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S.S. Raceland

As the S.S. Howick Hall
New York City
circa 1914



A little about the ship S/S Raceland, and the crew, which was bombed by a German airplane on the 28 March 1942, sailing in convoy PQ 13 from Iceland to Murmansk in the Soviet Union. On board were a crew of 45 - 47, and only 12 survived. Among the dead was my uncle, Eskild Ditlev Lauth.

Raceland was build in 1910 as the Howick Hall, later named Dovenden and thereafter Ircania. It had belonged to 9 different companies. The Italian dictator, Mussolini, declared war on the tenth day of June 1940 against England and France. As President Roosevelt said the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor. All Italian ships were directed to German or Italian held harbors or neutral ones. The s/s Ircania sailed to Jacksonville, Florida on the east coast of America. What became of the Italian crew, I don't know. On executive order from the U.S. President on the 24 June 1941, the Americans took over the ship and on the 31 December 1941 transferred it to the shipping company, South Atlantic Line, renaming the vessel Raceland, with a home port of Savannah, Georgia.

For information about the ship, see http://www.isthmianlines.com/ships/sa_howick_hall.htm.

I have seen information about convoy PQ 13, in which Raceland sailed, including information about every ship. Raceland was listed as being in position 42 in the convoy from Scotland to Iceland, with a Panamanian registry, of 4807 Gross Tons, built in 1910.

In February 1942 Raceland sailed from New Orleans and took cargoes from harbors on the east coast. The cargoes were: 36 tanks on the deck, airplanes, ore crushing machines, arms, tinned food, leather, and last, and fatally, nitroglycerin in barrels on deck. They sailed to Halifax and from there, together with 19 others freighters, to Lock Ewe in Scotland. The convoy was protected by 3 cruisers and some destroyers.

In March 1942 the convoy sailed from Lock Ewe to Iceland. There were 20 freighters in the convoy under an escort of multple British and one Polish destroyer. Of the vessels in the convoy, Raceland was the oldest and sunk 28 March along with the Empire Ranger, another victim of German aircraft. On 29 March, the ship Bateau was shelled and sunk and 30 March Effingham was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat.

The convoy started about the 20 March 1942, but when near the east cost of Iceland, the convoy sailed back towards the west because of information that the German battleship Tirpitz was leaving the Trodheimfjord. The convoy sailed once again from Iceland about the 24 March 1942, but by 27 March, the convoy was scattered by heavy weather.

During this time Raceland had 4 incidents, twice a boiler broke down and twice the rudder chain. The Captain, Sverre Brekke, a Norwegian, decided to take the most direct route to Murmansk, even if it was nearer the cost of Norway and the German airfield in Banak by Lakseelv the far north. Just after leaving the seas about Iceland there a snowstorm, and about that same time, Raceland had the four problems.

Early in the morning of 28 March a German airplane sighted them and a little later flew over them and released two bombs. The bombs did not hit the ship, but were near enough to shake the ship so a barrel with nitro-glycerin broke loose and exploded, causing a hole in the ship's side.

As Raceland began to sink, the captain ordered the crew to the lifeboats. The captain ordered the 1st Mate, O. Hatlestad, to pilot lifeboat #1 with a crew of 14 and the 2nd Mate, Johan Petter Johansen, to pilot lifeboat #2 with a crew of 17. Both mates were from Norway. After that, the captain ordered Boatswain Johan Henrik Larsen, also from Norway, into a small dinghy with a crew of 5. He took another dinghy, also with a crew of 5. These figures are from survivor, Steward Herman Torgesen. Another of the crew who survived, a Dane, Chief Engineer Rasmus Mogensen, from Copenhagen, tells that some of the crew died under the attack. The sea was relatively calm and the boats kept near the ship for some hours. The captain ordered the steward and Engineer Svend Aage Svenningsen, from Copenhagen, back on the ship to collect some clothes and food. Raceland sank late that afternoon at the position 72.40 N, 20.20 E.

The four boats were roped together, but when the night came, a storm began, and the ropes had to be cut. In the morning the two small dinghys had disappeared. The crew in the two lifeboats found some salvage from them. Most of the clothes and food went over board during the storm.

