U-128 Ulrich Heyse patrol history, U-boat career, Bahamas & WWII


            It will be instructive to depict the life of a German submarine, or U-boat. On that basis U-128 was chosen as a demonstrative vessel not only because its patrol east of Abaco resulted in the day-long attack on the O. A. Knudsen, and the burial of seaman Olaus Johanesen on Abaco, but because the boat’s crew was captured almost in entirety and its crew interrogated at length. The resulting 63-page report by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) covers her war career – everything from manufacture to manning – and serves as the basis of this chapter (Jerry Mason, uboatarchive.net/U-128INT, Gudmundur Helgason, uboat.net/boats/patrols/u128, Kenneth Wynn, U-Boat Operations of the Second World War, 1997, Vol. 1, p.104-105).
            U-128 was first and foremost a fighting machine designed to sink as many Allied ships in its lifetime as quickly and efficiently as possible. Accommodations were made for sufficient men on board (between 48 and 56 men) to accomplish this. By all accounts accommodation on German submarines was far inferior in creature comforts than those of their American counterparts, but then their effectiveness at sinking ships was on the aggregate far higher.
            U-128 was one of 54 type IXC boats commissioned, and was built at the Deschimag  AG Wesser shipyard at on the Wesser River in Bremen. Part of a series starting with U-125, other clusters of boat numbers in the same series were the ones starting with the famous U-161, U-171, U-501 and U-507, all of which were to prove active in the Bahamas area. IXCs got their name because they improved on the IXB type by adding 43 tons of fuel storage space and expanding the range to 13,400 nautical miles at 10 knots. They also had mine-carrying and mine-laying capacity, though this was never utilized by U-128 in its career. If so configured, subs in the series could carry 44 TMA or 66 TMB mines (Uboat.net).
            U-128 was ordered on the 7th of August 1939 and its keel was laid down on the 10th of July the following ear. It was launched on the 20thof February, 1941 after roughly seven months of construction, and commissioned under the watchful eye of its first commander, Kapitanleutnant Ulrich Heyse, on the 12th of May 1941. He was to serve aboard her until the 28thof February 1943. Here second and only other commander was Kapitanleutnant Hermann Steinert, who was to end the war a captive of the United States, like most of the crew from the fourth patrol.
            This submarine was only ever assigned to the 2nd Flotllia, whose nickname was “Saltzwedel”, after a WWI commander, first as a training boat in the Baltic from its commissioning to 30 November 1941, then, after the fall of France, as a front boat in the same flotilla in France. Founded in 1936 and flying under the insignia of a submarine entertwined in an upright letter Z, the Second Flotilla (Unterseebootsflotille) was a combat flotilla which moved from Kiel to Wilhelmshaven to Lorient France from May 1941 onwards.
The Flotilla Commander at the relevant time was Kovettenkapitan Victor Schutze, a holder of the prestigious Knights Cross. Fegattenkapitan Ernst Kals, another Knights Cross holder, assumed command from January 1943 to October 1944. There were a total of 91 U-boats of many types assigned to the 2nd Flotilla in the course of its history, ranging in numbers from U025 to U-1228 (Uboat.net). On the fall of France in August 1944 the last U-boats left Lorient for Norway and the 2nd Flotilla as it was ceased to exist.
What did the U-boat look like? To most it would have seemed sleek, fearsome, and fast. It would have been painted a wartime grey, with a pointed bow, gradually sloping forward deck which contained a large cannon, and ended at the base of a conning tower. Some subs had dragon-like metal teeth fixed to the bow and slanting back whose purpose was to cut wires of submarine booms laid out by the Allies to protect harbors. Others had aerial cables connecting the bow and stern with the conning tower.
Since most U-boats did not have either radar or prior intelligence on Allied ship and naval movements, they relied heavily on the radio to receive intelligence on the movements of Allied convoys and other Axis submarines, and to transmit reports of successes in the field as well as requests for assistance and advice (it was not unusual for a U-boat which required more fuel, torpedoes, or technical or medical assistance to have a compatriot submarine vectored to it in order to assist – without bases in enemy territory they relied upon each other and on the centralized headquarters, called BdU and lead by Admiral Donitz, heavily.
The conning tower looked like an upturned jar planted roughly midway down the length of the submarine. Through this jar all personnel entered and exited the interior, or pressure hull of the submarine, and on it they obtained some protection from the wind, waves, ice and breaking seas.
The crew did have emergency hatches forward and aft from which to escape, and there were torpedo-loading chambers forward as well. The conning tower held the periscopes, which enabled the commander to see above the surface without the submarine being seen, as well as guns, mounted binoculars, firing sites, and air intakes for the diesel engines and ventilation system.
In terms of decorations on the conning tower, U-128 had more than most. Since submarines, like their crew, were assigned flotillas and received recognition (an example being pennants showing tonnage in numbers of each new merchant or naval victim flown from the wire says or radio antennas during and after patrols), here is a list from the ONI report on U-128’s insignia:
1.      White Horse.  This device was carried on both sides of the conning tower.  It stemmed from the adoption of U-128 by the Organization Todt, which had a song about a white horse.
2.      Coat of arms of the city of Ulm.  Ulm was the city which had adopted U-128 and which had entertained some of her crew between the fifth and sixth patrols.
3.      Olympic Rings.  This device was painted on the conning tower when Oberleutnant Steinert succeeded Kapitänleutnant Heyse in February 1943.  (O.N.I. Note: The Olympic Rings are the device of several U-boat commanders of the 1936 term.)
4.      Gray U-boat with streak of lightning across it.  This is the flotilla device of the second flotilla at Lorient (Mason, uboatarchive.net/U-128INT, p.28).
A word about the Organization Todt, which adopted U-128 and honored her commander and crew in various ways in terms of both morale and more substantively. Founded by a civil engineer and senior Nazi party figure named Fritz Todt, who was killed in an airplane crash leaving Hitler’s “Wolf’s Lair” in 1942, the OT as it was called was responsible for huge construction projects including the Autobahn, the West Wahl (Germany’s answer to the Siegfried Line) and the Atlantic Wall, or fortification of coastal France and the Channel Islands in the English Channel.
Hitler gave the organization its name in 1933 when he came to power – Todt had been in the party since 1922 and the OT title extended to all the corporations and subcontractors responsible for building the Autobahn. By giving Todt the title of Reich Minister of Armaments and Ammunition in 1940 and then  General Major in the Luftwaffe, Hitler assured that the influential Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring would become a political enemy of Todt’s. After Todt was killed in the plane crash, Albert Speer became minister of armaments.
There is no question that after the massive supply of labor in a Germany gripped by depression dried up the OT relied increasingly heavily on conscripted and then forced labor. This came from Germany, from POW’s (euphemistically called “volunteers”), and from persons captured in foreign lands occupied by Germany. The distinction from “slave labor” is sometimes blurred. As reported in Wikipedia “the OT used millions of forced laborers (Zwangsarbeiter) from the occupied countries of the Reich during World War II, and that the judging panel at the Nuremberg Trials  in 1946 sentenced Speer to 20 years’ imprisonment for having headed this organisation and thus sanctioned the international illegal use of forced labor” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_Todt).
We learn from the ONI report that “As Kapitänleutnant Heyse was a friend of Todt, U-128 had been adopted by the O.T.  The crew had the privilege of visiting the pleasant rest home of the Organization in the castle of Pongalec (phonetic spelling).  This castle is five stories in height and is reported to be situated about 18 miles southeast of Hennebont.  It is built on a level clearing in the forest and is said not to be camouflaged.  The crew of U-128 had their farewell party here before sailing on their last cruise” (Ibid.). Survivors of U-128 also spoke of “some fifty girls from the Paris office of the Organization Todt…” welcoming them ashore from patrols, and of being hosted in Paris and Germany by members of the organization (Ibid).
U-128 was a type IXC boat – and thus serves as a prototype of the vast majority of the submarines, called in German unterseebootfor “under sea boat”, which were either type IX, IXC or IXC/40. Though called a 750-ton boat (referring to its weight out of the water), this model displaced a total of 1,540 tons of water – 1,232 submerged and 1,120 on the surface. The length overall was 76.76 meters or 251.84 feet, and the length of the pressure hull, or cocoon around which the rest of the submarine was built, was 58.75 meters, or 192.75 feet.
The boat was 6.76 meters or 22.18 feet wide at its widest, and the pressure hull was 14.44 feet wide. The draft was 4.7 meters, or 15.42 feet from the waterline, meaning that the sub needed at least 15 and a half feet of water between the sea floor and the sea surface to be able to move forward safely (this automatically ruled out a lot of the shallow, reef-strewn banks of the Bahamas to a German submarine). From the waterline to its highest point above water the sub was 9.4 meters, or 30.84 feet – this is called the air draft.
            These submarines achieved far greater speed and range on the surface – 13,450 nautical miles (a nautical mile being roughly 1.18 statute miles), at a cruising speed of 18.3 knots (or nautical miles per hour). The submerged cruising speed was only 7.3 knots. The power in horsepower under its air-draft diesel engines (on the surface) was 4,400 horsepower, and submerged, on its quieter electric motors, 1,000 horsepower. This was provided by two Siemens motors of 500 h.p. each. The diesels were manufactured by M.A.N. and were of 9 cylinders, and four cycles of 2,200 h.p. each. The nickname for the port diesel was HH or “Haw” and for the starboard Hott, or “Gee”.
These engines kept the batteries – a critical equipment component – continually charged to the point that an emergency dive was always possible on the available charge. The batteries were lead-acid type with a capacity of 12,500 ampere-hours. the constantly needed to be recharged and the boat ventilated to prevent chlorine buildup which could debilitate or kill the crew (U-128’s Chief Engineer, though rescued when the boat sank, subsequently died of chlorine poisoning, as did other senior members of the engineering team).
While cruising at its most economical rate, say to and from a patrol area, the sub utilized both diesel and electric power to achieve six to seven knots. On diesel engine turned at 250 rotations per minute (r.p.m.), and one electric motor churned at 150 r.p.m.. These engines turned two propeller shafts, one on either side of the centerline. In order to escape being seen by enemy ships or from the air by enemy aircraft, or depth-charge bombs dropped by either, the submarines were capable of submerging to 230 meters, or 755 feet, though in extremes even this boundary might be pushed (over its life the U-128 is not believed to have dived beyond 200 meters).
            In terms of armament the submarine was capable of carrying 22 torpedoes, generally broken down by 15 electric and 7 air torpedoes. There were a total of six torpedo tubes – four forward (two each on either side of the bow) and two on the stern on either side. Though the stern-firing torpedoes were utilized in convoy actions, on solo encounters on the high seas they were generally reserved for firing a coup-de-grace shot to finish an already damaged victim off when time and safety from enemy aircraft permitted.
Since a submarine commander usually fired a spread of three to four torpedoes at a target, the average expenditure of U-128 on its first dozen or so victims was four torpedoes per sinking. It was said that the First Watch Officer (1WO, or second in command) generally fired the torpedoes when surfaced, and the commander when submerged, from periscope depth. Some 1WO’s, like Teddy Suhren gained recognition and awards for skill at torpedo attacks before he even became a commander.
The submarine’s deck armament consisted of a 105-milimeter (4.1-inch) gun mounted forward of the conning tower, meaning that each shell was over four inches in diameter. The incendiary shells could be over three feet in length and weigh over 110 pounds. They had to be relayed by hand up from a locker below in the submarine, except for an emergency supply kept in a small locker embedded in the conning tower.
Other gunnery on board the submarine consisted of a 37-milimeter (1.5-inch-diameter) anti-aircraft gun aft on the conning tower, as well as another 20-milimeter anti-aircraft cannon located aft on the bridge platform. This was supplemented by four C-38 machine guns also on the bridge, which could be mounted and un-mounted as the need arose (in other words the submarine would not submerge with them in place except in cases of emergency). When time permitted the deck guns were greased periodically and caps inserted in the barrels before each submersion, and they were aligned with the hull to reduce drag.
In terms of manning, the chief protagonist relevant to this study was Kapitanleutnant Ulrich Heyse, born in Berlin-Friedenau on the 27th of September in 1906 and thus aged 34 at the time of U-128’s commissioning and 35 when he patrolled the Bahamas (he would survive the war and live to 1970 and the age of 64). A member of the Crew of 1933, he sank 12 ships for 83,639 tons over his career, which is the same tally for U-128 since he was one of only two commanders of the sub and the only one to confirm sinking enemy ships on her (Stienert was seen as much more hesitant and was, according to survivors, much less liked than Heyse).
            Here is a description of Heyse taken from interviews of survivors of the sub after it had been sunk by US aircraft and destroyers off Brazil in mid-1943:
“He was popular with his crew; on occasion he would sit down with the kitchen detail, whip out his pocket knife and while peeling potatoes would talk about and discuss with crew members any subject which interested them.  He also would now and then have several glasses of beer with his crew, when on shore.  No doubt, his leadership contributed to the success of U-128 while under his command; most prisoners expressed their belief that U-128 would not have met with its fate on May 17, 1943, had Heyse been its commander.  Heyse belongs to the 1930 [1933 actually] term and, prior to his entry into the German Navy, had served on merchant ships. 
To this background many of his men attribute the sympathetic attitude of Heyse toward crew members of torpedoed ships.  Foodstuff, cigarettes, and even rum, if necessary, were supplied, and in more than one instance Heyse explained that he was sorry that his duty compelled him to sink their ships.  While in the Navy, Heyse had served as executive officer on a destroyer and had made a cruise as commander pupil in another U-boat.  He is now reported to be company commander at the Gotenhafen U-boat school.” (Jerry Mason, uboatarchive.net/U-128INT, pp. 3-4)
…After sinking O.A. Knudsen, a prisoner reported, the U-boat commander looked up in his ship recognition book which tanker he had sunk.  Finding it was O.A. Knudsen, he remarked that she had been built in Germany which “accounted for her slow sinking” (Ibid, p.11).
Ulrich Heyse rose from Offiziersanwärter in 1933 to Korvettenkapitän on 1 April 1943. Having served in the merchant marine, he then went to the surface fleet of the Kreigsmarine, serving on the destroyer Theodor Riedel. During 1939 – 1940 Heyse undertook an impressive twelve patrols on the Riedel before transferring to U-Boats in July. His first U-boat was U-37, which he lead on one short (presumably non-offensive) patrol as Kommandantenschüler(commander-in-training) (Uboat.net). . Over his career he served 311 war patrol days over five war patrols, all of them in U-128.
