M/T Pan Norway sunk by U-123/Hardegen NE of Bermuda: neutral Mount Aetna came to rescue of 40 Norwegians, took them to Lisbon

M/T PAN NORWAY, Attack & Survivors’ Narrative

By Eric T. Wiberg, Esq. www.uboatsbermuda.blogspot.com, October, 2014

The Norwegian motor tanker Pan Norway, built between 1930 and 1931.

Photo Source: Wrecksite.eu, http://wrecksite.eu/img/wrecks/pan_norway_1931.jpg, also http://www.sjohistorie.no/skip/p/pan_norway

The Norwegian motor tanker Pan Norway was built between 1930 and 1931 at the Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Limited shipyard in Wallsend, Sunderland, England. She was yard number 1,441 and equipped with a single diesel engine which propelled the steel ship at 11 knots when built. The vessel’s dimensions were 9,231 gross tons, 15,300 deadweight tons cargo carrying capacity, 508’10” long, 65.5 feet wide, and 28.7 feet deep. The ship’s only owners were Per Holm of Oslo, whose shipping firm was named Skibs-A/S Arnstein. The only other ship in the small fleet was the Hoegh Carrier, which sank off Kristiansund, Norway on the 4th of January, 1940.

At the time Germany invaded Norway in April 1940 the Pan Norway was en route from Rio de Janeiro Brazil to Cristobal Panama and evaded the immediate conflict. According to John Mozolak the Pan Norway sailed from New York Harbor on May 17th and December 2nd 1940 as well as January 25th, March 7th and April 3rd 1941. During the war she mostly sailed independently (as in Aruba to Halifax in December 1941), but also participated in convoys HX 165, BB 117 and ON 56. In 1940 24-year-old Austrian Heinz Kalmar from Purkersdorf had to flee Nazism in his home country. He served as a mess-boy on the Pan Norway, jumped ship, and emigrated to Uruguay for the duration of the war plus 15 years before returning.

On the Pan Norway’s first eastbound trans-Atlantic Convoy (HX 165) starting December 15th 1941, one of her gunners was Robert Orwin, subject of a biography by his son Steve entitled “Gunner and Land Girl.” Orwin said he was treated well by his Norwegian shipmates and that they all celebrated New Years in the Captain’s cabin on arrival in the UK. On her final voyage the Pan Norway sailed from Avonmouth on the 9th of January, Belfast Lough on Sunday the 11th of January 1942 (some sources say the 13th). On Friday January 16th the ship dispersed from Convoy 56 in position 59N and 17W.
Another, fuzzy view of the Pan Norway from the starboard side.

Photo Source: Anstein Jarl Nørsett, http://www.sjohistorie.no/skip/p/pan_norway

Captain Johan Arndt Bach, age 43, was in command of the Pan Norway on her last voyage. There were a total of 40 men on board the ship, most of them Norwegian. However there were four Swedes, two Latvians, two British sailors and a Canadian saloon boy, Carmen Greencorn. All of them were merchant mariners, some with special training in the manning and operation of the guns, but there were no military gunners per se on board. The Pan Norway was crossing the Atlantic empty and in ballast in order to load a cargo of aviation fuel in Aruba for the UK.

By 8:30 pm ship’s time on Monday the 26th of January the Pan Norway was 735 nautical miles east northeast of Bermuda, 780 nautical miles southeast of Halifax, 930 nautical miles from the nearest Azores Island, and roughly 2,000 miles from Lisbon. This time coincides with about 2:30 am German time, at which point 28-year-old Kapitänleutnant Reinhard Hardegen aboard the submarine U-123 initiated a bold surface attack with gunnery against the armed tanker. The German commander, who had allegedly been friendly with Captain Bach before the war (Warsailors.com forum), described the initiation of the attack in his KTB or war diary, thus:

“A shadow to starboard, which is soon recognized as a tanker, course 220°, speed 9-10 knots.  I overtake and approach from ahead.  In this bright moonlight only impudence wins and the trust that his lookouts are inferior to ours.  Otherwise he has to see us for I am running at high speed to get closer fast.  We must make a decision because a light is seen on the horizon.  Subsequently I see a big gun on the stern.  I ordered all guns, 105 mm, 37 mm and 20 mm manned….” 
(http://uboatarchive.net/KTB123-7.htm). The Pan Norway was defensively armed with a large gun astern and five machine guns.

