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Gard News 205, February/April 2012

This is the story of the old tanker HERBORG, which would have been long forgotten had it not been for the purchase of a model of the ship from an antiques dealer some years ago, which is now on display at the Gard building in Arendal.

 

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Links to the past
The small town of Arendal, where Gard has been located since its creation in 1907, used to have strong maritime connections. Today there are still links to the days gone by among Gard employees. One example is Pål Berglund, who has been with Gard for 32 years.1 Pål has never served at sea, but has an interest in ships. One day he realised that the beautiful eye-catching model on display at Gard had similarities to a photo inherited from his father. "This looks like the HERBORG", he exclaimed, "a tanker on which my father sailed as a first mate and captain!".

Since then Gard employee Alf Martin Sandberg has researched the history of the ship, which was indeed that of Pål's father, Odd Berglund - a tanker owned by Sigurd Herlofson & Co., which ended her life during dramatic events of the Second World War. Odd Berglund served on board HERBORG from 12th October 1937 until he signed off in Australia on 10th January 1941. He started as first officer (the equivalent to today's chief officer) but was promoted to Captain in 1940, relieving Captain Westad, who came on board again when Berglund signed off.

Berglund went on to serve as Captain on the Norwegian vessel SKAGERAK, and was on board when she struck a mine approaching Suez during a German air attack on the ship at Ismalia. Between September 1942 and November 1944 he was assigned a job as Assistant Superintendent at Nortraship (The Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission)'s office in Sydney. Thereafter he served on board the US-flagged POINT SAN PEDRO as first officer and finally as Captain on the US-flagged concrete vessel C.W. PASLEY until November 1946. When he finally came home to Norway in early 1947 he had been away from his family for 10 years. His son Pål was born in 1948.

The shipowner
The name Herlofson may ring a bell with readers who have known Gard for some time, as Lai Herlofson, the managing director of Gard between 1970 and 1995, was from this family.  His grandfather's brother, Sigurd Herlofson Sr, was born in Arendal in 1879 and established the firm Sigurd Herlofson & Co. in 1926. Sigurd's son was Peter D. Herlofson (1909-1982) and his grandson was Sigurd Herlofson Jr (1937-2007), who took the initiative to build the Tyholmen Hotel in Arendal, where most visitors to Gard stay.

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Representatives of the Burmeister & Wain shipyard and the owner Sigurd
Herlofson & Co AS, at the time of the naming and launching of the HERBORG
in 1931. Note all plates were riveted.

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The HERBORG at sea, fully loaded. Photo taken from the bridge, waves
rolling across the aft deck.

Sigurd Herlofson Sr was first involved in shipping with the firm Grefstad & Herlofson (1907-1916), owning sailing vessels and steamers. He moved to Moss in 1917 and tried his luck as a farmer, until he established the firm Sigurd Herlofson & Co. AS and started anew with the vessel JØLUND. Before the Second World War Sigurd Herlofson & Co. AS operated oil tankers and reefer vessels. It had eight ships, four of which were lost during the war. After the war the firm operated liners, tankers, bulk and oil-bulk-ore vessels, and also got involved in oil exploration. In 1991 the traditional shipowning firm came to an end.

Historically, the firm is first and foremost remembered for having played a particular role in the history of Norwegian oil transportation. In 1927 there were few oil tankers under the Norwegian flag, when the British Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co. offered for sale no less than 28 old steam tankers, on attractive 10-year-long charter agreements. Among shipowners and brokers there was considerable scepticism towards these tankers, but Sigurd Herlofson was the first Norwegian owner to purchase one  of them, the CHITO, in April 1927, and soon after a second one, the CONUS. Others followed, especially owners based on the southern coast of Norway. Tweny-four of the Anglo-Saxon tankers were sold to Norwegians and 17 of them ended up with owners on the southern coast.  With an increasing demand for oil, the Norwegian tanker fleet grew to 150 vessels and more than 1 million gross tons in five to six years. The Anglo-Saxon tankers - 23 of which had P&I cover with Gard - were important to the development of Gard's strong position in the tanker market.2

 

 

Engine power trivia

- The first ocean-going diesel-powered ship in the world, the M/S SELANDIA, started her maiden voyage from Copenhagen to Bangkok in 1912, powered by two B&W four-stroke main engines. The vessel made a stop in London where Winston Churchill was one of the visitors. In honour of the M/S SELANDIA achievement, the Danish National Bank has used an image of the ship on its 20 kroner coin.

