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1 German vessels allocated to Norway 1946

With a material loss of 686 vessels aggregating 2.2 million gross tons due to enemy action, Norway was among the nations to presents its claim when the issue of allocating German ships as war reparations came up in 1945. By Dag Bakka jr

The matter had been under discussion at the Potsdam conference between Truman, Churchill and Stalin in June 1945 end resolved in a “Liberated Ships Agreement”. The main principles decreed that:

1               Merchant ships were to be distributed between the countries that had taken part in the war                  on the Allied side with loss of tonnage.

2               Vessels under construction were to be allocated to the country of building.

3               Naval vessels were to be shared between the three main Allied partners, USA, UK and the                  Soviet Union.

 

All existing German merchant vessels were to be officially declared lawful prizes in the respective occupation zones of the three Allied powers and put in operation, as far as possible, without any bearing on the decision on future ownership. This, in practice, led the British Ministry of Transport (MOT) to take over and operate many of the vessels under British flag. They were thus employed under United Maritime Authority (UMA), responsible for shipping capacity until March 1946.

 

In reality, however, the situation was rather more complicated.

A document prepared by LtComm P A Borel, USNR, received by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry in Oslo and forwarded to the Minister of Trade on 8 October 1945, gave the following details on the state of German merchant fleet:

-       vessels of 1.5 million grt were lying in German ports, all of which in the British occupation zone

-       a further 500,000 grt remained in Norway and 300,000 grt in Danish waters.

 

But the identity and status of all such vessels were not fully established. Some vessels were in operational condition, others were lying at shipyards for repairs, others again were reduced to wrecks that could, or could not, be repaured. In addition, a good number of former civilian vessels like trawlers and whale-catchers had been taken by the Kriegsmarine and fitted out as escort vessels. Were they to be considered as warships or not?

Many such questions were to be addressed on diplomatic level over the following months.

 

Surrendered ships

The matter of distribution of the German vessels had been postponed to six months after V-E Day (7 May 1945), and priority given to restore as many as possible to operational condition.

Serviceable vessels lying in the British zone in Germany were gradually taken over by the British and placed at the disposal of MOT, with British crews and under British flag, often renamed with the “Empire” prefix.

In Norway, however, the operational vessels mostly retained their German crews, but under Allied control, and became employed in the extensive repatriation programme of 300,000 German military personnel.

 

The first enquiry from the MOT to the Ministry of Trade in Oslo arrived on 3 July 1945, asking whether Norway would be prepared to take on manning and operation of vessels up to 80,000 grt lying in Norwegian waters. After conferring with the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association (NSA), the Minister of Trade signalled strong interest, as it would provide imminent employment for a good number of Norwegian seafarers.

 

After the Potsdam agreement, a preliminary list made by MOT and US War Shipping Administration of 26 vessels was received in Oslo on 14 August,  ”Proposed allocation for manning and operation by the Royal Norwegian Government”.

Of these 11 vessels were already employed in the repatriation programme. Flag Officer Norway (the senior naval officer) was requested to instruct the German Naval Command to hand over 24 vessels to civilian Norwegian shipping companies approved by MOT.

 

The ships proposed allocated for manning and operation by Royal Norwegian Government, per 14. august 1945:

 

Vessel gr tons built position type condition
Rotenfelt 7857 1927 Norway-Germany dry cargo good condition
Schwaben 7773 1926 Bergen damage to deck, hatches
Ulanga 6860 1940 Oslo engine damage
Kattegat 6031 1928 Sandefjord tanker damage hull/machinery
Claus Rickmers 5135 1923 Bergen dry cargo grounding damage to be repaired
Sardinien 4292 1928 Norway-Germany good condition
Palmyra 3006 1944 Kristiansand fire damage aft, steering engine defect
Ahrensburg 2988 1939 Kristiansand reefer substantial bottom damage
Spree 2867 1929 Trondheim dry cargo mining damage, temp repaired
Marie Leonhardt 2597 1920 Norway-Germany good condition
Pommern 2180 1935 Norway-Germany good condition
Wesermarsch 1923 1943 Norway-Germany excellent condition
Mungo 1923 1943 Narvik defect steering engine
Erpel 1771 1927 Kristiansand good condition
Helga L M Russ 1708 1926 Oslo sabotage damage, 3-4 months rep
Hansestadt Lübeck 1704 1925 Norway-Germany good condition
Stern 1598 1922 Kristiansand good condition
Falkenberg 1570 1912 Oslo good condition
Geier 1174 1924 Trondheim good condition
Ludwig 1064 1921 Tromsø good condition
Nordmark 1060 1907 Bergen fair condition
Amisia 999 1921 Arendal good condition
Jessica 998 1908 Bergen fair condition
Hero 989 1924 Trondheim* good condition
Hernösand 952 1894 Trondheim* good condition, but old
Euroland 809 1916 Oslo tanker under repairs

The Ministry of Trade in Oslo also succeeded in having six small tankers built in Norway added to the list, as well as six small German vessels:

 

Utvær 906 1943 tanker
Kinn 495 1945 tanker
Fedje 482 1944 tanker
Hovden tanker incomplete
Bremanger tanker incomplete
Utsire 468 1942 tanker heavily damaged
Flachsee 774 1927 dry cargo
Anna Rehder 725 1921 dry cargo
Frieda Rehder 705 1918 dry cargo
Ariadne 621 1898 dry cargo
Glatt(en)see 590 1923 dry cargo
Carl Rehder 558 1921 dry cargo

After some correspondence on technical standards and preferences of particular vessels, MOT accepted a revised list of 26 vessels, as informed by mail in Oslo on 19 September. As the Tri-Partite Merchant Navy Commission was soon expected to arrive in Norway to inspect all German vessels there, actual transfer to Norwegian management would, however, be deferred.

Only on 5 October did the final details arrive. MOT informing Oslo that the ships to be operated by Norway were to be:

-       taken from the British/American quota of allocation

-       that necessary repair costs were to be borne by the Norwegian government.

 

The Charter Parties were submitted and accepted, an MOT document between His Britannic Majesty as owner and the Norwegian Government as charterer (bare-boat-charterer). The main clauses were:

1               Charter Party to run for 6 months from delivery date, alternatively until end of voyage.

2               The rate to be GBP 1 per year.

3               Owner and Charterer to appoint surveyor at own cost to report on vessel’s condition on

delivery.

4               Any bunker and provisions to be paid on delivery/redelivery.

5               The vessel to be at the Charterers’ disposal.

6               All risk and costs for Charterers’ expense. Charterer to hold owner indemnified against any

claim etc.

7               English law to apply in any dispute.

8               Charterers’ to be liable for the Vessel’s value.

 

Concluding the matter, Mr Miller-Stirling, the British civil servant at the Allied HQ in Oslo wrote, as he was about to return to London: ”In order to expedite the practical side of the matter I have requested Flag Officer Norway to warn the German Naval Chief in Command Norway to remove all German personnel from the ships condemned (as Prize) as early as possible so that the Norwegian Government may take the necessary steps to place crews on board. Ships must continue in German repatriation service...”

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NSS – Norsk Skipsfartshistorisk Selskap | Norwegian Maritime History Society. epost: dbakka(a)online.no