Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Day Norway Sank

Today, exactly 110 years ago, the Danish passenger liner SS Norge sank off Rockall in what was the biggest civilian maritime disaster in the Atlantic Ocean before the Titanic.

SS Norge

SS Norge was built in 1881 by Alexander Stephen & Sons in Glasgow. The 3,359 tons steamer had three decks and three masts. She was 327'9 ft long, with a beam of 39'6 ft and 34'0 ft in depth, and had a capacity for 800 passengers. In 1889 she was purchased by the Danish steamship company "Thingvalla" from Antwerp. Originally named SS Pieter de Coninck, she was renamed Norge (Norway) following the purchase. In 1898 Norge was sold to the United Steamship Company (Det Forenede Dampskibs Selskab) in Copenhagen. Norge sailed on a route between Copenhagen and New York, with a single stop at Kristiania in Norway. She had already journeyed to New-York nine times in 1904, but hardly at half her capacity. To increase sales, advertisement campaigns directed mostly at a Jewish audience were launched throughout the Russian empire.

Norge embarked on her final voyage on June 22, 1904 carrying 405 passengers and 68 crew members. The liner sailed from Copenhagen to Kristiania, where an additional 232 passengers boarded it, then to Kristianssand where further 90 passengers came on board. On June 25 it entered the Atlantic ocean. The majority of the passengers were Norwegian and Russian (mostly Jewish, excluding some Finns) immigrants to America. Among the passengers were over two hundred children. Of the 727 persons on board, some 629 were destined to lose their lives. Much like the RMS Titanic that would sink eight years later, Norge suffered from a critically insufficient number of lifeboats. The eight lifeboats it carried were designed for a total of 250 passengers.
On Wednesday morning, June 28, around half past seven, a slight bump was felt throughout the liner, followed by a loud metallic groan. Alarmed passengers rushed to the deck, most of them half-dressed.
Captain Gundel
"I was like most others in bed when the accident happened. One of the quartermasters came and prodded us. I ran upstairs to the deck wearing only my blouse. I thought there had been a collision, but I didn't think at the time that there was any danger of the ship sinking. So I ran downstairs and wore some trousers, and then I heard the captain command the lifeboats into the water. All passengers were now upstairs, and they screamed terribly in many different languages. I did not understand most of what they were saying, but they were almost all naked."
-Sailor Carl Mathiasen's testimony

"...While some of us were having lunch and others hadn't yet left their beds, we felt a bump. It was as if the ship had stood still for a moment, and then we heard a scraping, abrasive sound that clarified what had happened, and struck even the bravest of us with horror... I ran downwards to inform the others and save some of my belongings, but I didn't make it... it was impossible to try running against the stream of people pouring up the stairs. I turned around and got up on the deck before the lifeboats were readied. The ship backed off, and we heard the scraping, abrasive sound when it slipped back into deep water. It was clear that she was doomed, and we could feel her sink and struggle harder with each passing minute..."
-Survivor Niels Petersen's testimony
The sinking of Norge
-Christian Mølsted, based on witness accounts
The hull had been breached when the ship ran aground on a reef. Attempts to pump out the water were futile, and once Norge backed off she quickly started sinking. The weather was harsh and the sea was high. It started raining. Lifebelts were handed out to the soaked passengers on the deck, and the captain ordered women and children to board the lifeboats. Panic ensued. The crew, armed with guns, could not withhold the masses from rushing the lifeboats. Witnesses claimed that men fought their way ahead of the women and children, and mothers were seen throwing their infants overboard to save them. One lifeboat crashed on the passengers while being swung out. Another overcrowded boat capsized while being lowered, casting its screaming passengers into the troubled water. Hundreds of people were struggling to swim in the waves. A hole was smashed in one lifeboat when it was slammed against the side of the ship. Norge sank within a matter of minutes, pulling dozens to a murky grave. The suction effect reportedly swallowed those who hadn't gotten a sufficient distance from the sinking vessel.

