The first story: Altmark

The first story from series about ships sailing the Norwegian waters in 1940-45, and the fate of people who served on them. Original photos from the Oslo Photo Tour collection were are used for illustration.

Altmark was a German oil tanker and supply vessel. It became famous because of the so-called “Altmark Incident”. After the loss of the cruiser “Admiral Graf Spee”, of which Altmark supported across the Atlantic, the oil tanker headed for Germany, with almost 300 English POW. At certain stage Altmark was trying to use Norwegian territorial neutral waters as a safe pass to Germany, but was pursued by the British destroyers.

photo: Altmark at Jøssingfjord Feb-March 1940

Captain has tried to hide in Jossingfjord, in south-western Norway. Despite the measures taken, British landing team boarded the ship, and managed to free the prisoners. This event, which took place on 16 of February, 1940, went down in history as the “Altmark Incident”, and was kind of a spark that ignited a new phase of the WW2. A few days later, Hitler ordered the preparation of an attack on Norway, which happened in less then two months later.

photo: Memorial sign by Jøssingfjord: ” At this place on February 16th 1940 Altmark was attacked

However, the story of Altmark still wasn’t finished. The ship returned to Germany, and after repairs, continued it’s service as an oil tanker. In November, 1942, in Japan, there was an explosion that together with the ship, killed most of the crew, and the surviving sailors were sent home on a passing ship. Here fate strikes its last blow. On the evening of 3 of March, 1943, in the middle of the Atlantic, the ship was mistakenly sunk by a German submarine. From 365 people on board, only one made it to land. The others, if managed not to drown, died of thirst, or went insane of those three weeks wandering around the sea.

photo: Seven sailors from Altmark were killed during the attack at Jøssingfjord. 

Bottom line: a few words about the “Altmark incident”, which has serious consequences for Norway. The country’ situation became between a rock and a hard place. Germany at the official level considered that the Norwegians violated neutrality, since their ships did not prevent the capture of the German Altmark. The inaction of the Norwegians was unambiguously interpreted as an indulgence of British interests at the expense of the interests of Germany. Hitler gave the order to begin preparations for the invasion of the country, which began on April 9, 1940.

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