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EL INCIDENTE DE LAS FÄRÖS - LA CONEXION IRLANDESA

Por  ADRIAN ENGLISH - Historiador Militar

Adrian English no envía una copia de un artículo suyo que apareció en la revista de la Academia Real Sueca de Ciencias Navales en su No. 3 del año pasado, Dado que es un episodio de la historia de la Segunda Mundial poco conocido, es interesante para su publicacion en Histarmar. Este en su lengua original, como lo publoco la Real Academia Sueca.

Mr Adrian English, som är irländare, utbildade sig ursprung­ligen till arkitekt, men har ägnat större delen av sitt liv åt författarskap och försvarsjournalistik och har härigenom till­ägnat sig omfattande kunskaper om svenskt försvar. Adrian English har bland annat skrivit en bok med titeln ”Sweden´s Total Defence”, som inte blivit publicerad.                                   

The Faeroes incident – The Irish connection

Around the time of the fall of France, in 1940, two separate and apparently uncon­nected events occurred. The first of these was the detention, in the Faeroe Islands, by Britain, of six neutral Swedish naval vessels, four of them recently purchased in Italy whilst on their delivery voyage to Sweden. The second was the sudden and unannounced appearance in Dublin, the capital of Ireland, also a neutral country, of a retired British Admiral, of Irish origins, with the apparently outrageous suggestion that if he were allowed to take command of the (then almost non-existent) Irish Navy, at a purely nominal salary, he could arrange for the transfer to Ireland of up to four destroyers or escort vessels, complete with trained crews of British Royal Navy personnel, of Irish citizenship, to man them! There was almost certainly a connection between these two events.  

The Royal Swedish Navy, which had been the most powerful naval force in the Baltic throughout the 1920s and during the first half of the 1930s, in September 1939 consisted of the three coastal battleships Sverige, Gustav V and Drottning Victoria, eight older and smaller coast defence ships, two cruisers, an ocean-going minelayer, ten relatively modern and six older destroyers, sixteen submarines, four anti-submarine patrol vessels, two motor torpedo boats and six sea-going mine-sweepers, plus many smaller patrol craft, mine-warfare and auxiliary vessels. This was still considered inadequate by the Swedish Government to enforce the country’s neutrality despite the existence of an impressive programme for new construction.1 Accordingly, two elderly destroyers, the fourteen year-old Giovanni Necotera and Bettino Ricasolli of 970 tons displacement, with a maximum speed of 35 knots and a main armament of four 12 cm guns, plus four 45,7 cm torpedo tubes; two large and relatively new torpedo boats (small destroyers in all but name), Spica and Astore (built in 1934), each with a displacement of 630 tons, a maximum speed of 34 knots and a main armament of three 10 cm guns, plus four 45,7 cm torpedo tubes; and four motor torpedo boats of 20 tons displacement, a speed of 47 knots and mounting two 45,7 cm torpedo tubes were purchased from Italy during the early days of January 1940 after inspection by the Swedish Naval Mission in Italy and the execution of certain designated repairs to the larger vessels. The first four of these vessels were respectively renamed Psilander, Puke, Romulus and Remus.2   The seizure of these by the British Government, at Skaalefjord in the Danish Faeroe Islands, which Britain had pre-emptively occupied following the German occupation of the Danish mainland, during their delivery voyage, in June of that year, by direct order of the British War Cabinet3, without apparent reason and in unashamed violation of Interna­tional Law, created a major crisis between the British and Swedish Governments with elements of the Swedish cabinet calling for either a declaration of war on Britain or at least the severance of diplomatic relations. However the clear-headedness of Prime Min­ister Per Albin Hansson prevailed and after strong diplomatic protests the ships were fi­nally released to complete their voyage to Sweden. 

