SHIP NAME: JANVOLD LOCATION: -5.32,52.87
SHIP NAME: JANVOLD LOCATION: -5.32,52.87
The JANVOLD was a steamship built in 1904 by Grangemouth & Greenock Dockyard Co on the Clyde. During its service life, the vessel had five owners and three changes of name – originally MAIMAXA then called the JAN BLOCKX, the GIJONES, and finally JANVOLD. The vessel’s last owner was Johs Larsen of Bergen. The master for its final voyage from Bilboa to Glasgow carrying iron ore was Julius Kristoffer Meyer. On 26 May 1918, the JANVOLD was torpedoed by the German submarine U 98 in St George’s Channel off Bardsey Island. Four mariners lost their lives – First Engineer Bernhard Hansen from Bergen, 46 years old; Sailor Haakon Kristiansen from Holmestrand, 33 years old; Stoker Aksel Bruvik from Bruvik near Bergen, 25 years old; and Sailor Emilio Lascano, born 1897 in Buenos Ayres, and who had signed onto the ship in March 1918.
The JANVOLD was built on the Clyde for Edmund Des Fountaines of Archangel. The ship was named MIAMAXA (modern placename ‘Maimaksa’) after a branch of the River Dvina at Archangel which exits through a maze of islets forming the river’s delta. The family’s trading connections to Russia date back to early 1800s through five generations. Along the Miamaxa branch of the river today, there are still substantial saw mills which are likely to have provided many of the ship’s early cargos.
In 1912, after 8 years with Edmund Des Fountaines, the ship was sold to the Netherlands. For the next three years, it operated for J. F. & F. Schellen of Rotterdam under the name of JAN BLOCKX. The ship’s new namesake was a well-known Belgian composer who passed away in the same year as the ship changed hands.
The association with Schellen only lasted a year before, the ship was sold to Magnus Blikstad at Oslo and renamed GIJONES. This new name appears to confirm strong trading links to northern Spain and its iron ore producing regions of Austurias (Gijones meaning a person belonging to a city in this region) and around Bilbao.
Early in 1916, there was another change in ownership – four established Norwegian shipping companies acquired interests in the vessel – Jacobsen & Co.; Frithjof Hansen & Amund Utne; A Wilhelm Johannessen; and Jan O. Østervold. A company bearing the ship’s new name was formed to manage the ship (A/S D/S JANVOLD). However, just 4 months later, Johannes Larsen of Bergen, became the sole owner, adding the ship to his small fleet comprising the GUSTAF E FALCK, LIBERTA, and from April 1918, the IBIS.
In Julius Christopher Meyer, the JANVOLD has an experienced captain. Moreover, the ship’s crew were well-trained in the drills to implement when they came under attack from a submarine. Less than a month earlier, the ship had come under attack but still gone to the rescue of the crew of the SS POITIERS. The JANVOLD was on passage from Bilbao to Cardiff this time, with an iron ore cargo, when a violent shock was felt throughout the ship. The crew had nearly launched the lifeboats, when it was realised that it was not the JANVOLD that had been torpedoed but another steamship nearby.
Meyer left his crew in the relative safety of the lifeboats and with only the 2nd engineer on board, who returned to the engine room, navigated the JANVOLD to pick up the POITIERS crew from the water. A torpedo narrowly passed ahead of the JANVOLD as it made a turn to where the POITIERS had sunk in half a minute. A second and then a third steamer were also sunk nearby during the time that the JANVOLD was rescuing the first boat load. Meyer then decided to take the JANVOLD into shallower water under Hartland Point to wait for the remaining lifeboats to rejoin the vessel after they had picked up further survivors.
As the JANVOLD’s lifeboats were being recovered, further torpedoes passed ahead and astern of the ship to crash into the shoreline. The JANVOLD was then left alone to creep along close to the shore and take care of the survivors. Ten crew members were found to have been lost from the POITIERS.
In reporting the incident in July 1918, Meyer praised the efficiency and exceptional coolness of his crew – particularly the actions of his 1st Officer William Kihl, 2nd Officer Olaf Saetre, Chief Engineer Bernard Hansen, 2nd Engineer Elis Fahlstrom and steward Evald Andersen.
The above crewmembers remained onboard for the JANVOLD’s last fateful voyage. On the 25 May, the ship had arrived and anchored off Milford Haven to await new instructions to continue their voyage to Glasgow. The ship was given new orders and an escort – HM Trawler LORD ALLANDALE. The ship and her escort were passing Bardsey at around 0:40 a.m. on 26 May, when the ship was hit aft by a torpedo. Meyer described the whole rear section of the ship as flying up into the air in his report to the official inquiry into the loss.
When the men ran to both lifeboats, it was found that it would be impossible to launch the starboard lifeboat as a large metal plate from the aft deck was lying on top of it. Everyone then went to the port lifeboat, which they managed to lower down. As the JANVOLD had taken on a 30 degree list, it was clear that the ship would sink very quickly from this moment onwards and Meyer ordered everyone to jump into the sea. Crewmen were dragged down by the undertow when the ship disappeared. Some came back up to surface again and, with the rest, managed to swim over to the destroyed lifeboat. Some swam over to a motorboat which was floating a good distance from the crew. The escort trawler LORD ALLANDALE, became aware of the sinking, hurried over to take everyone onboard. The trawler then searched for a further two hours for the four men that were still missing before returning to Milford Haven.
Unknown to the LORD ALLENDALE’s crew, the U 98 had continued to head for Bardsey . The U-boat would have been particularly vulnerable had the attack been returned. The official log of the submarine notes that the forward hydroplanes had ceased to function on the first day of the patrol (damaged bearings). Kapitänleutnant Rudolf Andler had determined to put his submarine on the bottom near Bardsey to undertake the repairs. In evading a small armed steamship the day before, he had only been able to dive very slowly to 50m to evade being fired upon by the ship’s stern gun. Andler wrote ‘I do not want to settle on the seabed during the day as the boat is no longer oilproof since the bad weather of 23 May. I will have go without attacks at this level of sea swell until the disruption of the front hydroplane has been eliminated. Emergency diving, fast diving and resurfacing to periscope depth are all maneouvres that can no longer be executed safely without the front hydroplane.‘
Andler was in two minds whether to attack the JANVOLD and actually wrote ‘I waver, whether I should inspect the hydroplane or take it up with the steamer. Decide the latter.‘
This decision sealed the fate of the JANVOLD. At 0:08am, the steamer and its guard trawler were spotted in the moonlight. Andler fired from 1200m and made a short hard turn away. After 3 minutes 5 seconds, the detonation was heard. Then, through the periscope, a cloud of black smoke was seen above the steamer. Then only the guard ship (the LORD ALLENDALE) where the JANVOLD had been.
Special thanks must go to Marian Gray and Preben Vanberg of Aberystwyth University and Elisabeth Koren of the Norwegian Maritime Museum (Norsk Maritimt Museum) for their kind assistance in compiling the story of the JANVOLD.
Sources: The National Archives, Kew. ADM–Records of the Admiralty, Naval Forces, Royal Marines, Coastguard, and related bodies. ADM 137/4017. Enemy submarines: particulars of attacks on merchant vessels in home waters. 16–30 May 1918. ‘Form S. A. Norwegian SS JANVOLD’, n.p.