Haugesund has long played a key role in seaborne trade along the coast of Norway. Located half way between Bergen and Stavanger, the town provided a welcome, well sheltered stop on the journeys north or south. It has a regular port of call for freighters with links to Dutch and to British ports for probably 150 years. The area was for a while the centre of the huge herring trade and many fortunes were made on the back of the silver fish. When the shoals moved north along the coast, some of these fortunes disappeared too.
This was a convenient port for bunkering. Ships often called in to have their fuel supplies and water replenished before continuing. It was also a very convenient jumping off point for ships heading west towards the British Isles. As such the town was quite a strategic location. The British very early established a consulate at Haugesund and between the wars their honorary consul was even awarded the Order of the British Empire, the OBE, for his services.
The Germans too established a consulate here, but not until the summer 1939. That summer and autumn the west coast of Norway saw numerous German tourists. Some of them bought postcards of the local scenery to send home. Many of the postcards had an ‘X’ marked at particularly interesting parts of the coast. Needless to say, west coast newspapers occasionally reported that some of these tourists were later arrested as spies.
Those interested in the story of the City of Flint, will know that this was the port where the US freighter was ordered by the leader of the Prize Crew, Hans Pusback, toanchor without permission from the Norwegian authorities. He thereby broke the neutrality legislation and left himself open to the Norwegians attempting to intern him and his crew, which they did. The photo shows exactly where the action took place, just off the then brand new quay, now called the Garpaskjerskai.
There were two incidents that triggered Hitler’s determination to occupy Norway, the first was the disaster surrounding the City of Flint, the second was the Altmark Incident. The Altmark was attempting to sail through Norwegian territorial waters with several hundred British prisoners from the ships sunk by the Graf Spee on board. HMS Cossack put paid to their plans as she followed them in to a Norwegian fjord where all prisoners were released after a firefight with the German crew.
The unlucky Altmark was back in Norwegian waters a couple of years later, and promptly hit a mine, just south of Haugesund. She too had been alongside the Garpaskjerskai. It was not a good place to be for the Kriegsmarine.
I was shown the quay by a local called Sivert Alme, who as a young man had seen the City of Flint at quay here. She returned to Haugesund with her cargo and Sivert had been one of the young men hired to go through all the barrels of apples. Their job was to pick out the rotten ones. The rest was to be sold at auction. There are still locals who can remember the incredible flavour of the ‘City of Flint apples’. Sivert was one of them. I had a great time listening to his stories from that tense autumn of 1939.
There is a lot more to Haugesund’s role during the City of Flint incident. Some of it has never been made public before….
Frischauer, Willi and Jackson Robert (1955): The Navy is Here! The Altmark Affair. Victor Gollancz, London