HMS Cossack attacks the MV Altmark I

HMS Cossack attacks the MV Altmark by Norman Wilkinson. National Maritime Museum Greenwich.

Just before dawn on 14 February 1940, a large sleek vessel entered Norwegian territorial waters off the Helgeland coast. After rounding the white-painted Halten Lighthouse she took an easterly course across Frohavet before turning south into the Leads. Her freeboard was low fore and aft of the central bridge structure, but both forecastle and stern were built higher, with a single funnel aft, giving her the characteristic shape of a contemporary motor tanker. The dark hull and light grey superstructure gave the ship a sinister look. As the cold light of dawn rose from the snow-clad mountains in the east, the name Altmark could be seen in white letters on both sides of the stern.

Kapitän Heinrich Dau had taken Altmark to sea from Wilhelmshaven in early August and loaded 9,414 tons of diesel oil in Port Arthur, Texas, while the world was still at peace. In the Atlantic on his way back, the signal `Steurbord Lampe brennt nicht mehr’ – `Starboard lantern is out’, arrived on 25 August, meaning `extreme danger of war, keep away from all traffic’. A few days later, instructions followed to head for a point off the Cape Verde Islands to rendezvous with the Panzerschiff Graf Spee. En route, Kapitän Dau ordered his ship to be primed in black and grey with a yellow funnel, changing her name to Sogne of Oslo. Completing the disguise, a Norwegian flag was hoisted on the stern, while red, white and blue stripes were painted on the sides, as was the word `NORGE’ on the bridge.

Altmark met up with Graf Spee in the morning of 1 September, just as the German troops marched into Poland. During the day, two 20-mm A/A machine guns were transferred from Graf Spee together with twenty naval men, two wireless operators, a purser officer to handle the stores and a prize officer. Thus Altmark had a crew of 133 men, all told. The two ships sailed into the South Atlantic while Europe went to war. After a while, Graf Spee took off to do her business as a raider while Altmark vanished into the southern vastness, constantly on the alert to avoid being sighted. They met again on 14 and 28 October and 6 December. Each time, the Panzerschiff was fuelled and resupplied. As Graf Spee mounted her score, captured seamen were transferred to Altmark when they met. This had not been planned for at all and came as a challenge to Kapitän Dau. Storerooms had to be changed to cells, some of the crew had to be assigned to guard duty, and water and food had to be shared between far more men than expected.

Second Engineer Herbert Saville of Newton Beach, intercepted off Cape Verde on 5 October, was first taken on board Graf Spee then transferred to Altmark, where he was to spend a total of 135 days:

[On board Graf Spee], we were treated as officers and gentlemen, while on the prison ship we were looked upon as prisoners. [.] Though we were not ill-treated on the Altmark, we were sleeping on the iron deck with carpets to keep us warm and we were definitely referred to as the prisoners. I think the worst thing we had to suffer was the monotony and the mental torture of not knowing what was going to happen. Our exercise on the ship was very limited. We were only allowed three-quarters of an hour every 48 hours, and often not that. Very rarely did we see the light of the day and often were not allowed to wash for days.

The accounts of the prisoners from Altmark are fairly positive shortly after they had been rescued. Treatment had been fair, without direct mistreatment, and boredom and inactivity seemed to have been the greatest tests, as well as a scarcity of tobacco. Later, the stories became more nuanced and in particular Kapitän Dau and his prison officer, Sub-Lieutenant Schmidt-Burchardt, were described as `brutal’ and `unfriendly’. The food was criticised by some and the lack of sanitary rooms and washing facilities was awkward, but Altmark was not designed to hold prisoners and everything related to them had to be improvised. Most accounts hold the original crew of Altmark as far more amenable than those transferred from Graf Spee and some point to considerable friction between the two groups.

On 19 December, when the news of the battle of River Plate and Langsdorff’s scuttling of Graf Spee off Montevideo reached Altmark, almost 300 men were locked away in the hull of the tanker. Most masters and senior officers of the sunken ships had been kept on board Graf Spee and were eventually released in Uruguay. When interrogated by British Navy officers, they revealed the existence of the supply ship and the prisoners on board her, and a wide-ranging hunt was initiated. Few had actually seen Altmark, though, and there was uncertainty about her appearance and whether she was armed or not.