Rockall, 1904
Lifeboat 1: Found on July 3 by the German SS Energie. It carried 62 passengers (28 children, 8 women and 26 men) and 9 crewmen.
Lifeboat 2: Smashed and filled with water. Never found.
Lifeboat 3: Found on June 29 by the British SS Salvia. It carried 27 passengers (1 child, 6 women and 20 men) and 1 crewman.
Lifeboat 4: Found on July 5 by schooner Olga Pauline. It carried 11 passengers (1 child and 10 men) and 8 crewmen.
Lifeboat 5: Found on July 4 by Scottish fishing boat Largo Bay. It carried 11 passengers (all men) and 6 crewmen.
Lifeboat 6: Never found.
Lifeboat 7: Capsized and went down with the ship.
Lifeboat 8: Found July 3 by SS Cernova. It carried 35 passengers (7 children, 2 women and 26 men)

"Many used the life belts that were hastily thrown out on the deck, and jumped into the sea. The deck was almost underwater when I managed to get away. There were only a few people left, but the captain stood steady on the bridge and directed the evacuation of the lifeboats. The water around us was a mess of heads and convulsively outreaching arms. Some begged us to save them, others cursed us because we refused to take them in. Our boat was designed for 20 and we were 27 in it. Many people clung to the oars and the boat, but we had to hit them away. Else we would have all have perished..."
-Testimony of Peter Nielsen (lifeboat 3)
During their time at sea the survivors suffered great hunger. Thanks to the pouring rain, the thirst did not plague them the first couple of days, but some had to wait nearly a week for rescue. Several survivors reportedly died from drinking salt water and were buried at sea. Others died in hospitals after being rescued.
Witnesses reported that dozens of floating bodies had crossed their path the day following the disaster and were quickly carried away by the stream.

Captain Gundel

Captain Gundel claimed the ship had stuck an uncharted reef. He had diverted its course from the original route in order to save time, but had also done so on other occasions. Those who knew him vowed he was an honest man and a good captain. Gundel was offered a place on a lifeboat, as was confirmed by several survivors, but refused. He went down with Norge, but managed to survive the suction and reached lifeboat number 1 after about an hour in the water.
1st Officer Gilbe
"Right before the ship sank, 1st Officer Gilbe came to me on the bridge. We bid each other farewell. Gilbe went to the starboard end of the bridge and I to the port. Then the ship went down. It was the last time I saw officer Gilbe"
-Captain Gundel's testimony

Nationality of the person on board (Pass. & Crew):
Danish --------------72
United States ------5
Germany -----------2
England ------------2
Swedish ------------103
Russian empire ---259*
* Inc. 15 Finns
Complete list of all crew members (inc. date and place of birth):

Captain Valdemar Johannes Gundel - 22.02.1864 Skibby, Denmark (Survived)

Dr. Elle
Physician Dr. Hans Christian Jacob Hagemann Elle - 14.02.1874 Randers, Denmark

1st officer Julius Frederik Alexander Gilbe - 02.01.1863 Copenhagen, Denmark

2nd officer Oluf Christian Jørgensen Otte - 03.08.1868 Copenhagen, Denmark (Survived)

3rd officer Niels Thomsen Ankersen - 26.10.1871 Norby, Denmark (Survived)

1st mechanic Peter Jensen Holm - 10.10.1859 Hobro, Denmark

2nd mechanic Julian Michal Ferdinand Heinisch - 25.12.1862 Frederiksberg, Denmark

3rd mechanic Niels R. Clausen - 17.05.1872 Rønne, Denmark

4th mechanic Niels Jensen - 28.08.1871 Uggeløse, Denmark

Asst. mechanic Magnus Johan Bruun/Bruhn - Framinge, Denmark (Survived)

Asst. mechanic Jens Peter Jensen - Skibby, Denmark

Asst. mechanic Hans L. Simonsen - 25.03.1877 Dalby, Denmark

Steward Anders Jensen - Søllerød, Denmark

Victualler Carl Nielsen - Aarhus, Denmark (Survived)

Clerk Jacob Johannes Theisen – 27.10.1882 Sundby, Denmark

Carpenter Thoren Johanson - Sweden

Boatman Christian Bernhard Amundsen - 25.12.1858 Norway

Lamp trimmer John Mouritz Olsson - Sweden (Survived)

