Hurtigruten at war

DS Dronning Maud i brann etter flyangrep 1. mai 1940

When Norway was attacked by Germany on the 9th of April 1940, almost all ships remained in the ports where they were at the time, with the exception of SS Dronning Maud, who made her way on to Kirkenes. At the time, there were 15 ships sailing along the coast.

Norwegian authorities requisitioned several ships for transport assignments. The Germans took hold of DS Mira, SS Nordnorge and DS Polarlys in Trondheim and Bergen.

It was not until 2 July 1940 that the coastal steamers started up again, now with somewhat reduced capacity. From having daily calls in the summer of 1939, sailings were reduced to one from Bergen and two from Trondheim in the summer of 1940. During the autumn a fourth sailing was added.

The first ships directly affected by the war therefore did not operate in ordinary coastal traffic. SS Sigurd Jarl was sailing locally in the Ålesund area when it was sunk by German aircraft on 23 April. SS Nordnorge was requisitioned by the Germans for troop transport when it was sunk by British warships on 10 May. SS Dronning Maud was requisitioned by the Norwegian authorities and was carrying a medical company when it was bombed and drifted aground outside Foldvik. SS Prins Olaf and SS Ariadne were evacuating to Britain when they were both sunk on 8 June.

Both SS Dronning Maud and SS Ariadne were marked as hospital ships when they were sunk.

Nordenfjeldskes hurtigruteskip DS Prinsesse Ragnhild utenfor Melbo i Vesterålen
DS Prinsesse Ragnhild

The first ship in ordinary Hurtigruten traffic to be directly affected by the war was Nordenfjeldske Dampskibsselskap’s SS Prinsesse Ragnhild. It went down on October 23, 1940. It is believed that it ran on a mine. The death toll is said to have been around 300. A total of 17 Hurtigruten ships were wrecked as a result of the hostilities. 13 of them in ordinary coastal service. Most were attacked by German planes or submarines, but some ships also fell victim to the Allied war machine. The sinking of SS Richard With and SS Barøy as a result of Allied submarine attacks was used by Nasjonal Samling in war propaganda. A total of more than 700 Norwegians perished in the Hurtigruten shipwrecks. We do not have an overview of how many Germans were on board or perished.

Motorkutteren Uløy gikk ned mens den var på sin første tur som erstatningshurtigrute i 1944
MK Uløy was one of the smaller motorboats who entered into the replacement expressroute during the war

As a result of the dangerous situation, and gradually the lack of ordinary Hurtigruten ships, several replacement ships were deployed by the shipping companies. The situation gradually became precarious. SS Lofoten was the last ordinary Hurtigruten ship northbound from Honningsvåg on 10 September 1941. SS Richard With southbound from Honningsvåg as the last southbound two days later, and was torpedoed on 13 September by the British submarine Tigris. 71 passengers and 28 crew members were killed. It was decided that the Tromsø-Kirkenes section would be covered with smaller motorboats, a joint project between the four shipping companies, while the rest of the route would be maintained with four weekly trips. The first replacement express was MK Skandfer, hired by Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskap, which made the trip on 23 September 1941 from Tromsø. The amount of small boats operating in replacement shipping grew steadily. As many as 50 boats were used as replacement ships until the scheme was discontinued in October 1944. Some went on over a hundred trips, many more did dozens.

The replacement express routes also fell victim to the war. MK Uløy, MK Vaaland and MK Moder II were all sunk on the route. MK Uløy went down as a result of air raids already on the first trip, outside Hamningsberg in Båtsfjord municipality. Three crew members and twelve passengers were killed.

The replacement express routes carried a total of nearly 25,000 passengers and over 231 000 bags of mail between 1941 and 1944. They made an invaluable contribution and were a necessity of life for the people of the northernmost part of the country. The crews on board the Hurtigrutens that sailed in ordinary Hurtigruten traffic south of Tromsø and the crews on board the replacement express routes risked their lives to keep coastal Norway working, and all have a rightful place among the Norwegian war sailors.