The saga of the acquisition of the ex-Italian vessels and their event filled voyage home was as follows: 

The destroyer flotilla commander, Kommendörkapten Torsten Hagman, the com­manders designate and key members of the crews of the four destroyers had been in Italy since the end of January, 1940. The remainder of the crews,  numbering almost 500 in all, left Göteborg aboard the naval auxiliary Patricia on March 4th, 1940, stopping at Lisbon and Barcelona for re-provisioning and arriving at La Spezia two weeks later, on March 19th  4. The four MTBs meanwhile reached Göteborg at the end of March 1940, after an uneventful 16 day voyage as deck cargo aboard the merchant vessel M/s Boreland of the Svenska Orient-linjen5. 

The two destroyers, HMS Psilander and Puke and the torpedo boats Romulus and Remus, together with the Patricia, left La Spezia on April 14th, 1940 and arrived at Naples on the following day, where a three-day stopover was made for minor repairs. Departing Naples on April 18th further mechanical defects and collision damage between Psilander and Puke necessitated another stopover for further repairs at Cartagena between April 21st and 26th . The flotilla finally arrived at Lisbon on April 28th.6 After leaving Lisbon on May 26th, following a stay of almost a month awaiting the arrival of the tanker Castor carrying

14 500 tons of fuel, which had finally arrived on May 21st, a further stopover of two days was made at Vigo between May 27th and 29th where the Italian specialists who had been embarked in Italy to help familiarize the Swedish crews with the unfamiliar ma­chinery were disembarked7Castor, which had ben commissioned as a naval vessel on May 24th, could only make 7.5 knots maximum speed and was accordingly detached from the flotilla shortly after leaving Vigo and ordered to proceed separately to rendezvous with the remainder of the flotilla at Cobh (Queenstown). The other five ships, proceeding at  a speed of 12 knots, reached Cobh on June 2nd  remaining there, in the rather forlorn hope of obtaining fuel supplies, until June 16th when they set sail for the Färøe Islands 8.  Meanwhile, Castor had been intercepted by a French cruiser in the Bay of Biscay on June 4th, arrested and taken to Casablanca for questioning. Released by the French on June 11th , the tanker was now ordered to rendezvous with the reminder of the flotilla in the Färøe Islands  9. With their bunkers almost dry the four  destroyers and Patricia made landfall at Thorshamn in the Faerøe Islands on June 19th where they were ordered to drop anchor in line ahead at Skaalefjord by three British armed trawlers 10.  The following day, June 20th, three British “Tribal” class destroyers, HMS Maori, Mashona and Tartar, vessels of 1 870 tons and a speed of 37 knots, each individually more powerful than the entire Swedish flotilla with an armament of eight 12 cm guns and four 53 cm torpedo tubes, ar­rived and the British senior officer, Captain (D) C.  Caslon informed Kommendörkapten Hagman that the British Government had decided to take the four Swedish destroyers (but not the Patricia or the Castor - the latter vessel having by now rejoined the flotilla and dropped anchor to the south of it) into “safe-keeping” to avoid their falling into the hands of the Germans, de­manding that they accompany him within two hours to an unspecified British port11. Kommendörkapten Hagman was forbidden to make radio contact with the Swedish authorities and this order was reinforced when the three British ships threateningly circled the an­chored Swedish vessels with their crews at action stations. Not surpris­ingly, Kommendörkapten Hagman’s reply to the British ultimatum had been (sic) “ I have or­ders to fight or scuttle [rather than give up my ships]; when do we begin?” His position however was completely hopeless. Not only were his ships almost out of fuel and (in the case of Psilander and Puke) in very poor condition but also he lacked warheads for his torpedoes and the flotilla had been forced to anchor in a position from which only the two after 10 cm guns of Remus could be brought to bear. Faced with a totally impossible situation where resistance would have only resulted in the sinking of or serious damage to all his ships with immense loss of life (including that of civilian refugees aboard Patricia, 48 of them women and children) and in the context of a compromise whereby the crews of the destroyers would be trans­ferred to Patricia and Castor and allowed to return to Sweden, Hagman agreed to aban­don the destroyers to the British saying “........... By force of circumstance I have no other possi­bility than to consent. But I protest solemnly against the whole procedure and I protest especially against your refusal to allow me to communicate with my government.”12  Without striking their flags, the crews of the Psilander, Puke and Romulus were accordingly transferred to Patricia and that of Remus to Castor both of which were permitted to sail on the evening of June 20th after Patricia had refuelled from Castor.13  