In 1940 Heyse was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, and on the day he returned from the Bahamas patrol this was increased to 1st Class. The same day (March 24, 1942) he also received the U-Boat War Badge of 1939. Roughly half a year later, based on a reported tonnage of 98,000 tons (actually it was 83,639 which is not as much of an exaggeration as some other skippers’), he received the Knights Cross, one of the highest awards of the German military, making him a Knight of the Wehrmacht. To give an idea of the rarity of this award, he was only the 143rdrecipient in the Kriegsmarine and the 78th in the U-boat arm at the time he received it.
A year after his return from the Bahamas, in March 1943, and after two patrols to Brazil, Heyse moved ashore to become an instructor in U-boat learning divisions called Unterseebootslehrdivision. Two years later, in March of 1945 he rose to command the 32nd (training) Flotilla. The war would end within two months and Heyse would survive it.
The executive officer of U-128 from commissioning to her Bahamas patrol was  Oberleutnant Helmut Kurrer, who graduated in the Crew of 1935. He was born on 16 February 1916 and was thus ten years junior to Heyse and turned 26 during the patrol (three days before the sinking of the Pan Massachusetts). He rose through the ranks from Midshipman in 1936 to Korvettenkapitan in 1943. ON the 15th of August 1942, less than five months after returning from the Bahamas patrol, Kurrer was promoted to commander of U-189.
Within a year he and the crew would be lost south of Greenland’s Cape Farewell a mere 21 days into the submarine’s first patrol, on the 23rd of April, 1943. He received no decorations during his career, which seems odd since Rolf Bahn, who was Second Watch Officer beneath him, was given the U-Boat War Badge 1939 on arrival back from U-128’s patrol to the Bahamas on 24 March 1942 (Uboat.net)
The Second Watch Officer, or third in command, on the Bahamas patrol was Oberleutnant Rolf  Bahn, who succeeded Kurrer to the IWO or First Watch / Executive Officer role on the third patrol. Bahn was born on 6 March 1918 in Rustringen, and thus celebrated his 24th birthday the day after the sinking of the O. A. Knudsen, on the day U-128 turned for home, but the day before it was attacked by aircraft south of Bermuda.
 Starting as an Offiziersanwarter in 1935 (he was a member of the Crew of 1936), Bahn rose to command two submarines, U-1235 and U-876 at the end of the war. However neither submarine went on a war patrol and perhaps as a result Bahn survived the war. He is by all accounts alive at the time of this writing (end 2011). In August 1943 Bahn was promoted to Kapitanleutnant. On the day U-128 returned from the Bahamas he was awarded the U-boat War Badge of 1939 and in September of the same year the Iron Cross 1st Class.
The names of every crew member during U-128’s patrol to the Bahamas in March 1942 are not known, and crew changed at least incrementally after each patrol (attrition and promotion, and feeding greenhorns in with more experienced crew). However we do have a full list of the crew, which consisted of fifty-four persons, when it was sunk off Brazil just over a year later, on May 17, 1943. The crew were composed of four officers, three midshipmen, sixteen petty officers, and thirty-one enlisted men. This list can be seen as representative of what the crew composition would have been like on the patrol to the Bahamas.
There were two lieutenants in their mid-twenties, an Engineering Lieutenant, three Midshipmen, a Reserve Ensign, two Boatswain’s mates (Boson, or petty officer), six Machinists or Machinist’s Mates, two Radiomen, one Coxswain, a Torpedoman’s mate, twelve Firemen (engine room crew) and twelve Seamen (deck crew).  The junior ratings ranged in age from 18 to 26. The commander, Oberleutnant Hermann Steinert , was only 26 years of age, and he was outranked by Kapitanleutnant Siegfried Sterzing.
            A summary of the early career of U-128 before its Bahamas patrol and its war patrols afterwards is germane to illustrate the typical life of a German submarine from birth to death as it were. Two months before the boat’s commissioning most deck and engineering officers arrived to closely follow the final fitting out of their charge. Seamen and torpedo ratings followed closer to the take-over date. Two days after commissioning, on the 14th of May 1941, the submarine transited the Kaiser Wilhelm Kanal to Kiel where it passed its tests for U-boat Acceptance command in roughly three weeks.
            Once accepted U-128 moved to Warnemeunde for torpedo practice, then Stettin for a final overhaul, taking about a month. The crew were allowed ten day’s leave during this period. In early July 1941 U-128 under Heyse sailed for Oslo for diving tests, however it struck an uncharted rock and was seriously damaged, ripping open its bottom and damaging the starboard torpedo caps. After 25 of the crew were taken of by the light cruiser Nurnburg and the boat was towed off the rock by the depot ship Odin, the sub received emergency repairs in Horten, Norway.
            Returning to Kiel for repairs, it was decided to undertake the diving tests in the Baltic instead. These took place in Gotenhafen near Danzig and off Hela. By November 1941 the boat moved to Bornholm for silent running tests before returning to Stettin. In Stettin torpedoes and supplies were loaded and then U-128 sailed for Kiel. Her first patrol, to her new base in the 2nd Flotilla in Lorient, began on the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but a day before Hitler declared war on the United States – the 9th of December 1941.
            On the night of the 9th U-128 arrived in Kristiansand, Norway, where most of the crew were accommodated ashore in a hotel. The following morning the sub was escorted two hours out of the port on its first war patrol. Heading between the Faroes and Shetlands islands, U-128 encountered an Allied trawler at which it fired a torpedo. Suspecting that the trawler was a trap, and failing to hit it with the torpedo, the submarine continued on its course, mostly on the surface, right into the Bay of Biscay.
Just after noon on Christmas Eve, 1941, U-128 arrived in Lorient and was escorted to the Salzwedel Kaserne (a bulkhead named after the WWI submarine commander after which the U-boat was named) for four hours since 8 am by minesweepers. No Allied aircraft or enemy ships were sighted during the entire 13-day patrol. The US interrogators surmised that “….it may well be assumed that the quick trip was partially due to the desire on everybody’s part to celebrate Christmas on land” (Mason, Uboatarchive.net).
Between 24 December 1941 and January 8th, 1942 U-128 was supplied and provisioned. Her torpedoes were all offloaded, checked, and re-loaded. A lighter (barge) came along side and pumped diesel oil aboard, and provisions were loaded for an extended patrol to the Americas. On the 8th of January a minesweeper and two patrol boats escorted her into the Bay of Biscay, starting at 11 am. The crossing of the Atlantic was apparently uneventful, probably punctuated by a series of diving drills.
U-128’s patrol in the greater Bahamas region lasted 24 days in sum. Beginning on the 13thof February, the submarine entered the area by crossing a line between Bermuda and Anegada. In fact Heyse came quite close to the southeast coast of Bermuda, perhaps using Saint David’s Light located there as a navigational “fix” (given his later experience of being attacked by aircraft from Bermuda he would do well to give the island a wider berth).
On the 14thof February U-128 turned south for a day, then turned back east-southeast, leaving the area briefly on the 15th and performing some kind of patrol line south of Bermuda. On the 15th the boat reversed course and motored due west for th next four days, passing north of Abaco and Grand Bahama and arriving off the coast of Florida near Cape Canneveral on the 18thof February.
On the following day, the 19th of February and slightly to the north of Canneveral, U-128 made the first kill of the war off the Florida coast when it sank the US tanker Pan Massachusetts. From there the boat headed southeast across the Gulf Stream, finding no targets. It returned to the coast of Florida and three days later it followed on this success by sinking the Cities Services Empire off Cannaveral. It again headed southeast, to the north of Walker’s Cay, Grand Bahama, before returning to the Florida coast. It patrolled the Florida coast fruitlessly for a week, from the 22nd of February to the third of March 1942.
 A week after sinking the Cities Service Empire, U-128 steamed east on the 2nd and 3rd of March north of Grand Bahama. On the third the submarine made a feint to the northeast towards Bermuda before turning south towards the Northeast Providence Channel and shipping coming out of the Straits of Florida for Europe from there. On the 4th it rounded Abaco for its fateful encounter with the O. A. Knudsen, which it took the whole day of the 5th of March to sink.
Heyse had intended to utilize the Northeast and Northwest Providence channels to re-enter the Straits of Florida and essentially circumnavigate Abaco and Grand Bahama, however he used the last of his 15 torpedoes on the stubborn O. A. Knudsen, and decided instead to head back to home base in France. To do this the sub steamed northeast towards Bermuda on the 6th, and 7th, when it was attacked by aircraft. On a map the patrol looks roughly like the letter “U” turned clockwise on its side.
The 11,007-ton Norwegian tanker O. A. Knudsen was built by the Deutsche Werft AF, Betrieb Finkenwärder, Hamburg Germany in August 1938. She was commissioned by Unilever of Rotterdam , however the Knut Knutsen OAS company of Strandgaten 161, Haugesund, purchased the completed ship. Haugesund is on the southwest coast of Norway, on a peninsula between Stavanger and Bergen. The Knutsen OAS AS tanker company is still operating today, at Smedasundet 40 Haugesund.
At the time she was the largest Norwegian tanker afloat. The official owner was a subsidiary of O. A. S. Knudsen, the Marie Bakke Ship-owning Company, or Skibs-A/S. In 1939 the same firm owned 14 subsidiaries and 26 ships, including nine tankers, a whale factory ship, a fruit carrier, and 15 general cargo ships. Once Haugesund and the rest of Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany in April 1940, ownership and control of the O. A. Knudsen was assumed by the Norwegian Shipping and Trading Mission, who then put her under charter to the British Tankers Company of London, England. 
There were four tankers with the name O. A. Knudsen, and her predecessor had also been attacked by a U-boat, during the First World War. The U-39, which sank an amazing 154 ships, damaged her in March 1917. She was 3,531 gross tons and built in 1907 by Craig, Taylor and Company Limited of Stockton, England. The tanker brought bunker oil and other petroleum supplies to a power plant in Tocopilla, Chile in the 1920s. Whilst on a voyage from London to Cardiff Wales she was attacked on March 23rd, 1917, twenty miles off Beachy Head, Wales by UB-39 under Oberleutnant zur See Heinrich Küstner (uboat.net).
According to Kynance_1411, the first O. A. Knudsen was towed to Southampton and repaired. The Admiralty reported her as mined rather than torpedoed. In fact the officers and crew of HMS Magnet claimed a salvage reward in the London Gazetteof 2 January 1920. The ship was ultimately lost while on a coast-wise voyage between Sydney Nova Scotia and Wabana, Newfoundland, Canada, on the 30th of June 1923. She stranded and sank at Gull Island in St. Mary´s Bay, Newfoundland and was declared a total loss. (flickr.com/photos/28854051@N08/4106153134/).
O. A. Knudsen the second was built in 1925 at 9,026 gross tons, by the Blythswood Shipbuilding Company Limited, Glasgow. She was overshadowed by her younger sister, though. When O. A. Knudsen the third was contracted in 1937 the second ship in the series gave up her name and became the Eli Knudsen, under the same ownership. She was sunk by U-32 under Kapitänleutnant Hans Jenisch south of Cork, Ireland on 22 June 1940 while en route from Aruba to the UK. There was another O. A. Knudsen launched by Gotaverken of Sweden in January 1951 which was 11,051 gross tons. She sailed until 1960, meaning that from 1907 to 1960 – 53 years – there was almost always an O. A. Knudsen sailing the world’s seas.
O. A. Knudsen’s dimensions were 508.1 feet in overall length, 60.2 feet wide, and 36.5 feet deep. Her gross tonnage was 11,007 tons and she could carry 16,150 deadweight tons of liquid cargo. She was powered by a seven cylinder MAN diesel engine of 4,500 b.h.p. which propelled the ship at an impressive 13 knots.
Her Master was Captain Knut O. Bringedal of Norway and under him were 39 men, of whom 29 were Norwegians, five were British, three were Estonian, one was Latvian and another was Canadian. The crew told interviewers that they were a close unit, having been together since the fall of their homeland. The ship was in Naples, Italy when they learned of Norway’s fall. To escape from Italy they pumped the cargo tanks full of seawater to act as ballast and made a bold run for Gibraltar and the open Atlantic on the 9th of April. They almost made it when a French naval patrol boat intercepted them and escorted them to the French North African port of Oran, where they wallowed for a month between the 12thof April and 16th of May, 1940.
Finally the ship was under the ownership of Norwegians and control of the British, and she made her way to Suez and ultimately Melbourne, Australia. She made two trips to Australia, five more to the British West Indies, and was on her second trip to England in March of 1942 when attacked off the Bahamas. Among her many port calls between 1940 and 1942 were Batavia (now Jakarta), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Freetown, Abadan, Clyde, Cape Town, Belfast, New York City, Halifax, Aruba, Bermuda, and Milford Haven.
Not all of the crew had been on board since 1940. Two men – Ordinary Seaman Olaus Johansen and Gunner Waldemar Lund – stand out aside from officers like First Mate Jacob Tvedt. Messman Barleif Hårstad fled the Nazi occupation by leaving Tromso for Svalbard in June 1940 aboard a government steamer along with his stepfather Alfred Johansen. There they joined a motor boat named Liv which they used to resist the Germans. In September 1941 he was evacuated to England aboard the converted troop transport Empress of Canada. The Livwas left behind and blown up in King’s Bay.
Waldemar Lund was born in Søgne, on the very southern tip of Norway, on the 30th of June, 1916. At the age of 25 he and four other young men decided to escape from Norway in a small open boat to join the merchant navy in the United Kingdom. They were escaping Nazi-occupied Norway, and only small boats would go undetected by coastal patrol craft.
After leaving on the 26th of September 1941 the men encountered a three-day storm on the Dogger Bank in the North Sea, and two of them were washed overboard and pulled back in. They also saw a submarine, but were unsure whether it was German or British. Since their little five-mile-an-hour motor failed them and they had to sail much of the way. The voyage took a total of ten days. On the 6thof October they were sighted by a coastal boat off England and taken to England. He joined the Navy (presumably the Royal Navy), and received marksmanship training in Dumbarton, Scotland.
Following this Gunner Lund sailed to Canada, where he received further training as a gunner, or as he described it a “cannoneer for service in the Norwegian merchant marine.” He met the O. A. Knudsen in Halifax following her voyage from Aruba. The ship had sailed independently laden with petroleum between the 13thand 20th of December, probably utilizing the Windward Passage and Crooked Island Passage through the Bahamas. She lay in Halifax preparing to join Convoy HX 167 to Clyde, near Glasgow, between the 20th and 27thof 1941, including Christmas but not New Years. In a radio interview given in New York in April of 1942 Lund said that he signed aboard the Knudsen on Christmas Eve.  They arrived in Glasgow on the 10th of January 1942 and staying until the 23rd – long enough to sign aboard another Norwegian sailor with a story to tell – Oloaus Johansen.
Olaus Edvin Johansen Gamst was born on the 24th March 1884 on Måsøy, or seagull island, in Finnmark county, in the far north of Norway at nearly 71 degrees north. This is a small island at the very northern tip of Europe, north of Tromsø and Murmansk, deep in the Arctic Circle – even today there is just over a mile of paved road. His parents were Johan Petter and Marie Kathrine. As a young man Olaus and his brother Karl were both fisherman and would often fish with their father.
On the 25th September 1902 aged 18 years old Olaus had his confirmation at Skjervøy church in Tromsø.  Olaus married Bergitte Estine Johanne Angell on the second of November 1908 at Tromsø Church (Tromsø Domkirke) – he was aged 24.  Olaus and Bergitte lived at the family farm named Ravelseidet, where they raised a few cattle. They then went on to have five children, Erna Genova Blom, Arone Petronelle Thoresen, Egil Bergethon, Reinhardt A. Gamst and Kristian Tormod Walder. Olaus’ father and mother and possibly his younger siblings lived on the farm as well. Olaus spent his life working as a fisherman and working on ships (email from Rebecca Hatton, UK, 28 Sept. 2011).
