montevideo, Uruguay. "It was a long trip. I had never really thought of how much water there is on this planet, but I tell you its a lot. We traveled for weeks, and saw hardly a ship, maybe 2 or 3 miles away, but the wireless operator told us there were allied warships chasing a small German battleship by the name of Graf Spee. There had been some battles, but she always slipped away, even after they had a few hits on her, and they were not far from where we were going. But we kept going. One early morning I was on look-out, I saw something far ahead, it was just like a little dot, so I reported to the bridge". They kept going, the mate called the captain, and found out the spot was a lifeboat. "We could see there were some people in it, so we stopped, and got it alongside. There were 4 people, but 1 was dead. So we managed to get the 3 onboard, they came from a British ship called Emperor of India (? See link to Norse King above). They got an empty cabin beside one of the mates, and I never saw them again. They were taken care of by the Brittish Consul in Montevideo. When we got in to where we got the pilot for Montevideo, he showed us the Graf Spee. It was laying tied up right inside the breakwater there. The crew was interned by the Uruguayan Navy for the duration of the war. On the way back to Dublin, I heard talk that we were to make another trip back to Montevideo. Thats when I decided to pay off in England". Since they were in a neutral country he and his friend, Leif Nilsen could not pay off in Dublin, but had to wait till they got to Liverpool.
He found out later after returning to Norway that the Norse King, on the way to South America, was found adrift, hit by a torpedo. The ship did not sink, so the crew, who had been in lifeboats, turned around and went back on board. "When the Navy found the ship, every man was killed. The logbook did not say anything about the sub coming back, but they assume that’s what happened, a very sad story, but it had happened before". That was one time, my father stated, he made the right decision!
I hope this additional information is helpful to you and others who are interested.
NOTE: Graf Spee had been scuttled in the La Plata River off Montevideo in Dec.-1939, following the Battle of the River Plate.
Tom also has a message in my guestbook, regarding his grandfather who also served on a Norwegian ship.
It is of much interest for me to read about your father and all he had to go through (see O. C. Holm at the bottom of this page). We, on Fagerfjell had a holiday compared to them who was right up in the tick of the war. Only when we sometime got a message mostly from an American ship that a German U-boat are close to you, we got a little exited. Fagerfjell was an old ship and the highest speed we could go was 13 knots, so maybe the U-boat captain did not think it was worth to bother with. Anyway he was not invited.
Axel, who is now 91 years old has also sent me another picture and says the following names were written on the back: Gustafson, Wilhelmson (Finnish), Myrvang, Sagard, Sundfar (ship's carpenter), Holmberg (also Finnish), Istad and Larsen. Axel would very much like to find out what happened to his friend Peter Rosberg, and has left several messages on my Find Old Shipmates Forum (use the search feature there, with keyword "Fagerfjell" to find them all). He says Peter was from Ålesund, and left Norway after the German occupation, went to Petsamo and got a Swedish ship there who was bound for New York. Axel never heard from Peter again after he paid off in Montevideo. They were both able seamen on board Fagerfjell. (See also my page about Fagerfjell).
First, let me express my sincere appreciation for all the work you have done, in obtaining information about Norwegian merchant ships, during the the war of 1939-1945. It was far superior than my inquiry to the Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum, in Oslo.
During the years 1943 to 1945, I sailed on four ships under the Norwegian flag. It was a great experience for a young man of 17 years, when I signed on my first ship, in New York City, with the Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission. I was sent to Baltimore, Maryland to sail on the M/T Solør. We proceeded to Philadelphia and sailed Nov. 19, 1943, with a cargo gasoline bound for Algiers, Algeria. The convoys going to this area always formed off the coast of Virgina. We docked in Algiers on the 15th of December, 1943. After unloading, we returned to America and landed in New York on Jan. 19th, 1944. I was hoping to obtain more information about this ship. I understand that this ship was sunk off the coast of England, somewhere in the English Channel, but I could not have this information confirmed. This tragedy may have happened in late 1944, or early 1945 (see my text under Solør, which Fred had not yet noticed when he sent me this note).