Meanwhile, following a report of major German naval units in the area, the British destroyers Maori and Mashona put to sea leaving Tartar with insufficient personnel to pro­vide even skeleton crews for all four of the Swedish vessels. It was therefore decided to take them in pairs to the British naval base of Scapa Flow and Puke and Remus, each with a “prize crew” of two officers and 20 ratings and escorted by Tartar, sailed for the Ork­ney Islands on the afternoon of June 20th, leaving Psilander and Romulus in the Faeroes with only caretaker crews14.  In very bad sea conditions, Puke lost all power and suffered structural damage when the British tug Saucy unsuccessfully attempted to take her in tow. Another tug, Buccaneer eventually managed to get a towing hawser aboard  Puke and both the latter vessel and  Re­mus eventually reached Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands, where they anchored three days later15.  

At sea Patricia and Castor had made contact with naval HQ in Sweden and intense dip­lomatic activity had ensued. Following reassurances from Sweden that under no circum­stances would the ex-Italian ships be handed over to Germany and under immense domestic political pressure, mainly from the British Trade Unions, acting in support of their Swedish colleagues, the British Government agreed to their release and the payment of £44 073 (879 464 kronor at the prevailing rate of exchange) in compensation, including the replacement of one boiler each on Puke and Romulus and damage caused to each of the four ships, including vandalism and the theft of personal property of the crews of Psilander and Romulus, which had been looted and vandalized.16 Patricia and Castor accordingly returned to Skaale­fjord on June 25th and took possession of Psilander and Romulus. Five days later, on June 30th, Patricia arrived at Kirkwall to recover Puke and Remus. These were however in such poor condition that five days further delay en­sued before they were fit for sea and following essential repairs, all five ships sailed for Göteborg on July 5th, arriving on July 10th having been bombed en route, fortunately without effect, by British aircraft which claimed to have mistaken them for Germans.17 

We turn now to the Irish connection. 

J.U.P. FitzGerald, a retired British Rear Admiral of Irish descent, appeared in Dublin on June 26th, 1940 and offered his services to the Irish Government as a “civilian naval advi­sor” at what was even then the ridiculously low salary of £ 300 to £ 400 a year. Although apparently acting in a private capacity, he claimed that if his offer was accepted he could arrange for the sale by Britain to Ireland of  “three or four old destroyers or escort ves­sels”, at a purely nominal price and for the transfer of trained Irish-born personnel (of whom there were many in the British Navy) to man them!18 

Given the timing it seemed obvious that the British were offering Ireland a virtual gift of at least some of the interned Swedish ships which they had already offered to purchase from the Swedish Government for a sum less than half that which it had paid the Italians! It subsequently transpired that they had also previously made unavailing attempts (on May 28th, 1940 whilst the Swedish ships were still at Vigo) to persuade both the Greeks and the Turks, both of whom were still neutral and each of whom already operated four Italian-built destroyers, to make offers for the ships before they left the Mediterranean. It also appears that the Romanians, whose Navy also operated four Italian-built destroyers, of two different types, had made an unsuccessful offer to purchase the four Swedish de­stroyers, for a sum 10% greater than that paid by the Swedish Government, during their stop-over in Lisbon.20 

The possibility of the purchase of the ex-Italian destroyers by Ireland had already been mooted on May 28th and a formal suggestion to this effect was made to the Irish Gov­ernment on June 10th. On June 18th  , three days after the Swedish flotilla had left Irish wa­ters, the Irish authorities sensibly pointed out that they could neither man, operate nor maintain such relatively sophisticated equipment. 

