Little Bits of History

Allies to POWs

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 19, 2015
MS Sinfra when first launched by the Fern Line

MS Sinfra when first launched by the Fern Line

October 19, 1943: The MS Sinfra sinks. The cargo ship was built in 1929 by Akers Mekaniske Verksted in Oslo, Norway. She was launched on May 15, 1929 and completed in July. She was 385 feet long and 55 feet at the beam. There were two 6-cylinder diesel engines powering twin screw propellers which gave her a top speed 12.5 knots or 14.4 mph. The steel-hulled ship was christened Fernglen and had electric lighting, wireless telegraph, and two decks. She was one of nine ships belonging to Fearnley & Egar and the ships formed the “Fern Line”. They carried phosphate and cotton to Japan and then after a stop in the Philippines, sailed to the US with copra, the dried kernel of the coconut.

While on a voyage from Macassar In the Netherlands East Indies with 7,422 tons of copra and heading toward Denmark, she ran aground. The damage was said to be beyond economic repair and the ship was towed back to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. She was sold to a Swedish company who refurbished her and renamed her Sandhamn. At the time, it was one of the largest hull repair jobs ever done in Sweden. Work was done in December 1934. The ship plied the waters as a cargo vessel for five years before being sold to the French in 1939 and named Sinfra. She was confiscated by the Germans in 1942.

Crete had been captured by the Germans and Italians in May 1941. There were 21,700 Italians occupying the easternmost prefecture. When Armistice between Italy and the Allies was signed on September 8, 1943, the Italians on the island were offered the choice of continuing to fight with the Germans or to be sent to perform forced labor. The Germans used ships to transport those who would not continue fighting. Dozens of these ships were lost resulting in the death of about 13,000 prisoners. There were 2,389 prisoners loaded in the cargo holds on Sinfra on October 18. They were guarded by 204 Germans. Also aboard was a shipment of bombs.

As she headed toward Greece, ten fighter aircraft (combined USAF and RAF planes) engaged the ship. At 10.05 PM, the ship was struck by a torpedo near the front hatch and at 11 PM she was hit by a bomb which penetrated the engine room. She was without steering and on fire. At 2.31 AM on this day, she blew up and sank. Most of those killed in the sinking were Italian POWs. There were between 2,000 and 5,000 killed, depending on reports. Survivors included 597 Italians, 197 Germans, and 13 Greeks. There had been two escort vessels with the transport and 11 other German ships responded to the SOS. Rescue efforts were prioritized to bring in Germans first. Reports showed that as the ship was sinking, the Germans had locked the Italians in the holds and thrown hand grenades at them. The Italians broke free and charged life boats and the Germans opened up with machine gun fire. After returning to Crete, about half of the Italian survivors were executed for “undisciplined behavior” at sea.

A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him. – Winston Churchill

I was not an anthropology student prior to the war. I took it up as part of a personal readjustment following some bewildering experiences as an infantryman and later as a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany. The science of the Study of Man has been extremely satisfactory from that personal standpoint. – Kurt Vonnegut

Under the Geneva Convention, for example, a POW is required only to provide name, rank, and serial number and cannot receive any benefits for cooperating. – John Yoo

My father, unusually for a PoW, talked about his experiences, but he talked about them in a very limited way. – Richard Flanagan

Also on this day: Streptomycin – In 1943, Streptomycin was first isolated.
Not Soccer – Not Rugby – In 1873, the rules for American football were first codified.
Stella or A Deal You Can’t Refuse – In 1944, Marlon Brando made his Broadway debut.
Disco – In 1959, the Scotch-Club opened.
New Beginnings – In 1781, the Siege of Yorktown ended.



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