Lifeboat #1 came ashore on the first day of April 1942 on the coast of the Norwegian Island Soeroeya, west of Hammerfest, the island that protected the deep fiords, where the Germans later tried to hide some of the big warships, Scharnhorst, Tirpitz and so on. The day after, Norwegian residents Harry and Magda Dahl, by a lucky accident, found seven men alive and eight dead. The Dahls have told about the incident in a 1995 book written from the Hasvik borough in Finmarken, Norway.

First the survivors tried to persuade Harry and Magda Dahl to hide them, but it was impossible. The survivors were in a very bad condition and there was capital punishment for helping the enemy. The couple went home and took care of the survivors, arranging for medical care. The German authorities were also informed.

From an archive in Freiburg, Germany we have managed to get copies of the logbook from Des Kommandanten der Seeverteidigung Tromsoe, the Chief of Naval Defense of the Tromsoe District.

I have copies of the logbook partly from 1 April to 3 April 1942 and partly from 6 April and 7 April of the same year. Most of the notes in the logbook concern floating submarine mines and the departure and arrival of German Navy vessels. On the pages I have, 14 floating mines are mentioned. The logbook dated 2 April 1942 mentions a message received that a lifeboat with 6 or 7 shipwrecked men had landed in Soersandfjord north of Soevaer. The shipwreck had probably been torpedoed 5 days ago. Nationality unknown.

The logbook from 3 April 1942 mentions that a message was recived that the ship V 5907 left Soervaer at 1600 with expected arrival 0300 at Tromsoe. Eight men was taken into custody by the German SS for interrogation. Seven of the eight had to be transported. The 8 men had been crew members of the Panamanian registered Raceland which sunk after being hit during an air attack. The survivors were taken to a German Navy hospital in Tromsoe suffering from frostbite.

Nationality of Survivors: 1 Estonian, 3 Norwegian, 1 Spaniard, 2 Danish and 1 Russian-Polish.

The seven dead crewmembers were all buried on the Island of Soeroeya. It has not been possible to find where the 7 dead from the crew are buried. The lifeboat was bought by one of the locals, and destroyed by the Germans in 1944, when they retreated from the northern part of Norway.

The survivors from lifeboat #1 were:

- HATLESTAD, O., 1st Mate, Norway. He was released after a short time from a German prison of war camp and sailed the rest of the war in the coast traffic.

- MORGENSEN, Rasmus, Chief Engineer, Denmark. Came into a German prison of war camp in Germany, Milag Nord, and was released on unknown date to Denmark, probably in the autumn of 1944. It has not been possible to collect further information about him.

- GODFREDSEN, Georg, Able Seaman (AB), Denmark. Was also sent to German prison of war camp, Milag Nord, in Germany and was released on an unknown date to Denmark, to Marstal, probably in the autumn of 1944. I have tried to get the Naval Museum in Marstal interested in his fate, but all they would or could tell me was that he was dead, date unknown.

- JENSEN, Jens, Ordinary Seaman (OS), Norway. During the four days in the boat, his legs were frostbitten and on the shore he fell asleep and did not notice that his legs fell in the fire, so both legs was carbonized and had to be amputated in the hospital in Hammerfest. Later he was sent to a German prisoner of war camp in Norway and later released. After the war he got artificial legs, probably in the USA. When he came home, he started a factory and he could both dance and ski with his new legs. He made a visit to Soeroeya to Magda Dahl, then a widow.

- SANDVIK, K., Fireman, Norway. The only thing I know about him, is that he was taken to German prison-camp in Norway and was released to Kristianssund in Norway.

- BARCIA, Antonio, Oiler, USA. He was sent to a German prison camp in Germany and later was released to an unknown address, New York NY.

- MIERZECKI, Jose, Fireman, USA. Both his legs were amputated in a hospital in Hammerfest in Norway. He too was sent to a German prison camp, and was later released to 185 11th Ave, New York NY.

Lifeboat #2 came a shore on the 6 April 1942. The German logbook from KTB des Kommandanten der Seeverteidigung, Tromsoe says: 7 April 1942 0800. The Norwegian fisherman H.U.E. Larsen delivered 2 dead and 5 living shipwrecked men found on the Island Auervaer, positioned 69 52 23 N 18 1 E. This log identifies further members of the crew of the Raceland.