The southern part of Ireland, which had regained its partial independence from Britain, as the Irish Free State, with the status of a British Dominion, in 1921 following 750 years of British domination, culminating in a savage war of independence, waged with great ferocity on both sides, maintained a state of neutrality which might have been more accurately de­scribed as “isolationism” throughout World War II being the only member of the British Commonwealth not to declare war on the Axis powers. Responsibility for its seaward de­fence had been handed over by Britain only in 1938 and the outbreak of war in 1939 had found the Irish Free State with an army of only 5000, a tiny air force with less than 20 combat aircraft and no naval force whatsoever. At the time of the Faeroes incident its recently formed Marine Service con­sisted of two auxiliary patrol vessels and three recently delivered motor torpedo boats, plus an auxiliary minelayer and a schooner used for training, with a total personnel strength of about 300. Throughout World War II the Irish Government operated a system of censor­ship so strict that few people outside the immediate vicinity of their stay were aware of the visit of the Swedish naval flotilla to Cork harbour. 

From Irish official documents, it appears that as early as March 21st, 1940 the British rep­resentative in Dublin had made a request on behalf of the Swedish Government that a single un-named Swedish destroyer should be permitted to refuel from the named depot ship Patricia at an Irish port, Bantry Bay, in the extreme south-west, being suggested as a suitable location. This communication also gives the date of departure of the Swedish ships from La Spezia as April 1st.  

A letter of March 30th from the Swedish Consul in Dublin to the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs confirms the request but refers to all four destroyers. A fur­ther letter of April 2nd thanks the Irish Government for providing the requested facilities, but at Cobh, in Cork harbour, the headquarters of the almost non-existent Irish Navy, rather than Bantry. The next letter on file, dated May 28th, confirms the expected arrival of the four destroyers, plus the Patricia and the tanker Castor, on May 30th for a stay of two days. 

After an exchange of routine correspondence, a letter from the Irish High Commissioner in London to the Department of External Affairs in Dublin, dated May 31st, requested per­mission on behalf of the Swedish Consulate (in London) for the embarkation on the de­stroyers of approximately 100 Swedish nationals, resident in England, for evacuation to Sweden. There is no further mention of this request or of whether or not it was complied with although it appears that a total of 117 Swedish civilians were aboard Patricia when she finally left Cobh. 

The next item, dated June 12th, refers to and denies a request from the Irish American Oil Company for the supply of 800 tons, later increased to 1 400 tons, of oil to the Swedish flotilla, which was apparently still in Cobh. A memo, dated June 13th, refers to a reduced request for 200 to 300 tons of oil, suggesting that this could be replaced by a similar amount to be discharged, within two or three weeks, from a Swedish tanker then en route from “America” to Europe.  

A further memo of a day later mentions that the Swedish ships were loading or about to load a consignment of spare parts for aircraft and “internal combustion engines” recently arrived at Cork via Rosslare and that additional similar material was expected to arrive at Cork directly from the UK. A memo of June 15th refers to a request from the Swedish Consul in Dublin to fly in 12 cases of range-finders from Paris for loading aboard the Patricia although this intention was apparently frustrated by the refusal of any airline, British, French or Irish, to charter a plane for this purpose. This was hardly surprising as the Germans would almost certainly have shot down any French or British aircraft whilst Ireland’s incipient civil aviation had no aircraft to spare for dangerous adventures! 

A memo of three days later notes, with some relief, the departure of the Swedish destroy­ers for the Faeroe Islands on June 15th, significantly without having obtained any fuel in Ireland. A letter from the Swedish Consul, dated June 19th , outlines the spare parts for aircraft and the engines of motor torpedo boats loaded aboard Patricia and with this Irish official interest in the matter appears to end.21 

The possibility of acquiring oil fuel in Ireland which was itself acutely short of fuel of all kinds, the availability of which was confined to its own Defence Forces and essential ser­vices, seems never to have existed on any serious level and the ostensible efforts of the British to negotiate oil supplies for the Swedish flotilla appears to have been part of a policy of delaying their delivery for as long as possible. Indeed it seems that as early as March 1940 the British Government had decided that the ex-Italian destroyers would never be allowed to reach Sweden and that the Swedish Government would cut their losses and sell them at a bargain price either to Britain itself or a neutral surrogate.22   

