M/T KOLL, Attack & Survivor Narrative
By Eric T. Wiberg, Esq. www.uboatsbermuda.blogspot.com, August, 2014
M/T Koll under tow, with her “Odd Berg” ownership coloring on the funnel clearly visible.
Photo source: Picture received from Bjørn Pedersen, Norway, thanks to Dame Siri Lawson,
The motor tanker Koll was built by Deutsche Werft A. G., Betrieb Finkenwärder, in HamburgGermany in 1930. She was yard number 142. The ship was owned by Odd Bergs Tankrederdi A/S of Karl Johansgaten 1, Oslo, Norway. The tonnage is variously reported as 9,858 (Wrecksite.eu) and 10,044 (Uboat.net) gross registered tons. Since Jordan places the tonnage at 10,044, this figure prevails. She was capable of carrying 15,080 deadweight tons of petroleum cargo.
Koll’s dimensions were 505.4 feet long by 66 feet wide and 37.3 feet deep. Two diesel engines were built by MAN Diesel of Augsburg, Germany and developed 1,175 net horsepower, propelling the ship at 11 knots. She had a black funnel with a solid black letter “B” on a white disk. Earlier in the war the Koll had sailed from New York on the 19thof September 1939 and then arrived on the 5th of February and the 19thof September 1940, and sailed from the same port on the 9th of April 1941.
On the 15th of February 1942 Koll dispersed from Liverpool-originating Convoy ON 62 and arrived in ballast in Galveston Texas on the second of March. On her final voyage from Baytown, and Galveston Texas she left the latter port on Sunday the 29thof March 1942 bound for Halifax then, in convoy, to the Clyde River in the UK. Her cargo was 96,067 barrels of high grade diesel oil and was loaded in 22 tanks.
The charterers were the Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission, or NortraShips. In command that spring was Captain Einar Knudsen of Solum, Norway and under him were two gunners and 29 merchant officers and sailors. The two British gunners were James Denny and John Coyle, and they operated a 3-inch gun situated on the ship’s after deck. Although most of the crew were Nowegian there were two Swedes and a Canadian as well. One of the Norwegians was a military soldier to help man the US-made 3-inch gun and six Marlin and one Lewis machine guns.
At 10:30 am on Monday the 6thof April the Koll was 350 nautical miles east southeast of Cape Hatteras and 220 nautical miles northwest from Bermuda. Visibility was excellent, it was daylight, the seas were smooth and the weather fine. The ship’s course was 39 degrees north-northeast for Halifax and her speed was 10 knots. There were three lookouts: two on the bridge wings and one at the after gun.
Meanwhile Koll was not alone in the Gulf Stream that day. The German submarine U-571 underKorvettenkapitän Helmut Möhlmann had left La Pallice, France on the 10th of March and had already sunk one ship, the Hertford, on this patrol, on the day the Koll left Texas. They were looking for another large tanker, and on the 6th of April the Koll sailed across the submarine’s sites. Just a few hours after exchanging Easter messages with U-202 under Linder, Möhlmann noted “large tanker in sight ahead on general course 30.” Noting that the ship was making small zig zags, the submarine spent an hour getting ahead of it to line up a shot.
Kapitänleutnant Helmut Möhlmannof U-571
Photo source: http://www.uboat.net/men/moehlmann.htm
At 5 pm German time Möhlmann fired two shots from tubes II and III, set for four and five meters. He notes that “the tanker filled the entire periscope at low magnification. After 22 seconds and 21 seconds running time both hit, forward 40 and aft 50 meters (in the engine room).” U-571 then surfaced to eject the torpedo in Tube V which proved a “runner” – it never left the chamber, but spent its energy inside the tube.
From the surface Möhlmann noted that “Tanker settles quickly deeper, especially aft, where below the smokestack a firs starts, rotates around its own axis and sinks up to the bow with 30 to 40 meters pointing vertically upwards. The whole thank lasted 809 minutes. He floats like a tumbler toy.” As a coup-de-grace Möhlmann’s men fired five cannon hits into the bow. The commander notes how “…a thick stream of oil pours from a hit, and it burns inside. The crew completely rushed for the most part to the boats that float without sails.”