- In 1930 a B&W two-stroke diesel engine was installed in a ship for the first time, and in 1933 the world's largest diesel engine was delivered to the Danish power station H.C. Ørsted (the Danish scientist H.C.Ørsted is known for having discovered electromagnetism in 1820). That engine, a double acting, two-stroke engine of eight cylinders kept the position as "world's largest" until B&W made a larger engine in 1964. The giant of 1933 is 12.5 metres tall, weighing 1,400 tons, and is still on display at the same location, now the museum DieselHouse in Copenhagen. Dedicated engineers may like to know that the engine is started up every second Sunday!

- The MAN B&W licensee Hyundai Heavy Industries in Korea was the first to pass the 100,000

bhp limit with the 12K98MC engine installed in a series of container ships for Greek owner Costamare. The largest diesel engine in the world at present is the 14-cylinder RTA96-C engine of Wartsila-Sulzer, capable of 108,920 bhp and installed in the giant container vessel EMMA MAERSK.

 

The ship
The motor tanker HERBORG was built in 1931 at Burmeister & Wain Maskin & Skibsbyggeri in Copenhagen. She was Sigurd Herlofson & Co.'s second tanker of that name (the name had first been used when renaming the steam tanker CONUS). She was building No. 587 at the yard, 455 feet long, had a beam of 59 feet six inches and a depth of 35 feet. The deadweight was 11,525 tons, not much by today's standard, but a big tanker in 1931. Two six-cylinder single-acting diesel engines of B&W's type 6200-M provided her with 4000 bhp and a service speed of 11.5 knots.3 From the model at Gard it can be seen that the tanker must have been very modern in 1931, with a very streamlined underwater hull aft, two propellers and the engine room aft. 

 

 

  
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Gard's model of the HERBORG. Poop
deck and engine room casing aft, with
crew quarters below deck. Note that the
vessel has a cargo pipeline to the stern.
Gard's model of the HERBORG. The
bridge and superstructure amidship, 
seen from the starboard side.

       

The builder
Burmeister & Wain Maskin & Skibsbyggeri (B&W Engineering and Shipbuilding) was a leading shipyard and diesel engine maker in Copenhagen. Founded by two Danes and an Englishman, the roots of the firm date back to 1846. Having produced paraffin engines from 1890, in 1898 Burmeister & Wain got exclusive rights in Denmark for the manufacture of Rudolf Diesel's new invention, the diesel engine, and delivered their first engine in 1904. 

In 1943, the Germans having invaded Denmark, the B&W engine factory was bombed by no less than eight Royal Air Force bombers, dropping four bombs each, to avoid a production of diesel engines for German submarines.

In 1971 the shipyard and the engineering works were split into two independent companies. B&W Diesel AS was sold to MAN of Germany in 1981 and continued trading under the name MAN B&W Diesel AG.

The shipbuilding yard of B&W delivered an incredible 1,002 ships between 1854 and 1996, when it closed down.

Nortraship
At the beginning of 1939 the Norwegian commercial fleet was the fourth largest in the world, behind Great Britain, the US and Japan. The fleet had grown to seven per cent of the world tonnage, and as the growth had come mostly from newbuildings, it was a modern fleet and most of the new ships had diesel engines. Forty-two per cent of the Norwegian fleet consisted of tankers, representing 18 per cent of the world tanker tonnage.

As oil is a strategic element in any major conflict, the large and modern Norwegian tanker fleet was of interest to both sides in the Second World War. Although Norway was a neutral state, 58 ships and 400 seamen had already been lost before the German occupation of Norway on 9th April 1940. Upon the German invasion, an attempt to order Norwegian ships to go to neutral or German-controlled ports was unsuccessful. The Norwegian authorities, taking refuge in London, established The Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission, better known by its telegram address "Nortraship", to administer almost the entire Norwegian fleet outside German-controlled areas. "Nortraship" became the world's largest ship management firm, operating more than 1,000 ships.

When the war was over, 4,375 out of 35,000 Norwegian seamen had been killed and 849 vessels lost, one of them the tanker HERBORG.

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 A photo from 1939, first officer Odd Berglund on the right.

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Two Gard old timers with the model of the HERBORG, Pål Berglund (left),
son of the HERBORG's Captain, and Alf Martin Sandberg, who has
researched the history of the ship.

The war drama
The HERBORG had her first serious war experience in February 1942. The tanker left Melbourne on 30th January in a convoy aiming to fetch as much oil as possible from Palembang, before the arrival of the Japanese.  On 13th February the convoy was out of the Strait heading for Batavia (now Jakarta) with two British destroyers as escorts, when it was bombed by Japanese aircraft. One Dutch tanker was sunk and another was damaged by fire. The HERBORG took the damaged vessel in tow but as the fire restarted, had to abandon her, the survivors having been rescued by the escort. The ships arrived in Batavia the following day, and the HERBORG took over most of the cargo from another Norwegian tanker, the ERLING BRØVIG, which had been hit by a bomb and suffered a fire.