Nationality: 1 British, 1 Polish, 2 Norwegians and 1 Swede.

The dead, 1 Canadian and 1 Norwegian, where buried by the Norwegian authorities.

The survivors from Lifeboat #2:

- THORJUSSEN, Anrnholdt, Able Seaman, Norway. He may have the name MOI. He was sent to a German hospital and there the surgeons amputated both his legs over the knee. After the amputation he was sent to a German Hospital in Aker and there his father and a brother took care of him and had him transferred to a Norwegian hospital in Porsgrunn. In what way it succeeded for them, I don't know. After the war he came to USA, where he got artificial leg paid by USA and a pension for the rest of his life. He died when he was 69 years old. There should be a written statement from him and a summary of it is in a book Porsgrunn I Krig og Fred page 34. His daughter, Lisbeth Moi Sindum, has his written statement.

- TORGESEN Herman, Steward, Norway, was the only one from lifeboat 2 who saved his legs. He came onto the operation table and 3 German doctors examined his legs. Two of them recommended an amputation, but the third said no and so saved his legs. After Tromsoe he was sent to the hospital in Aker and on the way they passed his residence, but could not send a word to his wife. She had gotten a message from the Germans that he was dead, so when later he was allowed to send a postcard, it came as a big surprise to his wife to find out he was not dead after all. The first 6 weeks in a prison camp near Wilhelmshafen in Germany the prisoners were not even allowed out of the bed, or given water to clean themselves. A German officer discovered this and the guard was rebuked, with treatment improving after that. There were 6 men from the crew of Raceland. After 6 weeks they were sent to a prison camp for seamen and here they stayed for 21 months. One day in November 1944, 24 Norwegians were called to the chief of the camp, and he promised them, that they could return home if they would sign a statement that they would sail on German ships in Norway. Half of them signed but the other half would not- one of them was Torgesen. They were all sent to Norway and the twelve who signed were sent on a German ship the day after they came home. The twelve others were set free without further punishment. After the war Torgesen was send to the USA to a hospital for seamen on Long Island where he stayed for 6 months. During his stay in USA he took part in a hearing I suppose, before the USMC board.

- HICKMAN, Samuel, Coal Passer, British. He had his legs amputated in Germany, while he was in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. He was released Bulwell, England.

- MADISON, Nicholas, Oiler, USA. He had leg(s) amputated in the German hospital in Tromsoe. He was sent to prisoner of war camp in Germany and was released to Baltimore.

- Unknown Swedish seamen. His legs were also amputated in Tromsoe. The web site http://www.usmm.net/pownames.html also mentions an unknown person. I think it must be the Swede. On the list, he is mentioned under location German Milag Nord, but I don't know what means. Is it only the camps in Germany or is it the camps in Germany and Norway? There was a prisoner of war camp near Tromsoe. I would think, he was sent home to Sweden, as he came from that neutral country, but I am not sure.

In lifeboat #1 there were two dead seamen from Sweden and possibly they also were sent home in coffins, but I am not sure. It has been impossible to find the graves of the dead. When they were in the German hospital in Tromsoe, three woman came bringing some periodicals and some sweets. They were told, that lifeboat #1 had come ashore with 8 dead and 7 alive. They wanted to know, if the seamen from the #2 boat would broadcast on the Norwegian radio about the way they had been treated by the Americans, because they, the ladies, knew that the Americans used pressure against the seamen, so that they could get seamen on their ships. If they would speak, as three from the other boat had done, they would receive 5000 kroner, 3 months salary, and be freed at once. Thorgesen told them, that they had volunteered, and that it was impossible for him to say otherwise. He later tells, that the 3 men from boat #1 only got 2000 kroner each, and it was a loan. They didn't get full salary from the company after the war.

An old friend of mine, Commodore in the Royal Norwegian Coast Defence T.G.M., has been a big help for me in the research in Norway and one of his friends, captain in the Royal Navy, Norway, Captain L.A. who is a residence in Tromsoe has also been a very great help. Captain L.A. has tracked down two fishermen from the boat that found lifeboat #2 on Auvaer. In the newspaper Tromsoe Avis from the second of April 2002 there is an interview with 2 from the crew of the fishing boat that found the survivors from lifeboat #2. The two are Hilmar Olaison and Alfon Isaksen. They are both about 8o years old.

