History for the Curious with John G. McKay
The much-decorated local veteran, George Evans, was a fifteen-year-old ship mess steward from Newfoundland serving in the Merchant Navy during World War 2. His ship, the Norwegian steamship Einvik, had departed St. Johns at 1900 hours on 25 August 1941 with a feeder convoy to rendezvous with the main convoy, SC-41, in the Western Atlantic. Einvik was experiencing steam pressure problems, and gradually fell behind. The ship was a 2,000-ton freighter built in 1919 at the Polson Iron Works Company Ltd., Toronto Canada. She was enroute from Quebec to Cardiff Wales with a cargo of pit props and lumber.
At the time of her final crossing, her crew comprised Master Finn Wetteland, the first and second mates, and 20 ordinary seamen, including three Canadians, five Englishmen and George Evans. Einvik’s low steam pressure continued through the following day until she finally lost sight of the convoy. She regained sight of it two days later, in the afternoon of the 28th and was able to take her place when the main convoy was joined later that night.
By evening of the 29th they had again lost sight of the convoy. At that time, Einvik was making virtually no headway, and the wind was increasing to gale force, with high seas. Perhaps in view of Captain Wetteland`s perseverance, by 1 September, the steam pressure problem was largely overcome and Einvik maintained 7 knots for the next three days, and with improving weather a concerted attempt was made to catch up with the convoy.
At 0315 hours on Sept. 5, First Mate Eugen Kavalheim, saw a dark object on the port side about a half-mile off. He ordered the wheel hard to starboard while at the same time ordering the lookout, Ordinary Seaman A. Beams, to call all hands on deck. A moment later, a torpedo struck near the forward mast, port side.
Aside from a machinegun and one sub-machinegun, Einvik carried no defensive weapons of any consequence, so the order was given to abandon ship. Within ten minutes both lifeboats were in the water and clear of the ship. Canadian radio operator, Elmer Rusenstrom, remained aboard to send out an SOS with their position before rowing away in the workboat.
Einvik had been attacked by U-501, a type IXC U-boat commanded by Korvettenkapitän Hugo Förster. Having closed the distance to the stricken Einvik, U-501 proceeded to sink her with gunfire, firing some 25 shells before she finally sank, some 45 minutes after being torpedoed. Rusenstrom gave her position as 61”N 30”W, which placed her some 450 miles southwest of Iceland.
Following departure of the U-boat, Radio Operator Rusenstrom was taken on board the starboard lifeboat, and the workboat was set adrift. Rusenstrom`s distress signal was received by Iceland Radio, and an aircraft and a corvette were dispatched to the scene. Nothing was found except some debris and oil and it was assumed there were no survivors. In fact, the entire crew had survived, and the two lifeboats had set a course for Iceland, which the starboard boat reached on the morning of 13 September, with the port boat coming ashore a couple of hours later. From their nine days in the open boats in the cold North Atlantic, most of the crew were in need of medical attention.
Five days after the sinking of Einvik, even before her crew had reached safety, U-501 was taking part in a Wolf Pack attack on convoy SC-42 in the Denmark Strait, south of Taliilaq, Greenland, in position 62”50’N 37”50’W, when she was detected by the Canadian Flower class corvette HMCS Chambly using Asdic, and was damaged with depth charges.
Driven to the surface by the Canadian corvette’s depth charges, Korvettenkapitän Förster decided to scuttle the boat. U-501 was spotted by corvette HMCS Moosejaw, and an attempt was made to ram her. At the last minute, U-501 turned away and both vessels were running parallel and only feet apart. For whatever reason, Förster surrendered himself and abandoned his command and crew by jumping from U-501’s conning tower on to the deck of the Moosejaw, which then veered away.
The U-boat’s First Watch Officer continued with the scuttling, although a nine-man boarding party from the Chambly got aboard and attempted to confiscate any secret documents. Unfortunately, the U-boat sank under them, and in the confrontation, one Canadian sailor and 11 Germans were killed, with the remaining 35 German crewmen taken prisoner.
According to Admiralty Report C.B. 4051 (30), issued in October 1941, “U-501 Interrogation of Survivors,” the entire captured crew adamantly accused Förster of cowardly incompetence, citing a number of incidents that seemed to support their claim. Some crewmen even suggested personal vengeance if Förster was not properly dealt with by court martial after the war. Of course, the reaction of the crew during interrogation was based on the belief that Germany would win the war and that such matters would be appropriately dealt with.
In the event, U-501 was the first U-boat kill by the Royal Canadian Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic; it was also U-501s first and last war patrol, and the SS Einvik was her only kill. George Evans went on to serve in the northern convoys to Murmansk and Archangel in northern Russia.
John G. McKay is an Amherst resident who has written numerous short novels on the history.