MS Bris, Norwegian ship sunk by U-202/Schnee 20 April 1942, Trygve Thøverssen buried Charleston, other suvivors landed Parris Island USMC Base

SS BRIS, Attack& Survivor’s Narrative

by Eric T. Wiberg,, Feb. 2014

The Briswas a Norwegian steam ship of 2,027 gross registered tons which was sunk by U-201 on the night of 20th April 1942 230 nautical miles northwest of Bermuda and 330 miles east of Cape Hatteras. Bris was built in 1938 by Trondhjems Mekaniske Verksted in Trondheim Norway. The ship was 289 feet long, 44 feet wide and 18.4 feet deep. A triple-expansion steam engine produced 188 net horse power and propelled the ship at roughly 11 knots.

Her owners were M. Thorvik of Oslo. At the time of her loss Bris was part of the fleet of the Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission, who acted as the ship’s charterers. The agents in the United States were Dichmann & Wright of New York City. Bris’ final cargo consisted of asphalt in barrels and wheat flour in bags, comprising 2,800 tons. There were consigned to receivers in Natal, Brazil, though the discharge reports are also listed as Pernambuco and Bahia, which are also in Brazil. 

The ship originally left New York for Baltimore on the 12th of April. It presumably topped up on cargo before departing for Brazil on Saturday the 18th of April, 1942. Here voyage instructions were issued by the British Naval Control authorities in Baltimore.

Bris’ master on the final passage was Captain Einar Hansen, a Norwegian. He oversaw a crew of 25 persons, most of them Norwegian, with a US citizen as well as a Dane, one Brit, an Estonian and two Brazilians. One of the men, Able Seaman Johannes Hauge, doubled as a gunner. The ship was armed with a single 3-inch gun.

Bris gunner and Able Seaman Johannes Hauge of Norway

Source: Norwegian national archives,

Before lunch on Monday the 20th of April the men engaged in a fit of housekeeping which might have contributed to the ship’s doom: they gathered together and threw overboard “a great deal of debris consisting of packing mats and garbage,” which must have left a considerable trail, like Hansel and Gretel in the forest, for an enemy to follow.
On the night of Monday the 20th of April the men on the ship settled into a vigilant routine. After 6 pm the gunner, Johannes Hauge, stood down from his weapon and was resting below. Though the ship was 300 miles east of the killing grounds which Cape Hatteras had become, Captain Hansen insisted on continuing to zig-zag both day and night. Bris kept a course of 123 degrees, or east-southeast and was making 11 knots over water which was 18,000 feet deep. The second mate, Knut Hellen was in charge of the watch between the end of dinner and midnight.
There were three others keeping their eyes peeled for enemy submarines, which were known to be lurking those waters at that time: one man at the forecastle head at the very front of the ship, one at the wheel, and one roving the decks. According to witnesses, the wind was force 3 or about 15 knots, there were clouds but the visibility was still fair, and neither the moon nor other vessels were visible.
At 8:45 pm local time Bris was struck by a torpedo fired by U-201 under recently promoted Kapitänleutnant Adalbert Schnee. The boat’s symbol was a snowman, since Schnee means snow. Schnee’s torpedo struck the Bris forward, in the first and second cargo holds from the bow, about five feet below the waterline. The explosion forced water upwards and seemed to one survivor of multiple torpedo attacks on board as muffled, or smaller than the others. As a result the forward compartments quickly flooded.
Brislost control and veered off to the left, reducing its speed by some ten knots to just two knots. It continued this pathetic progress for five minutes or so before plunging to the depths, allowing most of the men to get off the ship safely. Unfortunately the propellers kept rotating, creating an immediate peril on the dark night and adding to the other-worldly terror that followed.
In the rush to get off the ship three men – Norwegian Chief Engineer Anton Gotfred Engebretsen, aged 49, Rolf Olaussen, 29, a stoker, and William England, 33, a British stoker, were caught in the ship’s large propellers and killed by them. The trauma of hearing and seeing their colleagues so violently killed in close proximity can only be imagined.
Captain Hansen managed to throw the secret codes overboard in weighted bag, however there was no designated radio operator in the 25-man crew and no SSS or SOS message was sent. Gunner Johannes Hauge did not have an opportunity to train or fire the 3-inch gun as the submarine was not sighted until men were in the water.
Three men that found themselves in the water say that the say U-201 emerge from the depths on Bris’ port side two minutes after the attack and before she went down. They say that Schnee maneuvered to less than 150 feet from the ship and that the sub was medium-sized, with a raked bow, dark paint scheme, and an “inverted cruiser spoon stern.” They said the conning tower was oval in shape and low, and that two dim lights illuminated its base. No signals were sent and the sub only remained surfaced for two or three minutes before diving again. Schnee never learned the name of his quarry.
Survivors managed to lower two life boats and get away from the doomed ship. Nine men jumped overboard, including the three who witnessed the sub off the port side. Three of the nine were killed. The other six were hauled aboard a lifeboat which already had 13 people in it, along with the body of the chief engineer, meaning that 20 men were in one boat and only three in another. Chief Engineer Engebretsen’s body was buried at sea. Soon the men in the overcrowded lifeboat met up with the Captain’s boat and transferred six men to it, meaning that there were 13 in the mate’s boat and nine in the captain’s.
At sunrise at 6 am three men (Chief Officer Konrad Kjaer Andersen, Boson Karl Misovil and Gunner Hauge) were convinced that they saw the periscope of a submarine. They said it mounted a flashing red light (unlikely really as that would give away its presence, the very purpose of which was secrecy and surprise), and “a metal flag on the very top which was jerked in several directions.” By their account it remained on the surface for 30 minutes. However Schnee’s log does not cite seeing any lifeboats. The waters around them were thick with submarines and it might have been U-654, U-575, U-572, U-402, U-109, or U-86. An examination of the KTB or war diaries of these submarines shows no mention by any of them of having sighted lifeboats.
The last the two lifeboats saw of each other was at 7 am the morning of Tuesday 21st April. Then they set off on their own for land. Though they were only 225 miles north-northwest of Bermuda and 325 east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, they opted to cross the Gulf Stream and make for the US mainland, which there were less likely to miss and where more marine traffic could be expected.
Between the morning of the 21st and for a week until the 27th the weather was described as “very rough,” and the survivors were soaked through constantly by spray and rain. Thereafter the conditions improved to “warm to hot” during daytime and cold in the nighttime.
For the next two weeks the boat with thirteen men in it lead by Chief Mate Andersen didn’t see either ships or airplanes. Although they encountered very rough weather and the lifeboat capsized twice, for the first thirteen or so days out of a fifteen-day ordeal their physical condition and morale were high. At the outset of their voyage the men had 200 liters of water, 30 pounds of corned beef (Pemmican), ten tins of milk, each of 14 ounces and 100 pounds of sea biscuits, according to their statements to rescuers.
When the boat was overturned twice on the fifth day of their ordeal, the 26th of April, they were only able to retrieve 100 pounds of sea biscuit and 35 liters of life-saving water. At times the men were immersed in water for twenty minutes at a stretch as they frantically worked to save their craft. By noon on the 3rd of May all of these rations were depleted and the men’s mental and physical health began to deteriorate.

