Ships 2

Hans Hedtoft

Ships 3

Hans Hedtoft

The Short Existence Of The Hans Hedtoft

By James Donahue

The Danish liner Hans Hedtoft was on its maiden voyage from Copenhagen to Julianebaab, Greenland when it struck an iceberg in a snowstorm and sank in the North Atlantic with all 40 crew members and 55 passengers on Jan. 30, 1959.

Some have drawn some parallels between the Hans Hedtoft and the Titanic stories. While the Danish ship was much smaller in size, its owners, the Royal Greenland Trading Company, boasted that the vessel’s armored bow and stern and its double bottom and seven watertight compartments made it virtually unsinkable.

The ship was designed to make year-around trips between Denmark and Greenland, and to encounter ice.

But, like the Titanic, the Hans Hedtoft had a riveted steel hull, which at least one shipbuilder claimed was not as resistant to ice pressure as a welded hull would have been. And he might have been quite right.

The vessel made the voyage to Julianehaab in record time. It then called at Nuuk, Sisimint and Maniitsoq before steaming back to Julianehaab. She began her fateful return trip on Jan. 29 with 55 passengers and a cargo of frozen fish. She collided with the iceberg south of Cape Farewell the next day.

Distress calls were answered by the US Coast Guard cutter Campbell and  West German trawler Johannes Kruss, but neither vessel reached the scene on time. Within the hour another message stated that the engine room was flooding and that the ship was sinking. The end apparently came quickly. The beginning of an SOS was received by the Kruss but it broke off and all communication with the liner ceased.

The Campbell reported severe weather conditions in the area at the time. The only trace found of the Hans Hedtoft was a lifebelt that washed ashore nine months later.

An interesting side story about the Hans Hedtoft was that the Danish government apparently paid for strengthening the vessel in three places for placement of 40 MM anti-aircraft guns, and even placed the guns in storage on the vessel. An ammunition room was built into the bow of the ship. The guns were still in storage below deck at the time of the sinking.

That the liner was armed without the approval of the Folketing became a controversial issue in Denmark at the time. Consequently, an order was issued for the removal of the guns when it arrived back in Copenhagen.