At the outset of war Olaus went to remote Svalbard archipelago which stretch as far north as 81 degrees. The main community is Spitsbergen (present human population 2,400 and polar bear population 3,000). There he gained employment as a miner. By then he was 55 years old and his wife had died, leaving him to support five children. After a British raid on the island between August 25 and September third 1941, Johansen decided to emigrate to England and escape the Nazi occupation of his homeland.
Johansen arrived in the UK on the tenth of October, 1941. He may have taken the same ship as Barleif Hårstad did in September – the Empress of Canada, which was subsequently sunk off West Africa by the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci, on 13 March 1943. Some 392 persons on board perished – ironically most of them were Italian prisoners of war. Some 1500 were rescued.
Less than two months after his arrival in northern England, Johansen signed on board the Norwegian tanker O. A. Knudsen in Glasgow, Scotland, on the 12th of January, 1942. The ship had just arrived two days earlier in Convoy HX 167 from Halifax, which it had departed in laden condition two days after Christmas, 1941. She had loaded in Aruba, some 60 degrees south of Svalbard, between 11 and 16 December before sailing for Halifax. As an Able-Bodied Seaman on an ocean-going tanker Johansen was in for the kind of adventurous existence in tropical climes which would be worlds apart from the confines of a mine in the Arctic Ocean. In early March 1942 he was a few weeks shy of his 58th birthday.
On her final voyage the O.A. Knudsen left the Clyde River (Glasgow, Scotland) on the 23rdof January 1942 for Mobile, Alabama. She sailed in Convoy ON 59 and then dispersed on February 6th, arriving in Mobil on the 17thof February. The call at Mobile must have been for orders only as she left on the 24th of February for Port Arthur Texas to load a full cargo of kerosene and gasoline.
The Knudsen arrived in Port Arthur the same day and began loading her cargo. The loading and characteristics of the cargo are relevant to her attack and the sequence of explosions later. According to a diagram drawn by officers after the attack, pool engine spirit (gasoline) was loaded in tanks number one to five, and pool vaporizing oil (kerosene – less flammable) was loaded in tanks number six to nine, which are further aft.
So, starting at the bow of the ship, there was a dry hold on the bow, then the next five rows of tanks were filled with gasoline, then the following four rows of tanks (forward of the bridge) were filled with Kerosene. The aft section of the ship was occupied with the engine fuel tanks (bunker tanks), cabins and bridge with engine room beneath, and farther aft store rooms with crew quarters above.
The O. A. Knudsen left Port Arthur on the first of March 1942 under admiralty orders, bound for Halifax and then in convoy to Liverpool. She steamed southwest, rounded Key West and Carysfort Reef off southern Florida, steamed most of the way up the Straits of Florida, then turned east through the Northwest and Northeast Providence Channels. Her voyage was accomplished at slightly below her stated speed of 12 knots, in part due to adverse weather. As a result she did not round Great Isaac Light until the fourth of March and passed Nassau that night.
The following day, Thursday the 5th of March 1942, the O. A. Knudsen and her 40 men emerged from the Northeast Providence Channel, left Eleuthera to starboard and Hole-in-the-Wall Lights, Abaco to port, and entered the wide rolling Atlantic. By sunrise they were a good 75 miles east of the Bahama Islands. They had been zigzagging on a defensive maneuver since rounding Key West. Every two, four, or six minutes the ship turned at an odd angle to throw off any pursuers.
Though they had no doubt learned of the sinking of the Republic, Pan Massachusetts, and Cities Services Empire in recent weeks, the crew could be forgiven for considering themselves safe in the Bahamas – after all no ships had been struck there during the war. In fact they may well have ducked through the island specifically to avoid the threat of attack off Cape Canaveral where her sisters had been struck so recently by U-128 under Heyse and U-504 under Poske. 
Thursday the fifth of March 1942 was a very busy day both for the sailors on the O. A. Knudsen and for the military men on U-128. The morning of the day before, Wednesday the 4th of March, the U-128 was north of Grand Bahama heading away from its activities sinking tankers of the Florida coast. The O. A. Knudsen was threading its way into the Northwest Providence Channel from the Straits of Florida. U-128 took the high road and the Knudsen took the low road, and their paths were to intersect east of Hole in the Wall Abaco.
            At 11:00 am local time (all times local) Ulrich Heyse recorded that the wind was a negligible at only 5 knots or so, the seas slight, the barometer 1021 mili-bars and temperature 19 degrees Celsius or 66 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was a slight swell from the east. At 2:30 pm the submarine altered course from the north to the south-southwest, as Heyse had decided to proceed “again to the Northeast Providence Channel and through this, advance to the Florida Strait from the south” – in effect circumnavigating the northern Bahamas.
By 6:30 pm the sub’s course was 170 degrees just west of south when they picked up the beacon of Elbow Cay Light at Hope Town, Abaco. The light was built in 1864 and could be seen from 17 nautical miles away. It is 121 feet high – and takes 101 steps to reach the top of. Heyse could not resist commenting that it was “burning – as in peacetime.” It was bearing 247 degrees from the surfaced sub. No doubt any fisherman off the coast would have spotted her if they had been looking.
Having confirmed his position thanks to the Allies, Heyse took U-128 on a series of dives to enable the sound-gear operator to use his devices to probe the depths for the tell-tale sounds of a merchant ship nearby. The sub dove between 6:45 and 7:07 pm, heard nothing, and came back up for air. At 7:15 pm it switched to just one diesel motor to save fuel. At 9:00 pm Heyse commented on the bright moonlight – not a good harbinger for vessels designed to attack undetected at night. Between 9:30 and 9:42 the submarine dived again. Probably Heyse handed control of the sub to his reliable First Watch Officer, Oberleutnant zur See Hellmut Kuhrer intermittently to allow for a bit of sleep. 
At 11:00 pm the course was changed to due south as U-128 skirted the coast of Abaco about 30 miles off, passing Cherokee Sound to starboard. Between 11:41 pm and midnight the sub dove again, this time to 150 feet, to listen for the sounds of ship propellers, with no results. At about this time the Knudsen was just behind the loom of Great Abaco Island, and had not yet emerged from behind the island, and therefore her propeller sounds would have been blocked and invisible, so to speak, to the enemy craft. That would soon change, as the Knudsen motored at nine knots around Hole-in-the-Wall Light just after 11:00 pm and carried out her zig-zagging course to the northeast and Halifax.
At 15 minutes after midnight on Thursday the 5th of March U-128 was only about 34 miles east-northeast of Hole-in-the-Wall Light, and motoring closer on the surface, heading 215 degrees, or south-southwest. Heyse decided they had gone close enough. At 1:00 am he ordered  a course change to 65 degrees, or east-northeast, the exact course (within a few degrees) that the Knudsen was just settling on several hours behind her. The weather conditions were the same, but the temperature had gone up to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, between 1:30 and 1:45 am the stalking submarine dove to listen out for ships – this time to 200 feet. At 1:50 am both engines were started and the submarine moved to the northeast quickly on the surface. During the course of the past 24 hours the submarine had run 140 miles, for a slow average speed of 6 knots. It has been hunting, not racing.
By 6:00 am Heyse was heading 45 degrees and the wind had risen to about 7 knots with seas one to two feet. The temperature in the morning sun rose to 73 degrees. Suddenly at 6:45 am came the affirmation of all their efforts: “tanker in sight!”. The Knudsen had been seen bearing 210 degrees, or off the submarine’s starboard quarter. The sighting triggers a series of cold analyses which Heyse and his fellow officers had been trained for months in the Baltic to make. He observes in the sub’s KTB or Kreig Tag’s Buch – War Day Book:
Positioned between him and the sun.  Attempt to get ahead and therefore in a more favorable position with regard to illumination, tanker has general course about 60°, comes from the NE Providence Channel, zigzags each time about 90° to either side.  I get on course 60° ahead of him in shooting position.  Must start the attack four times because of his zigzagging.”
Heyse would have been frustrated, but then again he had time, and plenty of sea room with no Allied interference to expect. At &:36 am U-128 dived – she had not been sighted on the surface by the Knudsen men, not because the three look-outs were defective, but that the sub was in an ideal position coming out of the sun. In the next 57 minutes the submarine had to make a series of jarring course changes – from 50 degrees east to 164 degrees south then 350 degrees north and 290 degrees west then 100 degrees southeast, trying to line up a shot on the moving target, which altered course every few minutes precisely to throw off submarines.
Finally, at 8:33 am, Heyse had his submarine in position to fire. He utilized both motors to maintain a course of 90 degrees due east and with visibility a near perfect 12 miles, he released three torpedoes at the O. A. Knudsen from 10 feet below the surface. The Knudsen was 90 degrees off the submarine’s port bow, roughly 5,000 feet distant, and making nearly 12 knots (actually only about 9.5). Torpedoes raced out of Tubes I, II, and IV. It would take them about two minutes to reach their target at that speed and distance. Heyse recorded the results:
“Detonation, then another and a little bit later a third detonation. Steamer stops and apparently does not follow its rudder any more, sinks deeper on an even keel, after 10 minutes a list to starboard.  Masts stand tilted a bit inwards, radio antenna yard hangs down.” The report from the ship gives the tanker listing to port and records only one hit on the vessel. It is possible that Heyse was hearing the “end-run-detonations” of the torpedoes as they ran out of propulsion, missed the target and either self-destructed or hit the sea floor.
In fact out of an initial salvo of three torpedoes, only one has struck – in the port bow of the ship. This may have been because the ship was going slower than Heyse anticipated. The fact that the crew of the Knudsendid not see the other torpedoes can be explained by the allocation of the ship’s lookouts: two on the bridge aft and on at the gun – which was also aft. The first two torpedoes would have passed ahead of the ship, as it was anticipated to have reached that point already, and would have done so before the third and final torpedo hit, so there would have been no reason for anyone to be on alert for a torpedo (yet) at that time.
The simple fact was there were no eyes at the forecastle head of the ship. The nearest person was a crewman named George Schmidt (or Smith) who was described as both French and English. He was working on top of the number six tank at the time and was killed instantly. Nothing was seen or heard of him again.
Realizing that the ship would not sink immediately Heyse lined up to do what he was trained to – deliver a coup-de-grace, a tactic which was well practiced in the submarine service with considerable success. But here he was foiled by his adversary, the determined Captain Knut Bringedahl. At the very moment that Heyse fired at his “dead” ship, at 8:42 am, a mere nine minutes after the initial attack, the Knudsen rumbled to life and began steaming at full speed for land. In Heyse’s words: “At the instant of the shot the tanker goes ahead at speed and changes course form about 10 degrees true to a NW-course. Missed.” He had calculated the speed of the Knudsen at one knot, but Bringedahl had converted this to an impressive nine knots.
At 9:30 am Heyse notes, perhaps with reluctant admiration, the remedial action taken by the ship’s crew: “Tanker loses a lot of cargo from the hit or by deliberate pumping of the tanks.  Oil layer on the water, as a result the tanker has 1.5 – of 2 meters of freeboard, the list becomes less.” Twelve minutes later he has ordered the fifth torpedo of the morning into the ship. At 9:42 Heyse notes in the log that his second coup-de-grace has been sent, this one at 40 knots, with a target speed calculated at four knots, 100 degrees off the submarine’s port bow. He notes:
After 30 seconds running time a hit with a dull detonation, probably below the bridge.  Afterwards submerged back and forth in the vicinity of the tanker, to observe the behavior of the enemy or the sinking. Layer of oil on surface of the water, submerged view very much obscured.  Tanker has the starboard stern davit swung out.  Cutter runners hang to the water cannot see the boat (also because of bad visibility).” It would appear that because U-128 is remaining below the surface, and her only means of observing the scene above is through a periscope, and the ocean is covered in a layer of oil, the oil has obscured the periscope. That is how close hunter and hunted are in this barren stretch of open ocean.
At 12:26 U-128 rose to the surface for the first time since it dived to attack exactly five hours before, at 7:36 am. Heyse reports that immediately the horizon “all around” was scanned for enemy aircraft or vessels. But the sub only remains on the surface for literally a minute before diving to 215 feet depth to “wait in the behavior of the tanker and the approach of twilight.”
At 1:00 pm Heyse and his team are able to identify the ship using both visuals and an identification book. By this time – four-and-a-half hours after the attack – they have taken the opportunity to get closer enough to their quarry to read the name on the stern. He notes that “From Gronerthe tanker is identified as “O.A. KNUDSEN ” from Haugesund.  Has retained shipping company mark (red rings) around the stack in spite of other camouflage painting.”
At 2:15 pm Heyse’s radio operator picks up the Knudsen’s first successful Mayday / SSS, which was somewhat garbled. In essence, as Heyse took it down, he heard both the ship call for help and the shore-based station WAX in Hialeah Florida calling multiple times on the 600 band width asking for clarification. Then there seemed to be a warning sent out by the Seventh Naval District about an enemy submarine or at least an attack at 23.10N by 74.34W.
 At 6:30 pm U-128 surfaced again – based on the fact that it could see Elbow Cay Light at the same time the night before, it would have been dark by then, or at least twilight, which in the tropics is brief. He proceeded on both engines, course 215 degrees south-southwest. Heyse notes: “At twilight closed the tanker and on the way readied the artillery.  Condition of the tanker: it floats as if blown out on an even keel with little or no way.  No fire.  See several portholes amidships and the stern indicator light, no people”. There were, in fact, people on the ship – whether Heyse would have opened fire on the laden tanker knowing this or not is a matter of conjecture. Then he “Stopped to the starboard side of the tanker distance” 2,000 to 4,000 feet.
At 7:45 pm, more than 11 hours after the initial attack, U-128 moved in for the kill. “
Artillery operation with range = 1200 meters, target against the bright western horizon.  With a total of 19 shots observed 7 hits with the 10.5 cm, of which the 3rd shot caused fire and demolition of the bridge.  6th  and 7th hits in the stern starting fires.  After the 3rd hit immediately bright fire over the entire deck.   Cargo of heavy oil runs out and also catches fire on the water. Tanker burns from bow to stern with explosions, the sea around him burns.  No lifeboats seen.  Tanker breaks with explosions behind the bridge, bright tongues of flame, while running off very heavy smoke observed from the direction of the oil fire on the water.
Leaving the carcass of the Knudsen to burn and sink, U-128 and its crew heads east at 9 pm. By then Heyse records that the sea conditions have picked up a bit, with wind now 8-10 knots, seas 2-3 feet, and 1014 milibars on the barometer. The temperature is now 64 degrees Fahrenheit. He notes that but for his long encounter with the tanker he would have entered the Northeast and Northwest Providence channels, but his plan was “superseded by meeting O.A. KNUDSEN” and must give way.” One can imagine his elation at having sunk the largest Norwegian tanker at the time. He is reported to have sworn under his breath at the time that “no wonder it took so long to sink, the ship was German-built!”.