In a calm sea and under a bright moon Hardegen pressed home the attack at 2:03 am German time: “Commence the battle from a distance of 2500 meters as crossing action, turning behind his stern to fire from the side. Already the third salvo is on target.  Good and fast.”
Hardegen even made a diagram of his attack:

Diagram of U-123’s attack on Pan Norway on the night of 26/27 January 1942. The line and arrow at upper left is the track of the “Mount Etna” rescue ship.

Image Source: Capt. Jerry Mason, http://uboatarchive.net/KTB123-7.htm

“Several hits in the engine room and funnel set the stern on fire. There is a flash on the bridge.We get hits on our bridge, which did not penetrate because they hit at a very acute angle. His shots fell short most of the time. Ordered deck gun to be aimed at the bridge and the IIWO soon found the target. Distance now 1000 meters. When the bridge caught fire I turned away sharply to not show my broadside and waited. Tanker stops and launches lifeboats. Radioed position, it’s the tanker PAN NORWAY (9231 GRT) sailing in ballast.”

Although Captain Bach believed his ship was being attacked by two submarines and he ordered the men to abandon ship, several of the gunners ignored those orders and continued firing. According to Siri Holm Lawson, who read the original reports in Norwegian, “Able Seaman/ Gunner Einar K. Karlsen was hit by shrapnel and fell from the gun platform to the deck, but the remaining 3, Able Seaman/Gunner Arne G. Berntsen, Able Seaman William Jensen and Galley BoyLeif Wanstrøm continued their efforts to defend the ship, only to find that the gun was jammed after a hit from the U-boat.”

Meanwhile, Hardegen in U-123 had some issues of his own to deal with, noting that: “While bringing the empty cartridges back into the boat one accidentally fell from the bridge through to the control room and hit the MaschOGfr. Bastl in the face and he suffered a split upper lip and lost several teeth.  A case of military accident.
The men on the Pan Norway scrambled to escape, however half of the four lifeboats were incapacitated: one was stripped from the ship during a storm the week before and another hit by a shell which left it dangling from only one set of lines. All of the rafts and two lifeboats were launched, and a number of men jumped into the sea to swim to them. Fortunately it was quite calm. There were twelve men in the boat run by Second Mate ØisteinVollebekk and sixteen men in Captain Bach’s lifeboat.

Hardegen was detailed in his recording of events, particularly the death throes of the Pan Norway: “After it became clear that the tanker was abandoned, I closed to 250 meters and shot holes into the waterline with the 105 mm gun.  The aft gun on the tanker was a 120 mm gun on a high, strong pivot and a well built platform. According to the survivors it could not be manned due our fire hitting the stern. There were two machine guns of about 20 mm with protective shields on the bridge which were manned but the gun crews were hit when our first rounds struck the bridge and the guns had to be abandoned.
“The tanker sent Morse code by a signal light but we could not read it. We thought that he was capitulating and waited nearby until all men abandoned ship in the lifeboats.  After the 105 mm ran out of ammunition we continued to fire into the hull with the 37 mm.  He already settled aft with a heavy list to port.
At 3:45 am German time (about 9:45 pm ship’s time), the Pan Norway succumbed: “Tanker sank capsizing by the stern.  The forward part of the ship is drifting bottom up. Fired more holes into it until out of ammunition. The forward part of the ship is now slowly rising and moves up and down, 40 meters high. In this position it dances a long time up and down… and settles a bit. A funny view, scary illuminated by burning oil floating on the sea.”
Kapitänleutnant Reinhard Hardegen, skipper of U-123 which sank the Pan Norway on 26/27 January 1942 northeast of Bermuda.
Photo Source: http://www.uboat.net/men/hardegen.htm