The tanker's next involvement with war activities came half a year later, when she was on a voyage from Abadan in Iran to Freemantle in Australia with 11,000 tons of crude oil on board. In broad daylight she was captured by the German auxiliary cruiser THOR, numbered as HSK IV SCHIFF 10. The THOR was relatively new, having been built in 1938 by Deutsche Werft in Hamburg, and had carried bananas under the name of SANTA CRUZ. She was powered by oil-fired steam turbines and had a design speed of 17 knots. The German Navy used several commercial vessels as raiders, and the reefer vessel was well suited as she could outrun most other cargo ships. Being one of the smaller raiders, the THOR's cargo ship silhouette was not likely to frighten anyone, but with a main armament of six 15 cm guns, four torpedo tubes, an Arado airplane and, with 350 men on board, she was a warship in disguise. The airplane was used for surveillance and had a hook on a wire to cut the radio antenna between cargo vessels' masts. The plane was also used to rake ships with machinegun fire, to frighten crews into surrender.  On her first cruise, from June 1940 to April 1941, the THOR had sunk 11 and captured one vessel.  On her second cruise, out from November 1941, she sank seven vessels and captured three, one of them the HERBORG.

The HERBORG met with the raider THOR in the afternoon of 19th June 1942, being shot at by both the airplane and the raider. No one was hurt, but the full crew of 38 left the ship on board the lifeboats and was picked up by the THOR. The chief engineer and seven engine workers were placed on board the HERBORG again, together with a German prize crew, and the vessel sailed to Yokohama, arriving on 9th October after stopping in Batavia.

 

The end of a raider

The raider THOR met her destiny in a peculiar way. On 30th November 1942 she was lying in Yokohama alongside the German supply ship UCKERMARK when UCKERMARK had a large explosion during the cleaning of fuel tanks.  The explosion and fire destroyed the two vessels, as well as the captured Australian NANKIN, renamed LEUTHEN, the Japanese freighter UNKAI MARU 3 and several harbour craft. The end of the UCKERMARK is of particular interest to Norwegian history, as this was the renamed German vessel ALTMARK, which in February 1940 brought British prisoners of war into a Norwegian fjord and was boarded by British Marines, who liberated the prisoners. That event, in which both countries abused of Norway's neutrality, has been seen as leading to a German justification for the subsequent occupation of Norway.  

 

The way home
Not all details of what happened to each of the 38 crew members of the HERBORG are known, but the following has been compiled from various sources.

In Yokohama the HERBORG was renamed HOHENFRIEDBERG and placed under ownership of Tankdampfer gesellschaft Ossag. Some Norwegian crew members were still on board when the vessel left Japan on 11th November 1942, attempting to reach France. The tanker was met by an escort of three German submarines on 20th February 1943, but was discovered by a USAAF-Liberator 500 nautical miles off Cap Finistère and was subsequently sunk by the British cruiser HMS SUSSEX. The crew and prisoners were taken on board the German submarine U-264 and brought to St Nazaire in France, where the Germans had a large submarine base. The Norwegian seamen spent two weeks in a camp in Wilhelmshafen, and when it was bombed by allied aircraft they were moved to the camp Marlag und Milag Nord near Bremen. At the end of November they were sent home to Norway.

On 4th July 1942 the THOR had also captured the Norwegian steam tanker MADRONO, and a part of the HERBORG crew was placed on board that ship. Nine men from the HERBORG and one from the MADRONO were subsequently transferred from the MADRONO to the German vessel RHAKOTIS. This vessel, which was a combined passenger/cargo vessel belonging to the Hamburg-America Line was then used as a blockade runner. The vessel left Yokohama on 27th September with 23 Norwegians from the HERBORG, the MADRONO and the steamship AUST, all three vessels victims of the raider THOR.

The RHAKOTIS stopped for cargo at Bangkok, Singapore, Balikpapan and Batavia, before heading for Europe. On 12th December 1942, five hundred miles to the northwest of St Helena, the ship picked up three exhausted survivors from the British CITY OF CAIRO, a vessel which had been sunk by the German submarine U-68 on 6th November. Their lifeboat, one of six, had started off with 54 people on board, but after 36 days they were the only three alive. The only female, just 21 years old, died on board the RHAKOTIS one week later.