The German continues: “On our approach the men lift up their hands anxiously. The name they give as KNOLL – Oslo (10044 GRT). Crew English. Gave some bread as thanks. Because the foreship is still not sinking further, cannon ready and after another 25 hits he goes burning to onto the deep. The oil on the water has also caught fire and many hundreds of square meters of the Atlantic burns and black smoke rises 400-500 meters up into the sky. That was again something for our P.K. man” – meaning propaganda photographer on board for the mission.
A photo presumably taken from U-571 showing the rapidly burning oil cargo of the Koll. This also shows the otherwise clear visibility and calm conditions.
Photo source: http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ships/1506.html
On board the Koll of course the Norwegian and British men could not afford to be so dispassionate about the ongoing casualty as Möhlmann. The first torpedo penetrated deep into the engine room on the port side, the second a few moments later in the pump room. These killed First Engineer Einar Gulbrandsen and Mechanic Johannes Kjøne, both Norwegian. They also started fires and severed steam lines. The fires went out as the stern sank, leaving the bow above water in less than three minutes. There was never an opportunity to send an SSS signal via radio.
The submarine surfaced and fired 4-5 shots into the port bow, then circled and placed the same amount into the starboard bow from 3-400 yards away. Soon the bow sank. The first of these shells appeared to be of the explosive, the latter of the incendiary type. The British gunners never had a chance to bring their gun to bear as by the time the submarine surfaced five minutes into the attack the stern gun was already under water. Captain Knudsen was able to ensure that the confidential papers were sunk in a weighted bag
Insignia for U-571. The Koll survivors described it to US Navy interrogators. They said it was “a shield having a red background with white vertical stripes surmounted by a fluted crest painted red and white.” The colors are in fact a white field with a red cross, according to expert George Hogel.
Photo source: http://www.uboataces.com/ref-insignia45.shtml
The 30 survivors were able to successfully launch three lifeboats, a feat considering the speed of the attack and sinking. Canadian Ordinary Seaman Eric d’Apering made it to a raft and to avoid being burned took off his clothes and paddled away from the fires. He was taken aboard a lifeboat. According to survivors Möhlmann brought U-571 over to each lifeboat, “asked for the name and nationality of the ship, inquires as to their food, gave one boat tinned biscuits” – Möhlmann said it was bread. The victims were convinced that their attackers were either Italian, based on the submarine type, or French, based on the commander asking if they spoke that language.
The men then divided themselves into the three lifeboats, with ten men in each. One of the boats was a motorboat. The following day this convoy came across one of the lifeboats from the Kollskegg, a tanker from the same firm in Norway which had been sunk by U-754 under Oestermann that day. Because of the weather all they could do was establish the names of their respective sunken tankers before they were separated.
For two days the boats stuck together but on Wednesday the 8th of April they became separated. The motor boat, presumably under the command of Captain Knudsen, was discovered by the Portuguese steam ship Cunene on Saturday the 11th of April. They searched for the other two boats but did not find them. The Cunene was known as the Adelaide until 1916 – she was built in 1911 in Germany and was 5,875 gross registered tons. Her dimensions were 450 feet by 58 feet wide and 25.6 feet deep and when built she could make 12 knots. Her owners were the Sociedade Geral de Comercio, Industria e Transported Limitada of rua do Comercio, Lisbon. This neutral ship graciously stopped to pick up the Koll survivors and took them to Lisbon, where they were landed on Saturday the 25th of April.
The Portuguese steam ship Cunene, ex-Adelaide, built 1911 as seen on a Maldivian postage stamp.
Photo source: http://www.seemotive.de/html/frachter.htm
On Wednesday April 15ththe Swiss ship St. Cergue (the same which later rescued survivors from the Dutch ship Jagersfontein on 27 June 1942 east of Bermuda) stopped to rescue ten men in the second lifeboat under command of the Second Mate Karsten Izdal. The rescue took place at 4:30 am remarkably close to where the Koll went down – less than two miles, if the figures are correct. The St. Cergue had a remarkable story of its own.
The Swiss steam ship St. Cergue at Norfolk International Terminals in March 1940.