My next ship was the Ole Bull. It was an American Liberty Ship, but under the Norwegian flag. I joined this ship on January 26th, 1944. We had a cargo of various supplies. The most guarded was 24 thousand cases of beer for American troops and the balance was clothing and military supplies, of Russia. Again our convoy formed off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia. After sailing through the Mediterranean Sea, we docked at Alexandria, Egypt, in March 1944. We continued our voyage through the Suez Canal bound for a small port in Iran. We arrived there in June. After unloading our cargo, we returned to Norfolk, on August 9th, 1944. Believe my Captain [Fører] was S. Bernt. This may not be the exact name as the writing was difficult to decipher. I could not obtain any information or picture, of this ship (again, it looks like Fred had not noticed my text for Ole Bull. I have since made him aware of it).
My next ship was the M/T Britannia, which I joined on August 31st, 1944 in New York. We left New York and sailed for the Mediterranean again. On October 2nd, 1944 we were in Port Sudan. Our next port was Aden. We sailed up the Persian Gulf to Abadan. After loading with octane gasoline, we returned by the Red Sea, Suez Canal, to Naples. We were in Naples on the 16th of November, 1944. We arrived back in New York on the 13th of December, 1944. Our skibsfører was K. Haller, during that period of time. You have a picture of this ship, in your records (captain of Britannia was Johan Karsten Hallén).
My next ship was the M/S Stirlingville. I boarded this ship on January 12th, 1945, after a short leave to visit my family in Toronto, Ontario. We loaded our cargo in Philadelphia and sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia to join convoy bound for Liverpool, England. We were in Liverpool in March 1945, but I do not have the exact dates. We sailed back to New York and arrived in April 1945. We returned to Liverpool again in May. I believe the war in Europe was over when we docked. I remained on the Stirlingville for two more trips. One trip was from Baltimore to Avonmouth, England. My last trip was from New York August 1945 to Rotterdam, Holland, with a cargo of much needed food supplies. I returned to Montreal, Canada in October. This was my last venture. I must add, that it was a distinct pleasure and experience to sail with Norwegian seamen during that period of time. Their knowledge of the sea and navigation was outstanding and will always be remembered.
If you should obtain any Information about the Solør, or Ole Bull, please forward any details you can find.
Again, many thanks for all your efforts. God Bless you and all your family.
With sincere best wishes.
Frederick D. Turner
Oskar Skjold's letter & diary - D/S Borgholm & D/S Blenheim
Oskar's letter to his wife Amy, dated Yjmeden Jan. 25-1940:
We and Biarritz went out together. It's quite wrong to go out in the darkness of the night. Full speed, at 11:30 on the 24th I woke up from the ship shaking and jumped up, however, nothing happened. I dozed off again, but couldn't sleep, I was fully dressed, just waiting (like everyone else). It came Amy. A bang and I and several others thought it was us who had hit. But it was Biarritz. Oh God oh God -- She sank in 1/2 a minute and how they screamed, a messgirl onboard went into hysterics and I still keep hearing the sceams and all those who were in the sea screamed for help and for God.
Blackest night. A little moonlight. Calm seas. I'm crying while I'm writing this. They weren't in the boat for more than 1/2 an hour tops, but 3 died after they had come onboard in spite of all revival attempts. Among them was Vikstrøm, whom you might remember me talking about who was 2nd mate on Stromboli. 3 bodies were taken ashore here. I've given away almost all of the clothes I had because I had two men in my cabin as did the others. There were 27 passengers. Crew of 32. The ones who were saved were about 18-19 and the casualties about 40. I woman was calling for her husband, he was sitting in the boat, but couldn't answer her because of being so cold. She then let go and drowned. Another was newly married and expecting. What tidings!
I don't know how we can go on. Forgive me, but I think I'm just about done for, and the same goes for the others. We haven't done anything bad. If I make it home in one piece I'll let you read this. There's more but I can't talk about it.
Amy, you've got to help me.
Love Oskar (D/S Borgholm)
More Warsailor Stories - Page 2
I would again like to encourage others to send me more personal stories for inclusion on this page, these stories are very valuable.