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M/S Panama Express
Updated Apr. 21-2012

To Panama Express on the "Ships starting with P" page.

Source: Sverre Johansens postcard collection.

Manager: Sigurd Herlofsen & Co. A/S, Oslo
4200 gt

Built in Landskrona, Sweden in 1940.

Fruit carrier, which operated for Skibs-A/S Fruit Express Line.

Captain: Thomas L. Thommesen, all through war.
Chief Engineer: Asbjørn Andresen.
Steward: Brynjulv Granaas.

Related items on this website:
Guestbook message from the daughter of Knute Grytebust, who served on Panama Express (still around, Febr.-2008). He also served on Ruth I.
Guestbook message - From the daughter of Dagfinn Helvik, who served as cook all through the war.
Another Guestbook message re this ship. From the diary of Loren Florell, who served on the US Navy ship LSM 422, it says on Dec. 7-1945:
"Four years ago today was the Pearl Harbor disaster. The 'Panama Express', a Nowegian freighter, came through the locks. The locks are 54 ft. wide, and the freighter is 51 ft. wide, a tight squeeze. Got acquainted with the chief engineer of the freighter, Mr. Anderson. We showed him all over our ship and he showed us his. The engines are enormous. One piston weighs two tons, 28 inch diameter and several feet high. Has wonderful refrigeration system, they carry fruit and vegetables--fresh. His room looks like a hotel room. The ship is spic & span, the cleanest I have ever seen. He left Norway 4 days before the Germans invaded, kept in touch with his family through the underground."

Her voyages are listed on these original images from the Norwegian National Archives:
(unfortunately, a couple of the cans have some text missing in the margin)
Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6 | Page 7

 Misc. War Details: 

From the spring of 1940 until Sept. 1945 Panama Express transported a total of 140 000 tons cargo and over 16 700 soldiers, sailing 327 653 miles.

Some of what follows is from a story found in a Norwegian magazine (see my sources at the end of this page). It'll be noticed that some of the details in this account don't quite match up with the voyages listed on the archive documents. Her 1940 voyages are shown on Page 1 and Page 2. The latter document also has some 1941 voyages, while the rest are listed on Page 3.

When Norway was invaded on Apr. 9-1940 she was directed to proceed to Bermuda where she stayed for 3 weeks, before being placed in the banana trade between Vancouver B.C./Seattle–Panama, until Aug.-1942 (March?).

Panama Express was among the first to be attacked by a Japanese submarine. She was on a voyage from San Pedro to Manzanillo on Dec. 21-1941 when a torpedo was spotted, then another from another direction, making them believe that *more than one submarine was in on the attack. Both missed, and she was able to avoid further attacks by zig-zag'ing at full speed. The sub surfaced and followed but was unable to reach her speed and gave up the chase. (Note that according to Page 3 she was in Los Angeles on that date).

* I've received an E-mail from Sander Kingsepp, who's involved in research of the wartime movements and actions of Imperial Japanese submarines at the website (see link at the end of this page), saying the following:
"Your entry on M/S Panama Express describes a submarine attack on that vessel which took place en route from San Pedro to Manzanillo on 21 December 1941. The given location suggests that the attacking submarine was the Japanese I-19, which reported two separate attacks on merchants in that area during that time. Contrary to the report, there were no other Japanese submarines patrolling in that area. In fact, attacking one merchant with several submarines would have been against the current orders of IJN."

The next time she arrived San Pedro 18 of the crew wrote a memo to the captain saying they would turn in their notice unless something was done about the lacking (non existent) armament on board, or unless convoy protection could be provided. None of the above demands could be met on the spot, but they all agreed to stay on until such protection could be given. They finally received some guns in San Pedro in March (Aug.?) of 1942.

She then transported military supplies from California to Balboa for a while, bringing bananas on her return trips. On one of her voyages she had 156 torpedoes in her hold, and hand grenades as deck cargo. (Her 1942 voyages start on Page 4 and continue on Page 5, which also shows her 1943 voyages). In the fall of 1943 she went to Brisbane to be converted to troop ship for about 800 men (again, see Page 5), and was subsequently in service Brisbane/New Guinea/Philippines, taking part in the war operations there. (It'll be noticed, when going back to Page 5, that she appears to have spent a long time in Sydney, where she had arrived from Brisbane on Nov. 2-1943; departure is given as Apr. 11-1944, when she returned to Brisbane, then on to Oro Bay - Page 6 has further 1944 voyages).

One of her problems with regard to being in convoys was her speed; her engines were not suitable for the slow pace of the convoys. In a convoy from Leyte to Hollandia she was given permission to proceed at her own fast speed, in order to "clean the engine", and from then on she was allowed to go alone, or with a destroyer as escort.

On May 5-1945 she was en route to Leyte and Manila, when she in the Coral Sea was ordered by the Naval authorities in Townsville to assist the American steamer Point San Pedro, which had engine trouble, and she arrived the following morning. The steamer also had the American M/S Deutgan in tow, which had also experienced engine problems. Within a couple of days Panama Express had towed both ships to Milne Bay, New Guinea, a distance of 234 miles. Both American ships were in service for US Army Transport and were in ballast, with a total of 200 people on board. Panama Express' voyages in this period are listed on Page 6, while the rest of her voyages (to Apr.-1946) are shown on Page 7.

See also M/S British Columbia Express.


Returned to owners when in Australia on Apr. 15-1946 after having taken part in the demobilization. On June 18-1946 she came to Kristiansand, Norway. Sold to Salenrederierna A/B, Stockholm in1959, and renamed Buccanero. Sold to Singi Navigation Corp, Taiwan in 1965 and renamed Sinteh Reefer. (See also this external page, which says she was broken up in the fall of 1972).

Related external link:
Japanese submarines

Back to Panama Express on the "Ships starting with P" page.

The text on this page was compiled with the help of: "Nortraships flåte", J. R. Hegland, "Krigsseileren", Issue No. 3 for 1986, E-mail from R. W. Jordan and misc. (ref. My sources).


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