WW2 75th Anniversary Poll–- #7--FEBRUARY 1940

  • The Altmark Incident (Norwegian: Altmark-affæren) was a naval skirmish of World War II between the United Kingdom and Nazi Germany, which happened on 16 February 1940. It took place in what were, at that time, neutral Norwegian waters. To date, it is the last major boarding action fought by the Royal Navy.

    In February 1940, the German tanker Altmark was returning to Germany with 299 British merchant sailors on board,[4] prisoners of war who had been picked up from ships sunk by the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. On its way from the southern Atlantic to Germany, Altmark passed through Norwegian waters. On the insistence of British contacts who had been pursuing the vessel, it was investigated three times on 15 February by the Royal Norwegian Navy. First, the tanker was boarded by officers from the torpedo boat HNoMS Trygg off Linesøy Island, then by officers from the torpedo boat HNoMS Snøgg in the Sognefjord, and finally personally by Admiral Carsten Tank-Nielsen and naval personnel from the destroyer HNoMS Garm in the Hjeltefjord. In each instance, the men who boarded the ship carried out cursory searches and took the Germans’ word that the vessel was conducting purely commercial business. Following the third boarding, Altmark was escorted southwards by the 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, even though international law did not ban the transfer of prisoners of war through neutral waters. The Norwegian search parties however did not inspect the hold, and allowed the ship to continue on its way.


    The story of the Altmark Incident has raised a lot of interesting questions and has received a lot of interesting answers.  What do you guys think and do you guys believe that Hitler did change his plans for Operation Weserubung because of this event?

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    As I recall, when the Norwegains protested to the British that Britain had violated Norwegian neutrality by entering Norwegian waters and boarding the Altmark, the British retorted that the Altmark had violated Norwegian neutrality by anchoring in Norwegian waters while retaining a cargo hold full of prisoners of war.  The British also apparently implied that the Norwegians had been either openly complicit in this action or, at the very least, negligent in not discovering the German ruse.  My understanding of international law is that belligerent ships entering neutral waters are required to release any prisoners of war they are carrying – a good example being, ironically enough, the British prisonners who were released in neutral Uruguay by Captain Langsdorff when the Graf Spee (the ship supplied by the Altmark) anchored in Montevideo harbour.  At any rate, the British position vis a vis Norway was basically, “You drop your protest and we’ll drop ours.”  Which they did.

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