1 German vessels allocated to Norway 1946
The matter had been under discussion at the Potsdam conference between Truman, Churchill and Stalin in June 1945 end resolved in a “Liberated Ships Agreement”. The main principles decreed that:
1 Merchant ships were to be distributed between the countries that had taken part in the war on the Allied side with loss of tonnage.
2 Vessels under construction were to be allocated to the country of building.
3 Naval vessels were to be shared between the three main Allied partners, USA, UK and the Soviet Union.
All existing German merchant vessels were to be officially declared lawful prizes in the respective occupation zones of the three Allied powers and put in operation, as far as possible, without any bearing on the decision on future ownership. This, in practice, led the British Ministry of Transport (MOT) to take over and operate many of the vessels under British flag. They were thus employed under United Maritime Authority (UMA), responsible for shipping capacity until March 1946.
In reality, however, the situation was rather more complicated.
A document prepared by LtComm P A Borel, USNR, received by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry in Oslo and forwarded to the Minister of Trade on 8 October 1945, gave the following details on the state of German merchant fleet:
- vessels of 1.5 million grt were lying in German ports, all of which in the British occupation zone
- a further 500,000 grt remained in Norway and 300,000 grt in Danish waters.
But the identity and status of all such vessels were not fully established. Some vessels were in operational condition, others were lying at shipyards for repairs, others again were reduced to wrecks that could, or could not, be repaured. In addition, a good number of former civilian vessels like trawlers and whale-catchers had been taken by the Kriegsmarine and fitted out as escort vessels. Were they to be considered as warships or not?
Many such questions were to be addressed on diplomatic level over the following months.
The matter of distribution of the German vessels had been postponed to six months after V-E Day (7 May 1945), and priority given to restore as many as possible to operational condition.
Serviceable vessels lying in the British zone in Germany were gradually taken over by the British and placed at the disposal of MOT, with British crews and under British flag, often renamed with the “Empire” prefix.
In Norway, however, the operational vessels mostly retained their German crews, but under Allied control, and became employed in the extensive repatriation programme of 300,000 German military personnel.
The first enquiry from the MOT to the Ministry of Trade in Oslo arrived on 3 July 1945, asking whether Norway would be prepared to take on manning and operation of vessels up to 80,000 grt lying in Norwegian waters. After conferring with the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association (NSA), the Minister of Trade signalled strong interest, as it would provide imminent employment for a good number of Norwegian seafarers.
After the Potsdam agreement, a preliminary list made by MOT and US War Shipping Administration of 26 vessels was received in Oslo on 14 August, ”Proposed allocation for manning and operation by the Royal Norwegian Government”.
Of these 11 vessels were already employed in the repatriation programme. Flag Officer Norway (the senior naval officer) was requested to instruct the German Naval Command to hand over 24 vessels to civilian Norwegian shipping companies approved by MOT.
The ships proposed allocated for manning and operation by Royal Norwegian Government, per 14. august 1945:
The Ministry of Trade in Oslo also succeeded in having six small tankers built in Norway added to the list, as well as six small German vessels:
After some correspondence on technical standards and preferences of particular vessels, MOT accepted a revised list of 26 vessels, as informed by mail in Oslo on 19 September. As the Tri-Partite Merchant Navy Commission was soon expected to arrive in Norway to inspect all German vessels there, actual transfer to Norwegian management would, however, be deferred.
Only on 5 October did the final details arrive. MOT informing Oslo that the ships to be operated by Norway were to be:
- taken from the British/American quota of allocation
- that necessary repair costs were to be borne by the Norwegian government.
The Charter Parties were submitted and accepted, an MOT document between His Britannic Majesty as owner and the Norwegian Government as charterer (bare-boat-charterer). The main clauses were:
1 Charter Party to run for 6 months from delivery date, alternatively until end of voyage.
2 The rate to be GBP 1 per year.
3 Owner and Charterer to appoint surveyor at own cost to report on vessel’s condition on
4 Any bunker and provisions to be paid on delivery/redelivery.
5 The vessel to be at the Charterers’ disposal.
6 All risk and costs for Charterers’ expense. Charterer to hold owner indemnified against any
7 English law to apply in any dispute.
8 Charterers’ to be liable for the Vessel’s value.
Concluding the matter, Mr Miller-Stirling, the British civil servant at the Allied HQ in Oslo wrote, as he was about to return to London: ”In order to expedite the practical side of the matter I have requested Flag Officer Norway to warn the German Naval Chief in Command Norway to remove all German personnel from the ships condemned (as Prize) as early as possible so that the Norwegian Government may take the necessary steps to place crews on board. Ships must continue in German repatriation service...”
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