Photo source: http://npl.norfolk.gov/netpub/server.np?find&catalog=catalog&template=detail.np&field=itemid&op=matches&value=85414&site=nplimages
The St. Cergue was registered to Basel (after being flagged to Panama earlier in the war). It was one of several Swiss ships which had a Swiss national as a captain: Captain “Fritz Gerber began his career in 1898, at the age of eighteen, on a sailboat assigned to Bremen. The captain continued on German ships, sent to Siberia and the Far East. At the beginning of World War II, Gerber was first appointed captain St. Cergue, and then led the team on the other Swiss ships.” Gerber was skipper of the St. Cergue at the time of her rescue of the Koll survivors.
In early June 1941 Dutch resistance fighter Peter Tazelaar “mustered as a stoker on the Panamanian-flagged, Swiss freighter St-Cergue. The ship was in the port of Schiedam and was voyaging to New York to pick up a supply of corn for the Germans.” The ship, formerly known as the British Felldene until 1939, was 4,332 gross tons and flagged to Panama then Basel. She arrived in New York on the 29th of March 1940, and in 1941 sailed from that port on the 13th of August, the 8th of October, and the 6thof December. In 1942 she sailed from New York on the 19th of February, the 25th of April (after rescuing Koll survivors) and the 20th of June
On Thursday the 16th of April the third and final lifeboat with nine survivors, including 41-year-old First Mate Arne Tvedt of Haugesund was discovered by the Portuguese ship Lobito at 7:30 am. The fortunate Canadian Eric d’Apering was also on board. The lifeboat had made it 200 miles to the north-northwest in ten days – an average of 20 miles a day or just under 1 knot. One man, a Steward named Sigurd Askeland, died of exposure during the travails and was buried at sea. They were 230 nautical miles from Lewes, Delaware, just inside the Delaware capes, where the Lobito dropped them off at 7:05 pm on Friday the 17th of April.
The Lobito had three previous names, going back to 1906 when she was built: Porto Alexandre until 1924, Ingbert until 1916 and Thora Menzell until 1913. She was owned by the Companhia Colonial de Navegacao of Rua do Instituto Virgilio Machado 14, Lisbon. She was a general cargo ship of 2,720 tons with dimensions of 295.1 feet by 43.11 foot beam and 15 foot draft capable of 9.5 knots.
A contemporary news account (by necessity censored) from the Joplin, Missouri Globe on April 22, 1942 was headlined “Nine in Lifeboat Tossed Food by German Sub Crew.” It reads “Half-clothed seamen who drifted 10 days after their ship was sunk off Bermuda Easter Monday reach American shores in state of exhaustion.” The AP filed the story 21 April. It describes the Koll men as “…haggard and exhausted after drifting 10 days at sea, said a German submarined crew…. Tossed them food as they huddled in a lifeboat. Nine of the crew of 30 from the Norwegian ship were landed here from the Portuguese freighter Lobito. Two men were killed outright when the U-boat’s first torpedo struck, the survivors said. One man in their boat died last Tuesday [14th April] and was buried at sea.”
Several of the men landed in both Lewes Delaware and New York Harbor were placed in the Norwegian Hospital in Brooklyn, New York for recuperation.
Fold3.com – for the war diaries and deck logs
Holm Lawson, Siri, warsailors.com, for exhaustively detailed account of the Koll and her loss
Jordan, Roger, The World’s Merchants Fleets 1939, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1999
Mason, Jerry, www.uboatarchive.net, www.uboatarchive.net/KTB571-4.htm
Mozolak, John, “New York Ships to Foreign Port, 1939 – 1945,” http://janda.org/ships/
“Survivors Statements” including the Panama portion of Souza’s narrative, from NARA, in Washington DC, as found by Michael Constandy, www.westmorelandresearch.org. Formal citation: Survivor’s Statements (1941-1942) Series : Papers of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, compiled 1941 – 1974. Record Group 38: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1875 – 2006 Entry P-13. National Archives at College Park – Textual Reference (Military) 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740
Seemotive.de source for the Cunene/Maldives postage stamp, http://www.seemotive.de/html/frachter.htm
Uboataces.com for the insignia of U-571, http://www.uboataces.com/ref-insignia45.shtml
Uboat.net for much of the information, including photos of U-boat Commander and its victim, http://www.uboat.net/men
Warsailors.com for excellent photo of Koll as well as her earlier history under Norwegian ownership and operation, http://www.warsailors.com/singleships/koll.html
Wrecksite.eu for specifications and history of Koll: http://www.wrecksite.eu
Wynn, Kenneth, U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997