Altmark file photo

Altmark

CountryGermany
BuilderBlohm & Voss, Hamburg, Germany
Displacement7021 tons standard
Length463 feet
Armament2x2-lb anti-aircraft, 4x machine guns

Contributor: C. Peter Chen

Altmark was the German tanker and supply vessel that accompanied the pocket battleship (later re-classified as heavy cruiser) Admiral Graf Spee on the successful raiding campaign against British transports early in the Battle of the Atlantic. The gallant and honorable Hans Langsdorff of Graf Spee refused to harm one life more than necessary, and as a result most of the crew of the nine British cargo ships sunk by Graf Spee was aboard Altmark when Graf Spee was spotted and later defeated by Allied warships. For the next nine weeks, she hid in the vastness of the Atlantic, evading Allied detection, but by Feb 1940 she was running low in fuel and other supplies and must make port call. In the morning of 16 Feb, she was spotted by Royal Air Force pilots as she sailed along the Norwegian coast. She was intercepted by British destroyer HMS Cossack under the command of Captain Philip Vian at Jøssingfjord. Fearful of German reprisals if they did not interfere, two Norwegian gunboats blocked the entrance to the fjord, attempting to convince that Altmark was unarmed and did not carry prisoners. From London, Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill personally intervened and demanded boarding the German vessel. After warning the Norwegian ships, Vian sailed into the fjord, relieved to see no hostile action from the Norwegian ships, but was surprised by the "unarmed" Altmark firing upon his ship. While Altmark's 2-lb "pom-pom" guns and four machine guns fired on Cossack, Altmark ran aground during maneuvers, and was boarded by British troops. The boarding party opened the hatches to the empty oil tanks and yelled "are there any English down there?" A collective response from 299 captives was heard. After the British prisoners were rescued, Altmark returned to Germany and resumed her duties as supply ship to raiders, though under the new name Uckermark. On 30 Nov 1942, while docked in Yokohama, Japan, an accident by repair crew triggered an explosion of the fuel tanks and destroyed the ship, killing 43 crewmen.

Sources: the Last Lion, Wikipedia.

Altmark Operational Timeline

28 Oct 1939 German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee received fuel from and transferred British prisoners to tanker Altmark near Tristan de Cunha in the South Atlantic.
14 Feb 1940 German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee's supply ship Altmark reached Norwegian territorial waters off Trondheim. It was Captain Heinrich Dau's intension to remain in neutral Norwegian waters to avoid an attack by the British.

Photographs

Altmark at Jøssingfjord, 16 Feb 1940




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Altmark at Jøssingfjord, 16 Feb 1940




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