On 6 January 1940, the German freighter Frankenwald was caught in a treacherous current on the Norwegian west coast. With a deafening noise, German steel met Norwegian rock, and ship and cargo was lost. All that's left now is a world-class wreck dive.
Captain Alexander Moritz Otto Erich von Frankenberg is staring out the window. He is on the bridge of the 122-meter-long German freighter Frankenwald with his First Officer Georg Güttler and two Norwegian pilots—Lorenz Schjønning Warholm and Christian Haarvik. It is almost 6 P.M. and the winter darkness shrouds the cold, barren landscape. A south-easterly breeze is blowing, and there it is raining slightly, but visibility is still decent.
Perhaps the captain takes a moment to think about his homeland, which just a few months earlier was plunged into war. He is safe here inside the Norwegian fjords; but, in international waters just off the coast, the Royal Navy is looming.
They would not have let him pass, could they have done anything to stop him; Frankenwald is carrying 7,971 tons of fine-ground magnetic iron ore known as magnetite from the mines in Kiruna, which will feed the hungry German war machine.
Frankenwald left Narvik on 31 December 1939 at around 3 P.M. The passage along the Norwegian coast was eventful, and they had to halt several times due to bad weather and heavy snow. Now the heavily loaded freighter was closing in on the treacherous passage between Brattholmen and Fengskjæret in Ytre Steinsund, just north of the mighty Sognefjord.
The captain orders slow speed on the engine room telegraph as they draw closer. The atmosphere on the bridge is presumably tense, and von Frankenberg later stated that he was having doubts about the pilots after taking them on. Before making his way to the chart room to check their position one extra time, he notes that they are in the correct sector of the lighthouse ahead.
Von Frankenberg had not wanted to pass through the narrow strait at this hour, but their intended anchorage at Larsråholmene further north was filled up with about a hundred or so fishing vessels because of bad weather during the last few days. He had no choice but to continue south and head for Bergen, running through the night.
When von Frankenberg returns to the bridge, he discovers that the light from the lighthouse has changed. The current must have pushed the freighter slightly off course to starboard, and now they are in the wrong sector. Suddenly, lights from a small vessel travelling in the same direction appear in the darkness ahead.
The Wald class
Measuring almost 400 feet, Frankenwald was a big ship for her day and age. The total capacity of 5062 GRT meant she could take a lot of cargo in her four main holds. She even had a number of passenger cabins in the superstructure amidships. She was built in steel and equipped with a triple expansion steam engine giving her a speed of 11 knots.
The freighter was launched in 1921 as build number 36 from Deutsche Werft in Hamburg, and went into service the following year. She had been commissioned by the German shipping company HAPAG (Hamburg Amerikanische Paketfahrt Aktiengesellschaft, or Hamburg-America-Linie) in 1918. They had a very close relationship with the shipyard, being one of the investors along with the engine manufacturers Gutehoffnungshütte and AEG.
From 1921 to 1923, Deutsche Werft built no less than ten freighters in what was to become known within HAPAG as the Wald class. The shipyard was remarkably efficient, and during WWII, they turned out a total of 113 Type IX and XXIII U-boats for the German Kriegsmarine.
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