Heyse was not the only one elated at his successful patrol. At 4:31 pm on Friday the 6th of March, as the men from the Knudsen are struggling to rendezvous on the wide sea in two different boat, U-128 receives the following signal from U-Boat headquarters: To Heyse.  Kptlt (Ing.) Noack on 1 March is promoted in rank.  Heartiest congratulations.  Flotilla Commander.” The Commander of the Second Flotilla (Front) Kapitän zur See Viktor Schütze in Lorient would be sending more promotions and laurels over the airwaves soon.

During this patrol (on 24 March, after they had survived an attack south of Bermuda on the 7th of March, two days after the Knudsen attack) Heyse would be awarded the Iron Cross First Class as well as the U-boat war Badge 1939, both precursors to the Knights Cross, which he received in 1942.
The torpedo struck the #6 tank which fortunately held the kerosene, and not the more flammable gasoline. As Gunner Waldmar Lund put it, the torpedo “caught us unawares – we had neither seen nor heard anything. …One man was up at the top of the mast when the torpedo struck and he got a good shaking up but he managed to survive.” This must have been one of the lookouts. French/British seaman George Smith (Schmidt) was not so fortunate. He was working on deck at the #6 tank exactly where the explosion impacted the most. Lund wrote that “one man, A Frenchman, disappeared and we never saw him again” (Solum, Norway’s New Saga of the Sea, pp.99-100).
This was first hostile sinking during either world war of an Allied ship in Bahamian waters. The battle had just begun. Throughout the entire day Bringedahl and Heyse orchestrated a duel of wills. Captain Bringedahl ordered the First Engineer, Harald Stavdal, aged 29, to stop the engines. He told the Radio Operator, Nils Olsen, 39, of Onsoy, to send continuous SOS signals, however since the aerials had been knocked down the messages did not get through to anyone, including the U-boat listening nearby. The Captain then had the starboard lifeboat amidships – on the side opposite from the attack – lowered. Into this boat climbed 31 men. Eight living officers and men plus the corpse of poor Smith, remained on board.
The men selected to remain on board were all Norwegian, perhaps to avoid any miscommunication using different languages, like English. They included the Captain, Chief Officer Jacob Tvedt, aged 34, of Haugesund, Third Officer Georg Berntsen, 39 of Stavanger, Second Engineer Karl Hansen, 32, of Sandefjord, Bosun Kaare Lund, 26, of Vang. There were also three Able-Bodied Seamen: Olaus Johansen, 58, Andreas Friestad, 21, of Stavanger and Ole Mikkelsen, a week away from his 23rdbirthday, who, like Lund, doubled as a Gunner and Able-Bodied Seaman.
After assessing the damaged and concluding that aside from a slight list to port and the damaged radio aerials the ship’s engines worked and the vast majority of her other tanks – 26 out of 27 in fact – remained sound, the Captain made the decision to put the engine back in gear and head for the nearest land, Hole-in-the-Wall Light, Abaco, some 86 miles distant to the west-southwest.
At 8:42 am, just as U-128 fired what was to be the coup-de-grace shot to finish off the tanker, the Knudsen lurched forward and cheated death by seconds. The fourth torpedo fired by Heyse shot harmlessly astern of the tanker as it turned to port, from ten degrees north-northeast to west-southwest. The Knudsen also resumed its Admiralty-proscribed zig-zag pattern of turning sharply every four, six, and eight minutes. The ship managed nine knots, three knots slower than the 12 it was capable of.

            U-128 was not idle. At 9:10 the sub headed south-southeast at 120 degrees, then 20 minutes later turned west to 250 degrees, then at 9:30 am came to northwest 290 degrees, trying to line up a fifth shot on its quarry. Operating under both electric motors it finally lined up a shot and fired at 9:42, from such close range (500 meters or about 1,600 feet) that the projectile struck the ship the same minute.