At 3:58 am or roughly 10 pm locally, the Pan Norway sank. Then Herdegen spotted something very unusual to see in the midst of an attack: a neutral steamer with lights blazing heading in the direction of the U-boat. “The light mentioned above turned out to be a neutral steamer, which waited at a distance of 3 nm.  We approached him and to our amazement he ran away.  We chased after him at maximum speed and ordered him to stop with the signal light, which he did.  It was the Greek MOUNT AETNA, underway under the Swiss flag.  Went alongside and ordered him to pick up survivors.  She followed us to two lifeboats, which we had met earlier, and picked up the men in them.
At 11:00 pm ship’s time the Mount Aetna nosed up to the captain’s lifeboats and took aboard the  men,and ten minutes later it had retrieved the second group. That meant that 28 men had been rescued, leaving 12 floundering in the water or on rafts. But it is possible the men on the ship – including the survivors – were not aware that a dozen of their shipmates were on rafts waiting to be rescued.

Then another unusual occurrence: the rescue of an individual swimmer by an enemy submarine, and transfer to a third, neutral ship: “Then back to the sinking position.  Here we found a man drifting in the water and picked him up.  The interrogation proved to be difficult because he was wounded by a splinter, exhausted after several hours in the water and spoke only Norwegian. His statements: They were surprised by the war in an English harbor and forced by England to sail for them. …They had been in Halifax from England and were en route to Aruba. As we told him that neither position or course corresponds to this he said that they were out here due to the U-boat danger. They did not see us. After some hits there was apparently some sort of panic aboard. He made it to a lifeboat. The people beat each other for a place and he fell overboard after a “comrade” had hit him hard in the face, they then left him behind.  All front teeth were smashed.  He was lucky to be found by us and was deeply grateful.
Hardegen continues: “Now we saw that the Swiss ship already turned away.  We stopped him again with the signal light and transferred the man. ….It became clear that the Norwegians feared being torpedoed again by us on the MOUNT AETNA and induced the master to leave. We had seen other survivors between debris at the sinking position. We asked the master to turn around and to rescue them too, which he did. He thanked us warmly for not sinking his ship.” Holm Lawson records that then “About 5 minutes later, thanks to the red lights on their lifesaving suits, the remaining 11 men were found on a raft, 2 of whom were injured (both able seamen).”
On leaving the scene heading eastwards Hardegen recorded that: “Everyone stood at the railing, waved and wished us a good home coming.  Let’s hope that they tell this at home and effectively dampen the atrocity propaganda about us.” The loss of the Pan Norway may have led to another ship being spared, as Hardegen recorded just after midnight German time the following day: “A shadow 80° to starboard.  Headed towards it and recognized a big freighter again on course 220°.  I have to let him go because I only have ammunition for the rifles left.”
The rescue ship Mount Aetna was Greek flagged but chartered to the Swiss government, making her in this instance a neutral ship and thus “off limits” to either German or Allied vessels. Her Master was Captain Stavros Sotirchos and owners were the Atlanticos Steamship Company Limited of Athens (her ultimate owners were Rethymnis & Kulukundis Ltd. of London). Built in 1929 at Burntisland shipyards in the UK, she was 4,230 gross registered tons, 385 feet long, 51.5 feet wide and 24.1 feet deep (Jordan). Capable of ten knots speed, her former names were Penybryn (1929-1932), Fife (to 1936), and Leith Hill (to 1937).

The 40 fortunate survivors of the Pan Norway were well looked after by a solicitous Greek crew for ten days, until they arrived in Lisbon, Portugal on Thursday the 5th of February, 1942. The injuries included shrapnel to the ankle (Chief Mate Eberhard Robertsen), shrapnel in the hip and stomach (Second Engineer Harald Severinsen), shrapnel in the hip and back (AB Einar Karlsen, who was on duty at the gun at the time), shrapnel in the torso (AB Erik Lunde) and a hit to the hip sustained by Cook Arne Aasmundsen (Warsailors.com).