Sailor Carl Petersen – Norway (Survived)

Sailor Henrich S. Schønning - Ringkøbing, Denmark

Sailor Niels Nielsen - Ringkøbing, Denmark

Sailor Peter Olsen - Hals, Denmark (Survived)

2nd Officer Otte
Sailor Christian Mogensen - 1876 Thorslev, Denmark (Survived)

Sailor Carl Mathiesen - Endelave, Denmark (Survived)

Sailor Hans Hansen - Kastrup, Denmark

Sailor Hannibal Christensen - 15.03.1859 Aalborg, Denmark (Survived)

Sailor Laurids Nielsen - 17.05.1876 Haderslev, Denmark (Survived)

Sailor Jørgen Peter Poffler - 01.10.1876 Marstal, Denmark

Deckhand Carl J. Erichson - Carlshamn, Sweden (Survived)

Deckhand Peder Christian Pedersen - Aning, Denmark (Survived)

Stoker Ole Rasmusen - Odense, Denmark (Survived)

Stoker Julius Georg Byssing - 07.01.1856 Copenhagen, Denmark

Stoker Martin P. Christensen - Ørum, Denmark

Stoker Christian Poulsen – Helsingør, Denmark

Stoker Per Wicklund/Viglund - Sweden (Survived)

Stoker Anton M. P. Lindfors - Sweden

Stoker Carl Anderson - Sweden

Stoker Martin H. Svensson - Sweden

Stoker Gerhard M Hjorth - Sweden

Stoker Anders Jacobsen Torp – 07.06.1884 Vejersted, Denmark

Stoker Christen P Knudsen - Selsø, Denmark

Stoker Valdemar Emil Heimann - Copenhagen, Denmark (Survived)

Stoker Johannes V. Sørensen - Copenhagen, Denmark

Stoker Niels Pedersen - Viborg, Denmark
Mechanic Jensen

Steward Karl A. Rasmussen - Copenhagen, Denmark

1st Cook Albert C. Krull - Marstal, Denmark

2nd Cook Peter Lassen/Larsen - Aalborg, Denmark (Survived)

1st Baker Carl Laurits G. Olsen - Nyborg, Denmark

2nd Baker Carl Mathiesen - Copenhagen, Denmark

1st Galley boy Bernhard Petersen - Copenhagen, Denmark (Survived)

2nd Galley boy Villiam Jensen - Copenhagen, Denmark

3rd Galley boy Carl Christian Svenningsen - Copenhagen, Denmark

Waiter Victor F. E. Petersen - Copenhagen, Denmark

Waiter Viggo J. Jensen - Copenhagen, Denmark

Waiter Johannes Th. H. Madsen - Copenhagen, Denmark

Waiter Vilhelm Nør - Copenhagen, Denmark

Waiter Jensenius Klindt - Copenhagen, Denmark

Waiter Heinrik H. P. Berg - Tårnby, Denmark

Waiter Andreas B. P. Larsen - Germany

Waiter Valdemar Olsen - Roskilde, Denmark

Waiter Harald Wilne - Vordingborg, Denmark

Waiter Søren Sørensen - Holeby, Denmark

Waiter Herman Honoree - Fredericia, Denmark

Waiter Carl Thermeden - Ferslev, Denmark

Cabin boy Carl Norup - (Survived)

Mess room waiter Ludvig Larsen - Hals, Denmark (Survived)

Physician’s assistant Thorvald Fruberg - Vandborg, Denmark (Survived)

Middle deck cabin boy Valdemar Hein - Copenhagen, Denmark (Survived)

1st Stewerdess Marie Hennings - 17.11.1878 Venø, Denmark

2nd Stewerdess Augusta S. Østmann - Sweden

Steward Johannes Christensen - Hobro Denmark

A list of Norwegian passengers can be found here!

1 comment:

  1. Every once in a while I search for information on the SS Norge, and this time I found your blog. My Great-Grandmother Justina Maria Wedin, and her nine children were aboard. Two of her sons survived and made their way to their father in Minnesota. Her son, Martin Jr. was my grandfather.

    Thank you for sharing your detailed information, and providing insight into the human toll in this horrific tragedy.