The whole bizarre episode of the Swedish destroyers in Ireland and the almost simultaneous arrival of Admiral FitzGerald with his weird proposal is only credible in the context of their chronological relationship to the then recent defeat of the British Expedi­tionary Force and the evacuation of its remnants from Dunkirk with the loss of most of its equipment and Britain’s obvious concern that Ireland, a virtually unarmed neutral, occu­pying a strategically important position on Britain’s south-west flank, could at worst pro­vide the spring-board for a German invasion or at best a convenient refuge for German U-boats. Britain’s change of attitude from apparent friendly co-operation with Sweden (in the matter of obtaining fuel etc.) to one of total hostility and an apparent contempt for the finer points of International Law is also comprehensible only in the context of the suddenly changed military situation caused by the fall of France.  

NOTES 

1                      Jane’s Fighting Ships 1940; Weyer's Taschenbuch der Kriegsflotten 1940; Lindsjö, “Marin­historia” (1993) pp 337-343; Von Hofsten and Waernberg, “Örlogsfartyg” (2004) pp 160-162 and 297. 

2                      Ibid; Hammargren, ”Vapenköp i Krig” (1990); Strömbäck, ”Jagarköp under Krig” (1990) 

3                      British War Cabinet Minutes CAB66/7; Lindsjö,  “Marinhistoria” pp 354-355; Ponting “1940 Myth and Reality” (1990) p. 415. 

4                      Strömbäck,  op cit.;  Hagman, Gunnar, “Jagarepisoden vid Färöarna i Juni 1940” Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet 1/1971 and 1/1986. The Patricia was a former Svenska Lloyd  passenger vessel of 4950 tons displacement and a speed of 15 knots. Built in 1926, she was purchased for the Swedish Navy in 1940 and armed with a single 12 cm gun and two machine-guns as an “auxiliary cruiser” at the Eriksberg ship­yard, Göteborg during February 1940. After the Faeroes adventure she spent most of her naval career as a submarine depot ship. 

5               Lindsjö, op cit; Hagman, Gunnar, op.cit.  

6                      Strömbäck,  op cit.; Hagman, Gunnar, op. cit.  

7                      Strömbäck,  op cit. ; Hagman, Gunnar, op. cit. 

8                      Strömbäck,  op cit.; Hagman, Gunnar, op. cit. 

9                      Strömbäck,  op cit.; Hagman, Gunnar, op. cit. 

10                    Strömbäck,  op cit.; Hagman, Gunnar, op.cit. 

11                    Strömbäck,  op cit.; Hagman, Torsten, “Historik om Italien-expeditionen 1940”, Karlskrona (1941); Hagman, Gunnar, op. cit 

12                    Strömbäck,  op cit. Hagman, Torsten, op. cit.; Hagman, Gunnar, op. cit.; British War Cabinet Minutes CAB66/7

13                    Strömbäck,  op cit. Hagman, Torsten, op. cit.; Hagman, Gunnar, op. cit. 

14                                        Strömbäck,  op cit. Hagman, Torsten, op. cit.; Correspondence between Lieutenant Ludovic Kennedy RNVR and Kommendörkapten Hagman

15                    Strömbäck,  op cit.; Hagman, Torsten, op. Cit. 

16                    Strömbäck,  op cit. 

17                    Strömbäck,  op cit. 

18                          MacGinty, “The Irish Navy” (1995) pp 31-33; Brunicardi, ”The Marine Service”, article in “The Irish Sword”, Vol. XIX, Nos. 75 & 76 (1993-94), p. 83. FitzGerald had been Director of Torpe­does and Mining in the British Royal Navy during the 1930s and had been called out of retirement to su­pervise the mining of French rivers in the wake of the British retreat in 1940, after which he had reverted to retired status. He had some previous contact with the Irish defence authorities during the late 1930s, in his capacity of Director of Torpedoes and Mining, when he had advised against the purchase of motor torpedo boats, then being considered by the Irish Government, as unsuitable to the sea conditions prevailing around the Irish coasts. 