The second hit on the ship hit the number nine tank further aft, which contained volatile gasoline cargo. The resulting explosion “blasted open” most of the port side of the ship, according to Captain Bringedahl. The remaining men abandoned ship in the port lifeboat. Then began a waiting game, with both the submarine – still submerged – and the two lifeboats lingering near the ship to see if she would sink. At noon he master ordered the starboard lifeboat containing 24 men to head for nearest land, while the motorboat (the port lifeboat) stayed near the ship. At 12:26 the submarine surfaced briefly to ascertain the name of the ship, but re-submerged within a minute and was not seen by the survivors in the boats.
At about 1:00 pm Captain Bringedahl boarded the ship for the first time since he had abandoned it at 9:45 or so. He chose Chief Engineeer Harald Stavdal, 29, of Solum, to accompany him, along with the Bosun, Kaare Lunde, the Radio Operator Nils Olsen, a Greaser (Otto Sirkel, 26, from Kaarli Estonia, the only non-Norwegian to have been selected to board), and an Able-Bodied Seaman, Arne Eide, 21, from Olen, Norway. Olsen tried to send off an SOS on 600 megaherz at 1:30 pm, however it was not successfully transmitted. At about 1:35 the 6 men joined the nine men in the motor lifeboat. A total of 15 remained from the 40 after one man had been killed and 24 left in the starboard, or sailing lifeboat. They pushed off from the ship.
Soon thereafter (“almost immediately” according to the Captain) about 1:50 pm, the same crew managed to board the ship again – the second time Bringedahl re-boarded his charge. They “proceeded to repair the broken aerial; the Radio Operator made a new tuning, which was successful.” At 14:00 This SOS: “SOS TORPEDOED, POSITION 2617 NORTH 7515 WEST , PLEASE SEND ESCORT” was picked up by WAX in Hialeah Florida as well as Key West, which relayed the information to the US 7th Naval District headquarters.
The US Navy examined the records of WAX (Tropical Radio) in Hialeah and showed that the “first and only” message was the same one they transmitted and that it was intercepted at 2:38 pm – why this is an hour and eight minutes after the crew claimed to have sent the message (1:30 pm) – may be explained in the difficulties juggling Eastern time, Greenwich time and Berlin time. Another possibility may be that the Bahamas were an hour ahead of the US at the time. At any event it seems clear from the record that the US Navy was efficient at getting the news out, but inefficient about doing anything about the news, in the way of sending assistance.
Twenty minutes after it was received, at 2:58 pm, the message was relayed to the District Intelligence Officer. Twenty-six minutes later, at 3:24 pm local (21:24 GCT), the evaluated message was sent to the Commandant, Seventh Naval District. Along with the actual message which the O. A. Knudsen sent, was the following analysis:
“Quote THIS WAS FROM IJIYJ WHICH IS O.A. KNUDSEN, NOR. M/V TANKER OF 11,007 GROSS TONS ENROUTE PORT ARTHUR TO HALIFAX AND POSITION IS IN THE MAIN SHIPPING LANE FOR ENGLISH PORTS. SHE IS ABOUT 12 HOURS BEHIND SCHEDULE FROM PORT ARTHUR AT HER RATED SPEED OF 12 [knots]. HOWEVER WEATHER CONDITIONS JUSTIFY THIS POSITION. unquote.” This message was not logged in the Eastern Sea Frontier Enemy Action Diary until the following day, 6th March 1942 after 10:00 am, however clearly it had made it to the decision maker/s in a timely fashion.
There was a complaint made later by the US Navy that intelligence sources in Nassau had informed them that the O. A. Knudsen had already sunk (and therefore, using deductive reasoning there would be no need to send naval ships or airplanes except to effectuate a rescue), however this report is undermined by the fact that Nassau never acknowledged receiving any radio message at all. They could not relay intelligence which they were not in receipt of.
The rest of the world – the naval establishment at least – now knew about the distressed tanker. It would have been reasonable to assume that help would be on the way, as they were roughly 200 miles or two hours or so by air from the Florida coast. On U-128 the confirmation that the ship’s SOS was received in Florida was grimly noted in the war log. Meanwhile Bringedahl, according to the First Mate Tvedt, threw overboard the confidential codes and papers in a weighted bag before they abandoned ship for the second time.
Then, after 2:00 pm for the second time the officers and crew rejoined their mates, and left the ship. Like Heyse in U-128 nearby they were waiting for darkness to see if the ship would sink. In the words of the survivors, “the ship was left until dark in order to insure the safety of the crew.” If it did not sink, then the survivors planned to re-board her and motor once again for Abaco. At the same time Heyse on U-128 was determined to sink her. Since neither party seems to have seen or communicated with each other, they had no idea of the other’s intentions or movements. This lack of communication would lead to the death of Johansen and could have spelt the end of all the men who later re-boarded her.
At 7:30 pm, well after sunset, Bringedahl, Stavdal the Chief Engineer, Olsen the Radio Operator, Lunde the Bosun, two AB’s including Johansen and Gunner Lund, and an Oiler (the Estonian Sirkel), bravely returned to the ship under cover of darkness. U-128 was unaware that they had done so. The AB’s struggled to transfer 25 gallons of gasoline, presumably in small drums, from the ship to the motor life boat. Lowering these to a lifeboat was no easy task, whether by clumsy small containers or a large drum. However the low freeboard of the laden and damaged tanker must have meant there was not much vertical distance between the deck of the ship and the lifeboat.
Most of the men went below to see if the motor was still functioning. These spaced would have all been well beneath water by this time. Chief Engineer Stavdal reported that “only small parts were broken – the engine was still useable”. He told Captain Bringedahl that “it could be possible to bring the ship into port at a very slow speed.”
At 7:45 pm the men were just getting ready to bring the ship’s engines back into play and motor for land when what appeared to be two submarines opened up shell fire on them. “Upon coming out on deck they were confronted by a shelling by two submarines, one from astern and one from forward.” The submarines – for shells seemed to be raining down from every direction – were fired every half-minute. Out of 40 shells estimated to have been fired, half, or 20 hit the ship, so a shell landed on the Knudsen every minute for the next 20 minutes.
The third and crucial shell struck the old Japanese 4.7-inch gun aft, and sent metal shards, or splinters, flying everywhere. Waldemar Lund was struck in the left eye by a shard, and Seaman Olaus Johansen was gravely injured several places in his body. This part of the narrative is best told directly by Waldemar Lund himself, from a radio interview in New York weeks later:
“Our cannon…exploded with an ear-splitting roar. All the men except one were injured, I got a terrific blow on the nose and a shell splinter in my left eye. It bled considerably and I could not see. I stood holding onto the ladder. Then the others called out that they were going into the lifeboat again.. …I was the last man on the ladder. The others shouted to me to jump overboard, which I did, blindly. Once in the water, I could see again, since the salt water cleaned the one eye, and I swam over to the life-boat. We rowed away with all our might and just in the nick of time, since the ship was now aflame. Half a minute more and we would not have managed to get away. As it was, every one of us was burned.” (Solum, p.100).
Captain Bringedahl ordered the boat, which had eight men in it, to come up to the ship on the port side. Lesser men might have fled, but the men in the motor boat, under the command of First Officer Jakob Tvedt followed orders and approached the ship. The seven men refused to leave the ship until fires had broken out.
As Tvedt later reported to the Admiralty, “before the motor boat could get alongside to remove the party, the Captain got splinters in his face and left foot, the Chief Engineer [Stavdal] in both arms, the Boatswain [Bosun] in one shoulder and the arm, and A.B. seaman Lund in the eye and A.B. seaman Eide in the head, and the oiler, Sirkel in the nose.” In an act of impressive seamanship and comraderie, the other five men, all of whom were injured and burned themselves, managed to lower Johansen into the life boat (Lund said that “one man was seriously wounded and they lowered him into the lifeboat”).
At 8:00 pm, as the men clambered aboard the lifeboat the O. A. Knudsen erupted in a massive fireball as the volatile gasoline cargo was ignited from the explosion and sparks of the shells. Fortunately for them flaming gasoline on the sea surface did not engulf the boat. Ulrich Heyse, looking on from a distance, commented on the burning gasoline on the sea surface, and how it emitted a dense smoke, visible even at night. Heyse also observed an explosion – in his opinion the ship cracked just forward of the accommodation, and was clearly doomed. He specifically logged that he saw no lifeboats at any time during the attack.
The O. A. Knudsen would burn throughout the night, presumably sinking some time at dawn of the Friday the 6th of March. Finally convinced that his prey was doomed, U-128 headed east towards Europe. It had taken five valuable torpedoes to sink the ship, but now the sub could fly a victory pennant for having destroyed the largest Norwegian tanker then afloat. Neither skipper witnessed the stubborn ship’s sinking.
There was a post-mortem of the sinking conducted by half a dozen ensigns and reserve naval officers in Miami weeks later, in which the officers of the O.A. Knudsen vented their feelings about not having been rescued. Since those interviews reflect how the men felt as they gave their burning tanker up for lost and turned their backs on her, they bear repeating at this juncture.
“In a calm but bitter voice,” write Ensign W. G. Warnock, Jr,. and Boatswain J. G. Fickling, US Naval Reserve,  “Mr. Stavdal [the Engineer] placed the blame for the loss of the vessel (which he asserted was one of the finest tankers on the sea) upon naval authorities charges with safeguarding Caribbean shipping. At no time during the day was the vessel in danger of sinking, and her engines could have been capable of carrying her in safety to nearly any port if airplanes or patrol boats had been sent out to drive off the attacking submarines.”
In summary Stavdal, First Officer Tvedt, and Second Officer Hansen stated that “eventual loss of the vessel was due to fire, set by shelling, and not to torpedoes. …All three of the officers informed that failure of any aid to arrive during the approximately 11.5 hour period during which they attempted to save the vessel (from 08:25 to 20:00, EWT, March 5, 1942) was indicative of greater United Nations weakness in Western Hemisphere waters than they had ever encountered elsewhere in the world, including off the coast of Nazi-held Europe.”
In a tone which could only be adopted by foreigners and which Americans would probably have been reluctant to adopt towards their own navy, Tvedt went on to say that “Axis submarines would not have the nerve to loaf around all day in order to sink a vessel in European waters, as they did in the sinking of the “O.A. KNUDSEN”. Chief Engineer Stavdal chimed in that “it was a cat-and-mouse game as far as the submarine was concerned.” No doubt if the men in the lifeboats knew that the submarine had no more torpedoes they would have tried to take the ship to land a third time sooner, and not waited until night time.
Regarding the morale and loyalty of the crew, the men were unified and “emphatic in their statements that there was nothing suspicious about the actions of any member of the crew prior to, or during, the attack.” The interviewers went on to note that “It should be noted that the officers and men are in accord in describing the crew as calm and diligent in carrying out all orders throughout the attack.” This was not the case for all shipwrecked sailors to be interviewed by the US Navy and Office of Naval Intelligence, as we shall see.
Another ship nearby – the Norwegian Nueva Andalusia– reported a ship ablaze at the Knudsen’s position, yet no allied aircraft or ever deployed in the tanker’s defense, a source or burning indignation for the Knudsenofficers and crew. The US Navy’s Eastern Sea Frontier Enemy Action Diary for 11:00 am Friday March 6th makes the following entry: “Info Center advised the master of NUEVA ANDALUSIA reports burning object, probably ship (0030 G.M.T. March 6) at 26-33 N., 75-41 W. (N/E of Eleuthera Island, Bahamas). Probably was SS O. A. KNUDSEN torpedoed” (Uboatarchive.net).
Thirty minutes after midnight GMT (in London) would translate to roughly 8:30 pm local time on Thursday March 5th, which corresponds with the time that O. A. Knudsen was abandoned in a burning state. The relative positions of the ships are also easily within line of sight of each other, particularly as one was a burning pyre in darkness.       
One wonders why Captain Olav Solhøy, who joined the ship as Master less than two months before, did not divert to rescue survivors of the O. A. Knudsen. No doubt the skipper was concerned for the safety of his own vessel and crew, and the general rule of the sea for rescue is that it must be undertaken unless, in the opinion of the rescuing Master, doing so places the rescuing vessel and its crew at a greater risk of loss itself.