Hilar Olaison tells, that they were members of the crew on the fishing boat M/K Vaagtind. They were 6 men in all. On the Easter Monday, 6 April 1942, they sailed out from Tromsoe for fishing near Aurvaer, South east of Tromsoe. The owner and the skipper of the boat was Halvdan Larsen. When the fishing lines were out they went to a little island where they had a little cottage, and when they arrived there they found in the cottage 5 exhausted men, and a life boat with 2 dead. They took the men over to Vaagtind and sailed to Tromsoe, where they went to the police station at 0350 AM on the seventh of April. The police notified the Germans and the five exhausted men were taken immediately in a German car to the hospital in Tromsoe. The hospital refused to take care of them, and they were taken to a German hospital in the town. The Skipper, Halvan Larsen, was fined 50 kroner for not going to the Germans first.

An incomplete list with names of the dead from the crew:

- BREKKE, Sverre, Captain, Norway. Born 29 October 1888 in Oslo, Norway. Married and had 3 children. He is named several times in the materiel I have collected.

- My Uncle, LAUTH, Eskild Ditlev, Denmark, probably cook, born 20 October 1918, in Års, Denmark, son of Ivar Johannes Lauth and Kathrine Marie nee Svendsen. My grandmother got a message about his death during the war, and, in a court in Aalborg, Denmark on 25 May 1943, he was declared presumed dead on the 28 March 1942. On the 20 May 1949 my grandmother got a statement from the United States Maritime Commission, that he was posthumously awarded the Mariner`s Medal in commemoration of the greatest service anyone can render cause or country. In the letter, it was stated that he died when his ship, the Raceland, was bombed on 28 March 1942.

- SVENNINGSEN, Sven Aage, Engineer, Denmark, born 10 December 1901. His relatives lived in Copenhagen at least in 1949. He was in lifeboat #2 and died of exhaustion some days before the boat came on shore in Norway. I have found his name in a Danish book about the seamen who died during the WWII.

- JOHANSEN, Johan Petter 2nd Mate and pilot for lifeboat #2, Norway. He died of exhaustion before the boat came a shore.

- MASTERFLET, Harry Andreas. Norway . He was an electrician on the ship and was from Solum in Telemarken. He died of exhaustion in lifeboat nr. 1. It has not been possible to find where he is buried.

- BERGHAAS, Arne, 3rd Mate, USA. He is named in http://www.armed-guard-com/Panama.html. Age 40. It is the only place I have seen his name. Maybe he was one of those killed under the attack from the German airplane.

From http://www.minnehallen.no/snameaction.cfm?ship=Raceland, I have the information about 11 dead from the crew. My Norwegian friend has on my behalf asked, where the information came from, but nobody knows for sure. They think that the names came from the US embassy in Oslo.

The follow 11 mentioned are all from Norway.

- DALE, Olav, Carpenter, from Tjoelling, Vestfold.

- INGEBRIGTSEN, Alf, Able Seaman, from Bergen, Hordaland.

- LARSEN, Johan Henrik, Boatswain, Bergen, Hordaland.

- LOEVFALD, Theodor, Stoker, Bergen, Hordaland.

- MIKKELSEN, T., Stoker, address unknown.

- OLAFSEN, Asbjoern, Able Seaman, Tjoelling, Vestfold.

- OLSEN, Ejnar, Stoker, Stavanger, Rogaland.

- PETTERSEN, Leif Oskar, Orinary Seaman, Onsoey, Oestfold.

- VIK, Ole, Cook, Sandtorg, Troms.

- OEEN, Jens Andreas, Able Seaman, Bergen, Hordaland.

Besides these 11 named there were 2 dead from Sweden and 1 very young man from Canada in lifeboat #1. It has been impossible to find the names and nationalities of the other dead. Of the crew in lifeboat #2, some were buried at sea, wrote the boat's pilot (2nd mate) and the engineer from Denmark.

A cousin of mine, T.L., has been very helpful finding material on the internet, so I owe him and my friend in Norway and his friend my thanks for all the work they have done for me.

Leif Myrhoej
Fejoe, Denmark
September 2004


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