"At midnight we sighted a ship not more than half a mile away, and as we could not find no (sic) dry matches every man shouted as loud as he could. Immediately all the lights went out in the ship and, although we hollered ourselves hoarse, the ship kept on her course. Unfortunately our boat had no rudder. During the next day we dried some matches in the sun and at nightfall rigged up a piece of rag soaked in paraffin to make a signal flare. We had been in the lifeboats for thirty-six hours with a heavy sea running and a strong wind against us. We had to be constantly bailing and everyone was exhausted being on the sea in such terrible weather. The fourth engineer, a Norwegian named Sorensen was very ill; we tried to revive him but he finally died of exposure and exhaustion. All of us were cold and hungry, we were finally picked up by a patrol boat and landed at Bantry, Ireland."

plating, meant Storstad could slice through packed ice and move it aside without damage.

Storstad's construction was based on the Isherwood longitudinal system, which meant that instead of having ribs arranged vertically in close-set rows from keel to deck, the main frames ran horizontally from stem to stern. This design made the ship incredibly strong against head-on impacts with, for example, ice floes, which were expected to be common in the vessel's working area. The heavy, sharp vertical stem was riveted together; this, combined with the thick hull plating, meant Storstad could slice through packed ice and move it aside without damage.

 

Storstad had 8 watertight compartments and 7 transverse bulkheads. Her designers estimated, in the event of a head-on collision, that the bow could crumple safely back to the No. 1 watertight bulkhead, 24' aft of the bow. This would lessen the risk of serious damage to the ship.

 

Storstad had a cellular double bottom which extended her whole length. The water ballast and trimming tanks were situated in two compartments at the stern and had a total capacity of about 1800 tons of water.

 

Usually, the engine room machinery consisted of 3 single-ended marine boilers and one 3-cylinder triple-expansion engine capable of generating about 4000 internal HP; usually, the engines generated about 2400 HP, and gave Storstad an average speed of about 10 knots when loaded. Normal steam pressure was 180 psi, although on the night she collided with the Empress, the pressure was 170 psi. At full speed, her single, right-hand bladed propeller turned 64 revolutions; half speed was 45 rpm, and slow, 34.

 

Following the collision, and after dropping off the rescued Empress passengers at Rimouski Storstad sailed under her own power to Montreal, where she was impounded by the authorities on June 7.

 

On June 16, a gentleman from the Ship Husband and Inspector of Equipment Canadian Government Vessels inspected the damage on the Storstad bow after the collision with the Empress. The Storstad bow layed over to an angle of about 90 degrees to port in some areas when the ship was unloaded with her cargo of coal. The extent of damage included the following area's. The bow including the stem, nine stem hull plates on either side of the vessel had been badly damaged. The windlass had been damaged, other area's were plates adjoining and extending aft to the collision bulkhead, the bulwark plating, deck plating, two hawse and mooring pipes. The deck plates including the hatch which came towards the forward compartment and forepeak damaged. Deck beams, brackets, longitudinal frames, breast hooks, chain locker bulkhead, collision bulkhead, angle connection to the hull plates disturbed and buckled in places. The stem was also broken in line with the upper deck and contact to starboard and inboard stem hull plating from about the line of the upper deck to below the water line.

 

In the foreward holds towards the forward end some of the longitudinal frames, bracket connections to the collision bulkheads and some rivets had been sheared.

 

After the Commission of Inquiry, the Storstad continued to work as a collier, still owned by the Klavenes Line and flying the flag of neutral Norway.

 

In the spring of 1917, when the Imperial German Navy's campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare was at its peak, Storstad was engaged on a mission of charity. Even though she was a neutral ship with a neutral crew, and flew the flag of the American Commission for the Relief of Belgium and bore the designated markings of a relief ship, she was now a target.

John Roy Christian, an American survivor of the torpedoed Belgian relief ship said later in an interview that he had been born in Washington of Norwegian parents, and that he'd never been to Norway. He added:

"When the Storstad entered the danger zone we put up a big lamp bearing the letters "B.R." [Belgian Relief--ed.] At night the lamp was lighted by electricity and the letters could be plainly seen by day and on the sides of the vessel the usual Belgian relief signals were painted. I was down below and somebody said we were under U-boat shellfire. Most of us thought it was a joke, I went on the deck and saw shells falling near us fired by the U-boat at least three miles away.

"The shelling continued some ten minutes but the Storstad was not hit. Suddenly, the U-boat ceased firing and our captain ordered four very big Belgian relief flags to be flown and another big signboard bearing the words Belgian Relief Committee, to be placed forward. There was thus no chance of the Germans mistaking our ship.

"That is when most of the crew left the Storstad in lifeboats. We could see the U-boat getting near and thought the trouble was at an end for sure. Instead, the Storstad suffered an awful shock. Tons of water fell upon the ship, which rolled badly. She had been torpedoed on the starboard side, amidships just below the bridge, and I saw cargo floating away out of her side. At that point the captain and the rest of the crew left in the last lifeboat and headed straight for the U-boat as the captain said he thought they would give us a tow. Then the German officer bellowed out in English: 'Come alongside.'

The Fate of the S.S. Storstad

The R.M.S. Empress of Ireland Community

What ever happened to the collier Storstad was a vessel of 6,000 tons constructed by Messrs Armstrong, Whitworth and Company Limited at Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1910. The ship was 440' in length, 58.1' at the beam, and had a depth of 28'8" and a mean draft of 25'6" when loaded. Her hull was painted black, and on each side of the tall, midship black-painted funnel was a large white "K", signifying her ownership by the Norwegian Klavenes Line. The vessel was fitted with 2 stockless anchors in cast-iron hawsepipes; the anchor flukes projected 18" from the sides of the ship.

 

Each lifeboat had a capacity 30 people, although following the collision with the Empress of Ireland, her lifeboats were grossly overload and carried about 50 people each.

Storstad's construction was based on the Isherwood longitudinal system, which meant that instead of having ribs arranged vertically in close-set rows from keel to deck, the main frames ran horizontally from stem to stern. This design made the ship incredibly strong against head-on impacts with, for example, ice floes, which were expected to be common in the vessel's working area. The heavy, sharp vertical stem was riveted together; this, combined with the thick hull 

From the Ian Kinder Collection
Special Cable to The New York Times Cork, March 10, 1917

On March 8, 1917, the ship was nearing the end of a long voyage from Buenos Aires to Rotterdam with a cargo of grain, having stopped only at Gibraltar for coal. Thomas Andersen, still Storstad's captain, had taken the precaution of obtaining from the German Consul at Buenos Aires a declaration that Storstad would be given "safe conduct" through all waters, and that the ship would not be interfered in any way by German U-boats.

 

On that morning at about 10 o'clock, a U-boat, invisible to Storstad though running on the surface, began shelling the hapless steamer with two 88mm (3.4") deck guns from a distance of approximately four miles, at the same time bearing down on her at speed. The U-boat fired some twelve rounds, all misses, before submerging. Moments later Storstad was rocked by a huge explosion as a torpedo slammed into her starboard side.

London Illustrated News
Captain Andersen of the Storstad.
The Illustrated London News

In that month of March, German U-boats sank 593,841 gross tonnes of allied and neutral shipping. Storstad, only a tiny portion of this grim statistic, had finally joined the R.M.S. Empress of Ireland in a cold watery grave off the coast of Ireland.

Submitted by Ian Kinder and Derek Grout