In fact it was quite brave of the Nueva Andalucia to transmit a notice to shore via radio at all, as doing so may have exposed it to the menace of U-128 which was just heading out of the region. It is just as remarkable that Heyse didn’t hone in on the nearby ship after he heard the message, this is because the sub had used all 15 torpedoes and had expended them all on the Knudsen attack. The crew were no doubt exhausted and the prospect of taking on a large, armed ship with just a deck cannon would have no doubt been very daunting.
As soon as they pulled free of the ship, about 8:00 pm, the motor boat gave up on her and headed for Abaco. The ship was reported to be 86 miles from land when struck, and they had motored west at nine knots for roughly three quarters of an hour, meaning the life boats were roughly 80 miles from Hole-in-the-Wall Light. At 3:00 am on Friday March 6th the boats were hit by a squall described by First Officer Jacob Tvedt (in his report to the Admiralty) thus: “the wind got stronger in the night with a heavy rainshower.” The slightly more boisterous weather is corroborated by the logbook of the U-128.
The 15 men in the motor lifeboat voyaged until 5:30 pm that day (Friday the 6th: voyage duration 20 hours and 30 minutes) before they were able to catch up to the lifeboat. This had been proceeding under sail with 24 men. Thus the motorboat was able to make about three knots with a wind and sea behind, pushed by the reliable motor, which had plenty of gasoline.
Considering the large swathe of ocean it is impressive that the boats met at all, especially when the men were so low to the water and thus their line of visibility was limited. It took the starboard lifeboat 29.5 hours to cover the same distance – nine hours more than the motorboat. The sailing lifeboat averaged a speed of two knots. This was slow, but that it so to be expected as they were in a heavy boat with many men.  
The motorboat took the sailing boat under tow, and together they set off for Hole in the Wall Light, Great Abaco, which would have been about 20 miles distant. It is likely that as soon as the sun set by 6:30 pm they would have seen the lighthouse beam, since it projected to 23 miles and they were only roughly 20 miles away. Indeed the survivors said they could see the reassuring beam by 7:00 pm. At 11:30 pm the boats approached the shore after covering the 20 or so miles in six hours, at an average of just over three knots.
Due to the heavy breakers encountered they gave up trying to find a suitable landing place (Tvedt wrote that “…the boats were steered along the coast in an attempt to find a landing place, but were forced to abandon the plan because of the breakers” – this is simply good seamanship, giving an unknown lee shore a wide berth at night. It has taken the motorboat 27.5 hours to reach land, and the sailing boat 35.5 hours.
As related earlier, a schooner was sighted on Saturday 7th March at 02:00. For the first time in either war men from the Allied merchant marine and locals from the Bahamas came face to face on the high seas – it is a testament to both crews that they spotted each other, though the moon which Heyse had commented on a few days earlier no doubt increased visibility, as did the lighthouse’s beam.
The schooner’s Captain – presumably Captain Sherwin Archer of the converted sponger Arena – offered to guide the boats to Cornwall, Abaco Island (“a sailing craft supplied information on a landing place”). Because in light winds and with the proximity of a treacherous lee shore a motor would be more reliable, the “rescued” vessel took the “rescuer” in tow, with the sailing lifeboat towed behind the Arena. No doubt the crew from the lifeboats savored being on a larger vessel, seeing fresh faces, and eating fresh fruit and food.
The most likely landing place can be deduced by considering two factors: that they were landed at a railhead (“Cornwall, Abaco Island, where a landing was effected at the end of a railroad track at 08:00 EWT”), and that it took them six hours to reach the rail head. First, there was but one rail road terminus in the area at the time, and that was on the eastern end of Cross Harbour, which forms a bay that occupies most of the coast between Sandy Point to the west and Hole in the Wall to the southeast (there was another railhead built later but it is further west and thus a longer distance for them to have sailed – why would they have passed up one railhead for a more distant one?).
The second factor in determining where the boats landed is the simple analysis of time and distance. If the motorboat made three knots on its own, it would understandably proceed more slowly with a large schooner and a lifeboat in tow. It travelled for six hours, between 2:00 and 8:00 am on the same day. The speed can be estimated at two knots. In fact it was marginally faster, since some accounts state the schooner was sighted at 2:30, and it would have taken at least half an hour to discuss a plan, transfer wounded crew to the schooner, and implement the new towing arrangements. Also, some accounts give the arrival at Cornwall between 7:00 and 7:30 am. These facts mitigate in favor of the little convoy achieving 2.5 knots, perhaps a little more.
The distance from a point just a bit off Hole in the Wall Light to the southwestern tip of Abaco is four miles, from there to next headland is six miles, and from the headland to the rail terminus is two miles. Total distance: twelve miles. Average speed over six hours: two knots. Likely destination: the still-standing jetty at Cornwall (googleearth.com). To get there the men would have passed the abandoned settlement at Alexandria, in a shallow lagoon, but bypassing these ruins in favor of an actively inhabited community would have been a matter of common sense.
What confuses the issue is that there were as many as perhaps half a dozen Cornwall lumber camps as they migrated from fresh forest to forest for uncut timber over a period of year. But only one of them at the time had a rail head at this place. Evidence of the rail head still exists, though the tracks and the lumber camp have long since fallen into ruin (Darius Williams, Railroads of the Bahamas). Lund described the place as “… a Negro island with only three white families.” The only other candidate in the vicinity would be Crossing Rocks, which is on the windward side of Great Abaco and further to the north. But reaching there would have entailed crossing the reef and the breakers which prohibited a landing to the south, and there simply was not a rail head at Crossing Rocks (the author inspected a number of these sites first-hand in 2009 and 2011 to assess the probable outcomes).
The actual camp was some miles inland from where the railroad vented to the sea, so the men were in for a bumpy ride on a lumber truck over unpaved roads which were rutted from the rainy season. Said Lund, “…We were quartered in a chapel and given first aid and bandages by a Negro nurse….” (Libaek/Solum p.101). Poor Johansen must have been gingerly carried ashore in an improvised stretcher – perhaps two oars with a canvas sail or net draped between them. He would have been miserable under the hot sun.
The Survivors Statements relates that “the British Admiralty was notified of the crew’s plight via radio to Nassau.” How different the night must have been for the men, who in two years of war had experienced so few nights ashore. They had the reassuring hum and whop-whop of engine and propeller replaced by the eerie creaking of a life boat and then the croaking and cricketing of the pine forest of Abaco. No doubt they quickly became acquainted with the sandflies of the coast and the pervasive mosquitoes of the interior.
Instead of the hum of ship’s engines they would have been nudged to sleep by the purr of a generator or whatever machinery the mill kept going at night. Most of the large group of men would have had to have slept outdoors, staring through the elegantly slender pine trees at the moon and stars, and the clouds wisping in from the open sea to the east, being pushed along by the trade winds to the west. No doubt they would have slept soundly, though for the injured it must have been a challenge to manage their pain and adjust to being on solid land for the first time in months, if not more.
The next day was the Sabbath. Perhaps because Johansen and Lund were being tended to in the chapel services for the day were held elsewhere – irrespective, the day was spent in charitable acts more than charitable words, as the little community had to transport 38 out of their 39 new charges back to the rail road terminus to meet a rescue vessel.
On Saturday the authorities in Nassau requisitioned the power yacht Content S. and sent her with Doctor Lyon (assigned by the Chief Medical Officer of the colony, Dr. Cruickshank) with supplies to the rescue of the survivors. It arrived in Cornwall the next day, the 8th of March. Olaus Johansen was forced to remain behind with Dr. Lyon.  “The next day a hospital ship came over from Nassau and picked us up. One man had to remain in Abaco, however, since he was too sick to be moved”, said Lund. “…his name was Olaus Johansen and he had been a miner in Svalbard. After the raid on Svalbard he had gone to England. He was a stalwart man in his sixties. He was given doctor’s care but unfortunately to no avail” (Solum, p.101).
Leaving Johansen must have been hard on the crew. Though he had only joined roughly four weeks before, Lund at least clearly respected him (even overestimated his age by a few years). Johansen was the oldest man on board and could have been grandfather to the likes of British Engine Boy William Pike, aged 17, Deck Boy John Francis Boyle, aged 18, or young Ordinary Seaman George Napstad, who turned 18 that very week. It is likely that Johansen, who had only hours to live, was delirious and unable to fully appreciate that he was being left behind by his crewmates. Hopefully Dr. Lyon administered some morphine or other sedative. But for the crew which prided itself on having stuck it out together since the fall of Norway two years before, it must have been difficult indeed to leave one of their own in a barren foreign wood.
Nassau must was a-hum with the news that weekend, as locals prepared to welcome the first real victims of the war (yes, there had been the two Anglo Saxon survivors, but their ship had been sunk a thousand miles away, and the evacuees which arrived from the Belmont School were hardly the walking wounded). “Survivors or Torpedoed Ship Land in Bahamas” read the front page “Here and There” column of the Nassau Daily Tribune, Saturday March 7, 1942: “It was officially stated today that survivors from a torpedoed ship have landed at an island in the Bahamas and that the Government has taken prompt measures to bring them to Nassau. A doctor and supplies have been sent by the quickest possible means.”
The story came out (censoring the name of the ship and other details, such as which island they landed on) the very day that the survivors landed in Abaco and that word got out of Abaco about their landing, so the inter-island communications seemed to be working rather efficiently (the Tribuneis the evening paper, the Guardianthe morning). The voyage from Cross Harbor Abaco to Nassau is just over 52 miles, and would have taken about five hours at an average speed of ten knots, which would be a reasonable speed for a cabin cruiser. Since the men arrived in Nassau it can be assumed that the voyage began late Sunday morning and that they arrived that afternoon sometime after 3:00 pm.
Half-blind Gunner Waldemar Lund records that on Sunday the 8th “…we came to Nassau and were received at the pier by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. I hardly caught a glimpse of them, since I was taken to the hospital immediately, but I heard they had been very kind. We were well treated in every way, the sick and the well alike. All of us were given complete outfits by the Red Cross, though we heard that they came as a gift from the Duke” (Libaek/Solum p.101).
There being no Sunday papers at the time, here is how the Nassau Guardian of Monday 9th March described the O. A. Knudsen survivor’s arrival in a front-page article entitled “Survivors from Torpedoed Ship Brought to Nassau”:
“Thirty-eight survivors from a torpedoed ship, who were landed at an Out Island in the Bahamas on Saturday morning, were brought to Nassau early yesterday afternoon [Sunday 8th March] in the Content S. They were met on the dock by His Royal Highness the Governor and the Duchess of Windsor, the Colonial Secretary, the Hon. W. L. Heape, C.M.G., and other officials.
Mrs. Kenneth  Solomon, Deputy President of the Bahamas Red Cross Branch and Mrs. H. V. Brown were also there to ascertain the requirements of the men. The Captain and for of the men who had sustained injuries were taken to the Bahamas General Hospital and the others who seem to be quite fit are at the Rozelda Hotel temporarily. The Duke and Duchess went to the Rozelda to see the men settled in and Mrs. Solomon and Mrs. Brown supervised the out-fitting of the men with clothing such as socks and pajamas, suits and boots and toilet articles.”
That evening the Nassau Daily Tribune continued the vein in the “Here and There” column on the front page, writing that “A large crowd gathered at the landing. The Captain and thirty-seven men have arrived in Nassau. Three were stretcher cases and these were taken to hospital. Several wounded men were able to walk. One man has remained at the island. He was too ill to be moved. Dr. Lyon and a nurse have remained with him [Johansen]. It is understood that one man was killed in the explosion [Smith] when the torpedo struck the ship.
The most rigid censorship is being enforced by the Government and this is all we are allowed to print about the case, the facts of which are generally known” (Nassau Daily Tribune, March 9, 1942.) It is not often that a commercial newspaper will concede that its stories have been heavily censored, but there you have it.

