HNoMS "Sæl" was the penultimate vessel of the ten 1. class torpedo boats of the Royal Norwegian Navy. She was built at the Royal Norwegian Navy Shipyard in Horten in 1901, with yard number 85. [Horten municipal archive for local history: [ Build numbers at Horten Yard] no icon] She was to see close to 40 years service with the Royal Norwegian Navy, taking part in the preparations for war in connection with the dissolution the union with Sweden in 1905, enforcing Norwegian neutrality during World War I and opposing the German invasion of Norway in 1940. She was lost in battle with Kriegsmarine vessels at Ånuglo in the Hardangerfjord on 18 April 1940. [Bakkevig, Erik: [ Shipwrecks in south-western Norway] no icon]


Sæl is the pre-1917 Reform Bokmål version of the Norwegian word "sel", meaning seal. [ [ Tritrans Norwegian-English dictionary: sel] ]


"Sæl" was reasonably seaworthy in calm seas, with little engine noise and no bow water. The intent behind her design was to enable her to attack enemy shipping in both open seas and close to shore with the least possible chance of being spotted before launching torpedoes at her targets.Hegland & Lilleheim 1998: 21] The 37 mm gun armament was placed one on each side of the ship, making it impossible for both her QF guns to fire at one target simultaneously.Hegland & Lilleheim 1998: 57]

Early career

Tension with Sweden

Having been launched as the penultimate of the ten 1. class torpedo boats built for the Royal Norwegian Navy, HNoMS "Sæl" was amongst the front-line RNoN units mobilised in connection with the tense political conditions between Norway and Sweden as the Norwegians dissolved the 91-year old personal union between the two countries.

As the two countries appeared on the brink of war in the autumn of 1905, the Royal Norwegian Navy carried out exercises involving almost its entire force. By the time the Karlstad negotiations met with success and Sweden recognised the independence of Norway on 23 October 1905, " Sæl" and many of the other Norwegian ships were patrolling the Oslofjord in expectation of a Swedish naval attack against the country's capital Oslo and the central military and industrial area of Østlandet. [Børresen, Jacob: [ Naval war preparations in the Oslofjord during the summer of 1905] no icon]

World War I

During World War I, Norway declared itself a neutral country and took no active part in the war. "Sæl" served throughout the war years escorting merchant ships in Norwegian waters and guarding the coast against neutrality violations.Skovheim shipwreck site: [ "Sæl"] no icon&en icon] The Norwegian torpedo boats spent the war spread along the coast with orders to confront and board any warship that approached the coast of Norway, even though they might not necessarily enter Norwegian territorial waters. [Hegland & Lilleheim 1998: 37-38] In the run-up to the war "Sæl" had been part of a large Norwegian naval manoeuvre during the International Yacht Racing Union's fourth annual Europe week sailing regatta, held in Horten 14 to 21 July 1914. [ [ Europe week 1914 in Horten] no icon]

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, the close to 39-year old "Sæl" and 16 other torpedo boats of three classes were taken out of reserve and mobilised in five divisions. "Sæl" was part of the 4. Torpedo boat Division in the 2nd Naval District together with HNoMS "Storm" and HNoMS "Brand". [ [ Administrative Order of Battle Royal Norwegian Navy 2nd Naval District] en icon] [Mårtensson, Robert: [ Organization of Norwegian Marine forces] en icon] [ [ Ships of the 2nd Naval District on 8 April 1940] no icon] Hegland & Lilleheim 1998: 50] The divisions were purely administrative units, with each torpedo boat spread singly on the coast from Oslofjord to Trøndelag. For the 4. Torpedo boat Division, deployed to the south western Vestlandet region, the war initially entailed coastal guard duties and hailing Norwegian merchant ships as they left Norwegian waters, handing over the latest news reports and wishing them a safe voyage.

Norwegian Campaign

Attempted defence of Bergen

In the morning of 8 April 1940, on the eve of the German invasion of Norway, "Sæl" was docked at the Marineholmen naval base in Bergen between patrol missions. [Hegland & Lilleheim 1998: 52] By 0230hrs on 9 April she had finished coaling,Hegland & Lilleheim 1998: 53] having been ordered to make war preparations the previous day, [ [ The attack on Bergen Fortress - rapport from the commander of the torpedo boat "Storm"] no icon] and moved south towards her blocking position in the Lerøy area in the approaches to Bergen. Due to a lack of information as the position of the intruding German forces she sailed on a collision course with the German Kampfgruppe 3. [Lienau, Peter and Kopacz, Michal: [ German Order of Battle for Operation "Weserübung"] ,] When the German ships were spotted by "Sæl" they were at such close range that the Norwegians had to make evasive manoeuvres to avoid a collision and were unable to launch a torpedo. [ [ The attack on Bergen Fortress - hour by hour] no icon] As the Kriegsmarine ships passed her at only 10-15 metres distance, "Sæl" turned around and gave chase in the hope of catching up with the Germans and get within range for a torpedo shot. As dawn was soon approaching "Sæl"'s commander, Fenrik (Ensign) L. Gulbrandsen, decided to disengage and temporarily place his ship in cover behind the Bratholmen islet.