However, the ordeal of the captured seamen was not over yet, as the RHAKOTIS, heading for Bordeaux, was spotted by a British airplane and was eventually sunk by the British cruiser HMS SCYLLA off Finistère on 1st January 1943. German submarines were meeting up to escort the blockade runners, but the British Navy was equally interested in stopping them. Fearing the German submarines, the British cruiser did not stop to pick up the survivors, who had left the vessel in four lifeboats. Eighty people from two of the boats were picked up by a German submarine and came ashore in St Nazaire, having experienced an attack by the British on the way. The Norwegians among them were taken to camps in Germany before being sent home. The two other lifeboats from the RHAKOTIS landed on 4th and 5th January at La Coruña, one being towed in by a Spanish trawler. The Norwegians in those boats were sent to Gibraltar and could later serve on other allied ships.

Another part of the HERBORG's Norwegian crew was sent from Japan to Europe in the German vessel DRESDEN, a vessel used to collect prisoners of war. The vessel left Japan on 16th August and reached Bordeaux on 2nd November. The Norwegian seamen on the DRESDEN had a relatively uneventful passage compared to the others, and were taken to Wilhelmshafen, Berlin and Hamburg and finally to Copenhagen. From there they were transported by ferry to Malmø in Sweden and home to Oslo.

Two other Norwegians from the HERBORG are recorded as having been kept as prisoners in Tokyo until freed by US forces on 15th September 1945. HERBORG also had seven Chinese crew members on board when captured by the THOR, but their fate is unknown.

And finally, there is the remarkable story of HERBORG's third officer, Haagen Poppe.4

Poppe's war
Haagen Severin Nilson Poppe (1916-1987) was to study for his Master's ticket in Arendal in the autumn of 1939, but was drafted to the Norwegian Navy instead, and spent the winter of 1940 on board the 1892-built HEIMDAL, a nice looking steamer with two tall masts. In 1905, after the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden, the HEIMDAL had been given the honour to bring the recently elected King Haakon VII into Oslo. She had been subsequently used as a Royal yacht and coast guard vessel, and from 1939 had served as a Norwegian neutrality watch vessel. Following the German invasion of the important iron ore port of Narvik, the HEIMDAL transported Norwegian troops to the front, and Poppe was involved in his first war action when German planes attempted to bomb her. When the king, crown prince and government of Norway escaped the Germans by fleeing north, they boarded the HEIMDAL from the British cruiser HMS GLASGOW to be taken to Målselv, from where they left for the United Kingdom on 7th June 1940. On that date all serviceable ships and aircraft of the Royal Norwegian Navy received orders to evacuate to the United Kingdom and good old HEIMDAL was one of 13 ships that made it. Poppe sailed with the HEIMDAL and left her in Rosyth, on the east coast of Scotland.

After being trained as a gunner, Poppe joined the Wilhelm Wilhelmsen cargo ship THERMOPYLÆ, which was involved in a lot of war activities in the Mediterranean, carrying allied troops, war materials, petrol in drums, ammunition, etc., during the German invasion of Greece and the siege of Malta. In 1941 the ship was sunk after leaving Malta, having been bombed by a German JU 88. Three members of the crew were killed, but Poppe and other survivors were picked up by a British escort vessel and brought to Alexandria. Three weeks after the sinking Poppe joined the TARIFA as a gunner and fourth officer.5 The TARIFA was on her way to Singapore when Singapore fell to the Japanese, so she was redirected to Australia. There, in April 1942, Poppe joined the HERBORG as a third officer and gunner. When the HERBORG was captured by the THOR on 19th June he was among the crew members taken on board the raider and kept there until 15th August. During this period, the raider captured two other vessels, the British INDUS and the Norwegian MADRONO, mentioned above. 

From the raider THOR, Poppe and others were moved to the German blockade runner TANNENFELS, to be transported to Europe. During the voyage the TANNENFELS acted as a supply ship for the raider STIER, with which she tied up in the Atlantic Ocean. A Liberty vessel, the US-flagged STEPHEN HOPKINS, appeared by surprise in foggy weather and the STIER cast off. The gun battle that followed ended up with the STEPHEN HOPKINS sinking while the raider STIER burned and had to be abandoned before she too went down.6

During the battle, the TANNENFELS also joined in, raking the US vessel with machine gun fire. The Norwegian prisoners locked up in the bottom of the vessel could do nothing but hope to survive. The TANNENFELS rescued all the survivors from the STIER and with 150 new passengers on board, she reached the mouth of the Gironde on 2nd November.7 The prisoners were taken ashore in Bordeaux, where they spent a couple of weeks in a prison camp before being transferred to the camp Marlag und Milag  Nord in Bremen. Finally, at the end of April 1943 the seamen from HERBORG were sent to Norway with the German troop transporter LAPPLAND and released.

