- Altmark Incident
Infobox Military Conflict
caption=German dead are brought ashore for burial after the incident.
World War II
16 February 1940
commander1= Heinrich Dau
strength1=supply ship "Altmark"
strength2=Royal Navy destroyer HMS "Cossack"
299 POWs rescued ["
The Times(London)", Monday, 19 February 1940, p.10]
The Altmark Incident (Norwegian: "Altmark"-affæren) was a naval skirmish of
World War IIbetween the United Kingdomand Nazi Germany, which happened on 16 February 1940. It took place in what were, at that time, neutral Norwegian waters. It has the unique distinction of being the last major boarding action fought by the Royal Navy[ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/53/a1979553.shtml] BBC Home. The Last Boarding Action of the Royal Navyby WatTyler] .
In February 1940 the German supply ship "Altmark" was returning to Germany with 299 [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=R24HwO0XWeMC&pg=PA215&lpg=PA215&dq=hell-ship+altmark&source=web&ots=leiW3qFFey&sig=9pK5UBXGHyRxpljaP2whTYRy5Do&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=7&ct=result "The Rule of Law in International Affairs" (Brian Simpson 2003), page 215] ] British merchant sailors on board; prisoners of war that had been picked up from ships sunk by the pocket battleship "Graf Spee". On its way from Southern Atlantic to Germany, the "Altmark" passed through Norwegian waters. It was investigated three times on
15 Februaryby officers from Norwegian vessels, who boarded the ship and carried out cursory searches, taking the Germans' word that the vessel was conducting purely commercial business. First the tanker was boarded by the torpedo boatHNoMS "Trygg" off LinesøyIsland, then by the torpedo boat HNoMS "Snøgg" in the Sognefjord, and finally personally by Admiral Carsten Tank-Nielsen and the destroyer HNoMS "Garm" in the Hjeltefjord. After the third boarding, "Altmark" was escorted southwards by torpedo boats HNoMS "Skarv" and HNoMS "Kjell" and the guard boat HNoMS "Firern". The British prisoners held in the ship's hold reportedly made strenuous efforts to signal their presence, such as shouting loudly and banging on the sides of the hull, to the point where the German crew had to drown out the noise by running winches. However, the Norwegian search parties did not inspect the hold, and allowed the ship to continue on its way.
"Altmark" was then spotted off
Egersundlater the same day by a British aircraft, which raised the alarm in the Royal Navy. After being intercepted by the destroyer HMS "Cossack", captained by Philip Vian, the "Altmark" sought refuge in the fjord Jøssingfjord, but "Cossack" followed her in the next day and forced it to ground. The British then boarded the "Altmark" at 2220 hrs, 16 February, and after some hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets, overwhelmed the ship's crew and released the prisoners. HMS "Cossack" left the Jøssingfjord just after midnight on 17 February. It was, supposedly, the last incident in which cutlasses were used in anger by a boarding party. Fact|date=July 2008 The Norwegian escorts protested, but did not intervene. The official explanation later given by the Norwegian government was that, according to international treaty, a neutral country was not obliged to resist a vastly superior force.
The Norwegians were angered that their neutrality had been infringed, but they did not want to be dragged into a European war. Nonetheless the Altmark incident sowed doubts about the Norwegian neutrality among the Allies, as well as in Germany. Both sides had contingency plans for military action against Norway, primarily to control the traffic of iron ore, on which the German armament industry depended in the early stages of the war. The Altmark incident convinced
Adolf Hitlerthat the allies would not respect Norwegian neutrality, and on 19 Februaryhe decided to intensify the planning for Operation Weserübung, the occupation of Denmarkand Norway, which eventually took place on 9 April 1940.
The "Altmark" incident gave the British a short-lived but sorely needed morale boost during the "Phoney War". The incident also had a more lasting
propagandaeffect in German-occupied Norway during the war, when the Norwegian collaborationist government tried to neutralize their nickname "Quislings" by using the location of the skirmish (Jøssingfjord) to coin the derogatory term "jøssing", referring to pro-Allies and anti-Nazis. Their efforts backfired, as "jøssing" was immediately adopted as a positive term by the general public, and the word was finally banned from official use by 1943.
*Frischauer, Willi; & Jackson, Robert, "The Navy's Here! The Altmark Affair"
Janusz Piekałkiewicz: Der Zweite Weltkrieg mit Vorwort von Sebastian Haffner. Düsseldorf 1985, ISBN 3-89350-544-X
* [http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/ships/html/sh_003800_altmark.htm Ships of the World: Altmark]
* [http://www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net/History/MacKinder/mackinder.html Halford Mackinder's Necessary War] An essay describing the Altmark incident as part of a cunning plan to embroil Russia in war with Germany.
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