The ship - lost on its maiden voyage


The loss of Hans Hedtoft is very similar to that of Titanic. Both ships were on their maiden voyage. Both ships stroke an iceberg. They were both considered unsinkable.

As regards the construction the stem of Hans Hedtoft had been reinforced. The ship was divided into 7 watertight rooms and according to calculations the ship was able to keep floating even if one of the watertight rooms were filled with water. The hull in its full lengths had double bottoms and the construction of the ship fulfilled the most stringent requirements of an arctic ship of that time.

The gross register tonnage of the ship was 2800. It was well equipped with lifeboats Ð three of light metal for 35 persons in each. Two life rafts of metal for 20 persons in each and finally, four self-inflatable rubber life rafts with automatic distress signals.

To JulianehŒb in record time
Hans HedtoftÕs maiden voyage started from Copenhagen 7. January 1959, and the voyage for Julianehaab was made in record time. In Greenland Hans Hedtoft called at Nuuk, Sisimiut and Manitsoq before the ship returned from Julianehaab to Copenhagen 19. January at 21.15pm. Besides the 40 crew members aboard Hans Hedtoft, there were a total of 55 passengers, adults and children, among these member of the Folketing, Augo Lynge. From Julianehaab Hans Hedtoft sailed southwards through the bay of Julianehaab. The sea was calm with changing winds. In the morning, 30. January, the wind was intensifying from north east to storm level and the visibility fell to one mile. At 13.56p.m. the telegraphist on the weather station Prins Christians Sund picked up an SOS from the ship about the fact that it had collided with an iceberg on position 5930N-4300W, approximately 20 miles south east of GreenlandÕs most southerly part, Kap Farvel. At 15.12p.m. the captain informs that there is a lot of ice around the ship and that the ship is sinking. The German trawler Johannes Kruss from Bremerhaven was 25 miles East of Hans Hedtoft, and sailed with highest speed possible towards the position through high sea and poor visibility due to snow squalls.

»We are sinking slowly«
At 17.41p.m. Hans Hedtoft informs "S we are sinking slowly" and at 18.06 the trawler picks up the beginning of an SOS after which there was no longer connection to the Greenlandic ship. The Greenlandic command in Gr¿nnedal co-ordinated the rescue, and the following days and nights the area was combed by ships and aeroplanes. Besides the German trawler Johannes Kruss, the inspection cutter Teisten took part in the rescue as well as the Greenlandic ship Umanak, the American coast guard ship Campell and Canadian and American patrol planes from Keflavik, Thule and from New Foundland. No wreckage could positively be identified as coming from Hans Hedtoft. And not until 9 months after the loss the only piece of wreckage washed ashore on Iceland Ð a lifebuoy. Before Hans Hedtoft sank 40 years ago, it had secretly been transformed to a warship. The Greenlandic ship Hans Hedtoft was prepared for war behind the backs of both the Folketing as well as the public. Accordingly, the ship was able to carry three cannons. On demand of the Ministry of Defence the ship had been equipped with three 40 mm anti-aircraft guns. The construction of the ship had been reinforced three places on the deck in order to make the fundament ready for the guns. In the bows an ammunition room had been built for keeping 280 boxes of projectiles. In addition cartridge box racks were built to be mounted beside the cannons. It emerges from papers and plans which Politiken (the Danish newspaper) found in the record office. The cannons do not appear on the plans of the ship building yards, only on an extra plan from the Defence. The armament of Hans Hedtoft, was handled strictly confidential in 1957. The ship was built as state ship by the Trade of Royal Greenland (in Danish: Kongelige Gr¿nlandske Handel, KGH). Vice President Magnus Jensen, who managed KGH«s shipping company, at that time, resisted, but in vain. He was of the opinion that the Ministry of Defence was up to ensuring themselves a warship for use in Greenland.