Then came salvation: at 8:15 pm on May 3rdan Army airplane sighted the lifeboat which attracted its attention with red flares and a white flag at position The men had voyaged roughly 450 miles. According to the Eastern Sea Frontier Enemy Action Diary, a later flight by the Army Air Corps at 1:42 am May 4th reported sighting three lifeboats. It is possible the plane sighted Bris’ other lifeboat with Captain Hansen and 8 other men in it and yet another boat from one of the numerous ships sunk by U-boats off the Hatteras area that bloody spring.

These aircraft vectored a Marine Corps tug (YT-132, mistakenly described as “CGC 132”) from Parris Island Marine Base and a pilot boat from Savannah Georgia to look for the life boats. At 5:15 am on the 4thof May the YT-132 picked up the 13 Bris survivors and landed them at Parris Island Marine Base at 10:30 am.
Two of the men, one of them Messman Marcelius Van Ryswyk, suffered from exhaustion, in his case compounded by a back injury. Perhaps because of the poor diet or lack thereof, one of the men suffered a prolapsed rectum. On shore the men were well looked after by Lieutenant Commander W. S. Dorough, Marine Corps, US Naval Reserve, Medical Officer in attendance at Parris Island.
Dorough found ailments ranging from hematomas, abrasions, abscesses, hemorrhoidal bleeding, mild exhaustion and dehydration. His treatment included “stimulation (whiskey and coffee), soups, fruit juices, milk and toast. Complete rest in bed after warm baths (either bed or shower).
The boat under the command of Captain Hansen appears to have overturned in the bad weather not twice but three times. It was discovered by aircraft sooner than the mate’s boat, but rescued at almost exactly the same time. On May 2nd, about 3 pm a bomber from the 52ndBomber Squadron sighted Captain Hansen’s lifeboat with nine men in it. The plane dropped water and a note that the plane would send further assistance to the men. (According to, “a gallon of water, fruit and sandwiches down to them along with a note saying “Are radioing for help”).”
Hansen’s boat must have been considerably further north than the mates, since it sailed northwest for 122 miles between when the bomber sighted it and when it was rescued by the US-flagged tanker Chester O. Swain on the 4thof May at 6:20 in the morning, or almost exactly an hour after the other Bris men were rescued. The Chester O. Swainwas built as the Albertolite for Esso in 1921 and according to Auke Visser made 32 trips between Haifa and Tripoli.


Chester O. Swain, Source Auke Visser’s Esso Tankers site,

When rescued Captain Hansen’s boat was only five miles off Cape Fear, North Carolina. Sadly, the Third Engineer, Trygve Thøverssen, passed away while on board the Chester O. Swain, so close to salvation. He died at noon on the 4th of May. The eight remaining survivors were landed at the US Coast Guard base in Charleston, South Carolina at 8 pm that night. Captain Hansen, Knut K. Helland, Second Mate, and AB Reif Simensen were treated at Roper Hospital. According to the others were put up on a local hotel. Third Engineer Thøverssen was buried in Charleston.


Trygve Thøverssen, Third Engineer of the Bris, buried in Charleston, SC.


“Survivors Statements” from NARA, in Washington DC, as found by Michael Constandy, Formal citation: Survivor’s Statements (1941-1942) Series : Papers of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, compiled 1941 – 1974Record 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 the pre-eminent source of information on U-boats, www.uboat.netand

Auke Visser’s International Esso Tankers Site, for specs of the ship: