Torvore, the events of 1917

Torvore, the events of 1917

THE EVENTS OF 24th APRIL 1917

It was just past eight o'clock when the Norwegian freighter Torvore rounded Cape St. Vincent and the Ponta de Sagres headed in an easterly direction. Suddenly an explosion is heard at the stern and cannon fire crosses the bows of the vessel. A submarine is chasing the freighter.

Commander Andreas Andreassen orders the chief engineer to increase speed in order to escape, and to head for land. As the Torvore does not stop, the enemy submarine fires another three warning shots and comes dangerously close. Commander Andreassen understands that he has no chance of escape as the submarine is faster, and all he can do is to order the engines to be shut down, so that his crew will not sink with the ship.

From aboard the submarine the crew is ordered to abandon ship immediately, which they do rapidly, taking with them little more than the clothes they are wearing. The submarine commander asks, in English, why they did not stop at the first shot. No one replies and he asks for all the/the entire freighter's documentation. Meanwhile, the lifeboats have already been brought alongside the submarine. The submarine appears to have no ensign or insignia, but now they realize that they are speaking German on board. Commander Andreassen claims neutrality but the freight documents leave no doubt.

The Torvore loaded 1800 tons of coal in the port of Swansea in the United Kingdom and is going to Naples, both enemy ports. As such, its fate is sealed. German sailors board the Torvore and place explosives in the hold. Commander Andreassen is ordered ashore. The sea is calm and he will get there quickly.

Torvore The German sailors work swiftly as barely do the crew of the Torvore begin to row towards land when yet another freighter is accosted. This time, flying the Danish flag, it is the Nordsoen, of 1055 tons, loaded with preserves. Her destination is the same as that of the Torvore and her crew also has no alternative but to row to the beach in the lifeboats.

Meantime, from the East three other vessels are approaching. All this excitement so close to the coast does not go unnoticed and the steam tug, the Galgo, still on patrol in the area, is called from Sagres. Concealing herself in the shadow of the coastline, so as not to form a silhouette on the horizon, the Galgo arrives in the area at about 8.30 in the morning to find all the lifeboats making their way to land.

The Torvore sinks near where the sardine boat, the "Maria Josefina", launches, and the Nordsoen is adrift. As it happens, the submarine is following a course to pass between the sardine boat and land. It is then that the Galgo opens fire, but with only a single 37mm cannon it has little chance of hitting the submarine. However, 22 year old 1st Gunner Olegário Pereira Martins, a native of the Algarve from Aljezur and already a veteran of the African campaign of Cacimba da Mongua, knows what he is doing and, were it not for the distance, all five well aimed shots would have hit the target.

The submarine replies to the Galgo`s fire and First Lieutenant Alberto Carlos dos Santos knows that he has no chance against the submarine's 105mm cannon. He makes a half turn and heads for the freighters that are approaching in order to warn them and stop them crossing paths with the enemy submarine.

The Norwegian freighter, Wilhelm Krag, was sailing to the United Kingdom via Gibraltar, with no cargo, just ballast. Before daybreak she passed Cabo Santa Maria, in Faro, and just short of 9 o'clock in the morning was between Lagos and Burgau. The Galgo met her and tried to warn Commander Karl Poderson of what was happening, but he did not understand. He eventually saw the smoke of the burning Nordsoen or he recognized the silhouette of the submarine. He diverted to the southwest but shortly afterwards resumed his initial course. The Galgo realized the submarine would intercept him.

Commander Poderson then gives the orderCommander Poderson then gives the order for full steam ahead but immediately a missile falls very close to the Wilhelm Krag. The engine room is given the order to shut down the engines and all the crew to prepare to abandon the freighter. From aboard the submarine Commander Poderson is called to present himself with the ship's log and remaining documentation.

The Wilhelm Krag has been chartered by an English company and, as such, will be sunk. From the submarine they shout for the last crewmembers to quickly abandon ship. Then two more steamships approach, catching the attention of the Germans. One of them manages to open fire on the submarine that sees no alternative but to sink the Wilhelm Krag by cannon fire, so as not to lose more time sending men on board to place explosive charges.

TorvoreThe Wilhelm Krag is sunk just off Praia da Luz with five or six bullets below the waterline and the submarine moves off in pursuit of the armed freighter, the French Caravellas, but withdraws shortly after. Commander Podersen realizes they are speaking German and English in the submarine and sees a small German Navy flag flying. Even so, he does not identify it as being the U-35 of Kapitanleutnant Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière.

While the U-35 is pursuing the Caravellas, the tug Galgo turns back to collect the crew of the Wilhelm Krag who are going to disembark in Lagos. Then, and withdrawing from the pursuit of the Caravellas, the U-35 goes to find the Nordsoen which had gone aground near the Ponta dos Caminhos. La Perière then sends some German sailors aboard the grounded vessel to place explosives, which finally sink it.

By this time, there was already a crowd of people on top of the cliffs, as all the action was visible from land and excited the curiosity of the locals who had gathered around. The German sailors managed to climb up the rocks and insults and threats were exchanged between them and the civilian population. The Galgo, having disembarked the crew of the Wilhelm Krag, returns to Sagres where it collects the crew of the Torvore, made up of 19 men, and that of the Nordsoen with 16, returning again to Lagos at nightfall. However, the day had not yet finished as, while mooring up in Lagos, the Galgo was again called to Sagres.

In the late afternoon the U-35, after taking off 900 litres of drinking water, had sunk an Italian lugger, the Bienaimé Prof.Luigi, of 265 tons and loaded with China clay. Still the same day, Kapitanleutnant Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière headed for Gibraltar without further delay.
Extract Text from Paulo Costa published in Planeta d'Água.

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