An inquiry was held in Lisbon on the 12th of February involving Captain Bach, the First Engineer, Karl Martin Andersen, Third Mate Bjarne Isaksen, Able Seaman Einar Karlsen, and Radio Operator Ole Magnus Dreng.

Captain Johan A. Bach (second from left in overcoat), 43, with four members of the Pan Norway crew on arrival in Weehawken, New Jersey USA on the 12th of March, 1942. Note the luggage clearly marked with the Norwegian skipper’s initials.

Photo Source: “U-Boat Toll Rises: Sea Battle Bared,” www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2858815/posts, page 5 of 14

An article from the “Lewiston Daily Sun,” dated Saturday 14th March 1942 bears repeating here. It was filed under “Weehawken, NJ, March 13 AP”:

“The Captain of the Norwegian tanker Pan Norway shelled and set afire by two German submarines 600 miles east of Bermuda told today how his gun crew fought a running battle with the U-boats for a half-hour before he ordered all hands to abandon ship. Captain John Bach, 43-year-old Norwegian skippers, arrived here today with six of his men on the same ship that had picked up his entire crew of 40 in mid-Atlantic and taken them to Lisbon. Bach said “several hundred” shells were fired by the submarine, one on each side of his ship and “I don’t know of any that missed.”

One of the submarines halted the neutral rescue ship to pass aboard a wounded seaman its crew had fished out of the sea. Sub helped in Rescue: One lifeboat capsized as it was being launched, spilling 12 men into the water but all were picked up with the submarine’s help. Two other lifeboats and a dinghy were launched safely. Bach said he returned while the subs continued their shelling to save his papers and a pet Terrier, “Hero of Norway.” A few minutes after he entered his cabin a shell crashed through the door and hit the dog, less than five feet away from him.

Fired at Subs: The attack came about 8:30 pm January 26, in a calm sea. The Pan Norway’s gun crew fired back at the gun flashes and the exchange continued for 30 minutes until a German shell hit the tanker’s gun platform, damaging the sighting apparatus. By this time several fires had been started and Captain Bach ordered his men over the side. The gun crew demurred and continued firing the damaged gun until they saw it was hopeless to continue resistance.

Mistook it for Target Practice: Oiler Peter Kaneps, 31, a Latvian, told how he and five or six other men below decks first though the gun shots from their ship were target practice and continued a poker game for about 15 minutes. Captain Bach said his foresight in providing the crew with special lifejackets on his last trip to London probably saved the lives of those thrown into the water. The lifejackets were equipped with red lights, whistles and knives. He said the rescue ship steaming up with all lights ablaze while the submarines were still firing was a “wonderful sight’. In less than an hour after abandoning ship the men from the lifeboats were aboard.

Sub saves Injured Seaman: Shortly afterwards, he said, the firing ceased and one of the U-boats pulled alongside the neutral vessel. One of the raider’s officers appeared on deck and asked across the water if anyone spoke English. Bach replied that he did but the officer began to talk in German. He asked for a line to be thrown aboard. Twenty minutes later Trigve Haarberg, a wounded seaman, was hauled aboard and the submarine officer said, again in German: “There are a lot of survivors in the water up ahead. I do not have time to pick them up. I must go now.” After leading the rescue ship to the men still struggling in the water, the U-boat disappeared.”

Hardegen achieved the rank of Korvettenkapitän, though at the time he was Kapitänleutnant. Over his career he sank 21 ships for a total of 112,447 GRT and damaged four others for 32,516 GRT – he also sank one warship and damaged another. On 23 April 1942, following this patrol he was awarded the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves, and later the U-boat badge with Diamonds. A member of the crew of 1933 at the Naval Academy (Marineschule) in Mürwik, eastern Germany, he was only 30 at the time.

Hardegen actually began his career in the naval air force, but injuries sustained when he crashed as a pilot brought him to the U-boat arm in November 1939, at the outset of the war. His total command experience of five patrols of 240 days at sea on two submarines plus his longevity and accessibility have made Hardegen somewhat of a “darling” of U-boat research into attacks on the Americas, or at least the United States.

