SS Anna, Swedish steamer, sunk U-404/von Bülow, June 3 1942, rescued by Swiss Saentis

SS ANNA, Attack & Survivor’s Narrative

 by Eric Troels Wiberg,, March, 2014

The Swedish steamship Anna was built in 1924 by the German firm of Howaldtswerke AG in Kiel. She was 1,345 gross registered tons, sometimes reported at 1,573 tons. Anna was a smallish steam freighter, 249.8 feet long by 37.2 feet wide and 15.9 feet deep. She was capable of 9.5 knots. Her funnel was black with a blue J on a yellow band. Her owners were the A. Th. Jonassons Rederi AB of Råå , Sweden, which is just south of Helsingborg in the southwest of the country. The overall owner was Mauritz Jonasson of Langgatan in Råå.

SS Anna, port-side view, c/o Sjöhistoriska Museet, Stockholm

According to expert Roger W. Jordan her main business was tramping or non-liner trades. In New York, from which she sailed between 1940 and 1942, Anna was represented by agents Blidberg Rothschild Company at 80 Broad Street in New York City.

Starting with her arrival in New York on August 28th, 1940 she returned there on December 3rd that year, then in 1941 on January 16th, March 3rd, April 9th, August 1stand November 5th – apparently shuttling supplies for the growing military presence in Bermuda, some 700 miles to the southeast. In 1942 Anna sailed again on January 3rd, January 28th, February 18th, April 3rd and left New York for the last time on the 12thof May.

The Anna’s diminutive size is reflected in her comparatively small crew: there were just 20 men. The Master was Captain John N. Swensson and Chief Officer Anders Christian Froberg, both Swedish. The Second Mate was Danish and the crew included, on top of eight Swedes, two Danish, five Finns, a Dutchman, Portuguese, Norwegian, and an Estonian.

There was also a Swiss national named Otto Leum who was known as “Otto the Seafarer” who was a greaser in the engine room. Leum had jumped off a Swiss ship in New York, complaining that conditions on the fledgling Swiss blue-water fleet were sub-standard and promising his mates not to step foot on a Swiss vessel again.

Captain Swensson told Lieutenant Commander C. C. Vickery, US Naval Reserve, that “three times in running between Norfolk and Bermuda he had encountered submarines at approximately the same distance from Bermuda,” which is 200 miles from the Anna’s destination. One of these incidents has been verified as an attack by the German submarine U-98, under Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Schulze on 19thMay, 1942. The war diary of U-98 under for the incident reads:

“At 1345 see “at least” three vessels. A US Coast Guard cruiser (Campbell class) [USS HEROIC, AMc84] and two freighters [Swedish SS FREDEN and ANNA], approx. 5000-6000 tons, doing approx. 11 knots. They are down to their last three bow torpedoes, so they plan to attack the cruiser first, then the two freighters.

At 1508, they try to fire the first torpedo, and have difficulty getting it out, but I don’t understand the details. It sounds like they fire the other two, before they discover a fourth vessel, a “U-boat hunter” [USS OWL] behind the second freighter (at 1519).

1535 – discover a fifth vessel, a converted fishing steamer (“guard vessel”), which turns and comes towards them, so they go down to 40m. [this is most likely the USS HEROIC, an armed merchant cruiser – in reality there were only four vessels in the convoy total].

1555 two Wabo (water bomb or depth charges) damage the U-boat, which takes in some water, and becomes difficult to control. They manage to stabilize it at 85 meters [280 feet].

1618 two additional Wabo [depth charges] detonate at 45m, but aren’t as close as the previous ones.

1643 – can no longer hear enemy…..”

The Anna and the entire convoy escaped since the submarine’s firing equipment was off calibration due to the depth charge attack/s. It was a close call by any standard and shots had indeed been fired, as the USS Owl personnel attested to having had a torpedo pass ahead of its bow. Since the Anna had left New York on the 12th of May it must have proceeded to Norfolk laden to join a convoy for Bermuda and left about Virginia about the 15th of May. Presumably it sailed to Bermuda, discharged, and turned around for Norfolk again post-haste in order to have set out again from Norfolk on or about the 1st of June.

On her final voyage the Anna loaded 1,739 tons of coal in Norfolk destined for St. George’s, Bermuda. Additionally on her deck she carried two motor boats for the US navy. Details of the specifications and names of these vessel are not made clear in the record, so they must have been fairly small. The instructions Captain Swensson received from the US Navy were simply to steer a straight course for Bermuda, and so the ship was not zig-zagging.

At 9:45 pm local time on Tuesday June 2rd1942 local time First Officer Froberg was the only man in the bridge standing watch. The Anna was being steered to the southeast at eight knots. Their position was roughly 34.10N by 68.22W, or 200 nautical miles northwest of Bermuda, 430 miles east-southeast of Norfolk and 365 miles from Cape Hatteras. There was no breeze to speak of, the sea was calm, no other ships were in sight, and no moonlight. The Anna was completely blacked out. She was neither armed nor was she equipped with a radio with which to call for help. There was a large Swedish flag painted on her sides, however they were not illuminated.