Informed by radio from Berlin that the Royal Navy was searching for him, Dau kept the Norwegian identity of Altmark, but changed name to Haugesund. Later still, she appeared as Chirripo, flying an American flag. Dau remained far south-west of Cape Town for several weeks, hoping the hunt would cool down. At least once, British ships were sighted in the horizon, but Altmark slipped away at full speed without being recognised. During January fresh water started to run low and on the 24th Dau decided to make a bid for home. Eluding the Northern Patrol, Altmark passed south of Iceland on 12 February and two days later entered Norwegian waters. The two machine guns transferred from Graf Spee had been stowed away below deck. She was flying the official German Reichsdienstflagge, a large red-andwhite flag with a black swastika in the centre and a golden eagle in the upper corner, indicating a non-naval vessel in official service.

During the night, before entering Norwegian territory, Kapitän Dau sent a lengthy signal to the SKL, informing that all was well on board and that he expected to be home in a few days. It was also added that she had `22(?) British, 67 Indian and 8 Negro prisoners on board, all healthy’. This was the first news from Altmark in months and it was greeted with enthusiasm in Berlin. At the German Embassy in Oslo, Minister Bräuer and Naval Attaché Korvettenkapitän Richard Schreiber had been notified some weeks earlier that Altmark was to be expected. Now, at 11:30 on 14 February, they received an encrypted telephone message with information that Altmark had entered Norwegian waters and that they should ensure that Norwegian naval authorities gave her a safe passage through the Leads, including pilots as needed.

The sixty-five-year-old Kapitän Dau was undoubtedly weary after the long, perilous journey. Radio messages from Germany warned repeatedly that the Royal Navy used vast resources hunting him, but when he reached Norwegian territorial waters, he must have thought the worst was over. Even if Norwegian authorities were aware of the nature of his ship, he should be allowed to proceed down the Leads and slip across the Skagerrak during the night of 15/16 February when the moon would be down early, giving ample hours of darkness to reach shelter in Danish waters, behind the German minefields. Dau knew there would be British consuls in most Norwegian ports and Altmark would undoubtedly be observed and reported to London within hours. He had less belief in the British ability to react quickly to the sighting reports, though, and if he could reach Skagerrak within thirty-six hours, he reckoned there would be no immediate danger.

The prisoners, no longer permitted to come up for daily exercises, knew they were under land as one sailor had been allowed briefly on deck to empty a washing bucket and guessed correctly it must be Norway. Able Seaman Thomas Foley, a prisoner from Doric Star, wrote:

One of the German guards burst into our room, dashed up to the porthole and clamped it shut, then fixed some iron bars across it, so that we could not see anything. Then he dashed off again and later we heard that the Germans had hung a piece of canvas in front of the entrance. We were virtually buried in the ship’s bottom. We were sick with excitement. And we were almost physically sick as now the porthole and the entrance were completely blocked up we did not get any air at all, and the atmosphere of our prison became more stifling every minute. We knew we could not bear it for long, and several of the boys became ill. We existed like this for a whole day and night; vainly complaining to the guard.

The Linnesoy coast guard station at Fosen sighted Altmark at 03:40 on 14 February and sent a standard report to Trondelag Sea Defence Sector in Trondheim. From there, the report was forwarded to Lieutenant Franz Münster of the torpedo boat Trygg in Kristiansund with orders to meet the vessel and check her credentials. Approaching the German tanker in the afternoon, off the island of Tustna, Lieutenant Münster observed her through his binoculars. In addition to the Reichsdienstflagge, Altmark had a smaller white flag with a central swastika in the main mast, but showed no signs of being armed or any other irregularities. Münster, who was not aware of Altmark’s true identity, decided to treat the ship as a regular merchantman and, after instructing Altmark to stop, the first officer, Fenrik Evju, was sent across for an inspection.

Rear Admiral Carsten Tank-Nielsen, C-in-C of SDD2 in Bergen, had issued a note to his subordinate commanders summarising what was known about Altmark and instructing that, if she entered Norwegian territory, he should immediately be informed. For some reason, the admiral’s note had not been distributed among the ships in Trondelag Sea Defence Sector and neither Münster nor Evju realised that they had just intercepted a ship that the Royal Navy had been chasing for almost two months.