Upon his return to Arendal in the spring of 1943, Haagen Poppe paid a visit to Odd Berglund's wife, who was the manager of Garanti Skomagasin, a local shoe shop. He informed her of the fate of the HERBORG and that her husband was safe, having left the ship in Australia on 10th January 1941.8

 
  

Chronology

1931   

- The motor tanker HERBORG is built at Burmeister & Wain Maskin & Skibsbyggeri in Copenhagen

1937   

- Odd Berglund joins the HERBORG as first officer

1938   

- The SANTA CRUZ, later renamed THOR, is built by Deutsche Werft in Hamburg

- Haagen Poppe is drafted to the Norwegian Navy

1940   

- Berglund is promoted to Captain of the HERBORG

- Poppe spends the winter on board the 1892-built HEIMDAL

- German occupation of Norway and Denmark 

- Norwegian authorities establish Nortraship, The Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission, in London

- The king, crown prince and government of Norway leave for the United Kingdom

- All serviceable ships and aircraft of the Royal Norwegian Navy receive orders to evacuate to the United Kingdom

- Poppe joins the THERMOPYLÆ

1941   

- Berglund signs off the HERBORG in Australia 

- The THERMOPYLÆ is sunk. Poppe and other survivors are picked up by a British escort vessel and taken to Alexandria

1942   

- The HERBORG is part of a convoy of tankers attacked by aircraft in the Banka Strait

- Poppe joins the HERBORG as a third officer and gunner

- The HERBORG is captured by the THOR. Poppe is among the crew members taken on board the THOR and kept there until 15th August

- The THOR also captures the MADRONO

- The RHAKOTIS leaves Yokohama with 23 Norwegians from the HERBORG, the MADRONO and the AUST, all three vessels victims of the raider THOR

- US-flagged Liberty vessel STEPHEN HOPKINS sinks and the raider STIER, too damaged to continue its voyage, is scuttled by its crew

- The TANNENFELS reaches the mouth of the Gironde with 150 extra passengers on board, rescued from the STIER

- The HERBORG, renamed HOHENFRIEDBERG, leaves Japan attempting to reach France

1943  

- The RHAKOTIS is sunk by the British cruiser HMS SCYLLA off Finistère

- The HERBORG, renamed HOHENFRIEDBERG, is sunk by the British cruiser HMS SUSSEX

- Poppe returns to Arendal

- The DRESDEN leaves Japan and reaches Bordeaux

1945  

- Germany surrenders

- Japan surrenders

- The last two Norwegian crew members of the HERBORG are freed in Tokyo by US forces

1947

- Berglund finally comes home to Norway

 

 

Footnotes
1 Pål currently works as Claims Executive in People Claims.
2 See the article "Gard and the ‘Anglo-Saxon' tankers" in Gard News issue No. 152.
3 HERBORG's formal owner was the Skibsaktieselskabet Jølund and she was registered in Moss. Later, Sigurd Herlofson & Co AS, the management company of the ship, moved to Oslo.
4 Another link to the Gard staff of today, Poppe was the uncle of Carl August Poppe, current Senior Manager of IT Operations in Gard Arendal.
5 In 2011 the Norwegian shipowning firm Wilhelm Wilhelmsen celebrated its 150th anniversary. The firm had 51 ships at the outbreak of the war in 1940. When the war ended in 1945 it had lost no less than 29 ships, including the THERMOPYLÆ and TARIFA, mentioned in this article.
6 The battle between the STEPHEN HOPKINS and the STIER is unique in modern sea warfare, as the US cargo vessel had only a four inch gun, while the STIER had six six inch guns and a fully trained military crew. The STEPHEN HOPKINS was the first US ship to sink a German surface combatant during the war.
7 In the morning of 12th December 1942 explosions started in the port of Bordeaux, lasting for six hours, the result of a British commando attack, "Operation Frankton". Five kayaks, each with two marines, had been launched from the British submarine TUNA, to blow up as many blockade runners as possible. They succeeded in putting the DRESDEN and the TANNENFELS out of action, as well as two other ships, the PORTLAND and the ALABAMA, through the use of limpet mines. However, only two of the British marines survived.
8 Back in Norway Poppe got involved with the military resistance movement MILORG, had to flee to Sweden and went to England on board a bomber to join the Navy for a second time. He served on board Norwegian mine sweepers cleaning up the British coast until the spring of 1946.

Any comments on this article can be e-mailed to the Gard News Editorial Team.