At 9:45 a surfaced submarine was sighted by the lone Froberg, coming right at the ship on a reciprocal, or westerly course. It was the German U-boat U-404 under Kapitänleutnant Otto von Bülow. Immediately the First Officer turned hard to port to avoid a collision, and began frantically zigzagging to further throw off the aim of the submarine.

Otto von Bülow, Source:

At 10:09 pm, when both officers had been able to collect their wits and decide on the best course of action von Bülow fired a torpedo, which missed. Then he lined up a bow shot from ahead at roughly 10:50 pm, however this one missed as well. One of the shots passed the bow a mere 6 feet ahead of the ship, which Froberg credited to the ship’s zig-zag course.

This chase continued for nearly two hours, until 11:30 at night, by which time Captain Swensson was on the bridge and the small crew were all fully alert to the dangers which once more faced them on the high seas. This time there was no convoy or escort on which to rely. But the captain thought he might have an ace up his sleeve.

Realizing that his ship was outgunned (the Swede was unarmed after all) and out maneuvered (submarines could achieve more than 20 knots on the surface, some three times Anna’s speed), Captain Swensson stopped his shop and had the crew shine lights on the neutral flags painted on Anna’s side. This peace offering provoked an unintended result: the Germans opened fire from close quarters with rounds of shell fire. The firing lasted for roughly seven minutes, until the German gunners were blinded by the ship’s lights as well as the Swede’s use of signal lamp in an effort to communicate with the sub.

Three of Anna’s men were injured by the shelling, none of them seriously: Swedish sailor Gunnar Persson, Norwegian sailor Kaare Sorensen and the Swiss greaser Otto Luem. Von Bülow was not convinced that the Anna merited neutrality treatment, as she had been proceeding darkened and, at least after seeing the U-boat, on a zig-zag course. Furthermore the presence of 2 military boats on deck, visible to the Germans probably did not bolster the Swedes’ case. In any event, von Bülow pressed ahead with an attack, but not before allowing the crew to abandon ship.

By 11:45 all 20 men were clear of the Anna, in two different lifeboats, four of them in the port-side lifeboat and 16 in the starboard boat. Soon they were able to meet and divide up to equal numbers – ten men – in each boat. Once the men were clear the Germans in U-404 began circling the Anna to dispatch her with gunfire. The Anna officers and crew estimate that they used some 20 rounds of shells on the ship, so the firing must not have been very intense.

The Anna men were hoping, in the early morning hours of Wednesday 3 June that they might re-board and salvage their ship, however at 3:30 in the morning they heard a loud explosion from the stern of the Anna. She sank rapidly thereafter. Though the Swedes felt that the Germans must have packed explosives on board and then returned to the sub rather than waste a third torpedo on their small quarry, in fact von Bülow had his men fire three rounds directly into the holds, causing a destructive explosion and finishing the job.

Anna from the starboard bow, Source:

As the sun etched itself across the eastern sky at 5:30 am U-404 was seen to leave the area, heading in a northeasterly direction towards where it had sunk another ship, the West Notus, the day before (in that instance they had indeed used explosive charges). U-404 never approached survivors with questions (after all they knew she was Swedish and could see her name and that all men had abandoned her, and look up the details in a manual they carried for just that purpose).

As a result the Anna men never had a close look at their adversary, just fleeting glimpses as the U-boat circled their ship lobbing missiles into it in the distance. As a result the Anna men’s intelligence on the characteristics of the submarine were vague and not terribly helpful to the US naval authorities who interviewed them later.

At dawn the survivors decided to spread out in order to increase the chances of their being spotted by passing ships. The boats headed west-northwest for 27 nautical miles over 11 hours, for an average speed of about two knots, to the position 34°08N/68°43W. Then at 4:25 pm, roughly 13 hours after they set off under sail and 19 hours after the initial near-miss with the U-boat the first boat was discovered by the Swiss motor ship Saentis. The Swiss captain generously set about finding the second lifeboat, which they managed to do just half an hour later, at 5:15 pm. Then the kindly captain sent the following message by radio to New York: “LEFT BERMUDA TUESDAY [2nd June], PICKED UP 20 MEN FROM SWEDISH STEAMER.”

Motor Ship Saentis, which rescued the 20-man crew of the Anna.

When rescued by the Saentis Otto Leum must not only have been grateful, but have eaten his words about not wanting to set foot on a Swiss ship again. The Saentis was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast in 1912 as the M/V Falstria and only joined the Swiss merchant marine in New York on December 12, 1941 – within days of Hitler declaring war on the United States. In the intervening years she had been named the Olymp, the Matros and the Norseland. She was named by the Swiss for a mountain in the east of Switzerland. Her first voyage for KTA, Bern was a limited success and was characterized by engine troubles, and occurred in April 1942, mere weeks before her rescue of Anna and West Notus survivors.

The Saentis continued on its course to New York, stopping again en-route to retrieve 18 survivors from the US-flagged steam ship West Notus, which had also been sunk by von Bülow, two days before, on June 1st. Saentis arrived in New York on Saturday the 6th of June. Persson, Sorensen and Luem were taken to the Swedish Hospital in Brooklyn, where they were treated for shell fragments. The other 17 men were attended to by the Swedish Consul in New York as well as the agents, Blidberg Rothschild Co.

