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Carl-Otto Claesson
The Drottningholm Turns Italian

By Göran C-O Claesson ©


During 1946 the Drottningholm resumed, step by step, the pre-war traffic over the Atlantic. The capacity of the airlines was still small. Ships transported practically all goods and the vast majority of passengers. Life onboard gradually returned to normal, including the trying and dangerous work of hoisting every item of cargo between dock and hold, even cars. Carl-Otto Claesson continued to climb the long career ladder of the SAL deck officers.

On the 3rd of September 1947 Carl-Otto Claesson was appointed commander of the Drottningholm, the ship he loved most. Serving for twenty-four mate years under different commanders he had probably acquired practically all skill needed. One of the tasks, however, was new to him: The Captain's Dinner Speech. In those days the First Class passengers could be members of the Government, industrial leaders and famous professors. Addressing them was quite a task for a man who had attended school reluctantly and for only six years. No wonder he wrote down what he intended to say.

The manuscripts show that he combined formal addressing with personal style. One example is an expression he used on the 13th of September 1947 when his audience included the Swedish delegation to the United Nations, headed by Östen Undén, the legendary Foreign Minister. He said that it was a great pleasure to him during his first trip as a commander that he could address "such a nice bunch of passengers". He then went on formally with good wishes for the negotiations.

This was a happy period for Carl-Otto Claesson. The top officers were very good friends of his, particularly the chief engineer, Erik Toll, and the first mate, Evert Eriksson, who became so popular among the passengers that he later changed his profession and became chief purser. Laudatory letters arrived at the SAL offices. In November 1947 Thorwald N. Trolle, who had traveled with the SAL at least 40 times, wrote the following to the SAL office in New York: "Captain Clauson and first mate Eriksen is in my opinion out of this world and I can say the best advertisement SAL ever had for their boats. It is unbelievable how they make the passengers not only feel safe but feel at home and to the crew from the messboys up they are semigods."

The fact that a crew is brought into trim and is serving well does not guarantee its future existence. In March 1948 the newspapers told their readers about SAL's "Grand Old Lady" who had visited all continents and had around 500 charts in her files. She would now leave Gothenburg for the last time with SAL leaders onboard. "Swedish control officers on the Brasil, the new name of the Drottningholm, will be captain Carl-Otto Claesson and chief engineer Erik Toll" when the ship has got her new Italian crew." The Brasil was intended to start from Genoa on a new route to South America.

On the seventh of April 1948, a banquet onboard celebrated the switch from S/S Drottningholm to S/S Brasil. To the left Erik Toll and Carl-Otto Claeson. They have left their old roles as chief engineer and commander and started as control officers. Presiding to the right is the new commander, Comte Ugo Chinca. Many prominent persons participated, particularly from the Swedish American Line.  

On the way two SAL veterans, the commander of the ship and the managing director, trumpeted a final fanfare. They did that in the form of a radiogram to king Gustaf V:

"SS Drottningholm on way to Genoa and now passing Nice on her last voyage under Swedish flag. Officers and crew onboard beg to bring Your Majesty their humble homage.
Captein Claesson Axel Jonsson"

On the first of April 1948 the General Consul of Sweden in Genoa sent a letter to Kungl Kommerskollegium, the royal shipping board, telling that the ownership of the Drottningholm that day had passed to owners from Panama. The letter concluded:

"Since all the crew have signed off, the name and the nationality mark of the ship have been obliterated and I have made sure that prerequisites of considering the ship as Swedish no longer are at hand, the Swedish flag was hauled down yesterday in my presence. At a special request the withdrawn Commander was allowed to keep the flag ."

That was not the only keepsake "the withdrawn Commander" brought home from the Drottningholm. The smallest one was the postal stamp used at the Post Office onboard which had been operating all the 27 years of service. It is now in the Maritime Museum of Gothenburg. The largest keepsake was one of the six large and heavy Royal Crowns in the SAL mark on the funnel.

The "Panama owner" of the Brasil was a daughter company of SAL. Old S/S Kungsholm was transferred to the same company and named S/S Italia. The idea was to transport Mediterranean emigrants to South America and successful immigrants there to their homelands when they wanted to visit them - in other words the original SAL idea with Sweden replaced by Italy and USA by Argentina.

The new line was inaugurated on April 7 1948 by a banquet onboard the Brasil. 144 persons participated, among them the new commander, "Com.te Ugo Chinca", and many SAL notabilities headed by "Consul Gen. Axel Jonsson". Carl-Otto Claesson began his new job as an advisor to the new commander and a control officer who reported on the performance of the Italian crew to the office of the SAL daughter company.

Between April 23 and July 6 he wrote five reports. The theme was that the crew by and large did their maritime job very well. However, he called attention several times to certain problems:
  • The lifeboat exercises are not well prepared and supervised. The passengers are not informed properly and many members of the crew are allowed to continue their ordinary work instead of participating.
  • The officers do not mingle with the passengers and do not even open the bridge to them, thus allowing small irritations among them to grew to persistent complaints.
  • The officers seem to have a very limited freedom of action themselves and distrust their staff. This results in lack of initiatives and a minute control of subordinates.
  • The result is that the subordinates do not by themselves show discipline and give priority to the passengers. They may very well elbow their way before the passengers when they want to get ashore.

The reports can be read as an example of a collision between two corporate cultures. As a SAL deck officer Carl-Otto Claesson was trained to look at everything with the interest of the passengers in mind. On S/S Brasil he met officers who thought solely as navigators. In SAL he was used to a wide freedom of action within given instructions. On the Brasil he met a culture where new actions required instructions from the head office.

The new emigration traffic did not turn out to be a good idea. Argentina lost her attraction. In 1955 the ship was scrapped. "The Old Lady" had left the seas after 50 years but Carl-Otto Claesson continued his sea life.


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



Oct 15
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