Misleading explanation.
The Ministry of Defence gave the reason for the armament that it was to ensure supplies mainly for the Danish military forces in Greenland in case of war. Magnus Jensen found no true explanation for this statement. In a letter to the Ministry of Greenland he attacked the Ministry of Defence for hiding the real plans on the pretext of misleading explanations. In Magnus Jensen«s opinion it was decisive for the Ministry of Defence to build a warship, and not a question of supplies, at all. On the other hand he claimed that it was a matter of having a well qualified ship at their disposal for surveillance duty in the greenlandic waters in times of war", said the Vice President. He also protested against the fact that KGH was to pay the expenses of a warship, as he described it in a confidential letter to a colleague. However, Magnus Jensen was put in his place by the Permanent Secretary Eske Brun, who was not against the plan. But he could not find a suitable account to draw money from and he knew that the Minister of Greenland, of that time, Kai Lindberg (S) would not find it "specially opportune" to make an application to the Folketing for the armament. The KGH director Hans C. Christensen then decided that KGH was to pay the barely 24.000 DKK "that was the price of this pleasantry". The cannons would be provided by the Defence free of charge. They were installed at the shipbuilding yard in Frederikshavn. The engineer manager in the Naval Command (for materials), Niels Stegenborg was, at that time, as young man engineer on the ship building yard and participated in test firings. His job was to measure how much the steel of the ship would give. "The test firings were all perfect", "I was given the explanation that the ship was to be used for inspection of fishing, if necessary", Niels Stegenborg says. After the test firings all the military equipment was dismounted and stowed away with the cargo before the ship was sailed to- and delivered in Copenhagen. The cannons were thus not mounted when the ship sank on its maiden voyage 30. January 1959. Carl-Georg Jensen, who later became director of the shipping company of KGH (Trade of Royal Greenland), was, in 1959, instructed to arrange the cannons to be removed from the ship and to be hide in a warehouse immediately after the mooring of the ship in Copenhagen. "It was something that we were not to talk about. I never figured out who gave the order about the three cannons. But no other ship mounted with cannons, or something like that, has been built for KGH", Carl-Georg Jensen says.

A Clear Military Role
The security policy expert, Poul Villaume who is a senior lecturer at the University of Copenhagen says that these new pieces of information point out to the fact that Hans Hedtoft was of great military importance in case of war. Everything seems to show that the ship, in case of war, had a military role among others for military supply and maybe for surveillance tasks. The fact that this information has been concealed may be reasoned in wanting not to frighten the public. Maybe it was considered that people would be afraid of sailing with the ship, seeing that it could be target of Russian attacks from planes or submarines, if the occasion should arise. Everything relating to military in Greenland was surrounded by extreme "hush-hush", Poul Villaume says. Also when it comes to 1957, when the Prime Minister of that time, H.C. Hansen (S) in all secrecy and directly contrary to Government policy permitted the USA to station nuclear weapons on the Thule-base in Northern Greenland.

Svendborg-ship lost in 1960
In April 1960 the cargo ship HANNE S. of Svendborg was lost at Kap Farvel and 18 people aboard lost their lives. This catastrophe resulted in further demands for new safety regulations for navigation in Greenland along with a strong need for establishing an efficient sea rescue service in Greenland The traffic in Greenlandic waters has steadily increased since 1959 by Atlantic cargo ships, coast ships, cruise liners with hundreds of passengers aboard, fishing boats, leisure vessels, and more and more navigation of pleasure crafts on summer cruise to Greenland from Europe and America. However, the climatic conditions in Greenland with high winds, rough sea, reduced visibility or fog and icebergs, ice floes from the coast and about 100 miles from the coast are still the same. The late member of Folketing Augo Lynge«s words "everybody knows that navigation in Greenland is dangerous" still remain in force. However, the possibilities of getting help in case of shipwrecks in Greenlandic waters have been improved considerably. Among others due to the loss of Hans Hedtoft and Hanne S in 1959 and 1960 respectively.