Friday, April 28, 2017

BlucherWhen fear of and dislike for an impending mission gripped two young sailors, the difference in submitting to bravery or foolish action seems wafer thin. The situation was created on the German battle cruiser “Blücher” late in the afternoon 8th April 1940, and appears to have gone unnoticed by naval historians. The courageous action these two soldiers were embarking upon was going to play a pivotal role in the war – at least as far as Norway was concerned.

The start of the German invasion of ‘Vikingland’ was delayed by a few hours due to fierce resistance in the Oslofjord; and swift sinking of the cruiser enabling the Norwegian government and royal family to escape with essential documents, sovereign gold etc. This event is well known. The invasion of both Denmark and Norway was underway and happened on 9th April 1940. The cruiser was thus on a straight northerly course in full battle preparation, followed by supporting vessels. The flotilla had reached the West Coast of Sweden and one of the Deck Officers had Norwegian ancestry which troubled him greatly.

Helmut’s grandfather had come to Schleswig and got a job on a country estate; being a younger son he had little chance of finding work on the farmsteads of Telemark. The links with the old country were strong, ie personal visits, and every Christmas they exchanged cards. Whilst inspecting the battery of guns, Helmut recalled the military propaganda that Norway will not be attacked, but “protected” from the Western powers. The Germanic invasion will be welcome on the supposition of racial similarities and the close alliance with local Quisling agents!

The ship’s name Blücher seemed unfortunate since in January 1915 the heavily armoured cruiser bearing that name was in combat on the Dogger Banks with the Royal Navy. It was bombed and sank losing most of its crew. Both these battleships were on their first employments upon departing from Kiel Dockyard.

Darkness had fallen and Helmut shook his shoulders. He noted two sailors who were busy around the railings on aft deck, and assumed they carried out final preparations. These two young soldiers were soon to ‘jump ship’ and would have drowned, but for two resourceful Swedish fishermen.Blucher sunk

The seas were calm and the warships only encountered the occasional fishing boats. Little did these fishermen know that the next day, Tuesday 9th April, both Norway and Denmark were targeted with enemy invasion. The local lighthouse keepers checked the traffic and quickly informed Strömstad customs/port house about the unusual size warship seen through their binoculars.

Two professionals, the Andersson brothers, were hurrying home for a well-earned meal with their baskets full of oysters and lobsters caught in their pots. Their 27ft boat had recently been fitted out with a new 10 hp engine, which was a couple of knots faster than the old engine. At about 7.30pm they spotted the biggest vessel they had ever seen in these quiet waters.

Coming closer, it looked like a ghost ship, with no movement onboard. They soon caught sight of the German flag. Small talk about their plans for the herring fishing came to a halt. With sharpened wits it was clear that trouble was near for their friends in the North. They also saw vague outlines of further ships on the horizon. The Blücher was now in full view and the brothers enjoyed a ‘front row’ seat.

Suddenly, the brother at the bow noted a couple of figures gripping each others hands whilst standing on the aft. To his amazement they jumped overboard, so instinctively signalled ‘turn over tiller’ without saying a word. Soon the 27 footer was only a few cable lengths from the two men desperately struggling to stay afloat in the cold water; any longer than 10 minutes would have meant death. The Andersson brothers sensed that the ship, albeit in international waters, had come to a ‘stop’ or even gone ‘slow speed astern’. These essential manoeuvres seriously upset the Captain’s time schedules, which made defence preparations possible in the Oslofjord.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - December 2011 Issue
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