Boarding Altmark at 14:45, Evju was taken to the bridge and introduced to Kapitän Dau, whom he later remembered as an austere formal sailor in uniform with a characteristic, grey goatee beard. Dau immediately stated that Altmark was a `state ship’ belonging to the German Navy and thus not obliged to accept inspection. He added that she was on her way from Port Arthur to Germany with fuel oil, carrying a crew of 133 but no passengers. Dau did not reveal that a good part of the fuel oil from Port Arthur had already been transferred to Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. Questioned about armament, Dau answered that the two 20-mm A/A guns carried for defence had been stowed away before entering Norwegian waters. Evju was satisfied with this, believing the ship to be a regular tanker in official service, and following the neutrality regulations, saw no reason to request a more thorough check. When he commented that it had taken an awfully long time to get from Port Arthur to Norway and that the log book, which he had been allowed to study upon request, showed positions in the South Atlantic, a prickly Dau answered that the ship belonged to the German Navy and the Norwegian officer `should not have seen that’. Fenrik Evju sensed he was on difficult ground and let the matter drop. He was shown around the bridge, map room and radio room, noted the visitation in Altmark’s log, and went back to Trygg to report after handing Dau a copy of the neutrality regulations in German, underlining the ban on the use of radio while in Norwegian waters.

The prisoners guessed from the stopping of the engines that somebody had come on board. Able Seaman Foley continued: The ship stopped. There was the sound of tremendous bustle from the top deck. We guessed the ship was being searched. Now or never! Unless we succeeded in attracting the attention of the examiners, we would be taken to Germany. [.] Gathering all the strength we had left we started to make the most deafening din we could manage, kicking the door, stamping our feet and whistling. [.] But it was all in vain, no one seemed to have heard us. Was it possible that the Norwegians really did not hear us or was it that they did not want to?

The Germans were prepared and, once the commotion began, steamwinches on deck were started up with a comment that it was routine to prevent them from freezing up. This was practice on many ships, and there is no mention whatsoever in Evju’s report that he or his men heard or suspected anything suspicious. Based on Evju’s assessment, Lieutenant Münster decided to give Altmark permission to continue southward. Although her master had admitted the tanker was in service with the German Navy, no guns were on deck and she appeared to be harmless; in which case the neutrality regulations did not require a full inspection. Trygg had a local pilot on board, and on a request from Dau, he was transferred to the German tanker to assist her to Ålesund, where regular pilots could take over. While escorting Altmark across the open Hustavika, Münster sent a report of the inspection to SDD2 via Trondelag Sea Defence Sector, adding that everything appeared in order. With the tanker back inside the Leads again, Trygg turned back at 18:00, leaving Altmark to continue alone, according to standard procedure.

At this point, the German tanker was observed from a ship coming out of the Leads, heading north. The ship was the British freighter Helmond and on its bridge Captain D F Harlock became suspicious:

The Norwegian Pilot I had onboard had Nazi sentiments. I happened to remark to him that the Russians were not giving Germany much oil, as the Altmark was half-light. He replied that the ship had been out four months. This remark and the speed with which the Altmark was travelling made me suspicious, so next day, Thursday 15th February, on arrival at Muirivik, I took the train to Trondheim and reported the ship to the [British] Naval Control there.

Captain Harlock did not know what ship he had sighted, but the British naval control officer in Trondheim did and immediately sent a telegram to London. For the first time since the outbreak of the war, the whereabouts of Altmark was known by the Admiralty. The net was tightening.

Also recognising Altmark for what she was once he received Münster’s report, Rear Admiral Tank-Nielsen, the C-in-C of 2nd Sea Defence District in Bergen, gave orders for her to be escorted at all times inside Norwegian waters. There was no definition of a `state ship’ in the Norwegian neutrality regulations; a vessel was either a warship or not. Claiming immunity to inspection, Captain Dau would by default declare Altmark a warship, in which case she could not pass through the exclusion zone or krigshavn around Bergen. Kaptein Nils Simensen of the torpedo boat Snogg was ordered to meet the tanker off Ålesund, where she picked up new pilots, to verify the refusal of inspection and to find out more about the guns Altmark carried. An irritated Dau had to accept being boarded again but Simensen, who came on board at 21:30 with the two pilots, found everything to be in order. He asked about the guns and got the same answer as Fenrik Evju: there were two A/A machine guns stowed away in the hull. Simensen was shown around above decks, but no attempts were made to go below. Dau asked about the passing of Bergen krigshavn and was (incorrectly) told that he could do so during daylight hours, even if he had not been inspected. Close to midnight, Altmark headed southward again, slowly at first to pass some narrows after first light. Snogg followed and, a short while later, the destroyer Draug also joined the escort.