Hardagen’s patrols feature prominently in books such as Operation Drumbeat by Michael Gannon and Torpedo Junction by Homer Hickham, and The Fuhrer’s U-boats in American Waters by Gary Gentile (who accused Hardegen of doctoring his log). His feats are extolled on websites such as Sharkhunters of which he is a member. By all accounts Hardegen is a personable and likeable commander and veteran – he was said to have tied the shoe laces of an old merchant mariner who visited him to meet the man who sank him.

Hardegen corresponded with his victims, and took part in two particularly tragic sinkings – that of the only battle-tested armed merchant cruiser which the Americans put forth (the Atik, AK 101 aka the Caroline, in which all members of the US Navy crew and one of Hardegen’s crew perished on a stormy night) and the Muskogee, whose desperate survivors were photographed by Hardegen’s crew but never seen alive again (photos from a German magazine surfaced in a POW camp for allies and survived the war, and became the model of the Merchant Mariner’s Memorial in New York City).

In short Hardegen came to symbolize the opening attack on the Americas in the way that Werner Hartenstein and Albrecht Achilles symbolized the daring attacks in the Caribbean theater, and that Carlo Fecia di Cossato would represent the ravaging of ships off the Bahamas. He would have to be included in the iconic skippers such as Herbert Werner in his autobiographical Iron Coffins and the skipper in the fictional film Das Boot, which was loosely based on the patrols observed by a war correspondent.

At the time of writing – October 2014 – Reinhard Hardegen is still alive. Captain Bach lived until 1949, leaving behind an American daughter, DiAnna Cowles, who accepted a medal from King Olav of Norway for her father’s bravery.


Fold3.com – for the war diaries and deck logs from both US and UK Admiralty sources  

Free Republic.com, “U-Boat Toll Rises: Sea Battle Bared,” www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2858815/posts, page 5 of 14

Gentile, Gary, The Fuhrer’s U-boats in American Waters

Hickham, Homer, Torpedo Junction

Holm Lawson, Dame Siri, without whom this essay would be sorely lacking, as I was unable to find the customary British or US original survivors documents in this instance, except in Norwegian. See www.warsailors.com, specifically http://warsailors.com/singleships/pannorway.html, and the link to a PDF in Norwegian which tells the survivor’s version of events in Lisbon – http://www.sjohistorie.no/skip/p/pan_norway

Jordan, Roger, The World’s Merchants Fleets 1939, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1999

“Lewiston Daily Sun,” Sat. March 14, 1942, “Tanker Exchanged Shell-fire with Two Enemy Submarines – Norwegian Crew Fought Running Battle 600 Miles off Bermuda, SUB AIDED RESCUES, Entire Crew of 40 was picked up by neutral rescue vessel.”

Mason, Jerry, www.uboatarchive.net and http://uboatarchive.net/KTB123-7.htm
Mozolak, John, “New York Ships to Foreign Port, 1939 – 1945,” http://janda.org/ships/

National Fonds of Austria, for the story of Heinz Kalmar emigrating to Uruguay aboard the Pan Norway in 1940, https://de.nationalfonds.org/docs/Lebensgeschichten/JubBrosch10j_engl.pdf

Newspaperarchives.com – for a selection of largely uncensored articles on the Pan Norway, 1942
Nørsett, Anstein Jarl, Sjohistorie.no: http://www.sjohistorie.no/skip/p/pan_norway, especially for the survivor’s statements in Norwegian, on a PDF embedded in his page at http://www.sjohistorie.no/filearchive/Pan%20Norway.%20MT.%20b.%201931.%20%20Sjofoklaring%202.verdenskrig.%20Kilde%20-%20Norsk%20Maritimt%20Museum.pdf
Orwin, Steve, “Gunner and Land Girl: Bob and Connie, Their War year, 1939 – 1945,” Strategic Book Group, Durham CT USA 2011
Uboat.net for much of the information, including photos of U-boat Commander and its victim,  http://www.uboat.net/men/hardegen.htm
Wrecksite.eu for specifications and history of Pan Norway: http://www.wrecksite.eu

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