In the autumn of 1940, the crew on board the Hurtigruten ship SS Prinsesse Ragnhild were getting ready to travel north, out of Bodø. After a period of halting Hurtigruten traffic as a result of the invasion, the routes were now back up and running, with four sailings a week.
On the 23rd of October, the ship left the dock, with around 90 Norwegian passengers, crew of fifty, and over 300 German soldiers on board bound for Lofoten. Prinsesse Ragnhild was not requisitioned by the Germans, but was running ordinary service under Nordenfjeldske shipping company.
The ship had not gotten further than Landegode when those on board heard a loud rumble, and the ship was lifted into the air. Everyone on board and all loose fixtures were thrown into the air. Captain Paul Sigvart Brækhus already believed in the naval explanation held the next day that it might be a seamine. The British Royal Navy had put out seamines in the area before the 9th of April.
The ship sank fast. It was a matter of minutes before she disappeared into the ocean. The four lifeboats were put to sea. Life vests were handed out. It was later rumored that the German soldiers on board had killed other passengers to save themselves a place on the lifeboats, which turned out not to be true. Admittedly, there was chaos on deck, and struggle to get to the relative safety of the lifeboats.
Some went down with the ship, others jumped into the icy water in an attempt to save themselves.
Several smaller boats nearby came to the rescue of SS Prinsesse Ragnhild’s crew and passengers. The freighter Batnfjord, with only five men on board, put a light boat on the sea and managed to rescue as many as 142 people from the cold sea and from the lifeboats. It was crowded with people in the sea and the light boat had to make several trips to keep from capsizeing itself.
Another boat named Gange Rolf rescued 15 people. In such a situation, no attempt was made to rescue friend from foe; attempts were made to rescue all those who were alive by the Norwegian sailors who came to the shipwreck.
This shipwreck was not only the first in ordinary Hurtigruten shipping, it was also the single shipwreck with the highest death toll in Hurtigruten throughout the war. Up to 300 people lost their lives, both Norwegians and Germans. Half the ships crew perished.
After the war, the domestic sailors, were not recognized as war sailors. Since many of them took part in sailings that benefited the enemy, they were viewed with skepticism.
In the last few years many have attempted to right this wrong. At the Hurtigrutemuseum we are proud to be able to tell the stories of these brave sailors, and what they sacrificed to keep Norway and the coastal communities running throughout the war