After Bergen was seized by German forces on 9 April, "Sæl" relocated to the Hardangerfjord to continue fighting the German invasion. She arrived at Uskedal on 12 April, and on 17 April helped a prize crew led by Fenrik Schau from the "Trygg" class torpedo boat HNoMS "Stegg" escort the captured 6,503 ton iron ore laden German cargo ship "Afrika" [ [ Losses of the German merchant navy in WWII: A-B] de icon] into the port of Odda. [Sivertsen 2000: 72] After being greeted with jubilation and singing at Odda, "Sæl" was ordered back to Uskedal that same evening.

Battle with Schnellboots

The next day, 18 April, HNoMS "Stegg" was despatched to Langenuen in Austevoll to intercept four merchant ships, leaving "Sæl" alone in the area. Soon afterward, an alarm went out in Uskedal warning that three German Schnellboots were entering the Hardangerfjord. In response, district commander Orlogskaptein (Lieutenant Commander) Ulstrup – the former commander of the mine layer HNoMS "Tyr" – gave an oral order that "Sæl" was to avoid contact with the superior enemy force. Ulstrup felt that the poorly armed, slow and not very manoeuvrable "Sæl" would not stand a chance against the three fast and modern opponents.

The fact that Ulstrup's order was given orally led to a fatal misunderstanding. By the time word reached Fenrik Gulbrandsen, he understood the order to mean that he was to attack and destroy the three Schnellboots. Believing to be obeying orders, Gulbrandsen sailed "Sæl" into the fjord to confront the German vessels.

At 1600hrs the crew of the "Sæl" spotted two of the Schnellboots moving at great speed southwards from the Lukksund Narrows between Tysnesøy Island and the mainland. At a distance of convert|2500|m|ft "Sæl" opened up with her bow gun and for five minutes exchanged fire with the German ships. One of the Schnellboots was hit by several 37 mm rounds and left dead in the water and listing to the side. Soon after, one of "Sæl"'s guns was knocked out by a German 20 mm shell, and shortly thereafter the firing lanyard on the other gun snapped. With multiple rounds hitting the Norwegian torpedo boat's bow, the Schnellboots moved in to point blank range, riddling "Sæl" from bow to stern. As the third Schnellboot arrived on the scene, three torpedoes were fired at "Sæl", the two first going under the hull and the third hitting a small rock right in front of her. The explosion caused by the last torpedo further damaged the bow of the Norwegian ship and caused water to start flooding her. With the 7,92 mm Colt machine gun providing cover fire, Fenrik Gulbrandsen beached his vessel at full speed to save the crew. During that last manoeuvre "Sæl" hit an underwater rock and was left grounded with her stern sticking out of the water. At 1625hrs Gulbrandsen ordered the crew to abandon ship. Although one man had suffered a lung shot and six others had minor grazing wounds, all 21 crew members made it ashore.


Later in the evening of 18 April the crew of the "Sæl" attempted to moor their vessel to prevent it from slipping under. At high tide "Sæl" disappeared beneath the waves at Ånuglo, still flying the Norwegian war flag. [Hegland & Lilleheim 1998: 58]

After the battle, a Norwegian motorboat brought the wounded to the hospital in Rosendal. [Sivertsen 2000: 73]

The wreck today

The wreck of HNoMS "Sæl" was relocated in 1968 by the Royal Norwegian Navy's Mine Diver Command [Hegland & Lilleheim 1998: 56] who found her at convert|25|m|ft depth, intact with ammunition, mines and torpedoes on board. The ammunition was removed, but the mines and torpedoes were blown up on site, resulting in the complete destruction of the torpedo boat's midsection and leaving only the bow and stern still mostly intact, making her a popular dive site. [Toskedal, Atle: [ The wreck of " Sæl"] no icon]



* Abelsen, Frank: "Norwegian naval ships 1939-1945", Sem & Stenersen AS, Oslo 1986, ISBN 82-7046-050-8 en icon/no icon
* ISBN 82-994738-1-0
* no icon
* no icon

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