Warship Wednesday, May 11, 2022: The Dirty D
Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, May 11, 2022: The Dirty D
Above we see a beautiful period photo of the Danish skoleskibet Danmark with a bone in her teeth, the tall ship’s canvas fully rigged and speeding her along, 18 white clouds mastering the sea. Just seven years old when she was caught up in WWII, she would find a new home and wartime use in Allied waters while the Germans occupied her country.
A tremastet fuldrigger in Danish parlance, the big three-master went 212-feet overall from her stern to the tip of her bowsprit and 188 feet at the waterline, with a displacement of 790 BT. Her mainmast towered 127 feet high. Constructed of riveted steel with 10 watertight bulkheads, she was designed in the late 1920s to be a more modern replacement for the lost schoolship København, whose saga we have covered in the past.
Laid down at Nakskov Skibsværft, part of the Danish East Asian Company (Det Østasiatiske Kompagni or just ØK), a giant shipping and trade concern that at one point was Scandinavia’s largest commercial enterprise, while Danmark was a civil vessel, many of her officers and crew were on the Royal Danish Navy’s reserve list and many of her cadets would serve in the fleet as well.
She was christened on 17 December 1932 by one Ms. Hannah Lock.
Due to low tide, she was not officially launched until two days later.
The Drumbeat of War
In the summer of 1939, with Europe a tinderbox, the Danish government had pledged to send the country’s largest naval warship, the 295-foot coast defense cruiser Niels Juel, to participate in the World’s Fair in New York. However, as misgivings set in, it was agreed that Danmark would make the trip instead, complete with a mixed group of naval and mariner cadets.
Arriving in New York in August, Danmark’s cadets were hosted by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia to a Yankees baseball game as part of the general festivities. Once Germany invaded Poland, followed by the Soviets, then Britain and France joined a growing world war, Danmark was ordered to remain in U.S. waters until things cooled down. With that, she cruised to Annapolis, spent the Christmas 1939 holiday in Puerto Rico, then arrived in Jacksonville, Florida in early April 1940. There, they met with Danish Ambassador Henrik Kauffmann, who announced the ship was returning home after her nine-month American exile.
With Poland long since occupied and divvied between Berlin and Moscow, and the latter ceasing hostilities with Finland, coupled with the quiet “Phony War” between Britain/France and Germany, things were expected to calm down.
Well, you know what happened next.
On 9 April 1940, the Germans rolled into Denmark without a declaration of war, ostensibly a peaceful occupation to keep the British from invading. The German invasion, launched at 0400 that morning, was a walkover of sorts and by 0800 the word had come down from Copenhagen to the units in the field to stand down and just let it happen. Of course, the Danes would stand up a serious resistance organization later in the occupation, as well as field viable “Free Danish” forces operating from Britain, but for the time being, the country was a German puppet state.
Ambassador Kauffmann, however, decided to cancel Danmark’s return home and kept the ship in Florida.
Anchored off the Coast Guard station in Jacksonville, Danmark became a ship without a country. The Danish Embassy in Washington arranged for a monthly stipend of $10 for the crew, but Danmark had no other support. On the morning of April 10, Capt. Knud Hansen was greeted on the pier by a group of Jacksonville citizens and two large trucks. They brought 17 tons of food and supplies. Hansen did not turn them away, although there was no space on board for all of it. Each morning thereafter, women brought cookies, pies, and men brought tobacco and other items. Even an anonymous shipment of summer uniforms arrived, much to the crew’s delight.
The Danmark had become a foreign vessel lying idle in American waters. It had remained in Jacksonville from early April 1940 until late 1941, or nearly 20 months. Many of the ship’s Danish cadets decided to transfer to the Merchant Marine and 14 of them would die serving Allied forces. Ten of Danmark’s original crew remained aboard, including Hansen and First Mate Knud Langevad.
With a long history of using tall ships to train new sailors, VADM Russell Waesche, Commandant of the Coast Guard, visited occupied Denmark in the summer of 1940 and began talks with the Danes to purchase the vessel as a training ship. The negotiations dragged on throughout the next year, with the U.S. government offering about half what the ship was worth, and the White House balking at even that amount.
Then, the morning after Pearl Harbor, with the U.S. firmly in the fight and no longer “The Great Neutral,” Hansen fired off a telegram to Waesche’s office.
In view of the latest days’ developments, the cadets, officers, and captain of the Danish Government Training Vessel Danmark unanimously place themselves and the ship at the disposal of the United States government, to serve in any capacity the United States government sees fit in our joint fight for victory and liberty.
With the offer accepted, she was rented for $1 per year, paid via silver coin to the Danish Embassy, then was escorted to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, still with her crew under control, and commissioned on 12 May 1942– 80 years ago this week– as USCGC Danmark (WIX-283). Her remaining professional crew would be in USCG service for the duration, accepting ranks in the USCGR.
In a nod to her “rented” status, she flew the Dannebrog and U.S. ensigns simultaneously.
From the USCG H’s O:
Each month, new Coast Guard cadets embarked Danmark for training. The Danish officers had many challenges before them–everything that a Danish cadet learned in six years, plus what he learned to qualify as a Danish navy officer, had to be taught the American cadets in four months. No American officers served aboard and, to avoid attack by U-boats, the tall ship never sailed beyond Martha’s Vineyard or the southern tip of Manhattan.
Dubbed the “Dirty D,” cadets scrubbed the Danmark at least three times a day with rainy days devoted to cleaning out lifeboats and sanding oars. The wheelhouse was varnished frequently. It was lights out at midnight when the ship’s generator shut off. If the last liberty boat returned late to the Danmark, the cadets had to undress, sling out hammocks and climb into the hammocks in total darkness.
An immigrant of sorts helping her adopted country, appropriately enough She often called at Ellis Island. During the war, the station was a USCG training base, schooling new Coasties who would go on to man Navy ships around the globe.
From 1939 to 1946, the United States Coast Guard occupied Ellis Island and established a training station that served 60,000 enlisted men and 3,000 officers. They utilized many buildings on the island. For example, the Baggage and Dormitory Building served as a drill room, armory, boatsman storeroom, carpenter’s shop, and machine shop. The Kitchen and Laundry Building was utilized as a kitchen and bakeshop. Lastly, the New Immigration Building provided dormitories for the men. After their time at Ellis, the enlisted men and officers were largely responsible for manning transports, destroyer escorts, cutters, and submarine chasers during World War II.
In all, over 5,000 Americans were trained directly on Danmark during the war, including 2,800 who would go on to receive their butter bars in assorted U.S. maritime services.
Finally, with the world at peace again, on the birthday of Danish King Christian X, 26 September 1945, the Stars and Stripes were hauled down and the Dannebrog shifted to the top again.
On 13 November, Danmark finally headed home again.
Since returning home, Danmark has continued her service over the past 75 years.
She is, naturally, remembered in maritime art.
She still carries the same Neptune figurehead.
As well as a marker celebrating her service abroad with the USCG.
She has returned to her home-away-from-home numerous times, a regular fixture in New York, Boston, Baltimore, and New London over the decades.
She just completed her regular 5-year inspection and certification and looks great for having 90 years on her hull.
Every summer she takes aboard 80 new cadets along with a 16-strong cadre of professional crew and instructors, and they head out, covering subjects both new and old in the familiar ways that WWII Coasties would recognize.
Tonnage- 1,700 gross (1942)
Length- 188′ 6″
Beam- 33′ mb
Draft- 14′ 9″ (1942)
Main Engines- 1 diesel
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