Things were still not to Rear Admiral Tank-Nielsen’s satisfaction. He was convinced that the only way to keep Norway out of the war was a consistent, uncompromising enforcement of the neutrality without favours to either belligerent and, while Altmark was inside the area where he was in charge, the neutrality regulations would be followed to the letter. A signal was sent to Snogg with orders for another visitation the following morning. In particular, Tank-Nielsen wanted precise details of Altmark’s armament, her assignment and if there were any naval personnel on board. At 11:15 on the 15th, Altmark was signalled from Snogg to lie by again, this time near the mouth of Sognefjorden, and the first officer, Loytnant Frits Andersen, went on board. Dau kept his frustration in check and answered more or less the same questions as he had been asked before, but in more detail: Altmark was going home to Germany with a load of fuel oil, the guns were stowed below deck, and there were no passengers or persons from another country on board. The rather large crew was explained through Altmark being used for training, and some of the men, it was acknowledged, belonged to the navy. Since it said so in the log book, Dau admitted having left Port Arthur on 19 August the year before, but would not reveal Altmark’s whereabouts since. Lieutenant Andersen left Altmark after about half an hour, and the German tanker continued southwards.

Rear Admiral Tank-Nielsen remained uncomfortable with the situation and decided to have a look for himself. Accompanied by his acting chief of staff Kaptein Stamso, he boarded the destroyer Garm, intercepting Altmark at 12:30 in Hjeltefjorden north of Bergen – inside the krigshavn. Snogg was called alongside and Kaptein Simensen questioned on his inspections of the tanker. When it became clear that nobody had been below deck and that it was only Dau’s word that she was not carrying any concealed guns or prisoners, Admiral Tank-Nielsen promptly ordered Stamso and Simensen on board Altmark again.

This time, a furious Kapitän Dau protested bitterly to the Norwegian officers. It was the fourth time he had been stopped, and every delay increased the chances of interception by the Royal Navy. He had to pass Bergen as soon as possible should he have any chance of crossing the Skagerrak as planned. Kaptein Stamso explained that Altmark was now some 8 miles inside Bergen krigshavn and before she could proceed, every room of the ship would have to be inspected. Horrified, Dau explained that this would not be possible. Altmark belonged to the German Navy and had equipment on board that the Norwegian officers could not be allowed to see. As a `state ship’ inspection was denied `by order of the German government’. Stamso replied that if this was the case, it would be impossible for Altmark to continue. Dau would have to turn back, leave the krigshavn and take his ship outside Bergen. The boundary of the exclusion zone extended to the territorial limit, and Altmark would have to pass into international waters and proceed southward just outside the boundary. Defeated, Dau accepted this, provided he was allowed to wait until dusk before heading outside. This was agreed and the matter seemed settled, even if the Norwegian pilots refused to stay on board if the tanker was to go outside territorial waters. Maps were produced and the boundaries to the krigshavn pointed out to Dau as well as the best routes around, to avoid further misunderstandings.

After studying the maps for a while, Dau excused himself and left the bridge, allegedly to talk to the pilots. Instead, he went to the radio room and ordered a telegram to be sent via the nearest coastal radio station to the German Embassy in Oslo, complaining about the treatment the Norwegian Navy was giving him. Garm intercepted the message and Stamso was hailed with instructions to give the German master a reprimand for using his radio inside Norwegian waters. Dau meekly excused himself, saying he `did not realise he was still inside the restricted area’. After some further clarifications, Stamso and Simensen returned to Garm to report.

In the meantime, the prisoners, who realised that Norwegians were on board again, started a riot, using empty shrapnel boxes as battering rams. Again, the Germans started the winches, beating back the rebels with steel bars and jets of icy water. This time, though, the signalling and commotion was heard by the Norwegians and Kaptein Stamso reported to Tank-Nielsen that there with certainty were more than just the crew on board. The prisoners, some of whom had been on board for nearly four months, were desperate and understandably not happy with the Norwegian Navy, which they could see departing in spite of their signals and noise-making. The Norwegian officers needed a decision from their government before they were able to initiate any direct actions other than forcing the tanker outside Bergen krigshavn.