            The task of entertaining the 35 members of the O. A. Knudsen’s crew that were not hospitalized was eagerly undertaken and without giving the men much time to rest. “Tanker Survivors Entertained,” crowed the Nassau Guardian: “The survivors from the tanker who went [ashore] on Sunday were entertained yesterday afternoon [Monday 9th March] at the Masonic Hall by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of Empire. [The show] was greatly enjoyed by all present.” (Nassau Guardian, March 10th, 1942 – heavy use of italics is due to illegibility of the microfiche).

On Tuesday March 10, 1942 the Nassau Guardian recorded that   The five men who [were taken] to the Bahamas [General] Hospital upon their [arrival in] Nassau are improving after [two days. The] rest of the men are [being taken] care of and some have [been] entertained during their [stay]. …Some of the survivors are young lads, have been away from home for as long as [three years]”.
Of course all was not celebratory for the wounded, and probably not for the men who were physically fit, either – it must have been quite a culture shock to have been delivered from a daily struggle against the fear of being sunk to resting in an idyllic setting where peacetime conditions prevailed and rationing was not widespread.
On Monday the 9th of March, the day after his companions left, Able seaman Olaus Johansen died of wounds in the care of Dr. Lyon and was buried on Abaco Island. “He died the following day” wrote Lund. The Nassau Guardian  duly reported the glum news: “It was learned here [that the] seaman who was left [in the care of] Dr. Lyon in a critical [condition on one] of the Out Islands [by] his fellow shipmates [from a] torpedoed ship, were [taken to Nassau, died this morning” (Nassau Guardian, March 10, 1942. Back pages under “Survivor of Torpedoed Tanker” – text partially obscured in scans on microfiche in national Archives of Bahamas. These were scanned in Florida as part of a University of Florida history / archival program).
The Guardian continued to report on the warm reception laid on for the men of the O. A. Knudsen, who were soon joined by 30 mostly Greek officers and crew from the Cygnet(arrived Nassau 12th March), 58 Brits from the Daytonian (arrived 15th) and Athelqueen (arrived 17th). “A large number of contributions of fruit, vegetables, ad other foodstuffs have been received at the I.O.D.E. [Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire] Canteen in the Masonic building, for the survivors from torpedoed ships and the military forces in Nassau … The seamen and soldiers have made themselves entirely at home in the friendly atmosphere of the Canteen and every night they entertain themselves with games of cards, darts, Chinese checkers, ping pong, backgammon and other games and a radio and two gamaphone furnish music” (Nassau Guardian, March 15, 1942).
It is interesting to note that clearly the officers and crew of the O. A. Knudsen, the Athelqueen, the Daytonian and probably the Cygnet mingled in Nassau. “Ole MIKKELSON stated that it was rumored in Nassau that survivors of an unknown English ship recognized the attacker of their ship as an Italian submarine.” Since the Knudsen survivors never saw their attacker they could be forgiven for thinking that she was Italian, as the survivors of both British ships – the Daytonian followed by the Athelqueen – saw and interacted with their Italian attackers.
The Daytonian crew in particular saw the Italian flag being unrolled and interacted with Commander Fecia di Cossato. Of the two it is more likely that the Daytonian crew spread this rumor, as the Athelqueen men did not arrive in Nassau until the 17thof March, the same day the Knudsen crew left – if they didn’t in fact leave on the 16th. The Daytonian men by contrast were landed on the 15thby the Rotterdam and would have had at least a day or two to mingle with the Knudsen sailors, either in the Lucerne or Rozelda hotels or the I.O.D.E. canteen.
The Lucerne Hotel, where officers were billeted (crew tended to be lodged at the Rozelda, on East Street), had an interesting history. Located on the corner of Frederick Street and Trinity Place, behind Trinity Church, it boasted wide wrap-around verandahs. It was known as “the headquarters of bootleggers during the Prohibition. The manageress was known as Dog Face Di, and despite the unflattering description, she was known to keep the gangsters housed at the Lucerne quiet when services at Trinity Church were being held.” The back, or southern portion of the building (without a verandah) had been used as the church’s girl’s school (Malone and Roberts, “Nostalgic Nassau,” Nassau Nostalgia, Nassau, 1991, p.51).
Commenting on another fracture of the crew, Lund wrote that “The others left after a week, but I remained in the hospital because they had to remove my bad eye. Almost all the nurses were Negro and it was a Negro doctor who removed my eye” (Libaek/Solum p.101).  Just after twilight on Monday the 16thMarch 1942 Captain Bringedahl and all crew except Lund and one other man (thought to be Stewart Cameron, a Canadian Oiler, who may have taken a ship directly back to Canada on one of the “Lady Boats”) departed Nassau.
Totaling 36 men, they utilized the services of the Albury & Company vessel Ena K. which had plied the route between Nassau and Miami literally a thousand times. It was reported that the ship’s recently installed new engine propelled her at 10.5 knots, and the distance is 185 miles, so the trip would have taken 18 hours. They arrived in Miami at 1:00 pm and so must have left at 7:00 pm the previous day.
Albury & Company not only owned the Ena K. and the Betty K., but they conveniently served as ship’s agents and handled the husbandry and local procurement representatives for the Captain, crew and ship owners in the Bahamas as well as Miami. It was Albury and Company which would have liaised with the consular officials to get the crew visas to visit the US, arranged for the British Tankers firm to wire funds to the Master, and taken care of all and sundry such details.
The local papers continued to update readers as to the status of the invalids and survivors, detailing their departure a week or so later for Miami then New York and printing a letter of thanks from Capt. Bringedahl. “Captain Knut Bringedal [sic], Officers and Crew desire to express their grateful thanks and appreciation to the Government, the Bahamas Red Cross, the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, the Bahamas general Hospital, Mr. J. W. Roberts of the Abaco Lumber Company, the Management of the Rozelda and Lucerne Hotels and those of the general public for their splendid reception, many kindnesses and assistance accorded them, during their stay at Abaco and Nassau.” (Nassau Guardian, March 17 1942, “Acknowledgements,” p.2).
 Coverage of the men followed them to the United States. Even though most of them only spent less than ten hours in the city, the Miami Herald touted that “Surviving crewmen of the two vessels went through Miami Tuesday” on the 19th of March, and the Tribune repeated the story on the 20th with a piece entitled “Survivors Ready to Face Subs Again” on the front page:  
“Thirty-four survivors of the Norwegian ship sunk near the Bahamas left two mates in serious condition in Miami Beach hospital and two in watery graves, but they were ready to fight again when thy reached New York Thursday [after] watching helplessly while shells pounded their ship into a blazing hulk” Miami Herald March 19 1942, Nassau Daily Tribune March 20, 1942. In fact the men arrived at 1:00 at Pier Two, Miami and “entrained at 22:30 EWT [10:30 pm] …for New York, where they will secure another ship.” In the interim, as noted, they were subjected to many hours of questioning by a veritable battery of young Ensigns from the US Navy and US Naval Reserve.
It isn’t made clear which two members of the 36-man crew were left behind in Miami. Since they were described in the papers as being in “serious condition” it must be assumed that they were two of the seven men injured in U-128’s final shelling attack on the ship. Since Lund and Johansen have been accounted for, that leaves five possibilities: the Captain with splinters in his face and foot, the Chief Engineer Stavdal with wounds in both arms, Bosun Lunde hurt in the shoulder and arm, A.B. seaman Eide in the head, and the oiler, Sirkel in the nose. Sirkel, Lunde, and Stavdal all responded to interviews by the Navy, and only Eide and Bringdahl did not. So by deduction it can be assumed that the Captain and the A.B. are the two men who remained behind in Miami to recuperate before they headed on to New York as well.
Some weeks later, on about the third of April Lund left Nassau for Miami, which he transited after a few days and arrived in New York, where he provided a radio interview. “Since all went well, I could leave a fortnight later,” he writes. He must have been quite a personable and charming man, since he adds “In Miami the official who heads the port authorities is a Norwegian, and there I was taken on a sightseeing tour of the town for a whole afternoon Now I am waiting [in New York] to get a glass eye and then the Navy will have to decide what it wants to do with me” (Libaek/Solum p.101). The author, Lise Libaek, chimes in “this young gunner went to the Norwegian Medical Office in New York city and said: “Don’t you dare put me out of active service; one eye is absolutely all you need for taking sight through a cannon.”
As it turns out, the Nueva Andalucia, which reported the burining O. A. Knudsen,  was steaming towards its doom. Built in the same yard as the O. A. Knudsen (Deutsche Werft) and delivered to Norway in March 1940 mere weeks before the Germans invaded that country, the ship was on a voyage to Port Arthur Texas to load a cargo for Halifax, where it would be wrecked. When she encountered the Knudsen she was in ballast from Liverpool, which she had left in Convoy ON 67 on the 14th of February. The Nueva Andalucia detached from the convoy on the 26th of February and was steaming independently through the Northeast and Northwest Providence channels then the Straits of Florida to the US Gulf.
Nueva Andalucia arrived in Port Arthur on the 10thof March and loaded 14,000 tons of petroleum for the UK. On her arrival in Halifax late on the 22nd of March (she had left Texas ten days earlier), the ship ran aground on Thrum Cap Shoal near Chebucto Head. The ship broke up, the forward section caught fire and blew up, and Foundation Maritime Limited (about which author Farley Mowat wrote two compelling books), salvaged the after section and some of the cargo on the 19th of July. The ship had a new bow welded on in the Newport News Shipyard in 1947 and sailed under the Nueva Andalucia name until it was broken up in 1961.
Captain Knut Bringedahl continued sailing as master. He took command of his next ship, the Norvik, in New York on the 20th of April 1942, just a month and a half after the O. A. Knudsen sank. This ship, too was sunk – by U-522 under KapitänleutnantHerbert Schneider – in a convoy action south of the Azores on the 9th of January 1943. All but two of the crew of 45 were rescued from other ships in the Convoy, TM-1 from Trinidad to Gibraltar, presumably by HMS Havelock under Commander R. C. Boyle who attempted to scuttle the Norvik by gunfire. Captain Bringedahl continued sailing to the end of the war, including a stint as relief captain of the Norwegian motor tanker Vav between about February and April 1944. According to the National Archives of Norway he died in 1968.
            Waldemar Lund was cleared to continue his gunnery career despite the loss of half of his eyes. He served aboard the Frithof Nansenof Oslo from January to June 1942, and the motor tanker Vanja from June 1943 to January 1944. Then he joined the Titania Tonsberg between January and November 1944. His last two war-time ships were the Edvard Grieg between January and June 1944 and then the tanker Petter of Arendal, on which he served from July second 1945 until the 19th of the same month (the war ended weeks later). Gunner Waldemar Lund lived until 2000 and the age of 84.

            O. A. Knudsen Motorman Ludvik Slettene was far from over, though his life would end in the final weeks of the war in Europe. In April 1945 he served as Motorman on the Norwegian ship Karmt of 4,991 tons, like the second O. A. Knudsenbuilt at Blythswood Shipbuilding in Glasgow, only in the same year as the Bahamas O. A. Knudsen was built – 1938. The Karmt arrived in the UK from Nigeria with a cargo of peanuts, palm oil and some valuable minerals such as gold and tin concentrate. She anchored in The Downs on the 18th of April 1945, seemingly safe, except that U-245 under KorvettenkapitänFriedrich Schumann-Hindenberg found her there.

The Karmt was sunk with less than a month of war left, a mere two miles from the white cliffs of Dover. Five men, including four Norewegian Motormen and a Belgian were killed instantly in the explosion. Ludvik Slettene was one of them. Thirty-seven of the officers and crew under Captain Arne Fjedheim along with the Belgian pilot were rescued, and the valuable cargo was salvaged after the war by salvor Risdon Beazley (Uboat.net, minnehallen.no/skip_w/karmt-ms).

Steward Arnulf Samuelsen met another wet ending to his next voyage as well – and a colder one. He was born in Drobak on the 24th of August 1913 and was 29 years of age. In New York he joined a Norwegian general cargo ship which was, like the Knudsen, from Haugesund – the 1,383-ton Manghild (ex-Santiago). The Manghild stayed in New York for an unusually long time, March 13thto May 21st, 1942. It appears that she gained a new skipper, Captain Gabriel Hansen, in April, and that Samuelsen signed aboard after the Knudsen crew arrived about the 19th of March. Exactly two months after the Knudsen was torpedoed, the Manghildhit Virgin rock in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland in heavy fog.

Just like with the Knudsen, two lifeboats abandoned ship and spent a day shuttling between going ashore for help, going back to the ship, and just standing by in the frigid cold. The following day, 6th of May, a Canadian Naval ship was sighted, which rescued the men in one boat and stood by as the men in the motorized life boat went back to the ship to see if they could save her. Realizing how determined the survivors were to save their ship at their own peril, they were finally ordered to be rescued by the naval ship. The Manghild’s crew were landed in Newfoundland and the ship declared a total loss on May 23rd

Deck boy John Francis Boyle, listed as born in Glasgow on the 31st of October 1922, was 21 when he survived the Knudsen sinking but had already experienced a full life. According to his granddaughter Nikaela, (message 8 Oct. 2003), the “surname [Boyle] was given to him when he joined the Norwegian Merchant Marines at age 14. He was originally from Spain and received British Citizenship.” Hence the place of birth – Glasgow – on his Knudsen paperwork may not be 100% accurate. According to Nikaela, “He worked on tankers and freighters. He was mostly on a German oil tanker. He was sunk several times on other ships, and received a medal for saving his ship from an incoming torpedo.”

The story becomes even more interesting, as re-told down through the generations. Apparently “He was tried in New York eventually for something relating to mutiny. He was ordered back on a ship and he jumped ship on the way out of port and never went back. He stayed in the US from then on.” (from a post at warsailors.com)

First Engineer Harald Stavdal, born in Solum on the 9th of August 1912, was sadly lost in the war – off South Africa on another ship. Twenty-nine at the time, he joined the 4,768-ton Tabor in New York while it lay over there between April 20th and May 11th, 1942. On March 9th, just over one year since the Knudsen was sunk, the ship was struck by a torpedo from U-506 under Kapitänleutnant Erich Würdemann off Cape Agulhas, South Africa. She was on a ballast voyage from Port Said Egypt to Cape Town via Aden.