Von Bülow brought U-404 for two incursions into the Bermuda area in May and June 1942 as part of a highly successful patrol in which he sank seven ships of 31,061 tons. Initially U-404 just dipped into the northeast corner of the Bermuda area between the 22nd and 25thof May. Then the sub returned, this time from the north northwest, on the 30thduring which it sank the US ship Alcoa Shipper of 5,491 tons.

The emblems and markings of U-404, which its victims on the Anna were too far away to observe.

Source: Hogel, Georg, “U-Boat Emblems of World War II, 1939 – 1945,” Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA, 199, page 68

U-404 then motored southwest until the 1stof June, when it intercepted and sank the US steam ship West Notus of 5,492 tons west northwest of Bermuda. After sinking the Anna von Bülow then took is command east till the 7th, south till the 8th, and west towards Hatteras on the 9th of June. Off the US coast from Hatteras to the Delaware Capes U-404 sank the 3,289-ton Yugoslavian steamship Ljubica Matkovic off Cape Lookout on the 24th of June, then the steamship Manuela, US flagged and 4,772 tons, and the Nordal, Panamanian of 3,485 tons.  On the 27th U-404 dispatched the Moldanger, 6,827 tons of Norway, but was counter-attacked by aircraft. The obliged von Bülow to head back to France, where it reached Saint Nazaire on the 14th of July 1942.

U-404 sailed for the 6th U-boat Flotilla of Saint Nazaire on the 6th of May as part of the Padfinder group, which was active with seven submarines on the 23rd to 27thof May before they split off to hunt independently. On the way out to the US coast U-404 also participated in the Hecht group from the 8th to the 11th of May.

U-404 in base, with one of its guns visible behind the officers. Date and identities not known.


Otto von Bülow was born in 1911 and a member of the Crew of 1930. Early in his naval career he served on the Duetschland and Schleswig-Holstein and with naval flak units. He joined U-boats in April 1940 and commanded U-3, a training boat. He commissioned U-404 in August 1941 and went on to accrue 280 patrol days in six missions. His total tally of ships sunk and damaged was 17 vessels of 89,259 tons, though he had to retract a claim of sinking the USS Ranger as it was a misunderstanding (he had hit HMS Biter instead).

In 1945 von Bülow commanded U-2545 and then a Naval Assault Battalion. Joining the Bundesmarine in 1956 he took over a former US Navy destroyer and re-commissioned it Z-6 in Charleston, South Carolina in 1960. His later responsibilities were as base commander in the Hamburg area (

Among his many accolades he received the Knights Cross in October 1942 following this patrol, supplemented by the Oak Leaves in April 1943. To this the U-Boat War Badge with Diamonds was added a month later and the War Merit Cross 2nd Class with Sword in April 1944. Von Bülow lived until January 2006 and the age of 94. He died in Hamburg.

Saentis survived the war and was scrapped in 1947 (also reported, doubtfully, as 1963).


Aranha, Stephen B., Professor, College of the Bahamas, for his helpful translations of KTBs

Areschoug, Richard, Dodlig Resa: Svenska handelsflottans forluster 1939-1945, Svensk Militarhistoriskt Bibliotek, Stockholm, 2008, (a short summary of the Anna, in Swedish, on page 161 as well as a summary of the Saentis and U-404).

Busch, R. and H.-J. Röll, German U-boat Commanders of World War II, 1988 an image of the Saentis as the Falstria, and details of the ship – for information on the names of the 3 injured in an Admiralty intelligence report

Helgason, Gudmundur & Rainer Kolbicz,, 2014

Hogel, Georg, “U-Boat Emblems of World War II, 1939 – 1945,” Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA, 199, page 68

Jordan, Roger W., The World’s Merchant Fleets, 1939 – The Particulars and Wartime Fates of 6,000 Ships, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis Maryland, 1999 (best source for Anna’s specs).

Kurowski, Franz, Knights Cross Holders of the U-boat Service

Lundberg, Lennart, Lejdtrafik och Kvarstad, Marilitteraturforeningen Nr. 85, Karlskrona, Sweden, 1999, (very little about the Anna except in the Index – this is a book about select ships who sailed for neutral Sweden in WWII).

Mason, Jerry, Captain,, for providing KTBs or war diaries with translations of U-98 on 19 May 1942 as well as U-404 on June 2-4 1942

Mozolak, John,– a thorough site of all ship arrivals and sailings from New York 1939-1945. Details of the Anna’s voyages to and from NY in WWII

NARA, DC: “Survivors Statements” from National Archives and Record Administration, Washington DC, found by Michael Constandy, 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 (very useful and detailed information on the loss of the Anna from reports by survivors on their return to NY to US Naval Intelligence).; Rescue%20 Operation%20North%20Atlantic.pdf – For details of the Saentis and her captain and the rescue – for photo of ship, description of her history and loss – for description of Baron Wemyss the person as well as the town of Ramapo NY – an image of Anna from starboard

Wynn, Kenneth, U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997