With prisoners on board Altmark, Admiral Tank-Nielsen concluded categorically that Altmark could not pass through the krigshavn but would have to go outside, as already agreed. The decision was passed to Altmark, from which Kapitän Dau shortly after hailed Garm, asking if it would be possible to have a telegram brought to shore and sent to his embassy over the public network. The answer was that if the master had something he wished to discuss, he was welcome on board the destroyer. Dau, more frustrated than ever, came across in his whaler. Some politeness was exchanged between the two officers, after which Dau protested at the delays imposed on his ship. Tank-Nielsen explained once again that a `state ship’ was not recognised either by the Hague Convention or the Norwegian neutrality regulations and unless Dau allowed proper inspection, including below deck, she could not pass Bergen krigshavn. Some more civility was exchanged between the two officers before the telegram was handed over and Dau returned to his own ship. The telegram, which of course was read by the Norwegian officers, had a similar content to the one Dau had attempted to send from Altmark earlier. He complained about the inspections and informed the embassy that as he had refused inspection, he had been forced to pass outside Bergen and would not be able to cross the Skagerrak as planned. Altmark headed north again to wait for darkness in Hjeltefjorden, accompanied by the minelayer Olav Tryggvason, which had arrived on the scene and been ordered to take charge of the escort.

Leaving the Inner Leads, going around Bergen krigshavn, Altmark would have to proceed down the coast, very close to and partly outside the territorial limit for about 20 miles. These waters contain many treacherous shallows and depending on how close to these Dau would be willing to steer in the darkness would decide how exposed to British interception he would come. Tank-Nielsen and Stamso believed that one of two things could happen. With luck, Altmark would be intercepted by British warships, as City of Flint had very nearly been in November. If so, the prisoners would be released and Altmark would be out of the way. A protest would have to be made to the British if they had been inside the territorial limit but the potential for conflict seemed low. If nothing happened, Altmark would return inside the Leads south of Bergen the next day. By then, however, the government and Foreign Office would have had time to consider the right way of reacting to prisoners being held on board the German tanker. Kaptein Sigurd Årstad, one of Admiral Tank-Nielsen’s staff officers, outlined a third alternative in a letter to his father:

The ship would probably have been attacked [by the British] outside Norwegian territorial waters, and would probably have fled inside again. Then we could have interned it and freed the prisoners, without anybody saying that Norway had not followed international law.

Heading back to Bergen in the afternoon, Tank-Nielsen sent a preliminary signal to the Admiral Staff and commanding admiral from Garm informing them that the master of Altmark had refused inspection and consequently been ordered outside Bergen krigshavn. He added that he believed Altmark `most likely’ had prisoners on board. A more detailed report for the Admiral Staff was composed by Kaptein Stamso on the way back, including information that several of the men in Garm and Snogg had seen and heard SOS signals from the foreship, in spite of German attempts to stop it, ascertaining that there were prisoners on board. The report was submitted as soon as Garm had docked at the naval base in Bergen.

In Oslo, the first report of Altmark having entered Norwegian waters, reached Admiral Diesen by telephone in the evening of the 14th, after the first inspection. During the next day, he was regularly updated and forwarded the information he received to Under-Secretary of State Jens Bull at the Foreign Office by telephone. Bull expressed concern that a different procedure was followed now than was the case with Westerwald a few months earlier. Diesen answered that in his opinion it had been `an error of judgement’. Altmark was a warship and it would be best `to get rid of her as soon as possible’ even if this meant allowing her to pass Bergen krigshavn. Bull agreed and when he shortly after informed Foreign Minister Koht by telephone, the latter had no additional comments.

Having spoken to Bull, Admiral Diesen decided to overrule Admiral Tank-Nielsen and sent a telegram to SDD2 at 17:30. `Let the vessel pass through. It is a state-ship. Escort.’ Contrary to Admiral Tank-Nielsen, Diesen was a careful, political officer. He was conscious that the Navy should not cause problems for the government and feared British warships intercepting Altmark west of Bergen would lead to severe diplomatic problems. 

Coming back to his office at Marineholmen in Bergen, Rear Admiral Tank-Nielsen found the telegram from his superior and promptly called him at 18:00 with a protest, claiming this would be against the Norwegian Neutrality Regulations. Diesen maintained his order and stated he would take the full responsibility. He also criticised Tank-Nielsen strongly for having left his office and gone to sea and for not having allowed Altmark to pass Bergen krigshavn straight away. At this stage, Diesen knew from his report that Tank-Nielsen believed there were prisoners onboard Altmark. He had not yet received Kaptein Stamso’s detailed report but stated later that if he had, it would not have changed his decision. Tank-Nielsen and Stamso discussed the instructions and shared their frustrations in the admiral’s office, but could do little other than signal Snogg and Olav Tryggvason in Hjeltefjorden with orders to escort Altmark past Bergen as soon as possible. Rear Admiral Tank Nielsen did not leave any personal notes, but one must assume he was not very pleased with his commanding officer.