Stavdal managed to escape the inferno which the engine room had become, but he was badly burnt over his entire body. The survivors, including the injured Stavdal, made it into four lifeboats. Sadly Stavdal died on the first evening. His remains were committed to the sea in an unmarked grave. Between 17 and 19 March 34 survivors managed to make it to shore in South Africa, however twelve of them were killed, including nine on the ship, Stavdal in the boat, and two of them when a boat capsized off Cape Agulhas.

Motorman / Mechanic Bjarne Børresen next appears on board the Norwegian ship Glittre of 6,409 tons, registered to Stavanger. Though exactly how Børresen signed on board, the ship was in New York in late 1942 and it is possible that he occupied himself there or on other ships until that time. On the 23rd of February 1943 the ship was struck in mid-Atlantic by a torpedo from U-628 under Kapitänleutnant  Heinrich Hasenschar and later finished off by U-603 under KapitänleutnantHans-Joachim Bertelsmann.

Another tanker, the Winkler, offered to pick the survivors up, but, though they were in the windswept North Atlantic in winter they refused, assuming the ship itself would soon be sunk (they were right, she was, by U-223 shortly afterwards). The 34 survivors out of a crew of 37, including Borresen, were landed in Saint Johns Newfoundland by one of the escorting corvettes HMS Dianthus, which picked them up mid-ocean.

Able Seaman and Gunner George Napstad,  was more fortunate in that he survived the war. He was born in Gjovik on March 1st 1924 and thus celebrated his 18th birthday a few days before the Knudsen was sunk. Later, he served aboard the Grena, which was the last Norwegian ship sunk by the Axis in the Indian Ocean during World War II. Her assailants were neither German nor Italian, but rather Japanese. She was sunk by the Japanese submarine I-26 under Commander Kusaka on the 17th of March 1944. The Grena was built by Götaverken in Sweden in 1934 and weighed 8,117 gross tons. After the sinking by three torpedoes and shellfire, which killed three men sleeping in hammocks beneath the gun, the men were left alone by the submarine and set off the Arabian coast at Abadan roughly 30 miles away.

After an adventurous voyage with some badly burned men, where they switched between repairing a small motor, being helped by a local dhow, and anchoring against headwinds, they managed to reach a British RAF base at Ras el Hadj. Though three of them were flown post-haste to the British General Hospital in Karachi on the 24th of March, they all perished. George Napstad survived the ordeal, as he had with the O. A. Knudsen. He was transferred to Suez on the 14thof April 1944 aboard the Dutch ship Noesaniwiwhere he stayed at the Merchant Navy Club to await joining another Norwegian ship (warsailors.com).
According to the US Office of Naval Intelligence “Interrogation report, “Having used all his 15 torpedoes, the commander set course for Lorient, again passing close to Bermuda.  In this area U-128 was attacked by an airplane which dropped either two bombs or two shallow set depth charges.  No damage was sustained. It is probable that this was the attack delivered by two PBM planes of VP-74 at 1202 Q March 7 1942, in position 30.05 N., 65.00 W. 
The first bomber released two depth charges set at 50 feet just as the stern of the U-boat disappeared, but unfortunately they were duds.  The same plane made another run later releasing two depth charges, and the other bomber dropped two more.  The assessment of the attack was ‘No damage’” (Mason, uboatarchive.net/U-128INT).  This is corroborated in Lawrence Paterson’s Second U-Boat Flotilla, who wrote “…near Bermuda Heyse received the brunt of a brief air-attack, two shallow-set depth-charges falling wide, shaking the boat as it crash-dived to safety” (p. 133).
According to the KTB or war diary of U-128, her position on 7th March (German time), was 28.57N, 70.54W instead of instead of 30.05N and 65N. However at noon the next day she was at 30.45N, 67.18W, which is closer, so it can be said that submarine and aircraft were in the same general area, and this author finds no other submarine in the same vicinity at that time. The fact that both Axis and Allies have a record of the same incident at the same rough time and location mitigates in favor of the report’s veracity. It would appear that while US Navy Patrol Squadron VP 74 was based later in Natal Brazil, at the relevant time the PBMs and other aircraft were stationed at the US lend-lease base in Bermuda.
Thereafter U-128 headed northeast for Bermuda and an exit of the region just south of that island colony on the 9th of March. This patrol began in Lorient on the 8th of January and ended there on the 23rd of March 1942, taking 75 days total. There are photographs of U-128 returning from this patrol, and the ONI notes that “Admiral U-boats, Dönitz, was present at their reception and congratulated Kapitänleutnant Heyse on his claim of 30,000 tons of United Nations shipping sunk.” (Mason, Uboatarchive.net).
After this patrol and these three sinkings, U-128 went on four more patrols, the following three of them under Heyse, in which it sank a further nine ships. Patrol number three took 89 days. It began in Lorient on the 25th of April and ended on the 22nd of July 1942 and resulted in the destruction of 35,620 tons of Allied shipping, mostly just northeast of Trinidad, though the sub never entered the Caribbean Sea or the Bahamas area.
On the 13thof May U-128 sank the Denpark of 3,491 tons, off the coast of Western Sahara. This was a result of a group attack by U-128, U-161 under Albrecht Achilles, and U-126 under Ernst Bauer on convoy SL (for Sierra Leone) 109 northwest of the Cape Verde Islands. The attack went on for days and was hampered by rain squalls and poor visibility, as a result of which only U-128 was successful, and U-161 was pinned down by counter-attacks.
 After a fruitless search for targets off Brazil U-128 moved north. During her sojourn off Brazil not only were no Allied ships attacked, but U-128 was swooped upon by a Brazilian airplane which dropped two bombs near Fortaleza. Fortunately for the submarine crew the attack was ineffective (Mason, Uboatarchive.net, p.14).
On the 8thof June the South Africa of 9,234 tons east of Barbados. Following the attack, the ONI officers report that “U-128 surfaced after the attack and supplied the survivors with bread and brandy after interrogating them briefly” (Mason, Uboatarchive.net).
Starting on the 21st of June Heyse had a series of successes just east of the Windward Islands,, sinking the West Ira of 5.681 tons on the 21st of June and two days later the Norwegian tanker Andrea Brovig of an impressive 10,173 tons (just shy of the O. A. Knudsen in carrying capacity). On the 27thof June he sent the 7,041-ton Polybius to the bottom (Uboat.net).
The following day U-128 is reported to have damaged the American freighter Steel Engineer of 6,687 tons north of Paramaribo, however Uboat.net does not attribute this attack to U-128 probably because the ship was not seriously damaged or sunk. The US intelligence officers report that U-128 made a rendezvous with a supply U-boat south of the Azores in early July on the return voyage, however Wynn in his U-Boat Operations of the Second World War (pp.104-105) does not mention this. During the three-hour meeting a doctor inspected the crew and some ten cubic meters of fuel were transferred, according to captured prisoners (Mason, Uboatarchive.net).
From the 2ndto the 9th of September 1942 U-128 undertook a unique patrol to test new Axis technology, called by the Americans G.S.R. for German Search Receiver. Five civilian technicians boarded the sub for a series of maneuvers in the Bay of Biscay aimed at detecting the presence of Allied aircraft, at which point the submarine would effectuate an emergency dive. The patrol was successful inasmuch as a number of Allied aircraft were detected. Since she only had six torpedoes during this short patrol of just over a week, a further seventeen were taken on in Lorient for her next mission, which would be the sub’s longest at 124 days.
On the 14thof September U-128 again left Lorient under Heyse, and headed to the Freetown, West Africa area in October where she patrolled until early November. Finding insufficient Allied targets, the boat moved to the Cape Verde Islands, where it sank the Norweian Maloja of 6,400 tons on the 8th of November, followed by two ships two days later: the British vessels Cerinthus of 3,878 and the Start Point of 5,293 tons, on the 10th of November. Characteristically Heyse picked up two survivors from the Start Point, the Chief Officer and Chief Engineer and delivered them to a supply boat, the U-461 roughly ten days later.
On the 5thof December U-128 sank its final ship of the patrol (and the U-boat’s career) the Teesbank of 5,136 tons, which was also British, bringing total tonnage during the patrol to 20,707 in four ships. Heyse again took the senior Allied officer, the Master, Captain William George Loraine, prisoner, transferring him to U-461 under Stiebler shortly thereafter.
U-461 provided four extra torpedoes and 75 cubic meters of fuel to U-128 near the Saint Paul’s Rocks to the northeast of Brazil. After further weeks of patrols off the north coast of Brazil, U-128 headed for home on Boxing Day, 26th December, and arrived in Lorient on the 15th of January, 1943.
As mentioned, Ulrich Heyse transferred command of U-128 to Kapitänleutnant Hermann Steinert on the 1st of March 1943. A member of the Crew of 1936, Steinert was born in Traunstein on the 10th of December 1916 and was aged 26 at the time of his first and final patrol in command of a U-boat. Steinert is still alive in end 2011. He rose from rank of Seekadett, or Sea Cadet in 1936 to Kapitänleutnant in the 1st of May, 1943, which was during this patrol and mere weeks before his capture. His 1WO or First Watch Officer (second-in-command) outranked him until that point.
U-128’s final patrol began on the 6th of April and lasted only until the 17th of May, when the boat was sunk by Allied aircraft, also of the VP-75 squadron, after 42 patrol days. The patrol began uneventfully with a long passage to Bahia Brazil, off of which the submarine patrolled from the 11th of May. On the 16th of May U-128 was attacked by a US Mariner aircraft from Squadron VP-74 piloted by Lieutenant H. E. Gibbs. Gibbs dropped six depth charges and observed a swirl in the sea. He then returned to base at Arutu, Brazil.
The following day two more Mariners from the same squadron, these ones piloted by Lietenants Cary and Davis found U-128 on the surface roughly twenty miles off the coast. The attack was photographed in detail by the plane not actually performing it, providing readers with a detailed illustration on a clear and calm day. Davis’ depth-charge attack forced the U-boat to the surface. Carey’s follow-up delivered shortly thereafter further damaged the boat.
            With the boat disabled and foundering on the surface, each aircraft initiated up to twenty strafing attacks, expending over 4,500 large-caliber bullets on their prey. The submarine managed to move forward, however it could not dive. Crew assembled on the conning tower on the opposite side from the airplane and some of them tried to signal surrender, though such an order had not yet been given.
            Davis left Carey at the scene and vectored two US Navy destroyers, the USS Moffett and the USS Jouett, to the scene while Carey continued to attack with machine guns. On seeing the destroyers Stienert decided to surrender and he ordered the crew to abandon ship. David dropped a life raft from the air into which at least 51 survivors climbed or clung.
The Moffett and Jouett, not daring to approach the submarine too closely, shelled her from a distance, sinking her and possibly losing an opportunity to salvage an intake U-Boat, though no doubt scuttling charges had been set by the retreating submariners (the Chief Engineer, Gustaf Stutz later died of chlorine poisoning from the ruptured batteries).  The four survivors who made it to the destroyers and subsequently died (Hoffman, Kreysing, Fritz Wirthschaft, Hans Winkler) were buried at sea. (Uboat.net, Blair, Vol. 2, p.223, Wynn, Vol. 1, p.105).
As reported by the (admittedly biased) Office of Naval Intelligence in their own report (Uboatarchive.net, p.1), “U.S.S. Moffett was able to save 51 men…. 47 men, the commander, his executive officer, two midshipmen and 43 ratings  and enlisted men, were landed at Recife on May 18, 1943. ..Due to the immediate segregation of the officers, petty officers and men and the efficient handling of the prisoners by the Fourth Fleet, the task of preliminary interrogation was immeasurably facilitated. This interrogation was undertaken by qualified interrogators, who had been flown from the United States.”

The report continues: “…No doubt the good treatment they had received played its part in the unlimbering some of the prisoners, most of whom were happy that for them the war was over. They were, in the words of some prisoners, ‘very lucky’ (uboatarchive.net, p.1). There are a number of black and white photographs of the crew of U-128 in captivity in the US, with shirts painted with Swastikas, hair close-cropped, enjoying simply military-issue meals. Indeed they were fortunate, and unlike two-thirds of their comrades and a number of the officers and crew of the O. A. Knudsen, they would survive the war.