Built in Copenhagen, Denmark during 1939. Purchased by Sigurd Herlofsen & Co. A/S based in Oslo, Norway. Assigned to Captain Gottfred M. Gundersen. In Norway, designated DS Herstein with call sign LKCE.
When Germany invaded Norway in April 1940, Norwegian merchant shipping including Herstein and her crew remained were placed into Allied service under the auspices of the Royal Norwegian Government in England. Classified as a Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (DEMS). In Australia, assigned to the Australian Shipping Control Board as part of the DEMS shipping pool.
During late November 1941, Herstein was one of several ships that unsuccessfully searched for survivors from HMAS Sydney (D48) sunk November 19.
On December 6, 1941 departed Adelaid bound for Melbourne arriving on December 8. On December 10 departed Melbourne bound for Sydney arriving on December 11.
On December 27, 1941 departed Sydney Harbor loaded with war cargo under charter to the Australian Government as part of convoy ZK.5 along with Aquitania and Sarpedon and an escort of four cruisers bound for Port Moresby. On January 4, 1942 arrived at Fairfax Harbor near Port Moresby.
On January 10, 1942 departed Port Moresby bound for Rabaul. On January 14, 1942 arrived at Simpson Harbor near Rabaul and began unloading war cargo including six Bren Gun Carriers, 80 Thompson submachine guns, roughly 2,000 aerial bombs, 3,000 drums of aviation fuel for the Australian garrison at Rabaul. Her cargo of 1,200 tons was unloaded by January 18. On January 19, moved to the Burns, Philp & Company wharf to begin loading copra.
While being unloaded, RAN Lt. Hugh A. Mackenzie requested the vessel get underway as soon as possible, to avoid being caught by Japanese aircraft. Instead, the ship was to be loaded with a full load of copra from the Burns, Philp & Company wharf. Australian civilian Harol Page attempted to get Australian civilians onto Herstein to evacuate Rabaul, but they were denied, in favor of taking more copra.
On January 20, 1942 approximately 2,000 tons of copra had been loaded and Herstein was still anchored at the Burns, Philp & Company wharf in Simpson Harbor near Rabaul. During the Japanese air raid against Rabaul, Herstein was attacked by Japanese aircraft including D3A Val dive bombers attacking Rabaul. The vessel was armed with at least two 7.7mm machine guns on the bridge for anti-aircraft defense.
During the attack, Herstein was hit by three bomb amidship, one exploding in the engine room and causing a fire that quickly spread over the ship. Meanwhile, her two machine guns were firing at the attacking aircraft until a second bomb hit the bridge area, disabling her anti-aircraft defenses. Other sources claim the ship was hit by six bombs.
During the attack, captain Gundersen was ashore at the Burns, Philp & Company office. Aboard, steward Karl Thorsell (Swedish) was killed and three crew were wounded: 1st Engineer Peter Brandal, Boatswain Gerhard Olsen and Cook Arthur Landhaug. The rest of the crew jumped overboard and swam ashore to Rabaul.
After the crew abandoned ship, Herstein drifted across Simpson Harbor still on fire. The next morning, Herstein was still burning and declared a total loss. The ship drifted around until it eventually grounded off Matupit Island. Postwar, the hulk was towed to Japan and scrapped.
Fates of the Crew
Afterwards, the three wounded crewmen: 1st Engineer Peter Brandal, Boatswain Gerhard Olsen and Cook Arthur Landhaug were admitted to the hospital. Four other crew sustained minor burns. The remainder of the crew were accommodated at a hotel in Rabaul and that afternoon were some money and advised to leave before the expected Japanese amphibious landing.
Fate of the Captain
During the attack, captain Gundersen was ashore at the Burns, Philp & Company office and was separated from the crew. Gundersen joined retreating Australian forces that departed Rabaul and reached Eber Bay then Adler Bay. They managed to board a boat with Australians and was rescued and transported to Port Moresby then sent to Sydney arriving on April 26, 1942. Hearings were held in Sydney about the incident on August 13.
Fates of the Crew
The rest of the crew were captured by the Japanese Army when they occupied Rabaul on January 23, 1942 and became Prisoners Of War (POWs). Loaded aboard the Montevideo Maru the crew departed Rabaul on June 22, 1942 bound for Hainan Island. Instead, they died at sea on July 1, 1942 when the ship was torpedoed off the west coast of Luzon.
Twenty-seven Norwegian crew are memorialized at the Minnehallen (Memorial for Seamen) in Stavern, Norway. The memorialized crew members:
Kaare Fagervik - Maskinist|
Arthur Ringshaug - Sjømann
Einar Finn Thoresen - Lettmatros
Hans Teien - Motormann
Gerhard Johan Storhaug - Båtsmann
Magnus Skaug - Motormann
Egil Kristian Pettersen - Tømmermann
Arthur Olaf Olausen - Matros
John Arthur Nicolaisen - Telegrafist
Bjarne Møller - 1.styrmann
Reidar Thorbjørn Myhre - 2. maskinist
Knut Mostad - 3. styrmann
Ivar Martin Lie - Smører
Kåre Johan Køllersen - Maskinass
Arthur Marius Landhaug - Sjømann
Kristian Marthin Kristiansen - Motormann
Gunnar Alexander Knudsen - Matros
Alf Jemtland - 3. maskinist
Olav Hansen - Elektriker
Reidar E. Grytnes - Matros
Gunnar Egil Edvardsen - Motormann
Kåre H. Brekkestø - Byssegutt
Peter Cornelius Brandal - Maskinsjef
Benn Bolt - 2.styrmann
Viktor Hugo Andersen - Sjømann
Olvar Andersen - Matros
Australian Saloon Boy James Tynan also died aboard the Montevideo Maru on July 1, 1942. Tynan is memorialized at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) on the commemorative roll.
On April 25 2012 on ANZAC day, one of the Norwegian relatives of the crew attended the 70th anniversary rememberances for the sinking of the Montevideo Maru at Rabaul.
Pacific Islands Monthly (PIM) March 1942 account describes the "American Eric Howard" who was Herstein's gunner who remained at his post, with fire surrounding him, shooting in defiance at the attacking Japanese aircraft. Rather the individual is believed to be Eric Howitt, skipper of Leander a 40 ton vessel owned by the Australian Administration who with Ernie Vider, skipper of disabled Eros also an Administration vessel escaped Rabaul on January 22, 1942 aboard schooner Leander and sailed via Wide Bay, Pal Mal Mal and Caturp Plantation where they used the vessel's radio to contact Port Moresby to arrange rescue by two Short Empire Flyingboats.
Pacific Islands Monthly (PIM) October 1945 lists American Jack Hansen officer on ship Herstein as missing. In fact, he was Danish.
WarSailors.com - Norwegian Merchant Marine Prisoners of the Japanese
WarSailors.com - M/S Herstein
RabaulNurses.com.au - Norwegian Ship MS Herstein Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (DEMS)
AWM - Commemorative Roll - James Tynan
Minnehallen.no - DS. Herstein
Shorter Convy Series - Convoy ZK.5
When Radio Was the Cat's Whiskers pages 300-301
Rabaul Nurses - Norwegian Ship MS Herstein Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (DEMS)
Darkest Hour: The True Story of Lark Force at Rabaul - Australia's Worst pages 70, 76-77, 79, 88, 90, 119, 143
Thanks to David Flynn for additional information
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August 11, 2018