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Carl-Otto Claesson
Childhood and World WarI Memories

By Göran C-O Claesson ©

In 1938, onboard the MS Gripsholm, Carl-Otto Claesson finished the typing of his memoirs from childhood and six years at elementary school to sea captain certificate. These memoirs and comments of them form the first two chapters of the book Från livbåt till flytande palats.

When Carl-Otto was fifteen, working onboard the SS Nordic of Gothenburg, World War I entered his life. On the Easter Island the ship got passengers, 45 Englishmen and Frenchmen from two sailing ships, which had been sunk by a German auxiliary cruiser. He left the war when he was nineteen after having experienced how a torpedo or a mine sank three of his ships and he had saved his life in a lifeboat or on a life raft.

His experiences gave him a life-long and keen interest in safety, which was shown many times in the Swedish American Line. These experiences also gave him examples of good and bad leadership.


S/s Adine — we are torpedoed
and admonished by a submarine captain

The following is abbreviated excerpts from the section S/s Adine — vi torpederas och förmanas av ubåtskapten. The seamen in the forecastle, all sleeping with their clothes on, have been awakened at 3:45 in the morning by a violent explosion.

”The coffee pot and the stove overturned, the lamps went out and the ship was trembling. The explosion was a direct hit, no doubt about that. The Adine's journey down and a few breathtaking minutes for us had begun. For the people in the two forecastles it was a matter of life and death to get out. All sprang up from their bunks, and in a lump we went groping through the narrow gangway to the deck.

Well in the open we speeded up considerably but we did not reach longer than to the No 2 hatch where we all tumbled over a wire which had been stretched across the deck. I hurt myself badly in falling against the deck. We felt palpably that the Adine was trembling in mortal dread. When I had got up I felt that the ship began leaning astern. The wire was stretched between the winch of the hatch and an anchor in order to stay it, a stock-anchor hanging out for pure indolence.

The only one who retained his composure completely was the commander. He issued his orders as coolly as usual. He alone remained on the deck amidships when the boats were launched, and with calm voice he ordered that all should be counted. It turned out that the messroom boy of the officers was missing. The skipper then made a hasty search in the midship quarters, where the boy had his cabin, and found him. Though the boy was a bit giddy the skipper got him up on deck and after that down into the starboard lifeboat where I was too.

The messroom boy, who was only 14 years old, sighed when he came down into the boat: ”No, now I have never seen the like. Is Adine sinking?” Thus the resolution of one man saved this young human life.

The Adine, which sank rapidly with the stern while we launched the lifeboats, was evidently severely damaged right under the main mast. It fell overboard with a tremendous crash long before we managed to get clear from the side of the ship. We heard all the time how the water gushed into the hull. Loose parts made an alarming noise, the more the Adine sat down on the ”behind”

In my boat there was a real shambles. A piece of plate had been blasted away from the ship's side and slung high in the air, finally landing in the lifeboat. The piece had knocked off all the oars and the mast, which were lying lashed down together midships in the boat, as well as two thwarts and various other gear, and therefore the word shambles maybe was too mild.

When the stern was below in the water and the ship's body formed an approximate angel of 40 degrees with the surface of the water, the skipper called out a powerful ' set off'. He himself got down into the port lifeboat by in one of the tackles of this boat, first slinging himself out and then easing off. The last commander of the Adine was, as it ought to be, the last to thread the deck of the steamer.”

The drama did not end here. The submarine surfaced, frightening the people in the lifeboats. The commander ordered the lifeboats along side. Carl-Otto continues:

”I was in the stem of our boat and handled the painter, and when I handed it to one of the German seamen, I was shaking in despair and fear of my life. The Germans showed a coarse and harsh manner, and their threatening canons and revolver muzzles were all aiming at us. We hardly dared to breath. The German seaman close to the stem of my boat asked me for some reason to keep still. Did he suspect that I had a hand grenade or other nuisance in my pocket? I got even more nervous, sat down on the stem half paralyzed and wished to myself both him and the submarine the way of all flesh.”

Was it in that very moment Carl-Otto Claesson, at the age of 19, decided to withdraw from the war and his life as a seaman and to go home, starting his studies to become a sea captain?


Childhood and World War I

A Mate in the White Fleet

From Prisoners of War to War Brides

The Drottningholm Turns Italian

M/S Stockholm - A Capricious Beauty

Serving under the Most Forcible Captain

The Fourth Stripe off and on.

From Roosevelt Hospital to a Building Site





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