19                                        British War Cabinet Minutes CAB66/7. The amounts to be offered were £59,000 and £46,000 for Psilander and Puke and ROMULUS and REMUS respectively, plus a further £10,000 for stores, fuel etc.  

20                    Ibid 

21                    Ibid                       

21                                        These were described as: “Seven cases of marine engine parts for the [two] motor torpedo boats delivered [in 1939] by Vosper of Portsmouth; two cases [of] aircraft spares [for] DH 76 and DH 77 and one case [for] DH 97 aircraft; one case [of unspecified] aircraft spares; and nine cases [of] airscrews”. Interestingly, none of the aircraft types listed corresponded to aircraft operated by Flygvapnet which however did operate numbers of DH 60(12), DH 82 (36) and DH 90 (1) aircraft during this period. 

22                          Sales of military equipment to a belligerent by a neutral country would have been contrary to international law (Article 13 of the Hague Convention of 1907).  However, no such restrictions applied to transactions between neutrals. The purchase of the destroyers by Sweden from Italy had been finalized and they had been handed over and left Italian waters whilst Italy was still neutral. Likewise the sale of the ships by Sweden to Greece, Turkey, Ireland would have been subject to no legal restrictions for as long as the parties remained neutral. Britain sought to justify the detention of the Swedish destroyers under the “Right of Angary”, a rather doubtful principle under International Law which permitted the confiscation of the property of neutral countries by belligerents, in certain circumstances and which it was later admitted was not applicable in this particular case.  

SOURCES 

British National Archives: War Cabinet Minutes CAB66/7 covering period February 17th 1940 to March 12th, 1941 and including ADM 116/4258, ADM 1178/218, ADM 223/486 and ADM 371/423.  

Brunicardi, Daire, ”The Marine Service”, arti­cle in “The Irish Sword”, The journal of the Irish Military History Society, Vol. XIX, combined issue Nos. 75 & 76 (1994) 

Irish National Archives: Internal memos and  various correspondence between Irish High Commissioner, London, Irish Department of Defence, Department of External Affairs and Department of Industry and Commerce with Swedish Consulates Dublin and London and United Kingdom Representative to “Eire” during period March 21st, to June 19th, 1940. 

Lindsjö, Ronny, “Marin­historia” (1993)

 Jane’s Fighting Ships 1940, Sampson Low, London (1941) 

Hagman, Gunnar, Two separate and distinct articles with the same title - “Jagarepisoden vid Färöarna i Juni 1940” Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet 1/1971 and “Jagarepisoden vid Färöarna i Juni 1940” Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet 1/1986 

Hagman, Torsten, Historik om Italien-expeditionen 1940, - Official Report -  – two volumes, Karlskrona 1941 

Hammargren, Henning, ”Vapenköp i Krig”, Marinlitteraturförenigen No. 67, Malmö (1981) 

Kennedy, Ludovic (Lieutenant RNVR and commander of the “prize crew” of HMS Puke during the voyage from Skaalefjord to Kirkwall)) - Correspondence with Komendörkapten Torsten Hagman (1946/47) and a related article in Blackwood’s Magazine, No.  1573, Edinburgh (1947). 

MacGinty, “The Irish Navy”, The Kerryman, Tralee, Ireland (1995) Ponting, Clive, “1940 Myth and Reality”, Hamish Hamilton, London (1990) 

Strömbäck, Stig, ”Jagarköp under Krig”, Jubileumskommitén för 1940-års Italien Expediton, Karlskrona (1990) 

Von Hofsten and Waernberg, “Örlogsfartyg”, Svengst Militärhistorisk Bibliotek (2004) 

Weyer's Taschenbuch der Kriegsflotten 1940, J.F. Lehmans Verlag, München, 1941 

 
 

Este sitio es publicado por Carlos Mey -  - Martínez - Argentina

Direccion de e-mail: histarmar@fibertel.com.ar