The sunken hulk of a Norwegian ship, the S/S BRATTDAL rested in the bay of Orei in northern Euboea for eleven years. The ship’s history began in August 1935 when it was delivered by the German shipyard Bremer Vulcan to the Norwegian company A/S Rendal (of Moltzau & Christensen). The ship had a total capacity of 4,968 tons, a net capacity of 2,995 tons, a displacement of 8,700 tons and dimensions of 131.8 x 17 meters. It was driven by a five-cylinder MAN diesel engine built by the shipyards, which gave it a maximum speed of 12.5 knots. It featured a Maier bow – a type bow which was used extensively in the thirties in an effort to reduce hull resistance as the ship moved through the water. The ship soon began its commercial voyages around the world. In 1938, ownership was transferred to a subsidiary company, A/S Moltzaus Tankrederi.
The BRATTDALbefore the war.
In April 1940, after the Nazi invasion of Norway and the collapse of its lines of defense, Norwegian ships which were in (or managed to escape to) Allied waters were seized by the Norwegian government in exile. They came under the management of The Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission, known as NORTRASHIP, and joined the Allied convoy network. NORTRASHIP consisted of about 1,000 Norwegian ships manned by around 30,000 crew, making it the largest shipping consortium in the world at the time. The BRATTDAL joined NORTRASHIP in April 1940 and sailed to Vancouver, Canada. It then sailed to Australia and onto Suez via the Indies. Another voyage to Australia followed. On its return, it headed for the Mediterranean for the first time at the end of January 1941.
From February 1941, the ship regularly sailed between Egypt and Greece carrying allied supplies and soldiers. Enemy airstrikes were not lacking, as the ship’s engineer, Einar Nilsen mentions in the book ‘Men without Medals: A Story for and by Norwegian Sailors’; “Bombs from dawn to dusk – how many lives do NORTRASHIP believe we have?”. On April 7, 1941, the BRATTDAL left Alexandria for Piraeus carrying armored vehicles and 227 soldiers. On the way it was ordered to sail to the port of Volos where it arrived on April 10, disembarking the soldiers and unloading the ammunition. Two days later, it was ordered to depart with the cargo ship CITY OF KARACHI and make rendezvous with a warship escort. However, after failing to contact the warship that night, it was decided to return to port on the morning of 13 April and await new orders. In the ensuing hours, however, the port of Volos became the target of an air raid by German bombers. The BRATTDAL was hit on the stern deck. The bomb penetrated the deck and exploded under the hull of the fourth hold, causing a rupture. Water immediately flooded in, jeopardizing the ship. However, Chief Engineer Isaksen was able to close watertight doors in time and safe the ship from sinking. Captain Hartvik ordered the crew to prepare the lifeboats. They abandoned ship, leaving it to its fate. The crew of the BRATTDAL were later ordered by British naval authorities to return to their posts. In their absence, the BRATTDAL had run aground and there was a real risk of losing it completely. However, the air raids made a return during the day highly dangerous, and so they waited until the cover of darkness. They managed to refloat the ship and sail it Almyros where they ran it aground in the shallows. Towed by the torpedo boat DORIS, the CITY OF KARACHI, which had also been damaged during the air raid, was also deliberately run aground nearby. The BRATTDAL’s crew disembarked and spent the night in the countryside. The boat was re-targeted by the Germans and attacked. One of the bombs fell vertically down its funnel, causing further significant damage. Although far from seaworthy, the ship was not a total loss, so it was remanned again on April 15 and refloated. In accordance with new British instructions, it was taken to Orei Bay, North Euboea. Most of the crew disembarked by ship’s boat and spent the night on land.
The Supreme Naval Commander of the North Aegean, Captain Ch. Konialis recorded the loss in his report: “After I had urged the Captain to sail at night, I was told that it would be impossible as the crew could not be located. The diesel engines required specialists to operate, so organizing a makeshift crew was pointless. I asked for and received a note from the Captain about the abandonment of the ship by his crew. The ship remained in Orei and sunk a few days later by the enemy air force.”
On the morning of the 16th, the BRATTDAL was attacked again by air without further damage. However, it forced final abandonment. The next afternoon, three German aircraft successfully attacked. It finally sank at 21.30 hrs to a depth of 25-30 meters and had a 35 degree list.
The BRATTDAL,shunken (N.E.Verinikos)
As the invading Germans continued their blitzkrieg of Greece from the north, the largely outnumbered and outmanoeuvred British Expeditionary Force was reduced to making a ‘fighting withdrawal’ to protect the mass exodus of foreign troops and others from the mainland. Now shipless, the BRATTDAL’s crew found themselves among them. They walked and used various other means to move south as fast as possible. Finally managing to reach Argos in the Peloponnese, they remained for two days desperately awaiting transport. On April 26, they boarded the British cruiser ORION in Nafplio. During their voyage, the ship capsized and many passengers lost their lives, including a young Dutch sailor from the BRATTDAL. The rest eventually arrived in Alexandria safely and were distributed to other ships to continue their role against the Axis powers. Einar Nilsen characteristically reflects the following in his journal: “2,500 years ago it was said that Greek culture was all about 375 Greek ships. I do not know what our culture is about, but it is a temptation to think about the 1,000 Norwegian ships.”