Later in the evening Naval Attaché Schreiber contacted Admiral Diesen, requesting that Altmark should be allowed to pass Bergen krigshavn. He was informed that such permission had already been granted and expressed `great satisfaction’ over the news that Altmark was being escorted southwards. Only in the morning of the next day, Friday 16th, did Diesen inform his superiors in the Ministry of Defence of the events and his decision with a copy to the Foreign Office. By then, Altmark had already passed Bergen krigshavn.

When he received the new instructions from Snogg just before 19:00, Captain Dau immediately changed course again with a sense of relief. It would be too late to cross Skagerrak the coming night and another day increased the risk of British interception, but at least Altmark was still inside the Leads. Speed was set so that Norwegian territorial waters could be departed late next evening east of the Naze for the last dash home across the Skagerrak. The voyage continued uneventfully and at midday on the 16th, the auxiliary Fireren took over the escort as the German tanker passed from SDD2 to SDD1 south of Stavanger. The two pilots from Ålesund were replaced by new ones at Kopervik.

Following the first sighting report from Captain Harlock in the forenoon of 15 February, at least two more reports arrived at the Admiralty during the day. First, the British naval control service officer in Bergen reported in the afternoon that Altmark was rumoured to be near that city and in the evening, the British naval attaché in Oslo, Rear Admiral Hector Boyes, forwarded information from the French Embassy that Altmark had been sighted inside the Leads near Ålesund in the morning. Churchill instructed the Admiralty to let:

cruiser and destroyers sweep northward during the day up the coast of Norway, not hesitating to arrest Altmark in territorial waters should she be found. This ship is violating neutrality in carrying British prisoners of war to Germany. Surely another cruiser or two should be sent to rummage the Skagerrak to-night? The Altmark must be regarded as an invaluable trophy.

In the evening of the 15th, a summary of the sighting reports was forwarded to Philip Vian, Captain (D) of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, at sea on board Cossack, accompanied by Sikh, Nubian, Ivanhoe, Intrepid and the cruiser Arethusa. The flotilla had departed Rosyth earlier in the day, allegedly on an `ice reconnaissance’ in the Skagerrak (Operation DT). The destroyers had embarked boarding parties before sailing, though, and below deck it was common knowledge that they were looking for the `Nazi prison ship’. The sighting reports carried the addition that they should not hesitate to intercept Altmark, even if encountered inside Norwegian territorial waters.

Vian was one of the most outstanding officers of the Royal Navy. As Cin-C of 4th Destroyer Flotilla, he usually had his command on board the flotilla leader Afridi. In January, Afridi went to the yards and Vian decided that Captain Sherbrook of Cossack was due for a break. Once he had departed, Vian moved over to Cossack with his staff. By all accounts Vian was a challenging man to serve under. Lieutenant Commander Reginald Whinney had known him since long before the war:

Vian had always been spare. He was tallish and fair with heavy bushy eyebrows. [.] His face never showed much expression – perhaps the hair hid it. PLV was a man who lived on his nerves – and very resilient they must have been. [.] He was not, though, a gentle gentleman. [.] As a Captain, he was unbelievably rude, hot tempered and frequently needlessly offensive; one had to stand up to him and be right – or make him think so. In action he was quiet, calm and very quick. Anyone who raised his voice unnecessarily at any time did not do so twice. Otherwise, some distance beneath his ferocious exterior, he could be a man of surprising kindness. In some ways he was a genius.

Considering the incoming sighting reports, Vian found it improbable that Altmark could have reached beyond Kristiansand. Hence, he spread his ships line-abreast some six miles apart, steering west and north from Lindesnes during the night. At 00:48 on the 16th, a signal from Admiral Forbes made it clear what they were looking for: `Altmark your objective. Act accordingly’. At 04:37, a signal from the submarine Seal indicated that Altmark had not yet passed Skudeneshavn and, after gathering on Cossack at daylight on the 16th, the force remained in the vicinity of the Norwegian coast to the south of Seal’s patrol area. During the forenoon, several vessels were stopped and searched, also inside Norwegian territorial waters, but there was no sign of the elusive Altmark.

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