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THE LOSS OF THE
RUTLANDSHIRE

In April 1987, Yngvar Ottesen, the Norwegian pilot on board the Rutlandshire provided the following memories from April 1940.

Mr Yngvar Ottesen, the Norwegian pilot on board the Rutlandshire during April 1940
During the German invasion in April 1940, the undersigned (born 1907) was employed as a pilot of the coastal steamers belonging to Namdal Aktie Dampshibsselskap. Our regular schedule, however, quite soon after the invasion came to a stop, and we were told to stand by in order to help the military forces.

On the evening of Sunday, April 14, the first English soldiers arrived at Namsos. At 2345 we left on board the S/S Herlaug for Bangsund with 100 English soldiers. When the men had been put ashore, we returned to Namsos, where we tied up at 0200, April 15.

The same day, I was ordered to go board the S/S Folla. Here we were assigned to go to Nord Statland with an English and French officer. After having been there for a couple of hours, we were ordered to go back to Namsos. Having been underway for about quarter of an hour, two German aircraft flew over, shooting at us with machine guns. Nobody was hit. Captain Pettersen then decided to return to Statland again. Not long after this a long convoy of several big cargo vessels and many destroyers sailed up the fiord. The convoy was attacked by many German bombers which dropped bombs on the vessels. The destroyers opened fire on the planes, and none of the ships were put adrift that evening. We proceeded a short while after this to Namsos. At dusk, the German aircraft flew away.

On Wednesday, April 17, I was ordered to go on board the S/S Heilhorn, which the Navy had given the task to try to prevent breaches of neutrality. Having completed a patrol, we came to Alhusstrand the same evening, where we were to stay for the night. At 0300 I was woken by a soldier from Namsos and ordered to go to Namsos. A car was waiting on the quay and we drove to the Grand Hotel, Namsos. After a conference with an English and a Norwegian officer, I was assigned to an English armed trawler, the Rutlandshire, which had a crew of Navy sailors on board. A short time after the meeting we patrolled Folla and returned to Nord Statland. In the evening, a huge convoy of troop and supply vessels sailed up the fiord. We joined the convoy. A regular armada of German bombers attacked us with an immense number of bombs and machine guns. The English destroyers fired at the planes in such a way that there were veritable showers of grenades around us. None of the ships were put adrift as a result of this encounter. When we reached Namsos, the aircraft returned to base. The unloading to place in a quiet and orderly manner at Namsos. Early in the morning, we followed the convoy out again. Having completed this task we returned to Nord Statland.

The same evening, April 19, we followed a new convoy up to Namsos. The same thing happened again. The German bombers showed up, bombing us all the way up the fiord. But the destroyers fired back, and the planes kept a good distance away from us. During the night we unloaded at the quay at Namsos.
After breakfast on board at 0800 I turned in. Tired after the night’s incidents, I quickly fell asleep. A short time after I had fallen asleep, the alarm was sounded. I stumbled out. We were now the only warship at Namsos. Off we went and, indeed, the welcome the German Stukas gave us we were to remember.

The Rutlandshire had four machine guns and a big anti-aircraft gun on the foredeck. We now zigzagged out the fiord at full speed. Above us firstly three planes appeared, then six and then nine – at last there were fourteen German bombers diving towards us, dropping their bombs and firing their machine guns. The bombs exploded nearer and nearer the ship. At last we received a hit in the waterline on our starboard side. The water poured into the engine room and the main steam pipe was broken. There was a loud bang in the engine, which immediately stopped. It was the crankpin that had been broken.

We were now mid-fiord off Brannøya and Andsnes, about three nautical miles from Namsos. The rudder was intact, so with our remaining speed we managed to steer the ship towards Andsneset. Wind and current pulled it more and more in a westerly direction, so that we ran aground just beside the spar buoy at Andsnesgrunnrn. The stern of the ship was now below water, and it was decided to put out the lifeboats and leave the sinking ship. It turned out, however, that both the lifeboats were riddled with bullet holes, and therefore we had to swim towards land – a distance of 300 meters.

We put on lifebelts and jumped into the water. We had the planes continually just above us, firing their machine guns at us while we were in the water. Two of the crew were hit, but not killed. Everyone, therefore, got solid ground under their feet at last. About half an hour later there was an explosion on board the ship. A tidal wave swept over me where I was standing on the beach, and I was thrown into the water again. At long last I managed to crawl ashore again, but I had problems standing upright. I found that my shirt and my trousers had been filled with not a few kilos of sand! After the explosion, only the top of the foremast of the Rutlandshire was sticking above surface.

When the next air-raid came, we sheltered under some spruces. Eventually, we got into a small cabin. At 2000 there came some people in rowboats and took us to Hovika. Later that evening, a doctor came, attending to bullet wounds, burns and frost injuries. The doctor set off with the four wounded and the rest of the crew. The captain and I spent the night at Hovika.

The next day, Sunday April 21, we left Hovika and rejoined the rest of the crew. In the afternoon, an English trawler coming was hailed. It was decided that the destroyer was able to take on board the crew. At 2200 sharp it came, and two motor launches put the whole crew on board, including four men lying on stretchers. The destroyer then put to sea at full speed towards England. I myself was left behind with what I was wearing. My clothes which I had on during the swim had been dried. All of my other clothes were at the bottom of the sea.

Some days later, I was ordered by the harbour master H. Andersen to report to Namsos awaiting new orders. No convoy turned up that evening and I was told to return home. The town was now bombed and burnt to ashes. Strangely enough, our house had been left untouched, while the neighbouring houses had been burnt down.

After about three weeks occupation, three of the companys vessels resumed their services. I continued as a pilot in the shipping company until I retired, and I also worked during other pilots vacations.

One can hardly say that I became rich by the war incidents. Stripped bare, so to speak, I applied for a compensation to the Authorities. On March 19, 1942 I was granted kr 169,00. That was all I got after the shipwreck.

Namsos, April 21 1987


Yngvar Ottesen


 

 

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