After the end of the war, world shipping was faced with a shortage of ships due to the huge losses caused by hostilities against the merchant fleets. The need to repatriate soldiers and other personnel, transport supplies and rebuilding materials, and repair damaged land networks all forced states and companies to exploit every possible vessel. Inevitably, many shipwrecks that were deemed repairable were raised, repaired and returned to service.
One of the largest merchant ships successfully recovered in Greece was the BRATTDAL, which remained half submerged in Orei. Contractor P. Frangoulis tried to get the salvage rights in 1947-49, but his efforts came to naught. In September 1950, a contract was signed between shipwreck owners and the Vernikos Salvage Company. It stipulated a “no cure – no pay” clause and a recovery by August 1951. Dimitrios Vernikos himself dived the shipwreck in order to guide the salvage crews. It was eventually raised in April 1952 and towed to Piraeus.
The BRATTDAL recovered at Orei. (N.E. Vernikos)
The magazine “Naftiki Hellas” wrote about it at the time: “The war-torn Norwegian motor ship “Brattdal”, which sunk during the war, was raised by the Vernikou Salvage Company, under the direct and personal direction of Mr. Dimitrios Vernikos. Many had tried to do this previously, but failed. It should be noted that in the past, the owners of the “Brattdal” contracted the Copenhagen Salvage Company, as they considered Greek salvage operators inadequate. A fierce attack was launched against this action by the owners, which went as far as SEN of Athens. After many meetings, the views of the Greek salvage operator were accepted and the aforementioned agreement annulled. The contract was subsequently awarded to the Vernikou Salvage Company. The work was carried out exclusively by Greek technicians, and the salvage vessels “Agios Georgios”, “Armandores” and “Vernikou Irini” took part. The work is judged as one of the most difficult of its kind.”
A similar report was published in the magazine “Nautical Chronicles” which noted the following: “We bought it years ago and it is owned by Mr. Ant. G. Papadaki… the shipwreck was raised a few days ago by the salvage company, Vernikou. The sludge is already being removed and according to them, it will be towed to Italy and repaired for further service.” On April 17, 1952 the refloated BRATTDAL was towed to Piraeus where repairs to further seal its hull were undertaken.
The OREOI being repaired in Piraeus (K. Megalokonomou)
In October of the same year, the Greek flag was hoisted on the damaged hulk and the ship registered in Piraeus (No. 1225) under the name OREOI, apparently inspired by where it had remained for eleven years. George Emiris was registered as the owner and in July 1953, the ship was towed to Bremen, Germany where the repair and refurbishment work continued. In November 1953, the ship became the property of the Liberian company, Andaluza Cia. Naviera S.A., owned by Antonis Papadakis. It was therefore stricken from the Greek registers and renamed the NORTH DUCHESS. The shipowner Antonis G. Papadakis from Kassos island had been in shipping since the thirties, founding companies in London, Piraeus and Switzerland. It continues to exist today, under the successful management of his son Nikos Papadakis. After the repairs and refurbishment, it now had a total capacity of 4,975 tons, a net capacity of 2,943 tons and a displacement of 8,570 tons. However, the ship was not to be owned by the Papadakis family for long. In 1956, it was sold to the German company Reederei Blumenfeldt and renamed the EBBA BLUMENFELDT. Three years later it was sold to Krupp Reederei & Kohlenhandel and renamed RHEINHAUSEN. In 1960, it returned to Greek ownership when it was bought by Z. Lemos and P. Pontikos and renamed the ELPIDOFOROS. It sailed for the Lebanese company Palmar Cia. Naviera S.A. In 1969, the ship raised the Cyprus flag and operated for the Elpidoforos Shipping Co., owned by Pantelis K. Lemou. However, its age combined with rising oil prices meant that its final fate would be a scrap yard in China in April 1971.
The ELPIDOFOROS in 1970. (Marc Piché)
- Rasmussen, A.H., Menn uten medaljer: en saga om og av norske sjøfolk, Oslo
- Thoktaridis Costas – Bilalis Aris, Lifting History: The Epic Of Shipwreck Recovery In Post-War Greece, Kyriakidis Publishing, Thessaloniki, 2017
- Melissinos Ioannis, The Navy In The Second World War – Its Overall Contribution To Hellenic Merchant Shipping (Sailing and Steamship) 1940-1945, Volumes A and B, University Ioannina, Ioannina, 1995.
- Port of Piraeus Registers
- Website warsailors.com